My Lords, I support the amendment so ably moved by the noble Earl, Lord Peel. I join him in emphasising that we are not here talking about hunting in the traditional sense of the word, as something which other people do for pleasure; we are talking about using terriers to flush out animals which are causing serious damage. This is purely a practical, pest control activity to get rid of animals—foxes in particular—which are causing serious damage. As the noble Earl has said, the curious thing is that, at the moment, the exemption is restricted to serious damage to game birds or wild birds which are kept or preserved for the purposes of being shot. It does not include any form of livestock, particularly lambs, or highly desirable birds such as curlews and others that the noble Earl mentioned, which are preserved purely because they are admirable things to have and not for shooting.
This is a very curious distinction, as was pointed out in an admirable letter in Farmers Weekly last week. It said that it is all right to put a terrier underground to kill a fox to preserve his Lordship's pheasants, but it is not all right to put a terrier underground to preserve his tenant farmers' lambs—to which one could add, "or to preserve the RSPB's highly protected birds". Some people have suggested that the Bill is somewhat motivated by class prejudice, but it seems upside down that that class prejudice should now protect his Lordship's pheasants but not his tenant farmers' lambs. I speak as somebody who rears pheasants, but, thank goodness for my bank balance, no longer rears lambs.
The situation is, quite frankly, ridiculous, and these amendments must be right. The noble Earl quoted some figures. I venture to suggest to the Minister who wrote that letter that to say to any producer, "You can wear with equanimity the loss of 2 per cent of your gross product while doing nothing about it" is curious. The theory that we should sacrifice 360,000 lambs a year to protect a few foxes again seems a rather curious exercise in the protection of animals from cruelty or in terms of animal welfare.
I suggest that the logic of the amendments is overwhelming, and I commend them to your Lordships.