[Martin Vickers in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 600593, relating to the use of snares.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers. The petition received over 102,000 signatures and the petitioners, who are in the Public Gallery, ask that the Government prohibit the sale, use and manufacture of free-running snares by amending the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. That would put free-running snares in the same category as self-locking snares, which are already illegal. Today’s debate follows on the heels of other events in Parliament last year, such as the question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas) to the Environment Secretary about the use of snares, as well as an early-day motion on 31 January calling for a ban on the use of all snares.
Before going into the general points, it should be noted that both Scotland and Wales have different rules to England on snares. Scotland takes a more rigorous approach, in that the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 demands that snare users must achieve an approved accreditation, receive a personal identification number from the police and attach an identification tag to every snare when set. It is also true that the Scottish Government’s wildlife team are conducting a statutory review on whether snares should be banned altogether. Wales announced in 2021 that it intends to completely ban the use of snares, and a Bill is set to go through this year, which was laid before the Senedd on 26 September last year.
In England, the last review on the use of snares was almost 19 years ago, in October 2004. In the review, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asked for a working group to be set up to look at the use of snares. It found a series of uncomfortable truths occurred whenever such devices were used. Those included stress and anxiety for the captured animal, fear of predation, friction of the snare as the animal tries to escape, dislocations and amputations, ischemic pain due to lack of blood circulation, compression injuries, thirst and hunger. There were more—the list goes on. The petitioners argue that those things are inexcusable in the 21st century.
What is worse is that the snares are often snaring the wrong animal. They often catch cats, dogs, badgers and deer and when they do it can often lead to a painful death. A post-mortem on a badger caught in a snare read:
“He was in good body condition but had been dead for at least 48 hours. X-rays show an indentation around his neck, which corresponded to visible bruises around his throat. This was consistent with the snare being placed around the throat. There were also recent wounds to the pads on both his front feet. The vet said those injuries were consistent with him ‘having scrabbled violently to try and get free prior to death’. He also had bruised gums around his canine teeth, consistent with him having tried to bite a hard thin object (such as a wire) before he died. His windpipe contained some stomach contents and also bloody, frothy mucous.”
The hon. Member has just shared with us a horrible set of words. But I think that is the point. Would he agree with me that what he has described is indiscriminate cruelty that obviously causes horrific suffering to animals? That is the reason the petitioners are so concerned, and we should likewise be deeply concerned about that kind of behaviour.
I thank the hon. Member for her contribution. No one could say that what I have just read is how we would want any animal to die—the petitioners would no doubt agree. In the vet’s opinion, the young male badger died as a result of asphyxiation caused by a ligature placed around his neck—probably a snare. That is not a pleasant read.
I posted on social media that I was to lead this debate and it was widely shared. Many, many people posted comments, the vast majority, if not all, of which were totally opposed to the continued use of snares.
We should always be slightly cautious about self-generation on social media, although it can be indicative. Even more relevant is the opinion polling, which shows that well over three quarters of the population believe that snares should be banned. The opinion of this House over several years, even decades, has been very clear, so is it not time for the Government to introduce legislation on this and other animal welfare issues? We do not seem to have a great deal of business holding us up at the moment, so perhaps they should get on with it.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I will talk about that further. As he says, the opinion polls show that people definitely lean towards banning snares, but we need to debate the subject, which is why the petition has been brought to the Chamber today.
My starting point is the same as that of the commentators and petitioners: nobody wants to see any animal harmed, never mind killed, unless there are very strong reasons to do so. Nevertheless, animals are killed and people support that. For example, dangerous dogs that have harmed or even killed a child are put down.
Our feelings make it difficult to move to the other side of the debate, but we must do so. It is a debate, not a platform where only one view can be heard. There must be no cancellation here. We therefore need to ask why snares are being used in this day and age. Are there good reasons for their continued use? In life, we learn that there are always two sides to a story, and that is especially the case for MPs. I have never found that everybody has agreed with me about everything I have said. We all have different views, and I welcome the fact that we live in a democracy—a country in which freedom of speech is so strong. Many countries are not so blessed.
I have made efforts to speak to those who support the continued use of snares. I wanted to know why they believe that snares are a good thing, given what the DEFRA review found. One gamekeeper I have been in contact with told me that if snares are used in compliance with current legislation, they are a humane way of protecting not only the farming world’s livelihood but the environment. I am not convinced that the aforementioned badger would agree with any of that, but for the record I have not had clarification about whether the incident involved an illegal snare or a legal snare.
That brings me to the snare itself. We talk about snares, but what is a legal snare? Not all snares are illegal, and there are regulations in force determining what is. Let me tell Members what I discovered. The snares, now called humane cable restraints, are engineered with five safety devices. Two swivels—an anchor swivel and a middle swivel—reduce entanglement. Next, it is a legal requirement in the UK for the running eye to be free-running to help reduce strangulations. Previously, snares were ratcheted, and strangulation often occurred not just to the intended creature but to non-target animals. Ratcheted snares are now illegal. A fixed stop allows smaller animals to remove themselves, and also reduces the chance of strangulation of the target animal—apparently mainly foxes. The final component is a break-away device so that if animals of a certain size pull hard enough against the snare, it will break and they will be set free. Those devices were initially tested by 34 gamekeepers across the country and proved to be much improved on the previously used snares.
The law says that snares should be checked every 24 hours. The code of practice states that it should preferably be before 9 am each day, and if the gamekeeper is able the snare should be inspected again at the end of each day. If that procedure is rigorously followed, it should minimise the number of captured animals that go through the pain that the previously mentioned post-mortem report described. Whether it is rigorously followed is a fair question. The device should also be inspected daily for signs of rusting or fraying of the cord. It should also be checked to ensure it is working—in particular, the effectiveness of all the safety devices should be checked.
The subject is emotive and I can understand the petitioners’ point of view and why, in an animal-loving country such as ours, many people want to stop this method of capturing animals. It is natural to feel that way, and I share those feelings, too. However, gamekeepers do much to look after our countryside, and they say they need snares to enable them to do their job. I have heard that they are stopping some birds becoming extinct. Lapwings and curlews are two examples of birds that are in danger of becoming extinct to the west of the UK; foxes are to blame for much of their demise.
A relative townie like me can easily sit in an armchair and say that the use of snares is wrong and even barbaric, but I am conscious that I have little understanding of the countryside and the steps necessary to protect it. Those who have spent their lives in the countryside say snares are necessary. We need to know who is right and who is wrong—we need evidence. I am therefore pleased that the Government consider it timely to open a call for evidence to make sure they have the very latest understanding on the issue. It is essential that both sides of the argument are listened to. Cancel culture is iniquitous and has no place in a functioning democracy.
