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Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that shooting is also done for sport?

Lord Harrison: My Lords, with regard to culling, shooting relates to the desire to get rid of certain foxes to reduce a population. In that regard, it is distinct from fox hunting, which involves pleasure and sport.

I support the cull but not the kill. I abhor the desire to gain pleasure from such a sport in the killing fields of rural Britain. It is just not British.

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The apologists for fox hunting suggest that it is a traditional sport, practised by generations of our countrymen for hundreds of years. It is not: there is no mention of fox hunting in Chaucer or Shakespeare.

Apologists aver that fox hunting is the glue that holds the countryside together, that its abolition would disembowel those ties of community which are so vital for us all, whether we live in town or country. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, tells us that hunting is the main topic of conversation in the village shop, post office and pub. I do not believe it. Is it a greater topic of conversation than the state of schools, the health service, the local bus service, foot and mouth disease and BSE, not to mention the lives and loves of our local Ambridge? If it is true, then I have to say: get a life. Indeed, the fox himself would be astonished to learn that his absence had the capacity to make grown men weep, as the hunters claim. If the fox can be absent from the hunt ball, then it can also be absent from the hunt.

I have greater confidence in the people of rural Britain to maintain and develop loving and supportive communities. It does not need the tokenism of killing a passing fox. It is people, not foxes, who make living communities.

The apologists repeatedly tell us that the fox hunting community is law-abiding and that a ban would encourage defiance of the law on a scale difficult to predict. Those words are unacceptable: you cannot run with the fox and hunt with the hounds when it comes to respect for the law, democratically conceived and popularly supported. It is incumbent on all those who speak up for fox hunting to show true leadership and encourage hunt followers to follow the law of the land.

I reject the balaclava'd intimidation of some of the hunt saboteurs as hotly as I condemn the few bad apples found among the hunt. It is our arguments that should be forceful and compelling, not our deeds towards opponents.

Those of us who are townies are repeatedly told that the country is none of our business, despite the fact that we visit it and pay taxes to farmers to look after it. I find this irksome. When I was a member of Cheshire County Council, I am afraid that I became fed up at being told that only country folk could decide country issues. I notice that these same rural councillors happily voted to close inner city schools that I represented, despite their patent unfamiliarity with urban poverty and its problems. We all have a duty to understand each other's problems, which are often the same problem of root. Solely to sacrifice all for the countryside is to isolate and cut oneself off from the concerns of society as a whole. After all, what do they of the countryside know who only the countryside know? What indeed do they of hunting know who only hunting know?

Karl Marx, who was a real townie, occasionally came to our part of the world to visit his comrade, Friedrich Engels, a distinguished member of the Cheshire Hunt. A century later, I was pleased to be

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chair of Cheshire County Council's Countryside Committee and to lead the campaign to ban hunting across county council land. Later, as MEP for Cheshire, I tried, pre-Burns report, to convene a meeting of the local hunt to discuss the possible impact on jobs in Cheshire were hunting to be outlawed. My purpose was that we should make a common presentation to the European Commission for a programme to mitigate the effect of job losses resulting from action across Europe to eliminate cruel animal sports. Regrettably, the masters shunned my approach in the 1980s: they lacked the foresight to look ahead to today.

I tell that story not only to underline the poor leadership that has characterised the countryside in recent years, but also to make the point that as MEPs trying to improve animal welfare throughout Europe, our criticism of bull-fighting was habitually greeted with accusations of hypocrisy. The habitual comment made to myself and the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, was: "Get rid of fox hunting and then we will listen to your concerns about continental barbaric practices". I had no answer then, but today I do. By removing the beam of fox hunting from our eyes, we can today ask our continental cousins, with confidence, to remove the mote of bull-fighting and donkey defenestration from theirs.

I am all the more encouraged about enacting this ban because there is a viable and acceptable alternative to fox hunting; namely, drag hunting. Yes, I know the usual response from hunters is, "What a bore!"; indeed, "What a drag!". But let us examine the case more closely.

