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Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): The hon. Gentleman suggests that all forms of hunting or other activity should be subject to registration. Can he think of a theoretical situation where a registration system would enable hare coursing to continue?

Mr. Gray: Indeed I can. It would be up to the registrar to decide whether hare coursing should be allowed to continue. I see no harm in it at all. The curious thing about what the Minister has said about hare coursing is that under even these proposals all that would be abolished would be organised hare coursing events such as the Waterloo Cup. Private hare coursing on private land would still be allowed. There is no suggestion that it is to be outlawed. If I wanted to take my two dogs on to my private land to chase a hare, I would be allowed to do so.

There is something worse than that. In the appendices to the Bill, there is a passage that provides that if one is hare coursing for the pot—that is to eat the hare—that is allowable. Even worse, if the hare is thought to be injured and runs away after it has been shot, the individual will be allowed to use his dogs to course it and catch it. Until now, illegal hare coursers have pursued their activities through threats and violence, but now they are incentivised to carry a gun to seek to shoot hares so that they can set their dogs on them. On this issue, the Minister is in as much of a muddle as he is anywhere else. The purpose behind organised hare coursing events is to kill as few hares as possible. About 200 hares a year are killed by organised hare coursing events, while many tens of thousands are killed by shooting.

Mr. Bellingham: My hon. Friend will be aware that in Norfolk there are a number of hare coursing clubs. It is those clubs, in conjunction with farmers and landowners, that police the situation to prevent illegal hare coursing. If the Bill is enacted as it stands, there will be a massive increase in illegal hare coursing, with all the problems that that causes.

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. There is no reason to presume that the provisions in the Bill will reduce illegal hare coursing—indeed, they will increase it. The Bill makes illegal only the perfectly reasonable, sensible and respectable occupations of those who, for example, take part in the Waterloo Cup, which is the decent end of hare coursing. Those activities are being banned but the illegal end, as it were, that my hon. Friend describes, will not be stopped.

Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that if the Bill goes through in its current form—exempting the killing of rabbits by dogs in any way—dogs will have to be trained to understand the difference between a hare and a rabbit?

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point, and one that the Minister has never answered. If we were to apply an entirely logical

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approach to the Bill, which I believe that we would do by allowing the registration of all forms of hunting, perhaps requiring the use of dogs on rabbits and rats would be perfectly sensible, so long as it were a liberal and sensible regime that would be reasonably easy to pass. Why not? That would be a logical, sensible and coherent approach. As I have to admit, it is a logical and coherent approach to seek an outright ban on all forms of usage, although we disagree entirely with it. It is the Minister's entirely muddled approach that is illogical and unsustainable.

Opposition Members much prefer the Minister's original proposal that hunting should generally be allowed to continue if it passes practical and logical tests of least suffering and utility. We much prefer that to an outright ban. I call on my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against new clause 13, which wrecks the Minister's principled and scientific approach. We are confident that the other place will have an opportunity to amend the Bill and introduce a workmanlike and sensible licensing regime. At the very least, an incoming Conservative Government would seek to do so.

The Minister's procedural tactic to prevent further discussion of the two amendments in my name—they would fall if new clause 13 is passed—is disgraceful and against the fundamental principles of democracy in this place. Let us have a vote on my amendments and a vote on the amendment to ban. That is what we are here for. The Minister's procedural activities are disgraceful.

The Minister has proposed amendment No. 100. Given that he says that he has no wish to ban all forms of foxhunting, I am more than a little puzzled by the amendment, which would change the title of clause 6 of the Bill from "Deer" to "Registered Hunting: Absolute Bans: Deer, Hares, Foxes and Terrier-work". As I understand it, the Minister has not proposed that there should be an absolute ban on the hunting of foxes, but by the change of the title he might be admitting defeat to his abolitionist colleagues.

Amendments Nos. 44 and 45 in the names of my hon. Friends and myself and of the Minister and his PPS offer an attractive alternative to both sides of the argument. Whatever kind of hunting it is, let it be considered by the registrar applying the Minister's tests of utility and least suffering, albeit amended and liberalised by my noble Friends in the other place. This should not be a debate about human activity; it should be about improving animal welfare, and it should be based on scientific evidence about the most humane way of culling certain mammal species.

Gregory Barker: There is a crucial point that has not so far been mentioned in the debate. I find it extraordinary that a Minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs should bring forward a Bill that has such a negative environmental impact. The Government's sustainable development credentials are increasingly tarnished. There is no assessment made of biodiversity and no assessment is made of—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The intervention is becoming rather long.

