HL Deb 15 February 1973 vol 338 cc1692-746

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The last two Bills I introduced into your Lordships' House were of wide-ranging public importance. This is perhaps of more modest scope, though in my view it is an important Bill. It is about badgers. I look forward to hearing from the House and the Minister both positively to what extent the badger is in need of conservation and how and, negatively, to what extent he is a pest. There is much ignorance and prejudice about him, both of which need to be dispelled. For my part, I shall do my best to show him for what he is.

Before taking your Lordships through the clauses of the Bill, I should perhaps say that this is essentially a conservation measure. It is not based on emotion, though cruelty is involved. Furthermore, it has nothing to do with any other species. The badger stands by himself to-day. I will talk about him and about him alone. He has the blessing of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Forestry Commission and both regard him as "beneficial on the land"—that is their phrase. The Council of the R.S.P.C.A., though a very different body and for very different reasons, have given the Bill their fullest support. I was delighted to hear that leave was given yesterday in another place to introduce a Bill on similar lines, though that Bill would allow landowners to let individuals on to their land for the taking of badgers; actually, most badger killing takes place on or under private land.

I described this as a conservation Bill. This does not mean that I am claiming that the badger is on the verge of extinction, though I shall show later that he is becoming less numerous. As I understand conservation, to be most effective it should take place before a species is either on the verge of extinction or is finally extinct. The words: Surely an animal should qualify for the label 'vanishing' on the basis of its rate of decline were written in Oryx, the journal of the Fauna Preservation Society. It is, after all, only recently, after 150 years, that fish are once again swimming in the Thames outside your Lordships' House. How much better it would have been if the initial pollution which espoiled the Thames could have been avoided and the long battle to restore it to something of its former purity, which has not yet been won, had never been necessary.

This Bill is short and, I hope, easy to explain. I will take your Lordships through it quickly. It is modelled closely on the Protection of Birds Act 1954. Although I did not have the honour then of being a Member of the House, I remember thinking that it was a model of what enterprise and humanity could do. Many of your Lordships will remember the important part played by this House in getting that Act on to the Statute Book. To the best of my knowledge that Act has proved successful with the passage of the years.

Clause 1 of the Bill would make illegal the taking, injuring or killing of badgers unless a licence had been obtained in accordance with the provisions of Clause 3. Clause 2 makes it an offence to deal in badgers. Clause 3, which again is modelled on the Protection of Birds Act, perhaps requires more explanation. Subsection (1) provides that the Minister of Agriculture may grant a licence to take badgers for three main purposes: first, for scientific or educational purposes—that is intended, of course, to cover and protect zoological gardens—and secondly, for breeding colonies. That would permit anyone who wished to establish colonies of badgers to do so, provided he had first obtained a licence. This clause, incidentally, lets me in, otherwise I should be in danger of denying myself the right to continue to look after them. The third purpose is for the conservation of badgers. This provision is rather widely drafted, I know, but it is intended to cover such problems as the removal of badgers from threatened habitats, the examination of diseased badgers, and so on. I hope that this clause has been drafted sufficiently tightly not to allow any loopholes in the general principle of the Bill while permitting the taking of badgers for reasons broadly concerned with their conservation.

On Clause 4, I should perhaps explain that in the third line of subsection (1), which talks of an "animal", the reference is to horses which apparently are used for taking badgers away. In subsection (1)(b) the word "animal" refers to dogs which may be, and indeed are, used in badger taking. The penalties provided in Clause 4 are modelled on those in the Protection of Birds Act, but the maximum fines are very much higher: £100 as compared with £25 in the 1954 Act. I feel that in 1973, £100 is a more effective, realistic deterrent than £25, though I hope, naturally, that this fine will not be seen as going against the Government's anti-inflationary policy. So much for the Bill itself.

Next comes the question: Is this Parliamentary exercise really necessary? I say, "Yes", both on the grounds of conservation and of humanity. I quote from the findings of the National Badger Survey, of which some of your Lordships may have heard, organised by the Mammal Society in 1963. This exhaustive, factual and scientific report, recently published, says: Reports from widespread parts of the country have emphasised the number of setts which had been active five years ago but which now are disused or destroyed". I would say that Mr. Arthur Killingley, the organiser of the Badger Survey, who has reports from over 50 county recorders, including, I believe, the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, estimates that two-thirds of the badger setts in localities preferred by badgers are now unoccupied. I am sorry about these quotations, my Lords, but they are important. I quote also from a letter from the Nature Conservancy in which it is said: While badgers as a species are not in danger"— I must be objective about this— (and indeed are plentiful in some areas), the assessment of a national expert on the badger. Dr. Ernest Neal, is that the population over Britain as a whole has gone down over the past five years, and in some parts this decline has been serious. There have been increasing pressures on the species from road and rail casualties, snaring, gassing and digging. Badger digging has increased considerably over the past three years—possibly associated with the increased popularity of working terriers as pets. To return to the Badger Survey which, incidentally, it has taken over ten years to compile, the Report continues: Badgers have been subjected to increasing pressures which in some parts have brought down the actual population of badgers considerably. It attributes this population decrease first of all to road casualties and loss of habitats due to industrial and housing sprawl, all of which we must regard as inevitable, though regrettable. But there are other destructive factors which cannot be regarded as unavoidable. For example, there is the gassing of badger setts, which, although the gassing of badgers is illegal, has become routine on many farms and shooting estates, and which is non-selective; 50 animals may die for the sins of one. Then there is the digging out and killing of badgers, both for so-called sport and for the obtaining of pelts—now seemingly again in fashion; tooth brushes are apparently the newest thing to be made out of badger hides. There is snaring which, though condemned in the Predatory Mammals booklet published by the Council of Nature, gravely depletes the population.

Thus, the conclusions of the Badger Survey and the individual findings of authorities on the badger all agree that the species is under pressure and in many areas is not making good its losses from man's predation as it was 15 years ago. In numerous areas where the badger was recorded at that time it has disappeared completely—only empty setts remain. In other districts not even the setts are there, because land use has entirely destroyed their habitat and badgers will not be seen in these places again. There is nothing we can do about this, except to lament the march of so-called progress. This has led to other unfortunate side-products. A badger area is rather like an aerodrome with a mass of surrounding satellites. When the outstations are destroyed, the aeroplanes congregate in the mother field. In terms of badgers this leads to territorial infighting among otherwise peaceful mammals; and distress upon the resident colonies has been seen to result in non-breeding adults the following spring and unusual behaviour patterns among individuals.

My Lords, it is only fair to ask the question: What harm does a badger do? I shall be glad to hear. I must confess that I have not been convinced so far that any effective evidence is available to show that he causes any harm on a scale which is sufficient to justify his destruction. One is told about the occasional rogue badger or, as I prefer to call him, the individual who has left the normal pattern of behaviour, but this animal seems to me to be a creature which is conveniently produced by those who wish to excuse the wholesale slaughter of badgers. In 1951 a Ministry of Agriculture bulletin, Wild Animals and the Land, prepared by Mr. Howard Lancum of the Ministry, showed that of the 109 cases investigated over 34 years, 92 were directly attributable to the fox, 15 were unidentifiable and two were badgers in exceptional circumstances. Nevertheless, if evidence is produced that on occasions the killing of a badger may be justified I shall be more than willing to consider Amendments to Clause 3 which would enable the Minister of Agriculture to agree a licence for the taking or killing of a badger in order to protect agricultural interests. I say this in the hope that we may reach a Committee stage. In my mind, the most satisfactory person to be consulted about the issue of a licence is the regional pest officer of the Ministry of Agriculture. I think the local pest officers have too much on their plate without adding this additional burden, though in fact I do not think that many applications would be made.

My Lords, in my submission, there is no evidence that the badger creates any significant nuisance problem; yet he is to-day being illegally gassed, he is being illegally snared, and, worst of all, he is being dug. I do not propose to speak to-day in an emotional way about the badger. Indeed I must confess that this, one of the largest of our surviving mammals, is not a particularly cuddly animal, as I well know, and I doubt whether more than 1 per cent. of the total population of this country have ever seen a badger, and then only by chance. Mostly people take it for granted. But I can assure your Lordships that the taking of a badger by digging is frequently done as a so-called sport, accompanied, as it is, by the use of such instruments as badger tongs, which, with permission, are exhibited on the table in the Royal Gallery for your Lordships' inspection. This practice involves a great deal of cruelty and suffering. These tongs and two snares, one for foxes and one for badgers—there is a difference—have been submitted by Mrs. Ruth Murray, one of the greatest experts in Britain on the badger. Such snaring exists and on a large scale. The banning of the cruel gin trap has contributed directly to the use of heavier gauge wire snares commercially produced. I am sure there is not one Member of your Lordships' House who would be prepared to condone cruelty of this kind.

My Lords, I hope this has been a brief speech; it was meant to be. I could have detained your Lordships with many facts and figures and many harrowing descriptions. There are matters to which, if we have the good fortune to move forward, we shall have to return in greater detail at a later stage of the Bill. I should like to say now that, should we reach a Committee stage, I shall gladly welcome any Amendments the Committee puts forward to make this Bill more effective; that is an open invitation to one and all.

My Lords, in the face of the strong evidence submitted, there is no question in my mind that the badger needs protection from cruelty. Indeed, if it is agreed to give protection on conservation grounds, great care will have to be taken to ensure that the most humane methods are used if and when badgers are taken under licence. There is much to recommend humane live trapping which does not involve the use of dogs and steel tongs, but this is for discussion at a later stage. I must emphasise that the longer we go on talking about this matter the worse the situation will become, until finally we may have talked the badger out of existence.

May I, in one minute, tell your Lordships about Mr. Brock. I know him; my wife knows him even better. He is a creature of the night. He is a loyal but not too affectionate an animal except to one person. He bites. When he and his friends come into the house my sons get on the table. He is not a pet, and anyone who tries to make him one is storing up trouble for himself and, much worse, for Mr. Brock too. Badger colonies, on the other hand, are happy places. We are taking our own little colony up to an island in the middle of Loch Lomond, where there are no people and no motor cars, the badger's only enemies. The worst thing ever said about him, apart from a badger digger in Wales who maintained that unless exterminated they would come out and eat our children, was said by that great naturalist, Miss Beatrix Potter, who asserted that he went to bed with his boots on, which I know personally not to be true. Left alone, he will do no harm to anyone. He may never love you, but he will never hate you. He has long ago taken out full British nationality. In fact he has been here longer than we have, by centuries. He is a dear, good fellow, and although we seldom if ever see him I like to think that he is here for all time.

In conclusion, may I quote from this week's Horse and Hound, sometimes known as "Quad and Dog". In it there is an article which ends with this most remarkable sentence: Don't forget that however fascinating your sport may be …"— and badger digging is not a sport— … conservation must always come first". My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.(The Earl of Arran.)

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, may I first of all apologise to your Lordships for not being able to stay for the duration of this debate, for reasons which I have made known. I should like to take this opportunity of publicly expressing my support for the Bill so ably introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Arran.

I have known this animal for quite a long time, because a friend of mine has some land on the Borders which contains within it a badger sett; his next-door neighbour was determined to get rid of this badger sett and he rather sought to re-draw the boundary line so that the sett came inside his property. I was called in to give a little assistance in maintaining the sett within the land owned by my friend. I am happy to say we were successful and so the badger sett continues to this day.