I believe I speak for many, if not all of us, when I say it is also essential that we reduce any inhumane treatment of our wildlife while still helping gamekeepers to protect our countryside. I believe there are many areas in life where there is a solution if legislators, animal rights groups, activists, concerned citizens and all those in the countryside sit down and talk things through. This surely must be one such issue.
With Wales and Scotland moving quickly towards a complete ban on snares, time is of the essence for such talks and solutions such as humane snares, reflective dishes, electric fences or even high-sonic devices could be used. I am told that many in the countryside do not believe that tighter legislation will work, but gamekeepers believe that mandatory training will. That issue also needs to be addressed.
I am grateful to the petitioners for bringing the debate to Parliament. We need to establish the evidence and make any necessary adjustments to the legislation that are appropriate and proportionate. What they should be is not exactly known yet. However, the process must start, and I look forward to its conclusions. I therefore hope the debate is the start of a sensible conversation, where tempers are not frayed and a solution can be found.
I am very pleased to speak in the debate. I have been a long-time sports enthusiast and I love the countryside. I live on a farm and am a member of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, and the Countryside Alliance. I am also a member of Country Sports Ireland. I say that because I want to put things in context, and it is important that I do so.
I thank the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for setting the scene, and I understand that he is here to represent the petitioners, but I feel that I must represent what I believe to be a balanced point of view about ensuring the survival of lapwings and curlews, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. On our farm, we used to have hundreds and thousands of lapwings along the edge of Strangford lough, where I live. Those numbers have decreased. Why? I would suggest that it is because of the predation of a number of animals and the move towards using the main restraints, as I would refer to them. We have to acknowledge that there has been a very clear movement among the people.
I am proud that the main thrust of country sports is conservation and preserving the countryside for future generations, and I have certainly passed on my love of country sports to my son Jamie and my granddaughter Katie. They have learned at first hand that our first duty is to sustaining the land and to the farmers who live around us, which is really important.
As the representative of a mixed urban and rural constituency, I have an acute awareness of the needs of the farming community. I am often guided by the needs of the agri-industrial sector in co-operation with advancing information and ways forward in our modern world. I am certainly not against change, but I am in the business of realism in what we are trying to achieve. I am proud of how farmers have taken on diversification and made changes that their grandfathers may never have understood. At the same time, I have a real respect for the generational learning that cannot be understood and felt through a report on a page alone.
I made contact with the Countryside Alliance, which provided the following statement for the debate. I will quote it in its entirety, as I think it is important that we hear it all. It says:
“Snaring is one of a range of essential measures used to manage certain species, the control of which underpins agriculture production, farm animal husbandry, the sustainable harvesting of gamebirds and the protection of species of the highest conservation concern, including the curlew. Specifically, it is a legitimate and effective form of fox control, especially in habitats where other control techniques are either ineffective or impractical.”
Whenever we say, “Do away with everything”, we must have an alternative. That is what I want to put forward. I think the Government have the alternative. That is the position we are at. The Countryside Alliance statement continues:
“In response to previous calls for the Government to ban the production and use of snares, the Countryside Alliance and other countryside organisations work with DEFRA”—
the Minister’s Department—
“to produce a code of best practice on the use of snares for fox control in England, which was published in 2016. That code reflected the current state of knowledge, following extensive research into the use of fox snares by different interest groups, snare design, operating practices, selectivity, and the condition of captured animals.”
The hon. Member is making a point about DEFRA and its involvement in this area. Could he reflect on his views on DEFRA’s independent working group on snaring and the paper that it produced, which details the kind of suffering and injuries that animals that are snared might experience? There is pain associated with dislocations, and there is fear, stress, anxiety, injuries to muscles, thirst, hunger, exposure and inflammatory pain, as well as malaise associated with infections. I could go on at significant length. I wonder if that is a part of the report that he has reflected on.
I am very happy to reflect on the opinion of the hon. Lady and others as well. What I am saying is that the snares of yesteryear are not acceptable, but the humane restraints that the Government permit today are a way of moving forward. When the hon. Member for Don Valley introduced the debate, as well as in conversations we have had before, he mentioned how the Department has moved forward. I say quite clearly that to have the snares of yesteryear would be totally wrong, because there is little or no humane control in them. What we have today with the humane restraints is a methodology, and that is what DEFRA has. I think there is a way forward.
The Countryside Alliance further states:
“Code compliant snares are a restraining, rather than killing, device, and only these can be used in England. Although fox trapping is not subject to the Agreement of International Humane Trapping Standards, research has also indicated that code of practice compliant snares, operated according to best practice, past the Agreement’s requirements for humaneness. As a humane and effective means of fox control, snares are an essential management tool that we cannot afford to lose.”
It also says, very clearly:
“Any changes to current legislation and regulations must be proportionate and justified.”
I accept what the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) is saying, and I agree with her, but I think what the Government have on humane restraints is the right way of doing this.
The hon. Member for Don Valley referred to gamekeepers. I am a shooting man; that is no secret. I understand that we have to pest control animals, including birds. I want to see curlew and lapwing in the numbers that there once were. We have heard that on the Yorkshire moors, for example, where there were once 20 or 30 curlew and lapwing nesting, there is now just one. That is down to predation. These things have to be addressed.
The BASC has also highlighted that we must remember that the manufacture, sale and use of snares in the UK is already subject to legislation and various codes of practice, and that snares are a vital predator management tool that enables land managers to protect livestock, game birds and ground-nesting birds from predation by foxes where other methods of control are not viable. We must look at getting the balance in the countryside right and I believe that humane restraints achieve that balance. The shooting organisations—the Countryside Alliance, the BASC and the organisation that I belong to, Country Sports Ireland—believe that, too.
A ban on all snares would remove the latest, most modern fox snare designs, which should correctly be referred to as humane cable restraints. They are the solution and the right way forward, because they give a balance to the countryside and ensure that predators, including foxes, can be restrained. Humane cable restraints are used by conservationists and landowners to prevent foxes from predating on rare ground-nesting birds such as curlew, lapwing and golden plover.
I mentioned the area where I live, on the edge of Strangford lough in Northern Ireland, where the numbers of lapwing, curlew and even golden plover have reduced greatly. As I say, this is about getting the balance right, and control of foxes is critical so that some of our nesting waders do not become extinct. The hon. Member for Don Valley referred to that possibility, and it is the danger if we do not have some sort of control.
Humane cable restraints are also used by wildlife biologists carrying out research, with the foxes that are caught being released unharmed and a number being recaptured. Removing the lawful use of humane cable restraints to catch and hold foxes at times of the year and in locations where other methods simply do not work would have serious and unintended consequences for nature conservation.
