|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Benn: I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman allowed me to proceed because I am trying to develop a very serious argument. I was very surprised that the Bill in 1992 was defeated by 19 votes on the eve of an election. [Hon. Members:-- "12 votes."] Yes, 12 votes. The whole situation is now different and we should ask what has happened meanwhile. People have done something about it. All change in this country has been brought about by people doing something, not by writing to The Guardian or to The Independent or by trying to get half a minute with the media. The media is much more interested in other matters. Jim Naughtie has to interview Jeremy Paxman about what Hugo Young said about what Alan Watkins thinks about the next reshuffle. That is much more interesting than anything else. They interview each other. They are not interested in politics at all--they are interested in politicians. There is more interest in the future of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer than there is in, for example, cruelty to animals or unemployment or anything else.
One does not make much progress with the media until very late in the game, when the battle is all over, and the same media get an award at Cannes for an insight programme into how hunting was banned in Britain. In the first instance, however, the media do not take much notice.
Hunt saboteurs are presented as if they were hooligans, yet they protect animal life. They are presented as if they were members of a new, creeping intolerance, led by passion. I listened to the right hon.
Column 1316Member for Bridgwater. His speech was incredible. The passion is felt by those who dress up in red coats and get on horses and kill. The feeling--
Mr. Colvin: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Benn: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman because he will help my case.
Mr. Colvin: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman as one ex- Bristol Member to another. Was it pure coincidence that on the day the poll tax rioters were burning Trafalgar square, not one hunt in this country was sabotaged?
Mr. Benn: I may go on to speak about the poll tax in a way that the hon. Gentleman will not really like. I know that the Deputy Speaker will not automatically, with the help of "Erskine May", link the poll tax to hunting, but there may be a connection if I am skilful enough.
We make progress by doing something. If something is done, some attention has to be given to the matter. As a result of what was done at Shoreham and Brightlingsea and Coventry, many things happened. The media noticed the issue. Previously, hunt saboteurs were presented along with gangsters, thugs and football hooligans, but the media had to realise, because something was done, that they had to be reported. One hon. Member raised with Madam Speaker his objection that people had written to him--the lobbying of Members of Parliament--which he found outrageous. I have heard of electors trying to change Government, but I have never heard of Government trying to change the electorate. A new principle is emerging as we return to a Victorian society.
There will not be a vote today because hon. Members who oppose the Bill would not win it. Those who favour hunting have decided to retreat into two more secure areas. One area is the recesses of the Committee, where all sorts of devices can be used to delay the progress of the Bill. There may be a long, long debate about the Bill in front of it in the queue, which is completely non-controversial, to prevent this Bill from being discussed. Then, in the end, there is always the Lords. Proceedings will be dragged out by some of those old country peers, who, when they have discovered where London is, will get the train here and vote against the Bill. I was talking to one of the officials of the House the other day who said that a peer came into the Member's Entrance and asked "Could you tell me where the House of Lords is?" I thought that that was a very interesting example. I have been informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that there will be a vote today.
I have referred in the past and I would like to refer again--I know that it is very painful to the House of Commons to be told and reminded yet again-- to how social progress is made. We like to think that it is made by an amendment from a Back Bencher, and accepted by the Government. It is not like that at all. Social progress is made when public pressure builds up. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton, who moved the Bill brilliantly, quoted "Roads to Ruin" by E.S. Turner, in which he described someone who wrote a book in favour of torture and dedicated it, with permission, to the chief of the imperial general staff.
Column 1317There was, of course, a big campaign against the abolition of chimney boys on the grounds that it would endanger country houses. I have no doubt that the right hon. Member for Bridgwater would have given very powerful arguments for the love of country houses and the absolute necessity to send little boys up chimneys. Samuel Plimsoll, who introduced the Plimsoll line, which dealt with the coffin ships, was described in The Shipping Gazette as a terrorist. All that is in the lovely book by E.S. Turner.
My experience is that when people come along with some good idea, in the beginning it is completely ignored; nobody mentions it at all. If people go on, they are mad, and if they continue, they are very dangerous. After that, there is a pause and then nobody can be found who does not claim to have thought of it in the first place. That is how social progress is made.
