HL Deb 12 March 2001 vol 623 cc517-680

3.7 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. The Bill that is currently before your Lordships would have the effect of banning most hunting with dogs. I hasten to stress that in asking you to give the Bill a Second Reading I am not asking your Lordships to support a ban on hunting. Nor am I asking you to endorse either of the other two options which we shall be putting before your Lordships to consider. I am inviting your Lordships to help us resolve a difficult issue.

Let me put on record straight away the fact that the Government are neutral on the question of hunting with dogs. We do not have an outcome which we wish to see and no whip has been imposed in either House for this Bill. Our aim has been to facilitate discussion so that the very contentious issue of hunting with dogs can be resolved once and for all.

In a moment I shall explain why the Bill has been brought forward, but perhaps I may first say something about the current foot and mouth disease crisis. I know that all noble Lords share the Government's sense of concern about what is happening in the countryside at the moment and we all sympathise with those who are suffering as a consequence of the spread of foot and mouth disease. My noble friend Lady Hayman has explained to your Lordships the steps that we are taking to control and eradicate the virus and we will continue to take all necessary steps to contain the outbreak. But I reject any suggestion that, because of the current foot and mouth disease crisis, we should not be proceeding with the Bill.

Foot and mouth disease and hunting with dogs are two totally separate issues and it is quite wrong of those who oppose any change to the law on hunting to seek to exploit the current difficulties our livestock industry is facing to further their campaign against this legislation.

It has been suggested that now is not the right time to consider this legislation. Let me make two observations about that. First, as I have already said, every appropriate step is being taken to control and contain foot and mouth disease. The existing powers that are available to us are sufficient, so it is not as if by discussing hunting with dogs we are preventing Parliament from considering emergency legislation that might be needed to deal with the situation. Secondly, the Bill that is before the House will not come into force until one year after Royal Assent, by which time all of us hope fervently that the current foot and mouth disease crisis will be long in the past.

Hunting is an important subject and one that is of deep concern. The amount of press attention that it warrants is testament to that, as is the fact that well over 100,000 people have written to the Home Office on the subject since the last general election. Another indication is that, since 1979, Private Members' Bills on the subject of hunting and coursing have been introduced in another place at the rate of more than one a year. I mention those Bills deliberately because they illustrate an important point.

The contentious nature of the subject is such that no Private Member's or Private Peer's Bill is likely to succeed. Those Bills generally did not fail because the majority of parliamentarians were opposed to them but simply because they could not command sufficient parliamentary time. Only a government Bill could provide the opportunity for this difficult issue to be resolved. That is why we have brought forward this Bill. It will enable Parliament to express its view and, we hope, to put this issue to bed.

In order to aid that process and to ensure that all of us have had access to all the facts surrounding hunting, before we brought forward this Bill we established a committee of inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. The remit of the committee was not to consider whether hunting with dogs should be permitted—that is a matter for Parliament—but to try to establish exactly how and what hunting takes place.

There is one thing that unites all those involved in the hunting debate, whatever their views on hunting, and that is their admiration for the report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his team—which, of course, includes another Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior. Members of another place were unstinting in their praise of what was invariably referred to as the Burns report. I am happy to add my tribute to the members of the inquiry team and to those who assisted them.

Perhaps I may now turn to the content of the Bill. In accordance with the Government's desire to facilitate debate, we decided to offer a multi-option Bill. This is a procedural device that worked well when it was employed by the previous government as a means of dealing with the difficult issue of Sunday trading. Indeed, it is an indication of how successful it was in resolving that issue once and for all that it is not generally remembered just how contentious Sunday trading once was. It was the issue which led to one of only two government defeats at Second Reading in another place in the past 75 years.

In 1993, the then government brought forward a Bill that was to become the Sunday Trading Act 1994. It contained three options from which Parliament was able to choose. I think it is fair to say that even those who favoured an option other than the one which Parliament ultimately chose have accepted that decision. It is our hope that a similar attitude will prevail in regard to hunting.

We invited three key interest groups each to suggest an option for inclusion in the Bill. The three interest groups were Deadline 2000, which is also known as the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, and is a consortium made up of the League Against Cruel Sports, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the RSPCA; the Middle Way Group, which is a cross-party group of MPs; and the Countryside Alliance, a body which I am sure is well known to many noble Lords and which seeks to represent the interests of the countryside.

All three organisations responded positively and came forward with an option for inclusion in the Bill, and I am most grateful to them for that. The Bill was in fact drafted by parliamentary counsel to ensure that it properly gave effect to the desired policies and was also workable. The Bill, as it was introduced in another place, contained all three options. The three options are mutually exclusive and at Committee stage Members of another place made their choice between them. The result was decisive, as even those who disagreed with it were obliged to admit. By a vote of 387 to 174, the other place backed the Deadline 2000 option and it was that option that was subject to detailed scrutiny and, indeed, amendment.

I wish to say a little more about what is contained in each of the options; but, first, let me say something about procedure. It is the Government's wish to ensure that this House is given an opportunity to have a clean vote on the three options, as was given to another place. In order to achieve this, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton has tabled a Motion to be taken at the start of business tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I explain what the outcome would be if the House were to agree to tomorrow's Motion.

If the House agrees to the Motion, there will then follow a Committee stage, probably on 26th March, which will last for a single day and at the end of which there will be three votes, one on each option. We have consulted closely with the House authorities to ensure that the amendments can be drafted in such a way as to prevent either of the latter votes being pre-empted by an earlier decision. There is therefore a guarantee that, on all three options, there will be a vote.

The first vote will be a vote on the Deadline 2000 option; that is, the ban on hunting with dogs. As a result of that vote, the ban will either stay in the Bill or be deleted from it. The second vote will be a vote on the Countryside Alliance option; that is, self-regulation. If self-regulation is agreed to, it will go into the Bill and, if the ban has survived the first vote, it would at that stage be replaced by self-regulation. The third vote will take place regardless of the outcome of the first two votes. It will be a vote on the Middle Way Group option; that is, hunting under licence. If it is agreed to, then hunting under licence will go into the Bill in place of whichever of the other two options was, at that point, in the Bill. At the end of the whole process, the Bill will be reprinted and recommitted to a Committee of the whole House so that the chosen option can be considered in detail and noble Lords can table amendments to it.

This procedure has been worked out with the help and advice of the House authorities, to whom we should all be extremely grateful. My noble friend the Chief Whip—

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that this has been done without the agreement of the usual channels?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I can confirm that that is the case.

As I said, my noble friend the Chief Whip has also consulted extensively with as many of the interested parties as possible. I believe that the Motion will allow the House to proceed in the most straightforward way, and I hope that the House will accept it when it is moved tomorrow.

As promised, let me say a little more about the three options to be considered by your Lordships. I shall endeavour to do so as neutrally and as factually as possible. I believe that each of the three options has supporters in your Lordships' House and it is for the noble Lords concerned to make the case for those options.

Perhaps I may start with the option that is currently in the Bill; that is, the one that has been put forward by Deadline 2000. In many ways, it is the easiest one to describe since its purpose is simple. It seeks to ban the hunting of wild mammals with dogs and. if noble Lords will read paragraph 1 of the schedule. they will discover a provision to precisely that effect. However, the proponents of this option recognise that there are circumstances when it is necessary and desirable to hunt with dogs. The Bill thus provides for a number of exceptions; that is, circumstances in which it would remain legal to hunt with a dog, even if this option were to be passed into law. These cover those occasions when animals might be injured and the recovery of animals which may have escaped from captivity.

The scope of the exceptions probably attracted more discussion than anything else when they were debated in another place. As a consequence, amendments were made to the Bill. Accordingly, exceptions will now be made for rabbit hunting, rodent hunting and the stalking and flushing out of deer, so these activities will be able to continue.

Anyone who breaches the ban on hunting with dogs, if his activity is not covered by one of the exceptions, would commit an offence and be liable to fine of up to £5,000. This is broadly in line with related animal welfare legislation, although I should point out that most similar legislation provides for custodial penalties, so, in truth, these provisions are less severe than parallel legislation. The powers given to the police to enforce the ban on hunting are similarly based on those found in existing animal welfare legislation. The police have said that they do not believe that enforcing a ban would impose a significant additional burden on their resources.

Perhaps I may now turn to the option put forward by the Middle Way Group. It is based on the premise that hunting with dogs should be allowed to continue but that it should be a licensed activity. Anyone who wished to hunt would need to apply for a licence. Licences would be issued by a newly created non-departmental public body known as the hunting authority. The authority would consist of between seven and 11 members, some of whom would represent the main interests such as landowners, farmers and animal welfare representatives, although the majority will be selected precisely because they have no vested interest in the question. As well as issuing licences, the authority would be required to draw up codes of practice to govern the main hunting activities and would be able to attach appropriate terms and conditions to licences.

The cost of the hunting authority would come from the income generated by licence fees. The intention is that it should be self-financing; that is, that in any year its income from licence fees should match its expenditure. The hunting authority would also be able to appoint inspectors to visit hunts. It would also be given the power to provide training courses and to set examinations for those who wish to apply for licences, although, as I understand it, the proponents of this option do not envisage that the authority would do that, at least initially.

Finally, perhaps I may deal with the option that has been put forward by the Countryside Alliance, which is based on the principle of self-regulation of hunting. The Independent Supervisory Authority on Hunting, known as ISAH, was set up at the very end of 1999. Its members are the chairmen of the various hunting associations, such as the Master of Foxhounds Association, the National Coursing Club and the Master of Deerhounds Association. ISAH oversees its member organisations' rules and codes of conduct and has the power to impose disciplinary sanctions on hunts and clubs. It also has the power to visit and inspect hunts. The cost of ISAH is borne by the member organisations.

Membership of ISAH or of an organisation affiliated to it is completely voluntary and anyone who wants to hunt outside its auspices is free to do so. That would continue to be the case under the option in Schedule 1. However, the schedule contains provisions to encourage as much hunting as possible to be undertaken within the ISAH regulatory umbrella.

The Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 both contain a number of offences relating to cruelty to animals. At present, both Acts contain specific exemption in relation to hunting, so that a person cannot be prosecuted under those provisions if his actions took place in the course of lawful hunting or coursing. This schedule would provide that in future the exemption would apply only to "supervised" hunting; that is, hunting undertaken under the ISAH regulatory umbrella. That way, the Countryside Alliance believes, there would be an incentive for everyone who goes hunting to come within the auspices of ISAH and to be bound by its code of practice.

I should make clear one point straight away. The Countryside Alliance does not accept that those who undertake properly organised hunting are committing an act of cruelty that would be liable to prosecution under the two Acts to which I have just referred. The Countryside Alliance is fearful of people bringing malicious legal actions. Therefore, it believes that people will want to enjoy the continued benefit of the statutory exemption and will seek to come within the ISAH umbrella. Those then are the options that your Lordships are invited to consider.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, is it true that in recent weeks the Government have been actively seeking a compromise in order to avoid a total ban? If it is true, when will the Government make their position plain?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I explained at the outset that the Government are neutral on these matters.

The Bill provides that it should take effect one year after Royal Assent. We intend that to be the case whichever of the options is chosen. We believe that this will give those concerned sufficient time to prepare for the new regime, whatever it may be. Obviously if the Middle Way Group option is chosen, certain transitional provisions will be needed to ensure that the hunting authority is up and running and issuing licences before it becomes unlawful to hunt without a licence.

The Bill extends to England and Wales only, as the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly are responsible for the question of hunting with dogs in their respective jurisdictions. Indeed, as your Lordships may be aware, there is currently a Bill before the Scottish Parliament on this very subject which is being piloted by the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie.

Hunting with dogs is a subject which excites considerable passions, and rightly so as it is an important issue. Nevertheless, I am confident that the tradition of your Lordships' House of civility and rational debate will mean that we can approach this Bill in a constructive fashion. We hope and believe that by offering a multi-option Bill the Government are helping this process.

The issue of hunting will not go away, but this Bill offers the chance to resolve it once and for all. All of the main interest groups came forward with an option for inclusion in the Bill, each of which would change the law to a greater or lesser extent. All of them recognise that the status quo can be improved upon. In that spirit, I invite your Lordships, wherever you may stand on this issue, to give the Bill a Second Reading. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton. )

3.25 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords—

The Earl of Longford

Whose turn is it?

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Earl is seeking to intervene before I have started.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I have tabled an amendment. When will that be called?

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, I am looking at the speakers' list. I believe that my noble friend is due to speak—I cannot work it out—at number 58.

The Earl of Longford

I am sorry, my Lords; I am not putting up with that interpretation. It states on the Order Paper that I have tabled an amendment; when will that be taken?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am basing my position on advice. On the authority of that advice, I understand that the amendment can be taken at any time.

The Earl of Longford

Then it can be taken now, my Lords.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

No, my Lords.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I was told that it would be taken now.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, my noble friend and all Members of the House are aware that normally such matters are decided by the feeling of the House. I understand from the advice that I have been given that the amendment can be taken at any time. I also understand from the tone of the comments around the House that noble Lords would prefer to proceed as the speakers' list is laid out.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am sorry, but I must make the strongest protest. I was told before I came into the Chamber that my amendment would be called next. I am now told that I shall have to wait until two o'clock in the morning. Is that the situation? I want to move an amendment in favour of drag hunting, which everyone agrees with.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I think we should proceed according to the list.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I have a horrible feeling that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is right. A Motion has been put down and he has tabled an amendment to that Motion, The normal form is that the amendment is taken immediately after the Motion is put.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I support the stance that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition has taken.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

The Leader of the House, my Lords.

Lord Strathclyde

That the Leader of the House has taken, my Lords. The election is almost upon us. The House will recognise that although it is the normal convention for the mover of an amendment to speak second, it is by no means a precedent that has always been followed. Although it is unusual, I think that it is the feeling of the House that we should continue with our debate, and that the first speaker on behalf of the Opposition, my noble friend Lord Cope, should now be allowed to deliver his speech.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, the first thing I should say from the Dispatch Box is that everything concerning the Bill is for me and for my noble friends a free vote. Therefore, everything else that I say today is a personal view. However, before I come to the merits or demerits of the Bill, I wish to say a few words about mechanics.

At this time of the year, the Bill will not complete its passage if the general election is to be on 3rd May, as we have been led to believe by the media, inspired and encouraged no doubt by the Government's spin doctors. No Bill starting here now will have time to complete its passage if the intervals laid down in our procedures are followed, even if discussion is minimal, and regardless of whatever decision the House takes about the Bill.

I make this point partly because the Prime Minister, among others, has said on several occasions that the Private Member's Bill introduced by the honourable Member, Mr Foster, was killed by this House. That was not the fact; it never came to us. It may be that the Prime Minister made a mistake the first time he said it—after all, he has important things on his mind—but each time he repeated it, the untruth became apparently more deliberate on the part of those who briefed him or, perhaps, in this case, failed to brief him.

The Bill cannot complete its normal scrutiny in the time available before a 3rd May election. Other Bills, including another Home Office Bill, were introduced earlier and can complete their normal passage, but this one will fall. That will be the Government's choice, not the result of any action by this House.

However, the Bill requires careful scrutiny. The Minister said that the Government are offering your Lordships the three options. Only one—the option currently set out in the Bill—was discussed in detail in another place; that was subject to a guillotine Motion and was not discussed as a whole. What is more, the other place decided on the three options before discussing them in detail. In other circles it would be seen as more logical to discuss the available options in some detail before deciding between them. I shall not pursue the point now, but I hope that the noble and learned Lord who is to reply will confirm that the Government will not use the Parliament Act in relation to this measure. The noble and learned Lord is not in his place. No doubt he will be shortly, and that question and any others will be relayed to him.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will my noble friend forgive me for intervening? It is extraordinary that someone who is to reply to his speech is not present to hear it.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am modest enough not to wish to draw too much attention to that fact. The noble and learned Lord was present a few minutes ago. Perhaps he will return shortly.

As I am advancing my own opinion on the substance of the Bill, I shall be brief; I shall not try to be comprehensive in my remarks so as to allow the maximum time for other speakers. I begin with a proposition which I hope will command general agreement in this House; namely, that we should distinguish between what we may disapprove of and what should be made criminal. That point was expressed in more or less those terms by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General in another context.

I have never made a secret of the fact that I approve of hunting. I respect the views of those who do not, but they should be very reluctant to criminalise so many of our fellow citizens. In particular, we should not criminalise an activity in ignorance of the facts.

I see that the noble and learned Lord is entering the Chamber. He will gather, if he is briefed on what has happened so far, that his appearance is very welcome.

It is because of the necessity to examine the facts that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, to my noble friend Lord Soulsby and to their colleagues for their report on the practical aspects of hunting. As came out in the report, in this case the proposal is not simply to end particular pastimes but to stamp out a way of life. Some activities can take over people's whole lives, and hunting is one. That is part of the reason for the strength of opposition to the Bill. Therefore, we consider the matter carefully.

The proposition in the Bill as it stands is that hunting as defined is so cruel that the majority should criminalise a minority of our fellow citizens. I want to make two points about cruelty. First, I know many hunting people, and they are not cruel. I lived in Berkeley, the home of the Berkeley Hounds. I represented the area in another place. I also represented Badminton, and in the case of both hunts a large slice of the country over which the hunts take place, and the area of the Wick and District Beagles. I am not a hunting man, but I am a supporter of all three hunts. Over the years, I have known many of those involved.

When I took my seat in another place, there were two legendary huntsmen, Brian Gupwell and Tim Langley. The huntsman of the Beagles was for many years a milk roundsman. Every kind of person takes part in hunting in one form or another. When I was first a member of the government of my noble friend Lady Thatcher, I used to say: "Two Whips live in Berkeley. Patrick Martin is one and I am the other. We do a similar job—keeping the pack together, looking out for trouble and looking after our flock". But I also knew the late Duke of Beaufort, who was one of my constituents. I was, like everyone else, appalled when so-called animal rights activists tried to dig up his grave when his widow was living in the house adjacent to the churchyard. Whatever our views, such excesses—like the current threats that we read about to Members of another place—are abominable.

As I say, I know many of the masters, the members and those who follow the hunt, whether on horseback, on foot, by car, by bicycle or in any other way. They are not cruel people. They are countrymen and countrywomen. They live and work with animals from early morning till late at night every day—with horses, dogs and livestock and every kind of wild animal and bird. Many are farmers. They live with, and understand, nature. The farmers among them are presently under appalling pressure—marooned on their farms, anxiously watching their stock every morning and wondering how to get their children to school without risk. Many spend their whole lives with animals—that is, when they are not filling in the everlasting forms and doing their best to keep up with the latest scientific and technical advice. They know animals; they know nature; and they are not cruel people.

Secondly in relation to cruelty, perhaps I may quote from evidence submitted to the Burns committee from 300 vets: Far from being cruel hunting is the most natural and humane method of controlling the populations of the fox, deer, hare and mink". That quotation comes from practising vets all over the country, together with several professors and other academics, six fellows of the Royal College of Pathologists and so on. Their evidence to the Burns committee has been widely distributed and was published with the report; therefore, I need not labour the point. The important thing is that they, like the Burns committee, compare the welfare effects of hunting with what would happen if hunting did not take place. The Burns committee points out that the alternative methods of control—principally shooting and snaring—also have serious adverse implications in terms of welfare. Of course they do; and I do not believe that banning hunting will benefit foxes, hares, deer or mink. On Friday, the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, put the matter succinctly and I echo his words; if I were a fox, I would vote against the Hunting Bill".—[Official Report, 9/9/01; col. 454.] We need to examine some of the practical aspects. The Bill as drafted would criminalise someone whose single dog—it is not "dogs" in the plural, as the Minister suggested in his introductory remarks—chases a fox, but not someone whose dog chases a rat; someone whose dog chases a hare, but not someone whose dog chases a rabbit. I realise how some of these extraordinary provisions have come about and how they come before us. Nevertheless, they highlight the problems of enforcement. I do not mean the problems of enforcement against the formal, well managed, traditional hunts that we know today. They would have to stop and, mostly, kill their hounds, or send them abroad. I believe that that would be a cruel waste of literally hundreds of years of careful breeding and training—for the best hounds have pedigrees far longer in terms of generations than any Members of your Lordships' House. I am talking about enforcement against ordinary dog owners, or, for that matter, those who try to hunt in secret.

Those who can afford it will no doubt try to hunt in Ireland or somewhere else. I should point out that there is a convenient travel guide to get one started in Appendix 9 of the Burns report. In any case, whatever happens to the main question, everyone recognises the need these days to reassure the public that hunting is properly conducted. Hunting has itself set up the new Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, to which the Minister referred, and its work has started. One of the alternative schemes would put that on a statutory footing.

The second alternative scheme in the other schedule that is to be introduced would bring in a licensing system with a government licensing body, as explained by the Minister. For myself, I prefer the first of these alternatives. I believe that self-regulation, like self-discipline, is the most effective kind. It is the least bureaucratic and is likely to have the most support.

We have a long day before us. I have already gone slightly beyond the time limit suggested by the Chief Whip, but I have not taken as long as the Minister, who took a further five minutes. I do not want to misuse my position. If the election is to be on 3rd May, this Bill is nothing more than a Labour Party stunt: it cannot succeed. Alternatively, if the election is not to be on 3rd May—of course, only the Government know—I believe that the Bill as it stands is not justified in welfare terms. It will do no good for the fox or the other quarry; it will destroy a legitimate activity and way of life of an already-suffering group of our fellow citizens. In party terms, it is a free vote, but I trust that noble Lords from all sides of the House will not support the flawed and offensive Bill now before us.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Leader of the House a question. I have tabled an amendment which appears on the Order Paper and should like to know when it will be taken. I repeat: when will it be taken?

Lord Burlison

My Lords, as I understand it, my noble friend the Leader of the House was quite clear in her earlier response. The amendment will be dealt with in due course, as per the order on the speakers' list.

3.43 p.m.

Lord McNally

My Lords, a wise man said that the two subjects that really excite this House are badgers and buggery. I believe that the alliteration was meant to cover animal welfare and sexual mores. Certainly, if the length of the speakers' list is anything to go by, today is animal welfare's day. We have a long debate ahead, and the advice of the Government Chip Whip is ringing in my ears. I shall, therefore, try to be brief.

The position of the Liberal Democrat Party on the issue was set out in our policy statement A Matter of Conscience, which said: In our view, there is no prospect of reducing the suffering sufficiently to justify the continuing practice of hunting with hounds". The statement went on to recognise the right of all Liberal Democrat MPs to vote on this issue according to individual judgment. Like those on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and those on the Government's side, Liberal Democrat Peers will have a free vote on the issue. Indeed, I expect from all sides of the House, and certainly from these Benches, strong individual views to be expressed. My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer cannot be with us today, but she hopes to join in the proceedings in Committee. I know that there will be speakers for all three options from these Benches; indeed, knowing Liberal Democrats as I do, there would probably have been supporters for a fourth and fifth option had these been available.

I know that in expressing a personal view, that view will differ from those of some very old friends, both on these Benches and other parts of the House. My position is that this is an issue of animal cruelty on which Parliament has a right to legislate. When an opportunity presents itself in Committee, I shall vote for a total ban. Those who argue that this is matter of individual liberty will have to explain why we have any animal welfare legislation at all.

I understand that this debate is held against a background of crisis in the countryside. However, as the Minister pointed out, we are not talking about banning hunting by midnight tonight, even if we finish the debate. The discussion has to run in parallel with a response to the current crisis. Indeed, that response needs to be conducted with even more urgency—hence the pressure from these Benches for the debate on foot and mouth that will take place tomorrow. We seek a widespread set of measures sympathetic to the needs arising from the crisis.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, talked a good deal about the judgment and knowledge of countrymen. I realise that people may consider my voice that of someone with an urban background. But I was brought up in the rural Fylde on the cusp between the seaside and the country. Although a factory worker, my father kept pigs and chickens. I sang, "D'ye ken John Peel", with gusto at my primary school. My attitude to animal welfare has never been dewy-eyed or emotional. I recognise that, for the farmer, the fox is a pest, albeit a pest with very good public relations.

But the debate is not about protecting some mythical bucolic idyll. Times change, and public attitudes change. What was acceptable to one generation is not acceptable to another. Over the years, Parliament has outlawed bear baiting, cock fighting and dog fighting, all because, at the time, Parliament judged those activities to be gratuitous and unwarranted cruelty and, therefore, unacceptable. It also judged at various times that setting one animal to kill another was not sport. Although I accept that there is a need to control the fox population and also, as a number of people who have written to me have pointed out, that the hunt, the pageantry and the dressing up are all great fun—goodness knows, this House is the last place to criticise people for dressing up—I oppose the linkage between pest control and entertainment.

Some can live with that and make a fine distinction. In an editorial of magisterial casuistry, the Observer said yesterday: There is a fine distinction which separates hunting from bear and badger baiting: hunting people do not take pleasure from the death of a fox. Indeed very few witness it. Their object is to pursue and kill the fox, not to watch its death". That is too fine a distinction for me. As for the middle way—

Lord Lawson of Blaby

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?

Lord McNally

No, my Lords. I shall not, and I shall tell the House why not. The noble Lord is bringing a habit from the other place, which is to intervene during someone else's speech. It is the second time he has done so in a speech of mine. In other words, you intervene in a debate where there is a long list and that way you get your name in Hansard. If the noble Lord is here at midnight, I shall be very surprised. Is the noble Lord on the speakers' list?

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, I have never been in another place and I have seen people intervene. It is not a habit introduced from another place.

Lord Lawson of Blaby

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I shall be brief. While he is making these fine distinctions or arguing that they do not exist, does he believe that there is a distinction between hunting and hunting for rabbits, which are excluded from the Bill, and with fishing and shooting? What does he have to say about that?

Lord McNally

My Lords, I wish that the noble Lord were one of the 70 speakers on the speakers' list. If we allow that other place gamesmanship, debates in this place will be wrecked, whether the noble Earl has been here 30 years or not. This is the second debate in which the noble Lord has intervened in that manner and not participated in the debate. There are 70 speakers on all sides of the House who will have a chance to respond to the noble Lord. I shall not play his game today. If others wish to respond to the noble Lord, they can.

In my view, the middle way is not a true compromise. The issue before us is whether killing in this way should be permitted or not. A compromise which leaves the cruelty intact is not a compromise. The middle way is only a variant on continuation. I ask those who support the middle way: why not separate the pest control from the sport by espousing other methods of hunting? Those were mentioned in the report.

As has already been demonstrated by my tetchiness to the noble Lord and by that of others, we have ahead 10 hours of high emotion and some technical argument. I conclude by making three points. We shall hear speeches in favour of a ban. I hope that the serried ranks will show a little more tolerance than they have done so far. This is not an attack on the country by the town. I believe that there is a need for a new rural policy which benefits not only the 3 per cent involved in farming but also the 97 per cent who are not. It is dangerous politics to whip up town against country or vice versa. However, it is not in the countryside's interest to commit itself too closely to the hunting lobby if it wants a broader settlement of its needs. The wider issues must be addressed.

I refer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I also believe that obeying the law is not optional. Parliament decides this matter, whichever way the debate goes. The same applies to the two other options. If hunting is to continue to be permitted, either through self-regulation or regulation by a statutory body, it is my belief that that right should be protected by the full weight of the law. But let us also be clear that if Parliament in its wisdom decides to ban hunting, it ill behoves anyone in this House or elsewhere to advocate that that law should not be obeyed.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that it is unlikely that this issue will be settled in this Parliament. If the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, thinks that this exercise will put the issue to bed, I fear that he will be severely disappointed. According to a Downing Street briefing, this is, not high on the Prime Minister's list of priorities". If it is not, this issue will drag on for years and years. Certainly, at some stage during the passage of the legislation the Minister should explain what the Government intend to do if the Bill is not enacted.

We have to take into account the significant majority in another place. That does not deny this House the right and the duty to scrutinise the legislation extremely carefully and to perform our usual advisory and revisory role. However, if there is an election and that election results in a House of Commons that again calls decisively for such legislation, I do not think that it is within the competence of this House to resist that legislation. If, on a free vote, the House of Commons again calls for such legislation, I think that on a free vote this House would be well advised to accept that. If we did not do so, we would be wandering into precedents that would have disturbing consequences.

However, during the next 10 to 12 hours there are only the following two tests for us to consider. Can we behave in a democratic and a civilised way? A democratic debate will comprise mutual tolerance. A civilised society will conclude that hunting with dogs is cruel and unacceptable and will legislate accordingly. Let the debate begin.

3.56 p.m.

Lord Burns

My Lords, I am grateful for the kind remarks that have been made about the work of the hunting inquiry. I pay tribute to the other members of the committee, including the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, for their insight and contribution to the work of the committee. I am also grateful for their delightful and stimulating company as we conducted our many visits to hunting events around England and Wales. On one occasion we even found ourselves in Scotland with the Border Hunt. However, I should emphasise that that did not happen by accident.

At the outset many people saw our task as a "poisoned chalice". I am relieved that it did not turn out that way. In part that was because both sides of the debate handled their relationships with the inquiry in a positive and constructive way. I am grateful to them also. I met some fascinating and committed people and learned a great deal from them both about animal welfare and animal behaviour. The process also went well because we had an outstanding secretary who brought together a small but very able team to help us.

I chaired the inquiry because, as the Minister mentioned, it was asked only to look at the facts about hunting. It was not asked to come to a decision on the basic question of whether or not there should be a ban. Nor were we asked to consider the moral and ethical aspects. As we were asked to establish facts and to inform the debate, we thought the job could be undertaken. I hope that we have helped people to deal with this extremely difficult issue.

In this debate I propose to stick to that role. I do not propose to give my view on the central question of whether or not there should be a ban on hunting. Having studiously avoided that question when undertaking the inquiry it would be wrong to express a view now. Today I shall touch on some of the matters that I learned during an enormously valuable experience.

The first point to make is that those who participate in hunting do so for a wide variety of reasons. Farmers in particular play a more central role than I realised before I undertook the inquiry. They participate in significant numbers as well as providing the land on which hunting takes place. They benefit from the pest control to the extent that it matters and they value highly the fallen stock service that is provided by many hunts. They believe that they know about animals, whether that involves breeding them, handling them or killing them. Of the other participants, some like riding horses; some like watching hounds work—we witnessed many people in that category—and some participate because they view it as an important way to support the local community.

As many have pointed out, the social life that surrounds hunting during the winter months is important to many people, particularly those who live in remote rural areas. At the same time, the committee was impressed by the strength of feeling of those we met, in particular in rural communities, who were opposed to hunting. They fell into a number of categories. Some disliked hunting and resent the hunt trespassing on their properties when it is told it is not welcome. There were several examples of that. Some worry about the safety of their pets and animals and are frustrated by the difficulty of moving around their nearby roads on hunt days. Many people have a deep concern about what they see as the inherent cruelty involved in hunting. I am sure we shall hear about that aspect today. Others were worried about the damage to the countryside and other animals, in particular badgers and otters.

So there are two important sides to the debate. Views are held strongly. There is a high degree of understanding by each side about the other's view. I hope that the work we undertook and the many seminars we held have helped to further that understanding. In many cases, it is a difference of view about some of the important aspects.

The committee spent some time considering the part that hunting plays in pest control. I shall not go through it in detail. I came to the view that hunting is essentially a recreational activity in most lowland areas and in practice plays only a small part in pest control. On the other hand, it is true that in some remote upland areas hunting plays a much bigger part in pest control. Farmers would have great difficulties without the help of some aspects of the subject we are debating.

At the same time we should also recognise that we are dealing with species where landowners believe that the population numbers must be managed. If hunting were subject to a ban, I have little doubt that at least an equivalent number of foxes, deer and hares would be killed by other means. The number of deaths is not likely to be reduced by banning hunting. Instead we are talking about alternative means of killing and whether they are more or less humane.

Given my economics background, I was interested to learn that on average it costs £1,000 per fox killed to maintain the hunt infrastructure, including the kennels. In a dozen hunts the cost was more than £2,500 per fox; and for two hunts it was more than £5,000 per fox. This suggested to me evidence of a high recreational value. By contrast, for many of the hunts in Wales and the Lake District the figure was below £350 per fox and for six of the hunts it was below £100 per fox. That seemed more consistent with a greater role of the hunt in population management.

The impact of hunting on employment was an important part of our remit; we commissioned research on it. Our estimates and some of the uncertainties have been reported and I do not wish to add to them today. They are available for people to read if they wish to do so. The general conclusion was that the numbers are not huge but of course they matter greatly to those affected, particularly when they see the threat coming from Parliament rather than from adverse economic conditions.

We considered the potential for drag hunting and undertook a visit to Germany. One often hears the argument that drag hunting is a simple substitute. We came to the view that there is scope for a greater role for drag hunting in the event of a ban. It would probably be one of the ways in which people would continue to exercise their interest in horse activities. However, we also concluded that there are some important limitations, including the reluctance of farmers to make available sufficient land, and of laying an artificial scent other than in long, fairly straight lines which compounds the problem of access to land. Taken together, we concluded that it was unlikely that drag hunting would offset the effects of a ban to any great extent.

The animal welfare argument is the most difficult to evaluate and the area where I had most to learn. I realise that I might not easily escape the phrase, "seriously compromises the welfare of the fox". I suspect that it will pursue me for some time to come. It is incumbent upon me to explain why we used that phrase although I shall limit my remarks to deer and foxes in view of the time pressure. Naturally, people ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel but in true Sir Humphrey style were not prepared to say so clearly. The short answer to that question is no. There was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty. It is a complex area.

Instead, our terms of reference asked us to consider the implications for welfare. We turned for help to the emerging scientific discipline of animal welfare. Scientists have been struggling with the question of how to measure the welfare of animals. The discipline is distinct from ethical or moral judgments about the way in which the animal is treated. Essentially it is concerned with assessing the ability of an animal to cope with its environment. If an animal is having difficulty in coping, or fails to cope, its welfare is regarded as poor.

One cannot ask an animal about its welfare or know what is going on inside its head. Scientists have sought to use a range of indicators to try to make that judgment. Those indicators usually involve a mixture of physiological indicators such as muscle damage as well as behavioural indicators. Our first step was to consider evidence about the welfare effects of hunting defined by assessing some of those indicators.

There is some scientific evidence about the impact on welfare of hunting deer. Quite a lot of work has been undertaken. Inevitably, there are differences about the interpretation of that data but there seems to be broad agreement that deer suffer in the final stages of hunting. Indeed, the hunt comes to an end because there is insufficient fuel left in the muscles for the deer to continue to run. There remains some disagreement about when that becomes serious. The committee's view was that in the final stage it probably falls short of the standards we would expect for humane killing and that there is a compromise of welfare.

With the fox, there is an almost total lack of similar scientific evidence about the effect on welfare of being hunted. I was surprised by that, given the intensity of the debate over many years. However, the evidence we collected in the form of post mortems convinced us that death is not always the result of a single bite to the back of the neck or shoulders by the leading hound as has sometimes been claimed. The post mortems indicated that death resulted from quite massive injuries to the chest and vital organs. Even so, we concluded that insensibility and death will normally follow within a matter of seconds once the fox is caught. Although we would have liked more scientific evidence, on these grounds we came to the view that the experience of being closely pursued, caught and killed by hounds seriously compromised the welfare of the fox and probably falls short of the standards we would expect for humane killing.

The problem—it has been referred to by other noble Lords—is that that cannot be the end of the matter. As I argued previously, a ban on hunting is unlikely to reduce the number of foxes and deer killed as farmers would use other methods to manage the population of those animals. Therefore we have to consider the welfare effects of the alternatives. For foxes, that means considering methods such as shooting and snaring. None of them is entirely comfortable. Both snaring and shooting with shotguns can have serious adverse welfare effects. We were persuaded that "lamping" using rifles, if carried out properly, was better for welfare but it was only feasible in certain circumstances. For example, it is not feasible or safe to use lamping in many upland areas, including those with dense forestry. We concluded that if dogs could not be used at least to flush foxes from cover in those areas, it was likely that the welfare of foxes would be adversely affected.

For deer, there is a viable alternative. We came to the view that, if done well, stalking with the availability of a dog to deal with wounded deer is in principle a better method from an animal welfare perspective. Our difficulty was that there was insufficient evidence about wounding rates. We recognised that a ban on hunting would be likely to result in more shooting being done by inexperienced stalkers.

A ban on hunting would also make it vital to introduce an effective deer management strategy on Exmoor. At the moment, that is effectively done by the hunt. There is a real risk that farmers will not tolerate deer on their land to the extent that they currently do if there is a ban on hunting.

It is for noble Lords to come to their own view about the balancing of those factors. I simply offer the view that the balancing need not be the same for each of the hunted species or in all areas. I am persuaded that this is not a simple case and there is no simple answer. If we are interested in animal welfare, we need to balance the various factors.

Whereas I do not wish to express a view on the central question of whether to ban hunting, I feel less restrained about commenting on the choice between licensing and self-regulation, if Parliament decides against a ban on hunting. Between those two options, my preference is for the licensing regime. That is not because of any lack of confidence in the individuals at present on the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, but because of two strands of argument that came out of our deliberations.

First, the task of being in charge of a large pack of hounds is a considerable responsibility. I have watched at close hand the extent to which at times the hounds are not under the close control of huntsmen. Part of the time they are, but part of the time they are not. As a society, we insist on licensing many activities in which there is a need to show competence and responsibility. The punishment for failure to do so can be the withdrawal of the licence. The same requirements of competence and responsibility apply to hunting, as well as the question of what action should be taken if conduct falls short of what is desired. I doubt that the non-hunting community would be satisfied by those decisions being taken by a self-regulatory body.

Secondly, we were concerned about the impact on animal welfare of a number of practices, including autumn or cub hunting, digging out, stopping up of earths and interfering with the flight of the quarry. We suggested ways in which action could be taken in the mean time to ban or curtail some of those activities even if Parliament decided against an overall ban on hunting with dogs.

The problem is that in each case it is difficult to impose rules that should apply in all circumstances and in all regions. There are clearly some cases that one would wish to deal with differently from others. A licensing authority could have an important role in judging the circumstances in which to grant licences and when to reject an application. That might include taking account of successful prosecutions brought against some of the activities.

I have already trespassed too long on your Lordships' time without giving a clear steer on how to deal with the Bill. I hope that I shall be forgiven for that. My aim has been to try to provide some thoughts from my six months of surprising and intensive immersion in the subject to help people to make their minds up. I look forward to hearing other people's perspectives, from the huge range of distinguished speakers on display today. I have already heard the views of a large number of people on the subject, hut, having been brought into the issue, I continue to find it enormously fascinating.

4.14 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Burns, because it gives me an opportunity to thank him for listening so thoroughly and putting the background facts for the debate so clearly. I make this speech as humbly as I can, because I recognise that within the Church that I serve there are completely opposing views held by a large number of people. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I shall speak personally from my experience as best I can.

First, I declare an interest—my love of Somerset since childhood, including nearly 10 years as the Bishop there. I have also had 25 years in East London, including 13 years as Bishop of Stepney, which included Islington. I continue to be concerned by the increasing lack of understanding between the rural and the urban, in spite of the great deal of cross-fertilisation that is taking place. Prejudice and discrimination are growing. In some ways and in some places, it is as though we have two different cultures. If it were not for the present foot and mouth tragedy, a vast march would have expressed how deeply many country people feel about what they see as an assault on their values.

One of the sharpest distinctions is on the treatment of animals. On one side are those whose experience is mostly limited to dealing with domestic animals. On the other side, people in the country deal daily with domestic, farm and wild animals. In a recent television programme called "Bare Necessities", some people on a survival course were asked to kill a chicken. They all had no difficulty in taking the prepared, gift-wrapped chicken from the supermarket shelf, but they were horrified by having to kill the bird themselves. In one way that is funny, but in another way it is a sort of alienation from the reality of how we live. The middle way offers a controlled opportunity to monitor and decide on some of those issues.

We have all been through lifelong exposure to the projection of human character and understanding onto animals. My first and favourite book that I was able to read and consciously remember was Black Beauty. "Bambi" had me under the seat in tears. In addition there are Mickey Mouse, Piglet and thousands of other examples of animals being portrayed as though they were human and had human consciousness. The good side of that—and there is a good side—is that it develops greater care and sensitivity for animals. The bad side is that it can create a dangerous prissiness about nature. I live surrounded by a moat on which nature constantly demonstrates to me what an unkind set of arrangements it is. Yet at the same time, nature has never been so brilliantly filmed or observed, or filmed so sharply, showing us how unkind it is. We see the most terrible, prolonged and teasing deaths and killings. So great is that anthropomorphic projection that we now have television programmes showing complex operations on cancers and other conditions in domestic animals, with medical staff striving to keep them unnaturally alive. I believe that that conveys cruelty to the animals in question.

The issue of hunting has become a serious conflict, partly because of those different perceptions. Some of the arguments on both sides seem little more than downright prejudice. On the one side is the use of words such as "barbaric" and the ignorance of thinking that hunting is largely a sport for the rich or for the upper classes—or even the comment of a professor yesterday that hunting was "practical atheism". On the other side there is a failure to tackle at a deep enough level the question of cruelty, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, so admirably set out, and the stereotyping of the urban response. I have stood for many years on both sides of that divide and I do not find the two sides describing each other accurately.

There are critics and supporters on both sides of the urban-rural divide. I have been on both sides of the argument. This is not just a cultural and economic question, vital though those aspects are for the countryside and for all the people who make their living there. It is shocking to travel across Somerset in any direction and see desolate fields—perhaps one field with sheep in every 10 miles—as all the animals are in their barns and farmers are living in fear of what might happen to them the next day.

In my view, the hunting question is a moral and a spiritual one. We often hear about the moral question; we rarely hear about the spiritual one. People say that it is not important. If it is not, then why do hundreds of thousands of people want to march and be heard, and why do hundreds of thousands of other people take tremendously serious efforts to oppose it? I believe that it is an important question because it concerns the relationship between the human race and nature and, ultimately, God.

One of my colleagues—not in this House—briefly and tellingly put the case against hunting—that it is impossible to believe that the cruel killing of a sentient being for human pleasure can be pleasing to God. To me, that is the core of the argument which must be faced. At first sight, it is a telling and powerful remark. No doubt it is the view of many such good people. But there are serious weaknesses in that statement.

Let us look at the key word "cruel", which has already been mentioned several times as applied to the killing in a hunt. "Cruel" is defined in the dictionary that I use as: Disposed to inflict suffering; indifference or pleasure in another's pain. Of course, in nature, wolves, jackals, hyenas, other groups of dogs, and so on, pursue other animals quite cruelly and persistently wherever nature is left to itself. It is a natural way of killing: the crocodile takes the wildebeest and the lion a deer. Their prey live in the wild in fear wherever there is a threat in the wind. Many creatures are eaten alive. Indeed, I am afraid to say—I find it deeply unpleasant—the sparrowhawk constantly eats pigeons alive on the lawn outside the place where I live.

Those who believe in God must come to terms with a creation of mutual hunting and eating. Everyone else does, but that is not such a problem if one does not have to believe in an almighty, loving Father and Creator. Those who believe sometimes think that perhaps He could have organised matters a little better. But we are unable to organise matters better. People say that we have now moved beyond the need to hunt, and what was our nature throughout the history of the human race is now thought of as unnatural for humans.

The hunting instinct is sublimated in many ways— some good, some bad: in athletics, which derived originally from hunting skills; in archery, obviously; packs on the rugger field hunt in their own way and get a lot out of their system; and, sadly, in racist pursuit. I have seen gangs in East London looking for, pursuing and hunting down people because they are of a different race. I have certainly witnessed gangs of football followers hunt other people.

My point is that hunting is within our being because it is part of our genetic history. The question is: how is that to be dealt with? Whether people like it or not, perhaps the hunt reminds us of what we have been and, in a sense, what we continue to be. I realise that it is no argument to say that we are just like nature. Although we are part of it, we have consciences to instruct us. However, in many ways we are confused and dysfunctional towards nature. As many of the big debates that we have show us, we do not have a great record in relating to nature. I believe that hunting is not only practical; it is also a reminder of that part of ourselves.

I turn to the subject of cruelty. Animals have predators. Some predators kill quickly and easily and some do not. If we possess, as we do, ways of killing which minimise suffering, those should be used whenever it is possible to do so successfully and properly. The deer is shot at bay but is usually otherwise unmarked. But, importantly, no animal escapes wounded. That is an important factor.