In the course of some experience at the Ministry of Agriculture, we were always being asked whether in fact we intended taking steps to protect the badger, and we always replied, even up to the last date of reply, that it was not necessary. One cannot claim that this animal is about to become extinct; but that does not mean that it does not require protection. So what this Bill seeks to do is, for the first time, to give protection to this animal. It may not make a very good pet, but it really is a charming animal, and anything we in your Lordships' House can do to protect its future will be a job well done.

My Lords, as I said I would only detain your Lordships for two minutes and I see the two minutes are up, I now finish by saying to the noble Earl how pleased I am to be able to support the Bill, and I hope that very soon, with the co-operation of all in your Lordships' House, it will become law.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I think it may be helpful to the House if I intervene at this point to say a few words about the matter generally and about the Government's attitude towards the noble Earl's Bill. I am sure we are all grateful to him for providing an opportunity to discuss this interesting and important subject. A large number of noble Lords and Baronesses who have indicated a wish to speak will give us the benefit of their great personal knowledge and interest and their concern in this matter. The fact that we are debating this matter this afternoon illustrates the importance that Members of your Lordships' House attach to the conservation and management of our native fauna. I should like also to say how much we shall look forward to hearing the maiden speech of my noble friend the Duke of Marlborough when he speaks after me.

Her Majesty's Government are well aware of the disquiet that has been expressed in some quarters about the alleged excessive killing and taking of badgers, the concern over some of the methods of killing that are used, and the anxiety felt by some people for the survival of these attractive creatures. My task to-day is first to give, in as objective a manner as possible, an account of the general problem as we see it, and secondly to explain the Government's attitude towards the noble Earl's Bill. It is true that there is no legislation specifically protecting badgers in the wild. But they have the protection of several general measures that contribute towards safeguarding wild animals from inadvertent destruction or unnecessary suffering. For example, it is illegal to poison or to gas badgers, or to set spring traps to catch them. Her Majesty's Government are well conscious of the need to ensure that the badger—and, for that matter, all other species of our native fauna—should not become endangered, and for that reason we keep the status of all British wild animals under review in the light of information and advice from the Natural Environment Research Council. However, we believe that before legislative action is undertaken to protect a particular species it is desirable to establish clearly whether it is in need of conservation, and, if so, whether legislative means are the most appropriate way of securing this.

For advice on conservation matters Her Majesty's Government look to the Natural Environment Research Council, and its component body the Nature Conservancy, for advice. These organisations have access to, and keep in touch with, the knowledge and views of a wide variety of expert naturalists. I am sure your Lordships will be interested to hear the latest information on the badger, which I obtained from the Conservancy only a few days ago. They tell me that the Mammal Society is currently undertaking a survey of the present status of the badger. When this is completed, there will be much more reliable information on which to assess whether this animal is in need of additional protection. Meanwhile, the Conservancy attach much importance to the views of Dr. Ernest Neal—to whom the noble Earl referred—who is a national expert on badgers. From his observations Dr. Neal is convinced that over the last five years there has been a definite decline in badgers in some counties, though in others there have been slight increases. Dr. Neal is satisfied that badgers as a species are not endangered, out his own assessment is that as a result of increasing pressures from several sources the overall badger population has probably gone down over the last five years, and that in some parts of the country the decline has been marked. On the basis of their present information, it is the Nature Conservancy's opinion that badgers are generally common and widely distributed throughout Great Britain, and that the species is not endangered and does not need protection on conservation grounds.

Allegations are made from time to time that badger digging for sport, or to obtain badgers for commercial reasons, is responsible for the destruction of large numbers of badgers under conditions of great cruelty. I am aware of reports that badger digging occurs in a few widely scattered, and relatively small, areas, as a consequence of which the badger population in the immediate locality may be put under pressure. But we have no factual evidence that this practice is widespread, or that badgers are otherwise persecuted or cruelly treated by man.

An Interdepartmental Committee, under the chairmanship of the late John Scott Henderson, which inquired into cruelty to wild animals some years ago, concluded that badger digging was not then a common practice. I will not detain the House by giving a detailed account of what the Committee had to say about the badger, but your Lordships may be interested to know the gist of their findings. This was that control was generally unnecessary except in the case of rogue badgers; that badger digging was more frequently done for the purpose of controlling the number of badgers, or for dealing with rogue badgers, than for sport; and that provided the badger was killed quickly and humanely when it was reached, digging need not involve excessive suffering. The Committee did not consider that any recommendation about badger digging was necessary. The Home Office tell me that they have no evidence that the position has changed materially since the Committee reported.

Assertions have also been made that badgers are being killed on a large scale for commercial reasons, such as for their fur or for sale of badger cubs as pets. While I would not claim that the Government are so closely informed about the situation as to be able authoritatively to reject assertions of this kind, the fact of the matter is that we have received no evidence that such activities are extensive or that they have any significant effect on the overall size of the badger population. May I say at this point that the Home Office will always consider any evidence on this matter that is put before it. Inquiries made of the fur trade do not support claims, which have been made, that badgers are being killed because of, for example, a shortage of imported furs. Neither is there any evidence that the keeping of badger cubs as pets is widespread or on the increase; nor have we any reason to believe that there is any particular demand for cubs as pets, or for any other reason.

Without doubt, one of the most serious hazards which confronts the badger is the movement of road, and to a lesser extent rail, traffic. It must be recognised that as traffic increases, particularly at night, pressure on badgers from this source will increase in some areas. But this is not a problem that can be solved by legislation. I am glad to say, however, that we have no reason to think that the number of badgers killed by traffic has any serious effect on the size of the badger population in the country as a whole. So far I have tried to outline the various pressures which bear upon, or are thought to bear upon, the badger. Despite these, there is no evidence of any serious decline in the overall badger population such as to make it necessary to legislate to conserve the species.

My Lords, I should now like to mention the position of the badger in relation to agriculture. Badgers are seldom harmful to agriculture or forestry. Indeed, in many ways they are beneficial because their varied diet includes a number of small animals, such as young rabbits, moles and others which are troublesome to farmers and foresters. Occasionally, however, a rogue badger may attack poultry, or damage corn by rolling in it, and when this happens a farmer would want, quite naturally, to prevent a recurrence by destroying the offending animal. He would probably do this by shooting it in the late evening or early morning when it was coming out of, or entering, its sett.

The finding of tuberculosis of the bovine type in badgers in two specific areas of the country, in conjunction with an increased incidence of tuberculosis in cattle, is giving rise to concern. There is strong circumstantial evidence that the disease may be transmitted to cattle from an infected badger population, and where there is evidence to indicate that this is happening, it is necessary to consider destroying some badgers—not only to remove the challenge to the health of the cattle herds, but also as a measure of protection to the badger community itself. In this connection, my Lords, we can perhaps draw a parallel with what happens on the Continent where rabies is endemic in wildlife, and where the fox and the badger can be implicated in the spread of this disease. If rabies should get into wildlife in this country, as it has in Europe, it may be necessary to destroy badgers in the affected area, and for that matter other carriers of the disease, in order to check its spread.


My Lords, will the noble Baroness forgive me for interrupting. It would also be necessary to destroy the bat population, who are the biggest importers of rabies—particularly in the tropics—although I do not know how that is done. But I am not disagreeing with the noble Baroness; I am just pointing out that bats are great rabies carriers.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for those observations, of which I will take note.

I will now turn to the details of the Bill itself. The Bill seeks to provide complete protection for the badger. Clause 1 would prohibit the killing, injuring or taking, or any attempt thereat, of badgers at all times; and Clause 2 would make the sale of live badgers illegal. The broad question is: are these restrictions necessary? The first test is that of conservation. As I have said, the advice the Government have received is that legislation is not needed to protect the badger against the threat of extinction, or serious depletion in numbers. The next question is whether legislation is needed to protect the animal from cruel methods of destruction; but, as I have explained, the Government have no evidence of the widespread infliction of excessive or unnecessary suffering when badgers are destroyed. It follows, therefore, that Her Majesty's Government are not convinced that legislation to protect the badger is necessary at the present time. But let me say at once that on this basic issue the Government wish to maintain an attitude of neutrality, as is customary in matters of animal protection of this sort.

I do not propose to go into great detail on all the Government's objections to the noble Earl's Bill; but if a measure along these lines were thought to be desirable, the present Bill would need fairly substantial amendment. For example, Clause 3 would permit the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to license the taking of badgers for certain specified purposes: first, scientific and educational; secondly, establishing breeding colonies; and, thirdly, conservation of badgers. The purposes for which these licences may be issued do not, however, appear to be relevant to the functions of the Minister of Agriculture; it would probably be better for the licensing functions to be exercised by the Nature Conservancy. In passing, I might add that no provision appears to have been made for the Secretary of State for Scotland to exercise similar licensing powers in Scotland.

A much more serious deficiency, and one which makes the Bill in its present form unacceptable to Her Majesty's Government, is that it makes no provision whatever for any control measures to be taken to protect crops and other property, or to prevent the spread of disease. Neither is there any provision for mercy killing, nor for the unavoidable destruction of badgers that may be occupying setts in the way of essential works, such as housing or motorway construction.

The penalty provisions in Clause 4(2) are also unsatisfactory as they stand. Provision for short terms of imprisonment for offences of this nature is not in line with present day thinking. But if provision for imprisonment is to be included, three months for a first offence and six months for a second or subsequent offence is unacceptable. This is because a person charged with an offence carrying a liability of a custodial sentence of over three months on summary conviction has, in general, a right to elect trial by jury. It would, therefore, be evident that any person appearing before a jury on trial for an offence under the Bill had a previous conviction for a similar offence.

Enforcement would also present special problems. Legislation which provided complete protection for a single species, such as the badger, would be extremely difficult to enforce. Unless all means of killing other animals of similar size and habit were prohibited, it would probably be impossible to prove that a person who caught a badger—for example, in a snare—had deliberately set out to kill a badger.

I hope the noble Earl will consider these general comments made in a helpful spirit. As I have already made plain, the formal attitude of the Government towards the basic issue of whether it is desirable to legislate to provide additional protection for the badger is one of neutrality, and we leave it to the House to judge this issue on its merits. If, after to-day's debate, your Lordships decide to give this Bill a Second Reading, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, may wish to look again at its provisions in the light of the comments that I, and other speakers in the debate, have made. In conclusion, I should like to say that the Government will listen with great attention to all that is said.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask whether the badger spreads brucellosis or tuberculosis?


My Lords, my understanding is that there is strong circumstantial evidence in two counties that a form of tuberculosis has been spread by badgers.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I ask your Lordships' indulgence and forbearance in respect of this my maiden speech. You may consider, quite rightly, that it is rather strange to make a maiden speech about badgers, but when I asked what were the requirements for a maiden speech I was told that there were only two important points to be observed: first, that the speech should be politically non-controversial; and secondly that it should be short. I am sure all Parties will agree that the former point is met, and the new clock in your Lordships' House will shortly prove that the latter point also has been met. Another reason for choosing this subject is that in most walks of life one has to start one's career at the bottom, and one cannot start much lower than underground with badgers.

