§ 1.21 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Houghton of Sowerby.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD MURTON OF LINDISFARNE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 [Amendment of s.8 of Badgers Act 1973]:
Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 27, leave out ("have been reasonably") and insert ("reasonably have been").
§ The noble Lord said: The amendment appearing in my name and in that of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, represents a triumph of hope over experience. Never before in experience have both names appeared on the Order Paper on a subject of this kind. It represents an enormous amount of conciliatory work and discussion between the various interests concerned, both in the later stages of the passage of the Bill through another place and also since it came here. The Committee will notice that as soon as the subject of badgers comes forward for debate there is an influx into the Chamber of noble Lords who have an interest in the Bill. We welcome that larger audience.
§ Tribute must be paid to all the parties concerned in what has been referred to in the course of this business as the coalition. Never despise coalitions! Sometimes they produce something unobtainable by any other means except after conflict, controversy and other tragic differences.
§ Amendment No. 1 is an almost hair splitting amendment. The words I move to be substituted for those on page 1, line 27 comply with the statutory form. From the point of view of uniformity there is a difference between the version in the Bill and the version in the amendment. In place of the words "have been reasonably" we seek to insert the words 376 "reasonably have been". I do not imagine that there will be any huge controversy over the amendment. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 3 [Extension of general exceptions]:
Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, line 3, leave out ("(c)") and insert ("(a), (c) or (e)").
§ The noble Lord said In Clause 3 we come to the exemptions. We have to be clear that we now come to the amendments which are designed to secure the full assent and goodwill of those who represent the viewpoint of the British Field Sports Society and other organisations that are fond of the sports of the field. I need scarcely say that this Bill seeks to afford greater protection to the badger, and not to make it easier for the huntsman; still less to enable huntsmen to do any damage to badgers. It seeks to give the badger more protection. We are carrying the protection further than any statute has carried it before. That leads to a consequence with which these amendments try to deal.
§ Until now guidelines have offered the basis of what the hunts may do for their own purposes which would not be regarded by the statute law as contravening the law. We offer no opinion about the nature of the activity itself. What we agree to do is to accommodate to the utmost possible extent the need to define precisely in the statute what those who are given exemption under Clause 3 may or may not do. We have not attempted this before. It means that we have to be most precise about what may appear on the face of it to be a lot of tiddly detail.
§ For example, when the Bill grants exemption to certain people in certain circumstances temporarily to stop up a badger sett, it can be done only with certain materials. A good deal of argument takes place on the use of the words "clean loose straw". Why should it be clean? Is that not an affront to noble men and women in the hunting world who want to stop up the badger's sett for a time? Surely it will be clean. However, if one takes out the word "clean", one can draw the inference that the straw might not be as clean as people would wish. We have thought of a new word that is agreeable—untainted. That is the finesse that we are having to employ in these amendments in order to meet that point of view.
§ The Bill seeks to stop people destroying badgers and their habitat and interfering with their normal life. It does not seek to stop people hunting. It does not seek to stop practices which hunts have enjoyed by tradition and by guidelines over the years. We are defining what may be done to safeguard what are thought to be the interests of those who want to enjoy hunting and not to carry their rights further nor to take any away. We seek merely to get the matter clearly defined in statute law. We have to do so, otherwise the hunt will be at risk under the precise terms of Clause 1.
§ When one looks at Clause 1 and takes note of what may not now be done, one can see that it would be possible for some ill-disposed people to say that the hunt was infringing the law. That would be the 377 position unless there is a clause in the Bill which clearly defines what it may do. That is the aim of this string of amendments.
Amendment No. 2 is purely a drafting amendment. By virtue of Amendment No. 3, we seek to insert the words,
takes no action other than obstructing such entrances".
It will be seen that we even have to deal with entrances. I have already dealt with the content of Amendment No. 4. It proposes to leave out the words, "clean loose" and insert the word "untainted". Amendment No. 5 is identical in respect of page 2, line 13.
§ I turn now to Amendment No. 6. This deals with a technical but important point. It defines who should authorise the activity under the Bill. The words we propose to insert have been agreed all round. It is also thought desirable that a register should be kept by the authorities mentioned in the amendment as regards those who have been given authority. We must be very careful and precise about the matter. If we have an authority which is transferable and negotiable put into circulation, we shall have some very unsavoury characters walking about stopping up setts and doing other things at the same time. Therefore, the authority which is given has to be identifiably in the hands of those who may exercise the rights in the field which the authority gives them. It is with great pleasure that I propose this group of amendments. I beg to move.
§ 1.30 p.m.
I should like to express my support for the amendments, as my name is associated with them. As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, made clear, the reason the amendments have been tabled in our joint names is that the sporting groups were able to come to a satisfactory arrangement with the proposers of the Bill. Indeed, as the noble Lord said, this is probably the first time that that has happened. I believe that that underlines the determination of the sporting lobby not to be associated with the practices which the Bill attempts to rule out.
Perhaps I may go through the amendments in detail from the opposite side of the coin, so to speak, to the one shown us by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I shall start first with Amendment No. 2. The reason we wanted to insert paragraphs (a) and (e) in addition to paragraph (c) of Section 2(3) of the Badgers Act 1973, which is in the Bill at present, as an exemption, was that we came to the conclusion that it would be almost impossible legally to stop a badger sett without causing some small damage in terms of footprints, the odd leaf broken off, grass trodden down, or whatever it might be. Not, I may add, that we wish to allow people seriously to damage a sett in any way but it is really impossible to walk over a sett or move over one at any time without causing some damage. Moreover, it seemed to us that if the wild badger was in the sett at the time when it was stopped, it would be technically impossible to move around a few feet above a badger, so to speak, without in some 378 way disturbing the animal. I did take the point that it would be very difficult to ask the badger whether he had been disturbed.
