Hunting Bill

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Mrs. Golding: I shall first deal with the question of rabbits. A friend of mine, and a member of the Labour party executive, frequently goes rabbiting and uses the rabbits to feed his dogs. When I explained to him that he would no longer be able to go rabbiting unless he took a gun, he said that, although he did shoot, he would not like to do that. He asked why he would need to take a gun. I explained that he could use the dog to flush out the rabbit, but would then have to get both dog and rabbit to sit down so that he could shoot the rabbit—or the dog, if it moved. He said, ``But that's crazy. How can I stop the dog chasing the rabbit?'' As the expression goes, ``Let the dog see the rabbit.'' My friend cannot understand why the Labour party, which he supports so strongly, wants to stop him rabbiting.

Mr. Leigh: Will the hon. Lady clarify which member of the Labour party National Executive she is referring to? Was it the Prime Minister?

Mrs. Golding: I am afraid that I do not have much contact with the Labour party National Executive. I was referring to a member of my constituency executive.

The next campaign of the League Against Cruel Sports is to ban guns.

Mr. Maples: And fishing?

Mrs. Golding: Well, fishing as well, but guns first. I told my friend that if that organisation should get its way, he would not even be able to take his gun when he went rabbiting. I understand that, on Tuesday, there was some debate about whether the LACS did have such an intention, but I have here a national petition that it has organised, asking for all guns to be banned.

Mr. Banks: My hon. Friend repeats comments that Opposition Members have made but which are not true—although one could be excused for thinking that they are, if one believes everything in the newspapers. As I understand it, the LACS does not have such a policy. It would be difficult for the league to argue for that policy, given that it recommends that foxes should be shot. How on earth can it say that foxes should be shot as a means of control yet wish to ban people from carrying guns?

Mrs. Golding: If one casts a fly on the water one will often get a fish to rise.

Mr. Banks: My hon. Friend sounds like a follow-up to Eric Cantona.

Mrs. Golding: Who is Eric Cantona?

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Golding: I am still replying to my hon. Friend. He is assuming that the League Against Cruel Sports is logical. It is not. It is working down the line, and I am convinced that it will go for shooting next, then fishing.

I have here the petition from LACS, which asks people to return it to them at an address that is difficult to read—I think that it is in Union street, somewhere in London.

Mr. Maples: West Ham.

Mrs. Golding: Yes, somewhere or other. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham is welcome to have a copy of the petition.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: What does it say about banning guns?

Mrs. Golding: It says:

    How many more people have to die before all guns are banned?

    How much more wildlife will be lost before all guns are banned?

    How many more tons of toxic lead shot will be spread over our countryside before all guns are banned?

So where is its logic in saying that foxes should be shot?

Mr. Maples: The hon. Lady has made some good points. Many of her colleagues refuse to accept that LACS has such an agenda. It argues that lead shot is poisoning the countryside, and people who want to abolish fishing complain that the lead weights on fishing lines get into swans, ducks and other fish. So if lead poisoning is an argument for banning guns, it is also an argument for banning fishing. The hon. Lady is therefore right to suggest that those will be the next steps.

Mrs. Golding: Lead is banned for fishermen; they no longer use it.

Mr. Maples: It would have been a good argument.

Mrs. Golding: It would have been.

I return to my favourite subject: mink. The Burns report says that mink hunting does not have a sufficient effect—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Significant.

Mrs. Golding: Significant effect, thank you. The report says that hunting does not have a significant effect on the population of mink in the countryside. No, it does not. However, at least those who hunt are trying to do something about it. If they are banned from doing so, many more mink will be running around and breeding. Mink have no natural predators other than man, and unless man does something about them, they will continue to breed and to destroy much of our indigenous wildlife. That raises the question of who is responsible for ensuring that mink are eradicated.

I received a letter from the NRA—the National Rivers Authority—stating that

    The control of mink has in fact always been a responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, not of NRA

—nothing to do with us, guv. In response, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food told me:

    It is entirely at the discretion of individual landowners/occupiers to decide whether they wish to control mink on their land.

