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Hon. Members: Hear, hear!

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Unfortunately, the occupant of the Chair is not always aware of the detailed plans of every Member of the House.

Mr. Soames: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will be here to the very end. May I be advanced accordingly?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The Chair carefully notes that point of order.

Mr. King: I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) will stay to the end and longer.

The Home Secretary rightly said that this will be the 15th debate on hunting in 20 years. I have taken part in almost all those debates, and I have heard too many

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speeches like that by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). We owe it to Lord Burns and his report to discuss the matter more sensibly and with rather more insight, instead of speaking from entrenched positions and expressing entrenched views. As far as the hon. Member for Pendle is concerned, the Burns report might as well not have been produced. In the past, we had what could be described as a dialogue of the deaf. We knew before the debate started what people would say and, to put it bluntly, there was considerable ignorance about a number of the issues involved.

In his foreword to the report, Lord Burns makes the point that the issue is not simple; it is not a simple matter of cruelty and killing for fun. In some parts of my constituency, hunting is an extremely important and significant issue. Burns and his colleagues identified that in the report. However, in other parts of my constituency, there are people who write exactly the sort of letters that the hon. Member for Pendle referred to. They are appalled, disgusted and sometimes very irritated by the behaviour of the hunt and the conduct of its supporters on occasions. I am familiar with the issues on both sides.

Now there is no excuse for anyone to speak from ignorance, because the Burns report makes an important contribution to the debate. I trust that anyone involved with the issue in future will make themselves familiar with it. I welcome the report. I pay tribute to Lord Burns and his colleagues and I am grateful for the time that they spent on it. Part of Exmoor is in my constituency and, although I do not think that this is a reflection on the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard), the boundary commission is now proposing to transfer the rest of Exmoor from her constituency to mine. That may be a coincidence, but I do not think that the people of Exmoor will fight passionately to keep the hon. Lady as their Member of Parliament in future.

Turning to the Burns report and its appendices, I do not think that the hon. Member for Pendle has read Contract 7, which appears in one of the appendices. It is available only on CD-ROM. I understand that in the interests of speed in producing the report, there has to be a whole series of additional volumes. God knows what the report would have cost otherwise. However, I understand that public libraries will provide photocopies of 100 pages, if necessary. The seventh contract is the research contract for Sir Patrick Bateson and Professor Harris. My point is that the material is now available to enable people to talk with rather more knowledge and information.

I shall concentrate on two issues of particular significance in my constituency--stag hunting and the hunting of deer. I shall leave others to address fox hunting. I add in passing that Lord Burns and his colleagues dealt with two issues very usefully. The first is the silly argument about drag hunting that has come up before; it has been difficult to explain to some hon. Members why drag hunting is not an alternative, and it is sometimes proposed as if it were a way out. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has referred to that. Secondly, Burns addressed the silly and rather offensive argument that people go hunting to kill for pleasure.

The Burns report acknowledges that hunting is a minority pursuit. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) made clear from the Front Bench, there is nothing wrong with that. Burns makes it clear from the start that if the majority want to make

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any changes, the onus is on them to determine their entitlement and the grounds on which to take what in many circumstances any democratic society would consider an unacceptable step. The majority have a duty to the minority, especially given that in this case a huge number of that majority are totally uninformed about the issues and the facts.

As the Burns report made clear, in certain areas hunting is a majority pursuit that commands majority support. The following quotation from paragraph 4.43 of the report relates particularly to my constituency. It states:

The hon. Member for Pendle made some rather flippant comments about whist drives and dances.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a long-held tradition of the House that an Member who makes a speech should stay in the Chamber at least to hear the following speech, instead of leaving after five minutes?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is indeed understood that when an hon. Member has addressed the House it is normal for him to remain at least to hear the next speech.

Mr. King: Paragraph 4.54 of the report states:

I have tried to make that point in the House on previous occasions. It is a conclusion of Lord Burns and his colleagues in their report, and they are absolutely right.

Mr. Soames: I have heard my right hon. Friend make this point before, but I had not previously seen it for myself until this year when I went down to visit the Devon and Somerset staghounds. One gets some idea from being there and seeing it that hunting is one of the most important aspects of their lives for hundreds of people for whom there is very little else in that part of the world, and for whom the hunt truly provides a framework for their lives.

Mr. King: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are talking about a whole lot of people, many of whom do not hunt and are not involved in the hunt in any way, but for whom it provides a framework for community life. It is important to understand that the issue is more complex and difficult than one would think from the simplistic comments that we have heard from the hon. Member for Pendle.

The Burns report refers briefly to the history of stag hunting. The Devon and Somerset stag hunts were formed in 1855--150 years ago--because of concern at the virtual disappearance of the herd of deer on Exmoor.

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At that time there were thought to be fewer than 100 deer on Exmoor. Since hunting was introduced and the deer management system, of which hunting is a key integral part, the deer population has increased. There is a considerable spread in the estimated numbers. The figure given by the staghounds on their best count from visual observation was about 2,500, but the Langbein study on dung deposits produced a figure of between 3,000 and 6,000. Whatever the figure, it is clearly a herd in very good health that is well cared for under a deer management strategy that has ensured the survival of the deer--which, as I have often said in the House, have not survived as well in almost any other constituency in the country.

Lloyd George, in 1917, was concerned about the virtual disappearance of stags from the deer herd in the Quantocks. The Quantock stag hounds was established then and the deer management system was developed, and now there is an extremely healthy herd of between 700 and 800 stags. The deer are enormously valued. They are valuable for tourism, and people who do not want to hunt come to see them. The deer do not hide for fear of being shot at any moment. Every year, 1,000--Lord Burns confirms the figure--are either killed on the road or culled. That keeps the deer population in balance and protects their environment from being destroyed by the deer themselves. Most are culled by shooting and some by hunting.

Paragraph 5.75 of the Burns report says:

That, far more lucidly than I could have expressed it, is precisely the argument that I have put to the House. We must maintain the community of interest of the people who live in Exmoor and the Quantocks, with the farmers and country people, the conservationists, the deer societies, the Exmoor Society, the Exmoor national park, the Quantock rangers and the Countryside Commission, all of which contribute to a complicated and subtle, but proven, system of deer management, which has led to the establishment and maintenance of those wonderful herds. An ill-thought-out ban, imposed in the absence of any alternative deer management strategy, would put at risk the very survival of the deer. That is the implicit concern in the Burns report.

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