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Volume 719: debated on Thursday 17 June 2010


Asked By

My Lords, recent events in London have heightened public concern about urban foxes and our sympathies go out to the Koupparis family. Local authorities have powers to control urban foxes and are best placed to decide how and when to apply those powers.

I thank my noble friend for that reply. On my way from the Underground the other day, I saw a fox running into the Commons—it did not come here. Does my noble friend accept that common sense should prevail at this time? A fox is a predator and a wild animal, so people should not feed it. A number of people do feed foxes but perhaps if they stopped doing so the vixen would not have so many cubs to rear. Does my noble friend agree?

My Lords, I am sure that foxes going into another place are a matter for another place. It might be that they are less keen on coming into this House. As regards my noble friend’s question about food, she is absolutely correct: if less food were left around, we would have less of a problem with urban foxes.

Will the Minister take into consideration a recent event in Crondall when we had a power cut? It was established that it was due to a short-circuit caused by a fox. The consequence was, of course, the demise of the fox. Could this idea not be developed, saving electricity at the same time?

My Lords, I was not aware of the incident to which the noble Lord refers. I certainly think that it could be built on and I am sure that all local authorities will study with great care what the noble Lord has had to say.

Does the Minister agree that food waste is a problem? Will he give a message to local authorities that their rather chaotic plans for keeping food waste separate and for longer than necessary will contribute to the problem of urban foxes?

The noble Baroness is absolutely correct to say that food waste is a problem. However, I do not believe that we should give a message to local authorities that they should not insist on separating food waste; it is for the local authorities themselves to decide on the best way of disposing of and collecting their waste of one sort or another. If food waste is put in secure bins, there is no reason why it should create a problem.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his clear statement that pest control is a matter for local authorities. It is not the job of Secretaries of State and other Ministers to solve every local problem in the country. However, does he agree that this question needs to be kept in perspective in view of the fact that two years ago more than 5,000 people were treated in hospital for injuries caused by domestic dogs and, of those, 1,250 were children? Perhaps that is a bigger problem than foxes.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his support for our localist agenda, which we believe is very important. He is correct to put these matters in perspective, although, obviously, if you have had two children bitten by a fox, you tend to take the matter seriously.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on his appointment and I wish him well with his new responsibilities. The Opposition recognise that what happened was a terrible event for the family concerned and we send our good wishes to the children for a full and speedy recovery. As the Minister is, according to the Defra website, responsible for relations with local government, is he planning to have any contact with the local authorities affected by this issue? At the moment, there appears to be no information on the Defra website about this, so can he ensure that advice, information and expertise from within his department will be available to those who want it?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her kind words and I welcome her to her new role on the Front Bench. We shall talk to local authorities, but I repeat that we believe that these matters are best left to them, rather than being dealt with by direction from the centre. Advice on how to deal with foxes is available from Natural England. I can also assure her that we have commissioned research from the Food and Environment Research Agency into what I gather is referred to as immunocontraception. Currently, that is being trialled on wild boars, but it could have relevance for the control of other mammals.

My Lords, is it legal to release urban foxes in rural areas? If it is, will the Government consider making it illegal?

My Lords, my understanding is that it could be illegal to do so under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 if it were to cause distress to the fox, which I imagine it would. Obviously, it would depend on the individual circumstances of any capture and release.

My Lords, would my noble friend consider whether a repeal of the Hunting Act would assist in this context?

My Lords, I was wondering when that question would come up. I have a feeling that the repeal of the Hunting Act would not make much difference in relation to urban foxes in Hackney.

My Lords, although I appreciate that urban foxes do not live as long as rural foxes, does the Minister know the proportion of urban foxes to the fox population at large?

My Lords, some research has been done into fox numbers. It is believed that there are of the order of a quarter of a million foxes in the country and that in the region of 15 per cent are urban foxes, although those are estimates. If we brought in some form of immunocontraception, those numbers could drop further.

My Lords, will the Minister put the noble Baronesses, Lady Sharples and Lady Trumpington, in charge of this issue?