HL Deb 07 June 1991 vol 529 cc861-84

12.29 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

Lords, it gives me particular pleasure to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Noble Lords will see that there are two Bills before the House today. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and I have formed a harmonious partnership on the two Bills. They are compatible, complementary and they do not overlap; each has its part to play in amending the Badgers Act 1973. I was not in the House when the principal Act was passed in that year. I came a year later. I was here in time to deal with the tragic aftermath of the Bill to protect badgers which arose from the discovery of the infection that could be passed from cattle to badgers or from badgers to cattle. Authorised persons had to be admitted to badger destruction on a very large scale. That was much too soon after we passed the first Bill to give badgers any protection at all.

It is worth recalling for a moment or two that your Lordships' House was the pioneer of badger protection. A Bill from your Lordships' House was sponsored and skilfully piloted through this Chamber by the late Lord Arran, the father of the present Earl. It is to him that all badger lovers pay tribute in the cover which his Bill first gave to badgers and from which has flowed an enormous public sentiment in favour of the badger. It is the best loved, most easily recognised and perhaps least known of all our wildlife mammals. We have gone a long way since 1973 in the wave of public interest in the badger. I can tell the extent of that from a collection of Christmas cards, birthday cards, and others, portraying the badger which I have found in the shops over the years. The volume of those cards is simply astonishing. The badger has supplanted cats, dogs and foxes and become the nation's favourite mammal. That is an augury which we can all feel happy about.

The Bill comes from the House of Commons. The original Bill went from here to the other place on 1st May 1973. It received Royal Assent on the very last day of the Session before the Recess, on 25th July 1973. Another noble Lord mentioned in the history of the Badgers Bill is the late Lord Cranbrook, the father of the present Earl. It was his parliamentary skill and knowledge which was placed at the disposal of the rather amateur band of lobbyists and supporters of the Badgers Bill who wanted some guidance to deal with the intricacies of parliamentary procedure and convention.

We now have to thank those who have sent the present Bill here. We owe the Bill to the persistent and devoted work of two members of another place, Mr. Tony Banks and Mr. Roy Hughes. My Bill came to grief in the last Session over the problems to which I shall refer in a moment or two. We hope that we shall overcome them in your Lordships' House. When Mr. Roy Hughes came out of the ballot with a sufficiently high place in this Session, he chose to reintroduce the Bill of Mr. Tony Banks. It is that Bill which we now have before us, having gone through all its stages in the other place. We are grateful to both of them for the persistent work that they have done.

Perhaps I may also say in passing that the experience of the last Session and the desire and determination this Session to get an agreed Bill has led to what is called the "coalition", which has been in frequent session and consultation. It consists of the main interests connected with the badger; namely, the animal protection societies, the hunting committees and others who have an interest in the Bill. To establish a sufficient accord between the diverse elements in this controversy and to get them together in the same room talking to each other about the same Bill and the same subjects, is quite an achievement. On this occasion that has been made possible.

The main thrust of the Bill is quite clearly Clause 1. It is an attempt to make the protection of the badger as complete as it is possible to do by statutory law.

From the definition of a lawful activity noble Lords will sec that the Bill seeks to preclude almost any activity which might be a disturbance to a badger. Clause 1(3) states: If any person shall interfere with a badger sett by doing any of the following things, that is to say,

  1. (a) damaging a badger sett or any part thereof;
  2. (b) destroying a badger sett;
  3. (c) obstructing access to or any entrance of a badger sett;
  4. (d) causing a dog to enter a badger sett: or
  5. (e) disturbing a badger when it is occupying a badger sett intending to do any of those things or being reckless as to whether his actions will have any of those consequences, he shall be guilty of an offence".
The draftsmen feel that that is just about 100 per cent. protection of the badger that can be put into statute law. It follows that for permission to authorise persons to be free from prosecution under this Bill it is necessary to be more precise than ever before in defining what is the range of activity that an authorised person can undertake without the mischief of the Act coming on him. That is what we are doing in the rest of the Bill and that is where the main trouble has arisen. Incidentally, we have stiffened the penalties under the 1973 Act. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 we put the onus of proof on a suspect to prove that he was not digging for badgers.

The main problem that has arisen in many decided cases where prosecutions took place has been the excuse of the suspected person that he was digging for foxes and not badgers. We all know that foxes and badgers are compatible and are to be frequently found in adjoining setts. I have a thriving colony of badgers within a three-minute walk of my house. I have been watching it for the past 30 years. I have found large open setts which divide a few feet down. The badgers go down one and the foxes go down the other. They can be as close together as that. Therefore, it is not only this compatibility between foxes and badgers that has provided the excuse for those accused of badger digging, it enters into the provisions of Clause 3 when we come to deal with one of the authorised licences under what is called "stopping out" in hunting jargon.

The onus of proof was changed to make it more difficult to use the excuse of digging for something else. The law was changed to provide that if any trace of a badger is found on an accused person that should be regarded as prima facie evidence that they were seeking to destroy that evidence. I have said enough about Clause 1. I hope there will be no controversy about it. If anyone can make it 101 per cent. complete then that is worth consideration.

I turn now to Clause 3. If one is to define in statute law conditions of immunity from the mischief of the law for certain activities by certain persons, the problem of definition arises. Hitherto, guidance has been given to those employed by the hunts in the process known as "stopping out". Indeed, the hunts have operated under guidelines which have kept them free of the conditions of the 1973 Act; but now the clearer assertion of what is unlawful requires that we should be equally clear about what is not unlawful. Therefore, one of our problems is to define a badger sett. We shall come to that later in the Bill —and neither is that free of difficulty. The problems of definition are very tiresome, as your Lordships know.

The licences that can be issued give rise to some difficulties which were acknowledged in the House of Commons when this Bill was passed and on which we might have to do a little sorting out. The first problem will be to define the materials which may be used to stop up a badger's sett for the purposes of the hunt. That is found in Clause 3(5). It may be rather amusing but, to other people, the inference is rather sensitive. The materials which may be used are: clean loose straw or hay, or leaf-litter, or bracken, or loose soil placed in the entrances on the day of the hunt, or … a bundle of sticks or faggots, or paper sacks either empty or filled with clean loose straw, or hay, or leaf-litter, or bracken, or loose soil. Do we need the word "clean"? If we take it out, what inference does one draw from that? Those are very fine points; but important decisions hang upon them.

Having mentioned that, the definition in Clause 3(5) of what may be used for "stopping out" has to be considered. Under the same clause a record must be kept of persons authorised to act on behalf of the hunt. The words appear a little further on: the person is so doing with the consent of the landowner". Should it be the landowner? Should it be the occupier by reason of his hounds marking a sett? That is the second point. The third point, which we find in Clause 5, is the definition of a badger sett.

