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Mr. Banks: There are a number of reasons. One point about rabbit hunting is that, quite often, the rabbits get eaten--if not by dogs, by the people who shoot them. That argument is also made about pheasant shooting. I would not go shooting; it is one of the reasons that I am a vegetarian. If one had to kill one's own meat, many more people might convert to vegetarianism--[Interruption.] An hon. Member says that I would not kill a mosquito. I certainly would, because I have never understood why God's great vision of creation had to include mosquitos or wasps. But it did and I do not hesitate to kill them.
Mr. Banks: I do not want to make my speech too anecdotal, but my cat, Buzz, brought in a live rat the other night. My wife phoned me while I was in the House to ask me what to do about it and I told her to try to catch it. I got home late--as one does during this current period of modernisation in the House--to find that the cat had brought the rat back again. So I caught the rat alive, put in a tin and tipped it over to next door. I could not bring myself to kill the rat, although I was not prepared to offer it the hospitality of my home.
The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his apology, because we take a very dim view of mobile phones in the Chamber. If Members cannot switch off their phones, they should leave them outside.
Mr. Banks: I can switch off my phone. I inadvertently forgot to do so, but I have done so now, Mr. Lord. Perhaps my neighbours were trying to phone me, having just heard that I put a rat over their fence.
I listened to a series of items on the "Today" programme, and I was moved to complain to its duty producer because I thought that the issue was handled disgracefully. The programme started at 7 o'clock with an
We know that the hunts kill their own animals at the age of five to six because they are not fast enough to keep up with the horses. They kill puppies if they do not show a proclivity for hunting and slaughtering foxes. The nature of those animals is being distorted by the way that the hunts train them to hunt and kill. If that is not a perversion of nature or of the character of noble creatures, I do not know what is. Such things have to be borne in mind.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon may be interested to know that the animal welfare organisations can find homes for those 20,000 dogs. I am certain of that. The sabs managed to hide 46 beagles the other day, and no one has found out where they have gone. I do not approve of that action, but 46 beagles managed to disappear, so I am sure that decent hunt members who love animals will be prepared to house those dogs, and other people who love animals will do likewise. However, if people go over to drag hunting, they will not have to kill any of those dogs.
Mr. Maples: Finding homes for those animals will be much more difficult than the hon. Gentleman thinks--if not impossible. Can he give the House the assurance, which I sought from the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), that he and Buzz will be prepared to share their home with a foxhound?
Mr. Banks: I will consult my two cats, but I doubt whether they will be prepared to live with a dog. I would love to have a dog, but the life style of Members of Parliament, especially if one is an assiduous Member, is not conducive to keeping dogs in an urban area. That is one of the problems. Perhaps I could take a few dogs when I move to a more rural area. I would love to do so because they make wonderful companions.
To return to the "Today" programme, the subsequent interview was with Lord Mancroft, who showed total contempt in his approach to the will of the House, the suggestion being that whatever we did was irrelevant because the other place will ensure that the Bill goes nowhere. My colleagues on the Front Bench should think about that, because we are the elected Chamber; we represent the majority view, both in rural and urban areas, not those at the other end of the Palace. Frankly, the comments that were made on the programme this morning were disgraceful, but at least Lord Mancroft has given notice of what we are likely to face when the Bill leaves the House with a total ban in place. I hope that those on the Front Bench will put such a ban in the manifesto and be prepared to implement the Parliament Acts when, I hope, a Labour Government are returned after the next general election.
Mr. Hancock: I should like to return to the point that the hon. Gentleman made about the way in which hunts look after hounds. He may be interested to know that the New Forest hunt has been manifestly more successful in
Mr. Banks: That does not surprise me. The idea that hunt members are kind to their dogs is nonsense. The evidence reflects that. We know how they get killed and maimed, and are put down when they are not good enough or fast enough to keep up with the hunt.
On the "Today" programme, Mr. Naughtie, who is generally a decent fellow, said to, I think, Lord Mancroft, "Don't the people who hate hunting really hate people like you? Isn't that the gist of it? Isn't that what it's really about?" Several Conservative Members nod in agreement, but it is not about us personally hating people who hunt, but about personally hating hunting. I am sure that some pretty unpleasant people are pro-hunting, but there are probably some pretty unpleasant people who are anti-hunting. We do not legislate on the basis of whether we like people. If we did--my God--we would be working here non-stop, 365 days a year. There are an awful lot of people I do not like, but they are not all hunters.
