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16 Dec 2002 : Column 614—continued

8.3 pm

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Tonight we have seen the anger of the Tory grandees and the violence out in Parliament square, and the reason is obvious—they know that the game is up. The Bill will be passed. We have a commitment from the Minister, with which I am sure the Prime Minister agrees, that there will be a free vote for Labour Members and Ministers. We also have a commitment from the Government that if the Bill is thrown out by the other place, we will use the Parliament Act. That is why there is real anger among the Opposition, in the House and on the streets outside. Tonight is the beginning of the end for hunting as we have known it in this country.

My right hon. Friend is a very clever Minister. He has worked hard for many hours, consulted everybody and introduced a Bill that hardly anybody agrees with, but nobody blames him. That is the art of being a great politician. I welcome the Bill because it does two things: it bans hare coursing and it bans stag hunting, and I have for a long time been part of attempts to get those measures passed. The Bill will be much better when we have amended it, and I am sure that it will be amended so that it bans much more hunting.

I want to concentrate on upland hunting. I know what the Burns report said about upland hunting, which in my area is run by the fell packs. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) mentioned John Peel, who, like me, was a Cumbrian. John Peel is part of our history; he is not part of our future. There can be no difference between fell packs and mounted packs, whether in Cumbria or Leicestershire. If an activity is cruel, it is cruel, and I find it difficult to believe that there is utility in it.

If we consider the fell packs—the Ullswater, the Melbreak and the Blencathra are those nearest me—we find that they use artificial earths. They dig a hole and put in a pipe so that the foxes will be nice and warm and able to breed. The local hunt's code of practice says that foxhunting is a sport.

Miss McIntosh : I have been out with the Blencathra hunt. Has the hon. Gentleman? If so, is he aware that one reason it goes to such lengths is to ensure a balance in the countryside for future generations of foxes? My problem with the Bill is that it would lead to the eradication of all foxes, which is not what the Opposition want.

Mr. Martlew: When the Blencathra gets back home to Cumbria, it says that hunting is necessary for pest control; the hon. Lady says that it is not necessary for pest control and that the hunt needs extra foxes for its sport. I do not think that it will be pleased with the hon. Lady's intervention.

There is no doubt that in the Lake district, hunts use artificial earths. Not only that, but it is recorded that they put sheep carcases inside to make sure that the foxes have enough to eat. The idea that hunting is pest control is wrong. I hope that the Minister is aware of that. I am sure that he is taking notes.

Hunting also causes problems of disturbance, disruption and trespassing in the Lake district, as it does everywhere else. It can be argued that because the roads are busy in the Lake district the hounds are in greater

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danger there than in many other parts of the country. There are other dangers in the fells. There are many records of hounds being killed by falling off a crag. In the 1990s, the Ullswater mountain rescue team was called out to rescue hounds that were fell-bound.

A hunt follower of 30 years' experience came to see me. He was not in favour of banning hunting, but he said that hounds were cruelly treated. He told me of a hound with a broken leg which was made to go out on the chase and of hounds that were kept half-starved so that they would run better. He also said that a hound's life is brutal and short because when it is too old to follow the hunt, it is not retired; it gets a bullet in the back of the head.

David Taylor: Is it not also the case that apart from shooting hounds that are too old, hunts shoot at an early age hounds that do not show a great inclination to hunt?

Mr. Martlew: That is the case, and it is another reason for cub hunting. It not only trains hounds to kill foxes; it allows the hunt to find out which hounds do not have the killing instinct. Young hounds without that instinct are destroyed—there is no argument about that.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): Is the hon. Gentleman seriously arguing that shooting or poisoning foxes—many of them suffer a lingering, evil death for many hours if not days—is better than dispatching them with hounds which, by instinct, must kill the fox quickly so that it does not nip them?

Mr. Martlew: I was arguing strongly that it was bad not only for the foxes but for the hounds as well.

I believe that there is a need for fox control by lamping on the high ground of the Lake district. The idea that we can control foxes with hounds is rubbish. A BBC video called XCumbrian Tales" featured a local landowner who was a member of the mounted hunt and a local shepherd who supported foxhunting. When the shepherd had a problem with a fox, he did not tell the local hunt, but got a couple of his mates to flush out the fox and shoot it. I asked a shepherd friend of mine what he does if he has a problem with foxes. He told me, XI get the men with the lamps."

Some will argue that we cannot have people with guns on the fells, as there are too many tourists. However, lamping happens at night in remote areas, and there has never been an accident or incident with anybody lamping or killing foxes—to argue otherwise is to argue from a false premise. Finally, I welcome the opportunity to vote for the Bill. However, it is nonsense to ban foxhunting in Leicestershire but leave it in Cumbria.

8.11 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I agree with the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) that it would be nonsense to ban fox hunting in Leicestershire. Apart from that, however, I fear that we disagree.

