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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Leader of the House a question. I have tabled an amendment which appears on the Order Paper and should like to know when it will be taken. I repeat: when will it be taken?
Lord Burlison: My Lords, as I understand it, my noble friend the Leader of the House was quite clear in her earlier response. The amendment will be dealt with in due course, as per the order on the speakers' list.
Lord McNally: My Lords, a wise man said that the two subjects that really excite this House are badgers and buggery. I believe that the alliteration was meant to cover animal welfare and sexual mores. Certainly, if the length of the speakers' list is anything to go by, today is animal welfare's day. We have a long debate ahead, and the advice of the Government Chip Whip is ringing in my ears. I shall, therefore, try to be brief.
I know that in expressing a personal view, that view will differ from those of some very old friends, both on these Benches and other parts of the House. My position is that this is an issue of animal cruelty on which Parliament has a right to legislate. When an opportunity presents itself in Committee, I shall vote for a total ban. Those who argue that this is matter of individual liberty will have to explain why we have any animal welfare legislation at all.
I understand that this debate is held against a background of crisis in the countryside. However, as the Minister pointed out, we are not talking about banning hunting by midnight tonight, even if we finish the debate. The discussion has to run in parallel with a response to the current crisis. Indeed, that response needs to be conducted with even more urgency--hence the pressure from these Benches for the debate on foot and mouth that will take place tomorrow. We seek a widespread set of measures sympathetic to the needs arising from the crisis.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, talked a good deal about the judgment and knowledge of countrymen. I realise that people may consider my voice that of someone with an urban background. But I was brought up in the rural Fylde on the cusp between the seaside and the country. Although a factory worker, my father kept pigs and chickens. I sang, "D'ye ken John Peel", with gusto at my primary school. My attitude to animal welfare has never been dewy-eyed or emotional. I recognise that, for the farmer, the fox is a pest, albeit a pest with very good public relations.
But the debate is not about protecting some mythical bucolic idyll. Times change, and public attitudes change. What was acceptable to one generation is not acceptable to another. Over the years, Parliament has outlawed bear baiting, cock fighting and dog fighting, all because, at the time, Parliament judged those activities to be gratuitous and unwarranted cruelty and, therefore, unacceptable. It also judged at various times that setting one animal to kill another was not sport. Although I accept that there is a need to control the fox population and also, as a number of people who have written to me have pointed out, that the hunt, the pageantry and the dressing up are all great fun--goodness knows, this House is the last place to criticise people for dressing up--I oppose the linkage between pest control and entertainment.
Lord McNally: No, my Lords. I shall not, and I shall tell the House why not. The noble Lord is bringing a habit from the other place, which is to intervene during someone else's speech. It is the second time he has done so in a speech of mine. In other words, you intervene in a debate where there is a long list and that way you get your name in Hansard. If the noble Lord is here at midnight, I shall be very surprised. Is the noble Lord on the speakers' list?
Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I shall be brief. While he is making these fine distinctions or arguing that they do not exist, does he believe that there is a distinction between hunting and hunting for rabbits, which are excluded from the Bill, and with fishing and shooting? What does he have to say about that?
Lord McNally: My Lords, I wish that the noble Lord were one of the 70 speakers on the speakers' list. If we allow that other place gamesmanship, debates in this place will be wrecked, whether the noble Earl has been here 30 years or not. This is the second debate in which the noble Lord has intervened in that manner and not participated in the debate. There are 70 speakers on all sides of the House who will have a chance to respond to the noble Lord. I shall not play his game today. If others wish to respond to the noble Lord, they can.
In my view, the middle way is not a true compromise. The issue before us is whether killing in this way should be permitted or not. A compromise which leaves the cruelty intact is not a compromise. The middle way is only a variant on continuation. I ask those who support the middle way: why not separate the pest control from the sport by espousing other methods of hunting? Those were mentioned in the report.
As has already been demonstrated by my tetchiness to the noble Lord and by that of others, we have ahead 10 hours of high emotion and some technical argument. I conclude by making three points. We shall hear speeches in favour of a ban. I hope that the serried ranks will show a little more tolerance than they have done so far. This is not an attack on the country by the
I refer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I also believe that obeying the law is not optional. Parliament decides this matter, whichever way the debate goes. The same applies to the two other options. If hunting is to continue to be permitted, either through self-regulation or regulation by a statutory body, it is my belief that that right should be protected by the full weight of the law. But let us also be clear that if Parliament in its wisdom decides to ban hunting, it ill behoves anyone in this House or elsewhere to advocate that that law should not be obeyed.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that it is unlikely that this issue will be settled in this Parliament. If the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, thinks that this exercise will put the issue to bed, I fear that he will be severely disappointed. According to a Downing Street briefing, this is,
We have to take into account the significant majority in another place. That does not deny this House the right and the duty to scrutinise the legislation extremely carefully and to perform our usual advisory and revisory role. However, if there is an election and that election results in a House of Commons that again calls decisively for such legislation, I do not think that it is within the competence of this House to resist that legislation. If, on a free vote, the House of Commons again calls for such legislation, I think that on a free vote this House would be well advised to accept that. If we did not do so, we would be wandering into precedents that would have disturbing consequences.
However, during the next 10 to 12 hours there are only the following two tests for us to consider. Can we behave in a democratic and a civilised way? A democratic debate will comprise mutual tolerance. A civilised society will conclude that hunting with dogs is cruel and unacceptable and will legislate accordingly. Let the debate begin.
Lord Burns: My Lords, I am grateful for the kind remarks that have been made about the work of the hunting inquiry. I pay tribute to the other members of the committee, including the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, for their insight and contribution to the work of the committee. I am also grateful for their delightful and stimulating company as we conducted our many visits to hunting events around England and Wales.
