I beg to move,
That this House notes the indiscriminate and cruel nature of snares, the failure of previous attempts at voluntary and self-regulation amongst operators, and the continued suffering caused to thousands of animals every year by these traps; and calls on the Government to implement a full ban on the manufacture, sale, possession and use of snares at the earliest opportunity.
First, my thanks go to the Backbench Business Committee for giving me the opportunity to bring this motion to the House. I am keenly aware that, because of the urgent question on school funding, we are running late and that the summer Adjournment debate is generally oversubscribed, so I shall attempt to be brief and hope that we can conclude this matter in a reasonable time. I do not propose to push this matter to a Division, but let me assure the House that if there is a Division I will defend the motion.
Motions arising from Backbench Business debates have a somewhat uncertain pedigree—the status of them is disputed. They are not binding or mandatory. A number of motions have been passed in recent months urging the Government to take action, but the Government have declined so to do. Therefore, I have no illusion that, were this motion to be successful, Government action would swiftly follow; I suspect that it probably will not.
I will attempt to outline as briefly as I can what I believe to be an extremely compelling case for the prospect outlined in the motion. There is widespread support across the House for such a ban. I remember the late Eric Forth who used to be in the Chamber on Fridays meticulously—more so than just about anybody else. Whenever someone said that their Bill had widespread support from Members, he would wave his arms magisterially and say, “Where are they then?”
Well, where are they then?
They knew you were coming! No, that is not true.
I am deeply grateful to the League Against Cruel Sports, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Cat Protection League and other animal welfare organisations that have assisted me in this matter. I also know that there are Members who are ideologically opposed to bans of any kind. Obviously, I do not share that view myself, but we need to exercise caution and judgment. The legal framework in this country under the rule of law is generally about regulating what behaviour is and is not permissible and what should and should not be punished.
On that point, is not one of the issues with the use of snares now that they simply are not being used for the stated purpose? Often, the species that is targeted is not the species that is captured.
I fully agree with my hon. Friend, and I am grateful to him for his point. I hope to go on to elaborate on that in a bit more detail. The thrust of the motion is about not just the inherent cruelty and barbarism of snares—the single snare that is currently legal—but the gross inefficiency of them. They are not even useful in what they do, and they cause unacceptable consequences.
We have to exercise our responsibility as legislators when we are acting on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves—whether it be children or animals. I believe that there is an imperative here for us to take action. Snares are thin wire nooses set to trap animals seen as a pest or a threat, usually foxes and rabbits. They are intended to catch animals around the neck rather like a lasso. There are two types of snare. The self-locking snare, which is not legal, tightens around the animal the more it struggles. Even when the animal ceases to struggle, the device is still tightened and causes serious injury and death, but, as I said, that is illegal under the current regulations. This motion refers to the free-running snare, which is still currently legal. If it is operating properly, it should tighten as the captured animal struggles, but relax when the animal stops pulling. It is intended to hold the animal live until the snare operator returns to kill it, usually by shooting, or release it if the snare has not caught the right target creature. The disadvantage of a legal free-running snare is that it can in many circumstances act like a self-locking snare, which is illegal, when it becomes kinked or rusty.
Although their purpose is to immobilise target animals, most snares cause extreme suffering to animals and often lead to a painful, lingering death. Animals caught in snares suffer huge stress and can sustain horrific injuries. Snares can cause abdominal, chest, neck, leg and head injuries to animals. Some animals get their legs caught in snares and end up with the wire cutting through to the bone. Such animals may attempt to escape by gnawing off their own limbs. Others are caught around the body.
The number and diversity of animals that fall victim to snares is immense. It is not possible to control which animals will be caught in a snare. A snare set to catch a fox is just as capable of catching other species. Cats, dogs, badgers, otters, deer, hares and livestock have all suffered terrible injuries or been killed by snares.
In 2012 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs produced an extensive report on snaring in England and Wales, which suggests that up to 1.7 million animals are trapped in these primitive devices every year, which equates to almost 200 animals caught each and every hour. Moreover, because snares capture any animal that happens to step into them, little more than a quarter of the animals trapped were found in DEFRA’s field studies to be foxes, the intended victims. The other three quarters included hares, 33%; badgers, 26%—both of which are protected species—and a further 14% described as “other”. That is almost a quarter of a million animals, including deer and domestic pets such as cats and dogs, captured every year. That goes to the heart of the inefficiency of snares as a device for animal control.
DEFRA’s independent working group on snares concluded in 2005 that it would be difficult to reduce non-target catches to less than 40%. According to DEFRA’s 2012 report, 260,000 snares are in use in England and Wales. The report reveals that 95% of landholdings do not use snares, with the use of both fox and rabbit snares being far more likely on landholdings with game bird shooting. I will not go into detail about my attitude towards shooting as a so-called sport. That is an argument for another day, but in common with more than 62% of the population of this country, I am opposed to shooting as a sport and cannot see what possible pleasure can be derived from blasting a living creature to smithereens.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the register. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the piece of scientific research called “Waders on the Edge”, which shows that the place to see species such as curlew and lapwing, where their numbers are rising rather than falling, is on managed shoots in the uplands?
I am aware of many things; I am not aware of the hon. Gentleman’s entry in the register and I am not sure what relevance that has. Perhaps we can have a look later. There are all kinds of conflicting arguments, but the snare and the way it is used is inherently cruel and barbaric. If the price of seeing a curlew or a lapwing is the considerable suffering of tens of thousands of innocent creatures, I do not think that is a price worth paying.
In all the matters that the hon. Gentleman has just laid out, the key concern for me and for the many constituents who contacted me is the welfare of wildlife. Does he agree that we should put that at the top of our priority list?
Exactly. Animal welfare more generally is a widespread concern. I am sure every Member of this House knows that it is one of the subjects on which constituents most regularly contact us.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not for the moment. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will catch the Deputy Speaker’s eye at some stage, and then he will be able to tell us what his entry is.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate through the Backbench Business Committee, and on the compelling case that he is making. Will he accept from me on behalf of the constituents who contacted me that most people are appalled by the barbarity of the practice and the cruelty inherent in it? More power to his elbow for raising this important issue.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his support and that of his constituents.
Snares are currently completely legal in only six European countries—Belgium, France, Ireland, Spain, Latvia and the United Kingdom. In all other countries in the EU they are banned, strictly controlled or are not used at all, so the idea that they are an essential means of animal control clearly is not true. Large numbers of European countries do not use them at all. The predominant legislation in this matter covering all parts of the United Kingdom is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which prohibits the use of self-locking snares, as I have already mentioned, lays out the requirement to inspect the snare once in every 24 hours, and prohibits the use of snares to catch various protected mammals, including otters and badgers.
