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Mr. Ridley : I will not give way because I want to be quick. It is probably right to say that of the three remaining methods, hunting is the least cruel. I do not know how the Bill squares with that. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West said that the Bill concerned "entertainment".

Mr. Tony Banks : The right hon. Gentleman said that.

Mr. Ridley : I quoted the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, who said that hunting was "human

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entertainment". If the motive of those who want to stop hunting is to do nothing other than to prevent a form of human entertainment, what sort of slippery slope is that? I know many forms of human entertainment of which I personally do not approve and in which I should not like to take part. [ Hon. Members :-- "Tell us."] I will tell the House. I do not like boxing or football crowds. I can think of many entertainments that are not attractive to other people, but I defend to the utmost the right of people to engage in those sports. Although I have an antipathy to some forms of human entertainment, I should never for a moment want to prevent others from enjoying them. The intrusion of people such as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North into other people's lives to an extent that is far greater than is necessary for the public interest is one of the worst features of the modern Labour party and of those who support the Bill.

A certain understanding, patience and tolerance are necessary if the life and freedom that we have cherished in this country for so long are not to be taken away by those who wish to impose their prejudices on others.

10.21 am

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield) : If that is the last speech made in the House by the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), I can say only that it was a very appropriate one. Having advocated jungle economics for the past 31 years in the House, he now disposes of the matter by revealing his belief that cruelty to animals is a proper form of entertainment.

I have been here for 41 years and I have never had more letters on a subject than the number that I have received on animal rights. Although Conservative Members may find one or two postcards that did not come from their constituencies, I am sure that they will confirm that there is enormous support for the Bill. That support does not come from those who wish to prevent farmers from enjoying themselves. The support comes from people young and old--it is not confined to the young, although it is very strong among them--who believe that cruelty to entertain is wrong, and I share that view.

I remember a woman in her 50s with a bun and horn-rimmed spectacles coming to my surgery many years ago. She had worked all her life in a wool shop until her uncle left her some money. She told me that she had joined the hunt saboteurs. She had reflected when she had a little bit of freedom that her real wish was to stop the brutality against animals in the hunt. As a vegetarian and someone who has always supported animal rights, I feel that we have a duty in a representative assembly to reflect properly the feeling that exists. If I had any doubts about the matter, the interventions by Conservative Members would resolve them. When the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) said that a million horses would be put down, that was a case for crime to avoid redundancy in the police force. If crime were abolished, the police would become redundant, so the House should endorse the continuation of crime--I have never heard such an absurd argument in my life and it carries no weight. The House would be very unwise to disregard the pressure that lies behind the Bill because it is part of a wider and growing concern that the human race has a duty

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to protect the planet and the other species that live on it. Whether one goes back to the book of Genesis where it describes the creation of the earth and how

"God saw that it was good",

whether one looks to the Levellers of the 17th century who said that the earth was

"a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man" or whether one goes to the modern statements, one discovers that young people realise that the human race cannot survive unless it is concerned about the rain forest, whales, elephants, badgers, foxes and everything else. I strongly share that feeling.

I have read, as others may have done, a marvellous book written 40 years ago by a man called E. S. Turner which is entitled "Roads to Ruin". He went through all the reforms that had been advocated in the House and listed the arguments against them. A book was issued in favour of torture and was dedicated by permission to the Chief of the General Staff. Some argued for hanging, drawing and quartering. Some argued for chimney boys to prevent fires in stately homes. Samuel Plimsoll, who advocated a safety line to protect seamen, was described in the shipping gazette as a terrorist.

The history of reform is simple. First, an argument for reform is brought forward, as in the Bill, and it is ignored. It is then denounced as mad and, after a pause, it is dangerous. There is then another pause after which one cannot find anyone who does not claim to have thought of it in the first place. When the Bill is on the statute book--as it will be before the end of the century, if not before the general election--people will look back and read the speech by the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury and the other speeches made by those who favour hunting. They will not be able to persuade their children that such arguments were put forward by civilised men and women. They will be right not to do so.

10.26 am

Dame Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake) : It will not surprise hon. Members to know that, as a long-standing member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and of its council, I support the Bill and am a sponsor of it. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on the breadth of his speech.

