Last week in a debate brought before Parliament regarding snares, Rachael Maskell MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs called for a ban on the use of snares.
Outlining that 68% of MPs would support a ban as do 77% of the general public. Rachael spoke about the level of animal cruelty and indiscriminate nature of using snares. Furthermore, Rachael pointed out that the voluntary code on snares is not working and the current legislation is not being enforced.
Here is how Hansard recorded Rachael's speech:
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.
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?
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?