§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]9.34 am
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)
First, may I briefly inform the House about a separate matter? The draft Bill on football hooliganism should be available in the Vote Office by 10.30 this morning.
The second preliminary point that I should like to make is to present my apologies to the House for the fact that I shall have to leave the Chamber at about 10.45. I know that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) is in a similar position. I hope that the House will take into account the fact that this is the ninth occasion on which I have been on my feet in the House in the past 15 days.
§ Mr. Straw
None of the debates has actually been on legislation, although some have had a legislative purpose. We have had many fewer Bills than in similar Sessions that I recall, certainly in the 1980s.
Let me turn to the subject of the debate, which is the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England and Wales, Command Paper 4763. The issue of hunting has aroused great controversy over much of the past 20 years. Sixteen Bills have been presented to the House in that period. The strong feelings about it in the House are reflected in public sentiment, both for and against.
All parties have long accepted that the issue of whether to ban hunting should be determined by free votes of right hon. and hon. Members. That remains the Government's position. At the general election, we said in our manifesto that we would advocate a free vote on the issue. Although it was not explicit, the implication was that such a vote, or set of votes, could have a legislative effect.
The House usually deals with such issues by way of private Members' Bills, but that procedure can prove inadequate to bring hotly contentious matters to a conclusion. That was true for the vexed issue of Sunday trading, on which, after 20 private Members' Bills and one failed Government Bill, the previous Administration wisely decided to bring the issue to a conclusion by providing a Government Bill that offered a range of alternatives, on which there were then free votes. We have decided to adopt a similar approach with hunting.
The resolution of the central question—to ban or not to ban—should not be delegated to an outside committee, however expert or eminent. It is plainly a matter for Parliament. However, we decided that a committee could prove invaluable in informing and illuminating the debate.
As the House knows, Lord Burns accepted my invitation to chair such a committee. Its four other members were Dr. Victoria Edwards, principal lecturer in land management at the university of Portsmouth, and a non-executive board member of the Countryside Agency and the Forestry Commission; Professor Sir John Marsh, emeritus professor of agricultural economics at Reading university; Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, emeritus 525 professor of animal pathology at the university of Cambridge; and Professor Michael Winter, professor of rural economy and society at Cheltenham and Gloucester college of higher education. The team was appointed for its expertise in fields relevant to the inquiry's work.
Lord Burns conducted the inquiry in an extremely open manner. He and his colleagues made great efforts to reach different communities and to speak both to those involved in hunting and to those opposed to it. They witnessed a variety of forms of hunting, commissioned research from academics and held public meetings in various parts of the country. I am deeply grateful to Lord Burns and the other committee members for the way they went about their work and completed this very thorough report.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way so early in his speech. He said that the free vote is the means by which the debate will be brought to a conclusion. Let us suppose that the Houses of Parliament, in their wisdom, were to decide that there should be no ban on fox hunting—no change in the status quo. Would he accept that that had brought the issue to a conclusion?
§ Mr. Straw
Yes, of course. If Parliament had decided that it was in favour of no change to the Sunday trading laws—or, as I and a number of others wanted, more limited change—that would have been the end of the matter. That must be the case with this issue.
In my statement on 12 June I expressed the hope that hon. Members would read the committee of inquiry's report, and I hope that those Members who are present today have had the time since then carefully to study its contents. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that the report has been welcomed by those most closely involved in the issue. The two organisations that led on giving evidence to the inquiry, Deadline 2000, the umbrella group for those seeking a ban on hunting, and the Countryside Alliance, which favours hunting, have both been positive in their response to the report. I understand that Deadline 2000 regards the report as thorough and cogent, and that the chairman of the Countryside Alliance has said that he has nothing but admiration for it. There has been a recognition that the inquiry tried to appreciate the complexities of the issue.
It may help today's debate for us first to recall the report's conclusions about the extent of hunting with dogs, who takes part in it, and why. I asked the inquiry to examine the hunting with dogs of foxes, deer, hares and mink. We are all familiar with the best known and most visible type of hunting: the traditional fox hunt of mounted followers and a pack of hounds. Such an image is ubiquitous—indeed, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) admitted in an earlier debate, when she was a partisan against hunting, that such scenes adorn her dining room curtains. I am told by those who know about these things that given her personal opposition to hunting, such behaviour is regarded in some quarters as post-modernist irony.
§ Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)
I am always happy to share a joke with the Home Secretary, not least because sometimes he actually understands them, unlike some of those who sit alongside him.
526 My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) not only has hunting scenes on her dining room curtains, but I can tell the House that she also has hunting maps on the walls of her dining room. She clearly takes a great interest in hunting and its practices.
May I make an introductory point that the Home Secretary may be able to deal with at this stage? The cost of the report to the public is£32.50. That is quite a lot of money for many people. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with me that the readership of this good report would be far wider if the price of the document were much lower? Is it not an irony that we get the report free, yet I suspect that an awful lot of Members have not even read it?
§ Mr. Straw
We have to work on the assumption that, as hon. Members get the document free, those taking part in the debate have read it—although it may become apparent whether individuals have read it during the debate. The price is too high, but the hon. and learned Gentleman should bear in mind the fact that it is available free on the internet and in every public library, so that makes a big difference.
Although I am always happy to share a joke with the hon. and learned Gentleman, I ask him not to damage my reputation any further with faint praise.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
I do not want to let the Home Secretary's modern point about the internet pass without saying that I hope that he does not assume that everyone in the country possesses a ghastly computer, knows how to use it or is plugged into the even more ghastly internet.
The serious point is—I hope that the Home Secretary will take it seriously, given the point that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) made—that the Government must not assume that everyone in the country has access to the internet and use that as an excuse, or an alternative to making available such important information. I am sure that the Home Secretary understands that point, and I hope that he will acknowledge it.
§ Mr. Straw
I take that point, but as the right hon. Gentleman makes a partisan point, let me make one in return. I regret the fact that the report costs£32.50. We have tried to ensure that it is available, and the internet is now widely accessible, although I fully accept not in every home. We are responsible for this price, but up until the early 1980s Government documents were available cheaply because they were subsidised. The Conservative Government pushed up the real cost of Hansard by a factor of 10. I did a study on that in 1993, and I greatly regret that increase, because that was when the rot set in. I must raise this matter with my good friends in the Treasury, but I believe that Government documents should be available as cheaply as possible.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
I have in my hand Contract 7, which is the Bateson and Harris report. It is particularly relevant, and follows on from the Bateson report. I am not sure whether the Home Secretary has had a chance to read Contract 7. I would be surprised if he had, because it is a substantial, 100-page document. 527 Yet it is not in the report: it is on the CD ROM. That reinforces the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). It is an extremely germane document for those interested in the welfare of hunted animals. It has been published in a modern way, and I am not sure whether there is a printed version. I can see those in the official Box shaking their heads, which gives me the answer. There is no printed version available at any price
I inquired about this CD ROM last night, and the Library was not too confident about how to use it, but they switched on to the Home Office website which contains the Burns report, and it was printed out, which was helpful. As my right hon. Friend said, if people are not plugged into the computer—many of my constituents on Exmoor are not computer literate—they will have no access to the report.
§ Mr. Straw
I shall consider whether a printed version can be made available. There is no perfect way of doing this, but Lord Burns was very concerned to ensure that the process and the product of his inquiry should be open. We have done our best to make it available using information technology. I realise that not all my constituents or those of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) are plugged into the internet or, even if they are, know how to use it, which is a difficulty for anyone over a certain age, but people have access to public libraries, which are all plugged in, and we are doing much to improve the public library system.
As the report details, hunting takes many forms. Topography, geography and farming activities in hunting areas—which all have an influence—vary greatly.
Right hon. and hon. Members will note from chapter 2 of the report the number of registered hunts for each type of hunting, the number of occasions on which they meet and their estimated number of followers. The inquiry was not able to quantify accurately how much hunting takes place informally, but considered that it is likely to be extensive. Though a minority pastime, hunting has a significant following.
The report found, not surprisingly, that farmers and landowners are at the heart of the activity. They benefit from pest control, and believe that they best understand the needs of the countryside. Although the inquiry was in no doubt that a few people hunt, often illegally, simply because they enjoy using their dogs to kill animals, it said that most enjoy hunting for a variety of other reasons. Some like riding horses, some like watching hounds work, and some enjoy the social life associated with it. Others appreciate the benefits that hunting brings to the rural economy.
§ Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will touch on drag hunting, because the report says that as a result of a ban there will not be an upsurge in drag hunting: it will not change materially or experience any major increase. As a former master of drag hounds, I learned to hunt with drag hounds, not fox hounds. The argument deployed by those opposed to fox hunting that there could easily be a switch to drag hunting is totally fallacious, because drag hunting is more akin to point-to-point racing or the grand national on occasions.
§ Mr. Straw
I take the hon. Gentleman's point, and I hope that he is able to make it in his speech. I was not 528 going to touch on every aspect of the report, because I would be here until 2 o'clock if I did, but Members can make their points as they wish.
The likely consequences for employment and the rural economy of a ban on hunting were a major subject of inquiry for the committee. Much of the recent debate has focused on the job losses that would result from a ban. The report acknowledges that this has been one of the main planks of the argument put forward by those who oppose a ban. As I told the House in my statement, the report concludes thatbetween 6,000 and 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs presently depend on hunting.I stress that these jobs are the full-time equivalent. The report goes on to state thatthe number of jobs affected will be substantially greater than the full-time equivalent.The report focuses in particular on the effect that a ban on hunting would have on farmers. It reports that many farms operate at a loss and that farmers are the main beneficiaries of the system provided by hunting of pest control and a fallen stock service.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Does the Home Secretary realise that some of the areas in which hunting is most popular, and provides jobs, are also areas that have experienced particularly severe job losses in agriculture? Suggestions that retraining or Government packages could replace the jobs lost in hunting and related spheres cannot be taken seriously.
§ Mr. Straw
The right hon. Gentleman quotes the report accurately. It makes interesting distinctions between the possible effects in lowland areas and those in more remote upland areas. It also suggests that, in the long term—which it defines as seven to 10 years—although the aggregate effect in terms of job losses is likely to be very small, that aggregate would obscure effects in particular communities.
The issues of cruelty and animal welfare have been crucial to the debate, and are central to the report. Chapter 6 discusses in detail the animal issues associated with hunting and other methods of pest control. The report gives the best evidence yet about the populations of the species, and mortality rates. It estimates that about 400,000 foxes die each year, and that the fox population varies during any year from about 200,000 in the pre-breeding season to three times that number in the post-breeding season.
The committee found that, although not everyone accepts that it is necessary to manage the fox population, the great majority of land managers take that view. Culling is considered to be a substantial factor in the maintaining of a stable population. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) mentioned differences in different areas. Studies showed that, while hunting and terrier work accounted for the killing of 14 per cent. and 27 per cent. of foxes respectively in west Norfolk and the east midlands, it was as high as 70 per cent. in upland areas of Wales.
The report found that there was virtually unanimous agreement that, if a stable deer population was to be maintained, about 1,000 deer needed to be culled in the 529 areas of Devon and Somerset that are covered by deer hunts, mainly because of damage to agriculture, forestry and conservation interests.
§ Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North)
The issues dealt with in the report are not of concern only to members of rural communities. In my London constituency, I have received nearly 300 letters about hunting with dogs. I have found that people throughout the country are very concerned about animal welfare issues, and want this awful practice to be banned.
§ Mr. Straw
I know that the issue is hotly contested, in both rural and urban areas. It is crucial for us to understand that there is not an iron curtain between town and country. The town depends on the country, and the country depends on the town. What makes up our society is a mixture of the two.
I know my hon. Friend's constituency well. It is overwhelmingly urban, but according to my recollection of many bus rides down the Southend arterial road, there are still some farms in the area. Although my constituency is very urban, it contains a large ward that is entirely in upland areas and contains mostly farms and sheep. It has only a small population. Nearly all of us have responsibilities to both town and country.
§ Mr. Leigh
The report suggests that a middle way may be emerging. It suggests that the areas in which hunting takes place should be restricted, and that there should be restrictions in regard to cubbing, stopping earths and terrier work. Although the authors make it clear that they have not reached a conclusion, such a middle way might appeal to many people. Does it appeal to the Home Secretary?
§ Mr. Straw
I never thought that I would live to see the day when the hon. Gentleman expressed approbation for a middle way. It shows the power of the idea.
The hon. Gentleman's suggestion is certainly one of the options in the report. Obviously the issue arouses strong views among some people, although, while I have strong views about a wide range of issues, I have never had strong views on hunting during my time as a Member of Parliament. Others must reach their own conclusions, but I intend to wait until the options are clearly identified and then, if it is appropriate, offer the House my personal view.
One of the report's key conclusions appears in chapter 6, which deals with the assessment of the welfare of animals that are hunted. It compares hunting to all other methods of killing, and points out that it must be seen in relative terms. It states:
There is a lack of firm scientific evidence about the effect on the welfare of a fox of being closely pursued, caught and killed above ground by hounds. We are satisfied, nevertheless, that this experience seriously compromises the welfare of the fox.530 The report also finds, however, that all methods of killing raise welfare issues. Chapter 6.61 makes important judgments about the different effects of controlling foxes in lowland and upland areas. It concludes that, in lowland areas, lamping—the use of powerful lamps at night, and the shooting of foxes that are caught by the lamps with high-powered and very accurate rifles—is the most humane method of killing foxes. However, it also states that in upland areas lamping is not possible in practice, and raises the question of whether methods other than the use of dogs are more or less humane.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
Does the Home Secretary think that, in the light of the Government's foolish moves to grant access to all to heath and moorland by night, it is sensible to advocate lamping and the use of high-powered rifles?
§ Mr. Straw
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I shall make some progress. Otherwise I shall detain the House, and myself.
Other matters highlighted in the report would require consideration in the event of a ban. They include the recommendation of training for stalkers, concerns about the increased use of snares and the loss of the fallen stock service provided by hunts, and compensation.
The committee received evidence about a number of practical effects of hunting that gave rise to concern. They include trespass, disruption and disturbance by hunts, concern about the fact that hunting is not open to public scrutiny, the practice of autumn fox hunting, digging out using terriers, and the stopping up of badger setts. Those points are made in chapter 9. Chapter 9.47 points out that England and Wales, unlike most other countries, have no statutory regulation or licensing of hunting. The committee concluded that, in the absence of a ban, those matters should be considered.
§ Mr. Straw
I promise to give way later, if I make some progress. I have already given way many times.
Some of the concerns raised would require legislative action, but it would not be appropriate to deal with them in separate legislation ahead of a Bill on hunting. The relevant hunting bodies will want to consider each concern carefully, and to think about whether any changes to hunt rules could be made to deal with them.
The committee concludes that it is a reasonable assumption that any adverse impact on animal welfare is greater in the case of hunting not undertaken under the auspices and rules of the various hunt associations. Those rules were recently strengthened by the establishment of an independent supervisory authority. The committee suggests, in the absence of a ban, a licensing system to control all forms of hunting.
531 As I made clear in my statement, there will be a Government Bill in the next Session. The Government remain neutral: their role in presenting a Bill is that of a facilitator, enabling Parliament to reach a conclusion. Our task will be to ensure that the Bill is manageable in Parliament, and that it contains workable proposals. We have not reached a final conclusion on the options, not least because we want to hear hon. Members' opinions first. No final decision has been made about the number of options, but I believe that, if the Bill is to be manageable, it should contain no more than a handful of options, reflecting the proposals made by those on all sides of the debate.
I suggest—it is a matter for the House—that the broad options are as follows: to maintain the status quo, which would involve negativing the Bill; a wide-ranging ban along the lines of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster); a more limited ban aimed at restricting the hunting of particular species, or taking account of particular differences in geography, topography and animal welfare; much tighter regulation, for example through the creation of a licensing authority; or the delegation of one or more of those decisions to local communities through local referendums, although the House would wish to take into account the strong recommendation against that option made by the Burns committee.
As the House may be aware, the Welsh Assembly recently passed a Conservative motion to the effect that decisions on hunting in Wales should be the Assembly's prerogative. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and my hon. Friend the First Secretary have advised Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales respectively that hunting is not a devolved issue. They have also explained that any ban would require primary legislation, which is a matter for Parliament. I assure the House that, on that issue, as always, my right hon. Friend and I will continue to discuss with the First Secretary any primary legislation that affects Wales.
The 40 Welsh Members of Parliament are as representative of Wales as the 60 Assembly Members, and I am sure that their voices will be heard during the passage of the forthcoming Bill. As I said in my statement to the House on 12 June, hon. Members will be free to table amendments proposing that decisions on the matter should be taken by the National Assembly for Wales. However, the Government position is that the matter has not been transferred to the Assembly, and is therefore the responsibility of this House.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)
The Home Secretary will be aware that I tabled a written question, which was answered yesterday, asking him what estimate he had made of the number of extra firearms licences that would be needed for lamping foxes at night; what implications there would be for safety; and what compensation provisions the Bill would contain. I had a rather unsatisfactory reply from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien)—who is on the Treasury Bench—which stated:The consequences of a ban on hunting with dogs will be considered as the legislative options for a Hunting Bill are drawn up.—[Official Report, 6 July 2000; Vol. 353, c. 301W.]532 Could the Home Secretary tell me when I will receive a proper reply to my questions, and when he will properly consider all those questions? Will he deal with them in good time so that, when a Bill is published, hunting folk can know exactly what to expect?
§ Mr. Straw
I think that the hon. Gentleman is being rather ungracious about that. The Home Office goes to very considerable lengths to provide as much information as possible to all right hon. and hon. Members who ask questions. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who answered that question, tells me that we do not have that information or estimate now. However, we shall do our best to get it as the debates unfold. The legislation will not be before the House until after the end of this Session.
The proposed options will, of course, be susceptible to amendment as the Bill makes progress. In framing alternatives, we shall certainly take into account the concerns that were expressed by various hon. Members, and reflected in the report, with the idea of different regimes applying as between upland and lowland areas.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is beside me on the Treasury Bench, has held meetings with the main umbrella organisations—Deadline 2000, the Countryside Alliance and representatives of the Middle Way group, which. involves the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff).
§ Mr. Straw
Yes—and my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has asked the umbrella organisations to present proposals later this month. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that should any of the hon. Members just mentioned be fortunate enough to catch your eye, they will tell the House the rationale behind their proposals.
The Government will not be committed to any particular option for reform. As we have made it clear, we shall give Parliament the opportunity to vote on the merits of all the main options. All Labour Members, including Ministers, will have a free vote on all options.
§ Mr. Straw
I am going to conclude; I am sorry.
It is too early to be precise about the procedural mechanisms for such a Bill. However, as I have already indicated, we believe that it should follow the model that was used for the Sunday Trading Act 1994. For that legislation, the then Government ensured that this House could choose between options for reform, and that, when the legislation proceeded to the other place, arrangements were made for the same choice between options to be made available there. Although that legislation was delivered to the other place in the form decided in votes by this place, the Government tabled in the other place the options that were available to this place.
As we all know, discussion of hunting is often characterised by strongly held views. Those who are opposed to it often focus solely on the welfare of individual animals, whereas the hunting community have often argued their case from the standpoint of the activity 533 as part of an integrated social, economic and environmental management system. The report deals with those apparently irreconcilable differences by carefully and independently analysing each separate issue. I believe that it is evident that the report has gone a considerable way towards achieving a wider agreement about the analysis of the issues.
What the report does not do is to arrive at any overall conclusion on the value of hunting or the implications of a ban. It is up to each right hon. and hon. Member to reach a conclusion on that matter. In so doing, I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to consider the report as a whole. It is a valuable document, and I thoroughly commend it to the House.
§ 10.6 am
§ Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)
I should first like to express to the House my apologies—which I have already communicated to Ministers and to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)—for the fact that, like the Home Secretary, I shall have to leave before the conclusion of the debate. However, I shall, of course, study the Hansard reports of the speeches that I shall be unable to hear in person.
Also like the Home Secretary, I pay tribute to the work done by Lord Burns and his team. They were clearly given a difficult, complicated and controversial task and a tight time scale within which to complete it. It is a tribute to the thoroughness and impartiality with which they set about that task that, by and large, their bona fides have been accepted by partisans on both sides of the debate.
