HL Deb 30 November 1982 vol 436 cc1147-9

3.29 p.m.

Earl Ferrers rose to move, That the order laid before the House on 25th October be approved.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Mink (Keeping) Order 1982 be approved and, if I may, while officially moving this order, I shall, for the convenience of your Lordships, speak also to the Coypus (Keeping) Order 1982. The orders before your Lordships today are made under the Destructive Imported Animals Act 1932 and they renew for a further period of five years existing powers to control the keeping of mink and coypus which are due to expire on 31st December 1982. These orders simply require the licensing of premises in which coypus or mink are kept. They continue the policy which has been adopted by successive Governments since 1962.

The sole purpose of these controls is to prevent escapes from the premises where these animals are kept. Your Lordships will know that the present wild populations of these animals are the direct result of escapes from fur farms in the past. The orders prohibit the keeping of mink and of coypus in Great Britain except under a licence which is granted by the relevant agricultural department. Separate regulations specify the detailed security arrangements which apply on those premises.

Coypus are in fact no longer farmed for fur in this country, and only about 100 of them are kept in 10 licensed premises such as zoos, wildlife parks and research establishments. The wild population, which has been at large for 40 years, is now virtually contained within a specific area of East Anglia. Burrowing by coypus can result in costly structural damage to drainage systems and can result in flooding and the undermining of banks and dykes. They also destroy crops such as sugar beet and cereals. Over the years, sustained efforts to control coypus have been made with mixed fortunes and at some considerable expense.

When these orders were last debated in 1977 it was reported in another place that an independent coypu strategy group has been set up to examine the longer-term control strategy for coypus. I welcome the initiative which was then taken by the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, in setting up this independent strategy group when he was Minister of State for Agriculture, and also the group's report and advice. The group concluded that on the basis of current scientific knowledge, eradication of the coypu was a realistic objective.

In the light of this advice, a new policy was launched last year which was designed to achieve eradication over about 10 years. Responsibility for the campaign now rests with the independent coypu control organisation. The Coypus (Keeping) Order is therefore designed to complement the campaign. It would be tragic if escapes of coypus led to infestations in other parts of the country on a scale even remotely comparable to that which is at present confined to East Anglia.

With mink, despite strenuous and expensive control efforts in the past, the species is now present in varying degrees of intensity in most areas of Great Britain. I need hardly remind your Lordships that mink are vicious predators of wildfowl, poultry, fisheries and game. Successive Governments have long come to the conclusion that there is no prospect of eradicating wild mink. Our policy, therefore, is to provide occupiers and others with specialist advice on control techniques and to make traps available to them free of charge.

This approach is supplemented by the regulation of mink-keeping premises in order to prevent further escapes from these premises of these animals.

Twenty years ago there were about 700 mink farms in this country. Now there are only 70, and these are highly organised within the Fur Breeders Association. Inspections of premises by my officials leave no doubt that standards on these farms are high and, apart from vandalism, escapes are now very rare. The association has nevertheless asked that the Mink (Keeping) Order should again be renewed. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 25th October be approved.—(Earl Ferrers.)

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I well remember, in 1962 when the coypu order was first laid, suggesting that the people who let coypus loose should pay for the destruction caused and should also pay something towards trying to do away with these creatures. This suggestion was not received very well by the Government at that time; they felt that it might be a little difficult to administer.

These orders are very necessary. I have seen the damage which the coypu in particular can do to the banks of the ditches and dykes in Norfolk. As the noble Earl said, there are no coypu fur farms. Coypus are to be found in zoos, el cetera. There is little danger of any more coypus escaping. However, as the noble Earl rightly pointed out, there is the problem of getting rid of those which have multiplied in Norfolk. I hope that the body which he mentioned succeeds in getting rid of them within the time scale mentioned by him.

So far as mink is concerned, as the noble Earl rightly said, the problem is vandalism. Recently a great number of mink were let loose. However, they seemed to like their quarters and I understand that most of them have come back again. Nevertheless, the orders are necessary and we naturally support them.

On Question, Motion agreed to.