HL Deb 29 November 1979 vol 403 cc509-31

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Since I understand that the matter caused the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor some difficulty, I think I should emphasise that the Title of this Bill is the Furskins Bill. The need for this Bill is that a new fashion has arisen in Europe, mainly in Germany and Northern Italy—a fashion for cheap, long-haired furskins. That fashion has had a result over the last three to three and a half years in this country. The value of fox skins, to take an example—and this is the largest section—has risen from nothing (that is to say, not worth skinning) to round about, and sometimes over, £40 a skin. The price of badger skins, since badgers are a protected species, is more difficult to ascertain, but I have heard of instances where over £60 has been paid.

I would emphasise that, so far as this country is concerned, this is an entirely new trade. I do not think that since we disposed of the last wolf there have been fur hunters in this country; and fur hunting is not a nice trade. It is snaring and trapping—both desperately cruel; and not really for a sufficient purpose. The means being used are, first, snaring. For myself, I find that the nastiest of all forms of trapping. I can remember my revulsion when finding in a snare a badger's paw which the badger had itself bitten off in order to get free. The stress of this sort of thing is extreme. The other means used is shooting at night with rifles, using spotlights. We are a fairly densely-populated country, and on any basis that is very dangerous. It is also, of course, generally, quite illegal, because I do not believe that the rifles being used in the great majority of cases are licensed, or anything like that.

Fur hunting is in fact not exclusively but very largely a poaching occupation, and it is practised on a fairly large scale. I would emphasise again that it is something quite new to England. There is no English demand for these furs at all. I think perhaps English women, in their wisdom, have long ago decided that their attractions are not increased by hanging the remains of a tortured fox around their necks. In so far as the fur trade goes on in England, it is to a very large degree in artificial furs; but almost exclusively so far as natural furs are concerned they are ranch-bred furs. The movement against using trapped furs has been very successful, and I hope it will remain very successful. Here, there is no demand for these furs at all; it is purely an export trade.

How big is it? There are no statistics. It is extremely difficult to ascertain how big it is. All one can say is that every landowner I have talked to about it has reported finding snares on his land. The dispersion of snares, again unauthorised snares, has undoubtedly been very large. Furthermore, these snares do not catch only foxes, of course. They catch badgers; they catch dogs; they catch anything that may stray, such as cats. There have been complaints, again widespread, of cattle being wounded by poachers. This is a nuisance. Again, as to the size of this trade, in local newspapers all over the country there have appeared advertisements offering substantial sums for skins. And the middlemen—and I shall come to this in a moment—are issuing instructions to people who will get skins as to how to poach them and how to use them. These are being issued and I have a number of copies here.

It is of no use to forbid snares. You could not enforce the prohibition. With gin traps, as they have to be manufactured you could do something, not always successfully but often so; but it is useless so far as snares are concerned. So far as rifles are concerned, I believe their use is already forbidden and, therefore armed poaching is illegal. But that does not stop it; it goes on. The only way I can see to stop it is simply to take the profit out of it. This was something that did not happen; it was something that was unknown three and a half years ago. The profit motive has arisen solely because of this new export trade. If you stop the trade, you stop the profit and thereby can bring to an end this nasty little development in our countryside. It is illegal, cruel and dangerous and is upsetting a well-established balance of nature. I believe that we in Britain can be very proud of the balance of nature that we have achieved. No similarly cultivated country supports so large a wildlife population or has created a mood that accepts the various denizens of the countryside in about the proportions which the balance of nature demands. Suddenly to put a quite new premium on attacks on a particular species (the long-furred species) upsets that balance; and upsets it, it seems to me, for a very unworthy reason.

My Lords, I think that this is a Bill whose provisions will be very easy to enforce. In fact, I think it will require practically no enforcement. At one level you have the hunter who is generally, but not always, a poacher. At the next you have the middleman. He is the man who inserts the advertisements, who issues the instructions and who goes round in a car collecting the skins. I know of two instances where this is a full-time job. In many other instances both the poaching and what follows is a part-time occupation. But at that point the skins go to the exporters. They are the really big people. They are people like the Hudson's Bay Company. To dispose of those skins, you need the exports and the access to the fur auctions. I do not for a moment believe that firms of that size will need policing so far as this new English trade in cheap, inferior furs is concerned. It is a very tiny item in the main fur business which is being conducted through the fur auctions and through the export system.