Reports on the relative cruelty of the chase often vary and, indeed, contradict each other. I, too, was moved when I heard of the number of vets who support hunting. A huge correspondence—admittedly, much of it from Somerset—suggests that a wide variety of people support it. I notice that many conservationists—I was particularly interested in David Attenborough's recent series on television— recognise that the survival of animals around the world often involves a compromise of some kind between we humans and the rest of nature which surrounds us. People may not like this fact, but, before hunting on Exmoor, the red deer population was almost lost. Its revival was due in part to the hunt and what Ted Hughes called "the strange agreement" between the farmers and the deer.

We must be sure that the degree of cruelty administered by the chase—now likely to be banned—is not abandoned in the name of greater cruelty, leaving the quarry in question to die in worse and more cruel ways. Deer which are shot by poachers, for example, are constantly having to be cleared up by the hunt when, wounded, they creep away to a ditch to die. One issue which is most misunderstood is the relationship between farmers and deer. Most hunting people whom I know are not indifferent to the suffering; they simply see it as a necessity for the good of the herd which is sustained on farmland. That fact must be recognised.

A noble Lord said that those are fine distinctions. I consider them to be very important distinctions. It is possible that, ultimately, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said, the decision that must be made will go beyond the limit of what we should expect or the standards that we should have. However, I believe that the issues are very different to those involved in cock fighting or the bull fight. They come far more within a natural context and, therefore, are more acceptable. Hunting provides a way of limiting the number of animals which are free to do damage to crops and farm animals.

My final point concerns the question of human pleasure. As I said, sometimes I feel uncomfortable when I consider the Creation. However, one unjust criticism of the hunt is that people enjoy inflicting the pain, the suffering and the killing. There are sick people who enjoy it. That is why bad things sometimes occur and why there must be regulation. But most of the people who take part do not enjoy the killing; indeed, many go home long before the kill takes place.

As your Lordships know, many other issues arise in relation to the rural community. I have tried to look at the way in which we see man relating to nature—about which I believe there is deep confusion—and the question of cruelty and pleasure. On an issue where opposing views, to which great thought has been given, are held with such passion, and in a society where there is such uncertainty, can it really be right at this time to introduce legislation to ban altogether something that is so much in question and so much part of the rural way of life?

4.28 p.m.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn

As I have listened to this debate, I have been carried back to the 10 years which I spent in the European Parliament—from 1979 to 1989. One of the activities which I enjoyed most was my membership of the inter-group on animal welfare. That was an all-party, all-member state group. It was fascinating to listen to the people who came along as individuals, bringing a case which they felt we should examine if we were to cleanse the European Parliament of the smear of cruelty that lies over all our western civilisation.

Towards the end of my period there, I decided to organise an exhibition on animal welfare and on what was wrong in each individual member state. The officials of the inter-group came to my assistance and, of course, we had illustrations: the French torturing the goose to produce the pâté de foie gras; and the Belgians clinging on—the last state in Europe to do so—to the legalisation of the leg-hold trap, with its unmitigated cruelty to the trapped animal. As for Spain—how we all condemn Spain for her bullfighting and the habit she had of, I believe, dropping donkeys from the tops of roofs. When we produced the exhibition, they said to me, "What about Britain? What about your fox hunting and hare coursing?" Of course there was no way in which I could justify our being exempt from the general scrutiny.

What interested me was that at that time Henry Plumb was president of the European Parliament. He had just come into it following a period as president of the NFU. He spoke with some authority on the subject. He threw himself wholeheartedly behind our exhibition and agreed to open it with all of his official authority behind him. He was active in Compassion in World Farming and he once said to me, "You know, it is only economic common sense to mitigate cruelty to animals, particularly if you are in the farming world".

So we made quite a stir. I shall not bore you with the details about our campaign to criminalise the use of the leg-hold trap. We should not be afraid of that word. We do it all of the time. We criminalise things that we think are a blot on our society.

I approach this debate today not from a mushy point of view about animal welfare but with a concern for the development of our society. I happen to love animals passionately, and I live in the country, you know. To hear some people talk, you would think that none of us who supports a total ban on hunting with dogs had ever seen a blade of grass. That is of course an absolute farce.

I always remember in those years of the 1945 government after the war the unleashing of the passionate love of the countryside in industrial areas. People in those areas demanded access to mountains and supported the Youth Hostel Association. They wanted above all to get into their inheritance, which was barred from them for as long as they lived in smoke-filled towns. They went all right—they walked further than most country people do.

As for myself, I live in the heart of the Chilterns in an area of outstanding natural beauty, about half a mile from Lady Mallalieu, who is of course the complete countrywoman. I have been in my six acres for 35 years and I claim the title as proudly as my noble friend does.

I can see wildlife in my field and my bit of wood. There was a muntjac at the bottom of my garden only the other day. I know what it was doing—it was eyeing my rose bushes to see how many of the little shoots it could nibble. Fortunately, I decided this year, having lost my status in the Ibstone flower show as the rose queen, to cover everything with netting to keep off the muntjacs. Good heavens, they are everywhere. The peasant-type chap who lived in the cottage opposite when we first went to our new home, said to us, "You will have to put some tinselly stuff or something at the entrance to your garden. Otherwise, the deer will have everything".

I know the realities of rural life. I defy anybody to rob me of the right to claim such a status. One of the things that irritates me about the hunting lobby's campaign is the suggestion that we are out to ruin the countryside and its values. As a previous speaker said, those values in traditional country sports would honestly have to include cock fighting, dog fighting, bear baiting and the rest of it. Those in the countryside were not gentlemen, I assure you, throughout our history. They were rough-and-tough types, just as the people who live in towns are rough-and-tough types, or a mixture of them. There is not a great gulf; it is just not there.

The campaign goes to such extremes. I wonder how many saw a few weeks ago on BBC television "Clarissa and the Countryman". Clarissa, you may remember, was one of the two fat ladies renowned for their cooking. Now she had gone into the country to be taken round, meekly led, by a punting propagandist, who said, "If they bar hunting they will ruin all of this". We ended up with a short scene of country dancing in a barn, and he said, "That will go!" I wonder how many in this Chamber have done as much country dancing as I have. I doubt whether anyone has done more.

I remember, late in my teens—we were living in the industrial north of Bradford at the time—when my brother enrolled me in an organisation called Woodcraft Chivalry. We used to go camping—oh gosh, those cold Easters!—in remote rural areas. The dampness struck up from the wet clay beneath. I know something about country life that I bet very few of you know! During the day, we used to go morris dancing in the villages.

I love, have been brought up in and will protect to the very end this lovely countryside but I do not include in its sacred values the right to pursue living mammals with a pack of hounds.

When people talk about country sports, I do not know where they get their values from. Is it a sport to set a dozen or so well-trained and well-heeled hounds after one isolated mammal? I could not do it. It makes me sick just to see it. I will tell you why huntsmen do not want to go drag hunting, even if that would employ their horses and hounds. One of them gave me an answer, although I shall not name the person. When I asked, "Why don't you do drag hunting?", the answer I got was, "No, the fox is so unpredictable". One does not need scientific assessments of what animals' feelings are or what the effect on them is. If you once see a pack of sleek, well-trained hounds in hot pursuit of one frightened animal, no wonder it is unpredictable. It reminds me of the panic of animals caught in a leg-hold trap: it would make anybody sick. People say: "We all know that foxes are vermin. You know what they do: they kill little lambs and they snap up chickens."

How many of those people who concentrate the limelight on fox hunting actually go in for stag hunting as well? There can be no doubt of the cruelty involved in stag hunting. The Burns report states that the stag is not adapted to the swift chase: it has small spurts of energy and then has to stop. The average hunt will take three hours and cover over 18 kilometres. That unadjusted deer has to cope as best it can. The report accepts that the overwhelming opinion is that in the later stages of the hunt, the deer suffers considerably. We see a picture of the deer at the end of the three-hour chase, turning because it cannot cope any longer, standing at bay, waiting for death at the hands of the hounds or their accompanying gunmen.

How can anybody do it? I know so many lovable and kindly people who hunt, but how can they do it? They say that a stag has to cope with the wolf in its natural habitat. I do not know how many wolves there are on Exmore, but the wolf is a short, sharp attacker and killer. If he does not kill immediately, then he turns away; he is not going to go for three hours and travel over 19 kilometres to get his prey. There is no parallel. What the stag hunter does is not natural.

I realise that there has to be culling and I am not against that; but, as the report shows, culling by hunting is the least efficient method of managing the deer population. The report states that 1,000 red deer have to be disposed of each year because they are surplus to requirements. What does hunting achieve, after the huntsmen have had their fill of seeing the animal at bay? The hunts account for 160 of those 1,000 deaths. The same pattern applies in relation to fox hunting. Hunting is the least efficacious method of managing the deer and fox populations.

I know that there can also be cruelties in stalking. I could never be silent as long as terriers were used to track the terrified animal to the earth. That is an area where there could be regulation. However, if this House is thinking about voting for regulation, it should think of the stag at bay, when it can no longer cope. No regulation can prevent its misery because it is endemic in the chase.

I ask this House to consider what is at issue in this matter. I am not soppy about animals, nor anthropomorphic, to repeat that long word used by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, but I think that society is judged by the way it treats animals. We can either look upon our relationship to animals as one of trusteeship or we can indifferently turn to their exploitation for our own amusement and entertainment. I am concerned about the nature of our society. A compassionate society does not mean that you cannot break a chicken's neck or put the rabbit in the pot—I would invite anybody to have a go at the rabbits in my field any time they like because they eat up all my parsley—but it depends on the motive. I ask every supporter of the hunting fraternity seriously to examine their motives. If they cannot do that themselves, we had better do it for them, because society would be poisoned if it ever allowed the brutalisation of indifference to pervade our world.

4.47 p.m.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, following that extraordinary speech, I should like to begin by declaring an interest as a board member of the Countryside Alliance, which is a democratic organisation representing almost half a million people. The Countryside Alliance contributed one of the options that made up this extraordinary Bill. We will debate those options in more detail in two weeks' time, but I should now like to focus on the proposal to ban hunting, which is at the centre of the Bill.

In six days' time, half a million or more supporters of the alliance were due to converge on London to express their passionate opposition to the Bill. The crisis in our countryside compelled us to postpone that march, and I am sure I am not alone in saying how distasteful we find the decision to press ahead with the debate at this time in these circumstances. It does the supporters of a ban no credit that they insist on having their say, when the very people whose way of life is most at risk cannot speak.

One of the main reasons why so many people wanted to come to London was to impress upon noble Lords their sense of anger and injustice and to ask your Lordships to defend them against the prejudice and ignorance that the debate has generated among their elected representatives. I know that noble Lords will understand if I ask them to be the voice of the countryside and to speak for those who cannot make their voices heard today.

I should like to make another point about timing. What message does the debate send to our rural communities about priorities? When foot and mouth disease was debated in the other place a week or so ago, only 40 government Back-Benchers bothered to attend, while almost 400 of them crammed the Chamber to outlaw hunting. More parliamentary time has been spent discussing the Bill, which we all know will never reach the statute book, than any of the real problems devastating the countryside and causing more despair than I have ever known in my lifetime. However, we apparently have plenty of time to debate measures that will cost many people their jobs and their houses and put increased pressure on rural policing, also putting police in conflict with their strongest supporters.

Two weeks ago Nick Brown was too busy to go to the House of Commons; but 48 hours later the entire MAFF ministerial team, with the exception of Mr Brown and the noble Baroness, attended the House of Commons and found time to ban hunting. While they were voting, their own officials were scurrying around the country asking hunt staff to help in the slaughter of livestock and the disposal of carcasses. This week hunt staff are a vital part of MAFF's strategy to beat foot and mouth. Next week they can draw the dole.

It is little wonder that the countryside feels betrayed, ignored, forgotten and excluded when it sees such an inversion of priorities. Only the other week the Prime Minister expressed concern about cynicism and apathy in our national life. Yet can one imagine a more blatant example of what he condemned than the Bill before us today?

The Bill, as we know from the excellent report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, will destroy thousands of jobs and many traditional skills and trades. Many people too stand to lose their homes and businesses. It will also hurt already fragile local economies and attack the social cohesion that so impressed the inquiry team. It will inevitably change, in part at least, the landscape that is part of our national heritage. That too is clear from the report. As we know, none of that apparently matters to the supporters of the ban option. Despite months of argument, the excellent report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the volumes of evidence received by the inquiry, too many supporters of this ban seem to be cocooned in the same ignorance as when they began.

As the report makes clear, this is an extremely complex debate and I should like to focus on what I consider to be the three most important issues: cruelty, morality and liberty. Those issues are central to the whole debate. The most important is cruelty. There is no doubt that the reason why so many sensible people are concerned about hunting is because they believe it to be intrinsically cruel and unnecessary. Indeed, that is the linchpin of Deadline 2000's case.

The report recognises that and consequently addresses the issue at some length, as did the noble Lord, Lord Burns, when he spoke. But he looked at the issue not as one of cruelty, which is what people do, but as one of suffering, which is what the animals feel. The report makes a number of important general points.

First, the report seeks to measure suffering in terms of welfare. Secondly, it points out that welfare is relative rather than absolute. That means that comparisons must be made between the current available methods of killing animals and by comparing today's situation with what is likely to be the position following a ban. The report points out that the welfare of the quarry species must be assessed at different times throughout the animals' lives, during the hunt itself and at the moment of death. Lastly, the whole question of welfare, which relates to individual animals, must be balanced against that of whole populations and species. That is wildlife management.

The argument put forward by Deadline 2000 is based on welfare and takes little account of wildlife management. That is only one area in which in my view it is deficient. Deadline 2000 made much of the statement in the report that hunting "severely compromises the welfare" of the quarry species—the noble Lord, Lord Burns, is right that that phrase will probably follow him around for a long time—but it fails to point out that it is impossible to kill an animal without compromising its welfare. Of course hunting compromises the welfare of the quarry; the object is to kill the quarry. But other factors must be taken into account.

The report seeks to differentiate between two aspects of hunting; first, the welfare implications of what the report calls the "chase"; and, secondly, the implications of the actual kill. In the case of the death of the quarry, Deadline 2000 still pretends that hounds kill their quarry by tearing it limb from limb. That is not correct. The report concludes that in the vast majority of cases, insensibility or death occur, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns said, within a matter of seconds. It is only after the animal is dead that the hounds tear at the carcass.

Most people throughout the country do not realise how large and strong hounds are or how small the quarry species. One of the reasons why there is still room for a debate on the exact manner of the kill is that even when one sees it, it happens too fast to be able to take in exactly what happens. But it is correct that there is no possibility of wounding.

This part of the debate is of course irrelevant to deer hunting, because at the end of the deer hunt the quarry is shot at close range by a trained marksman using a specially designed weapon. There is no quicker or more efficient way of killing a deer. There is no possibility of a deer escaping wounded, as can and does happen when deer are shot at longer range with a rifle, which is the only other method available.

The second area of concern is the chase itself. Much has been made about the stress of being hunted But stress is normal and exists alongside good welfare. Welfare becomes compromised when stress turns to distress or when an animal is forced to operate outside its normal parameters. It is likely that deer become distressed in the closing stages of a hunt and that their welfare can therefore be compromised. But that stage is reached in only a minority of cases and only for a few minutes.

Deadline 2000 makes much of the picture of an animal hunted for mile after mile and hour after hour to the point of exhaustion, whereupon it is torn limb from limb. That is not what happens. Most fox and hare hunts take place within the time, distance and pace parameters which the quarry encounter in their normal lives. Hunts are not continuous but, as the report suggests, comprise short bursts of speed interspersed with longer periods of slow progress. It is unlikely therefore that the quarry become distressed until the closing stages, and that may be for a few minutes at worst. That is also likely to be true of mink.

As the noble Lord, Lord Burns, pointed out, we clearly cannot ask the quarry what it feels. But most animal welfarists believe that animals do not contemplate death as we do; that they run not out of fear but as a result of an in-built response to danger and that flight is one of their natural defence mechanisms. Whether or not that is correct, I am not qualified to say, but there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Lastly, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said, we must balance the assessments of welfare against the requirements of wildlife management. All the four relevant animals need to be culled and that will continue to be so following a ban. The red deer of Exmoor, widely regarded as one of the best herds in the world, will cease to be what the report describes as a "community resource" and will become a pest, valued only for their meat. Farmers, who currently accept small numbers of deer on their farms because they support hunting, will not accept the larger herds that will form and the damage that they will do. It is therefore far more likely than at present that they will be shot, including by the use of shotguns. That is likely to lead to a sharp decrease in overall numbers and an equal increase in wounding rates. The deer as a whole will suffer, and there will be an increase in individual suffering.

There is very strong case for eradicating mink altogether. But a ban will lead to greater concentrations and greater damage, and the removal of one method of control, albeit not the most efficient by any means, for no valid reason.

The report emphasises that the hare survives best in areas where hare hunting and coursing take place, because hunters do an enormous amount of work to protect habitats. Indeed, it is the hare hunters who do the annual count for the Government. The likelihood is, therefore, that with no hare hunting and hare coursing, a direct and possibly terminal reduction in hare numbers will occur. The report also raises concern about the welfare of hares in the event of a ban because the only alternative—shooting—has relatively high wounding rates.

In the case of foxes, a ban on hunting will lead to an increase in the alternative methods of control. The report's view is that the best alternative is shooting using a lamp, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, suggested. He pointed out to us that that is not viable on moorland and hill country. I would add that it may not be desirable to encourage the use of high velocity rifles near roads and houses, and I suggest that the mix of rifles and increased rights of access, particularly at night, is not to me an obvious one.

The report also suggests that a ban would lead to an increase in snaring and the use of shotguns, and states that both can have serious welfare implications. We must remember that we have the healthiest and most stable fox population in Europe and, regardless of welfare questions, the existing regime of management should not be compromised. The report draws attention to the fact that it is impossible to predict the effect a ban would have on the fox population.

I suggest that the question of welfare is central but it is not quite as simple as some people would have your Lordships believe. Properly conducted hunting raises fewer welfare concerns than some of the methods of control that would be used increasingly in the event of a ban. The existing evidence on which a judgment must be made does not show that hunting with dogs is crueller than other methods, and it is likely that the welfare of the quarry species would suffer rather than benefit from a ban. It is also clear that the existing regime of wildlife management would be put severely at risk by a ban, which would therefore constitute a huge and irresponsible step into the unknown.

Regardless of the strength or weakness of their argument, supporters of a ban claim that public opinion demands it. It is true that, historically, the polls have indicated a majority in favour of a ban although, as the report confirms, in the countryside there is widespread support for hunting, particularly among farmers. Since 1989 the polls have shown a steady decline in the number favouring an outright ban. In the past three months, however, there has been a marked shift in public opinion which has been sustained. Independent polls now clearly show a substantial majority of people in this country are opposed to a ban. That is an extraordinary change in public opinion.

Opinion polls also show that this is not "an important issue". When pollsters ask people what they consider to be the most important political issues, hunting invariably comes, as it always has, at the bottom of the list. People are not interested in hunting. One matter that has become evident over the past couple of months is that people are sick to death of this debate. Perhaps the other place does not therefore speak for Britain as much as it assumes.

Supporters of a ban also claim that hunting is offensive, repugnant and incompatible with a civilised society. Most other countries in the European Union permit hunting. It is enjoyed in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and throughout the United States. Does that mean that all those countries are uncivilised and that Nazi Germany, which did ban hunting, is an example of a civilised country? Hunting takes place on 80 per cent of British farms. Are we really saying that 80 per cent of farmers allow cruelty, permit cruelty, are indifferent to cruelty? Supporters of a ban claim that people who hunt do so because they enjoy killing animals. There is no evidence to support that slander whatsoever. Anyone who knows the countryside also knows that such claims are not only untrue but deeply offensive.

I have hunted for over 35 years with over 30 packs of hounds in this country, Ireland, France and America. During all that time I have never seen, or ever heard of, anyone deriving pleasure from seeing the quarry killed and I, and my many hunting friends, would be repulsed by such a thing. People hunt for many different reasons, but sadism is not one of them. I use those words deliberately because it is a truism that most of us find many things offensive, but we do not presume that our distaste is grounds to impose a criminal sanction.

This Bill goes further than merely banning a sport. It intends to criminalise an activity that is not a sport in the way that football or snooker is. Hunting is a central part of many people's lives, from childhood through to old age. For tens of thousands of people hunting is symbolic of their way of life and it gives their lives an added purpose and meaning.

I suggest that a ban would be an illiberal, intolerant abuse of power. As Nick Brown said in the House of Commons on 26th February, laws work best when they have consent behind them".—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/01; col. 605.] A ban would have no such consent. Instead it threatens to divert police efforts and to divide rural communities, branding an entire class of people, who are often stalwarts of their communities, criminal if they do what they have always done, and which no independent inquiry has ever found should be outlawed. To ban hunting with dogs, which is the central issue of this Bill, would be an affront to the civil liberties of a large, law-abiding minority within our community.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, confirmed that hunting does not demonstrably and clearly lead to greater suffering than the other methods of control. I suggest that it is likely that a ban would lead to more suffering, not less. There is no widespread public demand for a ban and the debate over the past few months seems to indicate that a majority, as I have said, now oppose a ban.

The countryside has enough problems without this Bill. Rural communities need our support, not new attacks. Our police forces have enough challenges catching real criminals without being distracted by new and unnecessary laws. Hunting is not cruel. No case for a ban has been made. Thousands of jobs and livelihoods are at risk. A ban would be illiberal and unjustified. What most people want is for Parliament to tackle the priorities we share in common. This Bill does not solve problems; it creates them. It is unjust and intolerant. In June last year, the Prime Minister told the nation, I am resolutely in favour of a society of tolerance, without prejudice or discrimination". So am I, Prime Minister, and so, I believe, is this House.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Hutchinson of Lullington

My Lords, for me this Bill is overwhelmingly a matter of civil liberties, human rights, tolerance, democracy and freedom itself. Every countryman knows that the Commons' vote seeks to destroy not only a country pursuit—a disciplined and historic form of fox and deer control—but also a part of the very culture of the countryside.

In the other place reference was repeatedly made to the, declared will of the majority'', to be respected by country people and, remarkably enough, by this elected House. Of course, the rural population is a minority and the hunting community is a substantial part of that minority, which comprises decent, civilised, caring people who live, protect and understand, as the majority do not, animals in the wild and who preserve and manage their habitat.

There are men, women and, yes, children—the hunting fraternity and the followers—who are bewildered, shocked and now deeply angry that an ignorant, uninformed and urban and surburban majority should now demonise their community and seek to make their historic way of life criminal; their families open to arrest on suspicion; their premises open to search without warrant and their dogs liable to destruction.

What is democracy about if it is not respect and tolerance for the beliefs and way of life of minorities in one's midst and, indeed, respect for the views of this second Chamber under our constitution? Since the 17th century hunting has been an integral part of country life. From steeplechasing has come horse racing and so the industry of horse breeding, point-to-points, pony clubs, gymkhanas, eventing, showjumping and the whole infrastructure of dependent jobs.

Hunting has given rise to a great literary and artistic tradition—to Stubbs, Wootton and Tillemans and on to Munnings and Elizabeth Frink; and also to the great sporting art collections of Mellon in America and of the Tate and the National 'Trust over here. In addition, there is a host of children's tales and songs. How many noble Lords have not been entranced by Peter Beckford, Surtees and by the inimitable Mr Sponge and Mr Jorrocks? I remind the class-conscious members of old Labour opposite that Mr Jorrocks was a sporting grocer—no toff there! The literature continued to Seigfried Sassoon.

All that is now equated, in ridiculous ignorance, with the wanton cruelty of bear-baiting and cockfighting. I say to my noble friend Lord McNally: who introduced a Bill into this House to ban cockfighting? It was none other than a famous Master of Hounds, the Duke of Beaufort, who has already been referred to and whose descendant still fills the same role today.

What has inspired all that over three centuries? It is the beauty of the hunt; the horses; the hounds; the Fox; the mystery of the scent; the sound of the horn; the pure guts, courage and skill of riding to hounds, and a fascination of working the hounds. That is all shared in a wholly democratic community; the camaraderie of the fields. That is now described in the other place and here today as brutalising, demeaning and, as we have heard, barbaric. Perhaps I may quote from another area of Mr Straw's libertarian domain, the prison inspector's last report. He writes: Young people continue to be warehoused in barbaric conditions". Would it not be infinitely preferable if 70 noble Lords had put down their names to debate the barbarity which is being practised officially in our own institutions in this country today?

To those who anthropomorphize the fox, I suggest that they should ask him which he would prefer: to be blinded by lights at night and shot in the head by a rifle or, more likely, blasted and wounded by a shotgun; enmeshed in a snare; imprisoned in a trap or poisoned in agony; or would he prefer to be free in his own natural habitat, chased in daylight by animals of his own species, pitting his wits against those of his pursuers with a 50 per cent chance of escape, and, if caught suffering death instantaneously or, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, found, within seconds; a death similar to that which he inflicts on his prey and which involves no more than those immortal words "his welfare being seriously compromised"? It is said that Parliament should represent the interests and welfare of animals. The RSPCA states that to cause fear or pain to any sentient being is unacceptable.

I am afraid that I say, "Come off it, RSPCA". Are rats, mice, cockroaches, slugs, cattle, pigs, poultry, fish and gamebirds never to be caused fear or pain in any circumstance? Are rats to be represented in this House? No doubt the noble and learned Lord could make a beautiful and emotional speech about a squashed cockroach. Winding up in the other place the Minister stated: The Government support shooting and fishing". He added: I support the Bill … Killing for fun is wrong".—[Official Report, Commons, 27/02/01; col. 843.] Can hypocrisy go further? Are coarse fishing, pheasant shooting and wild fowling not killing for fun? Of course not. Shooters and fishermen, as all "townies" know, include good working-class Labour supporters.

On deerhunting I say only this. Sir Robin Dunn, one of the most humane and much-loved Lord Justices of Appeal, well known to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, that great rider, gave his evidence to the Burns committee. As a hunter of deer and foxes on Exmoor for 40 years, he stated that to ban hunting there would be the equivalent of banning football in Liverpool. It would tear out the heart of the community. He stated that in all those years he had never seen a deer killed by hounds. Perhaps I may emphasise that to the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, who I see is not in her place. In every case such a deer was humanely destroyed.

His arguments for that form of culling deer were, in his opinion, stronger than those for fox hunting. That evidence is good enough for me. That is evidence, not emotion. I shall vote against a ban and listen sympathetically to those who make the case for the middle way.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, one issue on which all Front Benches are agreed is that an important contribution which each of us can bring to the debate is brevity. I propose to address only three of the issues which arise, confident that on matters on which I am silent, others will rectify my deficiencies.

I agree with all noble Lords who have said that the first issue which falls to be decided is whether hunting with dogs can cause suffering and distress to the quarry or, as some letters I have received seem to suggest, that the fox or the hare rather enjoy the game. I agree that that issue is crucial to this debate. If the quarry does not suffer, the whole argument for the Bill must fall. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I do not suggest that all who hunt are cruel people. That would be as silly as to suggest that all those who support the Bill are ignorant, prejudiced and ill informed or that they are human rights activists.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who, for the moment, is not in his place. The question is whether the activity causes suffering and distress. Crocodiles, foxes and cats cannot reflect on that issue; human beings can. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that there is a danger of approaching the question from too anthropomorphic a stand. Clearly, a fox does not calculate the prospect of impending death and the effects on his family as some of us may do. I have seen what has been presented as a philosophical argument: that animals do not feel pain and fear as we do, and that flight is a Pavlovian reaction. Whether they feel it as we do, whether a fox's pain feels like my pain, is a matter we cannot resolve. There is no procedure which would count as resolving it. I do not know whether another noble Lord's pain feels like my pain, as, by definition, only I can feel my pain and only he can feel his pain.

We do not need to involve ourselves in such metaphysical disputations. We can observe the behaviour of animals and compare it with our own behaviour under similar circumstances. With respect, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, is right. That is not an ethical or moral judgment; it is a factual judgment. Any noble Lord seeking to argue that animals do not have feelings, that a hare screaming as it is torn apart by dogs or a fox shrieking as it is disembowelled by the lead dog is not really feeling pain, or that an animal running before a pack of hounds to the point of exhaustion is not motivated by fear or suffering distress, will no doubt deploy the case for that proposition.

I am content to begin with the premise that common sense is a fair guide. I am fortified by the unemotional assessment of the Burns committee in paragraph 6.49 that the experience of being closely pursued, caught and killed seriously compromises the welfare of the fox—that is all the argument requires; the wickedness of those who perpetrate it is rather beside the point—and seriously compromises the welfare of the hare. That is hardly the over-dramatised judgment of a committee of fanatics, but I agree that it is not the end of the argument. I do not seek to deny that some culling may be necessary, although I note the comment in the Burns report that in some areas it appears that hares are introduced and released in order that they can be chased, which hardly suggests that culling is the main objective.

Lord Denham

My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will allow me to intervene. The absolute rule of the National Coursing Club is that six months should elapse between the hare population having increased and a coursing meeting.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord whose judgment on these matters I greatly respect. He is better informed than I am. I do not suggest for a moment that there is any deliberate cruelty to hares, but that this takes place in some areas appears to be the consequence of the evidence. I accept that that does not take place within the National Coursing Club.

It is not easy to find our way through the massive accumulation of evidence, often conflicting. In what I regard as a highly commendable and fair presentation of the evidence and arguments, the Burns committee reaches a number of significant conclusions in paragraph 5.36: first, that shooting has a much greater capacity to reduce the fox population than killing with dogs; and, secondly, that the overall contribution of traditional fox hunting is almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole. I accept that there are differences between different localities.

The discussion by the Burns committee as to the most humane method of culling is complicated. I say only that if those who perceive a need for culling sat down and discussed carefully the most humane method in their local circumstances, and then gave effect to their considered conclusions, I would be content. Alas, I do not believe that that is what happens. I believe that their principal concern is with what affords most pleasure to human beings.

I turn to the mischievous consequences which, it is said, will arise from a ban on hunting and which must be balanced against the consequences of allowing it to continue. Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I propose to address only two. I am aware that other noble Lords intend to debate, for example, the effects on employment. I deal first with the question of freedom and tolerance which was raised initially by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I am delighted that that subject is to be debated in this debate with so many noble Lords present. So often when freedom is debated in this Chamber it attracts rather less attention. In one or two recent debates the question of tolerance has been a little less in evidence. Of course, I exclude from that comment the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

Freedom is an important issue in any debate about controlling and regulating human conduct. No one should be restricted in doing whatever he or she pleases, unless it causes suffering to others. If it does, the restriction on freedom must be balanced against that suffering. It is true that freedom has been invoked in some unworthy causes. The debates on the abolition of slavery prior to 1833 and restricting the working hours of children are scattered with indignant protests about freedom. Animal welfare has been resisted time and again by arguments about freedom. In 1800 a Bill to ban bull and bear-baiting attracted virtually word for word arguments which have been invoked in the course of this Bill. The Bill of 1835 which reached the statute book and criminalised those activities was denounced as the end of freedom.

Freedom is not about everyone being permitted to do whatever pleases them irrespective of the consequences. That is not freedom but anarchy. The issue in this Bill remains whether hunting causes avoidable suffering and distress to the animals hunted. If it does not, there is no need for an argument about freedom because the case for the Bill fails; if it does, the arguments against the Bill are not enhanced by invoking freedom to cause suffering.

The next argument to be encountered in letters that I have received is the effect on the countryside if hunting is abolished. I strongly support those who argue that the countryside has more than its share of problems: animal disease, rural bus services and rural post offices. It is not for me to tell the Countryside Alliance how to present its case, but I believe that it has sacrificed some of its effectiveness by appearing to be obsessed with only one issue.

I do not propose to discuss the question of employment today. I am puzzled to be told that in many areas social life will wither and die. "It is not only without the local hunt", I am told, "but the hunt ball and hunt fund-raising, such as musical events". I understand that if there is no hunt there cannot be a hunt ball, but it does not seem to follow that there will be no more dancing. If people wish to organise a ball they will be perfectly free to do so. The fact that there is no hunt will not prevent that. Unless there are areas in which the only reason people wish to meet their neighbours is to chase foxes, it is difficult to understand why this Bill should reduce the countryside to eremitical silence.

Again, I believe that the Burns committee dealt kindly with the argument. In paragraph 4.41 it concluded: It is plain, therefore, that any claim, even in respect of strongly rural areas where support for hunting is high, that hunting is the main source of social activity is exaggerated". This Bill has been portrayed as an assault on all rural communities by those in the towns who have no sympathy with and understanding of rural life. We can all bandy statistics. There have been innumerable opinion polls among residents in the countryside, and we can all use them subjectively to suit our arguments. The Burns committee, which was obviously anxious to be fair, pointed out that opinions differed in different locations. Among those who responded to the MORI survey of rural areas, which is cited in chapter 4, views vary from Devon and Somerset where two-thirds favoured hunting to Leicestershire where two-thirds did not. In any event, majorities are not always right, but we can at least infer that those who oppose the Bill do not speak for the countryside in any meaningful sense but for those who agree with them.

I was tempted to discuss the three options but, first, time is against me.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, of course how long one wishes to hear an argument depends on whether one agrees with it. But I accept that I have overrun the time that I intended to spend on the subject. Secondly, I understand that my noble friend Lord Tomlinson proposes to address the subject.

If the Bill receives its Second Reading today we shall have opportunities to debate the options, and that is something which unites this House. It is clear from the list of speakers that, whatever other issues await our attention, we all desire an opportunity to debate the options. Whether or not we should have that opportunity is the only issue before us today.

5.28 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the careful speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. In one respect only I hope to do better than him. He dealt with three issues and I hope to deal with only one. I should perhaps begin by declaring an interest. I am a supporter of the Bolebroke Beagles, I follow foxhounds when I can and I am a paid-up member of the Countryside Alliance.

Those who support the Bill as it comes to this House from another place regard it as likely that I have an already closed mind. I hope that I shall be able to reassure them, if not today at least at later stages of the Bill, that my mind is not closed. I am not among those who regard hunting as black and white. It is, I believe, an issue where there are recognised pros and cons on each side which must be fairly weighed. It is perfectly possible to hold honourable passions on either side of the argument. The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, memorably demonstrated the truth of that.

For my part, I believe that when your Lordships have finished dealing with this Bill the option of self-regulation under independent supervision will be seen to be best. I am fairly confident that I shall continue to think it very wrong that hunting should be banned outright. What leads me to trouble your Lordships tonight, notwithstanding the enormous length of the speakers' list, is an experience I had in Cumbria just after Christmas which prompts me to make a plea for an understanding of what hunting means for so many people who live there. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, dealt with the point, but I shall reach a different conclusion.

I was some way up Mungrisedale, at the foot of a fell called Saddleback to the north of the road from Keswick to Penrith. It was a meet of the Blencathra Hunt. It was early morning; notwithstanding that, there were about 90 followers present.

Most of the country there is wild, steep and craggy. Accordingly, the Blencathra Hunt, like all fell hunts, proceeds on foot. It plays an important part in controlling the foxes that kill the Herdwick lambs, the mainstay and provider of the greater part of the meagre income of most farms in the area. To say that the hunt has the support of the countryside is to be guilty of a serious understatement.

The Chancellor in his recent Budget statement referred to more than one institution lying at the centre of our communities. He singled them out accordingly for special help. I am sure that that was very welcome. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells especially will agree. But in the fells of Cumbria it can truthfully be said that the centre of their communities is the hunt. To the Blencathra one can add the Ullswater, the Eskdale and Ennerdale, the Melbreak and the Coniston. They are all of a kind; hunts with long traditions. I have known the Blencathra for more than 40 years. I have seen the hound books kept by John Peel two centuries or so ago.

What are these communities like? Some of your Lordships will know them far better than I, and perhaps none better than the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, who follows me. I have known some of them for quite a time. They are farming communities. They have romantic names. There is no doubt about that. But at the best of times they are lonely places in which to try to sustain a living for one's family from the land. Apart from one's sheep and sometimes one's cattle, there is not that much company. There is not much scope for socialising. It is a fact of life that one is on one's own to a great extent. People do not complain, but in these desperate times for farmers, loneliness is, I fear, increasingly, a fact of death as well as of life.

What these communities have, cherish and depend upon is the hunt and all the social activities associated with it. The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, went to some entertaining length to diminish the importance of those activities. The noble Baroness asked which noble Lords had taken part in country dances and so forth. I cannot claim to have taken part in a country dance up there. At least I cannot remember it; if I had, other people certainly would remember it. But many is the time that I have sat in village pubs and sang songs like "Joe Bowman". It would seriously compromise your Lordships' welfare if I were to try to do so today. Joe Bowman was the legendary huntsman of the Ullswater hounds. He is commemorated in a marvellous song which is sung all over the Lakes with huge enthusiasm.

I would describe hunting as a lifeline for that countryside. I certainly do not diminish the hound trails, the puppy walking, the puppy shows, the dances—yes, there are dances—and the fund-raising suppers. To say, "Oh, well, you can do all those things without hunting" is simply, I fear, to ignore the facts. It is a lifeline that is passionately grasped. One has to go there to gauge the grief—yes, the grief—as well as the anger and the sheer incomprehension that is occasioned by the threatened ban on hunting. It comes when they feel so much has already been lost to them. They are not some privileged elite; they are certainly not a bunch of sadists, people who take pleasure from cruelty. They are everyday people of our own kindly country. In material terms, they do not ask for much. They are inured to hard lives and low incomes. They stick it because their fathers were rooted there before them and because it is a way of life that they love. But what they ask for is the understanding of their distant Parliament. This speech is an inadequate plea simply for that. They ask that the hunts which are at the centres of their communities should not be singled out for extinction.

I go back to those 90 or so followers I was with a couple of months ago. The talk was of little but the Bill. One man, as we prepared to set forth, after a glass, or perhaps even two, to set us up for the day, said, "Leave aside what will happen to our lambs, what else could bring this number of us together from this dale and around about and create this good company, this good cheer, this shared pride and interest in our hounds? That is what they don't understand down in London. They just don't understand what it means to us when we have already lost so much." He said to me, "Will you tell them?"

What it means to those people cannot, of course, be decisive. But I do entreat the House not to hold that their feelings are other than important. I promised that I would recount them to your Lordships, and I trust I have not broken faith.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, I shall not immediately follow on the admirable remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden, although the picture he painted is one which ís very familiar to me. A number of the hunts he mentioned are in my former constituency.

I have been much taken with the speeches we have heard, not least that of the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. As a rather flippant start he mentioned Soapy Sponge. I have always said of Soapy Sponge that I could have turned him into one of the greatest government Chief Whips of all time.

I am a farmer I do not hunt. I have never owned a horse. I have never seen a fox killed by hounds. I have never seen a coursing match or a deer hunt. But I remain totally perplexed as to why it is that the Government see fit to give time and effort to this issue. I cannot over-emphasise the resentment I have heard expressed over the past two or three weeks by country people in the north of England. With agriculture in desperate recession, with farmers in deepest despair, with herds and flocks of animals threatened with slaughter, they cannot imagine anything so insensitive and so insulting at the moment as Parliament spending its time debating this particular matter.

I ask myself: why is this happening to us? Is it really worth all this bother because of the cruelty which is alleged towards the fox. It is easy to forget—this was referred to by the right reverend Prelate—that the wild is a very rough place. Death often comes in a violent and highly vicious way. Foxes themselves are notorious killers for killing's sake. But that does not justify unnecessary cruelty on the part of man.

I was glad to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, who repeated, helpfully, the key phrase from his report that, while the killing of a fox by hounds is not always instantaneous, insensibility and death will normally follow within a matter of seconds once the fox is caught". Of course, the welfare of the fox is put under pressure as it is being chased. We have all seen animals being chased, sheep being chased by sheepdogs and nipped in the leg or dogs chasing each other— big dogs chasing little dogs or sometimes the other way round. The real trauma is surely the trauma of death itself after the fox has been caught. However, it is not a more protracted death, following the catching of a fox by hounds, than other methods of controlling foxes. I have seen foxes shot at and wounded and being found hundreds of yards away, presumably having gone through tremendous agonies in that time. I have seen snaring and trapping. I have never seen a fox caught in a snare but I have seen rabbits. Few things can be more agonising. With hounds, one never finds a wounded fox. Death follows, as we are told, within a matter of seconds. Alternative ways of controlling foxes—shooting in particular—can often be downright dangerous, especially when carried out at night.

I ask myself a question. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, referred to this point. Do foxes really need to be controlled at all? I do not think that noble Lords have thought about that point during the debate. I refer to a sentence in the Burns report: In most areas of England and Wales, farmers, landowners and gamekeepers consider that it is necessary to manage fox populations". What really should be understood is that in some parts of the country sheep farming crucially depends on the control of foxes.

The speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew leads me to the principal point I want to make. My noble and learned friend referred to the life that surrounds the hunt and hunting in the Lake District and similar areas. In areas like the Lake District, upland Wales and parts of Yorkshire, the only way to control foxes is by hunting. As my noble and learned friend said, these packs are hunted on foot. There are no horses or mounted followers. There are no toffs here. There is no killing for fun here. But there is striking evidence here of what will happen if hunting is stopped.

I came across an extraordinary case that occurred in west Wales during the Second World War. One Mr Harry Roberts, the huntsman of the Plas Machynlleth Hunt in west Wales, was called up into the Army at the beginning of the war. As a consequence, hunting was totally suspended Within two years, the fox population had grown to such an extent that farmers were suffering severe losses. The local War Agriculture Executive Committee in Meirionnydd, with the support of local MPs, including Mr Clement Davies, who, either then or certainly later, was the leader of the Liberal Party, petitioned the Government to release Mr Roberts. He was released in 1941 for six months in the interests of essential food production. Hunting was resumed in that part of Wales and Mr Roberts promptly killed 149 foxes. If any noble Lord wants a reference for that story, Picture Post picked it up in November 1941.

The Government must tell us today what they would do to control foxes in the upland areas if fox hunting was totally banned. I had hoped that someone from the Ministry of Agriculture would be present to tell us how foxes will be dealt with in the upland areas if we are to have a ban on hunting. I was given the totally nonsensical reply to that question—not by government but by one of the anti-hunting organizations—that the control of foxes in the uplands would be possible by surrounding woods with people armed with guns so that they could shoot foxes flushed out by beaters and dogs. Bearing in mind the massive areas and expanses in our uplands, and bearing in mind especially the fact that in the Lake District there is an agreement that trees are not planted on the mountains in order to maintain the historic and unique beauty of the area, it seems to me that that solution comes straight out of the madhouse.

I repeat my question: why are the Government pursuing this unnecessary and highly controversial legislation? I cannot resist the conclusion that it is much more an attack on those who hunt rather than a defence of those that are hunted. The final part of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, when she could not resist a stab at people who follow hunting, gave the game away. Do we really want to offend a massive body of country people, the majority of whom have never hunted and are never likely to hunt? Are we really prepared to throw out of work, as the Burns report says, between 8,500 and 11,000 people—that is between four and five times the number of people who are currently under threat in the Vauxhall motor works at Luton? Are we really prepared to condemn around 20,000 hounds if hunting is suspended?

We hear continuous stories that the Government are seeking to negotiate some kind of compromise over this issue. If so, we ought to be told what it is. If the Government are negotiating a compromise, it is fatuous to pursue discussion of the Bill at this time. We should be told, If some kind of compromise is being negotiated, the Bill should be withdrawn. I believe that it should be withdrawn anyway.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I have several interests to declare. My wife is a master of foxhounds and eight members of my family appear in the 2001 edition of Baily's Hunting Directory, including my son. I am also the landlord of kennels which house 40 couple of hounds and eight horses.

The irony here is that this Bill will not save the life of one single fox. Indeed, as was noted by my noble friend Lord Burns, some farmers and landowners tolerate foxes because of their own support for hunting. I have followed hunting all my life and have only once seen a fox killed. I remember vividly remarking to the huntsman how instantaneous it was. As other noble Lords have mentioned, one must not forget that hunting, and all that is associated with it, is a way of life for thousands of people. It must be wrong to jeopardise that legal way of life.

