HL Deb 03 February 1981 vol 416 cc1046-102

3.16 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)

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

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Bellwin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]

Clause 10 [Exceptions to s.9]

[Amendment No. 124 not moved.]

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 125: Page 11, leave out lines 23 and 24.

The noble Lord said: This is to some extent a probing amendment but raising a serious point which is also covered by Amendments Nos. 127 and 128 to be moved by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Lord, Lord Craigton. The purpose of my amendment is to try to ensure that bats that live in dwelling-houses will not be disturbed. We had a short and somewhat lighthearted discussion about this late last night. I said then briefly that the position of bats in this country was a great deal more serious and desperate than was generally realised.

As I said then—and I think that it is worth repeating—there are very few animals which are protected by the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act, but two are bats. The greater horseshoe bat has been reduced to a very small number of colonies, many of which are extremely endangered for a number of reasons, particularly because the buildings which they use for breeding, where bats tend to colonise in large numbers and be concentrated, have one sort of problem or another. This has led voluntary wildlife organisations and the Nature Conservancy Council to take a number of steps which have proved extremely expensive: one example being to repair the roof of a kitchen of a school in a way that did not disturb the greater horseshoe bat colony which used that particular roof for breeding purposes.

The position of the mouse-eared bat, which was also protected under the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act is a great deal more serious. In fact, I understand that there are probably no mouse-eared bats left alive in this country. It therefore probably has the dubious distinction of being the first species that we attempted to protect under the 1975 Act which has subsequently become extinct; that is depending on whether the large blue butterfly did become extinct last year. That underlines how serious the position is for bats as a whole.

This has been caused by a number of features. First, the general unpopularity and bad image of bats. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said last night that I should ask somebody who had had a bat caught in their hair what they thought of them. I have never yet actually met somebody who has had a bat caught up in their hair. I know it is a common belief that it happens, but I think myself it is an old wives' tale, unless the noble Earl has had personal experience of this. I certainly never have. In fact, bats have a very good and sensitive radar system and are very unlikely to get caught up in anything, and certainly not in a human being's head.

The second thing that has caused the problem is the number of buildings which receive annual remedial timber treatment. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, referred to this last night. The number of bats which have died or have had their breeding habits interfered with has been very high indeed. For example, in 1953 the Dorset colony of greater horseshoe bats was virtually exterminated during remedial timber treatment. The problem is particularly bad if the treatment takes place at the wrong time of year because then it is possible to exterminate a whole bat colony, as they would all have got together for breeding.

The Bill takes a very useful step forward in providing in Clause 10 protection for animals; but the two lines I wish to delete make it lawful to do anything within a dwelling-house, even though it may damage an animal which we have taken particular steps to protect under the Bill. There are not many of them and I think it is important that we should find a way of excluding damaging effects on bats, even if something were done in a dwelling-house, from the scope of these two lines.

Having said that, I think my amendment would be a good deal less preferable than that of either the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, or the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. Both are a great deal more specific in meeting the point I am after. I do not know whether it is convenient to discuss those two amendments with mine or whether your Lordships would wish to take them separately; but in any event I hope that the Government will be able to reassure us, if not on this amendment then on one of the others, that they will ensure that the Bill takes this point into account.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

I can understand the confusion of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, over the alteration of the amendment numbers, because I experienced some modest confusion myself. He said that the object of this amendment was to ensure that bats in dwelling-houses should not be disturbed. He said that we had had a conversation last night—indeed we had a debate on the subject—and he asked whether I had had a bat in my hair. I am bound to tell the noble Lord that I have not had a bat in my hair but, having a less uncontrolled thatch on the top of my head than that of the noble Lord, no doubt the chances of a bat being caught in his hair would be greater than one being found in mine. All I would tell him is that there is a very real fear among some people, particularly ladies, about the possibility of having a bat in their hair; and when they are told by the noble Lord that bats have a sensitive radar system, I do not think they would find that particularly comforting. It may be perfectly true but—

Lord Melchett

The noble Earl has access to far more competent scientific advice than I have, and I hope that rather than encourage these totally unwarranted fears, he might listen to the scientific advice which I am sure would tell him that this does not happen and that, just like the noble Earl, people are believing something which is not true.

Earl Ferrers

I am not encouraging any such fears. I was merely reiterating the fears which had been expressed to me on occasion. However, to come to the point of this amendment, lines 23 and 24 of Clause 10 closely follow a similar provision in the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants (Amendment) Bill which your Lordships considered in 1979. This exemption was accepted then and I would have thought that your Lordships would continue to regard it as reasonable to permit actions to be taken within one's house, without the necessity of obtaining a licence even against those protected species which may be using one's house for shelter or protection. Obviously one would hope that such actions would be taken only when necessary and after the most careful consideration on the part of the owner or occupier of the dwelling-house.

However, I am bound to tell the Committee that if your Lordships were to accept this amendment the effect would be that if one did have bats in one's attic it would be an offence to get rid of them. Notwithstanding the scientific advice and the rarity of the bats, I think this would be an unreasonable restriction to put on a householder, and therefore I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Somers

It may be stretching the point a little bit far, but may I ask the noble Earl what is the legal definition of "dwelling-house"? Surely a stable is a dwelling-house for horses?

Earl Ferrers

In Clause 20, I think, there are a number of definitions. Whether "dwelling-house" is one of them I am not sure: I do not think it is. But a dwelling-house is a place in which one dwells: if the noble Lord wishes me to give a more legalistic definition, I am bound to say that I shall have to take advice about that.

Lord Melchett

I think it would be a mistake to delay the Committee too long over this amendment. As I say, there are two further amendments and I would hope that the Government might be able to accept one or other of them. I quite agree with the noble Earl that we would all hope that people would take action against a specially protected species only when it is necessary. It might be that when we look at this matter between now and Report stage it would be useful to see that sentiment which the noble Earl expressed reflected in the words of the Bill, so that people looking at this would know that that is what Parliament had intended. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 126 not moved.]

3.27 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook moved Amendment No. 127: Page 11, line 24, leave out ("a dwelling house") and insert ("the occupied quarters of a dwelling house, which term shall not be taken to include the roof-space, cellar, cavity wall or vacuity in the fabric of a dwelling house that is not ordinarily used for living purposes.").

The noble Earl said: Speaking from this side of the Committee and with the support of the Government, I must say I was very deeply upset to hear the noble Earl on the Front Bench just now speaking of Government opinion and reflecting the advice of his scientific advisers. I cannot believe that advice was given by dispassionate scientific advisers and I cannot help but feel that it must have been coloured by impressions of what people might or might not be willing to accept.

The noble Earl, Lord Avon, last night said at column 949 of the Official Report: … the Government's primary aim in this Bill is to make provisions which would enable the necessary steps to be taken to conserve those creatures for which conservation measures are required".

If I may refer your Lordships to Schedule 5, the first two bats whose names are given on the list are— Bats, Horseshoe (all species) Bats, Typical (all species).

This is not any addition to the list I have been trying to promote recently in your Lordships' Committee; this is a list of the animals which the Government have declared it is their primary aim to conserve. I refuse to joke about bats. Bats comprise one-third, approximately, of our native mammal fauna. That will give an idea of their comparative importance—when we discuss bats we are talking about one-third of the native mammals of our country. They were adapted to a primeval environment, largely forest, in this country, in which trees, hollow trees, fissures in bark and so on provided their roosting space. They have so far proved adaptable to the altered environment by their capacity to occupy alternative roosting and breeding sites such as those that are offered by the buildings which man has erected.

Of the bats which were protected by the 1975 Act, the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has already mentioned the greater horseshoe bat. This bat has been very carefully and intensively studied by those who are interested in the mammals of our country, including the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology, which is, as it were, the Government's wildlife research arm. There are six known colonies of greater horseshoe bats in this country. All six live and breed in buildings. All of those buildings were, or are, dwelling-houses. In those buildings they occupy roof spaces, crevices in the roof and parts of the buildings which are not lived in by people. Three of the dwelling-houses are still in use. The remainder, for one reason or another—including, in one case, the fact that the whole building was dedicated to the use of bats—are no longer lived in by people as well as by bats.

The close relative of the greater horseshoe bat, the lesser horseshoe bat, which is a bat which will be protected under this Bill, exists in a limited area of this country. There is no breeding colony which does not occur in a dwelling-house. Almost all these dwelling-houses are occupied by people. In order to illustrate more clearly than the noble Earl on the Front Bench the attitude which people will take, I may say that these people who have colonies of lesser horseshoe bats in their houses are immensely concerned that these rare and threatened animals should survive.

Public attitudes can be changed. The public attitude to bats, as being something nasty that gets in their hair, is not one which need be perpetuated. It is one which, again, our Institute for Terrestial Ecology and our Nature Conservancy Council have taken steps to remedy. There is a good pamphlet available, called A Focus on Bats: A Guide to their Conservation and Control. I have not ascertained whether this is available in your Lordships' Library. But I will deposit this copy in your Lordships' Library and I hope that it will be read with care and attention by those who are not aware of the importance of this subject in general.

I also hope your Lordships will realise why we have to care for bats in houses, and will see that, if there is to be any sense in legislating that bats shall be protected, there must be comparable consideration of bat colonies that occur in houses. These bat colonies do not occur in those parts of the house in which people normally come and go. They occur in roof spaces. Bats are essentially secretive animals. They hide away in that part of the house which provides them with a suitable environment, and what they seek is shelter, shade, darkness and freedom from interference. In many cases, the bats are unknown to the human denizens of the house. In some cases they are known.

My amendment seeks to follow up the lead provided just now by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, in, I admit, an amateur fashion, and a fashion which has not been inspired by any legal inquiry, to define that part of the house which is legitimately the province of the bats, because it is not required by human beings for their survival. We do not exterminate human beings by denying them the facility to occupy dwellings which are occupied by bats. We can exterminate bats and, in some cases, we could exterminate in six simple moves the entire remaining breeding colony of one of our protected native bat species, if we do not give them the protection that I seek in this amendment. I stress again that, if we are to pass legislation here which makes sense, we must put these two points together. I beg to move.

3.34 p.m.

Lord Craigton

My amendment is very similar to the amendment which was so ably moved by my noble friend, except that whereas his amendment would let some other nice, little, furry, rare beasties into Schedule 6, mine is exclusively directed at bats. I, too, was worried last night about the attitude of your Lordships' House towards bats and the feeling that everybody hated them. But I should tell your Lordships that, with the advice of the Institute for Terrestial Ecology and one Bob Stebbings, who designed it for me, I put a bat box into the Christmas catalogue of the World Wildlife Fund and we sold thousands and thousands of those bat boxes. In other words, people did want bat boxes just as they want bird boxes.

Bats are harmless, slow-breeding and easily disturbed to the extent of destruction. A survey in 1978–79 showed that the number and size of colonies has declined by 38 per cent. With the destruction of the usual habitat, some bats have become almost wholly dependent on buildings—not necessarily homes—where they live and breed. But the householder with a colony of bats in his roof can hardly be expected to put up with them unless he likes the harmless little creatures, and this is the dilemma.

I have already spoken of the terrible effect of the lindane and dieldrin preparations which, as I read the Bill, are illegal for wood preservation if bats are present. But as the Bill is now framed, they will be illegal except in a dwelling-house. The other danger, which is similarly made illegal except in a dwelling-house, is in Clause 11 (2)(c), which forbids the use of gas or smoke. Gas or smoke are now used either to drive out the bats, or to kill them when the exist have been closed. We must try to protect the bats living in our homes.

But those bats which are unwelcome are still in the house. My amendment presents a practical solution that would save some, but not all, colonies and individuals and this is the best we can hope for. Under Clauses 9 and 10, it is illegal to destroy the habitat, unless it is in a dwelling-house. My amendment includes a dwelling-house, provided it is not in the living quarters. But we may still want to get rid of the bats and their habitat, without breaking the law.

As my noble friend pointed out a moment ago, if there were bats in one's house it would be an offence to get rid of them if the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, were agreed to. So my next amendment—and I am not speaking to it, but it must be seen in the perspective of my present amendment—provides that one may destroy the bats' habitat in one's home, if one has first obtained clearance from the Nature Conservancy Council. My Amendments Nos. 115, 128, 139 and 174 present a complete package for the reasonable protection of bats and for complying with their welcome appearance in Schedules 5 and 6.

I hope that my noble friend who is to reply to this series of amendments will be able to say after I have moved the last two, not that he will consider the various proposals that we have put forward, but that he will do something in this Bill, because it is possible to have the best of both difficult worlds; that is, to have bats in your house if you like them, and to be able to get rid of them if they are a great nuisance. And this does not apply only to a house; it applies to a belfry or wherever it may be. If my noble friend on the Front Bench is not able to say that he will do something about bats, then I assure him that the whole conservation world will be dissatisfied and we shall have to continue to press the Government.

Lord Gibson-Watt

I wonder whether I may put forward a slightly contrary view. Within the rarefied atmosphere of your Lordships' House, it is of the greatest interest to hear two experts talking about bats, and to both of my noble friends I would say that, in general, I have every sympathy with what they say. The point that I wish to make quite briefly is this: my noble friend Lord Cranbrook said that there is a good deal of concern on the part of certain private owners. But if any private owner has a colony of bats in his house, it is probably known about by the Nature Conservancy Council. Is it not possible, therefore, for the NCC to come to some voluntary agreement with the private owners concerned—

The Earl of Cranbrook

On a point of clarification, when I used those words I meant to say that the owners of these houses are very much aware of the colonies in their houses. They very strongly support the presence of the colonies in their houses and are good friends of the bats.

Lord Gibson-Watt

My noble friend is merely underlining what I have already said: That most owners of houses where there are colonies of bats are very sympathetic to them. All I am saying is: can we not avoid the heavy hand of government being implicated? Can this not be brought about by good will between bat owners and the Nature Conservancy Council? I could not agree more with both of my noble friends. What they are seeking to do is eminently right—that is, to preserve bat colonies, particularly the important ones. My noble friend Lord Craigton said that there was a dilemma. The dilemma is that on the one hand we have those who wish, quite rightly, to preserve bats while on the other there are in this country millions of people with houses who do not want the heavy hand of government telling them what they are to do with the bats in their lofts.

Lord Craigton

There are far more colonies of bats elsewhere than in private houses. I am seeking to ensure that every bat colony will not be destroyed, which is illegal under the Bill, without talking first to the Nature Conservancy Council.

Lord Gibson-Watt

I quite understand what my noble friend is saying. I was trying to shoot down the amendment of my noble friend Lord Cranbrook who spoke specifically about dwelling-houses.

Lord Home of the Hirsel

I have a colony of bats under the eaves, just above a certain room. We have found over the years that if we keep about 200 bats, there is no trouble. The unhappy fact is that they breed not quite so slowly as my noble friend suggested. Something has to be done about it when they get up to 2,000, because the bedroom cannot be inhabited by the people we want to put in it. If the amendment is accepted, I hope that it will allow us to "ration" the bats in a humane way.

The Earl of Onslow

My noble friend Lord Cranbrook talked about six colonies of greater horseshoe bats in private dwelling-houses and said that the six people concerned were all very reasonable and honourable and were prepared to look after them. That is absolutely super. But what happens if two of those people grow old, want a smaller house and sell it and the person who buys it has ideas about redecoration, is not interested in nature conservancy or in bats and indeed could not care a fig for the bats in his attic, loft or wherever they may be? Surely there is then a question of worry which we ought to take on board and which we ought to listen to. There is a possibility that when good, reasonable, nature conserving people sell they may sell to somebody who is not quite so conscious of our animal heritage.

3.44 p.m.