The code of practice acknowledges the welfare problems associated with snaring. DEFRA introduced a voluntary code on the use of snares in 2005 which was designed to reduce the suffering caused by snares through the adoption of best practice. Gamekeepers have shown themselves to be incapable of complying with DEFRA’s recommended code of practice on the use of snares. In its 2012 report, which I mentioned previously, DEFRA found that although 95% of gamekeepers surveyed were aware of the code of practice and some—38%—had also been trained in the use of fox snares, not a single fox snare operator visited during the study was fully compliant with the code of conduct a full seven years after it had been introduced.
Among farmers there is a lack of knowledge of the code of practice, with a shocking 36% of farmers unaware of its existence. It was clear from the report that, whether people were aware of it or not, the code of practice was not being adhered to. Most snare operators use snares which are not compliant with the code of practice. Some 60% of snare operators had at some time caught non-target animals in fox snares. The majority of snare operators set snares in sites where entanglement was likely. Most rabbit snare operators took no measures to avoid the capture of non-target animals and nearly 30% had caught a domestic cat. Snares must not be used as killing devices. However, according to the DEFRA study, 19% of snare users set snares to kill the target animal. Over 30% of snare operators visited during the study were found to be using snares which were rusty or where the cable was distorted.
The League Against Cruel Sports has always questioned the likelihood that snares would remain smoothly free-running when used in an outdoor environment, and has warned of the potential welfare impacts of rusty wires, which can prevent the snare from slackening off.
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, much of this issue is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but it remains a concern to many of our constituents and has been the subject of many complaints. Since 2013 it has been an offence to set a snare in Scotland unless the operator has successfully completed a snaring training course run by an approved body. Does the hon. Gentleman consider that an appropriate measure to help counter some of the issues that he has identified?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out. I was going to come on to it later. The devolved Assemblies have made far more progress on the matter in recent years in Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as Scotland. Tightening the code of practice is one route, but after examining the case, my strong feeling is that it is ineffective and impossible to implement. The only humane response is a ban, but I am aware of the progress that has been made in Scotland, in particular.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on obtaining this debate. I have had many letters from constituents who all say the same things. They think this method of killing is obscene. Every 20 seconds an animal is caught in a snare somewhere in the UK. Around 1.7 million wild and domestic animals are killed by snares each year. Snaring is cruel, lethal and a sop to the commercial shooting industry, as we well know, so all power to my hon. Friend’s elbow.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those words and the support of her constituents. The point about snares is that they are not supposed to kill. They are supposed to be a disabling device, if they have worked correctly, to allow the target animal to be humanely disposed of, and if it is not the target animal, as in the majority of cases, to allow it to be released. Snares are not supposed to kill, but in far too many cases they do.
Additionally, during field trials in which fox snares were set in accordance with the code of practice, non-target species were still captured, illustrating that it is impossible to eliminate the risk to non-target animals.
A recent investigation, again by the League Against Cruel Sports—incidentally, I should say in passing that I am delighted to be an honorary life member of the League Against Cruel Sports—has provided further evidence that the code of practice cannot prevent animals from suffering in snares. In February 2015—just last year—investigators captured graphic scenes of foxes and rabbits caught in snares. Despite Government guidelines stating that snares must be used only as restraining rather than killing devices, all the animals filmed were dead when found.
The footage exposed a large death pit—a purposely dug pit filled with the carcases of livestock and wildlife—designed to lure foxes into snares set along the edge. A dead fox was found hanging from one of the snares, clearly strangled to death. Placing snares alongside a pit or hole violates the Government’s code of practice on the use of snares, yet a snare operator admitted that he caught 50 to 100 foxes this way every year, demonstrating—this is point I was making earlier—that attempts to regulate a clandestine activity that takes place primarily on private land in remote locations is futile, hence my conclusion that we need to introduce a ban.
At a second location, the soaking-wet bodies of several rabbits were discovered in snares. Two of them were trapped in snares set along a fence, in which the rabbits had become heavily entangled during their struggle to escape. The placement of these snares again clearly violated the code of practice. The league has brought forward plenty of other evidence to show that, where the code is not being flagrantly ignored, it is completely and utterly ineffectual.
Most people are opposed to snares. According to a 2014 Ipsos MORI poll, 77% of British people think snares should be banned. According to a Dods poll taken last year, 68% of MPs would support a ban. Veterinary opinion also firmly supports a ban on these cruel and indiscriminate traps. A 2015 poll of veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses across the UK found that 87% of respondents believed that snaring is not a humane method of pest control. The figure was even higher—92%—among those who had experience of treating animals that had been snared.
In testimony to the Scottish Parliament—this relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady)—Professor Ranald Munro, a leading veterinary pathologist, stated:
“From the veterinary perspective, snares are primitive indiscriminate traps that are recognised as causing widespread suffering to a range of animals. At their least injurious, snares around the neck can result in abrasion and splitting of the skin. However, being caught in a snare is extremely distressing for any creature and vigorous attempts to escape are natural. These efforts cause the snare wire to kink, thereby changing a free-running snare to a self-locking one. Strangulation and choking follow. It is commonplace for snares to lodge around the chest, abdomen or legs rather than the neck. In such instances the stop restraint is ineffective and the wire cuts through skin and muscle and, eventually, bone. Badgers may be eviscerated when the abdominal wall is cut through. Amputation of the lower limb and foot by a snare is well-documented in deer. These unfortunate animals suffer immensely.”
Order. May I just help a little? I am sure the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) is very close to the end, but he is now past the 20 minutes, and I am very bothered that we have a lot of Members and a busy afternoon. If he could wind up shortly, I would be grateful.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government and, indeed, his sponsors in this debate—the League Against Cruel Sports—have occasionally used snares for research and tagging purposes. All the descriptions he has just attached to this practice apply when it is used for those purposes, which could be construed as important.
I would say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I thought I had been rather generous with my time, as the expression has it.
Order. What I would say is that you have been very generous—maybe over-generous. The fact is that it is normally 15 minutes for the opening of a debate. I have been very generous and very tolerant—quite rightly, because this is a very important subject—but I do want to get other Members in because we have another debate to follow.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I accept your direction implicitly. I shall draw my remarks to a conclusion.
This motion is overwhelmingly supported by animal welfare organisations—not just the League Against Cruel Sports, but Animal Aid, Cats Protection, the RSPCA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and many others. If a medical product was as ineffective as snares are in achieving their purpose, and if it had the same hideous and detrimental side effects as snares, it would be banned, and I believe that snares should be as well.
I will leave the final word to Mr Chris Packham, a naturalist and well-known TV broadcaster, who said:
“Indiscriminate and inhumane, they should be illegal—there is not much more to say about snares.”