At the outset many people saw our task as a "poisoned chalice". I am relieved that it did not turn out that way. In part that was because both sides of the debate handled their relationships with the inquiry in a positive and constructive way. I am grateful to them also. I met some fascinating and committed people and learned a great deal from them both about animal welfare and animal behaviour. The process also went well because we had an outstanding secretary who brought together a small but very able team to help us.
I chaired the inquiry because, as the Minister mentioned, it was asked only to look at the facts about hunting. It was not asked to come to a decision on the basic question of whether or not there should be a ban. Nor were we asked to consider the moral and ethical aspects. As we were asked to establish facts and to inform the debate, we thought the job could be undertaken. I hope that we have helped people to deal with this extremely difficult issue.
In this debate I propose to stick to that role. I do not propose to give my view on the central question of whether or not there should be a ban on hunting. Having studiously avoided that question when undertaking the inquiry it would be wrong to express a view now. Today I shall touch on some of the matters that I learned during an enormously valuable experience.
The first point to make is that those who participate in hunting do so for a wide variety of reasons. Farmers in particular play a more central role than I realised before I undertook the inquiry. They participate in significant numbers as well as providing the land on which hunting takes place. They benefit from the pest control to the extent that it matters and they value highly the fallen stock service that is provided by many hunts. They believe that they know about animals, whether that involves breeding them, handling them or killing them. Of the other participants, some like riding horses; some like watching hounds work--we witnessed many people in that category--and some participate because they view it as an important way to support the local community.
As many have pointed out, the social life that surrounds hunting during the winter months is important to many people, particularly those who live in remote rural areas. At the same time, the committee was impressed by the strength of feeling of those we met, in particular in rural communities, who were opposed to hunting. They fell into a number of categories. Some disliked hunting and resent the hunt trespassing on their properties when it is told it is not welcome. There were several examples of that. Some worry about the safety of their pets and animals and are frustrated by the difficulty of moving around their nearby roads on hunt days. Many people have a deep concern about what they see as the inherent cruelty involved in hunting. I am sure we shall hear about that aspect today. Others were worried about the damage to the countryside and other animals, in particular badgers and otters.
So there are two important sides to the debate. Views are held strongly. There is a high degree of understanding by each side about the other's view. I hope that the work we undertook and the many seminars we held have helped to further that understanding. In many cases, it is a difference of view about some of the important aspects.
The committee spent some time considering the part that hunting plays in pest control. I shall not go through it in detail. I came to the view that hunting is essentially a recreational activity in most lowland areas and in practice plays only a small part in pest control. On the other hand, it is true that in some remote upland areas hunting plays a much bigger part in pest control. Farmers would have great difficulties without the help of some aspects of the subject we are debating.
At the same time we should also recognise that we are dealing with species where landowners believe that the population numbers must be managed. If hunting were subject to a ban, I have little doubt that at least an equivalent number of foxes, deer and hares would be killed by other means. The number of deaths is not likely to be reduced by banning hunting. Instead we are talking about alternative means of killing and whether they are more or less humane.
Given my economics background, I was interested to learn that on average it costs £1,000 per fox killed to maintain the hunt infrastructure, including the kennels. In a dozen hunts the cost was more than £2,500 per fox; and for two hunts it was more than £5,000 per fox. This suggested to me evidence of a high recreational value. By contrast, for many of the hunts in Wales and the Lake District the figure was below £350 per fox and for six of the hunts it was below £100 per fox. That seemed more consistent with a greater role of the hunt in population management.
The impact of hunting on employment was an important part of our remit; we commissioned research on it. Our estimates and some of the uncertainties have been reported and I do not wish to add to them today. They are available for people to read if they wish to do so. The general conclusion was that the numbers are not huge but of course they matter greatly to those affected, particularly when they see the threat coming from Parliament rather than from adverse economic conditions.
We considered the potential for drag hunting and undertook a visit to Germany. One often hears the argument that drag hunting is a simple substitute. We came to the view that there is scope for a greater role for drag hunting in the event of a ban. It would probably be one of the ways in which people would continue to exercise their interest in horse activities. However, we also concluded that there are some important limitations, including the reluctance of farmers to make available sufficient land, and of laying an artificial scent other than in long, fairly straight lines which compounds the problem of access to land. Taken together, we concluded that it was unlikely that drag hunting would offset the effects of a ban to any great extent.
The animal welfare argument is the most difficult to evaluate and the area where I had most to learn. I realise that I might not easily escape the phrase, "seriously compromises the welfare of the fox". I suspect that it will pursue me for some time to come. It is incumbent upon me to explain why we used that phrase although I shall limit my remarks to deer and foxes in view of the time pressure. Naturally, people ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel but in true Sir Humphrey style were not prepared to say so clearly. The short answer to that question is no. There was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty. It is a complex area.
Instead, our terms of reference asked us to consider the implications for welfare. We turned for help to the emerging scientific discipline of animal welfare. Scientists have been struggling with the question of how to measure the welfare of animals. The discipline is distinct from ethical or moral judgments about the way in which the animal is treated. Essentially it is concerned with assessing the ability of an animal to cope with its environment. If an animal is having difficulty in coping, or fails to cope, its welfare is regarded as poor.
One cannot ask an animal about its welfare or know what is going on inside its head. Scientists have sought to use a range of indicators to try to make that judgment. Those indicators usually involve a mixture of physiological indicators such as muscle damage as well as behavioural indicators. Our first step was to consider evidence about the welfare effects of hunting defined by assessing some of those indicators.
There is some scientific evidence about the impact on welfare of hunting deer. Quite a lot of work has been undertaken. Inevitably, there are differences about the interpretation of that data but there seems to be broad agreement that deer suffer in the final stages of hunting. Indeed, the hunt comes to an end because there is insufficient fuel left in the muscles for the deer to continue to run. There remains some disagreement about when that becomes serious. The committee's view was that in the final stage it probably falls short of the standards we would expect for humane killing and that there is a compromise of welfare.