However, it was insinuated in an earlier report that an examination of the time badgers come out at night showed that, if the setts were stopped, that sometimes affected the amount of time a badger would spend outside at night and the time it came out. I must admit that that seems to me to be pretty obscure. But the reason we require this defence, which would possibly not be required for reasonable people, was that we had to bear in mind the fact that some of those who seek to make life difficult for hunting people are not reasonable. Therefore, it seemed that we would need every safeguard possible to ensure that hunts did not constantly face tiresome and pointless litigation. I am delighted to say that the coalition was able to recognise those arguments and accept the amendment.
Amendment No. 3 was proposed by the coalition on the basis that there was evidence to show that in the stopping of a sett—I believe it was in Scotland at some time—an earth stopper had actually jumped up and down on top of it and caused the tunnel to cave in. Again, I find that quite obscure, although I believe it, if that is what was thought to be the case. Therefore, we included this amendment to make it quite clear that the only thing permitted was proper earth stopping or sett stopping, as it is now called, and not jumping around on the top of setts. That is probably bad for the health of the badger which people may be jumping on, but possibly equally so for the health of the person who might be doing the jumping about.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 were clearly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. It seemed to us it would be very difficult to define exactly what is "clean" straw. In fact, there is a school of thought which would say that no straw is ever really clean. There is also the word "loose" to consider. The coalition wished to ensure—and we quite agreed with this—that people should not use straw which had been soaked in kerosene, petrol or anything of that nature. Therefore, the word "untainted" came to mind. It seems to fit in with the wording of the Bill.
Amendment No. 6 deals with the proposed registration scheme. As the Bill stands at present, the earth stopper would only need the "consent" of the landowner. That would be very much against the interests of the tenant farmer or indeed of the occupier with sporting rights. That accounts for the change of the word "consent" to "authority". It is merely an accepted and more useful term in law.
At present, the only hunts that can earth stop and register as earth stoppers are the hunts recognised by the Masters of Fox Hounds Association. The association was happy only up to a certain point. It does not in fact recognise all hunts. The fell packs which hunt very much in sheep country in the Lake District have their own committee. It is known as the Central Committee of Fell Packs, and it is now proposed that it should be included in the Bill. Some harrier packs also hunt the fox. They are now recognised by their own association, the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles. However, more important than those details was the fact that it was 379 really impossible for the central associations to keep such a register. There are many hundreds, possibly thousands, of earth stoppers throughout the country. It is quite impossible for the associations, which have no legal standing as such, to keep these very complicated registers. Moreover, it would not be very efficient because, due to the thousands of people involved, it would be very difficult to keep them up to date. It would be much more efficient for the hunts to keep such registers. We are very pleased that the coalition was able to recognise that fact and to accept these proposals. It is with that in mind that I attached my name to these amendments. I hope that they will be accepted by the Committee.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendments Nos. 3 to 6:
Page 2, line 5, after ("he") insert ("takes no action other than obstructing such entrances,").
Page 2, line 9, leave out ("clean loose") and insert ("untainted").
Page 2, line 13, leave out ("clean loose") and insert ("untainted").
Page 2, leave out lines 16 to 18 and insert ("and that the person is so doing with the authority of the landowner or occupier and is authorised by a Hunt recognised by the Masters of Fox Hounds Association, the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles or the Central Committee of Fell Packs, which Hunt shall keep a register of all such persons.").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 2, line 20, after ("a") insert ("badger").
§ The noble Lord said: This is purely a technical amendment. The word "sett" is used. We want it to be clear that we are talking about a badger sett. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 4 [Amendment of s.9 of Badgers Act 1973]:
§ The noble Viscount said: I am speaking on behalf of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. The aim of the amendment is to ensure that the licensing provision in Clause 4 relating to the interference with a badger sett for the purpose of development applies in Scotland as well as in England and Wales. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord St. John of Bletso: moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 2, line 49, at end insert:
("(j) for the purpose of the preservation, or archaeological investigation, of a monument scheduled under section 1 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, to interfere with a badger sett within an area specified in the licence by any means so specified.").
§ The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 10. The amendment proposes that the Nature Conservancy Council, otherwise known as English Nature, should be empowered to grant licences for the purpose of protecting scheduled ancient monuments from the activities of badgers. English Heritage is concerned that if the Bill, as drafted, becomes law, it will be impossible to prevent badgers from causing damage to ancient monuments. There would also be a risk that archaeological investigations necessary to inform the appropriate management of ancient monuments would be hindered. The licences granted would specify methods of treating setts in such a way as to deal humanely with badgers while protecting archaeological remains, without detriment to the badgers themselves.
§ Badgers can cause damage to ancient monuments in two principal ways. The first is by physical disturbance to visible earthworks such as burial mounds, hill forts and motte and bailey castles which in extreme cases can lead to substantial collapse of field monuments. Secondly, badgers can cause disturbance to below ground stratified archaeological deposits and artifacts which preserve important information about the past can also be affected. Those deposits need careful scientific investigation if they are to release their evidence, and disruption by badgers destroys their significance and potential.
§ It is possible to protect ancient monuments from disturbance by badgers by humane methods. The most common is the installation of one-way badger gates and badger-proof fences which encourage badgers to establish setts elsewhere. Licensing by English Nature would allow care to be exercised so as not to disturb badgers from breeding and in other sensitive seasons. It is not English Heritage's intention to harm badgers or to obstruct the principal objectives of the Bill.
§ The amendment is highly selective, being limited to those ancient monuments of national importance which are protected by being scheduled as ancient monuments. There are currently about 13,000 scheduled monuments throughout England (about 3 per cent. of the country's known resources of archaeological sites). I do not believe that the amendment is controversial. I beg to move.
§ 1.45 p.m
§ Lord Jeffreys
I support the amendment. It has been drafted to protect ancient monuments scheduled under Section 1 of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. It is not aimed at obstructing the Bill's principal objective.
The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, briefly mentioned several ways in which badgers can damage ancient monuments. It is worth noting a few examples of scheduled monuments where badger disturbance has been reported. They include Canyke Castle on Bodmin Moor, which is an Iron Age settlement; Stouting Castle, a Norman motte and bailey in Kent; Little Abbey, a prehistoric earthwork in Alveston in the County of Avon; and also a burial mound near Maiden Castle in Dorset.
