HL Deb 27 June 1991 vol 530 cc746-64

5.54 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 3 [Extension of general exceptions]:

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 16, after ("or") insert ("after midday of the day preceding the day of the hunt, or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a straightforward amendment which, sadly, was overlooked in Committee. Its purpose is to permit the stopping of badger setts with straw, hay or loose soil, as outlined in the Bill, before midnight. Under the Bill as presently drafted, no stopping is permitted except on the day of the hunt. That is quite acceptable for stopping with bundles of sticks or paper bags because it would not be appropriate to stop badger setts the evening before a hunting day in that way as badgers can either be stopped in or out of their setts for some time, being unable to remove the stop. However, in the case of loose materials, a badger can easily dig his way in or out as he wants to.

Where a large number of holes have to be stopped, it has been pointed out that a single-handed earth-stopper could well find it hard to get round if he was confined to stopping on the morning of the hunting day. He may well want to stop on the afternoon or evening beforehand. The amendment would permit that, but only if he uses loose materials, not a bundle of sticks or paper bags which are not covered by the amendment and could only be used on the morning of the hunt. If the earth stopper returns in the morning, he may well find that the badger has dug his way out of one of the holes. He can then restop the hole. It may well be of help to him to have it confirmed that the set is active so as to ensure that it is treated properly in the future.

It might be claimed that stopping the night before would disturb badgers just when they wish to come out for foraging and feeding. However, in the winter the stopping will mostly be done before it is dark. Disturbance to the badger is therefore absolutely minimal. It would be much worse for the badger if many holes had to be left unstopped because the earth stopper could not get round in the morning. If foxes then run to ground, there is risk of much more disturbance if they must be got out. If the sett showed signs of current use or was protected, the fox could not be removed. That would not be satisfactory to the farmer or keeper concerned who may well resort to another legal form of control such as night shooting or snaring which would leave the badger far worse off, as has happened in Northern Ireland. For those reasons a practical earther-stopping code is necessary. The amendment would clear up the small remaining problem with Clause 3.

It is late to bring forward the amendment, but I showed it to the coalition—the proposers of the Bill—on Tuesday and they have had time to look at it. If I may put the opposition's case, as it were, the reasons against the amendment were, first, that the proposers of the Bill felt that they had already conceded too much and, secondly, that they felt that it would cause extra disturbance to the badger. There is no extra concession in this issue because the principle of earth stopping has been willingly agreed. It is already within the Bill. There would be no extension. Furthermore, that practice has been going on in hunting counties since time immemorial. It is just a continuation of an existing practice. A voluntary code would become a statute governed by law. It must be remembered that the largest concentration of badgers in Britain is in those very heavily hunted countries which are stopped most so, if it disturbed the badger, how come that is the place in which they thrive most?

I cannot force through the amendment at this late stage, but I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will appreciate that those of us involved in country sports and farming have gone a long way down the route—further than we have ever gone before—to get the legislation on the statute book and we are keen that it should be put on the statute book.

So far the Bill has proceeded with good will on all sides and much hard work has been done. I ask the noble Lord to extend that goodwill just one iota further. I think it would behove him to do so. It would gain the support of noble Lords and would put a nice seal on the atmosphere in which this Bill has been debated. It would show those who have come a little further this time that the noble Lord appreciates it and that the proposers of the Bill appreciate it. I too would appreciate it very much if he were to accept this amendment at this late stage. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, perhaps I may speak before the noble Lord replies. I listened carefully to the explanation but I am still not quite clear why he needs this amendment. The noble Lord went into some detail, but did not make that clear. He did not say whether it is to help those people who hunt badgers —naturally we are not enthusiastic about that—or whether it is to help the badgers. Before we go any further, perhaps he would explain in simple terms for those of us who are not hunters or do not live in the countryside and roam about with large dogs—people such as myself who believe that sport is a different activity, like playing football or tennis—the reason for covering the badger's house. After all, I presume that we are dealing with that. It is all very well to ask for goodwill, but on whose behalf is it requested? Is it on behalf of the badgers?

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, with the leave of the House perhaps I may answer the noble Baroness. First and foremost, what she regards as sport I would regard as a game. But that is neither here nor there.

The answer to her question is that it has been the custom and the practice for many years—indeed, long before I was around—on the day before a hunt or on the morning of a hunt to go around and stop up the holes (the badger holes, the fox holes or the rabbit holes) so that the fox does not go to ground and must then be dug out. It affects the badger because the fox often does not distinguish between one hole and another. The fox may go down the badger sett. Obviously, if he does that the hounds will "mark", as it is called, around the hole. That will disturb the badger, although it is permitted within the legislation as it stands at the moment. If the badger sett is ineffectually stopped, there is a great likelihood that the fox will go into it. The fox and the hounds marking the sett will disturb the badger if it is there.

