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Column 1340Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to deal with trespass, which were aimed at preventing other people from going about a lawful activity.
Mr. Tony Banks rose --
Mr. Colvin rose --
The implications for law and order mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) will have to be considered by the Standing Committee, if the Bill gets that far, and certainly by the Government as part of that process. I welcome the important, and in many ways philosophical, contribution that my right hon. Friend made to our debate.
As hon. Members are aware--
Mr. Colvin rose --
The Government have consistently adopted a position of neutrality towards all matters affecting field sports. We take the view that participation in field sports is a matter of individual conscience. The Government will maintain that tradition of neutrality today. All hon. Members who wish to express a view one way or another on Second Reading--that includes members of the Government--will be perfectly free to do so, but the licensing provisions and the implications for the control of pests have little to do with the Bill's central issue. If the Bill proceeds to Committee and beyond, I must tell the House that the Government will have to oppose that particular aspect. I am pleased to have been able to inject a neutral note into this passionate debate.
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) on using the opportunity to allow the House to debate this subject and on the excellent way in which he made his speech and outlined his arguments.
Every hon. Member is aware of the public's widespread concern about cruelty to animals and hunting. Yesterday, I and a few other hon. Members of all parties were present when a petition signed by more than 1 million people was presented to No. 10 Downing street, calling for an end to hunting. It had been organised by the campaign against hunting.
I shall take this opportunity to spell out where the Labour party stands on the issue. First, the Labour party supports the protection of wild animals from the infliction of deliberate cruelty and, in that sense, we fully endorse clause 1. I very much hope that it will receive support from a majority in the House.
Column 1341As for hunting, I can do no better than read out a letter sent by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) to people who have inquired about the Labour party's position. He stated clearly:
"The position of the Labour Party on this issue is firm. A Labour Government will make Parliamentary time available for a free vote on the abolition of fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing with dogs."
Of course, if the House voted for abolition, the necessary legislation would be introduced. We recognise that there is a moral element to the issue and that hon. Members of all parties would want to make their position clear in a free vote. I must make it clear that the Labour party is not opposed to responsible shooting or angling and we have never proposed to ban them.
There are issues other than the banning of hunting that a Labour Government would want to consider--for example, the appropriateness or otherwise of activities such as hunting with hounds through public lands such as Forestry Commission land in the New Forest and the impact that it might have on nature conservation and leisure activities.
We would also want to be absolutely sure that Ministry of Defence resources --public money--were not being spent on hunting with hounds and that people in the armed services who wished to hunt with hounds did so at their own expense, not at the taxpayer's expense. We recognise the need for pest control and wildlife management in the countryside, but hunting with hounds is the least appropriate means of achieving that. There are many reasons why people go hunting--socialising, the enjoyment of the chase and a love of horses but predator control certainly is not one of them.
There is so much independent academic evidence on how ineffective fox and stag hunting is as a method of control that I do not believe even the blood sports lobby believe that argument any more. We should put into perspective the impact on livestock of foxes in particular. I can think of at least one Conservative Member who is a bigger danger to sheep than all the foxes in Lincolnshire, and I think hon. Members know to whom I am referring.
As some hon. Members have said, more sheep are lost from hypothermia than from fox predation. Research by Aberdeen university showed that in areas of Scotland where there are no foxes, such as the island of Mull, sheep mortality is generally the same as in other areas. Dr. David McDonald recently issued a report--with the full co-operation, incidentally, of the British Field Sports Society and hunts--that showed the ineffectiveness of controlling foxes with hunts. Professor Stephen Harris of Bristol university has done a great deal of work on the subject.
Sir Nicholas Bonsor: The point I put to the hon. Gentleman, as I did when the House previously discussed the issue, is that the proper control of foxes means not the abolition of foxes but keeping a proper balance of foxes in the countryside. Hunting contributes greatly towards that.
Column 1342population is self-regulating and the impact of hunting on it is negligible. There are far more sophisticated methods of fox control. I am glad that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has given a great deal of considered thought, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said, to non-lethal methods, such as conditioned taste aversion. I understand that the Game Conservancy Trust is also carrying out research on that. To assume that chasing animals around with dogs is the only way to control pests is an outdated attitude with no basis in scientific fact.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): What has not been stated in the House this morning is that hunting folk place great emphasis on keeping nature in balance. The hon. Gentleman says that there is no evidence that fox populations are kept in balance by hunting folk. Why, therefore, are there more foxes in areas where there is more fox hunting?