381 While I do not wish to foster any thoughts of complacency, the badger, his culture and his chattels are not under threat of extinction. That is a great deal more than can be said of those ancient British tribes, the Romans and the medieval ancestors of some of your Lordships. For those reasons, I support the amendment and hope that the Committee will feel able to do the same.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I have pleasure in accepting the amendments. I cannot emphasise too strongly that the Bill is designed to protect badgers and not to do unacceptable harm elsewhere. Our main purpose is to make it difficult for the diggers and baiters to carry on their evil activities. We want co-operation in that. Legitimate exemptions and other attempts to safeguard material outside the badger's life are all well and good. We shall co-operate in those attempts, and so I have pleasure in accepting the amendments.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord St. John of Bletso moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 3, line 2, leave Out ("or (i)") and insert ("(i) or (j)").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 3, line 7, after ("Council") insert ("for England, the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland or the Countryside Council for Wales").
§ The noble Lord said: The amendment is purely literal. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
The Earl of Swinton moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 3, line 10, at end insert:
("(h) at the end there is inserted—
(6) Subject to the following subsections the licensing a authority shall grant a licence to any authorised person a authorising him to interfere with a badger sett for the purpose of controlling foxes or rabbits on agricultural land, common land or moorland.
(7) A licence issued under subsection (6) above shall not permit any person—
(8) A licence issued under subsection (6) above shall have effect from 1st February to 30th June inclusive each year.
(9) The licensing authority, in consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council for England, or the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland, or the Countryside Council for Wales, as appropriate, may issue guidance to authorised persons as to best practice to ensure compliance with subsection (7) above.
(10) For the purposes of subsections (6) to (9) above, "authorised person" means an authorised person as defined in section 27(1) (a) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, save that a person who is neither the owner or occupier of the land on which the action authorised is taken, nor his employee, shall not be so authorised unless his name is first registered with the licensing authority.
(11) The licensing authority shall have the power to refuse the issue of a licence or to revoke a licence issued to any person under subsection (6) above if, having
regard to that person's character and conduct, the licensing authority considers that he is not a suitable person to hold such a licence.
(12) For the purposes of subsections (6) to (10) above, the licensing authority shall be the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or, in Scotland, the Secretary of State."").
§ The noble Earl said: The amendment tries to tackle the somewhat controversial question of licensing. It is designed to try to help fox control in our upland areas. Foxes are a pest in those areas. They take lambs and ground-nesting birds. The damage foxes do to hill farmers at lambing time will be obvious to the Committee; so I should like to concentrate upon the other and lesser known side of the issue—the damage foxes do to ground-nesting birds.
§ I am not speaking solely on behalf of the grouse, although both red and black grouse are affected by foxes. A number of attractive birds such as curlew, green and golden plover, snipe, redshank and merlin, to name but a few, are at risk from foxes. Moorland gamekeepers play an important role in the conservation of those species.
§ Foxes and badgers tend to move about in those areas. They also tend to share the same holes. It is therefore difficult for shepherds and gamekeepers to tell which of the species is in residence at any one time. The setts, or earths, can take many forms and on the open moors natural cover may often comprise rock piles with miles of interconnecting passages. To place such areas out of bounds to gamekeepers and farmers would be an utter nonsense.
§ Moorland gamekeepers do not seek deliberately to destroy badgers or their setts. Badgers generally do better on sporting estates because of the protection offered by the keepers than they do on non-sporting estates. There are many instances of badger baiters being apprehended by gamekeepers. I was talking to a rather distinguished Northern moorland gamekeeper the other day, and I had better paraphrase what he said to me. He said, "Don't you realise that the last thing we want to do is to risk one of our terriers, if we think there might be a badger present? A terrier nowadays costs between £250 and £300. We would not risk it if we thought there might be a badger in the sett".
I must say a little about the system of individual licences issued by MAFF which has been mooted. That would be not be an appropriate way in which to deal with the difficulties. MAFF is notoriously slow in issuing licences. My noble friend Lord Mancroft received a letter from my noble friend Lady Trumpington on this very point. She was writing about licences under the Badgers Act, referring to the delays which occurred. At the end of her comments about the delays, she wrote:
Nevertheless, under normal circumstances we would expect a licence to be issued within a couple of weeks".
Hill foxes are transitory animals and a delay of even one hour is too long. The foxes have moved somewhere else. A day is out of the question and a couple of weeks, in my humble opinion, is complete nonsense. It would just not be practicable.
§ I asked the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, to look on this amendment with some compassion and favour. Personally, I do not believe 383 that it goes far enough. I should like to see licences covering the entire year. There is a little give on this because the amendment would protect both lambs in the lambing time and the period up to that, and ground nesting birds at their most vulnerable time when they are nesting and having chicks.
§ On the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, I was impressed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, say that the Bill was to protect badgers, not to do harm elsewhere. I feel strongly that if the measure goes through unamended, it will do enormous harm to our moorland areas, quite unintentionally, by preventing keepers going about their necessary work and leaving a large number of our most beautiful birds open to depredation from foxes. I hope that in a spirit of co-operation, the noble Lord will accept the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Tryon
I was not here for the Second Reading as unfortunately I had to be abroad, but I assure the Committee that I shall not take advantage of the opportunity on a Friday afternoon to make a Second Reading speech. I thoroughly support the principle of the Bill. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, remembers my father. On our land in Wiltshire he and I have always extended protection of badgers up to the standards that the Bill requires. There is no problem with that at all. I should certainly not be a party to any attempt to water down protection of badgers. Subsection (7) of the amendment repeats the aim of the Bill that no harm should come to them.
However, what concerns me are the knock-on effects mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, on the very necessary pest control that has to be carried out in the countryside. I am not a fox hunter but those who are would not like foxes to be described as pests. However, in many parts of the country they certainly are, particularly in the uplands which the noble Earl described. Also, in many parts of the country, fox hunting control can no longer be exercised for one reason or another; for example, in areas adjacent to electric railways, motorways and so on. It is therefore necessary that foxes should be controlled in many places. The law recognises this because, so far as I am aware, it offers no protection to foxes anywhere.
