HC Deb 18 July 1990 vol 176 cc1015-7 4.24 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make the hunting of foxes with hounds illegal. Given the depth of feeling on the subject, I am quite surprised that this appears to be the first time such a Bill has been attempted since the last war.

In my lapel is a badge depicting a badger. I wear it to remind me of the Protection of Badger Setts Bill which was introduced through the ten-minute Bill procedure. That Bill aimed to protect badgers' homes against the activities of those subhuman perverts who gain pleasure from baiting badgers with dogs. Because of a stroke of fortune and some deft footwork on my part, the Bill received an unopposed Second Reading and was debated fully in Committee. There were no representatives of the badger baiters on the Standing Committee, but there were Members of Parliament who represented the interests of fox hunters. Because of the fragile nature of the procedure that I am trying again to adopt today, I was forced to make a number of significant concessions. I shall not rehearse the arguments and the concessions, but they turned out to be a vain attempt on my part and on the part of the supporters of the Bill to buy off the opposition of the fox hunters.

We failed to satisfy the hunters because they demanded an absolute right to interfere with a badger sett in pursuit of their so-called sport. The end result was that the fox hunters killed the badger setts Bill and in doing so probably condemned many more badgers to death at the hands of those sick characters who bait badgers.

In Committee I was accused of using the badger setts Bill as part of a strategy to deal with fox hunting. I denied that then, and I deny it here in the House this afternoon. I said in Committee that I would approach fox hunting head on at an appropriate time and I am trying to do that. That is why I am seeking leave to introduce a Bill to make the hunting of foxes with hounds illegal.

Fox hunting was memorably described by Oscar Wilde as, the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.". Perhaps the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), who is a prominent hunter, is the exception that proves the rule. He is certainly not unspeakable and, although a fox might be uneatable, the carcass of the hon. Member for Crawley would provide many a jolly banquet.

The great majority of people in Britain oppose fox hunting. It is not an issue of town versus country as it is often caricatured by supporters of fox hunting. In a 1987 Gallup poll based on a large sample, 68 per cent. of people canvassed said that they would support laws forbidding fox hunting. I might add that 73 per cent. of people supported the banning of stag hunting, which was the subject of another ten-minute Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), and, in the same poll, 72 per cent. supported an end to hare coursing. None of those barbaric and cruel activities have been banned, precisely because of the behind-the-scenes pull of the hunting lobby. It is significant in the House, but it is behind the scenes. I believe that on a free vote, the House would be able to end all such activities with a massive majority.

I remind the House that the Labour party promised to do just that in our 1987 election manifesto. Unfortunately, we lost the election; we shall win the next one. This afternoon, I am not authorised to commit the Labour party to such a promise. I only wish that I were, but, knowing the opinions of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the feelings in the Labour party, I feel quite certain that the same undertaking to end all forms of organised hunting with hounds will be repeated by the Labour party at the next general election. If only small furry creatures had the vote, Labour would never be out of office.

I confess that I do not understand the psychology of those who derive pleasure from hunting small terrified creatures to death. The hon. Member for Crawley, to whom I referred earlier, is an affable sort of fellow. I can not understand why affable fellows like him can do that sort of thing. There is a great gap in understanding.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, East)

He is a fool.

Mr. Banks

I would not describe the hon. Member for Crawley in such a disgraceful fashion. However, there is a gap between us which I cannot bridge.

The great Samuel Johnson wrote: It is very strange, and very melancholy, that the paucity of human pleasures should persuade us ever to call hunting one of them. People who go fox hunting actually say that they enjoy it.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Mr. Johnson could never have got on a horse.

Mr. Banks

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) says that hunters enjoy riding horses. I can understand that. I enjoy that pleasure myself from time to time when I go donkey riding on the sands at Blackpool at party conference time. However, for the life of me I cannot understand how hunting small furry creatures adds to the pleasure of riding through the countryside on the back of a magnificent horse.

For hon. Members who do not know the details, fox hunting starts in November with hunts usually twice a week. Hunters tell us, and I hear this so often, that they are quite glad when the fox gets away. If that is the case, they still do a great deal to ensure that it does not get away. All the escape routes around the earth are blocked and that includes badger setts which brings us back to the point that I made at the beginning of my speech.

The hounds flush out a fox and the entire hideous circus which accompanies the fox hunt sets off in pursuit. The fox is not a natural prey species and it has therefore not evolved physically for prolonged pursuit. It naturally soon becomes exhausted. One small terrified animal is pursued by a pack of hounds plus a bunch of red-coated wallies on horseback and a column of ghouls in motor vehicles. That hardly seems like an even match to me. After an hour of so, not surprisingly the fox is exhausted and is either savaged to death by the hounds or, if it is very unlucky, upon finding an unblocked subterranean refuge, it falls victim to the terrier and spade brigade which follows every hunt.

Because fox hunters face a mounting barrage of opposition in the House and elsewhere, they know that they have no moral standing. There is a moral bankruptcy to their arguments. Therefore they are resorting to spurious arguments and cite conservation as a defence for their so-called sport. For example, we hear the accusation made about foxes that they kill livestock and are pests. Many supporters of fox hunting make that claim. The fox is a carnivorous predator and a scavenger. That is precisely how nature made it. However, the great majority of foxes live largely on beetles, frogs, rabbits, wild birds and carrion and they are the biggest destroyers of rats and mice.

Although foxes do not constitute a pest, if they were pests surely far more efficient and humane methods would be available to trap or shoot them if that were necessary. Of the estimated 300,000 foxes killed each year, fox hunting accounts for about 7,500 adult foxes and cub hunting for a further 8,500. That is hardly a major contribution to fox control even if such controls were needed.

All the attempts at rationalisation by the fox hunters will not hide the unpleasant fact that they are indulging in a primitive blood lust. That is what fox hunting is all about. It also causes much damage to the countryside and hunts are often resented by rural residents. So much for the town versus country argument.

William Cowper described fox hunting as: Detested sport, That owes its pleasure to another's pain. I believe that the days are now surely numbered for that detested sport. I seek the leave of the House to introduce my Bill in the certain knowledge that substantive legislation is not now far off. It is the turn of the fox hunters to be hunted and I suggest that they will not enjoy the experience.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Michael Foot, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Ms. Dawn Primarolo, Mr. Elliot Morley, Mr. Andrew Bowden, Mr. Steve Norris, Ms. Diane Abbott, Mr. Peter Hardy, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Alan Meale and Mr. James Lamond.