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Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), because I find it difficult to follow the logic of his argument. Earlier, he stated that it is right that this matter be brought to a conclusion. However, much legislation enacted by this House through the centuries--including, for instance, legislation that criminalised certain religious groups at the time of the reformation--has been justified on exactly the basis that there was a consensual majority in the House tending towards a certain view, and I know that that is not an argument that the hon. Gentleman would support. Here we have an issue of conscience that clearly touches people deeply, yet he believes that, because of his own views, it is right for this House to impose them on others. In that regard, I find his argument unsustainable.
Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I do not believe that we should reach a conclusion because of my views, or that we should conclude that my views should be imposed on others. There has been a public debate and the public have shown huge interest in the matter. A strong argument has been advanced inside and outside the House for legislation. A huge majority--260--voted in favour of legislation. Therefore, rather than allow the issue to remain unresolved, a choice can and should be made. The hon. Gentleman's argument or mine may prevail, but that is a matter for Parliament. After all the preparatory skirmishes, it is right that Parliament takes a view.
I have come to the view that in a civilised, less barbaric, more mutually respectful society, we can justify a ban, but we must ensure that it is justified on specific grounds, and we must take account of evidence such as that arising from the Burns inquiry, which asks the question: is there an alternative? If we are persuaded that some foxes must be killed and there is no alternative to hunting, we might be driven to a conclusion that we do not like, but are forced to accept. However, that is not the view expressed in the Burns report. People often justify hunting on the basis that animals kill each other and things are rough in the wild, but that is no argument, because it does not predetermine what view we, as human beings, should take for ourselves. As everybody knows, and as the Burns report confirms, there are alternative methods of killing foxes: digging out, shooting, gassing and trapping.
There are a couple of facts to be considered: it appears that only one in 200 lambs, to take the most obvious example, are killed by a fox, and that, of foxes killed, only 5 per cent. are killed by hunting. It is not as if hunting is the major way of culling them; a huge number of foxes are killed by shooting and an even larger number by cars. Therefore, alternatives exist and they appear to do the job. On the evidence of personal experience and the Burns report, the only real difficulty is in upland areas, where, compared to lowland areas, it is more difficult for the alternatives to succeed.
Mr. Hughes: Some of the alternatives, at least, constitute a less cruel method of dealing with the fox. As for the intervention from the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), I accept the argument relating to coarse fishing and shooting. If there was public demand for a similar proposition in respect of those activities and it was brought before the House, we would have to face that. However, although there are issues relating to cruelty in those activities, that is not the nature of the proposition before us now. The Bill relates only to hunting with dogs of foxes, deer and hares, and in that respect the evidence is clear.
Mr. Burnett: My hon. Friend has spoken of the dilemma of a liberal. Will he address the question of whether it is fair to single out one activity for a ban while omitting to mention any other similar activity? Does he agree that that is patently unfair?
Mr. Hughes: My hon. Friend's question is perfectly proper, but the Government have introduced a Bill that deals with hunting with dogs and that is the proposition that we must deal with. As my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) said, a separate debate took place some years ago on whether to ban firearms. Each proposition may pose different questions. The proposition before us today relates to hunting with dogs and we have the evidence needed to reach a conclusion.
My final points relate to the arguments, sometimes claimed to be overwhelming, against a ban. Some say that there is a rural crisis and that rural communities are collapsing. It is true that there are huge problems in rural Britain, but if an activity is wrong, one cannot justify its continuation because there are difficulties in those parts of the country in which that activity predominantly takes place.
Some say that we must not get rid of hunting because it is symbolic of English life. Bullfighting is symbolic of Spanish life, but it is no more justifiable than is foxhunting in England. Life moves on, for heaven's sake. There were no motor cars 150 years ago, so cars might be regarded as symbolic of modern English life. We must look forward rather than back. People say that getting rid of hunting will change the nature of the countryside. The nature of the countryside is changed by all sorts of things: European Union regulations, subsidies,
There is a jobs argument, albeit not nearly as strong since the Burns report was published. Burns argues, quite reasonably, that at the end of a period of transition, there would be as many--if not more--alternative jobs in the countryside than jobs exist at present. In addition, according to the report, more jobs would be affected in urban areas than in rural areas. The principle remains the same: if something is wrong, it cannot be justified by the fact that some jobs are involved. We therefore return to the moral argument.
Finally, some say that we need the sport. For heaven's sake, although we need sport, there are many other forms of sport--including drag hunting, although I am not saying that that is an alternative--that constitute perfectly reasonable alternative countryside or sporting activities.
The Home Secretary was asked by a Conservative Member whether the banning of hunting has a policing implication. It has, but there is also a huge policing implication in not banning hunting. Hunts are now policed on a regular basis and the police have made it clear that, whether or not hunting is banned, they anticipate similar resource requirements. The issue is a practical one. A ban might be difficult to police, but so are many other things in life. That cannot be used as an argument against a ban.
There are three options: supervision, regulation or prohibition. However, there is one fundamental question: whether, in the 21st century, the hunting of foxes, deer and hares with dogs should be permitted or whether the practice is so cruel that it should no longer be allowed. The balance between liberty and the welfare of animals is the central question. On this, there is no middle way. One must either accept that hunting is cruel and should not exist, or that it is not so cruel, and it should therefore be allowed, however regulated or supervised.
I have come to the conclusion that the restriction of liberty is justified in the greater interests of a civilised society. I have come to the conclusion also, with some of my colleagues, that it is time for us to proceed to make a choice between the options, not entered into, in the words of the prayer book, "unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly" but after plenty of time and serious debate. I hope that at least the Bill will be given a Second Reading so we can get on with the decision, and get on with it soon.
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): I intend to speak briefly, as I am aware that many other Members wish to speak and I do not wish to be selfish, but I shall speak seriously about an issue that concerns me. First, however, I must declare an interest: I hunt.
We often have recurring dreams, and I most often have a dream of a sunlit meadow and a sparkling stream where I cast a fly. I wait and watch the fly bobbing along the river and wait for the fish to rise. In my dream, I hold my
It is true that I am not sitting astride a horse or surrounded by dogs, although I fish with dog nobblers occasionally, and some fishermen will know what those are. Nevertheless, I am a hunter. If regulation and licensing are good enough for fishing, why are they not seen by many of my colleagues as good enough for other forms of hunting? How can I, as an avid supporter of fishing and with the Labour party's angling charter in my pocket, hope for hunting to be banned?
For example, can I tell the huntsmen with the mink packs who hunt on foot with dogs and who do more than anyone to try to keep down the mink population that they cannot hunt? Do I tell them that it is all right for me to hunt for fish but not all right for them to hunt for mink, in an effort to protect the water vole, the fish and the ground-nesting birds? It does not make sense.