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9.5 pm

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I have listened to contributions from both sides and, unlike one speaker, I do not think that this has been a particularly good debate. I have been saddened by the superficiality of the arguments made—and not just by those who want to ban hunting.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) clearly does not understand hunting. I accept that everyone is entitled to reach their own conclusions, but it was clear from his speech that he does not know very much about hunting. It behoves hon. Members to acquaint

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themselves with all the facts, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) did by going to see the Thurlow hunt. I do not know whether it met in my constituency or one of the neighbouring ones, but I would have been happy for her to visit my constituency. That was an example of someone trying to find out what is going on.

When the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) said that all his information about coursing came from the Waveney Harriers, he underlined my point about ignorance. Harriers on horseback hunt hares with packs of hounds.

Mr. Anthony D. Wright: As a matter of clarification, I never said that I received all my information from the Waveney Harriers. I received it from several other individuals who had been involved in hare coursing. I also received information from video footage.

Mr. Paice: If I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, I shall, of course, withdraw my remarks. However, I urge him to read Hansard, because that was not the impression that he gave to me or to any of my hon. Friends.

Some of the arguments that have been advanced are clearly spurious. We have heard about animals being ripped to pieces. They sometimes are but, as the Burns report made clear, that is after they are dead, so that argument cannot be used against hunting. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) has clearly put to bed the nonsensical figure of 5 per cent. In many parts of the country, the figure is much higher than that.

I want to speak about the two central issues. The first is cruelty and the second is the rights and wrongs of people participating in acts that others may perceive as cruel. The phrase

appears several times in Burns, and I suspect that Lord Burns wishes that he had not used it. It has been so misquoted. However, he is adamant—he said this in the debate in the other place—that the phrase should not be taken to imply that hunting is cruel; and, nor for that matter, should it be taken to mean that hunting is not cruel. It was not a comment on the cruelty of hunting, even though some people have proclaimed that it should be seen as such.

Does the animal that is pursued feel distress during the chase part of the hunt? There is no doubt that there is physical distress or exhaustion, but there is a big question mark as to whether that is over and above that which occurs regularly in nature. When Professor Bateson produced a report on deer hunting, his peers who examined it quickly took issue with his conclusions. Even he has backed away from the finding in the report.

A further issue is whether pursuit causes the animal any mental distress. There is no evidence either way, but it is wrong of people to adopt the anthropomorphic approach and say, "Well, how would you like it?" Animals do not have the same perceptions, sense of reasoning and, perhaps, the premonition of pain or death as humans; there is no evidence whatever that that is the case. Indeed, if they had all those abilities, they would no longer be the animals that they are. Anyone who knows about animals—anyone who keeps dogs or other pets—knows that an animal does not have any conception from its

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experience of something of what will happen next. A dog is trained by repetition; most animals are taught by being trained repetitively, which is how they learn the consequences of individual actions.

The process of death may sound like a harsh term, but it is the only way I can describe it. In stag hunting, the process of death is by shooting, so death is instant and not drawn-out; the same is true of hinds. A number of Members have spoken about coursing; my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) was rightly reported as saying that the objective is not to catch the hare; coursing is a test between two greyhounds. Only one in seven or eight hares is caught, but I am the first to accept that when a hare is caught, it is a distressing sight, and obviously dreadful for the hare. The question of muzzling was raised; I, too, have asked why the hounds cannot be muzzled. I have been told that hares are fragile animals; trials with muzzling in Ireland have shown that if hounds cannot catch the hare, they bang it hard with their muzzles; the hare suffers internal haemorrhaging, goes away and still dies. That is the reason I have been given for muzzling being unacceptable.

With mink, of course, there is a huge size difference; for them, death is instant. Foxhunting, however, dominates the debate; death, according to Burns and every other study, if not instantaneous, takes only a few seconds. There is clear evidence that alternatives are equally likely or, in some cases, more likely, to cause a lot of pain in the process of death.

Another issue is whether people enjoy what is described as inflicting cruelty. If that were so, a lot of people following hunts would be extremely disappointed. The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) spoke about someone seeing only two foxes killed in 40 years of hunting, and took that to mean that only two had been killed. I suspect, however, that he is wrong; few people following a hunt see the kill. The field is usually a couple of hundred yards or more behind, and the only person up with the hounds is the huntsman. Anybody who goes hunting to enjoy the spectacle of a fox being killed by hounds will be sorely disappointed. The issue is not relevant to stag hunting, as the animals are shot; with hare coursing, inflicting cruelty is not the purpose.

If there is an argument about cruelty, fishing must come into the frame. I know that this is not a debate about fishing, so I shall not test your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but there is ample evidence that fish feel pain and respond to it. A report prepared for the RSPCA makes the point that

I am afraid that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was plain wrong; the vast majority of people who fish do not do so for food. In coarse fishing, with the exception of a few pike and eels, almost all fish are returned to the water. Given the water most of them come from, frankly no one would want to eat them anyway. In game fishing, catches of trout and salmon are consumed, but the bulk of fish is put back in the water. I would argue strongly that that is just as cruel as any form of hunting with dogs, if not more so, as there is no aim of control.

The debate has dealt with many issues, but I hope that those hon. Members who are prepared to stop and think for a moment before they walk into the Lobby in a few

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minutes' time will consider the consequences of passing legislation that would criminalise a small minority that is as significant as many others in this country. Every minority has a right to be heard and, wherever possible, understood. Such legislation would not lead to a net reduction in pain or distress to animals; in many ways, a great deal of inconvenience and disruption would be caused to individual lives.

The issue is: should this House make a moral judgment on whether it is right for people to enjoy what some perceive as inflicting pain on animals? I believe that that judgment should be made by individuals, according to what is right for their soul. It is not a judgment for this House, and that is why I shall resist—as I have always done—any attempt by it to stop people hunting with hounds.

9.15 pm

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): In the past few years, the paper by Professor Bateson and Dr. Bradshaw—entitled "Physiological effects of hunting red deer"—has been a significant feature in debates in this place, in Committee and elsewhere on hunting with dogs. Following its publication, vitriolic attacks were made on Professor Bateson. Accusations were made concerning his competence, integrity and powers of manipulation; he was even accused of slanting his report of April 1997, thereby precipitating the National Trust's decision to ban stag hunting on its land. However, after taking evidence from his opponents, it reaffirmed that decision. After listening to both sides of the argument, the Forestry Commission independently reached the same conclusion.

In his letter to me last week, Patrick Bateson—who is still alive and well and has not recanted—said that, despite attempts to discredit him, he still agrees with what he wrote in 1997. He showed that, according to the measurement of various hormones, hunting deer with hounds led to high levels of stress. If they were chased over 10 km, which is no mean distance, they had no fuel left—I shall not use technical terms—and were unable to move quickly because their muscles had gone. He pointed out that their vascular system and muscle tissue had broken down, and, interestingly, that the biochemical and physiological state of animals that had been knocked down by a car were comparable to those of deer that had been hunted over long distances. The effect on the welfare of deer was further illustrated through examining behaviour patterns during the later stages of the hunt.

A further, joint universities study on deer hunting was commissioned by the Countryside Alliance and interested parties such as stag hunts. It did not comment on the wider aspects of the behaviour of deer, but it considered all the biochemical factors. There are great similarities between the two studies, and very few differences.

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