Hunting Bill

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Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing to the Committee's attention a matter that would have been either brushed aside or ignored.

I cannot claim any particular knowledge of Wales, except that I went to Jesus college Oxford, where I met many Welsh people, not least because 80 per cent. of undergraduates and 50 per cent. of postgraduates at that college were from Wales. About 10 or 15 per cent. of them thought of English as their second language. To engage in the intellectual and academic activities at the college and the university they had to suppress their Welshness to a certain extent. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, outside of tutorials and the public arena, the Welshness of the Welsh at Jesus college was very pronounced and something of which they were hugely proud. That was the position in the early 1970s and I daresay that it is still the position.

9.15 am

The hon. Gentleman's arguments about the need to recognise the Welsh element of the Bill, and the implications for it, are not simply symbolic, as he suggested, but are matters of great practicality. That is indicated by his example: he said that during his campaigning in recent elections he spoke English on only three occasions. In another example, farmers in his constituency required forms to be in Welsh, but they were not provided in that language. That is a matter of great note and importance.

Albert Owen: Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the 1993 Act already provides for that? The matter would be dealt with under the provisions of that Act, if the registrar and tribunal system came into being.

Mr. Garnier: I do not deny that for a moment, but that does not gainsay any of the arguments of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams). I know that it is difficult for the Labour party to see the Welsh National party gaining ground on them in local government elections and in the Welsh European parliamentary elections. In the south Wales valleys—[Interruption.] I will not waste my time replying to everything that is said.

The simple point is that a domestic Welsh political agenda is creating controversy between the Welsh National party and the Labour party. That is a matter for them to sort out. The Minister was one of the victims of the internal spats—this has got absolutely nothing whatever to do with the Bill and I am amazed that it has been brought up—and was ejected from his office in Cardiff. That is by the bye.

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I shall concentrate on the amendments, which are worthy of discussion and consideration. Whether the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) thinks that they are worth accepting is another matter. It is important that the hon. Member for Caernarfon has the opportunity to comment on his amendments and that the Committee has the opportunity to respond.

One of the underlying messages that I received from the hon. Gentleman's remarks is that the Bill may well fail to tackle the question of effective devolution. Labour Members are obviously fascinated by Welsh devolution and its implications for the Bill and it is right that they should be. The question of Welsh separateness and the Welsh identity is something that the registration system should take into account, not least because Wales is a geographically, culturally and linguistically separate part of the United Kingdom. There are also many differences within Wales. The constituency of the hon. Member for Caernarfon, who moved the amendment, could not be more different from, for example, the constituency of the Minister—the former Secretary of State for Wales and First Minister for Wales.

Hywel Williams: An interesting similarity is that the western part of my constituency, which many see as being the most Welsh-speaking area of Wales, has about 18,000 Welsh speakers, whereas the city represented by the Minister has, I think, 26,000 Welsh speakers. In some ways, the Minister's constituency is more Welsh than my own.

Mr. Garnier: From Market Harborough, they all look Welsh to me.

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): That is illuminating. The hon. Member for Caernarfon is correct in his observation and the reason is the encouragement of the Welsh language in schools and through education, from which my own children have benefited. They went through Welsh language education in Cardiff as a result of the actions of a strong Labour authority and the Labour party's encouragement for the Welsh language.

The Chairman: Order. I accept entirely that the use of the Welsh language is pertinent to the argument, but we do not want to enter into a debate on the Welsh language.

Mr. Garnier: I suspect that the proportion of Welsh speakers in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and his county is rather greater than in the city of Cardiff. However, let us leave the subject there for the moment. Others may feel it appropriate to return to it, but I shall follow the rules of the House and continue to speak in English, which is the language I understand best. I suspect that if I attempted to speak in Welsh, my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) would tell me that you were about to get cross, Mr. Stevenson.

