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Mr. Gordon Prentice: The hare is not vermin or a pest. The Burns report makes the point that, in hare coursing, hares are pursued for entertainment--sport. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could share with us his views on whether hare coursing should continue.

5 pm

Mr. Maples: The Burns report dealt with those issues. I want to focus on foxhunting. [Interruption.] I shall make a short speech about one aspect of the issue, and that aspect is foxhunting. If the hon. Gentleman wants to introduce a Bill to ban hare coursing alone, and which would not cover foxhunting, that can be discussed. I wish to deal with the issue of foxhunting, because it affects a great many of my constituents.

Mr. Hogg: Is not the truth that all country and field sports are the same, and that no sensible distinction can be made between angling, shooting and foxhunting? They stand or fall together, and those of us who stand for freedom should defend them all.

Mr. Maples: I intend to move on to some of the anomalies in the attitudes of those who think that foxhunting should be banned.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hancock: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maples: I want to deal with one matter first.

The animal welfare issue is fundamental to the argument of those who want to ban hunting. Anyone with any knowledge of the countryside knows that the alternatives are worse. At the end of a hunt, a fox is either dead or alive, but trapping and shooting often leave foxes injured. People who want to ban foxhunting must show that it is more cruel and contrary to the animal's welfare than shooting or trapping. I contend that it is not.

Trapping is a horrible process. Foxes in traps bite off their own legs. They are quite smart: they inhale to help themselves get out, only to find that the trap tightens on them when they have to breathe again. Such deaths are horrible and revolting, and much worse than death by hunting. However, if animals have to be controlled, some way of killing them has to be found. I contend that foxhunting is undoubtedly the most efficient method.

Mr. Hoyle: The hon. Gentleman is clearly not aware that not all foxes are killed by hunting with hounds. Far from it: most foxes are shot, trapped or poisoned. That will remain so whether hunting continues or not.

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Mr. Maples: Poisoning is, in fact, already illegal, but I am aware of what the hon. Gentleman says. I consider that, if the Bill goes through, about 14,000 foxes killed by hunts each year will be trapped or shot.

Mr. Banks: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maples: No, I want to move on. The hon. Gentleman spoke at length on Second Reading, and may get a chance to speak later today.

The illogicality of the opposition to foxhunting lies not only in the question of whether the alternatives are worse or better, but in our attitude to different animals. Mice and rats are vermin, and I doubt that any hon. Member would hesitate to poison or trap them, even though the deaths involved are pretty unpleasant.

The truth is that most wild animals have, and are, predators. The approach of those who support the Bill is illogical. Why are fishing and shooting not covered by the Bill? I suspect that the answer is that 4 million people fish and 1 million people shoot. I suspect, too, that they will be next on the list, and I suggest that those who shoot and fish had better join those who support hunting.

I know that the Prime Minister has said that he has no intention of banning shooting and fishing, but the anti-hunting lobby is open about its agenda, and its supporters say that, once they have banned hunting, they will aim to nail the next target.

Why do we not outlaw halal butchery, which is a revoltingly cruel practice? The answer has to do with the sensibilities of an ethnic minority, and I happen to think that that is right. However, we are sensible to the rights and beliefs of that minority, but not to the rights and beliefs of those who hunt. Why do we not outlaw battery hens? A hunted fox might meet a pretty unpleasant end, but it does not live a disgusting life for three or six months in 6 sq ins of space.

We keep two cats in south Warwickshire, and I expect that they do far more damage to the local wildlife than the hunt. Cats are cruel animals: they do not merely kill their victims, but injure them and then play with them. That shows the illogicality of the Bill's approach: for example, it allows dogs to be used to flush out wild mammals that can then be killed by a bird of prey.

I could take the proposition advanced in the Bill from a vegetarian who wears plastic shoes and does not believe that even mosquitoes should be killed. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) may fit into the category, but is the Bill really about animal welfare?

If we examine the animal welfare issues at stake, we experience difficulty in concluding that the other options are better. I ask right hon. and hon. Members who are in favour of the Bill whether it is really the welfare of the fox that they are concerned about, or is it that they do not like people who hunt and the whole process of it? I think that there is a prejudice here. I do not say that in an insulting or rude way; I merely ask people to consider it because in the arguments on the issue that I have had, that has, very often, been the truth.

I should like to say a few words about the Warwickshire hunt. I am not speaking for myself, except in the sense that the diminishment of the freedoms of my fellow citizens diminishes mine. My primary purpose in speaking is because a hunt has existed in Warwickshire

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for hundreds of years. Every week about 200 people ride with the hunt--probably not the same 200 every week--another 50 or 100 support it on foot and there are many other supporters.