If we make it illegal—and from such communications that I have had, I have found that a good many fur merchants would not be sorry to see it made illegal—there is no question that they would accept such a situation. Nor do I believe that the hunters and the middlemen would be capable of organising an effective export and sales business of their own. You might have the odd furs going across in a lugger from Cornwall, but I think that the profit on the trip would be made from the brandy that they brought back rather than from the furskins that they would have taken. If you forbid the export, the profit will go out of these skins and they will drop back to the value that they had three or four years ago—that is, practically nothing—and this rather nasty little incident will be at an end. Of the Government, therefore, I do not ask very much in the way of implementation. All I would ask from them is benevolence towards a small measure that may avert some danger and quite a lot of suffering. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Paget of Northampton.)

4.25 p.m.


My Lords, I put down my name to speak on this Bill in a spirit of gentle inquiry, because it appeared to me rather enigmatic and an enigma not the easier to penetrate because, on consulting all the various animal welfare societies, I could not discover that they could see much point in it or had been consulted about it or knew anything at all about it. Their reaction tended to be one of mild hostility if only because your Lordships and Parliament in general will be discussing a major Bill dealing with a number of subjects, including the welfare of wild animals, over the course of the next few months. This appeared in some way to detract unnecessarily from it.

On the surface, looking at the Bill as it stands, its provisions are, if anything, slightly objectionable from the point of view of these Benches. It is a restriction on trade and appears to be a restriction particularly on the traffic in fox skins which, because here in this country we are, mercifully, free of rabies, are in constant demand abroad. Their export therefore helps the balance of trade. There might be thought to be a case for the Bill as being a Bill for the preservation of species. While that seems laudable, the whole thing seems rather too heavy a hammer with which to hit this particular fly, because, in addition to the fact that we have the other Bill coming along, this one deals only with exports. Although the noble Lord has pointed out—and I listened with interest to this part—the demand which exists for our skins abroad, the virtue he attributed to British women for not buying furskin garments I found a little unsound because we have no guarantee at all that that may not be a fashion which will come to us in a year or two. There appears to be no difference in principle. Why, therefore, a ban on export and not a ban on trapping?

It is, I think, a very difficult Bill to support with any great enthusiasm. It is also a Bill which I would not want in any way to oppose outright. It is a tradition in this House that Bills are not opposed in Second Reading except for the very best of motives. I do not think that this Bill would do more than marginal harm if passed, although I cannot see that it will do any more than marginal good, either. What I suggest to my noble friends and also to the House is that in dealing with this matter it would be wrong to deny the noble Lord a Second Reading to his Bill, although we might in fairness ask that if this Bill gets a Second Reading, we should have the opportunity of looking at the big Bill that we are promised from the Government which deals, among other things, with this matter. It deals with trapping and various kinds of preservation of nature. We will see where we get with that, what we can put in and what we want left out. The Government Bill undoubtedly has a very good chance of becoming law because it is a Government Bill. That would seem to be the right way for your Lordships' House to proceed. Certainly it is the way in which we on these Benches—


My Lords, would the noble Lord permit me? I had very much in mind the Bill to which the noble Lord has referred. We went through it with great care with the Department. It was found that this simply could not be fitted in.


I am grateful to the noble Lord. My Lords, since I had not by convention sat down, and since I have not urged rejection of the noble Lord's Bill, I shall have time to consider that point before we come to the Committee stage. I should be very surprised if this matter could not be fitted into the Bill, although I accept that the Government Department may not at this particular moment wish it to be incorporated into the Bill. That is a slightly different matter. Perhaps we could look at that afterwards. Meanwhile, I give about half a cheer for this Bill as I sit down.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, before I begin my remarks I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northamp- ton, for introducing this Bill, because it deals with a matter of principle in which I am very much in favour. As your Lordships are aware, I have spoken on a number of occasions on bills concerning animal protection in one form or another. It distresses me therefore, while agreeing with the noble Lord in principle, to say that for a number of reasons I cannot support his Bill. One is that I do not think this Bill can be enforced. I am of the opinion that it is useless to pass laws which one cannot enforce and which only catch the odd person who, through some foolishness or mistake, gets caught. When one reads the noble Lord's Bill, one must take further exception to it. We now have in his Bill a defined animal. We have protected animals and endangered animals and many more are described. Now we have a new classification, a defined animal.