Despite its industrial heartland in the south-east, Wales is predominantly a rural country and it is not surprising that there are 49 registered packs of hounds in the Principality, including foxhounds, mink hounds and beagles. I understand that about 3,500 horses are used predominantly for hunting. The total annual attendance at meets of packs registered with the

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Masters of Foxhounds Association in Wales is around 120,000, of which 50,000 are mounted and 70,000 are foot followers. Those figures come from information in the document on the social and economic implications of foxhunting in Wales, which was published in 2001. That demonstrates that although the overall population of Wales in relation to Scotland and England is relatively small, the proportion who participate in hunting, directly or indirectly, is correspondingly higher, so particular attention should be paid to the hon. Gentleman's argument for a Welsh element in the Bill. I suspect that even electors in the Principality who do not support the Welsh National party would agree with some of his arguments about the need for acceptance and understanding of the Welshness of Wales in so far as hunting is concerned. The hunting people of Wales would point out that the topography of Wales does not allow the same sort of arguments to be used against hunting as might apply in lowland areas of England or the south of Scotland.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the topography of Wales is a specific reason why it would be wrong for marksmen, far less a farmer with a shotgun, to be out on a rugged hillside shooting foxes if hunting were banned?

Mr. Garnier: I agree with my hon. Friend. Although the former Secretary of State for Wales and former First Minister made many visits to the rural areas of Wales in the course of his official duties during the short time that he held those offices and, for all I know, the Under-Secretary, who has responsibility for fishing, may have been to coastal Wales, I fear that direct understanding of the Welsh rural community is lacking among many members of the Labour Government.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): Does my hon. and learned Friend share my concern that if hunting with hounds is done away with, particularly in areas of military activity such as the Brecon Beacons, we would invite a lot of trouble if we let loose a whole lot of people trying to shoot quarry with high-velocity rifles?

Mr. Garnier: We should all be concerned about the unrestricted use of high-velocity rifles, whether in rural areas deep in the Brecon Beacons or more marginal areas with higher population densities in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. In any event, I suspect that the population of rural Wales would not welcome a move to restrict the use of firearms to the culling of foxes and the control of pests. I look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who represents a rural farming area, on that subject.

I shall quote from the Burns report, although I hesitate to do so because Committee members probably know it by heart. It says that

    ''over a third of the cull of foxes in mid-Wales is the result of terrier work''.

I suspect that an even higher proportion of the cull of foxes for pest control reasons in the Principality is carried out with the use of dogs of one kind or another.

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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one of the common misconceptions about the apparently small number of foxes killed using dogs throughout the United Kingdom is that that number is evenly distributed? In places such as Montgomeryshire, as much as two thirds of the fox cull, and perhaps even more, is carried out by hunting with dogs. Lord Burns acknowledged that and believed that hunting with dogs could be the most effective means of fox control in such areas.

Mr. Garnier: I think that the figure for the proportion of foxes culled in Wales by the use of some sort of dogs—whether hounds or terriers—is 67 per cent. That seems to have passed by the Bill's draftsmen and those who have political control over it. It is pertinent for the two Opposition Members who represent Welsh seats to bring their direct knowledge of their local areas to the Committee so that we can consider whether the Bill will do what it claims to intend: provide the most humane way of controlling the obvious pest recognised by those who live and work in the farming constituencies of the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire and for Caernarfon.

Paragraph 5.24 of the Burns report states that efficient lamping—the use of torches, headlights or other lamps to light up foxes to allow a good shot at them—

    ''requires good vehicular access. Its usefulness can therefore be limited in areas with rough terrain and steep slopes. It also requires terrain that allows safe shooting.''

It is worth noting that a .275 rifle and a .303 rifle—high-velocity rifles, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) said a moment ago—are weapons that can be lethal at a range of more than two miles. Burns says that a further

    ''limiting factor is the extent of vegetative cover.''

It is accepted that lamping has its limitations. It can be time consuming, it is not always suited to the terrain and night shooting can give rise to concerns among those living in the area. That is to put it mildly. Lord Burns continued:

    ''The use of shotguns, especially in daylight, involves welfare implications. We received a good deal of evidence arguing that it was not easy to shoot foxes and that a fair number were wounded. We suspect that this is correct, given that foxes are relatively small animals.''

I have shot a fox in Wales. [Interruption.] I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) that I would never shoot a fox in Leicestershire. I shot it in north Pembrokeshire. I have no idea whether there is a pack of foxhounds there and perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to tell me. If not, no doubt Members who represent Welsh constituencies can do so.

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