HC Deb 04 February 1994 vol 236 cc1209-10

Order for Second Reading read.

2.20 pm
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is rather appropriate that we should be about to debate a Bill which deals with the bolting of the fox. I have just this moment had a parliamentary answer handed to me from which it is clear that one fox has just bolted: it has been revealed that, when the Prime Minister instructed the Foreign Secretary to overrule the memorandum from the accounting officer, it was the first time in history that a Prime Minister had ever taken such action. I might add that, if it were not a Friday, I should request an emergency debate on the situation under Standing Order No. 20.

It has been suggested by opponents of the Bill that it is a back-door route to banning fox hunting. I only wish that it were; I wish that it were grander in its range and could achieve that objective. Had I drawn an earlier place in the ballot, my Bill might have been debated first and I might not have had to wait through a one-hour filibuster by a Minister on the previous Bill. If that had been the case, I would, indeed, have introduced a Bill on fox hunting because I find it so contemptible and unacceptable. To me, the fox hunt is a case for the socially pretentious coming together with the individually inadequate. It seems a grotesque parody to call it sport. It is astonishing to think that a regiment of light infantry should have to be amassed behind a pack of hounds in order to pursue one wretched fox.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that I used to be in the Army. Will he accept my assurance that the light infantry tend to be on foot? I think that he is more likely to be referring to the dragoons or the hussars or the cavalry, who tend to ride horses.

Mr. Williams

I intended to say "light cavalry", and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for correcting me if I said otherwise. That is riot really of much importance, however. The fact is that it is hard to think of a more inept and less competent and efficient way of trying to dispose of one poor fox.

The public has the false impression that, after the fox has run and gone to ground, it is safe and—in the true sporting spirit—lives to run and flee another day. But, of course, we are dealing with a gentleman's sport, so no such luck for the poor fox. As soon as it goes to earth, the hounds mark the spot, are taken away and the terrier men —the thugs of the hunt scene—are sent in with their terriers and spades to dig the wretched creature out. The terrier is put into the burrow, or wherever the fox has gone to earth, and has to fight with the fox underground and try to make it bolt or drag it out. A video produced by the League Against Cruel Sports shows a case involving the New Forest hunt, where the fox had sought refuge in a culvert that was half-filled with water. The terrier was forced into it. It did not want to go in. Eventually, it emerged with its jaws embedded in the lower jaw of the fox, towing it out of the lair, whereupon the terrier men stood on the fox and eventually killed it. That was probably the kindest thing that they did to it that day.

The attitude of a terrier man is best summed up in an article in a journal called "Earth Dog, Running Dog". In it, someone observes that another journalist had said that, because there was a video camera around, the terrier men would have been wiser to leave the fox alone and keep quiet about their normal practices. The writer of the journal is not such a timid character. He said that the terrier men of the New Forest were digging out a fox while antis were present, complete with a video camera. The terrier drew the fox from a drain and the terrier men then stood on it and shot it. He said that that is perfectly acceptable and completely necessary for hunting to have any meaning. He goes on to ask whether we have not given in enough to antis, and salutes the terrier men and everyone involved with the hunt, who carry out their sport in the face of some of the most blatant and violent intimidation and harrassment.

Those poor kindly huntsmen on horseback are being viciously intimidated by people who care to film what they are doing to a helpless creature. It really is unbelievable that fox hunting can be deemed to be a sport. But the terrier men do not only attach themselves to the hunt. They become a so-called sport in their own right. There are some 5,000 of them around the country. Numerous incidents are reported where the terrier, having been put in to try to flush out the fox, is lost not only for hours but sometimes days, and where it is crushed and killed in trying to get to the fox. So sporting are those terrier men that they even boast about the scars that their pets sport.

My Bill is intended to protect both victims of the terrier men—the fox or other wild animal that has gone to earth and the terriers that are supposed to be their pets.

2.28 pm
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

I hope that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) will accept my assurance that, first, I do not hunt; and secondly, I am a keen advocate of the welfare of animals, both wild and otherwise. However, I find the Bill deeply flawed. There is much in it that I do not think that the House should be asked to consider.

I note that it would be an offence to allow a dog to enter the subterranean refuge of any wild animal. That goes completely against the nature of dogs. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) owns a dog.

Mr. Alan Williams

indicated dissent.

Mr. Robathan

I see that he does not. However, I do and I was brought up with dogs. I currently own a very lovely Labrador called Otter. As a Labrador retriever, it is her nature to retrieve things. She will retrieve anything because that is what she was brought up to do. Such dogs originally retrieved fish in Labrador.

We used to have a border terrier. She was a very charming little dog called Pippa. She lived with children and never bit a child in her life. However, it was her nature to go underground and kill things. That is what she liked doing. One cannot argue with the nature of dogs. It distresses me that people who perhaps do not own dogs would go against that.

I notice that rabbits are excluded.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday 18 February.