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Mr. Gordon Prentice: How does it help a declining hare population, which was mentioned in the United Kingdom biodiversity plan drawn up by the Conservative Government, if we allow people to kill the hare for sport?

Mr. Paice: The answer is clear. Coursing takes place only in areas where there are hares. As I shall explain later, I believe that the hare population is better served on estates and in areas where coursing takes place than where it does not.

In support of my comment about the welfare of the species, I want to quote the Burns report. I know that it is easy to find bits of the report to quote in support of our case. On page 14, Burns says clearly:

That demonstrates to me that the issue of the welfare of the species is vital.

As other hon. Members have said, no lives would be saved, especially in the case of foxes, by banning hunting. The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) said that only 3 or 5 per cent. of the total fox kill in a year is by hunting. That does not matter to me. The fact is that foxes will still be culled even if hunting is abandoned. The issue is how they are killed.

Although Burns says that lamping is perhaps the most efficient method, he also says that that is so only if it is carried out by an efficient marksman and in ideal conditions, which do not often arise. I have been involved in lamping and the fact is that a fox can move just at the moment the marksman pulls the trigger. The marksman may be able to shoot bull after bull on a range, but if the

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animal moves just at the instant that he pulls the trigger, no marksman in the world can ensure that the animal is not wounded. That is using a high-powered rifle. If people use shotguns, as many do, few foxes die instantaneously. I have seen many of them shot in that way and it takes a few minutes or, sadly, several days for the fox to go away and die.

There is clear evidence that, were stag hunting to be banned, the deer population would suffer drastically. The only reason why farmers and landowners in the Quantocks and elsewhere allow large populations of deer on their land is for hunting. There is clear evidence that, if there were no hunting, they would shoot out those populations, and deer overall would suffer.

Mr. Swayne: I have received representations from constituents about what they regard as excessive deer culling by the Forestry Commission in the New Forest. Two years ago, the New Forest Buck Hounds shut their doors. They never dispatched many deer, but they dispersed the deer population throughout the forest. Now the deer congregate as far from the tourists as they can, in the most remote enclosures. That is precisely where the Forestry Commission estimates that they do the most damage--hence the determination to reduce the population.

Mr. Paice: My hon. Friend is right. His intervention endorses the point that I was making.

The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) referred to the hare, the third most commonly hunted species. On estates that allow legal coursing meets to take place--obviously, I am not referring to the countless illegal operations that sadly take place in parts of the country--almost without exception the landowners husband and conserve the hares. The hares are coursed on a small number of days, depending how many meets there are, but even then the majority get away. On average, only between one in eight and one in ten are killed. Thus the welfare of the hare population is better on an estate that allows coursing.

Mr. Hayes: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Paice: I would rather not. I have a lot to say and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, Sir Alan--[Interruption.] I apologise, Mrs. Heal. I was not facing the Chair; otherwise, I would obviously have noticed the difference.

The debate is not about cruelty per se. As other hon. Members have demonstrated, the House could address issues involving far greater cruelty and bring far greater benefits to animal welfare. Religious slaughter has been mentioned. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) referred to his cats. Cats are responsible for far more death in the countryside than foxes or humans, yet no one suggests banning cats. The difference is not the pain felt by the victim. I suggest that the pain, however one defines it, felt by the victim of a cat is no different and is probably worse than the pain felt by the victim of a hound. The difference is that, in the case of the hound and its quarry, people are involved and watching.

The real issue is what people should be doing and whether it is right for people's souls for them to, as some have suggested, enjoy inflicting cruelty. I believe that that is wrong. We have heard many spurious reasons for

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banning hunting. Some people say that hunters are unpleasant people. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) read out articles from his local paper. I am the first to accept that I find some people who go hunting obnoxious. There are people in every walk of life whom I find obnoxious, and I have no doubt that there are people who find me obnoxious.

Mr. Robathan: No, no.

Mr. Paice: It is very kind of my hon. Friend.

That is not a reason for stopping people doing what they want to do. The hon. Member for West Ham said that no one was criticising people who go hunting. If he read some of the correspondence that I receive, in which hunters are accused of being twisted and wicked and all sorts of evil people, he would take that back. We have even heard about red coats and pink coats. I do not care what people wear. It does not affect the issue of whether hunting should be banned.

A question that has often been asked in debates on the issue over the years is, "How would you like to be chased and torn apart by hounds?" Of course, the answer is that I would not like it, but nor would I like anything else about the life of a fox, a hare or even a deer. I would not want to live in a hole in the ground, snuffle about in cow pats, or engage in any of their other activities. That question demonstrates the absurdity of bestowing on an animal the intelligence, feelings and sensations of a human. I passionately believe that to be wrong.

We have heard the arguments about dog fighting, bear baiting and bull baiting. The difference is that all of those involved putting animals in a captive environment within an enclosed pit or ring from which there was no escape, and the fight was to the death.

Mr. David Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paice: No, I will not. I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the issue, but I want to get through my speech and allow other hon. Members time to speak.

Mr. Taylor: What is terrier work, if it is not that?

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Order.

Mr. Paice: I have said nothing about terrier work. I have talked about dog fighting, bear baiting, bull baiting and other activities that were banned decades, if not centuries, ago. They were wholly different. We are discussing hunting an animal in its natural environment.

Let me move on to the issue of whether we should judge what people do or do not do. Labour Members have said that they have no intention of moving towards a ban on shooting or fishing, although some said that they would not support that. I welcome that pronouncement, but I remind Labour Members that there are others who do not share that view. The League Against Cruel Sports has clearly stated:

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Dawn Preston of the Hunt Saboteurs Association has said:

Some dismiss those people as extremists, but it is quite commonplace for what was once an extreme view to become mainstream policy in a short space of time. Indeed, the Prime Minister stated last summer that he had no intention of banning shooting or fishing. That may be what he said, but in the short space of time--some five or six months--since then, the Home Office has already done two things to make shooting much more difficult. First, it has backed the proposals for much stricter control over gun ownership, which can only detract from people's opportunities for shooting. Secondly, it has decided to increase the fee for a firearms or shotgun certificate from £17 to £40. Those actions do not fit in with a belief that the sports are not under threat.

There is no doubt that animals--I include fish in that description--can feel pain. That is the reality, for which there is plenty of scientific evidence. However, it is not a proven point that that pain manifests itself as terror, as has often been suggested. Even Professor Bateson, in his report on deer hunting, said:

The bottom line is that we do not know how those experiences manifest themselves in different animals, fish or birds. However, we can be pretty sure that they will not be the same as they are for humans, for reasons relating to their wholly different ways of life.

Lord Soulsby--I point out for the record that he is a constituent of mine--was a member of the Burns committee. He published a critique of the Bateson report, in which he stated:

I remind hon. Members that Lord Soulsby was emeritus professor of animal pathology at Cambridge university.

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