I feel that the export particularly of foxes, which has been mentioned, is not good; but I cannot see where one is going to divide the line between what I assume the noble Lord means, which is a wild fox, and a fox which is bred on a farm. This Bill puts the defined animal in a clause in the Bill. Every other Bill which we have passed in your Lordships' House has always had a schedule at the end of it to which one can add or delete at any time. The wording of this Bill is not at all what it should be. The export of furs is not only covered by what the noble Lord has put down here, there is a much larger export of furs which is causing far more upset to the population: the export of dog and cat skins. I know that it is probably not the intention to include things like that in this Bill; but this is only a very small part of a fur trade export in dog and cat skins.

I cannot see how this Bill can be operated. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, is quite right, when he says that the Government are producing a wildlife Bill—which unfortunately I have not yet been able to see—to cover all these matters. Therefore, I do not think this is the appropriate subject for a Private Member's Bill when we know that a Bill is coming from the Government. The noble Lord thinks that what is in his Bill could not be put into the Government's Bill. Personally, I think that that probably could be done. A number of your Lordships have extreme ability for inserting into Bills things which nobody thinks can go into them. It has far more chance of operating in a Government Bill than in a Private Member's Bill from a Member of your Lordships' House.

All the way along, through all this legislation on animals, one of the matters which has worried those who are interested in animal welfare is the awful business which arises when these matters are left to Private Members' Bills. Now we have reached the situation where at last we are to get a Government Bill on this matter. I hope that all aspects of animal welfare will be taken over by the Government and the principles which the noble Lord has enunciated in this Bill can be put in the Government's Bill. Therefore we need not go through this Bill in considerable detail, although the principles contained in it can be incorporated in the Government's Bill. I am very sorry that I cannot support the Bill, but I should be very happy to support the principle and the detail if we can get them in a Government Bill.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, we have heard two speeches or observations upon my noble friend's Bill. Both were very disappointing. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, suggested that we should wait for the Government Bill which was going to be more comprehensive and probably more satisfactory. The best is often the enemy of the good; and, moreover, it is a mistake to await Government Bills in the hope that they are going to be better and bigger than other Bills, because very often they are not.

I thought the noble Lord who has just spoken began to examine the Bill in critical detail without referring to its message. If a Bill contains a message that I want to give, I will support that Bill. It is the message that matters when we are discussing Bills introduced by Private Members, because we know the problems and obstructions that beset those who introduce Bills under the Private Member's Bill procedure, whether in your Lordships' House or in another place. Of course I agree with the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, that it is desirable, where possible, for Governments them- selves, to introduce Bills on this and other matters, so that we have Bills properly considered, adequately drafted and given the time in Parliament to reach the Statute Book.

I have played my part, if I may say so modestly, in bringing to the notice of the political parties in the last 12 months the need for political parties to embrace different aspects of animal welfare. Those efforts have been quite successful, because the present Government is more committed to measures of animal welfare than any previous Government of any political complexion. This is something of an achievement and is, I think, an indication that political parties are responding to growing public opinion.

I would remind your Lordships that the Labour Party brought out a policy document entitled Living Without Cruelty. This was an exceptional measure of far-reaching reform in the field of animal welfare which was contemplated by one of our principal political parties. Animals are now in politics and what we now want to see is animals in Government legislation. Anything we can do to encourage the Government to include measures of animal protection and welfare in Government legislation should be done.

My noble friend's Bill does that. It may be of only marginal benefit: many small Bills can be only marginal in effect. It may be difficult to enforce but, my Lords, when have we ever stopped passing Bills that cannot be enforced? I shall not mention some of them for fear of being accused of creating prejudice; but indeed Bills have been passed by Parliament to create, to foster and to further a climate of opinion. I am sure your Lordships can think of a few measures of that kind. If we rejected all measures that could not be fully enforced, a great deal of legislation would never pass through Parliament. If we were to repeal laws which could no longer be enforced, we should have quite a lengthy list to repeal. But we believe that in many cases what is embodied in the law is desirable in the public interest. It does a great deal more good than harm. It may not be fully enforceable but, in a law-abiding community, we at least hope that people will still do their best to support the law.

I support this Bill because, to my mind, it fulfils the three aims I am enthusiastic about in your Lordships' House: I wish to curb the commercial exploitation of animals; to try to stop cruelty to animals; and to be zealous in the conservation of our wild life. This Bill makes a contribution to all three.

My noble friend has referred to the cruelty involved in supplying the animals for this trade and he referred to the torture of the snare. I have asked a Question recently about snares and the Answer given was that there will be provision in the new Government Bill for putting restrictions upon the lawful use of snares. At the present time, I understand that the snare is unlawful only if it is used to snare deer. One can use it, apparently, to snare all other animals. It is a cruel method of catching animals. My noble friend referred to badgers which chew off their own feet in order to escape from the torture of the snare. People go on to land that does not belong to them. They are trespassers and they lay snares. The landowner is unaware that they are there, and not only wild animals but domestic animals may be snared by this unlawful means. So we certainly look to the Government's Bill—this Bill that is to be bigger and better—to do something really effective about the use of snares.

