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Mr. Banks: I am not interested in what Burns says about close seasons for anything. It cannot possibly be argued that the hare is a pest. In fact, I do not want any foxes to be hunted, whether they are pregnant or not. I am merely pointing out that the hon. Gentleman cannot argue that the fox is a pest and then try to defend the existence of a close season.
What the hon. Member for Cotswold says is nonsense. If the fox is a pest, why were foxes introduced to the Isle of Wight? If the fox is a pest, why does the Royal Beaufort hunt maintain artificial earths, and offer the fox dead chickens and lambs?
I suspect that the one thing the hunts do not want is the disappearance of the fox from the rural landscape. That would take away the fun--not the fun of being able to see the wonderful fox, of course: it is possible to see many foxes in any town centre, thanks to the fast-food restaurants that we have nowadays. This is not about seeing a beautiful fox; it is about having the beautiful fox available to be hunted. The Burns report concludes that there is little evidence to support the view that the fox is a significant agricultural pest. So much for the pest control argument.
My second point concerns jobs. I welcome the evidence in the report about the number of jobs involved. At last we are getting round to something on which we may all be able to agree. The report maintains that between 6,000 and 8,000 jobs are involved, but suggests that only about 700 people are directly employed. That must be contrasted with some of the ludicrous figures that have been bandied around during all the years for which I have been on this side of the argument--although generally on the other side of the Chamber. I refer to my wish for a ban.
In March 1997, I believe, Lady Mallalieu claimed in another place that 150,000 jobs were at risk. Where the noble Baroness got that figure I have not the faintest idea, but it has come down: the Countryside Alliance now gives a figure of about 16,000. However, that still does not accord with what Burns said. I note that the website still gives a figure of just under 16,000.
Mr. Banks: I am deeply grateful for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know what it is like to be hunted, having just returned from negotiations on the venue for the 2006 world cup. If I had not already been persuaded of the arguments, I would certainly be on the side of the fox now.
I would never be dismissive of job losses. Even one person's job is that person's whole life. However, I do not remember Opposition Members protesting so strongly about the tens of thousands of jobs that were destroyed by the policies of their Government in the mining, steel and manufacturing industries. We would have welcomed their support, but we did not get it. We heard then of economic implications, imperatives, the market and so forth--and tough luck on the miners, the steel workers and the manufacturing workers. Now Opposition Members come here and expect us to be overawed by a possible loss of 700 jobs.
As I have said, I am not dismissive of the jobs argument, but in the final analysis it does not swing the overall argument. Jobs must have been involved in all the bloodsports that have been banned by Commons legislation--badger baiting, cock fighting, dog fighting, bull baiting and otter hunting.
The book "Roads to Ruin"--hon. Members should read it--gives various examples of debates in the House on social reform in which the employment issue was used to argue against reform. The argument against stopping little boys being sent up chimneys was that such a ban would cause great unemployment among poor families in urban areas. The employment issue was also raised in the slavery debate. People probably argued against abolishing witch burning on the grounds that it created jobs for those who lit the faggots.
Ultimately, the jobs argument is simply not persuasive. If one believes Burns's figures--that 700 people are directly employed by the hunts--one should conclude that, even with the current state of the rural economy, they should be easily absorbed.
The third and final issue that I should like to address is that of individual rights, which was raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and addressed by other hon. Members. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) also raised the issue of minority rights and the banning of a lawful activity.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) raised the issue of bull baiting, he was laughed at by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff)--who is clearly a civilised man and believes that bull baiting is an abhorrent practice. I hope and trust that all hon. Members agree that it is an abhorrent practice. Nevertheless, the arguments that were assembled in the House to defend bull baiting are of the same order as those now being used by Opposition Members to defend fox hunting. That point could not have been made with greater clarity than it was by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). I love the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex--in a very non-erotic way--but he really is an unreconstructed old snob. My own feeling--I have great regard for him--is that he should be set in a vast tub of aspic and turned into a tourist attraction. I believe that people would pay good money to come and see a perfectly preserved example of that endangered species, snobbus gargantuus. He used all the same arguments that were used in a debate in the House on 24 April 1800. Some of his predecessors were probably here for that debate, if he was not here himself, arguing exactly the same points.
In 1800, Sir William Pulteney attempted to introduce legislation to abolish bull baiting. The opponents of that legislation--it really is worthwhile reading that debate--used various arguments that are almost identical to those now being used by pro-hunters--including the fear of unemployment, the inadequacy of the alternatives, and the idea that such reform should be regarded as the thin end of the wedge. All the arguments that we have heard today were used on 24 April 1800.
Mr. Banks: I do not quite understand the point of that question, which has nothing to do with the flow of my argument. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was listening to my argument. I used to fish quite often, and I was very good at angling, for which I won quite a few prizes. However, I would not do it now because there are a number of things about it that concern me.
One always has to draw lines--that is what politics is all about. One does not say, "We'll do nothing unless we can do everything", because that is an absurd argument. I have drawn a line. Regardless of whether angling is morally justifiable, I see a difference between it and fox hunting. The point is that, although I would no longer participate in angling, I have made that distinction. I am perfectly happy saying, "I am prepared for angling to continue, but I want a ban on fox hunting." One has to remember that, in politics, one can always oppose one action by saying, "Why don't you do all these other things as well?" That is not what we intend to do.
In the debate of 24 April 1800, Mr. Windham played the libertarian card, just as the Opposition Front Benchers have today. His arguments read like the mantra of today's hunting supporters. He argued that there were other, more pressing issues on which to legislate. He said that it was not an issue for Parliament; that a ban would set the sport's supporters against its opponents; that there were
Mr. Windham argued that the bull derived pleasure from the activity, and passed the baton on to George Canning, another libertarian and a great Foreign Secretary. Indeed, many would say that he was one the greatest Foreign Secretaries that we have had, begging the pardon of my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary. Mr. Canning said that he could not think of a more absurd Bill that had ever been brought before Parliament and asked, "What could be more innocent than bull baiting?"
In case hon. Members have forgotten, bull baiting involved a bull being tethered to the ground, so that it had no means of defence. Dogs were set on it and would tear at its head, chest and legs. Bulls often had their nostrils stuffed with pepper to drive them mad and a notorious tale was quoted in the House of how a bull had had its hooves sawn off to deprive it of any recourse whatever. According to Mr. Windham, the bull enjoyed that, which is why Mr. Canning said that there could be nothing more innocent than bull baiting.
Those examples show that nothing that we do in this House has not been done before. No arguments have been posed that have not been mounted before. I urge Opposition Members to read the arguments that were being made in relation to the banning of abhorrent practices which I know none of them support. In a few years' time, when someone else stands up to speak, they will put fox hunting in the same category as hare coursing and deer hunting, and be trying to imagine how any civilised person could actually have done those things.