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7.47 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, during the many years that the question of hunting, particularly fox hunting, has been raging, I have heard opponents of hunting claim that hunting is a class issue, and if for no other reason, it should be banned because they believe that it is a relic of this country's historic class structure.

Other opponents of hunting are fanatical animal rights activists whose fanaticism seems rather twisted. On the one hand they claim a love of animals and yet on the other their actions display no concern whatsoever for human life. Of course, not everyone

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opposed to hunting comes into these categories in the same way that not everyone supporting hunting takes the view of many in the Countryside Alliance, which claims that it should be allowed to carry on hunting in its own way without what it describes as government interference.

Nevertheless, those who hold the views to which I have referred are making clear, political statements in support of their position. Therefore, I shall make a political statement in defence of my position which I believe reflects the voice of tolerance and moderation. It is my view that, while considering the question of fox hunting, we should look at the issue with a sense of proportion and understanding.

In a democracy such as ours it is of course necessary to observe the wishes of the majority. But it is equally important that if we are to apply our democracy in a civilised manner, it is essential that we protect the interests of the minority. After all, our society is not made up of constant and fixed majorities and minorities but by a multiplicity of minorities which split and divide into majorities and minorities on different issues.

As regards hunting, it is regrettable that a clear division has been drawn between those who live and work in the country and those who live and work in the towns and cities of this nation. I know that it is often said that that division is not so clear cut. But it would be very foolish not to recognise that as regards hunting and some other areas of lifestyle cultural differences exist between the two groups. We know that media reporting misses no opportunity to exaggerate the differences between countryfolk and urban dwellers and portraying the issue of hunting as the biggest division between the two groups in living memory.

There is a great deal I could say about the impact on jobs and what would happen to horses and hounds if hunting were to be banned. But in this Second Reading of the Bill I shall limit my arguments to what I consider to be three fundamental areas: namely, culture, control and cruelty.

I turn first to culture. In our towns and cities, people mainly keep cats and dogs as pets. However, in the country and among the farming community, cats are kept to control the rodent population and dogs are kept for working with cattle and sheep. So, it is not surprising that the attitude and approach of the two groups towards animals in general is different, arising from environmental differences and the development of different cultures which have evolved over hundreds of years. What about cows, sheep and pigs, from which comes the meat that most of us eat? For centuries country folk have been directly associated with the breeding, slaughtering and butchering of those animals so that all of us, mainly living in urban areas, can enjoy our Sunday roast and lamb lunches without having to experience or, indeed, think about, the breeding and slaughtering process which takes place on our behalf.

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Over the many years that I was required to visit slaughterhouses in order to represent the interests of workers employed there, many of my friends and acquaintances who ate meat, as I do, confessed that they could never stomach going into a slaughterhouse to see those animals being killed. They also said that they could not bear the thought of an animal they may have tended in a field being taken away and slaughtered. But that is what the farming community have always lived with. I do not complain about those differences; I express them to demonstrate the difference in culture between those who live and work in the rural countryside and those who live and work in urban areas, which for me is inescapable.

I read recently that the number of animals on farms in this country--the vast majority being bred for slaughter and eating--is 70 million. Here, we are dealing with the hunting and killing of 17,000 wild foxes each year. I mention those figures to draw attention to the relative proportion of killing, although I hasten to add that I fully appreciate the difference between killing for food and killing that arises from a sporting activity. The point I make is to emphasise the clear distinction between the attitude and approach of country folk towards animals as compared to that of town dwellers. We must understand that that exists because of the environmental differences in which the two groups have been brought up and in which they now live. That is what created the cultural differences. I believe that it would be wrong of anyone to ignore the culture of those who live in the country when we are expected to make laws which directly affect them.

On a slightly different note, but one which I believe shows how ignorance of the full picture can often lead people to mistaken conclusions, animal rights activists are conscious opponents of animal experimentation. But when most people are confronted with a simple, straightforward proposition that using animals for experiments is cruel, they will mostly agree. However, they do not normally think about the fact that each time they go to the doctor, to a chemist or into hospital and receive medication which removes pain and suffering and is often life-saving, none of that would have been possible if experiments on animals had not previously taken place. I say that simply to show how unwise it is to jump to conclusions without understanding the full extent of all the circumstances involved. I fear that that is the case with many who oppose hunting.

