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Column 1350debate is yet concluded and resolved. That is important, because reason as well as emotion must be satisfied in the debate. Anthropomorphism has played its part in this century. My grandfather's work as an artist, which was highly anthropomorphic, was praised by fellow artists for the way in which he introduced human features into his animals. He was personally responsible for persuading Frederick Warne and Company that it should publish Beatrix Potter when her work had been rejected by eight other publishers. I remark in passing that neither in the "Tale of Mr. Todd" nor in "Jemima Puddleduck" does the gentleman with foxy whiskers emerge as a hero. Nor is it chance, perhaps, that he was omitted from a central role in "The Wind in the Willows".
It is a strain that goes back further. The most distinguished historian that the relationship of man and the natural world has ever attracted says of Darwin's "Descent of Man" in 1871 that some of his arguments in defence of the proposition that the mental difference between humans and the existing higher animals was one only of degree seem naively anthropomorphic.
The defenders of rural communities must make their point in the context of the fox, but those who seek to interfere with the countryside's ecology have a duty similarly to prove their point rigorously.
Of all the nation's sports, hunting has enjoyed the greatest literature after cricket, in Fielding, Scott, Surtees, Trollope, Somerville and Ross, Conan Doyle, Kipling, Saki, Sassoon and Masefield. I mention that because one of the more thoughtful postcards that I recieved prior to the debate was from a constituent who referred specifically to Sassoon, that most sensitive of war poets. He was critical of the war condition, yet he wrote "Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man". My constituent quoted him to make the point that hunting practices have changed since his day.
The opportunity to explore such issues is one of the reasons why we must be grateful to the hon. Member for Dumbarton for bringing forward the Bill. I reiterate my recognition of the importance of the debate. His Bill should be considered in Committee.
Our countryside is one of the country's most important national and natural glories. Those who live in it have been its custodians and trustees for centuries. I do not seek to put on the mantle of Dr. Pangloss in saying that those of us who enjoy and admire the countryside are immensely grateful to them, for I realise that we live in an imperfect world, but the centuries-long achievement is substantial. Urban colleagues present today might feel that we would rest less easily if our custody and trusteeship of urban areas were compared with that which the countryside has enjoyed.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): The right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) made a speech rich in literary references, which is unusual in this place but befitting of a former Secretary of State for National Heritage.
The way in which anthropomorphism is projected in our literature, in paintings, and the way in which we treat animals is quite objectionable. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would agree. It seems absurd that
Column 1351beautiful creatures in the wild, such as bears, can be exterminated and their bile tapped and used for medicine purposes in the far east, yet we cuddle bears; we look on the fluffy bear as being a wonderful soft toy. Many of the magnificent creatures of the wild will soon perhaps be represented only in the form of fluffy toys that people can cuddle and admire. We need to admire the real thing and not its pale and fake imitation.
There was much in the right hon. Gentleman's speech with which I could go along, but it seemed that the essence of his speech was, "Oh Lord, make me virtuous, but not yet." I must take issue with him on the matter of attacking animal welfare organisations--the RSPCA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the League Against Cruel Sports, and many others--for the way in which they have focused and channelled public opinion. They have not fabricated it. They have not invented it. They have just been the conduits whereby the real passion that exists in favour of animal welfare and in concern for animals can be directed towards us.
In the end, all the compassion, the feelings, the determination to see change, can end up only here, with legislation. That is precisely what the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) is trying to do. I congratulate him, as have other hon. Members, and am proud to be a sponsor of it, with hon. Members of all parties. That needs to be emphasised time and again. It is not a party political issue. On this occasion there may be more Opposition than Conservative Members supporting the Bill, but it is only a matter of progress. As Conservative Members diminish in number, we expect our support to grow. Indeed, in many ways there has been a change in the nature of the Conservative party. Conservative Members have taken different attitudes in recent years to fox hunting, hare coursing and deer hunting, and we welcome that. It is pleasing to see that we have a good cross-party coalition on important issues such as this.
It is natural that the Bill centres on something as controversial as fox hunting, but it is not just about fox hunting. It is also about hare coursing, deer hunting and a whole range of other activities, which, clearly, Opposition Members or abolitionists would consider totally unacceptable.
