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16 Dec 2002 : Column 588—continued

Mr. Lidington: I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is no secret that some of the animal rights groups that have been to the fore in campaigning for a ban on hunting will want to move on, once that goal has been achieved, to campaign against shooting and fishing.

Mr. Hogg: I would like to reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory). The whole House has heard the definition of cruelty, as given by the Minister, relating to needless or avoidable suffering. All of us who practise country sports, such as the shooting of game birds and angling, know that those phrases can be used just as properly in the context of those activities as in the context of foxhunting. If that be the case, it is clear that game shooting and angling are next.

Mr. Lidington: My right hon. and learned Friend is right. If we listen to comments from organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports, we learn that they are quite open about that being their ambition.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): I should like to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) have just said. Match angling, in which the fish is kept in a keep-net and subsequently released, is specifically outlawed in Germany and Belgium.

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend makes his point clearly.

Mr. Banks: Perversely, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) is making a very good case for the Bill from an anti-hunting point view. I am sure that that is not what he wants to do. Because he is being diverted away from the Bill by interventions about game

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shooting and angling, will he make it quite clear that, although there will be some people—including, probably, some in this House—who would like to ban angling and game shooting, there is not a majority in the House to get such a provision through? There are probably some people who would like to ban the Tory party as well, but there—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

Mr. Lidington: The difference between what the hon. Member for Newham has just said and what the Minister has said is that the hon. Member for Newham made his point about angling by saying that there was no majority in the House of Commons to carry a motion to outlaw the practice. The Minister, however, was not arguing on pragmatic grounds. He said that there were consistent ethical principles at work here. It is quite obvious from the intervention of the hon. Member for Newham that there is a complete absence of consistent ethical principles in the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Soames : Will my hon. Friend tell me where he thinks that halal slaughter lies in the great sweep of the argument on principles and ethics?

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) knows that there are a number of people in this country, as well as some of the animal welfare organisations, who object strongly to the practices of slaughter involved in the preparation of both halal and kosher meat. I remember from previous debates that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) had to wrestle with precisely this issue when he had responsibility for it as a Minister. The argument that persuades me is that, whatever view I or anyone else may have on the slaughter practices involved in the preparation of these kinds of meat, the religious liberty of the Jewish and Muslim minorities in the United Kingdom is of much greater importance when we take that moral decision.

Mr. George Osborne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for breaking from his excellent speech to give way to me. I would like to return to the intervention by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks)—I think that is his proper title—who gave the clearest possible indication that fishing and shooting would be next in line if the Bill went through, when he said that all that it would take would be to get a majority in favour of such measures in the House.

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) sees the reality of what many of the animal rights groups actually intend.

Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend return to the matter of principle? The Minister has raised the matter of principle, but if it is to be anything other than a convenient phrase, it must be able to be applied everywhere else. My hon. Friend has listed a whole series of areas in which, if that principle were applied, people's normal activities would have to be banned. As the Minister has no intention of banning those activities,

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this is not a principle but a convenient series of phrases to be applied to the Bill to carry through what was the prejudiced view of the Minister before the Bill was introduced.

Mr. Lidington: My right hon. Friend is right. The sad truth about the Bill is that the Government—certainly the Prime Minister—accept that a ban on hunting is undesirable and, in practice, likely to be ineffective, but the Government do not collectively have the courage to face up to their Back Benchers who have been campaigning for a ban for many years. So we end up with this shabby, unhappy Bill as an attempted compromise.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): In responding to these points, could my hon. Friend also carry West Ham with us in considering the issue of point-to-point racing, and its connection not only with the hunt but with national hunt racing? If there were dramatically few exempt hunts available, what would the future of national hunt racing be?

Mr. Lidington: Precisely. That is a further example of why the utility test needs to be tightly drawn if the Bill is to apply much more widely than the Government propose. The irony is that it will do nothing to improve animal welfare. It does not propose to protect foxes, mink or hares. In fact, more animals will probably die if it becomes law. The reality is that a lot of farmers and land managers tolerate deer, foxes and hares because they support hunting as a sport.

Mrs. Browning: Is not that exactly why the farmers on Exmoor provide not only fodder, but cover, from which the wild deer benefit? If that all disappears, the wild deer herd will disappear too. My hon. Friend will have noticed that the Minister did not answer my question. Either he has the information as to how long he anticipates there being a wild deer herd on Exmoor or he has not. Would it not be wrong if he has not made that calculation?

Mr. Lidington: It would be quite wrong, but I do not have great confidence that the Government have done it.

Mr. Swayne: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Lidington: I shall give way to my hon. Friend, but then I want to move on to allow time for the many other Members who wish to take part in the debate.

Mr. Swayne: The experience of the New Forest is instructive in this respect. Now that the Buck hounds have disappeared, the forest supports vastly fewer deer, but the Forestry Commission is required to cull them in much larger numbers, as the previous regime merely dispersed the population throughout the forest. It did not kill very many at all.

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. The truth is that if hunting is ending, there will be little incentive for anyone who farms or owns land to conserve wild mammal populations that prey on their

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crops or livestock. Many of those animals that the Bill purports to help will almost certainly die more painfully if killed by methods other than hunting with hounds.

One thing that came out again and again from the Burns report and all the debates around it is that shooting and snaring are indiscriminate—more animals are left to die a lingering death. I refer briefly to a letter describing the impact of the ban on hunting in Scotland and what it means in terms of animal welfare:

If the Bill proceeds into law, more wild mammals will die the lingering, painful death that that correspondent describes.

It is almost surreal that we are spending parliamentary and Government time debating the future of foxhunting when our country is on the brink of possible war in the middle east and we have major crises in our public services, but the Government have chosen to introduce the Bill. If they had wanted, as the Minister said, to spare Parliament that time, they need only have ignored their Back Benchers' campaign for yet another go at legislating on this topic.

The Bill is intolerant, illiberal and arbitrary. It will restrict freedom and do nothing to help animal welfare. The House should reject it.

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