I have a special interest in the badger. I have badger setts very near my home and I have badgers as supporters in my coat of arms. I was told when I went to the College of Heralds that it was unique to have badgers as supporters in a coat of arms, but on further investigation they discovered that some obscure municipality in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland had badgers in its coat of arms. I was told that my badgers must have either crowns or collars. I thought badgers in crowns would look ridiculous, so I settled for badgers with collars, and the heraldic description of my badge is that they are "gorged with collars ". And so they are in the coat of arms that I was privileged to choose.

There is a very active group called the Gwent Badger Group. They are vigilant in protecting them from this prevalent practice of unlawful digging for badgers which is going on in many parts of the country. The most distressing part about the protection of badgers was that hardly had your Lordships' House protected the badger from unlawful killing than a clause was introduced into a Bill to enable the Minister of Agriculture to order the destruction of badgers which were suspected of carrying the infection of bovine tuberculosis. Something like 10,000 badger setts—I may be wrong and perhaps it is 1,000. but it is at any rate a very large number—have been destroyed in the West Country in order to try to rid that area of bovine tuberculosis. We can ill afford, therefore, to have badgers unlawfully destroyed when so much destruction is going on lawfully by order of the Ministry of Agriculture.

In many cases, as your Lordships probably know, foxes and badgers live together, because foxes very often inhabit discarded badger setts, which are far better homes for them than any they can dig for themselves. So, when people are found to be digging for badgers, they nearly always claim that they are digging for foxes—digging for badgers being unlawful, but digging for foxes not being unlawful. In a number of cases, those who are accused get away with lying about their real purpose, though quite a number are convicted and heavily fined. But one must not dwell too much upon badgers in this connection.

I am glad that my noble friend referred to his belief that women no longer think they they are made more attractive by having the skin of a tortured fox around their necks. I hope that that is true, also. Yet I am bound to say that the adornment of women, and much that they desire to enhance their beauty, can be regarded as a serious obstacle to the humanitarian treatment of animals in very many directions indeed; not only as regards wild life, but in laboratories as well. So I find this Bill one that I can support enthusiastically. It conveys the message that I want to give. I am the more enthusiastic because it has been introduced by my noble friend, who is a new entrant into the animal protection lobby in your Lordships' House. We have had our differences about foxhunting and hare coursing, but here is a new political unity which should surely give added weight to the Bill that my noble friend has introduced.

I therefore support the Bill and I ask your Lordships to carry the message.

Let us have no nonsense from our Front Bench about this Bill not being enforceable, nor any other excuse for withholding support from it, because I want to say to my Front Bench that they are committed by their party allegiance to a very wide range of animal protection and conservation. They are committed to the civilised treatment of animals, to a new rapport between the human species and other living creatures. I hope that I shall hear from our Front Bench the same enthusiasm that I am trying to import into this debate in support of my noble friend's Bill.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, made much use of the word "conservation", and I wonder what he means by it. I am possibly fairly well-known in your Lordships' House as being a conservationist, but, again, none of your Lordships has thought fit to question me on what I mean by the term. There is a great difference between the word "conservation" and the word "preservation", which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, used, and I suggest to your Lordships that one is the end result of the other. "Conservation", to me, means the use of renewable resources to the benefit of mankind, whereas "preservation benefit of mankind, whereas" preservation " is where this use has become so damaging to the resource in question that blanket controls are necessary to prohibit any interference, whether this is talking about animals, plants, oil or fish. The word "conservation" is used for oil in exactly the same context as I have just described to your Lordships. The word "conservation" is used for fish in exactly the same context as I have just described. There are momentary preservation orders put on stocks of fish in the North Sea or elsewhere, but only so that the fish can then build themselves up again to be used as a resource for mankind.

With this idea in mind, I am not happy with this Bill, because all the species on the noble Lord's list—again, I agree with my noble friend Lord de Clifford that, technically these should be in a schedule and not in the main part of the Bill; but that is a Committee point and something that can be dealt with at that stage, if we get that far—are defined by the Department of the Environment as pest species. The badger is a little different, because it is what I might describe as a semi-pest. In other words, it is already protected in this country under the Badgers Act 1973, under which it is an offence to have in your possession a recently killed badger or the pelt from a freshly skinned badger. That is already illegal and this Bill will duplicate an existing provision in our legislation, which I do not think is a good thing.