I will deal with one or two general points of principle before I consider the Bill in more detail. One argument produced this morning is that, as we cannot prevent cruelty or suffering within the natural animal kingdom to some extent, we ourselves should not intervene to prevent cruelty by man against animals. I take the view that, although we may not be able to deal with all those things, there is a duty on us to ensure that there is no unnecessary cruelty or suffering. The word "unecessary" is very important. There may be occasions on which suffering is necessary in the greater good, but we should do our utmost to limit it as far as possible.

It shocks me that, although there is the Protection of Animals Act 1911 for England, and similar legislation a year later for Scotland, which protect domestic or captive animals, there is no general body of law that does the same for wild animals. That loophole should long since have been dealt with and I am grateful that we have a Bill that

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goes some way towards dealing with that, although hon. Members will recognise that the Bill applies only to mammals.

I turn now to the issue of the hunting of animals with hounds and coursing. We hear lurid stories about the death of the animals, although those who hunt insist that the death is instantaneous and reasonably painless. I suggest that the real cruelty comes from the exhaustion of the chase and from the extreme stress that that places on the animal concerned It is known that there is a condition that can caused deer, for example, to die from shock even if they are not caught. We have no right to inflict that sort of suffering. I am not interested in the entertainment issue. I am concerned only with the plight of the animals. If it is awful to hunt and to course, it is extremely cruel to snare animals. We know that under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 certain types of snare are forbidden, and I believe that all snares should be forbidden. In this regard I would part slightly from the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, North. I would not allow any exemptions to snaring such as are permitted in his Bill under licensing laws. That, however, is a matter which will be properly resolved in Committee. It is in a sense a minor point of difference but I want to set it on the record.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington) : Would my hon. Friend say that her principles, which she obviously holds sincerely, apply equally to shooting and fishing?

Dame Janet Fookes : Although my hon. Friend's question does not apply to the Bill, it is a fair one to ask. I believe that there is what I would call a scale of cruelty. It is-- [Interruption.] Some people may laugh, but there are some forms of cruelty that are much worse than others. I would place hunting, snaring or torture of an animal much higher on the scale than shooting. As for my personal views, I would not seek to place on the statute book any legislation that dealt with either shooting or fishing, but one would certainly expect there to be a code of good practice for those who engage in those activities. Those are my views on the subject.

I hope that I am realistic. I believe that there is general agreement on matters such as hunting, snaring and coursing, but I recognise that different views are held on the shooting of animals.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : My hon. Friend has introduced an interesting element into the debate by referring to a scale of cruelty to wildlife. I appreciate that a deer or even a fox might be under considerable stress during a chase, but would not those same considerations apply to a salmon or a trout that is fighting desperately to avoid being caught by a fisherman?

Mr. Tony Banks : The hon. Gentleman would eat the salmon but not the fox.

Dame Janet Fookes : I shall not go down that road, which is a diversion. It does not come within the contents of the Bill. I sought to help my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend) by describing my general views, but we are debating a Bill on which we shall have to make up our minds at the end of the debate. I do not wish

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to be sidetracked. There is sufficient in the Bill to occupy us and to give us reason to fight for what is set out within it. Nothing else should intervene.

It is becoming increasingly clear that it is suggested that hunting foxes is a form of pest control. That argument has already been dealt with effectively. During a year, about 12,500 foxes out of a population of 250,000 to 500,000 are killed in hunts. That cannot be regarded as efficient. Lest anyone dispute the figures, they are not mine ; they were given by a Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I believe that hunting is extraordinarily inefficient as well as cruel. If it is necessary to deal with foxes, my preference would be for shooting in controlled circumstances, and I shall explain what I mean. I believe that such shooting should in the hands of those who are skilled and that they should use a proper weapon. I know that there is the question of licences, but shooting with a rifle by a skilled and responsible person is the most effective practice. It is possible to put out bait for a fox so that it will come to the person with a rifle. That offers a very good chance of getting a clean kill. There is one other method, about which I read with interest. It was described in an article that appeared in the Shooting Times and Country Magazine, I think. It was written by a gamekeeper, who suggested that it was better to "lamp" foxes. At night they can be made still by a powerful glare of light and then shot humanely, if it is necessary so to do.