The hunt contains a cross-section of the community, with very many ordinary people taking part. There are not enough toffs in Warwickshire to send 200 out a week with grooms and changes of horses. Most people look after their own horse. It has 100 to 120 hounds, which, of course, will be killed if the Bill goes through. [Interruption.] They will be killed. They are no use as pets because they are pack animals.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole): The hon. Gentleman no doubt already knows that hunting dogs are killed routinely in mid-term in their lives anyway, and are killed as puppies if they show no intention to hunt when they are in the cubbing season. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has said that it will put into place procedures to ensure that dogs are rehoused in the event--[Interruption.] A lot of right hon. and hon. Members are shaking their heads, but that is the case. Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that those dogs face a much better future than if they stay with the hunt, where they will certainly be destroyed?

Mr. Maples: Will the hon. Gentleman give me a commitment that if the Bill goes through he will take one of the hounds of the Warwickshire hunt and keep it as a pet in his house? They make very unsatisfactory pets.

Mr. Cawsey: I take dog responsibility very seriously, and I have my own pets. A dog is for life, not just for a debate. However, I give the hon. Gentleman this pledge--that in association with the RSPCA, I will play my part.

Mr. Maples: I do not think that that was an unequivocal yes.

The fact is that those dogs would go. Many jobs would go--seven full-time people work there, and, if the Burns report is right, there are probably 40 jobs on average associated with the hunt. They are very respectable people, not louts and hooligans.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Maples: No, I should like to make some progress because I know that a lot of other people want to speak.

I am not speaking about louts and hooligans who get drunk at football matches and smash up the town. These people care for the countryside. Many are farmers who own and look after the countryside. They keep dogs and horses.

A hunt is also a force in the community. It is an institution of rural society. It is about much more than just hunting. On Monday, the Prime Minister was on an estate in the east end of London and he talked about rebuilding our cities. He said that he thought that communities operated best when empowered to control their own destiny. I wonder why that is not so for the countryside. Hunting is a powerful institution in the countryside. It binds the rural society together in a way that other institutions do not.

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If we ban hunting, we must face not only the issues of personal liberty and animal welfare but the consequences of our actions. The RSPCA will have to find 20,000 hounds nice loving homes, like that of the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), or they will have to be killed. I think that it is more likely that most of them will be killed because they do not make successful pets, particularly after being a member of a pack of hounds.

According to the Burns report, about 14,000 jobs, some of them part-time, are at stake, connected with blacksmiths, saddlers, vets and stables. National hunt racing will be seriously threatened. There will be far fewer horses because many people who hunt will not keep horses if hunting is made illegal. The result of everything that we would be giving away or sacrificing would be that about 14,000 foxes would be shot or trapped instead of being hunted and killed by hounds. They will not be saved. Those 14,000 foxes will not be alive at the end of the year when they would otherwise have been dead. They will have been trapped or shot instead, and 70,000 to 80,000 people who hunt or participate in hunting will have lost what, to them, is a valuable freedom. The consequences are not only practical--I believe that personal freedom is fundamental.

Last year, the House spent an enormous amount of its time, perfectly correctly, debating the age of consent for homosexuals. I do not know how many homosexual men between the ages of 16 and 18 will take advantage of that legislation. I suspect that only a few thousand, if that, will do so. Some 80,000 will be directly affected by this Bill. When we talk about individuals' freedom to behave as they want, we cannot take just the people with whom we agree and dismiss the rest. We have to consider personal freedom across the waterfront, and we have to be very careful about taking it away.

It seems to me that the welfare gain for foxes is at best zero. It is probably negative, because trapping and shooting are worse than hunting. Freedom must prevail. If prejudice prevails and the banners win the argument, what will be next? Fishing and shooting, I am sure, will be next. [Hon. Members: "No."] Hon. Members say no, but it will be the next campaign.

I personally feel about boxing all the things that people feel about hunting. I find it barbaric. I feel that it demeans humans, but if people want to do it, they should be free to do so. I do not want to do it; I do not want to watch it; but I believe that people who do should be absolutely free to do it.

I started one of the notes that I made for today by saying that the ban would not affect me. In the sense that I do not hunt, it will not. However, it will affect me because if we take away part of my neighbours' freedom, we take away part of mine, and we are all involved in each other's freedom and the concept of personal freedom.

What about my children? I have young children. My daughter is mad about ponies, for some reason that I cannot understand and try to disabuse her of. What if she decides that she wants to hunt? Why should her generation be the first in Warwickshire for hundreds of years--no, for ever--not to be allowed to hunt?

I hope that those who propose the Bill will reflect carefully on whether they really believe that the animal welfare gain outweighs the loss of personal freedom.

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The freedoms of minorities may be ours legally to dispose of by legislation, but surely our duty to protect and defend those freedoms is far more important.

The House has a long and honourable tradition of defending liberties, especially those of minorities, and it should not take them away for no clear or obvious benefit or gain, even for the foxes.

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