This is a Bill to prohibit the taking, injuring or killing of badgers. According to articles that I have read in an evening paper, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, keeps badgers as domestic pets. While not necessarily agreeing with his choice of companions, I can well understand his sentimental attachments. We are all, I think, lovers of animals of one sort or another. The latest instalment of the articles last night referred to this week as "Badger Week". With due respect, I think it would be better called "Dollar Week", or "Gas Week". The noble Earl is worried that badgers could become extinct but, according to my information, the facts do not show that as a possibility. The reason for their supposed scarcity arises from two causes: first, the nature of its haunts, which are generally in deep recesses of large woods, fox covers and quarries; and, secondly, the nature of its habits: it is shy and retiring and chiefly nocturnal. As I have said, we are all animal lovers and naturally none of us wants to see badgers killed for the sake of killing or for the sale of their pelts. But we must also take care that the inhabitants of the countryside are well balanced, and must not allow any particular species to become too dominant.

Clause 3 deals with Ministry licences, but there is nothing in the Bill to legislate for the rogue badger. I agree that, basically, the average badger is an attractive and harmless animal, but we must make sure that the bad ones can be dealt with in as humane a way as possible. Once a badger gets into bad habits he does not give them up. I know that such cases are exceptional, but badgers have been known to kill lambs, and there have certainly been several cases of badgers killing chickens and destroying nests. If the Bill is passed in its present form, an individual will be powerless to do anything for fear of imprisonment or a fine. If the Bill were amended in order to deal with, say, the case of a badger killing chickens and one had to apply to the Ministry for a licence, one can imagine the sort of questions that would be on the application form "What damage was done? What precautions were taken to ensure that the damage was not done? Were there any witnesses? Have the police been informed?" Send the form off with the Christmas post, my Lords, and write off those chickens.

I ask your Lordships to take the case of badgers damaging cornfields. Would a farmer have to wait for an inspection by a Ministry official? Clause 4 states: (1) A constable may without warrant stop and search any person found committing an offence against this Act and any vehicle or animal which that person may then be using. I am not sure what would be the point of searching an animal, my Lords, but what worries me is that there is here a very real possibility of a miscarriage of justice. What safeguard would there be for some unfortunate farmworker who innocently gassed a badger down a rabbit hole, after being asked by his employer to gas rabbits? The noble Earl, a keeper or maybe a constable might know through instinct and knowledge that a badger was also in that rabbit hole, but the farm worker would have committed an offence. I am therefore worried about the effect that the Bill in its present form would have on the individual landlord or farmer who was acting in his or her best interests.

Would it not be right to allow the individual landlord or farmer to deal with the rogue badger in the same way as one is able to deal with a marauding dog which chases and kills sheep? If evidence is provided that the dog has attacked sheep, the law protects the person who has had to kill the dog. Surely the same type of law could be applied in the case of a badger attacking, say, chickens. It is comparatively easy to tell whether the damage has been done by a badger or by another animal. Alternatively, if your Lordships were worried about the numbers, could the Forestry Commission's large areas of woods become conservation areas, leaving the rest of the countryside to be managed by the people who live and work there? There are many landowners and farmers who like badgers. I am sure the noble Earl need have no fear that their numbers will drop dramatically. Most countrymen's thoughts and actions are directed in some way or another to preserving our lovely countryside, and to conserving the many species of animals that live therein and thereon. My Lords, I end by thanking you for the courtesy shown to me during my maiden speech.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me—and it is a great pleasure—to express on behalf of your Lordships' House many congratulations to the noble Duke on his maiden speech. He has shown great sensitivity and great understanding, and although I do not agree with him in what he has said I hope that we shall hear him much more in the coming months in this House, perhaps on other, more important, subjects.

May I, my Lords, speak for a very few minutes in support of this Bill, not only because there are a great many badgers in Somerset but because, as the noble Earl has said—and let us remember this—this is a conservation Bill. It is not a sentimentalist's Bill: it is a conservation Bill. Neither does it deal with field sports. It deals, as the noble Earl said, with badgers, an animal which is regarded by certain sections of the community as a pest. Some blame the badger quite wrongly for a great number of misdoings of other animals, especially of the fox, while others single him out as the object for a cruel sport. Anyway, he has, as we have already heard, come under great harassment recently—unjustly and relentlessly.

I do not know whether your Lordships are aware of the habits of badgers, but perhaps I may quite briefly mention them. They live in clans of from two to twelve members, occupying a complex main sett and defending the land surrounding the main sett for a quarter to half a mile against neighbouring clans. They usually choose ground which is well-drained and where cover exists. They usually choose thick hedges, brackened sides of hills and woodlands. The home range round the main sett must, of course, contain sufficient food for the clan. Over one-half the annual intake of food is earthworms; the rest is made up of small mammals, eggs, fledglings of ground-nesting birds, beetles, wasps, insects, slugs and snails, fruits, grain and carrion. These are some of the habits of this very delightful animal—part of the inheritance of our countryside.

The harassments under which this animal has recently come have already been mentioned. May I just repeat them, to press the point? First, they have recently come under pressure due to the destruction of cover. Changing agricultural practices have led to a considerable reduction in the number of hedgerows and small woods, especially in lowland Britain. Secondly, the development of land for industry, housing, reservoirs and so on has locally displaced badger colonies. Roads have been mentioned. A large number of badgers are killed each year on the roads. In Somerset it has recently been estimated from a detailed survey of the Taunton area that over 1,000 badgers are killed annually on the roads of the county. Motorways, too, can have a devastating effect, especially during the first few weeks after the opening of a motorway. Fourthly, there is trapping and shooting, and fifthly, digging, which has been mentioned. This seems to be growing in popularity, and areas such as Wirral in Cheshire, near large conurbations, have had their badger populations severely depleted. In spite of what the noble Baroness has said, I think the value of skins is a considerable inducement to digging; and sums of between £5 and £20 can be obtained for a young badger cub as a pet. Sixthly, there is gassing. This is illegal. It does take place, but sometimes quite accidentally, in gassing rabbits or in gassing foxes. Seventhly, there are pesticides; they die after eating pigeons poisoned by grain dressed with mercury seed dressings. This has been proved to kill. Those are some of the ways in which the badger is under strong pressure.

I support this Bill generally because I am sure in my own mind that with so many pressures protection is needed. I think it is needed in three respects. In particular, the digging of badgers on private land without the landowner's permission should be discouraged. The British Field Sports Society suggests that the game laws could be amended to cover this point. Secondly, there should be protection from indiscriminate snaring, trapping and shooting. Thirdly, the sale of skins and cubs should be severely discouraged. Admittedly, damage is caused by badgers. In certain circumstances, badgers can cause serious damage, and any protective legislation must ensure that in such circumstances badgers can be legally moved or destroyed. At the same time—and this point must be stressed—it must be ensured that any such clause does not allow for abuse of the law. These forms of damage have already been mentioned: the undermining of fields, roads and buildings so as to cause a nuisance; when proved to be carrying disease liable to affect domestic animals and stocks; and when proved to be causing serious damage to game birds, poultry and crops. This is very rare, but it does happen. Wild game birds, especially partridges, do suffer.

Finally, there is this subordinate question about which Department should have responsibility for controlling badgers. The Bill suggests the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In view of the conservation aspects of this question, there is a case, surely, for putting it either under the Department of Education and Science, since the Nature Conservancy, as part of the Natural Environment Research Council, at present report to them, or under the Department of the Environment, to which the Nature Conservancy is shortly to be transferred. I think that whichever Department has ultimate responsibility should exercise it always in consultation with the Nature Conservancy, who are the specialists in this field. I am very glad indeed to support my noble friend in his Bill.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by joining with the right reverend Prelate in congratulating the noble Duke on his maiden speech. It was an extremely good, moderate and reasoned speech and, unlike other speeches, with the exception of that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, it was expressly devoted to the contents of the Bill. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, would, I think, be surprised if I did not take part in a debate on a Bill initiated by him. I should not like to disappoint him; the temptation to take part in any Bill that he introduces is one that I find almost irresistible. He, like the right reverend Prelate, devoted a great deal of his speech to the badger. That is quite understandable; but the noble Earl said very little about what is in his Bill and the right reverend Prelate said very little about the contents of the Bill.

This has been put forward as a conservation measure and the right reverend Prelate indicated, as he thought, that the case for conservation had been made out. But the real question is this. To what extent has it been made out that the decrease, if it has occurred in the species, is due to the acts which the noble Earl now seeks to prohibit? If there is any case for conservation owing to decreasing numbers, to what extent is it due to the alleged evils? If I follow the right reverend Prelate correctly, the greatest damage to badgers is done by motor cars. I thought at one stage that he was advocating that motor cars should be abolished in his diocese and on all motorways; but I may have been wrong about that.

In one of those effervescent articles which appear in an evening paper, I see that recently the noble Earl wrote, in the advance publicity for this measure: It is going to be a stern battle with many vested interests against me. My Lords, I have left off my waistcoat! He went on to say: I shall not talk any sentimental twaddle. That, no doubt, was a New Year resolution. I would say to him that I would be the last to accuse him of talking any sentimental twaddle. To-day, if I may say so, I thought he moved the Second Reading of his Bill in a speech of very considerable moderation, deprived almost entirely of the emotion with which usually I associate his speeches; and although he said little about the Bill, he spoke with remarkable clarity on other subjects. One thing his speech did make clear was his affection for the badger.

Returning to this article, he said: I shall not talk about British field sports. Woe betide anyone who does! That is a terrible threat. I am not sure that it is not even a breach of privilege to try by threat to prevent one of your Lordships from mentioning British field sports.


My Lords—


My Lords, I am not going to give way. Were I to do so, I should be doing so too often. The noble Earl will have his opportunity at the end. Despite that threat, I am going to mention British fields sports, to this extent. The noble Earl and I both engage in field sports. He, I understand, is a first-class shot and shoots a great deal. I shoot only when I can. I think that perhaps we should both be members of the British Field Sports Society. Perhaps the noble Earl is; but I am not. I should like to make it clear to the noble Earl that I do not speak for that Society or for anyone except myself. Therefore I hope he will not accuse me of being a vested interest. That would be very wounding.

We all have a great affection for badgers; they are wonderful animals. But that is not the question before the House now. Personally I do not think—and here I part company with the noble Earl—that a wild animal like the badger should be kept in captivity, even as a pet. The noble Earl has, I believe, no less than five of them. How they were taken I do not know. If this Bill reaches the Statute Book it will be illegal to take them to keep them as pets. That, I think, is a very desirable objective. Different considerations might apply to badgers bred in captivity. But I must say that I am surprised that the noble Earl did not in his Bill insert a provision to make it illegal to keep badgers as pets. I must say that I wonder why. That is perhaps one of the things the noble Earl will deal with when he comes to reply. I would ask him also, when he comes to reply, to say whether or not he would accept an Amendment on the Committee stage to make it illegal to keep badgers as pets—with heavily retrospective penalties.