Those are the three points that are likely to receive attention during Committee stage. I hope that out of the partnership of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and myself, and the consultations we had together with the so-called coalition representing all interests, amendments can be tabled early next week which can provide the basis for our final judgment when we come to the Committee stage. I understand a provisional date has been fixed for Friday 21st June. That represents the sum total of what we may have to deal with. Other points may arise and obviously we shall listen to all speakers. I am grateful to all noble Lords who are taking part in the debate.

Finally, I have just a little note of personal pride. I am the only Member of your Lordships' House with badgers as supporters in his coat of arms. Only two other coats of arms contain badgers; one is a municipality in County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland and the other, believe it or not, is Tesco. I have badgers as supporters for two reasons: I am warmly devoted to them and have been watching them for years before I came to your Lordships' House, and they are my favourite wildlife. The name "badger" is also sometimes applied to collectors and inspectors of taxes, with whom I was so long associated in my professional life. Tesco decided that it could not be motivated by either of those aspects and therefore its badger is a symbol of good housekeeping. There we see what virtues a badger may have.

In all the circumstances, I believe that your Lordships will receive the Bill with approval and approach the Committee stage in the spirit of accommodation which is now prevalent among those interested in the provisions of the Bill. If we do that we will have carried much further the protection of the badger. We shall then all feel very happy that we have done a good job of work in rather a dismal fortnight of animal prominence.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)

12.48 p.m.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, after the proceedings on this Bill, I shall formally move the Second Reading of the Badgers (Further Protection) Bill. The two measures before us today are the next valuable steps forward in the area of animal conservation in Britain. They extend the already unique degree of protection enjoyed by the badger to the badger's habitat and hamper the convicted criminal's ability to re-offend by removing his most vital tool, his dog.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in moving his Bill has covered the whole subject at slightly greater length than I intend to, but then he is far more eloquent and has, if I may say so, slightly more experience. Although his remarkable track record is longer and better proven than mine, I should like to assure him and the House that as a passionate fox-hunter my commitment to conservation and animal welfare is every bit as deep as his. Though I cannot guarantee that I shall be around to debate in your Lordships' House in the year 2057 —by which time I shall be the same age as the noble Lord is now —if I am, however, I can also assure your Lordships that I shall be present on November 1st at the opening meet of that season's fox-hunting.

The noble Lord has given the House much of the background and so it would be superfluous of me to repeat it. However, it is important to remember why this legislation is desirable. The badger is not an endangered species. Indeed, the population, estimated at about 250,000, is probably greater than it has ever been. Some West Country farmers might even suggest that there were too many badgers, but that is definitely a debate for another day.

Nor indeed is badger baiting the greatest threat to the badger. That dubious distinction is held by the motor car, which accounts for 45,000 badgers each year, and urban and road development, both of which destroy more badgers and badger habitats than anything else; they destroy more of the 47,000 main badger setts. But there is something especially repugnant about the practice of badger baiting that invites the condemnation of all Englishmen and particularly of field sportsmen. Too often the fox-hunting community has been blamed for delaying legislation aimed at protecting badgers. Today's debate will put paid to that notion for ever.

The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, replaces one sponsored by my honourable friend Sir Nicholas Bonsor, chairman of the British Field Sports Society, who is also a main supporter of my Bill. Indeed the British Field Sports Society and the Masters of Fox Hounds Association welcome both these measures, though of course the noble Lord's Bill will, as he said, require a little amending to make it more workable. Fox-hunters have long been the preservers of habitat, long before it became fashionable, and it is no coincidence that where fox-hunting is practised in the finest tradition and earth stopping is most intensive, there too the badger concentration is greatest. Similarly, where there is little fox-hunting and little earth stopping in places like East Anglia, there are fewer badgers.

I am delighted that the sponsors of the noble Lord's Bill were able to recognise this by accepting the amendments tabled in another place to Clause 3 of the Bill. The Masters of Fox Hounds Association and the other organisations were extremely pleased that the voluntary code of practice on earth stopping is now to be enshrined in law, along with a register kept by the hunts, so that no badger baiter can ever again use the defence that he was in legitimate pursuit of foxes. For too long legitimate field sportsmen and farmers have been tarred with the same brush as the badger baiters. That brush can now be thrown away for ever and field sportsmen will be seen as the friend of the badger that they have always been.

The Bill put forward last year by Mr. Banks failed primarily because the promoter was unable to satisfy farming interests that they would be able to continue their legitimate and very necessary fox control. As the noble Lord said, the definition of a badger sett in Clause 5 has already been amended in another place. However, I think that we shall probably need to look at that again. Dr. Stephen Harris, in his excellent report for the Nature Conservancy Council, suggested that it was only desirable to protect main setts. After all, it cannot be Parliament's intentional desire to make sacred every hole in the ground. Further amending of this clause will undoubtedly be necessary at Committee stage. But whereas last year the many interested parties were so intransigent as to cause the Bill to fail, I detect a new air of compromise. There is every hope that agreement can be reached.

There will also need to be amendments to Clause 3 to allow fox-hunters to continue their sport according to their strict traditional rules, but those will be only technical amendments. There cannot be very much disagreement about them. There is one area, however, that gives cause for concern. I refer to Clause 4. There is a fear in the farming community that the proposed licensing procedures will not work. Farmers and others concerned with fox control need reassurance from the Government as to whom and in what circumstances licences will be issued. The proposers of the Bill likewise need to know who will not receive licences and in what circumstances. I wrote earlier to my noble friend Lady Trumpington but as yet have received no satisfactory reply.

Licensing plays a major part in the Bill. It is the Government's responsibility to reassure those involved that the licensing system will work. If the Bill were to fail because the Government had not reassured farmers on this point, the Government would not easily be forgiven. I implore my noble friend Lord Astor to make sure that the issue is resolved before we reach Committee stage. If these issues can be resolved —I believe they can —we shall be able to send the Bill on its way knowing that we have done much useful work and with the confidence that it can reach the statute book this Session.

Perhaps I may now turn to the Badgers (Further Protection) Bill. It was introduced at a later stage in another place and has been closely supported by my honourable friends Sir Nicholas Bonsor and Sir Charles Morrison and by Mr. Roy Hughes. It is, as are all things with which I am concerned, delightfully simple It prevents convicted badger baiters from owning or keeping a dog. If one does not have a dog, one cannot dig for a badger.