At one stage, Lord Burns and one of his colleagues visited my constituency, to visit the hunt kennels of the Old Berkeley Beagles. From talking to constituents who met him, his team and the observers from the campaigning organisations on each side of the argument, I know that my constituents were impressed by the courtesy and thoroughness of the questioning and by the serious approach that Lord Burns and his colleagues brought to their inquiry.
The report discussed numerous issues, such as the relationship between hunting and conservation, the economic impact that a ban would have, particularly on upland rural areas, and hunting's social and cultural importance in some of the country's most remote rural districts. I should like to deal first, however, with what I regard as the central issue of the debate: the conflict between two principles, each of which is admirable and important—individual liberty, and the improvement of animal welfare and the prevention of cruelty.
Ultimately, the judgment that each hon. Member will have to make in a free vote will depend mainly on how we deal with the tension between those two principles. My view, having studied the Burns report, remains that the principle of civil liberty and individual choice should be overturned by legislative actions only if there is an overwhelming case in favour of such Government intervention. I believe that the evidence presented by the committee of inquiry, far from providing evidence that such an overwhelming case exists, leads one to conclude that there are very good reasons why, in this debate, we should indeed prefer the cause of individual liberty.
534 Even those who argue for a ban generally concede that, by its very nature, a ban generally amounts to a serious intrusion by government and legislative action into individual freedom. One thing that comes through in the report is that many of our fellow citizens—even though they are in a minority—enjoy hunting, as participants or spectators. The statistics are printed in appendix 7 of the Burns report on page 203. About 27,500 people are subscribers to hunts and 38,500 are members of hunt supporters' clubs. Elsewhere in the report, the inquiry team draws attention to the fact that far greater numbers of people attend hunt functions, point-to-point events and other social and sporting activities related to hunting, even if they do not participate in hunting in person.
§ Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)
The hon. Gentleman initially argued that the question was a balance between animal welfare and liberty. He now appears to be arguing that the number of people involved is crucial. The logic of that, to take a classic example, would be that bear baiting would be all right if it were popular, but that we could ban it if it were not.
§ Mr. Lidington
An important point of principle would still be at stake if Parliament outlawed a lawful recreation enjoyed by 65 people, let alone more than 65,000. The fact that hunting is a minority activity is not in itself a reason to introduce a statutory ban. Many of those involved in hunting or who support it feel strongly and passionately about their case. Whenever I talk to some of my constituents, such as the Baroness Mallalieu, I realise how passionate is their commitment to hunting, which they regard as having an economic and cultural importance to rural areas, quite apart from the principle of individual freedom which I have discussed.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)
On the widespread support in the country, it is not only a question of numbers and passionate feelings. Is it not the case that every acre in the United Kingdom over which the 150 or so hunts pass is hunted over with the active permission of the farmers who own and farm that land and who strongly support the continuance of hunting?
§ Mr. Lidington
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a powerful point, which I shall develop shortly.
I have never taken part in hunting or felt that I wanted to do so. I do not share the strong and passionate feelings of those who participate in hunting. However, I feel strongly that, in the absence of an overwhelming case for legislative intervention, it is wrong for the state and the law to intervene to stop people participating in activities which at the moment are lawful. The Burns committee draws attention to the issue of civil liberty and individual freedom when it discusses the possible grounds for challenging a statutory ban on the basis of the European convention on human rights which, of course, the Government have incorporated into domestic law. The committee singles out two possible legal grounds on which such action could take place.
Paragraph 10.9 of the report refers to article 8 of the ECHR, which deals withthe right to respect for private and family life.Article 8 states:There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of…535 certain criteria which would justify such legal intervention, includingnational security, public safety,…the economic well-being of the countryandthe protection of health and morals.The committee concludes that there is a debate about the application of article 8 to a possible ban on hunting and states that, at the very least, it is arguable that hunting is a private, not a public, activity as it takes place because individuals choose privately to get together and engage in hunting on privately owned land with the permission of its owners. The committee goes on to argue that a challenge under article 8 would presumably have to be resisted by the supporters of a ban on the grounds that a ban was necessary for the protection of morals. That is quite a problematic argument. and I counsel those who argue strongly for a ban to consider whether their support for that would be compatible with their support for the incorporation of the ECHR.
§ Mr. Beith
Does that not present the Home Secretary with a problem? When the Home Secretary certifies that the Bill is compliant, will he not have to specify the effect of the different options? I hope that the Home Secretary will consider that. Would the hon. Gentleman like to encourage the Home Secretary to reflect on the procedure involved, as the Bill would require a conditional certificate?
§ Mr. Lidington
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point indeed, and I endorse his request to the Home Secretary to make such provision on each of the options that the Government are currently drafting.
§ Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Deadline 2000 presented evidence about the ECHR from an eminent QC?
§ Mr. Lidington
Yes, indeed. The Burns report refers to the different legal opinions that Deadline 2000 and the Countryside Alliance presented to the committee of inquiry. I am struck by the committee's conclusion on page 160 of the report. As always, it uses cautious language, and states:Legislation to ban hunting might be open to challenge under Article 1 Protocol I—which I want to discuss in a moment—and…Article 8 (respect for private life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.Article 1 of the first protocol deals with the right tothe peaceful enjoyment of…possessions.It states:No-one shall be deprived of his possession except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.It goes on to state that those provisionsshall not…impair the right of a state to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.Two points arise from that aspect of the law. First, could restrictions on the use of property such as land and animals—in this case, horses and hounds—be justified as 536 a point of principle under the ECHR? Secondly, if a ban could be justified, could it be enforced in compliance with the ECHR in the absence of compensation for the owners of property for the deprivation of the right to which they were entitled under the convention and the Human Rights Act 1998?
Clearly, the question whether there could be an effective challenge brings us either to an argument of principle or to a legal argument relating to the Human Rights Act and whether a ban could be demonstrated to be justifiable on the grounds that it was necessary to prevent cruelty to animals. Burns addressed that point directly. In the context of human rights legislation, he asked whether legislators could point to unnecessary suffering or some other reference point beyond mere disapproval to reflect the general interest.
The central argument of those who support a ban is that hunting inevitably involves cruelty, and that the need to end that cruelty outweighs the restriction on individual freedom. The Burns committee chose its words carefully when it concluded that hunting with houndsseriously compromises the welfare of the fox.By extension, therefore, the implication is that it would seriously compromise the welfare of any hunted animal.
However, the committee added that the question of hunting with hounds should not be considered in isolation. I have never heard it argued in any debate that foxes or any of the other quarry species should be protected by law. The assumption, even among ardent supporters of a ban, is that some methods of control, culling or wildlife management would still be needed. People do not argue that foxes should enjoy the legal protection granted to badgers, for example.
§ Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)
Another question has to do with what a natural death for foxes in the wild consists of. Some hon. Members seem to believe that elderly foxes go into retirement care homes. Life in the wild can be unpleasant, even without hunting.
§ Mr. Lidington
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Foxes do not go to retirement homes, and they are not taken to the vets to be put to sleep when they hit old age or are injured in the wild.
The Burns report makes it clear that arguments about alleged cruelty caused by hunting must be considered alongside an assessment of the alleged cruelty intrinsic to other methods of animal control. It states thatthe welfare of animals which are hunted should be compared with the welfare which, on a realistic assessment, would be likely to result from the legal methods used by farmers and others to manage the population of these animals in the event of a ban on hunting.I submit that any method of control that results in death should be considered to "seriously compromise the welfare" of the animal concerned.
The report deals with other methods of control. Several of my hon. Friends have referred to lamping, which is the method that the committee appears to prefer. The inquiry reported that, in many areas of the country, lamping would be neither feasible nor safe.
The inquiry team also discussed shooting with shotguns, snaring, and trapping, and it referred in passing to the poisoning or gassing of animals. It is currently illegal to gas or poison foxes, although the Government have a gassing programme for badgers.
§ Mr. Luff
The National Farmers Union sent a letter to Members of Parliament this week, in which it stated:Effective and humane lamping requires a level of expertise which is in short supply; moreover there is increasing evidence of it becoming less effective due to foxes becoming "lamp-shy".It is therefore wrong to regard lamping as some sort of panacea.
§ Mr. Lidington
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The inquiry concluded:None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective.It is difficult to shoot a fox accurately without wounding it, and snares and traps may affect species other than the quarry species that landowners want to control. Most reasonable people would appreciate that other methods of control are no less cruel and inflict no less damage to animal welfare than hunting with hounds.
I would go further. I think that the Burns report's discussion of animal welfare gives too little weight to the fact that, because hunting exists, many farmers and landowners tolerate the presence on their land of foxes—and deer—in much greater numbers than they would otherwise allow. Burns acknowledged that when he concluded that a ban on deer hunting would make an alternative system for culling on Exmoor and in the Quantocks essential and urgent. He also recognised that getting agreement from local farmers and landowners to such a culling programme would probably be very difficult to achieve, and that considerable resentment would be aroused if deer hunting with hounds were to be banned.
§ Mr. Robathan
We hear a great deal about how much more effective and humane shooting would be. I suspect that, given my previous career, I have fired more bullets from rifles than any hon. Member currently in the Chamber. My aim was sometimes accurate, and sometimes not. What is certain is that there is no certainty that one will hit the target at which one shoots. I have also shot many animals, with mixed success. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), who is rabbiting on behind me, may have missed the odd target from time to time.
§ Mr. Lidington
Some people who support a ban find it difficult to accept that Conservative Members who take part in various field sports, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), speak from experience about alternative forms of control.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
Given what the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) said, does the hon. Gentleman think that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) should feel a little worried about being compared with a rabbit?
§ Mr. Lidington
Perhaps I should not have accepted that intervention. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman should remember that we are debating a possible ban on hunting in England and Wales. He might prefer to make representations about this matter in respect of his constituency to the Scottish Parliament.
The Government must answer a number of questions when they come to frame the Bill for inclusion in the Queen's Speech this autumn. A number of hon. Members 538 have mentioned the economic impact of a ban. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed pointed out that the economic impact would be felt disproportionately in the most remote areas of England and Wales—and especially in remote upland areas, where the crisis facing agriculture is greatest, and where it is hard to see how alternative forms of employment could be provided.
§ Mr. Lidington
My hon. Friend makes his point. It is clear from the Burns report that the loss of jobs is a burden that would fall especially hard on the remoter upland areas, precisely because alternative employment is rare and because the interconnection between agriculture, hunting and other forms of economic activity is more intricate and delicate in those areas.
I hope that, when the Government introduce their Bill, they will say how, if at all, they plan to assist those people and parts of country that would be most hard hit if a ban were enacted by Parliament. I hope, too, that the Government will make it clear how they intend to help farmers to replace the fallen stock service that hunt kennels currently provide. On the evidence presented in the Burns report, the 200 hunts that were surveyed dealt with 336,000 carcases. Every sector of farming is facing deep recession, so it will be hard for farmers to shoulder the burden of additional charges for the disposal of fallen stock, quite apart from the animal welfare implications involved if farmers have to send injured stock long distances so that they can be disposed of humanely at a distant abattoir.
I am conscious of the fact that many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to take part in the debate.
§ Mr. Paterson
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful if the Government were to provide a schedule not only of the costs of compensation and the fallen stock service, but of the estimated costs of the extra policemen and, possibly, prison space that will be required, given that resistance to such a measure will be massive?
§ Mr. Lidington
It would be interesting if the Home Secretary were to make available to the House as background information for our debates on the Bill the representations made to him by the Association of Chief Police Officers about the challenge that the police would face in implementing any ban. Again, attention is drawn to that point in the Burns report.
I believe that this thorough report makes no case whatever for a ban on hunting with hounds. On the contrary, I argue that running right through the report is evidence to show that hunting plays an important part in rural areas and that the harm to animal welfare of alternative methods of control would be at least as great if hunting were abolished by law. I hope that those hon. Members who have campaigned and argued for a statutory ban will not just pay lip service to the report, but will weigh its evidence and learn from its conclusions.
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
I apologise to the House because, unfortunately, I will not be able to stay for the entire debate. I have to go to Exeter to attend Labour's national policy forum, where we are forging the policies that will take us into our second term. One of those policies will not be a ban on hunting with hounds because the issue will be resolved in this Parliament. That is the reason why I have publicly congratulated my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on giving a commitment to introduce a Government Bill in November. There will be a free vote on a multi-option Bill, which will put the issue to bed at long last.
Burns has produced a good report, packed solid with facts and figures on hunting with dogs, but of course it does not touch on the ethnical dimension, which was outside the Burns committee's terms of reference. That is unfortunate because many people believe, as I do, that it is repulsive to kill animals for fun. That is what we are talking about.
§ Mr. Prentice
That is so predictable.
A couple of years ago, during the debate on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), Polly Toynbee wrote an article entitled "Labour should go to earth on fox-hunting". She was against Labour introducing a ban, but she said:Fox-hunters are not pest-control exterminators on horseback nor a mounted job-creation scheme. They are people out enjoying themselves.Their best argument is that hunting is fun. Many people go hunting because they enjoy it. There is a difference of opinion on the ethical position, I think that killing a wild mammal for fun is repellant, but the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) disagrees with me.
§ Mr. Prentice
I shall not give way for the moment.
The key conclusion in the Burns report is that hunting with dogs compromises the welfare of the hunted animal. It is cruel. Deadline 2000—the umbrella organisation that includes blue chip animal welfare organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—endorses the view expressed in the Burns report that the central issue is that the killing of foxes and other animals is cruel. The formulation used in the Burns report is that the welfare of the hunted animals is "seriously compromised," which, in effect, means that it is cruel.
§ Mr. Prentice
Not for the moment, no.
540 The issue is not one of town versus country, nor of Labour versus the Conservatives. I visited the Burns website this morning and read the evidence that had been submitted to Burns from the Conservative Anti Hunt Council. I do not know whether the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), is a member, but, Mr. Deputy Speaker, your distinguished predecessor in the previous Parliament, Dame Janet Fookes, is a member of that council. The man who was the standard bearer in the London mayoral elections, Steven Norris—a prominent Conservative—is leading member of that council. In fact, he is a vice-president. Other Conservative luminaries are members, including the stargazer, Dr. Patrick Moore, and the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). Many Conservatives believe, as I do, that hunting is cruel and should be banned. The issue is not about Labour versus the Conservatives, nor the town versus the country; it is about cruelty and killing for fun.
§ Mr. Prentice
Not for the moment.
When I was minded to table my amendment to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, I received lots of letters from people all over the country on this issue—80 per cent. in favour of an outright ban and 20 per cent. very hostile.
§ Mr. Prentice
Not for the moment.
I received a charming letter from a shepherd, although those who believe the propaganda might think that if anyone would be hostile to people such as me it would be a shepherd—someone who cares for his flock. However, he is ashepherd, a countryman, and I know exactly what these sadists do…to think that people make a living on the torture of animals is obscene.I think that it is brutalising.
There was a demonstration in Parliament square a fortnight ago when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made his statement. I went out to see what was happening, and came back here to call the demonstrators a rabble. Two men positioned themselves directly behind me and from them came a constant stream of vitriol. I would not engage them in conversation nor would I move. I received a stream of abuse. Killing animals for fun and engaging in systematic cruelty brutalises people.
§ Mr. Prentice
Not for the moment.
I have a letter here that says, "You stinking little rat." It comes from Christopher Baker of Broad Oak House, Odiham, Hampshire.
§ Mr. Prentice
It is 01256 702482. Mr. Baker says: GO TO HELL.May you rot.That is what we are dealing with. People feel very strongly about these things.
§ Mr. Luff
It should be made clear that Members on both sides of the House have been sent abusive letters on this subject. I have received some of the most upsetting correspondence that I have ever had, damning me and my family to hell for daring to propose a compromise. It is not right for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that the traffic is one way.
§ Mr. Prentice
I do not resile from what I have said. Today, the Countryside Alliance is demonstrating outside my constituency office. Members would not necessarily wish that on my staff.
§ Mr. Garnier
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he agree that rather than rehearsing some of the abusive correspondence that he has no doubt received, it would be far better for us all if he and I agreed that there should be a much more relaxed and rational debate about access and field sports, which is what we agreed while sipping champagne on a first-class aeroplane journey to Korea not long ago?
§ Mr. Prentice
At least the hon. and learned Gentleman did not revisit the cost of the Burns report, which is a relief.
I am concerned about the understated threat that there will be a reaction if Parliament is minded to legislate to ban cruelty and killing for fun. A correspondent got in touch to say:The Poll tax unrest was nothing compared to what is now going to happen.To people who write such letters, I say that the House is the democratic forum of the nation. If we decide that the law is to change, people will just have to accept the fact and move on. In that respect, I shall refer to correspondence from the master of my own fox hunt in Pendle.
I do not represent an urban constituency, and in the northern part of my area there is a hunt, which runs over the border in Ribble Valley. The master wrote to me last month in measured terms, saying that were Parliament to ban hunting with hounds, that would have a devastating effect on the countryside—as if I do not live there; as if I do not hold surgeries there week in, week out; and as if I do not speak to people in the countryside. The master tells me that there would be problems in the countryside and that a ban would be an economic catastrophe. The whole thing is completely fanciful.
The master says thatthe Hunt acts as an important social base for farming communities542 and refers to "dances and social evenings". That may be so, but it can still have its dances and social evenings without those being linked to cruelty and killing for fun. There is a big drag hunt in Cheshire and I am sure that it holds social evenings and dances. People can dance the night away, but that need not be connected with killing for fun. In his last paragraph, Mr. Bannister echoes the previous letter that I read to the House. He tells me:There is considerable unrest in the countryside and it would be very sad if hunting were abolished by law.Here is the vision of "Apocalypse Now":This could see the countryside on the march again, where some one million people would certainly descend on London and the police would have an incredibly difficult job of policing the countryside where there could be a possibility of thousands of law abiding citizens breaking the law for the first time.When I read that letter, I wondered what my reaction would have been 15 years ago had I received from the president of a miners lodge in Nottinghamshire a letter written in such terms saying that the miners would be on the march against the Thatcher Government, that a million people would descend on London and all havoc would be let loose. There would have been an incredible reaction.
To Mr. Bannister and those who think like him, including Opposition Members, I say that I am relieved that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have decided to introduce a Government Bill that will not put anyone in a corner. A multi-option Bill will accommodate the views of Liberal Democrat Members and some of my hon. Friends as well. I believe that that is the way forward and I wish the Bill well.
§ Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)
I owe the Minister an apology. I fear that he might be a lonely man when he makes his winding-up speech, as I am afraid that I, too, am unable to stay. He faces the awful prospect of speaking to an empty House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Unfortunately, the occupant of the Chair is not always aware of the detailed plans of every Member of the House.
§ Mr. Soames
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will be here to the very end. May I be advanced accordingly?
§ Mr. King
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) will stay to the end and longer.
The Home Secretary rightly said that this will be the 15th debate on hunting in 20 years. I have taken part in almost all those debates, and I have heard too many 543 speeches like that by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). We owe it to Lord Burns and his report to discuss the matter more sensibly and with rather more insight, instead of speaking from entrenched positions and expressing entrenched views. As far as the hon. Member for Pendle is concerned, the Burns report might as well not have been produced. In the past, we had what could be described as a dialogue of the deaf. We knew before the debate started what people would say and, to put it bluntly, there was considerable ignorance about a number of the issues involved.
In his foreword to the report, Lord Burns makes the point that the issue is not simple; it is not a simple matter of cruelty and killing for fun. In some parts of my constituency, hunting is an extremely important and significant issue. Burns and his colleagues identified that in the report. However, in other parts of my constituency, there are people who write exactly the sort of letters that the hon. Member for Pendle referred to. They are appalled, disgusted and sometimes very irritated by the behaviour of the hunt and the conduct of its supporters on occasions. I am familiar with the issues on both sides.