Rabbits are also on the increase; they are almost back to plague proportions in many parts of the country. They must be controlled, as is again recognised by law. Without that control, arable farming would become virtually impossible. It is unfortunate but true that both these animals are often found in close proximity to badger setts. The process of controlling them can cause minor disturbance. In my experience, they do not share the same burrows as badgers. Rabbits would be frightened to try to live in the same burrow as a badger; they might get eaten by it. Foxes are turfed out by badgers. They do not like sharing their burrow. Nevertheless, these animals are often found in abandoned parts of badger setts where large, convenient holes exist for them to use if the badgers do not wish to use them at that time. The amendment tries to deal with the problem.
384 As the noble Earl said, we have confined the operation of the amendment concerning licences to the period of the year when foxes do most damage to lambs and ground nesting birds. The noble Earl mentioned several species. A rare stone curlew nest in Wiltshire was recently destroyed—probably by foxes. The birds are heavily protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. February, March and also perhaps April are the prime months for rabbit control. That is the time of year when vegetation is at its lowest, the holes can easily be found and the rabbits dealt with. In the spring, the undergrowth comes up and it is hard to find rabbit holes. Many rabbits start living above ground. The amendment covers that point quite well.
This is a reasonable little amendment. It poses no threat to the life of any badger but merely seeks to enable pest control—which remains necessary—to be exercised as it has been for hundreds of years. Like the noble Earl, I was greatly encouraged by the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord St. John of Bletso, that the Bill is to protect badgers and not to cause any problem elsewhere. This is an area where I believe it causes minor problems and I very much hope that the Committee will accept the amendment.
§ The Earl of Radnor
I wish to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Swinton. From the farming standpoint, I too feel that the amendment is too gentle. The period from 1st February to June is very short to deal with a real problem. I am absolutely on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, being pro-badger. The last thing in the world I wish to do is to harm their setts or disturb them in any way. It is unfortunate that foxes, badgers and, to a certain extent, rabbits live in the same place. It is not just rabbits that are experiencing a population explosion. The rabbit is, however, a survivor species, as is the fox. The fox is doing very nicely as regards its population size not only in the countryside but also in towns. I do not accept that all the damage caused by foxes and rabbits occurs in the uplands. Many Members of the Committee have spoken about the situation in the uplands today, but landowners in the lowlands can sometimes suffer even more damage.
I was unable to be present on Second Reading but I read the debate in Hansard. Much emphasis was placed on the position of sheep farmers in the uplands of Wales. Today reference has been made to wild birds. Distressing examples have been given of the damage the fox does both to sheep and to wild birds. In those cases foxes must be destroyed. However, I do not believe anyone has made the point that in response to market forces and to a certain extent to the anti-cruelty lobby more and more people are keeping poultry out of doors. The free-range egg has caught on in stores such as Marks and Spencers. People believe it is the healthiest egg they can eat. I believe the Committee accepts that the battery system and the broiler system are not kind ways of keeping fowls. I believe that more and more people will raise their hens out of doors and the damage done by foxes will increase, particularly in the lowlands. If we do not accept this amendment, we shall do a grave disservice to farmers. In the latest issue of Farmers Weekly it was 385 estimated that rabbits cause £10 million-worth of damage a year. I believe that that is an underestimate for my part of the world. I hope the Committee will accept the amendment.
§ 2 p.m
§ Lord. Mancroft
I remind the Committee and the mover s of the amendment that on Second Reading in this Chamber I and several others drew attention to the fact that possibly the weakest area of the Bill was that relating to the licensing system. The Government will have the responsibility of administering the licensing system. It is worth mentioning that we are now at the Committee stage in this Chamber, and the Bill has passed through all its stages in another place. So far, neither the Government nor the proposers of the Bill have brought forward any concrete proposals on how licensing will work. In their defence, I think it is fair to say that this matter was not considered quite so thoroughly in another place as in this Chamber. However, it was clear that licensing would constitute a problem. It would be sad if this Bill were to fail because the Government had not succeeded in reaching a satisfactory conclusion on how licences are to work. Licences form an intrinsically important part of the Bill. An entire clause of this short Bill is devoted to licences.
I hope that a satisfactory proposition can be put forward today, as it is quite clear that sheep farmers in the uplands and the lowlands and the preservers of game and other wildlife in the upland areas are dissatisfied with the present situation. It is worth reiterating what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said at the start of this afternoon's proceedings. The fox hunting lobby and other field sports interests have concluded that in other areas the Bill is satisfactory. It would be very sad, having come this far, to have this large gap in the smile of the Bill. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and my noble friend Lord Swinton will come to a satisfactory arrangement on this matter. Licences must be allocated but the way they are dealt with in the Bill at present leaves them to the discretion of the Ministry. That does not appear satisfactory to the movers of this amendment. The amendment seeks obligations and safeguards in this respect. I do not know whether that is satisfactory to the proposers of the Bill, but I hope that it will be.
Having read the amendment carefully, I believe it contains sufficient safeguards. However, the Committee will have to determine whether that is the case. I cannot advise the Committee what it should do on this amendment but I believe that licences now constitute the most important part of the Bill. The licensing system as currently outlined is unacceptable to farmers and to the preservers of game in various parts of the country. Therefore we must get this part of the Bill sorted out.
§ Lord Addington
I wish to reiterate the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. Even someone like myself who is not directly concerned with countryside matters or farming realises that some provision must be made for the control of foxes and rabbits. There are too many of them in certain areas and they are 386 threatening other forms of wildlife. That situation is a direct result of our destruction of the natural balance in our countryside. Therefore we must accept responsibility for keeping a check on the most resourceful and cunning of the predators that remain in the countryside, especially as they interfere with farming. I hope that we will all support any proposal that has a chance of resolving this problem. I hope the Government will propose a scheme to smooth over this crack.