Secondly, it is illegal under Section 2 of the Badgers Act cruelly to ill-treat any badger; and I should dearly love, as would the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to make this a general facet of all our wildlife legislation where it applies to preservation, as, for example, the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976 or the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975, both of which I regard as preservatory rather than conservatory. However, as I was saying, I should like to see the cruel ill-treating of any species of animal out-lawed in this country.

As I understand it, this is one of the planks of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Paget, but this Bill does not do anything about it. In its long Title, this Bill prohibits the export of skins of certain animals, but nowhere does it say how those skins are obtained. I agree that, at the moment, they are very often cruelly obtained but, as I say again, I can find nowhere in the Bill where this cruelty is dealt with. This, again, is something that one could possibly put into the Bill at a later stage, as are various other things.

For example, I see that Clause 4(1) refers to the "Minister", whereas in any other piece of legislation that I have seen we refer to the "Secretary of State ". That, I agree, is nit-picking. However, it also does not make any allowance for the Minister, the Secretary of State or whoever it may be, to be advised by anyone at all. He is, at his sole discretion, allowed to put defined animals into the schedule which does not exist. As I said, a lot of these are Committee points and, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said, it is a convention in your Lordships' House, one that I made use of in an extremely shaky Bill which I presented to your Lordships last Session, to allow Bills of this nature a Second Reading so that they can be amended, tightened up and, if necessary—as in the case of my own Bill—completely re-written during the subsequent stages.

But there is one point where this cannot be done to a Bill. The one thing that one is not allowed to do to a Bill at any stage is to change the long Title. The long Title has to be fully descriptive of the contents of the Bill. The long Title of this Bill is "to prohibit the export of skins of certain animals ". That is a fixed entity. One cannot do anything about it. I am subject to correction, but I have done a certain amount of checking up and I think that that is correct. Skins cannot be exported under this Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament.

On the other hand, items made from skins could be exported and, more importantly, the live animals, which are all perfectly able to be caught in a cage trap, could also be exported. However one changes the wording in the Bill, one cannot get away from this long Title. That is why I feel that, although it could be tightened up to a considerable extent and made very useful, the Bill will not achieve the objects which the noble Lord, Lord Paget, and, I am sure, many of us wish it to achieve. I would therefore suggest to your Lordships that on this unusual occasion it is not a fit subject to get a Second Reading in your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord, Lord Paget, has heard several speeches—and for all I know he may hear a few more from the two Front Benches—suggesting that this Bill could be considerably tightened up. I am wondering therefore whether he would take kindly to the suggestion that at this stage he should withdraw the Bill, tighten it up, and present it in this Session of Parliament as a No. 2 Bill, or with a different title—then we could take it from there—notwithstanding the fact that the Government's own Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which has been referred to several times this afternoon, is also, as I understand it from the discussion documents, dealing with the cruelty side of the noble Lord's point.

There have been six discussion papers, which, as I am sure my noble friend on the Front Bench will be telling us, are available to your Lordships from the Department of the Environment. One of these, No. 3, has already been amended. One of the points in discussion paper No. 3 is a list of pest species of mammals and how they could legally be killed or caught. Apparently, Appendix 9 will make it illegal to use all sorts of what until now have been definitely cruel but definitely not illegal methods of killing animals. I shall not read out the list because it is very long. However, snares—which are one of the noble Lord's pet hates, and quite rightly so—are included, as are traps, in certain cases, and poison.

I would suggest to your Lordships that poison and snares are not specific. You can catch and kill a wide range of animals but not necessarily the animals that you want to catch and kill. In many instances they are also very cruel. In my opinion, the snare is always cruel and poison is very often cruel. As I understand the Government's proposed legislation, one will not be allowed to use any method to kill animals which are not on the pest list. If, therefore, an animals gets in by mistake because you have set your snare badly, or have put your poison in the wrong place, or done so just by accident, you will be guilty of an offence. This is a very good thing.

For all these reasons, I do not think that the Bill, laudable as it is, will achieve the objects that it sets out to achieve and which the noble Lord, Lord Paget, has expressed so clearly.

5.4 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend Lord Paget will be delighted that his Bill has caused quite lively interest. Noble Lords have spoken against the Bill and in favour of it, and there were those who were half-way between. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, will recollect that he introduced a Bill for the preservation of certain botanical species and that at about the same time I introduced into your Lordships' House a Bill for the preservation of animal species. In both cases, the Bills took up a lot of time. I recollect that I made three Second Reading speeches with regard to my Bill. I see that sitting immediately opposite me is the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton. We have faced one another on several occasions in the most amicable way.