If we consider the history of this country, we see that none of the great advances came from initiations made in the Houses of Parliament. How does the House think that the trade unions were legalised after the Tolpuddle martyrs? Do people think that there was a debate in the House of Lords one day when one duke said to another "My Lords, I think we've been a bit unfair to the working class, let us repeal"--it was not like that at all. They could not keep trade unions down.
How do people think that the Chartists got the vote? How did the suffragettes get the vote? Does the House think that men woke up one day and said "By the way, we've been a bit unfair to the wife, let's give her the vote"? Women chained themselves to the railings, they were arrested, they went on hunger strike, they were forcibly fed and women got the vote.
How does the House think that apartheid ended? Was it because Nelson Mandela got a new suit or because he amended clause IV of the African National Congress constitution? It was because the Africans simply would not accept exclusion from the political process. That is how change occurs and it is much resented by hon. Members. I believe that we are on the eve of a victory here today. I am told that there will be a vote and I am sure that the Bill will be passed. The campaigners deserve the credit for it, together with those who have advocated such a Bill for a long time in the House. Then, we shall take the next stage. The one thing about which I am absolutely certain is that when all the arguments put forward in favour of hunting today are studied and analysed, they will turn out to be in support of the Bill. I am grateful for those who argue the case for hunting, because the more they are read the less credible they are. 10.57 am
Sir John Cope (Northavon): I support the general cruelty provisions in clause 1. I thought that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) explained that clause extremely clearly and put the issues very fairly. If he had confined his Bill to that clause and the necessary issues and enforcement clauses behind it, or if he were to do so subsequently in Committee, he would improve the statute book and have my support in so doing.
Column 1318The Bill, of course, mixes the unnatural torture of animals in clause 1, to which the hon. Member for Dumbarton referred, and hunting in clause 2, which I do not believe in the least comes in the same category. I do not support a ban on hunting. My constituency is not quite as well provided for as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), but we have two packs of fox hounds and one beagle pack in the constituency.
Many of my constituents support hunting, including, but not entirely consisting of, those who go hunting and many, too, who earn their living from it. It is for many of them a whole way of life, which is under attack in clause 2.
Of course, I have constituents, particularly in the more urban parts of my constituency, who dislike fox hunting and I respect their views. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater, I have lived, although not for quite so long, with the issue as a Member of Parliament for more than 20 years. Clearly, one cannot please all one's constituents in respect of a matter of this kind whatever one does.
I am clear, however, that the control of foxes is necessary, particularly from an agriculture point of view. Foxes kill lambs and chickens, often in much larger numbers than they need to eat. Farmers in my constituency have given me plenty of examples of that and I gather that English Nature, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and gamekeepers control foxes in their areas by different means. The argument is not whether foxes should be killed but how they should be killed. There is a great deal of acceptance about that point, even among those who do not agree with us.
The Bill does not provide for the conservation or protection of foxes or of any other species. The hon. Member for Dumbarton argued that hunting is irrelevant to controlling foxes. If we turn that argument around, the anti- hunting part of the Bill is irrelevant to the preservation of foxes and I believe that is true. It will not do foxes any good at all if the Bill is passed in its present form. Indeed, I believe that it would lead to more foxes being killed and to the erosion of their habitat. Large parts of England, including sections of my constituency, have areas deliberately conserved because of fox hunting and that has helped to form the landscape as we know it.
Patently, hunting does not eliminate species: far from it. Obviously, if it did, there would have been no foxes for hundreds of years. Foxes have flourished here and Frederick Forsyth made that point particularly well yesterday in his article in The Times . The only real argument relates to the different methods to kill foxes. I believe that properly conducted hunting is, by comparison with other methods, a humane way of killing foxes. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater, I emphasise "properly conducted hunting" by which I mean under the rules of the Masters' of Foxhounds Association. Those rules cover the relevant points.
Hunting is a humane way of killing foxes because there are no wounded foxes and death is quick. It is the most natural way of killing foxes in the literal sense of the word: it is like nature itself. After all, it is the way in which the fox kills.
Column 1319In some areas, hunting is essential to control foxes. However, even in areas where it provides only a small part of the control--reference has already been made to this point--it would be wrong to ban hunting in favour of more difficult and less humane methods of control. It is significant and persuasive that supporters of hunting, who I know include many of the most knowledgeable people on the countryside and wildlife and its ways. Those people include vets and farmers who spend their whole lives, often from childhood, working with animals. Clearly, without the support of farmers, hunting would quickly end. Fox hunting people are perfectly aware of that because many of them are farmers and vets.