Now there is no excuse for anyone to speak from ignorance, because the Burns report makes an important contribution to the debate. I trust that anyone involved with the issue in future will make themselves familiar with it. I welcome the report. I pay tribute to Lord Burns and his colleagues and I am grateful for the time that they spent on it. Part of Exmoor is in my constituency and, although I do not think that this is a reflection on the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard), the boundary commission is now proposing to transfer the rest of Exmoor from her constituency to mine. That may be a coincidence, but I do not think that the people of Exmoor will fight passionately to keep the hon. Lady as their Member of Parliament in future.
Turning to the Burns report and its appendices, I do not think that the hon. Member for Pendle has read Contract 7, which appears in one of the appendices. It is available only on CD-ROM. I understand that in the interests of speed in producing the report, there has to be a whole series of additional volumes. God knows what the report would have cost otherwise. However, I understand that public libraries will provide photocopies of 100 pages, if necessary. The seventh contract is the research contract for Sir Patrick Bateson and Professor Harris. My point is that the material is now available to enable people to talk with rather more knowledge and information.
I shall concentrate on two issues of particular significance in my constituency—stag hunting and the hunting of deer. I shall leave others to address fox hunting. I add in passing that Lord Burns and his colleagues dealt with two issues very usefully. The first is the silly argument about drag hunting that has come up before; it has been difficult to explain to some hon. Members why drag hunting is not an alternative, and it is sometimes proposed as if it were a way out. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has referred to that. Secondly, Burns addressed the silly and rather offensive argument that people go hunting to kill for pleasure.
The Burns report acknowledges that hunting is a minority pursuit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) made clear from the Front Bench, there is nothing wrong with that. Burns makes it clear from the start that if the majority want to make 544 any changes, the onus is on them to determine their entitlement and the grounds on which to take what in many circumstances any democratic society would consider an unacceptable step. The majority have a duty to the minority, especially given that in this case a huge number of that majority are totally uninformed about the issues and the facts.
As the Burns report made clear, in certain areas hunting is a majority pursuit that commands majority support. The following quotation from paragraph 4.43 of the report relates particularly to my constituency. It states:support for hunting and a belief in its importance to individuals and the community, is substantially greater for residents and interviewees in the Devon and Somerset study area…For example, a half of all respondents in the Devon and Somerset study area thought that hunting was very important or fairly important to their daily lives.The hon. Member for Pendle made some rather flippant comments about whist drives and dances.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a long-held tradition of the House that an Member who makes a speech should stay in the Chamber at least to hear the following speech, instead of leaving after five minutes?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is indeed understood that when an hon. Member has addressed the House it is normal for him to remain at least to hear the next speech.
§ Mr. King
Paragraph 4.54 of the report states: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.I have tried to make that point in the House on previous occasions. It is a conclusion of Lord Burns and his colleagues in their report, and they are absolutely right.
§ Mr. Soames
I have heard my right hon. Friend make this point before, but I had not previously seen it for myself until this year when I went down to visit the Devon and Somerset staghounds. One gets some idea from being there and seeing it that hunting is one of the most important aspects of their lives for hundreds of people for whom there is very little else in that part of the world, and for whom the hunt truly provides a framework for their lives.
§ Mr. King
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are talking about a whole lot of people, many of whom do not hunt and are not involved in the hunt in any way, but for whom it provides a framework for community life. It is important to understand that the issue is more complex and difficult than one would think from the simplistic comments that we have heard from the hon. Member for Pendle.
The Burns report refers briefly to the history of stag hunting. The Devon and Somerset stag hunts were formed in 1855—150 years ago—because of concern at the virtual disappearance of the herd of deer on Exmoor. 545 At that time there were thought to be fewer than 100 deer on Exmoor. Since hunting was introduced and the deer management system, of which hunting is a key integral part, the deer population has increased. There is a considerable spread in the estimated numbers. The figure given by the staghounds on their best count from visual observation was about 2,500, but the Langbein study on dung deposits produced a figure of between 3,000 and 6,000. Whatever the figure, it is clearly a herd in very good health that is well cared for under a deer management strategy that has ensured the survival of the deer—which, as I have often said in the House, have not survived as well in almost any other constituency in the country.
Lloyd George, in 1917, was concerned about the virtual disappearance of stags from the deer herd in the Quantocks. The Quantock stag hounds was established then and the deer management system was developed, and now there is an extremely healthy herd of between 700 and 800 stags. The deer are enormously valued. They are valuable for tourism, and people who do not want to hunt come to see them. The deer do not hide for fear of being shot at any moment. Every year, 1,000—Lord Burns confirms the figure—are either killed on the road or culled. That keeps the deer population in balance and protects their environment from being destroyed by the deer themselves. Most are culled by shooting and some by hunting.
Paragraph 5.75 of the Burns report says:It is generally accepted that red deer numbers in Devon and Somerset need to be controlled. Hunting with dogs presently accounts for about 15 per cent. of the annual cull needed to maintain the population at its present level. However, because of the widespread support which it enjoys, and consequent tolerance by farmers of deer, hunting at present makes a significant contribution to management of the deer population in this area. In the event of a ban, some overall reduction in total deer numbers might occur unless an effective deer management strategy was implemented, which was capable of promoting the present collective interest in the management of deer and harnessing such interest into sound conservation management.That, far more lucidly than I could have expressed it, is precisely the argument that I have put to the House. We must maintain the community of interest of the people who live in Exmoor and the Quantocks, with the farmers and country people, the conservationists, the deer societies, the Exmoor Society, the Exmoor national park, the Quantock rangers and the Countryside Commission, all of which contribute to a complicated and subtle, but proven, system of deer management, which has led to the establishment and maintenance of those wonderful herds. An ill-thought-out ban, imposed in the absence of any alternative deer management strategy, would put at risk the very survival of the deer. That is the implicit concern in the Burns report.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)
If one wants to ensure that there is an adequate stock of deer, of course deer management schemes are absolutely necessary—they are there to provide good quarry—but how does the right hon. Gentleman explain the fact that there are good thriving herds of deer in Scotland, where, as I understand it, there is no deer hunting?
§ Mr. King
The problem in Scotland is entirely different. It is partly a matter of terrain. I have stalked in 546 the great open hills of Scotland. Coping with deer management in the wooded combes of Exmoor and the woods and plantations of the Quantock hills is an entirely different problem.
There has to be culling, and most of it is done by rifle, but it is not easy. This is supposed to be a joined-up government, but new legislation allows everybody to wander at will at night over heath and moorland, at the same time as the Government are actively promoting more lamping and rifle shooting at night. That is heading for a serious problem.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. We have had sufficient sedentary interventions now. Hon. Members who want to speak must seek to catch my eye later.
§ Mr. King
The key point is that the farmers, in particular the hunting farmers, feed the deer. The Forestry Commission and the National Trust have plantations and woods on the top of the Quantocks. That is where the deer lie up by day. By night, they come off the hills and down to all the 280 farms that are contiguous with the Quantocks. They graze there and in some cases do significant damage. From time to time, a non-hunting farmer comes to me to ask for a night licence to shoot, because 50 deer are standing in his crops.
The tolerance of the community has sustained the deer over the years. A lot of the farmers hunt and support the hunt. The House does not understand the gravity of the crisis and the scale of the depression in farming. The consequences of a ban could be very serious indeed for the deer.
§ Mr. Gray
My right hon. Friend makes a powerful point about a healthy deer population. Does he agree that Lord Burns implies a similar result with regard to foxes, saying that the healthiest populations tend to be in the areas that are most heavily hunted—the west country and the midlands—whereas in East Anglia, where the concentration is exclusively on game shooting and the gamekeepers are very active, there is an extremely unhealthy population of foxes?
§ Mr. King
That is a powerful point, but if my hon. Friend will excuse me, I will not get on to the subject of foxes.
Were the cruelty so great as to be unacceptable, we would have to consider whether, notwithstanding the considerations that I have outlined, the rights of a minority might have to be overridden by the power of a majority. That is why I was so interested to read Contract 7, the research contract attached to the Burns report. I significantly prefer Contract 7 to the earlier, solo version by Professor Bateson, which members of the National Trust council were given 24 hours to read before the meeting at which they decided to ban stag hunting on National Trust property.
547 I did not regard that version as a fair representation of the situation and I am glad that a more measured approach, with more balanced science, was taken in the joint universities study, led by Roger Harris. That study has now been incorporated into the report, and I much prefer Bateson 2 to Bateson 1, as it puts the issues of cruelty and suffering in relation to hunting in a much more balanced context.
There are undoubtedly passions on both sides, but it must be recognised that for the deer of Devon, Exmoor and the Quantocks, a deer management strategy, incorporating hunting, has led to the survival and improvement—nay, restoration—of those wonderful herds. Now that the Burns report is available, the House has no excuse for taking a sudden and impetuous decision, based on emotion and ignorance. Ignorance is no longer possible, because the evidence is available. I hope that people will now understand the issues more clearly.
The report contains a strange phrase about seriously compromising the welfare of an animal. What does shooting do to the welfare of an animal? Shooting has its problems, hunting has its difficulties, and gassing, trapping and snaring have even more. The basis of certainty—which the majority would need to have to take away from the minority the right to pursue a legitimate activity—does not exist. The onus of proof lies on the majority, and that is the challenge. The Burns report has made it clear that that onus of proof is not achievable.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Several hon. Members rose—Before I call the next hon. Member, I recognise that many hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Unless contributions are reasonably brief, several of them will be disappointed.
§ Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)
First, I can tell the House that I intend to be here until the bitter end today. I pay tribute to Lord Burns, who did an invaluable job in informing this important debate. The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) made a point about the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill that I did not understand. People want to walk through the countryside in the daytime in order to see it, so the right hon. Gentleman's point about night-time access is something of a red herring.
It is good to see several members of Standing Committee C, of which I enjoyed being a member of in 1997–98, in their places. My memories of the Committee were reawakened by reading the report of its proceedings in the past few days and by seeing the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) on television yesterday. I managed to continue to disagree with almost everything he said when he was interviewed with my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), except his valid point that the Burns report is now an important document that all hon. Members should consider.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on setting up the Burns Committee, on the way in which it was conducted, and on bringing the matter to the House for debate. I have exchanged correspondence with Mr. John Jackson, the chairman of the Countryside Alliance, who is also the chairman of a company in my constituency. His letter to me of 1 October 1999 states:I gave you my own views on the desirability of an independent public inquiry when we first met. The more I have become involved in all this, and particularly now that we have the Joint Universities548Study, the more I am convinced that this is the right thing to do. The hunting community and others who would be affected by any ban on hunting will follow the lead of the Alliance on this matter. The march at Bournemouth this week—which, for the benefit of the uninitiated, was during the Labour party conference therewas in essence a demand for a public inquiry in support of my own open letter to the Prime Minister.That is clear evidence of the Countryside Alliance's preference. It wanted a public inquiry and the Home Secretary responded positively to that request, although any of us who have been involved in animal welfare for some years had some deep suspicions about the make-up of the Burns committee and what it was set up to do. However, the report allays those suspicions and I share the view that both sides of the argument appear to have reached in favour of accepting the outcome of the Burns committee.
I shall examine three key areas of the committee's report—the control of pests, the rural economy and the question of replacements for hunting, such as drag hunting. The issue of pest control is especially interesting. In the report, the committee reaches several conclusions. On page 89, it states:the overall contribution of traditional foxhunting, within the overall total of control techniques involving dogs, is almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole.It continues:shooting, however, has a much greater capacity to reduce fox populations.It also makes the point that cubbinghas no significant effect on the longer-term population unless it reaches very high levels.
§ Mr. Caplin
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been listening at my office door, but my next point is about the difference between lowland and upland areas, which Burns addresses on page 91.
§ Mr. Garnier
We had many interesting discussions in Standing Committee C, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that Lord Burns—through no fault of his own, but because of the timetable he faced—was not able to take evidence during the cub hunting season in the autumn? He was appointed in December and had to report by June, so much of the evidence that he might have taken was unavailable to him.
§ Mr. Caplin
Lord Burns had plenty of time to complete his inquiry and I do not sense from the report that he needed more time.
I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). The Burns report states:In upland areas, where the fox population causes more damages to sheep-rearing and game management interests, and where there is a greater perceived need for control, fewer alternatives are available to the use of dogs, either to flush out to guns or for digging-out.549 It is obvious that the report takes a rounded approach to the issue of control. The committee advocates the use of dogs to locate foxes and flush them to waiting guns, an issue that we discussed at length in Committee. The report specifically mentions the upland areas of Wales.
When we consider the role of traditional hunting as an efficient method of fox control, and put it into the context of the quotations I have cited from Burns, it is apparent that the effect of hunting is negligible in lowland areas. In upland areas, however, dogs may play an important part. While the use of terriers seriously compromises foxes' welfare, the use of dogs to flush foxes to waiting guns can be humane and effective if properly controlled.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater mentioned deer and stag management, but pest control and management can be oversold. I had hoped that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) would be here, because he could tell the House that the Isle of Wight had no foxes until they were introduced so that they could be hunted.
§ Mr. Swayne
The New Forest lost its buck hounds a couple of years ago. This year, I have received a huge number of representations complaining about the intensity of the deer cull being carried out by the Forestry Commission. The buck hounds never killed many deer, but they did disperse the deer throughout the forest. Now, deer congregate in remoter parts of the forest, precisely where the Forestry Commission does not want them; as a consequence, many more have to be killed.
§ Mr. Caplin
I enjoy driving through the hon. Gentleman's constituency and seeing the wildlife of the New Forest, but I do not make a habit of stopping.
Next, I come to the issues relating to the rural economy, which Lord Burns addressed at some length in chapter 3. In a crucial passage, he says:We estimate that somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs presently depend on hunting, although the number of people involved may be significantly higher.However, he says that it is possible that, in the short term, as few as 700 jobs and a proportion of about 1,500 direct equivalent jobs are supported by hunt-related activities. That is a key part of the report, whichever side of the argument one is on. The Countryside Alliance and those who hunt have advanced the economic argument forcefully for years, but now is the first time that those issues have been properly studied. Lord Burns goes on to say that there might be some long-term impact arising from a ban and that it might take seven to 10 years for diversion of activities.
I started to think about a similar example of an argument about jobs. As the Member of Parliament for a seaside town with a nearby airport and ports, I remembered the odd debate that we had just over two years ago about duty free. We were told by campaigners that 10,000 or 15,000 jobs would be put at risk by the ending of duty free, but what has happened since it was ended? There has been no impact in terms of job losses at Gatwick airport or Newhaven port or anywhere else in Sussex. Sometimes, it is fair to take accusations about job losses with a pinch of salt.
§ Mr. Caplin
We are debating the Burns report and I am drawing out the economic arguments it contains. My 550 point is that the forecast of 15,000 job losses resulting from the ending of duty free has not been realised, and Burns himself concludes that a ban would result in the loss of far fewer jobs than the Countryside Alliance has claimed, and also that they might take time to work through.
§ Mr. Gray
The hon. Gentleman is making light of job losses, which is rather worrying for the 10,000 to 12,000 people who Lord Burns says may be involved in hunting. He lightly dismisses Rover, but think of the fuss in the House when there was the prospect of 5,000 or 6,000 jobs being lost in the west midlands. My goodness, here we face 10,000 to 12,000 jobs being lost in already deprived and remote areas of the countryside, yet the hon. Gentleman makes light of it, saying, "Look what happened in respect of duty free—there's nothing to worry about, chaps." There is a heck of a lot to worry about and there are 10,000 to 12,000 people out there worrying about it right now.
§ Mr. Caplin
First, I did not dismiss the issue of Rover. I have been involved in economic discussions for many years, so the hon. Gentleman is not correct. Secondly, I did not dismiss the hunting job losses—I raised them to draw out Burns's conclusion that, although there is an economic argument to be made, it is not as significant as those who have campaigned to maintain hunting—to maintain the status quo—have claimed. I am using duty free as an example. I accept that we will have to wait and see what happens following a ban, but it strikes me that the economic argument is not as significant as has been claimed.
§ Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Burns inquiry said that direct job losses would number about 700, but that other job losses would be linked to changes in horse riding habits, and that those jobs would not be lost if those habits did not change and people did not reduce the number of horses they kept? Is he also aware that, in a recent poll of horse riders, less than 1 per cent. said that they would reduce the number of horses they kept or their riding activities if hunting with dogs was banned?
§ Mr. Caplin
I am now worried that other colleagues have been listening at my door, because again that is precisely the point that I was about to make. Perhaps the corridor outside my office is full of colleagues listening out for the contents of my next speech.
Last week, a gentleman who holds what I consider to be sensible views on many issues told me that he was worried about a ban on hunting because of the impact it would have on point-to-point and its horses. That is a ludicrous argument, as the statistics cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) demonstrate. It would be helpful if the debate did not get side-tracked into point-to-point, shooting and fishing, which formed no part of Burns inquiry and are not on the agenda.
§ Mr. Paterson
Only yesterday, I received a letter from the British Horseracing Board saying that point-to-point 551 would be reduced by 25 per cent. in the event of a ban on hunting. The turnover of point-to-point is £22 million. There would be a significant loss which is not justified by Burns's conclusions.
§ Mr. Caplin
The hon. Gentleman is aware that I strongly support horse racing: we have a race course in Brighton and a dog track in Hove. However, I do not believe that point-to-point and racing would be affected by a ban.
On the question of whether drag hunting could provide a sufficient replacement for hunting with dogs, I thought that drag hunting was fox hunting without the fox. Burns does not share that view, which is fair. However, he does say that that the sport could be adapted, and that some drag hunts try to duplicate some of the typical hound work and unpredictability of fox hunting. Perhaps the masters of the drag hunt who are not in their places should consider whether that could be a possibility in the longer term.
§ Mr. Luff
That is such a distortion of the Burns report. Let me quote the crucial conclusion: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 of the social life of the countryside arising from a ban on hunting.
§ Mr. Caplin
I accept that, but earlier the report states:There is also possible scope for developing other forms of cross country riding, possibly on a fee-paying basis.My point is that there is an opportunity to develop drag hunting.
I welcome the idea of a Bill with options, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Home Office have proposed. I hope that when the House takes a democratic decision, there will be no interference after the House of Lords has arrived at its conclusions and the democratic will of this House has prevailed, as it should. Ultimately, every individual Member of Parliament has to make up his or her own mind on the issues. Before the general election, I told my constituents in Hove and Portslade that I would support a ban on hunting with hounds. I stood by that statement in the vote in November 1997, and the Burns report has reaffirmed my belief that imposing a ban would be right. In the autumn, it will be time for us to move on and let the House make a necessary final decision.
§ Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to the debate.
To some extent, my speech is a request for feedback from those who unquestionably follow such debates in Hansard. The Middle Way group hopes to act to some extent as a facilitator to those who are not comfortable either with the more traditional position of no change, or with a total ban on hunting with dogs.
Much has been said about the Middle Way group. We have been called the Trojan horse by the League Against Cruel Sports, which says that we are advocates for the status quo. Interestingly, the Countryside Alliance has accused us of being a Trojan horse for those who support a ban. I am encouraged. The Middle Way group has 552 drawn succour from the fact that both sides at times have been suspicious of our motives, but here we stand. I hope that down the years people have become a little more confident that that cross-party organisation is genuinely seeking to find an accommodation that balances the concerns that all hon. Members have, and balances animal welfare considerations with human rights.
§ Dr. Palmer
Just to clarify, the hon. Gentleman refers to the Middle Way group quite grandly as an organisation. How many hon. Members belong to it?
§ Mr. Öpik
We may be small, but we are perfectly formed. Despite accusations that we have received £50,000—I think that that was the figure—from the Countryside Alliance, having done the calculation, we estimate that the entire expenditure of the Middle Way group in the roughly two years of its existence is under £3,000, including room bookings and stationery, so we are a small group. We have enough right hon. and hon. Members and Lords to constitute the organisation, but our resource is our idea. That is what we stand on, although if anyone wishes to make significant contributions to the group, no reasonable offer will be refused.
The goal of the group is straightforward. We aim to put forward proposals that, nominally, at least 80 per cent. of the British population would find reasonable and a sensible way forward. A secondary but necessary step in achieving that leads us to our second goal: to act as the facilitator in the wider debate, if we can. We would like to develop that role, if hon. Members and organisations found that helpful, and perhaps even to promote public debate and public meetings, where all sides were able to put their views forward and the public were able to judge the merit of what was said.