I have several key fears about the Bill. First, I am greatly concerned about the direct and indirect effects of a ban on employment in rural communities which, as we all know, are already suffering from the broader countryside crisis. Other noble Lords have already mentioned the British Equestrian Trade Association's estimate that up to almost 14,000 jobs are directly at risk. I am also concerned that a ban will harm conservation, both in the management and control of a healthy population of quarry species and also in the upkeep by hunts of woodland, hedges, walls and grassland. I, too, share the concern expressed by the National Canine Defence League regarding the 20,000 or so hounds which will be rendered unemployed and homeless by this Bill. As was mentioned by my noble friend, in his report a switch to drag hunting was ruled out as an alternative to hunting.

I am also worried about the loss to farmers of the valuable service of the collection of fallen stock; that is, diseased, injured or infirm animals which are removed and disposed of by hunts. I shall cite one small example. Our hunt in the Scottish Borders last year collected 234 cattle and 162 sheep. I dread to think what will happen to those animals in the future.

Like other noble Lords, I find it incredible that, while this Bill has been making its passage through Parliament, MAFF officials have been contacting hunt servants to assist with the slaughter of livestock affected by foot and mouth disease.

However, perhaps my biggest fear is that the Bill gives in to mob rule. As sure as night follows day, shooting and fishing will be the next targets for animal rights activists, whose direct action is on the increase, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers. The Hunt Saboteurs Association will be able to target more of its activities against game shooting. Already, cases have been reported of anglers being physically attacked by animal rights activists. To reward these terrorists with a hunting ban, thereby penalising the law-abiding minority, would be a deplorable precedent for law and order, demonstrating that violence pays. Surely that must be wrong.

I have heard the concerns expressed by ACPO, which is worried about the pressures on police resources in rural areas, which are already under enormous pressure to deal with crimes such as burglary and drug-related offences. The association has noted that, without additional resources, hard decisions will have to be made on policing priorities". As the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, has already mentioned, I am also worried that this Bill represents a gross abuse of civil liberties by allowing the majority to impose its views on a minority. I hope sincerely that this Chamber will fulfil its constitutional duty in holding the other place to account.

As an example, I have an aunt who loathes hunting, but she feels passionately that, if people want to hunt, they should be allowed to do so. Banning something on the grounds that you simply do not like it, with no objective evidence, is a draconian and illiberal move. I am also horrified that the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, is taking part in this debate today, especially as he has openly admitted that his Bill, currently before the Rural Affairs Committee of the Scottish Parliament, is being introduced purely to "test the system".

Noble Lords will have seen the adverts placed in today's newspapers by the RSPCA. I estimate that the conservative cost of placing those adverts is in the region of a quarter of a million pounds. The RSPCA has roped in out of date and one-sided figures for its advert and has then pretended that those are still valid. This simply will not wash. Noble Lords are fully aware that over the past few years, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, pointed out, there has been a profound swing away from support for a ban. The most recent major independent polls suggest that such support is now in the minority.

In conclusion, I believe that the Government have got their priorities wrong in expediting legislation to ban hunting. We must not forget that Damilola Taylor's murderers are still at large. Surely the Home Office should be using its parliamentary time to implement the recently announced 10-year plan for crime rather than trying to criminalise a law-abiding sector of the population. Hunt supporters genuinely believe that what they do is good for the countryside and good in terms of animal welfare.

I have often supported this Government, in particular when they were in opposition. But this Bill encapsulates how truly out of touch they are with the issues that really matter to this country.

5.56 p.m.

Lord Bragg

My Lords, like many of your Lordships, I am fully aware that much of what I say has been said already and will be said again, but I believe that it is important for a range of voices to be heard in this matter, even if many are singing the same song. I do not hunt; in that strict sense, I declare no interest. Nor does it give me any pleasure to oppose the massed and sincere opinions of fellow Labour Party Members in the other place and those concurring pro-banning voices in your Lordships' House, but oppose I do.

Background has something to do with it. I grew up next door—or rather, next field—to John Peel country in a country town steeped in country pursuits, one of which was hunting, and a welcomed, colourful pursuit it was thought to be, even by many, like myself, who did not hunt. Indeed, we were rather proud in that town, Wigton, that it bred the man, John Woodcock Graves, who wrote the words to the song "John Peel", which has urged on many Cumbrians to pleasure and, indeed, to battle.

Hunting was not only a spectacle followed by scores who could never afford a horse; it was the begetter of singable songs, great paintings—Stubbs, to name but one—marvellous books from Surtees to Sassoon—brilliantly listed by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington—long nights of pub and story; community in rural areas. It has been a sporting preparation for wars, a place of derring-do, bridled skills and unbridled spirits, and all without harm intentionally brought on a single human being. It looped around the outer circuit of my north Cumbrian boyhood, and that of others, romanticised further by epic tales of the foot packs in the fells—referred to so movingly in the excellent speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew—as something ordinary but exotic, a dab of our history. Had not Alfred the Great, Henry VIII and James I hunted? A harmless but vivid slash back, traditions galloping across a tradition-soaked country; a living reminder of the continuity and unity of our lives—all our lives— our history. That is no small matter, however remotely—as I was—you were connected to the sport itself.

The objection that hunting is now considered cruel is one that is sincerely held and has to be addressed. As to the final kill—quick, decisive and often more final than any of the kills inflicted by the fox itself—in those moments there will be cruelty. But it has been widely asserted, by the aforementioned 300 vets, for instance, and it deserves to be mentioned again, that this death is not as cruel as death by the gun, which can often result in the long pain of severe wounding; it is not as cruel as death by snaring, which is horrible; indeed, it is not as cruel as any other manner of culling of what indisputably is a pest which has to be culled, for that is not in question. I say again, hunting with dogs is the least cruel way to end the life of that hunting and rather cruel animal, the fox. Surely this has to be faced by those who assert this argument as their primary objection.

It is curious that some of the more strident objectors confess to, or even boast of, their devotion to fishing, even that form of fishing where the fish is hooked— and a vicious little hook rips through its mouth. It is then "played"—I think that that is the word—and, when landed, chucked back. Lucky fish; or not. For such legitimate sportsmen to condemn the alleged cruelty of the final few moments of a fox could be called humbug, at least, and a touch hypocritical. What of those who shoot? Ban the lot if you would ban the one and take on the full consequences, which would be, I suspect, outrage at such an assault on private pleasures and public liberties.

For banning hunting to those who are dedicated to the elimination of all kinds of harm to all animals will be only the first step; a victory here could be a vital breaching of the wall. In that sense, you could say that we who oppose the banning are holding a thin red line.

The redness—or, rather, the scarlet—has somehow become part of it. Most people in these islands love dressing up—all in white for cricket and tennis; mostly in black, the men, for dinner and celebrations of a superior kind; fancy dress balls; carnivals; and amateur theatricals, which partly exist for the dressing up. Scarlet against the green is a surprisingly effective composition, although to bring aesthetics to bear here is possibly a mistake because the scarlet itself seems to make opponents see red and, as ever in anger, argument becomes prejudice.

There are those who detest the rather informal wear of football supporters and their contorted faces when their teams are at full stretch and losing, but that is hardly reason enough to ban football. There are those who deplore the costume demanded by Glyndebourne in the afternoons, but there are no moves to ban opera down in Sussex. Hating the scarlet is a threadbare cloak of disagreement and conceals other matters.

But red is a factor, I believe—red as in tooth and claw. The great quiet revolution of the 20th century, the mass movement from the land to the city, has left fewer and fewer people with any direct and educated experience of how the countryside actually works. It can be the killing fields out there. What do those who wish to protect foxes want to do about killer cats—the birds, the mice—or about terriers—the rats, the squirrels—or about the licensed mass killing for food?

The "Disneyfication" of nature is fun. But it is also fantasy, and those fed only on fantasy can see pests—such as deer, foxes, rabbits; all charming without question—merely as playthings or pets. They are not. Squeamishness has now become sanctified as tolerance. The brute truth is that, despite Peter Rabbit, thousands of farmers welcomed myxomatosis—and we do no favours to young people to tell them half truths about anything.

It is most unfortunate that terrorist groups have become involved in this issue. It has brought to it a degree of criminality and illegality which has clouded the matter. The vast majority of those opposed to hunting are equally opposed to saboteurs and terrorists, I am sure, and when they can give voice to their concern, they do so. But for the rest of us—every bit as concerned about issues of cruelty—the association is a deeply unhappy one because it is undoubtedly true that a victory for banning would also be seen as a victory for illegal violence, and that also must weigh heavily in the balance of things.

Timing is all; so is bad timing. The travails of the moment emphasise how irrelevant, even disgraceful, it seems to fiddle about with this petty ban while the countryside burns in so many ways. Many of us have read reports, especially the Burns report, which at the very least question and at the most challenge the arguments of the banners, all of them. Yet it is the strange character of this matter that logic and facts seem to count for so little. We have every right to be uncomfortable with that; for what replaces logic and facts? Hunting is the least cruel way to kill a fox. We who maintain that want to minimise cruelty and yet, perversely it seems, we are accused of wanting to maximise it. It is worrying when untutored emotion demands supremacy in any argument. It can be dangerous, as even a brief reading of recent history tells us.

Is it so very terrible that people enjoy hunting—not the killing; the hunting? People enjoy boxing, smoking, drinking; enjoy grand prix, gambling and the Grand National; enjoy all manner of rare and peculiar pleasures which have no intention of harming others. Frankly, I would put hunting low on the list of socially harmful pleasures. We should all be free in our society to follow the scent of our pleasure provided that we do not break the law or hurt others.

Other noble Lords will speak of the economic and social benefits of hunting. Perhaps I may conclude with this. A law which seeks to ban a traditionally accepted sport, the preoccupation and delight, the life and soul of a minority, which reaches across all class barriers, cannot be a good law—especially not in a country such as ours, which is making such progress elsewhere to enfranchise minorities, to let minorities live and let live, to understand and tolerate and enjoy the multiplicity of minorities. Let us find a way here. Banning this minority would be unjust and, in the scheme of things, a mean and unnecessary act. I shall vote against the ban.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, I must declare an interest. I do so with a certain amount of trepidation having heard the sincere and moving speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle of Blackburn. However, I get a certain amount of encouragement from that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and his outstanding survey of the morals and his experience of the issue.

I have been lucky enough to have hunted, shot and fished for most of my life. For four years I was joint-master of a pack of foxhounds. For 16 years, I was chairman of the same hunt—a job, incidentally, that I found considerably more taxing than that of being a Chief Whip in your Lordships' House.

All my family, past and present, together with a large proportion of my friends and neighbours, have been involved to a greater or lesser extent with an activity that for centuries was regarded as law-abiding but which is now, so to speak, standing in the dock and at grave risk of being branded as criminal overnight.

With regard to the Bill, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, made the point for an isolated community, but it is not only an average of, say, 15 or 20 winter days out in the countryside per person—on a horse, on foot, on a bicycle or in a car—that are under threat, but a whole year-round way of life; puppy walking, puppy shows, pony clubs, point-to-points, hunter trials, hunt-supporter club events, both fund-raising and social, and friendships that traverse boundaries of generation, occupation and class, as well as those of county and hunting country. All of these form strands—among many diverse ones, it is true, but none the less important for that—that go to make up the fabric of life in the country.

I plead these, not as a reason for hunting to continue to be allowed if it were to be proved to be cruel, but as a measure of the importance, particularly for Members of both Houses of Parliament, of being absolutely certain of the facts before putting such legislation through.

I have often heard people say that they do not have to see hunting take place, or even to inquire into it very closely, to know that it is wrong. That is tantamount to suggesting that hunting people should be deemed to be guilty of cruelty until they are proved innocent, which is contrary to the first rule of justice. It is my belief that there is at least as much informed concern for the welfare of wild animals among those who hunt as there is in any other group of people in this country.

It is also claimed that fox-hunting enthusiasts are illogical in that sometimes they say that the fox is an integral part of biodiversity that must be preserved and, at others, that it is a pest that needs to be culled. In fact, both are true. In reasonable numbers, foxes keep down rabbits and other vermin but, when they become too many in relation to their natural food supply, they start taking poultry and lambs instead.

The Attlee administration just after the war set up the Scott-Henderson committee, which produced in its report what I believe to be the best definition of cruelty in relation to field sports that has ever been made: If in pursuing or destroying a particular animal in the course of a sporting activity the degree of suffering reasonably necessary is not more than would be involved in the use of other methods likely to achieve control or provide food with the infliction of the least amount of suffering, that particular sporting activity should not be regarded as cruel". I know that the corollary to that, which immediately follows it, would be accepted by everyone who hunts: But, however justifiable a particular activity which involves some degree of suffering may be, the infliction of more suffering than is necessary in the pursuit of that activity should be regarded as cruel". Although it made some suggestions of detail, after applying this formula to each form of hunting, the Scott-Henderson report recommended that each should be allowed to continue. Some 50 years later, the committee of inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, with a different set of criteria, and allowing for the limits set by its terms of reference, seemed to produce much the same result.

Her Majesty's Government say—the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, repeated it today—that they are neutral on the Bill, and of course I accept that. But they have still singled out hunting with dogs from other field sports, in two ways: by making available parliamentary time and facilities for the Bill which it might otherwise not have been possible to obtain for it; and by giving an undertaking that, even if the Bill should go through, similar bans on shooting and fishing would not be allowed to follow it. To this last, the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister has added his personal guarantee.

It is therefore fair to ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, to answer this one question, if he answers no others, when he comes to reply—and I will pass a copy of it in writing to the noble and learned Lord when I sit down. What are the precise criteria that make killing with a pack of hounds unacceptable, while killing with a shotgun or with a rod and line is not?

It is vital for Her Majesty's Government to find an answer to that question now that is unassailable both in fact and in logic. If they cannot, the animal rights lobby, who have set no such limits to their ambitions, will in course of time put the question the other way round: "Now that hunting has been declared by the law of the land to be so unacceptable as to be made a criminal offence, what is it about the sports of shooting and of fishing that make them acceptable?"

If Her Majesty's Government are not able to answer that far harder question then, they may find that they have precipitated a train of events, to an extent that neither they, nor the right honourable gentleman who leads them, will find themselves able to honour their pledge.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, first, I "re-declare" my interest as a member of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. I should like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the noble Lord's skilled chairmanship in dealing with a contentious and difficult subject. The noble Lord was admired by all members of the committee and by the individuals who gave evidence. It is proper to say that we admired those from the two sides who frequently came to put their case to us. They were well prepared, and, as a result, our report was welcomed; it dealt with the issue very well, and firmly.

Sadly, all members of the committee were subject to a certain amount of vilification by the press. We were misrepresented on a number of occasions. However, none of us had hunted—except possibly one person, and that was as a child. So we were, I hope, quite independent of hunting when discussing the issues.

No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Burns, shares my disappointment at the misrepresentation of certain statements in the report, which were taken out of context. One example appeared in a major newspaper today, giving entirely the wrong impression of our conclusions. It is important to recognise that the inquiry, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said, was not asked to recommend whether hunting should be banned; nor was the committee asked to consider moral or ethical issues—for example, whether hunting was cruel. At no point did the committee conclude, or even attempt to conclude, an assessment of cruelty. Yet many bodies have erroneously—I repeat the word "erroneously"—quoted the Burns report, stating that it clearly demonstrated that the practice of hunting wild animals with dogs caused cruelty. The report did not state that. It mentioned a severe compromise of animal welfare towards the end of a hunt when a fox or a deer was killed; but it did not, as would appear from the quotation, imply that the whole of the procedure of chasing an animal with hounds was cruel. The report uses the phrase "compromise of welfare" deliberately. A compromise of animal welfare was found only in the terminal stages of the hunt—where we mentioned that welfare was seriously compromised and fell short of best welfare practice.

The scientific evidence on animal welfare is very weak. "Animal welfare" is the measure of the ability of an animal to compensate physiologically to cope with its environment. Evidence is very slight. In almost every form of hunting, with the exception of the hunting of deer—an exception identified in the report—the report recognises that the evidence is weak. Even in relation to deer there is debate on the interpretation of such data by physiological scientists. As has been mentioned, at the point when a deer confronts the hounds in standing at bay, it is dispatched quickly by the huntsmen and the hounds never attack the deer in the way many people imagine happens. Hence, it is important that judgments based on the Burns report should reflect accurately what the report says. They should not misinterpret such statements.

Some will conclude on moral or ethical grounds that hunting is cruel. We all recognise that no scientific evidence in the world will move such individuals from that stance, and one should respect a person holding that opinion. It became clear, however, during the committee's consideration of the subject that some practices cause distress to many people when they hear about them, or cause distress to the general public. I refer, for example, to trespass on private land, dwellings and gardens, and to the digging out of foxes that have gone to earth—many people feel that if a fox has escaped the hounds and gone to earth, it has won the day and perhaps it should be allowed to go. I know there are reasons why farmers would wish that not to be the case, but many people believe that it should be so. Then there is the issue of cubbing—training young hounds to follow the hunt properly.

These and other issues have raised the profile of hunting with dogs. To allow it to go on without any change whatsoever is probably unacceptable. On the other hand, there is major concern that, were there to be a ban on hunting, there is strong evidence that the alternatives to control in many cases are certainly less "welfare positive" than hunting. Shooting has been mentioned by a number of speakers; and poisoning, trapping and other means of control are much more insensitive in terms of welfare than the death of the prey at the end of a hunt. Not all individuals are good shots: animals may escape wounded and die in a degree of agony.

Towards the end of our inquiry we were informed of the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, the body that was set up recently following the Phelps review of hunting with hounds in 1997 and the earlier Scott-Henderson report. En passant, had action been taken earlier as a result of those two reports, I believe that we might not be in this Chamber tonight debating the hunting situation.

The Burns inquiry offers a strong case for a supervisory authority, such as the one that has now been established. It seems to me that this may be a way forward as regards attending to the hunting controversy. However, I suggest not only that that authority should become a statutory body with nominations from the Government, but also that it should attend to another matter; namely, the welfare of wild animals in our environment. Indeed, the fox, the hare and the deer, and others, are all wild animals in our environment. If the authority could accomplish those two tasks it would serve a very useful purpose. That is what many people have called "the middle way". I believe that such a move would address the concerns of both sides of the debate—that is, the protection and preservation of the countryside and the acceptance of hunting as a method of control of foxes, deer and hare.

There is, perhaps, another interest that I should declare. As a very young veterinary surgeon I, too, sang with the Lakeland people, "Joe Bowman and his Ullswater Pack", as mentioned by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew. I know these people very well. They have a marginal life on their marginal farms, but the one thing that they enjoy is the conviviality of what is built round a sport that they have practised for many years. If we could have a regulatory authority serving both sides of the argument—I do not believe that this would be difficult or impossible to achieve—I believe that that would be the way ahead.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, when I rose to speak in the debate on the great House of Lords Bill on the reform of the House, I started by remarking that I began my speech at 1.45 a.m. and spoke 179th in a list of 186. I also said that I would rejoice when I went into the "Content" Lobby. Therefore, 16th out of a list of 69, which is my position today in the list of speakers, is some sort of progress. However, I shall still rejoice when I eventually have the great opportunity to vote for a ban on hunting wild mammals with dogs.

I join those who deplore violence from whatever quarter it comes because rather than enhancing their case, those who use violence do the opposite. I condemn violence and terrorism unreservedly. I begin by pleading guilty to two charges that have been thrown across the Chamber by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson. Yes, I am one of the ignorant, urban majority; and yes, I am one of the class-conscious old Labour. If we are to declare our interests, I cannot possibly compete with the experiences of other people. My noble friend Lord Bragg referred to the colour red. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am taken as red in more ways than one.

I should like to tell the House of the reasons why I have come to a certain conclusion. There are those who regard this as a matter of freedom; I do not. It is a matter of cruelty. It is a question of whether or not we live in a civilised society. The practice of fox hunting is as wrong as cock fighting, dog fighting, bear baiting and bull baiting. When it is abolished, fox hunting will go the same way as those that I have mentioned.

I share the view of others; namely, that, by voting for this Bill and then for a ban, I shall be voting for a cleaner, more moral and more civilised society. I should remind the House that many years ago Thomas Hardy said: The prevalence of those sports that exist for the pleasure of watching a fellow creature, weaker and less favoured than ourselves, in its struggles to escape the death agony we mean to inflict in treacherous contrivance, seems to me one of the many convincing proofs that we have not yet emerged from barbarism". I say that we have made very little progress since Thomas Hardy uttered those words.

It was Ann Widdecombe, a Member of another place with a high position, who said that the town versus country claim was irresponsible because it attempted to divide Britain. She went on to say that her constituency—that is, Maidstone—covered both town and country, and that she found plenty of rural opposition to hunting.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, whom I deeply respect, said that there is no compromise. I agree with him. To those of my friends on this side of the Chamber who believe that by voting for the middle way there will be a compromise, I say that there is no compromise: you either support hunting with all that that implies, or you oppose it. However you tinker along the margins—possibly to salve your conscience that you are not completely against a ban, but only a little against it—there is no compromise.

I wonder how any decent, humane individual can condone the practice of setting greyhounds to rip apart a live hare. I cannot condone it; I condemn it. I have received a report from an RSPCA inspector which states that if both dogs catch the hare, one gets hold of the head and the other grabs the back end. They play tug of war with it. The officials run as fast as they can to get hold of the injured hare and kill it, so as to prevent any further suffering. However, they can take up to 30 seconds to do so. That may not sound a lot of time, but it is when you are being torn to pieces. That is the kind of practice that would be tolerated unencumbered by anything that the middle way or option number one will bring forward. I respect the people involved. I do not criticise any of my friends both on this and the other side of the Chamber and say that the practice that they support makes them cruel individuals. But the practice is cruel in its own right.

In a modern world I believe that civil liberties do not give us the liberty to do everything that we want to do. They give us the liberty to do certain things, constrained by our responsibilities for our actions. Liberty is for ever constrained; it is surrounded and hedged in by our potential liability for what we do. To those who argue that we are interfering with the liberty of the individual to do what he wants, I say that if we believe that what he wants to do is wrong, we are entitled to interfere with his liberty to do it.

Every time that this House makes a decision on a major matter that calls for restraint or penalty if you commit certain actions, we are said to be interfering with the liberty of the individual. There are also those who say that when we pass this legislation we shall be criminalising individuals. I simply say to them that when they take their decision, if the law is changed, they will be making themselves criminals if they decide to break the law. I am in favour of keeping the law; and I am in favour of helping to try to change the law.

Time is not on our side. I should have loved to describe to the House the illustrations that have been sent to me by individuals from all communities who have witnessed the manner in which the hunt goes about its business. People have been terrorised, intimidated and victimised because they have taken an opposite view. There is a raft of evidence that will perhaps be put forward at some time during the Committee stage.

We now have an opportunity given by the Government, which I applaud, to express a view. Indeed, as my noble friend the Minister said. 20 times since 1979 an attempt has been made to give this House an opportunity to express a view. In the main, that has been denied by parliamentary procedures. Tonight we have the opportunity to express a view.

I wish to say a few words about suffering communities in the countryside and elsewhere. They are not alone. Nine years ago I took part in a great march with thousands of individuals from communities I supported and from which I sprang. I refer to mining communities. We marched because a government whom we thought were uncaring were hell bent on destroying those communities. Therefore, I have much sympathy with communities who decide that the only thing they can do is to march. Hunting is not at the top of everyone's priorities in those communities. Speakers have mentioned polls and MORI. I cannot speak on behalf of a community on this matter. I cannot even speak on behalf of a class. I declare my class as the working class, the members of which are as heavily involved in their communities as are members of other classes. Tonight we have the opportunity to move the debate forward. I welcome the opportunity that has been given. If in future there is an opportunity to vote, I shall vote wholeheartedly for a ban on the hunting of wild mammals with dogs.

6.31 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, I should declare some interests as president of the Countryside Alliance, as chairman of the Labour Leave Country Sports Alone Campaign and also as a member of the RSPCA.

It is sometimes only when one looks back on events that the defining moments stand out. At the age of 10 I went to a meet of the South Oxfordshire Hounds on a small black pony which had cost £25 in Thame cattle market. I had no family connections with hunting; I was just a child with a love of horses and kind neighbouring farmers who took me with them. From that moment hunting has been one of the great and enduring passions of my life. It has taken me into some of the most beautiful and secret places in England. It has introduced me to another country within our country and to people whose world I might so easily never have known. It has taught me only a little of the ways of wild animals but it has also taught me how vital man's role is in the management both of wildlife populations and of our countryside.

Following, or trying to follow, hounds on a horse has brought me excitement, exhilaration, exhaustion, not a little fear and a pleasure which defies words. But, above all, the hunting community has taught me, as a lifelong member of the Labour Party, the true meaning of the word "comradeship".

I am not sure that those who would pass a law to criminalise those who hunt even now begin to understand what they take on. If the foot and mouth epidemic had not intervened, next Sunday this capital city would have seen the biggest civil rights demonstration in our history. It takes a great deal to rouse quiet, hard-working, decent people with busy lives and families and to turn them into political activists for the first time in their lives. The sense of injustice generated as a result of this miserable Bill, hurled by the elected Chamber in the face of a countryside already in deep crisis has done just that. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, that march would have been an appeal to your Lordships from the countryside of Britain to protect its people against prejudice, perversity and intolerance.

If any noble Lords wonder whether they have the right to oppose the views of the other place, I must ask what on earth is the point of a second Chamber if it will not rise up and say so when the other place goes badly wrong? The countryside is looking to us to give that signal and to do so before a general election takes place. I have friends both in this House and outside who dislike hunting and I have others who love it as I do. Their views cross party political divisions. What distinguishes the two sides is not any greater affection for animals, or any greater imagination, or any greater degree of humanity, it is quite simply a different set of experiences, or, often, no experience whatsoever of the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, has made an impassioned speech. I greatly respect his views. I count him—I hope that I shall still do so later—as a friend. He admitted on Friday that he has never been out hunting. I venture to suggest that the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, one of my best friends in this House, is in a similar position.

If I had not gone out with those hounds all those years ago, I, too, might have disliked hunting from al] that I would have read and heard from the pressure groups with large chequebooks who have placed a steady stream of propaganda, much of it wholly inaccurate, before the nation. But even if I had disliked hunting as a result of that, I still do not believe that I would have been prepared to vote to criminalise my noble friends Lord Graham and Lady Castle for something they did but which I disliked, particularly when an independent inquiry had not found either the practices they enjoyed to be intrinsically cruel or otherwise damaging to the national interest. I might argue with them and try to dissuade them, but I would not try to pass criminal laws to impose my personal morality on them. During the long journeys to and from this House late at night driving the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, back to the village in which we both live, I may have failed to convince her but I take some comfort from the knowledge that her spaniel, Bertie, who specialises in muntjac, totally agrees with my views.

The main objection which opponents of hunting have put forward is that they believe it to be cruel. I do not. If I did, I would not dream of doing it and nor should others. Cruelty is the deliberate infliction of unnecessary suffering. I accept that hunting involves suffering—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, mentioned this—but the death of any wild animal almost invariably does. Let us remember that foxes die violently mainly in road accidents, or as a result of the actions of man, or from sickness, disease or starvation. The fortunate few—they are a few—die in seconds when they are hit by a vehicle and killed outright, or are killed in seconds by hounds, as the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, found to be the case. But the vast majority die slowly and often painfully over hours, days and weeks.

There is no perfect way to kill a fox or any other wild animal. But what this Bill would do is to take away from the farmer the option of getting the local hunt in to disperse the fox population and to control fox numbers. Yet that is the only option which both respects a closed breeding season, which is selective in that the old, the weak and the sick are most likely to be culled, and costs the farmer nothing. As other noble Lords have said, if one bans hunting—I shall cut this short—one leaves effectively three legal alternatives, which are snaring, using shotguns or, in those places where it is safe, where animals, people and the terrain allow it, the use of a rifle. I do not think that anyone in this House has suggested that either foxes shot with shotguns or those caught in snares die less unpleasantly than those who die at the hands of hounds. If anyone suggests that in today's crisis farmers should start to employ skilled marksmen to patrol their hills and fields to shoot foxes by night, he or she has no understanding of either the depth of the current farming crisis or of farmers.

It is no use making fine speeches—we have heard a number in the Chamber today—about the cruelty of hunting and calling for a ban when the result will be to leave available only methods likely to cause an increase in animal suffering. But that is the reality which supporters of the ban often find hard to confront. They say that it is morally wrong to kill animals for sport; yet in the same breath they also say that shooting and fishing are fine. That must be illogical and, in my book, takes the biscuit for hypocrisy.

The premise on which their argument is based is also wrong. No one out hunting kills anything for fun. The huntsman, and his assistant if he has one, have a job to do. Farmers give permission for hounds to disperse the foxes on their land, and to reduce the numbers—I stress, not to exterminate them but to keep the numbers manageable. The huntsman's job with his hounds is to carry out that task. But those who follow, whether on horses, in cars, on bikes or on foot. are observers only. Their reasons for being there are many and varied. Some like to gallop and jump. Some like to watch the hounds and huntsmen and some to ride in places to which they would otherwise have no access. But if any one of them went hunting to enjoy killing, he would have a very lean time of it. Hunting is conducted in public. In 40 years I have never seen anyone take such pleasure and anyone who did so would be out "quicker than that".

We tread a dangerous path once we in Parliament start to pass criminal laws based on what one person thinks is going on in the head of another. That is the path surely towards thought police. Few people outside the world of hunting know how much the practices and the organisation have changed in the past 10 years. There are now strict rules and codes of practice, a strict disciplinary procedure to enforce them, training and licensing of terrier men, inspectors and the independent regulatory body to which reference has already been made.

I accept that the situation is not perfect. Improvements have still to be made—as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, indicated; I welcome the suggestions they made in their excellent report—and aspects which should be re-examined. However, at the end of the day that report—it was provided to inform both Houses of Parliament—found hunting neither to be intrinsically cruel (and I am grateful that that has been spelt out this evening once and for all to nail what has been, I am afraid I cannot mince my words, a lie) nor any other overwhelming reason for a ban in the public interest.

The debate will take some time. I shall draw the remarks I should otherwise have made to a close. However, I simply say this. There will be little opportunity today to talk about the work that hunting does undertake. A large amount of our countryside is either owned by hunts or managed by them for hunting. With the benefits from looking after woodland to encourage wildlife come benefits for the whole of our population. Many in this House with no connection with the countryside none the less enjoy walking around it. But do they ever stop to look around and wonder who has maintained the woodland drives, put in the bridges and small gates and coppiced the woods, because more often than not that work will have been done by volunteers or employees of the local hunt.

For 24 hours a day, seven days a week hunt kennels provide a casualty service for injured animals and the disposal of carcasses. There is no alternative. It will be no good telephoning my noble friends Lady Castle or Lord Graham, or even Deadline 2000, to ask them to take away the cow with a broken leg, having first dispatched that cow humanely. The costs of that service to the hunts are astronomic. They involve wages of employees, vehicles for collection, fuel, and the oil costs which the hunts of this country pay for incinerators to burn the offal that cannot be used. For many packs it is far cheaper to buy food for their hounds but they continue to provide that service because no one else will do so. My local pack, the Bicester, last year spent £36,000 out of its subscriptions to provide that service to its local farming community.

On Exmoor the hunt is the only casualty service for the wild red deer. Even the National Trust, which refused to grant licences for deer hunting on its estate, cannot provide an alternative. It still calls in the stag hounds to find and dispatch injured deer which would otherwise face profound suffering. For all the rhetoric we have heard, there is no alternative and none is being suggested by those who support the Bill.

I find it deeply ironic that people who are now threatened with the loss of their jobs, homes and livelihoods which they greatly cherish, and who read descriptions of themselves particularly from another place as barbaric and inhumane, are now being called in by MAFF to help with the humane slaughter of livestock in the foot and mouth disease epidemic. We are, I think, living in mad times. We had hoped that we had a Government who would unite our country. It is to no little extent the fault of this miserable Bill that we are dividing our countryside and our nation. This madness must stop. Noble Lords on all sides of this House who value fairness, tolerance and liberty must by their opposition ensure that it does so.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, the brilliant and powerful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, enables me to shorten my speech to a considerable extent.

I should confess that having been MP for Huntingdonshire for 34 years, and having hunted regularly there and elsewhere until I was 70, I naturally have some interest in this matter. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has just left the Chamber because I would have pointed out to him that there would be less cruelty to foxes if hunting continued than if it were abolished. I shah refer to that later.

I am an animal lover, but we have to bear in mind, as has been pointed out, that some animals do a vast amount of destruction to wildlife, and to domestic animals and birds. That is especially true of foxes. Foxes love killing poultry and game. I remember being shown a chicken run which had housed about 30 hens and several cockerels. A fox had got in overnight and had killed 12 of them—but only for fun. The fox did not eat any of the poultry; it just loved killing. So foxes have to be controlled; their numbers have to be kept down.

Various methods have been mentioned by the noble Baroness and others. Perhaps I may comment on each of those methods. Snaring and poisoning are unlawful but a great deal of snaring has been done where there is no proper control. The trapping and caging of foxes was attempted but it was utterly unsuccessful. Shooting foxes with shotguns is the most frequently tried method, but it is only partly effective, as I know from experience. A fox that has been wounded by shotgun pellets but is still mobile and gets away often dies a horrible death from gangrene. Shooting with rifles is much more certain, especially at night using strong spotlights, but it is not completely effective. The only certain way to cull foxes is hunting them with hounds. It has the great advantage of providing the quickest death.

Being a lightweight, when allegations of cruelty were made against fox hunting some years ago I got into the habit of keeping up with hounds and being there when they closed in on the fox. I used to count the seconds before there was no more fox. I never counted more than four seconds. It is virtually sudden death.

Of the various ways of culling foxes, hunting is the least cruel. We cannot get away from that fact. People say that the fox may have been chased a long way beforehand and that that is not good. It is true that the fox is not killed until it has been chased. I have seen a worried look on the faces of old foxes, but they have not been chased for long because they are on the way out anyway. I hope that your Lordships will agree—I am not just inventing this point for fun or for the debate—that some young foxes seem to have a grin on their face. They give a longer run; but when the hounds close in, they are killed at once.

As foxes must not become too numerous anywhere in the countryside, their numbers must be controlled. Hunting them causes less suffering than other methods. Of course, one has come across people—alas, there are a great many in the other place—who have no experience or knowledge of hunting and are guided by prejudice. That is regrettable. Their prejudice may be based on ignorance. It has been very refreshing to hear your Lordships make constructive suggestions about the need to keep hunting. I hope that the compromise suggestion will be followed.

This is a Home Office Bill. I do not complain about that, but it is regrettable that none of the members of the Government Front Bench who are responsible for agriculture or for the countryside in any way have yet appeared in the debate. I hope that that may be rectified in due course.

I conclude by saying that it is in the interests of foxes that hunting should continue.

6.54 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, on 25th February 1949, the Second Reading of the Protection of Animals Bill took place in the House of Commons. The government at that time were Labour. The Prime Minister was Mr Attlee and the Minister of Agriculture speaking from the Dispatch Box was Mr Tom Williams, whom many hold as the most popular and successful Minister of Agriculture of all time. I make no apology for giving his speech, which I have shortened for your Lordships' convenience, but in no way have I altered its sentiment.

Mr Williams opened his speech: Before the House reaches a decision on this Bill it is necessary for me to express the view of the Government. and to give what guidance we can, whether it is accepted or not, on what we believe is in the national interest". He continued: It is only after very patient and meticulous examination of all the facts that I am certainly satisfied myself that to abolish hunting without providing an effective alternative—and the Bill does not provide one: that is where the promoters have failed—would mean there certainly would be more rather than less cruelty in this country. … While not every farmer or landowner or worker supports hunting—I have had letters from N.U.A branches against it and for it—any more than, for instance, every townsman supports greyhound racing, horse racing, fishing, football or boxing, it is obvious from my contacts and correspondence that a very large number of them do.… It is not only the rural people who are asking Parliament for an early assurance that very long-established sports and recreations shall not be interfered with. There is no doubt about it, that all my contacts go to show that they hotly resent being singled out for special limitations and being charged with inflicting unnecessary cruelty. Nevertheless, high sentiment, emotion and humanitarianism must not be condemned by any of us, but high pressure propaganda inevitably leads to exaggeration and this is no exception to the general rule. … What are the facts about cruelty, so far as one is able to collect them? One must face the fact that in the destroying of life and in particular wild life some pain is inevitable. Whether the purpose is to maintain a balanced wild life or to exterminate undesirable species of pests, life has to be taken, and all the evidence available to me shows that humanitarian interests are better served by an organised effort, under the control of responsible. experienced people who are all animal lovers themselves. Certainly, there is in that way much less chance of cruelty than by indiscriminate trapping or snaring or, indeed, inexpert shooting. I have seen traps which have caught animals, which have then escaped leaving a leg behind, and it is beyond my understanding to appreciate how much suffering that must have entailed. I know also about snaring, which means slowly choking the animal to death; and I know something about shooting, which cripples but does not kill and certainly produces a much higher rate of prolonged suffering than does the instantaneous kill of the hunt". Mr Williams continued: I am not for one moment suggesting that these sports are the only practical means of achieving the destruction of pests. I am suggesting, however, that as wild life must be controlled to abolish hunting would not necessarily abolish cruelty. Indeed, the alternative of unregulated action may lead to infinitely more cruelty. Moreover, the preservation of wild life would definitely be imperilled if controlled limitation as practised by hunts gives place to freedom of attack by persons with fewer scruples regarding wanton cruelty. Neither would I defend hunts on the ground that they are designed primarily as a measure of pest control. Their primary purpose is recreation and the joy of the chase, and the killing is merely incidental … After very careful consideration by the Government of the whole situation, we have reached the decision that this Bill cannot have the Government's support, and I advise the House to refuse it at a Second Reading on the following major grounds: first, that it is based on the false premise that its provisions would lessen cruelty; second, that the suppression of these sports without effective and efficient alternatives would lead to much less satisfactory activities … Finally, I ask Members to consider carefully whether the supporters of this Bill have really justified this interference with the liberties of the rural population … In my view, the prohibitions in this Bill have no economic foundation and the humanitarian aspects are greatly exaggerated, if not wholly misconceived. Since this party have been given the power to govern the nation, I believe we have a record of achievement of which we ought to be proud. and I hope that at this moment we are not going to forfeit the good will we have so rightly earned, and go down to history as a party anxious to abolish the pleasures of others".—[Official Report. Commons, 25/2/49; cols. 2226–34.] Your Lordships have now heard the wise words which the then Minister of Agriculture, Mr Tom Williams, spoke all those years ago. I agree with almost every word he said. I only wish that copies of his speech had been available to all Members of another place during the passage of this Bill in that House. I simply cannot see how the Minister can contradict those sentiments expressed in 1949; they are as relevant today as they were then.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for referring to a man who was one of my boyhood heroes. For many years, he lived in Wath upon Dearne and was the Member of Parliament for the constituency next door to the one that I represented. I also recall having heard him referred to as a superb Minister.

When I was a young candidate for the Scarborough and Whitby constituency, Tom Williams intended to address a meeting for me. Unfortunately, he was by then very old and his health was deteriorating, but he wrote a speech for me in longhand. The meeting was attended by many farmers, none of whom I believed to be politically sympathetic. They seemed rather restive as I developed the speech. I pointed out that they could shut up. It was not my speech. It was written by Tom Williams, and they deserved to recognise the contribution that he had made. I rather think that he would make the same speech today.

I am contributing to this debate basically because I am concerned, as I have always been, with nature conservation and the need to reduce the amount of cruelty inflicted on animals. On that basis, I am critical of the Bill. I am also critical of it for a number of other, related reasons. We tend to forget that the landscape of this country was designed for agriculture and field sports. If we destroy or end field sports, we shall see even more harm and damage caused to our landscape.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Bragg, made reference to the importance of our landscape. It has provided inspiration in music, art and literature, and has uplifted the souls of country and town dwellers alike. However, if we decide to allow field sports to end, people will say, "Why should we keep that copse or that hedgerow? Why should we not drain that pond or remove that spinney?" Then the habitat of wildlife will disappear, and our country will be the poorer for it because it enriches life.

I do not want to detain the House for long, but it may be as well to say where I stand and from where I come. When I entered the House of Commons in 1970, I had no wish to allow my private interests to obtrude upon my public activity. However, due to the actions of the people who dug out badgers during the part of the season when the cubs were underground, placed gin traps by badger setts, caught badgers for the purpose of baiting and maimed them in the process to give the dogs a better chance, I took the badger Bill through the House of Commons. The Bill was intended to ensure that badger-baiting, which had not been abolished in the 19th century, was legally prohibited.

In 1974. I was fortunate in drawing first place in the ballot for Private Member's Bills. I put together the Bill which became the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act. It provided the mechanism by which endangered species could be protected. A year or two later, the Nature Conservancy Council recommended to the Secretary of State for the Environment that the otter should be protected. That ended otter hunting.

However, I recognised, and said, then that the reason for the decline in otter numbers was not only persecution; it was due also to disturbance, loss of habitat and pollution. Unfortunately (or fortunately at that time) an animal welfare body took out a series of advertisements—I was reminded of that this morning when I saw the national press—which said, "Please send us a donation and help us in our campaign to save the otter". That organisation had had very little to do with the matter. The success of the attempts on behalf of the otter was due entirely to the scientific and professional assessment of the Nature Conservancy Council. I was fortunate in that a number of Conservative Members of Parliament in the Commons—we were in a fairly tight situation from the point of view of party numbers—recognised that the case was a good one. They could have blocked the legislation very easily, and that particular animal welfare lobby almost destroyed our chances.

A year or two later, I met people from the Forestry Commission who were responsible for deer. We have already heard a little on that subject. The stories that I heard from some of the deer conservators were absolutely disgusting. In the Forest of Dean every deer culled that year had already been injured. One had been blinded in one eye by an airgun pellet; another carried a crossbow bolt embedded in its hind quarters. Those deer were culled.

Therefore, I put before the House the Deer Bill, which would have improved matters considerably. It would have provided a closed season for roe deer and would have stopped a number of brutal practices. It would also have specified the type of weaponry which could be used but which rarely was. Air guns, light shot guns and crossbows seemed the preferred instruments of barbarism.

Unfortunately, one of my colleagues—an able and good man—said to me, "I am going to block your Bill". I asked him why. He said, "Because it will still allow deer to be killed. Deer are lovely creatures which should not be killed. They should be there for everyone to enjoy". I pointed out that the number of deer in Britain was rising rapidly and was already higher than it was in the Middle Ages; that deer had no natural predators; and that culling was in the interests of the deer as it enabled them to survive starvation and disease. However, my colleague would not have it and he blocked the Bill. It needed only one person to do so.

Another Deer Bill went through a few years later but it was not quite as good as the one that had been blocked. That colleague meant well. He was a good man. He cared, but he was not adequately informed. That is the case with too many people in this country, as we see from the advertisements.

My position in relation to this Bill was finally determined by that type of advertisement and by a letter which I received from the Campaign for Hunted Animals. It said that the fox may not die instantly when the hounds catch it. It may suffer, while the fox that is wounded—the council accepted that foxes are wounded—will quietly go to its own environment and die there in peace. As one of my noble friends pointed out, septicaemia is not a pleasant thing for any animal to die from. It would probably be in agony for up to two weeks. That is not a suitable alternative to the one sensible approach.

Other noble Lords have already raised several of the points to which I have referred, but I believe that I must be the first to speak in favour of the fox. Most people see the fox as a villain, but it is a predator, a scavenger and an essential part of our natural fauna. It kills lambs, but I believe that sometimes when a fox is blamed for killing a lamb, the lamb has been stillborn. The people who really do not like the fox are the shooting fraternity.

The logic has already been suggested that if we were to tackle cruelty inflicted upon our wildlife, criticism would be directed at the shooting fraternity rather than at the hunters. In my case, the criticism would be directed at the people who have been shooting close to my home every Saturday almost since Christmas. They have done so even on days when wildlife has faced a difficult time because the ground has been frozen. They did so even until last Saturday, when there was very little left for them to shoot. They do not like foxes; they do not like any of the predators because they represent a challenge to their prey; that is, the game bird in particular.