Other people, of whom the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has obviously been one for a long time, dislike hunting. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield's speech raised a point that I have observed before. It often seems that the core of their dislike is that people follow hounds, particularly on horseback. There has long been a problem with people on horseback looking down on people on foot. The cavalry and the infantry have always had their disputes and that has partly to do with the fact that if one is sitting on a horse, one is bound to look down on someone standing on the ground. However, people like the right hon. Member for Chesterfield dislike the idea that hunting is sport or "fun" as he eloquently, as usual, put it.
It would be interesting to speculate whether we would have the same trouble or the Bill before the House in this form if only the hunt servants went out and no one followed in a pink coat, and particularly if no one appeared to enjoy seeing hounds work out a line. That is only part of the reason why some people oppose hunting. There is a small minority for whom it is part of a much wider agenda altogether. I do not think that that is true of the hon. Member for Dumbarton. However, some people are now deliberately confusing animal welfare and animal rights. I have no doubt that if the ban on hunting was passed, the whole expensive animal rights caravan would move straight on to fishing, shooting, livestock farming and on beyond that.
The central engine of the animal rights campaign seems to be morally flawed. It argues for the so-called rights of the fox, but not for the rights of the lambs or chickens they kill over and above those they need to eat. It also argues in ways that will not help foxes, as I have already described, and there seems to be no morality in that.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield told us that we should consider opinion polls, which claim that many people are against hunting, but the percentages in different polls vary very widely indeed. That is not surprising when the same polls tell us that hunting is very low on the list of things that people are bothered about. The results are also not surprising when so much money and effort is being devoted by animal rights activists into misleading the public, 90 per cent. of whom have never seen a hunt.
That money and effort is directed at hunting at the moment because of its symbolism for the animal rights movement. It is fairly interesting that, in its efforts to persuade the public and to work up public alarm about the matter, the Bill concentrates on mammals. The public can be drawn into that net, but there does not
Column 1320seem to be a moral difference between mammals and spiders, flies and wasps, which the public happily want to stop interfering with their lives. It is also interesting that rabbits and rats are excluded from the protection of clause 2.
The right hon. Member for Chesterfield implied that someone was bound to say that the animal rights movement is thought to be dangerous. I agree with him. He said that people would say that it was dangerous and I believe that it is. It is the only single-issue campaign that has spawned a violent terrorist wing. In taking to violence, those people are, as other terrorists do, attacking the basis of law. There is no morality in that. Apart from the reported attacks, which have been referred to, these people desecrate graves. There was an example of that in my constituency not so long ago. In some respects, the animal rights movement is sinister because there seems to be a considerable overlap at the top of the movement that stretches from the animal liberation front and hunt saboteurs to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Militant animal rights activists have infiltrated the RSPCA, which has a respectable and respected history of animal welfare. After all, militants infiltrated the Labour party to use its decent members as a front for much more sinister underlying objectives. The Labour party has fought that for some years and it continues to do so, so it should understand that point very well.
Mr. Benn: In his list of criminals, where would St. Francis of Assisi fit into the right hon. Gentleman's view of those who are injecting dangerous ideas of animal welfare into the human mind?
Sir John Cope: I have no objection to people putting forward ideas, as I have already made clear. I respect those who have a different view from mine on this or other matters. St. Francis of Assisi may be included in that. I do not know precisely what his views on hunting were, but he was not, after all, a terrorist. I am referring to those who use unsatisfactory and unacceptable measures to pursue their points of view. That is against the tolerance that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater successfully supported. It is also against our way of life and the rule of law.
The RSPCA has great resources given to it for animal welfare--the work that it does so well. It is very sad that it should use a large part of its money on campaign advertisements which, incidentally, are also dubious from a legal point of view. The International Fund for Animal Welfare itself has had a very chequered history in a number of countries. It is not a charity but a limited company and it does not have the same restrictions on what it can do. It also makes a profit.
I have no doubt that, if it were successful, this attack on hunting would lead--perhaps not by the hon. Member for Dumbarton but by others in the so- called animal rights movement--to further attacks on shooting and fishing and to attacks on equestrian sports. I note that prominent members of the League Against Cruel Sports have attacked the Olympic games because of their equestrian events. Attacks on farming would increase. We have seen militant activity in respect of farming. Attacks would extend to the keeping of pets. Once again, prominent members of the League Against Cruel Sports have argued about that matter. The process would not stop here.