My Lords, I have two objections to this Bill. The first is that when its terms are examined, you find it really goes too far: the second is that I fear it will be wholly ineffective to achieve the result that the noble Earl wants. I am against adding to the number of Acts of Parliament already on the Statute Book another which is likely to be ineffective, inoperative and therefore useless. We already know that it is illegal to gas badgers; that it is illegal to trap them. I think it was said—I am not quite sure whether I heard it correctly—that it was illegal to snare them. Has the legislation stopped that? I am afraid that it has not.

But to come back, first, to the main question, this Bill is introduced by the noble Earl on the ground that there is a need at the present time for the conservation of badgers. Secondly, he says that he puts it forward on grounds of humanity. Dealing with the question of conservation, I find it difficult to believe that a case is made out for this species in the light of the statement by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I recognise, as we all must, that many species of wild animal in this island are under great pressure at the present time owing to urban development and for the reasons given by the right reverend Prelate. But that does not mean that there should be a complete prohibition on the taking or killing or on the attempted taking or killing of all those animals. It really does not. If a Bill were passed making a complete prohibition, how effective would it be? So I would say to the noble Earl that so far, despite his advocacy and in the light of what was said by the noble Baroness, he has failed to convince me that there is at this moment any real need for a Bill for the purposes of conservation of badgers. The time may come when he does introduce a Bill which I shall be able to support wholeheartedly; and I look forward to that.

Coming back to the Bill itself, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to a part of Clause 1. It is a complete prohibition. I agree with her that it really goes too far. It is a complete prohibition except in relation to three categories of case where you have to apply under Clause 3 for a licence from the Minister of Agriculture. What is the need for a complete prohibition? The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the answer given recently in the advice of the Nature Conservancy, that the species is not in danger and does not need protection on conservation grounds. If that be right, what case is there for the total prohibition proposed?

My Lords, the noble Baroness drew attention to the fact that this prohibition was too absolute. I must say that if I saw a badger with a snare round its neck; if I saw a badger which was injured; if I saw a badger covered with mange, and a danger to other badgers for that reason, I should feel that I was being merciful if I used my gun to put that badger out of its agony; and I think the noble Earl would, too. But this Bill makes the use of a gun for a mercy killing a criminal offence, punishable by three months' imprisonment and a fine of £100. My Lords, that really will not do. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, referred to rogue badgers. Suppose a rogue badger is found taking poultry. Is the farmer who destroys it, as he would destroy a dog found chasing his sheep, guilty of a criminal offence? That must be wrong. Those are two criticisms of the first clause of the Bill and I think that they are major criticisms.

It is not only the rogue badger. Where you get too many badgers in a particular area, and there is a shortage of their natural food, surely the badgers will be tempted, perhaps driven, to take poultry. Ought they not to be destroyed if they do so? Under the Bill as it stands, you can get a licence from the Ministry of Agriculture. Fisheries and Food to take and kill badgers for conservation purposes. Whatever the noble Lord may think, I do not think that a licence to kill badgers because they are doing a lot of damage—a licence obtained under a provision that you can get a licence only to take them for conservation—would be a method of conserving badgers. If you want to kill them that would be the reverse of conservation. Be that as it may, my Lords, I support what has been said already, that this Bill goes too far. It makes no provision for culling badgers, as has to be done, I believe, with deer in Richmond Park and Windsor Forest.

Clause 1 also makes it an offence for a person to have possession or control of any badger recently killed for taken. That will not apply to the noble Earl, Lord Arran. I imagine he has had his badgers for some considerable time. But it makes that an offence, unless the accused person can show that the badger was killed or taken otherwise than in contravention of this Act. That is throwing the burden of proof of innocence on the accused, something which ordinarily we are very reluctant to do. If you want to move a badger away from a place where it is a nuisance to somewhere else, again you will commit an offence under the provisions of the Bill unless you first apply to the Ministry for a licence for conservation. It would be an offence to take them and to move them elsewhere without such a licence. But the reason for taking them elsewhere would not be for conservation but just to take them away from that particular spot.

My Lords, I should like to criticise Clause 2 in some respects. It makes it an offence to sell or offer for sale or have a badger in one's possession for sale. Does the noble Earl really think that that is a worthwhile provision? Does he think that in practice it would be easy to prove the sale of a badger, or an offer to sell one, unless it was advertised, or that a badger in the possession of some person was there for sale? It would be easy to prove that it was in a person's possession, but not easy to establish for what purpose. I am puzzled about this. Why is that limited to the possession of badgers for sale? That would exclude badgers kept as pets but I should think that that clause needs considerable redrafting to make it right.

With regard to Clause 3, I note that the noble Earl said that "scientific or educational purposes" meant capture for zoological gardens. It would be easier to understand his Bill had that been put in specifically. I will not say much more about Clause 3, but it appears that the Ministry will have fairly substantial duties imposed on them, if this Bill becomes law, without a case being made out.

Clause 4 is a most remarkable clause, and some reference to it was made by the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough. It states: A constable may without warrant stop and search any person found committing an offence against this Act …". I pause there for a moment. Are constables to be given power to enter on any private land at any time? There is nothing in the Bill to say that. Most of these offences would, presumably, take place on private land. Are constables to be allowed to enter all woods and coverts on anyone's land at any time? There is no authority given in this Bill for them to commit trespass. But suppose they do go into a wood, what would be the position? They will be entitled to stop someone and search him if they find him committing an offence. That would be fairly easy with regard to taking or attempting to take a badger, or killing or attempting to kill one. But what about the third limb of Clause 1, which makes it an offence to be in possession of a badger recently taken unless you can show that it was not taken in contravention of the Act. The constable will not know whether an offence is committed at that stage. That will not be determined until the case is heard in court. So how can he say that a person he finds in possession of a badger recently killed or taken is committing an offence? I do not know. Perhaps the noble Earl will explain.

The clause goes on: … and any vehicle or animal which that person may then be using … The constable can stop it. The noble Earl said, if I heard him correctly, that the animal there referred to was meant to be a horse. If it was meant to be a horse it would have been better to say so, and that the constable could stop the horse. I am not sure what use the horse is; the noble Earl did not explain. The subsection goes on: … and may … arrest that person if he fails to give his name and address to the constable's satisfaction and … detain for the purposes of proceedings under this Act any badger whether alive or dead, or any weapon, animal or article capable of being used to kill or take badgers, which may be in that person's possession. I should be grateful if the noble Earl would explain to me why it is necessary that Parliament should give the constable power not only to stop but also to search the horse, because that is quite clearly provided for in the first part of the subsection. I should also be glad if he would explain what is meant by: … which that person may then be using … I do not quite understand how you use a horse. I used to ride one; but I do not think that could be described as "using" a horse. The noble Earl will no doubt explain in due course what he means by that phrase.


My Lords, I do not ride; but I think horses can be used for carrying.


Then the subsection continues: … any weapon, animal or article capable of being used to kill or take badgers may be seized. I suppose that any motor car is capable of killing badgers. I should find it difficult to make a list of things which were not capable of being used for killing badgers. If that object or thing is found in that person's possession at that time, it can be seized. If a farmer uses a gun in the mercy killing of a badger, the constable may seize it; and what is more, the court can order its forfeiture. That adds heavily to the penalties imposed. That is why I say, with the greatest respect to the noble Earl, that his Bill really does go too far. Even if, on conservation grounds, there is a need made out for some further protection to that now already given to the species, this Bill, I suggest to the noble Earl, goes unreasonably far.

My Lords, coming to a consideration of the position, the noble Earl referred to a Bill being introduced in another place, and also made some reference to its contents. I do not think the Bill has yet been published. I have seen a copy of a draft Bill, and I would suggest to the noble Earl, if it is the same draft, that he should study it carefully, because I personally regard that Bill as a far better Bill than the one introduced by the noble Earl, and I think he would do much better to withdraw his present Bill and put forward in its place one similar to that to which he and I have both referred. Otherwise, so far as I can see, there is nothing much to be said for any of the clauses in this Bill, and the right course would be to move to leave them all out and insert an entirely different measure.

I admire the noble Earl's enthusiasm; I admire the way in which this Bill is not drafted so as to apply to those who already have badgers as pets, although that is an exception that can be remedied. But I must say that if the noble Earl persists in this measure, because I think it will form a blot on the Statute Book I should find it impossible to support it. The other reason why I should find it impossible to support the Bill is that I do not believe it is likely to have any material effect. We have not the number of police who can patrol woods to see that there is no abstraction of badgers in the early hours of the night or in the daytime. The Bill would impose an extra burden on the police, and we should be reluctant about how we do that.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to preface my remarks this afternoon by congratulating the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough, on his maiden speech. It was commendable both for its content, which led me to believe that we might have one more person anxious to deal with the preservation of our countryside, and because he stood between your Lordships and the Greek colonels for a very short time, and a number of other people have apparently wanted to do so for an exceedingly long period.

My Lords, I suppose ten years ago there were more badgers in this country than there had been for the last couple of hundred years and anybody who had produced a Bill such as that introduced by the noble Earl to-day would have been laughed out of court. Badgers were exceedingly common and had increased considerably, as had foxes, but they had not shown themselves quite so adaptable as foxes in going into the outer suburbs of our larger towns as foxes have done, living off dustbins, and, I suspect, cats. None the less, there were a large number of badgers in this country and a Bill would have been totally unnecessary. But as the noble Baroness said, there have since been signs—and they are shown in the Mammal Society's report to which she referred, and in Dr. Neal's report, to which she also referred—that in some parts of England the numbers of badgers are starting to decline. I do not agree with the right reverend Prelate's analysis of that decline. I do not think it is due entirely to men. In animal populations you get ebbs and flows, and when you get an ebb of this sort it can be as much due to natural causes as it is to men, or motor cars, or poisons and the like. But it is at that stage that some form of protection is needed. When the population of any animal in any part of the country becomes so low that the animal is in danger, we cannot afford to lose a single potential breeding animal, and some form of protection becomes necessary.

I live in Suffolk, where badgers have never been common because the country is not suitable; and they have become even less common in recent years. This is certainly not due to persecution by men, because I know three or four setts which have been previously occupied but which are now empty, although the owner of the land on which they are sited was very proud of them. Badgers in my part of the world are, I think, in quite considerable danger. There are many other parts of England where the same conditions obtain, and in those areas I believe that some form of protection is necessary. I have a relative who lives in Wales, and when I go there and walk through the woods I find badger tracks every 100 yards; and even if one goes for a walk in the evening, one can be pretty certain of seeing a badger in a particular place. In such areas where badgers are abundant, I do not think any protection is necessary.

That is the fundamental principle of our new conservation outlook on the protection of animals, as opposed to the old-fashioned, purely protective one, which, although the noble Earl, Lord Arran, has disclaimed it, I think lies behind the way his Bill is drafted. The principle we should follow now is that where an animal is falling away in numbers and is at risk we should protect it, but that protection is not necessary where the numbers are maintained. And as the noble and learned Viscount said just now, in almost the only sentence of his speech with which I agreed, a law which is unnecessary is a bad law. So far as the noble Earl's proposed law would give universal protection, I feel that it is not the right way of approaching the problem. But that point can be easily dealt with in Committee.

