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Mr. Colvin: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I know that he feels strongly about this, but I could not condone the sort of things that he has just described, and he knows perfectly well that all field sports are governed by strict codes of conduct, and if anyone participating in a field sport breaks those codes of conduct, there are sanctions that the governing bodies can take against them. If field sports cannot regulate and control themselves, they are just asking for Parliament to come in and do it for them.
Mr. McNamara: That is precisely what we are doing. We are trying to stop them, because they are not even enforcing their own rules. The masters of fox hunts are not enforcing the rules, as we have seen in recent cases.
Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South): Is my hon. Friend aware that when I had the dubious privilege of visiting the Waterloo cup on one of the occasions to which he referred, by some strange coincidence all the hares got away, because it was known that a deputation of Members of Parliament was present? What was interesting to me was the baying of frustrated blood lust on the bank opposite.
Mr. McNamara: I understand what my hon. Friend says.
Sir David Steel: The hon. Gentleman said a few moments ago that he held office in the League Against Cruel Sports. I think it was that organisation--he will correct me if I am wrong--that sent hon. Members an anti-hunting video. I took the trouble to watch it and it had nothing whatever to do with organised hunting. It was in fact the repeated release and capture of a fox, being torn to bits by dogs. I wholly oppose that and believe that it should be outlawed under clause 1.
Mr. McNamara: It showed organised huntsmen digging out foxes and putting terriers in and it showed the way in which foxes were treated. I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that the arguments that have been advanced here this morning--about the use of dogs and so on--in favour of hunting are precisely the same
Column 1329arguments that should be used about badger baiting. Why should badger baiting be illegal? It is only people going down, getting out a little animal and putting other animals in to tear it to pieces. What is wrong with that, for goodness sake? Hon. Members should be up in arms and demanding the end of the ban on badger baiting, on bear baiting, on bull baiting. We should be building bigger and bigger plazas in the centre of London so that we can have bull fighting. That is the sort of logic of the argument that people in favour of hunting use, and that is what they are not prepared to accept, so they hide behind fancy little phrases like "country sports", as though they sanitise the nastiness that is contained within them. Or they say, "If it was really done properly according to our rules, none of this would be allowed." But we all know that those rules are there to put up a facade to preserve something. If there are serious breaches, they fail to act properly in any way against the miscreants, as one can see in what has happened recently to the masters of many distinguished hunts.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I refer to the point that was made by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). I, too, have seen the video that was sent out, in which a number of long dogs were seen tearing apart a hare.
Mr. Garnier: It is not a very good video, perhaps. The point, surely, is whether the appalling conduct that was seen on the video would be allowable under clause 4, which would allow gangs of men, each with their own dog, to go out and do precisely what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North is complaining about?
Mr. McNamara: That is not true at all. It would not be allowed. Look at the data contained in that clause.
We have had no real defence of what has been going on. The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)--the right hon. Member for two stag hunts- -said how deplorable it was at Porlock that the stags jumped on to the roof to escape the dog, how deplorable that they had to go into the sea, how deplorable that they jumped off the cliff. It is very deplorable, but he is not going to do anything about it, because it is one of the nice things about country life that we do not really understand.
Mr. McNamara: It is very colourful, but I am sure that that opinion was not shared by the deer in question.
Then we come to what is supposed to be the real reason for fox hunting--to put down pests. Nobody here has attempted to defend hare coursing. Deer hunting has been defended, but no one has explained why it is not necessary to use hounds to control deer in Scotland, where they have the biggest deer herds, or in other
Column 1330places where there are deer--Epping Forest, Richmond, the midlands, coming down from the north into Yorkshire and so on.
Mr. O'Hara: Magdalen college, Oxford.
Mr. McNamara: Magdalen college, Oxford, is a little separate. I understand that the deer are reared specifically for consumption. It is not necessary to control wild deer in any way.
We go to enormous expense to control foxes as pests. Yet we choose the most inefficient way of doing it, even doing it with dogs. The dogs are bred not for their ability to get hold of a fox's neck and twist it quickly and kill it but for their stamina. They do not want the fox to be caught. They want the enjoyment of the chase. If one wants the enjoyment of the chase, there is the drag hunt. To argue that hunting is an efficient form of pest control is really putting logic on its head. The real reason is the pleasure of the chase and the kill. We have seen what has been done by terrier men associated with hunts.