Throughout all this discussion your Lordships' House has taken, in my opinion, the most enlightened view about the doubts that we as a community have concerning all living species. In the end, a Government Bill was introduced which combined Lord Beaumont of Whitley's Bill with mine and produced undoubtedly a better Bill. Unfortunately we do not have with us today Lady Stedman who piloted that Bill through your Lordships' House. I think that this House can take a pride in what it has done with regard to living things, both animal and vegetable.

We are faced today with another step in this direction. Lord Paget has produced a Bill with which I am sure all of us agree so far as its intent is concerned. The question is whether the actual working of the Bill will be satisfactory in order to achieve that intent.

The noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, pointed out that there was no schedule to the Bill and that only Clause 5 sets out a certain number of species. Clause 4(1) states that: The Minister may by order prescribe any animal as a defined animal for the purposes of this Act ". The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has pointed out that this is unusual in Bills of this sort and that normally there is a schedule. This is a matter which can be taken up later. It is also somewhat unusual for the Minister or the Secretary of State to be responsible by order for prescribing any animal without having to consult a committee. In the case of all Bills of this type that we have passed on previous occasions it has been stated that this is to be done on the advice of a committee. I should not feel very happy if the Bill went forward without there being any suggestion of a committee to deal with this matter.

When one begins to look at the details, one finds that in this Bill it is only the end product that is referred to. The noble Lord, Lord Paget, has said that by putting severe financial constraints upon the dealers one is able to cope with the problem. It seems to be very strange to deal simply with the sale outside this country of a furskin and not with the act, which is what the noble Lord wants to hit at; namely, the cruelty to the animal concerned in the first place. In other words, it is the snaring, it is the coursing, it is the hunting which can be the cruel things.

Surely the final sale of the skin, especially if it is a sale across a frontier and not a sale inside this country, is not in itself the evil which the noble Lord is trying to hit at. The evil which he is hitting at—and I personally sympathise and agree entirely with him—is the cruelty involved in the first place. Therefore one ought to have something in the Bill with regard to the mode of killing the animal.

The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said that in your Lordships' House one cannot alter the Long Title of a Bill. I am assured that this is not correct. It can be done; it can be done if one moves an amendment to the Bill which so alters the nature of the Bill that the Long Title inevitably has to be altered. In fact I am told that this has been done on more than one occasion in your Lordships' House. If that is so, it seems to me that we have a method of dealing with this Bill without the stamp of rejection at Second Reading. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that it is an exceptional step for your Lordships to take; to reject a Private Member's Bill at Second Reading. I would not wish to propose that this Bill be rejected at Second Reading, although I think that a lot of modification is required in the Bill.

To take an example, I would wish to have, instead of the present Clause 1, a different Clause 1 altogether and such a different Clause 1 as would include the cruelty in killing the animal and would involve an alteration in the main title of the Bill. Therefore, if my information is correct—that your Lordships by custom have been able to change the Long Title of a Bill because of emendations made to the main clauses of the Bill—in my opinion this would be the appropriate step to take. But I should like to assure the House that the intent of the Bill is something about which most of us feel strongly. I certainly do and I sympathise entirely with my noble friend Lord Paget of Northampton in having a Bill of this type put forward. At the same time I could not, with a happy conscience, support this Bill at all subsequent stages because I think in its present form it requires considerable amendment.

So I hope, my Lords, that it will be possible for us to deal with this Bill in such a way that we show quite clearly our desire in this House to preserve animals in a state in which they can be—so far as we know—contented and that when they have to be killed, they are killed in a humane way. At the same time, we want to be sure that any Bill is satisfactory and workable.

5.14 p.m.


My Lords, as we would expect of him, the noble Lord, Lord Paget of Northampton, has introduced this Bill with his accustomed skill and persuasiveness and, as he is surrounded by friends on all sides of the House, he knows that he is able to win a certain amount of emotion just by speaking to the House. We all sympathise with him in most of the things he says, although we do not always agree with him. He has produced a Bill which has produced some extraordinary bed-fellows. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, pointed out, he and the noble Lord, Lord Paget, are not normally considered to be bedfellows on the matter of the killing of foxes. I believe that in another place the names of Heller and Kimball are linked, which is an even more unlikely couple! But that shows what an extraordinary Bill we are dealing with.