The important part of the Bill, of course, is clause 1, which has much support, It seems quite unbelievable to hon. Members and people outside that sadistic perverts are free to abuse animals such as hedgehogs, squirrels and foxes, and are able to walk free when they are taken to court. That outrages public opinion and we must address it. I am glad that the Bill will do that.
Mr. Bellingham: The hon. Gentleman says that the Tory party is changing. I suggest that the Labour party is changing as well. He has obviously seen the leaflet "Leave country sports alone" which contains the names of Baroness Mallalieu, Penny Mortimer, Lord Donoughue, Denis Forman, Jeremy Isaacs, Anne
Column 1352McCluskie, John Mortimer, David Puttnam and Richard Course. They are all prominent socialists who support hunting. Surely the Labour party is changing as well.
Mr. Banks: The hon. Gentleman has certainly changed his line. He comes from a family that boasts a distinguished assassin, although we must exonerate the hon. Gentleman's predecessor because his action was jolly useful in that he assassinated a Tory Prime Minister in the House of Commons. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) reminds me that the hon. Gentleman has just read out the complete list of supporters of "Leave country sports alone". The House will notice that the list did not contain one elected Member of Parliament.
I do not take easily to lectures from Baroness Mallalieu who failed to get elected in successive elections and got herself into the other place only by an act of patronage. I do not need her to lecture me about democracy and on winning votes. I say to a successor of a famous assassin that we have ways of dealing with the enemies within, although I hasten to add not in the way that his predecessor did.
Dr. Spink: The hon. Gentleman speaks eloquently, as he always does, about cruelty and torture perpetrated on animals by hooligans and nasty elements in society. Does he agree that when such cruelty or torture is perpetrated by an educated so-called elite in the name of entertainment and for self-gratification, it falls short of the standards that society should expect?
Mr. Banks: I certainly agree, although cruelty knows no class barriers. It is not confined to ill-educated people but can be seen at all levels in our society, which is tragic. One cannot condemn just one area of activity and not admit to others. The hon. Gentleman is a good supporter of the Bill and I am proud to call him a friend in the debate. He knows the case very well.
I have always felt that, in the matter of animal welfare, people who can be cruel to animals can in the end be cruel to human beings as well. It lowers one's resistance to cruelty. I do not say that a person who goes hunting will necessarily turn into a serial killer but he is more likely to become one than if he followed lepidoptery, for example, although I would not want to push that one too far. I suspect that I am getting into dangerous areas.
It is possible to be concerned about animal rights and human rights. I am always dealing with the problems of the east end. I admit that I do not have a large amount of mail from people in the Stratford area or Forest Gate saying, "Let's ban fox hunting." I get many letters, but most of them are about housing, unemployment, social security and so on. I am obviously concerned about those issues, far more than I am about fox hunting, but there is enough in my background and in that of hon. Members who are on the abolition side of the argument to enable us easily to encompass human rights and animal rights. Perhaps being protective of animal rights makes us more protective of human rights.
I do not want to speak for too long because I want to hear other contributions. I have spoken many times on the issue and I doubt that this will be the last time. However, I should like to address one or two of the points that have been made. There are no great
Column 1353arguments to be won in the debate. They have been entered over the years and they have been won. The only thing missing has been victory in the House, and I hope that we shall do something about that today.
I say to hon. Members who are in favour of fox hunting and blood sports that we who are opposed will never go away. Our determination is absolute and I feel that, in the final analysis, our determination will be stronger than that of the supporters of the sport. I feel that their support is waning all the time and, that being so, they should know that they are facing implacable opponents who will simply never concede. Public opinion is moving in our favour all the time. I shall not go over the figures, as we have heard them, but public opinion is clearly and massively on the side of the abolition of blood sports. There can be no argument about that.
Some of the arguments which have been adduced today in favour of fox hunting--such as that it is a traditional sport--have been used by every reactionary in history as justification for some abhorrent activity or another which has been under attack. No doubt similar arguments were used to support slavery, and they were certainly used in the argument about electoral rights for women.
