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Mr. Garnier: Why does the hon. Gentleman go coarse fishing?

Mr. Foster: I do not believe for one moment that any reasonable person in this country thinks that fishing and hunting with dogs have anything in common. When anglers catch fish, do they feed them to the dogs so that the dogs can tear them apart while the fish are still alive? Of course not. That is rubbish.

Perhaps one of the cruellest forms of hunting with dogs is the pursuit of deer by hounds. This summer, thankfully, the New Forest buck hound hunt has been disbanded. Earlier this year, the National Trust banned stag hunting on its land, following a two-year scientific study conducted by Professor Patrick Bateson. He investigated the stress and suffering of hunted deer, compared to that of deer that had been stalked and then shot. His work had the full co-operation of the local stag hunts.

Mrs. Jackie Ballard (Taunton): Will the hon. Gentleman join me in condemning the actions of the farmers on the Quantock hills who claim to have deliberately slaughtered 36 stags in the past week, in order to make some perverse point?

Mr. Foster: I, too, condemn those actions. It is ironic that the people who conducted that obscene act claimed that they were culling deer numbers, when in fact the cull took place after the hinds had become pregnant, so it was a pure act of symbolic vengeance on wild mammals.

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A panel of 14 eminent zoologists and veterinarians, including those nominated by the hunters, checked Professor Bateson's methodology throughout. His final report was so devastating that the National Trust acted on it immediately. In his foreword, Professor Bateson wrote:


The conclusions of Professor Bateson's report are as follows:


    "The study produced clear-cut scientific results. These show that lengthy hunts with hounds impose extreme stress on red deer and are likely to cause them great suffering. The hunts force them to experience conditions far outside the normal limits for their species. . .


    I conclude that the level of total suffering would be markedly reduced if hunting with hounds were ended. Hunting with hounds can no longer be justified on welfare grounds, taking into account the standards applied in other fields of animal welfare."

The Bateson report has been scrutinised and accepted for publication in the proceedings of the Royal Society for London. That shows that its findings have been validated by the most respected scientists in this country. I hope that that will put an end to the scurrilous attacks on his integrity by the hunting lobby and its so-called experts.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Would the hon. Gentleman say that the Bateson report and what it says about the stress that the hunted stag undergoes can be a valid contribution to the debate only if we understand how stags would die in any event, if they were not hunted? What evaluation does Bateson make of that?

Mr. Foster: As many people have pointed out, dying is a natural activity. Stag hunting is an activity conducted for the artificial pleasure of members of the public.

I shall now deal with fox hunting, which is perhaps the most controversial of sports. Those who justify its existence claim that they are controlling a pest, but at the same time they argue that they are conserving fox numbers. The fox has no natural predator in this country. Baroness Mallalieu thinks that humans have replaced the wolves. She said in another place that we have taken over the responsibility of the wolf. I believe that we should aim to be somewhat higher than that, or is hunting an activity limited to werewolves?

The so-called sport of fox hunting is not confined to organised hunts. There is a much darker side to it. Let me describe a typical fox hunt. It begins with the blocking up of earths and other underground refuges where the fox may seek to hide when being chased. That means that the fox must stay above ground throughout the pursuit.

The hounds are slower than the fox over short distances, but possess much greater natural levels of stamina. With nowhere to escape--and laughing away, according to Robert Hanbury-Tenison--the fox is eventually caught, at the point of exhaustion.

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I am told that the average fox hunt lasts less than 17 minutes before either a kill takes place, or the scent is lost. I shall read out a boast from the Worcestershire hunt, which states:


So says Alan Cure, the former master of the Worcestershire hunt. That is the equivalent of the circumference of the M25. I wonder when the fox stopped laughing.

The kill is also surrounded by myth. The hunters claim that the kill is instantaneous--a quick bite to the back of the neck, it is said. The reality, as ever, is somewhat different. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said in last month's sport hunting debate:


I shall describe the death of a fox, not in my words, but in those of innocent witnesses and of veterinary surgeons. The first case involves the Worcestershire hunt again. A witness reported:


    "The dogs came across our field and attacked the fox and tore it to pieces.


    They were followed by members of the hunt and one of them got off his horse and tried to get over a fence on to private land to cut the tail off the fox."

A pack of hounds savaged a pregnant fox and devoured her unborn cubs in a garden as a pensioner looked on helplessly. Eric Griffin, aged 71, said:


    "It was the worst thing I have seen in my life.


    The hounds were totally out of control and tearing at the vixen.


    Three cubs spilled out. They were fully developed. I saw the dogs eat one of them."

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): What would my hon. Friend say to the poor young girl whose two guinea pigs were killed by a fox two nights ago in Lansdowne gardens, less than a mile away?