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. There is now a six-minute limit.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to have caught your eye. I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—in case the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd), who introduced this debate, is interested, I am a farmer. I also draw attention to the fact that I am chairman of the all-party group on shooting and conservation, which has an interest in this matter. I respect a lot of what the hon. Gentleman said, but I want to put my remarks into context and disagree with much of what he said.
The use of snares is an important tool in wildlife management, which benefits conservation. I was a little bit disturbed to hear the hon. Gentleman paying so little attention to species, such as curlew and lapwings, that are severely endangered—to the point of extinction in some areas—by fox predation. Therefore, it is necessary to control foxes in such situations if we want these important species to survive and thrive.
There is often no practical and effective replacement for snaring at crucial times of the year. That is particularly the case during summer and spring, because there are heavily leafed areas on trees and that is a time of year when lambs, piglets and other farmed animals are at their most vulnerable, yet at the same time, foxes are having their cubs and therefore become the biggest predators of those farmed animals. Snares are therefore an important part of fox control.
As the hon. Gentleman said, well-designed snares, used properly, are humane and effective in fox control. As he rightly pointed out, it has been illegal throughout the United Kingdom for over 20 years to use self-locking snares. DEFRA-commissioned research in 2012, which he referred to, identified how snaring can be improved through snare design and operating practices.
I want to quote the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust—the GWCT—which is widely respected for its independent research. It says:
“Foxes kill young lambs, piglets reared outdoors, and free range and domestic poultry...Foxes also prey on vulnerable wild ground-nesting birds like black grouse, partridge, lapwing, curlew and stone curlew, and on brown hare. Several of these are species of conservation concern…There are several methods to control foxes but none of them are effective in all circumstances. One method widely used for foxes is snaring. Snares are particularly effective for foxes in places and at times of the year when rifle shooting is not possible because of dense cover but when fox control may be critical for”
Indeed, the hon. Gentleman’s own colleague, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), when he was Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA, said:
“The Government consider that, where there is a need for wildlife management, the proper use of snares is one of a range of control methods. Used according to best practice, snares can be an effective and practical means of wildlife management and are needed where other forms of pest control are ineffective or impractical. In these circumstances, snares restrain rather than kill and may prove to be more humane than other methods. If snares were to be banned entirely it”
“encourage the use of more dangerous and illegal alternatives such as poisons.”—[Official Report, 28 November 2006; Vol. 453, c. 495W.]
In the time available—I accept your strictures, Mr Deputy Speaker—I will try to rebut one or two of the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge. The 2012 DEFRA study set out to estimate the scale of the perceived problems. Inevitably, the resulting figures are an approximation, with considerable uncertainty attached, and I think that is where the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) got her figures from. It is important to realise that some organisations have constructed figures by extrapolating from small samples, which are unlikely to be representative of all the situations in which snares are used, or of current working practices.
For instance, the humaneness assessment in the DEFRA study involved a single operator working in one set of circumstances, while the assessment of the extent of use was made across a random sample of landholdings. If we multiply those figures, we get the sort of figure to which the right hon. Lady referred, which is most unlikely to be true.
Let us look at some of the evidence. An extensive field study involving 429 fox captures showed that, given good practice, less than 1% of snare-caught foxes were injured or killed as a result. Some believe that animals held in snares may seem all right at the time of release but go on to develop life-threatening necrotic conditions—the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge referred to that—but there is no evidence that that commonly occurs. On the contrary, foxes and badgers caught in snares by scientists for radio-tagging have typically not shown any abnormal behaviour or higher mortality. In GWCT studies, some individual foxes have been recaptured in snares, with no apparent ill effect.
How much time have I got?
May I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) on making a very strong case in support of the motion? I am usually pleased to follow the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). He was making an argument, but sadly he ran out of time and we did not get to hear whether his case was as strong as that made by my hon. Friend. It certainly did not appear to be from where I am sitting.
I thank the League Against Cruel Sports, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the National Farmers Union for their briefings for this debate, and I especially thank Nikki Sutherland and Oliver Bennett from the Library for their very useful briefing to Members.
The RSPCA writes:
“In 2005, Defra introduced a Code of Practice on the use of snares. The Code sets out best practice in the use of snares, including guidance on where and how to set snares for different species and possible steps to take to avoid trapping ‘non-target’ species. It should be noted that compliance with the Code is voluntary and a 2012 report produced for Defra found that although awareness of the Code was very high (eg 95% of gamekeepers and 65% of farmers) the levels of compliance with the best practice it contains was very low.”
That was one of the strong arguments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge.
The League Against Cruel Sports writes:
“The League believes that snaring is terribly cruel, indiscriminate and wholly unnecessary and leads to untold suffering and horrific deaths for wild, domestic and farm animals throughout the country…Most snares are used by gamekeepers to protect quarry, which are bred and protected to act as targets for blood sports.”
That is not the same as the farmer argument that we have heard previously.
I apologise to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), for not welcoming her to her new position when I opened my speech. I did not get a chance to do so during yesterday’s sitting of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, because I was not there for all of her evidence, but I wish her success in her new job. Will she respond to the point made by the League Against Cruel Sports that most snares are set by gamekeepers, not farmers?
The League Against Cruel Sports states that the 2012 DEFRA report on snaring
“confirms that it is not possible for snares to be species specific and that non-target animals are still captured, even when the code of conduct is strictly adhered to…It is not possible to regulate the use of snares through a non-statutory code, as adherence to the code is low and there is no incentive for operators to obey it…It is clear that due to the cruel, unnecessary and indiscriminate nature of snares, primary legislation is the only viable option to ban their use.”
Will the Minister comment on that?
Not surprisingly, the NFU—an organisation for which I have high regard—says that
“the use of snares for fox and rabbit control is an essential part of wildlife and conservation management,”
“in certain situations they can be the most humane method of pest control.”
As my hon. Friend has said, however, this issue is not so much about control and then humane destruction, but about animals dying in snares and not being dispatched as humanely as everyone would want them to be.
The Library briefing states:
“Snares are commonly used in the UK to catch certain animals prior to their killing. They can be legally used, subject to certain conditions, to catch animals including foxes, rabbits, rats and grey squirrels.
While snares can restrain animals without causing injury, they have the potential to cause injury and death”,
as my hon. Friend has said. The briefing also repeats another point that he made:
“They can also catch non-target animals such as badgers and cats. Their use is therefore controversial.”
To save time, I will not refer to the additional regulations for Wales and Northern Ireland, because my hon. Friend has covered those, but the briefing goes on to note:
“In recent years Scotland has tightened regulations on snares beyond the situation in England and Wales. Snares must have safety stops fitted and users are required by law to now attend a training course and register for a personal identification number. This ID number is required to be displayed on all snares which are set.”
Snare users in Scotland are required to have approved accreditation and must receive a personal identification number from the police, so snaring without an ID number is an illegal activity. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that prudent measure should be implemented south of the border?