The abolition of "traditional activities" such as bear baiting, dog fighting, badger baiting and cock fighting could, according to that argument, have undermined civilisation as we know it. But this House decided that those activities should be declared illegal, and I suspect that this House will do the same for fox hunting, deer hunting and hare coursing in due course. We laugh at the arguments used in support of the activities which have been described today, and I suspect that we will be laughing at the arguments put forward by the supporters of blood sports in the years to come.
On the matter of pest control, it is nonsense to argue that fox hunting is effective as a control of the fox, even if one accepts the definition of the fox as a pest. Only 10 per cent. of foxes are killed by fox hunting. It is true that hunts introduce foxes into areas where they hunt, and there are examples of the bagging of foxes and the providing of artificial earths. I believe that there were no foxes on the Isle of Wight until they were introduced for people to hunt.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)--who may have gone with his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) to find a suitable tailor to purchase a jacket as splendid as the one that I am wearing--said that there were no red deer on Dartmoor, where there is no hunting, but that there are red deer on Exmoor, where there is hunting. Ergo, hunting means that deer exist. What the right hon. Gentleman did not know--I have since had a chance to check this--is that all of the herds of red deer were exterminated by the Duke of Bedford when he brought his stag hounds there in the late 18th century. In other words, there are no deer on Dartmoor because they were killed off by the hunters. That is the answer to the silly point made by the right hon. Gentleman. Another argument put forward is that hunting is not cruel. Tell that to the fox, I say. When one has seen foxes being dug out by the terrier men after they have
Column 1354introduced the terriers into the place where the fox might have bolted, one will know that cruelty is involved. It is also ridiculous to say that there is a quick kill by the hounds. Those hounds are not natural killers, and if one really wanted to kill foxes, a pack of rottweilers would probably be far more effective than fox hounds. There is a mass of evidence to show that the fox does suffer. The last absurdity of all is to say that fox hunting is not as cruel as other forms of control. That argument is intellectually bankrupt. It is like the argument that if we do not supply arms to Saddam Hussein, somebody else will. No one can seriously argue that fox hunting is kind to foxes. To say that there are crueller ways of killing a fox is rather like saying that it is better to beat an old lady with a brick in a sock than to hit her with a straight brick. It is absurd to say that fox hunting is not cruel. If any of the supporters of fox hunting had been chased across a field and ripped to pieces, their arguments might be totally different.
The right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon--who is now diligently looking for such a splendid jacket as mine--gave us a tuppeny-ha'penny lecture on John Stuart Mill. To say, as he did, that if we believe in animal welfare we should move against all forms of cruelty and suffering is absurd. First of all, if we proposed a Bill which said that, the right hon. Gentleman would be the last to vote in favour of it. Secondly, it suggests that if we cannot do everything, we should do nothing. This Bill is about a range of cruelties. It neither heralds nor precludes further legislation. Any other proposals on any other country sports will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and consent. It is not the thin end of the wedge.
The Bill stands on its own merits and it should be judged accordingly this afternoon. I believe that it will be because, in the end, anyone who can actually take pleasure in seeing an animal tortured and killed is not a person who has a place in a so-called civilised society.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North): I congratulate the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) on introducing a Bill that many people, especially in rural England, would be surprised to find is not already on the statute book. I thank him for his tribute. It is a pleasure to be a sponsor of the Bill.
I join the hon. Gentleman in the tribute that he paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes), who has acted as Whip on the Bill. I endorse the comments about the courteous way that he has handled such a contentious and sensitive matter. I intend to be as brief as possible for two reasons. First, a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House are still waiting to make their contributions. It is important that as many observations as possible, from both sides of the argument, are placed on the record. Secondly, we are all conscious of the fact that following this debate will be one on the Carers (Recognition and Services) Bill. People outside the House would be quite astonished if that Bill were not also given a hearing today.