There is considerable evidence--not produced by animal welfare groups or extremists--from scientists of repute that suggests that much of the ill fame of the fox is extremely nebulous. In many instances, when it is believed that foxes have taken a live lamb, it transpires that they have taken a dead or dying lamb. I am not suggesting that that is always the case, but considerable evidence suggests that most is carrion rather than live. Where there is the problem of a rogue fox or foxes, I believe that it is proper to shoot it or them in the way that I described.

There are other small wild mammals that have been treated cruelly. I shall not rehearse the examples that have been given, because I am aware of the pressure of time. It seems appalling that no organisation such as the inspectorate of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the police is able to bring a case against somebody who tortures an animal for no reason other than to get some sadistic pleasure from doing so. Such a person cannot be caught by the law. We must close that atrocious loophole. I am aware that some of the opposition to the Bill is based less on what it contains than on the belief that it is the thin end of the wedge. I heard that expression used earlier. I do not believe that it is the thin end of the wedge. If the Bill is enacted, I believe that we shall do a great deal to end cruelty to animals and unnecessary suffering, and I stress the word "unnecessary".

I hope that there will be good support for the Bill and that it will at least move into Committee, which will show the House and the public that these matters can no longer be left on one side but must be tackled quickly.

10.48 am

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Like many people outside the House, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North, (Mr.

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McNamara) for taking the opportunity, which comes rarely to any of us, to propose such an important piece of legislation. I am also grateful that he had the wisdom to ensure that people outside saw that the Bill had cross-party support and that he asked me to be a sponsor. I am very happy to be a sponsor of the Bill. For the record, the Bill has support from Members of four parties in the House representing many parts of Great Britain. It is an indisputable fact that it has also been shown to have overwhelming support among the public according to all records of British public opinion. The point made by the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) in his point of order deserves to be dealt with quickly. There may be one or two people who have acted improperly in lobbying for or against the Bill. I know not. But I can tell the House that even in areas such as mine, where one might think that such issues do not exercise the minds of people as strongly as they do in the rural communities of Great Britain, subjects such as fox hunting are more important issues. I have checked on the electoral register everyone who has written to me. The overwhelming majority of a considerable correspondence in cards and letters from my constituents expresses support for the Bill. Only three letters from my constituents, which I have recorded specifically, expressed opposition to it. They represented a total of 14 people, 13 of whom opposed the Bill because they misunderstood its application to shooting. That left one constituent who opposed the Bill because he thought that the hunting of foxes with hounds was acceptable and that the Bill threatened things which he regarded as important.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : The hon. Gentleman is right to stress the all-party support for the Bill. Will all his colleagues in his party vote in the same Lobby as him when it comes to a vote?

Mr. Hughes : I suppose that it says something about the sequence in which I intended to make my points that the hon. Gentleman's point was the next one with which I intended to deal. My view is clear : I support the Bill and will vote for it. Like the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes), I hope that the Bill goes into Committee and proceeds as far as possible. We all recognise that it may not complete its stages because of the imminence of the general election. However, giving the Bill a Second Reading today will give a clear signal to the country. I shall come to the point about my colleagues in a moment.

One reason why I support the Bill is that, although I represent an urban seat, I was brought up in the country and, after watching a hunt, I asked myself whether hunting was appropriate. When I was a teenager, the hunt met a mile from my home in south Wales on Boxing day and other days of the year. It had a superficial attraction. The hunt was entertainment and a spectacle. But one had to ask what were the implications of what was happening. It was from that time on that I formed a clear view that hunting was not an appropriate activity for civilised human beings.

When I became a barrister, I prosecuted for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was happy to do so. Coincidentally, I am now the Member of Parliament for the League Against Cruel Sports and I am very happy to be the Member for the constituency in which the league's headquarters is based.