Under the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954, courts have the power to disqualify persons convicted of cruelty to domestic or captive wild animals from having custody of any animal specified for arty period they think fit. Breach of the disqualification order results in a fine or up to three months' imprisonment, or both. This legislation clearly has the purpose of ensuring that a person who abuses animals is not only punished but is not given the opportunity to abuse them again. It is anomalous that offences under the Badgers Act 1973 are not covered by those provisions. At present a person convicted of baiting a badger can be barred from having custody of a dog only if he is also convicted of an offence of cruelty to the dog. Courts have powers to confiscate particular dogs used for baiting, but unless cruelty to the dog can be proved it is open to the defendant to acquire another dog at any time. Yet the general power of the courts to disqualify has existed since 1954.

The Badgers (Further Protection) Bill therefore extends the powers to disqualify to the most serious offences under Sections 1 and 2 of the Badgers Act 1973 —taking, injuring or killing badgers and offences of cruelty to badgers. It should be noted that if the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is passed, these powers will also extend to all offences of interfering with a sett where a dog has been used or is present at the commission of an offence. The Badgers (Further Protection) Bill goes further than equivalent legislation for domestic or captive wild animals by giving courts powers to order the destruction of a dog. While many of us hope that this will not be necessary, it is a useful new weapon in the courts' armoury to wield against the most evil and determined badger baiters. I hope that it will be a powerful deterrent.

These new powers will not only strengthen the ability of the courts to punish and deter offenders but will aid he prosecution of disqualified people who are found to have carried out cruelty to badgers again. The Bill is an important measure which I am sure will command widespread support in the House.

Perhaps I may go through the Bill quickly. It is basically a two-clause Bill, the main part being Clause 1. Subsection (1) grants courts new order-making powers where a dog has been used or is present at the commission of an offence under Section 1(1) or Section 2 of the Badgers Act 1973. In such cases courts may order the destruction or other disposal of a dog and/or the disqualification of the offender from having further custody of a dog for such period as the court thinks fit. Subsection (2) provides that the court may appoint a person to undertake the destruction or other disposal of a dog and require that the dog be delivered up for that purpose. It further makes the offender liable to pay the costs of destruction or disposal of the dog and of keeping it in the interim.

Subsection (3) provides that where the offender is not the owner of the dog, the owner may appeal to the Crown Court against a destruction or disposal order. Subsection (4) provides for a delay in the implementation of a destruction order pending notice of an appeal given to the Crown Court; and if such notice is given, until the appeal is determined or withdrawn. Subsection (5) allows for an application for the termination of a disqualification order after one year. Subsection (6) provides that, on application under subsection (5), the court may grant or refuse the application or order the applicant to pay all or any part of the costs involved. If the application is refused, no further application can be made for another year. Subsection (7) makes it an offence to have custody of a dog if disqualified or to refuse to deliver a dog up for destruction or other disposal. The maximum penalty is set at level 5 on the standard scale. Subsection (8) provides that an order for costs under subsection (2) (b) shall be recoverable as a civil debt. Subsection (9) refers to the application of these provisions to Scotland. Clause 2 is the Short Title, saving, commencement and extent. I do not think that I need go into that further.

In conclusion, the Badgers (Further Protection) Bill has received the whole-hearted support of the British Field Sports Society, the Masters of Fox Hounds Association, the National Farmers' Union and the entire badger coalition. It was supported unanimously in another place and reached your Lordships' House unamended.

Your Lordships' House is the revising Chamber. I cannot advise your Lordships otherwise than to give the Bill the closest scrutiny and the benefit of your undoubted expertise in this area. However, should any noble Lords see fit to press an amendment and return the Bill to another place, it would be most unlikely ever to reach the statute book. I think that that would be a great pity.

These two measures are vast leaps forward both, as I said, in the area of animal protection in our country and because all interests have come together to put them on the statute book. With the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, I shall do my best to ensure that we come to an agreement on the details of this Bill. I hope that noble Lords will —as, indeed, they usually do —play their part. I commend the Bill to the House.

1 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, having just listened to the speeches made by the two previous speakers, I find myself in a position where, even if I wanted to disagree with anything in this Bill, I should not dare to do so. The coalition which has been formed to ensure that these measures actually reach the statute book seems to me to be one of the most impressive that I have ever encountered. When field sports interests and conservation interests are prepared to get into bed together, I suggest that we should bless any issue from the union.

As regards the actual issue of badger-baiting, my only experience of it has been watching the odd piece of film on the subject. I thought that it was probably the most repugnant thing I have ever seen. Therefore, anything which stops such a practice should be given full support. If we are to ensure that the measures work, we must make sure that all those concerned who have any legitimate worries over the steps which need to be taken to prevent badger-baiting are given as much help as is necessary, while still achieving the prevention of such practices.

I have read through the proposed compromises. I cannot pretend to have any expertise on the subject. They seem to me to be practical, straightforward and necessary. If such steps are taken, I suggest that we should fully support them. By the same standard, I believe that we should accept the fact that if any amendments need to be made to the Bills, they should be made quickly and with the least fuss possible. I hope that the two measures will go through properly. I shall give my personal support to any measures which are agreed and regarded as being necessary.

I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, on his Bill. I believe that it cuts new ground and takes a very strong stance against the abuse of a domestic animal. That is effectively what we are talking about when we speak about using a dog for this type of activity. In its own way, his Bill is breaking even more important new ground. I hope that it will be used as a precedent for any further activity in the field. I say that because when a dog is encouraged —and it is mainly dogs that we are talking about —to fight either other dogs, other animals or even, undoubtedly, people, ultimately one has to prevent those people who have perverted the nature of the dog, or encouraged it to change its nature beyond what is normal, from owning a dog. Unfortunately, a dog which has been that warped often has to be destroyed.

Not only are we dealing with a very difficult problem here; I hope that we are also taking steps towards future control and action to safeguard domestic animals. This can be seen as a step towards future developments in the area. I take on board the point that, no matter how savage we have been about badger-baiting in the past, it is urban development and the way we live in the modern world which is ultimately the greatest threat to wild life. It is to be hoped that that is something of which we shall not lose sight once we have passed this or any similar legislation. It is modern farming and development, not systematic hunting, that has put paid to the existence of many animals which have inhabited this island. If you destroy the environment in which something lives, you will ultimately destroy it far more surely than you would by shooting it or by exercising any other form of control. Having said that, I wish both measures well.

1.5 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, unlike the honourable member for Romsey and Waterside who spoke in another place for one hour and 19 minutes on the Second Reading of the Badger Bill, I shall be extremely brief. In supporting the two Bills, I speak as a landowner in South Wales, where, until recently, there were reports of badger digging and baiting in the area. Thanks to the vigilant work of the local Badger Watch Society, this has been halted.