I hope that your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading this afternoon, because I feel that in Committee we can turn it into a Bill which may be a model for other Bills to protect other animals. What we need at the moment is a Bill that we can use for every sort of animal which needs protection; and we could turn this Bill into that sort of Bill. I hope that your Lordships and the Government will be convinced as to that. I hope, though with no great expectation of success, that even the noble and learned Viscount may be convinced that we should give the Bill a Second Reading and then in Committee make it a good Bill.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my congratulations to those of other noble Lords who have spoken before me to the noble Duke for his very clear and authoritative maiden speech. I certainly would not pose as a great expert on badgers, but I live in a part of the country where they are relatively plentiful and where the so-called sport of badger-digging is a traditional one. Also, for as long as I can remember, I have had a badger sett within 100 yards of our house always inhabited by badgers; so I can claim an interest, even if only a small one, in badgers.

In supporting the noble Earl's Bill, I should like to make three points. First of all, I am convinced that the badger does no serious harm to the farmer, to the forester, or indeed to the poultry breeder: no harm at all. He is omnivorous, as has been said, but his diet, when it is not vegetable, consists primarily of young rabbits, rats, voles and mice. In fact, he is the farmer's friend and in many cases also the friend of the keeper. This fact is being increasingly recognised by the more enlightened. If the remains of a hen are occasionally found outside the badger sett, it is almost certainly the fox who is responsible because a fox often inhabits a badger sett. Indeed, I have seen a fox and a badger emerge from the same entrance of a badger sett within minutes of each other. The sins of the fox are far too often visited on our friend the badger. Secondly, the badger population is certainly decreasing in my part of the country, Devonshire. Of that I am afraid there is no doubt at all. Why, I am not enough of an expert to say; but I think the experts would give the explanation of more road deaths. Equally, there is more gassing and more snaring, and quite certainly there is more badger-digging in Devonshire. I cannot speak for anywhere else.

The badger-digging is done not only by local inhabitants but also by city dwellers who come out to the country—those who might perhaps be described as the "M.5 cowboys". I do not want to elaborate on the cruelty of badger-digging—this has been mentioned before—but let us remember what it is. You dig for the badger; you drag it from its sett with those horrible specially-made iron tongs to which the noble Earl has referred. It is then battered to death with spades or crowbars. It is not a very pretty sport. Terriers, of course, are also used, and though it has not been mentioned before, this also entails a good deal of cruelty. The terrier is used to flush or locate the badger and then to worry him and prevent his getting to safety, and the badger, when cornered, turns and mauls the terrier and very frequently kills it.

Neither the common law nor any existing legislation, I believe, adequately protects the badger at the moment; indeed, he has had to wait until to-day to get a chance to be protected. I should be the first to agree that Amendments to the Bill are required—Amendments, for example, to deal with the rogue badger, which quite certainly exists—but any Amendments which relate protection of the badger to trespass would be really quite useless. We all know that legislation on trespass is both weak and extremely difficult to enforce. Badger-digging, in the majority of cases, even if not all of them, involves no trespass because it is done by the owner or the occupier of the land. So, in conclusion, I hope that it can be accepted that the badger is a friend and not an enemy. I think it has been accepted to-day in your Lordships' House that the badger is persecuted and that badger-digging is an utterly dreadful sport. I think we could all accept that this delightful animal does need some form of protection, at least in some areas—and I am inclined to say all areas. Therefore I believe that this Bill would do much to protect the badger, and when it is suitably amended I shall most certainly support it.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, in supporting the noble Earl's Bill, I do so with certain reservations, because it seems to me that the Bill is a very sweeping one, referring as it does to complete protection of the badger. That is clearly not possible in the British Isles. I am trying to speak less as one who enjoys field and blood sports, and less as a conservationist, and possibly more on the lines of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, who is an eminent field naturalist. In view of the fact that there are so many speakers to follow, I should like to talk very briefly this evening on the habitat of the badger, which is obviously shrinking all the time. With a short-legged animal such as the badger competing with a growing rural population, and the fact that something like 50,000 acres are being lost to agriculture every year, one can see that the habitat of this very charming animal is shrinking all the time. One can also readily understand that the distribution of the badger is entirely uneven and, for this reason, requires readjusting.

I may be wandering a little from the Bill, and perhaps I may wander a little further in a moment. I should just like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who gave the Ministerial reply, that I take issue with her on two small points. First, there was the mention of the risk of badgers carrying disease. That may well be true but, frankly, I think it is an exaggerated fear. After all, most deer parks are riddled with disease, and what a herd of fallow or red deer can do in spreading contagious abortion must be a much greater risk to our dairy herds or to dry heifers running in a deer park than could ever happen with a small sett of badgers. I also feel, with all respect to the Government's case, that the Nature Conservancy whatever admirable work they perform—and far be it from me to find fault with it—are probably not sufficiently informed about the juxtaposition of badgers in different counties of Great Britain.

The badger, as the noble Duke has said (and I should like to add my congratulations to him on his maiden speech) is an animal which shuns publicity and is found only in the quiet out-of-the-way places of the shrinking countryside; it obviously finds our roads, railways and suburbia impossible to cope with. For this reason there are possibly too many on one side of a road and not enough on the other of a railway line. This imbalance should be readjusted. But, if I may digress further from that point, the badger (as Lord Arran said in his admirable speech) is the oldest of the creatures now living in the British Isles; and while we seek to protect all natural animals, how much more should we strive to protect the natural inhabitant of these islands! How much more should we strive to destroy the ecology of marauding creatures such as the coypu, which does so much damage in East Anglia and is, after all, only a rat from South America; or, worse still, the mink, which is doing infinite harm to our game and poultry and, I am told, even to young badgers!

I hope that these thoughts will be borne in mind. There are only three reasons why badgers should be killed: perhaps to make a shaving brush; perhaps to supply the regimental dress sporran of an officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders; and, thirdly, to blood a terrier. In this connection, there is a good story concerning what is perhaps our finest terrier, the Border, which is bred to stand up to a badger, which can always beat other terriers. There was an old huntsman of the Buccleuch hounds, whose son bred good terriers. He persuaded his father to put a badger skin over his head and get down on the floor on hands and knees and look at a young pup, to find out what the terrier's reaction would be. The Border terrier seized the old man by the nose. The man howled blue murder and danced about, with the terrier hanging on to his nose. His son shouted, "Hang on, fayther, it will be the making of the pup"!

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my congratulations to the noble Duke on his maiden speech? It was very interesting and I am sure he is going to be a tremendous addition to our House. I am afraid that I am going to be entirely sentimental about the badger. That is the only way that I regard the animal. For ten years I enjoyed watching two badger setts. They were on common land, but now I fear there is not a badger anywhere near. Both the setts were in banks. The installation of a new rural water supply disturbed one sett. I knew the other sett very well because it was almost next door to my garden. An odious person, a farmer, whom I tackled afterwards, blocked up various entrances to the setts and then gassed the badgers. I was frantic; I could not get over it. I could not walk across that bit of downland because of those badgers. The badgers from the other sett came over to us. I suppose they thought that it was safer than having all the workmen who were digging the reservoir around them.

Very often I used to watch the badgers in the evening. I started feeding them and I noticed with great care that the food that they touched were such things as snails or slugs that I put out for them. The same thing would happen with worms, et cetera. I tried them with food such as bread, biscuits and cake. I gave them a leg of chicken once or twice, but they did not really like it very much. It was looked at and eaten after considerable consideration on the badger's part. I found them extremely useful in my garden. That is how I first got to know them. When I went to live in East Sussex I came out one morning and across the lawn I saw some extraordinary little tracks. They obviously were not from a mole, and I wondered what they were. I asked my gardener, a Sussex man born and bred and he said, "Those are badgers' tracks". I asked, "Where do the badgers come from?" He replied, "In this bank". This was quite near my house.

With his help I found the entrance to the sett. Of course, it being day-time there was no sign of any badgers. I decided that I would go again in the evening, as they were nocturnal animals. I enlisted the help of two little boys who were at school in Eastbourne. They used to come to my home when they had finished their homework. They would knock at my door and say, "Do you feel like coming up to look at the badgers?" Off we would go and we used to sit for hours watching them. Sometimes it was rather cold, but we had great fun watching the badgers—especially in the spring, when they had their young coming out from the sett and playing around in the dusk of the evening. I became very fond of them. I should never have had one as a pet; but I strongly object to the destroying of badgers, because they do not do any harm, as practically every noble Lord who has spoken has said.

I know nothing about the merits of Lord Arran's Bill—it is not for me to criticise that—but badgers are obviously animals that need some preservation order to protect them. They are moving and disappearing, as my noble friends Lord Cranbrook, Lord Coleridge and other noble Lords have said. I checked on this point before I came to your Lordships' House. I rang up a friend in East Sussex and asked, "How long is it since you last saw a badger?" She replied, "Two years". This is the result of the movement of the population into the South-East of England, for reservoirs have to be built as more water is needed. The only time I have ever seen a dead badger was when one was run over by a motor car. So, my Lords, as I have said, I feel rather sentimental in my support for the Bill, and I support it very strongly.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I agree with the motives behind the noble Earl's Bill, but before going on to speak on this matter, I should like to congratulate the noble Duke on his maiden speech. I sincerely hope that we will hear him often in the future. I am quite sure that he will be able to speak about many subjects other than that of badgers. I have had badgers on my place in the South-East of England for a long time. We have always regarded them as a boon. Where forestry is concerned, they do a great deal of good: they eat wasps' nests, moles, voles and small rodents. Badgers can be quite a nuisance sometimes because they cut through wire fences; but one cannot have everything and I am quite prepared to allow the badger that liberty—one can always repair the wire fence.

It is true that badgers may take a few hens, but it is up to the poultry keeper to have badger-proof henhouses. I have no sympathy with the poultry keeper who loses his hens because of badgers. Badgers can be a nuisance near a golf course. It can be very annoying for the greenkeeper if badgers dig up the greens. They are fond of beetles, and have a habit of scraping a green to find them, and also cockroaches and things like that This Bill, as I see it, would make it very difficult to remove badgers. You might have badgers creating a nuisance on a golf course, or undermining a river bank, or even an arable field, and a man driving a tractor might have a nasty accident as the result of the underground working of the badgers. No doubt in some areas of the country that does not apply; for instance, in my area, which is East Kent. I understand that in Norfolk and Suffolk badgers are scarce.

I think the simplest solution would be for such bodies as the Nature Conservancy to advise the Secretary of State of the areas of the country where badgers were scarce, and to give badgers complete protection in those areas. It would be quite impracticable to accept this Bill, although I think we should give it a Second Reading, after which it should be much amended. In some areas of England there are a great number of badgers, particularly in the West Country. What we really want to stop (and several noble Lords have mentioned this) is the practice which some noble Lords have called a "sport". That is a misnomer; it is an extremely unattractive practice. This does go on—and I am not being very politic now; I do not have to vote catch. This pastime of badger digging—I will not call it a sport—is on the whole carried out by village louts. I cannot describe them in any other way. I should like to see a severe penalty for anyone who came on to a landowner's land to dig badgers without the landowner's permission. From my experience, no landowner I know digs badgers. The only badger dig I ever witnessed was done by my mother's brother, my uncle, a long time ago. He did that in order to move a sett of badgers which were undermining his tennis court. I was only a boy when I witnessed this and it was done as humanely as possible. He then transported the badgers to Scotland and started a colony there. But certainly badger digging is a very unattractive pastime and if possible it must be forbidden, apart from where it is carried out really scientifically.