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The Liberal Democrats have a party view that is opposed to hunting. That has been made clear at two conferences since the Liberal Democrats were formed by the merger of the Liberal party and the Social Democratic party in 1988--one in March 1989 and the other last September. The party policy was remitted to an animal protection working group which is currently working on further detail. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has beaten us to it. I went to the last seminar of that working group. It will produce a full policy paper which will go into more detail on animal protection issues than our present policy. Unfortunately, that will not now be before the election. [Laughter.] I am being straightforward. We have a policy and I have said what it is. I have made it clear. However, further work will be done.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) asked how my colleagues would vote. Our position is the same as that of the Labour party and, as I understand it, that of the Conservative party--there is no party line on the way in which Liberal Democrat Members should vote on the Bill. My party has a free vote in every vote in the House--[ Hon. Members-- : "Come on."] No. All my hon. Friends will confirm that. Although there is a procedure for establishing a party line-- [Laughter.] --every vote is a free vote. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may ask any of my colleagues. For us, every vote is a free vote. But, of course, on some issues there is a party line [Laughter.] It is an important point about the conscience of Members of Parliament which hon. Members might understand if they looked into political history. I should have thought that they understood anyway. The answer to the question of the hon. Member for Erdington is that for Liberal Democrats today there will be a free vote. If we introduced legislation, as I would wish us to do, there would be also a free vote on that. I understand that that is what the Conservative party and the Prime Minister have conceded should happen today and that the Labour party is also committed to a free vote.

Mr. Andrew Bowden : The hon. Gentleman has told the House something of great importance and use to us--that every vote is a free vote in his party. Does he accept that, in the previous Session, on more than 70 per cent. of occasions his party voted with the Labour party? Therefore, there will be no difference between voting Labour and voting Liberal in the next election.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. This is very interesting, but it does not help us to make progress on the Bill.

Mr. Hughes : If I were allowed, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would more fully answer that point. For now, I simply observe that Opposition parties normally vote against any Government more often than not.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hughes : No. Let me get on.

I should add for the record that the most substantive legislation on preventing cruelty to animals--the Protection of Animals Act 1911--was enacted by a Liberal Government. The only reason why that Act did not contain the full panoply of powers to protect wild animals was that this issue was also controversial at that time. There was opposition to the Bill within our party as well

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as in other parties, so wild animals were not included. That Act is part of the Liberal party's record of which we are justly proud. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) made the substantive and key principled point--that human beings have a duty the world over to be responsible towards and to look after those creatures that have no votes and are not human beings. That is why in Parliament we are rightly exercised about creatures abroad such as whales and the African elephant or, at home, badgers and otters. That is why increasingly over the years we have legislated to protect various creatures in Britain. The hon. Member for Drake made the valid point that we have generally failed to protect creatures in Britain, other than domestic animals, from cruelty in many forms because they were not included in the 1911 Act.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : What about battery farming?

Mr. Hughes : The hon. Gentleman raises another equally valid point. If there were general legislation against cruelty, many forms of cruelty such as inhumane conditions during the transmit of animals and factory farming would rightly also be outlawed.

The right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) made a poor point about the principle behind the Bill. The principle governing cruelty to wild mammals is different from that relating to boxing and attending football matches. Human beings rightly have the choice whether to box or hunt. But in hunting the other party--the fox--has no choice. That is the fundamental difference between hunting and boxing and other forms of sport or entertainment that involve only human beings.

The fundamental issue is cruelty against other creatures in our animal kingdom. It is the right to have a debate about what activities should or should not be permitted. Of course, we could have a debate about whether shooting or fishing should be acceptable. However, two fundamental points made this a different debate. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) made one of those obvious points from a sedentary position. One factor which makes shooting and fishing for most purposes a different issue is that we often shoot and fish to eat ; we do not hunt foxes to eat. The second factor is that the balance of the arguments on cruelty and conservation is substantially different in each of these activities. Let me make it abundantly clear for example, that I believe that, in certain circumstances, it is perfectly appropriate to shoot to conserve stock or to protect other creatures. The arguments for that are valid. I have met representatives of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and have been out with them, and I understand the issues. There are different arguments which justify fishing.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : The hon. Gentleman has just said that we do not kill foxes to eat. We do, however, kill foxes to enable people to eat. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to an incident that occurred a couple of weeks ago in Ratby in my constituency, where an entire chicken coop was wiped out by a fox. In Leicestershire, the natural recourse is to turn to the fox hunt, which has always controlled foxes.