Mr. Gray: You are right, Madam Deputy Speaker. I agree with my hon. Friend, but I am not sure that his intervention comes easily into the group of new clauses and amendments that we are discussing.

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We do not accept that hunting with dogs is cruel. Nor did Scott Henderson and Lord Burns. Incidentally, their reports were commissioned by a Labour Government. Nor was it found to be cruel by Professor Sir Patrick Bateson. The same applies to the other scientists and vets who considered the matter. No one has ever said that hunting with dogs is cruel. Equally, no one has suggested that fewer foxes, hares or deer will be killed as a result of the Bill's enactment. Indeed, most people believe that more animals will be killed by less humane methods if a selective cull using dogs were to be outlawed. The issue is not how many animals are killed, it is about the means by which they are killed. Is shooting a fox with a shotgun more or less cruel than snaring one? Would we rather be one of the 9,000 foxes killed in the London boroughs during the past 12 months, or one of the couple of hundred selectively killed by the Beaufort hunt in my constituency? Would we rather die of gangrene after being shot, die of hunger while stuck in a snare, or die swiftly at the hands of an organised hunt?

We would argue that the use of dogs is the most selective and humane method of dispatch compared with, for example, indiscriminate shooting or snaring. After all, Lord Burns said at Portcullis House that

We realise that not everyone shares our view that hunting is the least cruel way of dealing with certain pests, and would be ready to argue our case, as originally set out by the Minister, before the registrar and tribunal. We are not afraid of a sensible and liberal licensing regime, but the Minister is now proposing that terrier work, autumn fox hunting, deer hunting, hare hunting and hare coursing should be banned outright on the basis of evidence known only to him, and that we should not have the opportunity to give evidence to the registrar. His Bill is now without principle or logic and cannot be justified by scientific evidence. The ridiculous new clause 13 wrecks it further, and is mainly a procedural ploy to prevent his hon. Friends from voting for an outright ban. We will join them in opposing new clause 13 tonight. Amendments Nos. 45 and 44 and new clause 6, by contrast, repair the logic and architecture of the Minister's Bill and would allow the continuation of hunting. I appeal to all reasonable hon. Members to support me in seeking a sensible licensing regime by voting for my amendments, which I commend to the House.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): May I tell the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) that we will be in the same Lobby as him this evening? I would like to know whether the flower that he is wearing is one of those squirty ones—it is certainly more attractive than his speech.

Mr. Bellingham: What did the Secretary of State say to the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Banks: I shall explain that in a minute.

New clause 11, which I have signed along with 153 Members on both sides of the House, calls for a total ban. I agree with the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, and said so earlier, that our proceedings have been

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structured in an unfortunate way. If new clause 13 is agreed, we will not have a vote for a total ban under new clause 11, which would be a shame. This is a matter of opinion, but I believe that it should be tested in the House, because we have given such an undertaking to the country. Whether we win or lose, we should have the opportunity to have a vote, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that, if on nothing else.

May I tell my right hon. Friend the Minister that his problem is that he is trying to be objective in an area where, frankly, views are highly subjective? It is as simple and straightforward as that. I am not going to rehearse all my feelings, but I believe that the killing of any animal for sport or fun is cruel and immoral and I make no distinction whatsoever between species in saying so. However, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend because the Bill, even if unamended by new clauses 13 and 11, still represents the most significant advance yet in the interests of animal welfare and the end of blood sports in the countryside. He is to be congratulated on that. I also accept that he assumed in good faith that we would have a vote on new clause 11, as did the Secretary of State. That, I can tell the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), is the gist of the gentle message that I was given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and, of course, I accept her word.

However far the Bill goes, a ban on fox hunting is not the most significant animal welfare issue in the world. Because of everything that is going on, I had to miss a significant meeting today on elephant welfare in east Africa—an animal welfare issue of far greater environmental and ecological significance to the great chain of being than the fox. However, the matter is now highly political and, in many regards, has become totemic. It is not the most important issue, but the credibility of the Government is beginning to depend on whether or not we are able to effect a total ban. The reason for that, of course, is the inordinate delay since 1997 which has prevented the House from resolving the problem once and for all. Some of my right hon. Friends at the highest level believe that it is possible to achieve a solution that satisfies everyone, but I am afraid that that is not possible. The tests that my right hon. Friend the Minister referred to as objective do not apply to a situation in which passions and subjectivity rule the day.

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