I will not delay your Lordships any longer, but I should like to say that I completely support the noble Earl's sentiments behind this Bill. The badger is a charming animal, and I hope the Bill receives a Second Reading. If it does, I feel it must be—I do not know whether "severely" is the correct word, but it must be amended to a very great degree. Before concluding, may I, for two minutes at the longest, point to Clause 1. If the noble Earl's Bill was in fact made law, Clause 1 would surely make nonsense. The clause refers to: any person who wilfully kills injures or takes or attempts to kill injure or take any badger or if any person has in his possession or control any badger recently killed or taken …". My Lords, the only commercial worth of badgers is in their skin; one can make shaving brushes out of their tail and, so I am told, the pelts are used for the trimming of hats. Under this Bill, any man could have half a dozen pelts in his car—or, as it would probably not be possible to kill half a dozen badgers in one dig, let me say three pelts or two pelts. A man might have killed two or three badgers and skinned them on the spot. I have never skinned a badger because I have never killed one, but I have skinned hundreds of animals far larger than a badger and I assure your Lordships that I could skin a badger in about five minutes. Therefore, a man could have killed three or four badgers and buried the carcases and have the pelts in his car, and under this Bill he could not be apprehended. I thought that I would point that out to the noble Earl. My Lords, I will say no more. In spite of what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, said, I hope this Bill is given a Second Reading. The noble and learned Viscount was rather hard on the noble Earl; I think he was really a bit too hard. Having said that, my Lords, I will now sit down.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, before I say anything on the Bill itself I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Duke upon his maiden speech. Making a maiden speech in your Lordships' House is not an easy task. Although mine is lost now in the mists of antiquity, I can still remember how difficut I found the occasion. But the noble Duke seemed to make his with the greatest of confidence, and I hope that we shall often hear him again.

Many speakers this afternoon have referred to this Bill as a conservation Bill; and of course so it is. It is a Bill of the type, though I will not say of the exact nature, that I should like to see applied to all wild life in our country. But that is not to ignore the fact that there are certain shortcomings in the Bill. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, in a speech with which I almost totally disagreed, spent about a quarter of an hour enlarging upon the Bill's various weak points, but he made one good point: the fact that the Bill as it stands would prevent the keeping of badgers as pets. Athough that is not widely done at the moment, it is true that a badger, if taken as a cub, can be trained just as well as a dog, and is probably a great deal cleaner. Badgers make very delightful pets. Some allowance for that should be made in the Bill. As the noble and learned Viscount pointed out, there are certain features of the Bill which would not be enforceable in law and therefore would make bad law; and I quite agree that those points should be dealt with. They are all, however, points that can be perfectly well dealt with in Committee. There is no earthly reason to condemn the Bill outright simply because it needs alteration.

Many have said that the badger is in no need of conservation because it is very plentiful at the moment and quite widely spread over the country. That is not a valid argument. I do not think we should wait to apply conservation until some species is practically extinct: it may then be difficult to do so. Wild life as it exists in this country at the moment should be conserved as widely as possible as it is. I do not see any reason to wait until there are only about half a dozen badgers in the country before applying measures of conservation. One point that is not included in the Bill as it stands, but I hope will be included at the Committee stage, is the need to control numbers. With a conservation Bill, of course, one must always have that included. If a species becomes too numerous and a nuisance, there should be some authority which can reduce its numbers in as humane a way as possible. But that again could be provided for. The rogue badger has also been mentioned. There should be some provision for being able to get rid of such badgers.

When the noble and learned Viscount was speaking about this Bill he mentioned another Bill that appeared, I think it was yesterday, in another place. He referred to it as being a better Bill than the one now before the House. With all due respect to the noble and learned Viscount, it was nothing of the sort. All it said was that badgers shall not be taken or killed except with the permission of the owner of the land. What earthly hindrance is that going to be to anybody who can get the permission, which I am sure they can quite easily get? Therefore, although I think this Bill needs a certain amount of amendment, I sincerely hope that it will be given a Second Reading. I support the spirit of the Bill wholeheartedly and I only hope that it will in future be applied to other species.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to add my congratulations to the noble Duke upon his excellent speech, and to express the hope that we shall hear more from him often in the future.

I am sure the whole House is unanimous in its support for the conservation of badgers. The idea behind this Bill is wholly good and I should like to thank the noble Earl for introducing it. As we have already heard, badgers are most interesting creatures. The name "Brock" is Danish; hence such names as Brockenhurst and various other towns, which were founded near setts. Bêcheur, the French name for the badger, means "digger"; and they do dig enormously fast. I once released a badger from a snare. Unfortunately I was not able to get the snare off its neck but the badger was able to get away. It dug under a wire fence, and although it was only a hundred yards from where I was standing by the time I got there it was almost underneath; it had dug so fast.

We have heard from various speakers of the things that the badger eats—rabbits, beetles, rats, mice and so on, and particularly wasp nests, to which it digs down. I believe that it does nothing but render a service to man by killing off obnoxious pests. It also eats acorns, apples, pears and all sort of things of that kind. The badger, too, is very prominent in folklore and if I may digress from the Bill for a moment there are some interesting pieces of folklore about the badger. There is one rather nice poem—or, perhaps, on second thoughts, it is not so nice—which runs: Should one hear a badger call And then an ullot cry"— that is an owl— Make thy peace with God, good soul, For shortly thou shalt die. In witchcraft it is said that, A tuft of hair gotten from the head of a fullgrown brock is powerful to ward off all manner of witchcraft. These must be worn in a little bag made of cat skin (a black cat) and tied about the neck when the moon be not more than seven days old, and under that aspect when the planet Jupiter be in mid heaven, at midnight. The badger also has great medical properties. In 1800, in the Sporting Magazine, were written these words: 'The flesh, blood and grease of the badger are very useful for oils, ointments, salves and powders for shortness of breath, the cough of the lungs, for the stone, sprained sinews, collacks, etc. The skin, being well dressed, is warm and comfortable for ancient people who are troubled with paralytic disorders. Badger grease was supposed to be so penetrating that two minutes after rubbing it into the palms of one's hands it came out at the back.

I do not think it has yet been mentioned that in England the badger was once an esteemed part of the diet, and that the hindquarters were cured and eaten. It has always been eaten in China, and I believe is still eaten there, and avidly. Badgers were also captured, of course, for badger-baiting, which was a favourite British sport. But all of this is in the past. The reasons for killing badgers now, as the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has mentioned, include the production of high-quality sporrans and badger brushes. Badgers are used, too, by the fur trade for fur collars, but the Hudson's Bay Company say that the number of British badgers whose skins are used in this way is negligible and that all the badger skins used by the fur trade come from North America or from China—perhaps those coming from China are from the badgers that have been eaten.

It is most unfair to class badgers as enemies of the farmer. We have heard how they eat rats, but they are blamed for killing chickens and lambs. As the fox shares the sett with the badger on many occasions the fox takes the chickens and lays them at the entrance of the sett and the farmer blames the badger.

I do not believe there is a great deal of evidence that badgers are in fact diminishing unduly in numbers, but undoubtedly one frequently sees them killed. They are of course nocturnal animals, they have very bad eyesight and most of the deaths are caused by their being run over on the roads. In certain areas in March and April, when Dieldrin and Aldrin were being used, there were a number of deaths and these two chemicals were suspected of killing the badgers. I believe that both gassing and digging take a toll, but I wonder whether it is a serious toll when one takes the country at large. With the pressure of syndicate shooting, where a large bag is demanded by the guns, I believe that there are a great many ill-informed keepers who while gassing the foxes also gas the badgers—and the rabbits—and when they find another sett they just gas that as well, for good measure.

While I support this Bill in principle, I think it is, like a colander, full of holes. In the matter of keeping badgers as pets, undoubtedly there are in the country people who keep them, just as there are some people who keep foxes. I know a man who quite often has a fox on his shoulder when he goes for a walk. So far as I can see from the Bill it is proposed that one should keep badgers only if they are intended for breeding. So that if you had two males it would be illegal; if you had two females that also would be illegal. If you had a male and a female that would be all right, but if you had just one that again would be illegal, because it would be unlikely to breed. This appears to be somewhat of an anomaly.

Then one can imagine a fellow telephoning the police and saying, "They are digging out badgers in the wood." A policeman goes along, and sees a car coming down from the wood; but I do not think he would be able to arrest anybody, because according to Clause 4 of the Bill, the persons would have to be found committing the offence. In fact they would not be found committing the offence. The only person who can say that they were committing the offence is the justice. The constable can only search them on suspicion of committing an offence. So to my mind, that wording is inadequate.

Then, according to the Bill anybody can be arrested for carrying any weapon which could be used for taking a badger. This could be a snare, or even a pocket knife; or a gun or some cyanide to get rid of rabbits. It might be any form of weapon. Any sort of weapon could be used for taking a badger and therefore one would be liable to be arrested. The penalties, too, are so severe that I just wonder why the noble Earl did not think of cutting off the right hand of the miscreant, or perhaps the Gilbertian form of digging the miscreant into the sett and leaving him to dig himself out.

What in fact can be done? I believe there are a number of interested societies all over the country who are plotting where setts are on the map, and the County Trusts in Essex and in Hertfordshire and other places do a great deal of work in taking steps to conserve the badger. The greatest thing that can be done is to foster good relations between the badger and the gamekeeper, owner and farmer. The kestrel is a good example of this. There was a time when the kestrel was shot out of hand, but then people began to learn that it was a friend and not an enemy. To-day, almost everybody leaves the kestrel alone, not because it is illegal to shoot it but because people realise that it is a beneficial species.

As has been recommended in various reports, these interested societies to which I have referred should be in possession of badger cages, so that they can collect badgers from areas where they are not wanted and transfer them to places where they are welcome. Above all, tell us just what is the rate of loss of the badger, a fact which at present we do not know. Let us know the population and then some knowledge of what, if any, protection is needed; then perhaps the badger might be protected. It is clear that, if the Bill is given a Second Reading it will need to be severely altered.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I wish at the outset to thank my noble friend Lord Strange for allowing me to intervene very briefly. I apologise to your Lordships for my inability to be in my place throughout the debate. I have come here because this subject is of considerable interest to me. I listened interestedly to the observation that it is not enough to wait until a species has been completely decimated before we set about the problem of conservation. I heartily echo that sentiment.

I wish to stress a point that perhaps has not been made in the debate so far: I do not think it has been made, but as I have not been here throughout I cannot be certain that my remarks are not a repetition of what noble Lords have said previously. The badger is a unique animal. There is probably no other wild animal in this country which has as curious and unique a reproductive physiology as the badger; and if the badger goes, students of physiology, and particularly unique physiology, will be deprived of something extremely important. Badgers may be plentiful in some parts of the country but they have been exterminated in others. I sincerely hope that my noble friend Lord Arran's Bill will be given favourable treatment by your Lordships.

5.44 p.m.