I turn to the question of control of the fox population. The fox is an animal which is an effective predator but which suffers from no natural predator other than man. I understand that the fox population in this country is normally about half a million. In the spring it rises to about 1 million. Without control, the fox population would get out of hand. I have heard few, if any, express the view that controlling the fox population is unnecessary or unjustified, including most, if not all, opponents of hunting. When one considers the number of foxes which are killed each year, the 17,000 killed through hunting is a small proportion. What other methods can be and are employed in the control of the fox population:

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shooting, snaring, trapping, poisoning, gassing and, perhaps, smoking out. I shall come to those again when I deal with cruelty.

If it is universally recognised that the fox population must be controlled, what is wrong with one such means of control arising from a sporting activity, particularly if such activity results in the killing of the fox being a lot quicker and the pain and suffering involved much less than by the alternative method? I find no reason to legitimately justify the banning of fox hunting simply because it is a sport which results in the killing of a fox when everyone accepts that the fox population has to be controlled.

I turn to the argument of cruelty, upon which I have already touched. As I have indicated, there is a largely universal acceptance that the fox population needs to be controlled. Therefore, if we take away hunting, what are we left with? Again, I repeat the alternatives: shooting, snaring, trapping, poisoning, gassing and, perhaps, smoking out. All those methods are probably more efficient than hunting and would undoubtedly mean the killing of a great number of foxes. The first question I ask is whether we want the killing of a great number of foxes. I do not think so. The second question is whether the alternative methods to hunting are any less cruel. I think not. Indeed, in most if not all cases I believe that the alternatives are more cruel. Perhaps I may say to all those who strongly argue for the banning of hunting to think of the consequences that will arise if they get their way. It does not seem to me that they will be doing the fox any favours.

In conclusion, although I am opposed to the banning of hunting because I can see no justification for such a ban, I am not opposed to statutory regulation. However, my voting pattern will depend upon the way that the voting options are put, ensuring as far as I can that the option for a ban on hunting does not succeed. I urge others who share my views to do the same. For the record, and to ensure that there is no misunderstanding in your Lordships' House, I have never hunted, fished or been to a shoot, but I have spent most of my life directly safeguarding and representing the employment interests of my fellow human beings.

7.57 p.m.

Lord Nickson: My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, with whose every word I agree. Some five hours ago the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, reminded us of the words of the Attorney-General. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench--I am sorry that he is not in his place--reminded us that the only other subjects last year which filled your Lordships' Chamber as fully as it has been filled today were the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill and the Local Government Bill.

Noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I have only two points to make. One concerns the argument for liberty and tolerance and the pastimes of the minority. The other concerns the knock-on effect on other field sports were the Bill to be enacted. First, I should

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declare a non-interest. To my great regret, I have never seen or been present at a fox hunt or a day's hare coursing, so I speak with limited knowledge. But I live in a non-hunting, highland region of Scotland and I am deeply familiar with the fox and its predation and the other methods of control which have been discussed; that is, snaring, lamping and shooting. I have been part of that and instrumental in it. I can tell noble Lords that, hard as one tries, that is often not a kind or humane way to kill foxes.

My interest, which I also declare, is that all my life I have been a passionate countryman, passionate fisherman and passionate shooter. It is in those capacities that for some four or five years I was a member of the board of the Countryside Alliance. I retired by rotation in May this year. As I am no longer a member of the board, perhaps I may pay a tribute to the president who has spoken tonight with such passion and wonderful eloquence. I also pay tribute to the tremendously healing speech--it was an attempt to reach some kind of agreement on this difficult issue--of the chairman, John Jackson, and the director, Richard Burge, who I am sure have listened to our debate today.