Nevertheless the noble Lord did not ask much of the Government—only our benevolence. Perish the thought that I should want to hurt the noble Lord, but I fear that our benevolence is not on show this evening. We are not fond of his Bill; we cannot support his Bill, because we think there is already adequate legislative control under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976 on the international trade in furskins from animal species, which are threatened with extinction by such trade. This, as my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale pointed out, is supplemented in the United Kingdom by the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975, which bans the sale of any species indigenous to these islands that is in danger of extinction.

Further, I am advised that there are no good conservation reasons why any of the species listed should have this type of protection and the fox is certainly on the increase and can stand a high rate of culling. We would have great difficulty with our European partners showing a reason, notwithstanding Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome, why we should intervene with trade—a trade which may even be beneficial to some species since, among the pressures on some of the rarer ground nesting birds, are the predations of foxes, pine martens and polecats.

We recognise that snaring should only be used where there is no acceptable alternative and, in the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, which has been referred to by several noble Lords, we are including provisions restricting the use of snares to species causing pest damage and to authorised persons. This will make the "poaching" referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Paget, illegal. As for the sale of skins, that has always been a legitimate source of finance to pest control firms and pest control officers and has made their terms for undertaking work for farmers less expensive. To remove this source of revenue will only serve to increase the costs to the farmers and landowners suffering from the predations of these species. There are a number of other reasons why we feel this Bill is defective. Even if it was desirable to bring in these controls, there would need to be arrangements to allow the re-export of furs legitimately imported, but the Bill makes no such provision, and as my noble friend Lord de Clifford said, equally, there need be no objection to the export of furskins from animals reared in captivity for this purpose, but the Bill will not allow this.

On particular points, the noble Lord, Lord Paget, spoke about the essential of financial restraint. I must tell him and other noble Lords that as the Bill is at present drafted Her Majesty's Customs and Excise would not be required to enforce the prohibition. The police would have little opportunity. The proposal to ban snaring (except for authorised persons) is more enforceable. That is an important point.

I was asked whether the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976 could be widened to cover more than just the endangered species listed under the Washington Convention. This is proposed. Then, in principle, the ban on exports of any fur would be possible. I agreed entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, when he queried whether the praise bestowed by the noble Lord, Lord Paget, on British womanhood was quite correct. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that women's fashions are a volatile thing; they do not like being out of fashion and I notice that their principles change somewhat if fashion dictates. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, on the whole was lukewarm towards this Bill because he, too, saw the difficulties in connection with it.

My noble friend Lord de Clifford emphasised—as I do again—that our Government Bill is on the way and I think that to use parliamentary time unnecessarily on half measures, which I have pointed out are not effective anyhow, is really rather a waste of time. We then get to the very powerful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who is always interesting on these matters. He seldom pulls his punches and he showed a lot of enthusiasm for this Bill. I agree a great deal with some of the points he made. I think my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale answered all his points on the badgers, mentioning the various legislation which is in effect. On the point of snaring, I would point out that the Council of Europe Berne Convention on Conservation of Wildlife and Natural Habitats requires snaring as well as other indescriminate methods of killing to be banned generally, but it is allowed to be used for pest control. The Wildlife and Countryside Bill which we have been talking about will prohibit snaring for badgers altogether, and for other species it will only be allowed by authorised persons for pest control.

I would congratulate the noble Lord on his heraldic achievement; I am still proud to have an illustrated copy of it which he gave me some years ago when he first took it out, knowing that I was interested in that subject. I am not sure that I wholly agree with his estimate of what badgers would like. I personally would rather be a crowned badger than a collared badger, but that is perhaps a matter of personal taste. I would also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for the kind words he said about this Government's good intentions as regard welfare in the animal kingdom. There is a need, as he said, for political parties to advocate animal welfare. I think all parties in this House have a very good record on this, and I think also in the country at large this is the case.