Column 1321We should not go down the animal rights road. The Bill is the start of that road. The anti-hunting clauses are anti -conservation. Ultimately, they are inhumane and illogical. The hon. Member for Dumbarton should settle for clause 1 and the consequential enforcement clauses, and do as the excellent Labour leaflet says and "leave country sports alone".
Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale): I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) on his skill and initiative in introducing the Bill. As one who piloted a private Member's Bill through the House many years ago, I know how much extra work and how much public pressure is involved in such a controversial issue. I commend the hon. Gentleman on the manner in which he presented the Bill to the House.
In particular--I do not want to argue this matter in detail--the hon. Gentleman was wise, when dealing with the sections of the Bill concerning snaring, to say that he is open to further consultation and amendments in Committee. Although hon. Members listened with concern to what he had to say and shared his objectives, we are certainly not sure that he has that section of the Bill right. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's broad approach in introducing the legislation.
I fully support clause 1. Everybody wants legal protection to be extended to wild mammals. Of course, without beating about the bush, the controversial part of the Bill and the one on which right hon. and hon. Members have been lobbied assiduously is clause 2, which would ban hunting.
I live in a beautiful part of the Scottish countryside. I have two organised hunts in my constituency. For 10 years or so, I owned a horse and enjoyed riding. I have never hunted, but I have watched hunting on occasions. If I were confronted with an opinion poll and asked to tick a box to approve or disapprove hunting, I would have to say that I disapprove, but that is not the point. The point is whether I use my vote in the House of Commons to ban an activity in which I personally do not wish to take part when others might use their votes to ban activities in which I do wish to take part. As a Liberal, I believe very firmly that that is a matter for individual conscience and that it is for individuals to make up their minds. It is not a matter for the law to intervene in.
I say that because I admit to fishing--I enjoy fishing. I am an honourary member of the Selkirk and District angling club, and I fish on the Ettrick and Yarrow. I owe it money for my annual salmon permit. I am also in a syndicate that fishes a nearby loch. On occasions, when I have been photographed or televised in that pursuit, I have received letters from members of the public and, indeed, from members of my own party asking why I engage in such a barbaric pursuit as fishing.
People are entitled to their views on that matter, but the only safe recourse is the one that was put forward by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). He is at least logical in his arguments; he is a vegetarian. I have been to abattoirs in this country and
Column 1322overseas, and I have no doubt that abattoirs overseas are less well regulated than they often are in this country. I have no doubt that cruelty to animals is involved, unhappily, in a meat-eating society. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right to seek refuge in being a vegetarian and to enunciate as a fundamental principle that any activity that involves cruelty to animals should be banned by law.
That, of course, takes us down the very road that I do not wish to travel. I do not wish to ban fishing or shooting. I shoot occasionally, usually when people want to preserve their stock, as I am not a particularly good shot. I have a trained flat-coat retriever with which I enjoy working in the countryside.
The promoter of the Bill mentioned a recent opinion poll that showed a narrow majority, but still a majority, of people against shooting. I regard clause 2 as the thin end of a wedge that will threaten the pursuit of country sports as we know them today. I shall tell the House what the implications of that would be for the rural environment and the rural economy.
I am told that one of the hunts in my constituency is just about to move into new premises. There will be direct employment implications in that, but of course indirect employment in the saddlery shops, vets' surgeries, smithies and so on associated with organised hunting would be put at risk. Much more important, because I do not speak with any great knowledge of hunting, is that the growing practice of proper wildlife management in this country would be put at risk if the economic benefits of country sports were removed. I will give a specific example.
In some parts of Scotland, vast sums of money are charged to visitors for a day's fishing or shooting. That does not happen so much in my part of Scotland. However, I shall give a breakdown from an estate near where I live, showing the expenditure of one visiting sportsman over either a long weekend or a short mid-week break. Such people tend to be from Germany or Italy, who come to shoot deer or pheasant. If one sportsman spends £650, £350 goes directly into the wildlife department of the forestry estates in order to maintain the gamekeepers and the other resources which enable wildlife to be managed; £100 goes into a local farmhouse for bed-and-breakfast accommodation; £50 goes into the local hotel for meals or drinks; and about £150 on average, it is reckoned, is spent in the local woollen mills by those welcome visitors buying some of our splendid wool or cashmere products to take home to their nearest and dearest. That is part of the fabric of the rural economy in the south of Scotland. If we take away the injection of income that country sports bring there would be some destruction of that economy as we know it today. Of course one could say that in an ideal world man should not interfere with animals. But we grow sheep and cattle on the hills, and we plant more and more trees to help with the balance of payments. Man has interfered with the balance of nature, so the only way in which wildlife can be sustained and protected is through further interference by mankind.