I have attended or participated in every debate on hunting since I was elected to the House in April 1992. Each of those debates has been fuelled by a mixture of personal experience, knowledge, prejudice, ignorance, enthusiasm and an unwillingness to appreciate the other side's argument. Every hon. Member has come to this

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and previous debates with a firm and fixed opinion. He or she has left the Chamber and gone into the Lobby with that opinion unchanged by any of the arguments deployed during the course of debate. Tonight will be no exception—the issue that we are addressing will leave us as divided tonight as it has in the past.

That does not give me great confidence in the Chamber's ability to reach a rational and sensible conclusion on what to do about hunting, not least because I am as guilty as every other Member here—I passionately support the continuance of hunting in Leicestershire and Cumberland and passionately reject the arguments of all hon. Members who have spoken against its continuance. If I feel sorry for anybody, however, it is for the Minister. When the options Bill was in Committee during the last Parliament, he spoke with considerable force in favour of a total ban on hunting, but he has now been forced to come to the Chamber to represent the Government and make an argument in which he clearly does not believe. That is one of the professional problems that goes with being a Minister—sometimes Ministers have to advance Government policy contrary to their personal opinion. The Minister has done so, and no doubt he will now tell me why.

Alun Michael: I have introduced a Bill based on the principles that I believe are right after looking at all the arguments and available evidence. I should be grateful if the hon. and learned Gentleman would accept that from me.

Mr. Garnier: If that is what the right hon. Gentleman says, of course I believe him—he is an hon. Member of the House. However, it is interesting that the views that he expressed in Committee on the last occasion are poles apart from the views that he purports to express on this occasion, but let us leave it there.

Lembit Öpik: As was said in an intervention during my speech, does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that some of us have changed our views, as the Minister also suggested? I happily admit to having done so, not least because of the three-day hearing that delivered more consensus than those who did not attend it may accept. In addition, the public themselves have changed—a majority supporting a ban has been replaced by a majority not supporting a ban, so there has been movement.

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman's opinion may have changed since he became an adult and served on Newcastle city council, but I do not believe that his opinion has been changed by any of the debates in the House since he became a Member. However, I have made my point, and people may consider it.

I shall comment briefly on the Bill, and shall do so in headlines because we have only a short time available and plenty of other Members wish to contribute to our debate. It is intellectually confused, and is a muddle that has been exposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and other hon. Members who have spoken on both sides of the argument. For the hon. Members for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and perhaps for Walsall, North (David Winnick) the Bill is not consistent. They and many Conservative Members

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believe that cruelty cannot be licensed in one place and banned in another—that is what the Bill attempts to do. Furthermore, it makes an improper distinction between the welfare of rabbits, rats and deer; it takes another view of foxes and, most incomprehensibly of all, seems to permit falconry.

The Bill's muddled status is also demonstrated by the Minister's inability—he faced this problem on 3 December when he made his statement—to explain what he had learned from the three-day hearing that he could not have learned from the Burns inquiry. The evidence presented by Burns is no different in essence from the evidence given in the Portcullis House hearings, yet the Minister proclaims those hearings as a new advance.

The Bill is economically illiterate. Banning hunting in my county will have a serious and immediate financial and economic effect. Although the figures are pooh-poohed by those who disagree with me, there will be a 100 per cent. hit for people who will lose their jobs and individuals whose businesses and livelihoods will be damaged. I have heard the arguments about what the Conservatives did when we faced the coal-mining problem, but if two wrongs can be said to have existed, they do not make a right. That argument is of no assistance to people in my constituency, the county of Leicestershire and elsewhere who are to lose their jobs. Furthermore, the registration and tribunal system introduced by the Bill is uncosted, and I am surprised that the Minister did not think it appropriate to tell us how much that great bureaucratic system will cost.

The Bill is politically inept, as is amply demonstrated by arguments deployed tonight. It is a Bill that pleases nobody and annoys everybody. That may be a wonderful trick to pull off, but it does not go down well with my constituents or Members on both sides of the argument. To return to a point made by the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George)—I urge people who did not hear his speech to read it tomorrow—the Bill will be socially divisive. It is also morally unjustifiable—I merely refer hon. Members to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). Indeed, some of their remarks were underlined by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). There is no moral justification for the Government's position or that of people who are introducing the Bill on their behalf that I have been able to appreciate or understand. Nor do I believe that the arguments for the Bill are coherent or cogent.

Finally, the Bill is legally unacceptable. Extraordinarily, its superstructure rests on two highly subjective tests that are to be adjudicated by a registrar and, if necessary, on appeal to tribunal—they may be presented with different evidence of fact and opinion to justify arguments which, if applied to another part of the county or country, may not be successful. The fact that the burden of proof rests upon those who wish to continue hunting seems to me inimical to natural justice. It is of some interest that the Bill is silent about the standard of proof to which the applicants will have to conform.

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The tests set out in clause 8 are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury pointed out, so vague as to be almost indefinable in anticipation. How can any person who wishes to practise hunting, anyone who wishes to represent those who wish to appear in front of the registrar—I understand that there will be a number of registrars—or any member of an appeal tribunal come to a considered view about expressions such as Xsignificant contribution", Xserious damage", Xa contribution equivalent to" or Xsignificantly less pain", and do so on a consistent basis right across the country?

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