§ Order for Second reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before the Home Secretary rises, it might be helpful to inform the House that it will not be appreciated if hon. Ladies and Gentlemen approach the Chair to ask where they are in the order of speaking.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You might already have made an announcement, and I apologise if I missed it, but there are two reasoned amendments on the Order Paper and I wondered whether you had selected either of them and, if not, whether you could make that clear, because there are interests behind both.
§ Mr. Speaker
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I have not selected either of the amendments. While I am on my feet, I remind the House that there is a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
§ Mr. Straw
As the House is all too well aware, when a Minister moves that a Bill be read a Second time it is customary for that Minister to extol the virtues of every page of the Bill and explain why the policy to which the Bill gives effect is so desirable. That is not appropriate in the current case because, although the Bill is a Government Bill, its content has not been determined principally by the Government; rather, it contains three separate and mutually exclusive options suggested by three different interest groups.
As the House is aware, hunting is an issue that arouses great concern and strong passions among many, although by no means all, people. The volumes of newsprint and the fact that the Home Office has received more than 100,000 letters on the subject since the general election attest to that. Hunting also attracts a great deal of attention in this House and another place—indeed, there have been 22 private Members' Bills relating to hunting in the past 20 years.
It is crucial to note that almost all those Bills failed because they lacked parliamentary time, not because the majority of parliamentarians were opposed to them. The truth is that Parliament has never had a proper opportunity to give legislative effect to its wishes on the question of hunting.
As I explained to the House on 12 June, the Government decided to bring forward a Bill so that the will of Parliament could prevail, with the aim that the issue could properly be resolved. Before doing so, we asked Lord Burns to head an inquiry into hunting with dogs in England and Wales. The committee reported in June, and I am extremely grateful to Lord Burns and to his team for producing such a clear and objective statement of the facts surrounding hunting, which I hope will inform the House's deliberations on the Bill.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
Will the Home Secretary acknowledge that Lord Burns recognised that 380 the pattern of hunting in Wales is somewhat different from the pattern in England? Why, therefore, does the Bill make no provision for there to be some change in policy, even on the margins, to be implemented by the National Assembly for Wales?
§ Mr. Straw
The right hon. Gentleman asks whether it is appropriate for the House or the National Assembly for Wales to deal with primary legislation. The position is clear: it is for the House to deal with primary legislation relating to Wales as well as to England on aspects of the criminal law. That was accepted by the House and the other place, which is of clear importance, and by the people of Wales when they voted for the devolution settlement.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Burns report referred to differences in Wales and differences in the pattern of hunting between upland and lowland areas, which apply not only to Wales. At present, one of the three schemes set out in the Bill would not distinguish between the different circumstances that obtain in Wales—mainly in upland areas—and other upland areas, and lowland areas. Were that option to go into Committee and on to Report, it would be open to Members who represent parts of Wales or any other parts of the United Kingdom to table amendments to take account of the differences identified by Lord Burns.
§ Mr. Straw
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. However, there is great pressure on the time available between now and 10 o'clock. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will excuse me if I do not go into my usual arrangement, which is to respond to virtually every intervention that is offered.
§ Mr. Leigh
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned Wales. Hunting is a matter of deep controversy in our constituencies. We are expected to exercise our conscience because the issue affects our constituencies. Is it right or fair that when dealing with a matter of deep controversy, Scottish Members will be voting while we have no right to vote on the future of hunting in Scotland? Will the right hon. Gentleman do the decent thing and advise Scottish Members similarly to do the decent thing and abstain on any future votes on hunting?
§ Mr. Straw
No, I will certainly not do so. The hon. Gentleman does not recognise the powers of this place and the other place in respect of Scotland. First, the powers of the Scottish Parliament derive entirely from the Parliament of Westminster. The Parliament of Westminster can at any stage, if it wishes—I do not advise this course—change the Scotland Act 1998. The Scottish Parliament is palpably and legally subordinate to the Westminster Parliament.
Secondly, I have never accepted the political arithmetic of the West Lothian question, despite my huge regard for my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), as his constituency is now called. The best explanation, which I endorse, of why that seductive political arithmetic does not add up is provided by the distinguished constitutionalist, Vernon Bogdanor, in an essay which he wrote two or three years ago. I understand the attraction 381 of this device to a party that has no representation in Scotland and Wales. However, if the Conservative party were in power, it would come to exactly the same grief as Gladstone did 130 years ago when he wrestled for many months with the so-called in-and-out question. As well as being intellectually impossible to resolve, it caused his Government to collapse.
I happen to believe in the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and believe that every Member elected to that Parliament has a right to legislate, subject to previous legislation, in respect of any part of the United Kingdom. I also make the partisan point that I do not remember such arguments being advanced when 16 Conservative and Unionist Members represented Northern Ireland here despite the existence of the Stormont Parliament, which had more powers than has the Scottish Parliament.
§ Mr. Straw
No, but, if I make progress, I shall give way on a historical point if my hon. Friend intervenes later.
I said that I am very grateful to Lord Burns, which provoked a couple of interesting interventions. We decided to adopt the multi-options procedure because it allows all sides the opportunity to put their point of view and have it sensibly debated. In doing so, we have drawn on the parallel and the good example of the previous Administration in respect of Sunday trading.
In the Parliaments between 1979 and 1997, I recall only one Government Bill being defeated on Second Reading—the 1986 Shops Bill. A lot of discussion about how the matter could be resolved followed, and the previous Administration—sensibly, in my judgment—introduced a multi-option Government Bill and gave Ministers as well as other Members a free vote. The matter was finally resolved. I say that notwithstanding the fact that I was in a minority in voting against the preferred option. I happen to think that that was a sensible way through and we have adopted the parallel.
§ Mr. MacShane
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for stressing the multi-option point because when the House previously discussed outlawing such practices—bear baiting in 1835, and cock fighting in 1849—there was a straight up and down vote. On a historical point, is he aware that the greatest foxhunter in British history was the Duke of Wellington? Every Friday during the Peninsular wars, the fighting stopped so that he could go foxhunting, save that there were no foxes in Iberia. He organised his hunt, but there was no necessity to kill and disembowel a poor, innocent animal. Why cannot the foxhunting community follow the Iron Duke's example?
§ Mr. Straw
Not at the moment, but, if I make progress, I may do so.
Before I discuss the provisions, may I explain in more detail the procedure that we propose to adopt, subject to the agreement of the House? We are debating whether the Bill should receive a Second Reading, and obviously nothing more than that. If, as I hope and expect, the Bill receives a Second Reading, it will be debated in Committee. We propose that the first part of that debate, when the key choice between the options will be made, will take place on the Floor of the House so that all Members can participate and, of course, vote.
As Members will know, the core of the Bill is in three schedules, each of which is triggered by a clause. Should the House agree, the debate in Committee of the whole House will be on which of those clauses should stand part of the Bill. We envisage a single common debate followed by three votes. It will be important for Members to vote for the option that they favour, but also against those they do not. I am advised that that is how the procedure will work. It is certainly simpler than that for the election of the Speaker, but, for the House to come to a clear view, it will be important for all Members to vote for one choice and against two, if that is their wish.
Once the whole House has made a decision on which of the options it favours, we envisage that the Bill will move into Standing Committee upstairs in the usual way, and details of the chosen option can be considered by the Committee.
§ Mr. Straw
As the hon. Gentleman is a Whip, I will give way in a moment.
Subject to the agreement of the House, Report and Third Reading will take place in the usual way, and thereafter the Bill will proceed to the other place.
At this point, I shall make an important commitment. Again, it follows the practice adopted in the case of the Sunday Trading Bill. The Government will table as amendments in the other place any of the options that this House has removed from the Bill, to ensure that the other place is given exactly the same choice between the options that this House enjoyed. That is critical for each House to be able to reach a balanced view of the options.
I now give way to the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip.
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am grateful to the Home Secretary. On the Order Paper today, there is also a timetable motion. How can we decide on that motion, until we know which option the House has chosen? The chosen option will be important in determining the way the Committee decides to proceed.
§ Mr. Straw
The House agreed that the timetable motion and the procedure, motion should be taken after Second Reading. That is sensible; it is a matter for the House. I took that view in opposition, which explains why there were so 383 few guillotine motions when I was shadow Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition. Timetable motions are for the convenience of all hon. Members. That is not a matter for this occasion. That debate has taken place and procedure motions are now a matter of fact.
§ Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)
The Home Secretary—inadvertently, I think—suggested something that is not the case. Hon. Members will vote first on supervision, then on regulation and subsequently on prohibition, so it will be open to them to vote for both supervision and regulation, and not to choose just one of the three options.
§ Mr. Straw
The hon. Gentleman is right to pick me up on that. I was suggesting that, for the sake of clarity, it would be a good idea for hon. Members to vote for one of the three clauses and against the other two. However, that does not stop the House coming to a different view. It is open to the House to vote for all three clauses, and a considerable dog's breakfast would result. I would not advise that course.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Can the Home Secretary tell the House whether there is any truth in the report in one of today's national newspapers that if the Bill does not complete its passage through Parliament in this Session and a general election intervenes, the Government are committed to using the Parliament Acts in the next Parliament to make sure that the Bill, in whatever form, becomes law?
§ Mr. Straw
My answer to that is the same as my answer to any such question during the Second Reading of a Bill: we make our decision on the use of the Parliament Act in the light of events. We have not even had Second Reading of the Bill, still less a rejection by the other place.
Report and Third Reading will take place in the usual way and thereafter the Bill will proceed to the other place. I have given a commitment in that regard.
I shall deal now with the content of the three schedules. As I indicated, the three schedules were proposed by the three main interest groups—the Countryside Alliance, the Middle Way Group and Deadline 2000. Each of those groups had full access to Home Office Ministers and officials, and each of the options has been professionally drafted by parliamentary counsel.
I place on record my appreciation, which is shared by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), for the positive and constructive way in which the interest groups have approached their task in producing options that were workable for them. I know that each of the interest groups has supporters in the House and, should they be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, those hon. Members will take the opportunity to explain the particular benefits of their option. I shall give a brief and, I hope, factual description of what each of the three schedules would do.
Clause 1 and schedule 1 were proposed by the Countryside Alliance and are based on the principle of the self-regulation of hunting. The Independent Supervisory Authority on Hunting, known as ISAH, was set up at the 384 end of last year. Its members are the chairmen of the various hunting associations, such as the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the National Coursing Club and the Masters of Deerhounds Association. ISAH oversees its member organisations' rules and codes of conduct, and has the power to impose disciplinary sanctions on hunts and clubs. It also has the power to visit and inspect hunts. The cost of ISAH is borne by the member organisations.
Membership of ISAH, or of an organisation affiliated to it, is voluntary, and anyone who wants to hunt other than under its auspices is free to do so. That would continue under the option in schedule 1. The schedule, however, contains provisions to encourage as much hunting as possible to be undertaken under the ISAH regulatory umbrella.
Both the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 contain a number of offences relating to cruelty to animals. At present, both Acts contain specific exemptions in relation to hunting, so a person cannot be prosecuted under those provisions if his actions took place during lawful hunting or coursing. The schedule provides that in future the exemption will apply only to supervised hunting—that is, hunting undertaken under the ISAH regulatory umbrella. The Countryside Alliance believes that that provides an incentive for everyone who goes hunting to come under the auspices of ISAH, to be bound by its code of practice and to be subject to its disciplinary procedures.
I should make one thing clear immediately. The Countryside Alliance does not accept that those who undertake properly organised hunting are committing an act of cruelty that would be liable to prosecution under the two Acts to which I have referred—although I appreciate that not all Members would agree. What the Countryside Alliance fears is the bringing of malicious legal actions. It therefore believes that people will want to enjoy the continued benefit of the statutory exemption, and to come under the ISAH umbrella.
The second point I should make, in fairness to the Countryside Alliance, is that while the alliance has been helpful in presenting that option, it is quick to emphasise that it does not reflect the entirety of its position. The alliance does not believe it is right to deal with hunting in isolation. It would prefer a complete overhaul of our animal welfare legislation, making it unlawful to inflict, by any means, unnecessary suffering on any mammal.
Clause 2 and schedule 2 were proposed by the Middle Way Group, which is led by three Members of Parliament, one from each of the main parties: the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding). The clause and schedule are based on the premise that hunting with dogs should be allowed to continue, but that it should be a statutorily licensed activity. Anyone who wished to hunt would therefore need to apply for a licence. Licences would be issued by a newly created non-departmental public body known as the Hunting Authority.
The Hunting Authority would consist of between seven and 11 members. Some would represent the main interested parties—such as landowners, farmers and animal welfare groups—but the majority would be selected precisely because they had no vested interest in the question. As well as issuing licences, the authority 385 would be required to draw up codes of practice to govern the main hunting activities, and would be able to attach appropriate terms and conditions to licences.
The cost of the Hunting Authority would come from the income generated by licence fees. The intention is that it should be self-financing—in any year, its income from licence fees should match its expenditure.
The authority would be able to appoint inspectors to visit hunts. It would also be given the power to provide training courses and to set examinations for those wishing to apply for licences, although I understand that the proponents of this option do not envisage its doing that, at least initially. No doubt they will expand on that if they catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Clause 3 and schedule 3 were proposed by Deadline 2000. Deadline 2000 is a consortium consisting of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. It effectively provides for a complete ban on hunting with dogs by creating criminal offences. Anyone guilty of illegal hunting would be liable to a fine of up to £5,000. In the Government's view, such a level of penalties is proportionate and sufficient.
There are a few limited exceptions, which are set out in the schedule. I think that Deadline 2000 would want me to stress their limited nature. Each exception comes with conditions. Only if all the relevant conditions in schedule 3 are met would hunting be lawful. Deadline 2000 have made it clear that those exceptions are not to be seen as loopholes and would apply only in limited circumstances.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
Will the Home Secretary confirm that if those financial penalties were not paid, the penalty would be imprisonment? The House has previous experience of issues touching people's conscience and the consequences when fines are not paid.
§ Mr. Garnier
If schedule 3 becomes law, how many additional policemen will the Home Secretary need?
§ Mr. Straw
I have a comment from the Association of Chief Police Officers, although not to hand. I am happy for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to deal with that in his winding-up speech. From memory, I believe that ACPO thinks that the likely impact on police resources of the ban on hunting proposed in schedule 3 will probably not be any greater than the current impact that results from the disorder caused by those who seek to interfere with hunting. The general approach is therefore likely to be neutral.
§ Mr. Straw
No, I am sorry, but I will not give way.
386 The House knows that I condemn utterly the disorder that is created in an attempt to disrupt hunting, which is a lawful activity. If the House and the other place decide to accept schedule 3 and clause 3 and they become law, the House, across parties, will take a similar view of any other illegality.
§ Mr. Straw
I am sorry; I need to make progress.
That is the core of the Bill. There is only one other provision that I need to explain: clause 4, which deals with commencement.
The rules of the House provide that it is not possible to introduce a Bill with internally contradictory provisions. That is why we have had to include a fairly complicated commencement provision, providing for the commencement of one of the schedules and the repeal of the other two. Let me make it clear to the House that if it picks one of the options, we will introduce an amendment to provide that that option should take effect one year after Royal Assent. That will, we feel, give those involved in hunting an adequate opportunity to make whatever arrangements they feel are necessary, whichever option is chosen. If the middle way option is chosen, and schedule 2 emerges as the chosen option, we will need transitional provisions to ensure that the Hunting Authority is up and running and issuing licences before it becomes unlawful to hunt without a licence.
§ Mr. Straw
If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I need to make progress.
None of us, I am sure, underestimates how passionately people on both sides of the debate feel. That feeling is illustrated by attendance in the Chamber today. Nevertheless, by introducing a multi-option Bill the Government hope that all sides will feel that they have had a fair chance to put their point of view and debate this most contentious of issues in a sensible and rational fashion.
This is not an issue that follows traditional party lines. There are supporters and opponents of hunting—and supporters and opponents of clause 2—in all the main parties. No one demonstrates that point better than the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), whose views, I think it is fair to say, are not fully endorsed by everyone who takes the Conservative Whip.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his courtesy in receiving delegations on the matter. Does he agree that, in the event of a ban, that wicked proposal would separate liberty from justice? Does he agree that that is thoroughly undesirable and bad?
§ Mr. Straw
I fully understand that the hon. Gentleman takes that view. I understand the strength of his feeling and I respect him for it. Opinions differ very much, and it is for the House and the other place to reach a balanced judgment.
387 Although, as was illustrated by that last exchange, hunting is an issue on which some hold passionate views, as it happens I am not one of those people. During my 21 years in the House I have never voted on any Bill on hunting, but as I am the Minister sponsoring the Bill, I have had to consider the issue in greater detail than would have otherwise been the case. I have been pressed on a number of occasions outside the House and in interviews to say what my approach is. On each occasion I said that I wished to inform Parliament first and this I now do. My own thinking has been much informed by Lord Burns's report. Today I shall vote for the Bill to receive a Second Reading so that the House can come to a substantive decision on the options in the new year.
When and if the Bill receives a Second Reading and is considered in a Committee of the whole House, I shall vote for clause 2, which offers a scheme of regulation, and against both clause 1, which provides for self-regulation, and clause 3, which involves an outright ban. Let me emphasise, however, that the decision rests with each individual Member, that every Minister and Parliamentary Private Secretary is as entitled to their own opinion as any other hon. Member, and that the view that I have expressed is entirely a personal opinion.
We believe that the time has come to deal with the issue of hunting with dogs once and for all. The Bill allows Parliament that opportunity and I commend it to the House.
§ 5.2 pm
§ Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)
As the Home Secretary has made clear, this is a Bill on which opinions across the Chamber differ strongly. As he noted, I am delighted to be joined—if not supported—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). She and I have agreed that on this occasion we stand as one in our agreement to differ strongly, but amicably, about the content of the Bill.
The Home Secretary has made his position clear. Every Conservative Member will have a free vote when we divide the House on the Bill later tonight. For my own part, I believe that the Bill is misguided I and unnecessary. I intend to vote against it on Second Reading. If it receives a Second Reading and goes into Committee, I expect that we shall debate the various options in detail. My intention would be to prefer clause 1 to clause 2 and, if it came to a choice, clause 2 to clause 3.
§ Mr. Lidington
I shall give way briefly, but the hon. Gentleman should be aware that I want to allow time for the many hon. Members on both sides of the House who wish to speak.
§ Dr. Palmer
I shall not detain the hon. Gentleman for long. Just to clarify, is he saying that he would prefer the Bill to be rejected outright, including the pathetic self-regulation proposal from the Countryside Alliance?
§ Mr. Lidington
Yes. I do not believe that legislation of this nature is required. If the Government were to propose comprehensive measures on animal welfare, such as an overhaul of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, I would 388 want to look at them carefully in particular contexts, but the measure that we are debating this afternoon is not justified at all by the evidence presented by the Burns inquiry about animal welfare and the prevention of cruelty. The key issue of principle that the House must consider is how we balance the duty that each of us has as a legislator to defend individual liberty, with our duty to shape laws that will prevent cruelty to animals and enhance animal welfare.
Other issues are also relevant. The evidence may help us to make our judgment by tipping the scales in one direction or another. There is the impact that a ban would have on jobs and on the rural economy at a time of acute agricultural recession. There is the contribution that hunting makes to conservation and to the preservation of a diverse environment for many plant and animal species. There is the central importance of hunts to social and cultural life in many of our rural areas, especially the most remote areas of England and Wales.
All those issues are intrinsically important, but in this debate they are secondary to the fundamental question of how we resolve the tension between human freedom and animal welfare. We must ask ourselves whether the Bill would place oppressive restrictions on human freedom. Frankly, if Parliament were to decide deliberately to take away the livelihood or the lawful recreation of even one man or woman in this country, that should cause real heart-searching in the House. Hunting involves large numbers of people.
§ Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)
The hon. Gentleman talks about jobs and job losses. I remember that not so long ago, when the Tories were in power, they closed 30 pits, which cost 60,000 miners' jobs. Conservative Members went through the Lobby with not a murmur about job losses.
§ Mr. Lidington
The hon. Gentleman would carry more weight in the House if he were prepared to recognise that, although he may have strong feelings on one side of the debate, this measure will have an acutely damaging impact on individuals, families and communities in many different parts of the country. He does no service to his argument by disregarding or dismissing the truth of that central proposition.
The Bill will affect many people. In the Government's own words, from page 3 of the regulatory impact assessment:The numbers of people registered as subscribers, members and supportersof huntsis estimated to be 67,000. On popular days many more may hunt.To that total we should add the many others who do not take part in hunting but who nevertheless support hunt social functions, point-to-point meetings and similar activities.
If the House should pause before depriving people of their recreation, it should hesitate still further before passing a law that will quite deliberately make it unlawful for people to continue in work that is presently lawful. The Government's own assessment is that between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs would be at stake if a 389 ban on hunting were to be enacted. Their assessment also makes it clear that, because some of those jobs are seasonal or part-time:the number of people involved may be significantly higher.I expect that it is true that those job losses, as the Government's assessment puts it, relate to an activity that isso small as to be almost invisible in terms of national aggregates.However, being small in terms of a national aggregate is precious little comfort for a young father living in a tied house who knows that Parliament is debating whether to deprive him and his family of their home and livelihood.
If the House were debating a proposal by a private sector employer to send out notices to quit or notices of redundancy to hundreds, or thousands, of our fellow citizens 10 days before Christmas, many Labour Members who are cheering for the Bill would be denouncing that employer as a heartless and ruthless exponent—[Interruption.]
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)
Order. It is clear that, at the moment, the hon. Gentleman has no intention of giving way.
§ Mr. Lidington
If people are trying to run a rural business, and depend for much of their revenue on hunting or on people involved in it, it is small comfort for them to be told that they do not figure in the statistics. The outlook is especially hard for people and businesses in remote rural areas, who are already suffering from a severe agricultural recession. Alternative work and customers are not easy to find. The cost of the Bill is real in terms both of human freedom and of human livelihoods, so evidence to suggest that hunting is unacceptably cruel would have to be overwhelming, and based on substantial and compelling results, to justify imposing a ban.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
As my hon. Friend knows, I represent a rural area. There is no doubt that some of my constituents will face job losses if option 3 is agreed. Many of them live in villages and are already hard pressed to find a local bobby wandering around. Even Clitheroe has policing problems, which are caused by overstretch. If option 3 is agreed to and hunting with hounds is banned, will the police not be even further stretched in trying to monitor what is occurring in our villages while also pursuing the people who will have become criminals?
§ Mr. Lidington
The Bill is the wrong priority for Parliament, and its enforcement would be the wrong priority for our police, whom citizens want to be out catching burglars, street robbers and other criminals.
It is not enough for advocates of the Bill to state merely that they disapprove of hunting, and it is even more inadequate to say that they disapprove of the people who take part in it. To quote the Burns report, the key test iswhether legislators could point to unnecessary suffering or some other reference point beyond mere disapproval, to reflect the general interese…390 Those of us who oppose the Bill must take seriously the Burns report's conclusion that hunting, in the famous phrase,seriously compromises the welfare of the foxor other hunted animal. However, the welfare of an animal is seriously compromised by any action that results in its death.
§ Mr. Grieve
We live in a pluralist society. As such, must not we tolerate all sort of things that we might individually find bizarre? For instance, the practice of halal butchery is allowed in this country, and it is an exception to regulations that are otherwise imposed. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extraordinary for hunting to be singled out, when the Government are prepared to extend courtesy to practices about which pluralism is the very word that they use?
§ Mr. Lidington
My hon. Friend makes his point well. Over the years, animal welfare lobby groups have argued passionately that the law should be changed to restrict or outlaw halal and kosher butchery. Successive Governments, Conservative and Labour alike, have rightly resisted those pressures on the grounds that religious liberty needs to be defended as a first principle in a plural and free society.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)
I have followed the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. Will he end his speech by giving an undertaking to the House and the country that, should we have the misfortune to see another Conservative Government, they would reintroduce hunting with dogs?
§ Mr. Lidington
My intention, and the intention of the majority of my colleagues, is to resist this ill-judged, unnecessary Bill. We shall base our arguments on its demerits and on the lack of any compelling arguments for enacting it.