To read some of the letters that we receive one would think that the animal kingdom was a world of tranquillity, peace and order, and that cuddly foxes leapt straight out of the pages of Beatrix Potter and were never destructive themselves.
Column 1323I remember, in my early days as a Member of the House, having to make speeches critical of the forestry organisations, both the Forestry Commission and the private forestry interests, because they ignored the long-term interests of the environment. I am happy to say that over the 30 years that I have been a Member of Parliament there has been a complete revolution in the thinking of both the Forestry Commission and the private forestry interests about the long-term development of the rural environment.
Now in my constituency we find with pleasure places where the forestry has been opened up to the public, where deciduous trees have been planted, wildlife has been protected and ponds have been created for bird life. The result has been a complete revival of wildlife--deer, foxes, badgers, eagles, osprey and red squirrels. All that can be enjoyed not only by those who, like me, are fortunate enough to live in rural areas but by the urban population, who can come out to the lungs of the country and enjoy the pleasures of wildlife.
I believe that the Bill strikes at the heart of the progress that has been made. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield is correct to say that if we accept clause 2 it will not be long before other Bills come before the House seeking to ban other country sports too. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and I think that it should be drawn by deleting clause 2.
Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking): I agree strongly with what the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) said about the long-term implications of clause 2. I shall dwell on those later, but I also endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about clause 1. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) is not in his place now, but there is no doubt that if he had the good sense to say that he would proceed with clause 1 only, the House could get on with that without any difficulty and we could get on to the following business, which is equally important to many of us. We want to see that proceed too, and I hope that that can happen without any unnecessary procedural time-wasting by the supporters of this Bill.
The presence on the Opposition Front Bench of the hon. Members for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who have recently been taking an interest in angling, is welcome, and I draw attention to it. I think that they are mistaken if they believe that angling is not threatened by the anti movement. I do not know whether other hon. Members have seen a remarkable pamphlet entitled "Angling--the Neglected Bloodsport" published by the Campaign for the Abolition of Angling. For hon. Members who have not yet seen it, that document will repay some study.
The pamphlet declares:
"Sparrows, swans, moorhens, coots, gulls, dogs, bats, fish . . . anglers kill them all".
That is illustrated with a photograph of a sparrow found on the river Medway in Kent, with the comment:
"It is but one of thousands of animals killed and injured every year by anglers' lost and discarded fishing tackle."
I should declare my interest here. I am chairman of the fisheries committee of the British Field Sports Society and I fish myself. I do not hunt, but I shoot. I
Column 1324see the threat to hunting presented by the Bill as extending across the board, and I believe that those seeking to advance it--not the promoter himself, but those who lie behind him, such as the League Against Cruel Sports--have a wider agenda, as my right hon. Friends the Members for Bridgwater (Sir T. King) and for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) have already said--
Mr. Bellingham: My right hon. Friend is talking about fishermen; is he aware that in my constituency there are several angling clubs, and that in one of those clubs a disabled angler had his tyres slashed and all his kit thrown into the river by hunt saboteurs? Is he aware that the agenda of the League Against Cruel Sports is, of course, to outlaw fishing too?
Sir Cranley Onslow: Indeed, I was moving towards that point, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. But first I want to spend a little longer on the activities of the Campaign for the Abolition of Angling.
The pamphlet that I have already quoted goes on to define what it calls:
"The Extent of the Cruelty",
"Of all types of angling, coarse fishing is the most popular. It is also the cruellest. Millions of seemingly `harmless' anglers seek to stick hooks into the mouths of largely inedible fish purely for the fun of it! . . .
Not content with abusing fish, anglers are also responsible for the maiming and killing of countless thousands of waterfowl and other animals which ingest and become entangled in lost/discarded fishing tackle."