Although it has been accepted that many of the statistics on badgers are inaccurate, I feel that it is noteworthy —and this point has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft —that badgers are not an endangered animal. Indeed, there are an estimated 250,000 adult badgers in about 43,000 clan groups in Britain. Moreover, almost 105,000 cubs are born per annum. However, the deaths of badgers are most worrying. Figures have been quoted which show that deaths by digging and badger-baiting are in the region of 9,000 to 10,000 per annum.

It is also worth mentioning that up to four times that number —that is, up to 45,000 badgers —are killed on the roads each year. I am concerned by the fact that 700 badgers, nearly all in the South West, are trapped and shot each year by agricultural ministry veterinary officers to prevent the suspected spread of TB to cattle. I have used the word "suspected" and I shall return to it later. Other figures claim that almost 15 per cent. of active main setts have had some holes artificially blocked.

I support the Bill's amendments in its endeavours to stop the loophole in the 1973 Act by specifically dealing with badger setts. However, I accept that there is validity to the criticism that there needs to be a clearer definition of "badger sett" in Clause 5, even though this point has been clarified since the Second Reading in another place. Clearly, there are many vacant, unoccupied setts. It has been pointed out that vacant badger setts are often occupied by foxes and rabbits, which obviously harm crops. Although Clause 4 provides for the granting of licences to remove foxes from badger setts, farmers need to be assured that such licences will, within reason, be swiftly granted.

There has been much speculation on the extent to which badgers are a probable source of bovine tuberculosis in cattle herds. To my knowledge, there is no scientific evidence to prove that badgers are carriers of bovine tuberculosis to cattle. It has been suggested by several sources that the cause of tuberculosis in dairy cattle could well lie in modern farming methods.

Central in my view to the objectives of the 1973 Act and the Bills before us, is the fact that the penalties imposed for those found guilty of infringing the law should be harsh. I welcome the inclusion in the Criminal Justice Act of the provision that those found guilty of badger offences can be sentenced to up to six months' imprisonment and that level 5 fines can be increased from £2,000 to £5,000. I also support the penalties included in the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, for further protection.

In conclusion, I hope that during the course of the passage of these Bills a workable solution can be reached between the badger coalition wildlife campaigners, the farmers and the British Field Sports Society. Clearly these Bills are not designed to give badgers unique protection; more specifically, they are designed to protect them from cruelty. It is my hope and belief that with the tightening of the legislation and more stringent penalties, badger baiting and digging will be substantially wiped out.

1.10 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, I wish to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said with my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Mancroft on the excellence of his Bill. It has my unreserved support, I have no reservations about it and I hope that we shall see it on the statute book.

However, I have some worries about the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. I am confident that if we put these worries on the record today, the spirit that he has shown of compromise and agreement will prevail and we shall be able to find a solution to the problems at the Committee stage. However, it is important that we should have these reservations listed and recorded as a result of the debate.

I support the principal aim of the Bill, which is further 10 protect badgers against digging. I accept that there is a case for extending the new protection to badger setts, provided —and this is the main proviso —that farming, field sports and pest control activities are not restricted. Some of these anxieties were met in another place, but not all.

The Bill will still make some normal agricultural operations unlawful. It will severely hinder the ability of hunts farmers and gamekeepers to control foxes and —more important than that —to control rabbits. I am one of those people stupid enough to believe that England is an excellent place when there are plenty of rabbits. I know that that is an old-fashioned view, but rabbiting is a cheap and plentiful sport which many people can enjoy. Rabbits give the farmers and foresters a legitimate reason for complaining. They give our wives a legitimate reason for being belligerent when they get into our gardens. They ensure that the foxes are well fed. However, we must realise that the rabbit population in this country is once again expanding. I do not know of a single case where a vacant badger sett is not immediately occupied by rabbits.

As has been said, badgers are not rare animals. The badger population, particularly in the West Country, is exploding, and rabbits are prolific. Badgers already receive unique protection under the Badgers Act 1973, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, agreed. Nevertheless, we must admit that the 1973 Act unfortunately has a loophole and there is a case for extending the protection still further, in order to tackle badger digging, which is a continuing problem.

On the other hand, the Bill proposes a level of protection for badger setts which is in excess of the protection given to the habitats of other rare animals. I refer in particular to the protection of the otter and its holts under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Therefore as badger setts are now so numerous, it is important that we should have a defence to allow normal countryside activities. At present, the badger is protected, its sett is not. It will be an offence under the Bill for a person who recklessly or intentionally damages, destroys, obstructs the entrances of, disturbs a badger in or allows a terrier to enter, a badger sett.

As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said during the Committee stage in another place, the promoters accepted that it would be legitimate for hunts to stop setts and for packs of hounds to mark at a sett where a fox had gone to ground, provided they were removed from the scene as quickly as possible. I agree that the stopping problem has been dealt with. I see no mention of the problem of stinking. It is no good just stopping foxes into setts, one has to stink them out 24 hours before one wants to hunt the country. I hope that in the negotiations the problem of stinking out will be covered, because it is just as important as stopping.

Despite the Commons amendment to the definition of "sett", in my opinion it is still far too wide. The definition in the Bill means that a sett is described as any place which shows signs of use, and it will have to be protected. It is not just the big badger sett at the end of the garden of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, it is any drain that is used by a badger or any wood pile occupied by a badger. There are masses of those throughout southern England as a result of the gales. Any of those drains, wood piles or other warrens which show signs of badger occupation will be totally protected.

Badgers rarely abandon a sett. It may become vacant, but it is never totally abandoned. During the time when it is vacant and is taken over by rabbits or foxes it will, as I understand it at the moment, still be an offence to put a terrier in to bolt a fox or to dig the sett in order to get the rabbits out, even though the sett is not being used by the badger community at the time.

I shall certainly press an amendment at the Committee stage to insist that protection is given only to those setts which show signs of current occupation by a badger. In this House, we all realise that current occupation by a badger is one of the easiest things to prove because, of all the British mammals, none has a more distinct pad mark than a badger, quite apart from his habit of having his local lavatory nearby. It is extremely easy to see whether or not a sett is vacant.

The tightening up of the law in 1985 reversed the question of guilt of an offence at a badger sett. It also tightened up the loophole by making it an offence to cause a dog to enter a badger's sett. I believe that we must ensure that hunt terriers are allowed into badger setts, because the use of terriers is essential for fox control.

Perhaps we may take the example of the hill farming areas and consider those which are subject to the less favoured area payments in the extremities of the realm —England, Wales and Scotland. What is the position? It is quite simply that no fox will stump breed, the weather is too bad. For years and years, throughout the hill farming areas, fox earths have been well known. They have been looked after because they are extremely valuable. We know perfectly well that by March the resident vixen will take up her territory and occupy one of the well known setts. There will probably be a vixen, who has been squeezed out, living round the outside. She will not come because she has no house, no earth to which to go.