The principles of the Middle Way group are straightforward. First, we seek to balance animal welfare concerns with human rights. Secondly, we believe that fox numbers need to be controlled. I think that all sides agree on that point now. The question, therefore, is not, in the group's view, whether we kill foxes. The question is how best to do it.
Thirdly, we believe that there is a civil liberties issue that must be addressed. Of course it is right to be concerned about welfare of animals, but we believe that sometimes in the debate the animal welfare considerations have overridden concerns that we have had about human rights considerations.
That is a vexed issue. For example, I asked the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) whether he would also ban fishing and shooting. There is no doubt that fishing seriously compromises the welfare of the fish. Again, the hon. Gentleman did not respond to that explicitly. Our view in the Middle Way group is that there is a lack of consistency at times in how some people treat the question of hunting foxes with dogs—proposing a ban—and how they handle other sports which they have explicitly said they would not ban.
§ Mr. Banks
The hon. Gentleman is a perfectly decent fellow. I have heard him use those arguments before about fishing. Perhaps he could tell me the position of the Middle Way group with regard to angling. While he is at it, what is the position of the Middle Way group with 553 regard to hare coursing and deer hunting? He must appreciate that the person who takes the middle way usually gets shot at by both sides.
§ Mr. Öpik
I am sure that that is not an implied threat by the hon. Gentleman, who I do not believe has a gun licence, I am relieved to say. The Middle Way group's position is clear. We do not seek to stray beyond the question of fox hunting at this stage. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to ask that question, but the reason why we have restricted ourselves, for now at least, to fox hunting is not that we do not have personal views—I do have personal views, which I have privately shared with him and others; I am not worried about doing that—but that the group is limited in its resources, and the key issue facing the House at the moment is fox hunting. As we get feedback, which I hope we will do, and as the debate evolves, it may be constructive to discuss the issues relating to hare coursing, and deer and stag hunting, as the Burns inquiry does. Perhaps that is the right way forward, but in this brief speech I would not wish to go that far. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, even if he is a bit frustrated by my answer, at least acknowledges its sincerity.
The reason why I mentioned fishing is that we are concerned that there is consistency in how we handle all the issues. I have made that point; I do not wish to repeat it. It is worth bearing it in mind that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has determined that, in its judgment, fish do feel pain, so the issues that we are discussing with regard to fox hunting could be validly applied to fishing, too.
The final principle by which we operate is a belief that dialogue will improve the outcome of our debate as a whole. We work on the assumption that, if we enter a genuine dialogue, listen, and use the Lord Burns report as our biblical guide to the debate, the sum total of the legislation that we produce will make more sense and will be regarded as fair by the public, even if, at this point, there are still entrenched views on the matter.
It is worth stating that the Middle Way group was one of the first to call for an inquiry last year. We were glad when the Government were clearly thinking along the same lines. In that context the group said that we would respect and honour our commitment to take the inquiry's position as an objective input, and that therefore, even if some of the outcomes were not what we would have wished, we would use them as a starting point. On that basis, I am encouraged to hear what the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin) has said. He too is illustrating that people who have had strong views on the subject are beginning to think about it in a more informed and objective fashion. I praise him—I had lots of exchanges with him on Standing Committee C—for seriously and constructively entering the debate.
The Middle Way group has looked at the Burns inquiry. There are some clear implications. I do not wish to go into those in any detail because other hon. Members will unquestionably explore them further. If the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he may do so, but it is interesting to note the recognition that practice varies widely between, for example, upland and lowland areas, and that hunting with dogs is a significant form of fox control in 554 many upland areas, including mid-Wales. It is also interesting that guns are not a surefire way to dispatch foxes. There are cases of foxes being wounded. That could be regarded in some ways as more compromising than killing a fox outright with dogs. Other arguments have already been advanced—I do not wish to repeat them—with regard to economic considerations.
The Middle Way group has tried to include all that in its deliberations. I should like to lay out what we believe should be the way forward. We will make the submission to the Government in the hope that it is constructive to the debate. Any hon. Member or member of the public who wishes to examine our proposals in detail will be most welcome to contact us. We will do our best to supply the information that they need.
In one sentence, the Middle Way group's proposal is to set up a statutory independent hunting authority, known as Offox, with the power to regulate fox hunting and fox control with a series of regular—
§ Mr. Öpik
I knew that I would regret calling it Offox here, but there we go. I hope that the name sticks.
It would have a series of inspectors who could drop in unannounced to any of the fox hunts throughout the country to ensure that standards of welfare and procedure were in line with the code of practice. The whole thing would be paid for through a licensing system. Our intention would be that it cost the taxpayer nothing.
§ Mr. Gray
Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that there is a curious omission from the Burns report? It talks briefly about licensing, but then says that there are no examples in this country of licensing of fox hunts, ignoring the fact that the Government themselves license 25 packs that hunt on Ministry of Defence land and 100 or so packs that hunt on Forestry Commission land. Would that not be a good exemplar to use in the possible licensing regime that he describes?
§ Mr. Öpik
That is the case. I interpreted Lord Burns as saying that there was no nationally established formal and statutory licensing system. As the hon. Gentleman says, however, there are local examples and the industry has made efforts at self-regulation. There are established licensing procedures in other countries, and other hon. Members may wish to expound those.
In giving a little more detail on the Middle Way group's proposals, I shall highlight the areas in which we should most welcome feedback from the public or from hon. Members.
First, there are two choices on the make-up of the independent hunting authority. We could take the approach exemplified by the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, in which people explicitly aligned with one or other side of the debate are appointed according to quotas that ensure a consensual way forward. If that can be done in the vexed political environment that used to exist in Northern Ireland, it can surely be done in a hunting authority.
Alternatively, we could have a regulator with no personal interest in or stated concern about the subject. He or she could invite contributions and make an objective 555 analysis. Both options are viable, and we shall make a decision on where we stand during the next two weeks. All contributions on the matter are welcome.
The next point at issue concerns who would create the code of practice. We believe that the Government should provide a steer on aspects of the code such as hunting with dogs, and the many other possible ways of dispatching foxes. The details, however, should be developed by the independent hunting authority, perhaps after informal liaison with the Home Secretary.
What should the code cover? We think that it should involve all forms of hunting, including hunting with dogs, gun packs, foot packs, horse-borne hunts, snaring, lamping and other forms of fox control. It should cover the use of terriers, which has been highly contentious. It should also cover dog welfare standards and the breeding of foxes, the blocking up of earths and the use of artificial earths. The code should include guidance on seasons and on trespass and public safety. That list may not be exclusive, and we should be happy to consider other contributions to it.
§ Mr. Leigh
I have considerable sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman advocates, which ties in with what the Burns report says. The problem, however, is that we must ask whether the other side is prepared to compromise. If we give concessions on all those matters—terrier work, artificial earths, stopping up or even agreeing restrictions on the areas hunted—will the other side be prepared to compromise? I fear not.
§ Mr. Öpik
If the Middle Way group had£30 million, we would put all our proposals on billboards, which would hopefully influence the other side. As it is, our only weapon is the strength of our argument. To be fair to the other side, however, my colleagues and I are beginning to detect increasing dialogue, largely prompted by the Burns report. If we are to be successful, it will be on the basis of good faith, and that is beginning to develop. Time will tell.
We believe that it would be inappropriate to tie up the police in enforcement, so inspectors should have strong powers allowing them to drop in on hunts unannounced to determine whether codes are being adhered to. Sanctions should involve anything from cautioning to revocation of licences. Civil proceedings should be appropriate if the statutory code is violated. We could revoke a licence either for an individual huntsman or for an entire hunt. Certain qualifications should be necessary before a licence is granted. There are many superb huntsmen in the country, and any worth his or her salt would not be frightened by having to qualify for a licence.
Licences should also include details that will cover the cowboys who have brought hunting into disrepute. It should be required that a huntsman telephones a central number before going outside his or her prescribed area of normal operation. That would ensure that a record was kept, which would stop cowboys going out of towns to operate in unprescribed and unregulated ways.
How would all that be paid for? A licensing fee of somewhere between£35 and£70 per head of those who hunt would allow the operation to be self-funding. It would cost about£1 million to do all that I have described, although my group is looking into the figures in detail.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
The hon. Gentleman is offering a useful solution in a reasonable and moderate way.
556 My only criticism is that he may be suggesting a very bureaucratic regime. How would the independent supervisory body mesh with his regulator and the licensing system? He may be suggesting considerable bureaucracy to deal with a relatively simple problem.
§ Mr. Öpik
I can answer that in a single sentence: the independent hunting authority would have direct responsibility for the inspectors, who would report back to it. We do not envisage a separate regulator and authority; they are one and the same. The hon. Gentleman is right, however, to say that we must not disappear into bureaucracy. The scheme could work efficiently because there are hundreds rather than tens of thousands of hunts. In addition, as the inspectors would operate geographically, some informal contact could be swiftly made.
I have outlined the key areas that the Middle Way group seeks to promote. The system would cost about£1 million a year, and we shall make a specific submission on that to the Government. We hope that our proposals will provide a constructive dialogue that satisfies the needs both of those offended by what they regard as the barbaric practice of fox hunting and of those who feel that their civil liberties will be put at risk by a ban.
Let us talk: the Middle Way group has no monopoly on good ideas, although our principles mean that we can only support an outcome that is fair, that balances animal welfare with human rights and that respects individual liberties. We must listen to each other and respect the strong emotions that the subject raises. We ask only that other organisations on both sides of the debate do that. If we do, we may find a way forward that satisfies the needs of the main organisations as well as the need for freedom.
The Middle Way group is happy to discuss, in bipartisan terms, the possibility of regional debates on the matter, perhaps covered by the regional media, so that we can widen discussion among the public. At a time when we are on the brink of securing a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, where so many deep divisions existed, it would be ironic and a tragedy if the combined might of the British political system were unable to find lasting, cross-body agreement on fox hunting.
§ Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole)
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) for the way in which he made his case. I served with him on Standing Committee C, so the manner in which he spoke did not surprise me. We have had many interesting debates, and I am sure that we shall continue to do so.
I join the general welcome for the report of the Burns inquiry, and I congratulate Lord Burns on his work. I was among those hon. Members who signed an early-day motion expressing concern about the membership of the inquiry. Having expressed that opinion so publicly, it is right that I should say publicly today that I think that they have done a good job. I want to make sure that that sentiment appears in Hansard so that people may know where I stand.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made the reasonable point that the report is so comprehensive that no one can be expected to speak on every part of it. If anyone did, only one or two speakers would take us all the way to 2.30 pm. I shall speak mainly on the report's animal welfare implications, and a little on the way ahead.
557 I am glad that there will be a free vote, so that hon. Members from all parties can reach their own conclusions. When considering mink, hares, foxes and deer, we need first to ask whether those animals should be controlled at all. If the answer is yes, then the debate should be about the best, most effective and most humane way to do that.
Is it necessary to control foxes? Some people do not believe that it is, but foxes are classed as a pest and their numbers have to be controlled. However, is hunting with dogs necessary to achieve that control? The submission of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Burns inquiry stated that hunting with dogs was irrelevant in pest control.
The hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) made the interesting intervention—if I understood him correctly—that, in effect, hunting with dogs was a service to elderly foxes. I am not sure whether the foxes would see it in that light or whether they would welcome it. However, that point does not stand up to examination according to the inquiry; it pointed out that 40 per cent. of fox deaths were of cubs and took place during the cubbing season—those are not elderly foxes by any stretch of the imagination. Many fox cubs will, of course, die of natural causes—perhaps as many as half of them. If we remove that number from the total of those hunted by dogs, the remaining number is small, so hunting with dogs as a form of pest control for foxes is not necessary.
§ Mr. Gray
With respect, I think the hon. Gentleman has missed the point that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) was making. Hunting with hounds is selective killing. Those foxes that are least able to look after themselves—the old, infirm and sick—are the most likely to be caught by hounds. Young, fit foxes are much more likely to escape. Hunting with hounds carries out a useful animal welfare function that could not be achieved by lamping, for example, which is indiscriminate; it kills pregnant vixens, dog foxes and cubs. If there is a fox, the farmer shoots it. Hunting with hounds is selective.
§ Mr. Cawsey
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. He used the word "young". I can only repeat that 40 per cent. of the foxes killed by hunting with dogs are cubs—young foxes. Furthermore, they are killed by a different form of hunting—one that many people feel is most offensive. The cubs are encircled and driven back. Indeed, foxhound puppies are trained to kill the fox, and if they are not able to do so—even as puppies—they are promptly dispatched with a shot in the head. Those practices do not provide good animal welfare arguments.
I was pleased to see that the Burns report dealt with the argument that, when a fox is hunted by a pack of dogs, it will be killed instantly by the lead hound with a bite on the back of the neck. I have never believed that claim and am pleased that Burns seems, finally, to have destroyed that myth—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) wants to speak, I am happy to take an intervention.
§ Mr. Gray
I did not want to intervene twice on the hon. Gentleman, but he plainly has not read the report. Lord Burns concludes that nearly all hunted foxes are 558 killed almost instantly. Of the 16 post-mortems that are included on the CD-ROM, 14 demonstrated that the fox had been killed by a single bite on the back of the neck. The Burns report makes it clear that fox hunting with hounds does indeed result in the instantaneous death of the fox.
§ Mr. Cawsey
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have read the Burns report two or three times in great detail. It states that it is not the case that, when a fox is killed by a pack of dogs, it is always by a single bite on the back of the neck.
In Standing Committee, on 28 January, the hon. Gentleman stated that it was always the case that the fox was killed by a bite on the back of neck. The Burns report has shown that that is not the case, so I do not withdraw a word of what I said.
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
May quote a sentence from page 117 of the Burns report? Paragraph 6.48 states:There seems little doubt, however, that in the vast majority of cases the time to insensibility and death is no more than a few seconds, bearing in mind the great disparity between the size and weight of the fox and the hounds.
§ Mr. Cawsey
Indeed. However, that does not get away from the point that foxes are not killed by a single bite on the back of the neck by the lead hound. Furthermore, as we know, hunting with dogs is not relevant as a form of pest control. I find the whole process objectionable—including the chase and the stress to the fox.
§ Mr. Maclean
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. For the sake of brevity, I quoted only the last part of paragraph 6.48. The first part states:Arguably, the precise cause of death is irrelevant. What is more critical is how quickly insensibility and death result and how much suffering, physical or mental, the fox experiences.The paragraph then continues with the sentence about death taking only a few seconds, which I quoted earlier.
§ Mr. Cawsey
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those helpful comments. Burns also notes that the process can take up to 31 minutes and sometimes longer. That is objectionable.
I have never believed the argument that, once the dogs catch the fox, death is necessarily instantaneous. Although it is not the intention of anyone who hunts, every year, some domestic animals or pets are attacked—they are in the wrong place, at the wrong time and the dogs chase the wrong quarry. When that happens, the hunt instantly acts to rescue the pet; sometimes, sadly, it is dead, but if it is alive, it will be treated by a vet. The fact that those animals survive tends to militate against the argument that death is instantaneous. Furthermore, the treatment is usually for bites to the belly, the back leg or the tail—it is far more likely that packs of dogs approaching an animal will attack in that way. Such incidents occur every year.
I do not believe that hunting is necessary for pest control or in order to avoid cruelty.
§ Dr. Palmer
Perhaps we could include paragraph 6.44 of the report in our reading. It states thatthere is evidence from farmed foxes that fear and anxiety are experienced by foxes in response to stressful stimuli—such as the chase.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many of us are worried as much about the stress caused by the chase as about the death itself? The chase will affect all foxes alike—be they healthy, young or old. Any fox that is chased will suffer stress.
§ Mr. Cawsey
I agree with my hon. Friend. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who is now the shadow Home Secretary, made that case very well on the Second Reading of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). She said that the whole issue was about the chase. If one agrees that foxes have to be killed in one way or another, we must consider whether they have to be put through an unnecessary process before that takes place.
§ Mrs. Golding
My hon. Friend keeps saying that he does not believe that hunting with dogs has anything to do with pest control. However, if man wishes to take the trouble to try to preserve our indigenous species, that is the only way of controlling mink, which has no known predator.
§ Mr. Cawsey
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Her support for mink hunting is legendary in the House, and I shall come to the subject of mink hunting later in my speech.
If one accepts that hunting with dogs is not necessary for the pest control of foxes and one believes that there are better methods of controlling their numbers, surely we should use those other methods in the localised areas where that is necessary. I was pleased that the Burns report said that lampinghas fewer adverse welfare implications.We all know that lamping takes place, and it is the way ahead. Before the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire jumps up to intervene, I should say that the report accepts that that argument might not apply in uplands areas. There are problems to be dealt with in such areas and we must consider them. I hope—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is listening to this—that, when we receive the list of options to vote on, the use of dogs for flushing out in upland areas is included on it. Hon. Members will then be able to decide for themselves whether the use of dogs in that way should be allowed.
Nobody in the House would argue against the need to control the number of deer. However, as has already been pointed out, the use of dogs in the hunting of deer is already banned in Scotland. The Burns inquiry clearly concluded that stalking and shooting was the best method of controlling deer and it made the further good suggestion that competency and training should be part of that process. I hope that hon. Members will take that suggestion on board.
The process of getting rid of deer is unnatural. As Burns points, it can often take two days. The deer is tracked on the first day and one returns the next morning to see whether it is still there. The chase then begins and it can take place over an extremely long distance because 560 the deer is quick but low in stamina and the dogs are slow but high in stamina. The deer will be chased to the point of exhaustion and it will be shot anyway.
The Bateson report and Contract 7 show that there are stress factors involved in that. I should be surprised if any hon. Member needed to see a report to work that out. Although they are not easy to watch because they are distressing, there have been videotapes showing the end of a hunt when the deer has reached the point of exhaustion. We have seen a deer trying over and over again to jump over a fence, and being unable to do so because it is exhausted. It looks over its shoulder to see the dogs getting nearer and nearer, and eventually the dogs reach the deer. It is surrounded and hounded and finally dispatched. It is time that, as in Scotland, we banned that practice.
Most hon. Members know that the number of hares in this country is declining. The former Government, under the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), signed up, as part of the United Kingdom's biodiversity action plan, to increasing the number of hares in Great Britain. We have yet to stop the decline, let alone achieve a growth in their numbers; hunting hares in that context seems almost perverse. I accept that there are local issues, but it is interesting to note that gamekeepers in those areas say that shooting is the best method of dispatch. From an animal welfare perspective, I hope that most hon. Members agree with the point in the Burns report that dogs do not always kill hare quickly. I hope that we shall bear that point in mind when we consider the options before us.
Much anger and irritation is expressed in these debates when the people against hunting refer to it as the killing or abuse of animals for fun. A Conservative Member said that most people who take part in hunts do not do so to kill animals for fun, and I agree with him. However, if there is one form of hunting that is an abuse of animals for fun—and even for gambling—it is hare coursing. That takes place in my constituency and I wish to praise my local newspaper, The Epworth Bells. It may not be read too widely by hon. Members, but it is a good read and has an excellent monthly column from the local Member of Parliament. Because of its readers' views on hare coursing in the Isle of Axholme, it is has expressed its great concern about the practice. I hope that we can all reach the rapid conclusion that hare coursing has to go.
On mink, I do not disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) that mink numbers need to be controlled. However, like Burns, I would argue that very few mink are controlled by hunting with dogs. Trapping is the method used to control mink numbers in a particular area. The Burns report says that hunting mink has no significant effect on mink numbers nationally or, indeed, regionally. I should be surprised if hon. Members wanted to pursue that.
§ Mrs. Golding
I agree that hunting mink has little effect on mink numbers, which is why they are increasing and more and more of our wildlife is being destroyed. If any action against mink is prevented, the risk to our wildlife is increased.
§ Mr. Cawsey
I do not disagree with the need to control mink numbers. It is a great shame that there are mink at all. That problem originates from fur farming, which I am pleased to say the House is dealing with.