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Mr. Hughes : That is a perfectly proper argument, but one has to decide the best way of dealing with the minority of foxes and other animals which are predators and destroy chickens and other animals which may also be potential food. I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the statistics, which show overwhelmingly that, for all sorts of obvious practical reasons- -not least that one cannot ride a horse to hounds and hounds through a chicken farm--hunting is not the best way to deal with foxes. If something needs to be done--the Bill accepts that principle--controlled shooting is preferable. The other argument against the hon. Gentleman's assertion is that the relationship between the number of foxes caught and killed by a hunt and such incidents is minimal.

Most people go hunting for entertainment and exercise, and the House must ask itself whether in 1992, in a civilised country, it is appropriate to allow people to hunt and injure or kill foxes principally for entertainment and exercise. I believe that the answer to that is a resounding no.

What are the arguments against the Bill? First, it is argued that it would produce 14,000 to 16,000 redundancies in the rural community. I do not accept that by preventing horses and hounds from being used for hunting, one prevents them from being used. That is not logical. Many people ride and keep hounds, and farriers and people who work in stables will continue to be needed.

[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) made an absolutely outlandish claim which I hope has already been rubbished by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield. There is no logic in the argument that if one prevents hunting, people will suddenly kill horses. If people are concerned about animals--particularly horses--they will not kill them just because they cannot ride them to hounds. People who ride say that they do it because they love horses ; they are hardly likely to turn on them and put them all to death. Moreover, there are all sorts of ways in which we could make up for any minimal reduction in work in the rural communities. I am happy to send the hon. Member for Harborough a copy of a cutting from the Hull Daily Mail --the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North will have seen it ; it is from his own area--in which local farrier Baz Brashill, dealing with the question, "Would I lose my job?" was reported as saying :

"They are saying my business will suffer if fox hunting is banned, but that is absolute rubbish. It would only affect me a tiny bit, if at all."

That reflects the balance of work for nearly all our farriers. The second argument against the Bill is that hunting preserves much of Britain's rural heritage--hedges, fields, trees and so on. Again, all the evidence, including that from the Government, makes it clear that hunting and the other activities dealt with in the Bill make a minimal contribution to the preservation of the countryside. The third argument against the Bill is that it would destroy the best traditions and ways of the countryside. But many traditions either are no longer valid or never have been valid. Personally, I think that the unelected House of Lords is an invalid tradition. Moreover, one does not have to support something just because it is a tradition. One must ask oneself whether it is logical, principled and justifiable. Over the years, the case has been well demonstrated in Southwark. Southwark used to be the centre for bear baiting and cock fighting ; they were traditions. People spent their free time engaged in such activities. Thank God, we are now a more civilised country

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and those activities are now banned. Many local authorities of all political parties have now banned hunting on their land.

The fourth argument against the Bill is that it would prevent any shooting of predators--that it is the thin edge of the wedge. First, an examination of the Bill does not support that assertion and, secondly, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North and the sponsors of the Bill have made it clear that we are prepared to make it even more explicit in the Bill that shooting, as sport and for conservation purposes, would be perfectly permissible. The Bill is about the prevention of cruelty--to prevent cruelty to mammals, many of which are left maimed as opposed to dead--and unnecessary cruelty at that.

Penultimately, it is argued that we must oppose the Bill if we are to protect mammals. That is a contradictory, argument. I ask those who really want to listen to the arguments for and against the Bill to examine those advanced by the hunting lobby. The first is that foxes are a pest and need to be culled and controlled. The second, contradictory, argument is that, without hunting, the foxes' habitats would disappear, leading to the decimation of the fox population. One cannot have it both ways. Either the fox is a menace poised to overrun rural areas or it is a species in danger. It cannot be both at the same time.

One is left with the final argument as to whether hunting is a necessary alternative to shooting ; other alternatives are not legal. The RSPCA has made it clear that of the 1,448 foxes collected by the inspectorate in 1981, none of the 983 sick and wounded foxes were suffering from gangrene as a result of shotgun wounds. They were suffering from injuries as a result of being hunted but not killed.

Mr. Tony Banks : And snares.

Mr. Hughes : Yes, but not shotgun wounds.