This amendment will allow to continue a practice that has gone on for years. Some noble Lords do not like hunting—I cannot think why—and may not approve of it. But the practice to which I referred has gone on for a very long time. It has gone on without injury to the badger. Indeed, fox hunters are very keen that the badger and his sett should be protected. That would be very much more difficult to do without this very simple amendment.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, I am in a difficulty. I might as well be frank about it now. It is a matter of communication and consultation. This further amendment was tabled this morning. I do not know why we have this situation and feel that it must be owing to the very nature of the problem with which we are dealing. Previously I complained about an amendment that had been tabled on the morning of a debate. I am not complaining now; I simply say that we have this situation.

I was consulted about the amendment this morning and after lunch. After discussing it with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, I consented to it. It was again discussed later in the day and I again expressed my feeling that, much as it might be disliked, I had throughout been willing to go to any reasonable length to obtain agreement and good will. I am now in some difficulty. When I consulted my adviser, Mr. Bryant, who has been the co-ordinator of the so-called coalition, he felt that this was quite a serious matter and that I might be in danger of not being able to carry the coalition with it. It might upset leisure groups all over the country and lead to a considerable amount of internal difficulty.

It may be that I take either a more lenient or a more ignorant view of what is done to badgers in the countryside. I did not feel that the situation was as bad as it is now said to be in my advice. I might add that the whole process of stopping-up is repugnant to a great many people. They feel that it is absolutely unsporting and interferes with the lifestyle of another species, and so on. I do not wish to argue that point. But many people are deeply against it because it conflicts with their sense of what should be humane treatment of animals. After all, the process is a step taken to maximise the sport of the hunters. They want to prevent escapes into badger holes, which would rob them of their quarry and send them back to the covert to get another fox; so the day's sport would be spoilt.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, just said, I was assured that it is the practice at the present time, but I am not fully informed of its extent. I am a trusting chap and when the noble Lord told me that with all the skill of a car salesman (not a second-hand car salesman) I fell for it. Now I am in danger of finding myself in difficulty. If this amendment is sent to the Commons and there is a revolt there, goodness knows what might happen. It is not what we wish. Certainly it would not do me any good if I were reported as having consented to it and fallen in with the wish of the noble Lord only to be repudiated at the other end. Noble Lords can see that I am not fit to be the commander of this enterprise. However, I must try to rescue the situation.

It is unfortunate that this matter was not considered by the coalition when at the Home Office dealing with the other matters upon which agreement was reached. I believe that it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, to members of the discussion party on the pavement after they left the meeting. But the matter was not formally considered by the group and it has not been possible for the group to discuss it. So I probably exceeded my authority and took a risk which I ought not to have taken. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in a way failed to keep his back clear from being hit from behind because he was with the coalition and took a leading part in the discussions at the Home Office. We ought to have had this matter out that morning.

I have no experience of what happens because my badgers are not on land which is used for hunting or shooting. But we have to deal with a charge that if badger setts are stopped up in the afternoon before the hunt the badgers will be obstructed from coming out of their setts that evening. They might be kept under ground if the stopping-up is effective. Cubs might be in need of food but the parent badger would not be able to get out. I stand to be corrected on that matter. Alternatively, if the badger is out, it will not be able to get back in. We have to clear up this question of whether the disturbance that may be caused is more than is reasonably acceptable.

Finally, we may not make progress on the amendment before I have to appeal to the noble Lord to withdraw it and suggest that we consider it again before Third Reading, sad as that may be. It is no good my putting noble Lords or myself into an impossible position. We have done well so far. We have had goodwill and understanding. Many congratulations are due to all concerned.

However, I must reserve my position. Without going back on what I said, I am not free to promise that what I agree to will be confirmed by those who have responsibility for the public verdict on the Bill. I leave that problem for the moment before your Lordships. I may have to ask leave to make another statement later. It is an unfortunate development. It is a good thing that it occurred at the beginning and not at the end of the debate. If we can overcome this difficulty we shall have overcome all the humps in the Bill. I do not want the basis of our agreement and the goodwill that has been established to be scattered by a feeling that we have been let down in the end.

Lord Boardman

My Lords, perhaps I may help the noble Lord on certain points that he raised. He referred to the problems that the provision might cause to badgers getting in or out of a sett after the stopping-up and until it is unstopped on the subsequent day. On moving the amendment, my noble friend Lord Mancroft made it clear that the amendment applies only to the first part of Clause 3. That does not mean that badgers cannot get in or out. The Bill provides for stopping-up by, untainted straw or hay, or leaf-litter, or bracken or loose soil placed in the entrances on the day of the hunt", or the afternoon of the previous day. That method of stopping-up would not prevent the badger from digging itself out and returning to the sett if it wanted. It would isolate the unstopped hole to the one from which the badger had come. The badger would not in any way be prejudiced.