561 Research shows that hunting with dogs for mink on river banks destroys wildlife and damages the environment. A balance must be struck.
§ Mrs. Golding
I thank my hon. Friend for his indulgence. The Burns report says that, although temporary damage may he caused to the environment, it is of no significance.
§ Mr. Cawsey
I am grateful once again to my hon. Friend.
I want to move on to the control of mink. When the issue was raised in Standing Committee C, there seemed to be some disbelief about it. Last week, an excellent article in The Independent on Sunday pointed out that the increase in the number of otters is doing more to depress mink numbers than anything else. Not for the first time, we find that nature balances itself better than interventions by man. As otters reclaim their natural environment and mink numbers decline as a result, it would be interesting to know why otter numbers are increasing. One reason is that they can no longer be hunted with dogs. Ironically, mink numbers are better controlled because of the ban on hunting with dogs than they are by hunting with dogs.
§ Mrs. Golding
I am sorry to intervene again, but the truth is that mink are moving further and further afield, not disappearing. They can travel long distances very quickly.
§ Mr. Cawsey
I can only point my hon. Friend to the latest reports, which show that mink numbers are falling as the creatures move away from their natural environment. I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to control mink numbers, but I do not agree that hunting with dogs is the right method of doing so.
I wish to pick up one or two minor issues that have been raised. People talk about the welfare impact on the animals used in the hunting process: the hounds, terriers and horses. It has been argued that, if hunting were banned, the hounds would all have to be shot and could not live a natural life. It is no longer denied that the hounds would have to be shot anyway. I understand that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has said that, in the event of a ban, it will ensure that all the dogs are housed and cared for.
§ Mr. Cawsey
The RSPCA is an honourable organisation and I have no reason to disbelieve it.
The welfare of hounds can be compromised in the hunting process, not just because they are shot if they cannot keep up with the pack, but simply through the act of hunting. Sadly, we have seen that happen during hunt seasons, when dogs have run on to railway lines and been killed. Earlier in the debate, an Opposition Member said that hunts never go on land without permission. Unless Railtrack has actively given its consent for hounds to run on to its lines, which is unlikely, another myth falls to the ground. That is also true of terrier work, although I accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House do not support the continuation of terrier work.
562 It is inevitable that, from time to time, horses will get injured, but if one considers the range of activities for which horses are used, they are no more at risk when hunting with dogs than as a result of the other work that they do.
Drag hunting has been mentioned several times today. To what extent can that make a difference if hunting with dogs is banned? It can make a difference, but it is difficult to predict what will happen if hunting with dogs is banned, although Lord Burns makes the point that people who own and ride horses will want to find alternatives because of their love of their horses and their love of horse riding. I think that there will be a growth in drag hunting, but I cannot predict to what extent.
Other equestrian events will also take the place of hunting with dogs. Burns said that some farmers felt that there would be little incentive to allow hunts on to their land if they were only drag hunts, but I am not convinced about that. Drag hunts would generate income for farmers, and one of the most useful tasks that hunts can perform is to provide farmers with a fallen stock service. If farmers keep a drag hunt on their land, that service would continue for the future.
It is worth bearing in mind the fact that many fallen stock initiatives are businesses that charge for taking the fallen stock and sell the fleeces. They use some of the meat to feed to the hounds, but much of it has to be incinerated. The Government provide for small incinerators to deal with fallen stock, and that will continue into the future. There is no reason why fallen stock services, equestrian events and drag hunting cannot replace hunting with dogs if it is banned, and provide that useful service for the countryside in a different way.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) made an extremely good point at the start of his speech. He said that this is a matter of individual liberty against animal welfare considerations. That is exactly the point that all hon. Members should consider as the debate continues. Unlike the other parties, the Labour party made a manifesto commitment to have a free vote on legislation to deal with this issue. It is important to ensure that that takes place during this Parliament.
The very thorough and comprehensive report that Lord Burns and his team have given us is a great help to all hon. Members in coming to a conclusion on this issue, as is the Government's offer of options so that we do not have to give a straight yes or no. Hon. Members can consider the Burns report and decide how they want to vote.
Lord Burns has done us a service. I sincerely hope that all hon. Members will read and carefully consider the report before deciding on the options they are willing to support or not, as the case may be. In that way, we will produce good legislation that will command widespread support throughout the country.
§ Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)
I join my right hon. and hon. Friends and other hon. Gentlemen in warmly congratulating Lord Burns and his team on producing a remarkable, fascinating, important and relevant report. For those who have studied it. perhaps one of the most impressive things—apart from the way it is written, and the fact that it has gone into the issue in great depth—is the astonishing efforts that those people 563 made to cover the ground. They made many visits to different types of field sports and occasions, on which they had a chance to put together the patchwork that makes up this profoundly difficult question. Lord Burns deserves the greatest credit for having done in such a short time what seemed to me at the beginning to be impossible. My anxieties were different from those of the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), but I applaud the fact that he said that he had been anxious that Lord Burns would not have the time to carry out the work. Lord Burns has done it, and the House should be extremely grateful to him.
The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) referred to the Pendle Forest and Craven hunt and its master, Mr. Bannister, who wrote to him. I had the honour of being invited to speak to that hunt's supporters dinner last year. If ever there was an occasion on which one could see the tremendous strength of the tentacles of hunting that spread through the countryside, it was that dinner. People from all backgrounds and walks of life, of different persuasions and none, were together with a shared interest. They had a strong bond and an absolute commitment not just to hunting but to the countryside. I felt that the hon. Gentleman dealt with Mr. Bannister's letter in a disgraceful way. In my view, Mr. Bannister was making a profound and important comment.
My second point concerns a matter that was raised by the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin). He is a nice man who has been led astray. He knows absolutely nothing about hunting—and I mean nothing. For that reason, his speech must lack all credibility, although I was delighted to note that he had clearly studied the Burns report. We are near neighbours in Sussex, and I have regularly asked the hon. Gentleman whether he has ever been hunting, or has any idea what actually happens. No, he has not; he has not a clue. I therefore believe that, although he made a good speech about Burns, that speech cannot have credibility because of his fundamental ignorance of what takes place. He is in the same position as all the people who have never looked at hunting, or tried to understand it.
The report's main conclusion is that there are no good policy grounds for banning hunting. Lord Burns concludes that hunting with hounds has a role to play in pest control and species management, in rural employment, in social activities and in conservation. He does not conclude that it involves unnecessary suffering. I shall say more about that shortly, because it is an important and difficult issue.
Let me make an important point about the Government's behaviour. Before the Burns report had even been produced, the Government decided to present a Bill with a format similar to that used for the Sunday trading legislation. That, in my view, makes the Government guilty of a serious deceit. It is outrageous that they should make up their mind before even seeing the report.
The truth is that this is above all a matter of personal liberty, freedom and democracy. It is no part of the parliamentary process to foist on a minority the opinions and prejudices of a majority. Parliament should legislate to deal with activities that cause harm, as opposed to activities that certain people—for their own subjective reasons—profoundly, and in many cases entirely understandably, dislike.
I accept that a majority of our fellow citizens disapprove of hunting with hounds. They are genuine in their disapproval, feel strongly about the issue, see it as a 564 moral issue, and would support a ban criminalising the activity. My argument is that those reasons do not begin to justify depriving the individual citizen of the right to take part in a lawful activity, and that the day on which that was held to be so would be a damaging day for all our freedoms.
Hunting with hounds is a lawful activity, engaged in for centuries by ordinary men and women in the United Kingdom. Each person in this and every other civilised country has now, and always has had, the right to engage in, or desist from, such activities, according to his or her private inclination. Such freedoms are inherent in citizenship, and membership of a civilised society.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)
The hon. Gentleman is making a central point. Does he accept that, although of course public opinion should not be a determinant—that is why we have a parliamentary process—it is entirely possible to argue that it is right to make something that was legal illegal, however long the legality has gone on? Indeed, the House did that quite recently in relation to firearms, because society's attitude had moved on. It is perfectly proper for Parliament to choose to make a practice illegal if it considers that to be in the country's interests.
§ Mr. Soames
What is proper and what is not is a decision for individuals and Governments to make. I shall shortly deal with the only circumstances in which I think a ban could be imposed.
The general public are not damaged by hunting. No one is compelled to hunt, nor are the rights of those who do not hunt infringed by those who do. It is hard to determine what most people know of the matter, or how it could be their business to intervene.
§ Mr. Soames
I do not really buy very much of that. I think that wherever hunting took place, it would attract the type of opposition that it does. I shall deal in a moment with some of the objections to hunting that my hon. Friend has mentioned, concerning the type of ceremony attaching to it.
§ Mr. Soames
No; I must get on. Mr. Deputy Speaker has made the point that many other hon. Members wish to speak. I am not being rude, I am merely asking the hon. Gentleman to allow me to make some progress.
We will all be on dangerous ground if we genuinely begin to think that the views of casual majorities should be decisive in the framing of criminal legislation. Opinion polls in my constituency—which I have conducted myself in my constituency newspaper—have shown that a majority of the general public seem to disapprove of almost everything, including, inter alia, the Conservative party, buggery, tripe and black pudding, smoking, immigration, Radio 3—and, very likely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the colour 565 of your front door, and indeed of mine. If all those, or more, are to be made the subject of criminal offences, we shall all be in jail before too long.
The point that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) made about a ban is very serious. I believe that a ban could never be justified unless its proposers could show that hunting is positively harmful to society. An appeal to the strong disapproval of a majority does not begin to prove the case for a ban.
I should like to make a few remarks on the question of cruelty, about which people understandably, and rightly, feel strongly. I preface those remarks by saying that in no part of his report does Lord Burns conclude that hunting is cruel. Nevertheless, the issue of cruelty is important, and we have to make an objective judgment about what is or is not a tolerable level of cruelty to animals.
I should therefore like the Minister to make for me an assessment of the following questions concerning cruelty, and to send it to me by letter. I should like him to assess—out of 10, with 10 being the maximum for pain and zero for none—the relative pain and suffering to animals caused by the following happenings: a man hunting a fox with hounds; a man shooting a fox; a man poisoning a fox—
§ Mr. Soames
The list continues: a man trapping a fox; a fox killing a pheasant; a fox killing a newborn lamb; a fox eating a pheasant chick as it hatches; a man shooting a pheasant; a man poisoning a rat; a greyhound coursing a hare; a stoat killing a rabbit; a cat playing with a dying mouse; a sparrowhawk killing a blackbird; a man keeping a wild bird in a cage; and a man keeping a dog on the wrong diet in an overheated house.
That should keep Home Office officials busy for a day or two. It is difficult to place those actions in any objective order, and it would be even more difficult if the question were which one of them should be banned by law.
Few of those who concern themselves with this debate challenge the need to control foxes. There are four ways of controlling foxes—shooting, trapping, hunting or poisoning—all four of which, of course, involve a degree of cruelty. However, for my part, I would guess that poisoning—which is illegal—is the cruellest, followed probably by shooting when the fox is wounded but not killed. Others, of course, will put the four in a different order. As I said, it is impossible to decide which action is crueller than any other.
However, it can never be agreed that fox hunting should be singled out as the cruellest, and unacceptably cruel at that. Thus the real motive of those who wish to ban hunting can only be that the activity gives much pleasure to many. They spitefully seek to frustrate that pleasure by pushing the cruelty argument. After hunting is dealt with, they will turn to shooting, another sport that millions enjoy. Indeed, if cruelty were the real concern, we should start with the poisoning of rats, which is probably the cruellest thing that we do to a highly intelligent mammal. However, that is not a sport that people enjoy.
566 Foxes are not pets, but magnificent wild animals living the life of freedom and danger for which nature brilliantly designed them, as they have done for countless thousands of years. For centuries, their lives have been inextricably linked to the patchwork of our magnificent countryside, much of which, throughout the length and breadth of the land, was laid out for hunting and shooting. Indeed, those interests still do a great deal to shape the beauty of the landscape, and foxes share the marvellous woods, fields, hedges and hills with farmers and their livestock.
On to this astonishingly intricate tapestry of history and ancient custom and practice, as delicate and fine as a silken thread, these bossy, largely urban know-alls are trying to thrust themselves with ignorance, arrogance and stupidity. They must understand, but they do not, that if they want foxes to observe—we would all love to have foxes to observe and enjoy—we must have hunting to make sure that they are there in the first place.
Sadly, the greater part of those who oppose hunting do so because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) rightly said, fox hunting involves a blatant assertion of traditional English values which, unfortunately, are no longer admired as much as they used to be: good manners, ceremony, boldness and display, hierarchy, and easy courtesy—which, for its opponents, is almost impossible to understand. Above all, fox hunting involves the remarkable natural harmony between all those, whatever their background or occupation, who love hunting and enjoy comradeship in the life of our countryside and all that it means.
That is obnoxious to those who despise hunting, many of whom were brought up in the genuine belief that the classes are still at war. I do not believe that any polytechnic-bred lout can see the pink coats—the young men, women and children who are well turned out on ponies and horses, on which a great deal of time and trouble have been spent, and which can sense the enjoyment and fun of the thrill, challenge and pleasure of the hunt and all that goes with it—without feeling the urge to pull down the symbols of authority and spit on a piece of old England.
I conclude by saying that this wonderful and beautiful country, in which we are astonishingly lucky and privileged to live, is generally marked apart from less favoured nations by the tolerance, extraordinary good nature and generally civilised manner of its democracy and way of life.
§ Mr. Soames
No, I will not.
Those qualities are the envy of people the world over, and in many places, there remains in this land a richness and colour that is truly and wholly unique. Hunting is a part of that. All those who believe that to be the case, wherever they come from in the United Kingdom, will fight to the end to see that it is not cast aside.
§ Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)
I should like to review the arguments in favour of the retention of hunting, but before I do so, I apologise to Lord Burns and his committee because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), I was sceptical that the report would produce a result that would satisfy most 567 people's expectations of fairness and balance. To my astonishment, he has produced a report that almost everyone accepts as satisfying those requirements. That is a remarkable, rare achievement, and I congratulate Lord Burns and his team on the report. I hope that they write more reports on other subjects; we need their talents.
I shall take up several issues that hon. Members—notably the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames)—have raised in defence of hunting and dispose of a couple of relatively exotic arguments. The hon. Gentleman suggests that critics of hunting are motivated by class hatred, perhaps because they come from polytechnics. I am not sure whether he would include the Conservative Anti Hunt Council or the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) in the group of people possessed by class hatred. Speaking personally, I have a master of fox hounds in my family and my father rode to hounds until he decided that it was cruel. We should not allow ourselves to be distracted by the totally irrelevant class issue. If fox hunting were conducted exclusively by members of the Trades Union Congress and leader writers on The Guardian, I would still be equally opposed to it.
I shall move on to conservation. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex says that foxes would not exist without hunting, from which we can conclude that, in those continental countries that do not have hunting with hounds, foxes have died out. That is manifestly not the case, and the argument cannot be seriously sustained that it would be the case in Britain.
On the more serious issue of jobs, the Burns report identifies 700 full-time-equivalent jobs that would be affected and up to 7,300 jobs that would be indirectly affected by a ban on hunting. That is equivalent to a medium-sized factory spread across the whole of Great Britain. Many of the jobs are not in the countryside; they are in towns. Many of them are specifically related not to hunting, but to horses, and will not be abolished because of the alternatives that Burns identifies. In short, the loss of jobs is within the normal weekly fluctuation that we all see in our constituencies. In my area of Nottingham, we have lost many more jobs than that in the textile industry alone, and I do not recall Conservative Members making passionate speeches in their defence.
§ Mr. Garnier
I most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way not only because I am great friends with many members of his family, but because, like him, I represent a textile area. If he had been a Member in the previous Parliament, he would have heard many Conservative Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), make not only passionate but reasoned speeches about the demise of the textile industry. Although I am prepared to listen to the hon. Gentleman, I ask him not resort to generalisation.
§ Dr. Palmer
I accept that there are certainly exceptions. I was referring to the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so far in the debate. I have not hitherto associated them with the defence of people who lose their jobs in the textile industry. However, perhaps I am wrong.
In today's society, none of us—least of all Members of Parliament—have lifetime jobs. We have to accept that there may be circumstances under which our jobs 568 disappear, and those circumstances include changes of attitude within society to whether the activities on which our jobs depend remain acceptable. I shall return to the interesting points made by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex on what can be acceptable. First perhaps, I should say a few words about control.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
The hon. Gentleman is obviously making a thoughtful speech. Before he gets on to the detail, will he tell the House what the principle is which he thinks justifies the majority in a free society banning what has been until now the legitimate activity of a minority?
§ Dr. Palmer
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point to which I shall respond later in my speech.
Turning to the issue of control, Burns shows that around 400,000 foxes die each year. Of those, 10,000 are killed directly by hunts. That represents 2.5 per cent. A further 5,000 are killed by digging out, which many hon. Members, even among the supporters of hunting, seem willing to ban. If we add that figure, we end up with 3.75 per cent. Foot and gun packs kill between 7,000 and 10,000 foxes, adding another 2.5 per cent. So all forms of hunting kill a total of 6.25 per cent. of foxes killed each year. It is therefore not possible seriously to argue that hunting is a major form of pest control across the country. If right hon. and hon. Members speak to Lord Burns and his team—and I spoke to them at great length on this—they will confirm, as they do in the report, that in the Welsh uplands fox hunting with gun packs constitutes a significant element of control. In other areas Burns was convinced that it does not.
§ Dr. Palmer
No, I am afraid I do not. Obviously, I accept that people who want to hunt foxes have an interest in not letting them die out. That is why from time to time hunts breed foxes for hunting. I understand that the practice is disapproved of, but there have been recurrent cases. As I said earlier, foxes have not died out in countries that do not have hunting with hounds. There may be a greater or lesser degree of tolerance and the fox population may rise and fall for other reasons, but frankly, outside the Welsh highlands, the whole issue of pest control is a red herring. Elsewhere, foxes are not hunted primarily for the purposes of pest control.
§ Mr. Gray
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a test case in the 1980s when, for a number of reasons, fox hunting was banned on the royal artillery impact area on Salisbury plain for five or six years? Local farmers petitioned the Government once again to allow fox hunting because of the appalling depredation on piglets, lambs and chickens in the surrounding area. That is a very good example of exactly what happens to pest control when fox hunting is banned.
§ Dr. Palmer
With respect, there are petitions on many subjects, but the figures show clearly that hunting does not have the impact that the hon. Gentleman suggests, because more than 90 per cent. of foxes die for some other 569 reason. If we had a form of control of measles which affected only 6 per cent. of cases, we would say that it was not an effective form of control. The same applies to hunting with hounds.
On mink, the Burns report says quite explicitly that there is no significant impact at national or regional level on mink numbers. There may be a temporary local impact, but because of the high fecundity of mink, they rapidly breed again. Hunting is not an effective form of pest control. The situation is even more extreme with hares, because it is generally accepted that there is no need to control their numbers and that, in any case, coursing does not have that effect.
The Burns report expresses concern that the number of deer will fall if hunting is banned, because the tolerance of farmers will decline. It is disingenuous to suggest that hunting is there primarily for pest control. I concede the point in the Welsh highlands, but in other areas it is not the main factor. If we are honest with one another, we will admit that.
I agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) that liberty is the central issue. We must consider whether the interests of animal welfare and a civilised society should outweigh the right of individuals to pursue a pastime that has existed for many hundreds of years, with the many colourful traditions described so evocatively by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex. It was instructive to listen to him, because all the criteria that he listed for assessing whether a pastime is acceptable could have been applied to otter hunting or bear baiting. His central argument was that the freedom of human individuals should not be interfered with unless there is a risk of overwhelming damage to society as a whole.
§ Dr. Palmer
I accept the hon. Gentleman's distinction, but I am not sure that all Conservative Members would agree with it. The history of debates on the matter shows that every such activity that is currently legal is swathed in a reassuring glow of familiarity. At the time, it was said that bear baiting was banned not because people were sorry for the bear but because it gave pleasure to the onlookers. That accusation recurs throughout the history of animal welfare legislation. Any practice that is legal is regarded as something that has always been done, that does not cause much of a problem and that it would be an intolerable intrusion to ban; but 20 years after it has been banned, people look back and wonder how we ever tolerated it.