The two points that I wish to make are simple. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, referred to the words of the Attorney-General. I should like to quote the Attorney-General's words on 11th April of last year. Whenever I am here I listen to the Welsh eloquence and charm of the noble and learned Lord. At that time the Attorney-General was introducing the Second Reading debate on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill. He said:

    "It is deeply necessary not to confuse what we may disapprove of with what must be criminalised. There is, after all, a libertarian thread that runs through our public life ... It is one of the most attractive features of this country. It is worth remembering it and protecting it".--[Official Report, 11/4/00; col. 92.]

I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, will remind the Attorney-General of those words when he next sees him.

My second witness for the defence also comes from the Government Front Bench. I refer to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, at consideration of Commons amendments to the Local Government Bill on 24th July 2000. In responding to a question from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, he said:

    "It is very strange of this House, because normally it is a well recognised role of this House to defend the position of minorities. It may very well be that the majority of people out there, fed by slightly misleading information in our media and elsewhere, support the retention of Section 28 ... but it still remains the responsibility of this House--it is one of the great constitutional checks and balances of our system--to respect and protect the interests of minorities against a populist majority".--[Official Report, 24/7/00; col. 124.]

From the Government Front Bench on two separate occasions on other issues similar arguments to those debated tonight were expressed with great clarity. I hope that both the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord will be reminded of their words--I do not know their stance on this matter--in the context of this debate.

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My third witness comes from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. I refer to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who I notice is not in his place today. In his response to the gracious Speech, the noble Earl said:

    "I should also like to allow myself the luxury of one sentence on hunting. I expect it to be the last on the issue that I speak this Session. I have no intention of casting any vote on that Bill. Should I be made to come down off that high horse, I should vote against whichever side proved itself to be more intolerant".--[Official Report, 7/12/00; col. 44.]

I hope that the Liberal Democrat Front Bench will remind the noble Earl of those words and ask him whom he believes is more intolerant: those who advocate the preservation of a very important activity and recreation within the countryside, who organised what would have been on Sunday the largest and most peaceful demonstration and march, and who try to be reasonable about what is happening in the countryside, or the people who threaten those in the other place who advocate the middle way in hunting? Who is being more tolerant at the moment? That is all I say about tolerance and liberty.

I deal with one other point: the knock-on effect. I suggest that those noble Lords who access the Internet should look at the website of an organisation called "Pisces", which is related to fishing, and at the totally misleading and virulent information that is put out against that activity and which goes into the curricula of primary schools.

As far as concerns shooting, to my knowledge, based on a very good source, those people who oppose field sports already have all the evidence in the can. The moment that this Bill is passed the whole of that will be diverted against shooting and fishing. It is all very well for the Home Office Minister Mr Mike O'Brien to say in another place that so long as the Prime Minister is in No. 10--who can tell how long that may be?--shooting and fishing are safe. Public opinion and all the activities of the "antis" will then be focused on other field sports.

When it comes to a vote, I shall vote with profound conviction against the Bill and for one of the alternatives. I shall perhaps vote for the regulation of hunting because I believe that hunting must go on and that that is the best way to ensure that it does.

8.6 p.m.

Lord Winston: My Lords, I should declare a non-interest in that I neither hunt nor fish. I have a fear of horses, and I am not particularly fond of dogs either. As an orthodox Jew I come from a religious and moral perspective which holds as a key aspect to its philosophy the sacredness of human life. Round that is based so much of our practice. In Judaism there is also the notion that the world is given to us as a mandate. We look after the environment and in particular have regard to the welfare of animals. We look after the ecology and we do not unnecessarily mix species in the field or animals in the barn to their detriment.

There is a notion that goes right through that tradition. For example, there is the clear instruction not to muzzle the ox in a particular way while it grinds

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the corn so that it can nourish itself rather than look at the corn without being able to eat it. The basic premise behind the use of Jewish methods of slaughter of animals is that they are not killed in the sight of each other. Animals are killed with the sharpest possible knife so that they suffer no pain; and the slightest nick on a knife, however small, found after the act of slaughter renders that animal unfit for use or eating in our practices. That is a very strict rule which is widely observed by a large number of Jews in this country.