Mr. Tony Banks: My hon. Friend knows all about the Bill. In answer to the point made by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown), there are probably more foxes in London than there are in any of the areas that we are discussing. Foxes run around getting food from fast-food restaurants and scavenging in bins. There are no hunts in London of which I am aware; I certainly have not seen any in round recently.
Mr. Morley: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman. Recently, he took the opportunity to wreck the Protection of Calves (Export) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), which dealt with the export of veal calves. He therefore does not deserve the courtesy of being allowed to intervene; he need not bother to ask again.
Most people hunt for the enjoyment, as we must recognise. The vast majority of people who hunt are indifferent to the fate of the fox. A minority go because they like killing animals and they like to do things such as pitting terriers against foxes. They do not care much about cruelty or suffering. That is the dark side of hunting, which the Bill rightly seeks to address. That is why the National Federation of Badger Groups supports the Bill. It is aware of a catalogue of incidents in which fox hunts have gone beyond night stopping and have stopped up setts in a way that is both illegal and detrimental to the badger population. As has been mentioned, it is no surprise that the majority of badger baiters who have been convicted are supporters of or are connected with fox hunts.
Column 1343There are no moral or intellectual arguments to defend hunting. As the arguments in favour have been demolished, the blood sports lobby has been forced into rural apartheid. It says that people who do not live in rural areas do not understand the situation and that the opposition to blood sports comes from people living in urban areas. That is not true. The majority of the rural population are opposed to hunting. NOP found that 60 per cent. of people who were asked whether they favoured fox hunting were opposed to it. That figure applies to purely rural areas. A huge referendum organised by the Worcester Referendum Society involving 25,449 people, of whom 10,500 lived in rural areas, showed that 71.8 per cent. wanted hunting with hounds to be banned.
Mr. Garnier: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the recent survey conducted by the Leicester Mercury , which covers my constituency? It found that 70 per cent. of respondents favoured the retention of hunting and that only 29 per cent. favoured banning it.
Mr. Morley: Many surveys have been conducted by recognised, independent and professional pollsters, showing the opposite opinion among people in rural areas. It is clear that the vast majority of people do not support blood sports, even those who live in villages. Hon. Members and others argue that people are opposed to blood sports because they do not understand the issue--the same arguments were put in the poll tax debates to justify a policy that was wrong, illogical and cruel. The same people-- some the same Conservative Members--argued that people opposed the poll tax because they did not understand the argument. The truth is that people understood the argument all too well, as indeed, they understand the argument against hunting all too well.
Let us consider some of the people who live in rural areas, support fox hunting and use the argument that they have some special knowledge. Hon. Members may have received a very interesting circular, as I did in 1992 and again today, called "Let's Learn About Fox Hunting and Stag Hunting" from a Mr. Barton from Somerset. I am always willing to learn, listen to people's arguments and read the facts. Indeed, I was very interested in some of the arguments put in favour of stag hunting by Mr. Barton.
One of Mr. Barton's arguments is that herbivores, including red deer, need predators to keep them wide awake and watchful. There we are: if it were not for packs of dogs, these deer would fall asleep and slump over. He argues that hounds are needed to stop deer overgrazing the same piece of land. These must be really dozy deer who have to be moved on by dogs, otherwise they graze circles of land and starve to death in them.
Mr. Barton argues that dogs are needed to disperse the deer and thereby act as a safeguard against inbreeding. If the deer cannot move on when they have eaten all the grass, too much inbreeding is probably already going on.
We recognise, of course, the need for proper deer management and for deer management committees, but even the most sympathetic study of deer hunting, which was carried out recently by the National Trust, described deer hunts as "not vital" in controlling deer.
Column 1344In the last debate on the Bill dealing with wildlife protection, Sir John Farr, former Member of Parliament for Harborough, told us that if hunting were banned 1 million horses would have to be put down, when there are only 600,000 horses in the country. I presume that he was planning to import a few and to put them down in sympathy with the issue.
In the last debate, the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) told us of a constituent who saw seven foxes surrounding one lamb. Fox gangs are now going around; packs of foxes. That goes against all known biological studies and evidence. In addition, an unnamed farmer in a press report has been accusing people from towns of rounding up urban foxes and releasing packs of them in the countryside. I am sure that those foxes would be somewhat confused. Indeed, the good side to that is that the only chicken at risk is Kentucky Fried Chicken since the foxes come from an urban area.