With the fox, there is an almost total lack of similar scientific evidence about the effect on welfare of being hunted. I was surprised by that, given the intensity of the debate over many years. However, the evidence we collected in the form of post mortems convinced us that death is not always the result of a single bite to the back of the neck or shoulders by the leading hound as has sometimes been claimed. The post mortems indicated that death resulted from quite massive injuries to the chest and vital organs. Even so, we concluded that insensibility and death will normally follow within a matter of seconds once the fox is caught. Although we would have liked more scientific evidence, on these grounds we came to the view that the experience of being closely pursued, caught and killed by hounds seriously compromised the welfare of the fox and probably falls short of the standards we would expect for humane killing.
The problem--it has been referred to by other noble Lords--is that that cannot be the end of the matter. As I argued previously, a ban on hunting is unlikely to reduce the number of foxes and deer killed as farmers would use other methods to manage the population of those animals. Therefore we have to consider the welfare effects of the alternatives. For foxes, that means considering methods such as shooting and snaring. None of them is entirely comfortable. Both snaring and shooting with shotguns can have serious adverse welfare effects. We were persuaded that "lamping" using rifles, if carried out properly, was better for welfare but it was only feasible in certain circumstances. For example, it is not feasible or safe to use lamping in many upland areas, including those with dense forestry. We concluded that if dogs could not be used at least to flush foxes from cover in those areas, it was likely that the welfare of foxes would be adversely affected.
For deer, there is a viable alternative. We came to the view that, if done well, stalking with the availability of a dog to deal with wounded deer is in principle a better method from an animal welfare perspective. Our difficulty was that there was insufficient evidence about wounding rates. We recognised that a ban on hunting would be likely to result in more shooting being done by inexperienced stalkers.
A ban on hunting would also make it vital to introduce an effective deer management strategy on Exmoor. At the moment, that is effectively done by the hunt. There is a real risk that farmers will not tolerate deer on their land to the extent that they currently do if there is a ban on hunting.
It is for noble Lords to come to their own view about the balancing of those factors. I simply offer the view that the balancing need not be the same for each of the hunted species or in all areas. I am persuaded that this is not a simple case and there is no simple answer. If we are interested in animal welfare, we need to balance the various factors.
Whereas I do not wish to express a view on the central question of whether to ban hunting, I feel less restrained about commenting on the choice between licensing and self-regulation, if Parliament decides against a ban on hunting. Between those two options, my preference is for the licensing regime. That is not because of any lack of confidence in the individuals at present on the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, but because of two strands of argument that came out of our deliberations.
First, the task of being in charge of a large pack of hounds is a considerable responsibility. I have watched at close hand the extent to which at times the hounds are not under the close control of huntsmen. Part of the time they are, but part of the time they are not. As a society, we insist on licensing many activities in which there is a need to show competence and responsibility. The punishment for failure to do so can be the withdrawal of the licence. The same requirements of competence and responsibility apply to hunting, as well as the question of what action should be taken if
Secondly, we were concerned about the impact on animal welfare of a number of practices, including autumn or cub hunting, digging out, stopping up of earths and interfering with the flight of the quarry. We suggested ways in which action could be taken in the mean time to ban or curtail some of those activities even if Parliament decided against an overall ban on hunting with dogs.
The problem is that in each case it is difficult to impose rules that should apply in all circumstances and in all regions. There are clearly some cases that one would wish to deal with differently from others. A licensing authority could have an important role in judging the circumstances in which to grant licences and when to reject an application. That might include taking account of successful prosecutions brought against some of the activities.
I have already trespassed too long on your Lordships' time without giving a clear steer on how to deal with the Bill. I hope that I shall be forgiven for that. My aim has been to try to provide some thoughts from my six months of surprising and intensive immersion in the subject to help people to make their minds up. I look forward to hearing other people's perspectives, from the huge range of distinguished speakers on display today. I have already heard the views of a large number of people on the subject, but, having been brought into the issue, I continue to find it enormously fascinating.
The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Burns, because it gives me an opportunity to thank him for listening so thoroughly and putting the background facts for the debate so clearly. I make this speech as humbly as I can, because I recognise that within the Church that I serve there are completely opposing views held by a large number of people. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I shall speak personally from my experience as best I can.
First, I declare an interest--my love of Somerset since childhood, including nearly 10 years as the Bishop there. I have also had 25 years in East London, including 13 years as Bishop of Stepney, which included Islington. I continue to be concerned by the increasing lack of understanding between the rural and the urban, in spite of the great deal of cross-fertilisation that is taking place. Prejudice and discrimination are growing. In some ways and in some places, it is as though we have two different cultures. If it were not for the present foot and mouth tragedy, a vast march would have expressed how deeply many country people feel about what they see as an assault on their values.
One of the sharpest distinctions is on the treatment of animals. On one side are those whose experience is mostly limited to dealing with domestic animals. On the other side, people in the country deal daily with
We have all been through lifelong exposure to the projection of human character and understanding onto animals. My first and favourite book that I was able to read and consciously remember was Black Beauty. "Bambi" had me under the seat in tears. In addition there are Mickey Mouse, Piglet and thousands of other examples of animals being portrayed as though they were human and had human consciousness. The good side of that--and there is a good side--is that it develops greater care and sensitivity for animals. The bad side is that it can create a dangerous prissiness about nature. I live surrounded by a moat on which nature constantly demonstrates to me what an unkind set of arrangements it is. Yet at the same time, nature has never been so brilliantly filmed or observed, or filmed so sharply, showing us how unkind it is. We see the most terrible, prolonged and teasing deaths and killings. So great is that anthropomorphic projection that we now have television programmes showing complex operations on cancers and other conditions in domestic animals, with medical staff striving to keep them unnaturally alive. I believe that that conveys cruelty to the animals in question.