We need predators in nature. If noble Lords considered the population of the brown rat in their area, they would find that its population is increasing in many areas of Britain at the rate of about 20 or 30 per cent a year. If people shoot, trap or poison foxes—they will do so if they do not have to tolerate foxes for the hunt—what will happen to the rat and rodent populations? Those animals cause considerable economic damage to our agricultural industry. We need foxes. When there has to be control, the most humane method is hunting. That is why we need to be careful.

I shall finish with another illustrative experience of mine. Forty-five years ago, as a young man, I—or a bitch of mine—saved the lives of three or four beagle puppies. The mother of those puppies had no milk, and a man asked me whether I knew of a bitch that had milk. I said, "I have a bitch with several puppies and a great deal of milk". She raised the beagles, and I was asked whether I would like to go on a hunt. I went—I did so several times. But we did not catch anything. In fact, the hares did not seem to be terribly worried. On one occasion—my last occasion, after which I ceased to be involved forthwith—an incident occurred in which the hare should not have been caught. After that, I wanted nothing more to do with the practice. I certainly do not claim to be a practitioner of field sports.

I am attracted by the fact that if the middle way and practices that avoided unnecessary cruelty were introduced, we should make a powerful contribution to the solution of the problem. We should certainly not allow the House to accept that which can be obscenely cruel—that is what would happen if the will of the House of Commons were to prevail—merely because this House may feel that it should be subordinate.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, when I had the privilege of becoming a Member of your Lordships' House almost 12 years ago, I vowed that as a matter of personal policy I would normally speak only on medicine, science and education.

Why, therefore, have I chosen to speak in this debate? Throughout my professional life I have been a city dweller, first in Newcastle upon Tyne and later in Oxford. However, I have been privileged to have homes in the countryside—in north Northumberland and in the Cotswolds—and have become increasingly aware of the crucial importance to country life of the continuation of hunting in some form. If the Bill imposed a total ban on hunting, that would have a devastating effect upon life in the countryside. It would also constitute, as other noble Lords have said, a massive and unacceptable infringement of civil liberties.

At the outset, I must declare an interest. My son is a farmer in the Scottish Borders and his wife is the co-ordinator of an organisation called the Borders Foundation for Rural Sustainability. That organisation has produced two comprehensive reports on the effects that a ban on hunting would have on the rural economy. I confess that I find it extraordinary that so much valuable parliamentary time is being taken up debating this Bill at a time when farming is in such deep crisis, not simply because of the recent epidemic of foot and mouth disease but also because of the savage reduction in farm incomes, which happened during the past few years.

Many years ago, as a youngster, I confess that I had some sense of distaste at the prospect of a fox being pursued and killed by a pack of ravening hounds. That distaste was based on profound ignorance on my part. That ignorance has been totally assuaged by what I have learnt about hunting in recent years and by reading the excellent report by my noble friend Lord Burns and his colleagues. That report requires the most careful attention.

In the course of my professional career, I have been concerned with the assessment of evidence in science and medicine. I have studied with great care the evidence presented by all sides of the argument. As many other noble Lords have said today, I am totally satisfied that the hunting of foxes with hounds is the most humane means of culling and controlling the fox population. As we have heard, foxes are responsible for the death of much farm livestock and poultry.

Much opposition to the practice is based on ignorance and prejudice. That was encapsulated many years ago in the famous quote by Oscar Wilde, who referred to the English country gentleman on a horse hunting a fox as, the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable". In my view, "unspeakable" refers to the unfortunate and intolerable violent behaviour of many hunt saboteurs and, more so, to the appalling behaviour of those terrorists who recently laid siege to Huntingdon Life Sciences. That is unspeakable.

I fully appreciate the sincerity with which noble Lords and many Members of another place have suggested that hunting with hounds is intolerable on the grounds of cruelty. I am satisfied that the evidence does not support that conclusion.

As many other noble Lords have said, hunting is carried out not just by the landed gentry but by many farm workers and country dwellers. As the Borders Foundation for Rural Sustainability made clear, hunting is enjoyed by those who ride with the hounds and by many non-mounted followers, who follow in cars, on foot, on cycles and on quads. The foundation produced evidence that showed that seven hunts in the Scottish Borders and in north Northumberland in 1998–99 were followed by 14,380 non-mounted followers. If that is true of seven hunts, how many non-mounted followers follow hunts throughout the length and breadth of the country? As I have already said, the foundation's reports showed that the proposal would have a devastating effect on the rural economy in financial and other terms.

I shall give one or two quotations from some non-mounted followers. One said: Hunting gets me outside to enjoy good hound-work, meeting company, seeing and enjoying the countryside. Otherwise, I should be an arm-chair pensioner". Another said: If hunting were banned it would leave a big hole in my life. I would be cut off from people and a marvellous opportunity to see and know the countryside". A third said: Hunting keeps me socially alive. Many of the foot-followers are retired farmers and shepherds. It is my only social life. My friends and I would be bereft without hunting". I could give many more quotes. I fully appreciate that they are anecdotal comments and that they do not constitute scientific evidence. However, the burden of evidence regarding the effect that a ban on hunting would have on the rural economy and on social life in rural communities is extremely powerful.

Is more regulation needed? I have been very impressed by the work of the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, which is chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, whom I heard speak last week. It is an excellent voluntary regulatory body. What effective sanctions can we impose on unregulated hunts or on individual hunters who may break its rules and conventions? The answer is none. They would be allowed to continue although the well-organised hunts would continue to follow the guidelines that that body has laid down. In much of my professional life, I have been concerned with issues of professional self-regulation of doctors, dentists, vets, nurses and other professions. Many people argue that hunting is a sport and not a profession, but, in my view, many of those involved in organising and administering hunting are highly professional individuals, and I believe that the principles involved are similar.

We require an authority with statutory powers, but it should not be a totally Government controlled or Government appointed authority. It should be a free-standing regulatory body, with a membership that is drawn from many different walks of life, not just rural-dwellers, vets and farmers; it should be given powers to license and to inspect; and it should be able to withhold licences, where appropriate, or withdraw them where there is evidence of misconduct. As the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, stated, such a body could be built around the existing independent supervisory authority and given statutory powers, without involving too much bureaucracy.

We should not allow this long-hallowed traditional activity of the countryside to be banned. I fervently believe that proper regulation is the only reasonable way forward.

7.22 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, we have listened to some amazing speeches this afternoon, and to some fascinating speeches, into which category I regret the one that your Lordships are about to hear will not fall. I greatly enjoyed listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who is renowned for making the most trenchant and articulate speeches on these matters. As the noble Baroness said, the small things in life often stand out when you are young. She was introduced to a pony when she was 10 years old, and from there went on to hunt, which she has enjoyed ever since.

My experience was rather different from hers. I was given a pony at the age of eight, and the pony succeeded in throwing me off. I got winded and thought I was dying; and it was the most disagreeable experience I had ever had. When I was older, because I was rather large, in those days in height as opposed to girth, I was always given the largest horse. I would clamber on top of this thing and promptly get vertigo. When somebody asked me today whether, when I lived in Leicestershire, I went hunting, I practically fell off my chair with laughter. I have always regarded the horse as a beautiful animal, but dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle. I have not, therefore, been involved in hunting at all.

Hunting is a fine sight; it is part of the spectacle of the countryside and part of the life of the countryside. It is also part of the lives of people. It would be a great disaster if that were to go, still worse if it were to be made a criminal offence. Governments are supposed to protect minority interests. Although the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton said that the Government are neutral about the issue, all I can say is that they have not told that to the marines, because that is not the impression that they give at all. Everyone feels that the Government are setting the pace. They can have a free vote in another place when they know perfectly well that the majority of the Members are Labour-oriented and therefore will vote for a ban. The fact is that the Government have given the impression that they are in favour of banning hunting. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detch ant, stated, it is extraordinary that the Government have given so much time to the Bill, given the disastrous plight of the countryside. No parliamentary time or thought appears to have been given to the total disaster, which includes not just foot and mouth, but swine fever and the whole position of the countryside, before one even starts to think about the weather which has done nothing but pour with rain. On top of that, along come the Government with a Bill to dispose of hunting, to dispose of the hounds and to do away with jobs in a part of the country that is already deeply depressed. I believe that it would be a great error.

Had it not been for the foot and mouth outbreak, a huge rally would have been held this weekend. It would have been huge because the people of the countryside feel that Westminster is alienated from them, and that members of Parliament at Westminster do not understand the problems of the countryside. I regret to say that I believe that they are right to hold that view.

We have heard widely differing views this afternoon as to whether fox hunting is right or wrong. People are entitled to hold the view that it is wrong, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant said, it is a terrible thing when the animal liberation movement takes up its cudgels and threatens people, including two Labour Members of Parliament for voting against hunting. Look at what happened at Huntingdon Life Sciences. The balaclava and the baseball bat are not part of democratic life; they are an offence to it. It is terrorism; they are terrorising people. I gave the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, notice that I would ask this question. What do the Government intend to do about this terrorism? It is just as bad to terrorise people like that as it is to terrorise people in an aeroplane or anywhere else. It is the use of illegal fear to try to get your own way.

Hunting has always been part of the social fabric of the countryside. I have no particular views about cruelty, but I am deeply persuaded by what people have said about the speed of the death. If a fox is left to be shot, that would be infinitely more cruel. Perhaps some noble Lords have tried shooting hares, and may have been more successful than I have been, but a hare is a difficult thing to shoot, and if that is difficult to shoot, a fox is far worse.

Why do people go out to hunt? It is not really just for the fun of the kill. As I understand it, only two people do the hunting, the master of the foxhounds and the huntsman. Everyone else goes out for a day out with their friends, a day out on the horses, a day out in the countryside. They like to try and jump the fences, ditches and gates, and hope to goodness that they manage to hang on and not end up on the ground. That is why they go out hunting, and that is why it is so valuable. If people who commit urban crime were to go out and exercise themselves in that way during the day, they might be too exhausted to carry out some of their more felonious deeds at night.

Some people are paranoid about the killing of foxes. I always find it odd that, politically, we are quite content to see 170,000 babies a year killed by abortion, and yet we worry about killing a fox, which is, after all, a pest. What will happen to all the hounds that will be slaughtered? Where are all the protests from the animal rights organisations about that? Those hounds have as much right to live as the foxes.

At a time when the countryside is suffering such devastation, it is extraordinary that the only contribution the Government can apparently make is to say that they will criminalise hunting, remove people's jobs and greatly alter the sight and shape of the countryside. I believe that it would be a great mistake and would not do the Government any good whatsoever.

7.29 p.m.

Lord Boardman

My Lords, I have hunted all my life, having started very much like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, but I have perhaps been more successful than my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I hunted all my life, until three years ago, when a combination of my wife and my doctor persuaded me to stop. I have never seen any cruelty to the fox in the hunting field. Had it happened, I am quite sure that the masters, the followers and the hunt servants would not have tolerated it, and it has not been so.

I have been fortunate in having some good horses and on occasions have been in at the kill. And I agree with my noble friend Lord Renton that when the hounds catch the fox, they snap back the neck and kill it straightaway. I have never seen a fox killed otherwise than instantaneously in that way. Nonsense is spoken of hounds tearing a fox to pieces while it is still alive. Such sentiments appear in the press from some of the more difficult anti-hunting bodies—including the RSPCA—with pictures purporting to show hounds tearing a fox to pieces while it is still alive. That is nonsense. I am sure that anyone who says such things has never been hunting and has never seen a fox killed, otherwise they would know it could not be right.

Control of hunting is the responsibility of the masters. In my experience, and I have been fortunate enough to hunt most of my life with the Pytchley, all the masters of all the packs I have known have shown consideration, discipline and a firmness which ensured compliance with all the rules and ethics of hunting. That is the practice of a pack of established fox hounds and the practice of a good master. I cannot believe that a statutory body can provide more effective supervision and control of the conduct of hunting than such masters.

No doubt we shall have an opportunity to discuss that point in Committee. At the moment this Bill refers only to banning hunting. No amendments have yet been tabled and cannot be debated as to their merits. But to deprive the country of fox hunting will be to deprive vast numbers of people of a tradition and sport which they consider to be part of their lives, especially those who live in the countryside. Scores of people wrote to me to say that, although they do not hunt, to ban hunting will deprive them of something they value as an essential part of rural life. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke movingly in that regard and I endorse what she said. Others will speak and may have spoken already on what the Bill will do to our freedom, our liberty and the rights of minorities. I agree with them, and the noble Lord, Lord Walton, spoke effectively on that point a few moments ago.

Finally, this Bill has been given priority over many other Bills which wait to be debated in this place, such as the Health and Social Care Bill. That has been put aside so that this Bill can take its place on the statute book. The Government will then be able to say that they attempted to get this Bill through, but could not. To give this Bill priority over those other Bills is proof of the Government's abdication of their responsibility and of their yielding to noisy cries of hunt saboteurs and "upsetters".

7.32 p.m.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, while listening to this debate I have been reflecting on the nature of cruelty. I have lived in the countryside for most of my life and was brought up on a farm. Our farm being family owned, it was interesting that we were anti-hunt. That was rather because my mother, who was a great radical, regarded the hunt in the Vale of Clwyd as "Tories on horseback" and therefore to be banned from her land. I farmed in the foothills of Snowdonia and then moved to Montgomeryshire. It was there I realised that the hunt was at least 50–50 "Liberals on horseback".

I farmed for most of my life until two years ago and enjoyed it enormously. But I have never hunted. However, I have always subscribed to our local foot pack in mid-Wales. Without the foot pack economic farming would be extremely difficult in our part of the world. I live in a mountainous area. Noble Lords have already referred to the problems in that type of country, as did the Burns report.

However, although I have farmed for most of my life I am a rather squeamish fellow. In her remarkable and most impressive speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to the fact that our attitude towards these problems is so much conditioned by our experience. I have shot; I have fished. I always felt squeamish about it. But I have never felt as squeamish as I felt as a farmer with the domestic animals. I reared a herd of Welsh black cattle and a flock of Texel sheep, and I loved them greatly. I enjoyed them, as did the farm workers and staff. It was always with a sense of doing something cruel that I either delivered them to the slaughterhouse or the market. They were all squeezed together, not knowing where they were going. And all that happens in agriculture.

I suppose when people in the cities buy their meat in the supermarkets, they never think of that. But the stress on the domestic farm animal, especially in these days of travelling long distances to slaughterhouses or being transferred here and there between dealers before they eventually reach the slaughterhouse, must be far greater than for any hunted fox.

The fox is by nature a predator. I love the fox. I have seen a number of them over the years, because of the nature of my farm, as I am sure have many people. Two memories stick in my mind. When I started farming, around 35 to 40 years ago, I remember going into a field one morning during lambing time and, to my horror, finding 17 dead lambs. Each had been killed in the same way. Their tails had been bitten off and they had been killed by being bitten under the neck. It was a pattern. I did not realise then, in my ignorance, until my neighbours explained, that it was probably done by a rogue fox. They suck the blood out of the lamb, which explains their method of killing.

That scene stayed indelibly in my mind. I realised how important our foot pack was to the community. Every farmer supported the foot pack. In fact those that did not pay a subscription kept a hound for the non-hunting season on their farm or smallholding. Nowadays, the hounds are already back on the farms because hunting has stopped due to foot and mouth disease.

The other memorable scene I remember happened a few years ago when I was driving round my farm and saw two of the mangiest-looking foxes I have ever seen in my life. Also, it was the first time I had ever seen foxes in close vicinity to one another. In my experience they had always been lone animals. I stopped my four-wheel drive car and looked at the foxes. They looked at me. I drove round and later saw another one. They seemed to be almost entirely tame. I spoke to my farm bailiff about what I considered a strange phenomenon. He said that they were Wolverhampton foxes. I was unaware of a habit whereby people, with the best of intentions, caught urban foxes in Wolverhampton, put them in the back of their vans, delivered them to an area like Montgomeryshire and released them on the hills intending that they should return to the wild. They were in fact destined for certain death because for them life outside their urban environment was impossible.

I do not believe for a moment that the perceived cruelty in foxhunting is anything like sufficient to justify a ban. No doubt there should be some change in practices and some regulation, but that is about all. Far worse things are taking place in our country than hunting. There have been references to the Lake District and other areas. En districts like mine, hunting with dogs is absolutely essential if we are to keep the fox population down. Our local hunt, to which I subscribe, kills on average about 150 foxes a year, sometimes more. There is also a "proper" hunt—the David Davies Hunt. There are about 15 horses and ponies which meet on a Saturday morning to go hunting. For the rest of the week they hunt as a foot pack.

Another hunt in mid-Wales hunts properly on a Wednesday, but on Saturdays goes out as a shooting foot pack. My particular foot pack is also a shooting pack. The hunt covers parts of Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and Cardiganshire and is known as the Plynlimon Hunt. It covers terrain where only shooting will clear the foxes. The dogs are required to go into the forestry areas and drive out the foxes. If it were not for the animal culling there would be absolute slaughter at lambing time.

During the lambing season the huntsman is informed immediately a farmer believes that a fox is stealing lambs. This year I took a statement from our huntsman. He had no complaints at all in March last year, but April proved a very inclement month. For the first time in his 20 years' experience he had a number of complaints in April.

One complaint in particular has remained in my mind because I followed it up. There was a complaint that about 20 lambs were missing. It was thought that a fox had taken them because they had completely disappeared. After the complaint the hunt went off at 6.30 in the morning. The dogs followed the scent and found the fox's lair about 200 yards away. The dogs were put down. A vixen came out and was shot. She had nine cubs. I am no expert, but I was told that this was an unusually high number. Within the den there were a number of dead lambs. The fox had killed because she had nine cubs to feed. It was inclement weather and she simply went to the nearest possible supply.

That kind of thing can happen all the time at lambing but not to the same extent. Foot packs are essential in what is an afforested area with probably the greatest density of sheep in the whole of the United Kingdom.

I had hoped that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, would be in his place. There are two kinds of foot packs, the shooting foot pack and the non-shooting one. It is arguable which is the most effective because the hounds kill the foxes in suitable terrain as quickly as any gun can in very difficult terrain.

In House of Commons Standing Committee B on 6th February, Mrs Jane Kennedy, who, I believe, is a junior Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department, said: The hon. Members for Aylesbury and for Montgomeryshire asked about Welsh gun packs. The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked if we intend to outlaw them. and the straight answer is no: gun packs can fall within the exceptions". This is very important. Does the noble and learned Lord repeat that undertaking on behalf of the Government? Foot packs not being outlawed means that hunting by dogs can be justified. Yet when one looks at the Bill, which is badly drawn, its wording does not suggest to me that a foot pack working in this way would come within one of the exceptions, although it is clearly the Government's intention that it should. Surely, if the exception is extended to the gun foot pack it should also apply to the other foot packs because they operate on different terrain without guns.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, during the many years that the question of hunting, particularly fox hunting, has been raging, I have heard opponents of hunting claim that hunting is a class issue, and if for no other reason, it should be banned because they believe that it is a relic of this country's historic class structure.

Other opponents of hunting are fanatical animal rights activists whose fanaticism seems rather twisted. On the one hand they claim a love of animals and yet on the other their actions display no concern whatsoever for human life. Of course, not everyone opposed to hunting comes into these categories in the same way that not everyone supporting hunting takes the view of many in the Countryside Alliance, which claims that it should be allowed to carry on hunting in its own way without what it describes as government interference.

Nevertheless, those who hold the views to which I have referred are making clear, political statements in support of their position. Therefore, I shall make a political statement in defence of my position which I believe reflects the voice of tolerance and moderation. It is my view that, while considering the question of fox hunting, we should look at the issue with a sense of proportion and understanding.

In a democracy such as ours it is of course necessary to observe the wishes of the majority. But it is equally important that if we are to apply our democracy in a civilised manner, it is essential that we protect the interests of the minority. After all, our society is not made up of constant and fixed majorities and minorities but by a multiplicity of minorities which split and divide into majorities and minorities on different issues.

As regards hunting, it is regrettable that a clear division has been drawn between those who live and work in the country and those who live and work in the towns and cities of this nation. I know that it is often said that that division is not so clear cut. But it would be very foolish not to recognise that as regards hunting and some other areas of lifestyle cultural differences exist between the two groups. We know that media reporting misses no opportunity to exaggerate the differences between countryfolk and urban dwellers and portraying the issue of hunting as the biggest division between the two groups in living memory.

There is a great deal I could say about the impact on jobs and what would happen to horses and hounds if hunting were to be banned. But in this Second Reading of the Bill I shall limit my arguments to what I consider to be three fundamental areas: namely, culture, control and cruelty.

I turn first to culture. In our towns and cities, people mainly keep cats and dogs as pets. However, in the country and among the farming community, cats are kept to control the rodent population and dogs are kept for working with cattle and sheep. So, it is not surprising that the attitude and approach of the two groups towards animals in general is different, arising from environmental differences and the development of different cultures which have evolved over hundreds of years. What about cows, sheep and pigs, from which comes the meat that most of us eat? For centuries country folk have been directly associated with the breeding, slaughtering and butchering of those animals so that all of us, mainly living in urban areas, can enjoy our Sunday roast and lamb lunches without having to experience or, indeed, think about, the breeding and slaughtering process which takes place on our behalf.

Over the many years that I was required to visit slaughterhouses in order to represent the interests of workers employed there, many of my friends and acquaintances who ate meat, as I do, confessed that they could never stomach going into a slaughterhouse to see those animals being killed. They also said that they could not bear the thought of an animal they may have tended in a field being taken away and slaughtered. But that is what the farming community have always lived with. I do not complain about those differences; I express them to demonstrate the difference in culture between those who live and work in the rural countryside and those who live and work in urban areas, which for me is inescapable.

I read recently that the number of animals on farms in this country—the vast majority being bred for slaughter and eating—is 70 million. Here, we are dealing with the hunting and killing of 17,000 wild foxes each year. I mention those figures to draw attention to the relative proportion of killing, although I hasten to add that I fully appreciate the difference between killing for food and killing that arises from a sporting activity. The point I make is to emphasise the clear distinction between the attitude and approach of country folk towards animals as compared to that of town dwellers. We must understand that that exists because of the environmental differences in which the two groups have been brought up and in which they now live. That is what created the cultural differences. I believe that it would be wrong of anyone to ignore the culture of those who live in the country when we are expected to make laws which directly affect them.

On a slightly different note, but one which I believe shows how ignorance of the full picture can often lead people to mistaken conclusions, animal rights activists are conscious opponents of animal experimentation. But when most people are confronted with a simple, straightforward proposition that using animals for experiments is cruel, they will mostly agree. However, they do not normally think about the fact that each time they go to the doctor, to a chemist or into hospital and receive medication which removes pain and suffering and is often life-saving, none of that would have been possible if experiments on animals had not previously taken place. I say that simply to show how unwise it is to jump to conclusions without understanding the full extent of all the circumstances involved. I fear that that is the case with many who oppose hunting.

I turn to the question of control of the fox population. The fox is an animal which is an effective predator but which suffers from no natural predator other than man. I understand that the fox population in this country is normally about half a million. In the spring it rises to about 1 million. Without control, the fox population would get out of hand. I have heard few, if any, express the view that controlling the fox population is unnecessary or unjustified, including most, if not all, opponents of hunting. When one considers the number of foxes which are killed each year, the 17,000 killed through hunting is a small proportion. What other methods can be and are employed in the control of the fox population: shooting, snaring, trapping, poisoning, gassing and, perhaps, smoking out. I shall come to those again when I deal with cruelty.

If it is universally recognised that the fox population must be controlled, what is wrong with one such means of control arising from a sporting activity, particularly if such activity results in the killing of the fox being a lot quicker and the pain and suffering involved much less than by the alternative method? I find no reason to legitimately justify the banning of fox hunting simply because it is a sport which results in the killing of a fox when everyone accepts that the fox population has to be controlled.

I turn to the argument of cruelty, upon which I have already touched. As I have indicated, there is a largely universal acceptance that the fox population needs to be controlled. Therefore, if we take away hunting, what are we left with? Again, I repeat the alternatives: shooting, snaring, trapping, poisoning, gassing and, perhaps, smoking out. All those methods are probably more efficient than hunting and would undoubtedly mean the killing of a great number of foxes. The first question I ask is whether we want the killing of a great number of foxes. I do not think so. The second question is whether the alternative methods to hunting are any less cruel. I think not. Indeed, in most if not all cases I believe that the alternatives are more cruel. Perhaps I may say to all those who strongly argue for the banning of hunting to think of the consequences that will arise if they get their way. It does not seem to me that they will be doing the fox any favours.

In conclusion, although I am opposed to the banning of hunting because I can see no justification for such a ban, I am not opposed to statutory regulation. However, my voting pattern will depend upon the way that the voting options are put, ensuring as far as I can that the option for a ban on hunting does not succeed. I urge others who share my views to do the same. For the record, and to ensure that there is no misunderstanding in your Lordships' House, I have never hunted, fished or been to a shoot, but I have spent most of my life directly safeguarding and representing the employment interests of my fellow human beings.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Nickson

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, with whose every word I agree. Some five hours ago the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, reminded us of the words of the Attorney-General. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench—I am sorry that he is not in his place—reminded us that the only other subjects last year which filled your Lordships' Chamber as fully as it has been filled today were the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill and the Local Government Bill.

Noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I have only two points to make. One concerns the argument for liberty and tolerance and the pastimes of the minority. The other concerns the knock-on effect on other field sports were the Bill to be enacted. First, I should declare a non-interest. To my great regret, I have never seen or been present at a fox hunt or a day's hare coursing, so I speak with limited knowledge. But I live in a non-hunting, highland region of Scotland and I am deeply familiar with the fox and its predation and the other methods of control which have been discussed; that is, snaring, lamping and shooting. I have been part of that and instrumental in it. I can tell noble Lords that, hard as one tries, that is often not a kind or humane way to kill foxes.

My interest, which I also declare, is that all my life I have been a passionate countryman, passionate fisherman and passionate shooter. It is in those capacities that for some four or five years I was a member of the board of the Countryside Alliance. I retired by rotation in May this year. As I am no longer a member of the board, perhaps I may pay a tribute to the president who has spoken tonight with such passion and wonderful eloquence. I also pay tribute to the tremendously healing speech—it was an attempt to reach some kind of agreement on this difficult issue—of the chairman, John Jackson, and the director, Richard Burge, who I am sure have listened to our debate today.

The two points that I wish to make are simple. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, referred to the words of the Attorney-General. I should like to quote the Attorney-General's words on 11th April of last year. Whenever I am here I listen to the Welsh eloquence and charm of the noble and learned Lord. At that time the Attorney-General was introducing the Second Reading debate on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill. He said: It is deeply necessary not to confuse what we may disapprove of with what must be criminalised. There is, after all. a libertarian thread that runs through our public life … It is one of the most attractive features of this country. It is worth remembering it and protecting it".—[Official Report, 11/4/00; col. 92.] I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, will remind the Attorney-General of those words when he next sees him.

My second witness for the defence also comes from the Government Front Bench. I refer to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, at consideration of Commons amendments to the Local Government Bill on 24th July 2000. In responding to a question from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, he said: It is very strange of this House, because normally it is a well recognised role of this House to defend the position of minorities. It may very well be that the majority of people out there, fed by slightly misleading information in our media and elsewhere, support the retention of Section 28 … but it still remains the responsibility of this House—it is one of the great constitutional checks and balances of our system—to respect and protect the interests of minorities against a populist majority".—[Official Report, 24/7/00; col. 124.] From the Government Front Bench on two separate occasions on other issues similar arguments to those debated tonight were expressed with great clarity. I hope that both the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord will be reminded of their words—I do not know their stance on this matter—in the context of this debate.

My third witness comes from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. I refer to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who I notice is not in his place today. In his response to the gracious Speech, the noble Earl said: I should also like to allow myself the luxury of one sentence on hunting. I expect it to be the last on the issue that I speak this Session. I have no intention of casting any vote on that Bill. Should I be made to come down off that high horse, I should vote against whichever side proved itself to be more intolerant".— [Official Report, 7/12/00; col. 44.] I hope that the Liberal Democrat Front Bench will remind the noble Earl of those words and ask him whom he believes is more intolerant: those who advocate the preservation of a very important activity and recreation within the countryside, who organised what would have been on Sunday the largest and most peaceful demonstration and march, and who try to be reasonable about what is happening in the countryside, or the people who threaten those in the other place who advocate the middle way in hunting? Who is being more tolerant at the moment? That is all I say about tolerance and liberty.

I deal with one other point: the knock-on effect. I suggest that those noble Lords who access the Internet should look at the website of an organisation called "Pisces", which is related to fishing, and at the totally misleading and virulent information that is put out against that activity and which goes into the curricula of primary schools.

As far as concerns shooting, to my knowledge, based on a very good source, those people who oppose field sports already have all the evidence in the can. The moment that this Bill is passed the whole of that will be diverted against shooting and fishing. It is all very well for the Home Office Minister Mr Mike O'Brien to say in another place that so long as the Prime Minister is in No. 10—who can tell how long that may be?—shooting and fishing are safe. Public opinion and all the activities of the "antis" will then be focused on other field sports.

When it comes to a vote, I shall vote with profound conviction against the Bill and for one of the alternatives. I shall perhaps vote for the regulation of hunting because I believe that hunting must go on and that that is the best way to ensure that it does.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Winston

My Lords, I should declare a non-interest in that I neither hunt nor fish. I have a fear of horses, and I am not particularly fond of dogs either. As an orthodox Jew I come from a religious and moral perspective which holds as a key aspect to its philosophy the sacredness of human life. Round that is based so much of our practice. In Judaism there is also the notion that the world is given to us as a mandate. We look after the environment and in particular have regard to the welfare of animals. We look after the ecology and we do not unnecessarily mix species in the field or animals in the barn to their detriment.

There is a notion that goes right through that tradition. For example, there is the clear instruction not to muzzle the ox in a particular way while it grinds the corn so that it can nourish itself rather than look at the corn without being able to eat it. The basic premise behind the use of Jewish methods of slaughter of animals is that they are not killed in the sight of each other. Animals are killed with the sharpest possible knife so that they suffer no pain; and the slightest nick on a knife, however small, found after the act of slaughter renders that animal unfit for use or eating in our practices. That is a very strict rule which is widely observed by a large number of Jews in this country.

Coming from that perspective gives me a certain clear view of this particular Bill, which I believe is a thoroughly wrong measure. When I consider all the available evidence that I have read and heard today and have carefully studied for some time, I am totally convinced by the argument that hunting is the most humane method to kill the fox. I have no idea about deer; I find that a more difficult problem. However, with regard to fox hunting I have absolute clarity. I have never seen a hunt, but I have spoken to many people among my friends who are hunters. I see very clearly from their perspective that the hunt results in a kill which is virtually instantaneous. I leave aside the issue of digging out the fox. That may or may not be justified after thought about its regulation.

We heard a very powerful speech by my noble friend Lady Castle which sounded extraordinarily attractive. I am sorry that she is not in her place now. I believe that that was a wrong and inappropriate speech. The notion that somehow hunting threatens the moral fabric of our society is simply not true. Those arguments would carry far more weight if we were not standing passive while there is the massive slaughter of tens of thousands of animals in this country, often within sight of each other; animals which are often given names by the farmers; and animals which are often household pets, even though they are cows. It is a shocking threat for what is ultimately a commercial purpose because we could no longer trade outside this country. I believe that is a far greater moral dilemma. It is a cruel dilemma. I do not know what the answer is, but one hopes that science might find a better solution than vaccines which last only a few months, so that vaccines could be accepted and we can eliminate these viruses from herds in this country and elsewhere.

All available evidence argues that hunting is the most humane alternative. We have heard, and we know that with regulation nowadays, virtually the only weapon that the farmer has to hand is the shotgun. Whether it is a 12-bore, which is clearly ridiculous, or one which is slightly heavier, it means that one will maim the fox more often than kill it. I have maimed a fox, not with a gun but in a motor car. I live in Hampstead Garden Suburb where the heath extension is plagued by foxes. I have seen what carnage they do. One by one my children's rabbits were killed completely wantonly. They were not taken for food, but destroyed by the fox after it dug through their cage. It was a horrible experience.

In spite of the speed and the power of my motor car when I hit the fox, I certainly did not kill it: I maimed it. One felt sickened at the prospect of a suffering animal, but there was nothing in the best human circumstances that one could do. It was far worse than the almost instantaneous killing that occurs as a result of the hunt.

This is a frightening Bill for a very serious reason indeed. I believe that it is, as my noble friend Lord Bragg said, the thin end of a wedge. We start with hunting and move on to shooting and fishing. We then look, for example, perhaps at various methods of Muslim or Jewish slaughter of meat for perfectly respectable religious purposes. We then move on to the use of animals in research.

I have been in a house on the Sabbath—my Saturday—when my entire street has been cordoned off by the police with mobile units while they examined parcels that were delivered to my house. I have had threatening mail. In our democracy, a number of my colleagues have also had these kinds of' threats, notably a much more distinguished scientist than myself, Professor Colin Blakemore of Oxford. He is an extraordinarily brave man who has continued with his conviction of the need for humanely conducted research using animals but in proper circumstances and under proper regulation. That is surely what this House should be looking at with regard to any aspect of the handling of animals.

We should not underestimate the inordinate power of pressure groups. These groups can give a disproportionate sense of the feeling in the population. That has happened again and again. For example, it happened a few weeks ago with the stem cell debate. We were besieged with correspondence which suggested that this was one of the most iniquitous procedures. Once this House agreed that we could do that under careful regulation, I, for one, have not had a single letter or e-mail and no further objection. It is extraordinary how these perceived public issues sometimes return to some sense of proper proportion.

I am troubled by a letter I received this afternoon from the Labour Animal Welfare Society. It states: We strongly believe that the Labour Party's interests require a clear demonstration of opposition to hunting with hounds, particularly when the House of Lords debates and votes on the Hunting Bill. Notice that it is "the Labour Party's interests", not the interests of the fox, the farming community or of what is just and proper and properly regulated. It continues: The Labour Party's victory at the general election depends crucially on voter turnout, which depends on the Party being seen to keep trust with its supporters". I make no apologies for being a Labour supporter and a long-time member of the Labour Party, but I want no truck with this kind of special pleading.

My friends who hunt, people like my noble friend Lady Mallalieu, who gave that extraordinarily powerful speech, one of the best speeches I have heard in this House—I am sorry if I embarrass her; it was a fantastic speech—are not barbarians. They are not cruel. This is not a Bill which is rightly placed. This is not a Bill for which I can vote. I feel at the very least we must look for some regulation but certainly not vote in favour of the banning of hunting.

8.16 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston. The noble Lord, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has not had the opportunity to experience the hunt for himself. Therefore, he has reached his own conclusions from reading and listening to people.

I was born and brought up in the countryside. As a child, like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, I rode ponies from an early age. I lived in Quorn country and hunted with the Quorn. I only ever hunted with the Quorn, one of seven packs in Leicestershire. I have not ridden for some eight years. Sadly, last year, our last horse was put down.

Perhaps I should also declare an interest in that we are members of the Countryside Alliance, the CLA and the NFU.

After leaving school I became a poultry farmer. So I saw foxes from the other end. Like many other noble Lords, I had the soul-destroying experience of going to lock up the hens at night only to find that occasionally the fox had beaten me to it. As other noble Lords have rightly said, the fox does not kill to eat; it kills for sheer pleasure. I would find that out of a hut of 50 chickens about 12 had been killed and probably another 15 had been smothered because in their flight to get away from the fox they could not get through the narrow opening. It is not a nice sight.

I was lucky enough to be brought up with that background. I believe that it has a bearing and stays with us. I, too, agree with other noble Lords who say that on both sides of the argument views are held very strongly. But I have been much encouraged recently, if the opinion polls are right, by the number of people who have changed their mind on their perception of the cruelty attached to fox hunting.

I have only been in your Lordships' House for four years, but often we have had debates where very differing views have come together to realise that there are other sides to the argument. Today we are seeing just that process.

Before I deal with the main part of my speech, I pay tribute, although he is not in his place at the moment, to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his team, and my noble friend Lord Soulsby, who is in his place, for their extremely good research and the time that they took in weighing up the evidence put before them. That has provided us with an important, unbiased and clear background against which to consider the Hunting Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Burns, for restating the matter again for us today.

Over the past three weeks I have received many written submissions from organisations and individuals, only three of which seek my support for a total ban. In addition, I have had communications with individual police members. I quote from the letter of one policeman. He said: Should law-abiding people have to give way to rural terrorist campaigns and attacks on their person and property? What will happen to liberty, freedom of choice and tolerance? Today many noble Lords have referred to that matter.

From medieval times until the invention of the motor car, the horse was used to transport people and goods, to till the ground, to hunt for animals and game and to provide recreation through tournaments, hunting, sport and, later, racing. The internal combustion engine virtually banished the horse from urban environments and did so at a speed possibly greater than that of the recent microchip revolution.

In the countryside, however, many of the old ways survived. Plough horses lasted until after the Second World War but are rare now. Falconry is popular but not normally from horseback. But trekking, hacking, show jumping, dressage, cross-country and hunting are, if anything, growing in popularity. All told, the "horse" industry—including those employed in hunting, racing, livery and saddlery, vets, farriers, feed manufacturers, those who rent paddocks and so on—makes at least as big a contribution to our national income as does agriculture. In addition, the hunt makes a great contribution with regard to fallen stock, as happens on our farms today. It is sad that our hunt servants are out helping to put down some of the animals with foot and mouth disease.

Horses—the love of horses and the ownership of horses—are largely a rural preoccupation. In a real sense, they are a mark of the countryside, just as football matches represent an important recreation in towns. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, and one or two other noble Lords referred to that point. Hunting is an important way of rural life. It is not partaken of by all that many, but it represents history, tradition, excitement and danger for some, and the right of a minority to continue its preferred existence. It is carried out in a responsible way. The Burns report did not class the killing of foxes as cruel. The death, if not instantaneous, happens in a matter of seconds. The unregulated control alternatives are more cruel, as other noble Lords have stated.

I wonder what would happen if the rural community set up a lobby to stop professional football matches. Reasons would not be difficult to find—hooliganism, vandalism, noise, litter, traffic jams and bad behaviour on and off the field. Reasons are a plenty; but imagine the outcry: the accusation of bigotry and narrow mindedness. I agree that any such suggestion would be unreasonable and totally out of order; just as I believe that the call to ban hunting with dogs is unreasonable. It represents an unacceptable attempt by those of one opinion to impose their will on those of a different opinion. I fear that underlying this is a feeling that a majority has some right to dictate to a minority.

Our history is bound up with support for the underdog and in standing up for the right of the minority to continue its legal occupations. My fear is that the Hunting Bill represents a move away from that liberality to a position of, "Might is right and the end justifies the means". The Bill before us will not save one fox, but it will increase their suffering. Is that really what people wish to achieve?

I think that all noble Lords agree that foxes have to be controlled. The question is: how? Some noble Lords have mentioned lamping. It is one option mentioned by the Burns report. But with the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill last autumn and the opening up of the countryside to all, lamping will not be a safe option. During the proceedings on the Bill we tried desperately to ban night-time access. Lamping is conducted at night. How can one lamp if people are freely walking over the land? What alternative is left if hunting is banned?

There are many issues which the Government have not considered fully, as I am sure our debate today will reflect. Your Lordships should be taking time to debate this matter. I very much agree with those who have said that. I am concerned about the way in which some legislation is rushed through another place and then we in your Lordships' House are told that it is not for us to alter its decisions. But if another place does not have the time or ability to look at these matters properly, it is up to your Lordships to look at them in detail.

I am dismayed—I shall say it again tomorrow—that we are devoting so much time to the Bill when the countryside is in crisis. The Bill will divide communities even further. It is yet another blow to the country way of life. The countryside rally that was due to take place next Sunday, in which many noble Lords would have taken part, has been postponed. It would have shown the degree of frustration felt by the people who live and work in the countryside. They are coping with extremely difficult circumstances. The Bill will only add to their frustration. As other noble Lords have said, the Bill is yet another wedge between us.

I have spoken from the Back Benches. My noble friend Lord Ferrers referred to the fact that no one speaking from the Front Benches has a role in agriculture. I should like to record the fact that I do, and that the country way of life is extremely important to me. I hope that the debate will persuade anyone who is in doubt of the need to reject and oppose the Bill. If it has to be, we must find some middle ground. But at the moment the question before us is whether we support or oppose the Bill. I strongly oppose it.

8.27 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Byford, I must declare an interest. I am a farmer; I benefit from the hunt; I allow the hunt to go over my land; but I have never myself hunted. I believe quite strongly that it is our responsibility in this House to weigh the evidence carefully and to make sure that we bring our individual expertise—what a breadth of expertise we have heard today—to bear on the issues, which have been well presented.

I congratulate the Government on just one thing in respect of the Bill. I congratulate them on commissioning the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his colleagues to produce their report. That was a sensible way to set the scene, and their terms of reference were highly appropriate. The purpose was not to give a recommendation but to try to marshal the evidence in a way that all of us would then be able to take account of and then make our decision based on moral and ethical considerations and on an evaluation of the science and other factors set out in the report.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, I want to look at the issue from the point of view of nature conservation. By accident, I found myself chairing the Joint Nature Conservation Committee some seven or eight years ago when the Nature Conservancy Council was abolished. I give credit to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, who I see in his place— not that he intended me to be the chairman; far from it; but that is how it fell out in the event. As a result, I found myself looking carefully at policies for protecting and conserving British mammals.

It is indeed the case that the fortunes of British mammals—the species we are discussing are British mammals—have ebbed and flowed quite dramatically. When we look at the reasons why the fortunes of those British mammals have ebbed and flowed, it is clear that often it is due to change of land use and the incidence of pollution in our streams and rivers. In large part, that was the cause of the decline in the otter population, although in some quarters they may have been over-hunted. Nevertheless, I suspect that the decline was mainly due to environmental considerations. Other species, such as the polecat and the pinemarten, have needed careful management to encourage their fortunes to flow rather than to ebb. Indeed, close though the otter, polecat and pinemarten were at one time to eradication, I believe that we can say that now their fortunes are recovering from a very low base.

Other mammals, such as the water vole and the red squirrel, are examples of species which have suffered devastation due to competition from other alien species. For that, man is also responsible, because we introduced those alien species. Again, however, we must recognise the dynamics which are quite rapidly changing the situation for those species. Badger numbers are now expanding enormously but, again, some 20 to 30 years ago they were suffering. The Badgers Act has had a favourable influence on badger populations.

Fox and deer are both hunted species. The evidence suggests that their numbers are presently increasing and that they have been doing so for a number of years. Hare numbers have been rather more inconsistent. In some areas, hare populations are increasing and remain high, but where I farm in my corner of Hampshire, that is not the case. Hare populations are lower now than they were some 10 to 20 years ago.

From this welter of information, I can deduce a point which is quite clear; namely, all species, whether they are expanding and becoming something of a pest species or whether they are close to the brink of extinction, need active management. We need to introduce policies to help to determine the status of all species. We need to be able to determine whether they need to be culled for their own good, perhaps because of ill health resulting from over-population or because of their impact on farm species such as lambs, as may be the case with foxes in upland areas. It may be that for other reasons we need a clear policy on how to protect these species.

Having recognised the fact that, in the distant past, our ancestors did no good whatever for the wolf and a number of other species—having hunted them to extinction for reasons which probably made good sense to those people at the time—in the context of today's debate, I must ask how the hunting of the species we are discussing in this debate—fox, deer and hare—makes a contribution to the conservation of habitats. What contribution have hunts made to that? I would say that, certainly in the case of foxes and, to a lesser extent, with hare, the contribution has been positively favourable.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, pointed out earlier in the debate, that is because those who are interested in hunting will wish to ensure that the hunted species remain in good health. I believe that it is clearly the case that hunting has helped to keep the populations of hunted species in a healthy state. This may be an anachronism which some people may not be able to get their minds around; namely, that when several individuals in a population are culled, the wider population is in fact helped. That, however, is the case and I do not believe that anyone who has paused to think about it would quarrel with that as a concept.

However, it must recognised that one cannot attribute to hunting the benefits of conservation and therefore give it a clean bill of health if, at the same time, it conducts itself in ways that are considered to be less than humane. The Burns report helps us enormously in this area. We have to satisfy ourselves that hunting does adopt the most humane method of killing where that killing is required. It was helpful to hear my noble friend Lord Soulsby, who was a member of the Burns committee, confirm the fact that the welfare of animals being hunted should be compared with their welfare which, on a realistic assessment, would be likely to result from legal—I stress the word "legal" because we are not discussing illegal methods here—methods used by farmers and others to manage their populations.

