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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am sure that if noble Lords opposite went in massed ranks to the Forestry Commission land with their guns they would have a major impact--if only because the squirrels would drop dead from fright! Those are the alternative methods, but Warfarin is the best. It is most important that the companies producing the chemical provide the European Union with the data it requires in order to authorise its use, otherwise we have a major problem.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, does my noble friend not think that this is a matter with which the British Government should be able to deal without obtaining the permission of the European Commission? It is ridiculous.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I sense that my noble friend has views on that aspect. It is a matter which the Government have dealt with, although only as the regulator because it is more a matter for the Forestry Commission. But the European Union has rights and powers in relation to pesticides. The Commission has been very reasonable. It wishes to authorise the use of such a pesticide and it has shown great patience in waiting for something like five years for the companies to produce the necessary data.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, it is my turn, you grey squirrel, you! Was the Minister as surprised as I was that my noble friend Lord Rotherwick did not include the word "grey" in his original Question? Is he aware that red squirrels are being decimated where there are grey squirrels in the same vicinity? Will he enlarge
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I am delighted to see the noble Baroness as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as usual. She is quite right. The Forestry Commission is developing a kind of hopper that is red squirrel friendly; in other words, it cannot get in to be poisoned in the way that the grey squirrel can. However, a little longer is needed to develop that. We try to protect the red squirrels, and Warfarin is allowed to be used only in areas where there are no red squirrels.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shore. I recognise the rights and powers of the Commission, however regrettable. If this problem arises from the inability of the Commission to obtain certain information from the manufacturers, is it not possible for the Government to take powers to obtain that information and pass it to the Commission?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we are doing all we can. The manufacturers concerned German and Swedish, not British. The British company manufactures the product. The Forestry Commission has certainly offered all the help it can give to companies as regards collecting data and has supported also the proposal to extend further that already long-delayed process. The problem is that it is a minor product of the companies and they do not appear to be interested in spending a great deal of time and money in order to produce the data required. But we are doing all we can to maintain Warfarin as an authorised product.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the noble Lord looks the better for it. I advise him to keep taking the Warfarin. It has beneficial uses, especially as an anti-coagulant. However, the noble Lord should not go into any hoppers and have a meal.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the proposed trapping of the grey squirrel has been under review by the Forestry Commission for a number of years? Will the Minister give an indication as to when that new device, which has been examined over the years, is likely to be put into operation? Is he aware also that 50 per cent. of all new planting in this country is now broadleaf but the squirrels have no impact whatever on conifer planting? Will he give an assurance that action will be taken with the Forestry Commission to deal with the control of squirrels? Could the grey squirrel be described as a rat instead of a squirrel to make it less acceptable?
The Forestry Commission has been developing the new system for some time. It is felt that it is now ready but it must be tested and the Pesticides Safety Directorate must be convinced that it is a suitable mechanism.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, until very recently, dispensing Warfarin for squirrels in Scotland was against Scots law, but it was not illegal for the medical profession to dispense Warfarin to Scottish Peers? I must declare an interest because I have had to take a daily dose of Warfarin for several years now as a result of being a casualty of World War II.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the Scots have always had very clear priorities. As I said, Warfarin can be used on humans. That is not under consideration for restriction at this moment. It was forbidden by law to poison squirrels under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. The 1973 Warfarin Order introduced an exemption solely for grey squirrels, but only in certain circumstances. One of those circumstances is that it cannot be used in areas where red squirrels survive, and Scotland has been one of those areas.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, will the Minister say whether the Government are having any success in preventing the spread of grey squirrels in England? I must declare an interest because I live in Northumberland where we still have red squirrels and I have some in my woodland. But the grey squirrel is moving north at a rate of about five miles per year. Will that advance be stopped?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I should be reluctant to claim that success. The grey squirrel came here only 100 years ago and there are now 2 million of them. The Government and the Forestry Commission are doing all that is possible but I cannot claim that it has been a highly successful programme so far.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, is the Minister aware that local authority pest officers trap grey squirrels which get into houses, where they cause a considerable amount of damage, in particular dangerous damage to wiring? The officers then very often release those grey squirrels into rural areas rather than destroying them painlessly. Will he ensure that that practice ceases and that, as pests, the squirrels are destroyed painlessly?
Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minster agree that we are in a ridiculous situation, as the noble Lord, Lord Shore, said? We have an EC directive which allows the use of Warfarin for use by humans and for
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, this is the longest that I have ever discussed squirrels in my entire life. It is not true that the European Union is banning the use of Warfarin. It is following the necessary procedure to license it as appropriate. That merely requires the data from the companies. That is a different situation.
It is more a job for the Forestry Commission than the Government but there is a positive attitude towards those companies and the commission is prepared to assist them in the data collection. The Forestry Commission is supporting a further extension of the consideration of that matter, but it has been considered for about five years. It arose at a working group of DGVI in December which then agreed to delay the matter again until next month. It has been delayed and it is our position that we support a further delay until July in the hope that the matter will then be resolved.
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