The issue of hunting has become a serious conflict, partly because of those different perceptions. Some of the arguments on both sides seem little more than downright prejudice. On the one side is the use of words such as "barbaric" and the ignorance of thinking that hunting is largely a sport for the rich or for the upper classes--or even the comment of a professor yesterday that hunting was "practical atheism". On the other side there is a failure to tackle at a deep enough level the question of cruelty, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, so admirably set out, and the stereotyping of the urban response. I have stood for many years on both sides of that divide and I do not find the two sides describing each other accurately.
There are critics and supporters on both sides of the urban-rural divide. I have been on both sides of the argument. This is not just a cultural and economic question, vital though those aspects are for the countryside and for all the people who make their living there. It is shocking to travel across Somerset in any direction and see desolate fields--perhaps one field with sheep in every 10 miles--as all the animals are in their barns and farmers are living in fear of what might happen to them the next day.
In my view, the hunting question is a moral and a spiritual one. We often hear about the moral question; we rarely hear about the spiritual one. People say that it is not important. If it is not, then why do hundreds of thousands of people want to march and be heard,
One of my colleagues--not in this House--briefly and tellingly put the case against hunting--that it is impossible to believe that the cruel killing of a sentient being for human pleasure can be pleasing to God. To me, that is the core of the argument which must be faced. At first sight, it is a telling and powerful remark. No doubt it is the view of many such good people. But there are serious weaknesses in that statement.
Those who believe in God must come to terms with a creation of mutual hunting and eating. Everyone else does, but that is not such a problem if one does not have to believe in an almighty, loving Father and Creator. Those who believe sometimes think that perhaps He could have organised matters a little better. But we are unable to organise matters better. People say that we have now moved beyond the need to hunt, and what was our nature throughout the history of the human race is now thought of as unnatural for humans.
The hunting instinct is sublimated in many ways--some good, some bad: in athletics, which derived originally from hunting skills; in archery, obviously; packs on the rugger field hunt in their own way and get a lot out of their system; and, sadly, in racist pursuit. I have seen gangs in East London looking for, pursuing and hunting down people because they are of a different race. I have certainly witnessed gangs of football followers hunt other people.
My point is that hunting is within our being because it is part of our genetic history. The question is: how is that to be dealt with? Whether people like it or not, perhaps the hunt reminds us of what we have been and, in a sense, what we continue to be. I realise that it is no argument to say that we are just like nature. Although we are part of it, we have consciences to instruct us. However, in many ways we are confused and dysfunctional towards nature. As many of the big debates that we have show us, we do not have a great record in relating to nature. I believe that hunting is not only practical; it is also a reminder of that part of ourselves.
I turn to the subject of cruelty. Animals have predators. Some predators kill quickly and easily and some do not. If we possess, as we do, ways of killing which minimise suffering, those should be used whenever it is possible to do so successfully and properly. The deer is shot at bay but is usually otherwise unmarked. But, importantly, no animal escapes wounded. That is an important factor.
Reports on the relative cruelty of the chase often vary and, indeed, contradict each other. I, too, was moved when I heard of the number of vets who support hunting. A huge correspondence--admittedly, much of it from Somerset--suggests that a wide variety of people support it. I notice that many conservationists--I was particularly interested in David Attenborough's recent series on television--recognise that the survival of animals around the world often involves a compromise of some kind between we humans and the rest of nature which surrounds us. People may not like this fact, but, before hunting on Exmoor, the red deer population was almost lost. Its revival was due in part to the hunt and what Ted Hughes called "the strange agreement" between the farmers and the deer.
We must be sure that the degree of cruelty administered by the chase--now likely to be banned--is not abandoned in the name of greater cruelty, leaving the quarry in question to die in worse and more cruel ways. Deer which are shot by poachers, for example, are constantly having to be cleared up by the hunt when, wounded, they creep away to a ditch to die. One issue which is most misunderstood is the relationship between farmers and deer. Most hunting people whom I know are not indifferent to the suffering; they simply see it as a necessity for the good of the herd which is sustained on farmland. That fact must be recognised.
A noble Lord said that those are fine distinctions. I consider them to be very important distinctions. It is possible that, ultimately, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said, the decision that must be made will go beyond the limit of what we should expect or the standards that we should have. However, I believe that the issues are very different to those involved in cock fighting or the bull fight. They come far more within a natural context and, therefore, are more acceptable. Hunting provides a way of limiting the number of animals which are free to do damage to crops and farm animals.
My final point concerns the question of human pleasure. As I said, sometimes I feel uncomfortable when I consider the Creation. However, one unjust criticism of the hunt is that people enjoy inflicting the pain, the suffering and the killing. There are sick people who enjoy it. That is why bad things sometimes occur and why there must be regulation. But most of the people who take part do not enjoy the killing; indeed, many go home long before the kill takes place.
As your Lordships know, many other issues arise in relation to the rural community. I have tried to look at the way in which we see man relating to nature--about which I believe there is deep confusion--and the
Baroness Castle of Blackburn: As I have listened to this debate, I have been carried back to the 10 years which I spent in the European Parliament--from 1979 to 1989. One of the activities which I enjoyed most was my membership of the inter-group on animal welfare. That was an all-party, all-member state group. It was fascinating to listen to the people who came along as individuals, bringing a case which they felt we should examine if we were to cleanse the European Parliament of the smear of cruelty that lies over all our western civilisation.
Towards the end of my period there, I decided to organise an exhibition on animal welfare and on what was wrong in each individual member state. The officials of the inter-group came to my assistance and, of course, we had illustrations: the French torturing the goose to produce the pate de foie gras; and the Belgians clinging on--the last state in Europe to do so--to the legalisation of the leg-hold trap, with its unmitigated cruelty to the trapped animal. As for Spain--how we all condemn Spain for her bullfighting and the habit she had of, I believe, dropping donkeys from the tops of roofs. When we produced the exhibition, they said to me, "What about Britain? What about your fox hunting and hare coursing?" Of course there was no way in which I could justify our being exempt from the general scrutiny.
