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Sir Nicholas Lyell: Is the hon. Gentleman opposed to fishing?

Dr. Palmer: I personally--and I do not speak for anyone else--am opposed to sport fishing in which the purpose is purely entertainment and to put the fish in a glass case on the wall. Many of my hon. Friends will disagree, but I think that it is wrong for the same reasons I have advanced.

Mr. Gray: What about game shooting?

Dr. Palmer: The same arguments apply, but I stress that I speak only for myself and I recognise that my views do not have widespread support.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire argued that intention is the crucial point. He said that people do not normally ride to hounds because they wish to cause suffering, and we accept that they are not gangs of sadists. People ride to hounds because they find it exciting and pleasurable, and they enjoy the fellowship and the day out. Nevertheless, we must accept--and those who hunt generally also accept--that it is a regrettable by-product that suffering is inflicted on an animal for a prolonged period. The argument that foxes enjoy being hunted has almost died out and one rarely encounters it now. Most people accept the balance: they enjoy hunting, but unfortunately the animal does not.

People feel that there is much misery in the countryside anyway and if the fox was not being chased by them it would be chased by something else. Hunting is their pleasure and they want to continue to do it. I argue, as I argued to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, that that attitude should not be protected in this day and age. We have moved beyond the point at which it is acceptable to allow entertainment that has prolonged animal suffering as its by-product. Hon. Members may argue that other practices, such as factory farming, cause animal suffering. We accept that those other practices also need examination, and that has overwhelming majority support.

Mr. Soames: The hon. Gentleman is making a serious speech and my intervention is not intended as levity. Does he favour a ban on football, given that the behaviour of many fans is wholly unacceptable in this day and age, that they degrade our society by their behaviour, and that policing them costs tens of thousands of pounds and the time of policemen who would be better occupied doing other things?

Dr. Palmer: Such analogies are always interesting, but in this case the analogy breaks down, partly because everybody present is a willing participant. I know people who do not go to football matches because they are afraid of being beaten up, but their fears are probably exaggerated. It is open to people not to attend football matches, but that option is not open to the fox in a hunt.

Mr. Cawsey: The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) mentioned policing costs. Is my hon. Friend aware that football clubs have to pay for policing costs but that it is provided free for hunts?

Dr. Palmer: I did not know that. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members would allow me to continue, I would

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be grateful. It is always possible to draw human comparisons, but part of the problem for many of us is the infliction of suffering on an animal which, by its nature, cannot be consulted. Another borderline case, often raised in the debate, is boxing. I do not like watching boxing matches, but I accept that people have a right to bash each other for pleasure or for money, if they wish to do so. That does not bother me, because it is a matter of free choice.

In our day and age, we have moved beyond the stage at which we deny any rights to animals and deny them any consideration when we weigh up their interests against our pleasures. I do not want to sound puritanical: there are a great many pleasures in life of which I do not approve and of which Conservative Members would probably strongly disapprove, but which I do not believe should be banned. However, let us end the practice of sport at the expense of animal suffering. Let us pass a ban on hunting.

12.50 pm

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): In what I hope will be a relatively brief speech, I shall concentrate on fox hunting. In common with the constituents of every Member of Parliament, my constituents are divided on the question. The kennels of the East Kent hunt are at Elham in my constituency, but I know that many of my constituents strongly oppose fox hunting.

The merit of the Burns report, to which I pay tribute in common with every hon. Member who has spoken--even those who paid scant regard to its conclusions in their speeches--is that it focuses attention on the central question which, in my view, provides the key to an informed debate and decision on this subject. It is true that a ban on fox hunting would have some significant adverse consequences. It would lead to a significant number of job losses, although there is scope for argument about precisely how many. As several of my right hon. and hon. Friends have eloquently described, a ban would cause serious damage to the traditions of country life: it would cause real problems for farmers in terms of the collection and disposal of fallen stock; it would create extra problems for the police; and it would be seen by many people as a direct attack on their civil liberties.

I do not underestimate the significance of any of those detrimental consequences of a ban--they are important and should not be ignored. However, my view has always been that, whatever the difficulties, the case for a ban would have to be seriously considered if it could be demonstrated--clearly demonstrated--that fox hunting is unique in the suffering that it causes to the fox in comparison with other methods of controlling the fox population. That has always struck me as the central question. The burden of establishing that there is unique suffering as a consequence of fox hunting must rest fairly and squarely on those who want to ban a practice that has been lawful for centuries, and it is a burden that must be plainly discharged.

Therefore, for me, the key question is a comparative one, and I am encouraged to see that the Burns committee took precisely the same view. Paragraph 6.12 of the report states clearly:

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The report continues, in paragraph 6.13:

The committee went on to deal with those alternatives. In paragraph 6.59, it says:

At paragraph 6.60, it reaches a "tentative conclusion"--not a firm, definitive and settled conclusion--that

but it goes on to say that there would be a greater use of other methods where lamping is not feasible or safe, and that it is less confident that the use of shotguns, particularly in daylight, is preferable to hunting from a welfare perspective. It adds that the use of snaring is a particular cause for concern.

Therefore, if one adopts the comparative approach set out in the Burns report and looks at the comparisons that the committee made of the effect on foxes of hunting with other methods of controlling the fox population, there is no support whatever in the Burns report for reaching the conclusion that fox hunting should be banned. The burden to demonstrate clearly that fox hunting causes unique suffering plainly has not been discharged. Although, as the committee now famously concluded, the practice of hunting seriously compromises the welfare of the fox, the fact is that many other methods of keeping the fox population under control, which would be used in the event of a ban on fox hunting, compromise the welfare of the fox to an even greater extent.

Mr. Caplin: I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has had a chance to read paragraph 6.42, under the heading "The welfare of hunted foxes." It says:

so one could argue either my position or his.

Mr. Howard: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman--if he was listening--has already forgotten the point with which I started my speech. The onus is on him. It is for him and those who wish to ban the practice to demonstrate the need for that very clearly. It is for them to demonstrate clearly that the consequences of fox hunting uniquely cause suffering to the fox which is not caused by other methods of controlling the fox population. If he cannot discharge that burden, there should not be a ban. That is the answer to his intervention.

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