My favourite quote is recent. Mr. Jonathan Young, editor of The Field , wrote in The Times that a Mr. Davies of Lampeter, in Dyfed, lost 18 lambs in 1993 and seven years ago witnessed an attack. Mr. Davies said:
"The lambs were prancing in the spring sunlight when a Macnab--that's our name for the fox--leapt over the fence, jumped on a lamb's neck and started sucking its blood."
This is new--a vampire fox. The Welsh have to go one extra. Mr. Davies continued:
"I shouted and Macnab disappeared."
I do not know whether it turned into a bat and flew away. If that is the strength of rural arguments and an example of their expertise, I really think that they need to be better.
Mr. Garnier: I am the first to admit that the hon. Gentleman is making a very witty little speech, but I would be grateful if he would be a little less unkind to my predecessor, Sir John Farr. We all know that that was a wrong figure and to seek to build an argument based on a slip of the tongue such as that, against a man who is not here to defend himself and who knew more about the countryside than, I dare say, the hon. Gentleman, is really not on.
Mr. Morley: I certainly do not wish to disparage Sir John Farr, who I know quite well. I sat on the all-party conservation group with him. I am quite prepared to match my credibility on countryside conservation and naturalist matters against that of Sir John Farr or anyone else in the House.
"Whilst it undoubtedly accounts for a number of foxes,"-- we, the Ministry, do
"not consider fox hunting to be a major controlling factor in the fox population."
That quote comes from a letter sent by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 17 February 1994.
Column 1345into perspective. I do not dispute that there are localised problems with foxes, but, overall, I do not think that foxes are a real problem.
It is clear that chasing animals around for a hobby does not make the person who does that an expert on biology, ecology or population dynamics. Many of the articles by hunt supporters that I have read are just depressing for their lack of knowledge. The real reason for hunting is revealed by what we might call the intellectual wing of the blood sports lobby--although perhaps I am being a little generous--in an article by Mr. Roger Scruton. He recently wrote: "Hunting, like football or music or poetry, is a good in itself, a fulfilment of the human spirit, a heightened experience of life which needs no justification."
I believe that it does need justification. However, I am grateful to Mr. Scruton because he is absolutely honest: people go hunting because they like it and for no other reason.
Mr. Colvin: The hon. Gentleman has produced some splendid stories and I hope we can hear a few more because they are grist to the mill of the debate. Earlier, he referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) and his reference in an earlier speech to a lamb surrounded by seven foxes. I saw a similar thing this year. As the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) will be aware, a vixen will take her litter out and teach them how to kill. It just so happens that earlier this year I lost all my chickens. Admittedly, I did not have very many--I only had 12--but I lost them all because the vixen had come in with a litter of five cubs and she taught them how to kill my chickens and they made a very good job of it.
Mr. Morley: Perhaps the vixen should have taught the hon. Gentleman how to lock his chicken house before he goes out. That might have been more useful. At the time of year to which the hon. Member for Devizes referred, the foxes would have been breeding and would not have had their cubs out.
I want to return to the issues in defence of hunting. In some ways, I am sorry to spend so much time on the issue of hunting, but as hon. Members have recognised, that is the most controversial part of the Bill and it requires some attention and arguments.
We hear the argument about predator control, which I believe I have dealt with in some detail. There is also an argument about landscape protection, which we have heard before, and the role that hunts play in that regard. Such arguments may have been relevant in the past, but that still did not stop the loss of 150,000 miles of hedgerows, 50 per cent. of our ancient woodlands and 97 per cent. of our hay meadows. Given the changes in agriculture and agricultural support, there are now enough mechanisms to protect our landscape and to enhance it without the role of the hunts.
We have also heard a quite contradictory argument today. On the one hand, it is argued that hunts must control foxes while, on the other, we hear that hunts protect foxes and maintain the population. I do not believe that that argument stands up to examination.
Column 1346There is also the issue of deer management. We need effective deer management, but hunting deer with hounds is not one of those management techniques.
The argument about jobs has not been raised at length today. I do not deny that jobs are involved in hunting, but I believe the number is somewhat exaggerated. I also believe that those jobs could be protected by a switch to drag hunting.
