Mr. Soames: My hon. and learned Friend makes an extremely good point. The islanders of Tristan da Cunha have a ratting week because the rats must be killed or they will damage the crops. It is not an ordinary, everyday pursuit; it is essential to the well-being of the crops and the islanders' cultivation.
I ask my hon. and learned Friend, as a lawyer of a very good type, to deal with this issue; ferrets are put down holesthis is an important point, Mr. O'Harato chase rabbits out, where they are netted and shot. It is a wonderful sport and essential to keeping good order in the countryside. The ferrets often fight the rabbits and kill them underground. The Bill does not restrict ferret work. Where is the consistency between that and the proposed ban on terrier work? I do not understand it.
Mr. Garnier: Where is the consistency between the entire Bill and animal welfare? We have made such points before but although our arguments are accurately aimed, they seem to land on deaf ears.
I hope that I have not taken away from the arguments put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury about the other amendments in the group. It is a terrible pity that we must deal with such a Bill. It is full of inconsistencies and drafting defects. The Parliamentary Secretary will have to rescue it; if not today, then between now and the election. It is a mess.
Mr. Öpik: I suggest that amendment No. 119 is in the spirit of the animal welfare goals promoted by Deadline 2000. It also goes a long way to resolving a number of the inconsistencies in schedule 3. The Burns report underpins what I wish to say about the amendment. The report states at paragraph 6.13 on page 109:
Finally, paragraph 6.61 states:
There we have it. Burns does not state in those quotesand I assure the Committee that he does not do so anywhere else in the reportthat it is necessarily more cruel to dispatch foxes with dogs than the legal alternatives that would otherwise be used. At the very least, I would like to think that hon. Members on both sides of the argument accepted that Burns does not say that it is proven that banning the hunting of foxes with dogs would necessarily improve the welfare of the fox. It is in that context that I wish to illustrate a contradiction in the schedule. I need therefore to describe how hill packs operatehill packs being the predominant method of fox control in uplands mid-Wales and north Conwyshire.
I shall quote from a book entitled ``Fox Hunting: Beyond the Propaganda'', which was published in 1997 by Wildlife Network. The book did much to stimulate the creation of the Middle Way Group. The book describes the activity of hunting in the hill pack fashion. I refer to it because I want to show that amendment No. 119 tackles the inconsistency of allowing the killing of foxes to continue but hunting with dogs not to be one of the legal methods of doing so. I quote from page 16 in the book:
The book then mentions gun packs.
It is perfectly clear from the bookwe can argue about whether hon. Members agree with itthat the author, Charlie Pye-Smith, is convinced, as I am, that the hill farmers of Montgomeryshire are unquestionably not enjoying the pursuit of foxes simply as a social activity, but are doing soand killing foxes with dogsbecause they believe that it is the most efficient means of pest control. The problem with the schedule as it currently stands is that it would ban that activity and would require individuals to find an alternative method of killing foxes instead of hunting with dogs.
Burns recognises that a ban on hunting, in that sense, could adversely affect the welfare of foxes in uplands areas. Amendment No. 119 would permit those who live in the upland areas to continue with that specific methodand I suppose other methods, tooto ensure that they can carry on controlling the fox population as they have done for centuries.
One can argue that the method is cruel and that we should ban it for that reason. However, there is at least one other method that Deadline 2000 claims is extremely cruel: the use of gun packs. There was some discussion of whether gun packs should be a target for a future ban. We were assured by the hon. Member for West Ham that claims that gun packs were under any threat were the result of a now-defunct policy from long ago. That is not the case. We have evidence that suggests that, as recently as May 1997, the League Against Cruel Sports was still explicitly opposed to gun packs. I quote from a letter written by John Bryant on 28 May 1997, referring to a report that the league submitted to the Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which says:
The second conclusion is that it would be a contradiction if we were to receive an assurance from those who support the schedule that they do not intend to move on to banning gun packs. It is clear from the words of LACS that it regards the activity as cruel. LACS does not explicitly say that it regards it as equally cruel to killing a fox with a dog, but that would be a moot point, given the strength of the language used in the letter.