My noble friend Lord Skelmersdale added a note of real expertise with a heavy douche of common sense, and I would endorse everything he said. I would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, on his first appearance, so far as I remember, on the Front Bench. It is a most delightful thing to see, and with his youth I would anticipate that he has a bright future ahead of him! He started on conservation of endangered species, protection of one form or another of wildlife, many years ago, and I have been very happy and have learned an awful lot from him—I apologise for the word "awful"; it is not the right adjective and it is not good English. Having seen the noble Lord talking to a certain noble friend of his outside the Chamber, I suspect he may have been getting advice from him and I fully admire the source he went to for advice. I am advised that, as one would expect, his advice was right, but at the same time I am advised that the changing of the Long Title is unusual and is not a habit to be encouraged, though it is definitely a possibility. My Lords, I think I have dealt with all the points raised and it only remains for me to say in conclusion that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Paget, will see fit to withdraw his Bill for the reasons I have given, as the Government really would not wish to see it become an Act of Parliament.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I much regret not feeling inclined to take that advice. I still believe that this is a Bill which can carry a limited benefit and is designed and confined to that limited benefit. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said it might have been included in the Government's Bill that is to come. That we certainly considered, but we found that it was right outside the Long Title of that Bill. My Long Title is very narrowly confined; that is, with express intent. It does not refer to cruelty, it does not refer to the method of killing, it does not refer to anything of that sort, because I am quite sure that nothing of that sort we do in a Bill is enforceable. This Bill says one single thing—you shall not export these skins. And if you do not export these skins there will be no profit in them. This is the simple proposition.

This snaring of badgers, foxes, polecats and these other long-haired furs just did not happen three or four years ago to any extent. It was used in areas where it was required to control, to protect wild farms, to protect sheep in many areas. It was not used in order to get the skins and the animals killed were generally not even skinned. Just three or four years ago we got this fashion. We get this new market being catered for by poachers without any regard to control or to humanity, largely using methods which are already illegal, largely, as in the case of the badger, on animals which are protected. It is an offence to be found with the body of a newly-killed badger, but it is not an offence to export the skin of a badger which may not be so newly killed. It needs this reinforcement if you are going to make these provisions effective. It is a simple matter of taking the profit out of the transactions.

Let me put it in the very simplest terms. Three years ago this, which we all agree is an evil, did not happen. Three years ago a new market, provoked by a new fashion, emerged. In those three years the values of these skins have jumped from nothing to £40 for foxes, £60 for badgers. It seems to me quite reasonable to assume that if you stopped that market—and it is exclusively an export market because there is no market for these skins in this country; they are not used here; they are not wanted here—you would stop this particular evil, which is unbalancing the wildlife in quite a number of areas in this country. That seems to me the sensible, the logical and the direct thing to do. I would certainly object

violently to my Long Title being altered at Committee stage, because I do not want to expand the Bill one bit beyond the way I have put it, to take away the cause of this evil which we have all seen and acknowledged.

When one talks of enforcement, there is no problem of enforcing the prohibition of exporting—no problem here at all. It is not the poachers who exports. It is not even the middlemen who export. Within the fur trade these furs are unusable until they get into the hands of the big houses and go to the fur auctions. It is the fur auctions that provide the export trade. Cut them off from that trade—and by making it illegal you do so automatically because these are big, respectable firms for which these cheap British furs are a tiny corner of their trade—make it illegal, and there is no market. There are no enormous profits in it. It is not like drugs. It is not the type of thing in which one can create an illegal export market. It would be far too expensive to do so within the profit levels that exist. Just cut off the market and the Bill automatically enforces itself.

I very much desire to continue with the Bill because nothing which I have heard from the House has in the least convinced me that it is not the rational way to deal with the matter. I believe that the more noble Lords think about it the more they will come round to the conclusion that here is a specific evil, a new evil, which can be dealt with quickly and independently of other legislation by a very simple provision. Wider Bills can go on, but I believe that if we care about this evil of snaring and poaching in the countryside, this little Bill should go through.

5.32 p.m.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 35; Not-Contents, 17.

Abercorn, D. Enniskillen, E. Jacobson, L.
Ampthill, L. Exeter, M. Kinnoull, E.
Ardwick, L. Hale, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Aylestone, L. Halsbury, E. Mancroft, L.
Brookes, L. Hankey, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Castle, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. [Teller.] Meston, L.
Croft, L. Minto, E.
Murray of Gravesend, L. Perry of Walton, L. Shinwell, L.
Newall, L. Phillips, B. Strathcarron, L.
Noel-Baker, L. Rathcreedan, L. Strathclyde, L.
O'Brien of Lothbury, L. Romney, E. Suffield, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Sackville, L. Wise, L.
Paget of Northampton, L.
Buxton of Alsa, L. Galloway, E. Northchurch, B.
Craigton, L. Henley, L. Skelmersdale, L. [Teller.]
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Stanley of Alderley, L.
de Clifford, L. [Teller.] Lucas of Chilworth, L. Teviot, L.
Denham, L. Morris, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Ebbisham, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion for Second Reading agreed to accordingly: read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

5.41 p.m.