We are debating the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill, not a fox hunting Bill. It deals with stag hunting, hare coursing and the protection that many people are
Column 1355astonished to discover is not already afforded to hedgehogs, squirrels and other mammals. As has been said, it is not a party political issue. I am saddened that an answer given in the House yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was construed as prime ministerial opposition to the Bill. That is a mischief by the media. People outside the House will not be aware of our conventions, so we should state very clearly that it is not the convention for the Prime Minister, or, indeed, the Leader of the Opposition, to be expected to be in the Chamber on a morning like this.
The Bill undoubtedly has all-party support both inside and outside the House. Equally, it has all-party opposition both inside and outside the House. That fact needs to be recognised. I want to place my pedigree on the record, simply because there appears to be a slightly arrogant assumption in some quarters that those of us who support the Bill are townies who know nothing and care nothing about the countryside.
My upbringing was in rural Dorset. I do not pretend to be a huntsman, but I have followed the hunt on foot and I have been to meets. I represent a largely rural constituency. My farmers in north Thanet do not hunt. When there is a pest control problem, they shoot--and they shoot cleanly. I want to deal with that aspect of the control of foxes, which I recognise must be controlled. Before Christmas, my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) was faced with a distressed member of an ecclesiastical community. The nuns of Minster in Thanet lost their entire chicken coop in one night as a result of predations by a fox, which clearly was not just hunting chickens to eat but was killing for pleasure. There is a need to control, but even the British Field Sports Society claims that only 3.6 per cent. of all foxes are killed by the hunts. It is a vastly inefficient way of controlling where control is necessary. I cannot accept the argument that it is a humane method. My farming community lamp and shoot. The gamekeepers in most of rural England are highly professional and can shoot straight. It is slightly perverse that those who promote shooting when it comes to pheasants and grouse, and claim--with some justification--that the majority of shots kill cleanly, should then claim that the same highly qualified, highly professional people cannot lamp and shoot foxes equally cleanly. Clearly, there are poor shots, but there are poor shots that wing pheasants and pigeons. Equally clearly, on occasions people shoot foxes badly.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Gale: I shall not give way. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) has intervened about five times. He has virtually taken more time in interventions than I shall take in my speech.
Mr. Gale: I shall not give way because I am conscious of the time. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to make his speech. We are told that one third of foxes that are chased by the hunt go to earth. That much- vaunted clean kill from one bite to the back of the neck does not occur. There is a long tortuous process of digging out. Hunt terriers are used. They often grab the frightened animal
Column 1356underground by the muzzle and drag it out. We know that that animal is then swung around, hung up by the tail and killed with a spade. That is not a clean kill. It is not a nice way to exercise necessary control. I cannot accept that such a practice is viable in this day and supposedly civilised age.
Stag hunting is no way to control the stag population. I accept that that population needs culling. We are told that that is done anyway at the end of a hunt by a rifle shot. We also know that that is not always the case and that hounds maul stags. The pro-hunting argument is that a huntsman comes and shoots a stag when it is at bay. Surely the way to cull a stag is with the rifle. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) referred to the loss of the stag and of the red deer populations on Dartmoor. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation says:
"The increase in numbers of deer has brought about the responsibility of managing their populations. Deer stalking has played a particularly important role in such management programmes and has contributed to the fact that Britain has a very healthy population . . . whereas 30 years ago deer were considered to be relatively scarce throughout most of lowland England".
As the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, deer on Dartmoor were not lost as a result of the absence of a hunt; they were taken out through bad management and bad hunting. Scotland's deer population is controlled not by the hunt, but by stalking and by the gun. I have no objection to that.
A number of my hon. Friends have said that the Bill is the thin end of the wedge. I do not think that that has happened hitherto, but I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who said that this issue should be taken on its merits and as it stands on the face of the Bill.
I do not accept that, somehow, hunt saboteurs who employ violent action, which I abhor, will transfer all their allegiance to fishing or to shooting. Even if they were to do so, I and many people like me who are opposed to hunting animals with dogs would not support legislation to outlaw fishing or shooting. How can I stand here and say that I believe that the way to control foxes and deer is with the rifle if I were then to say that I would try to outlaw shooting? The vast majority of people believe that the time has come to end the hunt for the kill. Perhaps surprisingly, the rural economy has only been referred to peripherally. That argument has been used consistently, but I am slightly surprised that hon. Members who support the hunt have not played it harder today.
