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16 Dec 2002 : Column 618—continued

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

Mr. Garnier: I will not, if my hon. Friend does not mind. I see that I have 48 seconds left.

I must also express concern about the fact that, unfairly, animal welfare groups, whose identity has yet to be specified, are to be provided with Government finance, whereas those who wish to apply to hunt are to be given no Government financial assistance at all.

There is so much wrong with the Bill that to give it a Second Reading would be an abuse, and to prevent it from having a Second Reading would be to do it a kindness. I trust that those who are persuaded to give it a Second Reading and permit it to go to Committee will listen carefully to the arguments deployed in Committee and not allow the Bill to be a disguised ban Bill, when that is not what the public want or require.

8.21 pm

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, which I hope will finally bring a conclusion to the matter, although perhaps not the conclusion envisaged in the current wording of the Bill.

When previous Governments have legislated to ban cruel and barbaric sports, if one can call them sports, such as foxhunting, bear baiting and badger digging, they have done so on a moral basis. The strength of public opinion opposed to such bloodthirsty activities has promoted bans to stop them, so society has long accepted the principle of banning activities that are cruel to animals. A Bill to ban bull baiting was passed by Parliament some 200 years ago, and bans on bear baiting, cock fighting and dog fighting have followed since. When these issues were discussed in Parliament, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick) made clear, many of the arguments that we hear today in support of hunting with dogs were made at that time, but to my knowledge there has never been a suggestion that those activities should be licensed.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): Will my hon. Friend note that, contrary to the statements made twice by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), there is support for a ban on hunting, as evidenced in appendix 1 to the research paper in the House of Commons Library?

Mark Tami: I thank my hon. Friend for that point. There was a Sky poll today which showed that nearly two thirds of people are against foxhunting. That figure is consistently thrown up by surveys. I do not know

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where the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) gets his figures, but they are somewhat different from the facts.

As I said, other so-called sports were banned because people found such activities abhorrent. Most people view hunting with dogs with the same abhorrence. In England and Wales, hunting with dogs is the only activity where animal is set upon animal for so-called sport, and has not yet been outlawed. The idea that there is some middle way whereby animal cruelty can be licensed is nonsense.

Mr. Swire: I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would clarify one point. He said that England and Wales were the only two places where animal was set upon animal. He represents a Scottish seat. In some circumstances, that happens in Scotland, does it not?

Mark Tami: Unfortunately, I do not represent a Scottish seat. The hon. Gentleman has made his point, but perhaps he should get his facts right to begin with.

We cannot justify compromising the welfare of foxes or any other animal just because a small minority of people enjoy hounding them to their deaths.

Mr. Roger Williams: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mark Tami: I will not. I have given way twice, and we are eating into other hon. Members' time for speaking.

If there is a proven need for an individual animal to be controlled, that should be done swiftly and humanely. If it can be shown that an activity is cruel and unnecessary, and that there is a more practical and humane alternative, the only justifiable outcome is that that activity should be banned. I can understand those who argue that hunting is not cruel—not that I agree with them or accept their contention—more than those who say that hunting is cruel, but it is okay to license it.

The test that the Government propose in relation to hunting with dogs is based on utility and cruelty. As a result of that test, the Government rightly propose to ban hare coursing and deer hunting outright—hon. Members clearly welcome that—but to introduce a licensing system for foxhunting, which the majority of hon. Members probably do not welcome.

The concept of utility is open to broad interpretation, but I believe there are two aspects of it: the extent to which it is necessary to kill certain animals, and when that is the case, the most appropriate method of carrying out that task. Whether or not an individual animal is designated a pest has no bearing on whether it should experience pain or suffering. Any pest control method should pass three tests: it should be necessary, effective and humane.

Is it even necessary to control foxes? The Burns inquiry found that there was a general perception among farmers, landowners and gamekeepers that that was indeed the case. Individual foxes can undeniably cause local difficulties, but there is little evidence to support the view that the fox is a significant agricultural pest nationally. The Burns Committee stated:

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In addition, a study published in September showed that the number of attacks by foxes on lambs and other livestock is low, and that in some circumstances such attacks can be controlled by better husbandry and fencing.

The next test is whether fox hunting with dogs is effective. Research has shown that fox populations are resistant to culling. As regards the effectiveness of foxhunting, the Burns inquiry concluded that

Research published in September in the science journal Nature found that a ban on hunting would not have a dramatic impact on fox numbers. Even the Countryside Alliance used to claim that hunting was effective in controlling only 5 per cent. of the fox population, but seems to have dropped that argument now as it contradicts its case that hunting is an effective means of controlling fox numbers.

The final test is whether foxhunting with dogs is humane. The Burns committee concluded that hunting with dogs

If that is not an understatement, God knows what is. The results of the four post-mortems commissioned by the Burns committee on foxes hunted above and below ground showed that all had suffered multiple injuries caused by dogs before being killed. In summary, it is clear that there are no circumstances in which the continuation of traditional foxhunting with dogs can be justified.

The introduction of a licensing system would send out a message saying that foxhunting is less cruel than hare coursing or deer hunting with dogs, but that argument cannot be sustained by any of the available evidence. Licence or no licence, foxhunting is cruel, barbaric, unnecessary and very ineffective. I for one would find it extremely difficult to go back to my constituency and say that I had voted for legalised cruelty, and I will not do it. We need a total ban and we need it now.

8.29 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Since coming to the House, I have consistently opposed any attempt to ban hunting. I have done so on two premises. First, hunting, certainly as it is practised in my constituency, goes with the grain of country practice and of maintaining a sustainable, lively and viable countryside. Secondly, I have not seen any evidence to date to suggest that hunting with hounds is any more cruel than any other method of disposing of foxes.

One of the key issues that we must understand in this debate is that those on every side of the argument have agreed to a greater or lesser extent that we must control fox numbers. The variation relates to where those numbers need to be controlled. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) spoke about individual foxes as if they could be taken to a cashpoint and fined for antisocial behaviour because they had attacked a lamb in certain circumstances or whatever else. He must understand the wider context. He spoke about better husbandry and fencing, but fences cannot be erected along miles of open countryside. Indeed, his

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Government want to turn that countryside into a right-to-roam area. Surely, they do not want it to be electrified as part of stock husbandry.

We need to work with the grain of sustainable and forward-thinking country practices and to try to support farmers in maintaining a biodiverse countryside while recognising that the fox is the top predator there, so it is down to us as human beings—after all, we created the situation—to try to do the best that we can for the whole biodiverse countryside with the minimum of cruelty to foxes and other species.

Mr. Roger Williams: The hon. Gentleman mentioned the right to roam. How can that right be reconciled with lamping, which requires the use of rifles in the dark on open land to which legislation gives a public right of access?

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