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) says that intention is crucial, but the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex says that the effect on society is the most important factor. If we have a society in which it remains legal to have prolonged chases of animals, ending in their killing, for entertainment, that society is degraded. The fact that it has been degraded for many centuries is not a reason to continue. We lower our self-respect by putting 570 our own entertainment before the animals' welfare. That is not something that our society, which is so rich in possible forms of entertainment, should continue to support.
§ Dr. Palmer
I personally—and I do not speak for anyone else—am opposed to sport fishing in which the purpose is purely entertainment and to put the fish in a glass case on the wall. Many of my hon. Friends will disagree, but I think that it is wrong for the same reasons I have advanced.
§ Dr. Palmer
The same arguments apply, but I stress that I speak only for myself and I recognise that my views do not have widespread support.
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire argued that intention is the crucial point. He said that people do not normally ride to hounds because they wish to cause suffering, and we accept that they are not gangs of sadists. People ride to hounds because they find it exciting and pleasurable, and they enjoy the fellowship and the day out. Nevertheless, we must accept—and those who hunt generally also accept—that it is a regrettable by-product that suffering is inflicted on an animal for a prolonged period. The argument that foxes enjoy being hunted has almost died out and one rarely encounters it now. Most people accept the balance: they enjoy hunting, but unfortunately the animal does not.
People feel that there is much misery in the countryside anyway and if the fox was not being chased by them it would be chased by something else. Hunting is their pleasure and they want to continue to do it. I argue, as I argued to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, that that attitude should not be protected in this day and age. We have moved beyond the point at which it is acceptable to allow entertainment that has prolonged animal suffering as its by-product. Hon. Members may argue that other practices, such as factory farming, cause animal suffering. We accept that those other practices also need examination, and that has overwhelming majority support.
§ Mr. Soames
The hon. Gentleman is making a serious speech and my intervention is not intended as levity. Does he favour a ban on football, given that the behaviour of many fans is wholly unacceptable in this day and age, that they degrade our society by their behaviour, and that policing them costs tens of thousands of pounds and the time of policemen who would be better occupied doing other things?
§ Dr. Palmer
Such analogies are always interesting, but in this case the analogy breaks down, partly because everybody present is a willing participant. I know people who do not go to football matches because they are afraid of being beaten up, but their fears are probably exaggerated. It is open to people not to attend football matches, but that option is not open to the fox in a hunt.
§ Mr. Cawsey
The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) mentioned policing costs. Is my hon. Friend aware that football clubs have to pay for policing costs but that it is provided free for hunts?
§ Dr. Palmer
I did not know that. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members would allow me to continue, I would 571 be grateful. It is always possible to draw human comparisons, but part of the problem for many of us is the infliction of suffering on an animal which, by its nature, cannot be consulted. Another borderline case, often raised in the debate, is boxing. I do not like watching boxing matches, but I accept that people have a right to bash each other for pleasure or for money, if they wish to do so. That does not bother me, because it is a matter of free choice.
In our day and age, we have moved beyond the stage at which we deny any rights to animals and deny them any consideration when we weigh up their interests against our pleasures. I do not want to sound puritanical: there are a great many pleasures in life of which I do not approve and of which Conservative Members would probably strongly disapprove, but which I do not believe should be banned. However, let us end the practice of sport at the expense of animal suffering. Let us pass a ban on hunting.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
In what I hope will be a relatively brief speech, I shall concentrate on fox hunting. In common with the constituents of every Member of Parliament, my constituents are divided on the question. The kennels of the East Kent hunt are at Elham in my constituency, but I know that many of my constituents strongly oppose fox hunting.
The merit of the Burns report, to which I pay tribute in common with every hon. Member who has spoken—even those who paid scant regard to its conclusions in their speeches—is that it focuses attention on the central question which, in my view, provides the key to an informed debate and decision on this subject. It is true that a ban on fox hunting would have some significant adverse consequences. It would lead to a significant number of job losses, although there is scope for argument about precisely how many. As several of my right hon. and hon. Friends have eloquently described, a ban would cause serious damage to the traditions of country life: it would cause real problems for farmers in terms of the collection and disposal of fallen stock; it would create extra problems for the police; and it would be seen by many people as a direct attack on their civil liberties.
I do not underestimate the significance of any of those detrimental consequences of a ban—they are important and should not be ignored. However, my view has always been that, whatever the difficulties, the case for a ban would have to be seriously considered if it could be demonstrated—clearly demonstrated—that fox hunting is unique in the suffering that it causes to the fox in comparison with other methods of controlling the fox population. That has always struck me as the central question. The burden of establishing that there is unique suffering as a consequence of fox hunting must rest fairly and squarely on those who want to ban a practice that has been lawful for centuries, and it is a burden that must be plainly discharged.
Therefore, for me, the key question is a comparative one, and I am encouraged to see that the Burns committee took precisely the same view. Paragraph 6.12 of the report states clearly:Animal welfare is concerned with the welfare of the individual animal, not the management of the Wider population. In assessing the impact of hunting on animal welfare we are persuaded that it is 572 necessary to look at it on a relative, rather than an absolute, basis. It should not be compared with only the best, or the worst, of the alternatives.The report continues, in paragraph 6.13:In the event of a ban on hunting, it seems probable that farmers and others would resort more frequently to other methods to kill foxes, deer, hares and perhaps mink. There would be a mixture of motives: pest control; the value of the carcass; and the recreational value to be derived from shooting. It follows that the welfare of animals which are hunted should be compared with the welfare which, on a realistic assessment, would be likely to result from the legal methods used by farmers and others to manage the population of these animals in the event of a ban on hunting.The committee went on to deal with those alternatives. In paragraph 6.59, it says: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.At paragraph 6.60, it reaches a "tentative conclusion"—not a firm, definitive and settled conclusion—thatlamping using rifles, if carried out properly and in appropriate circumstances, has fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting, including digging-out,but it goes on to say that there would be a greater use of other methods where lamping is not feasible or safe, and that it is less confident that the use of shotguns, particularly in daylight, is preferable to hunting from a welfare perspective. It adds that the use of snaring is a particular cause for concern.
Therefore, if one adopts the comparative approach set out in the Burns report and looks at the comparisons that the committee made of the effect on foxes of hunting with other methods of controlling the fox population, there is no support whatever in the Burns report for reaching the conclusion that fox hunting should be banned. The burden to demonstrate clearly that fox hunting causes unique suffering plainly has not been discharged. Although, as the committee now famously concluded, the practice of hunting seriously compromises the welfare of the fox, the fact is that many other methods of keeping the fox population under control, which would be used in the event of a ban on fox hunting, compromise the welfare of the fox to an even greater extent.
§ Mr. Caplin
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has had a chance to read paragraph 6.42, under the heading "The welfare of hunted foxes." It says:Unfortunately, there is very little by way of scientific evidence to help us in establishing the facts on these issues,so one could argue either my position or his.
§ Mr. Howard
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman—if he was listening—has already forgotten the point with which I started my speech. The onus is on him. It is for him and those who wish to ban the practice to demonstrate the need for that very clearly. It is for them to demonstrate clearly that the consequences of fox hunting uniquely cause suffering to the fox which is not caused by other methods of controlling the fox population. If he cannot discharge that burden, there should not be a ban. That is the answer to his intervention.
§ Dan Norris
In working out whether the burden has been discharged, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree with the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) that we need to attend a hunt and to witness 573 it first hand to make that judgment, or does he share my view that that is plainly daft? We do not have to experience directly a number of things to have a legitimate view about them.
§ Mr. Howard
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has spoken for himself. I think that the more people know about any activity, the better informed their opinion is likely to be, but the hon. Gentleman's intervention is completely irrelevant because this is a debate on the Burns report and I am basing my observations entirely on that report.
It is not surprising that the Burns committee should have reached the conclusion that it did. The same question was considered by the Scott Henderson committee, which was set up by the post-war Labour Government and which reported in 1951. Its report also adopted the approach that I have set out and that is adopted by the Burns committee. The Scott Henderson committee concluded:Any field sport which has a reasonable level of support and is a traditional activity of the countryside, and which has some utilitarian value, should not be interfered with except for some very good reason. Interference on the ground of cruelty would be justified only if it was shown that the amount of suffering involved was excessive or unreasonable.It went on to conclude, applying those criteria:None of the field sports at present practised (except possibly, after inquiry, and in certain districts, otter hunting) should be prohibited on grounds of cruelty alone.I have attached great weight to the Scott Henderson report in reaching the view that I have always held about fox hunting. I could never quite see how, if it approached its task in good faith—as I was sure it would—the Burns committee would be able to reach any different conclusion. I was not surprised, therefore, to find that it had, in effect, reached precisely the same conclusion. In my view, it is the only conclusion that can be reached on the evidence.
Those who seek to ban fox hunting have wholly failed to establish that it causes more suffering to foxes than the other legal methods of keeping the fox population under control, which would be more greatly used if hunting were banned. In short, the Burns report makes it crystal clear that there is no animal welfare case for banning fox hunting. That means that there is no case for banning fox hunting, and it should not be banned.
I wish to make just one more point. The future of fox hunting in Scotland will be decided by the Scottish Parliament. There can therefore be no justification for right hon. or hon. Members of this House who sit for Scottish constituencies taking any part in the decision on fox hunting in England and Wales. Were they to do so, they would violate the most basic tenets of democracy. I very much hope that they will exercise restraint.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has no objection to a Scottish Member chairing the proceedings.
§ Mr. Howard
I take the greatest pleasure in welcoming you to the Chair of our proceedings, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You may even be setting a precedent by intervening in a speech.
574 I hope that those Members who represent Scottish constituencies will exercise restraint. I am not hopeful that they will.
§ 1.2 pm
§ Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)
This is the first time that I have been able to contribute to a debate on animal welfare. I shall make a few points about democracy and Parliament before turning to animal welfare.
Before the general election in 1997, hunting was debated at length in my constituency. The previous Member, Sir Nicholas Bonsor, was closely attached to field sports organisations and held strong views in support of hunting. That was well known in the constituency, and was a matter of repeated debate when he attended public meetings and throughout the campaign. For those interested, the issue was one of those relevant in the general election. I made it clear that I felt that a ban would be right. In my election literature and newsletters, I advanced that position.
After the election, I, like all hon. Members, received a lot of correspondence on the matter. About 400 to 500 letters have supported a ban, and about half a dozen have supported hunting.
§ Mr. Darvill
I cannot explain that. My own experience has helped me to reach my view of how Parliament should deal with the matter. I recognise that those representations were made to the Burns inquiry, but I shall outline the representations that I have received on the matter. As Parliament is making the decision, we need, as part of our deliberations, to weigh up what our constituents are saying. We also have to consider what we say to the electorate when we seek election. If, in the run-up to an election, we argue in support of a ban, we have a mandate to carry it out. If one changed one's mind after weighing up the evidence, one would be answerable to one's electorate.
I take this matter seriously. It is incumbent on all Members of Parliament to study the report and listen to the debates so that we can understand the issues on which we shall legislate. Because of that, I attended a hunt. One of my constituents, who hunts regularly, wrote to me acknowledging that I had taken a view on the matter, but asking me to go with him to the hunt. At some ungodly hour on a Saturday morning, I was taken to a hunt somewhere in mid-Kent. I was treated courteously. I was shown around and was told about stock, the welfare of dogs and so on. I did not witness the hunt itself, but I listened to the representations that were put to me. They certainly carried some weight, especially those concerning the social aspects of hunting. I acknowledge the points made by many Opposition Members on such matters. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) asked how many Labour Members had witnessed a hunt. Some of us take our responsibilities seriously and are prepared to listen and to engage in debate.
Another factor was the Labour party's point of view in the run-up to the election. We received election material on animal welfare, including a well-designed document 575 with a picture of a fox on the cover, headlined "New Life for Animals". That sent a message to those who elected us that we would do something about the matter.
Our manifesto promised that there would be a free vote. That implied that Parliament would legislate. That is an important democratic issue—if candidates promise to legislate, but then move away from that, it leads to derision from the electorate. Many people feel that there should be legislation.
§ Mr. Darvill
Indeed. We have the duty to understand the Burns report. It is our right and duty to debate it, as we are doing. No doubt when the Bill is introduced there will be further detailed discussion. We are under a duty to hold that debate throughout the country so as to explain the issues. Opposition Members, including the hon. Gentleman, do that well; they make their views known. The hon. Gentleman and others have made their case on television.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) made a good point when he said that we had to find a balance in the legislation between the ethical and moral arguments and the removal of the rights of individuals. The legal arguments are set out clearly in the Burns report—although inevitably, there are two legal opinions on compatibility with the European convention on human rights. The first is the Fitzgerald opinion that was obtained by the Countryside Alliance. It considered whether a ban could be tested in the European Court. The other is the Pannick opinion, which concluded thatwe do not consider that hunting with dogs falls within the concept of private life at all.The point behind that opinion is that if hunting with dogs were considered to be purely private, it could be tested in the European Court, which might well overturn any legislation to ban it.
We must consider those opinions when we decide whether any Bill that we pass will be successful. One significant issue is whether a ban would lead to the "protection of morals" and, notwithstanding the opinions of Opposition Members, I believe that there is significant evidence that the welfare of foxes and other animals is compromised by hunting. The implication that I take from the Burns report is that hunting has an adverse animal welfare effect. I appreciate that there are strong arguments on both sides, but I have come to the conclusion that the welfare of animals is paramount and that leads me to support the introduction of legislation.
§ Mr. Luff
In the context of the argument that the hon. Gentleman is making so moderately and reasonably, may I remind him of paragraph 59 of the Burns report? It says:None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective.I invite him seriously to consider the Middle Way group solution about which at least three of us in the Chamber are anxious to speak—one already has. It might persuade an hon. Gentleman of such reasonable views.
§ Mr. Darvill
I said that it is incumbent on us to consider all the animal welfare issues—which, in a very 576 good report, Burns highlighted. To that extent, the inquiry it has performed a service. I am pleased about today's debate and I will be pleased when we debate the Bill that is introduced.
If the matter is ever tested in the European Court, it will consider whether the House has appreciated the wider issues involved. When other European countries have introduced bans, they have not been tested and that fact must weigh in our minds when we are considering any Bill.
The arguments of hon. Members on both sides have been made perfectly adequately, but there is a strong case for introducing a Bill because of the democratic argument that I made earlier. I passionately believe that we should have a free vote and I shall be very interested to study the options that are presented. I will treat them with an open mind but bearing in mind the assurances that I gave my electorate. The sooner we have the debate and deal with the detail, the better.
I am pleased that the Government commissioned the report, that they have indicated that a Bill will be introduced, and that the debate will lead to a decision. If we do not come to a conclusion, the sovereignty of Parliament and the way in which we conduct our business will be prejudiced. People take the issue seriously and it is incumbent on us to do something about it.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)
I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I represent a substantial number of hunts—perhaps more than any other Member of Parliament—so my constituents will be greatly affected by any ban.
I welcome the Burns report as an authoritative and comprehensive work on the hunting of animals with dogs. It is a well-researched document that was produced in a short time, and I congratulate Lord Burns and his team on it. It is the first authoritative work since the Scott Henderson report of 1950. That report presaged the return of a Conservative Government after a Labour Government who had a majority of 145 in 1945. Just six years later, in 1951, the Conservative Government had a working majority of 65. Perhaps history will repeat itself.
I wish to raise one or two important issues. The Burns report deals with the governance of hunting. I would welcome a strong self-regulating body, so I welcome the creation of the independent supervisory authority for hunting. I have corresponded over a number of years with the Masters of Foxhounds Association, which has hitherto had that role. It has not always been as strong as it might have been and I have corresponded with it specifically about the blocking of roads, the uncourteous behaviour of hunting participants, and trespass. Those who participate in hunts should behave with the highest probity. Their maxim should be to cause as little inconvenience to the public and those who do not wish to participate as possible.
Equally, I would welcome greater openness through the creation of independent inspectors. That would take away some of the mystique of, and suspicion about, hunting.
Has the case for a ban been made by reasonable people? The report makes much of the social activities that hunts generate, but does not say an awful lot about the social fabric of the countryside—the fact that farmers plant and 577 maintain woodland, hedges, fences, drains and other rural features. It is partly as a result of the tremendous co-operation between hunts and farmers that land management is of such high quality. I do not say that if hunting were banned tomorrow—I hope that it will not be—the countryside would start to run down immediately. However, I believe that over a period, the ban would have an effect on land management.
Is the case for a ban reasonable? Deadline 2000 argues, in paragraph 10.16 of the Burns report, that there should be no compensation. As I said in an earlier intervention, I have tabled a parliamentary question on aspects of compensation. If the Government get as far as introducing a Bill but do not prescribe some form of compensation, there will almost certainly be a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights. I did not mean to be unreasonable when I intervened on the Home Secretary, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will now consider carefully my parliamentary questions and answer them as soon as possible so that everybody can consider the implications.
Paragraph 10.33 of the report says that Deadline 2000 wants hunting banned within two months of Royal Assent. That seems totally unreasonable. It is even thought to be unreasonable by the Burns committee, which, at paragraph 10.35, says:There are stronger arguments for allowing a reasonable period of adjustment. This would enable more time, for example, to reduce naturally the number of hounds…That must make sense. I sometimes wonder about the role of the RSPCA and Deadline 2000, and whether they are really concerned about cruelty to animals or merely about political correctness.
The strongest argument against a ban is the liberal toleration of minorities. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, this country had a tremendous reputation for housing philosophers, poets, writers and others who, had they remained in their own countries under the authoritarian regimes that existed in other parts of Europe, would have been sentenced to death. It is partly because we tolerated people whom other countries would not tolerate that our cultural history is great today. Once a Government, whether Labour or Conservative, start to become illiberal or oppressive and to ban minorities of which they disapprove, where will it all end? Will shooting be next? What about angling? What about the breeding of animals for red meat? Even racing may be considered cruel to horses.
Hunting is an entirely voluntary activity and should be a matter for individual conscience, not one with which a politically correct Government should interfere. I plead with Labour Members for tolerance. I do not like drunken football hooligans going abroad and giving this country a shocking name, but I do not want to see football banned. Vast numbers of the public are sympathetic to hunting but do not wish to participate. Indeed, at paragraph 4.45 the Burns report cites the MORI poll's finding that a mere 25 per cent. of respondents were opposed to hunting, which incidentally was lower than the number of those who supported it. A large number of people in the middle do not mind much either way. It also found that two-thirds thought that hunting played an important part in rural life.
578 I can testify that in my constituency hunting plays an important part in our rural fabric. I welcome the debate, and I sincerely hope that the Government are listening with an open mind to all the proposals, and that we do not necessarily have to go as far as a Bill to ban hunting.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)
I join the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and others in welcoming the Burns report. I also welcome my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's statement and the Government's intention to introduce a Bill. The only small criticism I would make is that that should have been done some time ago.
The hon. Members for Cotswold and for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) referred to the conflict between individual liberties and animal welfare, and said that there were sincere arguments on both sides. Their conclusion was that a ban would be an intrusion into personal liberties. There has been much talk of the European convention on human rights and possible challenges in a higher court. The only voice that is not heard is, naturally, that of the animal being hunted. When I hear about all these individual rights, I wonder who is speaking up for animal rights. I believe that animals have rights, but unfortunately the only people who can decide how their rights should be protected are human beings, many of whom spend much time abusing animals.
I should like briefly to deal with three issues raised in the Burns report on fox hunting. The first is the argument about pest control, which one often hears from those defending fox hunting. It is arrant nonsense. If the fox is such a pest, why is there a close season on fox hunting? I have never understood the logic of that. For example, there would not be a close season on cockroaches, mice or rats, so if the fox is a pest why on earth is there a close season?
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
There is a good, practical reason for having a close season. Hunting stops when foxes become pregnant and have their cubs. It would be quite wrong to hunt pregnant vixens.