I am a conservationist, and I am sure that everyone else present is too. As a conservationist, I believe that we have to find a balance and a means of control. I have seen at first hand—I suspect some others have too—the fox’s own “blood sport”, whereby he has been in a henhouse and killed hens. It must have been about 35 or 40 years ago, but I remember it well: two sisters had every one of their prize hens killed. I am also aware of a situation in which someone’s flock of ducks was decimated by the predation of a fox.
When it comes to finding a balance, I recognise that the snares of yesteryear are not acceptable, but I believe that humane cable restraints are. Indeed, it has already been proven that they are by biologists and others involved in conservation. It is important that we acknowledge that. The Countryside Alliance and the BASC, along with my local farmers—I live on a farm; I made that declaration early on—have made it clear to me that we must ensure that there is a viable, humane and effective alternative to snares. I am not sure that we have that yet, although I remain open to having my mind changed. I believe that humane cable restraints are that alternative.
The fact is that foxes do not merely decimate flocks of livestock—this applies to sheep too, by the way; a farmer contacted me after a dog had chased sheep around a field and some of them had aborted, and a fox will take a new-born lamb when the ewe is vulnerable—but destroy livelihoods. This serious problem must have a serious solution, and I feel that humane cable restraints are and must be accepted as such.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I respect her and I know that she looks deeply into these subjects and tries to come up with a methodology that works. The hon. Member for Don Valley referred to gamekeepers. The code of practice is clear that gamekeepers should check their humane cable restraints twice a day. They agree to that, the Countryside Alliance agrees to that, the BASC agrees to that and Country Sports Ireland agrees to that. Let us have something with balance, not something skewed by different interpretations. I recognise that the snares of the past were wrong, but humane cable restraints are the right way forward.
First, it is important to say that no civilised person will view the taking of any animal’s life lightly, or do anything other than limit or mitigate any suffering involved. Animals are not just chess pieces to be knocked off the board. As a farmer and a countryman, I understand the need for humane tools for the control of predators. We have no livestock on my farm at the moment, and I am not a game shooter, but I understand the importance of having a balance.
We no longer have the predators, such as lynx and wolves, that will take out foxes—in the main, we are talking about foxes—although the EFRA Committee, which I chair, is starting a report on the reintroduction of species, and we may touch on those species. It is important that we have effective predator control, not only for agriculture but for wildlife.
This is not just about game shooting and the interests of gamekeepers. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) pointed out, sheep farmers often have problems with foxes as lambs are born; while the ewe is having her second lamb, the fox can come and take the first lamb before it has had a chance to get to its feet. We have more and more outdoor pigs, and we should be encouraging that more environmentally friendly and humane method of rearing pigs, but, sadly, those piglets are subject to predation. With poultry, although most farmers manage to shut their hens up at night, which is when foxes generally operate, we have seen situations where foxes that have been trapped in urban areas are released into the countryside. Sadly, those urban foxes do not understand that they are nocturnal, and they have no fear of humans. We have often had problems in rural areas where urban foxes have been hunting in the daylight; that has been an additional problem for poultry keepers.
It is important that we can protect game; the game industry is very important for rural communities and the rural economy. In a way, we are in a win-win situation. On the moorland in my constituency where grouse shooting is prevalent, the management practices—heather management and predator control—benefit not only the grouse, which cannot be bred artificially, but ground-nesting birds such as curlew, golden plover and lapwing.
Indeed, an interesting situation is developing in my constituency, where one of the estates is seeking to plant quite large areas of woodland. Those plans are being opposed, or certainly not being smiled upon, by Natural England, which is worried that those woodland areas will become a harbour for predators, which will go on to the neighbouring moorland, where there is not a grouse shoot and so no gamekeepers are operational, and wipe out large numbers of the ground-nesting birds that Natural England seeks to protect. Those ground-nesting birds, particularly the curlew, are very important.
Of course, it is also important for scientific research that there is a humane method of capturing foxes and, for example, tagging them to allow them to be tracked. I have seen video of a fox that was caught in one of the new types of cable restraint—in fact, foxes are sometimes caught on a number of occasions—and released unharmed.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) about how the new type of humane cable restraints is very different from the old self-locking snares that were made illegal in 1981—and quite right, too. As we have heard, such restraints have a number of features, including a stop that means that they will not strangle a fox, and smaller species that go into a snare will escape unharmed. They have a breakaway, meaning that if a large animal such as a deer gets into a snare, it will be able to escape by breaking the breakaway —of course, if the gamekeeper knows his job, he will not put a snare in a place where those species could be present. Finally, there is a swivel, which means that if the animal twists and turns a little when it is first caught, it will not strangle itself in the process.
It is important that cable restraints are not set near fences, for example, and that they are well anchored so that if an animal is restrained, it remains there. When the gamekeeper visits the snare, he can humanely dispatch the fox. We can have a debate about whether foxes should be a protected species, but if we need to control foxes we need to do it in the most humane way.
What are the alternatives? Shooting is the most obvious, but shooting can be very difficult near settlements and in dense vegetation. The most important argument against shooting is that if a fox is wounded—often the shots are taken from quite a distance, given the cautious nature of foxes—it can go off and die in agony of gangrene or its wound. At least with cable restraints we do not have a situation where an animal is wounded and goes off to die. There are other alternatives such as gassing and poisoning, but, again, those could mean that non-target species are affected and cannot be released unharmed.
I believe that the continued professional use by trained personnel of cable restraints is important to our management of the countryside and our wildlife. The alternatives do not bear much scrutiny in terms of their relative humaneness. Set correctly and checked every 24 hours—indeed, checked before 9 o’clock in the morning, because most foxes are nocturnal—cable restraints are an important tool in our wildlife management. I hope we will continue to responsibly use cable restraints as a way of managing our countryside and ensuring that our wildlife and our economic interests in terms of game and agriculture are protected.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Vickers. I am grateful to be able to speak in today’s debate, not least because the petition is signed by 102,616 people, including 216 from my constituency and 418 from York.
Some of the arguments that have been put forward are completely indefensible, and I hope to deconstruct them. Snares are cruel—no ifs, no buts. They cause suffering and must be banned. In July 2016, I announced that Labour would introduce a ban, and here we are, years later, no further forward. We were promised a consultation by the Government in 2021. We are now entering 2023. The delays are just not acceptable. Wales is getting on with the job and legislating. Scotland was consulting and just before Christmas announced that it will proceed with a ban. That is the direction we must follow. Across the EU, there are only four countries left without a ban on snares. We must not be left behind in an archaic age where man thinks he has a right to go and hunt and enjoy the game and sport. Animals should never be our sport. They are precious parts of creation, which we must nurture and care for.
