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Urban Foxes

Volume 525: debated on Thursday 17 March 2011

While the extermination of urban foxes, or indeed rural ones, is neither desirable nor possible, problem foxes do need to be controlled. In urban areas, that is the responsibility of the owner or occupier of the property, who can use legal methods to cull or remove foxes.

Last summer, a number of my constituents were attacked in their own homes by urban foxes, including Annie Bradwell, who lost part of her ear, and Natasha David, who was bitten twice as she slept in her bed. Will the Minister liaise with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to see whether we can change the law so that urban foxes can be treated as vermin in the same way that rats and mice are?

I am very happy to talk to the Communities Secretary about that, but I do not think that a change in the law is necessary to enable local authorities to take action. They are not required to do so, but it is perfectly within their remit to take action if they have the kind of problem with the fox population to which my hon. Friend refers.

The Minister will be aware that it would be an error to make laws on the basis of isolated and rare cases. Having some wildlife in urban areas gives great delight to many people, and foxes can make a contribution to urban life by scavenging for waste food. We certainly do not need the usual Tory solution to such problems, which is to kill wild animals.

I made it clear that we do not think that foxes should be exterminated in any part of the country. However, to pretend that they do not cause problems in some areas would be blinkered thinking. The fact is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands) said, foxes can be a serious pest in urban areas and elsewhere. Also, the scavenging that the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) describes can cause serious problems with refuse and waste left out overnight. But, yes, foxes have a role to play in our urban areas.

The Minister might be aware that there is a belief in the countryside that urban foxes are trapped alive, put in lorries, taken out into the countryside and released, at great detriment to their welfare and great inconvenience to their country cousins. Will the Minister deprecate that activity and make every effort to resist it?

My hon. Friend makes a relevant point. There is a lot of evidence—albeit anecdotal evidence—that people trap urban foxes and release them in the countryside. I suggest that that is very cruel, because those foxes are not accustomed to living on their own or to hunting for their prey, because it is all there for them in the refuse bags in urban areas. Farmers and others will bear witness to the fact that many of them wander round the countryside in a somewhat dazed state.