§ Mr. Banks
Let me think this through. If one has a pest, one stops hunting it while it breeds more pests. I do not want foxes to be hunted, because I do not believe them to be a pest, but I am trying to follow the logic of the pest control argument. The hon. Gentleman's argument is logically absurd. If the fox is a pest, surely the very time to hit it is when it is breeding more pests. I would not do that, but that is the logic of the argument.
§ Mr. Gray
Perhaps I can clarify the matter for the hon. Gentleman. There is no close season on foxes. Most of the foxes killed in this country are killed in the middle of the summer, and that often includes pregnant vixens. Of the 400,000 foxes that are killed in this country every year, most of them are shot, and mostly during the summer. If a pregnant vixen can be caught and shot, that is much more efficient than hunting it with hounds. The only close season is on hunting with hounds, as it is viewed as unsporting and uncivilised to chase a pregnant vixen with hounds. Farmers and others whose activities replace hunting will kill foxes all year round.
§ Mr. Banks
There is a certain inconsistency between the arguments of the hon. Members for Cotswold and for 579 North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray). Of course I understand that it is unsporting to hunt a pregnant vixen, but I would not hunt a vixen anyway. If the hon. Gentlemen think about it, the argument that the fox is a pest is not consistent with having a close season.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
The hon. Gentleman speaks of inconsistencies. Why does Burns recommend a close season for the hunting and shooting of hares?
§ Mr. Banks
I am not interested in what Burns says about close seasons for anything. It cannot possibly be argued that the hare is a pest. In fact, I do not want any foxes to be hunted, whether they are pregnant or not. I am merely pointing out that the hon. Gentleman cannot argue that the fox is a pest and then try to defend the existence of a close season.
§ Mr. Banks
No, I cannot.
What the hon. Member for Cotswold says is nonsense. If the fox is a pest, why were foxes introduced to the Isle of Wight? If the fox is a pest, why does the Royal Beaufort hunt maintain artificial earths, and offer the fox dead chickens and lambs?
I suspect that the one thing the hunts do not want is the disappearance of the fox from the rural landscape. That would take away the fun—not the fun of being able to see the wonderful fox, of course: it is possible to see many foxes in any town centre, thanks to the fast-food restaurants that we have nowadays. This is not about seeing a beautiful fox; it is about having the beautiful fox available to be hunted. The Burns report concludes that there is little evidence to support the view that the fox is a significant agricultural pest. So much for the pest control argument.
My second point concerns jobs. I welcome the evidence in the report about the number of jobs involved. At last we are getting round to something on which we may all be able to agree. The report maintains that between 6,000 and 8,000 jobs are involved, but suggests that only about 700 people are directly employed. That must be contrasted with some of the ludicrous figures that have been bandied around during all the years for which I have been on this side of the argument—although generally on the other side of the Chamber. I refer to my wish for a ban.
In March 1997, I believe, Lady Mallalieu claimed in another place that 150,000 jobs were at risk. Where the noble Baroness got that figure I have not the faintest idea, but it has come down: the Countryside Alliance now gives a figure of about 16,000. However, that still does not accord with what Burns said. I note that the website still gives a figure of just under 16,000.
§ Mr. Banks
No. The hon. Gentleman is being unfair to his own side. More Conservative than Labour Members 580 are waiting to speak. I am prepared to argue with the hon. Gentleman either in or outside the House at the time of his choice, because he does not frighten me, but I shall not do so at this very moment.
The Countryside Alliance is still making up figures. So much for the objectivity of the Burns report.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) should allow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) to make his speech. That is the best thing that he can do.
§ Mr. Banks
I am deeply grateful for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know what it is like to be hunted, having just returned from negotiations on the venue for the 2006 world cup. If I had not already been persuaded of the arguments, I would certainly be on the side of the fox now.
I would never be dismissive of job losses. Even one person's job is that person's whole life. However, I do not remember Opposition Members protesting so strongly about the tens of thousands of jobs that were destroyed by the policies of their Government in the mining, steel and manufacturing industries. We would have welcomed their support, but we did not get it. We heard then of economic implications, imperatives, the market and so forth—and tough luck on the miners, the steel workers and the manufacturing workers. Now Opposition Members come here and expect us to be overawed by a possible loss of 700 jobs.
§ Mr. Banks
As I have said, I am not dismissive of the jobs argument, but in the final analysis it does not swing the overall argument. Jobs must have been involved in all the bloodsports that have been banned by Commons legislation—badger baiting, cock fighting, dog fighting, bull baiting and otter hunting.
The book "Roads to Ruin"—hon. Members should read it—gives various examples of debates in the House on social reform in which the employment issue was used to argue against reform. The argument against stopping little boys being sent up chimneys was that such a ban would cause great unemployment among poor families in urban areas. The employment issue was also raised in the slavery debate. People probably argued against abolishing witch burning on the grounds that it created jobs for those who lit the faggots.
Ultimately, the jobs argument is simply not persuasive. If one believes Burns's figures—that 700 people are directly employed by the hunts—one should conclude that, even with the current state of the rural economy, they should be easily absorbed.
The third and final issue that I should like to address is that of individual rights, which was raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and addressed by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) also raised the issue of minority rights and the banning of a lawful activity.
581 When my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) raised the issue of bull baiting, he was laughed at by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff)—who is clearly a civilised man and believes that bull baiting is an abhorrent practice. I hope and trust that all hon. Members agree that it is an abhorrent practice. Nevertheless, the arguments that were assembled in the House to defend bull baiting are of the same order as those now being used by Opposition Members to defend fox hunting. That point could not have been made with greater clarity than it was by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). I love the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex—in a very non-erotic way—but he really is an unreconstructed old snob. My own feeling—I have great regard for him—is that he should be set in a vast tub of aspic and turned into a tourist attraction. I believe that people would pay good money to come and see a perfectly preserved example of that endangered species, snobbus gargantuus. He used all the same arguments that were used in a debate in the House on 24 April 1800. Some of his predecessors were probably here for that debate, if he was not here himself, arguing exactly the same points.
In 1800, Sir William Pulteney attempted to introduce legislation to abolish bull baiting. The opponents of that legislation—it really is worthwhile reading that debate—used various arguments that are almost identical to those now being used by pro-hunters—including the fear of unemployment, the inadequacy of the alternatives, and the idea that such reform should be regarded as the thin end of the wedge. All the arguments that we have heard today were used on 24 April 1800.
§ Mr. Banks
I do not quite understand the point of that question, which has nothing to do with the flow of my argument. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was listening to my argument. I used to fish quite often, and I was very good at angling, for which I won quite a few prizes. However, I would not do it now because there are a number of things about it that concern me.
One always has to draw lines—that is what politics is all about. One does not say, "We'll do nothing unless we can do everything", because that is an absurd argument. I have drawn a line. Regardless of whether angling is morally justifiable, I see a difference between it and fox hunting. The point is that, although I would no longer participate in angling, I have made that distinction. I am perfectly happy saying, "I am prepared for angling to continue, but I want a ban on fox hunting." One has to remember that, in politics, one can always oppose one action by saying, "Why don't you do all these other things as well?" That is not what we intend to do.
In the debate of 24 April 1800, Mr. Windham played the libertarian card, just as the Opposition Front Benchers have today. His arguments read like the mantra of today's hunting supporters. He argued that there were other, more pressing issues on which to legislate. He said that it was not an issue for Parliament; that a ban would set the sport's supporters against its opponents; that there were 582 already enough laws to prevent abuse; and that minority rights had to be considered, along with the sport's social value.
Mr. Windham argued that the bull derived pleasure from the activity, and passed the baton on to George Canning, another libertarian and a great Foreign Secretary. Indeed, many would say that he was one the greatest Foreign Secretaries that we have had, begging the pardon of my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary. Mr. Canning said that he could not think of a more absurd Bill that had ever been brought before Parliament and asked, "What could be more innocent than bull baiting?"
In case hon. Members have forgotten, bull baiting involved a bull being tethered to the ground, so that it had no means of defence. Dogs were set on it and would tear at its head, chest and legs. Bulls often had their nostrils stuffed with pepper to drive them mad and a notorious tale was quoted in the House of how a bull had had its hooves sawn off to deprive it of any recourse whatever. According to Mr. Windham, the bull enjoyed that, which is why Mr. Canning said that there could be nothing more innocent than bull baiting.
Those examples show that nothing that we do in this House has not been done before. No arguments have been posed that have not been mounted before. I urge Opposition Members to read the arguments that were being made in relation to the banning of abhorrent practices which I know none of them support. In a few years' time, when someone else stands up to speak, they will put fox hunting in the same category as hare coursing and deer hunting, and be trying to imagine how any civilised person could actually have done those things.
§ Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)
Until today, I thought that the only thing on which I agreed with the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) was supporting Chelsea football club. I now discover that I also agree with him about, not exactly the irrelevance, but the relative unimportance of the jobs argument in relation to this issue. Characteristically, the hon. Gentleman put his case well, but the robustness of his speech may have given us a clue about why we lost our bid for the world cup.
The flaw in the final, rather entertaining, part of the hon. Gentleman's speech, is that he has not read the Burns report, or has read it only selectively. Unlike the bulls that used to be baited, the foxes are going to die anyway, and Burns judges that other methods of control have their own problems from a welfare perspective. With respect, the argument is different, and the hon. Gentleman has not correctly understood the distinction between two different activities involving animals.
Like many people—probably on both sides of the House, to be honest—I believe that the debate on fox hunting that we are being forced into as a country and as a Parliament is largely a distraction from more important issues. However, it matters fundamentally because of its implications for minorities. I vividly remember going to the Birmingham rally of the Countryside Alliance last year and hearing a leading member of the Muslim community speak in favour of the right to allow English and Welsh men and women to continue to hunt, which he thought was an important minority right. The audience was moved by what this Muslim had to say about fox hunting, and Government Members should think carefully before dismissing the argument about minorities.
583 Like everyone who has spoken in this debate, I think that the Burns report is excellent. It has its flaws, born of being a little rushed. A year, rather than six months, would have led to a better report, as there are issues that Lord Burns has not addressed properly, such as the way in which foxes are conserved by the practice of fox hunting, and too much emphasis is put on control. The implications of the welfare of hounds have not been considered properly, and neither has the importance of fox hunting to the landscape, and so on. Ultimately, that does not really matter, as two issues are at stake in the debate. On one side of the scale is animal welfare, and on the other, the freedom of individuals to do as they choose with their lives. Where does one strike the balance? How does one weigh those two issues?
I have a suggestion for the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. On unwhipped votes at least, hon. Members on both sides of the House should have to be able to demonstrate that they have studied the issues before being allowed to take part in the debate or vote. Certainly, if hon. Members were forced to read the Burns report from beginning to end and demonstrate an understanding of it, it would be impossible for any of them to conclude that fox hunting should be banned. However, I must part company with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), as the report does not suggest that one can leave fox hunting as it is; it highlights serious flaws and shortcomings in current practices, which need regulation. That goes to the heart of the Middle Way group's proposals, to which I shall return in a few moments.
I have one real fear. There are three of us in the Chamber who represent in Parliament the middle way, or compromise; besides myself, there are my hon. Friends—as I shall call them for these purposes—the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) and for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). I fear that we are being drowned out by the forces on either side of the argument. We have no money for advertising campaigns or public relations stunts. All we have is the power of our argument, to which I hope hon. Members will pause and listen, as I believe that there is scope for compromise on this issue.
§ Mr. Caplin
I said earlier that a party that tells the electorate that it will do something during a Parliament—in this case, introduce a ban on fox hunting—should carry on and do it. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that?
§ Mr. Luff
No, I do not. First, the Labour Government have already met their manifesto commitments. Secondly, when the facts change, I change my mind, and I would hope that the Government would do the same. Not only have the facts changed with the publication of the Burns report, but the compromise that the Middle Way group has put forward was not on the table at the time of the last election. I urge the hon. Gentleman to open his mind to the changed facts and consider the possibility of compromise.
The implications that a ban would have for farming and for social life in the countryside have been mentioned already. However, sufficient note has not been taken of the strength of support for fox hunting in rural areas. The Burns report states, on pages 75 and 76, that 60 per cent. of people in the study areas—where I accept fox hunting is practised—oppose a ban on hunting. Paragraph 4.35 is especially interesting. It states: 584Broadly 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.Many people think that the argument is between toffs and the rest of us, but that finding shows that it is not: support for fox hunting is widely spread among the rural communities of England and Wales, and is concentrated not at the top, but at the bottom of the social class bands.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) dealt with the animal welfare points. The report does the argument a great favour by showing that drag hunting does not represent a viable alternative—another point that has already been made in the debate. However, there is still a need to emphasise the practical difficulties of a ban.
Paragraph 10.28 of the report states:Consideration should be given to whether any ban would be manifestly unjust, bearing in mind the activities caught and not caught by it.Paragraph 10.29 states:Consideration should be given to whether any ban could be framed sufficiently clearly to enable people to regulate their conduct.The difficulties are clearly huge, and the report also looks at the problems of enforcement.
It is clear that fox hunting has no adverse implications for animal welfare. Quite the opposite: animal welfare would probably suffer, at the margin, if fox hunting were banned. A ban would have real economic and social implications for rural communities, and there would be practical difficulties in implementation and enforcement.
However, does that suggest that fox hunting should continue in its present form? I say that it does not. The Burns report also states that hunting poses serious problems concerning trespass and safety, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said in his excellent speech. Moreover, chapter 9 of the report deals with other problems, such as the openness of hunting, the length of the season, terrier work, and stopping up. Those issues need to be addressed.
§ Mr. Leigh
In his discussions with the Government as the representative of the Middle Way group, has my hon. Friend detected any sign of nervousness among Ministers about taking on such a large minority, of about a quarter of a million people? If a compromise solution along the lines that he suggests—the adoption of licensing, for example, and the ending of practices such as terrier work—were to be accepted, is there a possibility that some progress might be made?
§ Mr. Luff
I must say that the Under-Secretary, who is to respond to the debate, has been scrupulously fair and independent, although he has always made it clear that he personally favours a ban on hunting. It is clear that the Home Office intends to take the Middle Way group's proposals seriously, just as it will proposals from other quarters. I am entirely confident about the way in which the Home Office has handled this matter.
However, some Ministers do seem to be expressing some concern. I thought that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food seemed to hint that a compromise might be preferable. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) may be right: it is possible that some Ministers recognise the difficulty and, in the light of the Burns report, the illogicality, of proceeding to an outright ban on fox hunting.
585 The hunting fraternity has moved, and the independent supervisory authority for hunting has been established, but that welcome step is not enough to give my constituents confidence about the problems that cause so much aggravation. The largest number of complaints about fox hunting made by the general public to Burns concerned trespass and public safety. Hunts do not deal with those issues very well, and greater sanctions are needed if they are to be addressed. We wish to develop the independent supervisory authority for hunting.
I do not want to read things into the Burns report that are not there, but helpfully, a form of licensing system is discussed in paragraphs 9.49, 9.50 and 9.51, as follows:A system of this kind would also assist, in the absence of a ban, in tackling illegal hunting. In particular, it would make it easier to deal with those intent on illegal coursing, or on badger baiting, since they would require a licence to hunt.Clearly the Burns report identifies real benefits that would flow from our proposals.
If something causes problems and we do not like it, should our first reaction be to ban it, or to control it? The motor car kills thousands of people every year, but we do not ban it; we seek to control it with speed limits, traffic lights and the highway code. Alcohol causes huge problems, and we control its sale and availability. Smoking kills people; again, we seek to control it. We give people the option of no-smoking carriages; we do not say, "Ban, ban, ban."
The Middle Way group's proposal, which is based on licensing hunts, with sanctions for those who breach the terms of those licences, and the codes of conduct, represents the way forward. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire—who for these purposes is my hon. Friend—estimates that our proposals would cost about£1 million. It is a "give or take" figure, which we are trying to hone down. That represents about£2,500 to£5,000 a hunt, or about£25 to£50 for each subscriber. Those are the orders of magnitude. There would be no burden for the taxpayer, but there would be an additional cost to hunts, which they can ill afford. Many of them face financial difficulties—hunting is in decline in this country—but such sums are affordable.
I shall conclude my remarks because other hon. Members wish to speak. I urge hon. Members to read the Burns report. I have heard much praise for him today, and I am reminded of the words of Mark Antony in "Julius Caesar":I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.Labour Members have come to bury Burns by praising him, and it is important that the report be read objectively and fairly.
In the notes that I took when we met the Prime Minister last November, I wrote:Genuinely believe this is a tough option, developed by people whose first concern is animal welfare, that will appeal to all sensible people and improve the welfare of the fox.I stand by those remarks today.
In a letter to us, the NFU said:An absolute ban on hunting with dogs in all circumstances would represent a draconian oppression of a legitimate activity, and would lead to a significant and most unwelcome fresh burden on Britain's badly suffering farming industry. We believe that a Parliament 586 which has historically prided itself on its protection of minorities should approach any changes in the present law in that direction with extreme caution.I believe that that is the conclusion of the Burns report, and I hope that hon. Members can be so persuaded.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
It is wonderful what can be learned in the Chamber. Until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) in aspic, I would never have guessed what the Conservative party, buggery and tripe had in common.
In the light of the comments of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), it behoves me to defend the right of a Scots Member of Parliament to express a view; and, in the light of the comments of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), to defend the right to have not only a voice, but a vote on the matter. I do so in the light of the fact that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) introduced a ten-minute Bill to deny us those rights. That was an attempt to answer the West Lothian question. I would say—having heard, at great length over many years my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who used to represent West Lothian, ask that question—that it is a silly question
In that sense alone, I found the solution proposed by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead to be appropriate: it was a silly answer to a silly question. It has been suggested that we should not have the right to vote or speak on matters devolved to Scotland. I believe that there is a simple anomaly, which is open to a simple and fairly straightforward constitutional solution. Basically, the simple position is that if the House decides to devolve a matter anywhere to another Parliament or Assembly, no Member, from wherever, will have the power to determine it here. However, if the House decides to reserve any matter anywhere to itself, all Members of the House, from wherever, have the power to determine it. If there is a growing feeling that there is a need for devolution to England—there may be such feeling—that should be resolved in the logical constitutional way by devolution to either an English Parliament or the English regional assemblies.
§ Mr. Garnier
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a fascinating discussion, but it is not germane to the debate on the Burns inquiry. A number of us who have been here all day would like to contribute. If the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) wants to discuss the West Lothian question, perhaps he should do so on another occasion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I say to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) that he has made his point and that he must get on to the terms of the debate. He is entitled to speak as this is an Adjournment debate.
§ Mr. Savidge
A specific point has been made that is germane to whether Scots Members are allowed to 587 express a view and vote on this matter. That is why I make my point. My argument is not primarily with the right hon. Member for Birkenhead, but with some of his strange bedfellows. For example, I have been attacked in my local newspaper, the Evening Express—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. May I say, as nicely as possible, that I have given the hon. Gentleman an instruction to get on to the terms of the debate? Perhaps he can raise that matter another time.
§ Mr. Savidge
Very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but that creates a difficulty because I am trying to respond to points made in debate.
For me, this is a matter of democracy. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) have said, a free vote was promised in the Government's manifesto. Before devolution in 1997, there was a free vote of the only elected Chamber of the British Parliament, which was carried by 411 votes to 151. If there is an anomaly to be resolved, I suggest that it is how it can be that we have such arcane, anarchic and anachronistic Standing Orders that a small minority of Members—
§ Mr. Paterson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is tearful. There are six packs of hounds in my constituency and I would like to talk about the Burns report. Is it in order to bang on about Standing Orders?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I remind the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North that he has no need to tell me about Standing Orders—I know a lot about them, which is why I am here. This is an Adjournment debate on the report of the committee of inquiry into hunting with dogs in England and Wales. He must address that matter, not Standing Orders or anything else.
§ Mr. Savidge
Am I allowed to say that it is unfortunate that a private Member's Bill was stopped? Surely that must be pertinent—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have given the hon. Gentleman a great deal of leeway, but if he does not accept my ruling I may have to instruct him to resume his seat, although I am reluctant to do so. He has my instructions and it is clear what I want him to do.