§ Mr. Gummer
My hon. Friend was diverted from the subject of religious slaughter. Is he aware that, when it was my duty to make a decision on that matter, I objected strongly to religious slaughter and to the harm done to the animals, but I believed it right to ensure that, in a pluralist society, people who feel strongly about something should, in all circumstances except the most extreme, have certain rights? It is a serious matter to decide that one type of person may not have those rights, whereas another type may. Labour Members—especially the more voluble ones—should not assume that this is a simple matter. It is a serious matter, deeply concerned with freedom, which, if carried through, will threaten every minority in the country.
§ Mr. Lidington
My right hon. Friend speaks from the heart, and he speaks the truth. Were a ban to be introduced, it would be wrong in itself and would set a dangerous precedent for the way in which a temporary majority—of whatever political colour—in the House of Commons can treat a minority of its fellow citizens who are lawfully carrying out a practice of which that temporary majority happens to disapprove.
§ Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)
May I take my hon. Friend back to the cursory way in which the 391 Home Secretary responded earlier to the point about police numbers? In Cambridgeshire, as in much of East Anglia, a form of illegal hunting already goes on regularly: illegal coursing on land over which those concerned do not have permission to hunt. The Cambridgeshire constabulary cannot respond to the calls made to them to deal with that activity, so it will continue to take place. There is no doubt that the police will not have the resources to enforce option 3, if the House decides to vote for it.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the arguments that he is using today in defence of hunting are exactly the same as those used by Members of Parliament in the 1820s in defence of bull baiting? Is there not something to be said for the idea that the House should represent the interests of animals? They have interests as well, much though Conservative Members might mock the idea.
§ Mr. Lidington
I do not disparage the hon. Gentleman's consistent defence over many years of his point of view on this matter. However, I part company with him over the idea that, when it is proposed that Parliament use the coercive power of the law and the enforcement authorities to make illegal a practice that has previously been perfectly legal, there needs to be—[Interruption.] I am making a point that addresses what the hon. Gentleman said. There needs to be compelling, conclusive evidence of the cruelty to which the supporters of a ban allude—whereas to say that the evidence supplied to the Burns inquiry and published in its report is inconclusive is an underestimate. The evidence in the report shows that the case for a ban cannot be sustained on the grounds either of animal welfare or of preventing cruelty.
§ Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the comparison should be made not with bear baiting or cock fighting but with fishing and game shooting? Is it not true that there are no essential differences of principle between foxhunting, angling and game shooting? They are all the same; we should defend them all.
§ Mr. Lidington
Not only is my right hon. and learned Friend correct on that point, but part of the open agenda of some of the animal rights groups is that, having achieved—as they hope to do—a ban on hunting with hounds, they would move on to attack game shooting and fishing. They will adopt a new target as each successive one is achieved.
Burns concludes that it is not enough to ask about the impact on animal welfare of hunting with hounds. In considering the evidence on alleged cruelty, we must also assess the welfare advantages and disadvantages of other methods of animal control. The report shows repeatedly that when the committee examined the evidence, it concluded that there were serious problems with every proposed alternative. To ban stag hunting would meant that more deer were stalked and killed by less skilful shooters. The report notes that in that case, "wounding rates would increase". More wounded animals would linger and suffer for many days if a ban on hunting were enacted.
392 Burns concludes that both snaring and shooting can have serious adverse welfare implications. The report favours the lamping method of fox control—dazzling a fox at night before shooting it with a high-velocity rifle. The report concludes that on welfare grounds that method is preferable to hunting with hounds; it does not make that statement about any other method of control.
The report notes some serious problems with the lamping method, however. It needs good vehicular access; the method is unsuitable for uneven terrain, woodland or scrub. The National Farmers Union points out that the Burns analysis ignores the problem of lamp-shy foxes. It would be far from a panacea, even in areas where it might be practical to employ it. Nor could one ignore—[Interruption.] If Labour Members are attracted by that method of control, they must address the risks posed to human safety. In a rather euphemistic phrase, the Burns report states thatnight shooting can give rise to concern on the part of those living in the area.I suspect that the last thing that the Home Secretary and his ministerial colleagues want is to see a large number of people tramping through the countryside with high-velocity rifles, lethal at a distance of up to 2 miles, at a time when the Government have enacted legislation to encourage more people to roam freely across that same countryside. That method of control simply will not work; and as Burns concluded on page 119 of his report:None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective.I argue that Burns underestimates the damage to animal welfare that a ban on hunting would cause. Many farmers and landowners tolerate foxes and deer on their land, despite the damage that may be done to crops or livestock, because they—the farmers and landowners concerned—enjoy or support the continuation of hunting. It is my belief that if hunting were banned, many more animals would be shot, snared or trapped, with all the drawbacks in terms of animal welfare that those methods of control would bring. In my view, the case for a ban on animal welfare grounds is shaky in the extreme; it is far from the compelling case that is needed to justify the Bill.
So why is the Bill before us? In part it comes, no doubt, from Ministers' wish to provide a sop to throw to Labour Back Benchers who are increasingly frustrated at the Government's failure to deliver on other aspects of their programme. We have had from the Home Secretary today, expressed in his usual emollient style, a profession of Government neutrality on the Bill, but that sits rather oddly with the guillotine motion that is already on the Order Paper for today. It sits even more oddly with the threat—which, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) pointed out, was briefed to one of the newspapers—that if the Government failed to get their way in this Parliament they would seek, if they had the opportunity, to use the Parliament Acts to ram the Bill into law.
I cannot help wondering—
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
My hon. Friend is aware that if the unfortunate should happen and part III of schedule 3 393 were selected, we would face the introduction of powers for vehicles to be seized, homes searched and animals arrested, merely on the suspicion of a constable. Does my hon. Friend consider that that power is proportionate, or does he think that it violates the fundamental tenet of liberal tradition in this country—that a person is innocent until proven guilty?
§ Mr. Lidington
If we are, in the event, faced with schedule 3, serious questions will need to be asked about the definitions of offences, the extent of police powers, the penalties that the schedule includes, and the statutory defences for which it provides. However, I believe that today we should concentrate on the argument of principle.
§ Mr. Lidington
I regret that I will not give way again.
The Government's priorities are gravely wrong. The Hunting Bill was not only included in the Government programme but introduced as one of the first Bills in a new Session of Parliament. And yet the Government have not found time for an adoption Bill, which must now wait for the Private Members' Bills procedure. They have no time for a Bill to enhance vaccine damage payments, of which the Secretary of State for Social Security said on 27 June:We shall legislate at the earliest available opportunity.—[Official Report, 27 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 719.]The Government have no space, either, for a Bill, other than in draft form, to confiscate the assets of organised criminals, about which the Home Secretary told the Social Market Foundation on 8 June:We aim to legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows.Even yesterday, the Minister for Public Health promised that the Government would introduce a Bill to embed in primary legislation a ban on human reproductive cloning. She said that the Governmentwill do so as parliamentary time allows—[Official Report, 19 December 2000; Vol. 360, c. 220.]Those Bills deserve higher priority than the Hunting Bill, and far more compelling arguments can be made in their support. The most charitable explanation is that the Government have a peculiar and warped sense of legislative priority. Those of us who have more sceptical and suspicious minds might think that this is an effort by the Labour party, which has received large sums from some animal rights campaign groups, to show that it is now delivering the legislation in return for the cash that it has received.
The Bill represents a major attack on the freedom of a large minority of our fellow citizens. Its supporters have been unable to provide compelling evidence that a ban on hunting, and the reliance on shooting or snaring instead, would enhance animal welfare or reduce cruelty. The Bill is intolerant and illiberal, and it deserves to be rejected in the Lobby tonight.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
I remind all hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed a time limit of 10 minutes on Back-Bench speeches in this debate.
§ Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester)
I welcome the introduction of the Bill by the Government, and I will support its Second Reading. Of course, this Second Reading would not necessarily have had to take place now if certain Opposition Members had not blocked previous private Members' Bills. I respect the Government's neutrality on the issue, but I welcome their commitment to ensure that the matter is brought to an end. In November 1997, 411 Members voted to ban hunting with dogs. After that result, it was inconceivable that the issue would go away. The House had spoken; it demanded action and, today, we have the response—a Government Bill backed by a timetable motion.
Like the first two hon. Members who spoke, I shall state which option I prefer. I will vote for an outright ban on hunting with dogs. It is all too easy, given the emotion surrounding the debate, to get carried away and say that all hunt supporters are bloodthirsty barbarians or hooray Henrys; they are not, and it would be wrong to do so. It is equally wrong to suggest that all anti-hunt supporters do not listen, are townies and fail to understand the countryside. The Burns inquiry has provided all sides of opinion with considerable food for thought.
I hope that the debate will reflect the considered views of Members, who feel very passionately about the subject, but I also hope that, when a conclusion is reached, the prevailing view will be given a smooth passage in this House and elsewhere. I have said on many occasions that the issue is about animal welfare and our moral obligation to avoid unnecessary suffering.
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that interventions are treated as additional to the length of speeches, otherwise the debate will not be conducted in the proper way?
§ Mr. Michael J. Foster
Let me make some progress, then I will certainly take interventions.
Evidence presented to Burns reflected many of the conclusions about which I told the House in 1997. For example, hunters argued that prey did not suffer because of the quick-kill theory. It was claimed that prey was killed by a nip to the back of the neck. The post mortem evidence on both hares and foxes commissioned by the Burns inquiry is most illuminating. The summary of the Cambridge university post-mortem evidence states:Hare no 1.This hare was producing milk … The hare was very pale indicating substantial bleeding before death. The skull was crushed and the brain damaged. One eye had been forced from the socket … 9 ribs were fractured, a lung punctured and substantial bleeding had occurred into the chest …395Hare no 4.The hare was heavily pregnant … substantial injuries and bruising over the back of the hare … Some of the spinal bones were broken and a kidney displaced.Post-mortem evidence on foxes given to the Burns inquiry states:Fox 3… no indication of damage to the … (neck) vertebrae.However, there was "compression of the chest", almost all the ribs had been broken, and the spine was broken in two. The diaphragm had broken down, and there wasdestruction of the structure of the heart and lungs.The abdomen had been destroyed, and the pelvis separated. The post-mortem concluded:Cause of deathProfound trauma by repeated dog bite.
§ Mr. Paice
Obviously the injuries that the hon. Gentleman describes would lead to the animal's quick death. [Interruption.] That is self-evident. The hon. Gentleman was using those arguments to illustrate what I believe is his case that instantaneous death does not necessarily result. How can he use the descriptions of those post-mortem examinations to explain his argument that the death was in some way prolonged?
§ Mr. Foster
A post mortem cannot determine the time that elapsed between the first hound catching the fox and the damage caused. My point is that the death was not caused by a quick bite to the back of the neck.
§ Mr. Foster
I have given way once. I want to make some progress.
Hunt supporters have now changed their soundbite on the issue. They now say that the manner of the kill is the "least cruel" option. I reject that. I return to what Burns said and the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) quoted. Lamping—shooting a fox at night with a rifle—is the most humane way of killing a fox. If lamping is not practical, flushing the fox out of cover to be shot is more humane a method of killing than hunting with dogs. However, focusing on the kill itself is not the only issue. The chase, too, causes the prey—a fox, hare or deer—distress. If cruelty is defined as "causing unnecessary suffering", the chase is indeed cruel.
§ Mr. Robathan
I understand that the hon. Gentleman fishes. He mentioned cruelty, but is he aware that the RSPCA has found that, beyond perad venture, fishing is cruel? I understand that he is willing to catch a fish on the end of a hook—purely for pleasure, not to eat; in coarse fishing the fish is not eaten—and play with it for hours. Surely that is just as cruel as anything that happens to a fox.
§ Mr. Foster
I do not believe that the RSPCA used those words; nor do I go fishing with a pack of dogs and let them tear the fish apart while it is still alive.
396 The chase is deliberately prolonged by activities such as stopping up earths and "holding up". On average, the chase lasts between 15 and 20 minutes and covers a distance of six or seven miles. In the case of deer, it can last three hours and cover many more miles.
The chased animal will exert maximum effort to escape. Indeed, it will run to the point of exhaustion to avoid the threat.
§ Mr. Foster
I will make some more progress.
The chase is unnecessary, but it is the very essence of the sport that is associated with hunting. The chase causes the animal unnecessary suffering and is therefore by definition cruel. No regulatory body intended to oversee such an activity could fail to reach that conclusion.
§ Mr. Foster
I should like to make some more progress.
The concern about jobs is real, but the Countryside Alliance's exaggerations have been exposed for the fraudulent claims that they are. Given the notice that hunt employees have had of the likelihood of a ban, they should by now have investigated the alternatives. As I have said previously, drag hunting is a viable alternative.
People have the skills to breed and train the hounds, to organise the hunting day and the hunting calendar, and to maintain the fences and hedges that are associated with the thrill of the chase. People build and maintain artificial earths and go out of their way to stop up natural hiding holes for the fox. I do not believe that it is beyond their wit to make drag hunting a genuine alternative. On drag hunting, Burns observed that there is little motivation to develop the sport while live quarry hunting exists.
§ Mr. Foster
I will not.
All those people who enjoy the ride, the countryside and the camaraderie should take the hint: hunting foxes is going to be banned; develop the alternatives now.
§ Mr. Foster
No, I want to make progress.
The pest control argument has been made and lost. The conclusions are clear. Hunting with dogs is a sport disguised as a form of pest control. Current hunting practices, such as the use of artificial earths, are totally inconsistent with the objective of population control, but totally in keeping with a good day's sport.
Traditional fox hunts account for one in every 40 fox deaths. It is not an effective method of control. With 40 per cent. of foxes killed during cub hunting, it is hardly selective in weeding out the sick or the lame. The average cost per kill is £930. In six hunts, it costs more than £3,000 a kill. So it is hardly an efficient process, either.
§ Mr. Foster
No, I want to make progress.
397 The fox has been persecuted for many years for the wholesale slaughter of lambs, chickens and piglets. It is difficult to distinguish between the killing of a live lamb and the scavenging of a dead or dying one, and so the myth grew. However, Burns concluded that less than 2 per cent. of lambs are killed by foxes. I accept that there can be localised variations, but in such cases, we need selective action, not a gap in the hunting calendar and the random pursuit by scent of any old fox that happens to be in the neighbourhood.
I make no apologies for quoting from the Burns report. The wife of a hunt master said in a letter that they thought Burns would be their saviour, but instead the situation had become a nightmare. I do not share that view. The report has cast light on important issues that were shrouded in darkness. Far from being a nightmare, it is a wake-up call to all those people who believe that humans should have respect for other creatures on this planet.
The issue has become one of democracy. Following an independent inquiry, there is to be a free vote on a range of options, which will mean that it has been scrutinised. My private Member's Bill to ban hunting was talked out in March 1998. That day marked the end of the beginning. Today, we are at the beginning of the end.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
The Liberal Democrat party has concluded that hunting with dogs should be banned. Although colleagues in this House and the other place know that it is the party's view, they also know that it will not be imposed on them. Like members of other parties, my colleagues will vote according to their conscience. [Interruption.] Liberal Democrat Members are in the same position as other hon. Members.
Our previous debate of substance on the issue was when the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) promoted his Bill. On Second Reading, 27 of my colleagues voted in favour of it, 14 voted against and six abstained or were absent. Therefore, it is also clear that the majority of my present colleagues have been persuaded that a ban is appropriate.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who was my predecessor as spokesman on home affairs, opposed the ban. I shall make my position clear: I have always supported a ban on hunting. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should not jump to prejudiced conclusions. We all come to the debate understanding not only that there are strongly held views, as evidenced by this debate and the discussions outside the House, but that many of those views stem from tradition and experience and should be treated with respect.
I shall deal with the two most common prejudices about people's views. First, it is absolutely untrue that people in urban areas oppose foxhunting and people in rural areas support it. Evidence also does not bear out the belief that Members of Parliament from urban areas are overwhelmingly opposed to foxhunting, and those from rural areas are supportive. In any event, people should not jump to conclusions about their colleagues, and I shall give two examples to demonstrate why.
I spent the first 18 years of my life living in villages. In one of them, the hunt used to meet within 100 yards of my house, and I went beagling when I was at school. 398 I am not a townie by background; I come from a rural English and Welsh background. That did not, however, persuade me to support hunting. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who has put his name to the second reasoned amendment, started life as a city dweller. He was born in London and ended up in Huntingdon. We must not jump to conclusions. Colleagues from different parts of the country will have different views, all based on their individual experience, and we must respect them all.
The second prejudice relates to people who go hunting. Anybody who knows anything about hunting—I claim to be in that category—knows that it is not a class-based activity or sport. People from all backgrounds hunt. I hope that prejudice on this ground will also be put aside. People on low incomes and those from poor backgrounds hunt just as frequently and with just as much enthusiasm as people who are more advantaged.
The debate on this Bill is as much about process as it is about principle. Then is also a third issue to be discussed—what we should do about public opinion. On the process, I commend the way in which the Government have handled the issue. They made a commitment in their manifesto to have a free vote on the principle. Everybody who read that assumed that it also implied a commitment to find time for the legislation, if the vote was in favour of a ban. It is therefore appropriate that the Bill has been introduced. If the Government had not introduced it, they would have implicitly betrayed their manifesto commitment.
Given how long the issue has been around, it is right, too, that we are moving towards its resolution. The Home Secretary has presented us with a multi-option Bill, of which there have been good examples in the past, and that is the right way to proceed. Multiple options were given not only in the Sunday Trading Bill—a matter on which people had strong personal opinions, rather than a party view—but also in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, on which people had strong ethical views. It seems, therefore, that this is an appropriate procedure for this Bill. It is also entirely reasonable that each of the options can be amended, so once the House has made its initial choice, that is not the final word.
It is also commendable that the authoritative Burns inquiry was held. I found it very helpful. The arguments were useful and dealt with some of the prejudices. There was a huge debate, for example, about what implications a ban would have for jobs, and the inquiry was effective in producing the most recent evidence and answering that point, which gives us a common basis on which to make a decision.
Turning to the constitutional issues, my personal view is that although hunting was a reserved matter when we debated the Government of Wales Act 1998, which set up the National Assembly, it would be much more appropriate if the issue were decided by the Assembly. Scotland will make its own decision and legislate, as it is entitled to do. Northern Ireland has separate arrangements and, coincidentally, does not have hunting. It is therefore entirely inconsistent on this issue that Wales alone should be affected by a decision made by a House with a large majority of English Members.
§ Mr. Gummer
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be more appropriate for the decision about hunting in England to be decided by Members of Parliament for 399 English constituencies and not by those for Scottish constituencies, who have no control over hunting in their own country?
§ Mr. Hughes
I should not have given way because I was about to deal with that issue; I could have saved a second or two.
The constitutional position of all Members of Parliament is as follows: we were elected on the basis that we would legislate in this Parliament for matters across the United Kingdom. Anybody who had asked that question knew that that was so. For decades we have legislated for Northern Ireland, since it became a Province, with a minority of Northern Irish Members. So, I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's view that hunting should be only for Members representing English constituencies in this Parliament to decide upon.
There is, however, an issue for the next election. Now that there is devolution to the Scotlish Parliament, which my colleagues and I supported and welcomed, and partial devolution to the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, which we also welcomed—although, in the case of Wales, we thought that the process should go further—people should be asked and parties should make clear whether those elected to the next Parliament to represent English constituencies expect to vote on matters to do with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Much more important is the right hon. Gentleman's question whether in the next Parliament Members representing Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland constituencies, where there are devolved responsibilities, should vote on matters that affect England. That would apply to Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies voting on hunting in England and Wales.
§ Mr. Hughes
I will not give way.
The third constitutional issue is about the Parliament Act, which I put to the Home Secretary in an intervention. It seems wrong that that Act should be used for this matter. It would certainly be wrong in this Parliament, and I believe would even be wrong in the next one.
We have two Houses of Parliament. The second is entirely the Government's composition—[Interruption.] The present composition of the House of Lords is entirely the result of legislation introduced by this Government; the present House of Lords is entirely the creature of this Government. Therefore, the Labour Government cannot complain if those whom they decided should be admitted to the House of Lords do not take the same view as the Commons. So, certainly in this Parliament, use of the Parliament Act would not be appropriate. Both Houses should come to a view on the matter.
§ Mr. Hughes
No, I will not give way.
The final constitutional issue before us concerns the European Court of Human Rights and human rights in general. There is a question whether the proposed legislation would fall foul of the Human Rights Act 1998. My judgment is that it would not; other people have come to the same view. However, it strikes me as a weakness 400 in the system—I have made this point before—that we cannot seek an advisory judgment on proposed legislation when contemplating putting it on the statute book before the law is implemented. Once Parliament had agreed which Bills it was minded to pass, the ability to do so could save a lot of time, effort and struggle.
I shall be brief on the public opinion issue. Public opinion is divided and none of us can justifiably pray in aid the fact that there appears to be, or may be, a majority in one direction. The postbags of many of us suggest a majority in favour of a ban, but at the end of the day the matter is for us to decide. It is as bad to argue that public opinion should decide this issue as it is to argue that it should have decided yesterday's debate on embryology or any debate on capital punishment. So I hope that people realise that, although we of course listen to the public, we were elected to make such decisions; otherwise, we might as well not have a Parliament at all.
§ Mr. Hughes
We are left with the matter of principle. I shall be honest: the decision is clearly difficult for us all. It is obviously difficult for those with a liberal perspective and philosophy, who come from a political family. Those of us who come from such a background must ask ourselves not just whether we are persuaded in favour of a ban but whether it is overwhelmingly justified to make unlawful such an activity, and therefore make criminal those who carry out that unlawful act. We can vote in favour of restricting such liberty only if we can answer that doing so is justified.
§ Mr. Hughes
I should like to make a little more progress.
The burden of proof also must lie with those who want to take away liberty rather than with those who want to defend it. I accept that entirely.
§ Mr. Hughes
No, I have given way to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), and promised to do so to my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett). Will the hon. Gentleman bear with me?
Our starting point is to define which liberties we are dealing with. We are not dealing with acts between human beings, on which issue, we take the view that an act that causes no harm to others ought to be permitted. The issue is not the same as boxing, for which adults give consent for harm to be done. I support the continuation of boxing because it is a matter on which adults can reasonably decide. The question is also not one of human rights versus animal rights, because animals do not have rights in the same way as humans. Humans have a duty to safeguard the welfare of other creatures, but animal rights in my view do not exist.
§ Mr. Hughes
I believe that human beings are the most particular, special, advanced form of creation and that we 401 are uniquely divinely equipped. Some of course do not share this theological view. But some of us believe that we therefore have a theological responsibility to animals and to creation, that not properly meeting such responsibility can carry penalties, and that although there are standards, clear guidelines from faith communities and other views, the matter is none the less not one of human rights versus animal rights. We are stewards charged with a responsibility to the welfare of animals in our society.
§ Mr. Hughes
I turn to the big question of whether we should kill animals at all. Some faith groups and individuals such as those belonging to Jainism say that there should be no killing of any creature.
§ Mr. Hughes
As far as I know, the hon. Gentleman is not yet a Jain, although he seems to be moving in that direction.
Most of us accept that there are some justifications for killing animals. One is when they are dangerous and it is in the best interests of society in order to protect human beings. Another might be because animals are predatory and the greater interest requires their killing. A third might be because we want to eat them. One justification for fishing and hunting is that, by and large, we do so in order to eat.
§ Mr. Hughes
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right, but one traditional justification for most fishing and most hunting is that it is carried out in order to eat. That is not of course the same as hunting with dogs.
There is the question whether we should kill animals for pleasure alone. I would argue that we should not. The hunting argument is justified not because it gives pleasure alone but because it is also for a purpose, even though, none the less, hunting may give pleasure as a consequence.
Where have we got to? After more than 100 years of debate, we have moved logically to the presumption that it is right to legislate to prevent unnecessary suffering of animals. We did so in 1911 in relation to most domestic animals against the background that bear baiting, cock fighting and other activities were not acceptable, but excepted hunting, and we did so in relation to wild animals in 1996. So, the argument is not that we have not moved in such a direction. The time has come to take the next logical step.
§ Mr. David Taylor
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to allow successive interventions from Opposition Members but to decline interventions from Government Members?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
The decision lies entirely with the hon. Member who is speaking. The hon. Member 402 for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has given way to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).
