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We remain a law-abiding community, largely because people agree freely to abide by the law. It is not evident that the Bill would help that process. For that reason, there are aspects in clauses 10, 11 and 12 which could bring the law into serious disrepute. I agree with my right hon. and hon. Friends who have drawn attention to the great anthropomorphism in the Bill, which is out of place in legislation. I was much struck by the article by Frederick Forsyth in The Times yesterday, which other hon. Members will also have seen, and I shall quote a paragraph from it, because it hits the nail on the head:
"The mainspring behind the conversion of millions to hostility towards foxhunting is anthropomorphism--which means two things: the assumption by humans that wild animals share the same standards, criteria, attitudes and fears as we do, and a presumption that we can judge the worth of a wild animal by whether we think it is pretty or not".
Those are cautionary words, and I hope that if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading it will bear in mind the serious risks and consequences of such a measure being passed in an anthropomorphic frame of mind. The House should be cautious about introducing
Column 1363legislative bans that would extend the criminal law into areas where it is unlikely to be accepted by a large and significant minority of the population.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey): I think that I can make a speech even shorter than that of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), but as I am a sponsor of the Bill and greatly welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) it is important that, like the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), I make clear the view of my party, as opposed to the view of some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. [Hon. Members:-- "Oh."] We have a difference of view, and it is encouraging for those of us who support the banning of hunting that in the parliamentary party the number who share that view is growing all the time, and that the party as a whole has consistently voted to support a ban on hunting with hounds and to extend the Protection of Animals Act 1911 to cover wild mammals. Like other parties, we recognise that individual Members will be free to vote as a matter of conscience, unwhipped on the party line.
As an urban Member I also warn the House that people should not presume that urban Members either do not have rural backgrounds, do not understand such matters--or do not represent many constituents who understand them--or that there is not the same coincidence of interests on both sides. I spent my whole life in villages until I was an adult. Hunts met in front of my home, and I went beagling when I was a teenager. I have as much authority to speak on such matters as Members representing rural parts of Britain.
Opinion polls are not determinative, but they are relevant and helpful in informing us of the mood of the public. Support for the Bill and all its contents is certainly growing. As someone who trained as a lawyer, I think that the Bill is well drafted, and deals with exemptions carefully and well. I do not think that it can be criticised as a wide measure that will be difficult to enforce. The key question appears to be: is it appropriate that we as a Parliament should legislate to ban something that a minority think an appropriate form of activity?
Mr. Hughes: That is the issue, and we must always be careful about imposing the views of a majority. I understand that entirely. The minority views, such as those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir David Steel) are honestly held. [Hon. Members:-- "Liberalism."] The question is: what does that liberalism mean? Where does it stop? What activities are unacceptable?
When we try to answer those questions in connection with the Bill we must first ask ourselves what our responsibility is as human beings, and as stewards of all that has been created for our enjoyment. We are the most intelligent mammals; we are given the responsibility as stewards of creation, and we therefore have to decide how to apply the principle of stewardship to wild animals.
Column 1364If we ask the same questions we may get different answers if we apply them to shooting and fishing--and I shall explain why. Three questions flow from that definition. First, do we need to kill foxes for food? That is one of the reasons why people have killed animals in the past. They have done so to provide food for human beings. It would seem that the answer is no. There is no direct case for killing foxes with hounds for food.
Secondly, do we need as a matter of stewardship to intervene to ensure that foxes are not predatory and to curb their predatory characteristics where they are harmful? It is a more debatable question but it is more easily answered because there are various ways of dealing with the predator fox.
If we assume that we do not allow or encourage animals to set on other animals, arguably the less dangerous, less problematical and less harmful course is to shoot and not to allow hounds to chase to kill.
I move on to the third question. We are stewards, and is it appropriate for stewards to take a course that is justified on the basis of recreation?
I take the view, Mr. Deputy Steward--you are a slightly more senior steward than the rest of us, Mr. Deputy Speaker--that the answer to the third question is no; there is no recreational justification for countenancing such activity. It is justified only if it is the only, or by far the better way, of dealing with the predator fox. The arguments seem overwhelmingly in favour of outlawing fox hunting with hounds rather than supporting it. I appreciate, of course, that others take a different view. We shall, no doubt, debate the issue. The Bill is not the thin end of the wedge because there will be other debates about shooting and fishing. They are activities that are primarily entered into for food and not for dealing with predators or for recreation.