§ Mr. Savidge
This is an important issue of animal welfare, but animal welfare is not my top priority, as human rights and human survival are more important. However, consideration of this issue also involves an important matter of democracy. To use a well-known phrase, we are dealing with unfinished business and, indeed, the settled will of the people. As the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex recognised, opinion polls have shown steadily that more than 70 per cent. of the British people want a ban on hunting with hounds. I believe that that is the unfinished business of the British Parliament and the settled will of the British people: therefore I will support the ban here and in the Scottish Parliament.
As well as being an issue of democracy, it is also a moral issue. I have to make a confession—on the moral issue, some people might accuse me of prejudice. Let me explain where I could he regarded as being prejudiced and not taking sufficient account of the arguments.
588 I have a strong prejudice. I believe that throwing Christians to lions was wrong. I confess that when I visited the coliseum, they were not throwing Christians to lions, so I suppose that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex would say that I know nothing about the issue. I expect that the appropriate defenders of the sport would have said that too. We should lend our ears to the Romans and countrymen alliance because they had at least one good argument.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If hon. Members will allow me to take those decisions, I shall decide whether the hon. Gentleman is straying from the question before us. So far, he is all right.
§ Mr. Savidge
I am not impressed by the argument that there was not sufficient conclusive scientific evidence that Christians did not enjoy being thrown to lions, although I believe that an objective report suggested that it could have seriously compromised their welfare. I am not particularly impressed by the argument about the jobs of the coliseum workers, the lion keepers and the rest, as I am not totally persuaded that there could not have been other forms of entertainment. I tend to think that apart from the direct employment, the multiplier that was used to suggest indirect employment was a rather curious one, even in the objective report, and that the money that was spent could probably have been spent elsewhere and caused other jobs to be created. I am not even impressed by the argument about the culture, the framework of life and the traditional human values which we heard about from the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex in respect of hunting; presumably it was the bread and circuses argument in Roman times.
Nor am I impressed by the argument that a ban on throwing Christians to lions would have criminalised good, law-abiding Roman citizens. People who claim to be law-abiding provided that the law does not affect what they want to do have a rather poor definition of law-abiding. On that basis, one could say that drug pedlars, rapists or murderers would be law-abiding if only we had not passed laws against them, and that when the burglar is not a-burgling or the costermonger is not cutting up his mother they are just as good as any honest men.
Nor do I consider good arguments what one might call the middle way—that had the throwing of Christians to lions been licensed and controlled and had there been a body—perhaps we could call it Oflion—to look after it, that would have provided a reasonable solution to the problem.
§ Mr. Swayne
I hope that you can assist the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there a provision in the Standing 589 Orders in which the Speaker, in communication with the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, can determine whether or not an hon. Member remains sane?
§ Mr. Savidge
No. I am sorry, but I am about to conclude.
I am not even in favour of the suggestion that there could have been local referendums, although at least one could claim that coliseums were fixed places, so it would not have been quite as stupid as making that proposal in respect of events which, by their nature, outrun geographical boundaries. That would not be constitutionally sensible.
Nor do I take the argument that because the emperor and the upper classes attended such events at the coliseum, should they have been stopped that would have been the politics of envy. Nor do I believe that a ban would have represented a serious intrusion on the individual liberties of circus goers.
There is, however, one very good argument that members of the Romans and countrymen alliance would have advanced. They could have said that at least they did not have Christians chased for miles, to the point of exhaustion, before enjoying watching them being torn apart: now that would be barbarous and cruel. That is barbarous and cruel. That is why I believe that we should ban hunting with hounds, be it of hares, deer, foxes or mink. This is a matter of democracy, because it is the unfinished business of the House and the settled will of the British people.
§ 2 pm
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
On behalf of all Opposition Members, I wish the Minister a speedy recovery from his operation. Let us hope that he is back on his horse soon—but not too high a horse.
We have heard some good and thoughtful contributions from both sides of the argument, but listening to the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), for example, I felt that this was a sad day for democracy and a worrying one for politically incorrect minorities, and the final nail in the coffin for the Government's protestations that they believe in social inclusion. Thank goodness not all Labour Members took that line.
The Government have affirmed that they will introduce legislation that will inevitably lead to a ban on hunting, even though the excellent Burns report produced not a single scrap of evidence to justify that. Conservative Members accept that the freedom of the individual must be constrained when there are overwhelming public policy reasons for doing so, but in this case there are none at all.
For a ban to have any justification, those who oppose hunting would have to demonstrate that it is substantially worse as a means of control than the available 590 alternatives—a point powerfully made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).
§ Mr. Garnier
I feel a sense of frustration, in that my right hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) and I are the only three Members of Parliament who made submissions that are listed in the Burns report. Does he agree that the points made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) are incontrovertible and that if people cannot be bothered to read the Burns report, they should at least read the Hansard report of his speech?
§ Mr. Maclean
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. My right hon. and learned Friend's contribution was superb, with his customary logic—and I do not have to say that, as I no longer depend on him for my employment.
If there is to be any justification for a ban, it must be shown that any legislation will enhance animal welfare. Unless Parliament has objective, sustainable evidence of that, it will be wrong in principle to legislate. Burns has failed to show that there is any evidence that a ban would enhance animal welfare. Rather, the evidence is to the contrary.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) said, it is no part of our democratic inheritance to foist on a minority the prejudices and opinions of the majority. Parliament should legislate to deal with activities that cause harm, not those that certain people, for their own subjective reasons, dislike.
§ Mr. Caplin
Does the right hon. Gentleman object to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's proposal to put a number of options before the House?
§ Mr. Maclean
I object to a ban on hunting now that we have the Burns report, because it contains no evidence to suggest that a ban is sensible or morally correct or that we should overrule our fundamental human freedoms. There has already been a free vote in the House. We have new evidence in the form of the Burns report, so Labour Members should be able to get off the hook on which they have hoist themselves.
§ Dr. Palmer
The right hon. Gentleman says that there has been a free vote, but does he not agree that it is fundamentally unsatisfactory that the vote was frustrated by filibustering and that, with the Burns report, it is reasonable to return to the issue?
§ Mr. Maclean
I have turned up here every Friday, hoping to speak on the Medical Treatment (Prevention of Euthanasia) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), and I understand that we are still on clause 1 because Government Members are using legitimate parliamentary procedures to ensure that it does not advance by one inch. If the hon. Gentleman will join me in condemning that practice, I will condemn other practices in the House that I may dislike.
§ Mr. Maclean
No; I have heard enough from the hon. Gentleman today, if I may say so, and I have very 591 little time. The freedom of each individual to hunt with hounds is no different in principle from the freedom to fish, shoot, eat meat, drink alcohol, smoke a cigarette, watch football, gamble on the lottery or worship as one chooses. A free society is one that jealously protects the freedoms of its individual citizens and the acid test of a free society is the extent to which individuals and minorities are permitted to exercise their rights. It is for those reasons that I maintain that those individuals who hunt have rights, and a right is only of real value when it is a right to disagree with the majority.
Many points have been covered in today's debate, which has been worth while. It is only a pity that we did not have the debate before the Government announced their intention to ban hunting, even before Lord Burns had presented his report. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex was right to condemn the Government for that.
§ Mr. Maclean
No one has been convinced by listening to the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues today. It is interesting that Labour Members have paid polite attention to Bums. They congratulate Lord Burns on an excellent report and then find every excuse possible to avoid its conclusions. Burns has shot the fox of the anti-hunting extremists and Labour Members do not like that.
We would have enjoyed the contribution from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Savidge) more if it had not prevented other hon. Members from participating. There is nothing more likely to inflame English and Welsh country people than if Scottish Members come to a debate on the Bill, make their points and then attempt to vote. The Government have unbalanced this Parliament by having two classes of MP. A group of MPs from Scotland have additional rights. If they use those legal rights to vote on this English measure, that will do more than anything else to stir up English nationalism.
§ Mr. Maclean
I shall not give way, because I must push on. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin) on his contribution, which I enjoyed, although—like many Labour Members—he tried to play down the job losses. The Burns report is clear that up to 8,000 jobs could he lost, not the mere 700 that the hon. Member for West Ham suggested. Burns goes on to suggest that many more people depend on hunting for their incomes, and that is why it is legitimate to talk of some 13,000 to 14,000 people who could be affected by a ban on hunting.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and my hon. Friends the Members for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) also made some telling speeches. I urge the Government to listen carefully to some of the solutions that they advanced. I do not entirely agree with everything that my hon. Friends suggested, but they may have a solution that would go some way towards getting the Government off the hook and preventing a clash with rural people that would result in a further crisis in the countryside.
592 The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) said that the loss of jobs would be within normal fluctuations. That may be true numerically, but we have never before had a Government deliberately creating unemployment by banning a legal activity. That is what makes the job losses so unacceptable. They are unacceptable because they are totally avoidable, if only people were unprejudiced enough not to ban hunting.
We have had many interesting contributions today, but not sufficient comment—in my view—on the social and cultural aspects of hunting. Coming from the Lake district, I am biased in many ways, because I see the deep social and cultural attachment that my constituents have to hunting.
About eight years ago, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe and I negotiated at the Earth summit in Rio and agreed on the Rio declaration on sustainable development, principle 22 of which states:Indigenous people and their communities, and other local communities, have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognise and duly support their identities, their culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development.Do not all my constituents in the Lake district and the rural communities identified by Lord Burns, and all the constituents of other Members of Parliament from other parts of England and from Wales, qualify as an indigenous people in their local community? Should not the Government recognise and support their identity, their culture and their interests? Should not the Government enable them to participate in sustainable development, as the hunts have done for 200 years, and not now brand them as social outcasts to be reformed?
The key point in the debate, superbly emphasised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, is Burns's conclusion: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.Of course, there are clear welfare implications arising from all legal methods of control: when a fox gets a bullet in the head, there are adverse welfare implications. However, the crucial point is that Burns has not ruled that hunting with hounds is especially welfare unfriendly by comparison with all the other methods of fox control. If Labour Members ban hunting with hounds, they must accept responsibility for the fact that, throughout the country, to control a pest—a serious pest in certain parts of the country, where farming and livestock considerations dictate that it must be controlled—people will use other methods which, although legal, are equally, and in many cases more, welfare unfriendly and more inhumane than hunting with hounds.
When we read the Burns report, we find that, despite the huge amount of superb work that was carried out, it provides no evidence in any chapter to demonstrate that hunting should be banned—not from a social perspective, or from an animal welfare perspective, and certainly not from an economic perspective. All the arguments are on the side of my right hon. and hon. Friends and me, and support the case that we have advanced today. We can see that there is no overwhelming welfare reason to ban hunting and that there is therefore no public policy imperative that can overturn the fundamental freedom of an individual to participate in country sports.
593 To me, the debate on hunting is not about economic issues, environmental issues, or even animal welfare issues. The issue at the heart of the debate is an ethical one—it is the question of personal liberty. At stake are the rights and freedoms of individuals. The question of a ban on hunting is one that affects every person in this country, whether or not they have ever seen a horse or a hound or a hunt. My reason for opposing a ban, now that we have conclusive proof that there is no overwhelming welfare reason to impose one, is founded on my belief in the importance of a tolerant free society, the defining characteristic of which is that the rights of minorities are tolerated and respected. This country has a long tradition of tolerance of which we can rightly be proud.
I accept that the majority of Members of Parliament support a ban on hunting, but that, in itself, is not sufficient to justify a ban. The disapproval of an activity by the majority in a society does not, of itself, provide the case for the criminalisation of that activity. The only justifiable ground on which to take away an individual's right to act as he chooses is when doing so is irrefutably in the overriding interests of society as a whole. No one who has read Burns could argue convincingly that the prohibition of hunting would meet that criterion. Like many others, hunting is an issue on which each individual should be allowed to arrive at a personal moral judgment.
Even at this late stage, I appeal to the Government not to pursue what will inevitably be a confrontation with country people. Do not turn 250,000 honest, law-abiding British subjects into criminals. Do not alienate them further by forcing them to accept the Government's prejudices, their Back Benchers' prejudices and their value systems.
I live in the countryside. I see my constituents at work and on social occasions. They are quiet, placid, law-abiding people—the salt of the earth. All other hon. Members will say the same of their own constituents, but the Government are dangerously provoking them. They are playing with fire. I beg them not to ignite the powder keg that is smouldering in the countryside. I ask them to look for a way out and discuss with the Middle Way group and other organisations methods by which they can get off the hook on which they have hoist themselves.
The argument is not just about the countryside. Anyone who cares for the right of individuals to make personal choices must oppose a ban on hunting. We have traditionally looked to Parliament to protect the rights and freedoms of minorities, even though it has the power to take away all our freedoms. It can act totally, utterly illiberally if it wishes. It can ban hunting, fishing, shooting, boxing, motorcycle racing, the reading of certain books and lots more besides. We have the power to do it, but the exercise of that power would diminish Parliament. Our people would be less free. They would be subject to the tyranny of the prejudices of the majority.
All hon. Members have a sacred duty to ensure that this country does not sacrifice our liberal traditions in pursuit of some artificial goal of conformity, sentiment and political correctness. It has taken us 300 years to construct this tolerant liberal democracy of ours. I urge the Government not to ban things just because they dislike them; that would take us back to a new dark age of bigotry, intolerance and strife.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)
I welcome the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) back to the Front Bench. It has been some time since he has been there. We noticed the absence from the debate of the somewhat sidelined and semi-detached right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who has been replaced by her former colleague at the Home Office. I suspect that we would have had different fireworks at that Dispatch Box if she had braved the pack behind her. None the less, we welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his role.
My position on hunting is a matter of record, but there are concerns about civil liberties in banning anything. Sometimes it is justified, but I do think—it is a personal view—that the onus is on those who seek to legislate to justify it. That is the way in which I approach the issue. However, I am here as a Minister to set out the view of the Government. This is the third or fourth occasion on which we have had a full debate on hunting since 1997. I have looked at some of the arguments in the previous debates. It is clear that strong emotions were expressed, but that there was a lack of consensus on the basic facts and consequences of a ban. It could be said, to some extent, that there was heat but not much light.
On most questions before the House, there is the ability to debate around known facts using independently corroborated analysis. That enables the debate to be more focused and sharp. Fox hunting was an exception. Each side had it own version of "the facts." The purpose of the Burns report was to better inform the debate. Judging by the standard of today's debate, I think that it has achieved that objective. Whether hon. Members are banners, regulators, civil libertarians or undecided, they are better informed as a result of the report. Each side can better marshal its facts and arguments. It is a tribute to the Burns inquiry that the main parties who gave evidence to it have expressed broad satisfaction with the outcome. I believe that hon. Members will want to add themselves to the list of those who salute the Burns report and the members of the inquiry team.
Before I deal with the points that have been raised, I should like to say a few words about the report and the Bill. Hunting is a contentious issue and passions run high. Because of that, Lord Burns could have chosen to conduct the inquiry in a closed manner. On the contrary, he sought to conduct the inquiry very openly. He made the evidence available on an inquiry website. The oral evidence sessions were conducted in public and transcripts were posted on the website. Research papers commissioned by the committee were made available in draft and discussed at seminars, and were made available to the public.
As has been shown today, some might disagree with some conclusions in the report. That is inevitable, but the report and the evidence put to the inquiry have contributed enormously to improving our debate. That open approach has been echoed in the discussions that I have held with the umbrella groups to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred in his speech. Of course, some parts of the issue are incapable of being resolved to everyone's satisfaction. That is why we aim to facilitate a constructive debate and resolution of these issues.
Let me briefly tell the House the results of the meetings that I have had with the Countryside Alliance, Deadline 2000 and the Middle Way group. I do not propose to hold 595 meetings with a large variety of other organisations, but, as some have said that they wish to speak to me, I make it clear that I am happy to consider written representations. I met the umbrella groups separately last week, and all the meetings were constructive. I told them that the Government were neutral on the issue of a ban on hunting.
The Home Office aims to develop an approach as open even-handed as possible to the options in the Bill, in order to give Parliament a manageable choice. I asked the umbrella groups for proposals on the options by mid-July, with a view to a having couple of weeks of discussion between officials and the groups on how we can put the detail of their proposals into a Bill and an overall package that we can present to the House.
The umbrella groups were given the same offer of reasonable access to the Home Office Bill team and meetings with me if there was a particular issue to resolve over the next few weeks. Each group was told that we hoped to submit proposals to parliamentary counsel by September. I could not guarantee that we would hold consultation on all the clauses, but I hope that that will be possible. I said that the Government fully retain the right to frame our Bill, but we shall seek to do so fairly and are interested in the views of the various umbrella groups on how that can be done.
The Bill needs to be manageable and the options as straightforward as possible. I am grateful to each of the organisations for the constructive way in which they approached those meetings. I am happy to receive representations from right hon. and hon. Members, either through the usual channels or in other ways.
I shall now deal with some of the points made in an extremely good debate. Many excellent speeches were made in favour of banning fox hunting. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) set out his view, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), who argued his case passionately.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) displayed his passion not only on fox hunting, but on a ban on shooting and fishing. I have to make it clear that the Government will not ban shooting and fishing. We have no intention of doing so. There is no possibility that that will be done by this Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) said that he had attended a hunt, but still favoured a ban.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
Would the Minister explain on what basis of principle the Government will support a ban on hunting?
§ Mr. O'Brien
I have just said that the Government are neutral on the issue of a ban on fox hunting. We seek to facilitate a full and proper debate on the matter so that those who favour hunting and those who favour a ban may be able to put their views. The Bill will set out various options, including those proposed by the supporters of regulation or of bans on particular types of hunting. We shall try to ensure that everyone can have their say. In due course, Parliament will no doubt decide.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
Do the Government have a principled basis on which they are prepared to defend the rights of minorities?
§ Mr. O'Brien
The Government are extremely concerned to ensure that all minorities have the right to 596 pursue activities that are proper, legitimate and justified. From time to time, on a decision of the House, minorities have been unable for various—often good—reasons to undertake an activity that they want to pursue. The fact that a group of people are a minority does not guarantee them the right to do what they want. It is a matter of whether there is a legitimate and proper justification for the action. That is what the House will have to consider.
We heard good contributions not only from the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) but also, in an intervention, from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding)—all of whom are members of the Middle Way group. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) made a good contribution in defence of hunting, as did the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—if there is time, I hope to return to his comments—and the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown).
The hon. Member for Aylesbury pointed out that we would need to consider carefully the Human Rights Act 1998 in relation to this issue. That is correct. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) joined him in suggesting that the Government would have to deal with great care with section 19 certificates. That is true.
Clearly, there are differing views as to compatibility with the convention; the Government will consider the points that have been raised before coming to a conclusion as to how to proceed. In any event, hon. Members will be aware that one of the leading experts on the convention, Mr. David Pannick QC, believes that a measure would comply with the convention. Obviously, such matters need to be examined.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury suggested that we needed to consider compensation. In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that the Government were considering compensation and would express a view in due course. We paid some compensation when handguns were banned. Serious issues arise as to the extent of any necessary compensation. I welcome the continued support of the Opposition for the Human Rights Act, whose provisions were made law with all-party support.
I hoped to be able to deal with such matters as fallen stock and employment, but as time is short I must move on to other points. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex wanted me to assess the relative pain—on a scale of one to 10—in a series of painful-sounding incidents. He asked me to reply by letter. He is quite entitled to commission the research himself, but I do not propose to ask officials to do so. He made a specific request and that is my response.
The hon. Gentleman also suggested that the Government were being deceitful by proposing provisions similar to those under the Sunday Trading Act 1994, before the report came out. However, everyone already knew that the matter was complex. It was clear from the evidence to Burns that options were needed and that they should be more than merely "Ban" or "No Ban". That is why we felt that provisions similar to those of the shops Act were appropriate. We did not need the Burns report to know that—although the report is, of course, enormously valuable.
597 The way in which the case has been put has benefited from the report. Our manifesto commitment is for a free vote. That has been delivered, but there are many issues on which both sides still do not agree. We decided that an independent inquiry would inform the debate. We are helping, with a Government Bill, to ensure that the debate is conducted in a way that enables the House to arrive at a full and proper conclusion, so as to resolve the matter once and for all.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.