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Mr. David Taylor: Does my hon. Friend agree that one further major disadvantage of the terrier work that he describes is that it makes it more difficult to combat badger baiting? The people who are involved in badger baiting often argue that they are digging out foxes, which remains legal, and are not engaged in badger baiting, which is illegal.
The unfortunate fox is dug out with spades and killed, often after being baited by the dogs. It may also be removed to be used later as a sport. It is estimated that about 50,000 foxes are killed in that barbaric way every year. When foxes are under attack by so many dogs, they succumb quickly--too quickly for the terrier enthusiasts, who are seeking to test the gameness of their dogs. That brings me to the point made by my hon. Friend. Of course, a contest with a badger is a better test, so it is unsurprising that many terrier men stoop to the illegal digging and baiting of badgers.
The RSPCA recently took up a court case in which a Lakeland terrier suffered appalling injuries when three terrier men, who were trespassing at the time, forced it into a fox covert after blocking all its exits. I am pleased to say that the court found in favour of the RSPCA in a landmark decision that gave legal recognition to the fact that people who use terriers for hunting foxes can be guilty of cruelly ill-treating their dogs, not to mention imposing suffering on the fox. Let us be clear about such behaviour. The people involved put their dogs into a confined, underground environment in the knowledge that their quarry will defend itself and will injure or kill their dogs by doing so. Those are not the actions of animal lovers--it is barbarity, pure and simple.
The close association of such people in registered hunts is highlighted in a gruesome article published in The Sunday Telegraph Magazine in August 1997, in which the reporter, Adam Nicholson, describes his experience at a hunt in the Lake district. The article states:
Let me turn to the other victims: the hounds. Foxhounds do not hunt foxes by natural instinct. They are trained through the cubbing season. Cub hunting is the process by which the young and inexperienced hounds are brought into the pack and taught to chase and kill foxes that are around four or five months old. Sadly, hunts routinely destroy young foxhounds that take no interest in hunting or are not useful members of the pack. Hunts also kill hounds once they are considered too old to hunt. That usually occurs when they are around six years old--an age that is less than half their normal life expectancy. That results in the premature death of thousands of hounds that are killed by hunt kennel staff every year.
In the event of a ban, there would be no need for a single hound to be destroyed. The Canine Defence League and the RSPCA do not see any reason why hunting hounds could not be re-homed as domestic pets, or retrained and used as drag hunters. The RSPCA offered to re-home the hounds from the New Forest Buckhounds, which closed in 1998. Disgracefully, the offer was refused and every hound was wantonly destroyed, in a political move--
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Right from the beginning, we have been discussing the question of morality. I would not disagree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) when he said that we lived in a civilised, less barbaric society. In some ways, we do. However, I find it difficult to use the word "civilised" in quite the easy way that he does, when describing a society in which old people are less well looked after by their families than ever before and in which thousands of babies are killed every day.
We live in a society in which morality is changing and in which attitudes towards morality are clearly different from what they used to be. I find it difficult to believe that a society is more moral which does not protect 16-year-old children from much older people, following the way in which we have recently changed the law. Seizing the word "moral" in a general sense for one side of the argument or the other is probably not acceptable. We must examine how we apply morality in the proposal.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), who spoke about fishing, concentrated our minds considerably. She asked a serious question: what is the difference between the two issues? The answer is not a pleasant one, and it is certainly not a moral one. The difference is that there are large numbers of votes in one, and few in the other. It would be a devastating pre-election proposal if the Bill were to propose the abolition of angling. That would not be a proposal that the Prime Minister would wish to introduce. The fundamental difference is not a moral one, but an electoral one. Let us not be too naive. We are not discussing this subject today for some moral reason, but because it appears to be to the electoral advantage of the Labour party.
Even if there were a moral case to be made in favour of hunting, this is neither the moment--nor, indeed, the Bill--in which it would be reasonable so to do. If we were to make that moral case, we would have to start by making the distinction between hunting with dogs, angling and game shooting. I find it extremely difficult to make that moral distinction.
The anger of the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) gave away his real reason for supporting the Bill, because he based his so-called moral argument on his personal feelings. Morality is not well served by putting forward our personal feelings in these matters. Were we to do that, many of us would find ourselves having huge arguments about issues that were really matters of taste. People speak because they find something distasteful. The hon. Member for West Ham found hunting distasteful, but not fishing. Putting it bluntly, that seems not to be a matter of morality but a matter of sentimentality. The House should not legislate on the basis of sentimentality.
I speak as someone who has never hunted, but who has taken pleasure in spending time in the company of those who do, and whose constituency is lucky enough to have at least three hunts that hunt over it. It is a proper right of human beings to make the choice for themselves. It was a mistake for the hon. Member for West Ham to suggest that this argument was akin to those about chimney sweeps, the terrible conditions in which young people
I put forward the moral case for the freedom of individuals. That freedom is crucial, perhaps even more so when we disagree with what those individuals want to do. There is no point in supporting freedom if one agrees with what people want to do. I listened to some curious arguments about the lowering of the age of consent. People were saying, "I don't see anything wrong with this. Therefore, people should be free to do it." The people I listened to with a great deal more concern were those who said, "I think that there is something wrong with this, but I still believe that people should be able to make a choice." I do not happen to agree with them, but that is a proper moral basis on which to make the argument.
A very immoral Act is being proposed. It is immoral because it is being proposed for electoral, rather than moral, reasons. It is also immoral because it is being proposed for party management reasons, and for financial reasons. I asked, on a point of order, whether hon. Members who were members of the party that had received large donations in order that the Bill should be introduced would state their interest when they spoke. I also asked whether hon. Members who were hoping for further donations would admit to that hope. So far, I have not heard from those who ought to have so stated their interest.