§ Lord Gridley
I rise to support what has already been said by Members of the Committee who oppose this amendment. I believe it would be impossible to implement the present wording of the amendment, as it contradicts itself in various ways. We have gone to great lengths to protect badger setts and to prevent any harm from coming to badgers if it is necessary to carry out certain procedures for examination of their setts. However, the amendment proposes that:Subject to the following subsections the licensing authority shall grant a licence to any authorised person authorising him to interfere with a badger sett for the purposes of controlling foxes or rabbits on agricultural land, common land or moorland".It continues:A licence issued under subsection (6) above shall not permit any person to … otherwise interfere with a badger sett except to the minimum extent as is necessary for the immediate purpose of controlling foxes or rabbits".What is meant by "immediate purpose" and by "controlling"? It is essential to know what is meant by the words in that subsection.
Perhaps I may give the Government's view on the amendment. We are grateful to the noble Lords who have introduced the amendment because they have raised the important point that, following the passing into law of this Bill, licences under the Badgers Act will have to be issued for the first time not for the taking of badgers but for the control of foxes. That can be described as consequential on the Bill which we are now considering.
It is quite right that those issues should be raised and debated in your Lordships' House today. I accept that there is a need for some amendment along the lines of the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Swinton and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon. The first and most important point is that farmers with livestock need to be able to protect their animals from foxes. We are all agreed about that.
Since this matter was raised by your Lordships at Second Reading, I understand that my noble friend Lady Trumpington has written setting out the Government's views on the question of licensing. Her letter to my noble friend Lord Mancroft dated 17th June was copied to other Members of your Lordships' House who had expressed their concern during the previous debate.
I shall briefly state the Government's position, which was indicated in my noble friend's letter. On the question of general licensing, there is no provision in the legislation for general licences to be issued and the Government do not believe that it would be right to issue such licences authorising interference with badger setts. That is because licences which permit 387 what would otherwise be illegal activities involving protected animals have to be very carefully worded and tightly drawn so as not to allow their being used to undermine the legislation. I am sure that your Lordships will appreciate why general licensing is not compatible with this type of legislation, if it is to be effective.
Regarding the licensing system, I am aware of allegations that the Ministry of Agriculture does not issue licences quickly enough. I can reassure your Lordships however, that licences are normally issued within a couple of weeks, and that includes the time taken to consult the Nature Conservancy Council, whose views need to be obtained in respect of each application. Delays occur only in cases of real doubt.
Licences are issued to the owners or the occupiers of land, who may be named representatives of organisations such as a golf club or British Rail, and, in the case of licences to control foxes, they may authorise others, such as fox destruction societies, to carry out the work on their behalf.
Because of the concern which has been expressed about the licensing aspect of this Bill, the noble Baroness has offered to consider any changes which might be proposed to streamline the process, particularly in the case of licences to take foxes out of setts, where a condition of the licence will be that no badger may be killed. She has left the door open and we should be grateful for that. One suggestion which some of your Lordships, and in particular my noble friend Lord Swinton, might consider useful would be for sheep farmers with setts on their land to have their situation assessed in advance of lambing. That might well speed up the granting of a licence should problems with foxes arise during the lambing period. My noble friend Lady Trumpington has also proposed that meetings between the Ministry of Agriculture and interested bodies should take place to resolve the administrative arrangements for licensing. I hope that your Lordships will be reassured by that.
These matters are not always resolved in a day or two and it would not be right for me now to specify in detail how any new arrangements would operate. The noble Lords who have put down the amendment will have realised yesterday how difficult it is to draw up in a short space of time rules which will have to be in place for a long time.
In addition, I understand that there are problems with foxes, which attack game birds such as grouse which are not regarded as property in a legal sense. An amendment to the 1973 Act may be required. We accept the force of that point. However, I do not believe that the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Swinton and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, is the right amendment to achieve that. The proposed amendment is cumbersome and for the most part unnecessary. There may well be a better way of drafting into the Bill the safeguards that my noble friend and the noble Lord wish to achieve. It may well be that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will consider such an amendment allowing the granting of a licence 388 to interfere with the badger setts only—that is, without harming badgers—for the prevention of serious damage by foxes.
I believe that that might be a better way of proceeding. Such an amendment may enable anyone with genuine problems to obtain a licence. I feel that the House would welcome that approach and I hope that we may be able to come to an agreement on the matter, considering the commendable way that both my noble friend Lord Mancroft and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, have managed to achieve agreement on the Bill.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I am grateful for the statement that the Minister has just made on the Government's behalf. I shall return to it in a moment.
I am sure that noble Lords who support the amendment do not wish to exploit my goodwill and conciliatory approach to the Bill. It is not my Bill. It has come from another place as it stands. I ask the Committee to bear that point in mind. The Bill had to go through various dangers and difficulties to arrive here; but it arrived here, and it is here. It is difficult for me to assume a responsibility that I do not feel should rest upon me.
Perhaps I may make one point to the noble Earl who moved the amendment. I saw the amendment for the first time this morning. It is starred on the Marshalled List. I heard yesterday on the telephone that an amendment that might cause trouble was to be put down. I had a brief chat with my noble partner Lord Mancroft on the matter and we both realised the significance and possible importance of such an amendment if it were put down today. If Members opposite intend to press an amendment which has only seen the light of day this morning, they will be acting contrary to the spirit of the House and that will be an undeserved affront to me.
I want to be as constructive as I can on this matter. There is a problem here. Let me add in passing that I know all about badgers and foxes. I have been living with them for nearly 40 years. I have active setts within yards of my house in Surrey. I happen to live close to the deputy president of the National Farmers' Union. I am not usually ignorant of what the NFU thinks on agricultural matters, but I have heard nothing from him about the matter. No word has reached me about any apprehensions on the NFU's part. I do not wish to implicate the deputy president of the NFU in any way, but I want the Committee to understand how exposed I feel.