What happens to cause the trouble is that those valuable fox earths, about which we all know and which are worked over every year before lambing, are taken over by the badgers. This disturbs the fox population, pushing it out in many cases to rabbit holes and other places which are not generally known. It increases the work of finding and destroying them before the lambing season starts.

My noble friend Lord Mancroft pressed the noble Viscount to comment when he winds up on the point that the Ministry of Agriculture will issue an open general licence for people to put terriers into fox earths that may be occupied by badgers. I am not absolutely certain that the noble Viscount can give this undertaking because any form of licensing will require expenditure. I believe that we shall find ourselves putting down an amendment which, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, knows, will be classed by another place as a privilege amendment. There is no certainty that such an amendment will be accepted. It would not even have to be debated. It would be sent back to this Chamber as a provision that has not been included in the Bill because it involves expenditure. The provision would increase the expenditure of the Ministry of Agriculture and therefore the House of Commons would not have to provide a reason for rejecting it. An amendment on licensing could be removed from the Bill as it would be considered a matter of privilege and the Bill would then be returned to this House. I shall take a lot of convincing that a licensing system would work, would be implemented and will be added to the Bill. However, if there is no prospect of some form of licensing system, I shall have grave difficulty in agreeing to give the Bill a Second Reading.

We have dealt with the stopping of badger setts. I am disturbed by the fact that the Bill imposes conditions on earth stopping. Some of those conditions are reasonable and are in line with the code of practice laid down by the Masters of Foxhounds Association —for example the prohibition on the use of foreign objects. However, that does not deal with the problem of all the unregistered packs. After all the writ of the Masters of Foxhounds Association does not extend to the whole of Wales and it certainly does not extend to the whole of Scotland. The writ of that association does not recognise the many gun packs that exist in Wales. That is another serious problem. We must consider who will license or control the recognised diggers. I seek an assurance from my noble friend Lord Mancroft that he is aware of this problem and that it will be considered in Committee.

I believe this Bill, as presented by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, is absolutely fair. It is well intentioned but I regret to say that it is poorly targeted. Legislation should be directed at badger diggers and badger baiters, who cause appalling cruelty to badgers. It should also be directed at those who interfere with setts in a way that can harm badgers. The Bill has in some ways already been approved before it left another place. I hope I have made it clear to your Lordships today that I shall seek further amendments in Committee. Unless legitimate countryside activities can be protected, I shall have the greatest difficulty in agreeing to give the Bill a Second Reading. In its present form the Bill is not acceptable to many of the interests involved in this matter.

1.23 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, it is customary in this House to make some comment on the speeches of the preceding speakers. I have listened to all the speeches made so far in the debate and I have no intention of referring in great detail to any amendments that may be proposed for the Committee stage. Those will be considered in Committee. My comments will be of a general tenor. I hope noble Lords will bear in mind the fact that this Bill has come to us from another place and it is quite obvious from the Hansard records of the debate in another place that great consideration has been given to all the issues involved. Another place took a constructive attitude towards the Bill in the hope that noble Lords will also consider the Bill in a constructive fashion.

I hope both Houses will consider this issue fairly. I also hope that both Houses will be willing to reach a compromise on certain issues, if necessary, and will not be too rigid about any of the measures in the Bill. I am a consultant to the charity, Care for the Wild. The name of the charity is an apt description of the work it carries out. The driving force behind the trustees of the charity is William Jordan, who directs the charity's activities. Care for the Wild has shown great interest in the establishment of a national federation of badger groups. Care for the Wild has given financial support to those groups. That support is justified by the universal acceptance of the fact that badgers need to be protected from cruelty. William Jordan is also a member of a national commission which is considering the international implementation of rules on whaling. Therefore he is an expert in animal matters. He is also a fully qualified veterinary surgeon. He has great experience of the cruelty suffered by badgers over the years and he is very concerned about the present situation.

William Jordan is greatly interested in reducing the incidence of cruelty to badgers. He hopes that the Bill will receive careful consideration in this Chamber and that we shall come to an understanding on this matter. I hope that we shall produce a Bill that will improve the situation in general.

1.27 p.m.

Lord Davies

My Lords, the Bill in its present form causes considerable worry to those who live and make their livelihoods by working in the countryside. Of course, we are all against badger baiters and for the badger, but this Bill protects badger setts to an unnecessary extent. Among those who have promoted this Bill are many worthy people who believe that it is wrong to kill or exploit any animal and who carry that principle to its logical conclusion and become vegetarians or vegans. If such views were to gain general acceptance, the sheep and cattle rearing uplands, particularly in Wales, where I come from, would totally devastated. The farming community, and indeed a whole culture, would be destroyed. I realise that to ask such people to consider the difficulties that this Bill will cause to farmers and forester; making a hard and precarious living in the Welsh countryside, is likely to be a waste of time, and I must address my arguments to the very many other noble Lords who are attracted to the objectives of this Bill, but who do not hold such extreme views.

Let me take first the situation of the sheep farmer. During the Bill's consideration in another place, my honourable friend the Member for Montgomery listed many losses of lambs caused by foxes that his constituents had suffered this spring. A similar pattern is followed all over Wales. Farmers who are losing lambs to foxes call the local hunt or fox destruction society, which comes to their fields in the very early morning and follows the scent to the fox's earth, which, in very many cases, is shared with a badger. The fox is dealt with without damage to, and with very little inconvenience to, the badger.

I have records going back to 1905 of this happening in badger setts which are still in full and active use today. If such help is not available to the farmer or it becomes unlawful under this Bill, he may use snares, which will not differentiate between foxes or badgers. He may even, heaven forbid, use poison. That is an occasional and illegal practice which has caused much concern to the RSPB, and indeed to all concerned with the conservation and the well-being of the countryside. These hunts and fox destruction societies do not consist of the toffs who so irritate the anti-hunting lobby; they consist of farmers and their friends following an age-old method of pest control under which the badger continues to thrive, and under which, I am bound to admit, the fox also is doing pretty well. However, by lambing time the fox population is smaller than would otherwise be the case.

The farmers regard this matter as of great importance, as can be affirmed by the Farmers' Union of Wale., and National Farmers' Union representatives for the area. Perhaps I may quote extracts from some of I he many letters which I have received on this subject.