We have seen the evils that many people have been engaged in, despite the passing of legislation: in badger baiting, in the blocking up of holes. We have seen dog fighting continue, as it has done in the East Riding of Yorkshire. All those evils are there and the basis of those evils is that further along the social line there is the attitude that fox hunting is permissible. Because of that, all those other evil, illegal things go on.
If hon. Members say that the Bill is the thin end of the wedge, they are arguing in favour of the return of each and every one of the sports that I mentioned earlier. They would be saying that we could have a good society for badger baiting with elaborate rules to prevent cruelty, and we could do the same for bull baiting and cock fighting, that we could go along with all those things and have a perfectly civilised, organised society. There would be no thin of the wedge, which is the fear of the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, the former leader of the Liberal party. There would be a nice, happy sort of society and we could go out of our way to breed tiny, thin, little boys who would be able to go round cleaning central heating pipes.
Mr. John Patten (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) on his speech. He is passionate about these matters, and he delivered a passionate speech. I share his slight surprise that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) has been missing from the Chamber for a great number of speeches. Doubtless he is out being addressed by those luvvies to whom the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) referred, so that they can later talk to each other about their response to him.
Mr. McNamara: The right hon. Gentleman is being unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). As a former Minister, the right hon. Gentleman knows that, when he used to grace the Front Bench and make speeches, he sometimes disappeared
Column 1331to do his bit on television and radio. He will probably be far less successful in his career than my hon. Friend will be in his.
Mr. Patten: I do not want to take up much time on this matter. The hon. Member for Dumbarton spoke well, passionately and clearly, although he got into a frightful muddle when he set himself a trap by speaking about the way in which dogs fall roundly on a rat or a rabbit and dispatch it fairly quickly. He used that argument as though that practice were acceptable, but that is exactly what happens at the end of a fox hunt. I would like the hon. Gentleman to be here to listen to the arguments. It is his Bill, and perhaps his one chance to put a measure into law. He is wrong to prefer the media to the House: he should be listening to the debate.
Having made that entirely bipartisan comment, I shall make four points. They are on my interest, on terminology, on important constitutional implications of the Bill, and on the problem of balance which it poses for our society. I make it clear that I respect the deeply held convictions of hon. Members who support the Bill. I especially appreciate the way in which the hon. Member for Dumbarton made his points.
I shall deal first with my personal interest. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) enjoined us to declare our interest in these matters. I have no interest at all to declare. Neither I nor anyone in my family hunts, shoots or fishes. It must be 25 years since I last concerned myself with anything remotely connected with field sports.
I suppose I should also declare that, as I represent a largely urban and suburban constituency, it is unlikely to be in my political interests to oppose the Bill. However, I am told that, in some politically correct parts of north Oxford, the journal Country Life is cling-wrapped and put on top shelves, and it is possible to get Horse and Hound from under the counter of newsagents' shops only on the payment of particularly large sums.
Secondly, I shall deal with terminology. I say to hon. Members in all parts of the House who care about animals that, irrespective of whether they are in favour of the Bill, the use of the term "animal rights" is inappropriate. Rights are the mirror images of duties, and there can be no such things as animal rights, since there can be no animal duties. Of course, there can and should be animal welfare, but it is important that we do not drag the correct use of the word "rights" in the human context into the area and arena of animals. Thirdly, I shall deal with the constitutional issue. The House must face the implications of using this or any other private Member's Bill to criminalise activities in which a substantial number of our fellow citizens regularly and innocently engage, and have done so historically under part of our constitutional arrangements. Such a change should always be covered by the authority of the electorate. In other words, such legislation should be Government or Government-backed, and the Government of the day should take responsibility for it before Parliament and the public.
There are, of course, precedents in this place for all sorts of private Member's Bills which have later effected changes in the criminal law, but that has
Column 1332always been with Government backing. That is an extremely important constitutional point. Many hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens could find themselves involved, prima facie, in criminal activities should the Bill become law.
The Minister and I were new entrants to this place in 1979. If he is lucky enough to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and speaks in the debate, I ask him to reflect on the substantial constitutional point. He knows me well enough to know that, when I say that I would be very upset if he did not do that in his remarks, I mean it.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West): Will my right hon. Friend reflect on what might happen if 250,000 people going about their regular daily life were to be regarded as criminals although they did not think they were? Many of their friends would not be prepared to give evidence against them, and that would result in an important law being completely unenforceable.