I received a letter this morning from the NFU expressing the anxieties that genuinely lie behind the amendment, but we have not been given time to convene the coalition movement which has been so constructive and productive so far. It may be that matters mentioned on the Second Reading of the Bill should have encouraged certain members of the coalition to bring forward a provision, but I should not have thought that it was a peremptory obligation upon them. I cannot explain on my feet whether it was discussed in detail or who could take responsibility for it not being discussed, but that is part of the area 389 discussed by the coalition parties. If noble Lords opposite do not understand my position on the Bill, we are in danger of losing it altogether in circumstances that will leave some bad blood behind. I therefore ask for a response to what the Minister has just said since, unprompted by me he has put forward the view of the Government on this amendment.
Quite obviously there are difficulties because under the Act this is the first time that we shall have introduced a licensing system. In introducing such a system we need to be clear about who will hold the licences, the conditions under which they may be issued and how to check possible abuses of licences —licences going into currency and getting into the hands of irresponsible and evil-minded people. There may also be the difficulty that, although the requirement is that the licence should be granted where there is a problem of foxes, rabbits or other vermin which have to be attended to, there is nothing in the amendment which provides for a check to be made on the conditions put forward for the issue of a licence.
The amendment states that:the licensing authority shall grant a licence".There should surely be an opportunity for every licensing authority to ascertain the veracity or strength of an application; otherwise licences can become a matter not only of negotiation but of sale. There must be some safeguards or the whole system will be put in peril.
We must bear in mind that under this amendment we confer on licence holders immunity and exemption from Clause 1 under the conditions set out. I grant at once that there are restrictive conditions in the amendment itself. But this is certainly the most difficult clause that has been under discussion so far in connection with the Bill. The work that has been done on it has been quite exceptional.
So we are in this together. Your Lordships' House has to take a responsible view. I adhere to the principle that I set out clearly at Second Reading and repeat now. The Bill does not intend to put fresh difficulties in the way of people who, by tradition and by law, are protected in what they do. There is no intention of worsening those conditions. It is meant to stop the badger being further imperilled under the bogus authority of those who are out to destroy it.
The danger is that licences may come into the hands of terrier clubs who will say that their intention is to keep the land clear of foxes and rabbits but who may go here and there and commit an offence under the Bill. They are prohibited from certain actions under the licence and have to obey the spirit of the conditions under which it has been granted. But there may not necessarily be anybody to ensure that they do obey. There will be no check on them before they receive their licence, so presumably checks must be applied to them when they have it and may be using it freely. No wonder that vigilance for badgers extends throughout the country in the most dramatic form to keep in eye on badger setts everywhere. It is therefore a most serious matter.
I apologise to the noble Lord for intervening but perhaps I can clarify the 390 Government's view and assist the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. When I spoke to this amendment, I made it quite clear that when it passes into law this measure will mean that licences under the Badgers Act will have to be issued for the first time not for the taking of badgers but for the control of foxes. That is an important point brought out by the amendment.
When discussing the amendment, I stated that the Government accept that there is need for an amendment along these lines. We would not be against that. I also stated that we believed that this was not the right amendment. I said that if the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, would consider the amendment in principle, the Government would help him to draft an amendment in order to get the provision right in the Bill. I hope that that clarifies the position.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I am grateful for that intervention. I am ready to do as the Minister suggests. If the noble Earl will withdraw the amendment and allow the matter to be discussed between now and Report stage, I shall do everything possible to overcome any difficulties. There is need for amendment. We wish to see the Bill amended. We do not wish the matter to be deferred for longer than to the next stage of the Bill. It would be unfair to ask the movers of the amendment to accept the Bill as it stands and await later attention to the issue that they raise. I want the provisions to be in the Bill and not left as an overspill for future legislation. Let us make amendment in the later stages of the Bill. I am sure that such amendment can be done by agreement. There is no difference in principle between us. However, there must be some safeguards because abuses must be checked. They are rife already and have been for some time.
We have had a good discussion on the amendment. We know the problems. A sufficient number of noble Lords have fortunately attended for the debate to inform the minds of all of us who take an interest in the Bill about the issue involved and the remedy which we all now seek.
I can say no more. I make no threats. I appeal to the noble Earl and to his supporters. I have no Whip. I cannot stand against strong pressure on the amendment. That is why I believe that noble Lords must not put me at a substantial disadvantage in an action about which I was not informed previously. I heard about it in detail for the first time this morning. That is not the way to deal with a Bill or with a colleague in this House. I leave the matter there.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Before anyone else intervenes, perhaps I may say this. I had not meant to say anything on the Bill. No one knows less about badgers than I do. I am sorry to say that I have never seen one. As a city boy I am quite intimidated by the serried ranks of country folk facing me. However, my noble friend Lord Houghton has a strong point. The Bill was printed in this House on 14th May. It is now 21st June. It is clearly an important amendment, the principle for which has considerable support. It would be very unfortunate if any noble Lord sought to press 391 an amendment which appears for the first time in print only this morning, five weeks after the Bill first appeared.
I appeal to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Tryon, not to press the amendment at this time but to take advantage of the offer made by the Government and by my noble friend to discuss the matter before Report stage.
§ Lord Boardman
I wish briefly to raise one point arising from what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said regarding the NFU. I have a letter from the NFU dated 20th June in which it refers to its general support for the objectives of the Bill. It states:However, we are concerned to ensure that the licence system is sensitive to farming requirements and operates speedily".The letter refers to some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Swinton. It puts forward suggestions which, if the amendment is not pressed today, it would wish to have taken into account when it is being considered what provisions should take its place.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Swinton
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate. It has certainly livened up a Friday afternoon. I was grateful for the comments made by my noble friend Lord Astor but I wondered whether he had listened to a word that I said. I made the point that two weeks was far too long to wait for a licence and he blithely rose and said, "We shall do it within two weeks". This is not a matter that will wait for weeks; it will not wait even for days. The licence must be obtainable in advance.
My noble friend said a great deal about game birds. I do not wish to appear whiter than white, but must point out that game birds are only a part of the issue. I referred to numerous other rare species which nest on our uplands, all of which are at risk if gamekeepers cannot deal with the foxes. Most of the birds are covered by the EC rare bird directives. They receive special support and are highly protected. They would not be covered under the definition of "game"; they are the very opposite of that.