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge has also made that case, although obviously we would prefer a complete ban on these things. It has been demonstrated by the devolved Assemblies and the Scottish Government that improvements can be made to the present situation in England and Wales. I am certainly impressed by the fact that each snare has to have an ID number and that, where it can be proven that snares are not being used in the way in which people have been trained to use them, the number can be used to trace the person involved. That is an additional safeguard.
In conclusion, my hon. Friend has made a very strong argument for a complete ban on snares. Even if the Government do not accept that argument, there is also a very strong case, as the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and I have just agreed, to amend regulations in England. Internationally, we appear to be in a small minority of countries. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have all seen fit to move on this issue, and I hope the Government will tell us that they agree with the devolved Assemblies, and that they will improve the situation and move towards, I hope, a full ban. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response in due course.
May I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?
I want to focus on the farming angle, if I may. It was slightly worrying to hear the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who is no longer in her place, refer to this as a sop to commercial shoots, and the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) refer to the distinction between farmers and gamekeepers. The reality is that shooting takes place on farmland: there is no distinction when it comes to managing wildlife, whether it be on a shoot or on a farm. Most upland hill farmers in Wales, who rely on this as one of few methods to control foxes, will be pretty offended by the argument that it is a sop to shooting interests. It is a vital method that they use for commercial and economic purposes in the management of their farms.
I want to stress—because I think this has been lost in the debate—that nobody goes out and sets a snare with any sense of glee or pleasure. It is a practical requirement for people whose job it is to manage wildlife populations for the protection of either gamebirds or agricultural animals. Everybody who does it does it to the best of their ability. Nobody derives pleasure from it. If it was as inefficient as the hon. Gentleman claimed in his opening remarks, those people would not use it as a means of control.
I could not quite ascertain from what Labour Members said whether they accept that some wildlife management or control is necessary. If their answer is “Yes, we accept that some degree of wildlife management is necessary,” it is a case of how, not if. Other speakers have referred in brief to the alternatives. It is easy to say, “If there is a problem, why not use cage traps?” We know that cage traps work quite well for foxes, particularly in urban areas, but cage traps, too, have a non-target-species problem. All sorts of stuff, including raptors, ends up in cage traps designed for foxes. Cage traps may be inspected once or even twice a day, but they have the potential to cause as much suffering as snares do to animals captured and restrained in them. The idea that cage traps are a simple, alternative solution that nobody has thought of yet simply does not add up in practical land management terms.
The use of rifles and shotguns to control foxes has, as we know, numerous limitations. It intrigues me that Labour Members who have been vociferous in their opposition to the badger cull argue that it is difficult to get clean and humane shots of badgers when using high-powered rifles, but they appear to recommend exactly the same method—in the same areas, operated by the same people—for the control of foxes. I do not think they can have it both ways.
All these methods of control have their place. No single one works perfectly, but the proper, professional—often reluctant—use of snares must be part of the mix available to land managers. Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear me say that it is ironic that one other available method of controlling foxes, which is to use dogs underground to flush to waiting guns, is permitted only for the protection of game birds. It is not permitted for the protection of agricultural animals—a matter that was included in the Hunting Act 2004, which the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge supported.
We can cut out a lot of the debate by simply referring to the code of practice published by the Welsh Government in Cardiff. They have listened to all the arguments, they have heard from both sides of this heated debate, and they have come up with a proposal that is largely practical and has the confidence of land managers, sensible wildlife conservationists and politicians. If the Welsh Assembly can come to a conclusion that satisfies all those conflicting interests, I do not see why achieving the same thing here should be beyond the wit of man.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) on securing this debate, which is long overdue. I can only apologise for the fact that I was not able to hear all of his speech, because I was otherwise occupied. As a former vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports, I pay tribute to the league’s tireless work to expose the cruelty associated with the use of snares, and to the many constituents who have contacted me to call for a ban. As has been said, 77% of the public support a ban.
Free-running snares—the supposedly humane option—can, as we have heard in graphic and horrific detail, strangle trapped animals or cut through their fur, muscle and bone. Snares are meant to be checked daily, but often they are not, so animals die from exposure, from dehydration, or because they have been rendered defenceless against predators.
The League Against Cruel Sports reports that 69% of animals caught are not the target species. We have heard how hares, badgers and even cats and dogs can be caught in them. I saw pictures yesterday of Scottish wildcats—Britain’s rarest mammal—being killed in snares. It is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to set a trap or snare intended to injure a protected animal such as a badger, otter or red squirrel. It cannot be right that people can escape prosecution simply by arguing that they lacked the intention to catch those animals, when the likelihood of a protected animal, rather than the intended targets, being caught is so high.
Other countries have managed to ban snares. The UK is one of only five countries in Europe in which snares are completely legal. In countries where snares are not banned outright, such as Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden, their use is much more tightly regulated. We are always hearing from the Government that the UK leads the way in animal welfare, that we have much higher standards than anywhere else and that we are the best in the world. I wish that that was true. Iran has just banned wild animals in circuses, for example; we cannot even do that. Although we have much to be proud of, we need to recognise where we are not leading the way, and where we could take lessons from other countries.
My hon. Friend just mentioned a ban on wild animals in circuses. At least we won that argument. The Government accepted it, and it was a Conservative manifesto promise in the 2015 general election. We hope that the Government will deliver on it by 2020, but does she agree that the sooner they do so, the better?
As I will come on to say later, the Government have a track record of not acting on such things, even when they have notionally accepted the evidence and said that they will act.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, which I have met to discuss a range of issues, disagrees. It states that snares are
“an important tool for conservation and food security”.
I accept that farmers have a right to control predators, but that should not mean that we cannot look at whether there are more humane, effective ways of doing so. On conservation, the RSPB accepts there is sometimes a need to control foxes, but it has not found the need to resort to the use of snares on its reserves. Indeed, the RSPB will tell us that fox snares are known to kill capercaillie, the large woodland grouse that is at risk of extinction. Neither the Wildlife Trusts nor the Woodland Trust use snares. Utility companies, local authorities, Network Rail, Natural England, Highways England and the Forestry Commission all manage their land without using snares for pest control.
Despite the best efforts of the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) to convince us that this is just about farming, we know that snares are mostly used on shooting estates. Snares are used to trap natural predators, in their natural habitats, in an often barbaric fashion. The birds are spared death by fox only to be shot by humans, in almost unimaginable numbers, not for food or conservation but for sport—as Chris Packham would say, not sport but slaughter.
We are here to discuss a ban on snares, not wider issues around shooting. However, I want to put on record the fact that, to date, more than 62,000 people have signed Dr Mark Avery’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting, supported by conservation experts such Chris Packham and Bill Oddie. They are concerned about the persecution of hen harriers, the environmental damage caused by heather burning and the increased flood risk caused by grouse moor management, as well as the use of snares. Those are serious, legitimate concerns, which Ministers should be working with conservationists and shooting estates to address, but the Government have so far only given a complacent, dismissive response, which verged on the rude, to the public petition.
