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Sir Nicholas Lyell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who speaks very courteously. Will he confirm that he is also opposed to shooting and fishing, as he confirmed in the previous debate?

Dr. Palmer: I am grateful for the intervention. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware, the great majority of hon. Members are not opposed to shooting and fishing. I personally oppose all forms of sport that do not lead to the animal being eaten but cause distress or death to the animal. That, for me, includes the type of fishing that results in the fish being put in a glass frame and hung up, and it includes shooting for sport. That is my personal view. Those of us who hold that view must accept that such forms of sport will not be banned. The only issue on the table is the banning of hunting.

Fifthly, there is the suggestion that no real suffering is involved. That has been heard less since the Burns report, which is explicit on the matter. In the terminology of the science, the statement that hunting

is quite definite, and stronger than most of us had expected.

I refer hon. Members to John Bryant's book, "Animal Sanctuary", in which he describes a fox that escaped a hunt and died from the terror to which it had been exposed. We are discussing not just the cruelty of the hunt if the fox is caught, but the cruelty of the hunt as such.

Finally, I return to the point made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). The fundamental issue in the debate is liberty versus compassion. We are asking ourselves whether it is right that a sport that inevitably involves suffering for animals should be practised in Britain. I do not believe that it is right. The great majority of the British people do not believe that it is right. I accept that the hon. Gentleman feels differently and that he

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considers it an issue of fundamental liberty. I believe that the liberty to inflict suffering in the name of sport is not a liberty worth preserving.

Mr. Grieve: I thank the hon. Gentleman again. Unlike many of his colleagues, he has taken an absolutist standpoint, and I respect him for it. The Burns report suggests that the objective evidence that the degree of suffering that may be caused to a hunted animal is so different from that which is caused to animals in other settings does not justify the hon. Gentleman's point and the infringement of other people's liberties. If I thought that the contrary was the case and that the matter was exceptional, I could be moved in my views, but as there is no such objective evidence, I am not so moved.

Dr. Palmer: The hon. Gentleman, like others before him, is attempting to make the best be the enemy of the good. It would obviously be delightful to eliminate all forms of suffering simultaneously. We have one particular form before us, and we should tackle that.

This is a time for decision. In his startlingly convoluted speech, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who is temporarily absent, supported a ban but opposed the use of the Parliament Act. We must accept that it is possible that the House of Lords will take a different view from the House of Commons on the matter. If the Parliament Act is not used, the issue will go on and on. The general public are fed up with it; they want a decision by Parliament, and we should have the courage and conviction to use the Parliament Act if necessary, and get the mandate for that from the electorate.

I support the Bill. I support the Second Reading. I do not understand how those who support options Nos. 1 and 2 also oppose Second Reading. Even the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) opposes Second Reading, which would enable us to consider his option. Beyond that, I support option No. 3. I believe that by doing that, we will reflect the wishes of the great majority of the people, and we will not be doing liberty any serious harm.

8.55 pm

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): It is strange that the Bill should be presented at this time, and strong political points could be made about that. However, I have engaged in this argument for as long as I have been in public life, and I have always believed that the right way of approaching it is to consider the views of those who oppose hunting to be as sincerely held as the views of those who support it. Certainly, I believe that Members of Parliament whose views are different from mine are sincere.

The debate is about liberty and proportionality. The only possible justification for banning a sport, activity or recreation such as hunting is a demonstration that it is significantly or unnecessarily cruel--and worse than alternative methods of controlling the fox population--and can be distinguished from other sports and pastimes involving the taking of animals lives, such as game shooting and fishing. The Government are congratulating themselves on passing the Human Rights Act 1998, thus incorporating the European convention on human rights into our law. This legislation is justifiable only if the ban that they seek can be shown to be necessary and proportionate, and I do not believe that it can.

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Although I disagreed with virtually all the speech of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley), I was pleased to hear him say that his constituents who hunted and supported hunting were thoroughly decent people. I hope it will be accepted that many hundreds of my constituents--in fact, I suspect there are a few thousand--who support hunting passionately are also sincere and decent, and are knowledgeable countrymen. It is necessary to stand back and consider what hunting actually involves. Can a ban be justified on animal welfare grounds?

Mr. Hogg: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one way of judging the propriety of an activity is to consider the kind of people who support it?

Sir Nicholas Lyell: That is a fair point. I suggest that Labour Members should talk quietly to those with whose views they profoundly disagree, and whose activity--which those people passionately support--they wish to ban. Labour Members should find out what sort of people they are.

