Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I am in my place.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, I apologise. It should be noted that the noble Lord is in his place. He made a rather serious allegation in his contribution earlier in the debate which I do not propose to go into. I simply refer the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, to the minutes of a meeting of the Rural Affairs Committee of the Scottish Parliament in November 2000. My motives for introducing the Bill were clarified in the Official Report.

I am firmly of the belief that the decision as to whether to ban hunting with dogs should be reached on moral grounds. I have to disagree with my noble friend Lord Winston on that point. I am unable to accept that it can be morally right to pursue a mammal--in the case of foxes and deer--often for a period of some hours when the animal is clearly in an agitated state. The animal's instincts will demonstrably tell it that it is fighting for its very life.

It has been demonstrated by many noble Lords in the debate today--at least by those who are in favour of hunting--that those who participate in hunt activities do so predominantly for pleasure, however that pleasure might be defined. It is argued that most of those who follow mounted hunts do not relish or derive satisfaction from cruelty or from the kill. Indeed, I am well aware of the fact that few ever witness the kill, if for no other reason than that it would be physically impossible for many hunt participants to be present at the kill when it takes place. However, while I accept that they are not physically present at what must be a profoundly unpleasant--I suggest even barbaric--event, I do not absolve those who participate in mounted hunts, whatever the extent of their involvement, of complicity in a pursuit which has cruelty at its core. In many cases they may well be social events, but the conclusion of the chase cannot be airbrushed from the argument.

I shall return to the question of cruelty in a moment, but it is not simply that aspect of hunting which turns my stomach. Those feelings, which polls show are shared by a clear majority of people living in both urban and rural communities in Britain, are compounded by the fact that hunting is carried out primarily for pleasure. The inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, demonstrated that the traditional, organised hunting of deer, mink, hare and

12 Mar 2001 : Column 599

foxes is principally conducted for sport rather than utility. In its report, the noble Lord's committee was in no doubt that mounted fox hunting makes an insignificant contribution to fox control and, indeed, in addressing the debate this afternoon, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, made it clear that he felt that a ban would have no particular effect on the number of foxes killed.

Those who advocate a ban do not do so to protect foxes. For my part, there has never been any attempt to deny the need to control the fox population; it is how it is done that matters. I have heard many compelling arguments as regards what is the most humane method of control and I shall speak on that in a few moments. That is why I began by stating that I believe this issue to be a moral one; namely, whether it is acceptable to inflict suffering on animals by setting dogs on them in the name of sport.

I turn now to the question of cruelty. It is self-evident to point out that, until some method is found to enable animals to communicate and express themselves in a clear manner, there can be no absolute certainty of the extent to which animals suffer in the chase. Many noble Lords have referred to the now famous conclusion made by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, that the welfare of foxes chased and killed by hounds above ground is seriously compromised. I suggest that we should not be in any doubt as regards the import of those words. It means that the fox does suffer. Can any rational thinking person seriously argue that the fox, the deer, the hare, when seeking to escape its pursuers in a desperate attempt to reach safety and preserve its life, does not suffer great stress and anxiety; that it does not fear that if it were not to strain its every sinew in an attempt to keep its attackers at bay it would die; that it regards it as all in a day's sport, a bit of fun, a challenge, from which it might derive satisfaction if it were ultimately successful in putting one over on its pursuers, both animal and human? I think not. It is, quite frankly, insulting to invite those who oppose hunting to accept that being hunted, far less being caught, can ever be anything other than a terrifying experience for the animal concerned.

No one can determine the emotional or mental suffering which the pursued animal experiences. That argument can never be conclusive. I accept that. Nevertheless, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his statement, was convinced that hunted animals suffer. I have no doubt about that use of the term "seriously compromised".

The kill has to be seen in the context of being the end point of a deteriorating welfare for the animal. The kill is not necessarily instantaneous, but the key point is that at the point of capture, having endured the inexorable approach of the hounds, the animal, surely, by any logical consideration, could not be more distressed.

No doubt, all noble Lords have received a communication, as I did--we all receive communications from a great many organisations--from an organisation called Vets for Hunting, which I

12 Mar 2001 : Column 600

read with great interest. In that is a quote from a letter from a Dr L.H. Thomas, which I understand appeared in The Times, which states:

    "It is important to appreciate that we are considering here wild animals which are used to hunting and being hunted, not domestic pets ... It is only in the short final stages of a hunt that the quarry comes under any serious stress and that no more, in physiological terms, than the extended athlete or racehorse".

