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16 Dec 2002 : Column 607—continued

Dr. Turner: My hon. Friend makes a totally supportive point.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Turner: No, I have given way enough.

On the issue of cruelty, I shall quote what some people said to the DEFRA inquiry. One of the most telling quotations was from Huntsman Jones of the David Davies foxhounds, an upland hunt in Wales. Mr. Jones was asked the following question by a representative of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

He replied:

Huntsmen were in agreement that there was no difference in terms of cruelty between upland or lowland hunting. One said:

I shall follow the same course of action as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, not because I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister has got the approach right—he has made a noble effort, but he is doomed with that approach—but because we must have a vehicle that can be amended to produce a total, outright ban on hunting with dogs.

7.39 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): The Minister introduced his speech by saying that this was not a compromise but a matter of principle, that he would adduce certain principles that he would apply, and that that would give us an objective way of handling this matter. He proceeded to say that he would not apply those principles to stag hunting or hare coursing. That was evidently because he had already applied them and decided that they did not meet the facts. He then said that he would not apply them to rabbitting and ratting. The principles are very difficult to understand. He could have said, XI am going to do my best to get everyone together, and I will do that by satisfying my Back Benchers by banning a bit, by making a bit difficult and by allowing another bit." We could have understood that, and that is what he has done. However, to suggest that such proposals are based on principles is manifestly untrue.

I do not believe that the rabbit would understand the principles, nor, indeed, would the rat, but what is the reason for the distinction between the two animals? The distinction has come about for the reasons that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) gave. Certain animals—

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fish and other beings—are less cuddly than others. That is a sentimental reason, but not one of principle. People feel more sentimental about some animals than others.

We should approach the issue by using principles. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, either it is wrong to hunt, fish or shoot in any form or it is not. The fact that a distinction has been made shows that the proposals have been introduced not for reason of principle or animal welfare, but, as we have heard again and again from Labour Members, because they are intended to get at a particular section of the population. It was a matter for great sadness for those Labour Members when they discovered that that section is not made up of a lot of toffs, as they thought, but of a widespread group of people from the countryside.

The Bill's supporters then said that it is a matter of morality. My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that it might be more sensible to allow people to make up their own minds about morality. One of the issues that I dealt with as a young politician resulted from the Wolfenden report. We argued that what was sinful in some people's minds should not be made illegal. Many of those who fought against us said simply, XI find this repugnant and, therefore, I do not believe that it should be legal." That is precisely the argument that the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) used. He finds something repugnant, so everyone must accept his view. When my right hon. and learned Friend said that we should be careful about imposing our morality on other people, someone on the Labour Back Benches shouted, XThat is what we are here for."

The position has wholly changed. The Labour party used to be about the enlargement of freedom and the provision of wider choice on issues on which many people, including many on this side of the House, wished to enforce their own sense of repugnance. I find it repugnant that people voted in favour of saving foxes when, only a few days earlier, they voted on killing babies. Although I find that repugnant, I accept that, in this topsy-turvy world, it is possible to kill babies and call that moral and yet call the killing of foxes immoral. [Interruption.] Some of us stand up for morality across the board and not just for what happens to suit our particular voters in particular circumstances.

Dr. Desmond Turner: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No; I will continue with my speech.

We also have to deal with the issue of sustainability. I notice that the Labour party says that sustainability should be at the heart of government. Therefore, when the national park authority in Exmoor says that the only way to keep the stag population sustainable is by continuing with the system that has achieved that goal for generations, the Labour party and the Minister cast that view aside and say that they will find another way. This Minister has not shown a huge ability to find another way on rural matters up to now. I suspect that he will not on this issue.

The final issue is practicality. The Minister refers to a practical system. However, all the legal advice that we have already received shows that the Bill—under a good number of headings—will find itself in the courts again and again. It makes distinctions between people in

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similar situations, it makes distinctions that have no moral or principled base, and it makes distinctions that could not pass any test in the European Court of Human Rights.

The Bill is also not practical in its suggestion that the police will enforce it. That suggestion comes from a Government who only last week showed that they give even less money to rural police forces than they give to other police forces. Police forces are stretched all over the country, but they are supposed to enforce a Bill that goes wholly against the views of a majority of people in the country. The situation will be so unfair that while the opponents of hunting will be able to seek deregistration again and again at the taxpayers' expense, those who wish to continue with what has been a legal activity for generations will have to pay all their expenses themselves.

The Bill is not about hunting—it is about prejudice, class hatred and all those things that new Labour was supposed no longer to believe in. We have seen precisely what we knew we would see—antagonism for the countryside, for anybody who has a different way of life and for anyone that Labour Members feel they have a need to attack. They have nothing else to offer the people of Britain, and the people of Britain are beginning to catch on.

7.47 pm

David Winnick (Walsall, North): The debate has demonstrated that there is no meeting point between those who want the existing situation to continue and those of us who are determined that there must be change and a total ban on hunting with dogs. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said that we were class motivated. He may believe that, and he is entitled to that view. However, like my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), I believe that, even if a different social group were involved, my opposition to hunting with dogs would remain as firm as it is. The right hon. Gentleman said that hunting is not carried out by toffs any longer, but by a wider social group. That fact has not changed my mind or the opinion of my hon. Friends.

The argument has been used that debating hunting is a waste of parliamentary time. If that were so, we would never be able to debate the subject or any issue concerning animals because there is never a shortage of other foreign and domestic issues to debate. That would be very odd. If there were a total ban—as I hope there will be—and Conservative Members tried to reverse it in future Parliaments, would they then argue that debating the issue was a waste of parliamentary time? I very much doubt it.

Lembit Öpik: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

David Winnick: No, I wish to continue my speech.

The official Opposition's spokesman made the position clear. If there is a ban on hunting, it is our duty to warn the country during the general election that, if there is a Tory majority in the House of Commons—we should not forget the words that have been uttered

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today—it is likely that the ban imposed by this Parliament would go in a Parliament dominated by Tory Members.

Bull baiting was mentioned. It is such an obvious subject for a ban that perhaps the issue should not even have been raised. When, however, the first attempt was made to prohibit bull baiting in April 1800, the Bill did not make much progress. It was defeated and its opponents said that it was

Such was the opposition to an activity that even Conservative Members would agree is totally unacceptable.

Those are much the same words as we hear used today against a ban on hunting with dogs. As for wasting parliamentary time, in 1800 they debated that issue when this country was involved in a major war with France and there was a fear of invasion.

I have no sentimental illusions about foxes. They are a danger and measures are necessary to cope with them. I recognise the arguments; it is merely a matter of what method should be used to control and contain them. The two sides are divided on what constitutes the least cruel way of dealing with them, and that sharp divide cannot be met.

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