Mr. Patten: That is why I advise the House to tread extremely carefully on this issue. It should do that not only because of the Bill's substance but because of the wider implications that my hon. Friend mentions.
Mr. Tony Banks: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Patten: Perhaps I may complete the point that I was making to the Minister.
Of course, in his winding-up speech I do not expect my hon. Friend to commit the Government to support or oppose the measure in any way. I am trying to be brief, as I know that many hon. Members want to take part in the debate.
My fourth point is that I advise the House to think carefully about two other matters. First, on the one hand is its duty to protect a plurality of interests and minorities. Secondly, and on the other hand, I advise it to pursue strict logic in looking at issues of animal welfare. As I hope to demonstrate, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North did not follow strict logic. On the first point that I have just made, any country should accept different points of view and should tolerate different values among its citizens, as the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) said so clearly in his liberal speech. John Stuart Mill warned us against Parliament framing laws which forbid people from pursuing long-established customs, or from destroying natural forms in our society. He felt that the business of Parliament was to protect such spontaneous associations that stemmed from our constitutional freedoms, based on our traditions, and thought that every act should be permitted unless it was forbidden by law. Such ways of life form the stuff of our national life. Equally, my distinguished constituent Sir Isiah Berlin tells us today, a couple of centuries later, that civil society should have a plurality of values.
We should struggle to avoid narrow-minded intolerance, and should resist the temptation to insist that everyone must conform to what a majority opinion poll says, simply because the majority in an opinion poll express a certain point of view on a particular day.
Column 1333Of equal importance to the constitutional and philosophical points is the need for logic. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said that anyone who opposed the Bill must automatically be in favour of the reintroduction of all forms of animal cruelty that were abolished in the past. The hon. Gentleman is right. There is a settlement about how animals may be killed in this country, one part of which the Bill seeks to disturb and then to criminalise. I welcome the hon. Member for Dumbarton back to the Chamber. Hon. Members must recognise that all killing of animals involves some degree of pain and cruelty, except in the case of sick animals being put down in a vet's surgery. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North said, some forms of killing are proscribed by law because, in the view of this place, they involve cruelty.
The Bill picks out hunting with hounds as being peculiarly cruel, and therefore deserving of a criminal penalty. If those who support the Bill think that line through, their arguments must lead them to pursue the logic that all animal killing which involves cruelty should be banned, because all animal killing involves some cruelty and fear.
Fearful birds which are driven over guns and badly shot doubtless feel great pain as they eventually die from their wounds, or are picked up by a dog. Fish on the end of a line doubtless feel the same, and the logic of the Bill demands that the hundreds of thousands of people who shoot and the millions who fish in this country should be similarly strictly treated.
Mr. Duncan: One could not even keep a cat.
Mr. Patten: I speak not of cats today.
Hon. Members should go down to their local abattoir, and they will see animals in the queue with an odd look in their eyes. The animals are conscious that something unusual is probably about to happen to them. It is something unusual--they are about to be killed. They do feel fear, discomfort and pain. The killing of animals always involves shock and pain.
Mr. Tony Banks: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Patten: Many people in this country disapprove of ritual slaughter.
Mr. Banks: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that he is not giving way. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.
Mr. Patten: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your protection from the terrifying vision opposite. I would certainly never give way to an hon. Member who is dressed in a cinema usherette's jacket.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. In a debate of this nature, it is better for all personal references to be strictly suppressed.
Mr. Patten: I entirely agree, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am deeply ashamed of myself, and I hope that the whole House will accept my apology about the remarks I made about the hon. Gentleman's disgusting jacket.
Column 1334Many people disapprove of ritual slaughter on account of the alleged suffering involved. I understand and appreciate that feeling, and I believe that more pain is caused to animals who are ritually slaughtered than to animals killed in domestic slaughterhouses. But I do not feel that practices which are central to the lives of our Jewish and Muslim minorities should be banned by this place. Some who dislike hunting talk of the fear and mental cruelty which may be caused to animals by their being chased. I personally intensely disapprove of the cruel habit of keeping large dogs pent up in city flats, but I do not think that this place has any right at all to seek to outlaw a custom on which many people--often lonely people--depend for companionship or for peace of mind.
The waters represented by the Bill, which has been put forward by its promoters for the best of reasons, are very dangerous. Activities should never be banned because the majority happen to be opposed to them on moral grounds. It must be a principle that the state must not intervene on moral disagreements between different groups of citizens of different sizes.