I find it astonishing that the racehorse could be adopted in support of the case put forward by the Vets for Hunting. It is a totally spurious argument. After all, a racehorse is trained, as is an athlete. Racehorses may make a supreme effort, either through choice or training, but they are not running ahead of a pack or running through any sense of fear. That analogy is rather false.

I should like to pray in aid a letter I received from Mr David Main, of Coupar Angus in Perthshire. He refers to the same aspect. He states:

    "Most predators will abandon an attack if not successful within a relatively short chase"--

he was referring to the fact that the Vets for Hunting have stated that this is all part of what animals expect--

    "preferring to depend upon overhauling the victim by a relatively short and violent burst of athletic superiority rather than beating the victim by exhaustion. One reason for this could be that a prolonged chase would leave the predator drained of energy and vulnerable to attack itself, or loss of its prey by conflict with its own competitors".

The comparison is very much spurious. While I am not dismissing the experience of Vets for Hunting, they tend to have rather a vested interest in this matter. I wonder how many of the Vets for Hunting have looked at the equine-based practices in the hunting heartlands and are coming at the situation from a slightly different perspective to many others.

I prefer to take the view of an organisation which is widely respected throughout the length and breadth of the country; that is, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If that organisation is not in the business of arguing cogent cases on behalf of animals, I do not know which is. It has been in existence since 1824. In a letter, which I understand has been circulated to other noble Lords, it states:

    "The government's bill, currently in the Commons, is an urgent matter since, without new legislation, thousands of wild animals will continue to suffer. It is, therefore, very important that the bill achieves a ban on hunting wild mammals with dogs. It is our view that only schedule 3 will achieve this".

The RSPCA is a widely respected organisation and we should give considerable weight to its arguments.

The RSPCA has suggested that this is an urgent matter. I am slightly bemused by the regularity with which noble Lords have referred to the use of parliamentary time on the Bill and questioned our priorities. They invoke the current crisis in the farming community, as if abandoning this Bill and replacing it with something else, which they have not specified, will somehow alleviate the pressures on those who live in our rural communities. Like everyone else, I have great sympathy for those caught up in the dreadful foot and mouth outbreak, but I would ask those who suggest that we suspend this debate as a response: when should

12 Mar 2001 : Column 601

it be introduced or reintroduced? I suspect that when I ask that question I will be met with a deafening silence, because there will never be a correct and appropriate time for it to be introduced.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, is not the answer when the countryside is not in crisis?

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, that is not necessarily what has been said in the debate today. The priority of discussing this Bill in your Lordships' House and in another place has been questioned. I am suggesting that, whatever the state of the countryside, there will never be an appropriate time for those who oppose the Bill. They oppose it for a different reason, not on the ground of priorities.

I am not at all sympathetic to the charge that seeking a ban on hunting represents the majority imposing its will on the minority, as has been stated. Apart from the fact that for that to happen represents no more than a definition of democratic government, I do not recall those same noble Lords making those statements and springing to the defence of the minority in the debate on Section 28 of the Local Government Act or, indeed, in this House's consideration of the lowering of the age of consent for homosexual men. I suggest that consistency would lend greater force to the arguments of those who wish to preserve hunting in its present form.

The interests of minorities of course have to be respected and given due weight. But those interests, I suggest, cannot be allowed--irrespective of the cause or situation of those minorities--to prevail in all circumstances. A broader view requires to be taken.

I turn now to the options which will face your Lordships when the Bill eventually comes to be voted upon. It has been called the "three options" Bill. I suggest that that is misleading and that there are only two options with a consequential decision. The first decision is whether or not you want hunting to continue; the second decision is, if you do want it to continue, do you want it to be subject to licensing.

I would argue that all forms of hunting with dogs are cruel and that licensing would not prevent that cruelty as the suffering caused by the chase and kill, to which I referred earlier, would continue. It is that aspect which sets it apart in terms of the most humane method of killing foxes. If a fox is killed after a long chase, it seems to me much less humane than simply being shot after being flushed from wherever it may have been. I suggest that there is no middle way and that it is disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

As I said earlier, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who said that morality should not be--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page