I want to deconstruct some of the arguments made this afternoon. We have 188,000 snares in operation at any one time, with 1.7 million animals killed. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about foxes, but we must remember that 75% of the animals snared are not foxes. I will come on to foxes in a moment, but that just goes to show that the arguments do not hold up. We know that 33% of the animals snared are hares, which are not predatory animals; 26% are badgers; and 14% are other species. Otters, deer and even horses get caught in snares. Although they have breaks in them, not every animal breaks free. As a result, much suffering is caused. We have heard about the suffering: asphyxiation, laceration, dislocation, amputation, starvation, dehydration and predation.
Much of the debate in this House over the last five or six years has been about animals as sentient beings. They know what is happening to them and suffer mental distress. As a result, we must introduce legislation to catch up with what Labour is doing in Wales and what we are seeing in Scotland.
In nature there is a balance. That balance does not give us the right to exploit wildlife for our own personal gain, which is what is happening. The shooting lobby might be having its say in this debate, but we cannot continue to believe that we have a right and a power over nature. Nature will find its balance, and it is important that we nurture and enable that balance.
I agree that things were worse when there were self-locking snares, but they were abolished in 1981. Four decades later, we have a responsibility to look again.
I respect the hon. Lady and, although we probably have very different points of view, we agree that the old snares were not acceptable. Humane restraints are the alternative way forward to achieve the balance to which she refers. We will not have any lapwing, plover and curlew if we continue to ignore the predation of foxes and other mammals. How would the hon. Lady set about ensuring that curlew, lapwing and plover are still here for my children and grandchildren?
I am grateful for the hon. Member’s question. My friend from North Yorkshire, the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill), made the case in talking about Natural England’s view that, by building woodland, we will encourage predatory animals to come to an area where these animals already breed and have their freedom. That goes to show that there are other measures that can be taken to ensure that we have strong biodiversity across our country and that we move forward.
We have heard about the opportunity for consultation, which is absolutely necessary, but how is technology being deployed—we see it deployed in all other areas of life—to track where these animals are? How can we track the risks and opportunities in introducing controls, as opposed to having a random process in which 75% of animals captured are not of the intended species, as the hon. Member for Strangford mentioned? Are there other things, such as farming techniques, that can take forward the technology? Again, because of the dependence on snares, that is very little discussed. That is why we must move forward in that area, so that lambs are protected in the lambing season and that further measures are taken. In other countries, the intensity of shepherds around new-born lambs is a way of protecting that population. We should also look at the opportunities for further biosecurity measures. These areas need further exploration.
The poor fox is so vilified, yet it is the most magnificent of creatures. Every time I see a fox, I stop and see how magnificent, intelligent and beautiful it is. It is part of our biodiversity, which we are so blessed to be among. We should end the vilification of foxes. This is a difficult period for foxes, given the hunting that still continues. The Government must get on top of trail hunts and ban them, and ensure that all our biodiversity and nature is maintained and restored.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers. Given my long-standing interest in improving animal welfare standards in this country, it will be no surprise to Members that I rise today in support of the petition. I implore the Government to follow most European countries, which have banned snares altogether, and to work with the devolved Administrations. Wales is banning the use of snares, and Scotland conducted a statutory review of the practice. In December, the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission recommended a ban—our Scottish colleagues will be closer to the process—and I hope that the Scottish Government will agree with that recommendation. However, if they do, England will be left behind.
My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) spoke of the cruel nature of snares and how they are indiscriminate in catching and harming wildlife, whether that be foxes, badgers, hedgehogs or, in some cases, domestic pets. The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who spoke brilliantly, highlighted the statistics, so I will not repeat them, but it is my very strong view that there is no need for snares at all. There is no justification for them. They are old-school methods of pest control that have no place in a modern society, especially if it is to be one that respects its natural environment and those who live in it.
I want to focus my preliminary comments on the Government’s response so far on both the issue of snares and the other progressive animal welfare improvements promised since the 2019 election. In responding to the petition exactly a year ago, the Department stated:
“The Government recognises that some people consider snares to be an inhumane and unnecessary means of trapping wild animals and will launch a call for evidence on the use of snares.”
I take issue with the Department’s use of the word “some”, and I hope that the Minister will provide reassurance that the Government understand the scale of public opinion on this issue.
Research by Survation, commissioned by the League Against Cruel Sports, found that almost three in four members of the public support a ban on snares. Meanwhile, a 2021 YouGov poll found that 69% of people support a ban on the use of snares, while only 14% oppose such a ban. Therefore, I would argue that it is correct to say that “some” people support the use of snares, while most of the British public wish to see their use come to an end.
Secondly, in their January 2022 response to the petition, the Government further committed to assessing the improper use of snares and whether further legislation is needed to protect non-target wildlife. Yet a year has passed, and we are no closer to seeing a call for evidence. The consultation was first promised in the “Action Plan for Animal Welfare” in 2021, and I and many other colleagues spoke about the action plan in more detail in a Westminster Hall debate before Christmas.
I and the countless animal welfare organisations that have long championed issues such as ending the use of snares welcomed the action plan as a statement of intent from the Government, recognising that they were serious about their pledges to
“maintain the highest animal welfare standards in the world”.
Therefore, the lack of action, with a few exceptions, has been incredibly disappointing.
Proponents of snares point to the voluntary code of best practice, which provides for principles for their legal and humane use. Yet the ambiguity of the law is evident even within the text of the code, which is endorsed by the major hunting organisations. The code states:
“If you follow the advice…you should be operating within the law regarding animal welfare and avoiding non-target species.”
I am concerned that the code of practice, endorsed by the sector, masks from the Government and the relevant agencies the failure to properly scrutinise those who administer snares and to ensure that they adhere to the rules set out in the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
In fact, research carried out by DEFRA between 2008 and 2010 on the humaneness of snares in England and Wales found low levels of awareness and compliance, especially among farmers, regarding the code of best practice for snares. I am therefore very interested to know whether the Department plans to revisit such a study and in how it measures the legality of snares in England. The code is not, as far as I can tell, a statutory code. Therefore, given that the law says that snares should be checked once a day while the code says twice a day, it is highly likely that the least time-consuming requirement is the one that will be followed—if it is followed at all, as enforcement is highly unlikely.
Free-running snares have been championed in agriculture and game shooting circles as a humane way of catching foxes and other target animals. The more modern device is meant to tighten around an animal and hold it quietly until a gamekeeper from the shoot comes to kill it. Unfortunately, this is all too often not the case. The suggestion that a wild animal will calmly wait while it is trapped by its neck is clearly absurd. It is not surprising that in their desperate struggle to escape, animals can strangle themselves or suffer excruciating injuries while waiting hours or, sadly, even longer before they are shot. A Government who claim to hold the highest standards of animal welfare in the world would not allow for wild animals, many of which are indigenous to this country, to die slow and extremely painful deaths through the use of man-made metal loops.
