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Kate Hoey: I would rather listen to fox hunters and see things for myself, and I went to see what happened on Exmoor. On this issue, I would rather listen to the National Federation of Badger Groups than perhaps the contents of an independent analysis which I have not read, or the Minister. I know that my hon. Friend has a long-standing view and wants to ban fox hunting. Presumably he will be in a position this evening to urge his right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for his new clause, although I know that he would like to be arguing that they should vote for new clause 11.

The Government said that they wanted to win support for a new way of handling this contentious issue. However, I think that they have failed to win the consent of the people who are being legislated against and whom he is seeking to legislate upon. I do not believe that the Minister will ever obtain his goal of securing legislation that will stand the test of time by going down the route that is being pursued. If one of the options is adopted this evening and if the Government try to force through the Parliament Act, it would be outrageous.

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield): The Bill, as amended in Committee, bans all hare and deer hunting with dogs. It is highly likely that the House will pass new clause 11, thereby adding the fox to that list. Of the existing hunting packs, that would leave only the mink hunts to be able to attempt to register on grounds of least cruelty or utility. On those grounds, I think that the case against mink hunting with dogs is as clear cut as that against the hunting of hare, deer or foxes with dogs.

I accept the need to control mink and, if possible, to eradicate them. They are an alien species that were introduced artificially to the United Kingdom, as were many other species such as the grey squirrel or the pheasant, which no one seeks to eradicate, or the coypu or the muskrat, which have been eradicated.

The evidence is clear that hunting with dogs will not achieve either the eradication or control of mink, and certainly not without unnecessary cruelty. Mink hunting with dogs therefore fails both the utility and cruelty tests. I believe that at best it would remain in the Bill as a fig leaf for the concept of registration.

We are told that we should take a great deal of notice of the Burns report. We know that widespread evidence was taken on these issues. On page 106, it concluded:

On the other hand, at page 105 the Burns report concluded

Trapping has been used to eradicate coypu and muskrat entirely. The Hebridean project has found 10 per cent.

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of mink to be trap shy. However, as the Minister said in Committee on 6 February,

The Burns inquiry concluded that research shows that intensive trapping in an area can remove most of the local population of mink.

Hunting mink with packs of dogs is inefficient and so fails the utility test, but it is also damaging both to ground-nesting birds and to the otter populations that the pro-hunters say they are keen to protect. The wildlife trusts in their submission to the Burns inquiry said:

They concluded:

The Environment Agency said in its evidence that

It wishes to discourage mink hunting where otters and other wildlife may be disturbed, which effectively means along any river bank. Indeed, it could be argued that as the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it illegal to disturb an otter or its holt, mink hunts are already illegal.

Let us be under no illusion—mink hunting with dogs is as cruel as the hunting of foxes, deer or hares with dogs. The mink hunting season runs from March to September and straddles the breeding season. Female mink are therefore hunted when pregnant or nursing their cubs. The dogs, often retrained foxhounds, are followed on foot, and the so-called sporting element derives from the contest between the huntsman, enabling his dogs to follow the scent left by the tiring quarry, and the frantic escape attempts of the mink.

Donald Broom, a professor of animal welfare at Cambridge university, concluded in a scientific review of the literature on the welfare of hunted animals that as

Gregory Barker: What scientific evidence does the hon. Gentleman have to support the theory that the killing of mink with dogs is crueller than killing them in any other way, such as wounding with a rifle?

Paul Holmes: If the hon. Gentleman had been listening carefully, he would know that I have already answered that in great detail. I have not talked about shooting mink at all but about humane trapping, and have cited extensive evidence submitted to the Burns inquiry and the clear-cut conclusion on three separate pages of the Burns report that trapping was far more humane and effective than hunting with dogs.

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The Burns inquiry was specifically told not to look into cruelty issues surrounding hunting or pass judgment on them. None the less, as with most of the hunted species that Burns looked at, the inquiry concluded that mink hunting with dogs

Dr. Palmer: The hon. Gentleman is making a quietly persuasive speech, as he often does. I do not know whether he was in the Chamber when I asked the Minister about the impact of voting on the later stages of the Bill. However, now that the Minister has confirmed that if the vote on the banning of fox hunting is carried, part 2 will be dropped, does he agree that the argument for dropping mink hunting to smooth the passage of the Bill falls away? If we are going to have to tidy up the Bill anyway, we may as well take the unique opportunity to end the cruel sport of mink hunting.

Paul Holmes: I agree completely. I referred earlier to the fact that mink hunting may be left as a fig leaf for the registration process. However, given the assurance that we received earlier—and I have been present throughout our debate—that defence, or fig leaf, is, as the hon. Gentleman says, no longer necessary.

Mink escaped into the wild after their introduction to the UK for fur farming in 1928. However, the 20 mink hunts only appeared in the 1970s after otter hunting was outlawed in the face of the same vociferous opposition from hunters as we hear today. Mink hunting with packs of dogs is a sport, if such an activity can be so termed. However, as a means of controlling or eradicating mink, it fails the utility and cruelty tests. Many pro-hunters often accuse anti-hunters of having a strange anthropomorphic view of animals—the fox, hare or deer are cuddly animals that should not be hunted or killed. Members who are going to vote for new clause 11, if they do not agree with that interpretation, should support clause 14, unless they are guilty of regarding practices that they believe to be cruel and lacking utility when applied to hunting hare, deer or foxes as acceptable if applied to the hunting of mink.

Mr. Steinberg : I support new clause 11 and will vote against Government new clause 13 with pleasure. Let me make it clear from the start that new clause 11 will not in any way wreck the Bill, as was reported in the newspapers over the weekend. In fact, as far as I am concerned, it will make the Bill acceptable, and it will keep the promise that I have made to my constituents since I became a Member of Parliament in 1987.

I am bitterly disappointed with the Government's attitude towards hunting with dogs. If my memory serves me correctly, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) substantiated this, it has been a manifesto commitment since about 1987. The manipulation that we have witnessed today, whether it has come from the Whips Office or the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has been a disgraceful attempt to stop us pressing new clause 11 to a Division. From the stories that I have heard, it seems that the Committee, too, was conned. This entire debate should have taken place in Committee and we should not be voting this evening on a clause to ban fox hunting. That should have been done in Committee.

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My disappointment began in 1997, when an overwhelming majority of the House voted for fox hunting to be banned—411 voted for and 151 voted against a ban. What did the Labour Government do? With a long history of commitment to the issue and a magnificent majority to carry it out, they did nothing. The party leadership let the Bill fall.

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