There is also the issue of lead ammunition. There are viable alternatives to lead shot but, despite that, the Government have shelved the report of the lead ammunition group, which was submitted more than a year ago. There are concerns about the welfare of the millions of pheasants and partridges reared in cramped cages every year purely for the purpose of shooting. The last Labour Government introduced a code of practice and commissioned a study on cage-based breeding, but the coalition Government withdrew the code and failed to publish the review’s findings.
A similar picture emerges when we look at efforts to address the flaws in the use of snares. As has been said, the previous Labour Government published a code of practice some 11 years ago. Subsequent research for DEFRA was concluded in 2010, but it took the coalition Government two years to publish it and nothing has been done. Some four years after the report came out, the then DEFRA Minister could tell Parliament only that
“officials worked with stakeholders to explore options in light of the report’s findings. We are considering options and will make an announcement in due course.”
Last year, the League Against Cruel Sports documented evidence of animals found dead in snares and of pits filled with carcases to lure foxes into snares that were placed along the edge, in violation of the code of practice. There is a clear need to act, but the Government do not seem willing to do so.
The same thing has happened all too often with animal welfare issues under this Government. We have talked about wild animals in circuses; on that and on many other issues, the Government have been too slow to publish research, failed to commission reviews that would give them the evidence necessary to support the policy, and dismissed expert advice, as we have seen with the badger cull. We can only conclude that neither animal welfare nor evidence-based policy is a priority for the Government; that Ministers are in thrall to vested interests and allowing their own ideological aversion to any form of intervention or regulation to hold sway; and that preventing unnecessary suffering is simply not something they care about.
Given the new Secretary of State’s enthusiasm for repealing the foxhunting ban, I fear that today’s debate may not meet with her approval. The Minister, whom I congratulate on her appointment, supported efforts last year to weaken the hunting ban, which is disappointing. I hope that on this issue she will prove more receptive. I hope that she does not stand before us today and tell us that the code of practice is working. From all that I have heard today from my hon. Friends, and from all that I have read and watched in recent days—that has included video evidence of the graphic slaughter of these animals—it seems all too obvious that the voluntary approach and code of practice are not working, and that very little progress has been made. Unless the Minister is very persuasive today, I believe the obvious conclusion is that a ban is necessary.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) on bringing this debate to the House. It is an important debate, and it is time we had it.
A large part of my constituency in Cumbria is rural, and its landscapes and habitats need to be managed. I was born and bred in the country, so I understand and accept that such management includes the management of some wildlife. The hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) went into that in some detail. However, I do not accept that this management has to cause suffering either as a direct result of or as a consequence of the methods used. I urge the Government to look at proper, detailed research on alternative methods that could be used. I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) praise the Welsh Government, and I hope this is the start of a trend for him.
I believe that we have a moral duty to treat animals in a humane and compassionate way. To that end, I have been a member of the Labour Animal Welfare Society for many years, and I am proud of the work that LAWS has done. The previous Labour Government achieved much towards ending the cruel and unnecessary suffering of animals. For example, they introduced the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which for the first time embedded in statute clear standards relating to the welfare of animals and made it a criminal offence to subject any animal, including those caught in snares, to unnecessary suffering.
In 2005, the Labour Government issued guidance—my hon. Friends have mentioned it—including information about how snares should be maintained and set to reduce the pain inflicted. In addition, the guidance detailed the steps that must be taken to reduce the chance that a non-target animal is caught. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) went into the detail of that and demonstrated just how indiscriminate snares can be. As has been said, they are mainly designed to catch foxes and rabbits. However, DEFRA’s own figures, which were cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge, are worth repeating: 33% of the animals caught are hares, 26% are badgers and 14% are other animals, including pet cats and dogs.
In 2008, the Labour Government commissioned research on how often snares are used in England and Wales, and on the level of suffering they inflict on the animals they catch. As we have heard, this was published by DEFRA in 2012. The report recommended increasing education for people who use snares, improving the uptake of the code of practice on snaring and encouraging the use of code-compliant snares. The Government could be doing that right now.
The coalition Government said they were considering options for improving welfare standards, but, as we have heard, we have not as yet had any proposals. I was pleased earlier this year when my fellow Cumbrian the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), the then DEFRA Minister, said that the Government were considering options and would soon make an announcement. As we know, however, there has been no announcement. I ask the Minister to look at this urgently so that the concerns raised in the report can be addressed and there can be an announcement as soon as possible after the summer recess.
We have heard about the petition from the League Against Cruel Sports, so we know that there is huge public support for a ban. As the petition has 66,000 signatures, it surely has to be listened to and taken into account when the Government carry out any review of this situation. The League Against Cruel Sports describes snaring as
“a cruel, indiscriminate, and wholly unnecessary practice that has no place in modern society.”
I ask the Minister and the Government to work with farmers, gamekeepers and animal welfare groups to develop a coherent and effective package of measures to prevent illegal snaring and the unnecessary suffering of animals. I also ask them to consider working towards a ban.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) for calling this important debate. Despite many parliamentary questions, fierce campaigning from groups such as the League Against Cruel Sports and much work on implementing policy, snares remain a persistent problem.
The situation seems to be becoming a war of attrition. In March 2015, we were told that Ministers were considering options for improving guidance on snares. A date for publication was at that time unknown. This February, the Government were again asked to make it their policy to introduce stricter regulations and a ban on the use of snares. Once again, the answer was that they were considering all options and would make an announcement in due course. How many options are there to consider, and how long is “in due course”?
Much is made of the DEFRA code of practice. It is undoubtedly commendable in its promotion of good practice, but it is not statutory and its enforcement remains by voluntary compliance. The National Anti Snaring Campaign has argued that the code “serves no useful purpose.” In March 2014, the then Government stated that it had no plans to put the code on a statutory basis.
Current legislation prohibits the use of self-locking snares, outlaws the setting of snares in places where there is in increased likelihood of catching non-target animals and requires snares to be checked daily. These requirements are all welcome and I am pleased that there is such a clear framework, but it is quite evident that the law needs to go further. In Scotland, it does go further. In recent years, there has been a tightening of regulation so that snares must be fitted with safety stops, and users are now required to undertake training as well as to register for the personal identification number that needs to be displayed on any set snares.
In 2012, DEFRA published research on “Determining the Extent of Use and Humaneness of Snares in England and Wales”. In February 2016, the Government said:
“Following publication of the report, officials worked with stakeholders to explore options in light of the report’s findings. We are considering options and will make an announcement in due course.”