Perhaps I can help the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, on other points. I believe that the amendment makes Clause 3 more effective. He has agreed and accepted that provision. It helps the control of foxes and in no way prejudices the badger. Clause 3 has been accepted. I believe that the amendment makes the clause a little more effective. It is right that the amendment should be added. Clause 3 having been accepted, it would be a pity if it were only partially effective because the right to stop up a sett on the afternoon of the previous day had been omitted.

I believe that the badger will in no way be prejudiced by acceptance of the amendment. I understand the noble Lord's difficulty. However, I hope that he will be able to agree to my noble friend's amendment, which I support.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, I have not previously spoken on the Bill and had not intended to do so. However, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is such an old friend that I should like to do my best to put his mind at rest.

He is against stopping-up. The amendment limits stopping up and therefore I very much hope that he will see the advantage of it. That advantage is not diminished by the fact that the amendment appeared on the Marshalled List only today as a starred amendment.

Lord Addington

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, seems to justify the amendment by saying that it might be inconvenient to do the work. That seemed a large part of his argument. Perhaps there could be a compromise by stating that what is necessary for the hunt or for the protection of the badger is far more important. Perhaps we can discuss the issue at another stage. The convenience of those who wish to hunt seems to take precedence over the protection of badgers. That appears to be the argument presented. I hope that we shall have an opportunity at least to clear the air and ensure that the protection of the badger is given priority.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I used to hunt quite a lot. No one likes digging foxes out, but one has to do so because one hunts with the objective of killing foxes. I agree that there are many ways of killing foxes, some of which are extremely unpleasant—for instance, poisoning, snaring and shooting with a shotgun. Many foxes are peppered by shot from people using shotguns. I have never shot a fox with a shotgun. I have shot foxes in Germany with a rifle, but that is quite different.

I have badgers in my park. They are most delightful animals and fascinating to watch if there is a full moon. However, we are discussing a difficult problem. One of the objectives of a hunt is to keep down the number of foxes. From my experience no one who hunts likes the digging out process. It is not done for sport. The fox usually gets away during the chase anyway. But how does one control foxes apart from snaring or poisoning? One can shoot foxes at night with a high velocity rifle with a silencer. The fox is attracted by a lamp—keepers use that method a great deal.

Perhaps I may branch off somewhat on the subject of badgers. For quite a few years government have been the real villains—I refer to government as a whole and not to the different parties which have been in power—because over 20,000 badgers have been killed by government since scientists believed that badgers gave tuberculosis to cattle. That was done to a great extent in the west country. I believe that the number was over 20,000; but that is immaterial. On three or four farms around us the cattle did not pass the test for tuberculosis. I was surrounded by farms at which the cattle had to be burnt. However, my Jersey herd never suffered from tuberculosis. I no longer have cattle; I used to have a great many.

I am glad that the scientists have stopped killing badgers. The scientists, as if often the case, were in the wrong. My experience of hunting is not as great as that of some people, but I have hardly ever seen a badger killed. Obviously, we do not hunt badgers. On the whole hunting people are fond of badgers and do not like disturbing or killing them. However, when hunting foxes it is often difficult not to disturb badgers.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, during Second Reading I confined my speech to the importance of reaching agreement on the various issues in the Bill and co-operating to the best of our ability. It is most important to accept the amendment in that vein. I realise the difficulties of reaching total agreement in the light of all the issues before us. In Committee, on Second Reading and during the passage of the Bill in another place a great deal that is valuable has been achieved. Members in another place will again consider the Bill. We must relay the issues that have been foremost in our debates so that they understand that your Lordships are anxious that the Bill reaches the statute book. We should understand the difficulties and realise that we cannot have a perfect Bill. However, we should support this amendment in the general interests of the Bill.

Lord Burton

My Lords, the amendment emphasises the complications that can arise when we try to legislate on country affairs, and in particular on long-standing traditions. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, clearly, and not surprisingly, was concerned about stopping out the setts. However, Clause 3 already provides that one may not pack the hole hard: one must use soft materials. That will make it easy for the badger to work his way out. There is no risk of the badger being shut in. Of course, badgers come out after dark. My noble friend Lord Mancroft is most experienced in this matter but even he had not considered the problem. It is one that an expert has drawn to his attention.