Mr. Gale: I am sorry, but I have said that I shall not give way. I do not accept that the rural economy, which is vital to the country, would suffer in the way that some people have described. As has been said, there are alternatives to hunting to kill. Drag hunting is a viable alternative. It already happens in several places, it has a growing allegiance and it has a number of distinct advantages in addition to the obvious animal welfare advantage. In a drag hunt, a trail laid by man starts from a given point, traverses pre-planned land over pre-determined obstacles that can be designed and suited to the riding ability of those chasing; and it can end at
Column 1357a given point. It removes the many complaints received by Members of Parliament to the effect that hunts trespass undesired on people's land without their permission.
If drag hunting takes over, I believe that the jobs of the farriers, saddlers and smiths, which are much more at risk as a result of the various proposals to alter the training procedures for those crafts, and the jobs of grooms, stablelads and kennel men and maids will be safe. If such hunts continue and increase in number, another problem that has not yet been referred to--that of the fallen cattle and sheep which are currently disposed of by the hunt--will be taken care of. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside, in one of his many interventions, rather gave the game away. I paraphrase but he basically said that there would be problems if rural sports could not self-regulate. I suggest that, in a number of very well-publicised instances, rural sports have failed to self-regulate, but some of my hon. Friends have chosen to gloss over the mistakes--I put it no more strongly than that--made by those practising hunting in particular. As a result, many of us believe that the Bill is vital. It is a measure whose time has come. It is wanted by the overwhelming majority of people in the country.
Mr. Gale: I hear what my hon. Friend says and I hesitate to quote yet more polls, but that does not seem to be the case. The farming community in my constituency does not hunt. The farmers do not wish to do so and I do not believe that they wish to have the hunt on their land. I believe that that is true for vast areas of rural England.
As I said, this is a measure whose time has come. It is a measure that is wanted. If it does not reach the statute book as a result of parliamentary procedures, today's vote will give a clear indication of the mood. I believe that hunting animals and tearing them to pieces with hounds will go the same way as bear baiting, badger baiting and cock fighting--into the dustbin of history.
Mr. Garnier: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) has research assistance provided by the political animal lobby. I do not criticise him for that but I wonder whether he should have mentioned it in his speech.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): If the hon. Gentleman has declared such an interest in the Register of Members' Interests, it should have been declared this morning if it was relevant to the debate which, on the surface, it would seem to be.
Mr. Morley: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am a little surprised at your ruling. The research assistance is of no financial advantage to me and is not necessarily of relevance to this debate. It involves general research support. I have declared it
Column 1358quite properly in the Register of Members' Interests and, had I thought that it was relevant to today's debate, I should most certainly have declared it today.
Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) on producing this important Bill, and on his excellent presentation of the arguments earlier in the debate. I am proud to be a sponsor of the Bill, which covers a subject dear to my heart.
I shall address the issue by means of the only two pieces of correspondence I have had from supporters of fox hunting--fox hunting is the aspect of the Bill that I shall address--amid the hundreds of communications in support of the Bill I have had from constituents. The first letter was from a lady from the farming community--her address contained the name of a farm--in the west country. It was a courteous letter, and I now regret the fact that my response was perhaps not as courteous as her first approach.
The lady approached the issue in terms of the benefits of fox hunting for her children, and she made a number of points. She first pointed out that her children had learnt discipline and responsibility from handling and caring for horses. My father kept cart horses in the docklands of Liverpool so I spent all my young life on what was, in effect, an urban farm. I assure hon. Members that close proximity to two dozen magnificent cart horses--I still think that cart horses are among the most magnificent animals in this country--taught me much about respect for horses and about discipline. Fox hunting was not necessary for me as a means to that end. Secondly, the lady pointed out the social benefits for her children from fox hunting. She said that, together with three generations for her family, her children met a wide variety of people in the scattered rural community through fox hunting. That may well be the case. The only response I could make was that it was rather sad if fox hunting was the only social outlet she could find.