§ Mr. Grieve
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), because I find it difficult to follow the logic of his argument. Earlier, he stated that it is right that this matter be brought to a conclusion. However, much legislation enacted by this House through the centuries—including, for instance, legislation that criminalised certain religious groups at the time of the reformation—has been justified on exactly the basis that there was a consensual majority in the House tending towards a certain view, and I know that that is not an argument that the hon. Gentleman would support. Here we have an issue of conscience that clearly touches people deeply, yet he believes that, because of his own views, it is right for this House to impose them on others. In that regard, I find his argument unsustainable.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I do not believe that we should reach a conclusion because of my views, or that we should conclude that my views should be imposed on others. There has been a public debate and the public have shown huge interest in the matter. A strong argument has been advanced inside and outside the House for legislation. A huge majority—260—voted in favour of legislation. Therefore, rather than allow the issue to remain unresolved, a choice can and should be made. The hon. Gentleman's argument or mine may prevail, but that is a matter for Parliament. After all the preparatory skirmishes, it is right that Parliament takes a view.
I have come to the view that in a civilised, less barbaric, more mutually respectful society, we can justify a ban, but we must ensure that it is justified on specific grounds, and we must take account of evidence such as that arising from the Burns inquiry, which asks the question: is there an alternative? If we are persuaded that some foxes must be killed and there is no alternative to hunting, we might be driven to a conclusion that we do not like, but are forced to accept. However, that is not the view expressed in the Burns report. People often justify hunting on the basis that animals kill each other and things are rough in the wild, but that is no argument, because it does not predetermine what view we, as human beings, should take for ourselves. As everybody knows, and as the Burns report confirms, there are alternative methods of killing foxes: digging out, shooting, gassing and trapping.
There are a couple of facts to be considered: it appears that only one in 200 lambs, to take the most obvious example, are killed by a fox, and that, of foxes killed, only 5 per cent. are killed by hunting. It is not as if hunting is the major way of culling them; a huge number of foxes are killed by shooting and an even larger number by cars. Therefore, alternatives exist and they appear to do the job. On the evidence of personal experience and the Burns report, the only real difficulty is in upland areas, where, compared to lowland areas, it is more difficult for the alternatives to succeed.
I shall not repeat what the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) has said, but the Burns report provides clear evidence of significant cruelty. In its conclusions and 403 the summary, the report is unqualified, and to that extent it was helpful. It is true that it used a phrase that we have come to know well, that the experience of being huntedseriously compromises the welfare of the fox.However, the report also makes clear the nature of the injury and the harm inflicted before and during the kill and thereafter. I would submit that no one who has read the report could argue that there is neither significant cruelty, nor the risk of significant cruelty—
§ Mr. Hughes
Some of the alternatives, at least, constitute a less cruel method of dealing with the fox. As for the intervention from the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), I accept the argument relating to coarse fishing and shooting. If there was public demand for a similar proposition in respect of those activities and it was brought before the House, we would have to face that. However, although there are issues relating to cruelty in those activities, that is not the nature of the proposition before us now. The Bill relates only to hunting with dogs of foxes, deer and hares, and in that respect the evidence is clear.
§ Mr. Burnett
My hon. Friend has spoken of the dilemma of a liberal. Will he address the question of whether it is fair to single out one activity for a ban while omitting to mention any other similar activity? Does he agree that that is patently unfair?
§ Mr. Hughes
My hon. Friend's question is perfectly proper, but the Government have introduced a Bill that deals with hunting with dogs and that is the proposition that we must deal with. As my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) said, a separate debate took place some years ago on whether to ban firearms. Each proposition may pose different questions. The proposition before us today relates to hunting with dogs and we have the evidence needed to reach a conclusion.
§ Mr. Hughes
No. I have dealt with that issue, and many other hon. Members want to speak.
My final points relate to the arguments, sometimes claimed to be overwhelming, against a ban. Some say that there is a rural crisis and that rural communities are collapsing. It is true that there are huge problems in rural Britain, but if an activity is wrong, one cannot justify its continuation because there are difficulties in those parts of the country in which that activity predominantly takes place.
Some say that we must not get rid of hunting because it is symbolic of English life. Bullfighting is symbolic of Spanish life, but it is no more justifiable than is foxhunting in England. Life moves on, for heaven's sake. There were no motor cars 150 years ago, so cars might be regarded as symbolic of modern English life. We must look forward rather than back. People say that getting rid of hunting will change the nature of the countryside. The nature of the countryside is changed by all sorts of things: European Union regulations, subsidies, 404 agricultural practices, and so on. It cannot be argued that such things constitute less of a change to the nature of the countryside than banning hunting.
There is a jobs argument, albeit not nearly as strong since the Burns report was published. Burns argues, quite reasonably, that at the end of a period of transition, there would be as many—if not more—alternative jobs in the countryside than jobs exist at present. In addition, according to the report, more jobs would be affected in urban areas than in rural areas. The principle remains the same: if something is wrong, it cannot be justified by the fact that some jobs are involved. We therefore return to the moral argument.
Finally, some say that we need the sport. For heaven's sake, although we need sport, there are many other forms of sport—including drag hunting, although I am not saying that that is an alternative—that constitute perfectly reasonable alternative countryside or sporting activities.
The Home Secretary was asked by a Conservative Member whether the banning of hunting has a policing implication. It has, but there is also a huge policing implication in not banning hunting. Hunts are now policed on a regular basis and the police have made it clear that, whether or not hunting is banned, they anticipate similar resource requirements. The issue is a practical one. A ban might be difficult to police, but so are many other things in life. That cannot be used as an argument against a ban.
There are three options: supervision, regulation or prohibition. However, there is one fundamental question: whether, in the 21st century, the hunting of foxes, deer and hares with dogs should be permitted or whether the practice is so cruel that it should no longer be allowed. The balance between liberty and the welfare of animals is the central question. On this, there is no middle way. One must either accept that hunting is cruel and should not exist, or that it is not so cruel, and it should therefore be allowed, however regulated or supervised.
I have come to the conclusion that the restriction of liberty is justified in the greater interests of a civilised society. I have come to the conclusion also, with some of my colleagues, that it is time for us to proceed to make a choice between the options, not entered into, in the words of the prayer book, "unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly" but after plenty of time and serious debate. I hope that at least the Bill will be given a Second Reading so we can get on with the decision, and get on with it soon.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)
Order. Perhaps it will be helpful to remind the House that the full rigour of the 10-minute limit on Back-Bench Members speeches now applies.
§ Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I intend to speak briefly, as I am aware that many other Members wish to speak and I do not wish to be selfish, but I shall speak seriously about an issue that concerns me. First, however, I must declare an interest: I hunt.
We often have recurring dreams, and I most often have a dream of a sunlit meadow and a sparkling stream where I cast a fly. I wait and watch the fly bobbing along the river and wait for the fish to rise. In my dream, I hold my 405 breath and hope that I shall catch that fish. Unfortunately, when the fish approaches the fly, I usually wake up to find that I have again missed the fish. However, there is always another day and always another dream. In reality, I can go fishing at virtually any time.
It is true that I am not sitting astride a horse or surrounded by dogs, although I fish with dog nobblers occasionally, and some fishermen will know what those are. Nevertheless, I am a hunter. If regulation and licensing are good enough for fishing, why are they not seen by many of my colleagues as good enough for other forms of hunting? How can I, as an avid supporter of fishing and with the Labour party's angling charter in my pocket, hope for hunting to be banned?
For example, can I tell the huntsmen with the mink packs who hunt on foot with dogs and who do more than anyone to try to keep down the mink population that they cannot hunt? Do I tell them that it is all right for me to hunt for fish but not all right for them to hunt for mink, in an effort to protect the water vole, the fish and the ground-nesting birds? It does not make sense.
§ Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage)
Would the hon. Lady like to speculate on whether the difference between the two cases might be the relative numbers of people who fish as opposed to those who hunt foxes?
§ Mrs. Golding
At the last count, it was found that about 4 million people fish. That is a significant number, and a significant number of voters. However, why should mink huntsmen face large fines and imprisonment while I do not? Why should they be made into criminals because they hunt with dogs to protect our countryside, while I am allowed to hunt because I fish? Is there a logical answer to that question?
There are some who say that the answer lies in the fact that we eat fish. However, we do not always do so. Fly fishermen do not always eat the fish that they catch. The result of the latest salmon and freshwater fishing review that the Government commissioned is that salmon can be caught but must be put back into the water to go up to spawn. It is nonsensical to suggest that there is a difference between hunting mink and fishing because we eat fish.
I hope that there is a logical answer to my question, but I cannot find one. I have worked with the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) to try to find a middle way that will resolve the dilemma. I know that many people on both sides of the argument find it difficult to compromise. However, in every civilisation there must be a compromise on some issues. I truly believe that this is one—
§ Mrs. Golding
It is cruel to fishermen when they do not catch.
I hope that all Members will read the middle way proposals. They should consider them. I hope, too, that common sense will prevail and that we shall all vote in the correct way.
§ Mr. John Major (Huntingdon)
I have never hunted a fox or a deer, nor have I attended a hunt or seen one, except at a distance, yet I oppose the Bill every bit as strongly as any one of the country dwellers who are likely to lose their livelihood should a ban be imposed by Parliament.
I am surprised that the Government introduced the Bill, and truly astonished at the timing of its introduction. At the end of a Parliament in a truncated Session, priority is being given to a measure that is classically the stuff of a private Member's Bill. We are bound to wonder at the priorities and motives that lie behind the Bill. If it is a priority for the Government, that is laughable. As for the Government's motives—I think that these are at least clearer than other factors—they must think that there are votes in the Bill.
Some polls say not, but a majority may well oppose foxhunting. In the Government's eyes, the Bill is to unite that majority against the minority who hunt. It is as simple as that. It is a breath taking illustration of political self-interest overriding natural justice for a minority cause.
Generally in our—
§ Mr. Major
I shall make some progress.
Generally in our political system—to its credit, this is usually the view of the Labour party—justice for minorities is considered to be important. So it is, but not, it seems, if the minority consists of countrymen who hunt. Tolerance is swept aside in the Bill. Foxhunters have little hope of their concerns being fairly considered by a majority of Labour Members. Labour Members claim to be tolerant, but to be tolerant is to have themoral and intellectual courage to accept the right of others to have different traditions, lifestyles, allegiances and beliefs.That is the definition of tolerance. They are not my words but those of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who uttered them the very day before the Queen's Speech was delivered to Parliament. What a pity that the right hon. Gentleman's laudable sentiments do not apply to the Bill. On this issue, Labour Members generally—I exclude the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), with her courageous speech—have all the open-mindedness of a revolutionary tribunal.
In the Bill, which was introduced with sweet reason by the Home Secretary, there are in theory at least options to outride prohibition. There could be an independent supervisory authority—that is on offer. There could be the Home Secretary's preference—regulation and a code of practice, which, subject to examination of the small print, might possibly be a way forward. If these were serious options, I would welcome them. However, I fear that they are no more than fig leaves for the Government to ban hunting and wash their hands of the responsibility for having done so by putting up straw men—forgive me; no pun intended—with every certainty that Labour Back Benchers will not accept them. I suspect that the Government are confident that most Labour Back Benchers have made up their minds to go for prohibition and are deaf to reasoned arguments for the interests of the countryside.
407 Hunting has always been a tricky issue. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has said, I was originally from the towns. I understand clearly the strong feelings of many people who oppose hunting. Hunting may offend them, but it should not affect their intellectual judgment of the merits of the activity in terms of pest control when set against other options; only facts should influence them. I congratulate Lord Burns on a report that exposes the complexities of a debate that is too then presented solely in simplistic terms.
Let us consider some of the facts. What are the merits of the Bill? Does it preserve rural traditions? Does it create rural jobs? Does it add to Hirai prosperity? The answers are no, no and no again.
§ Mr. David Taylor
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will remind us of the successes of the Government he led and their predecessors in retaining and developing rural jobs. Rural coalfields in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Yorkshire and many other parts of the country were arbitrarily closed by his Government.
§ Mr. Major
I shall make a deal with the hon. Gentleman: will he undertake that his Government will provide the same financial compensation and assistance to countrymen who lose their jobs as we did to rural communities? They will not do that. Not a penny of compensation is being offered, yet tens and hundreds of millions of pounds were offered by the previous Government.
§ Mr. Major
There has been one daft intervention; I can do without another.
There are, I hope, points of agreement across the House and I shall suggest some. Foxes are vermin that spread disease. They kill sheep, poultry, free-range piglets and game. All farmers regard foxes as a menace. No doubt the sheep, poultry, piglets and game also have strong feelings about them. Moreover, without a proper method of destruction, the number of foxes would treble annually, which, as far as I know, nobody would welcome, so the fox needs culling, but shooting alone will not do, as the Burns report makes clear. It may seem humane—[Interruption.] I seem to hear the slamming of the closed minds of Labour Members. Perhaps they would care to listen to the arguments and make up their minds on that basis rather than on the basis of their own prejudices.
Shooting may seem humane, but it is often ineffective. A fox that is wounded and not killed—that often happens—might linger and suffer for a long time, perhaps even days. Shooting cannot eliminate the need for hunting, as the Burns report makes clear. All violent death is distasteful, unless the fox is to die in comfort, surrounded by its family and mourned by neighbouring chickens. It is inevitable and no one can avoid it.
Many emotive arguments, including some hoary old chestnuts, will undoubtedly be made by Labour Members to advocate the end of hunting. Many of those are conventional wisdom, but that does not make them right. I remember that the concept of a not-for-profit lottery 408 operator was conventional wisdom and the view of almost every right-thinking person. Anyone who did not agree was viewed as sleazy and self-interested, but we are now in different circumstances: the chase is over and the wrong fox has been killed.
I began by saying that I have never taken part in hunting but that I am intellectually convinced that it is necessary, not least because, having represented a rural constituency for 20 years, I have seen it at close quarters and I care for it. Whatever the personal feelings of Labour Members, I ask them, why wilfully go out of the way to introduce specific legislation to destroy jobs? That is what a ban will do. Why wreck traditions and "modernise"—what damage that word has caused—the activities of a rural minority? Why set town against countryside? [Interruption.] That is exactly what Labour Members are doing, and they are doing it wilfully.
Rural Britain is in severe crisis, but instead of offering help and comfort to the countryside, the Government intend to use the juggernaut of their majority to hurt it further. This is the wrong measure introduced at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. I say to Labour Members that, if the Government force it through, it will be bitterly resented and long remembered.
I invite the opponents of hunting to accept that foxes must be destroyed, that hunting creates jobs, that minorities must not be legislated against simply because they are minorities, that hunting helps to preserve the balance of wildlife in the countryside and that huntsmen and the hunts manage conservation of woodland scrub and hedgerow.
Let Labour Back Benchers open their minds for a moment, banish the image of huntsmen as red-faced toffs and try to understand the intricate complexities of the issue.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), but I must tell the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) that he has made too many sedentary comments. We must accept that, in debates of this sort, there are strongly held views on both sides. They should be heard in a rational atmosphere.
§ Mr. Major
Let Labour Back Benchers banish the image of huntsmen as red-faced toffs and understand the intricate complexities of the issue. I am cynical about the Government's intentions, but the Home Secretary has left an escape clause—the options that fall short of a ban. I congratulate him on that, if they are genuine. Let Labour Members show their open-mindedness and prove the cynics, such as myself, wrong. Let them go to earth and allow the escape clauses to protect the future of a traditional way of life. It is Christmas: go on, surprise us!
§ Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)
For me, as a humble member of Surrey cricket club, it is awesome to follow the president of the club—not to mention a fellow Chelsea supporter who is also, I may say in passing, a former Prime Minister. I must tell the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) that we do not have closed minds 409 on the issue. Why should our opinion come across as prejudiced while his comes across as open-minded, reasonable and liberal?
It is wrong to say that the measure sets town against country. The majority of people in rural areas oppose foxhunting, and the right hon. Gentleman should recognise that. It does not pit the Labour party against the Conservative party, either. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and the Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who is not present on the Conservative Front Bench, has put her principles before her political career, and he should show due deference for that. She is a very open-minded, woman, as I am sure he would agree. In other circumstances, we would argue that she was not very open-minded, but, having listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I currently support the right hon. Lady for Home Secretary; she has certainly taken a strong line. [Interruption.] My previous comment was not meant seriously.
Let me tell the right hon. Member for Huntingdon that the debate is not about red-faced toffs. That is not the sort of language that we use—although I do not know what toffs do in their private lives to make them red-faced. This is not a question of toffs versus the working class. There were hunts based on mining communities, but let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have been and remain just as opposed to the cruel practice of hunting there as I am to any other hunt, irrespective of the social or economic background of those who follow the practice. He should not come to the House and say that this is a class issue, or one of town versus country. It most certainly is not a class issue.
I am delighted that, at long last, we have secured a debate in Government time on the future of hunting. About time too; I greatly regret the fact that the Government took so long to introduce the Bill in Government time. During the election campaign, we were led to believe that that was precisely what they would do—we were not told that although a Bill that we could vote on would be introduced, nothing would happen subsequently. We believed that the Bill would be taken to its full term, so that the House could decide and it could go on to the other place. However, it did not do so, largely because of the obstructionist tactics of a small number of people on the opposing side—the so-called open-minded people—who tried to destroy the Bill in Committee.
I have listened to a number of arguments in the House and elsewhere to the effect that while we are legislating on this matter, we are ignoring bigger issues. Every day we hear statements about, and consider legislation relating to, jobs, education, health and transport. It is interesting to note that those among the pro-hunting group who accuse us, incorrectly, of ignoring those vital issues, spend a great deal of their own time campaigning on hunting and hunting alone.
Where was the Countryside Alliance when rural post offices were being closed, bus routes in rural areas slashed and rural railway lines closed down? Over the years when Conservative Members were in control of this country, that did far more damage to the rural economy than the abolition of fox hunting could ever do. What perverse priorities do they have?
410 I believe that the House should spend some time addressing the subject of animal welfare. I disagree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes): I do believe that animals have rights. That is a matter of principle, a matter for debate, a matter on which we can divide. The only place where animals' rights and welfare can be addressed is the House, and the House has dealt with the subject over the years.
As I commented in an intervention, the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) was just like the speeches that were made at the time of Canning, when the ban on bull baiting was discussed. Exactly the same arguments were used then—and, I may add, there were similar arguments about the abolition of slavery. Opposition Members are the political descendants of those who opposed legislation to stop people sending little boys up chimneys.
§ Mr. Paice
The hon. Gentleman has reiterated the points made elsewhere in comparisons with bear baiting, dog fighting, bull baiting, badger baiting and the rest. Does he accept that there is a gulf of difference between pitting animals against each other in an enclosed area from which there is no escape, often with one of the animals tethered or chained, and hunting an animal in its natural environment, when it has the opportunity to escape?
§ Mr. Banks
And doing such things as stopping up earths so that the fox cannot bolt down them, or breeding foxes just so that they can be hunted?
Hunting is about human pleasure. It is all about the chase, the bloodlust and the kill. It might be slightly different from putting a bull in an enclosed area and setting dogs on it, but it is still about entertaining human beings, and I do not believe that human beings should be entertained by cruelty to animals. That is my central point.
There is another aspect; we hear a lot about jobs. I do not believe that the employment problem is crucial. I do not make light of anyone losing their job, but spare me the hypocrisy that we hear from Opposition Members who paint a lurid picture of the rural wasteland that they say will result from the abolition of foxhunting. They are the same right hon. and hon. Members who, when they were in government, destroyed mining and steel communities and put hundreds of thousands of people out of work.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)
Let us take a parallel issue concerning freedom. Through every stage of our proceedings on the equalisation of the age of consent, I voted in the Lobby for the age of 16. Many of my colleagues reluctantly did the same. Surely if tolerance is to be practised rather than just preached, there may be moments when the hon. Gentleman also has to support in the Lobby the idea of allowing of something with which he does not agree. Is this not such a case?
§ Mr. Banks
There will be occasions when I find myself in that position, but this is not one of them. I cannot condone the barbarity and the cruelty. I cannot understand how anyone can watch a hare being ripped to pieces by two greyhounds. I cannot comprehend the pleasure that people get from that Does no one feel sorry for the hare, which is not a pest? Does anyone take pleasure from seeing a terrified stag or deer being chased, and think that that is good fun? I will never, ever be able to understand that. That is the difference.
411 My mind is not closed, I say to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon; it is simply made up. I have come to that over the years. I cannot abide cruelty to animals.
§ Mr. Grieve
May I infer from that that the hon. Gentleman would take the same view of religious slaughter? I should be interested to hear his view.
§ Mr. Banks
I represent an area where there is a very large Muslim population. In fact, in the London borough of Newham, the ethnic minority is now white. I have said before that I do not support ritual slaughter. I never have done and I never will, because I do not consider it fair or humane. I have told my constituents that, and I tell the hon. Gentleman the same. If people want to exact electoral retribution, let them. That is their right and they are free to do so, but I am free and I within my rights in the House to say what I believe in, without fear or favour.
§ Mr. Townend
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He says that he cannot bear to see people getting pleasure from killing animals. Is he then in favour of banning shooting and fishing?
§ Mr. Banks
No, because there are different levels of cruelty. I used to fish a great deal; I used to love fishing. I share that pleasure with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), but in politics there are lines to be drawn. I would not choose to fish or to shoot, but equally, I would not choose to ban others from doing so. That is where I have drawn my line. Other right hon. and hon. Members must draw their own lines. I shall finish the point—[Interruption.] It has nothing to do with votes, as I heard someone say. It has to do with where, in our personal lives and in our political lives, we believe a line must be drawn. There will always be someone complaining on the other side.
The Burns report refers to 700 jobs being directly affected by the abolition of hunting, and a possible 6,000 to 8,000 indirectly affected, if alternatives are not found. Compare that with the 300,000 jobs that have been lost in manufacturing since the Labour Government were elected. Interestingly, there are now 1.1 million more people in employment than there were before, so there is clearly enough flexibility in our economy to deal with job losses, should they occur, even if alternatives are not sought. I do not disparage anyone's job, whether it is in the rural economy or in an urban area.
In conclusion, I believe passionately in my position, as the House is aware. Nothing that is said tonight will convince me, any more than anything said from the Labour Benches or from anywhere else will convince Conservative Members, so let us move to deal with the issue. Let us make sure—
§ Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)
The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who speaks with great passion, revealed what most of us in the Opposition believe: there is a line to be drawn, as he so eloquently said. What does that mean? There are enough votes in the urban areas—in the working men's club of the Labour party—so Labour Members will support any form of hunting or fishing, so long as no votes will be lost. That is the harsh reality.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was right to be charitable, but I have no faith in the outcome of the vote tonight. The Bill will be carried by a vast majority, formed by the majority of Labour Members, who are determined to get rid of hunting and will use any constitutional means to achieve that. I have the greatest sympathy for the Home Secretary, who has produced a fig leaf of options, although he well knows that there is no prospect of any of those options being chosen by the House of Commons.
The hon. Member for West Ham revealed the intellectual rigour that he brings to the debate. Resistance to taking the women out of the mines and the children out of the chimneys is seen as the fault of the Opposition at the time, whom he thinks of as members of the Tory party. It was the Shaftesbury Bill of 1833, under a Tory Government, that took the women out of the mines and the children out of the chimneys.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) revealed the fact that he fishes. None the less, he is prepared to deny people the right to hunt. What hypocrisy is that? I do not hunt; I have never hunted, but I do fish. When the hon. Gentleman casts that innocent fly upon the waters, hooks the fish, and tears the guts out of it as he puts it back, does he pat it affectionately on the head and say, "Poor little thing. I respect all animals on this planet. Now get back into the river and do your best to survive, now that I have taken your guts away"? Is that what he thinks? That is hypocrisy carried to the ultimate degree.
The most cynical aspect of the Bill is that has been introduced either because the Government do not believe that it will get through before the election, or—I believe that this is more realistic—because a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister's problems with the Labour Back Benches became particularly acute, and he needed to buy off Labour Members, quieten them down and toss them a bit of good red meat to gain their loyalty in the coming election and bring the troops out in Labour constituencies. What could he give them? Apparently the single biggest priority for Britain, the one thing that the nation needs above all else, is a bitterly divisive urban-rural crisis.
Let me tell Members who do not understand these things that men and women out there are angry. They are angry about the fact that their traditional historic practices are to be swept aside in the narrowest interest—the class interest—of the Labour party. It may be said that the Liberals take a different view, but I have never heard such a hypocritical speech as the one I heard today from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). He says, "My party is against hunting—as long as all our candidates in all the constituencies where it matters can say that they disagree with us." I should not be surprised by that, of course; it has been Liberal policy on every subject since time immemorial.
