Hunting Bill

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Mr. Leigh: And then stir his tea with it.

Mr. Garnier: Probably that as well. I wish he had stirred a lot of people's tea with it, but unfortunately, they were not known to him.

I agree that customs, farming practices and animal numbers change and so does the understanding of what is right and wrong; but before we criminalise ordinary men and women who work in the countryside and make them susceptible to fines of up to £5,000, I implore members of the Committee who have not previously taken a close interest in the subject to spend a little more time outside this hothouse looking and learning. They should not take it as read from me, or from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex—although they would not come to any harm if they did so—but spend some time in the areas that will be affected by the measure.

During the passage of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Worcester, I invited the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) for the weekend to see what happened during the regular hunts in my part of Leicestershire—

Ms Bridget Prentice: And she refused.

Mr. Garnier: She did not refuse as the keeper of Jimmy and Jill and all the other little furry friends; she deferred to her husband, who was in the Committee Room, who thought that it was not such a good idea. That was a pity, because she would have learned about what goes on, about the people who hunt and what is required to control animals such as rabbits in rural areas. I should be happy to invite the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) to stay—

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): The hon. and learned Gentleman was not going to refer to me again, but he cannot resist it.

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman is thoroughly irresistible, but I shall resist the temptation to be drawn further by inviting members of the Committee who take a different view from mine on hunting, before they reject the amendments and railroad the Bill to Report, to bear in mind the points made by those who have more experience of the country than they do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to a letter from someone in Essex; I, too, received that letter and another this morning from a lurcher man in Sunderland—

Mr. Soames: I did, too.

Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend also received the letter, which I shall not read out as it is not difficult to imagine the gist of what he said. He is a perfectly ordinary, straightforward fellow from Sunderland, who has two or three lurchers, which he uses to catch rabbits to feed them and himself. He is concerned that, if the amendments are not accepted, it will be the end of an innocent but useful pastime, as it helps the farmers on whose land he catches rabbits.

I suspect that the Minister, who has been generous of late, may want to continue that generous mood when responding to the amendments. I am sure that, the briefer my remarks, the more his generosity will improve, so I shall sit down.

7.26 pm

Sitting suspended.

[Continued in column 549]

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