Those arguments have been rehearsed on a number of occasions. All I can say is that, having read and considered carefully the balance of the Burns report, which I have found to be astonishingly helpful, I am clear in my mind that it is perfectly reasonable to deduce from the information we have been given that hunting presents the most humane method of control of the species. Certainly, of the alternatives considered by the committee, lamping was the only one it was prepared to countenance. Even then, it was quick to recognise that that method would not be appropriate in a number of different conditions. I can certainly vouch for that, for the reasons just touched on by my noble friend Lady Byford.

For those reasons, I find myself in total disagreement with the Bill as it stands. I recognise the need for regulation, but whether it should be self-regulation or regulation by statute is something that we shall debate on another occasion. However, my instinct—at least for the moment, because I am not prepared to die in a ditch for it—is to give self-regulation a try.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie

My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. As a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I have introduced a Member's Bill entitled the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill which, if passed by that parliament, will have the effect of introducing measures similar to Part 3 of the Bill being discussed this evening by noble Lords.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is no longer in his place—

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I am in my place.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie

My Lords, I apologise. It should be noted that the noble Lord is in his place. He made a rather serious allegation in his contribution earlier in the debate which I do not propose to go into. I simply refer the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, to the minutes of a meeting of the Rural Affairs Committee of the Scottish Parliament in November 2000. My motives for introducing the Bill were clarified in the Official Report.

I am firmly of the belief that the decision as to whether to ban hunting with dogs should be reached on moral grounds. I have to disagree with my noble friend Lord Winston on that point. I am unable to accept that it can be morally right to pursue a mammal—in the case of foxes and deer—often for a period of some hours when the animal is clearly in an agitated state. The animal's instincts will demonstrably tell it that it is fighting for its very life.

It has been demonstrated by many noble Lords in the debate today—at least by those who are in favour of hunting—that those who participate in hunt activities do so predominantly for pleasure, however that pleasure might be defined. It is argued that most of those who follow mounted hunts do not relish or derive satisfaction from cruelty or from the kill. Indeed, I am well aware of the fact that few ever witness the kill, if for no other reason than that it would be physically impossible for many hunt participants to be present at the kill when it takes place. However, while I accept that they are not physically present at what must be a profoundly unpleasant—I suggest even barbaric—event, I do not absolve those who participate in mounted hunts, whatever the extent of their involvement, of complicity in a pursuit which has cruelty at its core. In many cases they may well be social events, but the conclusion of the chase cannot be airbrushed from the argument.

I shall return to the question of cruelty in a moment, but it is not simply that aspect of hunting which turns my stomach. Those feelings, which polls show are shared by a clear majority of people living in both urban and rural communities in Britain, are compounded by the fact that hunting is carried out primarily for pleasure. The inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, demonstrated that the traditional, organised hunting of deer, mink, hare and foxes is principally conducted for sport rather than utility. In its report, the noble Lord's committee was in no doubt that mounted fox hunting makes an insignificant contribution to fox control and, indeed, in addressing the debate this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, made it clear that he felt that a ban would have no particular effect on the number of foxes killed.

Those who advocate a ban do not do so to protect foxes. For my part, there has never been any attempt to deny the need to control the fox population; it is how it is done that matters. I have heard many compelling arguments as regards what is the most humane method of control and I shall speak on that in a few moments. That is why I began by stating that I believe this issue to be a moral one; namely, whether it is acceptable to inflict suffering on animals by setting dogs on them in the name of sport.

I turn now to the question of cruelty. It is self-evident to point out that, until some method is found to enable animals to communicate and express themselves in a clear manner, there can be no absolute certainty of the extent to which animals suffer in the chase. Many noble Lords have referred to the now famous conclusion made by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, that the welfare of foxes chased and killed by hounds above ground is seriously compromised. I suggest that we should not be in any doubt as regards the import of those words. It means that the fox does suffer. Can any rational thinking person seriously argue that the fox, the deer, the hare, when seeking to escape its pursuers in a desperate attempt to reach safety and preserve its life, does not suffer great stress and anxiety; that it does not fear that if it were not to strain its every sinew in an attempt to keep its attackers at bay it would die; that it regards it as all in a day's sport, a bit of fun, a challenge, from which it might derive satisfaction if it were ultimately successful in putting one over on its pursuers, both animal and human? I think not. It is, quite frankly, insulting to invite those who oppose hunting to accept that being hunted, far less being caught, can ever be anything other than a terrifying experience for the animal concerned.

No one can determine the emotional or mental suffering which the pursued animal experiences. That argument can never be conclusive. I accept that. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his statement, was convinced that hunted animals suffer. I have no doubt about that use of the term "seriously compromised".

The kill has to be seen in the context of being the end point of a deteriorating welfare for the animal. The kill is not necessarily instantaneous, but the key point is that at the point of capture, having endured the inexorable approach of the hounds, the animal, surely, by any logical consideration, could not be more distressed.

No doubt, all noble Lords have received a communication, as I did—we all receive communications from a great many organisations—from an organisation called Vets for Hunting, which I read with great interest. In that is a quote from a letter from a Dr L.H. Thomas, which I understand appeared in The Times, which states: It is important to appreciate that we are considering here wild animals which are used to hunting and being hunted, not domestic pets … It is only in the short final stages of a hunt that the quarry comes under any serious stress and that no more, in physiological terms, than the extended athlete or racehorse". I find it astonishing that the racehorse could he adopted in support of the case put forward by the Vets for Hunting. It is a totally spurious argument. After all, a racehorse is trained, as is an athlete. Racehorses may make a supreme effort, either through choice or training, but they are not running ahead of a pack or running through any sense of fear. That analogy is rather false.

I should like to pray in aid a letter I received from Mr David Main, of Coupar Angus in Perthshire. He refers to the same aspect. He states: Most predators will abandon an attack if not successful within a relatively short chase"— he was referring to the fact that the Vets for Hunting have stated that this is all part of what animals expect—— preferring to depend upon overhauling the victim by a relatively short and violent burst of athletic superiority rather than beating the victim by exhaustion. One reason for this could he that a prolonged chase would leave the predator drained of energy and vulnerable to attack itself, or loss of its prey by conflict with its own competitors". The comparison is very much spurious. While I am not dismissing the experience of Vets for Hunting, they tend to have rather a vested interest in this matter. I wonder how many of the Vets for Hunting have looked at the equine-based practices in the hunting heartlands and are coming at the situation from a slightly different perspective to many others.

I prefer to take the view of an organisation which is widely respected throughout the length and breadth of the country; that is, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If that organisation is not in the business of arguing cogent cases on behalf of animals, I do not know which is. It has been in existence since 1824. In a letter, which I understand has been circulated to other noble Lords, it states: The government's bill, currently in the Commons, is an urgent matter since, without new legislation, thousands of wild animals will continue to suffer. It is, therefore, very important that the bill achieves a ban on hunting wild mammals with dogs. It is our view, that only schedule 3 will achieve this". The RSPCA is a widely respected organisation and we should give considerable weight to its arguments.

The RSPCA has suggested that this is an urgent matter. I am slightly bemused by the regularity with which noble Lords have referred to the use of parliamentary time on the Bill and questioned our priorities. They invoke the current crisis in the farming community, as if abandoning this Bill and replacing it with something else, which they have not specified, will somehow alleviate the pressures on those who live in our rural communities. Like everyone else. I have great sympathy for those caught up in the dreadful foot and mouth outbreak, but I would ask those who suggest that we suspend this debate as a response: when should it be introduced or reintroduced? I suspect that when I ask that question I will be met with a deafening silence, because there will never be a correct and appropriate time for it to be introduced.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, is not the answer when the countryside is not in crisis?

Lord Watson of Invergowrie

My Lords, that is not necessarily what has been said in the debate today. The priority of discussing this Bill in your Lordships' House and in another place has been questioned. I am suggesting that, whatever the state of the countryside, there will never be an appropriate time for those who oppose the Bill. They oppose it for a different reason, not on the ground of priorities.

I am not at all sympathetic to the charge that seeking a ban on hunting represents the majority imposing its will on the minority, as has been stated. Apart from the fact that for that to happen represents no more than a definition of democratic government, I do not recall those same noble Lords making those statements and springing to the defence of the minority in the debate on Section 28 of the Local Government Act or, indeed, in this House's consideration of the lowering of the age of consent for homosexual men. I suggest that consistency would lend greater force to the arguments of those who wish to preserve hunting in its present form.

The interests of minorities of course have to be respected and given due weight. But those interests, I suggest, cannot be allowed—irrespective of the cause or situation of those minorities—to prevail in all circumstances. A broader view requires to be taken.

I turn now to the options which will face your Lordships when the Bill eventually comes to be voted upon. It has been called the "three options" Bill. I suggest that that is misleading and that there are only two options with a consequential decision. The first decision is whether or not you want hunting to continue; the second decision is, if you do want it to continue, do you want it to be subject to licensing.

I would argue that all forms of hunting with dogs are cruel and that licensing would not prevent that cruelty as the suffering caused by the chase and kill, to which I referred earlier, would continue. It is that aspect which sets it apart in terms of the most humane method of killing foxes. If a fox is killed after a long chase, it seems to me much less humane than simply being shot after being flushed from wherever it may have been. I suggest that there is no middle way and that it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

As I said earlier, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who said that morality should not be—

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, does the noble Lord consider it cruel for a fox to be shot and take two weeks to die through being infected by that shot?

Lord Watson of Invergowrie

My Lords, of course I do not. I am not suggesting that there are any absolutes in this argument. Of course such situations will arise. However, I suggest that they will arise less often than the noble Lord would have us believe. In addition, the trauma and distress caused by a chase of two hours or more must be profoundly unpleasant for the animal, and that should be borne in mind as well. I cannot understand how that is described as a humane method of culling foxes.

In conclusion, I return to my starting point on the question of morality. We have to ask questions about the kind of society in which we live and, more importantly, the kind of society which we are hoping to create. I do not think those can be simply cast aside. I hope that noble Lords will decide in due course that we want a caring and compassionate society, which includes our attitude towards animals; that we want a society with an attitude which is suited more to the 21st century than to the 19th century. For that reason, I hope that eventually option three will be supported in your Lordships' House.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, when he said to my noble friend that he thinks that the incidence of wounded foxes will be comparatively rare, can he tell the House how many foxes he has shot?

Lord Watson of Invergowrie

My Lords, I am being asked to shoot a few foxes in the argument today as no one else seems to have been subjected to interventions apart from myself. Of course, the answer is none—but, in terms of the information with which I have been supplied for the debate, I am as well informed as other noble Lords. In respect of the Bill that I am promoting in the Scottish Parliament, I have heard a great deal of evidence and seen filmed evidence from both sides of the argument. On that basis I have formed the contribution which I have made in your Lordships' House today.

8.49 p.m.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I have an extremely hard act to follow, speaking as I do immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie—a village that is high in my estimation, as I regularly get my hair done there. I have heard so many splendid, true, right, impassioned and brilliant speeches in favour of hunting, that there is very little that I can say that is different. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu made one of the best speeches I have ever heard in this House. She said it all. I shall, therefore, speak briefly of the joys of hunting.

Many years ago, my husband had a very small pack of basset hounds, only three couple, known as the Kilspindie Basset Hounds, with which we hunted hares—not, I may add, very successfully: in all the four years that we hunted we caught only one hare, which was a day that I fortunately missed. But we had such fun. My husband used to get up early every morning to take hounds out for a five-mile run over the hill; and on Saturday we hunted with them.

I helped with the mucking out and the feeding. Being a pack, the hounds all had to be fed in the right order, or there was trouble. The leader of the pack was Rambler, a splendid, brave, rather rough hound. He always had to be fed first. Then there was Grecian, a lady of a certain age. Grayling was a rather aloof hound. Lamport was the stupidest hound; he was always falling over his own feet or his ears, and was always fed last. Garnish had a most unmusical cracked voice, and Comfort was everyone's favourite.

The hounds were kennelled next door to the church. During morning prayers on Sundays our hearts always fell as we heard them starting to join in the singing. They all sang lustily, particularly Garnish, with her high. cracked voice. We always hoped that the rest of the congregation would put it down to the wind or to supernatural forces.

Saturday was hunting day—not with a very good field, because those who came knew that basset hounds are not very good at getting over walls or fences and have to be carried. They are not light either—but they have a lovely cry.

Eventually the hounds had to return to other packs of basset hounds, but we could not bear to part with Comfort. She was averse to being house-trained, she was a thief, and spent much of her time asleep in our best armchair. We found a newspaper headline which suited her perfectly: Little Comfort in the lull". We always felt that the armchair was her "lull".

Perhaps the point of this rather discursive speech is to give some of the special flavour of hunting and the love of hounds to those who have not had the good fortune to share it. When we introduced Comfort to an old nun called Mother McKee, she was charmed with her and said that she was "just like our Lady's dog", and demanded a picture of her. So we gave her a picture of Comfort sitting in the daffodils. We said that we were not aware that our Lady had had a dog. "If she had", said Mother McKee, "she would have been like this one—a great comfort".

So I hope that there will, one day, be not "little comfort in the lull", but great comfort, for all of us who live in the country and love horses, hounds and hunting and who derive great health and happiness from them.

8.54 p.m.

Lord Acton

My Lords, some people oppose hunting with passion. Some people support hunting with passion. I do neither.

One of my nieces, for whom I have an abiding respect, is horrified by cruelty to any animal. She is a vegetarian, and in addition refuses to wear anything made of leather. She detests hunting and for years has been eloquent in championing a ban.

My mother as a young woman hunted with the Wheatland Hunt in Shropshire. Riding side-saddle, she took her fences with such spirited freedom that onlookers said that she had no self-preservation instinct. Today, she brings that same spirit to her advocacy of hunting.

With those voices clashing in my ears, I turned to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. Several passages are especially noteworthy. Some of the practices that argue for a ban include autumn or cub hunting; digging out and bolting foxes; and the use of artificial earths with a view to hunting. Some of the features that argue against a ban include the employment that hunting provides; the reasons for culling foxes; and the drawbacks to culling by snaring, trapping and shooting.

The Burns inquiry was not asked to make a formal recommendation on whether to ban hunting, and does not do so. However, one word calls out to me from page after page of the report, stilling those voices of passion. That word is "licensing". A study of the Burns report drives me to the conclusion that statutory licensing is the least bad way ahead. Accordingly, I shall vote for the "middle way" option.

8.56 p.m.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, I live, and hunt, in one of the most remote parts of the British Isles, the English side of the Scottish Borders where there are indeed more sheep than people. I make no real apology for being slightly repetitive in my remarks. Never have I been approached so many times by so many different people to speak up for their interests. I particularly want to reiterate the points that they have made to me, because they are extraordinarily powerful.

Hunting in my area not only serves the important purpose of culling foxes; the social cohesion that it engenders lies at the heart of the life of the people in that community. In those remote parts, it is the one activity that they share in winter and plan for in summer. Its abolition would be like saying to football fans that they could no longer watch or take part in their sport. To many people, the whole reason for their social life would be destroyed. Regrettably, too few people who live in urban areas understand that aspect of hunting. All meet on equal terms to share the same experience. The social bond that it creates is of huge significance in rural areas.

Much has been said about cruelty. Country people understand about cruelty. They know that in nature a lion killing a zebra is not cruel. They know that a fox de-heading 20 chickens for the fun of it is not cruel. They know that the way in which a cat plays with a mouse or a heron eats a frog alive are in the natural order of things. Cruelty in nature is in the eye of the beholder. It is all part of the balance of nature. Nor is it any more cruel when a fox is killed through a bite in the neck in exactly the same way as it kills its own prey. There is no question in my mind that the fox would undoubtedly vote for the continuation of hunting rather than for the alternative of being shot and possibly wounded, to die a lingering death.

No, my Lords. The real motive behind many of those who would criminalise this ancient sport Ls deep prejudice masquerading as animal welfare. If they are really concerned about animals, why do they not do something about the caging of wild animals in zoos, the caging of small birds, the keeping of large dogs in small flats where they can never be adequately exercised? These are real, man-made cruelties.

All of us are entitled to our prejudices, but we are not entitled to use them to destroy the preferences of others. Hunting both preserves and controls foxes, and we have in this country the healthiest and best fox population in the whole of Europe.

It is not the death of the fox that hunts rejoice in: it is actually the thrill of the chase, the unexpected—something that drag hunting can never substitute. We are talking about the chance to live dangerously and to share that relationship on totally equal terms with one's neighbour; to share the exhilaration in harmony with another animal, the horse; and to watch hounds doing what comes naturally to dogs in the wild—tracking their quarry.

Hitler abolished hunting in Germany. Its abolition in this country would be contrary to all our libertarian traditions and contrary to freedom of expression and freedom of choice, which are the essence of a liberal democracy. However, I respect the views of others with whom I do not necessarily agree. We should recognise the political realities. I believe that the NFU's compromise position to license hunting is the right one. It should be regulated, acknowledging in particular the problems of those areas where it is necessary to cull foxes that wreak such havoc to lambs and wildlife generally. This compromise would be the right way to interpret what democracy is all about and, at the same time, ought to be acceptable to the other place.

Democracy is not about the implementation of majority rule, because most interests are in fact minority interests. Democracy is about the protection of minority rights. When voting on this Bill, we have a chance to demonstrate that we understand this and that we understand the true meaning of a democratic society.

9.1 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, it is always a great privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Vinson who has done so much for rural development in this country; and, indeed, for the countryside.

I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, is still in his place. The noble Lord must have had a very uncomfortable evening because, with one or two exceptions, all the speeches have been illustrating just how draconian the Bill is and how out of touch it is with reality. Yet the noble Lord is pressing ahead with his Bill in Scotland. I know that it is undergoing careful scrutiny in various committees in the Scottish Parliament, but the noble Lord must realise that he has been listening tonight to courageous speeches from Back-Benchers on the Government's side, all of which have said that a ban on hunting is not the right way forward. I hope that he will take that message back to Edinburgh with him and perhaps withdraw his Bill. I also hope that he will see a bit of common sense.

Although the Scottish Members of Parliament are quite entitled to vote on this Bill in another place, it is worth putting on record that they must also be prepared to accept some criticism for their actions in supporting the Bill until the West Lothian question is resolved and the Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster cease to vote on purely English Bills.

The arguments have been fully aired and brilliantly put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. We are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, for his report. We are also grateful to the Countryside Alliance and to the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, both of whom added most important information to the debate over the past few weeks. There is no reason for me to go into the detail of what we are discussing, but I should like to express my view that the Bill must represent a middle-way forward for all country sports.

I hope that I am putting forward a balanced view. I have been involved in conservation in Parliament for most of my parliamentary career. I was lucky enough to be rural affairs Minister in England, looking after the country parks, conservation, the NCC, and so on. I was also responsible for rural affairs in Scotland. looking after the SNH and our beautiful countryside there. But at the same time as being so involved with conservation, I was also very pro-country sports in every possible way. Indeed, I was the chairman of the council for country sports in the 1990s and did my best then to foresee what is happening now with a government Bill to ban hunting.

The Government's attitude is supposed to be one of neutrality. But any of us who have been at Westminster for any length of time know perfectly well that it is not a neutral Bill. If it was a Private Member's Bill, it would not have received government time. This is a government Bill overtaking a Private Member's Bill. Time has been given for a subject that the Government want discussed; it has not been left entirely to private Members.

We have listened to the Prime Minister making attacks on hunting. More seriously, we have heard his comments that Bills on hunting have been delayed in this House, despite the fact that this is the first time we have discussed the subject during this Parliament. In any event, he, as Prime Minister, forced through the legislation on the reconstitution of this House and is responsible for the composition of this Chamber. He must, therefore, accept the decisions that it makes. I hope that that is more democratic than what went on in the Scottish Parliament last week. The Scottish Executive were defeated on compensation for fishermen, yet Ministers seemed to be casting that aside and saying, "When Parliament votes we are not particularly worried; we'll carry on with our policy". I trust that that will not be the attitude of the present Government in London when this House makes a decision.

Noble Lords have rightly made severe criticism of the Government relative to their priorities. Here we are debating hunting when the countryside is in real crisis. I know that we shall debate foot and mouth disease tomorrow, but that debate has been tabled at the last minute as an after-thought in order to prevent the criticism that we have heard today. Besides the problem of foot and mouth, which we shall discuss tomorrow, the countryside is in real crisis. If there is any significant change made to the common agricultural policy, any farmer knows that there will be less money for agriculture. Moreover, we gained nothing from the Budget, except the removal of the tax on farm tractors.

One cannot help thinking that the Bill has been brought forward for political expediency before an election, rather than considering what needs to be done in the countryside at the present time. In fact, this wretched Bill has done more to unite the countryside against the Government than anything else. The march that would have taken place on Sunday would have been the most tremendous display of comradeship of the countryside. It is a tragedy that the spread of foot and mouth has prevented that taking place. It has denied the countryside the opportunity to bring home to the Government just why they are going down the wrong road at the present time.

Comments have been made on the other side of the Chamber and on this side to the effect that the next attack will be launched on firearms and then on angling. That anti-countryside attitude is bitterly resented in the countryside. The immediate impact of the Bill, if enacted, would be extremely serious from the point of view of the rural economy. We have heard of its knock-on effects. They have been well explained by the British Equestrian Trade Association with regard to the income people make from saddlery and other horse equipment and the income of farriers, vets and those who breed horses.

Yet in the middle of this economic and social strife we have a Hunting Bill. The Government must be blind to their priorities or have just run out of "spin" to think up something else. I represented a rural constituency for many years. Hunting, shooting, coursing and angling brought many benefits and offended few. If this Bill is enacted, all that will go. This will be the beginning of the end for other country sports. My former constituents should know that their present Member of Parliament, my successor, the Labour MP, Mr Russell Brown, voted for the Bill on Report, on Third Reading and on the timetable Motion which certainly curtailed debate. I have no doubt at all that the Scottish Member of Parliament for Dumfries also supported the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, in the Scottish Parliament. The people of Dumfries ought to know that their elected Members are going against the views of the vast majority of those who live there. I am glad that we have MSPs, David Mundell and Alex Fergusson, who will do all they can to resist the Bill. When John Charteris is elected to succeed Russell Brown, he will play his part at Westminster.

One great issue to which the Government must respond tonight is that of fallen stock and hunt kennels and their facility to deal with dead stock on farms. They have collected dead stock for years for nothing. That has been an effective way to help to clear dead stock from farms. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord has ever considered digging a grave for a cow. The Clerks' Table is six feet deep but that depth would hardly cover a fully grown cow. It is harder to dispose of a cow than the Dome. The noble and learned Lord must realise that if all these kennel abattoirs disappear, there will be an enormous problem in the countryside as regards disposing of fallen stock. The Government must do something about that. Other speakers have said that it is odd that kennel huntsmen have been approached to kill stock in the foot and mouth epidemic.

On 22nd November, an agriculture Minister, the right honourable Joyce Quin, stated in a Written Answer that hunt kennels provide a valued service to farmers. However, on 27th February she voted against an amendment which would have helped the situation. Many noble Lords have rightly highlighted the community spirit surrounding hunting in the countryside. They have mentioned events such as point-to-point races, and their importance to steeplechasing, puppy walking and local shows. Others have mentioned the hill and fell packs in England and, indeed, in Scotland. I do not want to omit the Liddesdale which hunts from Newcastleton. Those packs hunt on foot.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, should bear in mind the importance of hunting in Scotland. When I was in the Scottish Office the then government provided grants to foot-hunt packs in Argyllshire to enable them to control foxes as there was no alternative way to deal with them. One cannot go lamping up a steep mountainside. One can do that only in relatively easy countryside where one can take a four-wheeled vehicle. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act opened the countryside to everyone at night. That has made lamping extremely dangerous. The Government have committed a double whammy as regards dealing with foxes at night. The situation should be controlled by the hill packs of England and Scotland.

The Government must think again carefully. It would be better for the countryside if the Government withdrew the Bill rather than forcing through some amendment over the coming weeks which will inevitably be lost due to the general election. It is to be hoped that that would be the end of the matter for good.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, has put forward some options which we have discussed today. I believe that the way forward is through an independent supervisory authority—by voluntary means if we can; if not, by statutory regulation. The Government have not made out the case for a ban. The alternative methods of killing foxes are more painful and cruel. The Government must try to bring some harmony to the countryside, distance themselves from hunt saboteurs and Labour MPs who are so in favour of the Bill, and bring some reason to the countryside, otherwise they will reap the consequences.

9.15 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, I have sometimes wished that we in this House knew more about the experience of those who live in our inner cities who cannot find a footing in life. I think particularly of all those young men who grow up without the presence of a father in areas where schools, housing and healthcare leave much to be desired. The experience of many country people has been overlooked in a similar way. So even though I am not a countryman, merely a landowner whose uncle was a farmer, I speak in the debate today.

Two facts stand out from the report of my noble friend Lord Burns. First, the benefit to the welfare of the fox of the abolition of hunting with dogs is doubtful. Vermin will be controlled in other ways which may cause prolonged and painful death. Secondly, farmers living in dispersed rural communities will be hit hardest by a ban. According to the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, hunting is a highly co-operative social activity. It acts as a significant cohesive force encouraging a system of mutual support. It brings people together. If a ban is accepted, many farmers may have little to think about in the long winter months except the collapse of their businesses. In January, average net farming incomes had fallen by another 10 per cent to £5,200. If hunting with dogs continues, those farmers can still look forward to joining regularly with the communities over the winter period, taking exercise, catching up on news and enjoying the excitement of the chase.

I spoke with an individual who delivers the Government's New Deal for communities to housing estates in south London. He had been shocked at the entrenched demoralisation of the communities he served. If the intention of the Government is for thinly spread rural communities to taste the demoralisation of some of the communities in our inner cities then a ban on hunting with dogs would be the way to proceed.

Urbanites have a wide choice of cultural activities which involve close co-operation with others. We can sing in a different choir every night of the week, row in an eight or attend an evening class on the history of art. That scope is not available to the rural people we are considering. Their traditional form of collective enjoyment—apart from the pub and the church—is hunting with their neighbours. Banning hunting will weaken those communities and make small farmers in remote areas less resilient in the face of the farming crisis.

If I had to choose between the welfare of people and the welfare of animals I would choose people every time. But that is not the choice before us. The choice is between the welfare of people and a legislative ban of questionable value to animal welfare. I hope that those noble Lords who support a ban will think again.

9.20 p.m.

Lord Habgood

My Lords, I want to reflect for a few moments on the concept of cruelty. We have used the word constantly throughout the debate, but it is a tricky word, because it can have different meanings in different contexts. For example, we can talk about cruel events or circumstances, cruel practices or cruel intentions. The meanings can slip between those three or four in ways that distort the word's ethical content. All the meanings can gradually be pulled in a direction that makes cruel intent central to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie—I am sorry that he is not still in his seat—said that hunting was an event with cruelty at its core. That is a remarkably slippy statement. We need to tease out exactly what he meant by using the word in that all-embracing way.

Let us analyse the meanings of the word for a moment. Cruel events or circumstances may be just facts of life. A cruel fate—death—awaits us all. Countless animals die every day. Millions are deliberately killed by human beings: we wage war on vermin; we slaughter animals for food; we sacrifice them in laboratories; we destroy them when they are diseased. Death is cruel, yet we justify it on the grounds of necessity. Our way of life as human beings depends on keeping other animals under control and, when necessary, using them for our own purposes. In that sense of the word, the world is full of cruel events, some of which are caused by us. That is the way the world is.

The second meaning of the word is cruel practices. To employ cruel practices in exploiting or killing animals raises a different set of questions, separate from those concerning death itself and distinguishable from intentional cruelty. I am talking about the way we do things. Nobody who puts down rat poison intends the rats to suffer, but they probably do. Nobody who brings farm animals to slaughter intends it to be an occasion of terror, pain and distress, yet, in view of all that leads up to the final moment, it probably is. Animal experimenters do not mean to be cruel, but to achieve their ends they sometimes have to use cruel methods.

What about hunting with dogs? We have been amply reminded throughout the debate that all methods of destroying animals, particularly wild ones, have the potential to cause distress. The Burns report made that clear. In the light of all that we have heard this evening, the case against hunting as a cruel practice is not proven. We do not know where the balance of suffering lies and we certainly do not know enough to base socially divisive legislation on what must necessarily be conjecture.

That brings me to the third and most significant meaning of cruelty—namely, intentional cruelty. To be intentionally cruel is to find pleasure in the infliction of suffering. It is morally abhorrent and there is every reason for legislating against it. But is hunting with dogs intentionally cruel in that sense? Some of its opponents clearly believe that it is, which is why they draw comparisons with such morally repellent practices as bear baiting, cock fighting, badger baiting and so on, in all of which suffering and the cruelty that produces suffering are the name of the game. I believe that we have already heard enough this evening to show that such comparisons totally misrepresent what hunting with dogs is about and why people do it.

Why, then, do people hunt, apart from the exercise, the good rides, the new scenery and the camaraderie, and so on? This evening we have received many answers, and, although it is 55 years since I hunted, I want to add another one. I believe that part of the answer as to why people are fascinated lies in the kind of competitive encounter that one has with a wild animal. It is an encounter which must entail both knowledge of the animal and respect for it as a wild thing. That is why drag hunting can never be a substitute for hunting in the wild.

The competitive encounter with a wild animal is not about blood lust and it is certainly not about pleasure in causing suffering. Perhaps it is about a deeply embedded mental residue from the time when we all had to live by hunting—at least, our ancestors did. But, however we understand and evaluate it, the crucial point that I want to make this evening is that it shares the same fundamental motive with all other traditional blood sports.

In rough shooting or stalking, the pleasure lies in tracking and finding one's quarry and in the quickness of one's response to it. I cannot say the same about driven shoots. It seems to me that there is something morally dubious about breeding birds and then sitting in a hide to shoot at them. Perhaps some people will disagree.

Fishermen enjoy their competition with a wily fish. They, too, know and respect their quarry. They talk about the pleasure of playing a fish which puts up a good fight. The fact that so many fish are thrown back again is proof that it is the catching and not the necessity for food which is important in that type of fishing. I know that the standard answer to such a comparison with hunting is that fish do not feel as foxes do. The truth is that no one has the remotest idea what fish feel, but we know that they resist being caught and are not likely to enjoy being suffocated.

My point, however, is not to compare fishes', birds' or foxes' emotions but to compare our human emotions in these differing sporting contexts. I believe that they are all broadly the same. They all involve excitement, but I believe that only in rare individuals do they involve intentional cruelty. Because of that, it would be both hypocritical and discriminatory to single out just one of those sports for special condemnation.

It is important not to be complacent about the possibilities for cruelty, but I do not think that the case has been made that hunting with dogs is inherently cruel. I shall therefore vote in favour of control of one sort of another rather than for an outright ban, which would be grossly unfair to the many good people for whom hunting is important.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, fox hunting is cruel. That is not just my view but the confession of Dr L. H. Thomas, who wrote to all of us on behalf of Vets for Hunting. In The Times last December, he conceded that foxes in the final 10 per cent of the hunt are, fleeing in terror of their lives". Moreover, he said that they suffer "serious stress", albeit that of an "extended athlete or racehorse". Dr Thomas forgets that an athlete runs of his own volition and that a racehorse is not pursued by anything more terrifying than disappointed punters.

Thomas's assertion that "death is almost instantaneous" acknowledges that death can be both delayed and agonising for the individual fox. The conclusions reached by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, may indeed be "ambiguous"—that is Thomas's comment—but to most of us the report's declaration that the fox's welfare is "seriously compromised" translates into cruelty.

Fox hunting inflicts unnecessary cruelty. Only one in six foxes is killed by the hunt. Thus, if hunting were banned, other methods of culling, such as shooting, would still be necessary to effect the cull. Killing one extra fox in six will hardly extend the shooters. In terms of numbers, hunting is simply not necessary to maintain pest control. That, too, is asserted by Burns. Hunting, moreover, is an expensive form of pest control, at £1,000 for each fox that is culled through hunting with hounds. Moreover, hunting is lamentably inefficient. Again, I am indebted to the pro-hunting vet, Dr Thomas, who gave the game away. His letter to The Times confides that "hunting is selective". It kills, the weak, the sick and the aged". Well, if hunting is aimed at keeping the fox population down, what is the point of eliminating those foxes that will shortly die anyway and of ignoring the foxes that will live to propagate? Logically, a hunt whose purpose is solely to cull would target the young, healthy and strong. Dr Thomas is clearly a latter-day Darwinian in his belief that the fittest should be conserved at the expense of the fattest.

Fox hunting is an unnecessary and cruel sport and it is unworthy of Britain in the 21st century. That is the butt of my case for supporting option three of the Bill. It is a moral case and it is an argument that states that fox hunting should be abated in the same way that bear baiting and cock fighting have been abandoned—because they were practised as sports. Taking pleasure in murder should be confined to reading detective novels, not killing wild animals for pleasure.

Our opponents argue that the alternative forms of culling also compromise the welfare of the fox. According to Burns, they do. However, the salient difference is that fox hunting, unlike shooting, is done for sport.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that shooting is also done for sport?

Lord Harrison

My Lords, with regard to culling, shooting relates to the desire to get rid of certain foxes to reduce a population. In that regard, it is distinct from fox hunting, which involves pleasure and sport.

I support the cull but not the kill. I abhor the desire to gain pleasure from such a sport in the killing fields of rural Britain. It is just not British.

The apologists for fox hunting suggest that it is a traditional sport, practised by generations of our countrymen for hundreds of years. It is not: there is no mention of fox hunting in Chaucer or Shakespeare.

Apologists aver that fox hunting is the glue that holds the countryside together, that its abolition would disembowel those ties of community which are so vital for us all, whether we live in town or country. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, tells us that hunting is the main topic of conversation in the village shop, post office and pub. I do not believe it. Is it a greater topic of conversation than the state of schools, the health service, the local bus service, foot and mouth disease and BSE, not to mention the lives and loves of our local Ambridge? If it is true, then I have to say: get a life. Indeed, the fox himself would be astonished to learn that his absence had the capacity to make grown men weep, as the hunters claim. If the fox can be absent from the hunt ball, then it can also be absent from the hunt.

I have greater confidence in the people of rural Britain to maintain and develop loving and supportive communities. It does not need the tokenism of killing a passing fox. It is people, not foxes, who make living communities.

The apologists repeatedly tell us that the fox hunting community is law-abiding and that a ban would encourage defiance of the law on a scale difficult to predict. Those words are unacceptable: you cannot run with the fox and hunt with the hounds when it comes to respect for the law, democratically conceived and popularly supported. It is incumbent on all those who speak up for fox hunting to show true leadership and encourage hunt followers to follow the law of the land.

I reject the balaclava'd intimidation of some of the hunt saboteurs as hotly as I condemn the few bad apples found among the hunt. It is our arguments that should be forceful and compelling, not our deeds towards opponents.

Those of us who are townies are repeatedly told that the country is none of our business, despite the fact that we visit it and pay taxes to farmers to look after it. I find this irksome. When I was a member of Cheshire County Council, I am afraid that I became fed up at being told that only country folk could decide country issues. I notice that these same rural councillors happily voted to close inner city schools that I represented, despite their patent unfamiliarity with urban poverty and its problems. We all have a duty to understand each other's problems, which are often the same problem of root. Solely to sacrifice all for the countryside is to isolate and cut oneself off from the concerns of society as a whole. After all, what do they of the countryside know who only the countryside know? What indeed do they of hunting know who only hunting know?

Karl Marx, who was a real townie, occasionally came to our part of the world to visit his comrade, Friedrich Engels, a distinguished member of the Cheshire Hunt. A century later, I was pleased to be chair of Cheshire County Council's Countryside Committee and to lead the campaign to ban hunting across county council land. Later, as MEP for Cheshire, I tried, pre-Burns report, to convene a meeting of the local hunt to discuss the possible impact on jobs in Cheshire were hunting to be outlawed. My purpose was that we should make a common presentation to the European Commission for a programme to mitigate the effect of job losses resulting from action across Europe to eliminate cruel animal sports. Regrettably, the masters shunned my approach in the 1980s: they lacked the foresight to look ahead to today.

I tell that story not only to underline the poor leadership that has characterised the countryside in recent years, but also to make the point that as MEPs trying to improve animal welfare throughout Europe, our criticism of bull-fighting was habitually greeted with accusations of hypocrisy. The habitual comment made to myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, was: "Get rid of fox hunting and then we will listen to your concerns about continental barbaric practices". I had no answer then, but today I do. By removing the beam of fox hunting from our eyes, we can today ask our continental cousins, with confidence, to remove the mote of bull-fighting and donkey defenestration from theirs.

I am all the more encouraged about enacting this ban because there is a viable and acceptable alternative to fox hunting; namely, drag hunting. Yes, I know the usual response from hunters is, "What a bore!"; indeed, "What a drag!". But let us examine the case more closely.

Drag hunting preserves all the pageantry and indeed the fun of the hunt while eliminating the cruel pursuit and killing of a wild animal. It also saves the hounds who are slaughtered each year as a result of pursuing the fox, fleeing in terror across dangerous country roads and railway lines. One engine driver friend of mine, now retired, tells me of how once he had to violently slam on the brakes to protect his train passengers as the fox and then the hunt crossed the Chester to Crewe track.

Laying a trail in the drag hunt avoids those needless threats and dangers. Drag hunting avoids hunt havoc. On one occasion, at Byley in Middlewich in Cheshire, local schoolchildren were forced to walk in the middle of the road as the jostling hounds pursued a scent on a highway near the school. Some of the children became hysterical when surrounded by those loose hounds. And there have been other instances where schoolchildren have been forced to witness the hounds killing the fox right in front of their eyes. As a parent, I find such violence in front of children unacceptable, and it does not need to happen. The slaughter of domestic cats by hounds happened in the Cheshire village of Ashton during my time as MEP. That too can be stopped.

The introduction of drag hunting will also reduce unwarranted trespass on people's private property. Such intrusions themselves trespass on the human rights of those who wish to live peaceably in the countryside. Some apologists—and they have much to apologise about—claim that severing the kill from the hunt neutralises its attraction. Why then does the Countryside Alliance quote the football commentator, Jimmy Hill—a supporter of the hunt—who suggested that the majority of those who ride with the hunt never witness the final tortured moments of the fox? If the vast majority simply enjoy the ride and the companionship of the hunt, why not replace the hunt with the drag hunt, the bloodlust with the wanderlust of riding with the wind in their hair across the open fields?

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not agree that replacing hunting with drag hunting would be like replacing tennis with ping-pong?

Lord Harrison

My Lords, many of us enjoy ping-pong, as we are doing tonight in this Chamber.

The next excuse is that drag hunting lacks the unpredictability of the traditional hunt. But that lies in the hands of the drag hunt trail blazers who can lay an imaginative and interesting scent without recourse to endangering train passengers, blocking up rural roads or killing domestic pets resulting from hounds straying to the fox's unpredictable flight of terror.

We are told that drag hunts satisfy only experienced riders. who otherwise leave slower riders in their wake. But that is not the experience of the North-East Cheshire Drag Hunt, which fashions both pace and line direction for the benefit of all its riders. Indeed, that particular drag hunt is a fine example of how drag hunting could be developed as an alternative to the hunt. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, encourages such steps in his report. It is noteworthy that the North-East Cheshire Drag Hunt provides a fallen stock service as well as employing three staff to mind its 52 hounds. What Cheshire does today, Britain can do tomorrow. It is time our opponents stopped being a "drag" on the drag hunt.

After all that, our opponents tell us that, were hunting banned, pro-hunting farmers would, in pique, refuse to allow drag hunts across their land. Frankly, I do not believe it. Are those farmers, who so cherish the spirit of the community and the countryside, going to be so mean as to deprive their fellow countrymen of the enjoyment of the ride across open country just because ignorant townies like me have taken away their ball?

I am reminded that 100 years ago pigeon shooting was outlawed in our country. But its adherents did not sit back and bemoan their unfair fate. They got up off their backsides and instituted clay pigeon shooting as an alternative. It is a sport at which Britain excels in the Olympics and which gives pleasure to many. But in all this the requirement is the exercise of good leadership by those who seek to represent countryfolk. For too long such leadership has been lacking, with a fatal concentration on the past and not the present. In Britain in all walks of life people have to change as the world changes around them. The pigeon shooters change, the miners change, the shipbuilders in my euro constituency change, and so too can the hunters. Drag hunting is an alternative, which retains the pageantry, comradeship and the employment formerly associated with fox hunting. It is time to turn a new leaf in the memoirs of fox hunting men. The eternal fascination of a changing countryside is that it always offers new horizons. It is time to be cruel to cruelty; it is time to blow the horn on the hunt.

9.46 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I have an interest to declare. I am a farmer: I do not hunt. For the past 20 years I have been deeply involved in the conservation and protection of the English countryside. For 10 of those 20 years I sat on. the Countryside Commission under the remark able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Barber of Tewkesbury. I am sorry that he is not well enough to be with us today because I believe we would have greatly benefited from his views.

One of the things that he achieved during that 10 years was to unite people. When he first took over as chairman of the Countryside Commission the English tribes were warring: the conservationists against the farmers. He did a most remarkable job in bringing together those warring tribes so that they were able to see a common purpose and to work together. That was a tremendous achievement. I believe that it is relevant to the dangers of dividing the country which would result from this Bill.

We have had a number of remarkable speeches and some interesting and important themes have emerged. One is the thread through our history of the British fascination with hunting in its various forms. This theme came out in the very powerful speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and also in the equally fascinating speech from the noble Lord. Lord Bragg.

That made me wonder how far back it goes. There was an echo in my mind of something that I read many years ago in G M Trevelyan's History of England. So I went into the Library and looked it up. It is wonderfully written. Perhaps noble Lords will allow me to read a brief paragraph from that book: For many centuries after Britain became an island the untamed forest was king. Its moist and mossy floor was hidden from heaven's eye by a close-drawn curtain woven of innumerable tree-tops, which shivered in the breezes of summer dawn and broke into wild music of millions upon millions of wakening birds,… unheard by man save where, at rarest intervals, a troop of skin-clad hunters, stone-axe in hand, moved furtively over the ground beneath, ignorant that they lived upon an island, not dreaming that there could be other parts of the world besides this damp green woodland with its meres and marshes wherein they hunted, a terror to its four-footed inhabitants and themselves afraid". That gives us a feel for the tradition which has grown in Britain over the millennia.

I want to talk about the politics of hunting. It seems to me that the Bill is essentially a political exercise. The hunting interest has shown that it is prepared to compromise. It has recognised that there is a public perception of misbehaviour. One of the rules of politics is that perception, however unfairly, is reality. That is why the hunting interest has set up the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, ISAH, which would be a form of self-regulation. There are various forms of self-regulation which are possible. There is the Press Council. I said the other day to my noble friend Lord Wakeham that the Press Council does not really have any teeth, "You cannot fine the press, close them down or anything like that". He said, "Don't you believe it. We have very real effect". However, I am not sure whether that sort of regulation would be adequate.

I would prefer to move more towards the way in which the medical and legal professions self-regulate; that is, by a body which has statutory authority to ensure that if individuals misbehave they cannot continue to practice. That is the way in which I would hope self-regulation could be explored.

The width of the anti-hunting spectrum, Deadline 2000, is broad. In a sense it is rather like Islam. It spans the rational and compassionate, through the fundamentalists who will not compromise on anything, on to the terrorist fringe who will use any method, however violent, to impose its solution. Even this morning, when I heard Tony Banks on Radio 4's "Today" programme, it seemed to me that he was totally unreceptive to any argument which would allow hunting to continue. Indeed, I think that I would have had as much chance of changing his mind as Mr Kofi Annan had of persuading the Taliban not to destroy the buddhas in Afghanistan.

Mr Banks explained that although he realised that the election would prevent the Bill from becoming law, his objective was that the Labour Party should introduce a pledge in its manifesto to produce fresh legislation after the election. Perhaps I may say, more as a commentator than a participant in politics, that in my opinion that would make little difference to the result of this election, but I believe that it could make all the difference to the result of the following election.