I do not defend any angler who litters the bank of a river or a canal or a still water with discarded tackle. I know that that practice can cause harm, and I also know how strongly the angling governing bodies feel against it. However, I ask the House and, in his absence, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, to understand that that sort of propaganda is put about to influence impressionable children and others, and that we should recognise that.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) rose --
Sir Cranley Onslow: No, I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman is a great intervener but I wish that he would stay tethered for the moment. [Interruption.] I am sorry, but there are moments when the hon. Gentleman reminds me of a hot-air balloon.
I want to draw attention to the connection between the Campaign for the Abolition of Angling and the hunt saboteurs. The Campaign for the Abolition of Angling advertises in the hunt saboteurs' publication, and the hunt saboteurs' spokesman has said:
"Next we would move onto the fringe blood sports: shooting and fishing."
In 1992 the newsletter of the Campaign for the Abolition of Angling said:
"Last year was the first that the hunt saboteurs joined in the fight against angling, using non-violent direct action to save the lives of fish. Many sab groups have continued to target anglers throughout the season."
As my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham) has pointed out, such intervention is by no means always non-violent. I could cite other cases with which the House should be familiar in which violence has been used to intimidate individual anglers,
Column 1325and to drive them from the river or canal. I have little doubt that if the hunt saboteurs and those who drive them on were successful in their campaign against hunting there would be only a short spell before they moved on to activities aimed at other sports-- activities of the same kind and degree.
I deplore, as I hope the whole House deplores, the intrusion of violent action into perfectly legal legitimate activities and recreations. There is little doubt about that, and if any hon. Member wishes to challenge the proposition, I hope that he will intervene now, because I should be glad to hear from him. I notice that no one has sought to intervene, so the point can be taken as conceded. This is the thin end of a dangerous wedge. The antis have a wide agenda and broader objectives than are embodied in the Bill. To encourage them by supporting clause 2 would simply threaten all field sports. Hunting, shooting and fishing all stand threatened in the same way and by the same people.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey): I shall respond to the right hon. Gentleman's challenge. It is disingenuous ever to argue on any legislation that a particular proposal implies that later there may be support for further measures-- [Hon. Members:-- "It is true."] Of course it is not true. The issue must be judged on its merits, and the right hon. Gentleman will persuade people only if he argues about the merits of hunting, whereby people and dogs go out and kill foxes for pleasure as an alternative way of killing them. Only on that argument can he adduce support for his proposition. Anything else is irrelevant.
Sir Cranley Onslow: The hon. Gentleman might do best to talk to one or two of his Liberal colleagues. They have said that they agree with me and not with him. The hon. Gentleman is a master of disingenuousness, and he has demonstrated that to the House.
Mr. King: Did I misunderstand the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), or was he saying, "Don't worry about newspaper editors and the normal conduct of politics, direct action is needed"? The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be supporting the call for direct action, and not just in hunting, since he seem to regard that approach as a seamless robe to other country sports as well. He appears to be saying that he has the route to a more acceptable society.
Sir Cranley Onslow: Unfortunately, the right hon. Member for Chesterfield is not in his place. I have no doubt, however, that my right hon. Friend's interpretation is entirely right. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman meant what he said. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) does not understand that. It is clear that his Liberal colleagues do.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery): Perhaps I might redress the balance. I am a Liberal Democrat Member for a rural area, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the conservation of the countryside, which so many urban people are determined to secure, is conservation of something that
Column 1326has been created by those who farm the countryside? Surely the best judges of whether fox control is needed by the means that we are discussing are those very people, the farmers. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree also that one of the most misleading arguments in the debate is that we are talking about toffs in red coats? Most people who hunt--this is certainly the position in rural Wales--are ordinary farmers, many of them earning very little. They pay a small subscription each year and manage to keep a fair balance between farmer and fox.
Sir Cranley Onslow: I entirely agree. My Welsh farming friends share the view that the hon. and learned Gentleman has expressed. I do not want to rub salt into the wound, but it is conceivable that there might now be a Liberal Member representing Brecon and Radnor if the Liberal candidate at the last election had expressed the view that the hon. and learned Gentleman has put before the House. I am glad to have his support.
I do not wish to detain the House for much longer. I merely put on record the fact that the National Federation of Anglers, the National Federation of Sea Anglers and the Salmon and Trout Association all object to legislative interference in any legitimate country sport. They all reiterate the fundamental right of every individual to choose his or her country sport. These are not matters for legislation and clause 2 does not deserve the support of the House. 11.32 am
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), in his absence, on the Bill that he has produced and on the eloquent way in which he presented it.