Lord Melchett

Could I say that we on this side support both noble Lords? Of the two options, I think that the package, as he described it, of the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, probably meets the fears which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, and the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel. In other words, if bats were causing anybody any discomfort or disquiet or if the numbers were getting too high, under Lord Craigton's amendment one would contact the Nature Conservancy Council for advice about how to overcome the problem or about how completely to exclude the bats. That seems to me to be a very reasonable and full response to the problems which have been raised.

We may be confusing two different points. First, there are the very rare species, like the greater horseshoe bat, which are already protected. The Nature Conservancy Council would be in touch with the owners and would have very close contacts with them. However, as the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has said, that does not meet the problem if ownership changes. That did happen in the case of one of these houses, or the owner could not afford to maintain the roof. It involved voluntary organisations in spending many thousands of pounds which were readily raised from the public—this would disabuse those people who think that there is not a lot of public interest and support for preserving bats—and it was spent upon re-roofing the building. But that clearly is not possible in the case of all but the very rarest species. That is why the amendments to which the noble Lords opposite have spoken certainly have our very full support.

The Earl of Malmesbury

I support what my noble friend Lord Onslow has said. I was recently involved in trying to move a colony. It was a complete failure. This is one of the difficulties. One has to support the dwelling where the bats are at the moment. Moving them is almost an impossibility.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

May I re-emphasise what my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt has said and also what was said by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel. We do not want there to be unnecessary legislation but, as my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel has said, what is a welcome phenomenon if there is a reasonable number can become an impossibility. With the greatest respect to my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, I find that necessarily the roof space or the cellar has to be exempted, even though one does not live there. In the attics of my home I store a lot of furniture, and in my cellar a little wine and china which is not in use. I should not like to have in those places a colony of bats which I could not do anything about. Also I have stables which are not now in use except for the storage of agricultural implements. There the bats have a high and jolly old time and there they are most welcome. So we have to be careful about over-legislating. What the exact balance is I am not quite sure. I shall listen with great interest to what my noble friend will say.

Lord Hale

I am surprised that nobody has referred to the fact that a few days ago bat soup was being sold on the streets of London. In view of the failure of one or two canning firms over rare products which have proved not to be palatable, we were told that the crowd of people who assembled to try the bat soup were, with one exception, delighted with it. So I think we must anticipate the possibility of a demand for bats for canning. This possibility does not seem to be covered by any clause in the Bill.

Secondly, could the noble Lord tell us what is the medicinal treatment for the trees which destroyed a bat colony? So far as the popularity of the bat is concerned, I believe that it is due almost entirely to the fact that bats were an essential part of the old Witches' Sabbath, particularly in France in the 11th and 12th centuries when the great historian Michelet wrote his book La Sorcière, which was the suject of a great deal of criticism from ecclesiastical circles and others. He pointed out that the sorceress in the village was the local doctor. She sold her animal remedies which were of great value to the community. That is possibly true. Therefore, I was alarmed to hear a year or two ago that the Church of England had said that they were going to retain the ceremony of exorcism in the rubric. One fears that it could easily be directed precisely to bats in the belfry. This would call for consideration.

Finally, the statement that if you ring up the county council you get advice does not apply to the grey squirrels which I have in my house. The excellent officer who has dealt with our rats is of the opinion that the grey squirrel is not part of the family which he was called upon to destroy.

Lord Melchett

May I remind my noble friend that the person who was attempting to get people to taste bat soup was arrested for obstruction. I hope this will be a lesson to those who want to encourage this deplorable practice.

Earl Ferrers

If I may add to that, I will merely tell the noble Lord that in fact all bats are protected and therefore they cannot be used for canning or for other such purposes. My noble friend Lord Cranbrook chided me, quite deservedly, for being slightly flippant, I suppose, and he asked whether what I had said was the advice of the Government scientist. In that part of the answer which I gave I was merely responding to a personal observation which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, had made. If I have given offence to the noble Lord, of course I apologise and I can assure him that that particular part of my remarks was not the advice of the scientist or indeed of the officials.

We are in a slight dilemma here and I feel strongly that what my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt said was quite right. We have heard the opinions of two very distinguished experts and, indeed, scientists in regard to this problem and we have to balance the scientific argument against the practical realities of the people in whose houses these bats are found.

With regard to the definition of a dwelling-house, to which the noble Lord, Lord Somers, referred earlier, a dwelling-house is a house with the added requirement that it is dwelt in and all the dwellers in which are absent only temporarily, having the intention to return, and therefore I think that the word "dwelling-house" in that respect would not cover a stable.

It is true, I suppose, that, in the words of my noble friend's amendment, bats would be found in the roof space, cellar or cavity walls of a dwelling-house and it could be argued—and indeed it has been argued by my noble friend—that their presence there could be tolerated or at least that the householder should not be able to act against them because they will not be infringing his living area. I accept that view as being one which would be expressed by those who are concerned to see the preservation of a species such as this, but, if one looks at the other side of the coin and one considers the position of the householder who may not have these particular affiliations to bats, I think it would be unreasonable to attempt to prohibit him from taking action to protect his own house.

My noble friend Lord Cranbrook said that it would be wrong to take action against bats which were living in an area of a house legitimately occupied by bats. I really think that most householders would not agree with him: that if one purchases a house and that, if peradventure with the house or subsequently into the house comes a colony of bats, I do not know that most householders—or indeed lawyers—would consider that the bats were "legitimately occupying" the house. Despite the persuasive arguments of my noble friend I really do feel that it would be unreasonable to restrict householders in this way and indeed to put a curtailment upon them.

My noble friend Lord Craigton said that what he would like householders to do would be to get clearance from the Nature Conservancy Council before removing the bats. But supposing one goes to the Nature Conservancy Council and says, as my noble friend Lord Home said, "I have 2,000 bats and I should like to rid myself of at least part of that number", and the Nature Conservancy Council says, "Well, you cannot do that", is that a right power to give the Nature Conservancy Council? It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, would merely like to see the Nature Conservancy Council consulted, but of course the Council is there to offer advice on any particular occa sion and I think that to write into a Bill that one should be obliged to consult the Nature Conservancy Council and, having consulted them, possibly pay no regard to what they have said, would be an undue restriction.

I am in sympathy with the scientific arguments which have been put forward by noble Lords, but I think that in practice it would be wrong to write into the Bill a restriction of this nature upon householders.

The Earl of Onslow

Can the noble Earl cast his mind on to the fact that there are six colonies of greater horseshoe bats and that the only ones are in private houses? What happens if all six houses are sold and the new owners say: "We do not like bats"? As I understand it, from what my noble friend Lord Craigton said, the greater horseshoe bat will then be exterminated in England. If the bats are there already surely a new owner, when he buys that property, must take on board the fact that there is something of great natural, historical and scientific importance in his house, and in the same way that he would not destroy a mediaeval flying buttress he would not destroy a colony of greater horseshoe bats.

Lord Melchett

I found what the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, had to say, particularly in response to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, extra-ordinarily unsatisfactory, and I cannot believe that what he said was based on any official scientific advice, because my understanding is that the NCC are regularly consulted by quite a large number of people who have problems with bats in their houses. That gives rise to no difficulties at all. They ask for advice and, on the whole, people take the advice. Occasionally they do not, and in such a case those bats are killed and there is nothing more we can do about it.

As I understand it, these amendments seek to ensure that in all cases where bats are going to be killed—and it is that which is involved in removing them from a house, unless it is done with the benefit of expert advice—those persons involved should be required to seek advice from the NCC. It is no more than that. That does not seem to me to be over-onerous or difficult. In fact it is probably doing people a service, because if somebody tries to exclude bats from their roof space without taking advice they are more than likely to seal up the hole that the hats are using to get in and out when the bats are in the loft rather than when they are outside, and be left with a lot of dead and rotting carcases in their roof. That would be a great deal more of a problem than live bats are ever likely to be.

I do not believe that the noble Earl has even remotely begun to give a satisfactory response to what seems to me to be a very moderate and modest proposal which would still leave a lot of bats being killed, but nevertheless would take some steps in the Bill very much in the spirit of the suggestions put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, and the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, that people should simply ask for and have the benefit of expert advice, but not be required to act on it. I do not think that is necessary, and from past experience it has not been necessary. I hope the Government will be a little more forthcoming to the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, before he withdraws his amendment.

Lord Craigton

I hope that the Government will not come to any decision until we have considered the other two amendments. What the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said is quite right. I had no idea whatever of making it compulsory to follow the NCC's advice; simply that they should give people the best advice, and if the person wanted to get rid of the bats, then he must get rid of them. That was all I had in mind.

Earl Ferrers

May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, that if I have given an unsatisfactory answer that is a pity, but I really do not think there is much between us. The NCC gives advice on matters relating to bats. As the noble Lord, Lord Melchett said, people frequently consult the NCC about bats. The only point I would wish to stress is, as my noble friend Lord Gibson-Watt said, how far is it right to put an obligation in law in an Act of Parliament that a person must consult with the Nature Conservancy Council? I should have thought it would be undesirable to put that restriction in law, but of course we will consider the arguments which have been put forward today.

Lord Melchett

If I may respond briefly, there really is no point in listing bats as a protected species in the Bill unless the Government mean what they say, and it is quite clear that without something along the lines of the amendments, either that I proposed or those proposed by the two noble Lords opposite, listing bats as a protected species is a simple sham—a con trick. The Government do not actually intend to see them protected at all. That is why these amendments are so important.

Viscount Thurso

I think we are in danger of losing our sense of proportion here. There must be something like 15 million houses in this country and most of them are constructed as habitats for human beings and not as habitats for bats. In the case of six houses where there are interesting colonies of rare bats I think we have made out a very good case for special arrangements to be made to try to protect those colonies. This does not seem to me to justify our making it impossible for the owners of the other 14,990,000-odd houses in this country which arc constructed as habitats for human beings to be deprived of their ability to defend themselves from invading species of other sorts. I think we are tending to lose a sense of proportion.

4 p.m.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh

May I be allowed to support the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in regard to this particular aspect. As many noble Lords, including the noble Earl, know, I have a lot of bats, not only in my belfry, the chapel. I have a lot of bats in other parts of the house. What has happened? I make inquiries about capital transfer tax under the Heritage Bill. Then what happens? They say, "You have got to do this, you have got to do that, you have got to see to the dry rot, you have got to see to the woodworm, you have got to see to so-and-so". Your Lordships see what I am getting at. To treat your wood and your timber to see that your place does not fall down, under the rules appertaining to opening your house to the public and that sort of thing, you have got to do these things.

As I see it, if these amendments are carried there will be another imposition. I do not know what my bats are. I am not particularly fond of them; my wife is, but that is another point. If these amendments are carried there will be one more imposition on the houseowner, that he cannot do this and cannot do that. I am trying to make the point that if he is to obey one set of rules about preserving his timber this will make him liable to be prosecuted because, by preserving the timber, he is getting rid of bats. I am all for having the least possible interference by Government or legislation in an Englishman's home.

The Earl of Cranbrook

Just briefly in answer to the noble Lord who has just spoken, may I once again draw attention to this pamphlet, which is produced by the Society for the Promotion of Nature Conservation. I am sorry to have misinformed your Lordships. There are three paragraphs explaining precisely how bats may be driven out of a building without harming them, how bats may subsequently be excluded from a building, and how buildings may safely be treated against rot without in any way injuring the bat. These points have been thought of; information is available. Clearly this information is not yet widely enough disseminated.

If it is appropriate, I will say to my noble friends Lord Gibson-Watt and Lord Mowbray that, if we arc relying on goodwill, what on earth is this six-day performance for? We cannot, clearly, legislate for the protection of our wildlife without a great deal of really rather fearsome laws. I have been extremely heartened this afternoon by the realisation that in the main your Lordships have understood the problem and are in sympathy with what should be done in regard to bats. A considerable number of penalties have been proposed in regard to people who behave in an improper fashion towards birds, and I do not see any inconsistency whatsoever in applying the full rigours of the law in respect of bats. I envisage that, if suitable amendments can be found, there will be an obligation to obtain a licence from the Secretary of State if the owner of a house in which bats are found wishes to kill those bats, precisely as an owner of agricultural land which is suffering the depredations of a protected bird also has to seek a licence. I do not see any anomaly in those procedures. Again, the NCC would instantly be willingly engaged in activities to preserve those bats and to enable the householder to rid his house of bats if he so wishes—and, as I pointed out, many people do not so wish—keeping those bats alive and leaving them free to find an alternative roosting and breeding site. There are methods which are being perfected for excluding bats from houses where they are not wanted. I would point out to the noble Lord, Lord Home, and advise him that if he has a surplus of guano in his roof it is an excellent rose fertiliser.

It has become equally clear to me, that my amendment is a botched and amateurish attempt to get where we want to. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, with his far greater expertise and experience has put together a collection of amendments which I believe attain precisely the end desired, including the possibility of obtaining a licence if bats have to be killed, and otherwise seeking the advice of the appropriate experts if it is merely desired to exclude bats from a dwelling. I do not see why any householder need have a moment's concern if we support the noble Lord, Lord Craigton. I am prepared to support him to the end, because I believe this is an important point. I believe, as Lord Melchett said, that if there is any sense whatever in legislating to protect bats, we must recognise the inevitable consequences of so doing and ensure that we give bats protection. My own amendment is not perfect, and I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Craigton had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 128: Page 11, line 24, at end insert (" unless bats are occupying a place therein not ordinarily used for living purposes ").

The noble Lord said: I propose not to move Amendment No. 128. I wish to make the point on my last amendment.

(Amendment No. 129 not moved.)

The Chairman of Committees

I have to inform your Lordships that if Amendment No. 130 is agreed I cannot call Amendments Nos. 132, 133 and 134.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 130: Page 11, leave out lines 27 to 31.

The noble Lord said: I beg to move, page 11, leave out lines 27 to 31. Clause 9 defines offences. Clause 10 provides exceptions, and there are quite a lot of them. We are dealing in this particular respect with the listed animals in Schedule 5. The animals in Schedule 5 are those given the highest protection under this Bill. Clause 9 defines the offences that may be committed by people who harm animals in Schedule 5. The lines that I propose to omit provide a line of escape; they are a let-out. Under this paragraph, (2)(a) the killing or injuring of a wild animal included in Schedule 5 if he shows that his action was necessary for the purpose of preventing serious damage ", et cetera, it is not an offence under Clause 10. If those reasons are valid for killing or injuring an animal under Schedule 5 it is not an offence.

Later on, we provide another exception in Clause 15; on page 15, it says in line 9: Sections 9 to 12 do not apply to anything done … and then lists another lot of exceptions, and one of them is: (h) for the purpose of preventing serious damage to livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or any other form of property or to fisheries if it is done under and in accordance with the terms of a licence granted by the appropriate authority".

So it looks as if a person granted a licence under certain circumstance to kill or injure animals in Schedule 5 may be excused doing that if the reasons adduced are those set out in Clause 15. But he is also let out of any culpable action if he pleads, under the clause that I read out earlier, that the action was necessary for the purpose of preventing serious damage, et cetera. So, he has two lines of escape. The first line of escape is if he has a licence and kills these animals under the terms of that licence. Secondly, if he has no licence—he has presumably failed to apply for one, or even applied for one but not been granted one—he can still plead, if he has killed an animal in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2)(a) on page 11, that he has a valid defence.

Do we wish to give people two lines of escape from their obligations to take care of the animals listed in Schedule 5? That is the point which I am raising. It is really first of all a standing exception and, secondly, it could be an emergency or other exception if a person pleads that he destroyed these animals to save crops et cetera as mentioned in Clause 10. I rather feel that, when we list animals—as we have in Schedule 5—for special protection, we must be careful not to provide too much licence to get out of it, especially when we consider the animals which are listed in Schedule 5. We have already spoken about bats, but there is mention in Schedule 5 of beetles, butterflies, crickets, a dragonfly, four moths, newts, the common otter, the harbour porpoise, three snails, a snake, a spider and the natter-jack toad. They do not sound to me a particularly dangerous lot from any point of view. I cannot imagine that selection of animals eating up anything very much or being a threat and causing serious damage to livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber or any other form of property or to fisheries".