Contrary to the views of some colleagues, there is, as far as I am concerned, no humane way to snare a wild animal. If we are serious about our ambition to have the highest standards, the first step should be to deliver on the action plan for animal welfare and the promised Government Bills, including by carrying out the promised consultation on the use of snares. I hope that this debate and the pressure from within and outside the House show that there is a real appetite to ensure the Government deliver on the promises made to the British people and strengthen our animal welfare standards outside the constraints of the EU. Minister, please can we just get on with it?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers. I thank the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for opening the debate, and the more than 102,000 members of the public who signed the e-petition, including constituents of Rutherglen and Hamilton West. I also thank Animal Aid and the League Against Cruel Sports for their excellent briefings ahead of today’s debate.
The United Kingdom is blessed with beautiful countryside, greenery and, of course, wildlife. The public feel very strongly about protecting that wildlife, as we can see through the sheer number of signatures added to this petition and others, and through opinion polls. According to OneKind, 76% of the Scottish public support a ban on the use of snares. We have some good animal welfare legislation, and the Government’s action plan for animal welfare sets out a positive agenda. I recognise that this policy area is in large part devolved, and I will touch on the position in Scotland slightly later.
To state the obvious, I agree with the many voices calling for a ban on snares on the basis that they are cruel and indiscriminate—they often capture non-target species. Our registration and regulation models are ineffective in tackling the issues presented by the use of snares. Self-locking snares are rightly illegal, so we are discussing free-running snares today. In England, their design and use are guided by a voluntary code of practice, but DEFRA research found that there are low levels of compliance, or even awareness of it.
It is really important to recognise that, when not properly maintained, free-running snares begin to degrade and can act similarly to illegal self-locking snares, which continue to tighten. A huge number of snares are set every year—running into the hundreds of thousands—so although owners are responsible for checking them every 24 hours and ensuring their upkeep, that is not realistically achievable.
Because the code of practice is industry-owned and non-statutory in England, and because snares are predominantly used on private land, it is nearly impossible to monitor compliance. In Scotland, the use of free-running snares is more regulated. Training, registration and record keeping are mandatory in law, and there are five-yearly reviews of the effectiveness of the legislation. The latest review, published in February 2022, included an acknowledgment that a further and wider review of snare use would be necessary, given the continuing concerns regarding the welfare of animals caught in snares. I hope the Minister can provide some detail on what work she and her colleagues are undertaking to engage with the devolved Administrations on a ban to ensure animals are protected fully and equally across the four nations.
Even when used in compliance with the guidance or registered, snares pose an unacceptable risk to animals. I mentioned that they are often not checked every 24 hours, as the code sets out, and there are many reasons for that, but think about what that means for an animal trapped within one for hours, days or weeks on end. In a panic, they may aggressively struggle and die of asphyxiation. They may, like a human, freeze in fear —also known as tonic immobility. If snared by non-intended parts of the body, such as the leg, shoulder or abdomen, animals can suffer horrific injuries and be left suffering needlessly until someone comes to release them. Some gnaw at the wire, biting at their own flesh to try to get out. They may be preyed on by another animal, or die of hypothermia, dehydration or starvation. It is horrific and cruel.
DEFRA research also found that up to 68% of the animals caught in snares were non-target animals. That presents a whole raft of other problems; for example, the stop on a snare set for a fox will already be much too tight for animals such as badgers—which, by the way, are legally protected.
I want to illustrate why the Scottish Government are conducting a wider review, and why the Scottish Animal Welfare Commission recommended a complete ban on snare use in December last year. Last week, a news article highlighted a horrible incident of a young badger cub caught in a snare in Skyeburn, leaving it hanging from a gate while it struggled. A passer-by spotted the cub in distress, and when animal welfare charity worker Alexis Fleming arrived on scene she found over 20 strands of wire had wrapped around the cub’s neck and body as it frantically tried to free itself.
The cub was taken to the charity’s premises where they were able to remove the wire and treat the wounds caused. It was thought that the cub had been trapped for at least a few days. He was trapped by an illegal snare, and would have asphyxiated if not for stones under the gate he used to support himself. Bits of sharp metal in the wire, described as similar to barbed wire, were caught in the cub’s neck, leaving him suffering tissue damage and necrosis. When we say that snares are indiscriminate, that is what we mean.
It is not just non-target wild animals; pets, such as cats and dogs, have been caught in them too. It is quite normal for pet cats to roam unattended before returning home—they are free spirits. Imagine if someone’s cat did not come home one day. Because they are so independent, that person does not worry about it immediately—maybe they do not worry about it for a few days—and all the while the cat is caught in a snare, in pain and scared.
I mentioned that snares are often used on private land and estates; that is mostly to prevent animals preying on birds bred for shooting estates. That is a whole other issue in itself. Their use should not be seen as necessary—they absolutely are not necessary. Organisations with huge amounts of land to maintain, such as the Woodland Trust, the Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, do not use them.
In their response to the petition, and as part of the animal welfare action plan, the Government committed to publishing a call for evidence on the issue. That has not yet come to fruition. Many animal welfare organisations have been vocal about their opposition to snare use, including the British Veterinary Association, which stated in May that it was calling for,
“The UK Governments to introduce an outright ban on the use and sale of snares to both the general public and trained operators.”
The BVA is ready for that call for evidence when it is finally published. It is concerning that is has not been published already. Following its publication, how long will it take to see any changes enacted? I hope the Minister will be able to shed some light on that and provide some much-needed reassurance that this is a matter the Government recognise as needing swift intervention. In 2023, there is no excuse to allow animals to continue to suffer such awful injury and death.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Vickers. I thank the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for opening the debate in a measured way. Some 267 of my constituents signed the petition, which shows the huge love of nature and animals there is in my constituency.
Snares are indiscriminate, yet universally cruel. What is clear is that the non-statutory code is simply not enough to protect animals from painful injuries, suffering and death. As we have heard, that includes protected animals, such as badgers, and even cats and dogs. DEFRA’s own research shows that 68% of animals caught are not the intended target species. Under the code, snares should be checked twice, but the law only requires them to be checked once every 24 hours. It is hard to comprehend the volume of snares, given that 1.7 million are set every year. We have heard from other Members about the huge and lasting impact that snares can have on the wellbeing on animals, such as capture myopathy, panic immobility, thirst, starvation, dehydration and many more.
We know that snare users have admitted that non-target species have been caught in their snares. For example, DEFRA research from 2008 to 2010 showed that 60% of people using fox snares admitted that they had captured non-target species in them. Landowners who do not use snares do not want to go back to their use. There are many landowners, of many hundreds of thousands of hectares up and down the country, who no longer use snares, and will not use snares, because they view them as incredibly cruel.