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West): Will my right hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Patten: Despite the charming jacket which my hon. Friend is wearing, I shall not give way to her, as I did not give way to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I am just about to complete my speech.
Minorities in the country feel threatened and misunderstood by the overwhelming urban majority. People in the country who hunt, shoot and fish pose no threat to civil society. People in the countryside who pursue country sports pose no threat to their fellow human beings. They receive no state subsidies, and ask for nothing. They pose no danger to the environment, or to the welfare of others. They do not threaten nature in any way. Their lawful activities should be protected by a House of Commons which is properly tolerant of a minority with historic rights in our constitutional settlement. 12.4 pm
Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh): I wish to relate some personal--and rather horrifying--experiences which occurred when I, as a young boy, had to deal with animals, including some of those mentioned in the debate today.
I remind the House that fox hunting was originally an entertainment for the wealthy of the nation, and it is only in recent times that those involved have been forced to provide justification for the unnecessary cruelty involved in the sport. Despite what people may say, hunting is big business, but it is the relentless persecution, maiming and death of a living creature for money and enjoyment. With some emotion, I shall relate to the House some of the horrifying acts which I was forced to undertake as a young boy. At the age of eight, I had been left with my grandfather who had been injured in a mining tragedy in a colliery owned by the Duke of Bridgwater and the Earl of Ellesmere. He had been given the job of estate ranger in a tied cottage, where I was domiciled at that age.
Column 1335Arising out of the household duties--as they were called in those days--I was given the job of looking after and grooming the fox hunters' horses. I was taught how to set snares and traps, and I became aware of the unimaginable cruelty which was imposed on various species at that time. It was commonplace 50 years ago to wring the neck of a pheasant or a pigeon, or to skin a rabbit. Unfortunately, that was the practice of the times. I must say regretfully that we have not made tremendous progress over the years.
I well remember the worst experience I ever had. I was forced to take a spade and bludgeon to death some baby weasels in their nests. I never forget those indescribable screams which rose from the weasels, and after all these years I still imagine that I can hear the haunting echoes of those penetrating shrills.
That dreadful experience was one of the reasons why I joined the Labour party, as I always considered the Labour party to be the natural political home for the welfare of animals. I ran away 48 hours after the weasel incident. I was not arrested, but I was found by the local constabulary just beyond Preston. I was apprehended in a very nice way and placed in what was called Worsley court house, which belonged to my grandfather's employer, the duke. I was chastised and scolded by the local sergeant, and was put on so-called "lighter duties".
I was taught to shoot at the age of 12. In that great area of Worsley woods, I shot foxes, hares, rabbits and birds and anything else that I believed was detrimental to the terms of my grandfather's contract of employment. I remember the first fox I shot, for which I received the reward of a silver threepenny bit.
That was the stage when I began to wonder about blood-letting money. I was a religious young boy and I was disturbed about it. I remember going to confession and telling the priest how I felt. I did not get a very prudent answer; I was told, "Just remember the good that you have done and the evil that you have borne," and to say 10 Hail Marys.
Although I do not always agree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), I support his comment that 60 per cent. of all foxes that are shot die a very slow death. We used to dispose of some down disused mine shafts on the colliery estate.
On one occasion, one of the gamekeepers was wounded by a bullet that had ricocheted off a tree. I have to tell the shooting fraternity--
Mr. Colvin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Cunliffe: No; this is only the fourth speech since the debate started at 9.30 am. I might give way later.
I say clearly and distinctly to the marksmen that, when thinking about and judging or acting on these matters, if the bullet or arrow were first dipped in the blood of the marksmen it would never reach its target because it would never have left the gun or the bow--because they would then understand the excruciating pain and torment that is inflicted on animals. There should be a greater realisation that it is impossible to minimise the amount of pain, even with the best techniques available.
Mr. Colvin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I acknowledge that he speaks with
Column 1336first-hand experience of living in the countryside and being involved with the matters that we are debating this morning. I want to endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about shooting. He may be interested to know that, a couple of years ago, it was reported by the Cambridgeshire hunt that half the foxes it killed during that season were suffering from gangrene wounds. That underlines how unsatisfactory shooting is as a method of fox control. It shows that hunting can provide a useful way of putting those foxes out of their misery--otherwise, they would suffer a long and lingering death.