Mr. Jones of Llanfyllin, Secretary of the Dolanog and District Fox Control Society, writes: I write on behalf of the above-mentioned Society, asking for your support in your good office in the House of Lords, to get some issues in the Bill amended. As a Society, we are a responsible organisation whose aim is to protect livestock which is the farmers livelihood. So whilst we appreciate the spirit of the Bill, we feel that special dispensation is needed for organised fox hunts, which will not require the badger setts to be blocked, and another issue which needs to be solved is whether the terriers should be allowed to capture foxes from within if they take refuge in badger setts. During the last fortnight of March and the beginning of April, members were having losses from foxes killing lambs, so we organised four hunts in those areas where the losses occurred and accounted for another seventeen foxes". Mr. Edwards, Chairman of the Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog Foxhounds, wrote: With regard to the Bill, shortly to be presented before Parliament, which if passed would prohibit the digging of fox earths, this would have a devastating effect upon the economy of this rural area. We operate a pack of hounds in the Berwyn Mountain area and accounted for 172 foxes this past season… This is mainly a sheep farming area and this pack of hounds is supported and maintained mainly by sheep farmers in order to reduce lamb losses. During April and May we answer about two lamb calls per week and find that the majority go to ground and have to be dug out. We are anxious that terrier work should not be restricted at all in this mountainous sort of area. We consider that our method of fox control …. is by far the most effective and humane method of containing these predators". Mr. Iolo Owen of Llanbrynmair said: As Secretary of Llanbrynmair Foxhounds Society I wish to inform you that we are not happy about the arrangement taken regarding the protection of badger setts". The hunt deals with a large number of foxes.

Mr. Evans, of the Upper Banwy Foxhounds, wrote: As a working man amidst the Welsh hills, I very much regret the recent turn of events affecting the digging of foxes. For some twenty-five years I have been responsible for the Upper Banwy Foxhounds. This has been mainly due to repeated requests by local farmers to help subdue the relentless attack by foxes on their lamb crop. As Ron Davies of Caerphilly will tell you the technique of employing hounds to drive foxes into a line of guns is found to be acceptable to him, however there are sometimes occasions when we are denied a kill due to the fox having 'gone to earth' and due to the big increase in the badger population, 60% of the foxes go to ground in badger setts. Our normal hunting season … and some 15 lambing calls results in the humane despatch of around 130 foxes. This is the feeling among local farmers that the loss of this facility would seriously reduce their already meagre difficult income". I have also received a letter from the Farmers' Union of Wales and perhaps I may read a small portion of it. the pressure is still with us to protect the lawful and legitimate hunt and terrier men who are truly after foxes in order to control vermin which cause so much havoc and losses to the livestock farmer. What one must try to do is to strike a balance between the needs of the farmers and those who want to protect the badgers. As I have already made it quite clear the Farmers' Union of Wales and its policy is totally against badger baiting but one cannot allow those unlawful people to destroy the livelihood of farmers who become victims of political issues. If farmers and alike are denied the control already experienced alternative methods will far likely cause more trouble for the badger and its protection". The Welsh countryside abounds with holes which a badger may use, all of which are classed as badger setts by this Bill as currently drafted. An offence will have been committed if any one of them is damaged by the lawful acts of farming or forestry operations if such damage could reasonably have been avoided, even when no harm is caused to a badger.

Badger baiting is illegal, and so it should be. So is burglary and rape, yet unfortunately those offences continue to be committed and some offenders go undetected. Yet we do not impose a curfew on sexually active men or make it illegal to ring a doorbell to see if someone is at home. It may well be right that we provide the badger's home with greater protection than we give to our own homes, but I ask your Lordships to pass those sensible amendments which I hope will be brought forward in Committee, particularly in relation to the definition of badger setts and licensing arrangements — and I join the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in his request to the Government to clarify their intentions and their arrangements for licensing—which will enable those of us who live in the countryside to continue to live in harmony with the badger.

1.34 p.m.

The Earl of Stockton

My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships' House is grateful both to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and to my noble friend Lord Mancroft, not only for the introduction of these important measures but also for the considerable work which has gone on in the corridors of power in order to achieve a broad measure of agreement.

I support the Bill, as a keen but albeit not very accurate shot and as one who ran a shoot for many years. Certain problems are posed in the running of a shoot.

We have to face the fact that badgers are not at risk. They are not only the largest British native carnivore and have no natural enemies but they are great survivors. They are extremely durable animals. Not only are their setts sometimes extremely ancient but also their routes of passage.

Indeed, during the construction some years ago of the M.4 motorway the contractors were unwise enough to build their motorway, a comparatively new method of transportation, immediately across the route that had been taken by badgers for many thousands of years. Notwithstanding the earthworks and concrete, within a matter of weeks, before the construction of the motorway was complete, the badgers had reopened the route. After repeated efforts, the construction company was finally obliged to provide a special tunnel in order for the badgers to continue in the same immemorial fashion.

I have a more personal anecdote of their persistence and durability. My keeper was riding home on his bicycle along a narrow lane one evening when he noticed a badger ahead of him. He speeded up; the badger speeded up. They went faster and faster. Suddenly, without any warning, the badger turned round and grabbed the front wheel of the bicycle in its jaws. The bicycle stopped dead, the keeper flew over the handlebars. Brock walked up to him, sniffed twice, grunted and disappeared into the night.

Badgers are prolific builders and prolific miners. They move accommodation frequently and like many prolific builders, including the ancestors of a number of your Lordships, they build more accommodation than they need at any one time. One of the problems that we face in Clause 1 of Lord Houghton's Bill is that the accommodation that they construct is not specified in any way. Badgers rest up in drains, in disused buildings and even in disused farm implements. Are we to say that a disused farm implement which shows some evidence of having housed a badger for an afternoon's sleep or for part of a night's rest is to become a sett and therefore the farmer is unable to move that piece of machinery?

Farmers, keepers and small-holders must be allowed to stop up empty and unused setts, particularly what one might call the dower house setts, while leaving the main seat of residence inviolate. There is the possibility that unwittingly a dower house sett which is occupied may be stopped up. That will not stop the badger. She will dig her way out in a matter of moments. The badger's ability to move earth would do credit to many of the great construction companies of our country.

Finally, the point which has been raised by many of your Lordships is that without one or two discreet, subtle and I believe important amendments the Bill runs the risk of confronting many of the traditional practices of agriculture, small-holding, shooting and hunting. It runs the risk of bringing the Government into direct opposition with those groups within the countryside community which the Government most need to support.

I am happy that they will be debated in Committee and I am sure that a consensus will be reached. I am therefore happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft and I welcome this significant measure on animal conservation which I commend to your Lordships.