The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is no longer present--it is about half-past five, so it is an early dinner call--but how could anyone hate him? Yet he is passionately pro-hunting, though not himself a hunter--a horse could not be found that was stout enough for him, and shire horses, although stout, are not fast enough. He gives us hours of harmless fun in the Chamber and elsewhere. I confessed in an earlier debate to loving him in--I repeat--a non-erotic way.
This is not a class issue, and it insults our intelligence, principles and positions to say that it is. There used to be hunts in mining communities. Hare coursing is not a class issue, and I was as bitterly opposed to that practice as I am to foxhunting. Cruelty to animals is my only motivation.
As for the middle way, I checked the Division list and do not understand why its three main protagonists voted against Second Reading. Had they succeeded, we would never have been able to consider their nonsense alternative. What will they do tonight when we vote on the first option? If they support it, they will lose the middle way option. They are deceiving themselves and are trying to deceive the rest of us. When I consider their arguments, I realise that they are just apologists for hunting. That is all they are.
Quite frankly, their arguments will be rejected by anyone who understands the issue and by the country at large--as, indeed, they have been rejected by people who are in favour of keeping hunting more or less as it is in option 1, which allows for self-regulation, and by the Countryside Alliance. I am sure that we shall vote against
Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). The gain for the Back Benches is the loss of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, where he was the Minister for Sport--although definitely not the Minister for bloodsports.
Since my election as a Member of Parliament in 1997, I have received more correspondence on hunting than on any other issue, and that has continued over the past week or so. The representations have been both for and against hunting. It is clearly an important issue to the constituents of all Members of Parliament, whatever their particular view. It might also be significant to members of the public because we have a free vote, which gives us the opportunity for once to act without the guidance of Whips. Under those circumstances, the vote might be more real than would otherwise be the case. Because the issue is of concern to the public at large and because we are to have a free vote in which Members' votes will count, the onus is on us all to consider the issue properly and to reach a sensible conclusion that will satisfy our integrity.
The Liberal Democrat party is no different from the Conservative party and the Labour party in the sense that we have proponents of all three options sitting on our Benches. It is right that we should do so and right that Members should be able to express different opinions. When the Liberal Democrats discussed the issue at our conference, a majority of delegates were in favour of a complete ban. However, it has always been understood, in the House and elsewhere that we, like the other two parties, will not have a whipped vote on this issue. It is regarded as a matter of conscience.
I support the third option, but I wish to express my cynicism about the timing of the Bill's introduction. There has been a great clamour for legislation on hunting since before the last general election. The implication in the Labour party's manifesto was that legislation would be introduced early, but we had to rely on the courage of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) to introduce a private Member's Bill. There was a huge vote in the House in favour of a ban, but the Government took no action. They may be acting now only because the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) encouraged them to do so by the amendments that he tabled to other legislation.
Most Members recognise that--whether people are in favour of or against the Bill--it is unlikely to reach the statute book before the next election. We must therefore ask why the Bill has been introduced at this time. Its introduction is gesture politics, and I am sorry to say that because I strongly support the third option. It is almost an abuse of the House to introduce the Bill knowing that it cannot become law before the general election. It has been introduced not for animal welfare reasons but for reasons of low politics.
However, it is up to each Member to assess the Bill and to reach his or her own conclusions. Like other Members, I have tried to do that honestly and I have applied a personal sequential test to determine my conclusions. I start from the premise from which many other people start. It is wrong to ban things unless there is a very good reason to do so. We simply cannot go round banning everything that we may not happen to like.
The test is whether the damage or harm caused by not banning something is greater than the loss of freedom that will result from a ban. I am convinced that that test is met in this case. Anyone who has seen the evidence of what happens to foxes and hares--hon. Members have been right to make the point about hares--cannot be in any doubt about the barbarity of the hunt and its consequences for the animals involved. It is indefensible to say that hunting should be allowed to continue. In some ways, it is even more indefensible to suggest that it should be licensed.