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Mr. David Taylor: I have lived in a village in the Atherstone hunt territory all my life, and there is not quite the divide that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting in the attitudes of urban and rural residents. I conducted a large-scale survey in my constituency, with a response rate approaching 50 per cent, which shows that there is a majority for the third option presented to us tonight, albeit much smaller than was the case at the time of the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill in November 1997. Twenty-five per cent. have peeled away into the middle way. The gap between urban and rural attitudes is not all that substantial or significant.
Mr. Baldry: The hon. Gentleman must be entirely insensitive to the sort of countryside march that took place not so long ago during the time of that earlier Bill. I am quite sure that on 18 March we shall probably see nearly 1 million people marching through London to express their concerns.
The point that I am trying to make is that we should not be insensitive to the views of many of our fellow citizens. There has been a tendency in today's debate and in previous debates to think that the measure can be introduced without deep concerns and a deep sense of hurt in a large part of the rural community, which feels that it is being misunderstood and that its voice is not being heard.
Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend said, correctly, that there is a deep sense of hurt in the countryside and a feeling that the values of people there are not understood. Is that not aggravated by the fact that the constituents to whom he referred see when we debate other issues, such as abortion, where serious ethical questions are raised, and homosexuality, especially relating to persons over 16 and under 18, that those issues are left to the individual to decide, and criminal law--properly, in my view--is excluded from those areas?
The Committee must accept that we are seeking to criminalise an activity that has been perfectly legal for centuries. When people are asked if they support field sports--I am referring to the intervention of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor)--they may well say that they are not particularly keen on them.
Mr. Baldry: However, when one asks those people whether they think an activity that has been lawful for a long time should be made criminal, attracting criminal sanctions, one gets a completely different view.
I hope that those who are in favour of a total ban will recognise that hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens who, for centuries, have lawfully pursued an activity in harmony with the countryside, feel that we are simply not listening to their voice.
I very much hope that as the Bill makes progress between now and the general election--and probably beyond--all hon. Members will take the opportunity to listen to the countryside, so that the sense of hurt felt by people there does not become a real division in our country.
Mrs. Eileen Gordon (Romford): I shall restrict my remarks to clause 3. We are discussing three options tonight, and I am listening to the debate, but as far as I am concerned there is only one option: a total ban.
As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said, we have discussed this issue many times in the House and have rehearsed the arguments over and over again. We could say, "Been there, done that and watched the video." Ever since I have known about hunting and understood the issues involved in it, I have detested it and thought it barbaric. The volume of letters that I receive from my constituents supporting my opinion confirms, rather than forms, that view.
Mr. Baker: Does the hon. Lady agree that this does not involve a split between rural and urban areas? In my constituency, as many people are for the measure as are against, whether they are in towns or the countryside. This is not about the countryside versus the towns, but about different opinions, wherever people live.
We have had discussions about pest control and have heard what a wonderful example of country life hunting is. I want to concentrate for a few moments on a type of hunting that cannot even pretend to have an excuse: hare coursing. One cannot cry pest control, because the hare is already threatened. The hare population is about 20 per cent. of what it was 100 years ago. Changes in farming methods have led to a decline in the population. In some areas, hares are netted and transported specifically for coursing.
The Waterloo cup is the epitome of everything that I detest about hunting. Hares are beaten out of the long grass and then chased by two greyhounds. When a hare is caught, it is ripped to pieces. An RSPCA inspector who attended hare coursing under cover--he was fearful for his safety--and witnessed many kills described the end of the hare in the following terms:
I do not know whether it is possible for people who enjoy the kill to take part in an alternative sport. In Romford, we have an alternative to hare coursing. Our greyhound stadium employs more than 300 people and has a turnover of more than £1 million a year. About 250,000 people visit the stadium each year. It is possible to provide pleasure without cruelty, and betting without blood. People who go greyhound racing enjoy themselves without having to kill the animals at the end of it. I do not know whether it is possible for those who enjoy the kill to take part in drag hunting, but I believe that there are many thousands of people who would in participate in such activity even though they would not dream of taking part in a hunt.
Mr. Hogg: Is the hon. Lady saying to people who like game shooting that they should confine their activities to clay pigeon shooting? Is she telling those who like angling that they should confine their activities to fishing for corks? If she is not saying that, why does she distinguish between those sports and foxhunting?
Mrs. Gordon: The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be obsessed with shooting and fishing, but I cannot see those activities in the Bill. If he does not mind, I shall stick to the provisions about which I am talking.
Many people enjoy riding. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) said that his daughter will now be unable to ride, as she cannot go hunting. I suggest to him that people who do not kill animals, perhaps because they detest the kill, can still ride and enjoy the countryside, as well as the challenge of the drag hunt. I wish that rural people who oppose hunting would sometimes view the introduction of a ban as an opportunity to increase sport and economic activity in the countryside. Perhaps that view is in the realms of fantasy, but, as the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) suggested, many people who live in the countryside would welcome a ban on hunting--
Many people in the countryside would like a ban and would welcome drag hunting as it would remove the unpredictability of the hunt. For instance, it would prevent the trampling of their farms, gardens and even school playgrounds--there are recorded examples of that. The writer of a letter published in The Daily Telegraph on 3 April 1998 stated:
Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Three years ago, a small number of Members of Parliament felt that neither a ban on hunting with dogs nor the status quo fairly balanced the values of animal welfare and civil liberties. Those hon. Members established the Middle Way Group. I know, because I was there, and was one of them, together with the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) and, at that time, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), the Minister for Sport. Interestingly, in the three years since the Middle Way Group was set up, it has been described as a Trojan horse by both of the other lobbies represented in this debate. However, here we stand with a proposal that seems increasingly to resonate with the popular view of the public on hunting.
In December, Channel 4's "Powerhouse" programme conducted an independent NOP poll, which suggested that 48 per cent. of the public supported a ban and that 52 per cent. supported either regulation or supervision. That was a profound change, as it had previously appeared on regular occasions that the ban was supported by an overwhelming majority. The week after that poll was conducted, I participated in a debate with the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) on "Channel 4 News", which subsequently conducted a telephone poll. The next day, it reported that 47 per cent. of people supported a ban and that 53 per cent. supported regulation or supervision. I am wary of telephone polls, but that poll suggested to me that there was some consistency. As 90,000 people phoned in, it was, at the very least, clear that the pro-ban organisations that were trying to marshal their support were unsuccessful in causing an enormous number of supporters to ring in.