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Mr. McFall: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I shall be brief. Some people have spoken about Scottish Members voting in Westminster. To vote here is my constitutional right as a political unionist: if anyone can prove to me that it is not my right, I shall not vote. However, no one will be able to do that.
I have taken part in the foxhunting debate since the early 1990s, and I presented a private Member's Bill--the Wild Mammals (Protection) Bill--in 1995, which was approved by 253 votes to zero. It was about animal welfare and sought to update the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which protected domestic animals but not mammals. The opponents to hunting killed that Bill eventually in the House of Lords because of one word--"torture". They said that, if that word was in the Bill, they could be charged by the police. In that action, they illustrated the weakness of their argument.
Thankfully, the issue was taken up the next year by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). The Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 is part of a rolling process of reform of animal welfare in this House. I shall gladly vote tonight for the third option.
There are a number of issues here. It is argued that banning hunting is an attack on the countryside. I mentioned my Bill; in 1995, I received 12,000 letters on the subject. Other right hon. and hon. Members had between 750,000 to 1 million postcards and letters sent to them. I had many, many responses from those in the countryside. Indeed, there was a group known as Conservatives for the McFall Bill--I was scared that they
A MORI poll has been undertaken over the past few years in a rolling programme. MORI has indicated that 75 per cent. of those living in rural communities do not consider hunting to be an important part of daily life. The number is similar with regard to hunting with dogs. Indeed, the ratio of country people supporting a ban on fox hunting is 2:1. That tells us about rural dwellers.
Mr. David Taylor: I have conducted a large survey in north-west Leicestershire, a hunting county, which shows that in the rural areas there is still sizeable support for the abolition of hunting, but that 25 per cent. of those polled have been attracted by the middle way option, which has been expounded this evening. Thus the poll to which my hon. Friend refers may not be entirely up to date.
Mr. McFall: I think that the research that my hon. Friend conducted and the Burns report research were conducted in hunt communities. There is support for hunting in rural areas with hunting communities, but that is concentrated around the hunt. In the countryside in general, people support the hunt ban by two to one.
Mr. Öpik: The hon. Gentleman is aware of the two polls in December that I and others cited, one for "Powerhouse" and another for "Channel 4 News". Both showed that 47 to 48 per cent. of people were in favour of a ban and 52 to 53 per cent. were in favour of regulation or supervision. Those are national polls, and they go against the figures that the hon. Gentleman quotes. We can play games with polls, but the hon. Gentleman must recognise that there is no longer unequivocal support for a ban in the United Kingdom.
Mr. McFall: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. However, the Channel 4 poll was conducted over the telephone, whereas MORI conducted a statistical poll over a rolling period, so statistically it is more accurate. It concludes that rural dwellers nationally are not pro-hunting, not at odds with urban dwellers over the most important issues and, indeed, not predominantly Conservative voters. In fact, more are Labour voters.
The anecdotal evidence presented to me in 1995 shows that the hunt is disruptive and disturbing. There is a romantic notion that, when hunting, people are at peace with the countryside. However, it is disruptive to people, socially and personally. The RSPCA has come up with numerous cases which they describe as "hunt havoc". I shall give an example. There was an incident in 1998 in which the hunt concluded in a local children's play area. The dogs tore into the fox and ripped him apart in front
There is a resonance between urban and rural voters. Again, the MORI poll indicates that the 10 most important issues faced by rural constituents are the same as for urban constituents. The first seven are--in order--transport, environment and pollution, conservation of wildlife, infrastructure and improving roads, crime and law and order, unemployment and education. Those are the same issues that the urban voter is interested in, and the Government are tackling them. The poll indicates that the term, "the country way of life" is recognised by less than 2 per cent. of the people.
The hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Townend) spoke about foxhunting as a necessary form of pest control. Statistics show that about 3 to 5 per cent. of the fox population is killed by hunting. More are killed on the roads. The Burns report found that foxhunting makes only a minor contribution to the management of the fox population. If the issue is reducing the numbers, why do some hunts create artificial breeding grounds, even providing dead chickens and sheep for food? There are more humane methods, such as lamping. Another is confined to Scotland. Under the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959, the deer population is reduced on a yearly basis by shooting. I am not against shooting. It is very important that, if foxes have to be controlled, there is another way of controlling them.
The nub of the issue is that those who participate in foxhunting regard it as a sport. I do not deny them their social activities, which is why I advocate drag hunting. Let me give some more anecdotal evidence. I had dinner at Christmas time with an individual who is a foxhunter and a gamekeeper. The gamekeeper said, "Yes, John, people go foxhunting because of the chase--the thrill." The person who went foxhunting said, "Quite frankly, it is a good sport."
It is a sport that is and has been unacceptable to the House for many years. I thought that it would have been outlawed by 2000. We are not lucky enough for that to have happened yet, but I, along with other right hon. and hon. Members, want to ensure that next year, or the year after, we get rid of this barbaric sport. If we do that, we can consider ourselves and our country more humane.
Mr. Paice: This has, in general, been a good, unemotional debate on an issue that arouses huge emotions. The emotions shown this evening have run less high than they did on Second Reading, when we heard some quite intemperate language. I want to address the issue in a cool and reasoned way.
It is important for Members of Parliament not be swept along by emotion, but to stand back and address the issue logically and rationally. I shall not go into the various polls that have been undertaken, because whether a majority is in favour of a particular action is not relevant. It is not relevant how small the minority is. What really matters is whether it is right for the House to take the action that is being suggested, and we must assess that logically and rationally.
I came into Parliament with relatively few cardinal principles other than the ones that my party stands for, but I passionately believe in the right of individuals to live their lives and to accept the responsibility of being in charge of their lives, and everything that goes with that. Yes, there are times when the state, represented by this House, seeks to curtail the freedom of individuals, but every time that we do that, we have a responsibility to ensure that we intervene only where it is clearly justified--usually because an action affects the freedom of other individuals to live their lives. The presumption should always be on the side of personal liberty. Anyone who seeks to restrict that liberty must prove their case.
It was said many times on Second Reading, and one or two hon. Members have said tonight, that this is not a civil liberties debate. Of course it is. Any debate about legislation that restricts an individual's liberty is a civil liberties debate. The question is whether that restriction is justified. Having read the Burns report carefully, I do not believe that the case is made for that restriction.
The statement in the Burns report that hunting compromises the welfare of the animal is often quoted. That is obvious and does not need saying. It is self-evident that the individual animal's welfare is compromised. I want to look more widely and take into account the interests of the species. I believe passionately that banning hunting would damage the welfare of the species as a whole, even if hunting obviously involves the death of individuals.