413 As I have said, I have no personal interest in hunting—other than that connected with my family—but I have seen something of human cruelty to animals. [HON. MEMBERS: "You sacked all the miners."] Oh yes, and we paid them £30,000 a time in compensation. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that that was a great deal more than was paid to the 700,000 miners who lost their jobs from 1945 onwards. In 1945, when Labour was in government, three quarters of a million people were employed in the British mining industry. Today about 30,000 are employed, and the Labour party—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) must not go on shouting from a sedentary position. We can have orderly debate here.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Well, the hon. Gentleman's backside is pretty eloquent, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The fact is that there are deep class resentments in the anti-hunting lobby. Let me make a simple point. Those who will suffer from the ban that the Labour party wish to impose are not the rich, not the toffs. Those people's horses will go to Ireland, or to France. There will be chartered aeroplanes to take them wherever the sport can be found, and given the growing affluence of which the Labour party is so proud to speak, they will find ways of continuing. Those who will really suffer are ordinary people in rural communities—the people who stand and watch, and whose social life revolves around the hunt. It is they who will find that a great part of their lives has been removed from under them.
Does the Labour party really believe that the urban life, the urban community and the so-called inclusiveness that is now the language of the day are so superior in the urban world that the communities of rural England should be destroyed? Let me tell them that enough destruction is happening in our urban communities. There is enough of the yobbo culture. Enough young people are wandering around saying, "Who can we rough up? Who can we laugh at? Whose window can we stove in?" Enough of that is happening in urban areas for me to consider it an intolerable act of hypocrisy—when there is real community and social inclusiveness in rural communities, based on the hunt—for the narrow, bitter class bias that drives so much of the Labour party to be allowed this platform of opportunity by a craven Government who are giving in to their worst prejudices.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)
I listened with interest to the right hon. Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the former Prime Minister, and for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), the former Deputy Prime Minister. I wondered where they were when farm workers were disappearing off the land, when gangers were coming in, when contract men were coming in and when rural communities and villages were being taken over by second homes. Were they in Hyde park protesting? Were they defending rural communities then? They were not. That was progress: that was modernisation; that was a combine harvester and 18 jobs gone; and that was people coming in to do the milking, and the end of regular herdsmen.
414 The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) spoke of the prospects of those living in tied cottages. His party, and members of the Countryside Alliance, voted and worked and spoke against our efforts in the House to get rid of tied cottages. If he is so concerned about his huntsmen who live in tied cottages, he can tell the landlords to say "If these nasty anti-hunters succeed, you will be safe in your house; we will not let you suffer"—but, of course, he will not.
The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon, made a virtue of the fact that he had never seen a hunt, or at best had seen one only in the distance. He had never taken part in a hunt, he said, but he understood hunting. The right hon. Gentleman ought to visit East of England Coursing Club, which is near his constituency if not actually in it. He should go there, as I did, and see hares being pulled to pieces. He should listen to their screams. He should witness the pain and suffering, and the pleasure gained from it. If that is what he regards as the basic foundation of the rural community, his village and his life, this is a sad day for his village, his life and this country.
The right hon. Member for Henley described ours as a class interest—it clearly is, as a toff cannot stay to hear a peasant speak. The right hon. Gentleman has not done the House the usual courtesy. He said there was a degree of class hatred in this. I do not think that that is true: according to poll after poll, people living in the areas involved say that hare coursing, deer hunting and foxhunting—in that order—should be abolished. We are listening to the voice of the rural community.
§ Mr. David Taylor
A large-scale survey that I undertook in November 1997, in a part of my constituency in which the Quorn hunts, established precisely that. A significant majority of rural residents opposed hunting, and supported the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster).
§ Mr. McNamara
I am sure that that is reflected in rural areas throughout England and Wales.
The right hon. Member for Huntingdon described us as some sort of revolutionary tribunal. He spoke like a latter-day Robespierre sending us to the guillotine. I read with interest the amendment tabled by him and his colleagues, which statesThat this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which fails to deal at all with animal welfare and intentional cruelty towards wild mammals, but is solely directed at the practice of hunting with dogs.I understand that splendid sentiment; but let us look at the names of the signatories. They are Mr. John Major, the former Prime Minister; Mr. Michael Heseltine, the former Deputy Prime Minister; Mr. Michael Howard—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that we refer to Members in a particular way. We do not use their names.
§ Mr. McNamara
With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am reading what is on the Order Paper. However, I shall do it in a different way. The names are those of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon, the former Prime Minister; the right hon. Member for Henley, the former Deputy Prime Minister; the right hon. And 415 learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the former Home Secretary; the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), the former Attorney-General.—[Interruption.] Why did I leave out the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble)? I will tell the House why: he kept the other five in office during the last six months of their operations. I was going to make that point at the end of the quotation. Those five Members—all Privy Councillors—were in government for 10, 12 or 13 years, during which a measure on animal welfare or on doing away with intentional cruelty to animals was not introduced with the backing of the Government of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon or that of his predecessor. The Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 started as a private Member's Bill, which is why it is sheer hypocrisy for Opposition Members to seek to criticise the Government.
§ Mr. McNamara
Finally, since 1966, I have been associated with every anti-hunting Bill to have been introduced in the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) must not remain on his feet when it is clear that the hon. Gentleman is not giving way.
§ Mr. McNamara
I have been associated with every anti-hunting Bill in the House since 1966. One of my Bills was taken over by the Government and mangled in the House of Lords. I am glad that the Government have taken over the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). I am sad that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that he will vote for the second option. He said that he hopes that the Bill will settle the matter once and for all. I assure him that if the second option is carried, the matter will continue until we get rid of it completely.
§ Mr. Banks
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the normal courtesy for Members who have made speeches to remain in their seat long enough to hear the following speaker? The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) made his speech and left the Chamber. I do not know what he has gone to do. Did he explain to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, why he was ignoring the normal courtesy, or is he unaware of it?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has answered his own point. There is a distinction between order, which is a matter for the Chair, and matters of courtesy to the House. However, the hon. Gentleman has made his point.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)
I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but to nobody else, for seeking to intervene. The fact of the matter is that the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is quite wrong. As chairman of the all-party animal welfare group for six years, I had a high regard for the attitudes on animal 416 welfare held by the previous Prime Minister and his predecessor. The Conservative party passed the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. That Act might need to be reviewed now but, at the time, it was a major piece of legislation. I would uphold no one's right to criticise what was done for animal welfare under the previous two Prime Ministers. There was cross-party consensus on animal welfare then, and I am sad that that is breaking down tonight. Having said that, it will surprise no one to learn that, having resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the previous Government over a hunting-related issue, I shall certainly support the Bill tonight. Given the opportunity, I shall, in due course, vote for a total ban.
I should like to deal with three issues, the first of which is the freedom of the individual. I regard that as a wholly spurious argument because this is not a matter of freedom at all. I know for a fact that there are Members who will go into the Lobby to vote against the Bill who voted, as I did myself, against the provision allowing young men and women of 16 to be buggered by older men. Some regarded that as a matter of freedom. I did not: I regarded it as profoundly wrong, as I do hunting. It is not a matter of the freedom of the individual, but of whether or not we live in a civilised society and whether we respect the animals around us. It is a matter of cruelty, but no more than that. It is wrong and spurious to try to suggest that, in some way, it is a matter of freedom.
§ Mr. Gale
No, I will not, because my right hon. and learned Friend has intervened many times and, perhaps, he will have a chance to make a speech later—[Interruption.] Forgive me, he intervened many times during the opening Front Bench speeches. I was here.
The practice of hunting is as wrong as cock fighting, dog fighting, bear baiting and bull baiting. I am happy about the measure and believe that, within a few months, foxhunting will go the same way as those practices.
I want to spend a moment talking about the countryside lobby. It saddens me enormously that the countryside lobby, many of whose aims I respect and support, has been hijacked by a single-issue group of campaigners. There is much wrong in the countryside that the Government are not addressing and not putting right. There is a crisis in farming. Those of us who support the Bill will have to address certain matters, not least the issue of fallen stock. If we are going to go down this road—I hope that we do—it will be no good to say that we shall leave that until later. When the Bill reaches Committee, those issues and the issue of compensation will have to be addressed. Members on both sides of the House who support the Bill will have to bear that burden of responsibility and come up with answers: the countryside deserves that.
I am concerned about the motives behind this move at this time, although I support it. I am not convinced that, on the part of the Prime Minister, it is anything other than wholly cynical. I hope and believe that the Bill will go through the House and the other place. However, the Prime Minister said three times on television that what became known as the Foster Bill, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), was defeated in the House of Lords. On each occasion, the Prime Minister knew that he was wrong. I wrote to him 417 on three occasions, but he declined to reply. I then challenged him in the House of Commons. In July, he said on the record:The House of Lords prevented the fox hunting Bill from proceeding.—[Official Report, 13 July 2000; Vol. 353, c. 1102.]Again, the Prime Minister knew that he was wrong.
I am concerned that the Bill will go to another place, where the total ban, which I support, might not be passed. That will then be used cynically as an example of what the Tory House of Lords has sought to do. I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that the other place is not a Tory House of Lords, but the Prime Minister's House of Lords. If Members of the other place choose to take a view—the middle way option—that is different from that held by those of us who want a total ban, that is their right. However, I hope that we will never hear that argument from the Government Front Bench or the Prime Minister.
Finally, I want to deal with a letter I received from a woman—judging from her tone, not a lady—who lives in Buckinghamshire. She told me that she did not want me to exercise a moral judgment on her behalf. I am not seeking to exercise a moral judgment on behalf of anyone but myself and those whom I represent. There is no hunt in the Isle of Thanet, which is a predominantly rural area. My farmers control their foxes without the need to ride to hounds. They do so efficiently and cleanly.
§ Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)
I was glad to hear the speech of the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) because, for a moment, I believed that there was one issue, above all others, that united the Conservative party. However, I see that it is as split as ever and that it is business as usual.
I want to address the issues of liberty and justice, to which the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) referred before leaving the Chamber. Liberty and justice are issues behind which some Members not known for their commitment to either have been hiding this evening. First, however, I want to make a simple point. Those who speak for hunting do not speak for the countryside. They have a right to defend their sport, but they should acknowledge that they do so on behalf of a minority of country dwellers who support hunting and an even smaller minority of country dwellers who participate in it.
Hunting is not an issue between town and country—unless the Conservatives wish to make it one. As we have heard today, some people who live in towns follow hunting and many people who live in the country oppose it. Nor is it a matter of class war. Many people from what the Conservatives would regard as the upper classes oppose hunting and many others support it and participate in it. The speech of the hon. Member for North Thanet exemplified the fact that it is not even an issue between the Labour party and the Conservative party.
418 It is a shame that the pro-hunting lobby does not have sufficient courage of its convictions to sail under its own flag instead of wrapping itself in the flags of others, with or without their consent. Indeed, the hunting lobby has done rural communities a grievous disservice because the clamour created by a narrow but highly effective self-interest has all but drowned out the authentic voice of rural communities and, in turn, that clamour has been amplified by a press and media too often more interested in turmoil and trouble than in truth.
The rural White Paper that the Government published a fortnight or so ago gives real voice to the issues, the priorities and the aspirations of rural communities. That might dismay Conservative Members, but it is an encouragement to people who live in the countryside.
It is time to inject a little honesty in this debate. When the Countryside Alliance marches on London next year, it will not be marching for the countryside; it will be marching for foxhunting. When it marches on Hyde park, it will be marching not for country people but for the hunting fraternity—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I deprecate shouting from a sedentary position.
§ Mr. Bradley
When the Countryside Alliance marches on London next year, it will not be marching for the rural way of life, but for its own way of life. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with defending what one values, but I beg Conservative Members not to try to persuade me that hunting is necessary for pest control, for conservation and for employment. It is not necessary for any of those reasons; it is a sport. People do it because they enjoy it. I accept that people may have different values from my own and that they enjoy that sport. I accept that the argument is valid, but I do not agree with it.
§ Mr. Bradley
No. Unlike the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), I have been out with my local hunt. I have done so during the three short years that I have been a Member of Parliament, while the right hon. Gentleman has represented Huntingdon for considerably longer, showing the commitment—of which he spoke—to his rural community. I have been out with the hunt in my constituency and I respect the right of those people to hold their views. They are utterly decent people, but I do not share their value system. People on both sides of the argument are entitled to their views.
The biggest difficulty for those who support a ban on hunting is the issue of civil liberties. In a democracy, we acknowledge that minorities have rights and that, by and large, the majority should respect those rights. That is true. In civilised society, majorities do not infringe minority rights to worship, to associate and to pursue their own interests, but I would contend that majorities have a right to interfere when the practices of a minority seriously affront the moral code of the majority.
§ Mr. Grieve
If the hon. Gentleman believes, as he said he did, that the views of those who hunted were of equal 419 validity to his own, his argument is either completely spurious and advanced simply as a decoration, or it is so inconsistent that it is not worth listening to.
§ Mr. Bradley
I apologise to the House for giving way to such a specious intervention. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman's former clients are glad that he is here and not in the courts. I accept the equal right of people on the other side of the argument to hold their views, but that does not mean that I have to subscribe to those views. I should have thought that one would encounter that argument at an elementary stage in the practice of the law.
§ Mr. Bradley
As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said, it is a matter of degree. It is important for society to be as tolerant as possible, but we have to draw the line beyond which our tolerance cannot extend. Many Labour Members do not participate in shooting and fishing, but we acknowledge the right of others to do so. However, we do not acknowledge people's rights to pursue foxes, hare and deer because we consider it to be a practice of a different order.
As I said before I was so speciously interrupted, I believe that the majority should have rights—that is how we make progress in a democratic society—to decide that the moral climate has changed and that some activities are no longer tolerable. I believe that there is a settled national consensus that the hunting of foxes with hounds is morally repugnant and cannot be justified by any extenuating argument. That has been the view of the anti-hunting lobby not since 1997, as some Conservatives Members suggest, but for centuries.
The first animal welfare Bill was presented to Parliament as long ago as 1800. It was argued then that bull baiting was not civilised and should be banned. It failed because a majority of MPs considered that such a ban would interfere with personal liberties. The same argument is being extended today, 200 years later. In 1809, a second Bill sought to protect farm animals from cruelty and was rejected again because it interfered with the rights of men to own animals and I treat them as they chose. The Protection of Animals Act 1911 was a landmark because it acknowledged not just the physical cruelty that could be inflicted on animals, but the mental cruelty too. Although the Liberals of the day did not dare to include wild animals in that legislation, the Act was passed.
Why is it cruel and unlawful to torment domestic animals, but not to torment wild animals? How are they different? What is the moral difference between the cruelty inflicted on domestic animals, which is not lawful, and the tormenting of wild animals, which is currently lawful? That question has been hanging in the air for 100 years and I believe that there is no better time than the present for an enlightened Government to reflect the enlightenment of the age and allow hon. Members to determine what they believe to be the right answers today.
420 The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who has left the Chamber, spoke about the reforming Tory Government of 1833. There is a striking parallel between the movements for civil and constitutional reforms and for reforms to protect animals. But each time Parliament has had to confront powerful reaction. Men fought to retain the right to beat their wives. They fought for the right to own slaves. They said that it was their civil liberty to do so. They fought to retain the right to force children to work in the mines and the factories. They fought against the franchise and each time they adduced the same arguments to defend those indefensible principles that are being used today. They opposed every attempt at civil reform as Parliament's interference in inalienable, individual rights. However, the moral culture has changed. Each reform that has been achieved has reflected and advanced the quality of our democracy and our society.
It is the right time for this historic reform and for Parliament to reflect the public mood. In doing so, I hope that we will show tolerance to the minority and an understanding of their predicament. I would support an amendment to provide compensation packages to those who lose their livelihood. I believe that there is a serious problem with fallen stock, which should be addressed. But no one can deny that Parliament has a right to secure this reform. History might say that it has a duty to do so.
§ 7.9 pm
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
Let me first make it clear that my party, large as it is in this place, will also have a free vote on this issue.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Gentleman hopes in vain for a similar result in the next general election. The news from the National Assembly is not so good for his party in Wales at the next general election.
Before I was diverted to England, I was about to say that I want to concentrate my remarks on the reasoned amendment that I and my colleagues and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) have tabled, which would decline to give the Bill a Second Reading on the ground that it does not allow the National Assembly for Wales to decide these matters in Wales. I want to explain the reasons why we tabled that amendment.
The Bill is a curious priority for a Government seeking to address the problems of rural areas. However, I agree that the public want this issue to be settled. We have talked about it for long enough, and it is time to bring the matter to a conclusion. Having said that, I should like to give some background to the issue as it has developed in Wales. We view hunting, especially foxhunting, in a slightly different way in Wales.
The Home Secretary made an initial statement on the Burns report on 12 June. I welcome that detailed and measured report on hunting. However, it is important to 421 note that the Burns inquiry did not report on whether or not hunting should be banned—it was not asked to do so. It is for the House to consider the evidence given in the Burns report and to decide which of the three options before us achieves the best balance—because it is a balance—between the needs of conservation and hunting and the undoubted cruelty that sometimes occurs in hunting.
On 12 June, I asked the Home Secretary whether the Bill would contain an option for the National Assembly for Wales to decide these issues in Wales. He rejected that argument, and has done so again this evening, although I am pleased that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to that possibility. I make no apology for returning to the matter, because on 27 June this year the National Assembly voted that it should have the right to decide the issue of foxhunting in Wales. This Parliament, which has devolved powers to the National Assembly and has asked it to address certain issues in Wales, should listen to the Assembly when it says that it wants a stronger voice on these matters.
§ Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that agriculture is at least partly devolved to the Welsh Assembly, and that foxhunting is closely associated with the farming community? That is a very good reason why this matter should be decided by people who represent family farms in Wales.
§ Mr. Thomas
That is precisely the point that I was about to make. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Thomas
No, I shall continue because I want to deal with the point about primary legislation. It is clear that if the House, as the primary legislative body, were to place in clause 4 of the Bill an option to allow the National Assembly for Wales to make the regulations in Wales that the Secretary of State will be making in England, the responsibility for primary legislation would remain in the House and there would not be further devolution. We would be devolving the regulations to the Assembly and allowing it to choose one of the options.
§ Mr. Gummer
The hon. Gentleman is not addressing the real reason why the Bill does not offer that possibility. It is because the Prime Minister is totally uninterested in hunting and very interested in votes and in keeping his Back Benchers in line. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly logical, but he is not being listened to by a Government who have no interest in this issue except as a means of party management.
§ Mr. Thomas
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have not heard much logic in this debate.
422 If the Government allowed the matter to be decided in Wales, the likelihood is that the National Assembly would vote in favour of a ban on hunting. An opinion poll of all National Assembly Members showed that they would go for something similar to option 3 in the Bill. The points I am making are not so much about hunting, but about the ability of the National Assembly to deal with issues that impinge on devolved matters.
§ Mr. Evans
The hon. Gentleman is seeking primary legislative powers for the Welsh Assembly through the back door. We had a referendum in Wales and only one in four Welsh people voted for an Assembly. They voted to keep primary legislative powers at Westminster, and that is exactly what the Government are doing.
§ Mr. Thomas
Without straying too far from the subject of the debate, I should point out that primary legislative powers were not on the agenda or in the referendum in which the people of Wales voted. I reject utterly the hon. Gentleman's point. The House could include in the primary legislation a provision to allow the National Assembly to make the regulations.
The Home Secretary made the point that the same criminal law applies to England and Wales. That is true. However, there have been different penal codes in England and Wales in the recent past. Hon. Members from England who visited Wales in the past 15 or 20 years may have found it strange that they could not get a pint in a pub on a Sunday night. At one time, Sunday closing orders were decided in Wales by local referendums. It is true that the Burns report dismissed that argument, but people in Wales were allowed to have a different priority and a different way of viewing social issues.
Serving a pint on a Sunday carried a criminal penalty. In the past, Wales and England have had different criminal codes, so it is possible to envisage something similar for hunting if that is what the National Assembly and the House decided. A social custom that is legal in England was once illegal in Wales, and the same could happen again with hunting. There is no reason why the National Assembly could not make its own preferred regulations, because that is not a primary power. As the National Assembly is the main body for agriculture in Wales, it is appropriate to allow it that option in the Bill.
Some features of agriculture in Wales demand attention. The Burns report carefully considered upland farm areas and upland sheep farming. It stated that the use of dogs in such circumstances is probably the best and most effective method of fox control. I concur with that. I accept that the feature is not unique to Wales, but I remind hon. Members that we have 5 per cent. of the United Kingdom population and 25 per cent. of the country's sheep, mostly in upland farms. That demands careful consideration by legislators. I suspect that the matter is being overlooked, and I believe that the National Assembly could and should do a more thorough job, although it may conclude that a ban is appropriate.
If the Bill goes forward, we will debate the three main options in the new year. I prefer schedule 2, and will seek to amend it. It is not perfect, but it can be amended to reflect the needs of Wales. The Hunting Authority could be the National Assembly, and that would give it the remit and powers that it deserves.
In my constituency, hunting is mostly about fox control. I acknowledge that it has a strong social aspect, but that arises out of the need to control foxes; it is not a 423 means to do it. A licensing system with an emphasis on control and conservation would enable farmers in my constituency to remain viable and would reassure the public about hunt practices. I accept that the public need such reassurance.
I believe that the public want the House to act on hunting, but the Bill in its present form does not allow the proper voice of Welsh farmers, conservationists or the public to be heard. That is why I shall vote against Second Reading. If the Bill proceeds, I shall seek to amend as appropriate and support the main thrust of schedule 2.
§ Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham)
I make no apologies for my views. I am an animal lover. I carry a picture of my Staffordshire bull terrier around in my pocket and I hate cruelty to animals. I am thinking of putting a picture of my wife in my wallet, but the Staffordshire bull terrier currently takes precedence. To be honest, I think that I like animals better than people. I am, therefore, completely opposed to hunting a live animal with hounds, in any form. [Interruption.] Fortunately, my wife does not watch the pantomime that goes on in the House on the television. Neither does she listen to it on the radio, so I am pretty safe.
During my years in Parliament, I have listened to many debates on hunting and have heard evidence to back claims that it causes significant pain, suffering and distress to the animals involved. Over the years, that has convinced me even more that hunting with hounds is barbaric. By agreeing to the Bill on Second Reading, we can proceed to vote on option 3, which will ban foxhunting all together.
§ Mr. Steinberg
No; I have just commenced my speech. I have listened to some of the hon. Gentleman's interventions and I do not want to waste time.
I want to follow a slightly different path in my remarks from that taken by some other hon. Members. Hunt supporters try to make us believe that they care for the hounds, dogs and horses that are involved in hunting. However, I am sorry to say that wild animals are not the only victims of hunting. The dogs and hounds that are involved in hunting are almost forgotten, but many of them suffer at the hands of hunt supporters.
The worst extreme of their involvement is called terrier work. The supporters and followers of most foxhunts include terrier men and their dogs, whose function is to deal with foxes that find an underground refuge from the hunt. It is colloquially said that such foxes have gone to earth. I accept that some people participate in foxhunts because of the thrill of the chase, socialising, equestrian interests or the desire to watch the dogs work, but I know that some of them, including terrier men, gain their enjoyment from the killing of foxes.
§ Mr. Steinberg
I have just said that I shall not do so.
For some terrier men, the hunt starts only when the huntsman's horn signals that a fox has gone to earth. Small terrier dogs enter the fox's refuge to locate the sheltering animal. If the fox does not bolt, a vicious 424 underground battle can occur between it and the terrier. Both the dog and the fox inevitably suffer injuries, which are sometimes so appalling that they result in the death of both. The terrier men listen for the snarls and growls underground and then dig down with spades to expose the combatants. That grisly entertainment can take hours, during which the huntsman, his dogs and the riders have usually moved off to seek another fox. It is uncommon for the average rider or hunt follower to be in close attendance at what is called a dig-out. In fact, such involvement is discouraged. The codes of the master of foxhounds state thatonly the terrierman and an assistant should be involved in the dig out.Once the terrified fox is exposed, it can either be dragged out and shot or killed by a single blow—if the poor animal is lucky—from a spade. Sometimes more than one blow is needed. Disturbingly, terrier work has developed into a sport, if one wants to call it that. As a sport, it is divorced from hunting with dogs and has no season, supervision or legal restriction. The National Federation of Working Terrier Clubs boasts between 4,000 and 5.000 members, but at least an equal number of participants do not belong to any organisation. A terrier gang is a small group of men with assorted terriers, lurchers, nets, iron bars and spades. When the gang finds a fox refuge, a terrier is sent down to confront the fox. Radio transmitters are often fitted to the terriers' collars to help in locating the fox.