It is not my intention to take a great deal of the time of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton covered all the points that had to be made, and did so eloquently. I wish to make only one or two observations.
In pursuing these issues--hare coursing or whatever--for nearly 30 years in the House, I have become conscious of increasing support for action to stop cruelty to animals and for the need to legislate against it. That support has come about over the passage of time. That is due in large part to the great campaigning work of the League Against Cruel Sports. I am proud to have been associated with the league over nearly 30 years. I am a vice- president.
The purpose of clause 1 is to extend the protection that is given to animals in captivity to wild animals. Over the past few months, there has been an argument about the way in which we look after calves that are transferred to the continent. There has been a great deal of hypocrisy. Ministers have thrown up their hands in shock, horror and disgust at the crating of calves on the continent. They seem surprised when they do not get their own way. At the same time, their friends, or members of their families, dress up in red coats and pursue other animals to have them pulled to death by dogs. There must be some consistency of argument. Unfortunately, Ministers have been failing in that regard and in their attitude towards the care of veal calves.
Column 1327I listened with interest to the former leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). Much of his speech had nothing to do with the Bill. It should be understood that the Bill would not ban shooting, or angling. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention that. Similarly, he did not mention that hunting deer by dogs in Scotland has been outlawed for nearly 40 years.
I welcome, with the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, all the improvements that have been made in forestry. We have seen the provision of ponds, the planting of deciduous trees and the introduction of opportunities for bird life, for example. All those developments have had the support of many people, who take the view that such things have nothing to do with the contents of the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman were to urge the Government to spend more money on such developments, many of us would support him. Needless cruelty is demeaning to humankind. At the same time, no exaggerated value should be placed upon the deer, the fox or the hare in relationship to human beings. If we were spending our time today debating homelessness in London or in the rest of the country and urging the Government to spend more money to tackle the problem, I would feel that that was a better use of our time than discussing our attitude towards animals, but that is not the position. We are discussing animals and the way that we treat them, and the way that that affects our dignity as human beings. As I have said, to allow needless cruelty to be inflicted on animals is demeaning to human dignity.
Animals were placed upon the earth to be used by man, not to be abused. To hunt them purely and simply for the purpose of personal satisfaction and fun is immoral. It is denying animals their dignity and, more important than that, debasing ours.
Clause 1 is important because it would end the present legislative anomaly. On Radio Humberside this morning I heard people from the Hull Hedgehog hospital talking about their work. They have received about 4,000 hedgehogs over the past few years, many of which have been mutilated by people or animals. When they are in their cages in the hospital it is a criminal offence to poke them with sticks, to beat them or to abuse them in any way. When they are set in a field after receiving care, people can kick them, throw stones at them and burn them. We have heard about the young schoolboys from Pocklington. That sort of action is permissible in those circumstances. Conservative Members say that they are against kicking, thumping and torture. They say that it is needless cruelty. They are happy for such behaviour to be banned. If my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton, in his wisdom, was content only for clause 1 to be enacted, along with some legislation on snaring, it seems that there would be no objection from Conservative Members. What difference is there in principle between kicking a hare and deliberately setting dogs on it to use it as a tug of war? What difference is there in the pain that is suffered in those circumstances?
Conservative Members ask, "Have you seen those things?", as though to appreciate the difficulties that are associated with a deadly disease we must suffer it before making a speech about it. They seem to be
Column 1328suggesting that it is necessary to have had smallpox, leprosy or cholera before we can legislate to try to get rid of such diseases. Yes, I have been to see hare coursing; I went with my former colleague, the late Arnold Shaw, to see it at the east of England meet. On that occasion, they did not know that Members of Parliament were present. They released the hares far closer to the dogs than they did, for example, at the Waterloo cup, when it was known that lots of people would be there. On those occasions, I saw--photographic evidence of it appeared in the Daily Mirror and, if it had been allowable in the debate, I would have produced them--a hare with its hind legs in the mouth of one hound and the head in the mouth of another, being pulled around, screaming. That is what hon. Members who speak in favour of hunting today are defending.
Mr. Colvin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. McNamara: Yes, but let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that that is what he is defending.