Mr. Foster: It is accepted that foxes can be a nuisance. However, the answer is not to send a pack of hounds down the local high street.

Mr. Gray: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I hope that he will continue to do so generously throughout the debate: it is important to listen to both sides of the argument.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned me in his remarks, and he is correct in saying that I believe that fox hunting is fun. That does not mean to say that therefore fox hunting is a bad thing. The important point is that the only humane way of killing a fox is for the lead hound to bite it on the back of the neck, as the hon. Gentleman described correctly. The fact that the carcase is thereafter devoured by the hounds does not necessarily mean that the manner of killing the fox is cruel.

Mr. Foster: I simply quote the words of Janet George, press secretary of the Countryside Alliance. Speaking on a radio show on Wednesday afternoon, she said:


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I have other evidence about the cruelty of fox hunting. A vet who conducted the post mortem of a fox killed by the Cottesmore fox hounds concluded:


    "I feel that the most likely cause of death was that of shock (in the pathological sense) brought about by blood loss, organ damage, lack of oxygenation of the blood due to lower respiratory dysfunction and upper airway obstruction . . . In short, the fox died a painful and unpleasant death, which probably was not as quick as evidenced by the areas of haemorrhage seen at many sites."

A second vet's report on a fox killed by the Cheshire fox hounds stated:


    "There are no bite marks on the neck. I am not convinced that it has been bitten on the neck or killed in that way. Personally, you've got to be very suspicious that it's just been killed by being ripped apart . . . It hasn't been killed with a single blow."

A veterinary report on a fox killed by the Isle of Wight fox hounds found:


    "I could detect no external damage to neck or throat areas, but there were extensive wounds to the abdomen and thorax. In fact, the abdomen was ripped open and the intestines were hanging out. The wounds were consistent with the fox having been severely bitten by another animal or animals."

Lest anyone has forgotten, I remind the House of the words of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, who said:


    "It is certainly right however, to acknowledge, that fox hunting is fun".--[Official Report, 29 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 850.]

Somehow those words now have a hollow ring. Any hon. Member who dares to stand up and argue the case for the quick-kill theory will be ridiculed not only by the House but by the nation.

Clause 1(2) of the Bill outlaws the wanton cruelty perpetrated in the name of sport involving wild mammals who shelter in a refuge, natural or man-made. That is the darker side of hunting that I mentioned. Dr. MacDonald of Oxford university calculated that half the foxes killed by hunts were slaughtered not by the hounds, but by terriers that were sent underground to pursue the foxes when they sought refuge. The terriers drive the fox out of the refuge or keep it occupied while humans dig it out. Even the official hunts have acknowledged that that practice must be tightened.

Those who take part in such activities boast about the horrific injuries suffered by the dogs in the subterranean battle between fox and terrier. In a report from that earnest journal, The Sunday Telegraph, Adam Nicolson described his day out with the Blencathra fox hounds:


I am most concerned by the attitude of the Wildlife Network. In its submission to the debate, it says that unorganised terrier work should be stopped, but that the same activity is okay when conducted by the official hunt. Clearly, points of principle and consistency do not wash with the Wildlife Network. In addition, it wants terriers to go underground and only bark at the fox, not bite it.

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It wants to time the fox so that it spends only one hour underground. I would have far more respect for the Wildlife Network and its motives if it stopped trying to appease the hunt lobby.

One of the many problems associated with fox hunting is the lack of control exercised in respect of the route taken by the fox. In that regard, the hunt is guilty if not of negligence, then of downright arrogance. There are many recorded instances of a hunt operating close to built-up areas. I am particularly concerned about schools. I would expect a responsible hunt to call off the chase when it approaches a local school--it would be good public relations, if nothing else. However, the hunt's disregard for the feelings of young people is apparent from the following examples.

The Worcestershire hunt ripped a fox limb from limb in full view of a class of girls with emotional problems. The killing, which occurred within 50 yd of a classroom at Hallow Park special school near Worcester, left some of the girls hysterical and others sobbing. The headmaster, Ron Capper, said:


Mr. Capper said that he had asked the hunt not to use Hallow park during term time.

The second example comes from Nottingham. Twenty shocked children looked on as a pack of 20 to 30 hounds of the Quorn hunt chased a fox across the football pitch about 10 yd away from the playground. The hunt master apologised, but gave no assurances that it would not happen again.

In Sheffield on 8 November 1997, about 50 dogs hurdled a 4 ft fence into the grounds of Wharncliffe Side primary school, before running into neighbouring gardens, where they tore a fox apart. The head teacher, David Rogers, said:


There are many other examples of trespass and disruption caused by the official hunt--which is, of course, self-regulating. That is why, among other reasons, clause 5 of my Bill--


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