We know that cats and dogs organisations are unified in their opposition to the use of snares because, within three years, 97 cats and 31 dogs were caught in snares. I am a dog owner—I have a dog necklace on today—and I would be horrified if, out in the countryside, my dog was unfortunate enough to step in a snare and be injured. I do not think that anyone should have to go through that.
Break-away snares, as we have heard in the debate, have been seen as almost an answer to this situation. However, 69% of badgers do not escape from those snares, so they are not a solution; they are not even 50% good at what they are saying they are good at. The National Anti Snaring Campaign commissioned TTI Testing to do tests on those snares; it found that a force of over 70 kg of weight would be needed on a 2 mm wide area of the snare to cause a break. That is a huge amount of force that would need to be exerted on a snare. If you have ever seen an animal in a bad situation, Mr Vickers, you will know that they are not directionally pulling; the forces are very dynamic when they are struggling and they will not be able to get out of those snares. That is why 69% of badgers were unable to escape from them.
We have also heard a lot about the different impacts of predators, but we have had a 64% decline in rabbits and a 44% decline in foxes. Declines in nature species are incredibly complicated. We cannot just say, “This is down to predators.” We have seen paper after paper looking at habitat loss, agricultural practices and their impacts on insects and other things that bird species might eat, and the lack of different crops and changes in sowing, and the impact on nesting spaces within that. The impacts of all of those different elements cannot just be laid at the feet of foxes or rabbits. It is absolutely a falsehood. It is a false flag.
Predation, yes, is an issue, but there absolutely are alternatives to snaring to help protect species from predation, whether through trap and release, electric fencing, wire netting, motion sprinklers, ultrasonic devices or the use of radios and reflective surfaces. There are many different ways of putting predators off, and ensuring that we have a habitat and landscape available to lapwings and curlews is the most important thing in their protection.
We know the nesting areas of certain birds, and we already put signs up to say, “Keep your dogs on a lead” or “Do not go in this area,” and I think that, actually, yes, where snares are no longer used—on many hundreds of thousands of hectares—those alternatives have been used well. We are not seeing any of the organisations that have moved away from snares saying, “Actually, it hasn’t worked; we want to go back to using snares,” because those alternatives have proved effective. I think that that needs to be on the record in this debate. It is just a false flag to say that predation is the problem here. Loss of habitat, and the impacts that we have had on our environment, cannot be understated in this, as I have said.
I just think that we need to ban snares because they are cruel and indiscriminate, as I have said, and there is nothing about them that we could not think outside the box and find an alternative for. I think we all have enough ingenuity that cruelty does not have to be the first and only option in the way that we manage our landscape and protect the species that are special to us.
I am pleased to participate in this e-petition debate requesting that the UK Government prohibit the sale, use and manufacture of free-running snares under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, putting them in the same category as self-locking snares, which are already illegal. I thank the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for his excellent opening speech on behalf of the Petitions Committee.
I applaud the League Against Cruel Sports, Animal Aid and Cats Protection for all the work they do to promote the welfare of animals. They provided such excellent briefings for this debate, as did the House of Commons Library. As we have heard, the matters raised are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but I understand the concerns and the depth of feeling. As we saw in the previous debate on cats, animal welfare is very close to the hearts of all our constituents across the UK. Again, it is no surprise that such a petition attracted over 102,000 signatures.
Snares are used to catch foxes or rabbits. However, as we have heard, they cannot distinguish between different species of animals, so the consequences of their use are indiscriminate. For example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has reported that almost 30% of rabbit snare operators have caught a cat, causing horrible injuries. Cats often die long and painful deaths if they are not rescued or able to escape.
We have heard much about so-called humane snares today, but they still cause terrible problems, injuries and suffering for animals that become trapped or entangled. They make frantic attempts to escape, which is the natural reaction of any living creature. Of course it is going to make frantic attempts to escape when it feels trapped, and it suffers real mental and behavioural stress. The trapped creature fears predation and capture due to its restraint, and it ends up suffering from thirst, hunger, exposure and even infections arising from painful injuries caused by this so-called humane snare—something that I do not think many of us will put much weight on.
In rural settings, sadly, sometimes it is considered necessary to enable land managers to control certain species to protect livestock, crops and wild birds. However, it is also true that the lawful use of traps can sometimes result in unintended harm to wildlife, and there are undoubtedly occasions when traps are not deployed or used in a way that complies with current regulations. That was made clear in the independent grouse moor management group report, which was commissioned by the Scottish Government and published towards the end of 2019.
Following the SnareWatch annual report in 2021, the Scottish Government commissioned an additional review that will look beyond the terms of the Wildlife and the Countryside Act 1981 to consider a potential ban on snaring. Both land management and animal welfare aspects will be under consideration because that is important, as the hon. Member for Don Valley outlined. Many people have been calling for that position for some time. In the meantime, Scotland has the most robust laws on snaring in the UK, including requirements for registration and training. However, there is no denying that creatures continue to suffer terribly and unnecessarily, despite any well-intended measures to mitigate this cruel and barbaric practice.
The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission, as well as recommending a ban on the sale and use of glue traps, concluded that any traps that do not “instantly kill” or render a creature “irreversibly unconscious” are likely to inflict unnecessary suffering. Therefore, the use of snares must give cause for significant concerns for animal welfare. That is why the Scottish Government are reviewing snare laws: the inflicting of unnecessary suffering on any creature is simply unacceptable. I believe it is possible to ban snaring while working constructively with land managers, which is what we all want to see.
In testimony to the Scottish Parliament, Ranald Munro, professor of forensic veterinary pathology, said that
“snares are primitive indiscriminate traps that are recognised as causing widespread suffering to a range of animals…being caught in a snare is extremely distressing for any creature and vigorous attempts to escape are natural.”
That should not surprise anybody. He went on to detail the horrific injuries that a snare can cause, which I will not detail because they are truly harrowing, but suffice to say his conclusion was that:
“These unfortunate animals suffer immensely.”
We heard further examples of that from the hon. Member for Don Valley, who opened the debate. We cannot allow this to continue.
It is my hope that both the Scottish and UK Governments will reflect on and consider the evidence and testimony. I have every faith in the Scottish Government’s robust and compassionate approach to animal welfare to date, and I am sure they will ban these appalling snares once and for all. In the meantime they have imposed more regulation around their use and operation, but nothing can truly mitigate the suffering and cruelty caused.
