Hunting Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Leigh: Does hunting, under the strict terms of the amendment, cause unnecessary suffering to the fox? The truth is that, despite the evidence given to the Burns committee, there has been no serious scientific study of stress in the fox or the hare and it may not be possible to conduct such a study. Those who say that hunting causes unnecessary suffering to the fox and the hare cannot produce any scientific evidence whatever. This morning, we have heard only jokey references to tower blocks and foxes running away. Animals in the wild die from being eaten by other animals or from disease—usually from being eaten by other animals. What evidence is there that the fox works out in its mind that it is being pursued and that it is in terror during the chase?

Few members of the Committee have been hunting. I think that they assume that it is an appalling, gory procedure, with people chasing an animal that is mad with fear. Anyone who goes on a hunt realises that although the so-called chase may last as long as 16 or 30 minutes, for most of the time, the hunt pauses because the hounds have lost the scent. That is why people go hunting. They do not go for a wild chase across the countryside. The fox is not chased in fear of its life all the time. That simply does not happen in the real world. It is an entirely natural process and no unnecessary suffering is caused to the fox. We should not attribute our own fears to the mind of the fox because that does not add up.

Even the evidence relating to deer is mixed. Bateson is often mentioned, but what is written about Bateson's work on deer in the report is very different. There is no conclusive evidence even that deer become unduly stressed, and nobody has been able to prove that they feel fear or that hunting is uniquely unnatural and causes unnecessary and unusual suffering to wild animals. The hunt is part of the natural process that goes on every hour, every day of the week, for foxes, hares, deer and all wild animals. It is not the intention of the hunt to cause unnecessary suffering and it does not do so. Neither does the hunted animal suffer unnecessarily.

Mr. Banks: How does the hon. Gentleman know?

Mr. Leigh: I do not know, but it is not my Bill. I am not proposing to change centuries of tradition and to take away the civil rights of 250,000 citizens. There is no firm evidence either way—we simply do not know. Labour Members are right to say ``Enough of these scientists.'' We all try to further our case by producing bibles to prove the argument one way or the other. Instead, we should consider from the point of view of common sense whether hunting produces unnecessary suffering in a wild animal. I believe that that is unlikely because hunting takes place naturally in the countryside. Animals chase other animals and eat them. That may not be very nice, but it is a fact of life in the world in which we live.

What evidence do those who propose the Bill have that this entirely natural act is causing animals such acute and unnecessary suffering that we have to take away 6,000 jobs, civil liberties and a form of pest control and put at risk the conservation of the fox population? There is none. The veterinary evidence to the Burns inquiry found—as have all other vets—that death is almost instantaneous, often as the result of a single bite to the neck; if not, death follows within seconds.

I hope that those who proposed the Bill will say, ``I am concerned with animal welfare, not with the minds of the hunters''. The amendment makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering. It is not about the enjoyment of the huntsman, but the suffering of the hunted animal.

The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is not a Second Reading debate about the merits of the Bill, but a debate about amendment No. 43, which refers to the consequences of the hunt for the animal being hunted.

Mr. Leigh: That is precisely the point on which I shall end. Those who may in a few moments reject the amendment have to ask themselves, ``When I have abolished hunting, will I have eased the suffering of wild animals in this country?'' They will not, and therefore the amendment should be made.

Mr. Garnier: The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury would have the consequence of rendering paragraph 1 as follows:

    ``A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal.''

You, Mr. O'Hara, have directed that that means that a person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog and that has the consequence of inflicting unnecessary suffering on the wild mammal. That is a logical reading of the amendment, although not one on which I had alighted. None the less, the central point behind the amendment is the prevention of cruelty to wild mammals.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, in a cogently expressed collection of arguments, advanced a line of thinking that is wholly sustainable and incapable of contradiction. I regret that the mathematics of the Committee's composition means that the amendment will be rejected if put to the test. The Bill will be all the poorer for that.

11.45 am

Paragraph 1 is about the prevention and prohibition of the infliction of unnecessary cruelty to animals. The Hunting Bill is not an animal welfare measure, unlike the other Acts of Parliament on the protection of animals that have been referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and for Aylesbury. There seems to be increasing confusion about the genesis of the Bill. The Home Office Minister says that the Bill is all to do with Deadline 2000, but when its drafting is criticised, he says that it was drafted by parliamentary counsel—so we are all in a bit of a muddle about who is responsible for which bit.

If the Bill were genuinely about the prevention and prohibition of cruelty to animals, a provision along the lines of amendment No. 43 would already have been included. There have been references in other Acts to inflicting cruelty or behaving in a cruel way, as my hon. Friends have mentioned. The absence of a reference to an intention to cause unnecessary suffering to a wild animal is a serious flaw which must be corrected if the arguments of those supporting the Bill are to have any value.