As a result of this research, the Welsh Government have not legislated, but they published “The code of best practice on the use of snares in fox control” in September 2015. This aimed
“to deliver higher animal welfare standards, increased efficiency in terms of fox control, and ensure that fewer non-target species are being caught.”
The productive relationship that the Welsh Labour Government have forged with the agriculture sector and its supporting organisations has allowed stakeholders to communicate why a code of practice is so important. This in turn makes enforcement much easier, as users of snares see the benefit of self-policing and of implementing best practice that improves the effectiveness of a snare.
I fully appreciate the divisive nature of this subject. Indeed, I acknowledge the calls from organisations such as the British Association for Conversation and Shooting for a reasoned and reasonable analysis of the activity that is both accurate and measured, and takes account of the need for these tools for conservation and food security. However, I condemn the sometimes barbaric suffering endured by animals, both those that are targeted by the snare and those that are not; quite clearly, it is not the purpose of snares to catch such animals. I appreciate the measured responses from organisations such as the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the National Farmers Union and the National Gamekeepers Organisation in calling on their members—in Wales, certainly—to adhere to best practice and use snares properly. I call on the Government to make the code of practice statutory and, by doing so, improve efficiency of use, while minimising risk and unnecessary harm. Surely we all agree that we must do all we can to reduce unnecessary suffering and use more humane methods, such as box traps.
Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. I declare an interest as a member of the Countryside Alliance and of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.
I have a different opinion from my colleagues on the Labour Benches. I agree with them on many things, as they know, but I have a different opinion in this debate. I know that we will still be friends at the end of it no matter what happens, which is important. [Interruption.] Well, I will still be their friend no matter what.
If modern snares are used strictly according to best practice, they surpass international standards for restraining traps. Snares must be checked at least once a day, but best practice recommends twice a day, with the first check at sunrise, or as close to it as is practical, as that is when most catches are made. The Animal Welfare Act makes it an offence for a person to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal under their control. If snares are used correctly, they are humane.
Snares make it possible to control wild predators such as foxes, which have no compunction whatever about what they kill. Some of us in this House will be aware of the fox’s predation. When a fox gets into a hen coop, it does not simply kill one hen; it takes great enjoyment in killing them all, but eats only one. There has to be some control of foxes, and well-designed snares, used properly, are humane and effective.
Legislation is already in place about the use of free-running snares. Modern snares used by responsible people are not a danger or the source of evil and death some would have us believe. I respect the differing views of others in the Chamber, but I ask them to consider the point of view that I am putting forward. To give some examples, a modified foot snare is being used to catch snow leopards as part of research by the World Wide Fund for Nature. That shows that the answer lies not in banning snares, but in ensuring people cannot and do not use them inappropriately. As I have said, they must be used correctly.
Modern snares are greatly different from old styles of snares. Nowadays, a snare is similar to a simple dog lead, but made with a thin wire loop. As well as being free running, modern snares have several design features to improve welfare for the foxes caught and allow the self-release of non-target animals such as badgers, hares and deer.
I am absolutely sure that those seeking change have very good intentions, but we must look at the unintended consequences should their desired outcome prevail. For example, foxes are prolific predators of ground-nesting birds, domestic poultry, game birds, small mammals and young livestock such as lambs. To give an example in the short time I have, the loss of fox snaring, a key method of control, would result in unintended consequences including but not limited to the loss of biodiversity and of income to farmers and other land managers.
The brown hare is a biodiversity priority species. How much pleasure I take in seeing hares in abundance in the fields and across my land back home. That is very much down to fox control, properly carried out by us on the farm and by neighbouring farmers. We need predator control. The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust has shown that predator control explains some 46% of the variation in the hare population. Having predator control is advantageous.
Ground-nesting birds are also affected by fox predation. Across the UK, curlew numbers declined by 42% between 1995 and 2008. Earlier in the debate, some Members referred to snaring that takes place in grounds owned by the National Trust & GWCT, as well as snaring by other landowners and organisations. Curlew and lapwing numbers have increased where there is snaring, as other hon. Members have mentioned.
On hill farms foxes can impact on lamb numbers. Data collected from two Scottish hill farms over four years identified 16 lambs as having been killed by foxes, with a further 53 going missing. Fox predation is a matter of concern for the vast majority of Welsh farmers. Foxes also have the potential to destroy entire free range poultry flocks.
All those examples show that we need a system in place. Free-running snares are the most effective and humane, and conserve mammals on the ground. Without snares, foxes would pose an increased threat to vulnerable wildlife populations, biodiversity and habitat conservation. They would also cause significantly greater damage to a diverse range of economic activities including shooting, agriculture, forestry and eco-tourism, which all rely on managed countryside. Sometimes shooting foxes is not possible and so the only way to control them is by snaring—land may be inaccessible at certain times of the year, for example, in summer time in particular.
Some Members have referred to the change to legislation in Northern Ireland. This issue concerned the Northern Ireland Assembly during my former life as a Member of that Assembly. The changes intimated here are more than acceptable. I will put the details of the matter on the record. The Northern Ireland Assembly decided to put the relevant order on hold while further consultation was conducted, owing to the strength of feeling there was on this issue. That being the case, although Northern Ireland has made some changes, which I believe are welcome, it has also recognised the great surge of opinion both in favour and against on this issue. We have to have a balance. I therefore have concerns over what is being put forward in the motion today.
It is good to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Deputy Speaker. I welcome the Minister to her place. I look forward to debating important issues such as this with her. I trust we will see a new progressive approach, in particular on animal welfare and other issues within her brief. I hope that today she will be supporting the 77% of people who want us to take action on a ban of the manufacturing, sale, possession and use of snares.
I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) for bringing forward this motion and enabling the House to debate the indiscriminate and cruel nature of snares. He is not only an expert on animal welfare in this place but a real champion of it beyond here. He did not make the argument alone; it was echoed across these Benches.
Today, I will set out four key areas: the law, the issues, the research and the alternatives. I will start with the law. In 1981 the Wildlife and Countryside Act prohibited self-locking snares, specifying that snares must be free running. But there has been no definition in statute or in the courts of what self-locking actually means. We have heard today of the challenge caused by the fact that free-running snares turn into locking ones as a result of wires becoming twisted or rusted.
The Act also requires that snares should not be set to catch non-target animals, yet only 25% of animals caught in snares are target animals, meaning that 75% are not. Clearly, it is not possible to uphold legislation on that in practice. It also says that snares should be inspected daily, yet we know that only 77% are, meaning that 23% are not. There is clearly poor policing and poor practice on that. Basically, the law is not working.