The letter goes on to say that the Ministry will ``provide advice''. In other words, it will not do anything about the problem, but it will give people leaflets about it. So who is doing something about it? The answer is nobody other than the mink packs.

East Dorset district council sent a letter to its local mink pack, stating:

    Thank you for . . . helping us to control the population of mink on the Moors Valley River. It was good to see the hounds working and the excellent way you kept them under control. We will contact you again if we have further reports of mink in the future.

It appreciates the damage that is done to rivers and the effect of mink hounds.

Mr. Soames: As the hon. Lady knows, I support and endorse everything that she has said about mink. However, on waters that are keepered because they are run by, for example, fishing clubs, or on private waters where a riparian owner may fish and employ a keeper, mink will be controlled properly. On other waters, which provide the public with much pleasure, there is no keepering or control, so mink have a baleful effect on fish stocks and the river bank. Does she agree that that is a further reason why the Bill is an enemy of conservation?

Mrs. Golding: I agree with many of the hon. Gentleman's comments. The banning of mink hunts is unconnected to conservation. In fact, it encourages mink to reproduce and destroy many indigenous species.

On the fishing question, there is no way in which to trap mink in an estuary because its tidal waters will drown them. We have had many floods this year, so if traps had been set, they would have drowned mink caught in them. Furthermore, traps have to be checked once every 24 hours to ensure that they are freshly baited. In flood conditions, mink will not go near traps, which are impossible to examine when they are underwater. Those problems affect estuaries all year round, and rivers when they flood.

Traps are expensive to manage and control because they must be supplied with live bait. A person—I almost said a man—must inspect them every 24 hours and, the last time that I asked, they cost about £25, although they are probably more expensive now. That is what must be done to control mink, but few riparian owners are prepared to do it.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: On the question of mink trapping, is my hon. Friend not contradicted by page 105 of the Burns report? The document states:

    Mink do not appear to be particularly trap-shy and trapping can therefore be a relatively efficient means of control provided that the trap is well placed.

It also states:

    There are no firm data on the numbers of mink killed by trapping but research shows that intensive trapping in an area can remove most of the local population.

Mrs. Golding: My hon. Friend underlines my remarks: it is expensive—

Mr. Gordon Prentice: But it works.

Mrs. Golding: It can work, if someone is prepared to do it, if someone is prepared to pay for it, if someone is prepared to employ a temporary keeper to manage the traps and if there is no flooding. All those factors have to be combined, so in an ideal world it could be effective. In the real world, however, it cannot be effective.

Eliminating mink hounds will cause a problem in the countryside that no one is prepared to deal with rationally. One can deal with isolated instances of mink, but there must be people who are prepared to pay for traps.

Mr. Beith: This group of amendments seeks in a general way to address the problems of gamekeepers, farmers, farm workers and pest-control contractors. I see great merit in that approach, because it will address the fear of prosecution, which the hon. Member for West Ham seems not to appreciate. If the exemption is of a general character, and qualified, if it has to be, to avoid attempts to get round the Bill's basic purpose, people can carry on their jobs. If we must rely on later amendments tabled by various members of the Committee to deal with specific anomalies, others will still not be covered and those carrying on legitimate and necessary activities will be in constant fear of prosecution, relying on the belief, ``The authorities wouldn't prosecute, would they?'' That is no basis on which somebody running a small pest control business can invest in a van or equipment to do his job. It is no basis on which a gamekeeper can hope to keep his job. A gamekeeper who finds himself in court does not stay in his job very long.

11 am

Mr. Banks: The right hon. Gentleman is labouring the point. No one in the Committee will object to sensible amendments that address serious issues, but he should not try to make a serious point by using ludicrous examples. First, as I said in an earlier intervention, and as the right hon. Gentleman must know, the Crown Prosecution Service will consider any possible prosecution carefully and always needs to believe that it can succeed. Secondly, the prosecution must have a public-interest element to it.

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