§ Mr. David Taylor
Does my hon. Friend agree that one further major disadvantage of the terrier work that he describes is that it makes it more difficult to combat badger baiting? The people who are involved in badger baiting often argue that they are digging out foxes, which remains legal, and are not engaged in badger baiting, which is illegal.
§ Mr. Steinberg
I shall come to that point in a moment.
The unfortunate fox is dug out with spades and killed, often after being baited by the dogs. It may also be removed to be used later as a sport. It is estimated that about 50,000 foxes are killed in that barbaric way every year. When foxes are under attack by so many dogs, they succumb quickly—too quickly for the terrier enthusiasts, who are seeking to test the gameness of their dogs. That brings me to the point made by my hon. Friend. Of course, a contest with a badger is a better test, so it is unsurprising that many terrier men stoop to the illegal digging and baiting of badgers.
The RSPCA recently took up a court case in which a Lakeland terrier suffered appalling injuries when three terrier men, who were trespassing at the time, forced it into a fox covert after blocking all its exits. I am pleased to say that the court found in favour of the RSPCA in a landmark decision that gave legal recognition to the fact that people who use terriers for hunting foxes can be guilty of cruelly ill-treating their dogs, not to mention imposing suffering on the fox. Let us be clear about such behaviour. The people involved put their dogs into a confined, underground environment in the knowledge that their quarry will defend itself and will injure or kill their dogs by doing so. Those are not the actions of animal lovers—it is barbarity, pure and simple.
The sport has grown to such an extent that terrier men now have their own monthly magazine, which is entitled "Earth Dog—Running Dog". The magazine is intended 425 for those who use terriers, greyhounds and lurchers for hunting and killing wild animals. This quality publication contains accounts of modern terrier work, written by the enthusiasts themselves, and bears the logo of the British Field Sports Society.
I should like to give a few examples of enthusiasts' contributions to the magazine. An article published in "Earth Dog—Running Dog" in 1995 stated:The fox can punish and his attentions can cause a terrier's head and muzzle to swell like a pumpkin, though in this day and age antibiotics control the worst effects.An article published in the magazine in March 1996 stated:Breaking through I found a very dead fox and a nearly-dead terrier exhausted and bearing horrendous lacerations to his head; the old boy was nearly a goner.Finally, a 1997 article stated:I set about moving a large rock that was now blocking my progress. It proved to be the end of the road. When I rolled it away, there was Turk and the fox both dead.That extract is taken from a description of a 30-hour dig.
The close association of such people in registered hunts is highlighted in a gruesome article published in The Sunday Telegraph Magazine in August 1997, in which the reporter, Adam Nicholson, describes his experience at a hunt in the Lake district. The article states:From above ground we could hear the terrible fighting below us. The screaming of the dog and fox was only partly muffled by the layers of earth and rock that separated us from it. The noise moved for about ten minutes around different parts of the earth and then went quiet … Then the huntsman said, "All right, that's us then," and headed back downhill.The reporter, being a normal sort of person, inquired after the terrier, and received the following caring reply:Oh … that's all right. It'll either be dead and the fox will be eating it, or the fox'll be dead and she will be eating the fox. Don't worry, I'm sure she'll be back home in a couple of days, once she's slept the whole thing off.The reporter was told that the dog did return, but was given no details of the injuries that she would obviously have sustained.
Let me turn to the other victims: the hounds. Foxhounds do not hunt foxes by natural instinct. They are trained through the cubbing season. Cub hunting is the process by which the young and inexperienced hounds are brought into the pack and taught to chase and kill foxes that are around four or five months old. Sadly, hunts routinely destroy young foxhounds that take no interest in hunting or are not useful members of the pack. Hunts also kill hounds once they are considered too old to hunt. That usually occurs when they are around six years old—an age that is less than half their normal life expectancy. That results in the premature death of thousands of hounds that are killed by hunt kennel staff every year.
In the event of a ban, there would be no need for a single hound to be destroyed. The Canine Defence League and the RSPCA do not see any reason why hunting hounds could not be re-homed as domestic pets, or retrained and used as drag hunters. The RSPCA offered to re-home the hounds from the New Forest Buckhounds, which closed in 1998. Disgracefully, the offer was refused and every hound was wantonly destroyed, in a political move—
§ Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)
Right from the beginning, we have been discussing the question of morality. I would not disagree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North am Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) when he said that we lived in a civilised, less barbaric society. In some ways, we do. However, I find it difficult to use the word "civilised" in quite the easy way that he does, when describing a society in which old people are less well looked after by their families than ever before and in which thousands of babies are killed every day.
We live in a society in which morality is changing and in which attitudes towards morality are clearly different from what they used to be. I find it difficult to believe that a society is more moral which does not protect 16-year-old children from much older people, following the way in which we have recently changed the law. Seizing the word "moral" in a general sense for one side of the argument or the other is probably not acceptable. We must examine how we apply morality in the proposal.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), who spoke about fishing, concentrated our minds considerably. She asked a serious question: what is the difference between the two issues? The answer is not a pleasant one, and it is certainly not a moral one. The difference is that there are large numbers of votes in one, and few in the other. It would be a devastating pre-election proposal if the Bill were to propose the abolition of angling. That would not be a proposal that the Prime Minister would wish to introduce. The fundamental difference is not a moral one, but an electoral one. Let us not be too naive. We are not discussing this subject today for some moral reason, but because it appears to be to the electoral advantage of the Labour party.
§ Mr. Gummer
No, I shall not.
Even if there were a moral case to be made in favour of hunting, this is neither the moment—nor, indeed, the Bill—in which it would be reasonable so to do. If we were to make that moral case, we would have to start by making the distinction between hunting with dogs, angling and game shooting. I find it extremely difficult to make that moral distinction.
The anger of the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) gave away his real reason for supporting the Bill, because he based his so-called moral argument on his personal feelings. Morality is not well served by putting forward our personal feelings in these matters. Were we to do that, many of us would find ourselves having huge arguments about issues that were really matters of taste. People speak because they find something distasteful. The hon. Member for West Ham found hunting distasteful, but not fishing. Putting it bluntly, that seems not to be a matter of morality but a matter of sentimentality. The House should not legislate on the basis of sentimentality.
I speak as someone who has never hunted, but who has taken pleasure in spending time in the company of those who do, and whose constituency is lucky enough to have at least three hunts that hunt over it. It is a proper right of human beings to make the choice for themselves. It was a mistake for the hon. Member for West Ham to suggest that this argument was akin to those about chimney sweeps, the terrible conditions in which young people 427 worked in manufacturing industries, or slavery. In all those cases, Conservative Members, with Conservative support, fought to change the law because there was a moral basis on which to put their case. On this occasion, it is largely Conservative Members who are arguing on a moral basis.
§ Mr. Gummer
No, I shall not. I have a little more to say.
I put forward the moral case for the freedom of individuals. That freedom is crucial, perhaps even more so when we disagree with what those individuals want to do. There is no point in supporting freedom if one agrees with what people want to do. I listened to some curious arguments about the lowering of the age of consent. People were saying, "I don't see anything wrong with this. Therefore, people should be free to do it." The people I listened to with a great deal more concern were those who said, "I think that there is something wrong with this, but I still believe that people should be able to make a choice." I do not happen to agree with them, but that is a proper moral basis on which to make the argument.
A very immoral Act is being proposed. It is immoral because it is being proposed for electoral, rather than moral, reasons. It is also immoral because it is being proposed for party management reasons, and for financial reasons. I asked, on a point of order, whether hon. Members who were members of the party that had received large donations in order that the Bill should be introduced would state their interest when they spoke. I also asked whether hon. Members who were hoping for further donations would admit to that hope. So far, I have not heard from those who ought to have so stated their interest.
The proposal is not moral: it is purely political. There is no moral case for banning hunting. Such a ban would lead to the banning of game shooting and angling.
§ Mr. Gummer
No. I know the hon. Lady's views. She has not changed, even after listening to me. At least she should listen to me until the end of my speech.
There is a moral case for saying that there should be no hunting whatever. It is an odd case, because it presumes that an human being is not al animal, and has no role in the predatory chain. That is a possible case, but not a logical one. However, there can be no moral case that makes a distinction between hunting with dogs and game shooting or angling.
There is an argument that we should ban hunting for the political benefit of the Labour party, and because some people have a distaste for that kind of behaviour. That second statement is very serious.
§ Mr. Gummer
No, I shall not.
428 Many minority groups in this country need the support of the House. I return to my own moral dilemma. I was asked by a large number of people to introduce a ban on ritual slaughter. I hate ritual slaughter. I consider it deeply offensive, and the religious ground on which it is put forward does not stand up, either historically or in modern times. However, I still believe that I was right to agree that religious slaughter should continue. I did so, much as I hate it, because I believed that a greater freedom was involved: the freedom of men and women to decide for themselves. If we take that freedom away because we do not care about a particular small minority, what will happen to the other minorities? What about the Muslims and the Jews? What about some of the things that townspeople do that I find distasteful? What about groups of any kind who can be cut off, divided and left undefended?
Too much of recent history reminds us what happens when we are not prepared to stand up for the rights of minorities to do—
§ Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)
Many of the points in favour of a ban on foxhunting and stag hunting have already been made, so I shall be mercifully brief.
I am a long-standing opponent of this barbaric sport. In Reading, I campaigned on the issue long before the 1997 general election. The publication of the Bill has reinvigorated my faith in the Government; I went into the 1997 election with the perception that we would ban foxhunting, but that we would not privatise a certain public service. My faith has been restored.
It was a privilege to serve on the Standing Committee on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). We witnessed the tactics of Conservative Members who successfully frustrated the will both of the country and of this Chamber.
§ Mr. Salter
There is no doubt that the largest number of items in my constituency mailbag—and, I suggest, that of the majority of hon. Members—are letters from people in favour of an immediate and complete ban on the sport or pastime of hunting with hounds. It is right that the matter is the subject of a Government Bill.
There is overwhelming public support for such a ban. Of all the arguments, the most specious and spurious is that the issue is one of country versus town. There is no apartheid in this country. All the poll data show that between 70 and 80 per cent. of the population are opposed to hunting with hounds—that opposition is spread between town and country.
§ Mr. Salter
The hon. Gentleman would say that. I have been studying polls on the subject for many years; all show an overwhelming opposition to hunting with hounds.
§ Mr. Salter
The report of the Burns inquiry is an excellent document. As my hon. Friend the Member for 429 Worcester pointed out, the arguments that Members hoped it would provide in favour of hunting never emerged—in fact it will prove to be hunting's death-knell. I refer hon. Members to the exchanges between the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and myself during the debate on the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill on 7 April. We were arguing about the likely impact of a ban on hunting on jobs. At that time, the Countryside Alliance and its Conservative supporters were claiming—as an act of faith—that more than 16,000 jobs would be at risk. What did Burns tell us? The report told us that about 800 people are directly employed by hunts, and that any secondary job loss would be confined to between 6,000 and 8,000 people. In fact, not one job need be lost, if there is a switch to drag hunting.
§ Mr. Salter
I advise hon. Members who disagree with the Bill's proposals—especially those in the third schedule—to visit the master of the New Forest drag hounds and to hear about the prejudice he had to put up with in the countryside when he attempted to convert his hunt to the humane sport of drag hunting. He was discriminated against; his drag hunt was suddenly barred from crossing certain land in the area.
§ Mr. Salter
It is clear that there is no interest among the foxhunting fraternity in allowing drag hunting to prosper. That is why it sees drag hunting as a big threat to its arguments. It is important to nail the lie about jobs.
The Conservative party and the Countryside Alliance are desperate to get another big lie up and running—that this country is being run by a metropolitan elite of ignorant townies who do not understand the country way of life. Conservative Members are nodding. Perhaps they should reflect on the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) is chair of the rural group of Labour MPs and that Labour Members represent more rural seats than the Conservatives represent currently—or in the foreseeable future.
The Conservative party and the Countryside Alliance should realise that we are alive to their lies and trickery, as they try to scaremonger among Britain's 3 million anglers—of whom I am one. There is no logical reason why a ban on cock fighting should lead to a ban on something else. We draw a line in the sand, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said.
The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) referred to angling as a sport in which we allow a fish to swallow a fly and then tear out its guts before throwing it back into the water. I and other hon. Members who fish know the truth: either we take and kill our fish humanely for the pot—as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) does—as a game, trout or salmon fisherman; or, in the case of coarse fishermen such as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester and myself, we may catch our fish, we may photograph our fish—I even confess to occasionally 430 kissing my fish and to having pictures of them on my wall—but we put them back unharmed. So damaged are those creatures that I have caught the same fish on three occasions. Can anyone explain to me how people can hunt the same fox to earth dig it out, have it ripped to pieces in front of them and smear its blood on their forehead three times in a day? There are no parallels between coarse fishing, game shooting and the barbaric sport of foxhunting.
§ Mr. Salter
The other big lie to be nailed tonight and every time we discuss this issue is the notion that hunting has anything to do with pest control. I have taken the trouble to visit the Garth and South Berkshire hunt in my constituency, where people admitted that the pest control arguments are complete and utter tosh; and that the most acceptable, efficient and sensible way to control foxes is by lamping with a rifle and a professional gamekeeper.
The Symington hunt nailed that particular lie after the exposure that it was breeding fox cubs in order to hunt them. What on earth has that to do with pest control?
§ Mr. Salter
It should be blatantly obvious to the hon. Gentleman that I have no intention of giving way.
§ Mr. David Taylor
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm whether you are taking the same line as your predecessor in the Chair—that there will be injury time for interventions during the 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches?
§ Mr. Salter
I shall still not give way; I find that it disrupts my flow.
No group of people in this country is more inappropriate to pray in aid minority rights than the Countryside Alliance and many of its Conservative supporters. Anyone at the Labour party conference in Brighton who heard the chanting and slogans emanating from the mouths of members of the Countryside Alliance about black and gay people should be under no illusions about their commitment to minority rights—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"]
A recent Radio 4 programme included contributions from Robin Page—one of the most prominent activists in the Countryside Alliance—and my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham. Anyone who heard the programme will remember one particular quotation. Robin Page said that if hunters were gay or Muslim, the Labour party would leave them alone. That tells us volumes about the alliance's interest in minority rights.
We come back to the moral argument; it is about cruelty. All civilised societies must draw a line somewhere. Yes, a minority of people are interested in pornography. Presumably, a minority of people are interested in further lowering the age of consent. We have to make decisions as to where the lines are drawn.
431 I conclude with one story from my favourite riverbank, part of the countryside that I know and love and in which I spend a lot of time. Will someone explain to me how, if hunting is allowed to continue, we shall have the opportunity to see the otters that are being released back into our riverside environment? Is someone going to tell me that a pack of hounds is capable of distinguishing between a mink and an otter? It is not. Such a suggestion is nonsense.
Hunting is a barbaric sport. It has no place in 21st-century Britain. It is time that it was banned, and banned now.
§ Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)
Yesterday—on an infinitely more important issue—we had a debate that changed Members' minds. Arguments were listened to, competing viewpoints were respected, and name calling was largely avoided. My purpose it speaking today was to express the hope that the same degree of intellectual honesty might be displayed in this debate. Sadly, I have so far been disappointed. I do hope that that process can yet be changed.
I preface my remarks with a tribute to the Under-Secretary, who is leading for the Home Office on the Bill, and to his officials, who have been working very closely with our fellow members of the Middle Way Group on drafting schedule 2, which represents with great clarity the views of the Middle Way Group. We are deeply grateful to them for all they have done, with great even-handedness and fairness.
Sadly, even-handedness and fairness have not always characterised this debate. I have to say to my friends, typically on the Opposition Benches, that the supporters of hunting too often pretend that here are no problems with hunting. The enemies of hunting dismiss the arguments about human freedom and claim animal welfare gains for a ban—gains that simply do not exist. I believe that both those viewpoints are wrong.
There is a middle way—a compromise—that could settle this argument once and for all. My plea to the House is that anyone who wishes to cast a vote next month, when the three options come before us, should first settle down and read, or re-read, the Burns retort. It is not perfect—given the ridiculously short time that Lord Burns had to conduct his study, it was never going to be perfect—but it is a very good report indeed.
There are issues in the report that I believe were incompletely explored. For example, a year will not be enough to ease the impact on the hounds that will become redundant in the event of a ban. The conservation of the fox as a species and the role of hunting in conserving the species were not explored in sufficient depth by Lord Burns.
However, I believe that overall the Burns report can be considered our bible in this debate, and in that respect I quote from Lord Burns's opening letter to the Home Secretary:This is a complex issue that is full of paradoxes.Chief among those paradoxes is the question of the welfare of the fox. Banning foxhunting will not save the life of a single fox. Indeed, it will—in Worcestershire and 432 in most of England at least—lead to more foxes dying more painfully. That is a truth that those who would support option 3 must understand.
Burns says:It is likely that, in the event of a ban on hunting, many farmers and landowners would resort to a greater degree than at present to other methods to control the numbers of foxes … None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective. Both snaring and shooting can have serious adverse welfare implications.Yes, it is true that Burns's tentative conclusion is that lamping is to be preferred, but it is a heavily qualified conclusion:Our tentative conclusion is that lamping using rifles, if carried out properly and in appropriate circumstances—I emphasise that proviso—has fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting, including digging-out. However, in areas where lamping is not feasible or safe—I think here particularly of Wales—there would be a greater use of other methods.Burns says of lamping:It is worth noting … that lamping has its limitations. It can be time-consuming, is not always suited to the terrain and night shooting can give rise to concern on the part of those living in the area.So I am afraid that those who hold out lamping as a panacea to address this issue are simply wrong and are misleading the public.
The point is that we must not cherry-pick Burns but must read it in its entirety. An issue on which it has been spectacularly cherry-picked is that of drag hunting. I am speaking with the chairman of the drag hunters, my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Sir R. Body), sitting in front of me. Burns says about drag hunting:Drag and bloodhound hunting are different from live quarry hunting.I am sure that my hon. Friend might wish to explain that difference to the House if he gets the chance.
Burns concludes—I ask the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) to note this conclusion in every particular—It is unlikely that either drag and bloodhound hunting or drag coursing would of themselves mitigate to any substantial extent any adverse effects on the rural economy or the social life of the countryside arising from a ban on hunting.It could not be clearer than that.
§ Sir Richard Body
Since then, masters of the two drag hound and bloodhound organizations—there are a large number of us—have reached the conclusion that if foxhunting is abolished, it will be the end of drag hunting, too. If I catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye, I hope to explain why.
§ Mr. Luff
That is another of the complex paradoxes in this debate that I am afraid have not been studied in sufficient depth by critics of foxhunting on either side of the House. I hope that they will listen with great attention to what my hon. Friend says on that point.
Of course the Burns inquiry could not consider moral issues, and the moral issues are central to this debate. There are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said in his excellent opening speech, only 433 two issues that count in this debate. They are both moral issues—animal welfare and liberty. All the rest are second-order issues. They are important—I am not saying that they are unimportant—but they are none the less second-order issues.
The Burns report could not comment on the moral issues, particularly on liberty and freedom, but it illuminates that debate too. Let us hear what Burns said about rural communities:It is clear that, especially for participants in more isolated rural communities, hunting acts as a significant cohesive force, encouraging a system of mutual support. Farmers and other landowners—many of whom feel increasingly isolated—are both the linchpins and the main beneficiaries of the system. Many of them also value hunting as an expression of a traditional, rural way of life and would strongly resent what they would see as an unnecessary and ill-informed interference with it. As a result it would increase their sense of alienation.
§ Mr. Luff
I am afraid that I have only four minutes left and the Middle Way Group has very little opportunity to make its position clear to the House. The time that a Member takes in replying to an intervention is taken out of the time allowed for the speech, so I feel that I must not give way. I am sorry; I should have liked to do so.
Last week, for the first time, an opinion poll showed a minority of the British people in support of a ban on hunting. Burns conducted opinion polls in areas where hunting is practised. He said:Broadly speaking, support was highest in all areas amongst men, older people, those who had lived in the area for a long time, people working in rural occupations and those in lower social class bands.I urge Labour Members—they are often motivated by class issues in this debate—to reflect very carefully on who they would most seriously affect if hunting were to be banned.
Burns concluded:The research findings do not really support the claim that is sometimes made that, even in rural areas with a strong hunting tradition, there is much greater opposition to hunting than is generally supposed.Burns destroys a lot of myths, and I urge Members on both sides of the argument to study the report with an open mind. Those who would criminalise foxhunters cannot now claim that they have overwhelming support on their side.
It is true that I believe that my constituents should be free to hunt; that is no secret. I know that many of them would admit privately that all is not well with hunting. Things do happen that have undesirable consequences for animal welfare—I agree with many of the things that have been said about terrier work in today's debate—for public safety, and for the right of individuals to prevent trespass on their land. Hunts do sometimes infringe the liberties of rural people. It is precisely these issues that the middle way's compulsory and tough licensing system would address.
Self-regulation is greatly to be preferred, but it is now too late for that. Tougher self-regulation 20 years ago might have prevented the debate from ever reaching this stage, but we are where we are, and Burns, looking at the practice in other countries, concludes: 434We consider that it might be productive, in the absence of a ban, to explore the possibility of introducing some form of licensing system, possibly on the lines of those which exist to regulate hunting in some other countries.I make three pleas. My first plea is to the whole House: please read the Burns report, and the Middle Way Group policy document that every hon. Member has received, with an open mind before finally concluding how to vote, in January, on the three options. My second plea is that supporters of the status quo, which is what clause 1 offers, should consider whether their position is really tenable. Is it based on a true sense of political reality? Will we just go into the process time and again until hunting is finally banned? Does not the middle way offer a more stable solution?
My third plea is to the opponents of hunting. They should consider with open minds—I use that phrase again—what the real impact on animal welfare and human liberty will be and ask themselves whether there might not be a better way.
The Bill is a distraction from the real issues facing the countryside and the nation and is marginal to the real animal welfare issues, so I shall vote against it this evening. I expect that I shall lose that vote, but I shall throw myself with renewed effort into securing a more objective and better informed debate on the subject than has been the case so far.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire)
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for introducing the Bill in this way; it is the right way to do it. I take a certain amount of pleasure in uniquely disagreeing with him. I do not think that I have ever done so before on a policy matter.
I should like to refer to a comment made several times by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). He kept saying that the Bill has been introduced for electoral reasons. If that is the case, it implies that he believes that the electorate are all on our side, so he loses his argument either way—
§ Mr. Pickthall
That is right.
I will vote for a total ban because I believe that hunting with dogs is wrong. I believe that it cannot be wrong sometimes but okay at others just because it has been licensed, and I shall explain why in a moment.
The Bill provides an opportunity for the House to ban hunting with dogs, but, in the past couple of years, those on both sides of the argument have had an increasing tendency to discuss it almost entirely as though it were about foxhunting and nothing else. The Country Landowners Association briefing, which we have all received, is entirely about foxhunting; it mentions no other mammal. Pro-hunters follow that line because it allows them to concentrate on the arguments about vermin control. Many anti-hunters concentrate on foxhunting, too. I am not certain why, but I suspect that it is because foxhunting conjures up the panoply of ceremonial involved in hunting and there is a touch of class-war instinct in that for many people.
435 The Bill will outlaw stag hunting, deer hunting, hare coursing, hare hunting and mink hunting. I have never witnessed a stag or mink hunt—or only on film—but I have frequently witnessed hare coursing. I want to spend a couple of minutes telling those hon. Members who have not seen it what that gruesome activity involves.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)
As the hon. Gentleman wants a complete ban, and if the House votes for one, can he say, as a member of the Labour party, whether he has obtained any assurance from the Government about what they will do if the House of Commons votes for a total ban but the House of Lords votes for registration? Will they press ahead with a total ban under the Parliament Acts, or will they choose the compromise, which some people suspect may happen?
§ Mr. Pickthall
The hon. Gentleman makes his own point. It is not for me to second-guess the mysteries of the manoeuvres that will take place if that eventuality arises. That is a matter for the usual channels.