To divide and alienate deliberately the great majority of the people of rural England and Wales would be hugely divisive. We must remember that there is a multiplier. It is not just the people who are directly or even indirectly involved in hunting who mind about this; it is the people with whom they come into contact. It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which there will become a growing support for hunting in the rural areas of England and Wales if it is felt that that interest is being unfairly persecuted.

I remember that in her amazing speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to the comradeship of hunting. Comradeship is an important characteristic. When I was a lobby correspondent, from 1974 to 1990, I went to the Labour Party conferences for 16 consecutive years. One of the most fascinating parts of those conferences was the fringe when the hard Left indulged itself in what in many ways were fantasies. On the fringe, not the main platform, the Trotskyist, Marxist, anarchist and republican movements preached every kind of disturbance. They disagreed among themselves on most policy issues, but they had a tremendous sense of comradeship, and that was what held together the hard Left, including people like Gerry Adams in his "Marxist Ireland" phase. Any government would have been crazy to seek to suppress the views of that comradeship.

If the Government still had their focus groups they would be told that a ban on hunting would divide the country in a way which would not only remove any chance of a third term—that would not worry me particularly—but also create a huge distraction from most of the other things that they might seek to do after this election, if they are re-elected.

To save her blushes, I should like to quote some words used by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, at the Hyde Park rally: Hunting is our music. It is our poetry. It is our art. It is our pleasure. It is where many of our best friendships are made. It is our community. It is our whole way of life". For a political party to defy such deep feelings is so unwise.

I have one final footnote relating to a current matter. It was the decision and right of the Government to put this Bill before Parliament. With their majority in the Commons, if they can get the Bill through with as little debate as they can that is up to them. But they do not have the right to decide how the Bill is considered in this House. As long as I am a Member of this House I shall seek to defend its right and duty to consider in detail any legislation which could become the law of the land. That is why tomorrow I shall oppose the Government's proposal to short-circuit that process.

9.57 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, like many noble Lords I declare an interest as someone who lives and works in the countryside but no longer hunts or rides. My local hunt meets a couple of times at my home, and that is a time when all members of the public are welcomed to my home and have access to all parts of my land. It is a time when the lowliest can speak to the highest. That is not something which one finds at many community gatherings.

We have heard arguments about the right to hunt. I believe they show that hunting is justified. Hunting is practised worldwide in such countries as the USA, France and Ireland which are proud of their tradition and do not find it unworthy.

We have heard about the impact of a ban on hunting and the irony that it will probably not save a single hunted species. We have heard that a ban will result in a loss of nearly 100,000 jobs, in addition to approximately 20,000 to 25,000 job losses in farming at the present time. The British Equestrian Trade Association believes that that figure is low. The Prime Minister stated that he would work night and day when important jobs were at risk in the car industry. Do the Government intend to address the loss of jobs caused by this legislation? I note that the Bill remains silent on the subject of compensation. I am somewhat ashamed that in this day and age the country can legislate to deprive its citizens of their livelihoods but offer them nothing by way of recompense.

We have heard that a ban on hunting will result in great cruelty. It will probably result in the destruction of about 20,000 hounds. To ban hunting will result in horses suffering. About 50,000 horses would have to be found new homes, and most would probably be destroyed in knacker's yards. I should be ashamed to be part of a country whose ideology resulted in the destruction of dogs and horses.

Banning hunting would stop much work being carried out in the lowland parts of England. Hunting not only encourages enhancement of the countryside but also was greatly responsible for sculpting it.

We are told that banning hunting would stop around 360,000 carcasses being collected by experienced local hunt staff—hunt staff who are at this time aiding MAFF in destroying livestock infected by foot and mouth disease.

Banning hunting, we are told, would terminate around 4,000 hunt events attended by 1.3 million people. The Burns report said that generally, the impact would be felt most strongly in the more isolated rural areas". Do the Government really want to see this kind of social exclusion occurring as the result of their legislation? Furthermore, tonight we have been advised that banning hunting would not improve the management of any of the hunted species.

Is it right for the Government to make time for a Bill that will result in restricting the liberties of a significant minority? I believe that it is wrong to do so. It will be ruinous for people. It is immoral to do so at a time when this country is beset with foot and mouth disease, and especially when the countryside as a whole is in deep and serious crisis. The countryside is in debilitating pain. Last week telephone calls on farming help lines increased tenfold—I repeat, tenfold. If that is so, I fear to think what the rise in the number of farmers committing suicide might be.

How much do the Government care for these country folk? One has only to look at last week's Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to judge how much care the Government have for the countryside. The spending for next year on agriculture, fisheries and food is due to remain unchanged from last year at £1.3 billion, while there are to be healthy increases in other areas.

Worse still, one might perceive that the Government seems more interested in politics. The expected general election means that the Hunting Bill will probably not become law this Session. So the question must be why the Government are so committed to using up precious government time with such a damaging Bill, which has little chance of success. Why not use the time on business that will benefit a demoralised countryside, such as the rural White Paper? Could it be that the Government are using the countryside that they care and know little about to placate their Back-Benchers in another place? Could it be that they would not have received funding by animal rights organisations to bring forward legislation? One could say "cash for legislation". Can the Minister declare—I shall ask later on if he does not—what donations have been given to his party last year and this year by animal rights organisations in Deadline 2000? Can he further tell us whether these organisations were charities or commercial entities? I shall vote against restrictions on the liberties of a minority.

10.4 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I first apologise to the House and to the first 12 speakers for having missed their speeches. My wife and I set out in excellent time to drive south for the debate. Unfortunately, continental left-hand drive HGVs piloted—if that is the word—at 70 miles per hour by individuals who evidently have little or no experience of driving on the left-hand side, are perhaps not the best recipe for road safety on our busy dual-carriageways. I suppose that I am lucky to be here at all.

However, I arrived in time for the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. He made many of the points I should have liked to make and expressed them very much better than I could have done. There have been many other excellent speeches since then, many of them from the government Back Benches.

In a free society—our society has always been considered exceptionally free by international standards—it has been taken for granted that no activity should be criminalised unless it is either harmful to non-consenting humans, directly or indirectly, or cruel to other species over and above the normal mild cruelty inherent in most human interaction with animals, be they wild or domesticated. Hunting with dogs falls into neither category. as many noble Lords have pointed out; not least those two most eminent medical Peers, the noble Lords, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Winston. It is therefore an outrage that a ban should be proposed in what still purports to be a free society.

Noble Lords would not be surprised, of course, if people's traditional sports and pastimes were to be outlawed in a dictatorship. When Saigon fell to the communists approximately 25 years ago, one of the first things the victors did was to ban bridge, which they deemed to be a bourgeois capitalist game. Anyone caught playing bridge faced six months in prison. About 40 years before that, as the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, pointed out, the Nazis in Germany—mainly urban and small-town sentimentalists with an unrealistic and romanticised view of the animal kingdom—banned hunting: just what you might expect from them. It is no coincidence that people with an evident neo-Nazi ideology are threatening the lives of those brave Labour honourable Members, Kate Hoey and Llin Golding, who have been calling for toleration in this matter.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, for an animal the size of a fox, hunting is not more cruel than other methods of pest control—indeed, it is less cruel—with the possible exception of lamping. However, in our overcrowded island, lamping is very rarely safe or feasible. It is no good using a 22 rifle, which will wound rather than kill unless the bullet hits a vital organ. Only a larger calibre rifle will do the trick; and large calibre firearms of any kind are anathema to this Government, as I am sure they will concede. Nor is hunting more cruel than other field sports. Indeed, of the three main ones—I exclude falconry—hunting is almost certainly the least cruel.

Many supporters of a ban, one suspects, have not read the Scott-Henderson report, initiated by Mr Attlee, as he then was, and I suspect that even fewer have read the Cranbrook report, which was actually commissioned by the RSPCA. As Lord Cranbrook once explained to me, he and his committee were very surprised to discover after meticulous research that fishing was more cruel than shooting. But such were the committee's findings. In turn, I have no doubt whatever that shooting is, on balance, more cruel than hunting—for the very simple reason that in hunting the fox is either killed within four seconds, according to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, with his 34 years of experience of hunting, or gets away unscathed. With shooting, alas, very large numbers of birds, hares and rabbits are not killed outright but are wounded. Those that are picked up by the guns, beaters or others at the shoot are quickly dispatched, to the great indignation of some of the city-based tabloids, many of whose readers doubtless imagine that steaks and hamburgers grow on trees. But, unhappily, a great many are never picked up and run, limp or flutter away to die slowly over hours or even days.

Despite that, Mr Blair has, somewhat illogically I have to say, rejected a shooting ban out of hand while declaring himself in favour of a hunting ban. However, a future Labour Prime Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, pointed out, will not feel himself bound by Mr Blair's promise. He or she may well rate intellectual consistency above the opinion of focus groups. So shooters should beware, they are bound to be next in the firing line. Incidentally, the "antis" who have become so indignant at the idea of "killing for pleasure" should be reminded that it is the shooter for whom killing is virtually essential in order to enjoy a day out, not the rider to hounds or other hunt followers.

Is everything in the garden perfect as far as hunting is concerned? Most probably not, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior. On occasion, too little sensitivity and courtesy is shown to householders and other members of the public who unexpectedly come up against the hunt, although one senses that the younger generation of masters have developed rather more tact and public relations skills than some of their elders. But hunting's minor faults, which can after all be rectified fairly easily, are no justification for an authoritarian assault on a great British tradition, immortalised on canvas, in prose and in poetry. This is equally an assault on the chief pleasure and the livelihood of tens of thousands of decent people.

10.11 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I decided to speak in this debate because I want to help to show people living in the countryside that there is a substantial body of opinion existing in the Labour Party—I am glad to say that it has been expressed by many contributors from this side of the House today—which understands and has sympathy with their problems and certainly does not want to rob them of their traditional pastimes which they have enjoyed over a very long period of time; in fact, for centuries. That is especially the case when those pastimes also help the rural economy and the farming community, without whose efforts the countryside that urban dwellers like myself so enjoy would fall into rack and ruin. I am really very sorry indeed that the Countryside March had to be postponed until May. I would have loved to join that march. I would have participated in it with great alacrity, to demonstrate my solidarity with the countryside which I so love.

I believe that this Bill is more about class hatred than about the welfare of animals. If it were not, its provisions would be cast far more widely to cover many other kinds of field sports and activities involving the killing of animals for sport. The very fact that animals such as rabbits and rats have been exempted helps to prove my point. Do they not also feel the pain of death that foxes are alleged to feel?

The detailed arguments have already been made by those who have recent experience and first-hand knowledge of this issue, but I want to emphasise that there are still those in the Labour Party who believe in personal liberty as well as the improvement of economic life for the many. We want to fight the increasing tendency of government and, indeed, of Parliament itself, which is supposed to be the guardian of our individual liberty, to intervene in all kinds of ways in every nook and cranny of our lives. I sometimes get the impression that some top politicians will not be satisfied until the only things we are allowed to do will be to get drunk, to fornicate and to stab each other in the back. That is the way they sometimes carry on.

For most of my life I have lived in an urban setting, but at the beginning of the Second World War, I was evacuated from Shepherd's Bush in London to a fairly large farm in Mapledurham near Reading. It was there that I learnt about the pleasures and the difficulties of the countryside, and of the kindness and the consideration of the people living there. The family who adopted me as one of their own were so great; they altered my life completely, quite frankly. It was from them that I learnt my love of animals and the need to nurture them and to treat them with kindness and consideration. Certainly, all the animals on the farm were properly fed before anyone else was fed; they were properly housed and certainly were not ill treated in any way.

The farmer also hunted. He did so because he believed that the foxes, which devastated the chicken run and killed young lambs in the field, were vermin which had to be controlled to protect the domestic animals. To describe these people, as they have been described, as cruel and barbaric, is a libel and a slander against decent people.

Anyone who has seen the wanton destruction of a flock of chickens— not for food but for the sheer hell of it—does not have any illusions about foxes being little cuddly creatures which do no harm. I believe that hunting foxes with dogs is no more cruel—it is probably less cruel—than any other form of culling. So why are we persecuting huntsmen and huntswomen?

Where will the banning stop? We have heard about that from many noble Lords, but I shall repeat it because the message has to get home to other people who enjoy field sports. Where will it stop? Noble Lords and others should not imagine that hunting with dogs is the end of the road. The increasingly powerful and increasingly extreme animal rights and welfare organisations, once they have tasted blood, if I can put it that way, will lust for further prey. That lust will be heightened and they will not be satisfied only with fox hunting, the next target will be game shooting; after that, non-food fishing; and perhaps eventually the Grand National itself.

Indeed, as we have heard, some river fishermen have already been harassed by masked animal rights extremists and it has been made clear that angling is a legitimate target for a ban. Shooters and anglers may feel that they are safe because of assurances given by the Government. Let us examine the assurance. During the Committee stage of the Bill, the Home Office Minister, Mr Mike O'Brien, said: Let me reassure those who may be concerned that, whatever happens tonight, there will be no ban on fishing or shooting under a Government led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister".— [Official Report, Commons, 17/1/01; col. 452.] Listen to those qualifying words: led by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister". That really is a very weak and limited assurance. The present Prime Minister may be with us for a year or two yet, but he could be gone in weeks or months.

A noble Lord

You'll be lucky!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, some people may be lucky. I do not think that I will necessarily be lucky.

The assurance is very short term, whichever way one looks at it. Of course, we were given similar assurances about the introduction of university tuition fees. Noble Lords will remember that we were told that a Labour government would not introduce university tuition fees, and yet they were introduced. We were assured that there would be no part-privatisation of air traffic control if Labour came to power. Look what happened to that assurance. We are now to have part-privatisation. I am glad to say that I voted against it. At least I held to my belief.

Therefore, I want to give anglers and shooters a bit of advice. We are apparently going to have a general election in a few weeks' time, possibly on 3rd May. I advise them to be careful what they do. Before voting for any MP who voted for this Bill or for any candidate who expresses support for this Bill and its ban on hunting with dogs, I advise them to obtain from him or her a signed declaration witnessed by two electors and sworn before a commissioner for oaths, that he or she will not promote or vote for any Bill to ban shooting and fishing. Then perhaps the matter can be sorted out in the courts if the candidate, when elected, reneges on the agreement. Simple assurances will not do. I advise people to make sure that those whom they elect will not vote to ban their sports of hunting and shooting.

I hope that noble Lords have gathered from my remarks that I am totally opposed to the Bill. Even at this late stage I wish that the Government would drop it. That is the best thing that they could do, for themselves and for everyone else. However, I fear that they will not do so. At later stages, like other noble Lords, I shall have to decide how to deal with the various alternatives which I hope that we shall have the opportunity to consider.

10.22 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I begin with an admission. In our family 'we keep two lurchers as pets. I suspect that, apart from anything else, if this piece of legislation gets on to the statute book, it will—not through any wilfulness on my part but simply thanks to the dogs' nature—make me a criminal.

I am a farmer in Cumbria and part of my farm is an upland sheep farm in the Lake District. I am also a subscriber to the Melbreak and the Blencathra Hounds and I follow them from time to time. l want to restrict my comments to the Cumbrian fell packs, which have been mentioned by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden, who was out with the Blencathra when I was out on New Year's Day, and by my noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. I know practically nothing about any other form of hunting, so (as is not always the case in this House) I do not propose to say anything about it.

The fell packs hunt the wide open spaces of the fells. It is all done on foot and they are supported by many small subscribers. One of the obvious features of the Bill is that, as a matter of principle, it has no difficulty with killing animals, and in particular pests which threaten livestock. It goes beyond that. It also accepts that mammals may be killed for sport. I refer, for example, to falconry and an argument might be made for Welsh gun packs. With that background, it seems to me both extraordinary and inconsistent that the Bill as drafted will finish off the Cumbrian fell packs.

In the Lake District, as in many other places, the fox is a pest, especially as it takes hill lambs. Over the past couple of hundred years or so, fell hunting has developed in this difficult terrain as a means of controlling and curtailing the number of foxes, thereby preserving livestock. Rather than wait for the foxes to become too numerous, their numbers are kept in check. I believe that it is called "the application of the precautionary principle".

The opponents of fell hunting will say, "Oh, well, you can shoot them". I do not believe that that is quite what we want in the United Kingdom's premier area for recreational walking and our leading national park, much of which will very shortly be subject to the statutory right to roam and much more of which has had for many years de facto general public access. If that approach is accepted, it will follow that every fell farmer will need a rifle. The experience of a Caldbeck GP, and joint master of the Blencathra Hounds, might be interesting in this respect. He returned to his land-rover after visiting a patient to find it drilled with a rifle bullet—not doubt a ricochet from a lamping shot. Such an experience is bound to become much more common place. Incidentally, the GP offered to lend me the windscreen so that I could show it to your Lordships this evening, but, on balance, I thought that that was unnecessary. Equally, and very much to the point, I have in my time shot foxes. More importantly, I am ashamed to say, I have wounded them. It is no fun for the fox and, similarly, it is not much fun for the person involved.

Farming in the fells is a hard and solitary business. The hunts are one of the few social networks in the Dales. In a community that has relatively few of the amenities and opportunities so easily and widely available in most places today, quite honestly I think that it is rather patronising to dismiss the point, as people matter just as animals matter.

Many Cumbrians, and, for that matter, what we call "off-comers" as well, enjoy the hunt. Of course, it is much more than merely the chase. I believe that to be a major point in its favour. After all, we have over recent months in this House discussed various types of what to some are somewhat exotic personal practices, which some enjoy and others find repellent, and worse. As far as I am concerned, as long as all those involved are of mature judgment and are conducting themselves so as not to intrude into the lives of others, I do not believe that it is for us to legislate against them. The same applies in this instance.

In the Cumbrian Fells a balance has been struck among the fox, sheep and man. The fox may be a pest, but he is not mere vermin. Quite rightly he has a place in the ecological balance of the fells. I do not believe that any fell farmer wants the animal exterminated. The sheep also has a place—mowing the grass—and man has his, looking after the sheep and the landscape. What man has done is to contain, but not exterminate, the fox. In my view, fell hunting is the best way, the most efficient, safest and most satisfactory way, of achieving that. It has evolved with the grain of nature over the many years.

Nature is red in tooth and claw. As we know, all life involves death, with all that that entails—be it an old fox starving to death in his lair, being killed by hounds, or run over by a car. For the reasons that I have given, I believe that hunting as practised in the Cumbrian Fells is entirely consistent with the principles on which the Bill that we are discussing this evening is drafted. As such, it seems to me that it must logically follow that it should be permitted; indeed, I would go further, and say that it should be encouraged, as it is probably the most ecologically satisfactory way of keeping a check on fox numbers in the Lake District.

10.28 p.m.

Lord Scott of Foscote

My Lords, I must begin by making clear my personal interest in fox hunting. I have hunted every Saturday of this season when hunting has been on and not frozen off. I have hunted mainly with my local pack in south Northamptonshire. I have also enjoyed some wonderful days visiting. I hope to have the opportunity to hunt for many years to come, having hunted for some 30 years with the same pack in respect of which I am now a member.

It is a strong measure to impose a legal ban to prevent the continuance of an activity that provides great enjoyment to thousands of people. The fact that it provides such enjoyment for those people is not, by itself, a reason why a ban cannot be imposed; it plainly can be. However, it requires a careful, long and analytical look at the objections to the activity before the extreme of a legal prohibition can be justified. I therefore invite your Lordships for a moment to consider the case that is made against fox hunting. I shall confine my remarks mainly to fox hunting because that is what I do and what I know about. I do not know much about the other forms of hunting which would be covered by the proposed ban.

The case against fox hunting is put in two ways. They are usually intertwined with one another by the opponents of hunting. First, it is said that the activity is cruel. Your Lordships have heard that from a number of speakers today. It is an argument which must be addressed. It is mainly an argument that must be looked at on the facts. If it has justification at all, it is as a factual objection. The second argument is more morally based. It is said that it is wrong for people to enjoy hunting. That is a quite different argument which has nothing to do with the facts. It is an emotional and a moral argument. It is possible and quite proper for opponents of hunting to run these two arguments together so that it is never clear which one is being put forward. However, in my view those who support hunting as I do need to take them apart to give a separate answer to each as they are quite different objections.

I start with the factual objection, the cruelty argument. It is said that hunting is cruel. It is said that it is cruel because it involves unnecessary suffering to the hunted fox. The fox would undoubtedly rather not be hunted; there can be no question of that. The invaluable report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has, I suggest, given the factual answer to the complaints about fox hunting on the cruelty ground. It is common ground that whether fox hunting continues or not the number of foxes in the country must be controlled. It is also common ground that the number of foxes killed by the hunt in any season is not, as a proportion of the total number of foxes killed, very large. But if those foxes were not killed by the hunt, they would have to be dealt with—or a similar number would have to be dealt with—by some other means. Normally speaking, the number of foxes killed every year would be roughly the same, but more would be killed by the other means rather than by the hunt.

So what is the cruelty case? Is it that it is less cruel and preferable for the fox to be killed by the other means? I suggest that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has given a complete answer to that charge. Of course he said that hunting seriously compromises the welfare of the fox. Of course it does; the object of fox hunting is to kill foxes. But that is also the object of every other means of controlling the numbers of foxes; that is, killing by snaring, by trapping, by poisoning, or by shooting either in the daylight with the fox flushed out of cover by dogs or at night with a lamp. How is that preferable to the fox? How is that a less cruel way to deal with foxes? I suggest that, looked at purely from the cruelty point of view, measuring what is done to the fox in relative terms—that is what it amounts to—there is no case against fox hunting on the ground of cruelty, not because the fox does not endure discomfort and wish it was not being hunted, but because fox numbers need to be controlled—that is common ground—and there is no other means of killing foxes that is any better.

It is not to the point, I suggest, to say, "Oh, but the reason you hunt is not to control foxes". Indeed, so far as I am concerned, it is not. But that leads to the second way of putting the case—the complaint that people who hunt enjoy it. I enjoy hunting, as do the thousands and thousands of people who every hunting day take part in the sport. What is the matter with enjoyment? On the one level it might be asked how one can enjoy an activity which has as its object the death of an animal. That argument has been addressed today. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, nods. If that is a sufficient argument, one must ban all field sports. All field sports involve an attempt to bring about the death of the hunted or pursued animal, fish or bird. That is the objective of the sport. No one suggests that all field sports should be banned. If they are not to be banned, it must be accepted that those who engage in them enjoy what they are doing; otherwise they would not do it.

Rabbits are exempt from the Bill's proposed controls. Young men with ferrets may, therefore, go ferreting. No one goes ferreting in order to control the rabbit population. People who have ferrets and go out ferreting do so for fun. They enjoy the competition between ferret and rabbit. It is a field sport like any other but it is not covered by the Bill, and rightly so. Rabbit numbers are excessive and need to be controlled. Ferreting is a way of controlling rabbits and people enjoy themselves while doing so.

I believe that the same argument applies to hunting. There is nothing the matter per se with enjoying the sport of hunting. There is no glorification in the kill. The fun in hunting is the amalgam of a number of factors: it is in part the excitement; the spice of danger; and the competition between the fox on the one hand and the hounds and huntsmen on the other. The field take part as spectators, participators, in this competition. It matters not that the vast majority of the field do not really understand what the huntsman is doing. They know that he is trying to hunt the fox. They are not sure whether they are hunting a fox or moving to another cover. They hope that they are hunting the fox and every now and then they know that they are. They may or may not be near enough to see the kill. I have seen a number of kills. It is over in an instant. The hounds run into the fox and within seconds, as the Burns report made clear, the fox is dead. The competition is over.

The percentage of foxes that escape is high. Those that escape are almost bound to be fit and healthy. On the last two Saturdays on which I went hunting this season, before the foot and mouth epidemic stopped it, the hounds killed a fox which had been maimed, probably by a car accident. One had no shoulder left; it was lying in a drain where it would have died in pain if the hounds had not found it and put it out of its misery. Hounds will kill diseased and maimed foxes although there is not the enjoyment of the chase. But the function of the hounds is to kill foxes. If the foxes are maimed or diseased they will be killed. Other forms of hunting probably would not find those foxes. They will not be flushed out of cover. They will not come out at night hunting, to be identified with a lamp, their eyes shining in the dark.

The enjoyment of hunting is the enjoyment of competition and the chase. If at the end of the hunt the fox has escaped no one minds except the huntsman. He thinks that his job is to kill foxes. He hopes that he will kill every fox he chases. But the field are enjoying themselves and they do not mind. The objective is to kill foxes but if at the end of the chase the fox escapes, there is no diminution in enjoyment.

What goes into the balance when deciding whether a sport with these characteristics should be banned? There is a balance to be struck. Not every activity to which moral objection is taken by some is properly made the subject of a legal prohibition. The objective of the law is to maintain order; it is not to support the moral views of a part of the population even if it is a majority. There must be more to it than that. What is the addition to the moral repulsion that some people feel—I accept that they genuinely feel it—about the spectacle of people such as myself enjoying fox hunting? Is there a public order issue? The only public order problems are caused by the anti-fox hunting enthusiasts who try to disturb the hunt. No public order problems are caused by the hunt. It is plain that hunting needs control. We live in a crowded island and an activity such as hunting needs regulation. I leave that issue aside.

The principle of not using the law except when its use is justified is highly important if respect for the law is to be observed. We all know of examples from the recent past of what happens when public opinion does not regard a legal prohibition as justified, even though it may accord with moral views. The Victorians imposed a prohibition on homosexuality, but over time, particularly in the past decade or so, the view has come to be held that whatever the moral arguments, the law has no business there. The same is true of abortion. Many people have strong moral objections to abortion, but that does not, by itself, justify a ban. The object of the law is to keep order, not to select moral precepts for enforcement.

Other systems of law, such as the Sharia, I believe, do not distinguish between morality and the law, but our system does. We must observe that distinction if we want to retain respect for the law in a country where there are many divided views about moral principles and culture. We would not dream of outlawing Halal methods of butchery of animals, although I have heard objections raised to them on the grounds of cruelty. We would not dream of outlawing the circumcision of male children, although some doctors believe that there is no medical justification for it. We must respect the culture of people who support such practices. The law and legal prohibition should be kept in their proper place.

It has been suggested that drag hunting would be a satisfactory substitute for hunting. I have enjoyed myself hunting on many occasions, mainly with the Mid-Surrey drag, but also with others. It is great fun, but it is not the same as fox hunting. It is simply another equestrian sport. It lacks the competition between wild animal and hound. It lacks the natural element of fox hunting, to which other speakers have referred. I have an association with my local pack of bloodhounds. Their hunting is nearer to natural hunting, because at least they hunt a natural scent. There is no artificial hyena urine or anything like that laid down for them to follow. However, even in that case, the runner goes along a pre-ordained line and there is no unpredictability or competition as there is between fox and hound. Both are valuable equestrian sports in their own right, but they are no substitute for fox hunting.

The case for a ban on fox hunting has not been made. To impose the ban would be a misuse of law. It would bring the law into disrespect and a vast section of the community would think it unfair. Moreover, it would be profoundly undemocratic. Democracy is not just something that happens at general elections, when a majority is put into the House of Commons with the power to pass Bills. Democracy requires respect for the rights, beliefs and traditions of the minority. That would be offended if the Bill became law.

10.44 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I have the honour to be the first name on the back of the hymn sheet. Perhaps we are now in the final straight.

I shall not dwell on the technicalities of hunting or on arguments about whether it is right or wrong. Many of your Lordships have already done so and others will continue to examine such arguments and carefully consider the economic, conservation and animal welfare issues, which are all of huge consequential importance.

Instead, I want to draw your Lordships' attention to the impact that a ban on hunting would have on communities and, in particular, on those that I know best in the West Country, in Devon and on Exmoor. I make no apology for returning to the community aspect because I believe it to be such an important part of the Bill.

With regard to the impact on communities of a ban, it was rightly said in another place that in principle it is irrelevant whether one job or many thousands of jobs are at stake if there is no justification for a ban. If something is unjustifiable, no one should lose their job or way or life.

Hunting in the West Country is a way of life. It is a way of life very similar to that in Cumbria, described so eloquently by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew. It is a crucial part of the fabric of our communities; it brings people together from all walks of life; and it binds communities together. It is a recreation that involves people of all ages, all sexes, all classes and all incomes. In a typical hunting field one might find a Peer and a plumber, an eight year-old and an 80 year-old, and probably more females than males, all meeting on equal terms with a common interest in the same activity. They are not barbarians filled with bloodlust; they are people devoted to animals with high standards of care for their horses and dogs.

Sir Robin Dunn, a former Lord Justice of Appeal, already referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, said: Hunting on Exmoor is like Premier Division Football in a large industrial town. To ban it would be to tear the heart out of the community just as would a ban on football in Liverpool". People there would simply not put up with it. I fear that the same reaction would apply to a ban on hunting on Exmoor.

In his submission to the Burns inquiry, the rector of Exford, near Minehead, said, seven different packs will, at some time during the year. hunt over the area in which I am Rector. This not only provides a common unifying thread throughout the Exmoor area (and beyond). but also generates most of the social activities that are vital to the wellbeing of any rural community. In addition, those who support the hunts have a strong and justifiable sense of being the traditional guardians of Exmoor's wildlife. Should hunting with hounds be banned it will be a body-blow to these knowledgeable people and would severely diminish the unity of these remote Exmoor communities". A medical practice at Dulverton, which covers some 300 square miles on Exmoor, said in its submission to the Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs: All partners in the practice endorse the importance of this Inquiry and are in no doubt that a ban on hunting would result in substantial and critical economic deprivation and a substantial increase in stress, depression and suicide in this community, already under pressure from agriculture policies. This would he comparable with studies showing increased morbidity and mortality in mining communities following the economically necessary closure of coal mines. A ban on hunting heralds no such … benefit, in fact would be detrimental to the Exmoor economy and would critically damage this community, without any alternative provision for social support or access to cultural sports or leisure facilities". Now, of course, we have the current bitter irony. With hunting disallowed due to foot and mouth disease, we already have a foretaste of what might come to pass. With no hunting taking place on Exmoor during this month or next month, when so many hunt supporters would have come from all over the British Isles, the economic draught is being felt in the hotels, in the bed and breakfasts and in the livery yards. Already the knock-on effect is pervasive. Their winter incomes sustain a way of life which, if eradicated, will be unsustainable. With the well known decline in summer tourism, villages within the parish of Exmoor will become ghost towns. They will die on their feet instead of being the vibrant source of economic benefit to their area.

Nearly 60 per cent of respondents in the four study areas in the Burns report were opposed to a ban on hunting. The report states: Many feel too that there is a culture associated with hunting that will be lost to the equestrian industry and to the countryside in general in the event of a ban. In particular, they feel that there is a set of social mores and body of knowledge and understanding associated with hunting which has ramifications extending beyond the hunting field. linked with the proper care of horses, the countryside and other riders and users of the countryside". Nowhere is that more true than on Exmoor. It is those communities' way of life and freedom that are at stake and we would do well to listen to them.

I do not say that there will be civil war if hunting is banned, but those who live on Exmoor and in other rural areas of the West Country were already seething with discontent at the Government's treatment of rural issues well before the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and were becoming increasingly angry and bitter at the prospect of a ban. With the new background of the fearful and dire consequences of foot and mouth disease, a ban on hunting is more than they can be expected to bear. I genuinely feel that there would be increased hostility to government and the police, increased non-co-operation, civil unrest and perhaps even civil disobedience.

While I have restricted my remarks to the West Country and the impact of the Bill on those communities, what I have said applies to no less an extent to large parts of this country. The appalling damage that a ban on hunting would inflict cannot be underestimated or brushed aside.

In conclusion, unless there is overwhelming evidence against hunting, Parliament simply does not have the right to take away people's freedoms, jobs or homes or to destroy hundreds of families and communities on the grounds of prejudice alone. To do so would herald the beginning of the end of all our freedoms and liberties in a tolerant and liberal society. It would be profoundly wicked and it must be resisted.

Well before the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, wrote in a recent article in The Times, now the Government is responding to the sharpening, worsening countryside crisis by introducing as a measure the Bill to allow hunting with dogs to be abolished. Hunting is in no way the central issue but this does rub salt into the wound". He continued: It is as though the Good Samaritan had spotted a traveller in the ditch, gone across and given him a hefty kick in the teeth. The trouble is"— he concluded— that Labour is an almost entirely urban party—and it shows".

10.53 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, during my two-and-a-half years in the House, I do not think that I have been party to a debate in which speech after speech has acted like so many nails in the coffin of, in this case, the abolitionist's case. As the 45th speaker this evening, it would be a mercy if I resisted the temptation to give the full-blown speech that I had prepared and confined myself to a few reflections on some aspects of the debate.

Although I have never hunted, I was born and bred in Suffolk, where I still live, and I think I understand the passions that this issue raises in all country areas of these islands. If I did not naturally understand that, I certainly understood it from my French master at school. A hero of the First World War and long bored with the teaching of French, he arrived in the autumn with a light raincoat over his full riding kit. He would set us dictation and flee the classroom, never to be seen.

I remember too, when I was a young prospective candidate in the Saffron Walden constituency, that one of my main supporters was the rector of Steeple Bumpstead, who conducted morning prayer midweek, with a cassock over a full riding outfit. When God was done, the fox was followed.

The issue really boils down to cruelty against liberty. Everything else is consequential. We have heard some distinguished and perceptive speeches tonight and I should like to appropriate verbatim particularly the speeches made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and by the former Archbishop of York. The simple point that was reinforced by the Burns report, which is crucial to this debate, is that, after the hunt, the fox is entirely alive and unharmed, or entirely dead, and quickly dead. There is no other way of controlling foxes that has that supreme advantage.

This very morning, as I left home, a Suffolk man who is building a wall for me, when I asked him for his view of this subject, said that he did not much like hunting, but, on the other hand, you have to control foxes. On Wednesday last he had found a wounded, maimed fox under his van, and had to call the RSPCA from Ipswich to have it put down, which, somewhat grudgingly, they did.

Lord Renton

My Lords, presumably that fox had not been hunted but had been shot.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, he believed that it had been trapped. Trapping is permissible under our law and is extremely indiscriminate in terms of the animal that is caught and the time of year. It can involve a vixen that is carrying cubs.

In relation to liberty, we do not start with a clean sheet. We start with centuries of history and the entrenched liberty in this country for country people to hunt. To criminalise what has been normal, conventional and fully accepted, not only in the country but also in the towns, would, as my noble friend Lord Hutchinson stated so clearly, be an offence. I, for one, would not contemplate being party to it. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, stated, democracy is all well and good, but simple majoritarianism is not enough when dealing with the removal of an entrenched, basic liberty. It is, surely, good parliamentary understanding and conduct to realise when an issue coming before Parliament requires more than a simple majority.

I should like to say a few words about public opinion. There is a danger in this Chamber that our nexus with the hunting fraternity is so close and natural, and their access to us so privileged, that we are apt to underestimate the strength of feeling of those who want to see hunting abolished. I hope that in the future stages of the Bill we will avoid the caricature of what I call "snobs and yobs". The numbers of old unregenerate snobs in the hunting fraternity, who look down on everybody, and of yobs who disregard the law and seek to bust up hunting, are minuscule minorities.

We must concentrate on the fact that many people, largely because they do not understand the issues as we do, feel passionately, as the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, showed so wonderfully today, that hunting is cruel and wrong. Those of us who think that abolition is wrong are in the business of hearts and minds, trying to win them over. That is difficult to do, but we have to try a good deal harder than we have to date. I hope that the hunting fraternity will show more leadership and imagination in the way that it reaches out to that body of ordinary, decent citizens, who do not understand all the things that Burns has beyond doubt shown us.

I commend the middle way, precisely because it ministers to public concerns and assuages natural hostility to the notion of digging out, of blocking up earths so that the fox cannot get back in, of cubbing in a way that all good huntsmen would not accept, of trespassing, and of the various excesses that inevitably occasionally disfigure some hunts.

To have licensed regulation rather than the alternative—voluntary self-supervision—will be more effective in winning over that part of the public (quite a large part) which is there to be won over. It is too late for the voluntary self-supervision alternative.

Perhaps I may say a word on sovereignty. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that it was I who did battle this morning with the redoubtable Tony Banks. Perhaps I did not punch hard enough. But this issue should not be subject to the Salisbury convention. We need to think carefully, as do the Government, about the state of the Bill. Frankly, unless it is part and parcel of their manifesto, those of us who believe strongly that abolition is wrong must stick to our guns.

Finally, hunting stimulates an intense pride in farming and the countryside. A competitive spirit of emulation proceeds from hunting. It is partly because of hunting that agri-business has not made even greater swathes into our countryside. The countryside is there to be enjoyed by the townsmen and women no less than by the country people.

Hunting is an antidote for the decommunalisation which has afflicted not just the towns and cities, but also the countryside itself. With the aggregation of farms, and the reduction in the numbers of farming families and of farm labourers, hunting has become a crucial social network that has huge benefits for the country. In an urbanised, deracinated and impersonal world, many from the cities find solace and refreshment in hunting, a nearness to nature so absent from their normal lives that to cut it out in the mistaken belief that it will eliminate cruelty will be seriously misconceived.

11.2 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, the hour is late so I shall not detain your Lordships for too long and will confine my remarks, I hope, to some fresh evidence.

Sadly, I no longer hunt or ride, but my happiest memories are of hunting and competitive riding. I can honestly say that I never rejoiced in seeing a single fox killed. But the death, in my experience, was always instantaneous. Hunting in many forms has been and still is the driving force which makes this country the pre-eminent equestrian nation of the world.

Like others who have spoken, I feel strongly that this Bill is truly misplaced, divisive of our nation and a waste of parliamentary time. In addition, it is an unwarranted attack on liberty, livelihood and tolerance in our countryside. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, whose wonderful speech we were honoured to hear today and who has done so much as president for the Countryside Alliance, said in a newspaper article, this is a, vicious outbreak of metropolitan bigotry". I could not have put it more aptly. The Bill must not be allowed to succeed in its present form, otherwise shooting and fishing will follow suit, despite the many assurances to the contrary, including those from the Prime Minister.

Animal welfare and cruelty are the most widely-cited reasons for the banning of hunting with dogs. But in his report my noble friend Lord Burns did not conclude that hunting was cruel, as has already been said. The report recognised, quite rightly, that farmers, landowners and gamekeepers consider hunting to be necessary to manage the fox population correctly. Those who have seen lambs killed by foxes or a chicken house raided by a fox, will be under no illusion whatever: foxes are vicious vermin in need of proper control.

A ban on hunting will do nothing for animal welfare; in fact the reverse is true. Other forms of control will be necessary. It has already been estimated that some 75,000 foxes are shot each year. Trapping, snaring and gassing all lead to a lingering death. In his report the noble Lord, Lord Burns, concludes that, None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective". We as the people of this country have a moral responsibility to manage wildlife and habitats for several reasons—the control of disease, the balanced preservation of other species and the maintenance of human food supplies, to name just a few. It is wishful thinking to believe that wild animals and humans could achieve sustainable equilibrium without management of our countryside.

It is reasonably well established that between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time jobs would be lost as well as many part-time voluntary jobs and those of associated tradespeople who rely on hunting for their livelihood. Estimates of between 14,000 and 18,000 have been well reported. That is serious enough. We cannot rely on diversification, particularly in remote areas. The loss of hunt kennels would mean the loss to farmers of disposal of their fallen stock. Hunts play a dominant role in both the rural economy and in the social and cultural life of the rural community. Farriers, saddlers, feed merchants, vicars, publicans and vets, to name a few, all interact one with the other. Hunting forms what is aptly described as "social glue" in many communities and in times of stress hunting people come to the aid of others who are in trouble. It is estimated that it would take up to 10 years for the countryside to readjust itself following a ban. Not one single fox would benefit. As someone said earlier in the debate, the only ones who would probably welcome a ban would be the foxes themselves.

As some noble Lords may have noticed, tomorrow we shall be faced with three options to decide how we proceed with the Committee stage of the Bill. First, we have independent supervision. If we had implemented the Scott-Henderson report we would not be here today discussing this Bill, but that is history.

Currently, 10 bodies control hunting with hounds in all its forms. The lead is shown by the Master of Foxhounds Association, which does an excellent job. Currently it is looking at all foxhounds. It and the other nine bodies answerable to the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting are working closely together. One wonders whether they are a little late off the starting blocks.

Measures which should be strictly in place to control hunting in the future, if a ban is not imposed, must include a code of conduct for digging out, bolting and earth stopping. Then arises the cost of the future independent body, ISAH. It is variously reported as being £500,000. The money will have to come from the hunts themselves. One wonders who is going to bite the hand that feeds it. There is the question of whether there should be some form of regional control.

Throughout this debate we have heard about the differences between the various regions and the importance of local authorities for hunting. Statutory regulation is both expensive and complex. It lacks clarity and a definition of the offences, which in turn will lead to difficulties of enforcement. No case has been made out in law for a total ban. It would do nothing for the welfare of the quarry and it would lead to serious economic, agricultural and cultural consequences.

In his report the noble Lord, Lord Burns, states that in the past hunting has clearly played a very significant role in the formation of the rural landscape and the creation and management of areas of nature conservation. Surely, whatever one feels about the aspect of killing and cruelty, our rural landscape and nature are worthy of preservation, not destruction.

Enforcement. This is an intolerant and antidemocratic measure based not on fact but on prejudicial dislike of an activity by a significant minority of ordinary law-abiding people from all walks of life. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), as is right and proper, has made it absolutely clear that police forces across the country will enforce any new law, but, at a time when resources are fully stretched and there is much adverse comment about the police presence, or lack of it, in rural areas, this additional burden may well be one too many. At a time when magistrates are desperately trying to come to terms with human rights legislation—itself a cause of much extra work and uncertainty— the ambiguities and difficulties of prosecution created by a total ban would be as unwelcome as a fox in a henhouse.

If this Bill becomes law and there is a total ban on hunting with hounds, it will do irreparable damage to our countryside. There will be a loss of jobs and even more damage to an already struggling rural economy—all to no benefit to the fox. A major part of our heritage will be lost; and, even more important, thousands of decent and law-abiding citizens will become potential criminals without a single fox deriving any benefit whatever. I totally reject a ban on hunting.

11.12 p.m.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, my first instinct following the Queen's Speech was to wish that this Bill had not been included. I believed, as I wrote in the House magazine—even before the outbreak of foot and mouth disease—that there were many other issues of greater importance to the vast majority of those who lived in the countryside: rural schools, hospitals, employment, transport, shops and post offices, to name but a few. The last three were virtually decimated under previous administrations. However, this debate is with us and we must face our responsibility in relation to it.

I have been lucky enough to live most of my life in rural communities. I was born and brought up in Lincolnshire where I lived for the first 21 years. I then moved to Suffolk where I lived for 23 years, and I now live in rural Essex. To listen to some noble Lords one might be led to believe that almost every person who lives and works in the countryside is involved in, and supports, hunting. That is patently not the case, and the postbags of many of my friends in the other place show me that.

In each of the geographical areas I have experienced warm and loving friendships and social patterns which have sustained and developed me. But, unlike other noble Lords who have spoken, I have not had, or felt that I needed, the hunting community to supply that. In each area my social patterns have tended to be woven among those who have, at the strongest, opposed the hunting of foxes and hares with dogs or, at the weakest, been indifferent to it.

I have no sentimentality about animals. My paternal grandfather, father and a number of uncles were butchers. They and our farmer friends bred and killed animals for one reason only—for consumption. At an early age I learnt that a special pretty pink piglet, or a pet woolly lamb, was for a time only. When it grew to the required size it would, like all the rest, be transformed into pork or lamb chops.

I understand well that the fox is a wild animal and that it kills. Anyone who has seen a chicken run after a fox has visited knows that in graphic detail. I learnt at an early age that my chickens were eaten because, as my father told me, I had not penned them properly. I well understand that the number of foxes must be curtailed and that no method of killing them is perfect. Despite everything I have heard, I still prefer shooting. I believe that the House slightly underestimates those who shoot in the countryside. I have witnessed many pheasant shoots. If the farmers involved in the shoots were poor shots, as has been claimed tonight, those who organised the shoots would never do so again. Those shoots continue, as does the shooting of hares and rabbits. I am assured by those that I know in Suffolk, who still take part in those shoots, that they can, and do, shoot and kill foxes. But I can of course only take their word for that.

