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Andrew George: If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the study shows that Government advice is incorrect, I am sure that the Government would take that on board. I am saying that the methodology was flawed. We are waiting for peer review of the study. The only academic analysis that I have seen so far suggests that it is statistically flawed and the target was not based on an adequate anatomical assessment. That raises serious questions, not about fox hunting but about shooting, and perhaps that is something that the middle way group was not expecting.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: If hunting is banned, people who have never shot at a fox before will go out with their shotguns, with inadequate shot, and start shooting at foxes, with the net result that there is likely to be wounding. Those people will be so exasperated that they will have to go out and use such weapons.

7.45 pm

Andrew George: That is very interesting. I find that argument reprehensible. I know many farmers—many of my family are farmers and landowners. The hon. Gentleman seems to be arguing that farmers will take a bloody-minded attitude, that they will go out in exasperation—in an emotional state—and shoot at anything that moves in the countryside. That is clearly an absurd and extremely irresponsible argument. It adds further to my argument that shooting itself may need to be regulated. If that is what people with guns will do, they need to be constrained from doing it.

Those who are in favour of hunting come back again and again to the argument that it is about liberty and morality. We had a debate on that early in our

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Committee proceedings, and I am unpersuaded. In fact, one could argue either way about who has the pre-eminent right, those who live in the countryside and know it and its ways intimately, or those who may come to the countryside and demand their pleasure from hunting. The argument about whose liberty needs to be protected is at best inconclusive, and I would argue that the country dweller would indeed have the pre-eminent right. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire claims to be defending liberties, but I am not so sure.

When questioned earlier, the Minister made it clear that figures from Protect Our Wild Animals suggest that the result of registration would be a total of 100 foxes that may be killed per annum by hunting. That is an infinitesimally small number of foxes, yet the legal system for registration would be enormously complicated. He needs to consider whether that complex registration system and the setting up of the tribunals would really be worth it for only 100 foxes. He has not said in which circumstances he believes that fox hunting would be registered, and whether it would be worth the effort. He seemed to imply that going down the registration route might be preferable to delegating the matter to a court, and we need to review that.

The key issue is workability, and we want to get something through Parliament as quickly as possible. We need the Bill to be wrapped up and enacted as soon as possible.

Mr. Michael Foster: It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), especially when he is able to flush out the ability of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) to make facts up as he goes along, hoping that they will never be disproved later on. Members of the Committee will regret, however, that he did not mention his cousin's home-made humane fox trap, and we do not know how it is faring. Perhaps he will tell me later.

The new clauses represent a point of balance about where we are going with this legislation. It is a very fine judgment as to what we do for the best. I signed up to new clause 13 for a number of reasons, but primarily because of the commitment in it to ban cub hunting—or autumn hunting, as it is now called, because "cub hunting" sounds a little offensive to the broad mass of the population. Hunters would argue that cub hunting involves the dispersal of cubs into wider parts of the countryside. I could never understand why those who fear a pest that is predating on their livestock would want to disperse it in the first place. If people know where it is, at least they have a chance to control it. And we all know why those cubs are dispersed: to provide more varied territory in which to conduct the sport of hunting with dogs. That is what it is all about.

Hunters would also argue that cub hunting enables the hounds to be trained: trained in the way in which they pursue the fox and, of course, kill it at the end of the chase. I was keen to make sure that cub hunting was dealt with because it accounts for 40 per cent. of the foxes killed in hunting. That was a great prize worth having on its own: to make sure that we accounted for that 40 per cent.

If new clause 13 were added to the Bill, we would have incredibly strong legislation with which to tackle hunting with dogs. People would have to prove the need

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to hunt, which would be a very steep hurdle to clear in itself. We in this House have read lots of evidence on the nature of predation by foxes in particular, and—to be fair—about some of the more spurious claims of those who want to continue hunting. If that test were passed, to gain permission to hunt such people would have to prove that it was the most humane way of dealing with the pest. So far as I am concerned, Lord Burns made it absolutely clear that shooting with a rifle and lamping at night is the most humane way of killing a fox, if it has to be killed. There has been no dispute, certainly on the Labour Benches, about the fact that that remains the case.

The legislation was also going to address the need to minimise the chase. Part of the objection to hunting is the way in which the kill is conducted by the dogs; but as the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has always maintained, the chase itself is fundamentally wrong and abhorrent. We should tackle that as well.

Lembit Öpik: What data does the hon. Gentleman have to show that the chase is necessarily cruel?

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about the available data. I would suggest that in general in this country, the fox does not have a natural predator. If it has to run because of fear, it will sprint quickly to avoid danger and then hide, usually underground. Hounds are bred for their stamina. They are not sprinting dogs; they are bred to pursue for a long time. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has witnessed what hunts practise, but I have. Before the hunt takes place, the hole is blocked up so that the fox cannot follow its natural instinct, which is to hide. So the fox is forced to run greater distances than it is naturally equipped to run. A hound with stamina following a fox that does not have such stamina means that, in time, the hound will catch the fox. Nature has not designed the fox to escape from the hound in that way. We do not need data to understand how the animals behave in this case.

Gregory Barker: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: I shall make a little progress first and give way shortly.

If new clause 13 were added, the Bill would be strengthened to cover, as my right hon. Friend the Minister said, some 100 animals, particularly foxes, that could fall foul of this practice. We would achieve some 99 per cent. of what we on the Labour Benches want, but the question is: do we go for the whole lot?

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): What evidence does my hon. Friend have that we are talking about 100 foxes, other than a single suggestion that was made by one person?

Mr. Foster: I accept that the evidence consists simply of judgments by individuals or groups and that it has not been peer reviewed. The number may be greater than that, but on the other hand it may be less. However, I am willing to back the judgment that we are talking about a

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relatively small difference. Although we would not achieve 99.9 per cent. of what we want, we might well achieve 99 per cent.

Miss Widdecombe: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: I shall make a little more progress first and then give way.

The test that I look for is: how does this legislation compare with the Foster Bill of 1997? Does it do more than that Bill did? I have to say, hand on heart, that it does. If new clause 13 were added to this Bill, it would be tougher than the Foster Bill.

Miss Widdecombe: I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument that new clause 13 and the current Bill are a vast improvement on the existing situation—that is inarguable. But will he make it clear what new clause 13 offers us that new clause 11 does not? If new clause 11 were accepted and there were a total ban, the whole issue of cubbing would become academic.

Mr. Foster: I understand the right hon. Lady's point and I shall answer it, because that is the decision point on which this debate rests. What is the difference between new clause 11 and new clause 13, and what is the degree of certainty of one or the other's passing through this House and the other place, and getting on to the statute book?

Gregory Barker rose—

Mr. Foster: I promised to give way to the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), and I am always a man of my word.

Gregory Barker: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He mentioned a little earlier that the use of high-powered rifles was his preferred form of controlling foxes, but the most widespread form of control in the countryside, in the absence of fox hunting, would be the use of shotguns. Has he taken into account the welfare report that was published post-Burns? It is the first detailed research into wounding rates, which we all agreed was severely lacking when were in Committee. The report states:

Has the hon. Gentleman really taken into account the welfare implications of a dramatic increase in the use of shotguns in the countryside against foxes?

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