There is an amendment which is waiting to be discussed which adds "game birds". I am not fully familiar with the capacity for damage of all the animals mentioned in Schedule 5, but, at first sight it seems to me that we do not really need to give people two possible "let-outs" from observing the conditions for the protection of these animals. I beg to move.

The Earl of Onslow

I wonder whether the Government could give us some possible catalogue of what damage could be done? I think that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is very valid. What could be done by the animals listed in Schedule 5 in relation to any of the matters for which excuses are laid down? I concede that dolphins could do damage to fisheries, but does "fisheries" in this context include cages for salmon in the sea lochs on the west coast of Scotland? As a farmer I spray in July against aphids on wheat. What is the position if by any chance—and I am certainly speaking with a certain amount of ignorance here because I presume that a chequered skipper butterfly is not likely to be on the wheat—a chequered skipper butterfly gets killed by accident or something like that? There seem to be questions which ought to be raised. I am not suggesting that we should support the noble Lord, Lord Houghton's, amendment but I think he has raised queries which need to be raised and to be answered.

Lord Kilbracken

I should like for a moment to support my noble friend Lord Houghton as regards this amendment. I moved a similar amendment to delete a corresponding paragraph—Clause 4(2)(a)—which was a similar escape clause in the case of birds. I pointed out then that if it was to be allowed at all it should be limited to authorised persons. The Minister gave an undertaking then that my proposal for the deletion of that paragraph would receive consideration. I think that it is just as necessary in this case and I certainly agree with my noble friend that, with the possible exception of the otter, all the species on the list seem to be extremely innocuous and will not cause any damage, let alone serious damage—as they have to do. However, the otter is such a delightful animal that I hope that this escape clause will not be permitted to remain in the Bill even in the case of the otter.

Lord Somers

I support the spirit behind the amendment because I must point out that one animal which has been looked upon as doing a great deal of harm to fisheries is the otter, which is now nearing extinction. I suppose that the kingfisher could also be included in that category. So, even if the amendment is not accepted as it stands, I hope that there will be provided an alternative which will have more or less the same effect.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I should like to follow up what the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, said. As he said, the same philosophy, was discussed very fully when we were considering Clause 4, and I think that on that occasion I supported him and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in the view that it should be done by an authorised person. I think that the Government promised to take the matter away and to look at it. I hope they will take it away on this occasion too.

The only other point that I would make to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton—because I cannot support his amendment—is that Clause 15, as he knows as well as I do, would be very slow in action, and I think that it should be slow in action. I do not think that licences should be granted overnight, and this clause would help in that respect. The other matter that has been raised previously—and I do not want to go on about this because the principle behind all these points has been raised before as regards Clause 4—is that Schedule 5 could be changed very easily to include something else. I do not think that I can go along with the noble Lord's amendment, and I am sure that he would not expect me to do so. However, I do support him on the question of "authorised".

Lord Northfield

Before the Minister replies, I ask him to take his mind back to some of the discussions which we have had on the Deer Bill over the last three years. We originally had a very similar subsection to this one about which we were worried because it left such a great loophole in the Bill. We finally reached agreement—and the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, who has just spoken will remember this—on a form of words that tightened the situation up considerably: that it was not just a case of allowing killing when it was necessary for the purpose of preventing damage—we included such things as reasonable grounds for believing that the species had actually caused the damage; that the damage was serious; that it was likely that further damage would take place and that the action was absolutely necessary in order to prevent the damage. In other words, instead of having a great big loophole in these sort of circumstances, we tightened the matter up enormously. It is now part of my amendment, No. 188, dealing with deer. But this was an agreed form of words by the House as regards the Deer Bill, and in exactly similar circumstances. I hope that the noble Earl will look at that even if he cannot accept the amendment as a whole.

4.19 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

I can assure the Committee that there is nothing sinister in the amendment at all and I do not think it would have the far-ranging effects about which some of your Lordships have been concerned. This is a type of exception which is by no means new. The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, referred to the Deer Act; but this particular exception is one which is found in the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975. Of course, my noble friend Lord Stanley put his finger on the nub of the question, which is, as your Lordships will see in Clause 20(3)(a), that the Secretary of State has the right to add to any of the schedules any animals which he thinks may be in danger of extinction. Therefore, this is a provision in the Bill which protects a person against certain action which he may take to protect his property against animals which either are or may later be in Schedule 5.

Although we are anxious that people should not act in a way which would kill or injure any Schedule 5 creature, we must recognise that there may be occasions when such action, however regrettable, is necessary. We would hope that people who were faced with a persistent nuisance on the part of a protected animal would wish to obtain a licence to cover their actions. In that way they would better avoid the risk—and it is a risk—of successful prosecution, and the effects of their actions on the local population could be determined and might be a factor to be taken into account in setting the conditions which would be stipulated in the licence.

But there may be occasions when action, if it is to be effective, must be taken quickly, when time would not permit an application for a licence to be made, to be considered and to be granted. Subsection 2(a) has been drafted to cater for that situation. Without it, people may be tempted to act in defence of their livestock, crops and other forms of property, and in doing so would inevitably commit an offence. Even if they took this action now, they could still be prosecuted, but it would be up to them to show, as a defence, that the action which they took was in protection of their crops.

We do not wish an offence to be committed in the circumstances outlined in subsection 2(a); nor do we wish to see increasing offences in this manner to proliferate the number of offences. This leads to problems of enforcement, difficulties with the police, and burdens the courts unnecessarily. I believe that the defence which is available to persons acting in order to protect their properties to be reasonable, and I would hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would not seek to press his amendment.

The Earl of Onslow

Can my noble friend tell us what damage is possible under these provisions? My noble friend said several times "protect their property". Of course, people must protect their property. Having looked at the list of animals on Schedule 5, I do not think that a great deal of damage would be caused, with the possible exception of the dolphin which may cause damage to sea cages of salmon. What damage do greater horseshoe bats do? What damage do wart-biter grasshoppers and Essex emerald moths do? I do not know. But as my noble friend has gone on about the protection of property—which we would all accept and agree with—can Her Majesty's Government give some inkling of what damage they actually foresee?

Earl Ferrers

I do not think that my noble friend could possibly have heard what I said, or, if he did, he did not address his mind to the problem. I tried to explain to him that in the Bill we are creating conditions for the future. I told him that it would be perfectly possible for other animals to be added to Schedule 5, in addition to those already on it. In framing legislation it is necessary to look to any eventuality for the future, and that is what we seek to do. My noble friend asked what damage was likely to be done, and he said that dolphins and otters could do a certain amount of damage. So they can. But we are trying to incorporate in a Bill the correct provisions for the future.

Viscount Mountgarret

I am probably deaf, but I thought that the whole object of this was to try to subtract animals from Schedule 5 and not add animals to the schedule. I do not know what damage any of the animals on Schedule 5 can do to anything, with the possible exception of the otter.

Earl Ferrers

In that case there would be no prosecution.

Lord Melchett

But there would be if people kill something and claim that they were doing so to protect property which they should not protect. I should like to pursue another point. I listened carefully to what the noble Earl said and it mirrored very much what the noble Earl, Lord Avon, said when we looked at Clause 4, where, before we amended it, exactly the same wording appeared. What the noble Earl said—just as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has said—was that Clause 10(2)(a) has been drafted to allow people to take emergency action. But with great respect, it has not been drafted to allow people to take emergency action because there is nothing about emergencies, or taking such action when you cannot get a licence, and that sort of thing in the paragraph at the moment.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stanley of Alderley, said and as I can see, there might be occasions when it is not possible to obtain a licence. I am not thinking of any of the existing species in the schedule but, for the sake of argument, let us assume that something enormously damaging had to be added. Then it might be necessary to take action and it would need to be such an emergency that you could not get a licence. Even if one accepts that fairly tortuous series of steps—and I can see that there is a line of argument there—it seems to me that that ought to be reflected in the wording in Clause 10(2)(a). When we raised similar problems about Clause 4 the Government, in the shape of the noble Earl, Lord Avon, very kindly said that they would take the matter away and consider it. They had to consider the point about authorised persons, as my noble friend has already said, and they said that they would look at the general wording as well. I think that there is an overwhelming case, because it has already been accepted by the Government now on two occasions, that this let-out—which is what it is—should apply to cases where people are taking emergency action. If that is so, I cannot see any possible objection to the Bill saying that and I should have thought that it would be perfectly straightforward for the Government to draft something on those lines.

As they are looking at this in relation to Clause 4 anyhow, I would suggest that it would be sensible to look at Clause 10, because the wording, the intent and all the rest are exactly the same. They could take on board the various points, including the one about authorised persons, and try to reflect their intention in the wording; and I would accept that this should be there to allow people to take emergency action. I think that that would probably satisfy at least a great many of the fears that people have about this.

4.26 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

I find this rather curious. On the one hand, my noble friend Lord Onslow is saying "What on earth is the matter with the animals listed in Schedule 5? They will do no harm". My noble friend Lord Mountgarret said the same; he said that these animals are perfectly harmless. Then the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, gets up and says that as the Bill is at present written this is giving a carte blanche to people to take these animals, which are totally harmless. That is the effect. If the animals are not doing any harm, the chances are that they will not be taken.

I am told by my noble friends that the animals listed in Schedule 5 are so harmless that they will do no damage. Then the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, says that there is a provision in this clause to allow people to take these animals if it can be shown that they are causing damage to their property. I am simply saying that there seems to be a non sequitur between the two arguments, but, of course, in the light of what has been said, I shall look at the problem again.

Lord Melchett

The reason that there was a non sequitur was that I was agreeing with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and he did not realise it.

Earl Ferrers

I am very stupid. I do not always realise it. It is such a rarity and it comes rather unexpectedly.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

Before the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, withdraws the amendment—as I hope he will—I think that there is common ground here over authorised persons; and there is another point of commonality which I think both the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Melchett, have missed. It is the point about adding to the schedule, which my noble friend Lord Ferrers raised. Believe it or not, I should like to see more animals on Schedule 5. But, if they are to be added, before they are added no doubt the Minister will consult the relevant people. I strongly suspect that one section of such people will be those concerned with agriculture. If there is no control over those animals, farmers will strongly object to them being put on Schedule 5. I think that this clause helps to put more animals on Schedule 5, with which I think we all agree.

Earl Ferrers

It will not have escaped the notice of my noble friend, nor indeed the rest of the Committee, that there is an amendment later to add the red squirrel to Schedule 5.

Lord Kilbracken

That amendment stands in my name and the red squirrel is another animal which has never been known to do any damage at all. It seems to me that the noble Earl has admitted that none of these animals ever does any damage because he cannot give any examples and he can only say that possibly at some future date other species will be added to the schedule. Surely no species would be added to the schedule if it is found to be liable to do any serious damage. If none of these animals does any serious damage what is the point of having this paragraph in the Bill at all? I strongly support my noble friend in his amendment.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

It is obvious that a number of noble Lords on both sides of the Committee are a little uneasy about this matter, to put it no higher. If we are setting out to give full protection to certain limited species which are in need of it, then we must be seen to be giving that protection, otherwise people will be disposed to say, "Yes, but you can get out of that. It is all eyewash. There is no real protection for these animals because the moment they begin to damage any crops the owner can run for his gun and shoot them off, and if he is prosecuted he can raise as a defence that they were causing serious damage to his crops."

I shall in a moment, with some hesitation, beg leave to withdraw the amendment in the hope that further thought will be given to this matter by the Government and also by those of us who still feel uneasy about this proposal. I should like to make one comment to the noble Lord, Lord Stanley. We hear a great deal about farmers and how quickly they will be upset if their crops are damaged and their work is interfered with. As a matter of general doctrine, I think that farmers should understand that they are working with nature in natural surroundings. They are exploiting the land and the fruits—

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way?

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

No. Allow me to say that they are exploiting the fruits of the land and there are certain tolerances which are called for in that situation. If there are species which the whole nation feels should be preserved and which are doing a little harm here and there to the farming industry, I think they must be prepared to put up with it. They are doing pretty well. I was chairman of the Farm Prices Review Committee three times when I was in the Government, and I used all my endeavours to give the farmers a good settlement—despite the fact that they threw chickens (dead chickens, I may say) at my noble friend Lord Peart after the first one.

There is something here that we must expect of the farming community; that is, that they should not regard damage to crops and the rest of it as providing them with an immediate cause for complaint and an immediate justification for action. I live among farmers. I come of a farming family, and I think I understand the problems pretty well, but the farmers would earn greater public approval if they were occasionally to understand what conservationists and others desire to achieve.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 132 to 134 not moved.].

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 135: Page 11, line 33, after ("his") insert ("unlawful").

The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No. 135 perhaps I may speak also to Amendment No. 136. We wish to make clear by these amendments that a person who injures a protected wild creature and takes it, tends it, and later releases it, or who kills it because it has no reasonable chance of recovery, would not be guilty of an offence if he could show that the injury was not brought about by an unlawful act on his part. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Earl Ferrers moved Amendment No. 136: Page 11, line 38, after (" his ") insert (" unlawful ").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 137 and 138 not moved.]

4.35 p.m.

Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 139: Page 11, line 42, at end insert ("or that in relation to bats he had before such act obtained authority from the nature conservancy council.").

The noble Lord said: To my mind, this is the most important amendment of the four that I have moved. As my noble friend Lord Cranbrook has pointed out, we really have this Bill to protect the bat and are doing nothing about it in this Bill. In this easy and slight amendment we have an opportunity, if your Lordships agree with me, to do something to protect the bat. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, said that many people have bats in their houses and appreciate them, but my advice from the ITE is that there are very many colonies of bats not necessarily in private houses but elsewhere which are being destroyed every day. As I said on a previous amendment, the population in the last two years has dropped 38 per cent.

I take the view that for many people who do not like bats a legal prohibition against destroying the colony in their building, barn, have it whichever way you will, would just not be obeyed even although under this Bill such a destruction would be illegal. If, before doing so, one had to take the advice—and that is all one has to take—of the NCC as in this amendment, then surely we should get results not only in the home but also wherever bats were in fact living.

Bats breed from June through to August. The colony is more likely to survive elsewhere if they are not driven out during those months. Furthermore, the Nature Conservancy Council, if asked, could advise the householder, or whoever owns the barn, how rare are the bats that they have, and they could either persuade him to treasure them or, if they felt that he was completely opposed to them, maybe for a very good reason, maybe not, they would give him the all-clear to perpetrate the deed but to do it at the right time and in the best way.

Unless it is the breeding season, the bats leave in the evening to feed, and my next amendment puts the exclusion operation into perspective. There is no need to use smoke or poison, or other illegal and unpleasant methods. The person owning the barn, or the householder, can make preparations well in advance knowing that it is quite legal to block up the holes while the bats are away feeding. This might take several evenings. It might be difficult, but on the whole it is possible to block up the places where the bats come in and out. It might take a little time, and the bats would find other entrances, but it would be done. The bats would not like it, but it would be done.

Experience is that some of the bats would then find new roosts and join other colonies. All I am asking is that anywhere where bats are roosting they should not be destroyed without clearance from the only experts we have in this country. It could be done by a telephone call. I hope that your Lordships will agree that the Nature Conservancy Council should first be consulted before bats are destroyed. I beg to move.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

Can my noble friend enlighten me on one point? I have no argument at all with what he has just said to the Committee. What worries me is what is written down in his amendment. He said that there would be reasonableness and all would be well. However, what we have here is that you have to obtain authority. Suppose, for the sake of argument, the NCC have a mental obstruction at some moment and do not give permission? I agree it is unlikely, but nevertheless we are giving them an absolute power if they so wish.