What interested me was that at that time Henry Plumb was president of the European Parliament. He had just come into it following a period as president of the NFU. He spoke with some authority on the subject. He threw himself wholeheartedly behind our exhibition and agreed to open it with all of his official authority behind him. He was active in Compassion in World Farming and he once said to me, "You know, it is only economic common sense to mitigate cruelty to animals, particularly if you are in the farming world".
So we made quite a stir. I shall not bore you with the details about our campaign to criminalise the use of the leg-hold trap. We should not be afraid of that word. We do it all of the time. We criminalise things that we think are a blot on our society.
I approach this debate today not from a mushy point of view about animal welfare but with a concern for the development of our society. I happen to love animals passionately, and I live in the country, you know. To hear some people talk, you would think that none of us who supports a total ban on hunting with dogs had ever seen a blade of grass. That is of course an absolute farce.
As for myself, I live in the heart of the Chilterns in an area of outstanding natural beauty, about half a mile from Lady Mallalieu, who is of course the complete countrywoman. I have been in my six acres for 35 years and I claim the title as proudly as my noble friend does.
I can see wildlife in my field and my bit of wood. There was a muntjac at the bottom of my garden only the other day. I know what it was doing--it was eyeing my rose bushes to see how many of the little shoots it could nibble. Fortunately, I decided this year, having lost my status in the Ibstone flower show as the rose queen, to cover everything with netting to keep off the muntjacs. Good heavens, they are everywhere. The peasant-type chap who lived in the cottage opposite when we first went to our new home, said to us, "You will have to put some tinselly stuff or something at the entrance to your garden. Otherwise, the deer will have everything".
I know the realities of rural life. I defy anybody to rob me of the right to claim such a status. One of the things that irritates me about the hunting lobby's campaign is the suggestion that we are out to ruin the countryside and its values. As a previous speaker said, those values in traditional country sports would honestly have to include cock fighting, dog fighting, bear baiting and the rest of it. Those in the countryside were not gentlemen, I assure you, throughout our history. They were rough-and-tough types, just as the people who live in towns are rough-and-tough types, or a mixture of them. There is not a great gulf; it is just not there.
The campaign goes to such extremes. I wonder how many saw a few weeks ago on BBC television "Clarissa and the Countryman". Clarissa, you may remember, was one of the two fat ladies renowned for their cooking. Now she had gone into the country to be taken round, meekly led, by a punting propagandist, who said, "If they bar hunting they will ruin all of this". We ended up with a short scene of country dancing in a barn, and he said, "That will go!" I wonder how many in this Chamber have done as much country dancing as I have. I doubt whether anyone has done more.
I remember, late in my teens--we were living in the industrial north of Bradford at the time--when my brother enrolled me in an organisation called Woodcraft Chivalry. We used to go camping--oh gosh, those cold Easters!--in remote rural areas. The dampness struck up from the wet clay beneath. I know something about country life that I bet very few of you know! During the day, we used to go morris dancing in the villages.
When people talk about country sports, I do not know where they get their values from. Is it a sport to set a dozen or so well-trained and well-heeled hounds after one isolated mammal? I could not do it. It makes me sick just to see it. I will tell you why huntsmen do not want to go drag hunting, even if that would employ their horses and hounds. One of them gave me an answer, although I shall not name the person. When I asked, "Why don't you do drag hunting?", the answer I got was, "No, the fox is so unpredictable". One does not need scientific assessments of what animals' feelings are or what the effect on them is. If you once see a pack of sleek, well-trained hounds in hot pursuit of one frightened animal, no wonder it is unpredictable. It reminds me of the panic of animals caught in a leg-hold trap: it would make anybody sick. People say: "We all know that foxes are vermin. You know what they do: they kill little lambs and they snap up chickens."
How many of those people who concentrate the limelight on fox hunting actually go in for stag hunting as well? There can be no doubt of the cruelty involved in stag hunting. The Burns report states that the stag is not adapted to the swift chase: it has small spurts of energy and then has to stop. The average hunt will take three hours and cover over 18 kilometres. That unadjusted deer has to cope as best it can. The report accepts that the overwhelming opinion is that in the later stages of the hunt, the deer suffers considerably. We see a picture of the deer at the end of the three-hour chase, turning because it cannot cope any longer, standing at bay, waiting for death at the hands of the hounds or their accompanying gunmen.
How can anybody do it? I know so many lovable and kindly people who hunt, but how can they do it? They say that a stag has to cope with the wolf in its natural habitat. I do not know how many wolves there are on Exmore, but the wolf is a short, sharp attacker and killer. If he does not kill immediately, then he turns away; he is not going to go for three hours and travel over 19 kilometres to get his prey. There is no parallel. What the stag hunter does is not natural.
I realise that there has to be culling and I am not against that; but, as the report shows, culling by hunting is the least efficient method of managing the deer population. The report states that 1,000 red deer have to be disposed of each year because they are surplus to requirements. What does hunting achieve, after the huntsmen have had their fill of seeing the animal at bay? The hunts account for 160 of those 1,000 deaths. The same pattern applies in relation to fox hunting. Hunting is the least efficacious method of managing the deer and fox populations.
I know that there can also be cruelties in stalking. I could never be silent as long as terriers were used to track the terrified animal to the earth. That is an area where there could be regulation. However, if this House is thinking about voting for regulation, it should think of the stag at bay, when it can no longer cope. No regulation can prevent its misery because it is endemic in the chase.
I ask this House to consider what is at issue in this matter. I am not soppy about animals, nor anthropomorphic, to repeat that long word used by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, but I think that society is judged by the way it treats animals. We can either look upon our relationship to animals as one of trusteeship or we can indifferently turn to their exploitation for our own amusement and entertainment. I am concerned about the nature of our society. A compassionate society does not mean that you cannot break a chicken's neck or put the rabbit in the pot--I would invite anybody to have a go at the rabbits in my field any time they like because they eat up all my parsley--but it depends on the motive. I ask every supporter of the hunting fraternity seriously to examine their motives. If they cannot do that themselves, we had better do it for them, because society would be poisoned if it ever allowed the brutalisation of indifference to pervade our world.