I realise that we are rather rushing through the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will not consider that he is being pressured. I also hope that he realises that far from weakening the Bill the amendment will greatly improve it.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, as always we have had an interesting debate. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, raised an important point. I may have over-emphasised the convenience of stopping. It is only convenient if it is done effectively; ineffective stopping will do no good to the badger. The object of the exercise is to prevent foxes going to ground in badger setts and therefore hounds going near them. Stopping is convenient only for that purpose.

As we discussed at an earlier stage, the principle of stopping badger setts is necessary not for the sport or the catching of the fox—we are not concerned with that in the Bill—but for the protection of the badger and his sett. We have gone to great lengths to ensure that the voluntary code of practice which has been in operation for some years becomes enshrined in law in the Bill. We have thought carefully about the Bill; we have gone through it word by word to ensure that it will work. We have introduced a register so that people cannot stop unless their name is listed. No one can use it as an excuse for being near a badger sett when they should not be.

The amendment is not new. I did not introduce it at the meeting which my noble friend Lord Astor kindly chaired at the Home Office on Tuesday. That meeting was strictly reserved for another area of the Bill—licensing. I introduced it at length two days ago when the coalition was able to see a copy. That was a day before the main licensing amendment was published.

The amendment is simple and straightforward. A suggestion has been made that the words on the Marshalled List: after midday of the day preceding the day of the hunt should be changed to "before dusk". That could be breakfast time, lunch time or any time. The phrase is not sufficiently exact and I would not wish so loose a phrase to appear in the Bill.

In reality the provision applies only to large areas of ground where there may be 20, 30 or even 100 badger setts. It could be a field, or even two fields, where badgers get into the banks. Stopping would not happen often; in general, only in winter when badgers are hibernating. In those circumstances, whether their front or back door is open is wholly irrelevant; they are sleeping inside. Badgers wishing to come out of the sett but finding it stopped are capable of pushing out easily. As I said in Committee, it is my experience that if one planted a Chieftain tank above a sett the badger would be able to get out in about two minutes. We are not planning on doing that; we are planning on using loose soil and straw. The badger would not notice that and would go through it as it goes through undergrowth. We have tabled the amendment purely for the badgers' added protection from any disturbance that might be caused by hunting.

If I were to withdraw my amendment it would be necessary to table a Third Reading amendment. That would be a pity because it would delay the Bill further and I have no wish to do that. Neither do I wish to divide the House. We have succeeded in reaching this stage of the Bill without a Division. I have no doubt that if I were to divide the House I should win but I am loath to do so. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, can accept the amendment now and avoid all the problems for the future. It would be a pity to take the matter to a Third Reading debate but if the noble Lord insists, that is what we must do.

I see no movement from the noble Lord; therefore, I must test the opinion of the House. It is a pity to do so because I should have preferred the noble Lord to accept the amendment. It has support from all sides of the House. The noble Lord gives me no option but to ask for the opinion of the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 3, line 13, at end insert: ("(k) for the purpose of controlling foxes in order to protect livestock, game or wild life, to interfere with a badger sett within an area specified in the licence by any means so specified.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and myself is as a result of the negotiations which we had earlier this week following an amendment brought forward in Committee by my noble friend Lord Swinton and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon.

The area in which we had the biggest problem as regards the Bill is that of licensing. That is a very important part of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Swinton and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, brought forward an amendment in Committee which very much put the obligation on the Ministry to grant licences, possibly more than would have been desirable.

Therefore, the badger coalition of which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton—the sponsor of this Bill—is the front man, was opposed to that. However, in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, gave a reassurance that he would accept the principle of the amendment but he wanted time to go into further detail. At that stage my noble friend Lord Swinton withdrew his amendment and we entered into negotiations. The result is the amendment brought forward today in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and myself.

Like most amendments it is not perfect. It probably does not go as far as my noble friend Lord Swinton would wish but probably goes further than the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and his supporters desire. However, it is a good compromise amendment. It allows the control of foxes by sheep farmers in Wales, the West Country and the Fell District and the control of foxes to protect game birds and other wild nesting birds. It allows those who have a concern in those areas to apply for a licence with a fairly good chance of obtaining one.

The anxiety of the Committee was that people would apply for licences but would not obtain them. We have not sought to put an obligation on the Ministry or on the Nature Conservancy Council but we have endeavoured to tighten up the area. Therefore, the amendment includes the words: A licence under this section shall not be unreasonably withheld or revoked". That is a very important sentence. I believe that my noble friend Lord Astor will confirm that that almost imposes an obligation on the licensing body to grant licences provided that it is assured—and this is very important—that the right sort of people obtain the licences.