Thirdly, the lady argued that, through fox hunting and riding with the hounds, her children had access to parts of the countryside that would otherwise have been inaccessible. That surprised me. I do not see why it is necessary to hunt a fox when riding a horse to have that experience. I should have thought that concentration on the chase might detract from that otherwise worthy aspect of horse riding.
Fourthly, the lady argued that riding with the hounds and the chase taught her children familiarity with the fact of death in animals. I have always felt that that was important. I have always pointed out that fact out to my own children when they have had pets who have died. It is important that children realise that death is a fact just as much as life is a fact. It is important that they realise that pets will die and that they will have new pets.
Fifthly, the lady said that her children learned about the natural phenomenon of the violence of animal against animal through riding with hounds. I learned
Column 1359much about that from my urban farm childhood, as I have described. Surely fox hunting is different; the difference has been referred to by a number of contributors to the debate this morning. The difference with fox hunting is the involvement of humans in the phenomenon--humans hunting animals for pleasure and exploiting that natural phenomenon for their own pleasure. Even if the foxes were eaten, I would still condemn hunting, as I pointed out to this worthy lady.
The lady's final argument was that hunting was not as cruel as people made out, because the death of the fox was instantaneous. That point bemused me. The only response I could make was that it was either a truism or nonsense. When a living creature dies, it is alive one moment and dead the next instant. What matters in fox hunting is the prelude to death for the hunted fox, which is long, exhausting and terrifying.
The good lady wrote back to me and, again courteously, acknowledged the points that I had made in my letter and added one further point, because I did not convince her. She added that, from her experience of observing hounds in the chase, the foxes regularly did not seem especially bothered. In fact, she said that, many a time, she had seen a fox--a dog fox, presumably--stop and cock a leg in the middle of the chase. I can think of one very good reason why a dog fox might do that in the midst of being chased by a pack of hounds.
The other letter from a participant in country sports was more peremptory and more hostile, and made a number of different points. I shall cite several. I was criticised for objecting to fox hunting but not objecting to shooting for sport. I have strong reservations about shooting for sport as well, but my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton adequately covered that point. As long as shooting for sport is properly controlled and licensed, it can certainly play an important role in culling, and keeping wild animal populations under control.
The correspondent said that snares, shooting and the laying of poison are more painful to foxes than being hunted and torn to pieces by hounds. I must acknowledge that certain forms of snaring, shooting and poisoning can cause intended and unintended pain and death to intended and unintended victims, but the only response I can make is that perhaps there should be more control of such activities or more search for more humane methods of entrapping and disposing of pray and pests.
In the view of this correspondent, a Government do not have the right to regulate and control the freedom of individuals. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) would agree that this is the constitutional point; the tuppence-ha'penny lecture--I would not have given tuppence for it--given by the right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) on John Stuart Mill. My hon. Friend covered that point reasonably well.
I simply add that I certainly believe that it is an important duty of Government to regulate the freedom of individuals in so far as it may be damaging to the freedom and welfare of others and to the welfare of the environment--flora and fauna. I would certainly include in that duty the duty of regulating the ability
Column 1360and freedom of others to cause distress, suffering and, in many cases, mutilation of a noble animal, all in the cause of sport. The correspondent finally suggested that I should be concerning myself with the extinction of thousands of other species on the planet, rather than concerning myself with foxes, which, she assured me, were multiplying and do very well without my help. That is a non sequitur.
Talking of non sequiturs, I have sat through this debate since 9.30 am being more bemused than amused by the number of non sequiturs which I have heard from Conservative Members. I shall start with the right hon. Member for Bridgwater, who is no longer in his place, who said that anybody from an urban environment, such as myself, who does not have experience of country life, does not have the right to participate in a such a debate.
That interested me-- [Interruption.] That was said by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater and by many others. The logical development of that argument is that practically all Conservative Members would be precluded from participating in any debate or legislative procedure in respect of unemployment or state education. However, they do take part in such debates.
The right hon. Member for Bridgwater also said that deer herds survive in certain parts of his constituency precisely because hunters keep them there. That was like saying that muggers are responsible for keeping little old ladies with handbags on the streets. I could not see much difference between the two arguments. However, perhaps the Tory party and that most famous of all ladies with a handbag might fit that analogy.
