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Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): If the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) reads the Burns report, he will see that Burns says that shooting and lamping is preferable to hunting. So there are alternatives. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about snares. Snaring is an appalling thing. I wish to see snaring completely removed from the countryside as fast as possible.
The hon. Gentleman was right when he said that foxes were killers. Yes, they are. That is how nature made them. It is true that they do a lot of damage where they can get into areas such as hen coops. It is up to farmers to husband their animals properly. I saw a fox in my garden in Forest Gate. For those who do not know where Forest Gate is--they might get it from the name--it is at the edge of Epping forest. We see foxes fairly regularly. I was appalled, and wondered how the fox had got in. They are canny creatures, as the hon. Member for Stratford- on-Avon said.
I have made sure, as best as I can possibly manage, that my cats are kept in at night so that they do not get caught by the fox. The fox will certainly go for them if he gets an opportunity. We just have to be aware that the fox is how nature made it, accommodate it in the way in which we look after our gardens or farms, and make sure that we protect our pets and animals. That is how nature intended it to be, and it is the best way of proceeding.
I shall support option 3 and a total ban, which is hardly a surprise. I shall vote against both options 1 and 2. I hope that all my hon. Friends on both sides of the House on this argument will do exactly the same.
Sir Patrick Cormack: I am pleased to count the hon. Gentleman as a friend, but he has just accepted that foxes do damage. Does he accept that the fox population has to be controlled, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said in his admirable speech?
Mr. Banks: There are other ways of controlling the fox population. We should be prepared to live with foxes as a fact of nature, and take the necessary precautions to protect our property and our animals, whether in farming, rural or urban areas. When it can clearly be shown that foxes are a nuisance and are doing damage, there are alternatives to hunting them. The Burns report made a clear and categorical statement regarding the alternatives, which ought to be closely examined.
I shall vote for the total ban, as I have consistently done, and oppose the other two options. I hope that everyone on my side of the argument will do the same, because there is no middle way. In many ways, the debate is superfluous. We have been round this course time after time. Perhaps we could simply put the matter to the vote and go off and have a decent dinner. Unfortunately, that is not how these matters operate, so we shall just have to go through the motions yet again.
I am opposed to hunting and will support a total ban because, in the end, the issue is cruelty and nothing else. I was fascinated by that well-quoted euphemism from the Burns report, about the welfare of the fox being "seriously compromised". I recently made an involuntary contribution to the unofficial economy in my constituency--in other words, I was mugged. We should be very careful about the use of euphemisms. Hunting is about cruelty, which is why I shall vote for option 3.
Mr. Banks: Exactly the same interventions and arguments are being made, and they will get exactly the same response that I gave when I was asked that question before. A line has to be drawn. There is a difference between angling and hunting foxes, or hare coursing: first, one does not hunt fish with dogs; and, secondly, a decent angler--there are some on this side of the argument; I used to call myself a very good angler--puts the fish back. The better the angler, the less the damage inflicted on the fish. I was a coarse fisherman--as you would expect, Mr. Lord--and I would often, on certain stretches of river and canal, catch the same creature.
Mr. Banks: No, I shall not. That would just take up a lot of time. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not going to convince me, and I am not going to convince him. I shall answer his question as I have answered those of other hon. Members--straightforwardly.
Angling cannot be compared in any way with foxhunting. There is no intention on this side of the House, or in any of the organisations with which I am concerned, to move on to ban shooting or angling. The Prime Minister has said that, and if one cannot take that--
One of the points that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon would not accept is that the argument is not just about foxhunting. In many ways, we have allowed it to be hijacked by the Countryside Alliance and the media. How could anyone, particularly in the Middle Way Group, justify hare coursing? Hares are neither pests nor vermin. They are not vicious, wicked creatures, as has been said about foxes. Why on earth would anyone want to see a hare ripped to pieces for pleasure? I do not understand that--I cannot wrap my mind around it. Why does not the Middle Way Group have an alternative proposal on that issue? It does not even have an opinion on it. We need to remind people about that.
Mr. Öpik: As I have pointed out previously, the Middle Way Group has great concern about hare coursing and, at the prompting of the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), we included it under the regulatory framework. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) will be aware that the secret of effective legislation is not to hide behind false certainties; it is to admit that there are difficult aspects, such as hare coursing, and to attempt to find an equitable solution. We do not claim that we have got it right, but we are at least trying to tackle the issue transparently and openly, and we invite feedback.
Mr. Banks: I have previously said to the supporters of the so-called middle way that we cannot license cruelty--that is what their proposals would amount to. The idea that we should have a licensing regime for hare coursing is to perpetuate complete nonsense.
The hon. Gentleman is right: there are problems. When the Bill goes into Standing Committee upstairs, the whole point of the proceedings will be to eliminate those problems--if, as I suspect, we vote for a complete ban. There are problems. Notwithstanding the obstructions that will, no doubt, be placed before us by Conservative Members or by pro-hunting members of the Committee, we shall have to try to answer serious questions about how the ban will be enforced. I admit that there are difficulties, but the Standing Committee must address those.
Exactly the same arguments were made when the House debated bull baiting. George Canning was very much in favour of allowing bulls to be baited. It was argued that the pursuit was a sport; that it concerned the rights of minorities and of the individual; that the bull enjoyed it--[Laughter.] I do not tell a lie, Mr. Lord--would I do that in this place? The Official Report of the time stated that the bull enjoyed bull baiting and it was a good way of training dogs.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): Instead of diverting the Committee with bygone days and the cruelties of the urban lower classes--[Hon. Members: "Ooh!"]--would the hon. Gentleman address the question in the Bill as to why it is cruel to hunt a rabbit with a dog but not with a falcon?