Countries have recognised that. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) talked about the Welsh Government’s “Code of best practice on the use of snares in fox control”, published in 2015. The Northern Ireland Government brought forward the Snares Order (Northern Ireland) 2015, which requires snares to have stops and swivels and to be staked in the ground. We also heard from the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) about the progress Scotland has made on the issue, by looking at training and registration, as well as the provision of personal ID numbers to ensure better regulation of snares. In 2005, Labour brought forward a code of practice to upgrade the 1981 Act, stating that snares should pose no risk to other animals. Labour then commissioned a research report, “Determining the extent of use and humaneness of snares in England and Wales”, which as we have heard came out in 2012.
There are five nations where snares remain legal: the UK, Ireland, Latvia, France and Belgium. Today we can take a step forward and join progressive nations in outlawing snares and recognising their real cruelty. We should also recognise the fragmentary nature of legislation on snares; the voluntary code is not working and the legislation is not being properly enforced.
Moving on to the issues, as we heard so clearly from my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), snares are mainly used in relation to blood sports and the protection of game birds. We have heard that 95% of large landowners do not use snares. We have also heard that snares capture, maim and kill 1.7 million animals every year. During the course of this debate today, over 200 animals will have been snared.
We know that snares deteriorate over time—a point made powerfully today by hon. Members—with 30% becoming rusty or getting stuck. They are then no longer free-running, but dysfunctional and the cause of additional animal cruelty. We have also heard that catches are indiscriminate because snares do not identify the animal about to put its head, body or part of its body through the noose. Only 25% of snared animals are foxes; 33% are hares; 26% are badgers, and 14% are deer, otters and domestic animals such as cats and dogs. It is a criminal offence to harm domestic pets, but they also fall foul of snares. So do humans—fell runners and ramblers get caught up in and injured by snares. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) about the lack of intent, but that is no defence. The evidence is before us today.
We have heard from so many hon. Members on these Benches about the extensive cruelty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) said, it is barbaric how snares cause such harm and cruelty, with animals suffering for hours as they are trapped. If we claim to be a progressive country, we must have progressive legislation and bring in a ban. Today would not be soon enough. That view is supported by 87% of vets. As we have heard, 95% of landowners do not use snares and nor do 250 municipal authorities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East set out, the RSPB, Network Rail and many other authorities no longer use snares. The reason is that they are indiscriminate, inhumane and the law covering them is not applied properly. It does not work and it does not address the issue. That is borne out by the research, as my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman) highlighted.
It is important to look at the behaviour of foxes. They are very competitive and territorial, so if space is vacated because a fox has been killed, other foxes will move into that area and breeding will increase to fill the space. That has been proven over 40 years, with our fox community remaining consistent at 250,000 adults. The hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) mentioned a response from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) about wildlife management. We recognise the importance of that issue, but that response was before the DEFRA report in 2012, which moved forward on the evidence. It is important that we look at the most up-to-date evidence, rather than looking back to parliamentary questions asked before that report.
The report talks about the need for increased powers in the code, because it is not working. We need to move the whole framework forward and to recognise that inspections are not working. The report goes on to say that inspections should happen not once, but twice a day. If that is part of the voluntary code, my question is how that would be implemented. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that once a day was enough, but it is not and we need to go further. We know that 36% of farmers are unaware of the contents of the code—or even of its existence—and only 3% have had any training on snares. Clearly the code is failing. It is failing animals and wildlife, and we need to get real about that. We also know that even stops on snares do not prevent animal cruelty, as so much evidence has now come forward on that point.
We need to move forward on the principles of how we uphold our wildlife, our animals and their welfare, to ensure that they have freedom from hunger, thirst, pain, injury and disease, freedom from discomfort and to express normal behaviours, and freedom from fear and distress. The psychological impact is also important.
What are the options for the future? More training and licences would follow the Scotland model, but we have heard that the take-up of training is low, so that in itself is not enough. Training manufacturers is also recommended, but the problem with that is as soon as snares leave the factory, they get old, rusty and out of date, and therefore do not work. Stops and swivels work to an extent, but injury is still caused to wild animals. The report recommends research on the design of snares. That is one option—research is always good and progressive and we always welcome it—but the reality is that snares are inhumane and cause harm to animals.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will press on because of the time.
We know that only 1% to 3% of pheasants are killed by foxes, so we are not looking at huge communities of animals that fall prey to foxes. There are alternatives that can be used. If we bring in a ban, we can make progress in the use of alternatives that the evidence suggests can be incredibly effective—
Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?
I am sorry, but I will move on. Other hon. Members have already spoken.
On alternatives for foxes, electronic fencing can be used, as can fencing set deep into the ground so that animals cannot burrow under it. Such methods are used by landowners who do not use snares to trap animals so cruelly. Scare devices can also be used, and if they are moved around it can stop habituation so animals continue to be scared off by them. Other alternatives include chemical repellents and cage trapping, which means that animals can be released unharmed instead of injured. Fencing is also recommended for protection from rabbits. So there are alternatives.
What I would say to the Minister this afternoon is that the work has been done, the research is complete and the evidence is weighty in favour of a complete ban, like most of our progressive friends across Europe. It is time that the Government brought forward legislation, no longer making excuses or delaying. We know that 68% of MPs would support it, as would 77% of our constituents, and it would be the right thing to do for animals as well as the wider nation. I say: do not delay. Labour would bring in a ban: will the Government ban the manufacturing, sale, possession and use of snares?
It is a huge privilege to stand at the Dispatch Box for the first time as a DEFRA Minister and I thank hon. Members for their kind words. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd) on securing this debate. It is a devolved matter, but I welcome the contributions from all four parts of the United Kingdom, which show the level of interest in this topic.
I thank the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), for Workington (Sue Hayman), for Neath (Christina Rees) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friends the Members for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) and for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) for their contributions, as well as the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell)—it is a pleasure to debate with her today.
I fully understand the passion that hon. Members have—as do our constituents—in wanting a high regard for animal welfare. As the hon. Member for Workington pointed out, it is accepted that wildlife needs to be controlled. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and the hon. Member for Strangford pointed out, culling of certain prolific species actually assists the conservation of endangered species. I reassure hon. Members that the Government share the public’s high regard for animal welfare and we are proud to have the highest animal welfare standards in the world. We also recognise that the welfare of our wild animals can be protected even further and more can be done to improve snaring practices.
Snaring is just one part of a range of measures that have to be used to manage some species, the control of which underpins agricultural production, farm animal husbandry, the sustainable harvesting of wild game birds and the conservation of wildlife. At crucial times of the year, especially spring and summer, vegetative cover often makes other measures impractical, leaving snaring as the only effective form of management. When practised to a high standard and in adherence to the law, snaring can provide land and wildlife managers with an effective means of restraining target animals before they are humanely managed. There is no question, however, but that if used incorrectly snares are capable of causing injuries and suffering to the animals for which they were set and, through accidental capture, to non-target species for which snaring is entirely inappropriate.