Various Conservative Members have referred to the thin end of the wedge argument. That argument was dealt with adequately by several of the Bill's supporters, and most admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)--as hon. Members would be aware if they had been fortunate enough to be present for that part of his contribution.
The right hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) made a number of philosophical points in his little lecture. One which interested me was that we should not talk about the rights of foxes, as animals do not have rights because they do not have duties. If one is going to be philosophical, do not babies and mentally handicapped adults have rights? Indeed, do former Secretaries of State who no longer have duties have no rights?
The right hon. Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) seemed to have no problem with rights. He said, "Why should we concern ourselves with the rights of the fox, but not the rights of the lamb?" That is another non sequitur. If the right hon. Member for Northaven were in his place, I would tell him that I found his speech
Column 1361a regrettably unworthy concatenation of non sequitur, logical elision, sophistry, fudge and slur upon animal welfare movements. Several hon. Members have made the point that the time has come for this Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) mentioned the history of reform and how it starts. There are many instances in history of how reforms which we now take for granted occurred in rather the way in which this reform--which has its time, and will come--is going to come about.
I can do no more than refer to the editorial in today's Guardian , which put the point so eloquently. It said that perhaps society is now at last ready for this reform. Just as we now recognise that there is no place in society for slavery, bear baiting and female circumcision, perhaps it is time that we recognised that there is also no place in our society for fox hunting.
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington): I am grateful for catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall make what I hope will prove to be by far the shortest speech in the debate. I wish to clarify my position on the issue, for the benefit, at any rate, of my constituents, a large number of whom have written to me about it in recent weeks. I speak as an urban resident with a suburban constituency, who holds absolutely no brief for cruelty to animals or, indeed, to people. We need to recall that our first responsibility is to our fellow citizens here and around the world.
The Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill flies under somewhat misleading colours. For example, the title is a bit misleading. The real intentions of the people who provide the driving force behind the Bill outside the House go much wider and deeper than the Bill. If the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and others had wished only to protect wild mammals, as the title suggests, they could have urged on Parliament, in the available legislative time, ways of making the protection of foxes, stags, hares and other animals legally more entrenched as protected species. That route might have been more worthy of consideration. In fact, I suspect that the real objective of many proponents of the legislation outside the House is, first, to outlaw hunting, as has been said, and, secondly, after a decent interval, probably to have a go at shooting and fishing. As a layman, I wonder where it will end.
The emotive expression that is used in such debates is "bloodsports". It will be within hon. Members' recent memory that there have been some very tragic events, which go under the heading of "bloodsports", in the boxing ring in the east end of London. I regard what happens to human beings as, in many ways, much more consequential than what happens to animals. Indeed, I refer to other national institutions such as the grand national. From following that sport, I know that horses fall at enormous fences and have to be shot and put
Column 1362down. Very often, before that happens, they break their legs or even their backs. They can suffer enormous pain.
However much expert evidence is adduced on both sides of the argument, it boils down to a clash of cultures, a clash of sentiment and a clash of emotions. It will be difficult, therefore, for the House, if the Bill is given a Second Reading and if it is considered in Committee, to deal with those issues as rationally as they should be dealt with. The cause of rationality has not been helped in any way by the extravagant and almost dishonest aspects of some of the propaganda that I have seen in the national press recently by the proponents of the Bill. They seek to use the old technique of guilt by association to frighten people into writing to Members of Parliament about the issue.
I am very wary of the way in which the matter has been approached, which is why I want the Bill to be considered more closely in Committee, clause by clause. Therefore, if there is to be a vote, I intend to vote for the Second Reading. There are elements in the Bill, such as clause 1, with which hon. Members can comfortably agree, but the House should be aware of the implications of the Bill. Some subsequent clauses would create a number of new criminal offences and impose extra burdens on the police. I should like to know from the proponents of the Bill--perhaps later--the extent to which they have consulted chief police officers and others about those aspects. We bring the law of the country into disrepute if we extend the criminal law into matters in which it does not properly belong or if the invasion of the law is too detailed and too specific. We must take account of the fact that we remain--