We must strike a balance. The Bill gives enormous support to badgers, which already receive wide protection and rightly so. The Bill is designed to protect their places of residence; their setts. We must strike a balance; we must not give so much help and protection to the badgers that we are putting at risk other equally lovely and admirable species of wildlife.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that Amendment No. 12, which is starred, is new and was tabled only this morning. That is technically correct because a few minor changes were made yesterday in order to try to help the noble Lord and make the matter easier. I believe that he knew yesterday that a similar amendment had been tabled—indeed, it may have been tabled on Wednesday.
I listened to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and by my noble friend Lord Astor. I would rather see something on the face of the Bill 392 which can be amended later. We can work out the solution but there will be something in black and white.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
I really must appeal to the noble Earl. It may be that an earlier version of the amendment appeared yesterday or even on Wednesday. However, it is five weeks since the Bill was printed. Clearly this is a difficult matter. An offer has been made by the Government Front Bench and by my noble friend Lord Houghton to discuss it between now and the Report stage. The noble Earl can lose nothing by taking what I suggest is the gentlemanly course and withdrawing the amendment now.
I intervene to ask the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, whether he can accept the principle of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Swinton? In that case we shall be able to consider the matter and shall be prepared to bring forward an amendment on Report. The noble Lord was not entirely clear about that.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
Of course I am prepared to do so—I thought that I had made that clear. We wish to meet the noble Earl's purpose as set out in the amendment but it must be re-examined from the point of view of safeguards in the issue and use of licences. The amendment does not protect the integrity of the issue and use of licences.
I am sure that the noble Earl does not wish to see licences in the hands of people who will use them in order to breach the provisions now in the Bill. I say yes to the noble Earl and ask him to join with us in finding words to cover possible abuses. We must have safeguards. The hunters, farmers and other people concerned have been looking for safeguards of their interests in the framing of the Bill. Clause 3 is intended to provide them; we have tried to meet all the points that have been raised and have reached agreement on them. We wish to meet those made in the noble Earl's amendment. However, he must consult with us in the spirit of the action which has been taken jointly until now. If the noble Earl continues with this, he will bust it all up and the Bill will be wrecked.
I am not in a position to accept the amendment as it stands. Surely it would be improper to insert an amendment into the Bill and then hope to amend the amendment at a later stage. Let us keep the Bill free from amendment and on Report we can bring forward a version which is acceptable to all concerned. We shall then be in the clear and the Bill will reach the statute book. Please do not wreck the Bill.
§ Lord Burton
I understand that the question of licensing has been under discussion behind the scenes for some time. Further, I understand that when an approach was made to the Ministry of Agriculture to see whether it would be possible to broaden the position as regards licensing, a very frosty reception was received. I have not had an opportunity to speak to my noble friend Lord Swinton lately but I believe he tabled this amendment because the Ministry is being so difficult on the matter. It is at this rather late stage that my noble friend on the Front Bench has 393 made the offer which he made today. I believe that the solution is to accept the amendment in the name of my noble friend, which can be amended on Report or on Third Reading.
§ Lord Airedale
The noble Earl has been offered the services of parliamentary draftsmen available to the Government. That is a good offer and I urge him to accept it.
§ The Earl of Swinton
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He said yes but then added a lot of "buts". I shall give him the benefit of the doubt. When I am asked by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to behave like a gentleman, how could I do anything else?
I reserve the right to come back with this or a similar amendment on Report if a more satisfactory solution is not reached after consultation between my noble friend on the Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. However, at present, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 5 [Amendment of S. 11 of Badgers Act 1973]:
Lord Houghton of Sowerby moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 3, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert ("signs indicating current use by a badger").
§ The noble Lord said: I am very moved by what has just happened. I am grateful to the noble Earl. He need not fear because we shall honour our obligations. I am obliged to him.
We must define what a badger sett is. Much discussion has taken place on how one defines a badger sett and how it is to be described. Is a badger sett a place where badgers live, which badgers use or are thought to be using or are occupying? Are they resident there or are they "day schoolers"? We have reached an agreement on the words:
signs indicating current use by a badger".
Those are simple words but it took us a long time to agree on them. I move this amendment with every confidence that it will be accepted.
§ Lord Mancroft
My name is also to this amendment. I am delighted that we were able to reach agreement on this area of the Bill. Failure to reach agreement as regards an accurate definition of a badger sett led to the collapse of last year's Bill. There was a problem as to the narrow wording of the definition of a badger sett.
It is clear that it is difficult to recognise whether a badger sett is a badger sett or a fox's earth for those who are not normally able to recognise such matters. Secondly, we had to discuss and decide whether we would extend protection not only to main setts but also to outlying and subsidiary setts, and to those setts which had been temporarily abandoned by badgers. I shall not bore the Committee with the extremely long, convoluted discussions that took place on the subject except to say that those of us who are particularly interested in this area of the Bill—the sporting and fox hunting lobby—are pleased with the result. It has 394 shown what co-operation can achieve. I am therefore delighted to add my name to the amendment and hope that the Committee will accept it.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
Perhaps I may take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, for his remarks on the previous amendment. I did not have an earlier opportunity to do so. I hope also that those noble Lords concerned with animal life will stay on and take part in the debate on smoke detectors, which is concerned with human life.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 6 [Citation and commencement]:
Lord Burton moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 3, line 18, at end insert:
("(3) This Act shall not extend to Scotland.")
§ The noble Lord said: I can find no reports of any cases of badger baiting in Scotland. The Bill will inevitably cause problems for land users. I believe it is wrong to impose conditional laws on an area where no problem presently exists.
§ The Bill contains a number of areas whereby the land user could inadvertently break the law. Many are already experiencing problems—at least I am—and I therefore took the matter up with the Scottish National Farmers Union. Some Members of the Committee may have had a note from that body. It supports the amendment wholeheartedly and it therefore seems unreasonable that the law should be pushed into Scotland where it is neither wanted nor required.