My Lords, I congraulate my noble friend Lord Zuckerman on keeping to his word and making such a short speech. I also congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Arran, and I am sure that all noble Lords will try to ensure that his Bill goes into Committee so that we may reform it a little. I wish before going any further to congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough, on an excellent maiden speech. My congratulations to him are genuine because I thought he made the sort of speech that a maiden speech should be. I recall once speaking immediately following a maiden speaker who had taken an envelope from his pocket and after reading a few passages said, "I am afraid I have left the rest in my car." I congratulated him, too. But on this occasion I have pleasure in genuinely congratulating the noble Duke.

I can lay aside the vast majority, if not all, of my notes, for everything that I would have said appears already to have been said. It is clear that as we take the Bill through its further stages we shall have to "doctor" it a little, and in this connection the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, who I regret is not at present in his place, made some forceful remarks.

Let me speak first about badgers as pets. Occasionally they get run over and their pups are recovered by people who make pets of them. They should however, keep the pups for only a short time. If they are kept too long in captivity they are unable to be returned to the wild. Badgers are nocturnal creatures and it is advantageous if the keeper of badger pets is nocturnal also because that way he can have more fun with his pet. It is an advantage if the keeper also keeps a kinkajou, a charming little creature. The badger's favourite food is wild honey—honey from the wasp—while the kinkajou likes a little draft beer in a wine glass, which he drinks in a lovely manner, holding the glass to his mouth with his two little forepaws. I must issue a warning here. People who keep both a kinkajou and a badger and who sit up late at night drinking beer with the kinkajou must remember that the kinkajou, not the badger, is carried by the tail.

It might be helpful to the debate if I were to relate a few badger experiences, and I assure your Lordships that I am anxious to speak for not much longer than five minutes. My youngest daughter married an Irishman and they have a very happy marriage. When I went to see them some time ago my daughter showed me a Brock's sett; indeed, she showed it to me before showing me her new kitchen. Noble Lords will see that my daughter and I speak the same language when it comes to animals. She and her husband are no longer farming the place and they have let it to a charming gentleman who runs a stud farm and trains racehorses. I was to have gone to see my daughter and her husband last Christmas, but before going there an incident happened which I will relate to your Lordships.

The Brocks had moved their quarters from near a shed to alongside a lake, where they began to dig a considerable sett. It is worth noting that some of the horses which the charming gentleman breeds on this land are worth a lot of money; one pays several thousand pounds for a two-year-old coming up for training and one therefore does not want a hole to appear in the middle of the gallop, particularly when a horse worth that sort of money is in training. The Brocks continued to dig their sett and the holes continued to appear. The lads would fill them in by day and by night the Brocks would dig them out. The Irish being humane and kindly people, it was decided to put a fence round the Brocks' sett and leave them to it. Despite that a tragedy occurred. A brood mare, wandering at night, either stood on or kicked one of the Brocks, and the Brock died.

I move on to my visit at Christmas. When I arrived I was told that the Brocks seemed to have left their sett in the gallop and had made a sett slightly further afield. Then came the great hen mystery, which to my knowledge has never been solved. The first theory was that the Brocks had got under the chicken run and had stolen a hen. There was, however, no badger hair on the fence or any Brocks' marks; nor were there any feathers from the hen. The second theory was that a fox had got in. But if that had been the case the fox would certainly have bitten off all the heads of all the hens and tried to make off with the plumpest one in its mouth—leaving the rest in its larder, so to speak; but there was no sign of that having happened. The third theory was that the man who fed the hens was allergic to feeding them and was anxious to let the hens out. So far as I know, no conclusion has been reached and the mystery remains. In any event, the Brocks decided to go back to their sett near the lake, away from the gallop.

What I have said sums up my view of what we have been discussing to-day—namely, that anyone who ever has anything to do with Brocks, even if only to see or hear them, likes them and wants them to be preserved. That, I suggest, is what we are debating to-day.

5.50 p.m.


My Lords, I believe that I can be very brief because my views on this matter have been expressed so ably by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, and by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, but there are probably three or four things that I should like to add. First of all, it is a good thing to maintain our wild life in so far as it is not too destructive. There are so many pressures on it to-day. Secondly, most people would agree that there are now many parts of the country which are suitable for badgers but in which there are hardly any badgers at all. To those who live in these parts of the country that is very sad. When and if by any chance we get badgers back there again, there is always the desperate fear, which is founded on experience, that they will be unnecessarily molested.

The other, and last, major point I want to make is that some people have said, "Yes, of course you can legislate, but it is not effective, and it is bad law if it is not". I dispute that fact because I believe that a great many of our laws, in fact by far the majority, are not fully enforceable. We need take only one obvious instance, that of our 30 m.p.h. and 70 m.p.h. speed limits. But I wonder how many of your Lordships would maintain that they are bad law and useless. If there is a law discouraging people at least, or making it clear to people that Parliament thinks badgers should not be killed, that will be a considerable deterrent to a number of people, preventing them from doing so. Certainly in the commercial field it will make life a great deal more difficult. Therefore I dismiss completely the argument that a Bill of this nature is bad because it would be unenforceable. I do not believe that it need be unenforceable.

Like all other noble Lords, I feel that this Bill goes much too far, but I believe it can be amended to make it a reasonable Bill. It would be the greatest pity and the greatest mistake if we did not give the Bill a Second Reading. Even if for some reason it is not thrown out at a later stage, that would not be so worrying, but if a Bill is not given a Second Reading, the implication is not so much that the Bill is necessarily a bad one but that the whole subject is a bad one. Most of us here, practically without exception, have felt, even if we do not want to legislate now, that there is a case for trying by one means or another to preserve the badger to a greater extent than at the present time. So let us give a Second Reading to this Bill, imperfect though it may be and regardless of whatever else we may decide to do later in the proceedings.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, may I commence my remarks by adding my sincere congratulations to the noble Duke on what I thought was an excellent maiden speech. It is not so very long since I made my own and I know what one goes through on these occasions. My second duty is to confess that I am the creature, or being, which has not yet been admitted; a vested interest. I am a vested interest because not only do I have two badger setts on my land, but in one of the setts there is a rogue badger, and I may say that it is still rogueing about quite unhampered. In my part of the world, in Central Scotland, and particularly on our estate, badgers first appeared some 15 years ago. They were greeted with great delight by my late father, and no doubt many of your Lordships will know what a conservationist he was. He spent many happy hours viewing them in the moonlight. A second sett has now appeared about half a mile from the first. Nobody knows what the population is, but certainly it is increasing.

I have made inquiries, because there are certain parts of this Bill which I find profoundly disturbing, first as a farmer and a landowner and secondly as a lawyer. I daresay that some of your Lordships will think that that is a terrible combination for any person. I have consulted the National Farmers' Union, the Scottish organisation of the same name, the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, the Forestry Commission, and the pests officer for the combined Counties of Angus, Perth and Fife. If your Lordships ask, "Why those three counties?", the answer is that they form the East-Central region of Scotland. Basically speaking, the reply from all those bodies and organisations is the same: that over the last ten years or so badgers are increasing, generally speaking, in Central Scotland and setts have appeared throughout the region where they have never been before. They go on to say that so far as is known no estates or farms shoot them and therefore their numbers are increasing naturally.

I tell your Lordships that because in my view in a Bill such as this it is vital to be as objective and, far more importantly, as unemotional as possible about the position. So far as the need for conservation is concerned, I respectfully ask your Lordships to accept the answer which was given in another place on January 23 and which has been quoted in your Lordships' House that Nature Conservancy, at any rate, feel that: badgers are generally common and widely distributed throughout Great Britain, and that the species is not endangered and does not need protection on conservation grounds." [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 23/1/73; col. 107.] My own inquiries, plus that answer, lead me to the view—and this is my first main objection to this Bill—that there is no need for conservation on a scale which would justify so Draconian a measure as this. We must be certain in our own minds what we are trying to do. Are we trying to conserve the badger by numbers? Or are we trying to put a stop to cruelty? Or both? And I assume that the answer is, "Both". From what I have said I hope that some of your Lordships, at least, will agree with me that the first objective is not so important as perhaps the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said when he hinted that if we continued talking much longer we should talk the badger into extinction. Without, I hope, being either disrespectful or offensive, that is neither more nor less than wild exaggeration. In this matter of animals where our hearts are so large and emotions are so easily aroused, wild exaggeration is not the order of the day, or should not be. So much then for what we are trying to achieve.

The second objection which I have to this Bill is that in my view it places a quite unjustifiable series of shackles on the owners or occupiers of land, whether they be landlords, tenants, farmers or whoever they are. One has heard something of rogue badgers, and if I may be permitted to talk at this moment of my own rogue badger I would inform your Lordships that the creature dug its way underneath a wire fence where a lot of expensive hens, which lay particularly brown eggs, were nesting their young. The creature bit off the heads of the hens, who were too silly to go away, and then sucked all their eggs. It may have been hungry, or it may have thought that it was a sporting thing to do, but at any rate as the hens are very expensive it was very irking to me. It may be asked. "How do you know it wasn't a fox?". The answer is that one of my employees saw it and I trust what he said. I am bound to admit that the next night, hoping that it might repeat its tactics, he stayed up with a gun, but it did not, and the venture was fruitless.

Another matter where this Bill falls down is that badgers do build setts in the wrong place, and that has been said before. Any person who—if I may use the expression used by the police in cases of obstruction—"moves on" a badger, would be committing an offence. May I point to another difficulty which has not so far been aired in your Lordships' House? From the various authorities that I have consulted I found that there were a few cases of complaints to the pest officer of hens being decapitated on nests and eggs sucked. The most serious was a game farm where they had been so foolish as to leave a quantity of hens sitting, and there 600 eggs (I think they were partridge eggs) were sucked during the night—by one badger it is thought. There have been complaints of the taking of game birds by badgers in hedgerows.

The most curious complaint, however, which has been frequently expressed in our area, arises from the fact that the badger is a great lover of water. When the badgers make these complexes, as has been described to your Lordships, they burrow down to the nearest drain search of water and use the burrow to go and have a drink when they want one; and the inevitable result is that very soon earth blocks the drain. The farmer has no idea why his expensively drained field is suddenly pond-like once more, and it is extremely difficult to remedy the position. I do not wish to over-state the difficulties, but this curiously enough, is the most common complaint in our area about the badgers' activities. Under this Bill the farmer would have no means of doing anything about it at all, and that must be bad law. In parenthesis, I may say that much of the law which comes from the Palace of Westminster is regarded, as many of your Lordships know, as what I might call "townees' nonsense", and a Bill such as this would, I am afraid, if it became law, merit the same description.

My next point is this. In our part of the world we have a hunt which has not hunted for 150 years: it races. Therefore, if we want to get rid of foxes, which are all too prevalent, we have to adopt the other methods of control, such as shooting, or, as is very popular in our part of the world, fox snares. They are effective and cheap and, if properly supervised, they are in my view as good a method of painlessly getting rid of foxes as one can devise. If one sets an honestly put and honestly arranged fox snare and it caught a badger, then one would be liable under this Bill. That cannot be right. My third objection is that in my submission to your Lordships this way of trying to tackle a problem, if it exists, is entirely the wrong one.