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, following that extraordinary speech, I should like to begin by declaring an interest as a board member of the Countryside Alliance, which is a democratic organisation representing almost half a million people. The Countryside Alliance contributed one of the options that made up this extraordinary Bill. We will debate those options in more detail in two weeks' time, but I should now like to focus on the proposal to ban hunting, which is at the centre of the Bill.
In six days' time, half a million or more supporters of the alliance were due to converge on London to express their passionate opposition to the Bill. The crisis in our countryside compelled us to postpone that march, and I am sure I am not alone in saying how distasteful we find the decision to press ahead with the debate at this time in these circumstances. It does the supporters of a ban no credit that they insist on having their say, when the very people whose way of life is most at risk cannot speak.
One of the main reasons why so many people wanted to come to London was to impress upon noble Lords their sense of anger and injustice and to ask your Lordships to defend them against the prejudice and ignorance that the debate has generated among their elected representatives. I know that noble Lords will understand if I ask them to be the voice of the countryside and to speak for those who cannot make their voices heard today.
I should like to make another point about timing. What message does the debate send to our rural communities about priorities? When foot and mouth disease was debated in the other place a week or so ago, only 40 government Back-Benchers bothered to attend, while almost 400 of them crammed the Chamber to outlaw hunting. More parliamentary time has been spent discussing the Bill, which we all know will never reach the statute book, than any of the real problems devastating the countryside and causing more despair than I have ever known in my lifetime. However, we apparently have plenty of time to debate
Two weeks ago Nick Brown was too busy to go to the House of Commons; but 48 hours later the entire MAFF ministerial team, with the exception of Mr Brown and the noble Baroness, attended the House of Commons and found time to ban hunting. While they were voting, their own officials were scurrying around the country asking hunt staff to help in the slaughter of livestock and the disposal of carcasses. This week hunt staff are a vital part of MAFF's strategy to beat foot and mouth. Next week they can draw the dole.
It is little wonder that the countryside feels betrayed, ignored, forgotten and excluded when it sees such an inversion of priorities. Only the other week the Prime Minister expressed concern about cynicism and apathy in our national life. Yet can one imagine a more blatant example of what he condemned than the Bill before us today?
The Bill, as we know from the excellent report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, will destroy thousands of jobs and many traditional skills and trades. Many people too stand to lose their homes and businesses. It will also hurt already fragile local economies and attack the social cohesion that so impressed the inquiry team. It will inevitably change, in part at least, the landscape that is part of our national heritage. That too is clear from the report. As we know, none of that apparently matters to the supporters of the ban option. Despite months of argument, the excellent report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the volumes of evidence received by the inquiry, too many supporters of this ban seem to be cocooned in the same ignorance as when they began.
As the report makes clear, this is an extremely complex debate and I should like to focus on what I consider to be the three most important issues: cruelty, morality and liberty. Those issues are central to the whole debate. The most important is cruelty. There is no doubt that the reason why so many sensible people are concerned about hunting is because they believe it to be intrinsically cruel and unnecessary. Indeed, that is the linchpin of Deadline 2000's case.
The report recognises that and consequently addresses the issue at some length, as did the noble Lord, Lord Burns, when he spoke. But he looked at the issue not as one of cruelty, which is what people do, but as one of suffering, which is what the animals feel. The report makes a number of important general points.
First, the report seeks to measure suffering in terms of welfare. Secondly, it points out that welfare is relative rather than absolute. That means that comparisons must be made between the current available methods of killing animals and by comparing today's situation with what is likely to be the position following a ban. The report points out that the welfare of the quarry species must be assessed at different times throughout the animals' lives, during the hunt itself and at the moment of death. Lastly, the whole
The argument put forward by Deadline 2000 is based on welfare and takes little account of wildlife management. That is only one area in which in my view it is deficient. Deadline 2000 made much of the statement in the report that hunting "severely compromises the welfare" of the quarry species--the noble Lord, Lord Burns, is right that that phrase will probably follow him around for a long time--but it fails to point out that it is impossible to kill an animal without compromising its welfare. Of course hunting compromises the welfare of the quarry; the object is to kill the quarry. But other factors must be taken into account.
The report seeks to differentiate between two aspects of hunting; first, the welfare implications of what the report calls the "chase"; and, secondly, the implications of the actual kill. In the case of the death of the quarry, Deadline 2000 still pretends that hounds kill their quarry by tearing it limb from limb. That is not correct. The report concludes that in the vast majority of cases, insensibility or death occur, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns said, within a matter of seconds. It is only after the animal is dead that the hounds tear at the carcass.
Most people throughout the country do not realise how large and strong hounds are or how small the quarry species. One of the reasons why there is still room for a debate on the exact manner of the kill is that even when one sees it, it happens too fast to be able to take in exactly what happens. But it is correct that there is no possibility of wounding.
This part of the debate is of course irrelevant to deer hunting, because at the end of the deer hunt the quarry is shot at close range by a trained marksman using a specially designed weapon. There is no quicker or more efficient way of killing a deer. There is no possibility of a deer escaping wounded, as can and does happen when deer are shot at longer range with a rifle, which is the only other method available.
The second area of concern is the chase itself. Much has been made about the stress of being hunted. But stress is normal and exists alongside good welfare. Welfare becomes compromised when stress turns to distress or when an animal is forced to operate outside its normal parameters. It is likely that deer become distressed in the closing stages of a hunt and that their welfare can therefore be compromised. But that stage is reached in only a minority of cases and only for a few minutes.