Coming from that perspective gives me a certain clear view of this particular Bill, which I believe is a thoroughly wrong measure. When I consider all the available evidence that I have read and heard today and have carefully studied for some time, I am totally convinced by the argument that hunting is the most humane method to kill the fox. I have no idea about deer; I find that a more difficult problem. However, with regard to fox hunting I have absolute clarity. I have never seen a hunt, but I have spoken to many people among my friends who are hunters. I see very clearly from their perspective that the hunt results in a kill which is virtually instantaneous. I leave aside the issue of digging out the fox. That may or may not be justified after thought about its regulation.

We heard a very powerful speech by my noble friend Lady Castle which sounded extraordinarily attractive. I am sorry that she is not in her place now. I believe that that was a wrong and inappropriate speech. The notion that somehow hunting threatens the moral fabric of our society is simply not true. Those arguments would carry far more weight if we were not standing passive while there is the massive slaughter of tens of thousands of animals in this country, often within sight of each other; animals which are often given names by the farmers; and animals which are often household pets, even though they are cows. It is a shocking threat for what is ultimately a commercial purpose because we could no longer trade outside this country. I believe that is a far greater moral dilemma. It is a cruel dilemma. I do not know what the answer is, but one hopes that science might find a better solution than vaccines which last only a few months, so that vaccines could be accepted and we can eliminate these viruses from herds in this country and elsewhere.

All available evidence argues that hunting is the most humane alternative. We have heard, and we know that with regulation nowadays, virtually the only weapon that the farmer has to hand is the shotgun. Whether it is a 12-bore, which is clearly ridiculous, or one which is slightly heavier, it means that one will maim the fox more often than kill it. I have maimed a fox, not with a gun but in a motor car. I live in Hampstead Garden Suburb where the heath extension is plagued by foxes. I have seen what carnage they do. One by one my children's rabbits were killed completely wantonly. They were not taken for food, but destroyed by the fox after it dug through their cage. It was a horrible experience.

In spite of the speed and the power of my motor car when I hit the fox, I certainly did not kill it: I maimed it. One felt sickened at the prospect of a suffering

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animal, but there was nothing in the best human circumstances that one could do. It was far worse than the almost instantaneous killing that occurs as a result of the hunt.

This is a frightening Bill for a very serious reason indeed. I believe that it is, as my noble friend Lord Bragg said, the thin end of a wedge. We start with hunting and move on to shooting and fishing. We then look, for example, perhaps at various methods of Muslim or Jewish slaughter of meat for perfectly respectable religious purposes. We then move on to the use of animals in research.

I have been in a house on the Sabbath--my Saturday--when my entire street has been cordoned off by the police with mobile units while they examined parcels that were delivered to my house. I have had threatening mail. In our democracy, a number of my colleagues have also had these kinds of threats, notably a much more distinguished scientist than myself, Professor Colin Blakemore of Oxford. He is an extraordinarily brave man who has continued with his conviction of the need for humanely conducted research using animals but in proper circumstances and under proper regulation. That is surely what this House should be looking at with regard to any aspect of the handling of animals.

We should not underestimate the inordinate power of pressure groups. These groups can give a disproportionate sense of the feeling in the population. That has happened again and again. For example, it happened a few weeks ago with the stem cell debate. We were besieged with correspondence which suggested that this was one of the most iniquitous procedures. Once this House agreed that we could do that under careful regulation, I, for one, have not had a single letter or e-mail and no further objection. It is extraordinary how these perceived public issues sometimes return to some sense of proper proportion.

I am troubled by a letter I received this afternoon from the Labour Animal Welfare Society. It states:

    "We strongly believe that the Labour Party's interests require a clear demonstration of opposition to hunting with hounds, particularly when the House of Lords debates and votes on the Hunting Bill."

Notice that it is "the Labour Party's interests", not the interests of the fox, the farming community or of what is just and proper and properly regulated. It continues:

    "The Labour Party's victory at the general election depends crucially on voter turnout, which depends on the Party being seen to keep trust with its supporters".