I now turn to the second aim of the noble Earl, Lord Arran; that is to say, stopping cruelty to badgers. There are already in existence Acts which, if amended, would either stop any cruelty or at any rate provide a springboard for an Act that would do just that, without all the artificiality which this Bill would involve—that is, assuming that it can possibly be amended to do the job. One such Act is the protection of Animals Act 1911. I see the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, in his place, and in his presence I am somewhat diffident about quoting the law. It reminds me of something contributed by that extraordinarily entertaining writer Bernard Levin, when he was music critic of the Daily Mail. He was describing the operatic performance of a lady whose physical charms were rather better than her voice. She was, however, lucky enough to be the girl friend of an impressario who at vast expense insisted that she be given a leading role in opera, because that was her main ambition in life. Mr. Levin described her performance as "listening to someone a long way off singing through a pea-shooter." In the presence of the noble and learned Viscount, that is how I feel.

Be that is it may, Section 1(1)(a) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 says: If any person shall cruelly beat, kick, ill-treat, over-ride, over-drive, over-load, torture, infuriate or terrify any animal, he shall be guilty of an offence. Section 1(1)(c) says that any person who shall cause, procure, or assist at the fighting or baiting of any animal shall be guilty of an offence. I appreciate that this Act does not extend to wild animals, but it could if it were amended, and the blessing of the Scott Henderson Committee, as most of your Lordships will know, was given to the taking of that course. Paragraph 406 of that Committee's Report stated: After very careful consideration of the evidence, therefore, we have come to the conclusion that, in general, it would be desirable to bring all wild animals within the provisions of the Protection of Animals Acts. This in itself, however, while meeting the objections of many of the animal welfare organisations as regards both cruelty in field sports and that involved in the more general methods of controlling the numbers of certain animals, might unduly discourage several very necessary activities. Then in paragraph 407 the Report goes on: After careful consideration, we think that there should not be any undue restriction on any person's right to kill wild animals; but that it is not asking too much that any person exercising this right should do so with due regard to the dictates of humanity, viz., to kill without causing unnecessary suffering. Surely, my Lords, that is precisely what the noble Earl's Bill is trying to do. In my submission, a two-clause Bill would achieve just that object, saying first that the Protection of Animals Act 1911 should apply to badgers. That would be Clause 1. Clause 2 would be a little more complicated, saying that badgers could be killed in certain circumstances, with the consent of the owner of the land, and subject to the blessing of either the Ministry of Agriculture or the Department of Agriculture for Scotland or the Nature Conservancy—it matters not. If such a Bill were adopted, it would go through your Lordships' House, I anticipate, without the hours of wrangling which we shall have when this Bill comes to Committee stage.

I am bound to say that the only clause that I regard as not requiring amendment, or perhaps being completely struck out and redrawn, is Clause 2, which relates to the sale of badgers. On that I am at variance with the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. Such a provision exists in the Protection of Birds Act 1953, and it has worked very well. Otherwise, the whole of the Bill will have to be redrawn, and I am not sure that it can be amended according to the rules at all.

My Lords, I share with your Lordships a great love of animals, and badgers in particular. But I hope that what I have said—at greater length than I had intended, but I feel that it should be said—will show your Lordships that, however greathearted one is, a measure such as that proposed by the noble Earl is not always good sense. I would have hoped—and I think I am the only speaker so far to say this—that he might consider asking leave to withdraw his Bill, so that more thought can be given to the matter and a better measure produced: one which in the end might have a chance of being accepted by Parliament as a whole, and would go through more quickly. If that course does not commend itself to the noble Earl, then let us give the Bill a Second Reading; but I very much doubt whether by doing so to-night the effect that we all want finally to achieve will in fact be achieved.


My Lords, the noble Earl has a legal training and I am but a humble magistrate who often has to listen to evidence presented. At the beginning of his remarks he said that the population of his own badgers was increasing. On what evidence did he base that observation since he did not seem to have seen the badgers?


My Lords, I based it on the reports of the number of setts that have been observed by the members of the two unions concerned, the officials of the Forestry Commission, and the number of complaints, and also general remarks, which have been addressed to the pests officer.

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to speak now, as I had rather a bad parachute accident on Sunday and I want to try to get home. First, I want to congratulate the noble Duke on his first and excellent speech. Secondly, I want to tell your Lordships a little about badgers. The badger is our fourth largest animal. It is common, but is becoming less common, due largely to motor accidents which we cannot avoid. There is no medical evidence—and I have been into this very carefuly—that the badger spreads disease any more than the fallow deer does. I own or control some considerable thousands of acres of land, and I have three badger setts which I observe very closely; so I can tell your Lordships something about the badger's food. Seventy-five per cent. of it is earthworms. It eats small rodents and beetles, and I agree that it will sometimes run up a hedge and take a partridge's egg just before it is due to hatch—as a sort of hors d'œuvre. If it can find a ground-nesting bird like a lark, it will take the eggs. It will certainly eat those. But, by and large (and I have my own nature reserve, to which the public have access) poor old Brock does about 95 per cent. good and, perhaps, owing to the ignorance of gamekeepers, you might say it does 5 or 10 per cent. bad.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Duke on his very well balanced and thought out speech, and also my noble friend Lord Arran on introducing this Bill. I do not want to speak for long because I am about the 19th or 20th speaker; however, I should just like to make a few observations. I consider that Mr. Brock is a good animal. He is clean. He is the only animal that I know who makes his bed every morning. He does more good than harm. He kills moles and insects and small animals, and he should be encouraged. I know that there are rogues, but in my over 20 years' experience of farming and dealing with sheep I have never had a single lamb killed by a badger. Rolling in corn may do a little damage, but it is inconsequential. Clause 2 goes into the question of offences in the protection of live badgers. I think that dead badgers, or their skins, should also be covered. I should also like to see a clause introduced into this Bill banning the sale after January 1, 1974, of shaving brushes and gimmicks manufactured from the badger.

The main point of my speech is that I have had 50 years' experience of badgers, one of the first being to go to a badger dig. I have participated in most field sports—or blood sports, if you prefer so to call them—but I have never been to another dig. It is the most disgusting form of occupation that I know. A party of men arrived with dogs at the sett. They put one of the dogs in, the dog cornered the badger, and everyone started to dig. They dug and dug, and then there were the most awful screams from the dog when the badger locked his teeth into its foot or leg. Eventually, we got down to the badger, and a pair of huge, bloodthirsty tongs were produced; the badger was drawn out with the dog's leg still in its mouth, and then it was battered on the head with a blunt instrument to kill it. The skull is very thick, and it took a great deal of killing. I never want to see that happen again. That is about all I can add to the proceedings. I do not think that there are many here who have been to a badger dig, and I thought it worthwhile bringing it to your Lordships' notice. I hope your Lordships give a Second Reading to the Bill.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, I dare to trespass on your Lordships' time for a few moments even at this late stage, because the quandary I find myself in may find an echo elsewhere in your Lordships' House. As it seems to me, the noble Earl has produced a Bill of extraordinary simplicity, which says that you may not kill or capture a badger except in certain circumstances. Yet there has been considerable opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill. I confess that I am a little out of patience with opposition to a Bill on technical grounds. I am naïve in the niceties of drafting legislation, but unless somebody can produce a better Bill, or will actually put down an Amendment, I find myself very much in sympathy with the existing document. It has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that the Bill may perhaps not be necessary because the badger population in this country is not shown to be near the point of extinction. Surely we are debating whether this Bill is desirable. It exists already on paper and has existed for a very long time. It has been on my shelves for many long months.

We should beware of the attitude which led a lady in the New Zealand Parliament to produce this now immortal phrase on a conservation measure: This creature must never be allowed to become extinct again. I have been much impressed also by the additional exceptions proposed for Clause 3 of the noble Earl's Bill. It has been suggested that it is quite wrong to prohibit the killing of badgers for mercy killing; quite wrong to prohibit it if—and this seems questionable—they spread disease. I was particularly impressed by the lucidity and the experience of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, on this subject, and it seems quite wrong to prevent the killing if they are endangering crops or indeed other livestock. But surely that is something that can be amended very simply at a later stage by the simple addition of sub-paragraphs (d), (e) and (f) to Clause 3 of the noble Earl's Bill. Therefore, until somebody produces either another Bill or Amendments to which perhaps the noble Earl will agree, I am inclined to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill.

In those circumstances, I should like to close by saying that this problem, the problem of cruelty to animals great or small, has existed for so much longer even than, perhaps, the animal population of this country. Over 2,000 years ago, it was Aristophanes who produced what to me is a chilling phrase: Boys throw stones at the frogs in sport, But the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest.

6.21 p.m.


My Lords, it falls to me to sum up, and no one is less well qualified to do so than myself. I shall be very brief, because your Lordships have been most patient this afternoon and I am deeply grateful for almost all that has been said. First of all, I should like to congratulate the noble Duke, the Duke of Marlborough, who showed grace, modesty and wit. I can assure him that his point about the rogue is taken, and that if your Lordships are kind enough to give the Bill a Second Reading this evening something will have to be written into it during the Committee stage or later to cover the point. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for her successful attempt to show objectivity. She talked—I thought not altogether truthfully—about scattered persecution. I will not say that my information is better or worse than that of the noble Baroness, but I believe that persecution is fairly widespread. She spoke also of the Scott Henderson Report, which I think appeared 24 years ago and was very sketchy on badgers. It did not do so full a job on them as it did on other animals. The noble Baroness said several times that there was no evidence that persecution takes place; but the fact that there is no evidence does not necessarily mean that it is not happening. I would simply say that no evidence is not proof of non-events.

With regard to the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, what am I to say? He belaboured me with questions—I am sure in the kindest possible spirit—and he left me with such a list of points that I hope he will forgive me if I do not answer them all. Because this is a case of a pigmy versus a giant—


My Lords, I shall, of course, forgive the noble Earl at this late hour. Indeed, he would have to make a very lengthy speech if he did try to answer all the points I made.


My Lords, if the noble Earl will allow me to say so, there is always next Wednesday's Evening News.


My Lords, if I may say so, the noble and learned Viscount also mentioned the paper, although he did not mention the name. I was much impressed by what the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, whom we all respect as a naturalist, had to say. I think he takes the view that certain areas need to be covered by Statute and certain do not. He suggested that a universal Statute would have to be enforced, but that it should be left to individual areas or counties to opt out. I do not know whether or not that is good law, or whether or not such a course would be permissible, but I take note of the point, and if the noble Earl would like to support an Amendment on those lines I should be very glad.

I think there have been 15 speakers and I am afraid that I gave up after five or six, but I hope your Lordships realise that I have been very deeply touched by the concern—not for myself, but for the badger. I thank the noble and learned Earl, Lord Mansfield, for what he suggested is a simple solution. He may be right, but I do not know; his point was rather sprung on me and I do not know the Act in question. But I hope he will not think me discourteous if I still stick to my last and ask your Lordships to vote in favour of a Second Reading, on the understanding that there will be many Amendments and, indeed, that at the end the Bill may not be workable. But I should like to plug on. I have the feeling that all of your Lordships want a Bill. You may not like the way the Bill looks at the moment but you think that by manhandling it with a spanner, or something like that, it can possibly be made workable.

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