Lord Craigton

I would be quite happy with simply consultation rather than authority, even though I know the NCC are now prepared to let the bats be destroyed if the owner wants that.

Lord Swinfen

I am very fond of bats, but I am wondering whether their protection, particularly that of the horseshoe bat, would not be best dealt with under Clause 26. Then, houses in which rare colonies are found could be designated as areas of special scientific interest, which might make things easier all round.

Lord Melchett

We strongly support the amendment, and I think that is clear. As I see it, the difficulty of dealing with this problem under Clause 26, apart from the enormous complications that that would lead to in the system of sites of special scientific interest—whether an attic could be such a site we could, I suppose, discuss at enormous length—is that the Bill would list all bats so that all bats would he protected, and clearly it would not be feasible to make all bat colonies sites of special scientific interest; there would be far too many. That is why I believe it is important to have something like the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, is suggesting, with the change from "authority" to "consultation". I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, would prefer "consultation", and we should be happy to see that change made.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is right to say that if an amendment such as this were accepted it would cover all bats and not just those of a particularly rare variety, of which we heard earlier. My noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton is also correct in saying that the amendment as drafted would require any householder to get the authority of the Nature Conservancy Council and that, if that authority were not given, the householder would not be permitted to rid himself of those bats which he might wish to get rid of. My noble friend said he would be happy if the NCC were consulted. I should like to consider that suggestion. One hesitates to put into the Bill more and more obligations on people who may not realise that there are obligations on their dwelling-houses, but in view of my noble friend's request I will willingly consider what he said and perhaps at this stage he will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Craigton

I am delighted with that response. All my hard work has been repaid and I have much pleasure in asking leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.43 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 10, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Melchett

In debating an amendment to this clause earlier the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, asked what "fisheries" meant. Because I was anxious to raise this point on the clause stand part, particularly as we did not get an answer from the Government earlier, I will pursue the point now, having given the Government some notice of my intention to raise it at this stage. I should like to know how wide the provision goes. Does it apply simply to fish in captivity, to any fish in any river, to part of the sea, or what? Perhaps the Minister will clear this up for us.

Earl Ferrers

I do not know whether I shall be able to clear the matter up for the noble Lord, but I will explain the position. As I understand it, there is no statutory definition of the word "fisheries". When using the term in the Bill we have had in mind its use in the Protection of Birds Acts 1954 to 1967, which are of course re-enacted in the Bill. The term "fisheries" is normally taken as a generic term—water where there is fishing—and it has been used in a similar manner in several international instruments of wild life conservation; I am thinking, for example, of the European Community's directive on the conservation of birds and Article 9 of the Berne Convention. If the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, considers that a generic term like "fisheries" is unduly wide and thereby widens the scope of the defences provided in Clause 10(2)(a), then I am willing to look again at the wording in an endeavour to meet his concern. There is no statutory definition of the word "fisheries" but my understanding is that it would cover those things to which my noble friend Lord Onslow referred.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

The Government had an amendment down which they did not move. I refer to Amendment No. 133 and I should like to know whether, when we speak about subsection (2)(a)—

Lord Melchett

I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord, but perhaps it would be simpler to stick with fish for the time being before moving on to game birds, otherwise I shall get confused and the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, may find himself joining me in that confusion. I simply wanted to thank the noble Earl for what he said about the term "fisheries". It seems rather foolish if one could legitimately kill a protected bird or animal which was, for example, killing eels or pike, which would be desirable certainly from the point of view of those interested in catching things like trout and salmon. I cannot believe the exemption needs to go as wide as that and I am grateful the Government will be considering the point.

Lord Kilbracken

The Minister explained that fisheries were water where there was fishing. May I ask him to take that a little further and explain what "fishing" means? Does it include, for instance, fish farming? I imagine "fishing" means taking fish out of an expanse of water with a rod and line or a net, although I do not know if a net would be included. It would be relevant to know whether the removal of fish from a fish farm where fish were being raised commercially could accurately be described as fishing.

The Earl of Onslow

I am delighted to hear what has been said about a possible tightening up of the definition of "fisheries". It struck me that if one had a dolphin, then, if the definition means water where fishing takes place, it means that one could shoot or trap dolphin anywhere on the high seas, and I am sure that that is not what anyone wants.

Earl Ferrers

As I say, we will certainly look into this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, asked if it covered fish farming, and that is one of the points I shall be looking at in detail. I am bound to say that at the moment my opinion is that "fisheries" covers what might be described as wild fish, whereas fish fanning is a captive form of farming and in a way they are grown as a crop. Probably they would not come under the title of "fisheries", but I shall certainly look into that.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

I apologise for raising another point earlier before the Committee had finished discussing fish. When we are dealing in Clause 10(2)(a) with serious damage to livestock, crops and so on, we know to what we are referring. "Live-stock" one normally thinks of as being captive bred animals on the farm, on the hoof in the field. The Government had tabled Amendment No. 133 concerning game birds and I wanted confirmation that game birds, wild or reared, were included in the word "livestock".

Earl Ferrers

I think game birds are one's property and are livestock in so far as they are being reared. However, once they are let out of a cage there is nothing to stop them from flying on somebody else's land, and one could then ask: Whose property are they, the property of the person who reared them or of the owner of the land on which they are temporarily sojourning? In effect, once they are released they become wild, and that is why we did not include the phrase "game birds" in the clause as was originally suggested by the amendment which I did not move.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

Is my noble friend not slightly leading me astray? I am talking about game birds on one's own land, land which one is farming or otherwise owning; I am not talking about what happens when they have flown elsewhere. If I see predators coming along and damaging game birds, shall I be allowed to take action?

Lord Melchett

We had quite a long discussion of this on Clause 4 when we were considering the protection of birds and where exactly the same provision appears. My recollection is that we all agreed that when game birds were birds being reared; in other words, pheasants in a release pen or on a rearing field were included in the word "property". However, once it was wild, a wild bird, whether or not it was a game bird, was not included. But, of course, if a species of vermin comes along and attacks any of these things none of this applies, anyhow, because it applies only to specially protected things, and I do not know that the chequered skipper, the harbour porpoise or any of the other various things are all that likely to do enormous damage to the noble Lord's pheasants when they are at liberty.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has put the point infinitely clearer than I would have been able to put it. All I would tell my noble friend is that if he is rearing birds and he has got them in a cage and some pest eats them, then he is entitled to kill the pest. If some rare animal mentioned in the schedule eats them, then he is entitled to take action while they are in the cage; but once my noble friend has released his pheasants from the cage and they fly about, whether on his land or on anybody else's land, the provisions of the Bill apply.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 5 [Other animals which are protected]:

[Amendments Nos. 141 and 142 not moved.]

4.52 p.m.

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 143:

Page 49, line 48, at end insert— ("Moth, New Forest Burnet Zygaena viciae").

The noble Lord said: This is an unusually modest amendment to add to Schedule 5 a particular, rare moth, the New Forest Burnet moth. My information is (though I do not claim to be any great expert) that this moth is the only species of insect in regard to which there is documentation of its destruction by collectors in its original New Forest habitat. It has been particularly carefully studied. At present, in spite of its name, it is not found in the New Forest at all but is known from only one locality a long way away from the New Forest, in Scotland. I am advised that it is certainly an animal which should be in Schedule 5 and which badly needs the protection that that schedule would provide for it. I hope the Government will be able to accept its inclusion, and I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has been so particularly helpful that, despite the fact that the New Forest moth does not live in the New Forest but in Scotland, I am more than happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Cranbrook moved Amendment No. 143A: Page 50, line 5, leave out (" common ") and insert ("aurasian").

The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment my intention is to draw attention to certain anomalies in the construction of these schedules. The earlier schedules to this Bill list animals (by which term I include birds) in the alphabetical order of one or other name arbitrarily chosen from their vernacular English name. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, in moving Amendment No. 86, discussing whether the birds concerned were rosefinches or grosbeaks, has already drawn attention to the sort of anomaly which can arise. Where birds are concerned, on that occasion the noble Earl, Lord Avon, from the Front Bench, pointed out that there was a single authority available, and this is the 1977 helarctic bird list, which was in fact published by the British Ornithologists Union under (if I may claim so) my editorship. Therefore, so far as birds are concerned there is one authority and it is sensible to use vernacular names.

Where other organisms are concerned, there is a sort of hotchpotch of names. For example, "Beetle, Rainbow Leaf I know for a fact is a name which was invented for the purposes of the amendment to the 1975 Bill that was proposed by my late father, but I think that I myself had a hand in that invention. So that is a name which has no currency whatsoever, really, apart from the fact that it appears to be quite a nice name to give to that particular beetle. When we come on to other insects in Schedule 5, again in certain cases the names are just invented for the purpose.

It is extremely difficult for anyone with any zoological background and it is extremely difficult for anyone who is not a native English speaker—that is to say, the many people in the European Community who will be referring to our schedules in order to check what animals are or are not protected in this country—to make head or tail of a list of organisms which has no relation whatsoever to their natural ordering, to the kind of animal that they are, broadly speaking, and uses names which cannot be found in any other published source. I suggest that the style and approach of all the schedules should follow that in the latter part of our Bill, beginning on page 55, where the Latin name, which is of international currency, is indisputable and cannot be argued about, is the dominant name in law and the first name to appear.

I draw attention to this whole anomalous situation (which, I repeat, to a zoologist is as crazy a hotchpotch as a mad woman's shopping list) by pointing out that the animal which we consider so rare and so endangered that it requires protection is called in one list, in this list in Schedule 5, the "Otter, Common", which seems to me to be an anomaly, and yet when you look at Schedule 9 you find that it is called the "Otter, Aurasian", which seems to me to be a nonsense. I do not seriously propose to insist that we should begin to call our otter, which surely is of that ilk (if I may use a Scottish phrase) by any name other than "otter "; but in moving this amendment I would be grateful to hear the opinion of my noble friend on the Front Bench. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

I am bound to say that when I first saw this amendment I had a horrible feeling that my noble friend (dare I say it?) had made a mistake, or that the printers had made a mistake. My noble friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that in fact it was supposed to be "eurasian", whereas in fact what is printed on the Marshalled List is "aurasian". I may well be wrong about that, but it does of course reflect what is known as the common otter, which, as my noble friend quite rightly said, is a curious misnomer for something which is endangered. I think that probably the best way of resolving this problem would be to refer to it as "Lutra lutra" and just the "otter". If my noble friend were happy with that position, perhaps we could put it right at the next stage.

The Earl of Cranbrook

I am absolutely delighted with that solution, which is precisely the one I proposed. I would only point out in self-defence that this curious word "aurasian" is taken directly from Schedule 9 of the Bill. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley moved Amendment No. 143B:

Page 50, line 5, at end insert— ("Marten, Pine Martes martes").

The noble Lord said: For the information behind this amendment I am indebted to Dr. Kathryn Velander, of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Edinburgh, who is currently conducting a study on the pine marten. Until the early 1900s the marten was widespread in Britain, and as a result of persecution by man by 1926 it had in fact become very rare. It was pushed back to restricted areas on the West Coast of Scotland. By the 1960s, helped, probably, by the lack of keepering during the war, the marten was beginning its recovery and had spread inland as far as the Great Glen, and into North-East Scotland in some cases. The increase took 40 years, and was a very slow comeback, possibly due to the relative reproductive potential of the marten, which produces only one litter per year with only two to three young born per litter. Hence, if the population is diminished, replacement is slow.

Perhaps some of these facts and figures are not in the possession of the department at the moment. Dr. Velander's study only began in October and she is already finding that in some places where in the recent past martens used to occur, they are no longer present. They are still being trapped, shot and poisoned, where they still exist, and in some cases pelts are being sold and appear to be desirable to the locals because of their rarity as well as their beauty. The attitude of many, she reports, seems to be, "We ought to get one before they die out ". I am not necessarily asking for a complete answer at this stage, but I think there must be a considerable amount of up-to-date information in that which I have received from Dr. Velander. I should be grateful if the noble Lord the Minister would consider its insertion in the schedule. I beg to move.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I should like to support this amendment. Some 30 or 40 years ago it was almost extinct. It is true that it is still rare, but it has increased, particularly in the Eastern Highlands. This is largely due to the great increase in afforestation that we have had; but I still think that it ought to be included in Schedule 5, because it is still a rare animal and also a comparatively harmless one. It will certainly take poultry and eggs, but I have always said that it is up to the poultry keeper, the farmer, properly to fence in his poultry. If he properly protects his poultry, the pine marten cannot damage them at all. I ask that the pine marten be included in this schedule. It is a most likeable animal and it is comparatively harmless.

Lord Dulverton

While having some sympathy with my noble friend in what he has just said, may I say that the pine marten can climb fences of whatever height.

Earl Ferrers

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for putting down his amendment and for giving us the opportunity of hearing the result of the research to which he referred. I am advised that the pine marten does not fulfil the criteria for addition to Schedule 5; that is, it is not in danger of extinction in Great Britain or likely to become so endangered. My information is that the species has spread considerably since its range became greatly restricted in the early years of the present century and it is now found in the Lake District, in the Scottish Highlands and in Wales. As a tree-living species, it has been considerably helped by afforestation, and the animal has benefited from a reduction in its persecution by gamekeepers and fur hunters. Therefore, I do not think that there is any justification at the moment for including it in the schedule, but I will give consideration to the views expressed by the noble Lord.

Lord Melchett

Certainly, I think it would be accepted that there has been some increase in numbers of the pine marten from a very low base indeed in Scotland. But it is possible in the schedule to limit protection to particular geographical areas. The otter was protected in England and Wales. Now that the pine marten is managing to spread to the Lake District, would the noble Earl consider Lord Beaumont's information, which the rest of us have not seen and which may well present a strong case for protection throughout Great Britain? If that is not the case, it would be worth considering whether protection might be given in England and Wales, and not in Scotland. That could be considered at the same time.

Earl Ferrers

I should be delighted to do so.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

I accept what the Minister has said. I think that this amendment may have been useful, in that I hope it may alert the authorities to the possibility that we are seeing a reversal again. Dr. Velander's evidence does not cover the whole of the field, but if she has begun to see that territory occupied by this animal is ceasing to be occupied, given the low rate of reproduction, there may be a need to act if the population goes into reverse, so I hope that this debate will ensure that the authorities keep an eye on the possibility of including the pine marten in the schedule if at any stage the position gets worse. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment by leave, withdrawn.

5.7 p.m.

Lord Kilbracken moved Amendment No. 144:

Page 50, line 13, at end insert— (" Squirrel, Red Sciurus vulgaris ").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I should like at the same time to speak to Amendment No. 190, which I think is consequential. The purpose of my amendment is to add the red squirrel to the animals protected in Schedule 5. Amendment 190 would remove it from Schedule 6. Perhaps I may begin by saying that I am not clear why some animals appear on both schedules. Schedule 6 deals with those which may not be killed or taken by certain methods. If they are already completely protected under Schedule 5, I do not see why they need the special protection of Schedule 6; although nearly all the mammals in Schedule 6 are also included in Schedule 5. Be that as it may, I hope very much that the Government may find it possible to include the red squirrel among those specially protected.