My constituency is the unwilling host to the blue riband event of hare coursing—the Waterloo cup at Altcar—which is held each February. It attracts, I stress, a mainly urban audience of several thousand. Hares are encouraged to breed in the area. Some years they have been netted elsewhere—usually in East Anglia, but even in Ireland—and brought to Altcar to be coursed. It is essentially a spectator sport; it does not even have the excuse of people enjoying the thrill of the chase and being involved in that way.
Hares are beaten out of the longer grass one at a time on to the course, which resembles a large football field with an embankment around it on three sides. A man called the slipper holds two rival greyhounds and releases them when the hare bolts past him Whether the hare is caught and killed depends partly—perhaps largely—on how soon the hounds are released, and visitors such as myself never see a hare killed. As soon as we leave, the slaughter recommences.
Points are scored by the dogs for turning the hare away from its escape route. When a hare is caught by one dog, it is almost invariably caught also by the other dog and usually pulled in half. The League Against Cruel Sports described that activity as creating a "living rope"; it is absolutely appalling. I can hardly imagine anything worse, and Burns sums it up by saying:This experience seriously compromises the welfare of the hare—a wonderful understatement. Hares that escape—many do—are often pursued unofficially in contiguous fields by coursing supporters with their dogs. No one could describe the hare as vermin. I know of no farmer—and there are many in my constituency—who complains that hares are pests. On the contrary, everyone I know regards the hare as a magnificent and exciting mammal. People regret the fact that the brown hare is under severe pressure from hunting, but especially from changes in agricultural practices.
I know the gamekeeper at Altcar and I admire his work on the estate, except for his hare-coursing activities. I support him, particularly in his constant battle against illegal hare coursing. That activity is carried out by men, mostly from the conurbations of east Lancashire and Merseyside, who arrive in vans, set their dogs to hunt hare and leave the killed hares where they lie. They physically 436 threaten farmers who try to keep them off their land—they threaten them with personal violence or with burning their hayricks. The hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) has similar experiences on his patch. How can we morally combat that unacceptable activity to any effect when organised coursing is accepted, simply because it has a species of licence—the third way's proposal. [HON. MEMBERS: "The middle way."] I beg its pardon. [Interruption.] They seem a bit the same to me.
I note recent reports that the pro-hunting organisations are prepared to jettison hare coursing so long as they can retain foxhunting. If that is true, it shows that at last the loathsomeness of hare coursing is filtering through even to the most confirmed hunters. I am pleased to note that the Bill deals with coursing separately and specifically in schedule 3.
I was brought up just outside a small town in Cumbria and now represent a huge rural area of Lancashire. I know a good deal about the harshness of rural life and about the speed and efficiency with which the farming community disposes of pests, with or without dogs. An argument in defence of hunting that depends on saying that it is an innocent preoccupation of gentle rural folk who are being persecuted by an urban majority obsessed with anthropomorphism is bull.
Hunting appeals to anyone—rural or urban—who wishes to pursue animals solely for pleasure. My personal belief is that it is only acceptable to kill animals for food, for self-defence or the defence of others or other animals, or when an animal is sick or wounded. I find it impossible to understand human beings who enjoy and derive vicarious pleasure from seeing a wild mammal torn to bits by dogs that have been specially bred and trained to do so. Incidentally, I do not know of any angler or fisherman who fishes by means of specially trained dogs.
The pro-hunting lobby claims that a ban on hunting wild mammals with dogs represents the oppression of a minority by the majority. A letter in The Times on Monday from a lady in Ashburton says:Law based on the opinions of the majority is nearly always unsound and illiberal, and so would the proposed ban on hunting be.That is a fine principle on which to base our constitution and law making. It should not need to be pointed out that virtually all legislation infringes the freedoms of particular minorities and prevents them from perpetrating certain acts. The crucial factor in legislation is the assessment of the nature and acceptability of the acts that are being legislated against, or for. That is one of the reasons we are sent here as representatives of our constituents, not as delegates.
However, we now find—it was repeated by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff)—that the pro-hunting lobby and the middle way have shifted their position. We hear now that we should not legislate for a ban because only 48 per cent.—a minority—support it. They argue that if it is a majority view it is unacceptable, but if it is a minority view it is also unacceptable. That is brilliant. These are wonderful Morton's fork arguments, and it is small wonder that the Burns inquiry refused to wander into that quagmire.
The pro-hunters also tell us that the ban would infringe the civil liberties of hunters, and they invoke the Human Rights Act 1998 and the articles of the convention on which it is based. In particular, they invoke article 1 on 437 the enjoyment of property rights and article 8 on the respect for private life. That argument does not bear a moment's examination. Let us consider what people are allowed to do in their private life or with their private property. Of course we should be able to enjoy our private property under the Human Rights Act, but we are not allowed to beat a dog to death with a stick in our own kitchen or murder a cat—
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
I am not sure what I find more worrying—the fact that the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) kisses fish, or the fact that he thought it appropriate to tell us. However, I wish to correct him on one point. Like him, I was a member of the Committee that considered the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). The hon. Member for Reading, West alleged that those of us who support hunting had used parliamentary tactics to waste time and delay the Bill's progress. If he had attended the Committee as often as I did—I attended every sitting—he would remember that for its first two sittings, those of us who supported hunting did not say a word. It is a matter of fact that the friends of the hon. Member for Worcester filibustered their own Bill for a good part of the Committee stage.
I do not have much time, so I will have to gallop through my contribution. We are used to galloping in my part of Leicestershire, and I hope that my constituents will be able to continue to do that for many years to come.
I represent Harborough, and there are five packs of hounds in the district—three packs of foxhounds and two foot packs. I accept that not all my constituents support the view that I take, and I fully respect the views of those who have written to me because they oppose the continuation of hunting. However, as the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) suggested, my job is not to act as a delegate for any particular section of my community, but to speak my mind. I hope that the other Members who contribute to the debate will also do that.
The Bill is a sad commentary on the Government's sense of priorities. We are led to believe that there are very few weeks of this Parliament left, and it is sad that a Government who spent 18 years in opposition and should be bristling with ideas for the improvement of this country, can produce nothing more than this Bill, plus some relatively unimportant, if worthy, Bills. However, this Bill seems to enthuse Labour Members more than anything else.
There is a crisis in the rural economy, not only in Leicestershire but in other parts of the country, too. Our farms are in a terrible position. Farm incomes are at their worst for many years and people are leaving the industry. Farmers have always been susceptible to suicide, but the suicide rate has never been worse. Tens of thousands of people are leaving the farming industry each year, so the Government would do far better to concentrate on alleviating the crisis in the countryside than on causing tension and dissension among Members by introducing this Bill.
438 This is an inept Bill. I assume that it will receive its Second Reading and that the third option of a total ban, which is supported by the hon. Member for Worcester and his friends, will gain the majority support of Members when the Bill has its Committee stage on the Floor of the House. The Bill is inept because it does not take account of the following problem. My constituency covers the whole of south-east Leicestershire, and there are not enough policemen to cope with the problems that already exist. At weekends—particularly on Fridays and Saturdays—there are often only two policemen on duty to cover approximately 500 square miles.
I intervened when the Home Secretary made his opening speech. If he can persuade me that, as a consequence of the need to increase police numbers to enforce the Bill, there will be sufficient police officers to patrol rural areas to ensure that people do not break the law and to bring them to justice if they do, that will be another matter. However, he was patently unable to say that he had the resources, let alone the political will, to provide sufficient additional policemen in rural England to police the Bill.
Nowhere in the Bill is there a provision that will promote animal welfare. Even if all those who want an end to hunting have animal welfare as their primary motive, it is self-evident that there are better ways to promote animal welfare than those in the Bill. I shall not discuss the Bill's defects in that regard now, but it is clear that, although animal welfare may be in the minds of the supporters of the middle way and the total ban options, provisions to promote it are nowhere to be found in the Bill. If the Bill is to have any meaning, the House should concentrate on promoting animal welfare measures rather than on banning what is currently—I am glad to say—a lawful activity.
We are debating the condemnation of an activity of which some people disapprove. The result will be bad law that is arbitrary in relation to animal welfare and draconian in relation to human activity.
I assume that the total ban option will leave this House and go to another place, but the Bill is unfair and unjust. It overturns a hugely important aspect of our culture—the assumption that one is innocent until proven guilty, and that the burden of proof should be firmly on the prosecution. If the banning option is passed, the Bill will place the burden of proving an exception firmly on the defence. That is unjust. I do not know whether this point has been considered by those who oppose my argument, but the Bill plainly contravenes the European convention on human rights.
No doubt the Bill will be carefully trawled over in the new year, but it is, as many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, an unnecessary and fundamental attack on the right of an individual to conduct himself in a way that, although it may not be approved of by many others, should not be criminalised. That is a basic matter of civil liberties. For all the fine sophistry and semantics of the so-called moral philosophers on the Government Benches—I have yet to hear a moral argument from them—they have yet to come up with a convincing argument that the Bill will advance the human condition or promote animal welfare. It will do no more than attack and undermine the rights and liberties of the citizen.
I trust that the fanatics on the other side of the argument will pause a little before they unravel this country yet further. I hope that they will pause before they do untold 439 damage to an already weak and diffident agricultural community, which is seeing its lifeblood trickle away day by day. If they wish to sustain this country's unity, and to see it enjoy a diversity of people and interests, they should have the good sense and decency not to support the Bill on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) says that he has not heard Labour Members advance a moral argument. Cruelty to animals is a moral issue—I am speaking slowly so that he can follow my reasoning. The law defines cruelty to animals as the causing of unnecessary suffering. The question is whether hunting with dogs—foxhunting, hare coursing and stag hunting—causes unnecessary suffering. The hon. and learned Gentleman must wrestle with that concept. I have already settled it in my own mind.
§ Mr. Garnier
I do not want to fall out with the hon. Gentleman, because we share a fond interest in fine wine and fine whisky—
§ Mr. Garnier
If the hon. Gentleman is to advance his argument, he should show me what part of the Bill or its schedules relates to the moral argument that he has mentioned.
§ Mr. Prentice
The consequence of banning hunting would be that cruelty would not arise, because animals would not be hunted by dogs.
The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) made a curious and eccentric Conservative party conference speech, before flouncing out without having the courtesy to listen to the next speaker. He said that we were introducing the Bill to garner votes in urban areas. Many people follow and support the Pendle Forest and Craven hunt in my constituency. If I lose the votes of constituents because I advocate a ban on hunting, that is politics. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said, we go through life constantly drawing lines in the sand on issue after issue, to show that we will go so far, but no further. However, the middle—or muddled—way group try to have it every way. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) talked about cherry picking. If anyone has done that, it is the people who advocate the middle way. I shall deal with them in a moment.
The official Opposition should make their position clear. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), their Front-Bench spokesman on this issue, was asked several times whether they would repeal the Bill if it reaches the statute book. The latest edition of "Livin' Country", the publication of the Union of Country Sports Workers, quotes the Leader of the Opposition, at a side meeting during the Conservative party conference, as saying:I cannot give any absolute assurance about what we do in a new Parliament. We cannot get people thinking that if things are changed they can be changed back easily.440 Why does he not get off the fence?
§ Mr. Prentice
The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not speak for the official Opposition—or perhaps he does: the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) may have to look over his shoulder.
§ Mr. McNamara
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for me to draw your attention to what the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said from a sedentary position about the leader of his party—
§ Mr. Prentice
Labour Members, and some Conservative Members—such as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale)—are going with the grain of public opinion, and we have overwhelming support. In a debate in June, one of the foremost proponents of hunting, the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), conceded that an overwhelming majority of people disapprove of hunting with dogs and want the practice stopped.
The poll that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire shows that there is a majority in favour of the ban, but that the proportion has dipped below 50 per cent. Some 48 per cent. want a complete ban, 37 per cent. want tight regulation, and only 14 per cent. want the status quo. If the people who want tight regulation are not satisfied with the regulation, they might move into the camp that wants a complete ban. It is our job to persuade them to do so.
The people who do not need persuading are the younger generation. Only 10 days ago, I went to Barrowford county primary school and addressed an assembly of a couple of hundred children aged between four and 11. I told them that I would mention them in the Chamber of the House of Commons. We were discussing animal welfare issues and I asked how many wanted hunting banned. Without any prompting, a forest of little arms went up. Only two or three did not want it banned. That is a typical response. [Interruption.] If Conservative Members, who are chuntering in their usual way, spoke to young people in the primary schools in their constituencies, they would not find a majority in favour of continuing the killing for fun. They should believe me.
As I said in an earlier debate, the other myth that needs to he put to rest is that the issue divides town and country.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)
The hon. Gentleman said that killing for fun was not to be permitted. Does he fish? Does he support fishing, or would he ban it?
§ Mr. Prentice
We have been round that circuit many times. There is a difference between killing for food and 441 killing for fun. [Interruption.] Conservative Members will have to take a hold of themselves. This is a moral issue. I think that it is wrong to kill for fun.
§ Mr. Prentice
Everyone wants to intervene on me. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding).
§ Mrs. Golding
I kill for fun. I enjoy fishing, but I do not always eat the fish. So I kill for fun, and I have to admit it.
§ Mr. Prentice
The argument is not about town versus country. A poll in The Daily Telegraph, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) alluded, showed that 77 per cent. of rural dwellers—I represent a constituency with a big rural collar—are against hunting with hounds.
The issue is not one of Labour versus the Conservatives, although it is often posed in such a way. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the hon. Member for North Thanet are not the only ones who want hunting with dogs to be banned. What about Steve Norris, the standard bearer for the Conservatives in the London mayoral elections? What about the astronomer, Patrick Moore? He is against hunting. What about your predecessor, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the previous Parliament, Dame Janet Fookes? They are all leading Conservatives who want hunting with dogs to be banned.
What about the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals? It is not a nest of rolling-eyed lefties. It is a blue chip organisation, of which millions of people are members. Who is the patron of the RSPCA? It is Her Majesty the Queen, is it not? The RSPCA has written to us to say:the only option that can be fully justified on scientific, common sense and moral grounds is a complete ban.I shall be voting for a complete ban. I am disappointed, because I get on well with him, that the Home Secretary will not be doing so, but his view does not reflect the majority in the House. We shall see.
I am a keen student of the third way, but I have been looking at the comments of the Middle Way Group, which was set up two and a half years ago. I went to its pamphlet for guidance on what it suggests, but it gave me no help.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and I appeared on the Lucy Meacock programme on Granada Television on 2 November. Apparently, millions of viewers in the north-west tuned in to see that duel. After being prompted by a member of the audience, the hon. Gentleman told Granada viewers that the Middle Way Group did not have a policy on hare coursing. Apparently, it has a policy on hare hunting, and there is a difference. The group has sent a manifesto to everyone, and as I read it, I saw a little drawing of the hare. The Middle Way 442 Group has a policy on hare hunting but not on hare coursing. What does Burns say about hare coursing? The inquiry found thathare hunting and coursing are essentially carried out for recreational purposes.It is not that hares are a pest, but that people kill for fun. Hare numbers have declined dramatically. The hare was even part of the biodiversity agreement negotiated by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major)—
§ Sir Richard Body (Boston and Skegness)
The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) referred to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It has been at the forefront of the argument that drag hunting is the perfect alternative. It argues that we could carry on hunting in our red coats—if anyone still wears them—and that hunting horns could still be blown. It argues that there could be the same numbers of hounds—there is no need to put them down—followers and horses, that all social activities that revolve around the hunt could continue, that jobs will be retained and that everything will go on as before if a drag replaces a fox.
The matter was discussed in the Burns inquiry. I was one of three witnesses invited by Lord Burns to speak on behalf of drag hunting. The inquiry's examination of drag hunting was exemplary. We sat in a square. The inquiry team sat on one side, expert advisers on another, those of us who gave evidence on drag hunting and a representative of the National Farmers Union—who, incidentally, agreed entirely with us and we agreed with him—sat on another and representatives of the RSPCA and others against hunting sat on the fourth side. They argued that what we did could take the place of hunting. I hope that hon. Members have read the Burns report of that encounter. There can be no doubt that the inquiry came down on our side.
Moreover, the RSPCA hauled in some expert on drag hunting who said that we did not know what we were doing here in England and that we ought to go to Germany where they were much more efficient. The poor inquiry team flew over to Germany for a day to see some drag hunting, but returned none the wiser.
Drag hunting cannot be an alternative. We in drag hunting have had to counter that argument, which I hope has now been knocked on the head.
Matters are, however, much worse than that. Although hon. Members support drag hunting, some of us have considered the outcome for our recreation if foxhunting comes to an end. Yesterday. I discussed the future with my counterpart—the chairman of the other organisation that represents drag hunting—who authorised me to speak on her behalf. We cannot expand. Our problem is that we do not help farmers at all; we are their guests.
Most packs of drag hounds can hunt for only 24 to 25 days a year—once every weekend in the winter months. Most packs cover the same amount of country as seven, eight or nine packs of foxhounds. One difficulty is that ours is a purely equestrian sport. Our followers see very little of hounds working, but they want lots of obstacles to jump over. Those who manage packs of drag 443 hounds will say that, to make a hunt worth while, we must provide some 30 to 35 obstacles. If we do not, people will not turn out, we will get no subscriptions and that will be the end of us.
There are now very few natural obstacles in the countryside. There are a few hedges, but we have to trim most before we can get over them. A little simple arithmetic shows that the average pack of drag hounds requires 300 to 350 obstacles to be built for the season, but we cannot do that, given our limited resources. Our average field is about 30, more than half of whom are women and children; perhaps only 10 or 15 are men and therefore physically able to build the fences and do the necessary work. They all have jobs to do.
§ Sir Richard Body
That intervention is comparable to the completely off-beam speech made by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), who talked arrant nonsense about drag hunting and refused to give way, even after he had made outrageous remarks about the pack of hounds of which I am chairman
§ Mr. Banks
I respect the hon. Gentleman's views and I am trying to follow his argument carefully. However, I wonder whether he will—or if he can—get to the point and explain why, if he is able to pursue his sport of drag hunting now, he will be unable to do so if foxhunting is banned. How does the question of obstacles relate to this issue? Will they disappear if foxhunting is banned? I do not understand in what way the two activities are linked.
§ Sir Richard Body
The subject of hunting does not lend itself to soundbites, which is one of the problems that we face in countering the specious points that are made about hunting.
I am not here to defend foxhunting. I am expressing the views of the members of the organisation of which I am chairman. They are very concerned about their future, and they believe, in good faith, that if foxhunting comes to an end, so will drag hunting.
§ Sir Richard Body
I thought that I had made it clear: ours is an equestrian sport that requires a substantial number of jumps.
§ Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)
I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument quite clearly. He is saying that people who pursue foxhunting can probably contribute more to the creation of obstacles in the countryside that are, in turn, used by drag hunters.
I shall take his argument a little further. Many of us would support his view that drag hunting is an effective sport. If that is true, he should argue that, like many other sports, drag hunting should receive financial support from organisations such as the Sports Council and the national lottery. That then—
§ Sir Richard Body
I am against farming being subsidised, but it would be too much to have my 444 recreation subsidised too. For every pack of drag hounds throughout the country, there are about eight packs of foxhounds. They have many more people to help them. They are opening up the countryside by erecting hunt jumps, in a way that we cannot. If foxhound packs come to an end, it is pretty obvious that the jumps will not be maintained and that they will go.
Drag hounds cannot take over all the country of foxhound packs. So much of that country is on land that farmers do not wish us to use. As a general rule, we go over only grassland or set-aside land. The pack of hounds of which I am chairman—I am no longer master, having been superannuated—has in its area eight packs of foxhounds, and we are almost entirely dependent on foxhound supporters erecting obstacles. We put up a few, but we do not have sufficient manpower—the farmers and farm workers who support foxhunting.
Four joint masters do the work. One is a riding instructor, one is an industrial chemist, one is a computer engineer and the fourth is a hard-working wife of a farm manager. They cannot take time off. If it is thought that I should take time off to do the work, I shall go to the pairing Whip and ask that I might go fence building on a Thursday, but I think that he might give me a rather robust answer. I am sure that my constituents in Lincolnshire would not wish me to go fence building when they feel that I should be in the House. What I say about my pack goes for virtually all of them. I am authorised to say that on behalf of the drag-hunting world.
§ Mr. Garnier
Many people on the other side of the argument think that the abolition of foxhunting will be mitigated by the wider practice of drag hunting. Is not the problem that whereas foxhunts provide services to landowners and farmers, such as the removal of fallen stock, drag hunters cannot provide those benefits to the landowner?
§ Sir Richard Body
That is right. I only hope that Labour Members will read the Burns report more carefully. It carried out the most careful inquiry, given the time that was available. It came down in favour of the evidence that I and the other two representatives of drag hunting gave—that it is not an alternative to foxhunting.
I go further than that. We are now concerned—it is the view of both organizations—that if foxhunting goes, drag hunting will be virtually impossible to pursue; it will be possible only in a few areas where there is, for example, Ministry of Defence land, over which some packs are able to go now.
I am expressing my own views and those of the two organisations to which I have referred. I hope that as the debate continues, as it will for some time yet, no one who is advocating the abolition of foxhunting will persist in the argument that drag hunting can take its place. No one should fail to realise that drag hunting will be in danger if a ban is imposed on foxhunting.
§ Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)
Most of us who have taken part in the debate feel a certain sense of déjà vu. Those who take an active part in debates on foxhunting could be described as the usual suspects. Most of us have seen one another before. We tend to repeat the same arguments. It is with a certain sense of refreshment, 445 therefore, that I greet the innovation of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), on the Conservative Front Bench, who introduced the blend of extremism and opportunism which in recent weeks we have come to associate with his leader. He said that he opposed even the pathetic option No. 1, which is favoured by the Countryside Alliance. He proposes to vote against the Bill on Second Reading, even though one of the options is that proposed by the Countryside Alliance.
Unless I am mistaken, we have yet to hear from a single Member who supports option No. 1 and who proposes to support the Bill with a view to favouring that option. With respect to the parliamentary draftsmen who worked on it, I fear that they might have wasted their time. However, Conservative Front Benchers have failed to commit their party to restore hunting. On the one hand, they are more extreme than the Countryside Alliance, yet, on the other, they would not bring it back.
In principle, this ought not to be a party political issue and I acknowledge that distinguished Opposition Members take a different view from that expressed by the hon. Member for Aylesbury. However, rather than pursue the party political issues, I want specifically to examine the six arguments that I have heard during the debate from opponents of a ban. If our debate is to be useful, we should listen to each other's arguments and respond to them.
First, opponents of a ban drew a religious analogy—that we should not ban hunting because we do not ban halal or kosher meat out of respect for religious minorities. Hunting may be many things, but it is not a religion.
§ Mr. Grieve
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He might be referring to my previous intervention, but I certainly did not make that suggestion, although I did say that the matter touches on an individual's conscience. If one talks to people who hunt, one can easily ascertain how deeply it affects their conscience and how deeply they object to a ban. They are often people who lead moral lives, participating actively in the community in a wide variety of ways, which should command a great deal of respect. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
§ Dr. Palmer
I accept that a fundamental issue of liberty is at stake and I shall return to that. However, the special tolerance that we grant to people who follow a religious belief different from of our own stands in a slightly different category from that of people who follow a sporting activity different from our own.
Secondly, it has been asserted repeatedly that it will be hard for the police to enforce a ban and that it will be necessary to conjure up new police forces to pursue hunts around the countryside. Again, hunting is many things, but it is not a pastime suitable for operation by stealth. It is difficult to imagine a stealth hunt that secretly pursues foxes across the countryside. I do not believe that it will be difficult to enforce that aspect of the ban.
Thirdly, it has been argued that, although hunting may be cruel and may cause distress, the alternatives, which would be necessary, would be worse. We know that, in the overwhelming majority of the British Isles, hunting 446 causes the death of only a small number of foxes—some say 2.5 per cent., some. 5 per cent. Hunting is clearly not primarily a form of pest control.
§ Dr. Palmer
I accept that the Welsh uplands are a special case. However, in general, throughout most of Britain, the replacement for hunting is nothing, because hunting is a sport, not a form of pest control.
§ Dr. Palmer
Yes, it is a lowland sport.