We need to move away from the use of snares completely, as Ireland and many of our European neighbours have already. Where there is a need to control foxes, rabbits and so forth, there are alternative, more humane ways to do so. We have heard about some of them today, including electric fencing, wire-netting fences, motion sprinklers, ultrasonic devices, tree guards, and the use of radios or reflective discs. A whole range of genuinely humane alternatives is available, which is why so many countries have already banned snares completely. Should we not be looking at that and learning from them?
I heard the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) talk about how we can deal with vast areas—for example, I think he mentioned the Yorkshire moors. I do not pretend to have an answer to that particular problem, but we must learn from our European partners, who will have grappled with the same kinds of issues. There is much to learn, and there are alternatives to be had. We cannot continue on the “there is no alternative” route when so much suffering is taking place, because that is what makes the barbaric use of snares all the more horrific. The fact is that we already have at our disposal, if we choose to use them, so many alternatives available. If so many other countries can use more humane and effective alternatives, why would we not consider using them in the UK?
I hope and believe that the Scottish Government will move to a position of banning snares, and I know that the Welsh Government intend to do so. In that spirit, I urge the UK Government to do the same for England as well. It makes eminent sense for policy on this issue to be co-ordinated across the UK, so that all creatures in the UK, wherever they happen to be, have the same protection from this cruel and, importantly, unnecessary practice.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers. On this first day of term, I extend good wishes for the new year to all colleagues gathered here today. I hope that one and all, and particularly the staff of this House and those in the offices of parliamentarians, had a happy and enjoyable Christmas with their families and friends, and very happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends and colleagues.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for introducing the debate in such a measured way. It was very helpful to have the balances that he gave.
We are gathered here once again to discuss animal welfare, and I thank the more than 102,000 people in constituencies across our country who signed the petition. I note that every single one of the top 10 constituencies for signatories is represented by a Tory MP, including some Ministers, and I hope the debate will gently guide the Minister to provide real answers. If we cannot get them here, I would be happy for her to write to me.
It was only a few weeks ago that we were here in this place discussing animal welfare and the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, or rather the need for Ministers to bring it back to the House. Indeed, anyone who waited and watched out for the Environment Act 2021, all those months ago, may remember my renaming it the “Missing in Action” Bill, but I think we can now describe the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill as the “Missing in Action” Bill mark 2. I say that more in sorrow than anything, because the Labour party believes in honouring our animal welfare promises, and we will always push for the strongest possible animal welfare policies. That is why this debate on snares is so important.
Colleagues of all parties will know that the United Kingdom is one of a small handful of countries in our part of the world that does not prohibit the use of snares in our green open spaces and on our farms. I am sure that many Members present have seen the horrific film footage—for example, of badgers becoming entrapped —and that is not to mention the frequent reports, which have already been mentioned, of domestic pets being caught in, injured by, or sometimes killed by snares. While we have left the European Union, it is clear that this Government need to wake up and join most countries in Europe in banning the use of snares.
I make no apologies for my constant references to Wales and the important work being done by the Welsh Labour Government. As the Member of Parliament for Newport West, I can testify to their commitment and hard work. That is why I welcome the fact that, in their programme for government to the Senedd after last year’s election, the Welsh Government committed to ban the use of snares in Wales. Of course, while Cardiff Bay is in the process of delivering, it is a very different picture here in Westminster. His Majesty’s Government have made it clear that they have no current plans to ban snares in England—I am more than happy to take an intervention from the Minister if that is not the case.
Why is this important? As we all know, numerous animal welfare issues arise from free-running snares—I thank Animal Aid for the briefing it sent through ahead of this debate. I want to remind colleagues of the impact of snares, although many colleagues have already explained that impact far more eloquently than I can. We know that the old-fashioned snares may become frayed and rusty, leading to them behaving more like self-locking snares. In their state of panic, animals may not stop pulling when caught, and can die of asphyxiation. Animals can be snared by other parts of their body, including abdomen, leg and shoulder, causing horrific injuries and a slow death.
Non-target animals, such as legally protected badgers as well as cats and dogs, may be caught in snares. In the case of badgers and some dogs, the stop that has been mentioned may have been set for foxes, and is set far too tight for an already panicking animal. Similarly, if the animal is caught by an area that is bigger than the neck, the stop is ineffective and the snare can, and does, cut into the animal, causing injury, pain, distress and even death. Lactating animals may be trapped by a snare, leaving offspring to die of starvation, and ensnared animals may be attacked while still alive by other animals and killed. Additionally, as we have heard, animals might die of hypothermia, dehydration or starvation. The impact of snares is clear, and that list just touches on the examples we could point to.
The current legislation provides insufficient protection for threatened species and the welfare of trapped animals. The Tory Ministers in DEFRA appear to believe that the onus is on trap operators to work within the law to avoid harming protected species or causing unnecessary suffering, but we know that is not working, so we need the Government to step up and take firm action now. At present, as we have heard, the Scottish Government are consulting on potential measures to address snare use, with a ban expected to be among the options they consider. I urge Ministers in Holyrood to be bold and ambitious, and to give their colleagues in Cardiff a call if necessary.
We on the Labour Benches believe that the UK Government should follow the example of the Welsh Labour Government in bringing forward legislation to ban the use of snares. If they do so, they will have our support; if they will not, they should get out of the way, and we will add it to our to-do list when Labour forms the next Government. Our support for action on snares is not new: we moved new clause 16 to the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill before Ministers were forced to carry it over, then leave it on the shelf. My colleague and hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) made it clear that we want to see change and action—that was some time ago now. Even before then, in 2016, my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) committed that Labour would ban snares.
Back in May 2021, the Department published its action plan for animal welfare, in which it pledged to launch a call for evidence on snaring. The then Minister for Nature Recovery and the Domestic Environment, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), acknowledged that
“snares can cause immense suffering to both target and non-target animals including pet cats and dogs”.
She was correct, but as ever—and as the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), has said—nothing has changed.
A ban on snares has strong backing from the public and the non-governmental organisations alike. I pay tribute to all the animal welfare charities and organisations—Humane Society International, Animal Aid and the RSPCA, to name just a few—that are working to deliver the change that all of us, certainly on the Labour Benches, want to see. It is important to note that a ban on snares was included in the sector’s 2021 “Act Now for Animals” green paper, signed by more than 50 animal welfare charities, and that polling conducted by Survation in 2020 showed that 73% of UK adults support a ban.
I thank all the stakeholders, campaigners and organisations that work day in, day out to fight for the welfare of our natural wildlife, our animals, our pets and this country, to show real and meaningful leadership. We get the importance of action. We care about ensuring that our country leads by example. When we win the next election, we will do what Ministers are not doing: we will deliver.
I have three specific questions for the Minister. When does she expect a ban to be brought to the House? What specific discussions has she had with colleagues in the Welsh and Scottish Governments about their work to impose a ban? Finally, will Ministers work with all of us who want to ensure that the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill comes back, and would they support an amendment to that Bill that bans the use of snares in England? I am happy to be written to with answers, but I would like a response, please.
