New Clause 14 - Snares

Animal Welfare Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:17 pm on 26th January 2006.

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‘(1)Section 11 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (c. 69) (“the 1981 Act”) is amended.

(2)In subsection (1)(a)—

(a)after “position” insert “or otherwise uses”;

(b)the words “self-locking” are repealed;

(c)the words from “which” to the end of the paragraph are repealed.

(3)In subsection (1)(b), the words from the second “any” to “aforesaid,” are repealed.

(4)In subsection (2)(a), for the words “or snare” substitute “(but not a snare)”.

(5)After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A)Subject to the provisions of this Part, any person who—

(a)manufactures;

(b)is in possession of; or

(c)supplies, or offers or exposes for supply, whether by way of sale or otherwise,

a snare shall be guilty of an offence.”.

(6)Subsection (3) is repealed.

(7)In section 16(3) of the 1981 Act, after “11(1)” insert “(b), (c) and (except so far as relating to paragraph (a)) (d).”.’.—[Mr. Drew.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to move the new clause, but I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood has tabled new clause 15, so I shall be rapid. However, as this is probably the last time that I shall speak, I should like to thank you, Mr. Gale, and your co-Chairman Mrs. Humble, the Government, the Opposition and particularly my hon. Friend the Whip for allowing Back Benchers to have a voice, if not a vote—we shall wait for another day—on the new clauses. The Minister has listened carefully on a number of issues and, notwithstanding the previous   Division, when some of us would have preferred to vote with our hearts, there is a reason why we shall vote with the Government.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

Order. That has nothing whatever to do with the new clause. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to get on with it.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I will get on with it. That was the nice bit; now for the nasty bit.

I abhor snares: they are a dreadful way of capturing animals. By chance, I was with a group of farmers last Friday and they concurred. They hated snares and thought that they were the worst possible way to capture animals. Snares are not humane and if there were any alternative methods of dealing with the problem—I say “if”, but I seek guidance from the Minister—they would be used.

In speaking to the new clause, I make no apology to the League Against Cruel Sports or Naturewatch, both of which have written to me to say that they feel as strongly as I do. Time is against us, so I will not go through a lot of detailed arguments, but I will say that the debate is very current. Everyone knows that because, as those of us who face the dreadful problem of bovine TB are aware, if the Government agree to a greater culling policy, which is not my preferred choice, they are seriously considering using snares for that purpose.

We are presumably talking about pets being the major beneficiaries of the Bill, because there are other means of protecting wild animals. However, farmers do not like snares for the simple reason that any animal can get caught in one. Snares are not discriminatory; they are cruel. The reply that I received today from the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), made it clear that the Department have already put in place a code of practice. I shall look at the code, but I would like to think that we would go further. It is interesting that the Department also conducted further research to look for a more humane snare. The code of practice cannot be sufficient if, at the same time, we are looking for a more humane way of using snares.

I have mentioned suffering. Voluntary codes do not work—the Government already have a voluntary code but they are still conducting research. As I said, snares are indiscriminate. That is something that we shall face as the issue recurs and it is something on which we need to have a view here, even if we do not have the opportunity to deal with it—I am sure that the Minister will say that this is not the appropriate place.

Finally, snares are deeply unpopular, not only with farmers but with the public. In a MORI poll of 2,053 respondents in 2003, some 79 per cent. of the population—if that figure is meaningful—were against the use of the snares. That is substantial, but we do not need to rely on the general public; we can ask hon. Members. Up until 16 January, 222 hon. Members had signed an early-day motion standing in my name. If one takes out Front Benchers—the hon. Member for Leominster screws his face up at that—that is a substantial number.

People do not like snares. They want to know that the Government are considering at least an alternative, if not a complete ban. I believe that snares should be banned. We are behind other parts of Europe and other parts of the world in that regard. We have already had a debate about the reality as compared with what is said to be the reality, but the fact is that other parts of Europe do not use snares—they do not encourage the use of snares.

Photo of James Paice James Paice Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I just want to put one question to the hon. Gentleman. I understand the points that he is making and I accept that snares are unpopular. If set in accordance with the code, a snare is not particularly indiscriminate, and if a properly set snare does catch an animal of a non-target species, it can be released. However, the main point that I want to put to him is that the House decided—rightly or wrongly, depending on people’s views—to ban fox hunting. That leaves only a small number of ways to control foxes. Lamping is the one frequently discussed, but there is also snaring and live trapping. Live trapping is immensely difficult, as anyone who tries to catch rural foxes by that method finds. That only leaves snaring. In many areas of the country, lamping with a high-powered rifle is unsafe. That is particularly so near built-up areas. I would like the hon. Gentleman to tell the Committee how he believes foxes could be controlled in such areas if people could not use a rifle and if he was successful in banning snares.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

That is a useful intervention. My answer is that lamping and trapping should be used, because they are more humane and better methods. There is a lot of argument about efficiency. We have the voluntary code, but I put it to the Minister that it would be useful to see the evidence behind the evolution of the policy on this matter. The Government have a policy; they have to have a policy in recognition of the problems with bovine TB. I am asking the Government to be completely clear and to say what they are doing, how they are doing and what plans they have if they intend to use snares. My position is clear—I do not agree with snares—but there should be accountability, and the Bill provides an opportunity in that regard. This is not an area in which things can easily be licensed, which is my problem.

I agree with what the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) said in his intervention, but the problem is that, for every person who knows how to set a snare, there are many others who do not. They set illegal snares and are happy to see animals suffer. I say that because they must know if they put down such a snare that the chances are that an animal will be caught in it, regardless of whether it is the one that they intended to catch or one that is indiscriminately caught. That is the problem. Snaring is not a science; it is something that people do because they think that it is an effective means of catching an animal. I question that.

I am glad to be able to propose the new clause. I am sure that the debate will not go away but will take place again on Report. I would like to know from the   Minister what the Government are doing, what they plan to do and, at the very least—to try to mitigate my worries—what additional controls they will impose so that we do not have snaring taking place as it does, which is completely unacceptable in this day and age.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare)

I have to disappoint my hon. Friend: the Government do not plan to ban snares. I am sure he accepts that what most people consider to be snares—self-locking snares—are already illegal. We do not intend to ban snares because wildlife in the countryside needs to be managed and pests need to be controlled. He cites public opinion surveys. I have to tell him that many people who respond to such surveys just do not like the idea that animals need to be managed and pests sometimes need to be controlled. I suspect that the surveys he cited reflect that and that if those people were asked whether they would rather the animals be poisoned or another, less humane means of dispatch used, they would be even more unhappy. If they had a greater understanding of the need to control some pests, they might respond in a slightly more nuanced way.

My hon. Friend asked what the Government were doing. As he acknowledged, we have just published a good, updated code of practice, which applies to snares. Some of the cases he cited would be in breach of the code and therefore prosecutable. He also cited an answer given to a question he put to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset, who is responsible for this area, which laid out in some detail what the Government are doing. It mentioned the research that we are doing into restraints in the event that they need to be used in relation to bovine TB.

I would not want to close that door because, if a decision is made on such matters, the alternatives may be less attractive to my hon. Friend and those who care about animal welfare. Given what the Government are doing, the fact that we take care constantly to determine how updating can be made as welfare-friendly as possible, and that there is a need to control pests, I ask him not to press the motion.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud 3:30 pm, 26th January 2006

I listened very carefully to the Minister; obviously I am not at one with my Front-Bench colleagues on the matter. It is not appropriate to press the motion to a vote now, but I shall reintroduce it on Report. I am sure that others feel as strongly as I do about it. Snares are something that we can do without in the 21st century. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.