Over the passage of time, what is acceptable as an activity changes. Rural activities have changed as all human activities have changed. Boxing used to be bare knuckle; it now takes place with gloves and helmets. It may be even more constrained in future. We must judge whether we have reached the stage in our development when it is compatible with the civilisation to which we aspire to go hunting with hounds. I and those who sponsor the Bill believe that it is no longer compatible with our level of civilisation and development to countenance fox hunting. The stewardship that we exercise should lead us to say that fox hunting is not an activity that should continue. It should be outlawed, and the Bill, with all its clauses, should be given a Second Reading and placed on the statute book.
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West): I suppose that I should declare an interest immediately. I have fox hunted all my life--50 years. I am an occasional contributor to the principal magazine on hunting, "Horse and Hound".
Column 1365I represent a constituency which is urban and suburban. It has no farmland. I have no doubt that a majority of my constituents are at least vaguely disapproving of the continuance of hunting, although there are significant minorities. For example, one of my constituents is the master of a local pack of beagles. A quite significant minority of my constituents engage in rural sports of all sorts. Our discussion has been mainly about hunting. The debate is about the role of a minority in our society, which the House should be concentrating upon. We are fortunate in that the view of the Labour party was made extremely clear by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). It is no longer in a position of neutrality. The Labour party, no doubt with a few minority interests, is significantly and overwhelmingly against the continuing of hunting. [Interruption.] I am glad that everybody agrees, because I am sure that that view will be widely noted. I deal with plenty of people who come to me and say, "There is only one reason why I am going to vote Conservative at the next election--because you are more likely to retain our rural sports." Let me say, as a good party member, that I know that that attitude will change nearer the general election.
Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea to have all the huntsmen with their glasses of sherry sprayed and given a 10 yd start on the foxes, on foot? Let us then see who enjoys the sport.
Mr. Budgen: The important point--it was properly raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten)--is: what should be the attitude of the House and the nation towards a significant minority? I contend that, most of all, the House should ensure that legislation, particularly criminal legislation, enjoys the consent of the nation. The quarter of a million people who now hunt do not feel themselves to be doing anything morally reprehensible. They do not believe themselves to be criminals, and it is difficult to see an important distinction between them and those who shoot--some half a million people a year. It is also rather difficult to see an important philosophical difference between them and the 3 million or 4 million people who fish.
The only way in which the rights of minorities in our society can be protected is by the procedures of the House. We have no written constitution. We have no Bill of Rights. The supervisory role of the European Union does not yet extend to telling us how minorities in our country are to be dealt with. It is only by the proper adherence to the procedures of the House that we protect the rights of minorities. The worst legislation--for example, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989--that ever goes through the House is legislation that ignores the proper procedures of the House and that is said to be popular or is supported, for example, by the Daily Mail or The Guardian .
Column 1366Let us not have legislation by the Daily Mail or The Guardian . If the majority of the people of this country can persuade the one quarter of a million people who go hunting that they are doing something that is morally reprehensible, that is one thing, but I say to my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), that, whatever else we do, let us keep to the procedure for private Member's legislation. Let us not have the talk that arose from the House yesterday about "We was robbed."
The procedure for dealing with private Member's Bills is designed to protect minorities. It is a proper and important constitutional safeguard, and until the majority can persuade the 5 million or 6 million people who engage in field sports that they are doing something morally wrong, which should be made a crime, they should be allowed to continue to carry out field sports.
Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend will realise from his own experience that many of the people to whom he referred hunt in my constituency, and, indeed, in Leicestershire. Does he agree that they should be protected against legislation by post card?
Mr. Budgen: We want legislation neither by postcard nor by referendum if we can avoid it; nor do we want legislation by any form of public opinion poll. We represent people through the procedures of the House, which are the distilled wisdom of our forebears. Let us stick to that.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle): I think all hon. Members would agree that our attitude towards wildlife should be to respect its habitat and preserve species. I represent the rural area of north Lincolnshire where there are three hunts: the Brocklesby, the Burton and the South Wold. Those hunts not only employ large numbers of people and are vital to the rural economy, but their very existence ensures that the fox as a wild species is preserved. Farmers view the fox as a predator. If it were not for hunting there is no doubt that the fox population would be severely depleted and might eventually be wiped out in rural areas. If the House is united, as it is--
Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to . Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:--
The House proceeded to a Division:--
Mr. Alex Carlile ( seated and covered ): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that Tellers are to be assumed to support the side for which they tell? Is it in order for a Division to be called for entirely tactical reasons by those who are opposed to the cause for which they are telling? Nobody who shouted "No" has expressed any opposition to the Bill. The cries of "No" were by those who support the Bill.
Column 1367The House having divided : Ayes 253, Noes Nil.
Division No. 94] [2.10 pm
Column 1367Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Bowden, Sir Andrew
Bright, Sir Graham
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D N
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Donohoe, Brian H