Fourthly, it has been suggested that a hunt ban would be divisive—either a town versus country issue or even one of class envy. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said:The town versus country claim is irresponsible for it attempts to divide Britain. My constituency covers both town and country and I find plenty of rural opposition to hunting …The same applies across the parties. As someone who has hunters in his own family, I would oppose hunting if it was practised exclusively by members of the Trades Union Congress. It is wrong because it is cruel. It is not wrong because of some social reason. That is a red herring.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who speaks very courteously. Will he confirm that he is also opposed to shooting and fishing, as he confirmed in the previous debate?
§ Dr. Palmer
I am grateful for the intervention. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware, the great majority of hon. Members are not opposed to shooting and fishing. I personally oppose all forms of sport that do not lead to the animal being eaten but cause distress or death to the animal. That, for me, includes the type of fishing that results in the fish being put in a glass frame and hung up, and it includes shooting for sport. That is my personal view. Those of us who hold that view must accept that such forms of sport will not be banned. The only issue on the table is the banning of hunting.
Fifthly, there is the suggestion that no real suffering is involved. That has been heard less since the Burns report, which is explicit on the matter. In the terminology of the science, the statement that huntingseriously compromises the welfare of the foxis quite definite, and stronger than most of us had expected.
I refer hon. Members to John Bryant's book, "Animal Sanctuary", in which he describes a fox that escaped a hunt and died from the terror to which it had been exposed. We are discussing not just the cruelty of the hunt if the fox is caught, but the cruelty of the hunt as such.
Finally, I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). The fundamental issue in the debate is liberty versus compassion. We are asking ourselves whether it is right that a sport that inevitably involves suffering for animals should be practised in Britain. I do not believe that it is right. The great majority of the British people do not believe that it is right. I accept that the hon. Gentleman feels differently and that he 447 considers it an issue of fundamental liberty. I believe that the liberty to inflict suffering in the name of sport is not a liberty worth preserving.
§ Mr. Grieve
I thank the hon. Gentleman again. Unlike many of his colleagues, he has taken an absolutist standpoint, and I respect him for it. The Burns report suggests that the objective evidence that the degree of suffering that may be caused to a hunted animal is so different from that which is caused to animals in other settings does not justify the hon. Gentleman's point and the infringement of other people's liberties. If I thought that the contrary was the case and that the matter was exceptional, I could be moved in my views, but as there is no such objective evidence, I am not so moved.
§ Dr. Palmer
The hon. Gentleman, like others before him, is attempting to make the best be the enemy of the good. It would obviously be delightful to eliminate all forms of suffering simultaneously. We have one particular form before us, and we should tackle that.
This is a time for decision. In his startlingly convoluted speech, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who is temporarily absent, supported a ban but opposed the use of the Parliament Act. We must accept that it is possible that the House of Lords will take a different view from the House of Commons on the matter. If the Parliament Act is not used, the issue will go on and on. The general public are fed up with it; they want a decision by Parliament, and we should have the courage and conviction to use the Parliament Act if necessary, and get the mandate for that from the electorate.
I support the Bill. I support the Second Reading. I do not understand how those who support options Nos. 1 and 2 also oppose Second Reading. Even the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) opposes Second Reading, which would enable us to consider his option. Beyond that, I support option No. 3. I believe that by doing that, we will reflect the wishes of the great majority of the people, and we will not be doing liberty any serious harm.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)
It is strange that the Bill should be presented at this time, and strong political points could be made about that. However, I have engaged in this argument for as long as I have been in public life, and I have always believed that the right way of approaching it is to consider the views of those who oppose hunting to be as sincerely held as the views of those who support it. Certainly, I believe that Members of Parliament whose views are different from mine are sincere.
The debate is about liberty and proportionality. The only possible justification for banning a sport, activity or recreation such as hunting is a demonstration that it is significantly or unnecessarily cruel—and worse than alternative methods of controlling the fox population—and can be distinguished from other sports and pastimes involving the taking of animals lives, such as game shooting and fishing. The Government are congratulating themselves on passing the Human Rights Act 1998, thus incorporating the European convention on human rights into our law. This legislation is justifiable only if the ban that they seek can be shown to be necessary and proportionate, and I do not believe that it can.
448 Although I disagreed with virtually all the speech of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley), I was pleased to hear him say that his constituents who hunted and supported hunting were thoroughly decent people. I hope it will be accepted that many hundreds of my constituents—in fact, I suspect there are a few thousand—who support hunting passionately are also sincere and decent, and are knowledgeable countrymen. It is necessary to stand back and consider what hunting actually involves. Can a ban be justified on animal welfare grounds?
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
That is a fair point. I suggest that Labour Members should talk quietly to those with whose views they profoundly disagree, and whose activity—which those people passionately support—they wish to ban. Labour Members should find out what sort of people they are.
As I was saying, a ban of this sort cannot be justified unless there are compelling reasons in its favour. It was greatly to the credit of an earlier post-war Labour Government with a massive majority, that of Mr. Attlee, that when this matter—which has been around for a long time—was raised, arousing just as much passion, they commissioned an independent inquiry. The resulting Scott-Henderson report demonstrated that the conditions necessary for a ban did not exist.
I was very glad that the Home Secretary, and the Government as a whole, asked Lord Burns to produce a report. The least that can be said of the report is that it shows that the conditions necessary for an outright ban are not there.
I shall oppose Second Reading, but if the Bill gains a majority—as I suspect it will—I shall argue for either option 1 or option 2. I hope to play a constructive part in that so that hunting, about which I know a good deal, can continue when it is conducted properly. I know a good deal about hunting because my father, who was a barrister and high court judge, as well as a scholarly person, was, none the less, a hunter and master of hounds. He hunted to hounds—in fact they were harriers—as did my stepmother. I therefore grew up in those surroundings. I have done game shooting all my life and a certain amount of fishing. I have to admit that I am not a very skilful fisherman, although many members of my family are.
Under two Labour Governments, a majority of Members have been opposed to hunting, so those Governments have stood back and ordered an independent report. It is fair to say that the Burns report demonstrates that there is not a case for an outright ban on hunting. Until such a case can be made, it is not right to proceed.
However, we are proceeding, so I shall analyse the arguments. Animal welfare is put as the case for the ban. However, all hon. Members present today recognise that the fox population grows enormously in the breeding season. It increases to about 600,000 and has to be controlled. One may say that not that many lambs, chickens or other farm animals are injured or harried, but the numbers are significant. Those whose animals are harried tend not to be rich, and they live close to the countryside. I could never outdo the passionate and 449 accurate speech that the Minister for Sport made when we debated this matter before and she was free to do so from the Back Benches. She knew and understood the matter and, if I may say so respectfully, the points that she made could not have been made more attractively or tellingly. They certainly rang true for me as someone who, like her, was lucky enough to be brought up in the countryside.
§ Dr. Palmer
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that fox control is important, how does he explain the fact that foxhunting accounts for only an extremely small percentage of the foxes that are controlled?
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
The hon. Gentleman is right. The proportion of foxes killed by hunts is comparatively small—only a few thousand—compared with the hundreds of thousands that die of natural causes and other methods of killing, principally shooting or snaring. That brings me to a central point in the debate, which needs to be understood. The people who go foxhunting and are close to it are close to the countryside. They tend to come from farming communities and are close to them. They understand their quarry and respect the fox. They want the numbers to be controlled, but they would not wish to treat a fox cruelly in a bear-baiting way, setting dogs on it or otherwise mistreating it. I have watched films produced by opponents—misguided opponents, not sincere ones—which have sought to show pictures taken at night of foxes being harried by dogs. That has little to do with the subject; indeed, it has nothing at all to do with it.
There is a balance of nature in areas where there are hunts. There are people in those areas who support foxhunting passionately. Nevertheless, they do not wish to destroy the fox, but to control its numbers. They enjoy hunting and are fascinated by venery—the ancient art of the sport of hunting, which requires a deep knowledge of one's quarry. In exactly the same way, fishermen take trouble over rivers: they maintain the habitat and understand the trout, salmon or coarse fish. There is great skill in coarse fishing, and fishermen know which fish feed off the bottom and which come to the surface, and they know how to catch them. Of course, they kill a large number of fish for sport, but they do that carefully, and the sport should not be banned. Likewise with hunting, one will always find a population of foxes in hunting country. In an area where there is no hunting, one is apt to find very few or no foxes.
I believe passionately in a balance of nature. For 20 years I have been privileged to represent a constituency where people hunt. We have two hunts in Bedfordshire. The people who hunt really believe in it. We know from the Burns report that it is part of the way of life in Devon and Somerset and in Cumbria and Leicestershire. They are the utterly decent people who participate in the sport, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin recognised.
The only justification for banning hunting would be if it could objectively be shown to be absolutely cruel and much worse than the alternatives. Burns showed that the alternatives inevitably involve some suffering. It is much better to stay with the status quo. Liberty, freedom and proportionality are what the debate is all about, so I would ask those right hon. and hon. Members who do not agree 450 with me to think very carefully about the Bill before they force it down the throats of the decent citizens of this country.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)
I do not think that I am one of the usual suspects in this debate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) described them, but before the general election I declared to the people whom I was seeking to persuade to vote for me exactly where I stood on this issue. A letter setting out my views was regularly displayed in the town centres in my constituency right up to the election, and what I shall say tonight is consistent with what I said then.
The main reason why I hold these views is that I believe that hunting is cruel. I reached that conclusion by studying at great length what the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had to say, and most people respect that orgnisation. I consider hunting to be unnecessarily cruel. The only real value in these pursuits is pleasure. For me, foxhunting, like cock fighting, bear baiting and badger baiting, belongs in the past. Foxhunting, hare hunting, hare coursing and stag hunting are relics of the past.
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that one of the unforeseen consequences of the Bill would be that there would be no more point-to-points held in the Vale of York, for example?
§ Mr. Blizzard
I do not accept that that is the case and I shall explain why later in my speech.
In the three and a half years or so since I was elected, I have had the opportunity to review my thoughts and to study more information, including the very valuable Burns report. Last night, I looked again at the report and found that in his summary conclusions on welfare and cruelty Burns comes down much more firmly against foxhunting than I had originally thought. He says that it seriously compromises the welfare of the fox and states at some length that the fox is not always killed at a single bite or nip and refers to the stress of the chase. Burns is quite clear that shooting with a rifle is by far the least cruel option.
Until recently, I tended to focus my thoughts on foxhunting and hare hunting, but last week the hare coursing championships that were held near Newmarket in my county of Suftolk were shown on television. Although I have never been particularly emotional about this, I found some of the film on hare coursing, and watching an animal being ripped apart by dogs, really quite repulsive. I have tried to listen carefully to the arguments about why, notwithstanding the cruelty, hunting might be necessary, but one by one the arguments have fallen away under scrutiny.
I spent the best part of a day with the hunt in my constituency, the Waveney Harriers. Before I went out with them I was told quite clearly that hunting was essential to manage the countryside and to keep pests under control, but on the day I was told, "Actually, we do not kill very many. We do not care whether we kill one or not. We enjoy the pleasure of riding and watching the hounds and the sense of pursuit." I fully understand that, but that contradicts the argument that hunting is essential for pest control.
§ Mr. Grieve
If the hon. Gentleman has studied the Burns report, he will have seen that Burns was particularly 451 concerned that hares would disappear most rapidly if hunting were stopped. The hunting system, whether with beagles or harriers, provides a regulatory mechanism while minimising the desire of farmers otherwise to deal with hares as pests.
§ Mr. Blizzard
Yes, but one of the arguments put to me was that hunting is necessary to keep the hare under control.
I was told that many jobs were at stake, but Burns has well and truly settled that argument with the numbers that he has come up with. He is clear that the economic effects are unlikely to be substantial. I would argue that there need be hardly any job losses if drag hunting is pursued.
I have listened to the argument that hunting is essential for countryside management. I do not have a foxhunt in my constituency. A considerable slice of north-east Suffolk has no foxhunt, and no one has ever written or complained to me that the place is overrun with foxes. I have never known that to be a problem. Indeed, most of the countryside of England does not have foxhunts, and people do not complain about a pestilence of foxes.
I do not believe that hunting is an effective means of controlling foxes. Burns is clear that in lowland areas, such as the one I represent, hunting makes only a minor contribution to the management of the fox population. As I said, I have a hare hunt in my constituency, but Burns is clear that there is little or no need to control the hare—it is at most a minor agricultural pest. The hare hunt covers only a small part of my constituency, and I am not told that there are not enough or too many hares in the rest of the constituency, so I do not follow that argument. However, I noted that Burns said that hunting gives rise to far too many cases of trespass, disruption and disturbance.
One function that the hunt performs which I think is part of countryside management is the removal of fallen stock. I shall deal with that in connection with drag hunting. I do not want to deny people the pleasure of riding in the countryside and of watching and working with hounds. I do not want to stop them enjoying the sense of pursuit. However, I believe that that could be achieved by the development of drag hunting. Burns suggested that there is no incentive to develop drag hunting while we have hunting in its present form.
I want drag hunting to be developed, because I believe that job losses would thereby be avoided, such as those of people who keep the kennels and maintain the horses. Fallen stock could still be collected to be fed to the hounds, because they would be needed even for drag hunting. Drag hunting could also contribute to countryside management.
§ Sir Richard Body
Drag hunting does not employ people. We can do the work ourselves, and we have only a few hounds. We do not use fallen stock. We feed the hounds with a proprietary brand out of what we call "the bag", because that is cheaper and easier in the long run.
§ Mr. Blizzard
I have considered the middle way argument, and I was asked tonight on the radio about licensing. All we hear in the Chamber is that there is too much red tape and bureaucracy in this country. I do not want even more red tape to be created by complaints commissions on hunting. If we license hunting there will be a mountain of red tape.
452 I want a ban on hunting. Furthermore, I want drag hunting to be developed—perhaps that could become the fourth way. As a result of the Bill, a decision will be taken by democratically elected Members of Parliament on a free vote. That is a powerful mandate. Like me, most people declared their position to their electorate before they came here, and will cast their vote on Second Reading and at further stages. If unelected peers in the other place think that they have the right to block that decision taken on a free vote by democratically elected Members of Parliament who declared their position before they were elected, they are wrong.
§ Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
As the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) pointed out, the Middle Way Group—perhaps uniquely in the debate on foxhunting—has taken the trouble to listen to people on all sides of the argument and to evolve its ideas accordingly. As the hon. Gentleman noticed, we have built into the Bill a position on hare hunting. We did so partly as a result of his comments, so one could say that there is a little bit of the hon. Gentleman in option 2. I hope that that will make it easier for him to support our proposal. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) was anxious about paperwork. I assure him that he will have to fill in the forms only if he wants to go hunting. If he needs those forms, he can see me later.
There has been much talk about prejudice and accusations have been made on both sides of the House. The assumption of prejudice is underlain by two entirely different starting points that depend on whether one is for or against a ban. Naturally enough, people in animal welfare organisations and Deadline 2000 have a strong sense of the animal welfare aspects of the debate. On the other hand, those who are opposed to a ban base their arguments primarily on civil liberties. Profoundly strong values are involved. In some ways, the strength of feeling on those valid concerns is a compliment to British society. The difficulty is, however, that unless one can find a middle way through which the starting point of the opposing side can be respected, great friction and emotion will tend to cloud the issues.
It is the judgment of the Middle Way Group that the Deadline 2000 proposals are fundamentally and understandably based on animal welfare and do not place sufficient emphasis on the civil liberties question.
§ Mr. Livsey
My hon. Friend will know that my constituency has nine hunts, which dispose of 2,000 foxes per annum. They have done so for the past 30 years, during which the area has maintained a fox population at the same level. A separate aspect of cruelty exists in respect of those foxes, as they slaughter £500,000 worth of lambs every year.
§ Mr. Öpik
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about an aspect of animal welfare that has not been discussed by Deadline 2000. The fox is a cause of cruelty in the countryside. Unsurprisingly, that issue has not been resolved in this short debate and I ask Deadline 2000 to give it serious consideration.
Other contradictions arise from not dealing consistently with the civil liberties question. Why ban hunting with dogs, but not angling? That is a blatant contradiction. The 453 RSPCA itself says that fish feel pain. Some hon. Members will own cats, which predate mammals. One does not have to keep a cat as a pet, but if one does so, the likelihood is that it will kill mice, birds and so on. What is the position on falconry? I have tried to find an answer to that question, but have been stonewalled by the League against Cruel Sports. Such inconsistencies are directly caused by failure to take a holistic view of the question of animal welfare versus civil liberties.
In fairness and for the sake of balance, I point out that members of the pro-hunting lobby tend to be so anxious about civil liberties that the animal abuses that have been catalogued are sometimes overshadowed by their desire to protect the individual. That is why they concentrate on jobs, which are to some extent a side issue. Labour Members are right to say that jobs are not the core concern in the debate.
The Middle Way Group was established on the basis of those contradictions. We want to find a way of balancing animal welfare considerations with those on human rights. We have tried to do so because extreme legislation is not good legislation. The crucial point is that not one of the three organisations that are involved in the debate is questioning the necessity of killing foxes in some circumstances. The question is not whether we kill foxes, but how, which makes the whole debate tactical. The Burns report was set up to ask that same question: in what circumstances, if any, would it be acceptable to hunt foxes with dogs?
§ Mr. Öpik
At least the league is consistent. The hon. Gentleman had a clearer steer than I did. However, that worries me because it suggests that the argument about the thin end of the wedge has some currency.
When the Burns report was published, the Middle Way Group committed itself to abide by it as far as we reasonably could and to form our own proposals. All three organisations supported the commissioning of the report, but perhaps only the Middle Way Group felt obliged to be loyal to it and to the option that we have helped to create.
The Middle Way Group is proposing an independent Hunting Authority with statutory powers to enforce a code of practice that would be legally binding, and a set of inspectors who could drop in unannounced on any licensed hunt to ensure that that code of practice was being applied. Those who chose to flout the process would be liable to criminal proceedings.
We have tried to balance animal welfare and human rights. We are concerned that many of the arguments against our proposals are based on misinformation. Of course, a small proportion of foxes are killed by dogs, but that activity is concentrated in specific areas. Lord Burns 454 said that that was a method preferred in upland areas such as my constituency of Montgomeryshire in mid-Wales, among others.
§ Mr. Öpik
We have made various estimates. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) can interrupt me if I do not get this right, but we reckon that the cost will be about £1 million a year. For that amount, the authority would be able to do everything that we wanted it to. Crucially, that money would be raised from the hunts themselves. In other words, it would cost the taxpayer nothing to implement the Middle Way Group's proposals. I thank the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) for asking me that question.
I mentioned the small percentage of foxes killed by dogs throughout the United Kingdom, but said that a high percentage was killed in that way in areas such as mine. Other misinformation includes the amazing assumption by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) that there is absolutely no pest control element in hunting with dogs. That is blatantly factually incorrect.
Another incorrect statement that the hon. Gentleman made was that the overwhelming majority of people, in every poll, have said that they want a ban on hunting with dogs. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire accurately quoted the statistic that 48 per cent. of people surveyed in an NOP poll last week said that they supported a ban; in other words, the majority were opposed to a ban. In response, the hon. Gentleman simply denied that the poll existed. That is not rational debate. That is not what the public expect to see in this Chamber when we are deciding profoundly important moral issues such as this. Those who are confident of their argument must surely be confident enough to hear the views of others, and be willing to modify their views if something better comes along.
To have an opinion one must listen to the debate and know what people have said. Few of the hon. Members who will vote on the Second Reading of the Bill have stayed in the Chamber for much of the debate. At one point, the number in here went down to 25. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) can shake his head in an unusual but entertaining fashion, but I am not making a party political point. The Middle Way Group wants, more than anything else, to have a rational, wide-ranging debate in which the hon. Members who go through the Lobby—whether they are for or against the Bill—at least do so having heard the debate. That does not happen if hon. Members do not turn up.
§ Mr. Öpik
No, I shall not.
I am optimistic that we can make progress, because, in fairness to the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), he included an exemption for gun packs when I discussed the case with him a few years ago, and I thank him for that. In the same vein, I am delighted that the Home Secretary has seen the merit of option 2 and has committed himself to supporting it, in an independent capacity, at a later stage.
455 Every bit of support for the Middle Way Group has been earned. Two and a half years ago we started at zero; according to the opinion poll that I mentioned earlier, we are now at 37 per cent. That support is based on tiny resources, but a strong idea.
The hon. Member for Worcester said that the measure is a wake-up call for humans to have respect for other creatures on the planet. Perhaps the Middle Way Group is saying that this is a wake-up call for humans to have respect for other creatures on the planet including other human beings. We lay the Middle Way Group's proposals before the House and before the country. Animal welfare and human rights must be allowed to live side by side. Tolerance and balance are the touchstones of our proposals for a regulatory authority. The rule of hunting must be allowed to be backed by the rule of law. Whatever hon. Members think, I ask them at least to have the courage and good sense to read what we have said. Then I implore them to vote on the basis of information.
§ Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)
I give broad support to the introduction of the Bill with its three options. However, my support is not unqualified; it is not without reservation. As a Member of Parliament and, before that, as an active campaigner for animal welfare, my first choice or my highest priority for legislative time would not have been this measure. The Burns report confirms a figure that has been widely cited for some years—that hunts are responsible for killing about 20,000 foxes a year.
People with skills in mental arithmetic will be able to multiply that figure by 200; the answer is 4 million. That is the number of sentient beings killed in animal experimentation throughout the country in laboratories to which no one—at least not members of the public—has access. If we multiply that 4 million by 200, we arrive at 800 million. What figure is that? It is the number of broiler chickens bred in this country in inhumane conditions—in windowless sheds, knee-deep in droppings—whose limbs never reach maturity because of their accelerated growth.
In assessing the priorities of those with concerns about animal welfare, it is my view that, if for every fox killed by a person in a red coat, 200 rats and other beings are killed by men and women in white coats, and if for every such laboratory animal killed, 200 hens, which are cruelly bred, are killed for our nutrition, my preferred focus—my priority—would clearly be on farm animal welfare and tighter laboratory experimentation regimes. Nevertheless, we are where we are; and we are there partly because of the priority of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) in autumn 1997. At that time, we witnessed the depth of feeling in our country and the concerns about the practice of hunting.
North-West Leicestershire is part of a county whose name is synonymous with hunting. When people think about hunting, the first hunt that they often identify is the Quorn—perhaps the most famous hunt in the country. Part of the Quorn's territory lies in the northern part of North-West Leicestershire. The southern part of North-West Leicestershire—the rural area—is in the territory of the Atherstone hunt.
456 As a Back-Bench Member, I have spoken to a substantial number of people who hunt with those two hunts. I have visited the Kirkby Bellars kennels of the Quorn hunt. I have spoken to a large number of people at advice sessions in rural areas and, like every Member, I have received a substantial postbag covering both sides of the debate.
As has been said, it would be wholly inaccurate, and it would traduce the personalities and attitudes of those who hunt, to dismiss them as heartless, cruel and unaware of the impact of their activities. I did not find that to be true of the people to whom I spoke. They were welcoming and open. They discussed the controls that exist on hunting and they impressed me with their sincerity. However, it did not alter my view about hunting. I am of the contrary view.
§ Mr. Grieve
I appreciate that that will not have altered the hon. Gentleman's view about hunting, but I wonder whether it should alter his view about whether we should criminalise an activity that is regarded as acceptable by people who he felt, having met them, he had cause to respect. I asked the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) that question, but he seemed to find it difficult and unpleasant. I wonder whether the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) would care to answer.
§ Mr. Taylor
I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has brought me to that point. The argument—which Members who largely populate the Conservative Benches have often used to criticise the Bill—that the Bill would criminalise people who are involved in foxhunting suggests two points. First, it suggests that those people have no power of free will, that they are drawn into an activity that they cannot shake off, that they are addicted to it and that, if it becomes illegal, they will be unable to take a conscious decision to desist from that activity. Secondly, it suggests that the Bill would be retrospective—that it would look back at the activities of which many Labour Members complain and would retrospectively make them illegal and therefore criminalise people who are now going about their normal recreational business. Neither suggestion is borne out by reality.
Members of the Countryside Alliance—who are, of course, the British Field Sports Society dressed up in a flowered smock—have gone through the usual gamut of reasons for allowing hunting to continue. They have spoken about fox population controls. As far as we can tell, the fox population is about 250,000 at its lowest and about 650,000 at its peak. Fox mortality annually is about 400,000 and about 20,000 foxes are killed annually, so 5 per cent. of fox deaths are attributable to hunting. That is not population control by any definition, so that argument should be dismissed with swiftness and contempt.
