Lord Willoughby de Broke (Conservative)
The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, said that the amendment weakened the Bill. That is not right. The Minister Alun Michael's own definition of "utility" was clearly expressed in a letter to the campaign for hunting. He said:
"'Utility' addresses the need for particular activities, particularly in the work of land and wildlife managers. It might be described as the need or usefulness of an activity for vermin control, wildlife management, habitat protection, land management and conservation".
Rather than weakening the Bill, the amendment strengthens it and returns it to the Minister's original intention. It would seem sensible to return that to the face of the Bill.
The only other matter upon which I seek clarification regarding the second part of the amendment, relates to a second test for registration and, as my noble friend Lord Mancroft said, is almost impenetrable. There are other ways of controlling the fox population. Could the Minister state the Government's preferred method of controlling foxes? It may vary according to territory, but, surely, fox hunting is part of the mix. That is what farmers believe—and I declare an interest as a farmer. We should have a mix of methods to control the fox population—unless the Government's line, which I have not heard them, or anyone in this House, suggest, is that foxes should be a protected species. I do not know whether that is the Government's view, but if foxes are not protected, they must be controlled—let us not mince our words, killed—in one way or another.
Lamping finds favour in some quarters, but the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, points out the difficulties of lamping. We have recently seen that a person has been killed and two seriously wounded when high powered rifles have been used in the wrong way, at the wrong time in the wrong areas. The Government's thrust is to discourage people from using high powered weapons. It is much more difficult to obtain a firearms licence.
Shotguns are also widely used for this purpose, but, since the Burns report, the "middle way" supporters have produced an authoritative report, that is undergoing peer review, showing that control of foxes with shotguns brings its own problems of serious wounding, unless it is carried out in the correct manner with the right weight of shot, at the right distance and in the right conditions. That, too, has its problems.
My noble friend Lord Peel mentioned snaring in his speech yesterday. If it is properly controlled it could be a suitable way of proceeding, but Mr Michael said that he deplored snaring, which is extremely cruel. Even my noble friend Lord Peel admitted that if snaring was not appropriately done, it could be cruel. It is also non-selective. It does not choose only foxes. Anything can walk into a snare, whether a dog, cat, badger or anything else.
I should like to hear the preferred alternative of people who wish to ban hunting. What method should be undertaken and why do they support that above controlling foxes by hunting?