Most of your Lordships over the age of 40 or 50 years will know from your own personal experience how the number of red squirrels has diminished steadily over the last 15 years. I remember—although this is in Ireland, and beyond the scope of the Bill—that when I was a boy they were common in the woods and then the grey squirrel came in and, in the course of time, the red squirrel disappeared. That is happening all over the country. I have not done the amount of research that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, showed with respect to the pine marten, but I believe that it must be considered a species that is now endangered. If that is the case, then it would qualify for inclusion in this schedule. As it is a particularly attractive animal and in view of the fact that, to my knowledge, it does no harm of any kind, I hope it can be given this special protection. I beg to move.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

I should like very much to support the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, in this amendment, together with his Amendment No. 190. I was slightly frightened—I was about to say, "alarmed", but that it too strong a word—by what my noble friend Lord Ferrers said a moment ago about the pine marten: that because it was not to his mind sufficiently in danger of becoming extinct he saw no necessity for it to go into Schedule 5. The red squirrel is at the moment in no danger of becoming extinct, but it is rapidly being squeezed. As we all know, the grey squirrel is not a very friendly animal to his cousin the red squirrel—if it is his cousin. We really should do everything possible to encourage its protection. I can see no reason why anyone should want ever to kill a red squirrel. I can understand it being taken for a zoo by certain methods but for killing the red squirrel I cannot see any justification at all. I am slightly frightened by the fact that we are not prepared to protect an animal while it is still in reasonable numbers in only small parts of this kingdom. I happen to be lucky enough to still have the red squirrel as the natural animal at my home in Angus. I have no grey squirrels, happily. God forbid that the day should come when, because there are a few red squirrels about, one can be told that it cannot go onto the list. If we do not do something now, then shortly it will not exist.

The Earl of Onslow

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when we were talking about bats and dolphins, was saying, "Yes, we can add to Schedule 5". Here is a perfect example of something to add to Schedule 5.

Baroness David

We should like very strongly to support this amendment. The evidence that the red squirrel is disappearing is pretty strong. In 1945 it was still found in most counties of England, and in some areas such as East Anglia it was quite abundant. By 1971, when the Mammal Society published its provisional distribution maps of British mammals, the red squirrel's distribution was a bit patchy but it was totally absent only from the Midlands through to the South-East. Now, a decade later, the red squirrel has almost disappeared from the English countryside and its place has been taken by the invading grey squirrel. A few severe winters could even wipe out the Scottish populations (which, it has been recognised, are greater than the English) just as happened, apparently, in the last century. So we hope very much that the Minister will be prepared to add this. We do not want the red squirrel just to remain as a character of fiction in Beatrix Potter books.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

Will the Minister explain why some names are on both schedules and some are not? That is beyond me. My noble friend raised that point.

5.12 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord is quite right, his noble friend raised the point. I was going to try to explain it to him. These matters are a trifle complicated even after one has looked at them several times. Schedule 5 refers to animals which one cannot kill or take without a licence. Schedule 6 is a restriction on the methods of killing for those particular animals which appear on the schedule; but other methods can be used for other animals. That is the complication on those two schedules. Regarding the red squirrel, which the noble Lord asked to be put on this schedule, the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, castigated me for making a speech which I had not made. He said "Why on earth can we not add these things to the schedule? We must be told why they cannot be added to the schedule ". But had he held his patience a little, I should have been able to tell him that I agreed with my noble friend Lord Onslow that this is a perfect example of something which could be added to the schedule.

It is said by some—indeed the noble Baroness said so earlier—that the red squirrel was being pushed out by the grey. That is what I understood was the practice. In fact I am advised that very often the grey squirrels move in where the red squirrels have become rare. In some parts of the country the red squirrel is a rarity. In others, I understand, it can almost be a pest.

I propose to accept Lord Kilbracken's amendment and include the red squirrel. In those cases where the red squirrel is a pest, a licence can be provided after consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council. I am sure that that will meet with the approval of my noble friend Lord Craigton, even though it does not refer to bats.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

Can my noble friend tell me where his advisers have ever found the red squirrel to be a pest?

The Duke of Atholl

Perhaps I may answer that. It is very difficult to keep the red squirrel from the seeds of trees, fir cones and such like, when you wish to gather them and grow young trees in your nursery. The red squirrel has the advantage that it can get up a tree when the seeds are ripe much more quickly than any forester can. Foresters find the red squirrel a great nuisance. I am pleased to say that I have only red squirrels, so there is no doubt that it is the red squirrel and not the grey that does the damage. I thoroughly support the view of my noble friend on the Front Bench that they can be a pest. I do not say that it would ever be such a pest that it would be right to kill it in large numbers, but I can see that there might be an occasion when people might have to kill one or two red squirrels which could be particularly damaging to rare trees which they wished to propagate.

Baroness Phillips

As the Government have accepted the amendment, particularly on the injunction of my Front Bench, I should not like to prolong the discussion. I found some of the arguments slightly strange, in that, if the grey squirrel is so unkind to its cousin, any Act of Parliament which protects the red squirrel will not be read by the grey squirrel! It seems a curious argument to advance in favour of protecting the squirrel.

I think that we have to go on the record as saying that surely the predator here both for this and for the pine marten must be the people who want the furs. Furs from both are still available. Although we know that these animals are not supposed to be killed for their fur, undoubtedly this goes on. In blaming the poor grey squirrel for killing his cousin we are introducing a provision in an Act of Parliament which will do nothing to stop that at all.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

The grey squirrel does not only kill his cousin. He strips all the sycamore trees and other trees from the top when they are about 8 or 10 years old. He kills hundreds of thousands of young hardwood trees.

Viscount Mountgarrett

Could there be some compromise? Perhaps we could put the red squirrel onto a list of completely protected animals and then, if anybody found that a substantial amount of damage had occurred, they could apply to cull a certain number of them, as in the case of certain protected birds.

Earl Ferrers

In the interests of expedition, if by accepting an amendment one gives rise to such a rumpus and disagreement, I shall be very much inclined not to accept amendments! As I said I would on this occasion, I shall. In answer to my noble friend Lord Mowbray, who asked where this had been found to be a pest, I am advised that in certain Forestry Commission areas and certain northern parts of the United Kingdom it can be found to be a pest.

Lord Kilbracken

I am delighted that, having got the bewick swan on to one schedule yesterday, I have managed to get the red squirrel onto another schedule today. I know that the noble Duke may feel slight apprehension about this, but I must mention that in my own experience the red squirrel does not do any damage to trees; but perhaps I grow different trees from the noble Duke.

The Duke of Atholl

If I may just interrupt, it is not damage to the trees (which I agree is virtually nonexistent); it is that they take the seed from the trees when the seed is ripe for taking and propagating in the nursery. That is the trouble. I agree that the damage to trees is minimal.

Earl Ferrers

May I suggest that we get on? We are hoping to get to the end of Part I of the Bill tonight and that means dealing with 40 pages of amendments. So far, we have completed 3 pages.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 145 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Schedule 5, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Stanley of Alderley

If the pine marten is going to be added to Schedule 5 of the Bill—which I would support—I wonder whether the Government will bear in mind that farmers will need the provisions we have been talking about under Clause 10 which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said might not be needed.

Earl Ferrers

The point is taken. I said that I did not think that it would be suitable to include the pine marten in Schedule 5; but of course I take into account what has been said.

Schedule 5, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 146 not moved.]

Clause 11 [Prohibition of certain methods of killing or taking wild mammals]:

5.20 p.m.

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 147: Page 12, line 2, leave out (" self-locking ").

The noble Lord said: We come to Clause 11, which deals with various methods of killing and taking wild mammals, which are to be prohibited to a greater or lesser extent. I must say for myself that I find the whole clause fairly difficult to follow, and we have already had some fairly detailed debates on certain aspects of it, such as those relating to automatic and semi-automatic weapons, which are mentioned further on. I suppose that the answer is that the clause has been drafted on the basis of some European provision. Nevertheless, it seems to me a fairly difficult clause to follow in any logical way.

However, having said that, by deleting the term "self-locking" in paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 11(1), Amendments Nos. 147 and 148 would make the snaring or the injury of any wild mammal an offence. I realise that the amendment goes rather farther than some noble Lords would think practicable, but it seemed to me important that when we came to this clause we should discuss the issue of snaring, and in particular the appalling consequences of snaring which is carried out in the countryside at the moment. There are other amendments, which we are to come to later, proposing the banning of the snaring of foxes, but perhaps it would be convenient to discuss them with this amendment. I want to say a word on this point, because my amendment would achieve that purpose, along with a number of others.

One mammal which suffers from snaring is undoubtedly the badger. Badgers are not suitable animals to snare. Snares set for foxes, rabbits and other creatures undoubtedly regularly catch badgers in areas where they are common and cause them enormous suffering. As noble Lords will know, the badger is a very strong, robust animal. It is extremely difficult to kill a badger at the best of times, and a snare is certainly not a suitable means of doing so. No doubt many badgers suffer very long, agonising deaths or appalling injuries, with legs bitten off, when caught in snares.

The fact that snaring is cruel and is a danger to domestic stock is I think incontrovertible. A booklet which looks at methods of control in general of wild animals in this country has been produced by a working party which includes in its membership representatives of a wide range of organisations, including two from the British Field Sports Society, and representatives from the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union, the Masters of Foxhounds and Otterhounds Association, as well as assessors from the Home Office and a number of other bodies. The booklet said of snaring that, There is no doubt that snaring, though effective, does involve a degree of cruelty and also a danger to domestic stock ". I now turn to the question of foxes. We have in the past had discussions on this matter in your Lordships' House in relation to another Bill, and there is no doubt that foxes arc being snared in quite enormous numbers in the countryside and that this has increased a great deal very recently. For example, in 1975, 9,810 red fox skins were sold by Hudson's Bay and Annings Limited, which is the largest auction house, and which is to be congratulated on keeping accurate records of the furs that it sells. Of that total, 565 skins were from Britain or Ireland. Four years later, during 1979, the same company sold 50,000 red fox skins, which were caught from the wild, including 16,182 of British and Irish origin, the market value of which approached £400,000.

Looking at the total trade in fox skins, it seems that from those handled by the trade there were probably about 100,000 red fox skins of British and Irish origin sold in 1979. Then of course a large number changed hands privately. One dealer—who may be the largest, but nevertheless is a single dealer—had a mailing list of 10,000 skinners, all of whom would be sending him at least two or three skins a season. So that is another 30,000 skins on top of the 1000,00 skins going through trade sources.

People at Oxford University who have carried out a careful study of this matter say that an estimate of about 100,000 red fox skins from Great Britain would be of the right order of magnitude. It seems to me that that rise in red fox skin trade has enormously increased the number of snares set in the countryside, since almost all foxes taken for their skins will have been snared. The researchers who produced those figures on the number of foxes taken also looked at the effect that that was having on wildlife in the countryside in general. They based their research on having contacted a number of gamekeepers, which was done with the aid of the Gamekeepers' Association. Almost all the gamekeepers contacted agreed that more foxes were being killed in their areas, many by people other than gamekeepers themselves. Gamekeepers knew of people who were specialising simply in snaring foxes for their pelts.

The authors of the research say that, Even in the most skilled hands the unintentional capture of other non-target species cannot reliably be avoided when snares are set ".

Of course, the non-target species, besides the badger, that I have mentioned, and the otter, which is another regular victim of snares, will include deer and domestic pets. The authors of the research go onto say that, Although skill and thoughtfulness in setting and checking snares can minimise the risk of a lingering death, it cannot eliminate it. Some of the hands now setting snares for foxes are inexperienced and neither skilled nor compassionate. So it is undeniable that if the lure of monetary gain encourages more people to set snares, then more individuals and non-target species will have been caught, and very probably caught badly. Badgers arc frequently caught in snares set for foxes ". The authors go on to conclude that the badgers are probably the real losers in the present vogue for fox fur.

I hope that I have said enough to illustrate the dangers of the use of the snare and the problem that has been caused by greatly increased use over recent years, encouraged by the enormous market which has grown up in a very short period of time—four or five years—for fox furs. I hope that on that basis the amendments will commend themselves to the Committee. I beg to move.

5.29 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

I should like to support the noble Lord. The trouble with snaring is that it is so indiscriminate. It requires a very experienced person to avoid catching a badger when a snare is being set for a particular animal. On the whole the badger tends to carry its head lower than does the fox. A man who knows his job will probably not catch a badger in a snare. Apart from that, I have always regarded snaring as the most horrible form of trapping animals. When I was a boy I used to go around with keepers and they used snares to catch thousands of rabbits. Presumably in those days before myxomatosis, when there were plagues of rabbits, snaring was the most effective way to get rid of them; but it was horrible, most distasteful, to see the swollen heads.

Also, if a man sets a snare he would of course set it in the evening; but if he does not go round the next morning the wretched animal may be in the snare for 36 hours or even longer. It is fiendishly cruel. I have seen foxes, and badgers too, which have dragged out the snaring pin and which have died from gangrene. The snare may get caught round their body and their stomach is almost cut in half. Also it is well known that the fox and the badger, if caught by a foot or leg, as happens sometimes, will bite their leg off. I think the whole procedure is most horrible.

The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is quite right in what he said about fox skins. A tremendous number of foxes are being snared now and one can get between £20 and £30—perhaps even more—for a fox pelt. Snaring does not hurt the fur and therefore is the most effective way of trapping a fox. I know a keeper who made over £3,000 the winter before last in snaring foxes: I do not know whether his employer knew that, but I knew it. I will not delay the Committee any further but I should like to support this amendment because, apart from the cruelty aspect, it is rather illogical that we have the badger as a protected species and it is quite likely, if you put down a snare for a fox, that you catch a badger.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I hope that the Committee will insist on this amendment going into the Bill. It took us a long time to get rid of the gin trap in England, and longer still to get rid of it in Scotland. I thought that the assurances given to some of us during the period of the Labour Government meant that we were really going to see the end altogether of snaring when this legislation came forward. The snare is a horrible thing, and if one sees animals in a snare—the RSPCA have been collecting photographs and so on throughout the country—one must feel that this way of taking animals should stop.

Who, after all, is asking for it to be retained?—only those, I suggest, who have a commercial interest in exploiting our wildlife in the manner which my noble friend Lord Melchett has described. I recall the attempt which was made by my noble friend Lord Paget of Northampton to stop the export of furs from this country to Europe. He got the Furskins Bill through this House, but no time was found for it in the other place and so it fell. But my noble friend drew attention to the increasing traffic, in fox furs especially, of exports to Europe, and to the high prices being paid for them.

With all the care and all the compassion, the erudition and talent of all your Lordships on this Bill, wildlife is fighting a losing battle everywhere. It is difficult to foresee the survival of species that are commonplace today if the present rate of commercial exploitation goes on. It is incredible to me that there are people who are ready to see any crime committed against wildlife so long as there is commercial profit in it. It is disgraceful. And when we talk of the depredations of birds and other species on other birds and species, we ought to take into account also some of the dreadful specimens of humanity who are doing this enormous damage to our wildlife heritage.

So I hope that the snare can now be banned altogether. There are other and more humane ways of taking animals these days, if they must be taken. Quite obviously, we are going to suffer serious damage if this traffic is allowed to continue. I think it is a pity that we are not taking into account in this Bill the damage done by making it possible for profitable exports to expand as they are doing at the present time. I hope emphatically that your Lordships will pass this amendment.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Glenkinglas

I think every single member of this Committee would agree that a snare is a nasty method of catching any animal, and so indeed was the gin trap, to which the noble Lord referred. He said that the gin trap had continued to be used in Scotland for some time longer than in England. That was for one reason and one reason only, which was that at that time it was the only method by which you could keep foxes under control on your farming areas. As many of your Lordships know, I happen to live in a farming area. I suppose we have killed in the last 30 or 40 years an average of 80 to 100 adult foxes every year, sometimes by shooting and in the old days by gin traps. Now a certain number are taken by snaring.