In 1983, the Cobham report estimated that the total number of people employed in hunting was 3,333, which presumably included indirect employment. In 1992, the people who produced that report increased the figure to 9,500. That was a somewhat startling increase and I could see no real basis for it. In 1994, Penny Mortimer, writing in The Guardian , claimed that hunting supported 30,000 jobs. That report appeared on 1 March and it shows a tremendous increase between 1992 and 1995. On 2 March, in The Times , Frederick Forsyth claimed that 35,000 jobs were supported by hunting. It is the most amazing growth sector. I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Employment is aware of such increases. In fact, I wonder whether such people are using the same calculations as the Secretary of State is using.
There is also the humane argument. I just do not accept that hunting animals with hounds is humane. It is banned in respect of domestic animals and pet animals. The argument is made in that respect. Hunting is deliberately excluded because it was recognised in the past that those who wanted to keep it going had to make sure that it is excluded from the law. Most foxes are run to ground and are killed by terriermen. No one will convince me that putting terriers down fox setts to fight the animal--the fight may continue for a considerable time--and then dig it out, is a humane way of dispatching a fox.
Hunts cause considerable damage and destruction--roads are blocked, gardens invaded, stock scattered and killed, pets savaged and killed, railways blocked, and great inconvenience is caused to people who live in rural areas, as I have read in many letters to rural magazines and rural newspapers.
Some people who have dared to complain, incidentally, have been threatened. Mr. Chris Eley, a sheep farmer in Wales, with whom I have had correspondence, has had dead foxes hung in his trees for having the cheek to complain about the hunt constantly trespassing on his land.
The Government's response was to protect hunts with the aggravated trespass legislation and, with it, all the associated threats to civil liberties. I find it depressing that a Government who thought it important to pass legislation that currently protects members of the Holduness hunt, who recently waved the severed head of a fox on a stick at peaceful protesters, also refused to introduce legislation to deal with racially motivated attacks. It is a matter of wrong priorities.
We have heard about choice and minorities. Some Conservative Members who have used such arguments have not been known for defending minorities. How far do we take the argument of choice? Does it apply to
Column 1347pornography or taking drugs? One could certainly apply it to defend sports such as dog fighting and badger baiting.
Mr. Nicholas Baker: If the hon. Gentleman really is concerned about the harassment of racial and other minorities, will he accept that the new offence that the Government have introduced will protect not only racial ethnic minorities but minorities of all kinds? Therefore, the offence that we have introduced goes very much wider than the hon. Gentleman would have wanted.
Mr. Morley: I accept that the Government have moved on the issue of racial attacks, following criticism from the Opposition and following criticism during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 1993.
Let us not try to pretend that there is any other reason for hunting other than the inflicting of prolonged pain and stress on animals as part of entertainment for their human tormentors. I do not believe that most hunts see it that way at all. I know that, for many people, hunts provide a social function. I live in a rural area and I represent a rural constituency. I have constituents who go hunting with the local hunt. Like the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), I have had representations from people on both sides of the argument.
I have had discussions with constituents who are pro-hunters, in a very civilised, thoughtful and polite manner. They know my views and I know theirs. I recognise and understand the social function that hunts play, particularly in areas in which there is little opportunity for social interchange. But there is no reason whatever why the social side--the traditional side--cannot be maintained by existing hunts simply switching to drag hunting. It may even attract more participants and boost rural employment.
All hon. Members know of the strength of public feeling on the matter in all parts of the country. We will shortly vote on the Bill. It is an opportunity for the whole House to show whether it supports an end to all forms of cruelty. I note the letter of the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) in The Times today, in which he says that he does not intend to vote against the Bill. What has changed from 1992, when my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) introduced an almost identical Bill, which was voted down by the hon. Member for Wimbledon and other hon. Members? Attitudes have changed, and the pro-blood sports lobby no longer has the majority to defeat such a measure, and it does not want to demonstrate its weakness. I find it a little strange that they now say that they will accept clause 1, when they could have accepted a similar measure in 1992.
If the Bill secures a Second Reading it will be the first time that the House has approved such a measure to ban hunting. That will be a clear and unequivocal signal that the House wants to see the end of hunting and other acts of cruelty to wild mammals. Whatever the Bill's progress in Committee, people will have noted the decision, and the Labour party will certainly call on the Government to recognise and to honour that decision taken in a free vote of all Members of the House.
Column 1348Whatever our differences may be, we all know that the days of hunting and of inflicting deliberate cruelty on wild animals are numbered. In the not-too-distant future people will look back in amazement at the fact that in the latter part of the 20th century the House allowed people to inflict deliberate cruelty and stress on wild animals in the name of entertainment.
Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South): I congratulate the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) on making a good speech in his own cause, and I thank him for making the Labour party's position clear--although the principle of ostensible neutrality appeared clothed in committed raiment. If I may say so, I rather resented the hon. Gentleman's attitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson), because a Labour Government Whip approached me in 1978 to encourage me to make as long a speech as I wished to prevent progress on a Labour private Member's Bill on live animal exports, and I seem to hear the grinding of a double standard.
I shall seek to emulate the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir David Steel) in the brevity of my remarks. This is an important debate, and one for which we should thank the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall). It addresses the relations between animals and man, in continuance of a dialogue that has gone on for centuries.
I speak as an urban Member, and there is no doubt that urban areas and rural areas see such issues differently. I remind the House of the lines by Seamus Heaney:
"`Prevention of cruelty' talk cuts ice in town
Where they consider death unnatural,
But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down".
Community is the vogue word of the 1990s. Both major parties have entries on the charge sheet against them for what they have done to urban communities since the war. The Bill is addressed primarily towards rural communities, and that places a special responsibility on urban Members to use their powers sensitively, because it is not the lives of their communities that they are dealing with. I still recall a constituent of my father's in Hampstead, when there was a Ministry of Agriculture bounty on squirrel tails, writing to seek reassurance that the squirrel suffered no pain when its tail was removed.
I have no personal direct experience of fox hunting, but I do not come to the debate as an entire novice, because I served as Government Whip on the Committee on the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 when it was a Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred to that Act, and I regard its Committee stage as a model of intelligent and frequently bipartisan commitment, with more than 100 hours of unguillotined debate of a high and expert standard.
I do not seek to make a political point when I say that the previous Labour Government and the Lib-Lab pact had not been prepared to grasp the nettle of that legislation. I simply say that it is possible for a Government of any party to take such matters forward after widespread consultation with rural interests.
Column 1349Much is made by the lobbyists of the weight of opinion polls on such matters, and those have been cited today. But, to refer to another series of great House of Commons setpiece occasions, similar opinion polls on capital punishment do not seem to interfere in Members' minds with the dictum of Burke, that a Member's first duty towards his constituents is that of his own judgment.
However, in my view, the opinion polls threaten the judgment of the lobbyists who produce such Bills. I mean no discredit to the hon. Member for Dumbarton when I say that I do not regard him as the Bill's principal architect. Those who know the House know that, with private Members' legislation, the simpler the Bill, the more likely it is to get through. By contrast, this is a Christmas tree of a Bill, with something for everybody.
As this greatly reduces its chances of passing through the House, one must return to the judgment of the architects. I am left with the uneasy suspicion that the Bill has been laden with material to maximise public support from those who are perhaps unfamiliar with our ways in this place.
Like sin and motherhood, we know where we are when it comes to cruelty. We are all against it. Some might regard the motivation of the Christmas-tree strategy as akin to speciousness, and believe that the heart of the Bill remains fox hunting.
I shall let my hon. Friends and hon. Members from rural constituencies address the problem of the use of hounds in upland farming areas. The Bill's proponents must face that highly technical issue, which the Bill seems entirely to ignore. It is a pivotal point of the proposed legislation. It hangs on the issue of the fox being a pest. Anyone who has gone back with the debate over the centuries knows that it is a central factor.
It is crucial for those who argue that fox hunting has a key role in the sense of community in rural areas to demonstrate that that sense of community is not being secured at the price of unnecessary and unwarranted cruelty to the fox.
I pass to those more informed than myself the conservationist question, which is whether the demise of fox hunting would lead to more violent deaths and lingering deaths of foxes than is the case now. I have a sense in the ecology of the countryside that there is an unspoken concordat, of a kind familiar to the nation in other matters as well, that, if fox hunting is available as a vehicle of pest control, farmers will leave foxes to the hunt and not take matters into their own hands with the gun.
Considerable strides are being made in the rigorous philosophical argument about animals' rights, if such they be. The predecessor of the present dean of Westminster, in my constituency, chaired a working party that produced a most thoughtful pamphlet. The university of Oxford has appointed a professor of theology with responsibilities concerning animals. Professor Peter Singer has given the subject a new philosophical prominence. I doubt, however, whether any of those parties would say that the intellectual