Whereas my noble friend Lord Swinton and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, were keen to make sure that the right people are able to obtain licences, equally it is important that the wrong people do not obtain them. That is why we have tabled the amendment. It is obvious that those people convicted under wildlife legislation of cruelty to animals or, indeed, under the Badgers Act 1973, should not be able to obtain licences and we must ensure that they do not do so. I believe that this amendment will achieve that objective and at the same time ensure that those who should have licences will be able to obtain them. I hope that it will relieve the anxieties of the Moorland Gamekeepers' Association, the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association all of whom have approached us with anxieties as regards this area of the Bill. We have sought to address those anxieties. I hope that the House will accept the amendment in preference to that in the name of my noble friend Lord Swinton.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for moving the amendment. I shall not pull his leg about the fact that it was tabled only this morning. I thank also my noble friend Lord Mancroft for speaking to it and for his hard work. I thank my noble friend on the Front Bench for what he has done because I know how hard he has worked.

The amendment goes a long way towards covering the points which I wish to see covered and I shall not repeat what I said in Committee. However, I have one or two important questions which I should like to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench. As my noble friend Lord Mancroft said, anxieties have been expressed by a number of organisations including the Moorland Gamekeepers' Association, the National Farmers' Union and the Country Landowners' Association. Will it be certain that applicants can obtain licences well in advance of the period for which they may be needed since there may be occasions when there is not time to apply for and obtain a licence? I cited such occasions in my speech in Committee.

Will the licences be valid for a long period? I believe that they should be valid for at least a year so that proper fox control can take place. Also, will they be granted at any time of the year? I hope—this is very important—that even though they will be granted in advance, I trust that licences will be granted swiftly so that there will be no long delay.

If my noble friend on the Front Bench can give me satisfactory answers to those points I shall support the amendment and in due course not move my amendment.

Earl Peel

My Lords, as this is the first time that I have spoken during the course of the Bill I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mancroft and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, on having got the two sides together. I hope that an amicable compromise has been reached and that the Bill will have a successful passage. It is also appropriate to say how grateful we are to my noble friend Lord Astor for the way in which he has brought both sides together and tackled the problems in such a masterly fashion.

With these two amendments we have reached a stage where it is obvious that we must work together in trying to solve the problem of fox control because, as my noble friend Lord Swinton said in Committee, foxes undoubtedly occupy badger setts from time to time. Obviously a sensible licensing system would appear to be the most appropriate solution for solving the problem. At the same time, that will ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book.

I believe that the need to control foxes is sometimes underestimated. It is obvious to many of us who have occasion on moorland areas to distinguish between a keepered and non-keepered area that there is a marked difference not only in quantity but also as regards variety of species. It may be interesting to note also that the Game Conservancy national game census has shown a five-fold increase in foxes in the uplands since 1960. Therefore, it is no wonder that the Moorland Gamekeepers' Association is keen to see the introduction of a licensing system. Incidentally, it may interest your Lordships to know that in eastern England there has been a three-fold increase and in south-east England a six-fold increase. I am delighted to say that the numbers of badgers are also increasing. In the uplands it is not unusual to find a badger sett of 1,600 or 1,700 feet. Those badgers live in setts, thus increasing the problems caused by foxes using them.

It is vital that the system should not be cumbersome. As my noble friend Lord Swinton said, the licences must be valid for a reasonable duration of time. They must be easy to obtain and must be for bona fide people so that we do not undermine the principles of the Bill.

As I see it, the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Swinton is the more stringent of the two. It states that a licensing authority "shall" grant licences to any authorised person. I imagine that the word "shall" is the word to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, objects. On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Swinton's amendment has the advantage in that it says that a licensed person shall not damage a badger or a sett. However, it does not differentiate between livestock and game birds. As I understand it, there is a legislative distinction between the two in that MAFF has the authority to issue licences for livestock but not for game birds. That comes under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Environment, and in most cases the application is referred to English Nature or its parent bodies in Wales and Scotland.

A problem may exist. I spoke to the chief executive of English Nature who assured me that he does not see this as a conservation problem; it is a problem of resources and manpower. I can see that if English Nature were inundated with licence applications, that could cause a problem. I believe in most cases it will not. I suspect that the individual applying for the licence will include livestock and game. However, there will undoubtedly be times when the licence will only cover game and there could be a problem for the various nature conservation authorities.

Perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench could help me on one point. I imagine that MAFF is not able to take on the licensing responsibility. It would be more effective if it could. If it cannot, perhaps the Department of the Environment can do it without passing on the responsibility to English Nature and the other two authorities in Scotland and Wales.

I believe that the key to the licensing system is the guidance likely to be issued by the Home Office. If it is well constructed and well thought out, I am sure that it will be effective and the amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord Mancroft and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will be workable and sensible. I am advised also that there will be a reasonable consultation period. That is imperative if the legislation is to be effective.