I make no apologies for being a Labour supporter and a long-time member of the Labour Party, but I want no truck with this kind of special pleading.

My friends who hunt, people like my noble friend Lady Mallalieu, who gave that extraordinarily powerful speech, one of the best speeches I have heard in this House--I am sorry if I embarrass her; it was a fantastic speech--are not barbarians. They are not cruel. This is not a Bill which is rightly placed. This is not a Bill for which I can vote. I feel at the very least we must look for some regulation but certainly not vote in favour of the banning of hunting.

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8.16 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Winston. The noble Lord, unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has not had the opportunity to experience the hunt for himself. Therefore, he has reached his own conclusions from reading and listening to people.

I was born and brought up in the countryside. As a child, like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, I rode ponies from an early age. I lived in Quorn country and hunted with the Quorn. I only ever hunted with the Quorn, one of seven packs in Leicestershire. I have not ridden for some eight years. Sadly, last year, our last horse was put down.

Perhaps I should also declare an interest in that we are members of the Countryside Alliance, the CLA and the NFU.

After leaving school I became a poultry farmer. So I saw foxes from the other end. Like many other noble Lords, I had the soul-destroying experience of going to lock up the hens at night only to find that occasionally the fox had beaten me to it. As other noble Lords have rightly said, the fox does not kill to eat; it kills for sheer pleasure. I would find that out of a hut of 50 chickens about 12 had been killed and probably another 15 had been smothered because in their flight to get away from the fox they could not get through the narrow opening. It is not a nice sight.

I was lucky enough to be brought up with that background. I believe that it has a bearing and stays with us. I, too, agree with other noble Lords who say that on both sides of the argument views are held very strongly. But I have been much encouraged recently, if the opinion polls are right, by the number of people who have changed their mind on their perception of the cruelty attached to fox hunting.

I have only been in your Lordships' House for four years, but often we have had debates where very differing views have come together to realise that there are other sides to the argument. Today we are seeing just that process.

Before I deal with the main part of my speech, I pay tribute, although he is not in his place at the moment, to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his team, and my noble friend Lord Soulsby, who is in his place, for their extremely good research and the time that they took in weighing up the evidence put before them. That has provided us with an important, unbiased and clear background against which to consider the Hunting Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Burns, for restating the matter again for us today.

Over the past three weeks I have received many written submissions from organisations and individuals, only three of which seek my support for a total ban. In addition, I have had communications with individual police members. I quote from the letter of one policeman. He said:

    "Should law-abiding people have to give way to rural terrorist campaigns and attacks on their person and property? What will happen to liberty, freedom of choice and tolerance?"

Today many noble Lords have referred to that matter.

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From medieval times until the invention of the motor car, the horse was used to transport people and goods, to till the ground, to hunt for animals and game and to provide recreation through tournaments, hunting, sport and, later, racing. The internal combustion engine virtually banished the horse from urban environments and did so at a speed possibly greater than that of the recent microchip revolution.

In the countryside, however, many of the old ways survived. Plough horses lasted until after the Second World War but are rare now. Falconry is popular but not normally from horseback. But trekking, hacking, show jumping, dressage, cross-country and hunting are, if anything, growing in popularity. All told, the "horse" industry--including those employed in hunting, racing, livery and saddlery, vets, farriers, feed manufacturers, those who rent paddocks and so on--makes at least as big a contribution to our national income as does agriculture. In addition, the hunt makes a great contribution with regard to fallen stock, as happens on our farms today. It is sad that our hunt servants are out helping to put down some of the animals with foot and mouth disease.

Horses--the love of horses and the ownership of horses--are largely a rural preoccupation. In a real sense, they are a mark of the countryside, just as football matches represent an important recreation in towns. The noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, and one or two other noble Lords referred to that point. Hunting is an important way of rural life. It is not partaken of by all that many, but it represents history, tradition, excitement and danger for some, and the right of a minority to continue its preferred existence. It is carried out in a responsible way. The Burns report did not class the killing of foxes as cruel. The death, if not instantaneous, happens in a matter of seconds. The unregulated control alternatives are more cruel, as other noble Lords have stated.

