Hunting Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Soames: I wholly support the line that my hon. Friend is taking. Does he agree that foxhunting involves no gratuitous cruelty—that is, cruelty inflicted for its own sake?

Mr. Leigh: Yes. That is why in order to understand the amendment, the Bill must include some concept of why people hunt and of what goes on in the hunting field. There is no intention to impose suffering on the hunted animal, and that does not happen.

I advise members of the Committee to read Roger Scruton's book on hunting, which I have taken out of the House of Commons Library. One would have thought, given the number of hon. Members who voted to abolish hunting, that someone else would have taken it out of the Library during the past year, but I am the only person to have done so. That suggests a lack of interest. Perhaps hon. Members have their own copies. Anyone who has read that book, or has made any effort to understand hunting, will know that the huntsman is a countryman. He is part of the process that humanely controls the wild fox population. Hunt followers are precisely that—followers. They do not gather round in a circle inflicting unnecessary or cruel suffering. They follow the hunt primarily because they want to participate in a process that is part of nature. Unlike drag hunting, foxhunting is not just a test of riding skill.

Mr. Pickthall: Would the hon. Gentleman apply that argument to hare coursing?

Mr. Leigh: Hare coursing is an entirely different activity. I have never attended a hare course meet, so I am not prepared to say that I would abolish it. However, as a Member who represents a rural area, it is incumbent on me to take part in an activity that is important to many of my constituents. I am not a regular huntsman like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, but unlike most members of this Committee I have actually been hunting, so I understand that those who hunt do not intend to cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Given the nature of a hunt, most do not witness the kill, so that is not their reason for hunting. They want to take part in a traditional British countryside activity.

Mr. Soames: One of the most striking aspects of hunting is that people are often very relieved when foxes get away, which they frequently do. As I understand it, the charge against hunting is not so much that it is cruel, but that people enjoy it in some way. However, that betrays a profound misunderstanding of the art of venery and other types of hunting that have been practised in this country since the dawn of time.

The Chairman: Order. Before the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) responds to that intervention, I should point out that we are trying to stay close to the amendment's terms of reference. It refers not to the hunter's motivation, but to the hunt's consequences for the wild mammal. I ask the hon. Gentleman and those who intervene to bear that in mind.

Mr. Leigh: I knew that I was trying my luck, Mr. O'Hara, but I felt it necessary to make that point. People should understand that there is no intention to cause unnecessary suffering, and in one sense that point is indeed germane to the amendment. As I have said, although one can read much into the Burns report, in my view it did not conclude that hunting is cruel or involves unnecessary suffering. Therefore, one should not find those who hunt guilty of a criminal offence without first meeting the requirement—which has existed for a century in respect of other offences—to demonstrate intent, or mens rea, as it is commonly described in criminal law.

The Chairman: Order. I must insist that that intention plays no part in the amendment's terms of reference.

Mr. Leigh: Thank you for your guidance, Mr. O'Hara.

Mr. Garnier: On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I rise with considerable diffidence given that I want to invite you to reconsider your ruling. The amendment, which would insert the phrase

    ``so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal'',

would seem to require a discussion of the sort that you have just ruled out of order. I wonder whether you quite understand what you have said.

The Chairman: I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that I have given careful thought to the matter and have listened to every word of this debate. I am conscious of the need to keep the Committee strictly to the amendment's terms of reference. As I understand its syntax, the phrase ``so as to cause'' refers to the consequences of the action, rather than the intention. A hunter might behave with the best of intentions in his terms, but the consequences under the terms of the amendment could be disastrous. Although he might have good intentions, he causes unnecessary suffering. I wish the debate to be confined to the consequences of the hunt for the animal being hunted.

11.30 am

Mr. Leigh: I am happy to deal with the consequences of the hunt for the animal being hunted. Given that banning hunting would have severe implications for the freedom of the individual and pest control, surely members of the Committee who support the Bill must convince us that hunting causes unnecessary suffering to the animal in a different way from other methods of pest control. They must prove that because they proposed the Bill. The Burns report does not support their contention, because the British fox population is increasing, and must be controlled.

Hon. Members who support the Bill point to the Burns report and suggest that one useful way of controlling foxes would be lamping at night using rifles. They have referred to paragraph 6.60 of the report, which states:

    ``lamping using rifles, if carried out properly and in appropriate circumstances, has fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting, including digging-out.''

They constantly refer to that phrase, but, as we heard earlier, they always leave out the next sentence:

    ``However, in areas where lamping is not feasible or safe, there would be a greater use of other methods.''

In this morning's debate—or, indeed, any other debate that I have heard—the Bill's supporters have signally failed to make an argument that would convince any serious, objective person that lamping is an acceptable and safe way of controlling foxes in difficult areas, such as hill country. Furthermore, they do not quote that part of paragraph 6.60 that states:

    ``We are less confident that the use of shotguns, particularly in daylight, is preferable to hunting from a welfare perspective. We consider that the use of snaring is a particular cause for concern.''

In lowland areas such as my constituency, it may be possible in certain circumstances, if one is highly skilled, to use a rifle at night with lamping, but most farmers lack the expertise to do that.

Mr. Soames: Sticking strictly to the guidelines that Mr. O'Hara has understandably set down, would my hon. Friend care to speculate on whether it is safe to use high-powered rifles in built-up areas at night?

Mr. Leigh: That point is especially germane to constituencies such as that represented by my hon. Friend; Mid-Sussex is not as rural as my constituency, and contains more villages and houses. I do not know how many farmers currently go out at night in Mid-Sussex and use rifles as a regular means of fox control. I am not familiar with pest control in Mid-Sussex, which is a heavily built-up area, but I suspect that lamping would alarm its good residents.

Paragraph 6.61 of the Burns report states:

    ``In the event of a ban on hunting, it is possible that the welfare of foxes in upland areas could be affected adversely, unless dogs could be used, at least to flush foxes from cover.''

Lamping may produce instantaneous death, but what if it does not? As has been repeatedly made clear—I have never heard an effective reply to this point—when an animal is hunted, it is killed; it is not left wounded. Those who are primarily concerned with unnecessary suffering must convince the Committee that it is less cruel to attempt to dispatch foxes with alternative methods. They have no answer to the point that we have made constantly; that when an animal is hunted, it is hunted to death. It dies and is not wounded. Numerous studies, which the Burns report adduced, have shown that death is almost instantaneous in the hunted animal; it is not wounded or left to suffer. We make the point repeatedly but, again, there has been no reply.

What will be the result of the Bill? Hunting will be abolished, so one form of pest control will go. There will be no incentive for farmers to keep a fox population on their land. The overwhelming majority of farmers support hunting because they believe that it is a natural process in the countryside. They see foxes as vermin and know that they will have to deal with them when hunting has gone. There will be no incentive to keep any foxes on their land because they perform no useful service, so farmers will get rid of them. They will get rid of them by a means that is just as cruel as hunting. Shotguns are totally ineffective, so farmers must take out a licence and wander round the countryside with a rifle.

A colleague who is not a country person and not particularly aware of the habits of foxes told me that he stayed in the countryside at the weekend. He happened to be looking out of a window when he saw a fox on an island in a lake. He could see how extraordinarily well it blended into the countryside. Anyone who knows anything about the countryside knows how skilful the fox is at evading detection. It is a wild creature. It does not wander around waiting to be shot. Have any Committee members who so blithely quote the Burns report ever tried to shoot a fox? None of them has. I am not as good a shot--

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is again straying beyond the terms of the amendment. Whether shooting a fox causes more or less suffering is not relevant to the amendment, which refers to the suffering caused by hunting.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 January 2001