Like my noble friend, Lord Swinton, I should like to pose a number of questions to my noble friend Lord Astor. First, it is important that reputable people other than farmers—gamekeepers, hunt officials and members of fox destruction societies—are granted licences. Secondly, will such people be able to obtain licences without excessive argument as to whether fox control or interference with a set is necessary? Thirdly—I believe my noble friend Lord Swinton mentioned this—I hope that licences will not be constrained simply to the springtime. That would be totally impractical. Fourthly, will licences run for a suitable duration of time? For example, will they run from year to year? Will they be obtainable and renewable without bureaucratic delay?

I am sorry to burden my noble friend with a further array of questions, but they are of enormous importance if the licensing system is to be effective.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Tryon

My Lords, I too am grateful that these consultations have taken place and various noble Lords have come up with these alternatives to the amendments tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and myself. Noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that I still prefer our amendment but throughout this has been a matter of compromise. A good job has been done and covers at least some of the points raised at Committee stage.

The question of licences has now been fully covered and thy points I intended to make have already been made by the noble Earls, Lord Swinton and Lord Peel. Therefore I shall leave that aside. The only matter on which I should like to ask for guidance is that, as I read the amendment, rabbits seem to have dropped out of the question. They were covered in our amendment and I spoke in that regard at Committee stage.

Will it be possible to obtain licences if there are a number of rabbits in the vicinity of a badger sett? That is an important point. I shall not go through all the arguments about rabbits again and the difficulties that arise when they are close to a badger sett. But it is something on which I should like guidance.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, this is a Private Member's Bill on which the Government are neutral. We seem however to have reached the point where the main difficulty on the Bill is concerned with licensing. That is an area which involves the Government, since the Government are responsible for the arrangements concerning the issue of licences. As I understand it the problem is to ensure that existing legitimate activities of fox control to protect sheep, other livestock, poultry, game and wild birds, can continue.

We have before us today two amendments both of which are designed to achieve that. I believe that we would be able to operate a satisfactory licensing system which meets your Lordships' anxieties under the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and my noble friend Lord Mancroft. I do not feel the same confidence about the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, and my noble friend Lord Swinton. I should say, however, that I am grateful to the noble Lords for bringing this important point to the attention of the House. 1 hope that what I have to say on the question of licensing will be of some reassurance.

Since Committee stage, we have held meetings with both sides and the Government offered help in the drafting of a suitable amendment. I believe that a licensing system set up under the proposed Section 9(1)(k) of the Badgers Act would meet the anxieties expressed regarding the issue of licences, and satisfy the spirit of the amendment of my noble friend Lord Swinton and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon. Perhaps I may explain how such a licensing system might work.

First there is the question of to whom the licences will be granted. The legislation does not specify who may or may not receive a licence. Clearly we shall not be in the business of issuing licences to badger diggers. We need to be confident that anyone authorised to interfere with a badger sett for the purpose of fox control is suitable and responsible. That would include gamekeepers, farmers, hunts, fox destruction organisations or any other suitable person. I hope that satisfies the point raised by my noble friend Lord Peel.

Then there are the circumstances in which licences will be issued. The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Mancroft and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, introduces the concept that licences shall not be unreasonably withheld or revoked. It goes without saying that licensing authorities should act in a reasonable manner. But I hope the amendment provides reassurance to those who have expressed doubts over this. We envisage that licences would be issued, in advance and for a prolonged period, where regular fox control for protection may risk occasional interference with a badger sett. I believe that was an anxiety expressed by my noble friend Lord Swinton. We would of course retain the right to revoke such a licence if a problem arose. We also envisage assessing in advance of lambing the position of sheep farmers whose flocks are at danger from foxes living in badger setts, so that licences may be issued speedily when the need arises. Licences will not necessarily be restricted to a single sett, although they will relate to a specified area, and that area could include a number of farms.

I have been asked in what circumstances a licence would not be issued. That is not an easy area in which to generalise. I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate that cases may arise which I could not possibly foresee at this moment. But two examples of situations when a licence might be refused are, on land where a scientific study of badgers is being undertaken or where disturbance might be caused to the nest of a breeding bird protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Licences granted under that provision would not be for the taking or killing of badgers. That is an important point as we are discussing the control of foxes, not licences to take or kill badgers. That is an area already covered by the present Act. I would, however, expect a condition of the licence to be that the person authorised should take reasonable care to avoid causing harm to a badger. The licence might also specify just what may, or may not, be done to a badger sett; for example, the sett should not be destroyed and any accidental damage to a sett should be rectified as soon as possible.

