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Dan Norris: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Soames: No, I will not.

Those qualities are the envy of people the world over, and in many places, there remains in this land a richness and colour that is truly and wholly unique. Hunting is a part of that. All those who believe that to be the case, wherever they come from in the United Kingdom, will fight to the end to see that it is not cast aside.

12.30 pm

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I should like to review the arguments in favour of the retention of hunting, but before I do so, I apologise to Lord Burns and his committee because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), I was sceptical that the report would produce a result that would satisfy most

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people's expectations of fairness and balance. To my astonishment, he has produced a report that almost everyone accepts as satisfying those requirements. That is a remarkable, rare achievement, and I congratulate Lord Burns and his team on the report. I hope that they write more reports on other subjects; we need their talents.

I shall take up several issues that hon. Members--notably the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames)--have raised in defence of hunting and dispose of a couple of relatively exotic arguments. The hon. Gentleman suggests that critics of hunting are motivated by class hatred, perhaps because they come from polytechnics. I am not sure whether he would include the Conservative Anti Hunt Council or the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) in the group of people possessed by class hatred. Speaking personally, I have a master of fox hounds in my family and my father rode to hounds until he decided that it was cruel. We should not allow ourselves to be distracted by the totally irrelevant class issue. If fox hunting were conducted exclusively by members of the Trades Union Congress and leader writers on The Guardian, I would still be equally opposed to it.

I shall move on to conservation. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex says that foxes would not exist without hunting, from which we can conclude that, in those continental countries that do not have hunting with hounds, foxes have died out. That is manifestly not the case, and the argument cannot be seriously sustained that it would be the case in Britain.

On the more serious issue of jobs, the Burns report identifies 700 full-time-equivalent jobs that would be affected and up to 7,300 jobs that would be indirectly affected by a ban on hunting. That is equivalent to a medium-sized factory spread across the whole of Great Britain. Many of the jobs are not in the countryside; they are in towns. Many of them are specifically related not to hunting, but to horses, and will not be abolished because of the alternatives that Burns identifies. In short, the loss of jobs is within the normal weekly fluctuation that we all see in our constituencies. In my area of Nottingham, we have lost many more jobs than that in the textile industry alone, and I do not recall Conservative Members making passionate speeches in their defence.

Mr. Garnier: I most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way not only because I am great friends with many members of his family, but because, like him, I represent a textile area. If he had been a Member in the previous Parliament, he would have heard many Conservative Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), make not only passionate but reasoned speeches about the demise of the textile industry. Although I am prepared to listen to the hon. Gentleman, I ask him not resort to generalisation.

Dr. Palmer: I accept that there are certainly exceptions. I was referring to the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken so far in the debate. I have not hitherto associated them with the defence of people who lose their jobs in the textile industry. However, perhaps I am wrong.

In today's society, none of us--least of all Members of Parliament--have lifetime jobs. We have to accept that there may be circumstances under which our jobs

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disappear, and those circumstances include changes of attitude within society to whether the activities on which our jobs depend remain acceptable. I shall return to the interesting points made by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex on what can be acceptable. First perhaps, I should say a few words about control.

Sir Nicholas Lyell: The hon. Gentleman is obviously making a thoughtful speech. Before he gets on to the detail, will he tell the House what the principle is which he thinks justifies the majority in a free society banning what has been until now the legitimate activity of a minority?

Dr. Palmer: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point to which I shall respond later in my speech.

Turning to the issue of control, Burns shows that around 400,000 foxes die each year. Of those, 10,000 are killed directly by hunts. That represents 2.5 per cent. A further 5,000 are killed by digging out, which many hon. Members, even among the supporters of hunting, seem willing to ban. If we add that figure, we end up with 3.75 per cent. Foot and gun packs kill between 7,000 and 10,000 foxes, adding another 2.5 per cent. So all forms of hunting kill a total of 6.25 per cent. of foxes killed each year. It is therefore not possible seriously to argue that hunting is a major form of pest control across the country. If right hon. and hon. Members speak to Lord Burns and his team--and I spoke to them at great length on this--they will confirm, as they do in the report, that in the Welsh uplands fox hunting with gun packs constitutes a significant element of control. In other areas Burns was convinced that it does not.