As has been mentioned, in response to the latest question on snares in May 2022, the Secretary of State stated that the call for evidence on the use of snares would be published “in due course”. We are now eight months on from that and at least two and a half years from the original question. Will the Minister tell us when the Government will finally put out that call? I thank the hon. Member for Don Valley for introducing the debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers—for the first time, I believe. This is a very important debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) for securing it and the Members who are here listening to it. The petition secured more than 102,000 signatures. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley for requesting that this be a civil, polite and respectful debate in which we listen to the various views.
It is of particular relevance that we have heard from two farmers with first-hand lived experience. I, too, have always lived in the countryside. As a farmer’s granddaughter I am aware of the devastation that can be caused by foxes in particular and the need for the control of predatory species. It is not just predation that is the cause of nature’s decline, as I am sure the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) will agree. There are many aspects. That is why at the end of this month we will bring forward our environmental improvement plan, which will fully explain DEFRA’s plans, along with those of many other organisations. It is a priority for the whole of society to ensure that nature recovers, and having a plan for predators is certainly part of that.
The petition triggered today’s debate and has raised many concerns that free-running snares—the type that relax when the animal stops pulling—are indiscriminate, cannot ensure animal welfare, cause unnecessary suffering to mammals and should be banned. I want to set out what the current law on the use of snares is. Snares that have been set in position and that are of such a nature and so placed as to be calculated to cause injury to any wild animal must be inspected at least once a day. In all the accounts I have heard today, I am pretty sure that the snares were not inspected, thereby breaking the law.
It is illegal to use a self-locking snare. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 prohibits causing unnecessary suffering to an animal under the control of man—“man or woman” would be the inclusive term, I am sure. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states that it is illegal to set in position any trap or snare calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild animal included in schedule 6, such as badgers, otters, red squirrels and hedgehogs. The Deer Act 1991 makes it an offence to set in position any trap or snare calculated to cause bodily injury to any deer coming into contact with it, or to use any trap or snare for the purpose of killing or taking any deer. It is also illegal to set in position any trap or snare calculated to cause bodily injury to any wild animal included in schedule 6 to the 1981 Act, or to use a snare for the purpose of killing, taking or restraining such an animal. So a number of laws are already in place that try to protect wildlife.
It has been clear from today’s debate that although the laws are there, snares are used indiscriminately and are not checked, and that the code of practice that should be followed is clearly not being followed. In preparation for this debate, I looked into this issue to see the guidelines on our DEFRA website for the appropriate use of snares. I will be the first to admit that the information is not clear and must be improved. That will be done in very short order.
The Minister talked about how the law, as it currently stands, would prevent the kind of suffering we have heard about today. Clearly, the law is not being observed. In her preparation for the debate was she able to find out any information about any prosecutions that have been brought as a result of the kind of suffering we have been hearing about?
The hon. Member makes an excellent point. As I am sure she can imagine, I tried to find out that very information, but because wildlife crime is not a notifiable crime, it is nigh on impossible to find it out. Instead, I contacted the RSPCA today to request an urgent meeting, because I know that members of the public who find animals in distress often turn first to the RSPCA for assistance. That is why I will have that meeting.
I hope that both the hon. Member and the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), will be pleased to hear that I am reaching out to the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales to see what lessons have been learned from the measures that are already in place in Scotland and to understand the rationale for the proposals in Wales. I am keen to understand how my counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are protecting wildlife.
There have been multiple calls for me to give further confirmation on the call for evidence that was identified in the animal welfare action plan. Although I am not able to provide any further information on that in this debate, what I can say is that the environmental improvement plan is being worked on pretty much night and day—I was certainly working on it over the Christmas period. I have every confidence that that plan will be published on time at the end of January. On the progress that has already been made on the animal welfare action plan, I would be happy to write to the hon. Member with a detailed explanation. I have one in front of me, but as it is 15 pages long I do not have time to go through it in detail now.
That is not correct, no. I was referring to the environmental improvement plan. It was a condition of the Environment Act 2021 to provide such a document by the end of January, and I am confident that that will be the case and am very much looking forward to that plan.
No, I am afraid I will not give way any further.
There is no question but that if snares are used incorrectly they can cause significant 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.
As I have said, in 2021 the Government published the Action Plan for Animal Welfare, with the commendable aim of ensuring high animal welfare standards. The programme of work has already delivered some outstanding outcomes, such as banning the use of glue traps and the introduction of legislation to crack down on the abhorrent practice of illegal hare coursing. Additionally, current legislation already provides strong protection for the welfare of trapped animals. Anyone using snares must act within the law to ensure that their activities do not harm protected species. As I have already set out, penalties include an unlimited fine or a custodial sentence. We urge those with concerns relating to the misuse of snares to pass them to the police for investigation, as we have to prioritise Government time.
It has been many years since this issue was debated so thoroughly, so I thank my hon. Friends again for discussing it in so much detail. I am aware that Wales has recently taken the decision to prohibit the use of snares and note that Scotland is reviewing its approach. I reiterate that I will work with the devolved Administrations to understand the implications, but I am also aware that we must protect lapwings, curlew and other ground-nesting birds, so we will take a balanced approach. We will observe how friends in the devolved Administrations implement their proposed changes to snaring. I hope we can learn from the different approaches. I will certainly keep an open mind about whether any new rules and regulations are required in England in the future.
Thank you, Mr Vickers, for your excellent chairmanship of this debate. I leave the last word to my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley, who has done a sterling job in bringing forward this debate.
I thank all Members who spoke in this important debate. I thank the petitioners and the members of the public who have joined us today, and the Petitions Committee team, which works ever so hard throughout the year to bring debates to us in this Chamber.
The hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said that 75% of the animals that snares catch are not the target animal. She spoke of technology; perhaps we can do some work with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) said that we require action now; we just need to get on with it. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) spoke of the recent decision of the BVA, which called for an outright ban. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) said that the break-away device does not operate as it should with smaller animals that are not the target animal.
In respect of my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), we need to listen to the voice of experience. The Minister also comes from a farming background. We need to listen to what they say, because it is extremely important. The ratio of Members present who want to ban snares to those who do not is 3:1, which is similar to the ratio for the wider population, but how many of those who want to ban them have had a life dealing with foxes and the implications of this type of injury to curlew, lapwings, chickens and other things?
We have had a civil debate today and it has been fantastic. We should have further debates, and I am glad that the Government are working on this issue. It is important that we take a balanced view. I will finish with what the hon. Member for Strangford said: this should be proportionate and justified.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 600593, relating to the use of snares.