Under the present Act there are different licensing authorities for different situations; in some cases they are the agriculture departments; in others, the now separate components of the Nature Conservancy Council. The same principle would apply under the amendment we are now considering. But that does not mean that different standards would apply. It is the intention of the licensing authorities to work together to set up common guidelines for issuing licences. That was a point raised by a number of noble Lords this evening. Our aim is to develop a system which is simple, straightforward and just. In doing that we will consult interested organisations. We will consider which licensing authority will be responsible for the different areas of licensing. In principle the agriculture departments will issue licences relating to livestock and the Nature Conservancy Council will issue licences with regard to wildlife. There may be some situations where these areas overlap. During the consultation period we will work with interested organisations to define exactly in which circumstances the licensing authority would issue licences.

It is important to all concerned that the administrative arrangements should be properly worked out. For that reason I am pleased to see it is proposed that three rather than two months should be allowed after Royal Assent before the Bill comes into force to put these guidelines in place.

I now turn to some of the points raised during the debate. My noble friend Lord Swinton asked when licences would be issued. There is no reason why licences should not be granted at any time of the year. As I have said, we intend to establish administrative procedures which will enable licences to be granted speedily. My noble friend Lord Peel asked about guidance. It will not be issued by the Home Office, but it will be developed by agricultural departments, English Nature and the Scottish and Welsh equivalents. We expect the vast majority of the licence applications to be to the agricultural departments and not to English Nature or the Scottish or Welsh counterparts. The amendment does not in fact specify which licensing authority shall issue which licences. Where licences are issued by agricultural departments I do not expect English Nature to be consulted on every application, but on the general procedures. Once the amendments became known, we have consulted at the earliest possible stage with English Nature and the Scottish and Welsh equivalents.

Earl Peel

My Lords, it is not the actual consultation between MAFF and English Nature that concerns me; it is whether English Nature is to be responsible for issuing the licences. If there were a number, that would obviously have a very serious effect on its budget and manpower.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, as I have said, we believe that English Nature will be concerned only with issuing licences when they concern wildlife. We feel that that will be a very small amount compared with the number of licences issued by the agricultural departments. English Nature has a licensing function at the moment under the Badgers Act. One must remember that the Bill creates a new offence and a new licensing system for the control of foxes. That will involve extra work for both MAFF and the agencies. But if the Bill becomes law they will have a statutory duty to do that work.

I now turn to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, regarding rabbits. Licensing provisions will allow licences to be granted in relation to rabbit control if that work needs to be done. I hope that that answers the point which the noble Lord raised.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 3, line 17, leave out ("and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 3, line 17, at end insert: ("ff) after subsection (2) (b) there shall be inserted— (c) in the case of a licence under paragraph (k) of that subsection—

  1. (i) in England, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Nature Conservancy Council for England;
  2. (ii) in Wales, the Secretary of State or the Countryside Council for Wales; and
  3. (iii) in Scotland, the Secretary of State or the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland."").

On Question amendment agreed to.

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 3, line 24, at end insert ("; and (h) at the end of that section there shall be inserted— (6) A licence under this section shall not be unreasonably withheld or revoked".").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Citation and commencement]:

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 7: Page 3, line 30, leave out ("two") and insert ("three").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I do not wish to speak to it as such, except to say that this is probably the last time on which I shall address your Lordships on the Bill, as I suspect that we shall now require only a formal Third Reading. I do not think that I shall speak on Amendment No. 8 to be moved by my noble friend Lord Burton. I am sure that he will cover that quite adequately.

I hope that this important piece of legislation, which we shall probably complete tonight, will remove badgers from the political arena for some time to come. I believe that they will then be the most protected animal in Europe, if not the world. That is quite right because they are subject in some areas and at times to a type of cruelty which is not directed at any other animal. So it is right that we should have given them this extra protection.

In giving them extra protection life has been made more difficult for farmers, for the Ministry, as my noble friend Lord Astor has said, and for the NCC and sportsmen. However, all those organisations and people are prepared to accept those difficulties in order to help the badger and to allow it to live without the fear (which it cannot know) of this particular type of cruelty; namely, baiting, which I hope we have made that much more difficult to do tonight.

The Bill was sent to us to revise. It was sent in what can be described as a loose form. When it completed its Third Reading in the other place honourable Members said that it should be sent to their Lordships' House to be tidied up. We have tidied it up. We have worked extremely hard. We had a full Second Reading and a long and careful Committee stage. Both sides of the House, the sporting and farming communities—the Moorland Gamekeepers' Association came forward at a slightly later stage—and the National Farmers' Union all discussed at length with the badger coalition how best to tighten up the Bill, make it more effective, and at the same time allow those who have to live, work and play in the countryside to do so without falling foul of the law.