1.40 p.m.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, all those involved in country matters will welcome the two Bills before your Lordships' House today. Although badgers are protected under the Badgers Act 1973, as we have heard, there are still many cases of abject and appalling cruelty to those harmless animals. At my home in Staffordshire I have a large group of setts —dower house, hall and everything—inhabited by badgers, foxes and rabbits. It was only two years ago that I found evidence of illegal digging at the entrance to one of those setts. Happily, I have had no more problems since then. I have been more vigilant and so have my staff at home and the situation has not since arisen. Badger-baiting is a vile and immoral practice and everyone will welcome the moves being addressed by both noble Lords further to protect the badger.

However, although I broadly welcome the Badgers Bill and agree that setts should be protected, there are some aspects that give me considerable cause for concern. For instance, the Bill states that setts will be protected until they are abandoned. That is impractical. As we have heard many times today, badgers use many holes—drains, fox earths and suchlike—and thus the definition of a sett is wide-ranging and certainly needs amendment. The impracticality is that such protection of all setts until abandonment would make it difficult effectively to control foxes as to do so often means the use of terriers. It is an efficient way of control and infinitely more preferable than the use of snares, which sadly often end up around a badger's neck in error. I can assure your Lordships that it takes a brave person to release a badger from a snare.

Living in the countryside as I do and having a small farm with a breeding flock of sheep, I know that the fox population is expanding rapidly; indeed, it is exploding in my part of the world. There is also the problem that we have at home with urban foxes being taken live in towns and then released into rural areas. That compounds and aggravates the situation, which is already difficult. Contrary to beliefs in certain quarters of the animal protection organisations, foxes are a serious menace to outdoor lambing ewes. I have had first-hand experience of lambs being taken by foxes, nit only shortly after birth but a few days later when they are larger. The control of foxes is essential. The wording of the Bill regarding setts therefore certainly requires amendment and will need to be addressed in Committee, as will licensing by the Ministry of Agriculture, with which I am not altogether happy.

I should like to give my warm congratulations to both the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft on bringing forward these Bills today for Second Reading. They are good Bills. Although the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, needs amendment, I support it provided that we can amend it in this House. My noble friend's Bill is essential and has my full support.

1.44 p.m.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I must first make it clear that, although I speak from the Dispatch Box, as these are Private Members' Bills, I speak on my own account and not on behalf of my colleagues. However, a number of my colleagues support both Bills wholeheartedly.

I congratulate both noble Lords on the clear way in which they have introduced their Bills, not leaving us in any doubt about what they intend. Before I deal with the Bills themselves, perhaps I may comment on one point made by the noble Lords, Lord St. John of Bletso and Lord Kimball, and by the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, that the badger is not an endangered animal. Indeed, it is not, although badgers are scarce in East Anglia and I have not seen one for a long time. Under the Berne Convention, which the United Kingdom ratified, we are required to take measures to maintain the population of flora and fauna at, or adapt it to, a level which corresponds in particular to ecological, scientific and cultural requirements. That means that the species does not have to be in danger before we take action to protect it.

With regard to international legislation, it is likely that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, anticipates the directive on habitats which is about to come forward. I believe that yet another draft is available in the Printed Paper Office. We may well need to implement that directive, but this measure may steal a march on it.

We have heard about the backing by many organisations of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in particular. I understand that it is not opposed by the National Farmers' Union or the Country Landowners Association, both of which see it as a useful Bill to reduce the number of people who enter illegally onto private land in order to commit damage. That is another positive aspect from the farmers' and landowners' point of view.

In Northern Ireland badger setts have been protected since the 1987 Act. Although there is a lively fox-hunting community there, I understand that there has been little difficulty between the fox-hunters and the badger protectors. As we heard, the amendments already made to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, indicate the willingness of those supporting it to recognise the legitimate needs of those who live and work in the countryside, and that is as it should be. My noble friend appears willing to accommodate some of the remaining difficulties and I understand the main difficulty that has been outlined about the definition of what constitutes a badger sett. However, we must not amend the Bill too much, not only because we may weaken it but because its life might be in great danger if we send it back to the Commons. As your Lordships know, even the smallest amendment means that it will have to go back to the Commons, whereas the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, which no one appears to want to amend, will go straight from here to become law.

The Masters of Foxhounds Association issued a code in October 1987, to which a number of noble Lords referred, which gave advice on methods of earth stopping and damage to setts. If that code of practice had been followed, there would be no need for the legislation with which we have to deal today, or the need for it would at least have been lessened. As we heard, the Bill gives statutory backing to that code and I understand that it is welcomed on that account. The British Field Sports Society opposes my noble friend's Bill in its present form, but the Society, inter alia, represents working terrier clubs, which are no doubt affected by some of the provisions. However, the need to close the loopholes in the existing law is widely recognised, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Kimball, and it is supported. I am hopeful that the law-abiding members of the Field Sports Society will wish to be seen on the side of having clear and effective legislation.

An estimated 9,000 badgers are killed by illegal methods each year. We have heard the horrendous figures for the other methods of killing. The Bill is necessary and I wish it well.

Perhaps I may now turn to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, which introduces greater powers of punishment for those caught in illegal badger-digging. I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about its importance and I hope that it will pass speedily from your Lordships' House. I support in particular the clause which bans such offenders from keeping dogs in the future, but there is a great deal of popular support in the country at the moment for ensuring that all dog owners are responsible. This is yet another aspect of that issue.

My only reservation about the Bill is that, without a national dog registration scheme, it will be almost impossible to implement. The principle is good and I shall be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, says in summing up about whether he believes that it is possible to make it work without the backing of a national registration scheme. It will be extremely difficult to prevent an owner who has lost a dog from obtaining another dog to take its place unless he is on a register and we can clearly follow his progress. With those few remarks, I reiterate that I support both Bills and wish them well.

1.50 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, we have before us two Bills, one of which the Government are happy to support while, on the other, we are neutral. Perhaps I may take the Badgers Bill first.

The Government have, of course, for a long time taken a neutral stance towards legislation which might affect traditional field sports. They believe that such issues should be decided by Members according to their own beliefs and consciences. In accordance with that practice, therefore, the Government will be taking a neutral stance towards the Bill. That is not to say, of course, that the Government are neutral as regards the protection of badgers. It is a sad fact that that beautiful creature, the sight of which gives pleasure to so many people, is also the target of brutal abuse and degradation. That is why the Government are giving wholehearted support to the Badgers (Further Protection) Bill, which in my view is a valuable measure which will help in the fight against the badger digger. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Mancroft for the lucid way in which he described the Bill.

