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16 Dec 2002 : Column 604—continued

7.23 pm

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), I wish to express my total opposition to this Bill. I do so on the ground that it is a profoundly illiberal Bill—the kind of legislation that brings a democracy into disrepute. The plain and simple fact that one part of society may disapprove of the activities of another part of society is not a good or sufficient reason to ban those activities.

Many activities cause death or injury to animals. Some of them are justified in terms of medical research; others are justified in terms of religious belief—halal meat, for example—and others in terms of sport. The House is addressing the issues involved in the latter category tonight. Most notable among those activities, of course, are angling, shooting and fishing. The central question that the House ought to ask itself is whether there is a substantial and significant difference between angling, shooting and hunting with hounds. If the answer is that there is no such difference, surely there are only two conclusions to which an honest person can come: either all those activities should be subject to the Bill, or none of them should be subject to it, and I happen to believe that none should be.

Lembit Öpik : Is not the other possibility that, if that issue were not addressed, a so-called total ban would create an inconsistency? Surely it would imply that shooting, fishing and angling might indeed be next.

Mr. Hogg: Yes, indeed, that is precisely the case.

I bring some modest experience to this matter; it is perhaps not so considerable as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex. I am a modest angler. I have practised beagling and I support the local hunt, and I have shot game birds all my life. My considered view is that there is absolutely no difference of principle between any of those activities.

Let us first take angling. For coarse fishing, there are no arguments of utility—such fish are not pests and they are generally not eaten. The justification for fishing lies in the pleasure of the sport. That is a perfectly genuine and proper justification, but let us be clear that, to use the words of Lord Burns, the welfare of the fish is seriously compromised because many are killed and all are injured.

The Minister used the phrase Xneedless or avoidable suffering" when defining cruelty. The phrase Xplaying the fish" is no euphemism. Most honourable people would accept that fish feel pain or, at least, that that should be the working assumption. The fact that fish are scaly, not furry, and cold-blooded, not warm-blooded are, of course, differences—but they are not distinctions that go to root of the argument.

I want to say something about shooting, which I know a lot about; I have shot all my life. I am talking about game shooting—shooting pheasants and partridges. Again, we are not talking about arguments of utility because pheasants and partridges are not pests.

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Of course they can be eaten, but that is not the primary reason why people shoot; they go shooting for the sport and to exercise their skill, to be in the countryside, to meet their friends and to see the dogs work. That is a perfectly proper thing to do, but the welfare of the bird is seriously compromised, to use Lord Burns's phrase. The lucky ones are shot dead. The less lucky ones are wounded and picked up later. The very unlucky ones fly away with buckshot in them and die later, slowly through starvation or because they are eaten by foxes.

The truth is that there is no difference between those activities; they are all acceptable or they are all unacceptable, and I happen to believe that they are all acceptable. In any event, they are surely moral and ethical issues to be considered by individuals, not by Parliament.

I know that I have only a few minutes more, so I shall be very brief. The second point that I want to make is that hon. Members should be very chary about imposing on others their own view of what is right and wrong, especially when the criminal law is involved. I deem many activities to be wrong, but I do not wish to ban them.

Mr. Gummer: Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Hogg: I am afraid that I will not give way.

I am very concerned about religious slaughter, but I would not ban it; nor did I when I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I do not like boxing, but I would not seek to ban it. I find obscenity and pornography deeply degrading, but I am not in favour of censorship, and I would not intervene through the criminal law. I accept that abortion raises moral issues of major importance, but those are matters for the individual, not for Parliament.

That brings me to my final point. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, I joined the two countryside marches. I was at the demonstration in Hyde park. I look forward to welcoming my local hunt at my house in Lincolnshire in February. They are a cross-section of society: honourable, respectable, law-abiding and decent, and the very bedrock of the society that I recognise and for which my hon. Friend's grandfather fought. If we strain their loyalty by doing things in this Bill that are so manifestly wrong, we diminish ourselves and cut at the very foundations of a democratic society.

7.30 pm

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown): I have not seen such passion from the Opposition Benches for a long time. That passion is not directed in defence of the freedom of individuals to have jobs or not to be poor; it is the kind of passion that their forebears probably exercised, 150 years ago, when Parliament was debating banning bear baiting or public executions—it is not very different.

The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) defended his sporting interests by saying that we should allow people to do things of which we disapprove. I am happy for him and

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the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) to dress up in ridiculous coats, get up on their horses and gallop around the country—even with dogs—as much as they want, as long as they do not hunt and kill foxes. They can have drag hunts—if they want to break their necks by jumping over ditches, that is fine. That is an individual liberty that I will defend on their behalf. What I find repugnant is the inevitable cruelty and the sport based on ritual killing.

Lembit Öpik rose—

Mr. Swire rose—

Dr. Turner: I shall not give way as I do not wish to detain the House for long. I want to present some of the evidence that was submitted to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs inquiry, which is relevant to the issues in the Bill of utility and cruelty.

On the question of utility, much of the defence that has been put up for hunting has concerned controlling the numbers of foxes. A fairly definitive piece of work by Baker and Harris was published in Nature, the most reputable journal in its field, which studied the fox populations. Basically, they divided the country up into kilometre squares and went around counting the fox droppings—that is the way to assess animal populations. One of the blessings of foot and mouth was that, for a long time, hunting could not take place, so it was possible to examine the effect of hunting on the fox population. If anything, the fox population decreased during the period when hunting was banned. There was no difference between areas that were normally hunted and those where there had not been hunting. The argument about utility, therefore, does not stand up in relation to lowland hunting.

Mr. Simon Thomas : Does not the hon. Gentleman realise the speciousness of his argument? First, all his argument proves is that foxes were being killed, albeit in perhaps more cruel ways than hunting. Secondly, does he realise that reports in Wales found clearly that, on the 118 farms surveyed, there were 1,600 extra killings of lambs during the year of foot and mouth? There is a cost attached to not controlling the fox population in this country.

Dr. Turner: I am afraid that those who have undertaken systematic studies would disagree with the hon. Gentleman. They would conclude that the most potent factor in controlling numbers of foxes is neither hunting nor lamping but availability of food. Whatever control methods are used, the effect on the fox population is minimal—it can only account for a small percentage of it.

I seem to remember reading newspaper reports, which were fairly convincing, that in the area of the Beaufort hunt, foxes were being fed to make sure that there were enough of them to hunt. I therefore do not think that controlling fox numbers is an argument that can be used to support hunting, even in upland areas. If one believes that controlling fox numbers is a necessity—I do not—other, more humane, methods can be used. Those methods, of course, are not so much fun. They do not involve dressing up in fancy clothes, galloping around and blowing horns.

Mr. Banks: When the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) was telling the House that my father,

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among others, was fighting at El Alamein to defend fox hunting, fox hunting was banned in this country, although, of course, there was no alteration in fox numbers. If they were fighting for fox hunting, it was a funny old war, as it was banned in this country at the time.


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