The Minister says—I have heard this many times from Ministers—that the UK has the best animal welfare standards in the world. I gave some instances in my speech where I do not believe that we do, so where is the evidence? Will she publish something that shows why she is so confident that we have the best animal welfare standards in the world?
Off the top of my head, I cannot quite remember the exact phrase, but there is something like an international index. The UK, alongside, I believe, countries such as Austria and Switzerland, is reckoned to be in the top five. I also believe that that is an independent assessment. I will let the hon. Lady know what I am referring to in the usual way, if she is agreeable to that.
I congratulate my hon. Friend—I am sorry I failed to do so in my speech—on her new elevation. We are very pleased to see her in her current position. Does she agree that nobody wants unnecessary suffering from snaring or anything else? Will she therefore agree to provide a new updated code, so that best practice can be followed?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I would just ask him to be patient and wait a few minutes.
Returning to the recognition that snares are capable of causing injuries, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 prohibited the use of inhumane self-locking snares. I recognise what the hon. Member for York Central said: that they are accepted to be in law mechanisms that tighten and cause asphyxiation. The 1981 Act requires trappers to check their snares at least once every 24 hours. Hon. Members will also be aware that the Act prohibited the use of snares to take certain species, including badgers, otters, red squirrels and hedgehogs. The Deer Act 1991 offers similar protection to any deer. Under the Animal Welfare 2006 Act, there is a legal responsibility to prevent unnecessary suffering to any animals under human control, including any animal restrained in a snare.
The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge refers to the inefficiency of snaring, but I am not aware that he has suggested other methods that would be more efficient in wildlife management. I recognise that the hon. Member for York Central referred to several alternatives, including chemicals. As yet, I am not aware that they are shown to be more efficient or effective. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) referred to efficiency. I think that is borne out, although I recognise some of the issues addressed.
The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge and other Members referred extensively to the 2005 code of practice issued by DEFRA, and to the 2012 study. He mentioned a number of issues he would like to see addressed. That is a view shared by many people. Land management organisations and gamekeeping associations around the country have developed a new code of best practice on the use of snares for fox control in England, which would also be suitable for the control of rabbits. Designed and written by a number of stakeholders, including the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the National Gamekeepers Organisation, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Moorland Association and the Countryside Alliance, of which I note the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) is a member, this new guidance builds on the previous DEFRA code of practice, but draws on reliable research conducted by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust by setting out principles for the legal and humane use of snares.
The capture of non-target species can be reduced by appropriate setting, taking into account the behaviour of the target animal. The new code of practice emphasises this very clearly, stating that if non-targets are likely to be caught, snaring should not be used. Improvements in snare design mean that it is far more likely that non-target species, even if caught, can be released unharmed.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds talked about well-designed snares and started to explain, before he was cut off in his prime, how best practice can tackle a lot of these issues—a point reinforced by the hon. Member for Strangford. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse drew attention to the fact that snares are mainly used by gamekeepers, rather than farmers. I would point out that snares are used by different groups, including gamekeepers and farmers. These different groups operate in very different environments and have different pressures. Snares are often the most appropriate mechanism for gamekeepers. Upland areas have a different habitat and environment, with more unrestricted areas than farmland.
There have been many references to practices in Scotland and the Welsh code, which the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) said should be made statutory. I think we should give the new code of practice, which I understand is very similar to the Welsh code, a chance to come into effect before even considering any further regulation.
If people do not believe the law is being enforced they should report such incidents to the police. Many forces have rural and wildlife crime units. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse said that the wild animals in circuses prohibition will be delivered in this Parliament. I point out gently to the hon. Member for Bristol East that the Labour Government were in power for 13 years and the Ministers of the day were not persuaded to legislate on a ban.
I would not want the Minister to inadvertently mislead the House. After the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was passed, proposed legislation on circus animals was left to one side. Between 2007 and 2009, the Labour Government were persuaded of the case and the 2010 Labour party manifesto committed to legislating on wild animals in circuses. The lobby was successful, but she is correct that at that point we did not have time to legislate.
The hon. Gentleman is right. I am not questioning what was in his manifesto, but his party was not re-elected in 2010. I was referring to the practice of snares, rather than wild animals in circuses.
I am confident that the new code will improve the situation. It is different from the 2005 code, in that the new code has been designed and owned by the sector, rather than Government—although we have, of course, brought people to this place and had conversations. By showing leadership in this area, the sector will undoubtedly have more success in promoting good practice with their members and changing behaviour than the Government could achieve on their own. I cannot announce today exactly when the code will be published, but I am confident it will be very soon. I am on day four in this role as a Minister. I am really looking forward to the code’s being published and put into practice.
We have had an excellent debate. It is crucial that we all take responsibility and continue to work together to ensure that best practice is recognised, shared and followed by everyone who uses snares. We support measures that improve animal welfare, including the new code of practice. We are all looking forward to its being published very soon.
I have listened to what the Minister said. Unfortunately, I am not assuaged by it because, to coin a phrase, I have heard it before—now it will be “very soon”. It took the Government two years to publish the DEFRA research and development unit report. It began in 2010 and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) pointed out, took until 2012 to produce it.
I apologise for my appalling bad manners in not welcoming the Minister to her new position. I hope she makes a success of it and enjoys her new responsibilities.
The one unifying factor across the House is that everybody accepts the need for animal pest control and decent standards of animal welfare. Nobody disputes that. The question is always one of means, not ends. If the means deployed involve exceptional cruelty and barbarity, that is not a price worth paying. The Minister mentions there being no alternatives. There are plenty of alternatives—unfortunately, Mr Deputy Speaker stopped me from getting on with my speech—including adequate poultry housing, fencing, scare devices and shooting.
I was delighted to hear what the Minister said about wild animals in circuses. Members may recall that that started as a resolution from this Chamber in a Backbench Business debate. I hope that that is an omen and a precedent. I hope the House will adopt the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes the indiscriminate and cruel nature of snares, the failure of previous attempts at voluntary and self-regulation amongst operators, and the continued suffering caused to thousands of animals every year by these traps; and calls on the Government to implement a full ban on the manufacture, sale, possession and use of snares at the earliest opportunity.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This morning, the Government sneaked out, alongside 29 other written statements, confirmation of a major increase—2.8% in 2017-18—in tuition fees. Two days ago in the House, when we debated the Higher Education and Research Bill, Ministers made no reference to this. Is it not disgraceful that they should use this cynical last-day-of-term mechanism? Have you had any indication that a Minister is available to answer questions from colleagues before we disappear for five and a half weeks?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I should point out that we are coming to the pre-recess Adjournment debate. If he would like to mention that in the debate, he is more than welcome to do so, and I am sure that the Treasury Bench will take it to the relevant Minister. If he would like me to add him to the list or if he wishes to catch my eye, I will see what I can do.