Deadline 2000 makes much of the picture of an animal hunted for mile after mile and hour after hour to the point of exhaustion, whereupon it is torn limb from limb. That is not what happens. Most fox and hare hunts take place within the time, distance and pace parameters which the quarry encounter in their normal lives. Hunts are not continuous but, as the report suggests, comprise short bursts of speed interspersed with longer periods of slow progress. It is
As the noble Lord, Lord Burns, pointed out, we clearly cannot ask the quarry what it feels. But most animal welfarists believe that animals do not contemplate death as we do; that they run not out of fear but as a result of an in-built response to danger and that flight is one of their natural defence mechanisms. Whether or not that is correct, I am not qualified to say, but there is no evidence to suggest otherwise.
Lastly, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said, we must balance the assessments of welfare against the requirements of wildlife management. All the four relevant animals need to be culled and that will continue to be so following a ban. The red deer of Exmoor, widely regarded as one of the best herds in the world, will cease to be what the report describes as a "community resource" and will become a pest, valued only for their meat. Farmers, who currently accept small numbers of deer on their farms because they support hunting, will not accept the larger herds that will form and the damage that they will do. It is therefore far more likely than at present that they will be shot, including by the use of shotguns. That is likely to lead to a sharp decrease in overall numbers and an equal increase in wounding rates. The deer as a whole will suffer, and there will be an increase in individual suffering.
There is very strong case for eradicating mink altogether. But a ban will lead to greater concentrations and greater damage, and the removal of one method of control, albeit not the most efficient by any means, for no valid reason.
The report emphasises that the hare survives best in areas where hare hunting and coursing take place, because hunters do an enormous amount of work to protect habitats. Indeed, it is the hare hunters who do the annual count for the Government. The likelihood is, therefore, that with no hare hunting and hare coursing, a direct and possibly terminal reduction in hare numbers will occur. The report also raises concern about the welfare of hares in the event of a ban because the only alternative--shooting--has relatively high wounding rates.
In the case of foxes, a ban on hunting will lead to an increase in the alternative methods of control. The report's view is that the best alternative is shooting using a lamp, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, suggested. He pointed out to us that that is not viable on moorland and hill country. I would add that it may not be desirable to encourage the use of high velocity rifles near roads and houses, and I suggest that the mix of rifles and increased rights of access, particularly at night, is not to me an obvious one.
The report also suggests that a ban would lead to an increase in snaring and the use of shotguns, and states that both can have serious welfare implications. We must remember that we have the healthiest and most stable fox population in Europe and, regardless of
I suggest that the question of welfare is central but it is not quite as simple as some people would have your Lordships believe. Properly conducted hunting raises fewer welfare concerns than some of the methods of control that would be used increasingly in the event of a ban. The existing evidence on which a judgment must be made does not show that hunting with dogs is crueller than other methods, and it is likely that the welfare of the quarry species would suffer rather than benefit from a ban. It is also clear that the existing regime of wildlife management would be put severely at risk by a ban, which would therefore constitute a huge and irresponsible step into the unknown.
Regardless of the strength or weakness of their argument, supporters of a ban claim that public opinion demands it. It is true that, historically, the polls have indicated a majority in favour of a ban although, as the report confirms, in the countryside there is widespread support for hunting, particularly among farmers. Since 1989 the polls have shown a steady decline in the number favouring an outright ban. In the past three months, however, there has been a marked shift in public opinion which has been sustained. Independent polls now clearly show a substantial majority of people in this country are opposed to a ban. That is an extraordinary change in public opinion.
Opinion polls also show that this is not "an important issue". When pollsters ask people what they consider to be the most important political issues, hunting invariably comes, as it always has, at the bottom of the list. People are not interested in hunting. One matter that has become evident over the past couple of months is that people are sick to death of this debate. Perhaps the other place does not therefore speak for Britain as much as it assumes.
Supporters of a ban also claim that hunting is offensive, repugnant and incompatible with a civilised society. Most other countries in the European Union permit hunting. It is enjoyed in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and throughout the United States. Does that mean that all those countries are uncivilised and that Nazi Germany, which did ban hunting, is an example of a civilised country? Hunting takes place on 80 per cent of British farms. Are we really saying that 80 per cent of farmers allow cruelty, permit cruelty, are indifferent to cruelty? Supporters of a ban claim that people who hunt do so because they enjoy killing animals. There is no evidence to support that slander whatsoever. Anyone who knows the countryside also knows that such claims are not only untrue but deeply offensive.
I have hunted for over 35 years with over 30 packs of hounds in this country, Ireland, France and America. During all that time I have never seen, or ever heard of, anyone deriving pleasure from seeing the quarry killed and I, and my many hunting friends, would be repulsed by such a thing. People hunt for many
This Bill goes further than merely banning a sport. It intends to criminalise an activity that is not a sport in the way that football or snooker is. Hunting is a central part of many people's lives, from childhood through to old age. For tens of thousands of people hunting is symbolic of their way of life and it gives their lives an added purpose and meaning.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, confirmed that hunting does not demonstrably and clearly lead to greater suffering than the other methods of control. I suggest that it is likely that a ban would lead to more suffering, not less. There is no widespread public demand for a ban and the debate over the past few months seems to indicate that a majority, as I have said, now oppose a ban.
The countryside has enough problems without this Bill. Rural communities need our support, not new attacks. Our police forces have enough challenges catching real criminals without being distracted by new and unnecessary laws. Hunting is not cruel. No case for a ban has been made. Thousands of jobs and livelihoods are at risk. A ban would be illiberal and unjustified. What most people want is for Parliament to tackle the priorities we share in common. This Bill does not solve problems; it creates them. It is unjust and intolerant. In June last year, the Prime Minister told the nation,
Lord Hutchinson of Lullington: My Lords, for me this Bill is overwhelmingly a matter of civil liberties, human rights, tolerance, democracy and freedom itself. Every countryman knows that the Commons' vote seeks to destroy not only a country pursuit--a disciplined and historic form of fox and deer control--but also a part of the very culture of the countryside.