All things considered, it seems to me that the arguments are overwhelming and conclusive. The Bill is a matter of principle for the House to decide. The Bill permits exceptions but they do not invalidate the principle. There are also qualifications, which show that the promoter of the Bill and its sponsors are neither illogical nor unreasonable human beings. We have clearly said that the Bill is not about fishing or shooting. It is about the further protection of living creatures which we have not so far taken steps to protect. Civilised legislatures vote in favour of protecting those who have no voice. We ought to protect them under the present Bill and I hope that it will receive overwhelming support.

10.57 am

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : I have listened to the arguments advancesd advanced by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). The most ludicrous part of his speech was his attempt to differentiate between fox hunting on the one hand and shooting and fishing on the other by saying that, to use Oscar Wilde's term, foxes were the uneatable. The hon. Gentleman should remember that the largest group of people who indulge in such activities are the coarse fishermen, who catch fish that is, by definition, uneatable, so the hon. Gentleman's argument falls immediately.

I begin by declaring my interest. The House knows that I am a farmer and, like the vast majority of farmers in Britain, I am happy for hounds to hunt over my farm--

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principally because I like to see them. I do not indulge in fox hunting and I am not connected with a hunt. I have never seen a coursing match or a stag hunt in my life, but I am most concerned about the Bill.

I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said at the start of his speech. He said that he is prepared to enter negotiations in Committee with regard to pest control. I am not prepared to support a Bill that is as vague as this, on the undertaking that there will be some sort of negotiations at a later stage. I have serious anxieties about the ability of farmers in particular and of a number of other people in general, especially householders, to control pests. I understand that, as a result of the way that the Bill is framed, lawyers have questioned the future of rabbit shooting, because of the danger of those animals being wounded. [Hon. Members :-- "Rubbish."] Many farmers in the eastern part of the--

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In view of the serious allegations of mismanagement of the insurance market at Lloyd's, allegations substantiated by Conservative Members, and in view of the importance of Lloyd's to our invisible balance of payments and the importance of London as a financial centre, can you clarify whether a Minister has considered the matter important enough to come to the House this morning to make a statement.

Madam Deputy Speaker : I have to tell the hon. Lady that Mr. Speaker has not been informed that a Government Minister is seeking to make a statement.

Sir Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether Mr. Speaker has received any intimation from the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that he wishes to make a statement regarding the details that have been published relating to a former research assistant. It is an important matter and it seems conceivable that he would be able to explain fully to the House exactly what happened. Given the incidence of political advisers being appointed by members of all parties-- [Interruption.] --and the fact that

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Let me hear the point of order.

Sir Gerrard Neale : The incidence now of political advisers being appointed by all political parties seems potentially to give rise to the question of a conflict of loyalty and interest regarding the subsequent appointment of these people to civil service positions.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The point of order for me is whether Mr. Speaker has received a request from an hon. Member to make a statement. The answer is no, Mr. Speaker has not received any such request.

Mr. Jopling : I was questioning the effect of the Bill as it stands on the ability of people to control pests. I think in particular of hares-- a well-known scourge of sugar beet in the eastern counties of this country. That has nothing whatever to do with coursing. As for rats, the Bill as it stands leaves what is permissible very much open to doubt--whether it be shooting, poisoning or trapping.

One suggestion has been made which, to begin with, I thought was absurd. However, as I read the Bill, I began to see that there was something in it. A lawyer had

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suggested that, as the Bill stands, it might be illegal to put a cat into a granary that had a plague of mice. [ Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"] Anyone who has seen a cat playing with a mouse will agree that that involves a good deal more cruelty than fox hunting. However, I shall deal with that point later.

The Bill has serious shortcomings. Clause 8 provides for registration and for licences to carry out pest control in different ways. When agriculture is experiencing great difficulties, this is not the time to saddle farmers with new restrictions of this kind. It is no good to say that, under clause 8, farmers will be able to obtain licences to become self-employed destroyers of vermin.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : My right hon. Friend has made an extremely valid point. Another point that has not been made thus far in the debate is that most of the hunting on the North Yorkshire moors is done on foot. Were we not to control the fox population by that method, since no other method is viable, the farmers in that part of the country would suffer serious consequences.

Mr. Jopling : My hon. Friend must be a thought reader. That was precisely the point to which I was about to turn. I am most concerned about the effects of the Bill on fox hunting.

