Moles

– in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 2nd February 2006.

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Photo of Lord Kimball Lord Kimball Conservative 11:00 am, 2nd February 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will seek derogation of the appropriate European directive to permit the use of strychnine for the control of moles after 6 September 2006.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, the Health and Safety Executive, as the UK competent authority, received a request for derogation from the Biocidal Products Directive from the industry on 12 January 2006 on the ground of "essential use". That is being considered. If a suitable case for derogation has been made, it will be put to the European Commission and the member states for consideration.

Photo of Lord Kimball Lord Kimball Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but it is not really good enough. There is an explosion of moles throughout England. On 6 September, licensed pest controllers could use only Phostoxin. It costs six times as much and is 10 times less efficient than worms dressed with strychnine. I hope that the derogation will continue.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, the noble Lord will understand that I can say very little at the moment because the matter is before the Health and Safety Executive. We acknowledge that strychnine is an effective means of control, but the over-riding considerations are of course the safety and humaneness of the chemical and the availability of alternatives.

Photo of Lord Marsh Lord Marsh Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is not simply a question of the chemical? I declare an interest as someone who spends a great deal of time trying to exterminate the velvet-clad monsters. They exist in very large numbers, and they produce large nurseries that are impossible to see. They will go straight through a tractor mower and throw people over—I have had experience of this, although not with me sitting on the mower—and there is no other way of controlling them.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, there is no doubt that they cause a lot of inconvenience to a lot of people. On the other hand, many people find them very agreeable animals, although sometimes more at a distance than close to. There are alternative methods, however; one is phosphide gas, which I am told is used widely in northern Europe to achieve the same rather grisly end.

Photo of Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer Spokesperson in the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, the Minister mentioned cost-effectiveness, but does he agree that, if we did not balance that with humane methods, we would not have the highest standards of animal welfare in our farmed animals of anywhere in the world, and that that is a major consideration when dealing with methods of controlling wildlife?

Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is a genuinely European question? My noble friend Lord Kimball mentioned the explosion of moles in England. My experience at my home in France is that there is a similar phenomenon there this year. It has never been as bad as it is this year, so what effort is the Minister making to get French support for this important derogation?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, I have not yet made any attempt to get French support. Given the noble Lord's comments, I shall ensure that we are on to the embassy straight away.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, I declare an interest as we have millions of moles. Why has there been this extraordinary increase in the past few years?

Photo of Viscount Montgomery of Alamein Viscount Montgomery of Alamein Crossbench

My Lords, is the Minister aware that another good method of control is old-fashioned traps? In domestic situations with which I am more familiar than other noble Lords, my wife some years ago became a considerable expert on this matter and was very successful, too. However, as we now have no grassland, she has retired and is not available for advice.

Photo of Lord Crickhowell Lord Crickhowell Conservative

My Lords, I declare an interest as one who employs a professional mole killer to try to deal with the plague of moles that do grave damage to the agricultural land around my property and then advance like a Napoleonic army into my garden. Is there any evidence that people have been hurt or injured in any way by the use of strychnine and that there is a threat to human safety? Can the Minister tell the House that he will take the matter very seriously?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that this is a serious matter for many farmers and for householders too. In some examples, strychnine has been considered to have been abused. One involved dogs and another foxes. In 2005, some other cases, which are not yet in the public domain, involved suggestions of abuse. This is a serious problem, but there are some cases in which strychnine has been abused.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour

My Lords, is this not a rather heavy-handed way of dealing with the problem from Whitehall?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, I am rather disappointed that my noble friend should think it is heavy. I thought the approach of Whitehall on this—waiting to see whether derogation was appropriate—was a light touch.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Shadow Minister (Food & Rural Affairs), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, following the suggestion that traps can be used to catch moles, does the Minister accept that in the pure agricultural sense it is impossible? You cannot put in enough traps, so it is not an option. Does the Minister not accept that it is a pity that the Government did not lobby earlier so that this suggestion was nipped in the bud?

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Farming, Food and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, I thought that I was going to agree with the noble Baroness. I agree with the first part of her question that traps are not suitable for farms. That is why we have used the method that we have and maybe we must look for another. I certainly do not accept for a moment that we have been tardy about this.

Photo of Lord Boston of Faversham Lord Boston of Faversham Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister accept that I do not usually regard myself as an excessively violent person, but like my noble friend Lord Marsh, I spend a certain amount of time trying to exterminate these creatures? Does the Minister know that there is a simple, small electronic cylindrical device which, if inserted into the ground, is very effective? When I heard about it, I was very sceptical.