§ Foxes are a problem in the Highland areas, particularly the hill farming areas, and increasingly on low lying areas, as the fox population steadily increases. It may be of interest that in Abernethy Forest in the few years since it was taken over by the RSPB the population of capercaillie—my noble friend Lord Swinton referred to rare and fine birds —has dropped by two-thirds since vermin are no longer killed. Capercaillie are ground nesting birds, and foxes and pinemartins are probably mopping up the majority of the nests. Some research is now taking place but there seems to be little doubt that that is the main cause. Clearly, from the nature conservation point of view, there is a need to control foxes.
§ I wish to raise another small point in regard to paragraph (h) of Clause 4 of the Bill. That could cause major problems for those of us who must maintain sea walls. It appears that one will not be allowed to maintain the wall if a badger has dug into it and that could cause serious problems. There are now at least three packs of foot hounds covering large areas of the Highlands with increasing success. These packs of hounds are killing between 400 and 500 foxes a year. Many of these foxes run into holes and are then either pelted or dug out. Inevitably, many of the holes have been dug by badgers. If the Bill were allowed to proceed in Scotland, that would seriously damage fox control. It would be an enormous disappointment if the packs were to have a lot of their good work undone. Equally, it would be quite impossible, having run a fox to ground, to then have to go and get a 395 licence before getting the fox out. According to the Bill, that is what would happen. That is of no use to us. Once having run a fox to ground, the hounds must be removed as soon as possible.
§ The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to a nasty atmosphere if my noble friend Lord Swinton presses his amendment. I can assure the House that exactly the same would happen in Scotland if we allowed this amendment to proceed and to cover that area, too.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
The noble Lord, Lord Burton, mentioned that there were no cases of badger baiting in Scotland. Unfortunately for the badger, if we accept this amendment, there will be a danger that we shall establish a great flow of people travelling over the Border to carry out this barbaric sport. Also, if we manage to get a licensing system through which works for England, I suggest that it will work for Scotland as well.
Perhaps I may put the Government's view. I ought to warn the Committee that it would look very odd if we were to split the provisions in the Badger's Act as revised by this Bill so that some clause would apply to Great Britain, and some to England and Wales only. I hope that your Lordships can agree to sensible provisions in the Bill so that it all can apply equally across the whole of Great Britain.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
I cannot possibly accept this amendment. It would alter the Bill considerably and would certainly have an effect on Scotland. I cannot take responsibility for advising the Committee to take a reference to Scotland out of the Bill. As the Minister has just said, it would look extremely odd when trying to get greater protection for the badger, and applying new rules to England and Wales, if we exclude Scotland from what we are doing.
The density of badgers in Scotland is much lower than anywhere else in the country. However, the incidence of offences in Scotland is surprisingly high. I have a list here which was included in a report of the National Federation of Badger Groups. If any noble Lord would like a copy, he may have one. It has been issued by the national body on badger groups, and it has provided evidence but not especially in connection with this Bill. It is their report on the situation. The list of offences in Scotland against badgers is surprisingly high. I have a copy of a press cutting here from a Glasgow newspaper. Surely, noble Lords opposite and the noble Lord, Lord Burton, himself, do not want to deprive badgers in Scotland of this protection, provided that we do for Scotland what we hope and expect to do for England and Wales. That is, to protect the agricultural interest in Scotland in just the same way.
There is no separate problem in Scotland so far as I know. However, it is not for me to say what should happen in Scotland. However, I must withhold my support for the amendment and leave it to the Committee to decide.
§ Lord Burton
As regards the flood of people coming across the Border, this could quite easily be stopped, if this is thought to be a worry, by imposing penalties on those who were digging on private ground without authority. I do not see any reason why something should not be done about this. The majority of landowners would protest strongly if people were to come from Northumberland, or wherever they might come from. As regards excluding one area, I notice that in the amendment of my noble friend Lord Mancroft there is a reference to excluding Northern Ireland. If we can exclude Northern Ireland in one part of badger legislation, I cannot see why we cannot exclude Scotland in another.
This Bill will undoubtedly cause problems. It will make the killing of foxes very difficult in some cases. It will have a major effect on wildlife in general. The partridge is becoming a rare bird in the North. This Bill is geared entirely to England. My noble friends in the foxhunting counties have done a great deal to amend and improve the Bill. They have been successful in that but unfortunately the interests in Scotland have been rather slow off the mark. However, now that they realise what the position is, they are coming down forcefully in support of my amendment. The NFU says, "We can't have this. Can you please do something?" The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said just now that he does not know the position in Scotland. I am telling him what the position is. I hope therefore that he will accept it.
§ Lord Gridley
Can my noble friend on the Front Bench clarify the position? We are considering a Bill which came from another place. The other place took no action about whether the Bill should extend to Scotland. Would it be in order for us to insert an amendment such as this now?
I said that I thought it would look odd to split the provisions of the Bill so that one clause would apply to Great Britain and not to the rest of the country. Members of the Committee have made various points. I should point out that the Badgers Act 1973 does not extend to Northern Ireland so the Bill cannot affect that. My noble friend Lord Burton referred to the various problems caused by badgers in Scotland. He mentioned sea walls. That would come under what we discussed in the previous amendment in regard to licences and the reasons for licences. Before Report stage I should be happy to look into whether badgers damaging sea walls would be covered in a licence. I shall do that and write to the noble Lord. If the previous amendment can be agreed as satisfactory by all sides of the Committee I hope that that will satisfy the noble Lord so that we do not have this rather odd change between Scotland and England.
The Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 includes provisions to protect badgers. They have turned out to be effective and successful. I am assured of that fact both by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and by an old friend of mine who has been a master of foxhounds for 397 more than 20 years and is very much in touch with the situation. I do not think that we need worry about Northern Ireland in the context of the Bill.
§ Lord Burton
I am somewhat encouraged by what was said by my noble friend on the Front Bench, particularly in relation to sea walls. However, in other matters we have a different situation in Scotland. That is why I moved the amendment. The question of licensing is to be considered. An open licence for Scotland could well meet the situation. At this juncture I shall ask leave to withdraw the amendment. If the question of open licensing is not addressed, I shall have to bring back the amendment at Report and press it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.