There are men, women and, yes, children--the hunting fraternity and the followers--who are bewildered, shocked and now deeply angry that an ignorant, uninformed and urban and surburban majority should now demonise their community and seek to make their historic way of life criminal; their families open to arrest on suspicion; their premises open to search without warrant and their dogs liable to destruction.
What is democracy about if it is not respect and tolerance for the beliefs and way of life of minorities in one's midst and, indeed, respect for the views of this second Chamber under our constitution? Since the 17th century hunting has been an integral part of country life. From steeplechasing has come horse racing and so the industry of horse breeding, point-to-points, pony clubs, gymkhanas, eventing, showjumping and the whole infrastructure of dependent jobs.
Hunting has given rise to a great literary and artistic tradition--to Stubbs, Wootton and Tillemans and on to Munnings and Elizabeth Frink; and also to the great sporting art collections of Mellon in America and of the Tate and the National Trust over here. In addition, there is a host of children's tales and songs. How many noble Lords have not been entranced by Peter Beckford, Surtees and by the inimitable Mr Sponge and Mr Jorrocks? I remind the class-conscious members of old Labour opposite that Mr Jorrocks was a sporting grocer--no toff there! The literature continued to Seigfried Sassoon.
All that is now equated, in ridiculous ignorance, with the wanton cruelty of bear-baiting and cockfighting. I say to my noble friend Lord McNally: who introduced a Bill into this House to ban cockfighting? It was none other than a famous Master of Hounds, the Duke of Beaufort, who has already been referred to and whose descendant still fills the same role today.
What has inspired all that over three centuries? It is the beauty of the hunt; the horses; the hounds; the fox; the mystery of the scent; the sound of the horn; the pure guts, courage and skill of riding to hounds, and a fascination of working the hounds. That is all shared in a wholly democratic community; the camaraderie of the fields. That is now described in the other place and here today as brutalising, demeaning and, as we have heard, barbaric. Perhaps I may quote from another area of Mr Straw's libertarian domain, the prison inspector's last report. He writes:
To those who anthropomorphize the fox, I suggest that they should ask him which he would prefer: to be blinded by lights at night and shot in the head by a rifle or, more likely, blasted and wounded by a shotgun; enmeshed in a snare; imprisoned in a trap or poisoned in agony; or would he prefer to be free in his own natural habitat, chased in daylight by animals of his own species, pitting his wits against those of his pursuers with a 50 per cent chance of escape, and, if caught suffering death instantaneously or, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, found, within seconds; a death similar to that which he inflicts on his prey and which involves no more than those immortal words "his welfare being seriously compromised"? It is said that Parliament should represent the interests and welfare of animals. The RSPCA states that to cause fear or pain to any sentient being is unacceptable. I am afraid that I say, "Come off it, RSPCA". Are rats, mice, cockroaches, slugs, cattle, pigs, poultry, fish and gamebirds never to be caused fear or pain in any circumstance? Are rats to be represented in this House? No doubt the noble and learned Lord could make a beautiful and emotional speech about a squashed cockroach. Winding up in the other place the Minister stated:
On deerhunting I say only this. Sir Robin Dunn, one of the most humane and much-loved Lord Justices of Appeal, well known to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, that great rider, gave his evidence to the Burns committee. As a hunter of deer and foxes on Exmoor for 40 years, he stated that to ban hunting there would be the equivalent of banning football in Liverpool. It would tear out the heart of the community. He stated that in all those years he had never seen a deer killed by hounds. Perhaps I may emphasise that to the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, who I see is not in her place. In every case such a deer was humanely destroyed.
His arguments for that form of culling deer were, in his opinion, stronger than those for fox hunting. That evidence is good enough for me. That is evidence, not emotion. I shall vote against a ban and listen sympathetically to those who make the case for the middle way.
I agree with all noble Lords who have said that the first issue which falls to be decided is whether hunting with dogs can cause suffering and distress to the quarry or, as some letters I have received seem to suggest, that the fox or the hare rather enjoy the game. I agree that that issue is crucial to this debate. If the quarry does not suffer, the whole argument for the Bill must fall. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I do not suggest that all who hunt are cruel people. That would be as silly as to suggest that all those who support the Bill are ignorant, prejudiced and ill informed or that they are human rights activists.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who, for the moment, is not in his place. The question is whether the activity causes suffering and distress. Crocodiles, foxes and cats cannot reflect on that issue; human beings can. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that there is a danger of approaching the question from too anthropomorphic a stand. Clearly, a fox does not calculate the prospect of impending death and the effects on his family as some of us may do. I have seen what has been presented as a philosophical argument: that animals do not feel pain and fear as we do, and that flight is a Pavlovian reaction. Whether they feel it as we do, whether a fox's pain feels like my pain, is a matter we cannot resolve. There is no procedure which would count as resolving it. I do not know whether another noble Lord's pain feels like my pain, as, by definition, only I can feel my pain and only he can feel his pain.
We do not need to involve ourselves in such metaphysical disputations. We can observe the behaviour of animals and compare it with our own behaviour under similar circumstances. With respect, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, is right. That is not an ethical or moral judgment; it is a factual judgment. Any noble Lord seeking to argue that animals do not have feelings, that a hare screaming as it is torn apart by dogs or a fox shrieking as it is disembowelled by the lead dog is not really feeling pain, or that an animal running before a pack of hounds to the point of exhaustion is not motivated by fear or suffering distress, will no doubt deploy the case for that proposition.
I am content to begin with the premise that common sense is a fair guide. I am fortified by the unemotional assessment of the Burns committee in paragraph 6.49 that the experience of being closely pursued, caught and killed seriously compromises the welfare of the fox--that is all the argument requires; the wickedness of those who perpetrate it is rather beside the point--and seriously compromises the welfare of the hare. That is hardly the over-dramatised judgment of a committee of fanatics, but I agree that it is not the end of the argument. I do not seek to deny that some culling may be necessary, although I note the comment in the Burns report that in some areas it appears that
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