Although Labour Members may not accept it, hunting is not about cruelty; it may be about a number of different things, but cruelty is not one of them. Cruelty may be what Labour Members think that hunting is about, but if they took the trouble to discuss it with those who know, they would perhaps reach a completely different conclusion.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: If hunting were solely for entertainment, would that be cruel?

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman, no doubt for the most wonderful of reasons, has completely misunderstood the point. If cock fighting, badger baiting or bull fighting were simply for the purpose of entertainment, that would be wrong. As I recall, cock fighting and badger baiting are not lawful activities in this country in any event.

Mr. Prentice: What about hare coursing?

Mr. Garnier: Hare coursing is not solely about the cruel motives that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I do not resile from the suggestion that hunting is an activity that people enjoy. The hon. Gentleman and those who think like him—in so far as they think at all—do not like other people to enjoy themselves. [Interruption.] I may have cast the fly rather too far across the water.

Mr. Leigh: People do not enjoy hunting because they enjoy killing things. That point has to be made repeatedly.

Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend has made the point that I intended to make. Everyone who hunts does so not because it is a terrible chore, but because they enjoy it. They enjoy riding, following hounds, seeing the hounds work, jumping fences and hedges, and so on. One cannot translate that enjoyment into an enjoyment of cruelty, killing and inflicting unnecessary harm on a wild mammal.

Mr. Prentice: What about hare coursing?

Mr. Garnier: I confess that hare coursing is a subject about which I do not know a great deal. Let me try to explain what I believe is the purpose behind hare coursing. If I get it wrong, no doubt those who know more about hare coursing than I will tell me so, although I suspect that I may know marginally more about it than the hon. Gentleman.

Yes, the people who go to hare coursing enjoy it; otherwise, presumably they would not bother to go. The purpose of going to a football match is presumably to enjoy oneself. However, the purpose of hare coursing is not to inflict unnecessary cruelty on the hare but to watch two greyhounds competing to show how skilled they are at turning or moving another animal. There are competitions in the constituency of the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), where cups are given to the best hound, greyhound or whatever animal wins the Waterloo cup. However, that does not resolve the problem of the hon. Member for Pendle, which is that the Bill does not advance animal welfare one jot.

Indeed, the Bill, if unamended by amendment No. 43, will have, perhaps unwittingly, the reverse effect to that spoken of by Labour Members. If hunting with hounds were banned under the Bill, other means of culling animals would have to be used, which inevitably means an increase in gassing, shooting—with rifles or shotguns—cage trapping, trapping by snares and poisoning. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury and for Gainsborough that each of those methods is far less damaging to the animals' welfare. I do not need to go into the details of what happens when an animal is gassed or shot and wounded by rifle or shotgun. However, I remind the hon. Member for West Lancashire that I referred him to a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) about his experiences of a gun pack in his part of the country.

I shall not tell the Committee about the terrible effects of cage trapping, although the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme told us a little about that last week when she was talking about mink hunting. She may attempt to catch your eye, Mr. O'Hara, to draw our attention to the cruelty caused by cage trapping. Snaring is such an appalling activity that it needs no explanation. I cannot believe that any Labour Member wishes one consequence of the Bill, if unamended by my hon. Friend, to be an increase in trapping by snares.

As for poisoning, one has only to think about it to realise how silly a means of controlling fox or other wild animal populations that would be. Poisoning is wholly indiscriminate and is as likely to catch someone's dog or cat, or other wildlife, be it bird life or four-legged, as the fox, mink or other intended victim. Each of those methods of culling or killing involves inflicting far more cruelty, and unnecessary cruelty, than anything that happens on the hunting field.

I know that nothing that I have said or will say in the Committee, or later on Report or Third Reading, will change the minds of Labour Members. They have made up their minds, they know what they know and that is an end of the matter. I simply wish to place on record my deep concern that the Bill will fail to achieve the purpose that supporters of animal welfare claim it will have. It will have precisely the opposite effect.

I shall not rehearse—this is not strictly relevant to the amendment—the arguments that would expose the motives of many of those who want to see a total ban; that would merely inflame tempers and would not advance my argument one jot. However, if the Bill passes into law, the RSPCA will have to rescue animals that are caught in traps, badly injured as a result of shooting or gassing or sick and wasting away in hedgerows as a result of being poisoned. The welfare of those animals will have been severely compromised because the Committee will not accept my hon. Friend's sensible and logical amendment.

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