Mr. Leigh: Assuming that the hon. Gentleman is right that hunting is not a significant form of pest control, does he at least accept that it is a significant impetus towards the conservation of the species?

Dr. Palmer: No, I am afraid I do not. Obviously, I accept that people who want to hunt foxes have an interest in not letting them die out. That is why from time to time hunts breed foxes for hunting. I understand that the practice is disapproved of, but there have been recurrent cases. As I said earlier, foxes have not died out in countries that do not have hunting with hounds. There may be a greater or lesser degree of tolerance and the fox population may rise and fall for other reasons, but frankly, outside the Welsh highlands, the whole issue of pest control is a red herring. Elsewhere, foxes are not hunted primarily for the purposes of pest control.

Mr. Gray: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a test case in the 1980s when, for a number of reasons, fox hunting was banned on the royal artillery impact area on Salisbury plain for five or six years? Local farmers petitioned the Government once again to allow fox hunting because of the appalling depredation on piglets, lambs and chickens in the surrounding area. That is a very good example of exactly what happens to pest control when fox hunting is banned.

Dr. Palmer: With respect, there are petitions on many subjects, but the figures show clearly that hunting does not have the impact that the hon. Gentleman suggests, because more than 90 per cent. of foxes die for some other

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reason. If we had a form of control of measles which affected only 6 per cent. of cases, we would say that it was not an effective form of control. The same applies to hunting with hounds.

On mink, the Burns report says quite explicitly that there is no significant impact at national or regional level on mink numbers. There may be a temporary local impact, but because of the high fecundity of mink, they rapidly breed again. Hunting is not an effective form of pest control. The situation is even more extreme with hares, because it is generally accepted that there is no need to control their numbers and that, in any case, coursing does not have that effect.

The Burns report expresses concern that the number of deer will fall if hunting is banned, because the tolerance of farmers will decline. It is disingenuous to suggest that hunting is there primarily for pest control. I concede the point in the Welsh highlands, but in other areas it is not the main factor. If we are honest with one another, we will admit that.

I agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) that liberty is the central issue. We must consider whether the interests of animal welfare and a civilised society should outweigh the right of individuals to pursue a pastime that has existed for many hundreds of years, with the many colourful traditions described so evocatively by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex. It was instructive to listen to him, because all the criteria that he listed for assessing whether a pastime is acceptable could have been applied to otter hunting or bear baiting. His central argument was that the freedom of human individuals should not be interfered with unless there is a risk of overwhelming damage to society as a whole.

Mr. Luff: That is a misapprehension. I am from the middle ground, and I would oppose any sport whose sole point was barbarity and cruelty, as with dog fighting and bear baiting. That is not the point of fox hunting, and that is what distinguishes it from those sports that I would want banned.

Dr. Palmer: I accept the hon. Gentleman's distinction, but I am not sure that all Conservative Members would agree with it. The history of debates on the matter shows that every such activity that is currently legal is swathed in a reassuring glow of familiarity. At the time, it was said that bear baiting was banned not because people were sorry for the bear but because it gave pleasure to the onlookers. That accusation recurs throughout the history of animal welfare legislation. Any practice that is legal is regarded as something that has always been done, that does not cause much of a problem and that it would be an intolerable intrusion to ban; but 20 years after it has been banned, people look back and wonder how we ever tolerated it.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) says that intention is crucial, but the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex says that the effect on society is the most important factor. If we have a society in which it remains legal to have prolonged chases of animals, ending in their killing, for entertainment, that society is degraded. The fact that it has been degraded for many centuries is not a reason to continue. We lower our self-respect by putting

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our own entertainment before the animals' welfare. That is not something that our society, which is so rich in possible forms of entertainment, should continue to support.

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