One point that has already been made in part, but which needs to be emphasised, is that the death of a fox by fox hunting--I refer to its death, not to the stress--is quicker and more certain if it is killed by hounds than if it is poisoned, wounded by shooting, or trapped. We start from that point of view.

To come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), the Labour party included in its manifesto at the last election the promise that it would ban fox hunting, but there was the exception to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) referred about national parks. My right hon. Friend made a cynical comment : that that may have been because the hon. Members for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), whose constituencies adjoin mine in Cumbria, have a large number of constituents who hunt on foot on the fells.

I do not believe that it was due to political pressure on their part. I believe that the Labour party did that for perfectly good agricultural reasons : because it recognised that it was impossible to control foxes in upland areas without the use of hounds. The Bill is different from the Labour party's proposal in its last election manifesto, since that exception is not included. The Bill would ban fell fox hunting--foot hunting--which the Labour party would have exempted. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North was kind enough to say that, in future, it will be possible for hounds to hunt foxes, provided the hounds are on leashes. I am sure that that will bring great comfort to the fell packs in the Lake district. The thought of those hounds hunting up and down the mountains on the end of leashes is just too ludicrous for words.

My strong view is that sheep farming in our upland and mountainous areas would become impossible if there were no hunting by hounds. Last year, I had discussions with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)

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about the Badgers Bill. I made that point to him, and he sought to argue it with me. Therefore, I invited him to John Peel country, where my constituency is, to talk to the farmers so that they could explain to him how important hunting is if foxes are to be kept down in such areas.

Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman, who kindly accepted the invitation, could not come at the last minute. It was a great disappointment. I do not blame him at all. I perfectly understand why he was unable to come. It was just a pity that he could not come. [Interruption.]

Mr. Tony Banks : I was not going to rise, but from a sedentary position I heard somebody say that I was frit. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Sir M. Jopling) knows that that is not true. I do not know who said that, but the fact is that I am certainly not frit. My reasons were connected with the fact that my wife, who was coming with me, was too busy working in the hospital. Therefore, I had to pull out. I deeply regretted it. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman might even contemplate renewing his invitation. I shall damn well make sure that I am there this time, and I shall take whoever said that with me.

Mr. Jopling : The hon. Gentleman knows that I did not criticise him for being unable to come. I merely expressed my disappointment. If he would like to come this year to the Lake district sheepdog trials, of which I hope I shall continue to be president, he will be most welcome.

The basic argument is whether hunting by hounds is essential for sheep farming in these upland areas. Some people say that one cannot prove that it is essential. I believe that I can prove this morning that it is essential, and that I can give chapter and verse to demonstrate my point.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe) : I understand that the right hon. Gentleman was formerly a Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Is he aware that studies into fox predation of sheep have shown that in Northern Ireland, where hunting is not so important, 95 per cent. of hill sheep farmers reported no loss of sheep? In addition, the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology has shown that fox hunting is an ineffective way to control foxes in the upland areas. When all those independent reports state that fox hunting is not effective, why does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is?

Mr. Jopling : I was about to show, from a case history, that fox hunting is essential. If the hon. Gentleman visits the fell packs in the Lake district and on the North Yorkshire moors and talks to those who run the hounds, he will discover that farmers frequently contact the hunt and say, "I am losing lambs ; please bring the hounds to control the foxes." The case law that demonstrates my point can be found in Hansard, at column 1522 on 16 October 1941.

At the beginning of the war, a Mr. Harry Roberts was huntsman for the Plas Machynlleth hounds in west Wales. He was called up to the Army. Within two years, the foxes were so hopelessly out of control in that part of west Wales that large numbers of lambs and chickens were being taken. In the end, the War Agricultural Executive Committee petitioned the Government for the release of Mr. Roberts from the Army.

The then Ministry of Agriculture, together with the local Members of Parliament--which included Mr.

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Clement Davies--who may or may not have been leader of the Liberal party at the time--pressed for the release of Mr. Roberts in the interest of the war effort. He was released from the Army, and questions about that were asked in the House. The issue was taken up by "Picture Post", which made a feature out of the return of Mr. Roberts to keep the foxes under control. That is the most compelling evidence to prove that hunting is absolutely essential in the upland areas.

Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Mr. Roberts was not the only huntsman released for that purpose?

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