As I was saying, a ban of this sort cannot be justified unless there are compelling reasons in its favour. It was greatly to the credit of an earlier post-war Labour Government with a massive majority, that of Mr. Attlee, that when this matter--which has been around for a long time--was raised, arousing just as much passion, they commissioned an independent inquiry. The resulting Scott-Henderson report demonstrated that the conditions necessary for a ban did not exist.

I was very glad that the Home Secretary, and the Government as a whole, asked Lord Burns to produce a report. The least that can be said of the report is that it shows that the conditions necessary for an outright ban are not there.

I shall oppose Second Reading, but if the Bill gains a majority--as I suspect it will--I shall argue for either option 1 or option 2. I hope to play a constructive part in that so that hunting, about which I know a good deal, can continue when it is conducted properly. I know a good deal about hunting because my father, who was a barrister and high court judge, as well as a scholarly person, was, none the less, a hunter and master of hounds. He hunted to hounds--in fact they were harriers--as did my stepmother. I therefore grew up in those surroundings. I have done game shooting all my life and a certain amount of fishing. I have to admit that I am not a very skilful fisherman, although many members of my family are.

Under two Labour Governments, a majority of Members have been opposed to hunting, so those Governments have stood back and ordered an independent report. It is fair to say that the Burns report demonstrates that there is not a case for an outright ban on hunting. Until such a case can be made, it is not right to proceed.

However, we are proceeding, so I shall analyse the arguments. Animal welfare is put as the case for the ban. However, all hon. Members present today recognise that the fox population grows enormously in the breeding season. It increases to about 600,000 and has to be controlled. One may say that not that many lambs, chickens or other farm animals are injured or harried, but the numbers are significant. Those whose animals are harried tend not to be rich, and they live close to the countryside. I could never outdo the passionate and

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accurate speech that the Minister for Sport made when we debated this matter before and she was free to do so from the Back Benches. She knew and understood the matter and, if I may say so respectfully, the points that she made could not have been made more attractively or tellingly. They certainly rang true for me as someone who, like her, was lucky enough to be brought up in the countryside.

Dr. Palmer: If the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that fox control is important, how does he explain the fact that foxhunting accounts for only an extremely small percentage of the foxes that are controlled?

Sir Nicholas Lyell: The hon. Gentleman is right. The proportion of foxes killed by hunts is comparatively small--only a few thousand--compared with the hundreds of thousands that die of natural causes and other methods of killing, principally shooting or snaring. That brings me to a central point in the debate, which needs to be understood. The people who go foxhunting and are close to it are close to the countryside. They tend to come from farming communities and are close to them. They understand their quarry and respect the fox. They want the numbers to be controlled, but they would not wish to treat a fox cruelly in a bear-baiting way, setting dogs on it or otherwise mistreating it. I have watched films produced by opponents--misguided opponents, not sincere ones--which have sought to show pictures taken at night of foxes being harried by dogs. That has little to do with the subject; indeed, it has nothing at all to do with it.

There is a balance of nature in areas where there are hunts. There are people in those areas who support foxhunting passionately. Nevertheless, they do not wish to destroy the fox, but to control its numbers. They enjoy hunting and are fascinated by venery--the ancient art of the sport of hunting, which requires a deep knowledge of one's quarry. In exactly the same way, fishermen take trouble over rivers: they maintain the habitat and understand the trout, salmon or coarse fish. There is great skill in coarse fishing, and fishermen know which fish feed off the bottom and which come to the surface, and they know how to catch them. Of course, they kill a large number of fish for sport, but they do that carefully, and the sport should not be banned. Likewise with hunting, one will always find a population of foxes in hunting country. In an area where there is no hunting, one is apt to find very few or no foxes.

I believe passionately in a balance of nature. For 20 years I have been privileged to represent a constituency where people hunt. We have two hunts in Bedfordshire. The people who hunt really believe in it. We know from the Burns report that it is part of the way of life in Devon and Somerset and in Cumbria and Leicestershire. They are the utterly decent people who participate in the sport, as the hon. Member for The Wrekin recognised.

The only justification for banning hunting would be if it could objectively be shown to be absolutely cruel and much worse than the alternatives. Burns showed that the alternatives inevitably involve some suffering. It is much better to stay with the status quo. Liberty, freedom and proportionality are what the debate is all about, so I would ask those right hon. and hon. Members who do not agree

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with me to think very carefully about the Bill before they force it down the throats of the decent citizens of this country.

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