It is all very well for noble Lords to say that the fox is an inheritance and that we must keep it, and how wicked it is that one should use a snare; but I should like your Lordships to see a few photographs of mangled sheep. I do not think they would find the sight particularly attractive—and that is what happens, year in and year out, to attractive little things like lambs, which everybody is fond of. I am not a passionate admirer of the fox. We are keen on preserving endangered species: the fox is not. It will eat every single one of the animals we put on our various lists if it is good to eat. The fox does not care in the least, except to be able to eat. I think it is perfectly right and proper that one should ban the snare, but only when someone has devised some method of controlling foxes on the hills. I know that is not easy to do because many who arc concerned in these matters in the Ministry of Agriculture and in the Department of Agriculture for Scotland have spent a lot of money and many years in trying to find a method of controlling foxes in hill country. We have all waited, hoping that they will get results, but not one has yet come. There is simply no method at present except continuously prowling round with rifles or guns in the hope of controlling the numbers. It is not just a simple, easy problem of whether one uses snares or gin traps: it is a question of the proper balance and the proper use of your land.

In the old days we used to export foxes in considerable quantities from my part of Scotland to areas in England which wanted more healthy hill foxes so that the hunting was better. I personally did not mind too much whether we exported them or not so long as we got rid of them off the hills. My only worry at that time was not as great as it is today about endangered species—because now I realise the great danger that was to your Lordships, who are yourselves likely to become an endangered species! Perhaps we ought not to have encouraged so many noble Lords to damage themselves considerably on horseback in pursuit of foxes. Be that as it may, this is not an absolutely simple and straightforward question. It is something with which I would agree 100 per cent. if there were some alterna tive method of saving the lives of tens of thousands of sheep all over Scotland.

The Earl of Onslow

May I—

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

May we have a word from this side, please? What we who are supporting this amendment object to is cruelty. It always seems to me that the people who arrange the good hunting country and see that there is good hunting know how many foxes there are where they are, and if there are too many they hunt them and also gas their earths. Why should this kind of thing not be done in the noble Lord's area? It is only a question of taking trouble and using modern methods.

Lord Glenkinglas

May I just answer that point, because the noble Lord is perfectly right; it is only a question of taking trouble. As regards gassing, we would need more gas than the whole of Porton could produce in a year, in order to deal with the kind of places that our foxes live in, because they are not earths; they are enormous falls of rock and no amount of gas would deal with them. If the noble Lord used his influence to see that we had a subsidy for about three men full-time every year, then I could control the foxes. But, without that, it is a human question and a cost question. One is dealing with many tens of thousands of acres of hill land, often with no keepers on at all.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

May I say, first, that one could probably get a licence for dynamite, and, secondly, it seems to me that the area which the noble Lord is trying to control is too large for him.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

May I support the noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas, because it is not only in the hill areas where it is very difficult to kill foxes. In some areas, particularly in the South of Scotland where there are enormous forests, it is quite impossible to hunt foxes. Hunting is one of the ways in which we used to kill them, but you cannot do that now because there are hundreds of foxes and, if you go out hunting, the hounds get into a vast forest and they are all lost. So far from hunting being any good for killing foxes, it does no good at all.

As regards the number of lambs who are victims of the cruelty of the fox—and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is very concerned about cruelty, as we all are—the fact remains that the number has grown vastly. I live in the middle of the forestry area. I have lived in the middle of a hill area where our main crop was lambs, and the shepherds became absolutely hysterical at lambing time, because we simply could not keep the foxes down. We tried to gas them in their earths and we tried to shoot them, but it is jolly difficult to shoot foxes. It is much easier to chase them with hounds. That is not particularly kind either, but nature is not kind. Foxes are not kind and you cannot be sentimental about these problems; otherwise you will simply be overrun by vermin.

There is a great deal of well-meaning rubbish talked about how to deal with these matters. You have to deal with them as best you can, and if you do not deal with them you will absolutely ruin the sheep industry. I feel very strongly about this, just as strongly as I feel about not being cruel. But it is just as cruel for the foxes, or any other vermin, to eat the lambs, as it is for us to kill the vermin, which is what we must first do.

The Earl of Onslow

As one of the noble Lords who have been an endangered species—

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

May I speak from these Benches? I have not intervened often in your Lordships' debate this afternoon, in the vain hope that we might make some progress. It seems to me that the cases which are being made out by the two different sides in this argument are both valid. We all agree that snares are a very cruel form of killing and should not be used by man, unless he cannot help it. Equally, I am quite clear that the case which is being made out for the necessity of keeping them on large hill areas is also valid, and that the amendment as it stands is not one which we should support.

But I suggest that we ought to take this away and try to approach the matter on an area by area basis. Just as we are doing certain things in this Bill for the protection of animals, by giving licences for them to be killed in certain areas where they may be a pest, although they are rare elsewhere, we should take this away and see whether we can put together a series of amendments to this Bill which will outlaw all snares in the greater part of the ordinary cultivated countryside, which covers most of England, and a certain amount of Scotland and Wales, but which will give licence to continue using snares in those parts of the country where there is obviously very little alternative. That might be a way forward.

The Earl of Onslow

I think I was referred to as the unintentional victim of foxhunting. Two or three points have arisen, but there are a few which have not arisen and to which I should like to speak. First, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, spoke about the unintentional victims of snares. I suggest that fen traps, poisons and any legitimate form of taking wild animals will also have unintentional victims. Secondly, the fox is so widespread. Noble Lords have spoken of the hill farm foxes. The numbers of foxes that there are in Putney and Wimbledon are legion. The other day, I met a gentleman who was out shooting. He said that he has a farm which is close to somewhere like Caterham, and that this year they have shot 120 pheasants—it is only for the family—and 140 foxes. These are suburban foxes and they are a problem.

In good hunting country, there is a certain discipline about where the foxes are. It is good hunting country mainly because there are special preserves for foxes and large areas where they cannot live. There is a certain balance about it, and those areas are very carefully conserved for lunatics, such as myself, to go leaping across other people's fences and chasing them after hounds. There is a fox habitat and they cause damage in forestry—though less, perhaps—and in hill farms.

The health danger in towns, which could arise as a result of rabies, or something ghastly like that, is something about which we must be very careful. We should be very careful before we outlaw snaring, because it may catch something else or because we do not like it. We should not like killing anything but we do, and that is the way of the world.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

I shall not detain your Lordships for more than half a moment, because most of the points have been made. But I should like to support my noble friend Lord Glenkinglas. Nobody likes snaring, because it is snaring. But, at the moment, it is an essential way of doing something in a practical manlier on large parts of hill country. My noble friend said that if you can find other ways of doing something, without needing three extra men, well and good. But if you abolish snaring in these areas there is one point which must be thought about. The farmers will not want to see a great increase in vermin. They will use poison even more than they do now. There is great danger of poisoning many more animals than you intend to kill. The indiscriminate abolishing of the snare, before there are satisfactory ways of killing vermin, will lead to illegal and greater use of poisons.

Lord Melchett

The noble Lord corrected himself. That is the very point that I was going to raise. Poisoning is illegal and, speaking as a farmer, I deplore the noble Lord's suggestion that a farmer would break the law on the scale he is suggesting.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

A short time ago my noble friend Lord Glenkinglas said that at one time he exported a lot of live foxes to hunting countries. Surely he did not snare those foxes? They would be in no condition for hunting. I should not like to hunt them. So how did he get those foxes? Presumably he dug them out. Why can he not do that now? Some noble Lords also said that foxes are bad for forestry. That is complete and utter nonsense. The Forestry Commission like foxes because they kill the small mice and the rabbits which eat the young trees. My noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood said that the fox is a very cruel animal. A fox can eat only by killing. But we do not have to eat the fox. I do not think that that argument is valid.

Earl Peel

I listened with interest to the arguments on both sides and I share the sympathies of those who have expressed concern about snaring. However, I support most fervently those who believe that snaring is a most important part of controlling the fox. We have talked about conservation and about the decrease in this country of many animals, birds and mammals. The fox is not on the decrease; it is very much on the increase.

If I may confine my remarks mainly to my own area which is the upland area of the North of England, this increase has been brought about by two major factors: by the very substantial reduction in the number of keepers and by the very substantial increase in the large forestry blocks which are to be seen in this part of the world.

If I may refer to Lord Melchett's remarks about fur skins, I fail to see what this has got to do with the argument. We are talking about keeping down a pest for agricultural purposes, for livestock purposes, or whatever. I do not see that the motives behind killing the fox are relevant to that part of the discussion.

To take the matter a stage further, I believe that a very fine balance exists in the uplands and that the fox is included in that balance. As noble Lords know, most of upland Britain is utilised for two purposes: agriculture and grouse shooting. I make no bones about mentioning that subject, contentious though it may be. The combination of these two factors has for many years managed to maintain an indigenous population and the heather-clad rolling hills which we all enjoy so much, for whatever reason, and which have become such a major feature of this particular type of environment. However, when shooting interests have waned—and for various reasons they have waned—my experience has been that very often the agricultural pressure increases, to the detriment of the aesthetic aspects of the uplands. Then, inevitably, one finds what might be described as a monocultural environment. This I believe is detrimental to every aspect that we are looking at.

Farming is a vital characteristic of the uplands. It retains a population which otherwise would go. I think everyone agrees that that would be a very great shame. Farming is under continual financial pressure. Margins are dropping. Increased subsidies are vital in order to maintain upland farming. So this vital balance which exists is a crucial part of maintaining what we see at the moment.

One might well ask how the fox fits into this. If the shooting pressures go, we see an increase in the agricultural pressures which often tend to result in this monoculture. In Scotland we have seen the effects of the louping-ill and the tick. This is where there is a direct correlation. The louping-ill and the tick have had very serious effects on grouse. The result has been that agriculture in itself has failed to keep back the increase in forestry. Very substantial tracts of land which up to now have managed to retain, through the combination of grouse shooting and sheep farming, a viable upland environment are being wiped out.

I can see a correlation in my part of the world if the fox is allowed to become a major attacker of game birds. It is a major attacker already, but at the moment we have the snare. As one noble Lord said earlier, if an alternative method could be found to take the place of the snare I should welcome it, but to my knowledge it does not exist. If the fox is allowed to take over, the same situation will arise. Hill farming will not necessarily be able to stand up against the increase in forestry. Vast areas will go, affecting not only the environment but also tourism in this particular part of the world.

I think I have said enough. I am very conscious of the fact that the Government wish to deal with other amendments. However, I must add that I agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton who mentioned poisons. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, about poisons. Certain poisons at the moment can be taken. Cymag is one; it is a vital means of controlling foxes. I am quite certain that illegal poisons which unfortunately can still be obtained—there is no doubt about it—would be used in much greater numbers. I am sure noble Lords agree that this would be a very great shame.

Finally, may I refer to a passage from the winding-up speech at Second Reading of my noble friend Lord Avon. Referring to the Bill, he said that it is primarily a conservation, not a protection, Bill. Excessive protection of the fox would, in my opinion, in no way enhance conservation.

5.58 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

I have a certain amount of hesitation in involving myself in the debate. Whatever one says, one is bound to incur the odium of at least half the Committee. However, that will not be an unfamiliar posture. The noble Lord, Lord Melchett, made a very persuasive speech on the amendment. The amendment would have the effect of banning the use of snares without a licence. One has to balance, as the Committee have balanced, on the one hand the natural human sensibilities which everyone has over catching or killing any animal and, on the other, the need for adequate and proper pest control.

Snaring is, and always has been, an emotive topic. I can understand that. Having seen the terror of an animal caught in a snare, no one, by their nature, would wish such a device to be used. Having said that, one ought to emphasise that in fact snaring can be humane. A well-made snare, expertly set and free-running can cause death within seconds. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, said that it was only the profiteers, the profit-makers, who use this method. I think he described them as a dreadful specimen of humanity. I do not know whether in that engaging, all-embracing term he included my noble friend Lord Glenkinglas and several other noble Lords who said that they have used this method. The noble Lord was not quite fair over that, because it is a method which is used by people other than fur gatherers and fur sellers. It is even used by the Ministry of Agriculture for catching badgers and for tuberculosis research, a point which I know interests the noble Lord.

Of course, one forgets that snares can be used not to kill but to catch. It is possible to catch a badger and to use that animal for research purposes without killing it, provided that the snare properly set and that it is regularly inspected. indeed, in some cases it can be even more humane than trapping because if you get an animal in a cage it can become so frustrated that it goes round and round the cage and damages itself in the process. When it is used as an instantaneous instrument, even if death is not instantaneous, provided the advice of the Ministry of Agriculture is followed and the snare is properly set and inspected regularly, suffering need not be prolonged and it might be much less than that caused by a lingering death brought about by many other causes, such as disease or poor shooting.

Snaring can be selective. I am advised that a snare which is set on a fox run with a noose fixed about nine inches above the ground would be most unlikely to catch any badger which used that run. Its head would be carried low and it would tend to knock the snare up. To catch a badger, the noose would have to be larger, with the bottom of it almost resting on the ground. I accept of course that it is not always certain that a snare set for a fox would never catch a badger or anything else, but it is possible to reduce the chance to a minimum by skilful sighting and setting, and if in fact a badger were caught as a result of trying to catch something else, the person concerned would be guilty of an offence. Everything depends upon the skill and the care taken by the operator and I realise that some people are better at this than others.

If these two amendments were accepted it would mean that snaring could only be carried out under licence, and I do not believe that this is the best way of dealing with the problem. One of the reasons, and probably the most obvious reason, is that snares are cheap and can be made at home, and if such a ban is imposed snares will be made illegally and they will be set illegally. They are widely used and are necessary for farmers, gamekeepers and forestry workers, and illegal setting would be very difficult to control. The constraint of having to acquire a licence to snare, as my noble friend Lord Mowbray and Stourton said, would undoubtedly encourage the use of more dangerous alternatives, the most obvious being the widespread misuse of toxic chemicals and spring traps. That must be avoided.

I think my noble friend Lord Glenkinglas put it most succinctly when he said that this is not a straightforward problem. If there were a suitable and an adequate alternative, then it would be possible to say that we will do away with the snare; but as he and many other noble Lords have pointed out, there are occasions when the snare is the only proper and reasonable method to be used. I would only remind your Lordships that there are other people who have said—indeed, I think the Nature Conservancy Council said it—that there are occasions when the snare, used reasonably, can contribute to conservation in the control of pests, such as the rabbit. I think the problem of unskilled and careless operators will be better solved by education rather than by legislating against them.

I know that this will not be acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, and I doubt whether it will be acceptable to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. What I ask of both noble Lords is to be generous enough to concede that while, quite rightly, they hold their views on this subject very strongly, there arc nevertheless restraints in the nature of pest control which would make the use of these undesirable instruments, as they are, nevertheless desirable on certain occasions.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Melchett

I should like to reply briefly to some of the points which have been made. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, said that he did not see what relevance my statistics on the huge increases in the snaring of foxes had to the debate on whether snares should be banned or not. I tried to make the point clear and I will briefly repeat it. This huge increase in snaring has this impact on the debate today, that inevitably this has led to a large number of snares being set by inexpert people, and inevitably a large number of animals which were not intended to be caught in the snares, have been caught, often with appallingly cruel consequences resulting in long cruel, agonising deaths. The animals included badgers, otters, domestic animals, deer caught by the leg and so on.

The noble Earl the Minister suggested that a snare set well for a fox would not catch a badger. All I can say to him is that the experts who have advised him have never watched a badger stop and sniff, because on occasions it holds its head very high indeed, quite high enough to be caught even by a well set snare for a fox. But the basis of my argument and the reason why I believe that the Committee should take a decision in favour of these amendments is that in the last four or five years there has been a massive increase in the use of snares.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said this did not matter because there were plenty of foxes; but the research workers at Oxford University who compiled these statistics said that in their own area of Oxfordshire, farmland fox home ranges averaged 234 hectares, each occupied by two or three adults. A population at that density could only just sustain the mortality of 1.7 foxes per square kilometre inflicted by farmers each year. So any further increase in hunting pressure due to the efforts of a pelt hunter could easily precipitate a decline in local numbers.