We find ourselves with a contradiction. The schedule would abolish hunting with dogswe should bear in mind that Burns did not unequivocally say that that was crueler than other methodswhich would mean the continuation of a system that so affronts LACS that it is committed to abolishing it. The formulation on gun packs shows, in principle at least, that those who want a ban are willing to listen. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) and I had many exchanges during debates on the so-called Foster Bill, and it was a credit to him that he included an exemption. I hope that he did so based on the merits of the arguments made.
Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester): To clarify the position, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the exemption for flushing out was included in my Bill before it was even debated on Second Reading? It was not related to our debate in Committee, but was a result of my consulation with, among others, Welsh gun packs and fox destruction societies.
Mr. Öpik: I am perfectly happy to give the hon. Gentleman the credit for consulting on the matter, and I have no doubt that he did so. In an election year, one tends to maximise the opportunities to remind one's constituency that one was active in certain matterseven if only for congratulations.
The hon. Gentleman listened to the arguments on gun packs and accepted that there was a case for exemption from a ban. I hope that the logic of what he did, coupled with the comments in the Burns report about other methods and the words of the League Against Cruel Sports, will encourage him and others to think again about whether they want to enforce a blanket ban across the United Kingdom. Perhaps instead they would consider amendment No. 119, which would allow hunting by the method to be used in circumstances known to all parties involved, including the landowner.
If the hon. Gentleman went to the people who convinced him to make the modification on gun packs, I am willing to bet that he would find that they were reasonable and did not celebrate or display considerable blood lust on the killing of a fox. Nevertheless, they would feel that the most effective way in which to tackle the predation of their stock was hunting with dogs. I would even be happy to give him the names and addresses of people who may not entirely agree with the details provided by the Middle Way Group, but who would still be willing to share their views with him. They might convince him in a rational way that changes such as amendment No. 119 would bring the Bill into line with that he regarded necessary in his proposal a few years ago.
Amendment No. 119 makes sense in the same way in whichI hopethe proposals of the Middle Way Group make sense, at least to some members of the public and some Members. It would go a long way towards achieving what the Middle Way Group was trying to achieve, which related to the fact that, obviously, the welfare of any animal killed as a result of human activity is compromised. With regulations and controls, we could improve animal welfare without unreasonably restricting civil liberties.
Although amendment No. 119 is not as involved and complete as the 64 paragraphs of schedule 2, which was proposed by the Middle Way Group, in principle it begins to rebalance its two crucial elements: animal welfare considerations and civil liberties. It is a relatively simple amendment and does not include all the safeguards of the Middle Way Group proposals. However, I would like to think that its inclusion, plus, perhaps, further amendments on Report, would create a schedule that would begin to be workable and to allow local communities and landowners to decide for themselves what they are willing to tolerate.
I hope that hon. Members will seriously consider the points that I have made. If they abolish hill packs, they will risk compromising the welfare of foxes to a greater degree than previously. I quote Lord Burns again. On page 118, paragraph 6.56, he says:
I would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary answered two questions. First, will she explain why it is ideologically consistent to accept the very reasonable concerns that the hon. Member for Worcester took on board when he exempted gun packs from abolition, but not to exemptat least in some circumstanceskilling a fox with dogs, such as in the hill packs in Montgomeryshire, in fell packs and so on? Secondly, does she believe that animal welfare is necessarily improved by not accepting amendment No. 119, thereby maintaining the schedule as it stands? I should like to hear why she feels, from the evidence of Burns and on the basis of other evidence that she may have, that we will improve the welfare of the fox by banning the hunting of foxes by dogseven with the limitations of amendment No. 119. That is not a trick question, but it is one to which the many people involved in this debate, and those who read Hansard, would like to hear the answer.
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