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Does my hon. Friend agree that many of us are worried as much about the stress caused by the chase as about the death itself? The chase will affect all foxes alike--be they healthy, young or old. Any fox that is chased will suffer stress.
Mr. Cawsey: I agree with my hon. Friend. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who is now the shadow Home Secretary, made that case very well on the Second Reading of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). She said that the whole issue was about the chase. If one agrees that foxes have to be killed in one way or another, we must consider whether they have to be put through an unnecessary process before that takes place.
Mrs. Golding: My hon. Friend keeps saying that he does not believe that hunting with dogs has anything to do with pest control. However, if man wishes to take the trouble to try to preserve our indigenous species, that is the only way of controlling mink, which has no known predator.
If one accepts that hunting with dogs is not necessary for the pest control of foxes and one believes that there are better methods of controlling their numbers, surely we should use those other methods in the localised areas where that is necessary. I was pleased that the Burns report said that lamping
Nobody in the House would argue against the need to control the number of deer. However, as has already been pointed out, the use of dogs in the hunting of deer is already banned in Scotland. The Burns inquiry clearly concluded that stalking and shooting was the best method of controlling deer and it made the further good suggestion that competency and training should be part of that process. I hope that hon. Members will take that suggestion on board.
The process of getting rid of deer is unnatural. As Burns points, it can often take two days. The deer is tracked on the first day and one returns the next morning to see whether it is still there. The chase then begins and it can take place over an extremely long distance because
The Bateson report and Contract 7 show that there are stress factors involved in that. I should be surprised if any hon. Member needed to see a report to work that out. Although they are not easy to watch because they are distressing, there have been videotapes showing the end of a hunt when the deer has reached the point of exhaustion. We have seen a deer trying over and over again to jump over a fence, and being unable to do so because it is exhausted. It looks over its shoulder to see the dogs getting nearer and nearer, and eventually the dogs reach the deer. It is surrounded and hounded and finally dispatched. It is time that, as in Scotland, we banned that practice.
Most hon. Members know that the number of hares in this country is declining. The former Government, under the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), signed up, as part of the United Kingdom's biodiversity action plan, to increasing the number of hares in Great Britain. We have yet to stop the decline, let alone achieve a growth in their numbers; hunting hares in that context seems almost perverse. I accept that there are local issues, but it is interesting to note that gamekeepers in those areas say that shooting is the best method of dispatch. From an animal welfare perspective, I hope that most hon. Members agree with the point in the Burns report that dogs do not always kill hare quickly. I hope that we shall bear that point in mind when we consider the options before us.
Much anger and irritation is expressed in these debates when the people against hunting refer to it as the killing or abuse of animals for fun. A Conservative Member said that most people who take part in hunts do not do so to kill animals for fun, and I agree with him. However, if there is one form of hunting that is an abuse of animals for fun--and even for gambling--it is hare coursing. That takes place in my constituency and I wish to praise my local newspaper, The Epworth Bells. It may not be read too widely by hon. Members, but it is a good read and has an excellent monthly column from the local Member of Parliament. Because of its readers' views on hare coursing in the Isle of Axholme, it is has expressed its great concern about the practice. I hope that we can all reach the rapid conclusion that hare coursing has to go.
On mink, I do not disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) that mink numbers need to be controlled. However, like Burns, I would argue that very few mink are controlled by hunting with dogs. Trapping is the method used to control mink numbers in a particular area. The Burns report says that hunting mink has no significant effect on mink numbers nationally or, indeed, regionally. I should be surprised if hon. Members wanted to pursue that.
Mrs. Golding: I agree that hunting mink has little effect on mink numbers, which is why they are increasing and more and more of our wildlife is being destroyed. If any action against mink is prevented, the risk to our wildlife is increased.
Mr. Cawsey: I do not disagree with the need to control mink numbers. It is a great shame that there are mink at all. That problem originates from fur farming, which I am pleased to say the House is dealing with.
I want to move on to the control of mink. When the issue was raised in Standing Committee C, there seemed to be some disbelief about it. Last week, an excellent article in The Independent on Sunday pointed out that the increase in the number of otters is doing more to depress mink numbers than anything else. Not for the first time, we find that nature balances itself better than interventions by man. As otters reclaim their natural environment and mink numbers decline as a result, it would be interesting to know why otter numbers are increasing. One reason is that they can no longer be hunted with dogs. Ironically, mink numbers are better controlled because of the ban on hunting with dogs than they are by hunting with dogs.
Mr. Cawsey: I can only point my hon. Friend to the latest reports, which show that mink numbers are falling as the creatures move away from their natural environment. I agree with my hon. Friend that we need to control mink numbers, but I do not agree that hunting with dogs is the right method of doing so.
I wish to pick up one or two minor issues that have been raised. People talk about the welfare impact on the animals used in the hunting process: the hounds, terriers and horses. It has been argued that, if hunting were banned, the hounds would all have to be shot and could not live a natural life. It is no longer denied that the hounds would have to be shot anyway. I understand that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has said that, in the event of a ban, it will ensure that all the dogs are housed and cared for.
The welfare of hounds can be compromised in the hunting process, not just because they are shot if they cannot keep up with the pack, but simply through the act of hunting. Sadly, we have seen that happen during hunt seasons, when dogs have run on to railway lines and been killed. Earlier in the debate, an Opposition Member said that hunts never go on land without permission. Unless Railtrack has actively given its consent for hounds to run on to its lines, which is unlikely, another myth falls to the ground. That is also true of terrier work, although I accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House do not support the continuation of terrier work.
It is inevitable that, from time to time, horses will get injured, but if one considers the range of activities for which horses are used, they are no more at risk when hunting with dogs than as a result of the other work that they do.
Drag hunting has been mentioned several times today. To what extent can that make a difference if hunting with dogs is banned? It can make a difference, but it is difficult to predict what will happen if hunting with dogs is banned, although Lord Burns makes the point that people who own and ride horses will want to find alternatives because of their love of their horses and their love of horse riding. I think that there will be a growth in drag hunting, but I cannot predict to what extent.
Other equestrian events will also take the place of hunting with dogs. Burns said that some farmers felt that there would be little incentive to allow hunts on to their land if they were only drag hunts, but I am not convinced about that. Drag hunts would generate income for farmers, and one of the most useful tasks that hunts can perform is to provide farmers with a fallen stock service. If farmers keep a drag hunt on their land, that service would continue for the future.
It is worth bearing in mind the fact that many fallen stock initiatives are businesses that charge for taking the fallen stock and sell the fleeces. They use some of the meat to feed to the hounds, but much of it has to be incinerated. The Government provide for small incinerators to deal with fallen stock, and that will continue into the future. There is no reason why fallen stock services, equestrian events and drag hunting cannot replace hunting with dogs if it is banned, and provide that useful service for the countryside in a different way.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) made an extremely good point at the start of his speech. He said that this is a matter of individual liberty against animal welfare considerations. That is exactly the point that all hon. Members should consider as the debate continues. Unlike the other parties, the Labour party made a manifesto commitment to have a free vote on legislation to deal with this issue. It is important to ensure that that takes place during this Parliament.
The very thorough and comprehensive report that Lord Burns and his team have given us is a great help to all hon. Members in coming to a conclusion on this issue, as is the Government's offer of options so that we do not have to give a straight yes or no. Hon. Members can consider the Burns report and decide how they want to vote.
Lord Burns has done us a service. I sincerely hope that all hon. Members will read and carefully consider the report before deciding on the options they are willing to support or not, as the case may be. In that way, we will produce good legislation that will command widespread support throughout the country.