Badger baiting is illegal under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Indeed that Act makes the baiting of any animal an offence and the maximum penalty is a fine at level 5, currently £2,000, or six months' imprisonment, or both. Under the Criminal Justice Bill, it is proposed that level 5 fines should be increased to a maximum of £5,000. Badger digging is an offence under the Badgers Act 1973, which also makes it an offence to kill, injure, take or in any other way ill-treat a badger, or attempt to do so, except under licence or in certain particular circumstances defined in the Act. The maximum penalty is a level 5 fine. That Act has been strengthened by the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act 1985 under which the burden of proof has been reversed so that a defendant is presumed to have committed an offence unless he can show otherwise.

The badger is also protected by the general prohibition in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 on the taking or killing of any wild animal by certain specified methods. That offence also attracts a maximum penalty of a level 5 fine. That means that badgers already receive considerable protection in law. Indeed, the extent of such protection is probably unique for an unendangered animal. Additionally, the Government have announced their decision to increase penalties under the Badgers Act. Any offence under Sections 1 or 2 of the Badgers Act 1973, for taking, injuring or killing badgers or causing cruelty to or digging for badgers, will be punishable with a maximum sentence of up to six months' imprisonment as well as a level 5 fine. That will bring maximum penalties under the 1973 Act in line with those which can be awarded under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 for other offences of cruelty to animals.

However, despite the wealth of legislation aimed at protecting the badger, offences against badgers continue. The Government are aware of the concern which is felt about that and it will be seen that the law has been significantly strengthened in recent years to enhance the protection afforded to those animals. However, there is one area in which the law might be said to be deficient at present, and that is the subject of the Badgers (Further Protection) Bill. Although the law currently allows courts to disqualify convicted badger baiters from having further custody of a dog or, indeed, of any animal, there is a significant lack of such a power in the case of convicted badger diggers and other offenders under the Badgers Act 1973. That is because the Protection of Animals Act 1911, under which badger baiting is an offence, already provides for the making of a disqualification order against offenders. The proposal contained in this Bill will bring the Badgers Act 1973 into line with the 1911 Act in that respect.

It is well known that the main tool of the badger persecutor is his dog. Badger diggers send their terriers into setts to locate the badger and, having dug it out, may bait the poor creature there and then with their dogs or sell it or arrange for it to be sold to others to bait. Taking away the right to have a dog is a key step in tackling that problem and it will allow action to be taken against a disqualified person in whose custody a dog is found, whether he is actually engaged in further offences against badgers at that time or not.

The Bill also allows courts to order the destruction or other disposal of a dog which is used in the commission of an offence and to appoint a person to undertake that. In such cases the offender will be liable for the costs involved in that destruction and of keeping the dog in the meantime. That is in line with legislation currently in place regarding dangerous dogs in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989.

This is a relatively small Bill, but because it is so accurately focused on its target, its value will, I am sure, outweigh its size. Badger digging is such a pernicious activity and the ill-treatment of badgers still goes on despite the weight of legislation against it. The Government accept that it is right for further action to be taken and we have been impressed by the wide support for the proposed measure. We are therefore happy to give it our full and unqualified support.

I shall turn to some of the points raised in the debate. I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft are in agreement and, as the noble Lord said, in partnership over the Bills. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, pointed out that his supporters were two badgers. I have also to point out, with some trepidation, that my two supporters are a North American Indian and a North American fur trapper; each habited, accoutred, and holding in the exterior hand a rifle, all proper. I can assure your Lordships that that will in no way affect my view or the Government's view of the Bill.

My noble friends Lord Mancroft and Lord Kimball talked about licences. We recognise the problems that individual farmers can face with losses of lambs to foxes. However, the Bill provides for licences to be issued where control of foxes is necessary. We do not issue general licences for badger control under existing provisions and see no justification for granting general licences. With regard to the length of time taken before licences are issued, the Government are happy to look at any particular instances of delay, and, if it appears necessary, to consider how the process can be accelerated.

I am happy to commend to the House the Bill moved by my noble friend Lord Mancroft on what, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will recognise is another good day for animals.

1.57 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, and much appreciate the friendly spirit in which my Bill has been received. It was much more friendly than on previous occasions when we have gone to this length to try to give the badger greater protection. I hope that we have taken the point fully —I believe that we have—that the Bill is designed to make it more difficult to harm, ill treat and kill a badger by the unlawful interference with its habitat or way of life.

The Bill is not aimed at the hunt. The hunt comes into it only because with the closer definition of the crime we define more carefully what immunity from the law is afforded to those who had a non-statutory right to enable them to continue their practices. I say nothing against the hunt in that respect, because I want to retain its goodwill. It is up to the hunt to decide whether what it does is necessary or desirable in the interests of the sport. Stopping is done merely to maximise the sport in the field. It is designed to stop foxes darting down badgers' setts with which they are familiar and find to be nice, big and open. They can dart into the badger sett and disappear. It will be unlawful to dig them out but not to stop up the sett to prevent them going down it. All right, let the hunt carry on. I am a countryman. I know all about hunting. Some estimable people hunt. The most difficult thing to do is to accommodate the extraordinary sentiment about the badger that exists and has grown up with the public. Television programmes have done enormous good in enlightening people about wildlife all over the world. I am sure that we have all enjoyed programmes by David Attenborough, for example, who is well informed on the subject.

I have in my hand 45 letters from children from a school in Stanmore in Middlesex beseeching us to pass the Bill. They are not stereotyped letters; the children, aged abut 13 or 14 years, have written them individually. They have an interest in the subject. I wonder how many of those children have seen a live badger; I did not see one until I was about 40 years of age. One can go for a long time without seeing a live badger even though there are plenty of badgers. Although most people have never seen one, there is sentiment for the badger. It is part of the mythology and sentiment of human beings in their natural environment. That is estimable. We want to support such sentiment.

Conservation is part of that concern. Happily, the badger is not an endangered species; otherwise measures for protection would be greater still. However the badger needs the amount of protection that the Bill provides. We can make whatever adjustments are reasonable to the definitions in relation to the interests of the hunt, and of a badger sett. That applies for general purposes as well as to the hunt aspect.

Finally, in recent years there has been an enormous increase in county badger protection societies. In Surrey I am patron of such a society which is vigilant and active. It obtains all information about planning applications and planning provisions, and generally keeps an eye on the welfare of the badgers in the area. That is part of enforcement measures.

A development is now taking place which increases the need for vigilance. My planning authority has notified that it has six applications for new golf courses. With the set-aside of agricultural land, and the search for alternative uses that are acceptable in the countryside, golf courses are not a bad idea. Indeed, most golf clubs are very expensive to join and more courses would probably beautify the country. However, badger setts occur on golf courses and have to be attended to.

I am much obliged to all noble Lords who have spoken. I look forward to Committee stage when we shall be able to dispose of outstanding matters and pass on to more controversial matters. I am sure that in this field of animal welfare they will arise.

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