§ 4.5 pm
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to ban the hunting of deer with hounds; and for connected purposes.It is with a sense of sadness that we recall the death of Eric Heffer earlier this year. He was a former vice-president of the League Against Cruel Sports. If he had lived, I am sure that he would have wanted to be a sponsor of the Bill, as someone who dedicated so much of his life to eliminating blood sports from Britain.
The past year has been unprecedented in parliamentary terms, in that a Bill to give greater protection to badgers has been passed into law and a Bill to ban hare coursing has reached its Committee stage. It is still being blocked by the snivelling behaviour of a few hunting Members of Parliament, who turn up on a Friday and grunt objection rather than stand up in the open and say why they are against banning hare coursing. Late last year, a momentous decision was taken through a ballot of the membership of the National Trust to ban deer hunting on National Trust land. Millions of people who support and welcome the general activities of the National Trust look to it to implement the decision of its members and ban hunting on its land.
The purpose of the Bill is short and simple. It is to make illegal in England and Wales the hunting of deer with dogs. At present it is perfectly legal—it happens with deer hounds around Britain—for a deer to be flushed out of the cover where it is hiding and to be chased by dogs and men for many hours and many miles. Sometimes deer are chased for as much as seven hours and up to 25 miles.
During that time, in the name of sport, and sport which is supported by some Members of Parliament who are here today, the animal is driven to exhaustion and fear. At that point, it is supposed to be dispatched with the aid of a gun in a humane manner. Many of the animals are not. They may escape to face death from their injuries and the mental stress that they suffered during the chase. [Interruption.] Conservative Members who find it so amusing are undoubtedly the same bloodthirsty louts who follow hunts on foot.
§ Mr. Corbyn
The matter that we are debating is a serious one, on which many people in Britain have strong opinions, as hon. Members who read their postbags will be well aware. I am describing the cruelty involved in hunting deer with hounds and killing them at the end of the chase. The deer are often torn apart alive by packs of dogs. Great cruelty is involved in such hunting.
1004 Part of the weakness of our legislation is that the Protection of Animals Act 1911 does not protect animals from hunting. Therefore, separate pieces of legislation have to be introduced, as they were in Scotland in 1959, when deer hunting was effectively abolished there. Only culling and stalking are still allowed, which are not covered by the proposals in my Bill.
Hon. Members will be aware that there is overwhelming public support for this measure. They will also be aware that, every time that a Bill to abolish any blood sport has come before the House in the past few years, it has gained a great deal of support and has not been opposed. Yet every time a Bill reaches Committee stage or returns to the House on a Friday afternoon as part of private Members' procedure, it is objected to and Government Members, in a cowardly way, do not stand up and say why they object.
I hope that, on this occasion, the House will allow the Bill a Second Reading and that it will not be blocked at that stage but allowed to make further progress. It is said that, in opposing deer hunting and seeking its abolition, we are acting against the great traditions of the British countryside. I represent one of the most urban constituencies in the country, although I grew up in a rural area, and I believe that those who represent urban areas have as much right to speak on these matters as those who represent rural areas.
Claims that deer hunting is part of the great tradition of the British countryside are wholly fallacious. In the past, the same arguments could have been used for bear baiting, cock fighting, otter hunting, badger baiting and many other examples of cruelty to animals. The Bill seeks to pass a piece of humane legislation to stop a very small number of people enjoying a bloodthirsty activity that they call sport, which the majority of the population find revolting and which is clearly cruel to deer.
The time has come to pass such legislation. If it is not done in this Parliament by a private Member's Bill, I look to a future Parliament, when such legislation can and, I believe, will be passed in Government time.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. John Hughes, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Alan Meale, Mr. Andrew F. Bennett, Mr. Paul Flynn, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Ms. Mildred Gordon and Mr. Robin Corbett.