The Earl of Onslow

I believe the sale of fox pelts has fallen very rapidly in the last 12 months; they have gone out of fashion.

Lord Melchett

So far as I know, there is no evidence for that. The report from which I am quoting was published on 1st January 1981, and the figures contained in it go up to last year, and show quite the contrary trend.

A number of noble Lords have spoken of the damage done by foxes in a number of ways, and in response and in an endeavour to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who is worried about the amendments, I should like to quote a letter from the infestation control branch of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. First, they say that the estimated damage to crops by foxes is nil, and I do not think that point was seriously raised. They go on to say that there is no objective estimate of damage to poultry. It is thought to be small because so few free range poultry are kept these days, but clearly such damage is a grievance to owners. That seems to me to be exactly the sort of localised problem which the licensing system is designed to deal with.

The letter from the Ministry of Agriculture goes on to say that it is estimated that the loss of lambs to foxes does not constitute a loss of economic significance to the farming community nationally, the losses have a much greater impact on individual farmers. Again, that is exactly the sort of problem which the licensing procedures in this Bill are designed to deal with. The letter points to a mass survey of farmers' estimates of Iamb loss in three predominantly sheep-rearing counties in mid-Wales, and I take it that was the sort of area that the noble Baroness was referring to in particular. In the survey the figure is given of a 0.5 per cent., loss of lambs to foxes. That was asking farmers themselves what happened. Again, of course, there will be individual farms where there are particular problems, exactly the sort of problem which the licensing procedures in this Bill are designed to deal with.

If I may say so, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, gave this away, by himself referring to the use by MAFF officials of snares. That is done under licence and has no relevance to this amendment. This does not ban the use of snares under licence.

Earl Ferrers

If I may interrupt the noble Lord, of course he has got the wrong end of the stick, which is unusual for him. I was not saying that it would be altered under this Bill, because he is quite right in saying that it could be done under licence. What I was trying to point out was that there are occasions when one can use a snare for the purposes of capturing an animal without necessarily intending to kill it.

Lord Melchett

I would not deny that, although I understand that MAFF themselves have adopted the use of a live trap, which is a far better system for catching animals if you want to keep them alive.

Somebody doing some research on otters in Scotland had the following to say about the problem of otters being caught in snares:

"Otters, like cats and badgers, are very strong and agile creatures, and when they are snared they do not die quickly or easily. Indeed they are rarely killed by a snare and are usually caught round the belly. They have to be hit over the head repeatedly with a stick to be killed. It has been known for otters caught by a limb to bite the limb off in order to free themselves."

It is that sort of despicable practice that we aim to prevent in this amendment. A number of noble Lords have said, "Well, show us an adequate alternative and we will agree with you". That is exactly the same argument that was used against the abolition of gin traps in this country. We left that too late, and I sincerely hope we shall not leave the abolition of snaring too late.

6.12 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 147) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided:

Contents, 84; Not-Contents, 111.

Amherst, E. Gridley, L.
Ampthill, L. Hale, L.
Bacon, B. Hampton, L.
Banks, L. Hanworth, V.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Beswick, L. Hertford, M.
Birk, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L.
Blease, L. Hunt, L.
Blyton, L. Jacques, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Jeger, B.
Brockway, L. Kaldor, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Kilbracken, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Kirkhill, L.
Collison, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.]
Craigavon, V.
David, B. Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
Davies of Leek, L. McCarthy, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. McNair, L.
de Clifford, L. Maelor, L.
De La Warr, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Diamond, L. Melchett, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Milverton, L.
Dulverton, L. Nathan, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Northfield, L.
Gaitskell, B. Ogmore, L.
Gardiner, L. Oram, L.
Garner, L. Peart, L.
George-Brown, L. Phillips, B.
Gladwyn, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller]
Glenamara, L.
Greenwood of Rossendale, L. Rhodes, L.
Gregson, L. Ridley, V.
Ritchie-Calder, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Rochester, L. Underhill, L.
Ross of Marnock, L. Wade, L.
Seear, B. Waldegrave, E.
Sempill, Ly. Walston, L.
Shannon, E. Whaddon, L.
Shepherd, L. White, B.
Shinwell, L. Wigoder, L.
Stone, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Strabolgi, L. Winstanley, L.
Strathspey, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Kinnaird, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Kinnoull, E.
Allerton, L. Lauderdale, E.
Armstrong, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E.
Atholl, D. Loudoun, C.
Auckland, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Avon, E. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Balerno, L. Mancroft, L.
Barringlon, V. Mansfield, E.
Bathurst, E. Margadale, L.
Bellwin, L. Marley, L.
Bridgeman, V. Merrivale, L.
Caithness, E. Middleton, L.
Campbell of Croy, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Cathcart, E. Morris, L.
Chelwood, L. Mottistone, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Clinton, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Congleton, L. Noel-Buxton, L.
Cottesloe, L. Norfolk, D.
Crathorne, L. Northchurch, B.
Cromartie, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. [Teller.] Onslow, E.
Orkney, E.
Daventry, V. Peel, E.
De Freyne, L. Penrhyn, L.
Denham, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Digby, L. Renton, L.
Ellenborough, L. Renwick, L
Elliot of Harwood, B. Romney, E.
Elton, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Exeter, M. St. Davids, V.
Faithfull, B. St. John of Bletso, L.
Falkland, V. St. Just, L.
Ferrers, E. Saint Oswald, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Salisbury, M.
Gibson, L. Sandys, L.[Teller.]
Gibson-Walt, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Gisborough, L. Slim, V.
Glasgow, E. Somerleyton, L.
Glenkinglas, L. Spens, L.
Gormanston, V. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Granville of Eye, L. Strathclyde, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Swansea, L.
Swinfen, L.
Harvington, L. Swinton, E.
Henley, L. Terrington, L.
Hill of Luton, L. Teviot, L.
Holderness, L. Thurso, V.
Home of the Hirsel, L. Tollemache, L.
Hornsby-Smith, B. Trumpington, B.
Iddesleigh, E. Tryon, L.
Kemsley, V. Ullswater, V.
Killearn, L. Vickers, B.
Kilmany, L. Vivian, L.
Kimberley, E. Westbury, L.
Kinloss, Ly.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 148 not moved.]

6.20 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 149:

Page 12, line 11, leave out first (" mammal ") and insert (" animal ").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 149, and I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 151, 178 and 179. These amendments all relate to the same small point, which is that Clause 11 is mainly intended to implement the European Wildlife and Natural Habitats Convention, Article 8 and Appendix 4, which use the words "live animals" and not "live mammals". The amendment that I am moving to substitute "live animal" for "live mammal" is simply to try to extend the range of statutory powers—for example, so as to avoid further primary legislation if the European Convention should be extended to additional types of animal. There may be nothing very important in this, and the Minister may well have considered whether this is a valid point or not. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

I think that there are difficulties here. I quite see why the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has put down this amendment. But, if one can use colloquial terms, "mammals" are what one might describe as furry animals and "animals" include birds and fish and other creeping objects. One of the effects of the noble Lord's amendment—and I know that he is a great humanitarian as regards, for instance, fox-hunting, badgers and, indeed, snares—is that, if it were to succeed, he would, in effect, ban much fishing, because the effect of the amendment might well be to prevent fishing with the use of live bait, live fish and, indeed, even maggots. I think that that is probably going rather further than the noble Lord expected and, therefore, I hope that he will not press the amendment.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I think that it probably would be going rather further and in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Wootton of Abinger)

The next amendment is No. 150. I point out that if Amendment No. 150 is agreed to I shall not be able to call Amendments Nos. 151 and 152.

Lord Craigton moved Amendment No. 150: Page 12, line 11, leave out ("any live mammal whatever ") and insert ("any tape recording or any live mammal whatsoever which is tethered or which is secured by braces or other similar apparatus or").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 150. The subsection concerned makes it an offence to use as a decoy any live mammal whatever which is blind, maimed or injured. The prohibition in Clause 5(1) in the case of birds uses different wording. It says: uses as a decoy … any tape recording or any live bird whatsoever which is tethered, or which is secured by means of braces or other similar appliances, or which is blind, maimed or injured". I have put down the amendment to ask why the provision which applies to birds should not equally well be applied to mammals. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

The justification for having a few reservations about this amendment is that we would not wish to see a general ban on the use of tape recordings as a decoy. I understand that there is the possibility that tape recordings could be a potentially effective tool in pest control. If the amendment were moved into the Bill it would lead inevitably to a demand for licences to employ the method. We would wish to avoid any unnecessary licences. But the use of any live animal which has been tethered or secured in some way as a decoy is, I think, reprehensible if, indeed, it is practised. So far I have not heard of any instances and I wonder whether the noble Lord is able to give any instances. However, I would not wish to oppose the amendment so far as the use of live mammals as decoys is concerned, and I would only ask my noble friend that if he has any particular examples perhaps he would care to produce them to me before the next stage of the Bill and we can see exactly what it is that he is getting at. I am still not absolutely certain myself what he is getting at with this amendment.

Lord Craigton

I would be very happy if my noble friend would consider just leaving out the tape recording reference which, in any case, probably ought to refer to a wire recording, and just consider tethering and securing by means of braces. I have no example. However, it seems to me that if it is suitable for birds it should be suitable for mammals. I simply leave the matter at that.

Baroness David

Our Amendment No. 52 does exactly what Lord Craigton's amendment would do if he deleted the reference to "any tape recording". I am afraid that at the moment I, too, have no examples.

Earl Ferrers

If I am not totally out of order in referring to the noble Baroness's amendment, I should like to say that when she moves it I was going to say that I had not any idea of what examples she might have in mind and I was hoping that she would be able to produce some. But, as, in fact, she is unable to produce any, I shall not make that remark when she comes to move her amendment! What I shall say is that, of course, I shall consider the matter but, without any obvious reasons for introducing the amendment, I cannot see why we should be tempted to agree it at the next stage. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, is about to fulminate and I shall certainly listen to him and consider what he has to say.

Lord Melchett

The debate on Amendment No. 150 has really covered all the amendments, because they all deal with exactly the same point. I think that the argument in favour of introducing it would be twofold. First, the noble Earl was asked earlier whether he could think of any examples of things causing damage and he said "No, but something might come along in the future which this applied to". So, it seems to me that, even if none of us has come across this reprehensible practice—I think we all agree that it is a reprehensible practice—during our walks through the countryside, that is not a sufficient argument against ensuring that legislation makes it impossible that it should happen.

The second argument—and I think that this is a good deal stronger—is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, has pointed out, this is already banned as regards birds. I do not know very much about the interpretation of statutes, but it seems to me that if it is explicitly included in the birds part and excluded in the animals part, the inference that somebody reading the Act is likely to draw from that is that it is okay for mammals, even though it is not okay for birds. That would clearly be an absurdity and something that none of us would want. I cannot think of any good reason for not accepting Amendment No. 152. That seems to me to be the question that really needs answering.

Earl Ferrers

Of course we shall look at it again. I am bound to say that I thought that the second of the noble Lord's arguments, which he said was even the more forceful, was, in fact, infinitely less so. To say that you use something for birds and therefore you use it for animals, invites the obvious retort that birds are, different from animals—birds fly and animals do not—and certain restrictions which may be required to be applied to birds need not necessarily be required to apply to animals. However, I shall certainly look at it.

Lord Craigton

Perhaps my noble friend will also consider the bird wording, because it says, "any live mammal", not "any live bird".

Earl Ferrers

I shall look at that as well.

Lord Craigton

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment Nos. 151 and 152 not moved.]

6.30 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 153:

Page 12, line 11, leave out ("which is blind, maimed or injured").

The noble Lord said: We all agree with the Bill as it stands, as far as it goes. We would certainly object to using as a decoy a live animal which is blind, maimed or injured. But my amendment seeks to outlaw the using of live mammals as decoys at all. The need is not very clear to me, but I am sure it might be explained where a live decoy is justified in the purpose of killing or taking any other animal. It is an underhand way of catching anything.

Noble Lords opposite are the great sportsmen of the nation; they believe in fair play, fair dealing, high moral standards and all the rest in relationships with each other, and sometimes in relationships with animals themselves. So I look to them to justify the use of a live animal, uninjured, not maimed and not blind, as a decoy for the purpose of capturing and killing some other animal. That really is the purpose of a decoy. I leave it at that. It is part of a general campaign in the course of this Bill to try to eliminate undesirable practices which come to light in our general consideration of conservation. I beg to move.

Earl Ferrers

With regard to this amendment, I think that the same stricture applies as applied to the previous ones; that, in fact, this would prevent some forms of fishing. It is difficult to say in exactly what cases it would be desirable to use live decoys. However, there are occasions when these are used in fishing. I will consider the noble Lord's point further because I am not wholly unsympathetic to the idea. I think that the amendment would effectively ban that.

The Earl of Onslow

I do not think that people use tethered mice to catch pike; I think that they only use pierced gudgeon, or something like that. I cannot think of any excuse for using a tethered or live animal as bait. In India in 1880 they tethered goats to shoot panthers, but I do not think we are talking about that. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is asking for support from this side from the sporting fraternity among us, I would tend to support him.

The Earl of Cranbrook

I am absolutely certain that if anyone was to use a mammal as live bait it would be under his control and it would be an offence under the Cruelty to Animals Act. Equally, I am sure that it does not occur. I also believe that if my noble friend Lord Ferrers was to consult with the fishing community at large, he would find that on the whole there is a general distaste for the use of live bait of any kind. This he will be able to verify by reference to the representative voluntary bodies concerned with fishing and also by perusal of the fishing literature. On those grounds, I do not believe that he need fear the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton.

Earl Ferrers

As I said, I shall certainly look at this again.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I did not catch what the noble Earl said.

Earl Ferrers

I said that in view of the remarks that have been made I would look at this again. I would only say to my noble friend Lord Cranbrook that, even though the fishing fraternity do not like or do not approve of the use of live bait, it is of course used.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I thought for a moment that the noble Earl had accepted something. At least he is to look at my amendment again. We have to be content with small mercies in this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Melchett moved Amendment No. 154:

Page 12, line 12, at end insert— ("; or (d) uses for the purpose of killing or taking any wild mammal—

  1. (i) any bow or crossbow,
  2. (ii) any automatic or semi-automatic weapon; or
  3. (iii) any device for illuminating a target or sighting device for night shooting; or
(e) sets in position any of the following articles, being an article which is of such a nature and so placed as to be calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild mammal which comes into contact therewith, that is to say, any poisonous, poisoned or stupefying substance.").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 154, in effect I should like to speak only to the second half of the amendment for reasons which I shall briefly explain, and I apologise for any confusion or inconvenience that that causes. First, in paragraph (d)(i) my amendment would seek to make the use of a bow or crossbow illegal. Amendment No. 155A has been tabled which would do that, and that seems to me to be the more straightforward way of approaching the problem. I hope to support that amendment when we reach it.

Paragraph (d) (ii) deals with automatic and semi-automatic weapons. We have had such long and extensive debates on that particular subject that, as someone who is extremely inexpert in the field of firearms, I do not wish to attempt to get involved in that. Therefore, it would seem sensible to leave that to the particular amendments which are aimed at automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and for me not to attempt an amendment on the subject.

Finally, paragraph (d)(iii) does not seem to me to be entirely apposite now, because following our debate on the possibility of making night-shooting illegal, we decided that that should not be allowed and I can see some good arguments for having devices which illuminate targets if people are to shoot in the dark. On welfare grounds, if for no other reason, animals are more likely to be killed cleanly than otherwise. Therefore, as a result of debates we have had since the Marshalled List was drawn up, paragraph (d) seems to be redundant.

