I accept the Burns report's conclusion. The Under-Secretary should read the sentence after the one that he has quoted, which states that:
It can, however, lead to temporary reductions in the mink population in specific localities.
I think that that conclusion was largely based on the report by Professor Macdonald and his colleagues, which says that hunting with mink hounds has enabled the mink population to be brought under a measure of control in areas where they are particularly damaging pests.
If the objective is to exterminate mink, following a reduction in the population by hunting, other methods of control such as trapping will also come into play. However, the scientists and Burns himself say that it would be very difficult to entirely eradicate mink.
I have tabled amendments Nos. 41 and 42 to offer the Government an alternative to the three earlier amendments, which seek to introduce exceptions for single species. However, having tabled those two amendments, I and other colleagues received a letter from the National Gamekeepers Organisation that drew my attention to something of which I was unaware: gamekeepers' use of dogs to control other species.
The writer of the letter, Mr. Nodder, refers in particular to stoats. He says that, in upland areas of Britain, up to a quarter of the stoats that gamekeepers kill are hunted with, and caught by, dogs. He describes stoat control using dogs as an essential measure for the conservation of wild birds. Paragraph 1 of schedule 3 would ban it. Stoats are Mustelids, and so are not subject to the rodent exception in paragraph 8. Mr. Nodder points out that, in some areas, grouse management—essential to upland conservation, yet already subject to severe pressures—would cease to be economically viable if stoat control became more difficult than at present.
I hope that the Government, having heard what hon. Members say, will reflect on the all-embracing nature of the offence described in paragraph 1. There is a strong case for them to consider either amendments Nos.1 to 3, which offer exemptions for certain categories of species, or amendments Nos. 41 and 42, which propose a scheme for the designation of excepted species. If the Government are unwilling to reconsider their current approach, I fear that those rural people for whose work in pest control is essential will be exposed to ambiguity and uncertainty over their risk of criminal prosecution. They might also be deprived of the means of carrying out pest control, which is essential for the successful continuation of rural enterprises such as those mentioned in the letter from the National Gamekeepers Organisation.