The fact that the Bill has got this far—and I hope will now find its way onto the statute book—is a great triumph for the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. We should not deny him that triumph. It has not been an easy route. He has been absolutely tremendous in the way in which he has led your Lordships' House down this difficult path. I am sure that there will now be such a valuable conclusion that we should have to look suspiciously on any further legislation, should it come to us n the future, and wonder whether it was not more politically motivated than it should be. We are convinced and have always been convinced that the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, are as pure a s anybody's motives could be. He is to be congratulated on that. He has championed these causes for many years both in your Lordships' House and in another place. Noble Lords and Members of another place appreciate that fact enormously. In turn, I hope that he and the supporters and sponsors of the Bill will appreciate that for the first time the protectionist lobby and the sporting lobby have come together. Let us hope that it is not the last time; let us hope that it can continue.

The Bill has gone through another place and is now going through this House in a tremendous spirit of good will. Let us hope that that, too, can be repeated. For a very small amendment my "few words" have been rather long-winded. I hope that the House will accept them in the spirit in which I have delivered them. I beg to move.

7 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, as this is the final amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord Mancroft and of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, perhaps I may take this opportunity to congratulate them on the way they have brought together all the interested parties and achieved agreement on their amendments. The Government are neutral on Private Members' Bills; but I have to say that I cannot be anything but impressed by the way the two noble Lords have achieved their agreement. I thank my noble friend Lord Swinton for bringing to the attention of the House the issue of licences for the control of foxes. That is an extremely important issue and it was totally missed in another place.

As I said in Committee, I offered the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, the Government's help in drafting amendments. He duly accepted that offer. On behalf of all noble Lords, I thank not only the parliamentary draftsman but the officials of the Home Office, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment. They have worked very hard to produce acceptable amendments for the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and for other noble Lords. I thank my noble friends Lord Jeffreys and Lord St. John of Bletso for moving amendments on behalf of English Heritage. Indeed, I thank all noble Lords who took part in the various stages of the Bill. We even had the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, speaking on a subject on which he does not normally speak. I am sure that the Third Reading will be a formality. I am also sure that another place will give the Bill careful consideration.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Burton moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 3, line 31, at end insert: ("(3) This Act shall not extend to Scotland.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I congratulate those involved on the way the Bill has been gathered together and consolidated. It has been improved enormously in your Lordships' House. I shall not repeat the names of those involved as they have already been mentioned; but I congratulate them all.

I am worried about how little consideration has been given to Scotland. Neither the Scottish Landowners Federation nor the Scottish National Farmers Union knew anything about the Bill until I drew it to their attention, after which they were somewhat apprehensive, to say the least. They felt, as I did, that it would not be satisfactory for Scotland unless there was an amendment on licensing which at last we managed to secure today. I hope that that will satisfy the Scottish Landowners Federation and the Scottish National Farmers Union.

I was also surprised to be telephoned yesterday by the chief inspector of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He did not know about the Bill either. I am surprised that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals did not take the trouble to consult its Scottish wing. I discussed the matter with the chief inspector and I assured him that, provided we secured an amendment on licensing, things would be all right.

I am also anxious about the rapid increase in the badger population in Scotland. It is increasing at a tremendous rate. Whether it is because we do not have the motorways and vast roads that one sees in England, which appear to be the main destroyer of badgers, I do not know; but there appears to be little natural control. The only real control is when badgers run out of food and die of starvation.

Since we met in Committee (which was only six days ago) I have had two problems placed on my plate. When I got home one of my tenants telephoned me saying, "What am I to do? I understand badgers are protected but they have eaten all my hens". I was concerned whether this was serious damage. If it was serious damage, the culprits can be dealt with. It is a question of that little word "serious". Furthermore, I received a message not long after that from someone on the West coast. He said, "What are we to do? We are losing lambs, and a badger is killing them". I asked how many he had lost, because it is again a question of the seriousness of the problem. We should at some stage address ourselves to the question of how serious is serious.

I fear that before long badgers will suffer a major disaster. We may see something similar to what happened in Sweden where foxes became very numerous indeed. They eventually contracted mange and now they are very rare in Sweden. They died a horrible, painful death. Badgers are probably too clean to contract mange. However, I have a horrible suspicion that something will happen—whether it will be tuberculosis or something similar I do not know. I cannot believe that badgers will not suffer a natural disaster. They have no natural predator. Now that we have licensing I agree that the provisions of the Bill should apply to Scotland. Therefore, I shall withdraw the amendment unless any noble Lord has something to say.

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

My Lords, perhaps I had better put the Question first and then ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment. Amendment proposed, page 3, line 31, at end insert ("(3) This Act shall not extend to Scotland.").

Lord Burton

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.