However, I should like to refer to paragraph (e) and to treat this at this stage as a probing amendment which I hope will receive a favourable response from the Government so that either we or they can return to it on Report. As I made clear in interjecting in remarks which the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, made on a previous amendment, the present position on poisoning is that the, Protection of Animals Act 1911, which was amended. in 1927, applies to England and Wales. Section 8A of that Act prohibits the sale or giving away of poisoned seed or grain, except for bona fide agricultural use. Section 8B prohibits the placing of poisonous matter on any land or building. However, provided that reasonable precautions arc taken to prevent access by domestic animals and wild birds, the use of poison to destroy insects and other invertebrates, rats, mice and other small ground vermin is permitted.

The position in Scotland is similar but not exactly the same. There are two important differences. First, vermin is not qualified by the adjective "small", and although reasonable precautions must be taken to prevent access by domestic animals, this apparently does not extend to wild birds in the same way as it does in England and Wales. Incidentally, given our previous discussion, it is unclear whether foxes would qualify as vermin. As this has not been tested in the courts, although poisoned baits are often put out for foxes, this may well not be legal under Scottish law. I understand that the Lord Advocate gave an opinion in 1924 that they did, but that was not the main point of the case and, therefore, the matter still has to be tested in the courts, if anyone wishes to do so.

The Protection of Birds Acts 1954 and 1967 prohibit the use or setting in position of poison or stupefying substances with the intention of causing injury to any wild bird. The same section recognises the existence of the other legislation to which I have referred. Its wording disallows the defence of an accident, except where the defendant can show that he took all reasonable precautions to prevent injury to wild birds. Stupefying baits may, of course, be used under licence to control species in the pest schedule, and that will of course remain the position under this Bill. So the use of poisoned baits to control wildlife at the moment is strictly controlled and we have a number of international obligations which reinforce our obligation to control to the use of poisons.

Clause 5 of the Bill continues the strict prohibition against the use of poisons to kill birds which were in the protection of Birds Act. However, the purpose of my amendment and the argument behind it is my concern that there is a potential conflict between this Bill and existing legislation, which may complicate the position and may even increase the use of poisons in the countryside, something which I think all of us would deplore.

Poisons are notoriously unselective in their operation and a poison bait can kill whatever comes into contact with it, whether it is a bird, a badger, a fox, or some other creature after a free meal, in particular domestic pets. Recent answers to Parliamentary Questions have shown that in 1980 over 100 confirmed cases of the deliberate misuse of poisons came to the attention of the authorities and to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England and Wales, and those are undoubtedly the tip of a very large iceberg. The number of reported cases, each of which is already an offence, is increasing each year.

This problem has been highlighted in particular by the RSPB in their report Silent Death, where there is a quite appalling catalogue of the damage done to some of our rarest birds by poisons, and also to mammals and pets, does, and so on. Indeed, even examples of children who have picked up eggs, taken them home and cooked them and been saved from a quick and painful death in the nick of time. These things are extremely dangerous.

In Clause 11(2) certain methods of killing wild mammals listed in Schedule 6 are prohibited, and these prohibited methods include poisonous, poisoned or stupefying substances. This is reasonable so far as it goes, but anybody reading this clause who is unaware of the provisions of Clause 5, which is quite likely because on the whole one would turn to Clause 11 to look at restrictions on methods of killing, or even more likely is unaware of the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 and 1912, may believe erroneously that it is legitimate for them to use poison against those wild animals not listed in Schedule 6.

I assume that Clause 11(4) is intended to make clear that that is not the case, but it does not seem to me that that clause achieves that purpose. I, for one, from reading the clause, did not understand that to be so. There is widespread agreement—and in particular the Minister, Mr. Monro, in another place reinforced this—that we should do all we possibly can to stamp out the illegal use of poisons in the countryside. In reading what the Minister said about this in that particular debate, I was delighted where he took a very firm and welcome line to all of us concerned about this matter.

My amendment clearly goes further than would be desirable because it would exclude the use of poisons against small ground vermin, for example rats and mice, and that would need to be seen to if an amendment of this sort were to be included in the Bill, unless that were to be got over by the use of the licensing procedure. But I think that would be going too far in the licensing. However, I think it important that licensing procedures are used much more strictly to control the use of poisons and in particular strychnine, of which there is clearly a far larger amount in circulation than is needed to control moles, which is the only legitimate use.

In 1976, 26½ lbs. was issued in Wales alone. That was a good deal more than in the two subsequent years, when about 14 lbs. was issued. Nevertheless, it seems to me far more than could possibly be needed for legitimate uses. No doubt that is why we find badgers, buzzards, red kites, and many other animals and birds being killed by the use of poisoned bait.

An amendment along these lines, with the sort of exception I have mentioned, would clarify what I hope I have demonstrated is a pretty confused situation with different prohibitions existing in different Acts, some of them dating hack to the early 1900s. It would not represent a major change from the existing position because, despite the opinions in some quarters, it is illegal to set poisons or poisonous baits to kill wild birds and most mammals. I believe that that should be made absolutely clear because there is a quite appalling catalogue of the misuse of poisons in the countryside at the moment, and I hope an amendment along these lines would prove acceptable to the Government.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Gibson-Watt

This is really an omnibus amendment, and I do not intend to reply to everything that the noble Lord has spoken about. I agree with him when he says that certain poisons are sometimes over-used, and wrongly used. I would remind him—I think he is aware of it—that the use of strychnine is against the law except, as he rightly said, for the purpose of dealing with moles. I should not like your Lordships' Committee to say that all poisons could not be used. There is one particular poison that is cymag, which, if it is used properly, can be very sensibly used to get rid of vermin. I am not saying that it should be put indiscriminately down badger holes to control foxes.

The noble Lord, Lord Glenkinglas, spoke on an earlier amendment, and I come from the same sort of area—an area where we have no hunt and have to dispose of large numbers of foxes by various means. There are occasions when the sensible use of cymag in a single hole is perhaps not the most cruel way of disposing of a fox which is worrying sheep. I would hope that this amendment would not in itself be accepted. In fact the noble Lord himself did not expect it to he. In the same way, the use of warfarin for grey squirrels is another thing which has to be watched, but which I am sure the noble Lord does not wish to see removed. I will not speak any longer. I merely wish to put a balance in this debate for your Lordships' convenience.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

While agreeing with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, has said about the undesirability of poisoning practically any animal—and particularly it is true that there is a misuse of strychnine for moles—I should like to point out that in our part of Scotland, and in Scotland as a whole, the use of poison carefully placed in a mole run is now practically the only method of mole control that we have. We cannot get people to trap them any more; that has gone. This is an important agricultural process. I do not know whether better control of the issue of the poison can be devised, but that it is essential for the control of moles there is no doubt whatsoever under present circumstances.

6.48 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, for saying that he would not press this amendment. Had he indicated otherwise, I would be bound to say that in the nature of it, as it is, it would be unacceptable. I am also grateful to him for highlighting, the problem as he has, because it is a real one. He said that there was a confused situation with regard to the use of poison. I would not call it confused so much as intricate. In fact, all poisons which are used in pest control are covered by legislation; but the legislation is, I agree with him, piecemeal and complicated. It would probably he imprudent and indeed undesirable for me to go into its ramifications here.

He is quite right to draw attention to the fact that when poisons are misused—and they are on occasions misused—they can cause a great deal of damage, and a great deal of damage to animals and indeed birds which were not the subject of the use in the first place. The use of poisonous substances and stupefying agents is controlled, and I suppose that of those two things strychnine and alphachloralose are the best examples. They are in fact covered by Section 11, as amended, of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, and by regulations made in 1963, and the Animals (Cruel Poisons) Act 1962 also covered the point. But this last Act makes it unlawful to use strychnine to kill any mammal except moles, and the fact is that strychnine is by far the most effective method of controlling moles, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said. Were there any equally efficient and less dangerous alternative which met the criteria of being humane and of low risk to other wild life and to the operators' safety, we should be happy to see the use of strychnine abandoned, but at the moment it does not seem that there is that alternative.

A great deal of research has been done by scientists in the past decade but they have had little success so far in finding an acceptable alternative. The use of strychnine and pure alphachloralose is strictly controlled and the problem with those two substances would appear to be not the use of them but the misuse or abuse of them. We are at present looking at ways of tightening up the use of strychnine, even by putting a colouring agent in it so that if an animal or bird is killed it may be possible to determine from the colour of its flesh whether it was killed by strychnine sold under permit. We are conscious of the danger which can be caused by these particular substances, and I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said. My initial feeling is that this Bill would probably not be the right vehicle into which to put all the regulations in regard to poisons, but I shall certainly see if anything can be done and, if so, what.

Lord Melchett

I am grateful to the noble Earl, and I was particularly heartened to hear his remarks about Government moves to tighten up on the use of strychnine. It seems that this problem has reached such serious proportions that unless we can find some way of tightening up on the illegal use of strychnine and these other substances, we shall have to take drastic action to curb their use, including banning them, and that would clearly be objected to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, and others. Nevertheless, the Minister in another place, at column 163 of Hansard on 10th November, described the illegal use of poisons as one of the biggest threats facing some of our rarest birds. He went on to say that it was extremely difficult to detect all such offences because they occurred in remote areas of the countryside and it could be many days, if ever, before the stricken bird was detected.

What the noble Earl said about colouring strychnine would clearly be of assistance, but the fact that there is so much legislation on this subject seems to reinforce the case for the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, which we discussed last week and which I hope is being seriously considered by the Government, for passing some liability to landowners for the illegal placing of poisons on their land. As I said at the time, that seemed to me to be a modest amendment. Having heard what the noble Earl said and having considered this particular point, that seems to be the very least we need to do.

Earl Ferrers

I would add in confirmation of what the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, said that I am acutely conscious of the fact that it is the misuse and abuse, and not the use, of the poison substances that is doing the damage. I am also acutely conscious of the fact that if there are those who abuse it, they will, possibly in the long run, deter proper use of the product, and that of course would have deleterious effects such as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, mentioned.

Lord Melchett

I am grateful to the noble Earl, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 155:

Page 12, line 12, at end insert— ("; or (d) uses for the purpose of killing or taking any wild animal any air weapon").

The noble Lord said: I return to the subject of the air gun. This matter was raised earlier in relation to birds, when the Minister said that consideration would be given to including an air weapon in the list of prohibited ways of killing certain animals. I had hoped to see the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, include the catapult this time, as he did for birds, and I shall, with permission, link the two for the moment. A feature article appeared in my local paper, the Surrey Mirror, last Friday drawing attention to the importation into this country from the United States of what is called a slingshot. This is a high-powered weapon with a range of 225 yards: the instructions and guidance which come with the weapon make it clear that it is a hunting weapon, and the makers give hunting tips: Be a good sportsman … Hunt only game animals and only in season … Never take over the legal limit … Always secure permission before hunting on private property … Slingshot shooting is a real challenge which you will master, but the sport also expects responsible action by all who are part of it".

Then they show a rabbit or hare, a bird which could be a pigeon or dove, another animal which could be a rat, another which could be a sparrow or a songbird, a squirrel, an otter and and a snake. That is the slingshot. It is £2.50, on sale to anybody of whatever age who likes to walk in and buy it. I am not a bit surprised that the leading article in the Surrey Mirror warns all parents locally to look carefully before they allow their children to buy this slingshot.

This may persuade the Minister to look at the air gun in relation to mammals and the catapult or slingshot in relation to mammals, as he undertook to do in connection with birds. I think I have said enough to impress the Minister with the seriousness of the air gun and the slingshot as methods of killing both birds and mammals. I beg to move.

The Earl of Caithness

It may be for the convenience of the Committee to look at the same time at Amendment No. 165, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley. It refers to the air gun, air rifle and air pistol and would insert a provision in another part of the Bill. However, as the Government are looking at the matter with regard to birds, if we could have an assurance in relation to my amendment, that might help to speed up our proceedings.

Lord Melchett

I hope the Government will look at this at this point in the Bill, which they promised to do when we discussed the subject on an earlier amendment. The week-end after that debate, I heard from somebody who had visited a cave with bats in it; the Committee will not be surprised to hear that I am returning to that subject again, but I promise to do so only briefly. There were about 350 live bats in the cave and 80 to 90 dead ones lying on the ground, some of which had been crushed by stones but the majority of which had clearly been shot with air guns. That is the sort of sport which we hope will be prohibited if we get the ban on air guns which I think is desired by noble Lords in all parts of the Committee.

There is another point which I wish to put on the record so that when the Government are considering the matter they can take it into account. I am looking at a leaflet produced on predator control by the working party to which I referred earlier and which is representative of a great number of organisations, including the British Field Sports Society, the Country Landowners' Association, the National Farmers' Union, the Masters of Foxhounds' Association and Masters of Otterhounds' Association, and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, was also a member representing the Mammal Society and will know about this better than I do. I have looked at the shooting recommendations in their booklet because, when the noble Earl, Lord Avon, agreed to look at this matter, I think I heard him say—I have not had an opportunity to read his speech in Hansard—that it might be necessary to allow the use of air guns for predator control. However, this booklet says clearly, and this was agreed by all the different bodies, including the nature conservation organisations whose representatives were on the committee: Air weapons are not considered to be suitable for use in predator control". I hope the Government will take that into account when they are considering this point, which they have undertaken to do.

Earl Ferrers

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is always a fund of information and instruction, and I was surprised to hear of some of the things they get up to in Surrey. As my noble friend Lord Avon has given a commitment to consider a similar amendment in regard to birds, I can assure the noble Lord that we shall certainly give consideration to this amendment in regard to animals.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

I am grateful to the Minister and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Lord Stanley of Alderley moved Amendment No. 155A:

Page 12, line 12, at end insert — ("; or (d) uses for the purposes of killing or taking any wild mammal any bow or crossbow.").

The noble Lord said: With the Committee's permission, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 155A and 162A. The purpose of these amendments is to ban bows and crossbows. I can see no reason whatsoever for using bows or crossbows. In every way a gun does a better job; added to which it is necessary to have a licence to possess a gun, which gives some control of its use. But no licence is required for bows or crossbows. Modern crossbows are very dangerous and powerful. They can easily kill an animal as big as a deer; and there have been many recorded examples of misuse of bows and crossbows, including damage and death to livestock, particularly sheep. If your Lordships accept this amendment—I had the feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was certainly going to support me, and I believe that, perhaps, not for the first time, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, might support me—I feel sure that, apart from the points I have already made, it would give greater protection to wildlife, as does the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and my noble friend Lord Caithness on the control of air guns. I beg to move.

The Duke of Atholl

I should very much like to support this amendment. I can see no reason why bows or crossbows should be allowed for killing any mammal, and I would have thought that this was an amendment which the Government could well accept.

Baroness David

I, too, should like to support this amendment.

Lord Dulverton

I should like to rise momentarily to support my noble friend's amendment. On this occasion I speak on behalf of the British Deer Society, who have experience of the most fearful occasions of deer being maimed—

Earl Ferrers

If I may interrupt my noble friend, I am sure he will be expressing the views of the British Deer Society but he does not speak for anyone other than himself.

Lord Duherton

I beg to support my noble friend.

Earl Ferrers

I really did not mean to truncate my noble friend too quickly, and I apologise if I did. All I would say is that I should like to support the amendment, too, but I cannot actually accept it because I think it may not be technically correct. But on the understanding that I will look at it and put down an amendment which will be correctly acceptable, I hope my noble friend will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

I should like to thank my noble friend very much for that statement. I feel it must have something to do with the fact that my noble friend the Chief Whip is present, about to announce a pleasurable experience for us. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Denham

I think this is probably a suitable moment at which to adjourn for dinner, if noble Lords on the other side will agree; and after we have completed the intervening business, perhaps we should resume the Committee stage of this Bill at eight o'clock. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.