The banning of hunting may not save a single fox's life. However, it would concentrate minds on alternative forms of hunting. Before I expand on that argument, I want to turn briefly to the proposal described as "the middle way". As currently written, I remain unconvinced that much would change. A way which still allows hunting with dogs, as now, is a strange form of compromise to me.

As some noble Lords may know, I am a keen supporter of codes of practice, which the middle way advocates. However, the very point of a code of practice is that it is guidance only and not a legal requirement. However tough, it stops short of being a legal requirement. I believe that we need more than that. Most importantly, the middle way does not consider a limit on the time that wild animals can be chased. If we are serious about having a middle way, that matter has to be considered.

I turn to the repercussions that a ban on hunting would have. As a former trade union official I immediately considered the consequences for those employed, in whatever way, in hunting. As we have heard, the statistics for employment vary widely. I am not particularly interested in playing the numbers game with jobs. I start from the premise that every job is important, especially to the man or woman who is likely to lose theirs. That applies as much in the rural areas as in the steel works, the coal mines or in manufacturing industry.

I therefore spoke directly to those involved on a daily basis with the organised workers in rural areas. I found that the annual conference of the agricultural workers section of the Transport and General Workers' Union, had voted to oppose hunting, despite a goodly number of those voting being involved in hunting. The TGWU believes that in the long term jobs lost would be recovered and that other forms of hunting could not only retain the current jobs of those involved with the horses, the dogs and the hunt generally, but that additional jobs could be created. In addition, if alternative hunting is provided, those currently living in tied accommodation, about which we have heard today, would retain their housing.

Having seen the Brocklesby Hunt in Lincolnshire on many occasions, I can well understand the magic for those who hunt with dogs, but I do not believe that that magic extends to the fox. I, too, looked up the word "cruelty". In my dictionary the definition is to produce pain and distress. I believe that the hunt causes both to the fox.

At this point I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. The noble Lord explained to me why, as currently envisaged, hunting a drag for many would not be a replacement for hunting with dogs. I appreciated that. However, having made inquiries of others with knowledge of hunting a drag, I support my noble friend Lord Harrison in sincerely believing that it could become an equally exciting alternative to hunting with dogs if the will is there to properly introduce it.

As well as drag hunts already mentioned, between September and December 2000 hunting with drag trials were carried out successfully in the New Forest. Phase B of those trials is now taking place. In this country hunting a drag has evolved as a sport possibly more akin to a point-to-point than a hunt and has tended to be on a set course. However, this form of hunt a drag could be substantially developed. I am assured by those who hunt a drag that it could be whatever those involved want it to be. There is no reason why the drag scent could not be made unpredictable on non-set tracks. It could certainly be developed on a much wider geographical basis than has been practised so far. The only need would be to provide landmarks around which the drag is taken. Additionally, there is no reason for a drag hunt to disrupt a farmer's work or crops, as it is sometimes claimed it would. Indeed, it is not unknown for hunts to disrupt working farms and cause damage to crops and fences. The track of the drag need no more disrupt than the best hunt would.

The old adage of where there is a will, there is a way, applies. A phasing out period of hunting with dogs would give time for adaptation. Hounds can be trained to follow the drag scent, and for the hunter and horse there would be little difference if some imagination was applied. Because I firmly believe that, despite all the protestations to the contrary, hunting with dogs is cruel and that there is a viable alternative, I believe that we should listen to and follow the vast majority of voices and votes from the other place. After all, they are elected by the people and answer democratically to that electorate.

If hunting with dogs is banned, minds will concentrate on alternative hunting forms. I repeat: where there is a will, there is a way. If hunting with dogs is banned, that will must be developed. And to try to ensure that it is, when the vote is taken I shall vote for a complete ban on hunting with dogs.

11.21 p.m.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I am somewhat surprised that the Government are still persisting with this Bill, which is widely recognised to have little or no chance of becoming law. In view of the new crisis that foot and mouth disease has brought to the farming community, I should have thought that any government, particularly on the eve of a general election, would have wished to spare it this additional persecution. I had hoped that the Government might show the same degree of consideration for farmers as did the Countryside Alliance when it postponed its march on London. At least in the past week some signs have appeared that the Government may be interested in a compromise. I shall come back to that in a moment.

Some of those who call most vociferously for a ban on hunting like to represent it as marking a stage in the evolution of man's moral progress, one which would follow on naturally from earlier bans on bear-baiting and cock fighting. In so doing, they claim to occupy a superior moral position to their opponents. I think that that claim should be questioned.

I have never myself hunted, although there have been members of my family who have done so for at least the past 100 years. Indeed, there are those who continue to do so. I greatly admire the equestrian skills and the physical courage required from those who hunt. These attributes have linked hunting to other activities, which have brought fame, and on occasion glory, to this country—flat racing and steeplechasing, show jumping and three-day event riding, and in former days mounted prowess on the battlefield.

Hunting of course has figured prominently in English literature and art, as the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, pointed out. Stubbs and Wootton, Sartorius, Sargeant and Munnings—some of the greatest pictures by these and other great names in English painting were devoted to hunting subjects. And in literature you have the subject treated by Surtees and Trollope, Siegfried Sassoon and others. Hunting prints are ever popular and figure in homes and public places up and down the land. Hunting is woven into the artistic and cultural history of this country.

Another reason for treating hunting with respect is for the sense of community it fosters. To its credit, this was something fully appreciated by the Burns committee. Paragraph 28 of the summary puts it well. It states that, especially for participants in more isolated rural communities, hunting acts as a significant cohesive force, encouraging a system of mutual support". The fallen stock service benefits farmers throughout the country wherever there is hunting, and hunting brings its social benefits throughout the country wherever there is hunting. But what Burns says there is outstandingly true of the part of the world about which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, speaks so eloquently and movingly and which I have got to know well, although not as well as other noble Lords. I refer to Devon and Somerset. Stag hunting there attracts followers from all over the world and it is widely popular locally. As my noble friend Lord Arran made plain, it is of huge economic and emotional importance to the area. It is for that reason that large herds of deer survive, tolerated by foresters and farmers, despite the great damage they do to trees and crops.

If hunting was banned, and with it any incentive to protect those deer, they would risk being wiped out, as appears to have happened once before in the 19th century when there was an interruption in hunting. As the Burns report makes clear, those deer that survived would bury themselves in the woods and no longer present the visible and sometimes audible attraction for visitors to the area. The RSPCA might achieve its aim of eliminating the debatable degree of suffering caused by hunting, but at what cost, even to the deer themselves? Is the elimination of suffering through the elimination of life a goal worth striving for?

The Burns report did a great service when it insisted on comparing any suffering caused by hunting with any that might be involved in alternative means of control, but I am not sure that it went far enough. If one is to prepare policy on the basis of reducing the suffering of wild animals, then why ignore the suffering caused by one animal to another? Hunting may seriously compromise the welfare of the hunted animal, but in a phrase that will surely result in a part of the Burns report gaining at least one entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations one day, the fox itself is a serial compromiser of the welfare of other living creatures. Should not any analysis which claims to provide an audit of animal suffering acknowledge that?

I can understand that there are those who have a conscientious objection to hunting. How many there may be, one cannot be sure, but it is significant that Burns was able to show that, in those areas in which it conducted a study where hunting took place, the majority of the population supported the continuation of hunting. Those who have a conscientious objection need not take part in hunting and should be protected, as far as is reasonable, from its incursion into their lives. But it is tyrannical to seek to ban the legitimate traditional activities of a minority when its members do no harm to others except, purportedly, to offend the conscience of what is almost certainly only another minority. There is no end to where that process may be carried once it has been embarked on. Indeed, each of us could compile our own list of legitimate activities that we would rather never see practised again.

However, one position adopted by the Countryside Alliance with which I do not find myself in agreement is in its support for the Bill promoted by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, to amend the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 by removing the exemption granted to hunting from the provisions of that Act. If that was done and the protection for hunting was removed, I think that it would be naive to suppose that a legal challenge would not be mounted on each form of hunting in turn, perhaps repeatedly, in an attempt to secure a verdict that hunting involved the infliction of unnecessary suffering on a wild mammal and therefore would amount to an offence under the Act. Furthermore, I think it would be naïve to suppose that no court would ever give such a verdict. I believe that this would be a concession too far and would be a recipe for uncertainty and litigation. My inclination is to agree with what was said last Friday by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in winding up the debate on the Second Reading; namely, that whether hunting involves unnecessary cruelty is a matter that should be decided by Parliament.

On the other hand, I believe that the Countryside Alliance is entirely justified in its stated willingness to listen to any proposal for compromise on the question of regulation. If I understand the position correctly, it believes, rightly in my opinion, that self-regulation, perhaps in a more transparent and well-publicised form than has existed in the past, would be the best system of control for the future. Nevertheless, it acknowledges that to win public confidence it may be necessary for such self-regulation to have statutory backing. I would not quarrel with that. Provided that such a solution preserved the essentials of the sport as practised today, introduced the very minimum of bureaucracy and sought only to see applied more generally the highest of standards in current practice today, then I think that regulation should be accepted—not because I believe it is necessary on animal welfare grounds but for political reasons.

For political reasons—facing a large Commons majority in favour of a ban, one which is not likely to disappear overnight—those who wish to see hunting continue may have to accept compromise. Circumstances may well now favour compromise. If that is the way that the Government see it too, I agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling that they should tell us about it tonight.

11.31 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I begin by declaring my interests. I am chairman (unpaid) and shareholder (dividend free) of St Martins Magazines, which publishes two magazines, Country Illustrated and Hunting. I also should say that my father, grandfather and great- grandfather were all masters of the Warwickshire Hunt. I have no ambitions in that direction because I can remember looking in my grandfather's scrapbook, where I saw a rhyme which went: There was a young fellow called Broke Who was broke when the foxhounds he took For while he was Master the money flew faster Than he could tear cheques from his book". None the less, I do hunt with the Warwickshire Hunt; I enjoy it enormously.

Like the tens of thousands of people in this country who hunt, I have asked myself why the Bill has been brought forward. It seems to me that there are three principal reasons. One reason is that the Member for Pendle, Mr Gordon Prentice, put down a wrecking amendment to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill which made the Home Secretary think twice. Mr Prentice, in effect, held a gun to the Government's head; Mr Straw blinked; and on the very same day that the Burns report was published, Mr Straw announced that this Bill would be brought forward.

The second reason was the infamous interview at Question Time when the Prime Minister fell into a "heffalump" trap.

The third reason, to which my noble friend Lord Rotherwick referred, is that the Labour Party, I believe, was given £1 million by the Political Animal Lobby (PAL) before the last election. The PAL is the political wing of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), which, by some extraordinary coincidence, is one of the bodies that have come together to form Deadline 2000. When the Minister responds to the debate, I should be grateful if he would tell me whether I have got my facts wrong and, if I am wrong, what was the sum donated to the Labour Party by the Political Animal Lobby and when it was received.

We seem to have come a very long way from animal welfare with this Bill, as many noble Lords have pointed out. I was very pleased to see in this context that the Home Secretary had the good sense to vote for the continuation of hunting under regulation. We should hardly be surprised. When one looks at the Bill, there seems no justification whatever for a ban or for supporting one. It is a complete dog's breakfast. It is full of exceptions, anomalies and contradictions.

To give your Lordships a flavour of one or two of the main absurdities, deer may still be hunted with dogs and shot provided that the person doing so is doing it as part of his job as a professional and not for sport. If he enjoys his job—which he probably does, otherwise he would not be doing it at all—that is okay as long as he is paid for it. But if you do exactly the same thing and are unpaid—and you perhaps smile or enjoy what you are doing—you are criminalised under the provisions of the Bill.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, for reminding me that Welsh gun packs which hunt with dogs will be legal; they will be allowed to hunt. But if the very same packs which hunt with guns and dogs on a Saturday—the very same people, the very same hounds—hunt on a Wednesday but with horses, they will be criminalised. "Stands the clock at ten to three. Is the Mad Hatter coming to tea?". This is absolutely crazy.

Under the Bill, chasing a hare with a dog will become a criminal offence, but chasing a rabbit will not. If the Bill progresses, I intend to table an amendment that will require all dogs and owners to undergo a rabbit recognition course; otherwise, where are we? The Explanatory Notes state helpfully that, A person who uses his dog in the context of one of the exceptions will not be guilty of an offence if his dog has other ideas and acts outside the scope of the exception". But most dogs have "other ideas" all the time! It is their raison d'être.

And so the Bill goes on in its ludicrous way. But it is ludicrous only in that context. Its provisions will turn into criminals tens of thousands of people for carrying on what until now has been a perfectly legal pursuit. That is what is so galling for all of us who oppose this measure. All these are decent, hard-working, law-abiding people, the very people who help to make the countryside tick. Yet they will be subject to the draconian powers contained in the Bill. The burden of proof will be reversed; they will be subject, without a warrant, to stop-and-search provisions, and to the confiscation and destruction of their property and their animals, to swingeing fines and presumably, if they are unable to pay the fines, to imprisonment.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, said, none of us who hunt believes that what we are doing is cruel, or we would not be doing it at all. I strongly resent being told by Members of another place that my chosen sport is unacceptable in some way, but theirs is not. Mr Tony Banks, for example, said at Second Reading on 20th December: I used to fish a great deal; I used to love fishing … but in politics there are lines to be drawn. I would not choose to fish or to shoot, but equally. I would not choose to ban others from doing so. That is where I have drawn my line".—[Official Report, Commons, 20/12/2000; col. 411.] In the same debate, at col. 430, Mr Salter, the Member for Reading West, said: I and other hon. Members who fish know the truth: either we take and kill our fish humanely for the pot … or, in the case of coarse fishermen such as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester and myself, we may catch our fish, we may photograph our fish—I even confess to occasionally kissing my fish … but we put them back unharmed". He, too, then went on to draw his line, which not surprisingly managed to include coarse fishing.

Quite apart from the fact that MPs should confine their kissing activities to babies and not adversely affect the welfare of the fish by playing them for a long time, pulling them out of the water, photographing them, weighing them, and then kissing them, surely it is cruel if they are then put back to endure more of the same. It is absurd. Mr Salter said that he caught the same fish three times. How did he know? Did he ask it? If he is right, is not that cruel in the extreme? On what possible grounds do these line-drawers, these fish-kissers tell us how to lead our lives?

As the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, made clear in his excellent speech, what makes it acceptable for them to decide that what they are doing is right and that what we are doing is wrong? Why is their moral compass so accurately set and ours so obviously wrong? I really do not understand the difference. I am very much looking forward to the Minister's reply to the question posed by my noble friend Lord Denham on the acceptability and justice of a division. Where is the dividing line to be drawn between hunting, fishing and shooting? Who are these people, cloaked in a little brief authority, to tell us how we should lead our lives, to deprive rural communities of their jobs and their livelihood? Who are they to tiptoe around drawing their little moral conclusions and telling us that we should obey what they think, to kill off ordinary people's livelihoods to suit the convenience of their own conscience?

Perhaps I may conclude my brief remarks by quoting from a letter that I received. I had a large number of letters on the subject—none, I may say, from those who would abolish hunting. It is from a young lady in Oxfordshire. She writes: I look after horses, run a hunter livery yard Get up nice and early and work very hard, Employ two others, on me they depend For their income, livelihood, money to spend. Pray, what would happen if hunting were banned. Who would employ them, where would they stand? These are not office girls with manicured nails Neither typists, receptionists nor those tele-sales. We are country people, it runs in our blood Usually cold, wet and tired or covered in mud, But hunting's our passion, it governs our year Please don't let them ban it. we'll fight. do you hear? If we have to fight, I shall fight with her.

11.40 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, living in mid-Wales, where we are desperately anxious about the survival of our small herd of Welsh Blacks, I am all too well aware that rural Britain is in deep crisis and that most country people find it incomprehensible that Parliament should, at this time, be spending time debating the future of what is curiously described as, "hunting with dogs".

I do not know whether this Bill was allowed to go forward as a sop to old Labour, who have taken so many knocks from the Government, but the other day I heard a broadcast by Alistair Cooke in which he said that the founding fathers of the United States were determined to prevent the "tyranny of the mob". That seems to me a not inaccurate description of a vote by 387 Members of the other place to ban hunting. That vote included many Scottish Members who felt free to vote to ban hunting in England and Wales, although Englishmen and Welshrnen are denied any voice in decisions on hunting in Scotland. By contrast, I listened with great interest to the impressive speeches made in this debate from the Labour Benches by the noble Lords, Lord Bragg, Lord Hardy of Wath and Lord Stoddart of Swindon.

I do not hunt myself, but I am appalled by the attempt to demonise and criminalise decent, law-abiding people in the country. This is an intolerant assault on a small minority—an assault based. I am afraid, for many people on ignorance, prejudice and a dislike of toffs. Above all, it is a denial of people's freedom to take part in an activity that does no harm to their fellows. The ostensible heart of the dispute is the question of cruelty. But if that were really the issue, why is nothing said, for example, about the practice of halal?

Fifty years ago the Scott-Henderson report, commissioned by a Labour government and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, concluded that foxes had to be controlled and that there was less cruelty in hunting than in most other methods of control. That is still true. In hunting, the lox either escapes or is swiftly killed, as many noble Lords have said. There are no wounded survivors, as there often are when foxes are shot. Snaring too can be very cruel.

The favoured option of the Burns committee of lamping is not practicable on the Welsh hills and the use of high-velocity rifles at night is not a very safe practice. I do not find the new and questionable concept of animal welfare science helpful. It led the excellent Burns committee into making perplexing statements, such as, for example, that the experience of being closely pursued caught and killed by hounds seriously comprises the welfare of the hare.

Fox hunting is part of our heritage and tradition, going back for many years. In mid-Wales, hunting has real practical value in controlling foxes. Farmers engaged in backbreaking and ill-rewarded toil cannot afford to employ someone to keep down fox numbers. The hunts do this. At the same time, a day's hunting is a community activity which is a social occasion for people who are cut off from most of the forms of entertainment available to those living in towns. In our part of the world, hunts are definitely not smart. Circumstances are simply different in Wales, but, despite devolution, the Welsh have not been allowed to decide for themselves, as they wish to do, on the future of hunting in the Principality. Why not, I wonder?

Hunting is important for conservation. Small woods and patches of gorse and thorn were often planted for hunting and shooting and kept for that reason. They are invaluable for all sorts of animals, birds, insects and plants. If hunting were banned, they might be done away with so that the land could be used more profitably. If field sports go, the effect on the British countryside will be profound. Also, a ban would have unpleasant consequences—some thousands thrown out of work, and probably a mass slaughter of hounds. Its implementation would be extremely difficult. It would create great bitterness and it might lead to defiance of the law by some people who would normally never dream of acting illegally. The effect could be like prohibition in America. The police are already hard pressed to cover rural areas and to deal with burglary, drugs and other problems, not to mention endless paperwork on firearms and gun licences. They would have a difficult job in enforcing a ban and would find that their good relations with country people were hard to maintain.

Why does the Bill include an unprecedented power to arrest someone who has done nothing wrong but whom a constable suspects may be about to commit an offence as well as a provision that an offender can be prevented from keeping a dog for life? All field sports are now under threat. If hunting is banned, who can doubt that there will be pressure to put an end to shooting and fishing? The wealthy organisations opposed to field sports will redouble their efforts and the rural terrorists with their balaclavas and baseball bats will continue their violent attacks. Only last week an elderly disabled angler had to call the police when he was threatened by 20 such thugs.

It seems utterly wrong to try to make a harmless traditional country activity a criminal offence. The great numbers who took part in the countryside rally in 1997 and the even larger numbers who would have marched in London the day after tomorrow ask only to be let alone. We are faced with an urban move to dictate to a rural minority, an attack on freedom that runs counter to what one believed was the Labour Party's toleration of minorities and a drive to upset the whole pattern of country life. I believe that government should try to govern with a light hand and to promote a feeling of unity among the people of this country. This Government will not, however, let people alone and are once more acting in a way that is extremely divisive.

I am inclined to think that the so-called "middle way" would not be practicable or satisfactory, but we shall discuss that in Committee. I was sorry also not to be able to take part in the debate last week on the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. But like the noble Lord, Lord Reay, I do not believe that that Bill would satisfactorily resolve the problem we face. The wealthy organisations opposed to field sports would surely employ top notch barristers to argue that hunting did inflict unnecessary suffering on foxes and other quarry and no doubt they could persuade some courts to agree with them.

I conclude that a compromise is probably not attainable and that this House should in due course vote to allow hunting to continue, policed by the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Ronald Waterhouse.

11.47 p.m.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, I speak tonight as someone who has always believed that hunting with hounds is cruel and causes unnecessary suffering to animals. I support the total ban on hunting with hounds and therefore support the Bill as it stands. Although that is a minority view in your Lordships' House—I am the 54th speaker tonight and I believe that I am about the fifth or sixth to support the total ban—I believe that it is a majority view in the country.

I should declare an interest. I am vice-chair of the Labour Animal Welfare Society and vice-chair of the All Party Group on Animal Welfare. As a longstanding member of the Labour Animal Welfare Society I received a letter from the organisation, as did my noble friend Lord Winston. The organisation is made up of Labour Party members and acts as a highly respected pressure group within the Labour Party. Its aim is to ensure that animal welfare issues are on the agenda. It is not surprising that it should write to Labour Peers to express its views and to encourage those Peers to support the ban on hunting with hounds.

Animal rights extremists have been mentioned many times tonight. Most people—I would say all— who are interested in animal welfare would totally condemn any extremist who threatened violence against people because they held different views. I certainly condemn the actions of animal rights extremists.

Much has been said about fox hunting. But the Hunting Bill is not just about fox huntin: it is about hunting with hounds relating to wild animals such as deer, mink and foxes. There has been debate about whether the methods used in the hunting and killing of wild animals can be tolerated in today's society.

If there has to be a cull of wild mammals, is there a better and more efficient way than hunting with hounds? I can accept that there are circumstances where the culling of wild mammals may be necessary. For example, there is a strong argument that fox control is necessary in some Welsh upland areas. There has always been a strong tradition of co-operative fox control among Welsh farmers. Some claims about fox damage could seem exaggerated. Most lamb losses on the hills are attributed to adverse weather, mis-mothering or lack of maternal milk, and diseases.

A major study in a comparable area of upland Scotland showed that fox predation was responsible for less than 2 per cent of all lambs lost. However, fox predation can be significant on particular farms in some seasons. The Burns report considered that gun packs represented the only demonstrably effective method of fox control using dogs. Furthermore, the noble Lord clearly believed that they were necessary in upland Wales. Deadline 2000 also believes that that is an acceptable method. I have given that example to illustrate that although I oppose hunting with hounds I, and many who share my views, can also accept that there are occasions when there has to be the control and culling of wild mammals. There is no objection to the controlling of the number of animals.

In conclusion, the Minister, Mr Mike O'Brien, said in another place: The Bill will … ban the hunting of wild mammals with dogs, except in specific circumstances … it will remain legal to hunt rabbits and rats with dogs and to use dogs for deer stalking. The Bill is now more clearly focused on fox hunting, deer hunting, mink hunting … and coursing. It is probably fair to say that those activities cause the greatest concern in this country, and the Bill reflects that".—[Official Report, Commons, 27/2/01; col. 843.] I fully support the Bill as it stands. The Bill has the support of many people in the country. It is something that Labour Party has supported for many years. It is good that the Government have found time to debate this measure. I look forward to the day when it becomes an Act of Parliament.

11.53 p.m.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, perhaps I am one of the few in your Lordships' House who cannot understand what we are debating today or why we are debating the subject. Part of me says that perhaps we have the most divisive Government in history. The other part says that people do not know what they are talking about.

We were once a rural environment. As noble Lords will know, only 10 per cent of our population now live in rural areas. Of the 210 countries of which the United Nations list the population, we are one of the least rural. The Western Sahara is less rural than we are; and some of the Arab states. The people who work in the country are a major minority. I will support them to the hilt and to the bitter end.

This legislation is not about hunting; it is about a divided nation. It is about the haves or have-nots, or whatever we may call it. I should like to go back in history further than anyone can remember. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth will correct me if I am wrong. At about this time every year the Pope, recalling San Giuseppe, the patron saint of the worker, makes a speech in one of the Vatican states about the role of man: that man works to live but does not live to work.

In about the eighth century, long before the Norman conquest, the great Saint Hubert, the patron saint of the hunter, was out hunting. He saw a stag and was about to shoot. Suddenly a vision of our Lord came before him. The stag asked, "Why are you killing me? Are you killing me to eat, in which case it is okay? If not, it is not okay". Saint Hubert later became rather European—he became the Bishop of Maastricht. My contribution will relate to the Labour Party's desire to rush headlong into European legislation on hunting and the harmonisation of everything. Not only was he Bishop of Maastricht, but recently a wild boar held up the whole airport at Nice.

I am not sure what that may have to do with hunting, but there is a division between what we Normans call the écologiste de ville and the paysan. Your Lordships may be surprised to know that I am now a peasant farmer. As of last week, I am a legal paysan exploitant juridique viticole vinicole of the European Union, entitled to grants in great quantity, because my colleagues in the countryside are not getting enough grants from the European Union.

We Normans—or we Celts, as I am—have been told that the British have exported a large number of very dangerous agricultural things, such as E.coli, foot and mouth disease and now the lunacy of dealing with the nuisibles. Your Lordships will know that nuisibles are nuisances—they are effectively vermin. The greatest vermin are the red deer, the badger, the fox and some of the smaller animals such as the pie and the jay. None of them is very edible, but they destroy other creatures on God's earth. The term, "nuisible" is now being used to describe the écologistes de ville. They are becoming a nuisance because they do not understand, the countryside.

I shall deal first and foremost with the fox. We know that it is a serial killer. My experience came at the end of the war when I had to look after the chickens and came down one day to find that they were all gone or their heads had been chopped off. That was my fault and I was blamed. I went out to look for the fox. Not long after, I found one in a gin trap and I felt sorry for it. Gin traps are now banned. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have ever seen a fox caught by one leg in a gin trap. I had been told that it would gnaw its leg off to escape, but I somehow wanted to release it because it was not fair, yet I did not know how to. I was a Pharisee and walked by on the other side. I was told that I should have reported it, because even then gin traps were not desirable.

I was then told that we must shoot foxes, but I was also reminded that we must leave them to the hunt, because the chance of shooting them accurately was very remote. Your Lordships can imagine that I am standing here with a 12-bore with maybe four shot and my maximum range is probably the length of your Lordships' House. At this time of night, in the twilight, when the fox would be out, I would be bound only to wound it.

I declare a small interest in that to some extent I was forced to hunt as a child. The pony was too fat, my legs were too short, my hard hat was a large bowler and I did not really know what I was doing, but I did it for a few years with various hunts. The pony always wanted to go back to Dartmoor where it came from. This would include running over hounds and being shouted at. I felt very insecure and I decided to move into my own hunting realm. I tried to train the pony so that I could ride it with a shotgun, because I found that on a horse I could creep up on pheasants in a way that I never could if I was walking. I have realised that that form of sport might well be allowable under the Bill.

I come back to my peasant farming world. As your Lordships will know, in some European countries it is possible to hunt on anybody's land if you have a licence, as long as you keep your back to their house and are not within 150 metres. You can hunt in packs of hounds, often with two or three four-wheel drive cars. Some of the most exciting and important hounds are called les beagles anglais—English beagles. The beagles anglais are rather small, whereas the beagles francais are effectively foxhounds. A good English beagle can fetch as much as £4,000 if it is trained to hunt the predator of all time and the greatest nuisible—the sanglier sauvage, which we wiped out about 200 years ago because it was a danger to our society.

In continental Europe there is now almost a plague of wild boar, which weigh up to 150 kilos. But they, like the fox, can be protected to a certain extent. The hunters, who are so keen to keep the wild boar and the fox out of the vineyards because both animals like grapes, will give a grant. They will pay 50 per cent of the cost of an electric fence to keep the wild boar and the fox out of the vineyards.

In addition, one finds that other forms of grant are available. However, the punishment for breaking the law, which bans hunting between twilight and dawn, is very serious. First, one's car may be confiscated and one must buy it back at its "new" value. One's gun will be taken and, again, one must buy it back at the "new" value. One will be fined heavily and may end up in prison for a period of time. There is only one gardien de chasse for miles around. Therefore, it is probably better to take on the gardien de chasse and to do him some harm rather than take the risk of ending up in gaol. However, in the background we have Saint Hubert.

At the beginning of every hunting season in every church through continental Europe there is the feast, or rather, not the feast, because that takes place in May, but the meeting of Saint Hubert. Horse after horse, hound after hound, gun after gun, and every conceivable animal turns up outside the church to celebrate the start of the hunting season. One enters the church fully armed. Suddenly one sees four or five men in hunting uniform, with their enormous horns or euphoniums, walk up to the altar. They face the altar and then fire away because the music comes out of the back. In the area in which I am based I have been surprised to find that two British vicars have now adopted that habit. It is a happy day but, with it, there is always the desire to get rid of the nuisibles, which are the vermin. It has long been accepted—

Lord Carter

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I have been listening to his speech with great interest. Is he aware that Chapter 4, paragraph 30 of the Companion, states that: Languages other than English should not be used in debate, except where necessary"?

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. As he is aware, Saint Hubert was in 1799 the Bishop of Maastricht. The Normans came over here and, with the Bayeux Tapestry—

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, I believe that the year was 799.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, I believe that when Her Majesty the Queen passes legislation and gives Royal Assent, she does so in Norman French. I take the rebuke fully. I meant merely to say that some people are making too much of a nuisance about this matter. I stand firmly behind the tiny minority in the country who effectively are being persecuted by a majority of what we would call the "ecologists of the time". That division needs to be healed if this legislation is dropped.

12.3 a.m.

Lord Patten

My Lords, I greatly enjoyed everything that my noble friend Lord Selsdon said. It rang with truth throughout, except perhaps when he described himself as "a peasant farmer". I wish to light on three points: on cruelty, on minorities and on terrorism connected with so-called animal liberationism. In doing so, I consider it proper that I declare my interest—or rather, lack of interest. I do not fish; I do not shoot; and I do not hunt. I do eat meat and fish and I sometimes benefit from the medicines which have been proved by animal experimentation.

That leads me to the first of my three points on the subject of cruelty. I find myself in great difficulty as to why hunting with hounds is judged to be uniquely cruel compared. for example, with the fate of a fish being played at the end of a line, or gasping or dying on a bank, or the fate of a fox, deer or wild or reared bird being shot, but poorly shot, and crawling, flapping or flying off to die in agony—sometimes an agony that lasts for many days and, on occasions, for weeks. I simply do not see the qualitative difference in cruelty.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, discussed her butchering forebears. Anyone who has been to an abattoir will know that beasts queuing up to be dealt with in even the most humane conditions sense that something rather unusual is about to happen to them. They feel stressed and some of them feel pain. Dare I be so incorrect as to say that it happens in abattoirs, that it probably happens rather more in the ritual killing that is connected with kosher slaughter and that it happens very much more in the ritual slaughter connected with halal meat? Those largely unsung matters are often thought of as not being "correct"; however, it is correct to mention them in the context of trying to judge what is and what is not cruel and what should be banned by this House and another place.

At the moment in the United Kingdom animals are being experimented on for human good under carefully controlled conditions in laboratories. That is licensed by the Home Office and the animals experience not just discomfort but extreme pain on occasion in order to benefit human beings. The noble Baroness's definition of cruelty involved pain and suffering; however, pain and suffering are all around. I simply do not understand why one form should be judged uniquely to need to be dealt with in legislation—as may well happen with hunting with hounds.

That leads me to my second point, which is about minorities. The keeping of dogs of any size—large, medium or small—in flats in tower blocks is pretty disgusting and I do not like it. I caught myself once in conversation when I was about to say—luckily, I stopped myself—that someone should do something to ban the practice. Then I realised that there is a minority who find comfort in having an animal with them—they live in what could be called typical inner city conditions. We should not seek to ban what a minority does. Likewise, I think that it is repugnant for people to keep birds in cages. When I raise that point, I am told that pensioners find great comfort in having a budgerigar or a canary, so I draw back from seeking to introduce into your Lordships' House a Bill to ban the keeping of dogs in tower blocks or of canaries and budgerigars in cages. In the end, I have to respect the rights of minorities because I place humankind above "animalkind".

Thirdly and lastly, whatever happens to the three options in the Bill, it is important for the Government to look to the protection of those who are involved in any form of work with or sport or experimentation on animals because I feel that the risk of a growth in animal terrorism is substantial. If the Bill is voted on in such a way that hunting continues, the activities of those who seek to promote animal welfare through direct terrorism, threats, bombing and all the rest, will continue. Equally, should hunting be banned at some stage, those selfsame people will turn their attentions to those who fish, as the noble Lord, Lord Moran, pointed out or to those who shoot. There will be a succession of terrorist activities by those claiming to protect animals.

Once such terrorist activity begins, it becomes endemic in society. I should like to say to the Minister, who has borne this lengthy session so stoically, as a loyal old boy of the Home Office and a loyal old boy before that of the Northern Ireland Office—I say that in a bipartisan way—that once one allows terrorism of any kind to creep into a nation's culture, it is very difficult to eradicate it. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, circulated a very helpful note to noble Lords on the terrorist organisations worldwide which the Government seek to proscribe. Many of those organisations have never done anything damaging in this country, but we proscribe them because we wish to help other governments to stamp out terrorism. There is a yawning gap in that list. There is no mention of terrorist activities by those who purport to promote animal welfare in this country. I ask the Minister to draw that matter to the attention of the Home Office.

Hunting should not be subject to peculiar legislation, because it has not been proven that the cruelty involved in hunting is any different from the other cruelties to which I have referred. I believe that this House should respect minorities, and protect, through the law, those who lawfully carry out lawful activities.

12.12 a.m.

Viscount Brookeborough

My Lords, I have hunted with harriers, North and South of the Border in Ireland, and several times with fox hounds in England, but I have not hunted since 1970. Suffice to say, we killed very few hares, and I was only ever once close to such an occurrence. It was extremely fast.

I am the only speaker who comes from Northern Ireland. I share the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, about terrorism being introduced in to a culture. Noble Lords may ask why I am speaking at all when the Bill will not at this stage affect the Province. You could say that it is none of my business. However, the horse breeding, training and competition industry in Ireland is vital to its rural economy. Most noble Lords will know that Irish hunters are best, and some may even own them, and will know what Irish breeding and the upbringing of animals on the tremendous grass in Ireland has done for the remainder of the United Kingdom and its equine industry.

If the Bill becomes law, it will have a devastating effect on our rural economy. I strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, and other noble Lords who have spoken against the Bill, for reasons that they have expressed more eloquently than I could ever do.

We have heard on a number of occasions that hunting with dogs equates to bear baiting, dog fighting and cock fighting. That fallacy must be corrected. When speaking of hunting, we are talking about the control and management of several wild species, some of which are classed as pests. As we know, the bears used for baiting and the dogs and bantam cocks used for fighting, were already under control and managed for those so-called "sports". Hunting, therefore, cannot and should not be compared with those two "sports", and should not be included with them.

We all agree that killing anything causes suffering—and hunting is no exception—but we must look at the alternatives and any suffering that they cause when compared to hunting, and at the problems associated with those methods.

We have already heard a great deal about snaring, and the Burns report questions its future. Few countries in Europe permit snaring, and I would not be surprised if Brussels managed to get its talons into that too.

Snares cause immense suffering, not only to foxes, but also to other animals such as badgers and occasionally deer. I have found foxes in snares—not my snares; I do not use them—where they have obviously taken a long time to die. I have also released two badgers. They become extremely angry when ensnared and it is a dangerous operation to release them. In one case I had to employ a pitchfork, jam it over the badger's neck and into the ground, and take the wire cutters to the snare. By the mess around, one could tell that that badger had been there for some time. Small deer of the type that we have in Northern Ireland are also sometimes caught in snares. I found a dead deer with a snare around its middle. So we must not forget about that suffering.

We have already heard about the animals that are wounded with shotguns and die days or weeks later. Also, foxes are often shot close to the head and are blinded. That can be worse than simply being physically wounded; they just cannot see.

Perhaps the preferred option is lamping and shooting with high-powered rifles. At present it takes place in more open spaces with a low density of rural population. However, much of the hunting takes place in lowland areas and in the Home Counties, where there are many roads and a great deal of rural housing. Many of the areas in which hunting currently occurs would be quite unsuitable for the use of high-powered weapons.

My business at home and my personal day-to-day use of high-powered rifles justifies my saying something about lamping with such weapons. A 22 rifle with a 38-grain bullet is dangerous for up to one mile. But it is considered underpowered and unsuitable for the shooting of foxes. So high-powered rifles have to be used. However, most are dangerous for more than three miles, with bullet weights of between 80 and 150 grains. It is increasingly difficult to obtain licences for such rifles in Great Britain, let alone Northern Ireland. Police forces inspect the land where they may be used more often, primarily for safety and justification of requirement.

Therefore, lamping will not be a permissible alternative in all areas to control by hunting. Where it does take place, lamping is and has to be done currently with great skill and care for human safety. Even after going through a fox, parts of the bullet travel a long way at extraordinary angles. I shot a fox last week or the week before. It was standing two feet in front of a bank. On the entry side of the fox's chest was a little hole the size of a pencil—it was a 270 bullet. On the exit side there was a spread of two inches, and that is within the width of a fox's body. On the bank there was a spread of seven inches. It was not just a lateral spread; the spread was up and down as well. The danger zone surprised me. It being so wide and extending for hundreds of yards behind the target means that it would be too dangerous to shoot in many areas.

The suffering caused by wounding has been dealt with. Suffice to say that wounding will always be a possibility, especially when shooting at night. I hope that I have shown that the alternatives to hunting as methods of controlling foxes are not always viable and, if viable, frequently cause even more suffering. Snaring and shooting will always contribute to control; but they cannot provide complete control in all areas. I believe in freedom of choice and civil liberties, and I most certainly oppose this Bill.

12.19 a.m.

Earl Peel

My Lords, whereas I deplore the prospect of a ban on hunting, I actually welcome the attention that hunting has been given through the debates which we have been having over the past year or so. I say that for the simple reason that I believe it is about time our fellow citizens began to understand the truth about hunting. Much of that truth has been swept under the carpet and much of that truth has been distorted. I believe that the debate we have had this evening in your Lordships' House is an example of what the truth is about hunting. I hope and pray that it will contribute to people's genuine thoughts on this difficult subject.

I believe that perhaps the most interesting development that has taken place through the media is how strong is the libertarian argument that has come through in virtually every single newspaper in this country. I for one welcome that enormously.

I do not hunt. Sadly, I can claim no relationship to John Peel although I have followed foxhounds on a number of occasions. All I can say is that from firsthand evidence I regard hunting as a truly great community activity embracing a genuine synergy with nature, the countryside and its people. It is quite incomprehensible that we should be contemplating legislation to criminalise an activity that has grown out of rural life over many generations, honed and shaped through need and through experience and conducted, by and large, by thoroughly honourable, well-balanced and caring individuals.

Can they all be condemned as cruel, immoral criminals without a care for the animal kingdom or the well-being of the countryside in which they live? Of course they cannot. It is a perfectly ridiculous notion. Can anyone think for one moment that they do not consider the actions of their ways? To condemn them and their successors would be wholly wrong. I am bound to say that particularly when one considers the appalling antics of some of their more vociferous opponents.

Like other noble Lords, I appreciate the views of those who find it difficult to come to terms with killing in this way. But as is so often the case—and we are all guilty of if —judgments are too frequently based on those well-used words "prejudice" and "ignorance". As regards hunting, that is often compounded by the increasingly stark divide that now exists between urban and rural lifestyles and culture. I regret that enormously, hut, sadly, the opponents of hunting have exploited that divide very effectively.

However, democracy should surely be big enough to embrace such differences. I believe that it is incumbent on all those who take part in the legislative process to discover the facts before passing judgment that will seriously compromise the activities and well-being of others even if they are a minority. It is a sad fact that even now, after the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns—and I commend him and his committee on all their work—there are still members of the legislature of this country who have not even read the noble Lord's report. I believe that that is a disgrace.

Hypocrisy, selectivity—call it what one likes—abounds in all of us: I accept that. But to hear the likes of the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, condemn hunting on the basis that foxes are attractive and intelligent is typical, particularly when I imagine that implies that if they were ugly and stupid it would be perfectly all right to hunt them.

However, I have noticed recently that the poor London pigeons have been condemned by their mayor as winged vermin. I have noticed too, as my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke pointed out, that one junior Minister has conceded that ratcatchers should be al lowed to continue under the Bill and that he will be allowed to chase a rabbit but not a hare. I love the idea of calling back one's dog and saying, "You can't chase that, it's a leveret". Quite a number of other concessions have been made which I believe simply draw attention to the real reasons behind this Bill.

To date I believe that the most far-fetched and irrational statement is that made by a spokesman of the League Against Cruel Sports who said: We have no objection to the controlling of numbers—we object to the hunting of animals for fun". On that basis, hunting would be acceptable if everybody was prepared to sign an affidavit beforehand to state that he had no intention whatever of enjoying himself. What a complete nonsense.

That foxes need to be controlled is, I believe, beyond doubt. What is more, fox numbers are increasing. In the absence of any natural predator, the job of control falls to man. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee concluded that hunting with hounds was no more cruel than any other form of fox control. That has been said many times for good reason, because it is an absolutely essential part of the debate.

I believe that we must consider hunting in the widest context. A ban on hunting would not save the life of a single fox, hare or deer, or improve the welfare of those populations. In the case of the deer populations of the south-west of England, it would almost certainly have an adverse effect.

The Game Conservancy Trust, of which I have the great honour to be president, concluded in a recent piece of scientific research that, Probably few foxes die in their sleep. quietly from old age: most arc killed, starve to death, or die from disease". Nature's way, therefore, is not the ideal that many believe. The trust goes on to say: Relative to other methods. the killing of a fox by a pack of hounds is likely to be fairly quick—and probably much faster than many forms of natural predation". Having just returned from Tanzania, where I witnessed a wildebeest calf being killed by three hyenas, all I can say is that it was a deeply unpleasant experience. The creature was disembowelled in front of us and took a considerable time to die. I also watched a lion playing with a Thomson's gazelle, which was also a fairly unpleasant experience. The lion played with it as a cat plays with a mouse. Incidentally, I wonder how many cat owners consider what their pets do when they get hold of a mouse, rat or bird. I am sure that the animal experiences fairly prolonged suffering. Will the Government consider introducing legislation against cats? It would be a brave Minister who made such a suggestion.

Another important point in the whole debate is that it is quite wrong to assume that animals, despite having a natural instinct to survive, perceive fear or death in the same way as the human mind. One often hears the argument that hunting has had its day in modern society and should be consigned to history, in the same way as cockfighting and bear-baiting. I find that an extraordinary argument born out of the same ignorance that suggests that hunting is all about satisfying a blood lust. Cockfighting and bear-baiting were outlawed through lack of support and need and the revulsion of those who witnessed them at first hand. Hunting, on the other hand, is a culture and way of life supported by folklore, literature, music and art in all its forms.

Perhaps the greatest argument for hunting, apart from the jobs that it creates and the fact that it helps to conserve the countryside at no expense to the taxpayer, is that it is a community activity and, in many parts of the country, a religion. Hunting provides sport in the purest sense and friendship, and transcends creed and class. Hunting is a way of life that derives its soul from the countryside itself; it is an extension of nature. There would need to be a mighty strong reason to pluck that lifeline from society. It may be a society which is alien to many, but there is no reason to undermine the very democracy in which this country has its roots.

12.30 a.m.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I regret the need to spend so much parliamentary time on the Bill when there are so many other pressing problems in the countryside that I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, would far rather have debated. I refer to the problem of rural poverty, the pressures on small rural schools, the closure of rural post offices and the inadequacy of rural transport. They are matters about which I would have preferred to speak, even to march on. However, the Countryside Alliance has been hijacked by the pro-hunting lobby. That has made it difficult for people like me to support it.

The theme of my contribution to the debate is "drawing the line". My position is that I am convinced that the hunting of wild mammals with dogs is cruel and unnecessary, both in the chase and in the kill. I therefore wish to see it banned altogether.

I have had to sit through this debate to hear myself called "ignorant, hypocritical, illiberal, prejudiced" and "fanatical". I forgive you all and do not intend to return the compliment.

