Wildlife Crime — [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:07 pm on 20th March 2019.

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Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart Conservative, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire 3:07 pm, 20th March 2019

Like a few others present in the Chamber, I bear the scars of the 700 hours it took, in one capacity or another, to pass the Hunting Act 2004, which was introduced by the former Labour Government and described by the League Against Cruel Sports as the most successful wild mammal legislation in England and Wales. It seems that a lot has changed since then, as the organisation has discovered what it considers to be the Act’s flaws, and I want to touch on that briefly.

There was a reason why the Hunting Act 2004 ended up as it did: the then Labour Government and the Ministers responsible for it recognised that it was not as simple as it seemed. Considerations relating to management control and humane control—wildlife management considerations—needed to be incorporated into the Act. The Labour Government completely understood that the idea that the legislation was ever going to be a blanket ban on the killing and control of foxes was unfeasible. Now, 15 years on, we are talking about what seem to the outside world to be various anomalies. I refer hon. Members back to the reasons we ended up in that place the first time—because of the complex way in which rural Britain interacts with wild, unhusbanded animals.

As a former employee of the Countryside Alliance and its current chairman, I should declare an interest and say that I am not here to try to justify the unjustifiable, or to try to promote or excuse lawlessness in any way. I absolutely share the concerns of Christian Matheson about things such as illegal hare coursing and how that can be dealt with. I am realistic and hope that the organisation I have been involved with for many years is very keen to play a positive role in dealing with these issues in a proportionate and evidence-based way.

I want to touch on a few things that were mentioned earlier. On the question of raptors, I hope I can persuade Opposition Members that, as the Labour party has indeed recognised over many years, shooting plays a really important part in the upland management of the UK. That applies not only to biodiversity—that is not contested in any way—but to economic benefits and the benefits of the production of good quality, healthy food in the food chain. Before we write off everybody involved in upland management as a raptor persecutor, we must note that the vast majority recognise that that is a crime that needs to stop and they will co-operate with anybody who wishes to address that problem.

I should point out one of the complexities. The problems are just as apparent in areas that are not managed for shooting, such as the Isle of Man and the Isle of Skye—where huge attempts have been made to get hen harriers to breed again—as on managed uplands on the mainland where shooting does occur. We should treat with caution the assumption that the problem happens only on managed grouse moors.

Finally, as far as hunting is concerned, I could go on for a great deal more than the 42 seconds I have left, but I will simply say this. The idea that all of the so-called problems can be cured simply by adjusting the hunting techniques, which was recommended by the Labour party and the League Against Cruel Sports when the Hunting Act went through, is a naive approach to an exaggerated problem. Trail hunting takes place on more than 25,000 occasions a year. The evidence, which might be good evidence, suggesting that there is a widespread problem exaggerates the problem. Whether it is raptor control or hunting, the best approach is a co-operative one involving the governing bodies of the organisations in question.