Mr. Cunliffe: I am grateful for the first part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but I fundamentally disagree with his final comments.
Having spoken to animal rights activists and having looked back on some of the things that I did when I was young, I am passionately convinced that all acts of animal cruelty, no matter what the purpose, are despicable, detestable and indefensible in a so-called Christian civilised society, especially if those acts are, as is unfortunately so often the case, carried out in the pursuit of pleasure. 12.14 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker): I congratulate the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) on his good fortune in securing the debate today, and on the excellent way in which he introduced the Bill. We have had a wide-ranging consideration of an important issue, with some excellent speeches--to which it is now my duty to respond.
The matter was last debated almost precisely three years ago. The hon. Gentleman is a doughty warrior, and has the stamina one would expect of a long-distance runner. I pay him tribute for the fact that, in drawing up the Bill, he has taken note of some of the concerns which my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold), on behalf of the Government, expressed on that earlier occasion.
The Bill's title describes it as a measure to provide protection for all wild mammals. Specifically, it seeks to protect any such animals from being cruelly kicked, beaten or tortured. The Government have already given considerable priority to that aspect of the law. Our record on the protection of our animal species and the conservation of their natural habitats is very positive, and one that I happily present to the House.
Britain has 48 species of mammal. Those species which are endangered, or which would become so unless conservation measures were taken, are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The mammals covered by the Act include the red squirrel, otter and dormouse, together with all species of bats, whales, dolphins and porpoises which may be living in our territorial waters or migrating through them.
The Act fulfils the United Kingdom's international obligations under the convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats. The Act has now been supplemented by the European Union's habitats directive. That directive sets out protective measures for wildlife habitats and a wide range of European species
Column 1337of animals and plants. It has been implemented in the United Kingdom since last year by regulations made under the European Communities Act 1972.
Dr. Spink: Does my hon. Friend accept that the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 does not give adequate protection to badgers because their setts can be blocked? Are the Government intending to resolve that difficulty?
Mr. Baker: The Government have introduced measures on badgers, and I hope that my hon. Friend will acknowledge what has been done. If he has any suggestions for improvements, we would certainly consider them.
The 1981 Act contains provisions for a review of the species covered by the Act and the addition of species where that is necessary in the interests of conservation. Since the Act came into force, there have been two reviews of the animals and plants covered by its provisions. Those resulted in the addition of species as diverse as the sturgeon, the wild cat, six species of beetle and 22 species of butterfly. The next review is due to be completed by the end of 1996.
The Act also specifically prohibits the use of the self-locking snare on any wild animal, and protects a number of particular species, such as badgers, otters and red squirrels, from trapping and snaring in general, as my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) acknowledged. The maximum fine for anyone found guilty of using an illegal snare is £5,000 for each animal harmed.
The United Kingdom has also acted against cruel trapping methods abroad. We were at the forefront in pressing for the EC regulation covering the use of leg-hold traps. That regulation was adopted in November 1991, and it prohibits the use of leg-hold traps within the Union from 1 January 1996--a prohibition that has already been in force in this country for more than 30 years.
Legislation also exists to control the use of spring traps, which must be submitted for approval and are tested for humaneness and efficacy. Traps must be approved by order in this House. Strict conditions of use are specified, covering the manner of use and the species against which the trap may be used, thus minimising the risks to non-target species. Use of an illegal spring trap is punishable on summary conviction by a fine of up to £1,000.
Similarly, there is legislation governing the use of chemical products to control pests. Before they can be approved for use, products classified as pesticides undergo a thorough evaluation, including an assessment of whether the product is humane in its action. That area of legislation is supported by the Government's campaign against illegal poisoning of wildlife. That campaign publicises the consequences of the illegal use of pesticides and aims to encourage the adoption of legal methods of pest control. In addition to that strong legislative framework for the protection of mammals, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food continually seeks to develop alternative, more humane methods of controlling pests. Current projects include the development of electric fencing, repellents and conditioned taste aversion, the
Column 1338latter involving tricking an animal pest into associating food with illness. The use of a fertility control agent is also being investigated to control wild rabbits. If successful, the Ministry will consider whether fertility control can be used against other pest species.