Those noble Lords who think me ignorant and hypocritical are probably not interested in the reasons why I take my position. However, I intend to tell them. It has nothing to do with where I live. This is not about town or country. I speak with the voice of the country, but I also speak with the voice of the town, having spent half my life in each.

Thirty years ago I lived on a farm on the edge of a national park. I kept free-range chickens. Although there were plenty of foxes around, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, I never lost one to a fox. There was a local hunt, but the vast majority of the foxes culled were shot by the farmers. I believe that all over the country that is the case. I was then, and have continued to be, familiar with the issues relating to hunting and the views of the hunting fraternity.

In coming to my conclusions about the Bill I have taken a cool, calm look at the issues. I do not romanticise the hunt, neither do I take an overemotional view of animal welfare. I read the Burns report. I asked myself three questions: first, is the hunting of wild animals with dogs wrong? In other words, is it cruel and unnecessary? Secondly, should I, as a Liberal Democrat, seek to stop people doing it? Thirdly, do any of the arguments of the opponents of the ban overturn the answers to the first two questions? My answers to those three questions are "yes", "yes" and "no".

Is the kill humane? The RSPCA and the noble Lord, Lord Burns, think not. I do not quote his report but what he said in the debate. I wrote it down verbatim. He said that he feels that the kill in the hunt falls short of standards we would expect for a humane kill. I agree. Since there are other more humane ways of culling foxes that endanger livestock, particularly with the special provisions for flushing out with dogs in certain terrain provided for in option 3 of the Bill, I believe that hunting with dogs is not necessary to control the population of foxes. It certainly is not necessary to control the population of hares and deer. Therefore, it is mainly done for sport.

I have no objection to people enjoying the countryside on horseback. It is a wonderful pastime and to be encouraged. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, whose speech I admired and whose views I respect, can continue to enjoy her perspective of the countryside from the back of a horse for many years to come. But I do not believe that she needs to cause the inhumane death of wild animals in order to do so.

At this stage, I would not expect the hunting fraternity to show willing to convert to new versions of drag hunting. They are taking a position. But I am convinced that if hunting with hounds is banned, that is what many of them will do. Therefore, the loss of jobs will be negligible and easily absorbable into the countryside economy. I do not minimise the matter of job losses. Every job matters. But most of the jobs in hunting are associated with horse ownership, and most of those will not be affected by an outright ban.

Society has a right to draw the line somewhere. As we become more enlightened, we move the position of that line. A century ago little boys were sent up chimneys. It is because we stopped tolerating that that it is now illegal. A century ago people could treat their domestic pets with great cruelty without any sanction. A century ago women could not even vote. Today, two of the most brilliant speeches in this debate have been made by women. Nowadays, there are laws about cruelty to animals, and quite right too. But I agree with the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, that there is a cruel event at the core of hunting with dogs. That makes it quite inconsistent with our other laws on animal welfare.

Good law is consistent law. I am a liberal and I believe that, on the whole, people should be allowed to behave as they please unless they are hurting other people or another living thing in a way that is unnecessary. However, I believe that society has the right to make laws to prevent unnecessary cruelty, especially to sentient mammals with highly developed nervous systems. That is where I draw my line. That is why I support our laws on animal welfare that criminalise people who badly mistreat animals, either domestic or otherwise. By the way, there are many regulations about how one treats rats and other laboratory animals.

I very much regret the need to disagree with many Members of your Lordships' House for whom I have the most enormous respect and admiration. However, I do so sincerely on my own moral and ethical principles. I ask that they hold my views in the same respect as I do theirs. I do not think it illiberal to seek to stop something I believe to be wrong. However, I believe that killing other living animals for sport is not a thing that dignifies humanity. Options one and two are licensed cruelty in my view and not worthy of a civilised, enlightened society. I therefore recommend a total ban to your Lordships.

12.38 a.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I must first explain that although I am a member of the Green Party, what I am about to say does not represent Green Party policy. My party is in favour of the abolition of hunting with dogs and that policy will be included in its manifesto for the forthcoming election.

Secondly, I should like to explain why I feel qualified to differ from my party and from the elected majority of the House of Commons on this issue. Quite simply, I spent the first third of my life hunting and the last two-thirds thinking about the ethics of it.

I was fortunate enough to be the son of a master of foxhounds in two countries and therefore was able to hunt four days a week during the winter holidays. That was one of the happiest times of my life. I was also an honorary whip to the beagles at both Oxford and Cambridge, joint-master of the draghounds at Oxford and a whip to the drag at Cambridge, thus completing what I think must be an unparalleled quartet of positions.

That period of my life reached a terminus, so to speak, when my father died. His coffin went down the avenue from his house to the church, of which he was a church warden, preceded by the hounds that he had bred, and at his burial, after the Protestant clergyman had consigned him to his grave, the Roman Catholic huntsman blew "Gone to Ground".

The next hunting day afterwards, hounds met at the kennels, put up a fox at the first cover they drew and ran four miles straight to my father's grave. I was out walking that day and saw them pour over the wall into the graveyard before losing the scent some 100 yards further on. This story has been documented and the obvious criticisms which could be attracted to it have been refuted. That was the last time I saw hounds hunting.

In the meantime, I had been ordained and had studied moral theology and I have been thinking about the ethics of fox hunting on and off ever since. I have come to two firm conclusions. First, I would not now willingly take part in a hunt. That is not just because I am old and decrepit. I am 72 and my maternal grandfather was 84 when he died in your Lordships' House, having ridden a five-mile point to hounds barely six weeks before. Why I will not do it is because hunting is not part of the good life to which I believe that I am personally called.

During the time that I have been in your Lordships' House, I believe that I can say accurately that I have been the foremost proponent of animal welfare since the death of Douglas Houghton. I have introduced three Bills concerning the protection of animals, of which two completed their passage through this House. But they were concerned with the protection of farmed animals, who are in our power and whom we treat abominably, far more than we ill treat any wild animal. Our relationship to wild animals is far more complex.

In the case of an animal like the fox, a predator himself but with no natural predators except for man, I believe that our duty, as far as we can, is to establish a regime which controls population numbers while keeping the population healthy. That is best done by a complex approach which includes fox hunting. If you abolish fox hunting, there would be a virtual extinction of foxes in some parts of the country, combined with a large but very unhealthy population elsewhere.

That is why I shall not vote for abolition. As for the other two options, as a liberal by nature I dislike over-regimentation. Nevertheless I see no real harm and some virtues in a system of licensing hunts and will, God willing, vote for that at Committee stage.

12.42 a.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I wish to claim credit for giving the shortest speech in this Second Reading debate. It will be a short and personal speech. My grandfather on my mother's side was a member of the Labour Party for all of his life. He was also a hill farmer on Dartmoor. He had 45 acres and he ran his cattle and sheep up on the moor. As a boy and a young man, I spent many of my holidays on Dartmoor, so I think that I understand well the integral part played by hunting in farming life in the Dartmoor area.

On my grandfather's farm we regularly undertook puppy walking; fallen animals were regularly collected by the local hunt; my grandmother's turkey house was regularly raided and on occasion we had to call in the terriermen to take care of the foxes. I know that I am right to say that that rhythm of farming life continues today in a very active form.

However, it would be quite wrong for me to give an impression that my grandfather hunted because he supported rural traditions or some form of rural social services. That is not the case at all. He hunted because he enjoyed it. He enjoyed the thrill of the chase and he liked to see the hounds working. In fact, he enjoyed it so much that he hunted until he was well into his 80s. The question for me, therefore, is a question of motivation. That is the nub of the issue.

Certainly, what my noble friends who have spoken tonight and many friends in the Labour Party find distasteful, if not disgusting, is the enjoyment which people derive when they go out to hunt. My noble friend Lord Watson called this a question of morality. I agree that it is a question of morality, and it is that point which I wish to address.

I have been a Member of the House for 10 years now and there have been a number of issues on which I have voted to liberalise the law in relation to human activities in which I have never participated myself and which, in an emotional sense, I do not really understand. I voted to liberalise the law because I think it is right, particularly for this House, to be tolerant of minority groups which choose to live a way of life that the majority does not understand. That is a libertarian point—I hate to use that word because it has been so much adopted by the party opposite—which I understand.

I find it much more difficult to explain my second reason for wishing to address the issue of motivation. It concerns the way I felt as a young man on that farm in Dartmoor, where I did not hunt myself but I knew a lot of people who did go out to hunt. I simply do not accept that they were acting in any kind of inhuman way. I do not believe that their hunting diminished them in any way at all. I would say quite the contrary. People who spend their whole working lives caring for animals, breeding animals, occasionally killing animals and hunting animals, show animals a proper respect. I use that word in an urban sense, in the way in which many of our urban minorities use it; that is, treating people with respect; treating them as they should be treated.

In his opening speech, the noble Lord, Lord McNally—who is about to sit down in his place—spoke about the editorial in the Observer in which a distinction was drawn between the thrill of the chase and the cruelty of the kill. He said that that distinction was too fine a line to draw in this day and age. I understand that distinction very clearly having seen the people who engage in hunting activities. I do not think that it is too fine a line. It is something which is clearly understood by those who are active in the hunting world.

I shall not vote for a ban on fox hunting. I shall listen sympathetically to the arguments for a middle way. I would say to members of my own Front Bench that it is for Parliament as a whole to decide when a simple majority is not enough. I believe that this is one case where a majority will not do.

12.47 a.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I was not sure whether or not to speak at this late hour but, having listened to nearly all of this fascinating debate, I feel that there are two brief points which should be made in a way in which they have not quite been made already. They concern the balance of pain which may be endured by foxes when they are hunted, on the one hand, or when they are shot, on the other.

My first point is that people who have done little or no shooting—they include most of the people who support a ban on hunting—generally believe that shooting accurately is much easier than it really is. I suspect that one of the reasons for this unhelpful belief is the way that shooting has been represented over many years on television and in films, which is all that most opponents of hunting ever see of shooting. I fear that they may remember the countless occasions when the Lone Ranger, or some similar hero, casually raised his rifle, fired, and some hapless Red Indian dropped stone dead off the top of a ridge several hundred yards away. Our cinema culture has even made it look fairly easy for James Bond and others of his ilk to kill people stone dead with a pistol, which is in fact extremely difficult, even after an awful lot of practice and at close range.

I make this point against the background that most opponents of hunting, including all of your Lordships who have spoken today, agree that foxes will still need to be killed even if hunting is banned. I assume that we need not go into the pain caused by snaring, gassing and so on; the alternative appears to be shooting.

The question is whether foxes will suffer more pain being shot than being hunted. Here I must bring in my personal experience. In doing so, I fear that I may alienate the hunting fraternity as well as its opponents because hunting folk do not approve of shooting foxes.

I gave up riding on my ninth birthday, largely, like my noble friend Lord Ferrers, out of fear. My pony was too large for me and it had an awkward habit of biting me when the grown-ups were not looking. I have never been hunting. Indeed, the terrain of Rannoch Moor where I have since lived is altogether too boggy and difficult to ride over at all, let alone to hunt. I have to say that, having heard this debate, I regret that we do not have a foot pack. I am sure that it would have been a better way to control our foxes than shooting them. I also see that a foot pack would be a tremendous help to our somewhat dispersed and difficult social fabric.

But we do not have a foot pack, so I have to confess that I have shot, or stood next to someone who has shot, several dozen foxes over the years. I have shot them, and I have seen them shot, with both shotguns and rifles. I have to tell your Lordships that very few have died instantaneously, and some have escaped wounded. Foxes are very tough, wiry creatures. When shot with a shotgun, even at close quarters, they nearly always require a second barrel, and often a dog will even then get to them before they die.

So the vision of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who I regret is not in his place—he may have gone to bed—of foxes being driven out of woods to waiting "trained marksmen" who dispatch them instantaneously, like that mythical Red Indian in the Lone Ranger film, is simply not realistic. It will not be like that. There will be many deaths lasting several minutes, and there will be many foxes which get away wounded, to die in circumstances at which one can only guess. That is where the balance of pain seems to me to shift inevitably in favour of hunting. If the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and his supporters think that his "trained marksmen", whoever they will be, will be better shots than most of the people I have seen shooting foxes, then, with the greatest respect, I have to say to him that he is likely to be wrong.

So a fox's death by shooting is seldom instantaneous. Even lamping at night with a rifle, which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said that he favoured, produces its wounded animals, which are then more difficult to find at night than they are during the day.

It therefore seems to me that the balance of pain in the death of a fox lies clearly in favour of hunting and against shooting; so I very much hope that this Government will not allow it to be banned.

12.53 a.m.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, to say the least. Those of us who are speaking against hunting understand what a fox must feel like when it is being pursued. So many noble Lords have expressed the opposite opinion.

One thing that I disliked from the beginning was the attempt to portray the Bill as an urban-versus-village measure. I have never lived in an urban area, except when in London. I have always resided in a village at the foot of the Pennines. I say to noble Lords that their description of life in a village does not match my conception of life in a village. The people in my village and all the other villages in the area are, as has been said. more concerned about the quality of schools, rural transport, jobs and the bus service. Indeed, one of the last great debates we had related to an attempt to save a bank that was being closed. That is what concerns people in villages, not hunting. Listening to noble Lords, one would think—

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords—

Lord Henley

My Lords—

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, if the noble Lord desires to intervene, I do not mind. I already have two noble Lords attempting to intervene.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I did not actually want to get up and speak. However, if the noble Lord wants to pose such questions, why are we not discussing those matters rather than the Bill that is now before the House?

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, we shall be doing that tomorrow!

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, we have had the opportunity to discuss these matters in the past. All I am telling noble Lords is what people in my village perceive as being the important subjects. Indeed, I should go further and say that, if we relied on the hunt to keep the number of foxes down in the area where I live, we would be over-run by them. In fact, that conclusion was reached by the Burns report. From a pest control point of view, the report also found that fox hunting does not keep the numbers down in the lowland areas. That is not my view; that was the conclusion reached by the report.

Earl Peel

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?

Lord Hoyle

No, my Lords. I really do not want to give way. I have given way twice. I do not mind giving way. Indeed, if noble Lords want to stay a bit longer, I shall certainly give way.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I intervene only because I believe that we are all trying to seek the facts here. I am sorry, but I have to tell the noble Lord that the independent research carried out by the Game Conservancy Trust, as part of the Burns inquiry, showed clearly that hunting does have an impact on fox populations in certain parts of lowland Britain.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, the noble Earl is entitled to say that. Of course, evidence was given to the Burns committee to that effect. However, I am saying that the conclusion reached by the Burns report—and he tells me that he has read it—is that as a form of pest control hunting is not an effective method in lowland areas. Whether or not the noble Earl likes that is neither here nor there. He is quite entitled to his opinions. I have listened with great diligence to many of the opinions expressed in the debate. All I ask is that noble Lords listen to those who may be opposed to their views.

My noble friend Lord Ponsonby said that hunting is about pleasure. I take the opposite view. In my opinion, hunting is a cruel sport. When talking about this, many noble Lords do not compare it with bear baiting, cock fighting, and so on. Nearly all of the views expressed tonight about human liberties and about taking away people's rights were expressed in relation to those sports when such matters were debated in this and in the other place. I want to put that on record.

Much of the debate has been about foxes. Not so much has been said about deer and, indeed, a little less has been said about hares which, in many instances, mainly because of farming methods, are an endangered species. I believe it needs to be said that some of us do not arrive at the same position in this place.

I am very pleased about the number of libertarians that we have discovered in this House. I hope that those views will be expressed on other matters, not just on fox hunting, stag hunting or, perhaps, hare coursing. As a libertarian myself, I should just like to say—indeed, it has already been said—that I can go along with whatever a person engages in, provided that it does not affect other human beings or living creatures. I believe that hunting does affect living creatures. That is why I cannot go along with it.

I turn now to the middle-way option. I do not believe that there is a middle way in this matter. I admire those who favour hunting, and I understand! where they are coming from. But the middle way will not get rid of the cruelty inherent in hunting. The chase will still continue. Little has been said about terrier work—that is, digging up foxes—which the Burns report found causes injury not only to the foxes but also to the terriers. That is yet another fault.

There is also the issue of the class divide. The argument is not about that at all. Yes, many noble Lords from the other side of the House have spoken on the issue. However, when one looks at hare coursing, it will be seen that that is mainly carried out by the working class. So that difference does not exist. It is a question of whether or not one believes that it is cruel. I cannot agree that the middle way is a solution. It still has the element of the chase and the animal is killed at the end of the day.

I say to my noble friends who may support the middle way that there is one thing which ought to be borne in mind when we compare the views of the massive majority in the other place and those of this Chamber. This is not an elected House. I do not mind my noble friend behind me muttering but I should say that what we do here is to examine and reform Bills that come before us. I remind my noble friend who was formerly a Member of the other place that at the end of the day those in another place who have taken certain decisions have to face the electorate and gain another mandate. I accept that the Bill will not make much further progress as it will be overtaken by a general election. However, whether or not it makes progress, the matter will come back again and again until hunting is banned.

1.1 a.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, like many speakers in this debate I am conscious of the ways in which complex social divisions in our nation affect and even determine the way people respond to the question before us.

I was brought up in the Scottish countryside where for many hunting is a way of life and has been for many centuries. I worked in urban Manchester where for many it is at best an irrelevance. I have also worked in suburban Surrey where animal rights activists are, if I may say so, rampant and roaring.

When I look at the Portsmouth diocese I see in many ways a microcosm of the United Kingdom, urban, suburban and rural including, in Idsworth, a church dedicated to St Hubert. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, for writing my next St Hubert's Day sermon for me. However, I know that the real picture is more complex still, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out earlier this morning.

I know farmers who are keen on regulation and I know city dwellers like the cab driver I recently met who would heartily welcome fox hunting in their backyards. On a broader picture, however, the reality is that life is even more complex and interrelated. Cities are dependent upon the agriculture industry for many products; farming communities depend upon urban areas for the markets they represent. In between lie areas of rural suburbia where tensions often lie hidden because of differing expectations. The plain truth is that we are enmeshed one with another whether we like it or not in just the same way as we are enmeshed with global markets and resources. What concerns me is that there is an increasing polarisation between these twin aspects of our society in a way which is proving damaging to the nation as a whole. For that reason I support the so-called "middle way" which I believe will in some degree promote a sense of understanding and level-headedness in this whole matter.

That leads me to the second of two points that I wish to raise which is rarely touched upon in open debate. It is the philosophical one—which some would say is also spiritual—of how we understand sentient beings. The matter was touched upon in some speeches earlier but it has not really had a full hearing. This too is an area where it is possible to perceive that there are sharp divisions where under the surface there is a great deal more complexity. I believe that this is something which deserves more attention than it has so far received.

There will be those who argue—as they have in the course of this debate—that human society in terms of employment as well as culture should not be held to ransom by what is regarded as a pest, or at least as an animal to be culled among many in the countryside. Equally, others will argue, as they have in this debate, that if human beings are truly a civilised and civilising force there should be no need to engage in such activities as hunting for pleasure.

All this seems to me to conceal the fact that we have not yet had a full and informed debate here and elsewhere about whether all animals, including human beings, have the same rights to life and liberty, or whether there are genuine or de facto differences which preclude that. I refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I know that the Judaeo-Christian tradition has some important resources to bring to this discussion, particularly in the Hebrew scriptures, Ezekiel, and in Revelations where one has the vision of the four living creatures—the human being, the lion, the ox and the eagle—which emphasises our unity with the rest of the created order and our distinctiveness from it.

I believe that it is precisely because that kind of debate has not been held that the question over fox hunting has aroused such emotions. The different groups involved are speaking different languages. We are divided by a common tongue; and until we face those wider questions about human nature and our relationship with the rest of the created order, I do not believe that there will be any lasting resolution of the question before us.

1.6 a.m.

The Earl of Carnarvon

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Standing Conference on Countryside Sports. My first hunting experience was when, returning from the war, I was invited by my commanding officer to have a day's hunting with the Pytchley. At the end of the day I wondered whether it was more frightening to be in Italy or hunting with the Pytchley, following my commanding officer who was a great rider.

Several references to Exmoor and stag hunting by other noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Earl, Lord Arran, remind me of my report in 1977 which was commissioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, when Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture. Red deer were a major factor in the conservation of the moor. Against the advice of my two assessors, both senior civil servants, I decided to include the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds in my report to the Government. On page 19, that report states: Stag hunting and fox hunting are both notable features of the Exmoor way of life. Whilst it may come as a surprise to some and prompt the wrath of others, it is undeniable that stag hunting on Exmoor operates as a force for conservation. The stag hunt is supported by almost every member of the farming community and this guarantees the deer's continuing existence. In the normal run of things, they can do considerable damage to crops and, without the active participation of the farmers in the hunts, their days would be numbered. Moreover, such is the local interest in stag hunting that substantial areas of land within the Critical Amenity Area are corporately owned with a view to securing the deer's habitat. So long as stag hunting continues it is unlikely that such land will be substantially altered by conversion or enclosure". My report received an unopposed Second Reading but never reached the statute book because the Labour government fell. The people of Exmoor whom I met then and know now are not interested in cricket and football, and other forms of sport. For 11 months of the year, their lives are involved with hunting either foxes or stags.

Last week I was very impressed with a teach-in by the chairman of ISAH, Sir Ronald Waterhouse. ISAH is a possible way ahead, but I strongly recommend that two new commissioners be appointed by the Home Secretary to make ISAH efficient and official. The noble Lords, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Soulsby, and, I believe, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, would support such a move.

Finally, there has been much talk in the Chamber about the liberty of the individual. I shall quote a statement by John Stuart Mill, philosopher and Member of Parliament in the late 19th century. He said: If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would he justified in silencing mankind".

1.11 a.m.

Lord Dahrendorf

My Lords, I do not know how it happened that I find myself at the end of this very long list of distinguished speakers—perhaps it is because I am the most ignorant on the subject. I also regret that I have to rob the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, of the prize for the shortest speech, because what I have to say is very simple and consists of five sentences.

I am one of those who find the deliberate killing of any living creature painful and hunting with dogs distasteful. I am also one who profoundly believes that only actions that harm other people and infringe their rights require the force of the law, whereas activities that are merely disagreeable or distasteful to some do not. When it comes to legislation, as a matter of principle I would rather err on the side of restraint than on that of interference. This is what liberty means and to me liberty matters above all other values. For that reason, I prefer the option of self-regulation of hunting with dogs and am strongly opposed to the idea of a ban.

1.13 a.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, next Sunday, had it not been for the recent tragic outbreaks of foot and mouth, London would have been full of at least half a million people marching under the banner, "Liberty and Livelihood". The countryside would have been able to have its say against a ban on hunting. I am against a ban on hunting. I declare an interest. I have hunted all my life. I have been master of my local hunt, the Old Berks, and I am now chairman of the hunt.

There are four myths about hunting that shall try to expose this evening: first, the myth that hunting is not an integral part of the countryside; then the myth of cruelty; then the myth that foxes would he better off without hunting; and finally the myth that there is a moral case against hunting.

I shall not refer to any noble Lord by name—it would take too long even to read out the names of the 60 or so noble Lords who have spoken this evening—but I shall try to pick up the various strands of the debate.

Like the Countryside March, this debate is about liberty and livelihood. I start by quoting from the editorial of the Farmers Weekly on 26th January: Only a mass peaceful protest thronging the streets of London on March 18th will be enough to make government listen to what the countryside has to say. It will be a march neither solely in defence of hunting, nor dedicated to the promotion of other country pursuits. Its relevance is broader. Its significance deeper. Its need for success outweighs any special interest group". The editorial went on to say: At stake lies not just the freedom of individuals to choose whether to support country traditions, important though they are. At the heart of this march is the survival of our farming industry, the beautiful countryside within its care and thousands of rural communities". Hunting is part of rural communities. There are 178 hunts in this country that average 74 days' hunting each. That amounts to 13,172 days in total. That does not mean that one cannot live in a rural community without being involved in hunting or other field sports. Many people are not, and they pursue other interests. However, last year 4,000 hunt functions took place, with an overall attendance of 1.3 million people. Millions more attended events associated with shooting and fishing.

We all benefit from the richness and diversity of our countryside, which has evolved over many years. ft is a largely man-made countryside, tended by those who live in it and care for it. To quote the Burns report: Hunting has clearly played a very significant role in he past in the formation of the rural landscape and in the creation and management of areas of nature conservation". I believe that the English countryside is a common possession. It is, after all, criss-crossed by ancient rights of way, footpaths, byways and bridle paths. It is our common inheritance and it occupies a favourite place in every English person's image of his homeland.

This Bill is intolerant and anti-democratic. It threatens all those rights and the English countryside by attacking those who live in it and work in it, whether on farms, in villages or in towns.

Animals are not moral beings. They have neither rights nor duties. They are not sovereign over their own lives and they can commit no crimes. If they were moral beings, how could we justify killing them for food, capturing or confining them? It would follow that lions would be murderers, magpies would be thieves and mice would be burglars. The fox would be the worst of all living criminals, killing not only for food but for wanton pleasure.

The reality is that there is a cycle of life and death in the animal world. Those who promote Utopian animal rights promote ecological anarchism. Some people believe that animals have similar rights to humans. In his book Unfettered Kingdom, John Bryant of the League Against Cruel Sports writes on pets: Pet animals should be completely phased out of existence … Pet animals are slaves and prisoners". He goes on to say that he wants, to watch a herd of domestic horses freed of the trappings of slavery". The consequences of letting pets and horses roam free would be an ecological disaster in this country.

If there is one issue from the Burns report that has caused more debate than any other it is that relating to cruelty. Opponents of hunting claim that the Burns report says that hunting is cruel. I cannot find any reference in the report to back up that claim. As my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior said, the Burns report did not conclude that hunting is cruel.

In chapter 6, paragraph 49, the report states that hunting, seriously compromises the welfare of the fox". However, it states that, insensibility and death will normally follow within a matter of seconds once the fox is caught". It goes on to say: None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective". That is not the same as cruelty. Sending an animal to a slaughterhouse compromises its welfare: it comes out dead. Shooting a pheasant compromises its welfare. Catching a trout in a river and netting cod in the sea compromises the fishes' welfare—they end up on a plate.

What about the domestic cat which is let out at night when small birds are on their nests? And what about animal experiments? Do not they, too, compromise the animal's welfare? All those actions compromise the welfare of animals, but that does not necessarily make them all cruel. If angling involved lifting a fish out of the water to cause it pain rather than returning it or dispatching it quickly, we might have a different view of angling, although little might differ in the fish's perception.

Would foxes be better off in the world if they were not hunted? Would they enjoy a happier and easier life and an easier death? The fox would gain nothing from the abolition of hunting. Faced with that evidence, two former directors of the League Against Cruel Sports abandoned their advocacy of a ban on hunting.

Hunting a fox discriminates against the old and the diseased. It is not easy to catch a healthy fox. Shooting foxes, while necessary in some parts of England, discriminates against bold and healthy animals. Hunting involves the pursuit of the quarry in its wild and natural state and the quarry encounters nothing outside its natural repertoire of defences.

As we heard, hunting, like many sports, brings together people from all walks of life. Just come hunting and have a look. It is old Labour cant to suggest otherwise. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is old Labour and he is fighting old battles. He recently said on Radio 4: Every time I see the Countryside Alliance's contorted faces. I redouble my determination to abolish foxhunting". The only contorted face I see is his when confronted by farmers at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth.

Those who are against hunting seem to object most not to hunting with hounds but to the followers. Let us remember that it is the hounds that do the hunting and that the followers follow the hounds on foot, horse, bicycle or car. It is that pleasure—of following the hounds—that seems to cause more bitterness than anything else to those who are against hunting.

Before I deal with the Bill in a bit more detail I should commend the Government on setting up the Burns inquiry. I do not often commend the Government so I hope that the noble and learned Lord will appreciate that commendation. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee on their extremely fine report.

The Bill as it stands has much wrong with it. Anyone who puts an injured animal out of its misery could be branded a criminal. The Bill reverses the normal burden of proof, which is contrary to a recent ruling of the European Court of Justice. The Bill offers us three options: a ban, independent supervision and regulation. This House must have the opportunity to consider and to vote on all three options.

The second option involves the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting and is my preferred option. It was set up following the Phelps review of hunting and had been recommended as far back as the Scott-Henderson inquiry. Since its creation, hunting has shown that it conducts its sport in a responsible manner. The ISAH has had no complaints since its inception, even from the "antis". That is a record that other sports would find hard to match.

Licensing is seen as the middle way. It does not satisfy the "banners" of this world. It is anathema to the likes of Tony Banks, a Member of another place, who recently said in an article in the Independent: I am convinced that in years to come we will regard eating animal flesh in the same light as we now regard cannibalism". One can see why he chooses to fight an urban seat.

The Government brought forward the Bill for one reason: because they received a donation of £1.1 million from the political animal lobby. A large donation can get one a lot from the Government: a ban on tobacco advertising lifted, a passport and an awful lot of tickets to the Dome. That is new Labour showing itself at its most cynical. The Government have allowed a Bill to be introduced so late in the parliamentary timetable that it cannot succeed. They knew that when they started this process.

In short, they want more money from the political animal lobby, more donations to fight the next election. Look at those groups that are lobbying the Government. Deadline 2000 is made up of three organisations. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is not a charity; it is a lobbying group. It has no membership, and therefore none of the accountability that a membership organisation would have, and it has been accused, in America, of misusing its funds. The League Against Cruel Sports is an organisation that is dedicated to the disruption of hunting. Its press officer, Andrew Walsley, the public face of the League, pleaded guilty to taking part in a riot at Hillgrove Farm in 1998. He was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for violent disorder. When leaders deny the role of their extremist members and violent acts, they sound less convincing than the most fervent IRA Sinn Fein apologist.

The RSPCA is the third part of this triumvirate. It will be judged by the company it keeps, and it will be judged harshly. Sadly, now it is an organisation that is more obsessed with animal rights than animal welfare.

There are other extremist groups, including the Animal Rights Militia, which openly promote violence. Only yesterday, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front refused to condemn the extremists among its ranks who have targeted MPs who are pro-hunting.

A ban on hunting would lead to pressure on shooting and fishing. The Prime Minister says that he is not against shooting and fishing, but the political animal lobby and its friends, the people who are in favour of ethical treatment of animals, do not agree. They want to start a national campaign against anglers. Their spokesman, Andrew Butler, stated recently: We are planning demonstrations at fish and chip shops across the country. We therefore have to ask the Government, should they win the next election, which I doubt: if £1.1 million was all it took to ban hunting, how much will it take to ban shooting—£2 million or £4 million? How much will it take to ban angling—£5 million or £10 million?

The Government ought to be concentrating on the crisis in British agriculture, a crisis that is affecting all those involved in farming and rural industries. Rural tourism is also in crisis: hotels, holiday lets, bed and breakfast establishments are all facing economic disaster, but no compensation will be offered to them. The Government should be dealing with the crises in rural schools, rural hospitals, and the cuts in police numbers in rural areas.

I agree with the right reverend Prelates. The moral objection to hunting is not one that I can accept, however honestly or deeply it is felt; nor can I accept the gesture politics of those who vote for a ban just after finishing their steak for dinner.

Many people disapprove of religious slaughter of animals, but it does not follow that this practice, which is central to the lives of Jews and Muslims, should be banned. Tolerance of minorities is one of the traditional English virtues, but it does not seem to be one of new Labour's.

I conclude with a warning to the Government: to allow a ban would be a cynical use of the tyranny of the majority to settle the question without regard to the rights of a minority. A large majority of noble Lords who have spoken this evening spoke against a ban. The Minister is very patient, and we look forward to his response.

1.30 a.m.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, since 1979, 22 Private Members' Bills have been promoted in another place to ban hunting. Since the election, 100,000 letters have been received by the Home Secretary in relation to the hunting issue, some for and some against abolition. In those circumstances there cannot be any doubt that it is a significantly controversial issue in this country.

As my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton stated, there is absolutely no prospect of a Bill getting time for a full debate in both Houses of Parliament, unless government time is given to such a Bill. That is what the Government have decided to do. They are neutral on the issue of whether or not hunting should be abolished. The Bill contains three options: one has been drafted by the Middle Way Group, one by the Countryside Alliance, of which my noble friend Lady Mallalieu is the president, and a proposal to abolish drafted by Deadline 2000.

The approach of a multi-option Bill gives the House and the other place the option to consider what should happen to hunting in the long term. We believe it right for Parliament to decide what happens. In the light of the history of this matter, we feel that Parliament should have a proper opportunity to consider what should happen to hunting. It is well known in this House that there was a majority in excess of 200 in the other place to adopt the Deadline 2000 approach. No doubt noble Lords will bear that in mind in their consideration of this Bill and the options contained in it.

It is not for the Government, taking a neutral stance as they do, to answer the impressive issues raised in the course of this debate on both sides of the argument. We are facilitating Parliament making a decision on this controversial issue. Other members of the Government made clear that other issues have a higher priority than the issue of hunting—health, education and crime. But this is a controversial issue that has been around for a long time and it is right that Parliament should have a proper debate on it.

That is our approach to the matter. That approach was made clear in the last manifesto when we said that Parliament would have a free vote. It was made clear when the Bill was introduced in another place. That is the reason it was introduced. There is no sinister reason. It is perfectly clear and perfectly sensible. I note that the noble Earl, Lord Peel, welcomed the opportunity for this debate so that greater light could be shone on the issues relating to hunting. So the Government have taken a perfectly responsible stance.

Today in this House we have had a good and clear debate. On both sides of the issue views have been expressed with great clarity, passion and persuasiveness. There is obviously more to come.

Perhaps I may mention two specific points in relation to procedure and hunting generally. First, I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cope—sadly in my absence, but it was passed straight on to me—whether the Parliament Act will be used in relation to the Bill. It is much too early a stage, only half-way through the process, to give any indication in that regard. Let us get through the process before we start talking about the end game.

Secondly, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, gave me notice before the debate that he intended to raise the issue of unlawful and criminal threats posed by animal rights extremists, both to people engaged in the hunting debate and also engaged in animal experimentation. Like the noble Earl, I utterly and unreservedly condemn such activity and join with all noble Lords who made that point. We utterly condemn anybody who resorts to that sort of action in relation to this issue.

The noble Earl asked what the Government are doing about it. We are doing four things. First, we included in a recent Bill police power to disperse protesters more easily than before; secondly, we increased the penalties for malicious communications; thirdly, we removed the obligation on directors of certain companies to provide their home addresses in publications to avoid their being attacked, as we all know one of the directors of Huntingdon Life Sciences was attacked. In addition, we made a special grant available to the Cambridgeshire Police Authority to meet the costs of policing at Huntingdon Life Sciences.

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and a number of other noble Lords, raised the issue of a number of Labour MPs who had been threatened because of their opposition to a ban. They reported the matter to police who gave them certain advice in relation to how to deal with it. But it is an important issue and requires unreserved condemnation and proper support for those who are threatened by it. I know that the whole House will join me in that view.

I join with everyone in expressing the Government's gratitude for the depth of the study and the information contained in it. The report was entirely fit for its purpose; namely, providing the basis on which an informed debate could take place on this important issue. There is absolutely no doubt that the right course was taken in asking the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his team to make the report. It has made for a much more informed debate than it would otherwise have been.

Perhaps I may try to deal with only the important points. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, it would be wrong to read out everybody's name. That would lead to my speech being longer, which would not be acceptable at twenty-five minutes to two in the morning.

An important issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. In effect it was to ask what is the difference in the criteria that apply to shooting and fishing to that applying to hunting which require it to be banned. Fearful that I might forget the matter, the noble Lord handed me the question in writing after he delivered his speech, which was very helpful. I hope that I have accurately expressed the question. It has been expressed by others also throughout the debate.

We are putting this matter before Parliament for it to decide what it wishes to do. We have done that because of the constant interest in the hunting issue over the past 20 years and before. There is huge public interest in it. There is no such public interest or support in relation to any sort of ban on fishing or shooting. We have absolutely no intention of bringing forward a similar Bill in that regard. It is quite wrong to say that public interest in the hunting issue is the same as that in relation to angling and shooting. They are different and one should recognise that. That is why this Bill has been brought forward.

The distinction between shooting and fishing on the one hand and hunting on the other will no doubt inform the debate. What we have done as a government is allow Parliament to properly debate the issues.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Her Majesty's Government have not only chosen hunting for attack. They have firmly promised not to attack shooting or fishing. That must mean that they have in their own mind the criteria that make hunting unacceptable whereas fishing and shooting are acceptable. What we have all been asking for a very long time is: what are those criteria? We have been asking for them, but they have never been given.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, that is a totally unfair summary of the Government's position. They have not put forward hunting for attack. They have put forward a multi-option Bill, one of which, drafted by I SAH, is self-regulation. We have done that and the reasons for it were made clear in the Commons and here. It is because it is an issue of great controversy. There have been 20 Bills in 22 years or 22 Bills in 20 years. There have been 100,000 letters. It is a huge controversy and proper parliamentary time has been made available for the debate to take place. Such controversy does not attend on either fishing or shooting. The extent to which that argument plays a part in the debate is a matter for Parliament to decide. We have always made our position clear on that matter. So, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, he is wrong when he says that we attack one and not the other. We provide Parliament with a multi-option Bill and Parliament must then make the decision.

Lord Denham

My Lords, I do not want to keep noble Lords at this late hour. It is not only the fact that they have provided the facilities for the one; the Government have also guaranteed that, if the Hunting Bill goes through, they will not similarly attack shooting or fishing. They have not said this, but they have guaranteed, fullstop, not to attack shooting or fishing if the Hunting Bill goes through.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I do not know whether the word "guarantee" has been used, but it is absolutely right to say that we have no intention to produce a Bill in relation to shooting and fishing, for the reason that there is not the controversy surrounding those activities that exists in relation to hunting. In the past 20 years there have not been 22 Bills in the Commons or 100,000 letters relating to fishing or shooting.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord makes much of the controversy surrounding hunting. If he says that the Home Office has received 100,000 letters, I am sure that that is right, but it is not very difficult for a lobbying group like Deadline 2000 to organise matters so that the Home Office receives 100,000 letters. That is not a sign of major controversy. The reality is that every public opinion poll today, and for some years past, indicates that if people are asked about their priorities, they list health, education, crime and every one of the important issues; hunting always comes at the bottom. The reason why there have been 20 Private Members' Bills is not that the general public are interested in hunting—they could not give a damn about it—but because a large and effective lobbying group has imprisoned one particular political party. There is no interest in hunting on the part of the general public.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, some of the 100,000 letters were in favour of hunting and some against it. In the other place there was a majority in favour of the measure well in excess of the majority which the Labour Party enjoys in the House of Commons. The fact that there have been 22 Bills is nothing to do with "imprisonment"; it indicates that there is an issue here which needs to be resolved. We believe that this issue requires debate and consideration. Although it is absolutely clear that opinions on hunting are held very strongly not just in this place but outside it, that is not a reason for failing to debate it properly. That does not mean that the views expressed by a number of noble Lords in this House will not prevail, but it is a sufficiently important issue for it to be properly debated in the context of a Bill that has time.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I understand that the Government have brought this Bill before Parliament because of the controversy that surrounds this matter. Having debated it and recognised that the degree of cruelty does not differ widely as between hunting, fishing and shooting, does my noble friend concede that the argument has now been addressed and we should treat all of them in the same way, or not deal with the matter at all?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I believe that if the basis on which the Bill is introduced is the public controversy that surrounds hunting, it should be treated differently, and that is how it has been done. It is then for Members of the legislature to decide whether they wish to draw a distinction between hunting on the one side and shooting and fishing on the other. The Government's role in this is to facilitate proper debate.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I apologise to the noble and learned Lord for interrupting once again. The Minister keeps returning to the 22 Bills. Can the noble and learned Lord remind the House how many of those Bills dealt with fox hunting? My memory is that a very small number dealt with fox hunting. Some dealt with hare coursing and some with stag hunting, but very few touched fox hunting at all.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the briefing that I have is that 22 of them dealt with hunting with dogs, but perhaps I may write to the noble Lord to tell him how many concerned hare coursing, how many concerned fox hunting, and how many covered all.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Prime Minister has courteously given the undertaking that if this Bill is passed, fishing and shooting will not be attacked while he is Prime Minister. He is of course Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Is it not a fact that if Scotland wishes to introduce measures against shooting and fishing, the Scottish Parliament can do so and, therefore, the diktat of the Prime Minister does not prevail in Scotland?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I believe that the noble Earl is right. I cannot guarantee the position in relation to devolution. I speak for the Government's position in relation to this matter. I deal in this House with legislation that relates to hunting with dogs. The Government have made it absolutely clear that they have no intention whatever of producing a Bill in relation to shooting or fishing.

Although that is very much at the heart of the Government's position, because the Government are facilitators, it is worth making a number of other points. The debate began to revolve against cruelty on the one hand versus liberty on the other. It is for this House to decide what view it takes on how cruel hunting is. It is worth drawing attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said. I am dealing only with fox hunting. We do not have time to deal with anything else this evening. The noble Lord described the effect of fox hunting on the foxes. He concluded: 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". He went on to make the point that one could not tell whether more or fewer foxes would be killed if fox hunting was banned. That was left as an open question. He continued: It is likely that in the event of a ban on hunting, many farmers or landowners would resort to a greater degree than at present to other methods to control the number of foxes. We cannot say if this would lead to more, or fewer, foxes being killed than at present. None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective. … Our tentative conclusion is that lamping using rifles, if carried out properly and in appropriate circumstances. has fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting, including digging-out. However, in areas where lamping is not feasible or safe, there would be a greater use of other methods. We are less confident that the use of shotguns, particularly in daylight, is preferable to hunting from a welfare perspective. We consider that the use of snaring is a particular cause for concern". That was the conclusion reached in relation to the matter. Therefore, he is saying that if fox hunting is banned, lamping is probably less cruel but one cannot tell whether it is useable in every place.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. In my short contribution earlier I mentioned the problem of open access being granted to everyone in the country, which will come into effect later. Obviously, that covers millions of acres of land. If that is so, and the other methods that the noble and learned Lord has just said are not as acceptable, what is his solution to the problem on those acres which will need to be controlled?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, it is for the House to weigh up all the evidence given in the Burns report and make a decision. I seek to draw to the House's attention what the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said on the cruelty issue. There were a whole variety of accounts of what the noble Lord had said and it seemed sensible to identify precisely what he said.

I should try to get on before the day after tomorrow has been reached. There are two other issues to deal with. First, the question of fallen stock. It is clearly the case that if hunts cease to exist they will not be able to provide a fallen stock service to farmers. But it is worth pointing out that the disposal of fallen stock is an issue that goes far wider than the fate of hunt kennels. As a result of BSE controls, farmers have faced increased costs in disposing of their fallen stock and there has been a decline in the number of disposal outlets.

Furthermore, the European Commission has proposed a new animal by-products regulation which is expected to come into force in 2003. As currently drafted, the regulation would ban the burial of ruminant animals that die on a farm; it would introduce environmental standards for small incinerators; and it would require all premises that collect fallen stock to meet certain standards.

The consequence of that is that some hunts may be unable or unwilling to provide a fallen stock service to farmers even if hunting is not banned as a consequence of this legislation. That is why the Government are keen, irrespective, of the Hunting Bill, to address the issue of fallen stock in its broader sense.

There are two final points. If there are any further issues that require an answer from the Government, I shall write to the appropriate noble Lords.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, in an excellent speech, said that there are pros and cons both ways and that it is a matter for understanding on both sides. I earnestly ask the House, in continuing the debate on this issue, that both sides seek to understand the point of view of the other and that the debate is conducted in a civilised and sensible way and in a way that does not seek to increase division but rather to decrease it.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, can he tell me why he is right and Mr Tom Williams, whom I quoted, is wrong?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, it is a matter for the House to decide. What I am saying is that the Bill presents three options and that the House and Parliament as a whole must decide.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord tell us whether he is in favour of a ban?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am here only to facilitate the House to decide which of the three options it likes.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, can he answer the question posed by my noble friends Lord Rotherwick and Lord Astor about the donation from PAL to the Labour Party? How much was it and when was it received? Is the noble and learned Lord able to answer those questions?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am aware of a donation some years ago. It was a very large donation. I understand that PAL also made a six-figure donation to the Conservative Party.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at nine minutes before two o' clock.

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