I wonder what would happen if the rural community set up a lobby to stop professional football matches. Reasons would not be difficult to find--hooliganism, vandalism, noise, litter, traffic jams and bad behaviour on and off the field. Reasons are a plenty; but imagine the outcry: the accusation of bigotry and narrow mindedness. I agree that any such suggestion would be unreasonable and totally out of order; just as I believe that the call to ban hunting with dogs is unreasonable. It represents an unacceptable attempt by those of one opinion to impose their will on those of a different opinion. I fear that underlying this is a feeling that a majority has some right to dictate to a minority.

Our history is bound up with support for the underdog and in standing up for the right of the minority to continue its legal occupations. My fear is that the Hunting Bill represents a move away from that liberality to a position of, "Might is right and the end justifies the means". The Bill before us will not save one fox, but it will increase their suffering. Is that really what people wish to achieve?

I think that all noble Lords agree that foxes have to be controlled. The question is: how? Some noble Lords have mentioned lamping. It is one option mentioned

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by the Burns report. But with the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill last autumn and the opening up of the countryside to all, lamping will not be a safe option. During the proceedings on the Bill we tried desperately to ban night-time access. Lamping is conducted at night. How can one lamp if people are freely walking over the land? What alternative is left if hunting is banned?

There are many issues which the Government have not considered fully, as I am sure our debate today will reflect. Your Lordships should be taking time to debate this matter. I very much agree with those who have said that. I am concerned about the way in which some legislation is rushed through another place and then we in your Lordships' House are told that it is not for us to alter its decisions. But if another place does not have the time or ability to look at these matters properly, it is up to your Lordships to look at them in detail.

I am dismayed--I shall say it again tomorrow--that we are devoting so much time to the Bill when the countryside is in crisis. The Bill will divide communities even further. It is yet another blow to the country way of life. The countryside rally that was due to take place next Sunday, in which many noble Lords would have taken part, has been postponed. It would have shown the degree of frustration felt by the people who live and work in the countryside. They are coping with extremely difficult circumstances. The Bill will only add to their frustration. As other noble Lords have said, the Bill is yet another wedge between us.

I have spoken from the Back Benches. My noble friend Lord Ferrers referred to the fact that no one speaking from the Front Benches has a role in agriculture. I should like to record the fact that I do, and that the country way of life is extremely important to me. I hope that the debate will persuade anyone who is in doubt of the need to reject and oppose the Bill. If it has to be, we must find some middle ground. But at the moment the question before us is whether we support or oppose the Bill. I strongly oppose it.

8.27 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Byford, I must declare an interest. I am a farmer; I benefit from the hunt; I allow the hunt to go over my land; but I have never myself hunted. I believe quite strongly that it is our responsibility in this House to weigh the evidence carefully and to make sure that we bring our individual expertise--what a breadth of expertise we have heard today--to bear on the issues, which have been well presented.

I congratulate the Government on just one thing in respect of the Bill. I congratulate them on commissioning the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his colleagues to produce their report. That was a sensible way to set the scene, and their terms of reference were highly appropriate. The purpose was not to give a recommendation but to try to marshal the evidence in a way that all of us would then be able to take account of and then make our decision based on moral and ethical considerations and on an evaluation of the science and other factors set out in the report.

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Like the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, I want to look at the issue from the point of view of nature conservation. By accident, I found myself chairing the Joint Nature Conservation Committee some seven or eight years ago when the Nature Conservancy Council was abolished. I give credit to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, who I see in his place--not that he intended me to be the chairman; far from it; but that is how it fell out in the event. As a result, I found myself looking carefully at policies for protecting and conserving British mammals.

