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Lord Swinfen: In his reply, can the Minister enlighten me on one point? The Bill says that the hunting of rats is exempt. Does that include the North American tree rat, commonly known as the grey squirrel?
Lord Whitty: I mean as part of an organised hunt. That is the point. The noble Earl is drawing an Alice-in-Wonderland and Through-the-Looking-Glass picture and is setting up an Aunt Sally that does not exist. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, rightly pointed out that there is no issue of hunting mice with packs, except in the noble Earl's garage. I suspect that even then there was no intent on the owner to organise a pack. Therefore, a dog chasing a squirrel, a dog chasing a mouse, or even a dog chasing a stoat is not part of the problem that the Bill is attempting to address. We are trying to limit packs that become organised and to limit the amount of hunting with dogs in that sense.
I am sure the noble Earl regards this as a logical extension. To throw up the issue of mice in this context is an attempt at satire by hima rather heavy-handed
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one. No packs of hounds are organised to chase mice, therefore, we are not dealing with that issue. At the margin, there could be for some of the other animals.
My expert advice on biology and legal matters is that a grey squirrel is not a rat; it is a squirrel. If necessary, I can elaborate on that in writing. I shall not go down the road of the travesty that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, portrays of how the Bill was dealt with in terms of time last time round. We have been over that ground already. He is wrong and I am right, but there we go.
Earl Ferrers: How can the noble Lord say that I am wrong and he is right when the Government decided to prevent proper parliamentary discussion on the Bill, truncated the whole matter and, in its place, produced a Bill enacted by the Parliament Act?
Lord Whitty: No one has used the Parliament Act. We are trying to avoid the deadlock in which the Parliament Act may become relevant, but so far in this Committee stage we are failing lamentably to do that. The last time around it was not the Government who finished the business. However, let us not go over all that ground again.
If necessary I shall reply in detail in writing to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on mink. The point on mink is that only a very small proportion of mink is accounted for through hunting. There was some dispute with my noble friend Lady Golding and Lord Hoyle about how much, but the estimate is that between 2.2 and 7.7 per cent of mink are actually accounted for through hunting. Trapping is recognised as the main means of controlling mink and is widely used by gamekeepers; there is also some shooting of mink. When there are many mink around, packs of good dogs catch at most one mink per hunt. Therefore, the vast majority of mink escape, so it is not a very efficient way of controlling mink. Other methods are not usually efficient, but they are more efficient than hunting.
Lord Whitty: I am not sure that the Government's policy on obesity is most efficiently dealt with by people chasing mink. I suspect there are rather more effective and indeed, I would venture, more pleasurable ways of getting thinner. We are straying rather wide of the amendment before the Committee.
This is a bit of an Aunt Sally. I shall reflect on the important points made in the debate, as I have said, but making these proposals, especially if they were put into the Bill and returned to the Commons, is simply another way of your Lordships aggravating the situation and probably ensuring that compromise is even further away.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: Would the Minister answer the question I put to him: if rabbits are a serious pest in some parts of the country, and hunting
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with dogs is a reasonably humane way of controlling them, why is the same not applicable to foxes, which in some parts are a serious pest?
Lord Whitty: I thought that this amendment dealt with mice, stoats and weasels and we are now on to foxes and rabbits. We could pursue this for some time, but the exemption for rabbits is to recognise the reality of the countryside. There are ways in which rabbits are caught and we want to give certain exemptions for the way in which rabbiting and ratting is actually carried out in the countryside. It is probably the only bit of hunting in which I have engaged. This is not a personal plea, but it recognises the reality that hunting rabbits is somewhat different, provided it is subject to reasonable limitations, from hunting foxes with organised packs of hounds. If your Lordships cannot see that, we have very little common understanding of the problem.
Lord Monson: Does the Minister agree that Schedule 1 of the Bill formally permits the hunting of rats with hounds? To my knowledge it has not happened so far, but it could happen in the future if no alternative quarry is available. Why does the schedule specifically permit the hunting of rats with hounds?
Earl Peel: I suppose there is a great danger that I will go down in history as the Peer who introduced hunting of mice into your Lordships Housea risk I have to take. It is not an Aunt Sally, as the Minister suggested. It is a very serious point. The noble Lord made an interesting observation. He said that there are no packs of hounds organised to hunt mice, therefore the issue is irrelevant. But, there are no packs of gun dogs bred to hunt hares and yet under the Bill, if more than two dogs chase a hare, an offence will be committed. I am sorry, but the noble Lord is being totally illogical in the response that he gave me.
The Minister referred again to the issue of intent. Clearly, this is at the heart of the whole matter. We shall have to study with great intentif I may use that wordwhether the Bill really deals with the issue. I do not believe that it does. My noble friend Lord Mancroft raised exactly the same point. If we can introduce sensible amendments that deal with the issue of intent, I believe that there may be a way forward in dealing with these ridiculous anomalies. If we cannot, then quite frankly, we are left in an awkward and ridiculous situation.
It is all very well the Minister hiding behind the fact that this is a Bill about hunting with hounds, but he is the Minister responsible for the countryside in your Lordships' House and he will have to live with the consequences of the Bill. I urge the Committee to think seriously. These are not Aunt Sallys; these are not irrelevant issues introduced to try to amuse people; they are serious points. I hope that the Minister will take them as such. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 68, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 70 and 77. I believe that my noble friend Lord Soulsby will speak to the other two amendments in the group. Under Schedule 1, relating to exemptions, paragraph 8 states:
There are further provisions in the paragraph, under the heading, "Rescue of wild mammal". Presumably, therefore, it is recognised by the Government that a reasonable reason for exemption is that one of the relevant wild mammals is injured.
Amendments Nos. 68, 70 and 77 would extend such an exemption for an injured mammal to an animal that has a disease. There are a number of reasons for that. We are awarewe have talked about the matter before in the Chamberthat within the fox population there has been an enormous increase in sarcoptic mange over the past 15 years. Like an injured animal, a diseased animal will often go to ground. So there is a need to deal with the issue.
If the Government accept that an injured animal needs to be put out of its misery, so indeed should a diseased animal. We now know, for exampleand we talked about this yesterdaythat because of the League Against Cruel Sports' incredibly irresponsible management of its deer sanctuary on Exmoor, we have a very significant reservoir of bovine tuberculosis infection in those deer in the west country. The deer are riddled with worm and are very weak, according to the vets' reports of the British Deer Society. The noble Lords' vets from Defra took part in meetings to discuss the issue. So there is a very serious problem with disease there.
We also have a problem with foxes having a disease. That needs to be dealt with. There are a number of hare diseases, most of which I cannot pronounce. I am not sure whether I would be able to recognise them. However, it is clear that those who know more about this matter than I believe that it is very important when these hares get diseases, which could have a very damaging effect on levels of population within localities, those responsible for their management have the ability to deal with them. So, it is very simple: the Government accept that injury to a wild mammal is a good reason for an exemption and all I suggest is that the illness of a wild mammal is an equally good reason for an exemption. I beg to move.
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