The Countryside Alliance then began to use a second argument, based on economics: that hunting produces a substantial number of jobs in otherwise hard-pressed rural areas. That argument does not stand up to the light of day. During the development of the debate during this Parliament, triggered by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), it has been suggested that tens of thousands of jobs are involved. Then the figure came down to a very few thousand. The Burns report eventually concluded that, in the very short term, there were direct employment implications for 600 to 700 jobs. Probably, 457 even such a loss of jobs would, in the medium term, turn into a net gain as more people turned to drag hunting, or chose to involve themselves in equestrian activities because they were no longer linked to the unpalatable activity of foxhunting.
I was not in this place throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, but I did not hear Conservative Members protest when men—it was predominantly men—were losing their jobs in rural coalfields in their thousands in those years. It would be a very small pit indeed that employed only 700 men—the figure that the Burns report arrives at. Thus, the economic case also falls.
I have mentioned criminalisation. It is argued that if foxhunting is banned there will be social and cultural damage—as if the whole of rural Britain was focused on point-to-point events and fundraising dances. That is simply not true, but there is not enough time left for me to demolish that argument.
We have three options. Option 1 is self-evidently pointless, because it involves self-regulation, which we are told has been present for decades—and it patently has not worked. Yes, some hunts are well run and the majority of the people who hunt are decent, ordinary individuals who do not have the qualities that some critics, especially those on the Labour Benches, would suggest, but self-regulation has not worked, so what is the point of that approach?
I shall deal with the other two options in 30 seconds. Option 2 has a superficial attractiveness, suggesting that tighter regulation and licensing would remove most of the problems with hunting. That is possible, but there would inevitably be a ratchet effect and the regulatory regime would be tightened to such a degree that, in the end, hunting would become unviable, impractical and effectively illegal—option 3, which is the one that I am likely to support when we have that opportunity in the Division Lobby early in 2001.
§ Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)
This has been an excellent debate to which, so far, no fewer than 25 right hon. and hon. Members have contributed. Sadly, I shall not have the opportunity to respond to them all, but none spoke more cogently than my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who stressed at the outset that there was no compelling case for the Bill on animal welfare grounds, but that it poses a serious threat to individual freedom.
The cudgels were then taken up in a truly brilliant fashion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) in a penetrating and witty speech. [Interruption.] Labour Members might not like this, but they will hear it. My right hon. Friend exposed the Bill for what it is—divisive, unnecessary and proof of the sheer cynicism of the new Labour Government. He was ably followed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who rightly characterised the Bill as being based on crude populism and as a vulgar and misguided attempt to reignite a bogus class war which we should long have left behind.
Perhaps the most significant point in the debate was the exchange that took place in different speeches between the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) on the one 458 hand and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) on the other, for my right hon. Friend hit the nail on the head in exposing the hon. Gentleman, who was becoming a bit hot-headed and excited, for what he is in his motivation—arbitrary, capricious and ultimately sentimental in choosing the dividing line that he wants, saying that he would not ban fishing or shooting. He happens aesthetically to disapprove of hunting and thinks that is the basis for law, but I disagree.
Powerful speeches were made on both sides of the House. I compliment the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). I respect his knowledge, integrity and sincerity. I am sorry to say that I profoundly disagree with all that he said, but many hon. Members made good contributions—25 in total. The reality is that, in arguing the case on grounds of cruelty, the simple fact is that, as Burns acknowledged, all the methods of pest control are problematic; none of them is immune from criticism. The truth is that there is no compelling evidence that cruelty in foxhunting is any greater than in snaring, trapping, gassing, poisoning or shooting. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) might not want to know it, but the reality is that the Burns report, which I quote for his delectation, said:In the vast majority of cases, the time to insensibility and death is no more than a few seconds.I presume that that is what the Home Secretary had in mind when he wisely described the Burns report asa profoundly impressive study, cogent and well argued.—[Official Report, 12 June 2000; Vol. 351, c. 639.].Fishing results in 100 times as much suffering a day as hunting. It can be argued that shooting results in 200 times as much suffering a day as hunting. On the attitude of many Labour Members, I am bound to conclude that the words "hypocrisy" and "double standards" readily spring to mind. The cloak of moral superiority, which the hon. Member for West Ham showed us at the outset, was quickly stripped away.
§ Mr. McNamara
Will the hon. Gentleman now reply to the question that I asked the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)? If the Bill is passed and at some point the Tories return to office, will they seek to reverse it even on a free vote?
§ Mr. Bercow
I shall deal with that point fair and square. The hon. Gentleman wants to create the impression that opponents of the Bill will inevitably be defeated. I accept no such scenario. We will fight this Bill again, again and again at every stage. We intend to defeat it; it will not reach the statute book before the general election. My right hon. and hon. Friends, under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), will ensure that we win the election and this sad, miserable Bill will die the death that it deserves. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to make that point abundantly clear.
In common with so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I have never hunted, I do not hunt and I have not the slightest desire whatever to hunt. However, for as long as I have breath in my lungs, I will defend the right of other people to hunt If they so choose. The curse of our times is the instant progression of too many people from the statement, "I do not like" to the statement, "It should be banned."
459 I shall risk embarrassing my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal whom I cannot readily see—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is behind you."] There he is. I remind the House of the excellent speech that he made on 28 November 1997. His words on that occasion are firmly imprinted on my mind. He talked about the importance of tolerance and emphasised that tolerance is not about putting up with things one does not care about greatly. That, he emphasised, would be apathy, acceptance and neutrality. The test of tolerance is putting up with, and allowing to continue, activities of which one personally strongly disapproves. The reaction of Labour Members suggests that that concept is entirely alien to most of them.
The Home Secretary has said something in the past about liberty and democracy. It is only a pity that he does not relate these remarks to the terms of the Bill. On 15 December 1999, he said:The test of a democracy is not whether you accord rights to people you agree with, it is whether you accord rights to people with whom you profoundly disagree.The overwhelming majority of Labour Members and a few Opposition Members disagree with hunting, but those who hunt pose no threat to public order, to their fellow citizens or to the national interest. They should not in any way be criminalised by the House of Commons.
§ Mr. Bercow
The hon. Gentleman has had enough opportunity to make a fool of himself. I do not see why I should give him another chance to compound his personal embarrassment.
The truth—we know it from many sources—is that hunting confers many significant benefits on our rural habitat and makes a real and valuable contribution to the biodiversity of our environment. We know, too, as a matter of fact thathunt kennels provide a valued service to the farming industry by removing casualty and fallen stock.They are not my words or even those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon; they are the words of the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. How right she was then; how wrong most Labour Members are now.
§ Dr. Palmer
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify why he opposes not only a ban on hunting but even the regulation of hunting as proposed by the Countryside Alliance? As I understand it, he will also oppose Second Reading. That seems most mysterious.
§ Mr. Bercow
I oppose Second Reading, but it is a free vote. I believe that that which it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change; if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Meddlesome, silly, burdensome, expensive, interfering, nanny-state regulation is beloved of Labour Members. I want nothing to do with it, and I think that goes for most Conservative Members.
Let us be absolutely clear on this matter. Right hon. and hon. Members can push through the measure if they wish—no doubt they will do their worst—but they will not stop free Britons hunting if they want to. I make the point, which should be blindingly obvious even to Labour Members, that if hunting is banned it will hit not the rich 460 but the poor. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley knows, the rich will go to France, Spain, Sweden, Italy, Germany and Austria.
§ Mr. Bercow
There is not enough time to give way. The hon. Lady had an opportunity to speak earlier. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I would prefer it if hon. Members did not shout at the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). He is in full flow and we must hear him.
§ Mr. Bercow
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.
The truth is that as far as most—although I concede not all—Labour Members are concerned, the measure has nothing to do with animal welfare and everything to do with class warfare. We learned that the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson)—[Interruption.] They do not like to hear it; they do not want me to embarrass them by revealing the full ugliness of their colleagues' remarks, but the hon. Member for Norwich, North said:I have found it exciting this morning: there has been a whiff of class struggle in the air.—[Official Report, 28 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 1244.]I emphasise to Labour Members that, in the minds of right-thinking, decent people the length and breadth of the country, that is profoundly unpersuasive as a motive for legislating.
Labour Members say that drag hunting is a substitute for hunting live quarry. That argument was demolished by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Sir R. Body) and the deputy chairman of the Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association, who said that drag huntingcertainly is not and must never be referred to as a substitute or an alternative for live quarry hunting.Labour Members should note that comment and accept that their priorities are wrong.
Bills on licensing, consumer issues, referendums and vaccines have been ditched. Even the reform of the Mental Health Act 1983 has been excluded from the programme. Class sizes are rising, hospital waiting times are increasing and the fight against crime is weaker. It is totally wrong for the Government to prioritise and pursue a ban on hunting. This country is the home of Magna Carta and the birthplace of liberty. The rights of free-born citizens to continue to pursue their occupations should be upheld, as it will be by the great majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)
The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) talked about tolerance of minorities, but what about tolerance of minorities in the Conservative party? Why was the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) blocked from speaking for her party at the Dispatch Box on an issue on which we have a free vote? That is some tolerance—it is more like Tory repression. I never thought that I would describe the right hon. Lady as repressed, but there we have it.
461 The hon. Member for Buckingham called people who favour a ban hypocrites. Well, no doubt he will talk to his boss later.
§ Mr. O'Brien
In a moment.
The debate has been good and sometimes passionate. None of us was in any doubt about how strongly people felt about hunting with dogs, and there can be no question about that now. However, the Burns report has made the debate more rational and less emotional than it would have been before its publication. Lord Burns and his colleagues deserve the thanks of the House for that report. I thank the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), who said that the report was the bible of this debate and thanked officials at the Home Office for their hard work in ensuring that we had before us a Bill that fairly reflects the different views.
We have heard some impassioned defences of Huntingdon—of hunting. [Laughter.] We even heard an impassioned defence of hunting from the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), as well as from the right hon. Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell).
On the other side of the argument, we heard strong speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg), for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley), for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) and for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor).
I particularly welcome the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), who has too long been silenced in this House. We welcome his well-argued and persuasive contribution to the debate.
I draw attention to the contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who rightly said that he and we are here not to speak for interest groups in our constituency but to speak our mind on behalf of all our constituents. He put that subtle but important distinction well during a strong contribution to the debate.
I welcome the speech of the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Sir R. Body), who was able to give us a very useful insight into issues relating to drag hunting.
We heard strong speeches from members of the Middle Way Group. Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire, I sometimes feel the temptation to call them the third way group, which I am sure would greatly offend the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire. He, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) and the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) made strong contributions to the debate.
All that suggests that a Bill such as this is the best way to give Parliament the opportunity to debate such a controversial and difficult issue. The multi-option procedure that we have decided to use has allowed a Bill with three different approaches to be put before the House. As all hon. Members know, they have the 462 opportunity to reflect on the benefits and drawbacks of those three approaches in the light of the Burns Report and then to decide, in a free vote, which they favour.
It is also clear that the vexed and contentious issue of hunting could never have been satisfactorily resolved using the route of a private Member's Bill. Time and again, Bills on this subject fell not because they could not command a majority in Parliament but because of a lack of parliamentary time. That is why I believe that the Government are right to have introduced a Government Bill while leaving its content to interest groups and the key decision to Parliament.
Questions have been raised about each of the options. It is for the proponents of the options rather than me to attempt to deal with arguments for or against a particular schedule, but I intend to touch on a few points.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor
Just to clarify the situation, what would the Government do if the House of Commons voted for a total ban and the House of Lords amended the Bill by going for the middle way? Would the Government press on with the help of the Parliament Act or go for the middle way?
§ Mr. O'Brien
That is a matter for Parliament to decide. We will consider it if and when the situation arises. That is the time to consider it.
I shall deal with some of the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who suggested that the subject was, in a sense, too trivial for a Bill. Hunting has been the subject of debate for years. It has been on the front page of our national newspapers for years. To many, the subject is far from trivial. I would be the first to admit that it is not of the same importance as crime, education or health, but the Bill is not in place of legislation on those important subjects. Hon. Members who have studied the Gracious Speech will know that it contains measures dealing with health, education and, from my own Department, crime. Earlier this week, the House gave a Second Reading to the Vehicles (Crime) Bill, while the other place has done likewise for a Bill to regulate the private security industry.
Let me deal with another canard that has been wheeled out—namely, that the Bill is the only one in the Government's programme that deals with rural affairs, and that we are neglecting the interests of the countryside. Quite apart from the absurdity of the notion that measures on health, education and crime are of no benefit to the rural population, I remind our detractors that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister recently published the rural White Paper, which contained a host of proposals to help the countryside. Already, we have invested an additional £170 million over three years from 1998 to help rural transport, including support for rural bus services. We boosted provision of social housing in rural areas by allowing the release of £800 million from council house sales to be reinvested in homes for local people. We have introduced a mandatory 50 per cent. relief for the sole shop and post office in designated communities of fewer than 3,000 people, and we have introduced a presumption against the closure of rural schools.
The right hon. Member for Huntingdon took a cynical view of the Bill. He will recall that when his Government introduced the Sunday Trading Act 1994, there were those who believed that it was divisive, unnecessary and even 463 an attack on Christianity. The issue was a controversial and difficult one, but, in retrospect, we can see that the right hon. Gentleman was right to introduce a multi-choice Bill, just as the current Government are right in respect of this Bill. The Bill appears at the start of the Session because it is ready at the start of the Session: we have had the Burns report, we have prepared the Bill and it is ready to be considered by the House. We promised a free vote in our manifesto and we are delivering on that manifesto promise.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth
I am not aware that there are any Scottish Members currently on the Government Benches, save for the Foreign Secretary, who has just arrived. Is it the Government's intention that their Scottish Members should abstain from voting on a matter that relates only to England and Wales?
§ Mr. O'Brien
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary dealt with that point earlier and I shall not detain the House by repeating his reply, for which the hon. Gentleman should have been present.
The question of police resources has been raised during the debate. My officials have had discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has said that the police already have to commit resources to hunts, in particular to dealing with anti-hunt saboteurs. There are implications in banning, regulation and self-regulation, but ACPO has indicated that there is likely to be little practical difference in the resources required by each of the options.
The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) mentioned devolution issues. We believe that the 40 Welsh Members of the Westminster Parliament are as capable of representing Wales in this respect as the 60 Assembly Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme raised matters relating to fishing and shooting. Let me make it clear that, in an article that appeared in The Daily Telegraph on 20 September 1999, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave a public guarantee that the Government will not allow a ban on shooting or fishing.
At the start of the debate, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out his position and it is right that I should do the same. I voted for the Bills introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester and the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), both of which would have had the effect of banning hunting with dogs. I have now studied the Burns report carefully. Having done so, I see absolutely no reason to change my views, so I shall vote in favour of schedule 3 when the time comes.
As the House is by now aware, the three options in the Bill were suggested by the main interest groups in the field. Supporting the Bill's Second Reading is a sensible approach. It should command the support of all the various groups in the House, whether they want a ban, regulation or self-regulation. The Bill will enable a proper debate to take place in the light of the Burns report, and I commend it to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 373, Noes 158.
|Division No. 28]||[9.59 pm|
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Clelland, David|
|Ainger, Nick||Clwyd, Ann|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Coaker, Vernon|
|Alexander, Douglas||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Allan, Richard||Coleman, Iain|
|Allen, Graham||Colman, Tony|
|Amess, David||Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)|
|Anderson, Rt Hon Donald (Swansea E)||Cooper, Yvette|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary||Corston, Jean|
|Ashton, Joe||Cotter, Brian|
|Atherton, Ms Candy||Cousins, Jim|
|Atkins, Charlotte||Cox, Tom|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Cranston, Ross|
|Austin, John||Crausby, David|
|Bailey, Adrian||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Baker, Norman||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Banks, Tony||Cummings, John|
|Barnes, Harry||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Barron, Kevin||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Battle, John||Darvill, Keith|
|Bayley, Hugh||Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Beard, Nigel||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Begg, Miss Anne||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Benn, Hilary (Leeds C)||Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield)||Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Bennett, Andrew F|
|Benton, Joe||Dawson, Hilton|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Day, Stephen|
|Berry, Roger||Dean, Mrs Janet|
|Best, Harold||Denham, John|
|Betts, Clive||Dismore, Andrew|
|Blackman, Liz||Dobbin, Jim|
|Blair, Rt Hon Tony||Dobson, Rt Hon Frank|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Doran, Frank|
|Blizzard, Bob||Dowd, Jim|
|Boateng, Rt Hon Paul||Drew, David|
|Borrow, David||Drown, Ms Julia|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Brake, Tom||Edwards, Huw|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Efford, Clive|
|Breed, Colin||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Etherington, Bill|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Fearn, Ronnie|
|Buck, Ms Karen||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Burden, Richard||Fitzpatrick, Jim|
|Burgon, Colin||Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna|
|Burstow, Paul||Flint, Caroline|
|Butler, Mrs Christine||Flynn, Paul|
|Byers, Rt Hon Stephen||Follett, Barbara|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Foster, Rt Hon Derek|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Cann, Jamie||Gale, Roger|
|Caplin, Ivor||Galloway, George|
|Casale, Roger||Gapes, Mike|
|Caton, Martin||Gardiner, Barry|
|Cawsey, Ian||George, Andrew (St Ives)|
|Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)||Gerrard, Neil|
|Chaytor, David||Gibson, Dr Ian|
|Clapham, Michael||Gidley, Sandra|
|Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)||Gilroy, Mrs Linda|
|Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)||Godman, Dr Norman A|
|Clark, Paul (Gillingham)||Goggins, Paul|
|Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)||Gordon, Mrs Eileen|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)||Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)|
|Grocott, Bruce||McCafferty, Ms Chris|
|Grogan, John||McCartney, Rt Hon Ian (Makerfield)|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Hall, Patrick (Bedford)||McFall, John|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||McIsaac, Shona|
|Hancock, Mike||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Hanson, David||McNamara, Kevin|
|Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet||McNulty, Tony|
|Harris, Dr Evan||MacShane, Denis|
|Healey, John||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)||McWalter, Tony|
|Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)||McWilliam, John|
|Hendrick, Mark||Mahon, Mrs Alice|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Mallaber, Judy|
|Heppell, John||Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)|
|Hesford, Stephen||Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)|
|Hewitt, Ms Patricia||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Hill, Keith||Martlew, Eric|
|Hinchliffe, David||Maxton, John|
|Hope, Phil||Meacher, Rt Hon Michael|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Meale, Alan|
|Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)||Merron, Gillian|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Michael, Rt Hon Alun|
|Howells, Dr Kim||Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Milburn, Rt Hon Alan|
|Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)||Miller, Andrew|
|Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)||Moffatt, Laura|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Hurst, Alan||Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)|
|Hutton, John||Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)|
|Iddon, Dr Brian||Morley, Elliot|
|Illsley, Eric||Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Morris, Rt Hon Sir John (Aberavon)|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Mountford, Kali|
|Jenkins, Brian||Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)||Mudie, George|
|Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn)||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)||Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)||Norris, Dan|
|O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Olner, Bill|
|Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)||Organ, Mrs Diana|
|Jowell, Rt Hon Ms Tessa||Ottaway, Richard|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Keeble, Ms Sally||Pearson, Ian|
|Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Kemp, Fraser||Pike, Peter L|
|Khabra, Piara S||Plaskitt, James|
|Kidney, David||Pollard, Kerry|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Pond, Chris|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Pope, Greg|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)||Pound, Stephen|
|Kingham, Ms Tess||Powell, Sir Raymond|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Ladyman, Dr Stephen||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Lammy, David||Prescott, Rt Hon John|
|Lawrence, Mrs Jackie||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Laxton, Bob||Prosser, Gwyn|
|Lepper, David||Purchase, Ken|
|Leslie, Christopher||Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce|
|Levitt, Tom||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Radice, Rt Hon Giles|
|Linton, Martin||Randall, John|
|Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)||Rapson, Syd|
|Lock, David||Raynsford, Nick|
|Love, Andrew||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Rendel, David|
|McCabe, Steve||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Rogers, Allan||Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)|
|Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff||Taylor, David (NW Leics)|
|Rooney, Terry||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Taylor, Sir Teddy|
|Rowlands, Ted||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Ruane, Chris||Timms, Stephen|
|Ruddock, Joan||Tipping, Paddy|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)||Todd, Mark|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Tonge, Dr Jenny|
|Ryan, Ms Joan||Touhig, Don|
|Salter, Martin||Truswell, Paul|
|Sanders, Adrian||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Sawford, Phil||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Turner, Neil (Wigan)|
|Shaw, Jonathan||Twigg, Derek (Halton)|
|Sheerman, Barry||Vaz, Keith|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Shipley, Ms Debra||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Short, Rt Hon Clare||Ward, Ms Claire|
|Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)||Wareing, Robert N|
|Singh, Marsha||Watts, David|
|Skinner, Dennis||Webb, Steve|
|Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)||White, Brian|
|Smith, Angela (Basildon)||Whitehead, Dr Alan|
|Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Soley, Clive||Willis, Phil|
|Southworth, Ms Helen||Wills, Michael|
|Spellar, John||Winnick, David|
|Squire, Ms Rachel||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Starkey, Dr Phyllis||Wood, Mike|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Woodward, Shaun|
|Stevenson, George||Woolas, Phil|
|Stewart, Ian (Eccles)||Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Wright, Tony (Cannock)|
|Stoate, Dr Howard||Wyatt, Derek|
|Straw, Rt Hon Jack|
|Stuart, Ms Gisela||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)||Mr. David Jamieson and|
|Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe.|
|Ancram, Ht Hon Michael||Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)|
|Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Baldry, Tony||Collins, Tim|
|Beggs, Roy||Cran, James|
|Beith, Rt Hon A J||Curry, Rt Hon David|
|Bell, Martin (Tatton)||Davies, Quentin (Grantham)|
|Bercow, John||Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen|
|Blunt, Crispin||Duncan, Alan|
|Body, Sir Richard||Duncan Smith, Iain|
|Boswell, Tim||Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia||Evans, Nigel|
|Brady, Graham||Faber, David|
|Brazier, Julian||Fabricant, Michael|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Fallon, Michael|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Flight, Howard|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Forth, Rt Hon Eric|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman|
|Burnett, John||Fox, Dr Liam|
|Burns, Simon||Garnier, Edward|
|Butterfill, John||Gibb, Nick|
|Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies (NE Fife)||Gill, Christopher|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Golding, Mrs Llin|
|Chope, Christopher||Green, Damian|
|Clappison, James||Greenway, John|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Grieve, Dominic|
|Gummer, Rt Hon John||Norman, Archie|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Oaten, Mark|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)|
|Hammond, Philip||Öpik, Lembit|
|Harvey, Nick||Page, Richard|
|Hawkins, Nick||Paice, James|
|Hayes, John||Pickles, Eric|
|Heald, Oliver||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David||Prior, David|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Hoey, Kate||Robathan, Andrew|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Horam, John||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Howard, Rt Hon Michael||Ruffley, David|
|Hunter, Andrew||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Jack, Rt Hon Michael||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)|
|Keetch, Paul||Spelman, Mrs Caroline|
|Key, Robert||Spicer, Sir Michael|
|King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)||Spring, Richard|
|Kirkbride, Miss Julie||Steen, Anthony|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Streeter, Gary|
|Laing, Mrs Eleanor||Swayne, Desmond|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Syms, Robert|
|Lansley, Andrew||Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)|
|Leigh, Edward||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Letwin, Oliver||Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)|
|Lidington, David||Thompson, William|
|Lilley, Rt Hon Peter||Townend, John|
|Livsey, Richard||Tredinnick, David|
|Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)||Trend, Michael|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Tyrie, Andrew|
|Loughton, Tim||Viggers, Peter|
|Luff, Peter||Walter, Robert|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Wardle, Charles|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Waterson, Nigel|
|McIntosh, Miss Anne||Wells, Bowen|
|MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Maclean, Rt Hon David||Whittingdale, John|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|Madel, Sir David||Wilkinson, John|
|Major, Rt Hon John||Willetts, David|
|Malins, Humfrey||Wilshire, David|
|Maples, John||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Mates, Michael||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Maude, Rt Hon Francis||Yeo, Tim|
|Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|May, Mrs Theresa|
|Moore, Michael||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Moss, Malcolm||Dr. Julian Lewis and|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Mr. Gerald Howarth.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill red a Second time.