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One can often judge the propriety of an activity by the nature of the people who participate in it. That is certainly the case in respect of fishing. I walk up and down the River Trent every weekend with my dog. I see people fishing--they are often fathers and sons--and I am delighted to see them enjoying themselves. It would be absurd to suggest that such people are embarking on the sort of activity that should be made criminal. However, there is no difference in principle between what they are doing and foxhunting.
When I see people who engage in foxhunting, I recognise that I am dealing with the backbone of rural society. They have often been the first to rally to the colours when the country has gone to war, and many of them serve with the special constabulary. Such people are also often deeply concerned with the environment and are likely to participate in public life. They are, as we used to say, the salt of the earth. To say, of them and to them, that the activities that they pursue, like their fathers and grandfathers before them, should be made criminal is, to my way of thinking, deeply offensive.
This House should be in the business of defending civil and political rights: it is that, rather than indulging our personal prejudice, which is our function. I hope that hon. Members who reflect on that basic truth will vote for the
I will vote for option 3, and I encourage others to do the same. I have just one reason--namely, my belief that there are more humane ways of killing wild mammals. I have listened to what has been said today, but nothing that I have heard has persuaded me that I should change my view. I also think that the issue of hunting with dogs is irrelevant to the issue of pest control: indeed, I believe that the submission of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Burns committee used the word "insignificant".
An Opposition Member claimed earlier that the present system selected the weak and the elderly among the fox population. According to the figures in the Burns report, 40 per cent. of deaths caused by foxhunts are deaths of cubs caused by the cubbing process. Cubs hardly fall into the category of the elderly or the sick, and the process involved does not constitute a traditional hunt of the kind with which Members who are present will be acquainted. It involves the repeated surrounding of cubs so that they have no escape, until those participating are inclined to kill.
I am convinced that the rural economy does not rely on foxhunting. We have heard any number of selective quotations from the Burns report this evening, but, whatever brief we take from Burns, let us read the text rather than just the bold recommendations. Burns clearly said that the question of job losses in the rural economy being linked with a hunting ban would largely be decided by what hunters did subsequently, and that was especially relevant to the ownership of horses.
We know from the results of a poll undertaken only a few months ago that, when asked whether they would ride less or more following a ban, all but 6 per cent. of horse riders said that the ban would make no difference. Of the 6 per cent. who said that it would make a difference, 3 per cent. said they would ride less and 3 per cent. said they would ride more. I do not think that the rural reliance on hunting is anywhere near as great as it is being made out to be.
Animal welfare is an issue for me, and for many other Members. We have heard an awful lot about foxes this evening, a little about hares, a very small amount about mink, but hardly anything--if anything--about deer. I am not surprised that no one wants to speak up in favour of deer hunting. I see no excuse for anyone, in a civilised society, to stalk a deer, make it stay where it is and return the following day to hunt it for many hours, using dogs which, because they are moving more slowly, lead it to believe that it has escaped, and to relax. The dogs, which have greater stamina, eventually overcome it, so that when it is totally exhausted, it either stands at bay or gives up and lies down. Then the dogs get it, and it is usually shot anyway.
If the deer has been stalked the previous day, why does it take 24 hours to get round to putting a bullet through it? I see no justification for such practices, and I am not surprised that no Member has sought to defend them today, although I am disappointed that more did not speak against them.
There are, of course, alternatives for those who wish to enjoy the countryside in this traditional way. I have seen the New Forest drag hunt, and I am sure that people will adopt that practice when this ban has been imposed.
I want to say a little about licensing, and what I consider to be the perceived weakness of it. The middle way option--or, at any rate, what I think we are finally seeing tonight: a semi-complete set of options that will lead to a full set of options later--is not a new idea. We already have licensed meetings. The New Forest hunt is a licensed hunt, taking place on forestry land. Although that hunt is licensed, we still have horrendous problems with it. There is still hunt havoc. There is still trespass on private land, there are still problems caused by loss of control of the pack--it is very difficult to licence for that--and there are still problems with digging out. The New Forest hunt licence prohibits digging out, but it still happens. It is absurd to believe that, after licensing, all the problems will suddenly go away.
Nye Bevan used to say "You don't have to look into the crystal ball when you can read the book." You do not have to look into the crystal ball of licensing; it exists in England now, and it does not work. That is the only important point: it does not work.
We have heard a lot about liberties. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said that the measure would put severe restrictions on tens of thousands of constituents' liberties. Someone else said that it did not affect anyone else. I disagree. I shall tell hon. Members why.
I have one of the largest rural constituencies. We do not have a hunt, but we sometimes have a visiting hunt. One visiting hunt came off the private land that it had been authorised to use. It went through the village and ended up in a constituent's garden. The fox was trapped. The family had to witness the huntsmen moving in, grabbing the fox and throwing it live to the hounds, which is against the hunt's own rules. The family then had to watch the fox being ripped to shreds. They said that the sight and sounds would live with them for ever.
The RSPCA took statements because the fox was "captive" and therefore protected by law. The society had a strong case for prosecution, but just before the matter went to court, the statements were withdrawn. The people in the village could no longer stand the intimidation and hassle that they were getting. Hon. Members talk about liberties, but there are other people's liberties as well. My constituents want to live in their house and on their land and to enjoy their gardens without having to put up with the activities of the hunt and the intimidation that follows their attempts to raise the matter.
When I visited the New Forest drag hunt in 1999, as I approached the gates, a large man jumped out and took my photograph. It was not the new-found celebrity status that I was hoping for--I found out that he was taking everyone's photograph. When I asked the organiser of the drag hunt why, he said that the man was from the hunt and was ensuring that everyone in the village saw who went to the hunt and was letting the side down. People
Mr. Öpik: I agree that the abuses should be stopped. May I ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question. If he has the time, can he comment on the thoughtful speech by the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd), who is supporting the same option as him? That is not a trick question. I am genuinely interested.
Mr. Cawsey: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I take a great interest in all sorts of animal welfare issues. If we can tackle issues through the all-party group that I chair, or through other hon. Members, I would be interested in working on those solutions.
I give a final example from Essex. Villagers in Woodham Walter are sick of the hunt coming through their village. They drew up a petition and held demonstrations against it. We are talking about a quiet, leafy rural part of Essex. The newspaper said:
The spokeswoman said: 'We want to make it known the vast majority in Woodham Walter do object to the shattering of the peaceful enjoyment of their property.
This is our village--we should have some rights but our rights are just being thrown out of the window.'
Douglas Hill, joint master of the hunt, said . . . 'We don't have to inform the villagers. What has it got to do with the villagers?'