The United Kingdom is also a party to the convention on biological diversity, signed by more than 150 countries at the 1992 earth summit conference in Rio de Janeiro. The UK's response, "Biodiversity: the UK Action Plan", published in January 1994, sets the goals of conserving and enhancing biological diversity in the UK, and contributing to the conservation of global diversity. A range of costed targets for key habitats and species, including many mammals, will be published by the end of this year.
That shows that considerable protection already exists for wild animals. Hare coursing was raised earlier. I remind hon. Members that Parliament has only recently taken action to discourage illicit hare coursing, which we all agree is a great nuisance. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 has increased the applicable penalties under the Game Act 1831. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the argument will welcome that.
Of course, many circumstances remain in which wild mammals are not subject to any form of legal protection. Some of those concern animals that are regarded as pests in some rural settings, but even so-called pests are not altogether unprotected--the prohibition of the use of gin traps and self- locking snares applies, no matter what the species of animal. It is testimony to our enviable concern for animals that that should be so. It is clear, both from the speeches in this debate and from the postbags that Members of Parliament receive, that a substantial body of opinion is in favour of extending more widely the protection afforded to wild mammals of all types. The Bill seeks to provide protection for any wild mammal from certain specified forms of ill-treatment--being cruelly kicked, beaten or tortured--but there is one particular circumstance for which it is claimed above all others. As the hon. Member for Dumbarton said, one of the principal aims of the Bill is the prevention of fox hunting and other field sports. That is the issue of principle at the heart of the debate. It is the aspect that really interests members of the public.
As the hon. Gentleman will be well aware, strong views are held by people on both sides of the hunting debate. Some people regard it as unspeakable barbarity; others argue that field sports are a proper and necessary part of maintaining the balance of nature. We have heard that argument in the debate today. There are two separate issues: the ethical question whether hunting should be allowed, and the utilitarian question whether other provisions in the Bill would have a harmful effect on pest control. On the latter point, I have to tell the hon. Member for Dumbarton that the Government have considerable reservations about the effect of that aspect of the Bill both on farmers and on rural communities.
The Bill would impose an onerous obligation on everyone in rural communities, making it extremely difficult to control agricultural pests effectively. As I said earlier, I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has taken note of some of the reservations on that score expressed by the Government in relation to an earlier Bill moved by the hon. Member for Kingston upon
Column 1339Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). The licensing system in the Bill remains a problem. The licensing arrangements envisaged for controlling the use of snares would impose onerous obligations on farmers and gamekeepers, and would make it difficult to control agricultural pests.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton quoted statistics about lamb mortality and the need to control foxes. I should like to stress that the known number of lamb deaths attributed to foxes should be set against a background of widespread fox control by farmers. Foxes can cause serious local problems for farmers. The Ministry of Agriculture takes the view, therefore, that foxes need to be controlled to minimise lamb losses.
I hope that I may be permitted a personal observation. Having been brought up on a farm, I am well aware of the damage that predator foxes can do in taking piglets, lambs or fowl on cold winter nights. Farmers must be permitted to deal effectively with agricultural pests. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider that aspect if his Bill proceeds to Committee.
Snares are needed where other methods of pest control are ineffective or impracticable. They are needed, in particular, for the control of foxes at night, where night shooting is considered unsafe, or for the control of rabbits above ground. There is also the risk that, if the use of snares requires a licence, that could encourage the use of more dangerous and illegal alternatives, such as poisoning or unapproved spring traps.
At a time when the Government are trying to reduce bureaucracy, the Bill seeks in some respects to increase the burdens on farmers, many of whom, as I know well, feel that they are already burdened enough with rules and regulations to follow and forms to fill in.
Sir Nicholas Bonsor: Am I right in thinking that, if the Bill goes ahead as it stands, every gardener who has a mole in his garden will have to apply to my hon. Friend's Department for a licence to snare it?
Mr. Baker: That accords with my reading of the Bill, but the hon. Member for Dumbarton will have heard the criticism.
Such a system would also have resource implications for the Ministry of Agriculture. That would need to be funded. I am sure that, if individuals were asked to pay for licences, it could lead to a general increase in unlicensed and illegal control activity. As I said earlier, much of the debate today has centred on the question of hunting. There are strongly held views on each side of the debate, and the Government respect the sincerity with which they are held. Moral debate on a subject like this is right and good. What is not acceptable is any attempt to influence the outcome by force and intimidation.
There have been protests and demonstrations that have been far from peaceful. That is one of the reasons why the Government introduced measures in the