It is indeed the case that the fortunes of British mammals--the species we are discussing are British mammals--have ebbed and flowed quite dramatically. When we look at the reasons why the fortunes of those British mammals have ebbed and flowed, it is clear that often it is due to change of land use and the incidence of pollution in our streams and rivers. In large part, that was the cause of the decline in the otter population, although in some quarters they may have been over-hunted. Nevertheless, I suspect that the decline was mainly due to environmental considerations. Other species, such as the polecat and the pinemarten, have needed careful management to encourage their fortunes to flow rather than to ebb. Indeed, close though the otter, polecat and pinemarten were at one time to eradication, I believe that we can say that now their fortunes are recovering from a very low base.

Other mammals, such as the water vole and the red squirrel, are examples of species which have suffered devastation due to competition from other alien species. For that, man is also responsible, because we introduced those alien species. Again, however, we must recognise the dynamics which are quite rapidly changing the situation for those species. Badger numbers are now expanding enormously but, again, some 20 to 30 years ago they were suffering. The Badgers Act has had a favourable influence on badger populations.

Fox and deer are both hunted species. The evidence suggests that their numbers are presently increasing and that they have been doing so for a number of years. Hare numbers have been rather more inconsistent. In some areas, hare populations are increasing and remain high, but where I farm in my corner of Hampshire, that is not the case. Hare populations are lower now than they were some 10 to 20 years ago.

From this welter of information, I can deduce a point which is quite clear; namely, all species, whether they are expanding and becoming something of a pest species or whether they are close to the brink of extinction, need active management. We need to introduce policies to help to determine the status of all species. We need to be able to determine whether they need to be culled for their own good, perhaps because of ill health resulting from over-population or because of their impact on farm species such as lambs, as may be the case with foxes in upland areas. It may be that for other reasons we need a clear policy on how to protect these species.

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Having recognised the fact that, in the distant past, our ancestors did no good whatever for the wolf and a number of other species--having hunted them to extinction for reasons which probably made good sense to those people at the time--in the context of today's debate, I must ask how the hunting of the species we are discussing in this debate--fox, deer and hare--makes a contribution to the conservation of habitats. What contribution have hunts made to that? I would say that, certainly in the case of foxes and, to a lesser extent, with hare, the contribution has been positively favourable.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, pointed out earlier in the debate, that is because those who are interested in hunting will wish to ensure that the hunted species remain in good health. I believe that it is clearly the case that hunting has helped to keep the populations of hunted species in a healthy state. This may be an anachronism which some people may not be able to get their minds around; namely, that when several individuals in a population are culled, the wider population is in fact helped. That, however, is the case and I do not believe that anyone who has paused to think about it would quarrel with that as a concept.

However, it must recognised that one cannot attribute to hunting the benefits of conservation and therefore give it a clean bill of health if, at the same time, it conducts itself in ways that are considered to be less than humane. The Burns report helps us enormously in this area. We have to satisfy ourselves that hunting does adopt the most humane method of killing where that killing is required. It was helpful to hear my noble friend Lord Soulsby, who was a member of the Burns committee, confirm the fact that the welfare of animals being hunted should be compared with their welfare which, on a realistic assessment, would be likely to result from legal--I stress the word "legal" because we are not discussing illegal methods here--methods used by farmers and others to manage their populations.

Those arguments have been rehearsed on a number of occasions. All I can say is that, having read and considered carefully the balance of the Burns report, which I have found to be astonishingly helpful, I am clear in my mind that it is perfectly reasonable to deduce from the information we have been given that hunting presents the most humane method of control of the species. Certainly, of the alternatives considered by the committee, lamping was the only one it was prepared to countenance. Even then, it was quick to recognise that that method would not be appropriate in a number of different conditions. I can certainly vouch for that, for the reasons just touched on by my noble friend Lady Byford.

For those reasons, I find myself in total disagreement with the Bill as it stands. I recognise the need for regulation, but whether it should be self-regulation or regulation by statute is something that we shall debate on another occasion. However, my instinct--at least for the moment, because I am not prepared to die in a ditch for it--is to give self-regulation a try.

12 Mar 2001 : Column 598

8.35 p.m.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. As a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I have introduced a Member's Bill entitled the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill which, if passed by that parliament, will have the effect of introducing measures similar to Part 3 of the Bill being discussed this evening by noble Lords.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is no longer in his place--

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