Drag hunting preserves all the pageantry and indeed the fun of the hunt while eliminating the cruel pursuit and killing of a wild animal. It also saves the hounds who are slaughtered each year as a result of pursuing the fox, fleeing in terror across dangerous country roads and railway lines. One engine driver friend of mine, now retired, tells me of how once he had to violently slam on the brakes to protect his train passengers as the fox and then the hunt crossed the Chester to Crewe track.

Laying a trail in the drag hunt avoids those needless threats and dangers. Drag hunting avoids hunt havoc. On one occasion, at Byley in Middlewich in Cheshire, local schoolchildren were forced to walk in the middle of the road as the jostling hounds pursued a scent on a highway near the school. Some of the children became hysterical when surrounded by those loose hounds. And there have been other instances where schoolchildren have been forced to witness the hounds killing the fox right in front of their eyes. As a parent, I find such violence in front of children unacceptable, and it does not need to happen. The slaughter of domestic cats by hounds happened in the Cheshire village of Ashton during my time as MEP. That too can be stopped.

The introduction of drag hunting will also reduce unwarranted trespass on people's private property. Such intrusions themselves trespass on the human rights of those who wish to live peaceably in the

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countryside. Some apologists--and they have much to apologise about--claim that severing the kill from the hunt neutralises its attraction. Why then does the Countryside Alliance quote the football commentator, Jimmy Hill--a supporter of the hunt--who suggested that the majority of those who ride with the hunt never witness the final tortured moments of the fox? If the vast majority simply enjoy the ride and the companionship of the hunt, why not replace the hunt with the drag hunt, the bloodlust with the wanderlust of riding with the wind in their hair across the open fields?

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he not agree that replacing hunting with drag hunting would be like replacing tennis with ping-pong?

Lord Harrison: My Lords, many of us enjoy ping-pong, as we are doing tonight in this Chamber.

The next excuse is that drag hunting lacks the unpredictability of the traditional hunt. But that lies in the hands of the drag hunt trail blazers who can lay an imaginative and interesting scent without recourse to endangering train passengers, blocking up rural roads or killing domestic pets resulting from hounds straying to the fox's unpredictable flight of terror.

We are told that drag hunts satisfy only experienced riders, who otherwise leave slower riders in their wake. But that is not the experience of the North-East Cheshire Drag Hunt, which fashions both pace and line direction for the benefit of all its riders. Indeed, that particular drag hunt is a fine example of how drag hunting could be developed as an alternative to the hunt. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, encourages such steps in his report. It is noteworthy that the North-East Cheshire Drag Hunt provides a fallen stock service as well as employing three staff to mind its 52 hounds. What Cheshire does today, Britain can do tomorrow. It is time our opponents stopped being a "drag" on the drag hunt.

After all that, our opponents tell us that, were hunting banned, pro-hunting farmers would, in pique, refuse to allow drag hunts across their land. Frankly, I do not believe it. Are those farmers, who so cherish the spirit of the community and the countryside, going to be so mean as to deprive their fellow countrymen of the enjoyment of the ride across open country just because ignorant townies like me have taken away their ball ?

I am reminded that 100 years ago pigeon shooting was outlawed in our country. But its adherents did not sit back and bemoan their unfair fate. They got up off their backsides and instituted clay pigeon shooting as an alternative. It is a sport at which Britain excels in the Olympics and which gives pleasure to many. But in all this the requirement is the exercise of good leadership by those who seek to represent countryfolk. For too long such leadership has been lacking, with a fatal concentration on the past and not the present. In Britain in all walks of life people have to change as the world changes around them. The pigeon shooters change, the miners change, the shipbuilders in my euro

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constituency change, and so too can the hunters. Drag hunting is an alternative, which retains the pageantry, comradeship and the employment formerly associated with fox hunting. It is time to turn a new leaf in the memoirs of fox hunting men. The eternal fascination of a changing countryside is that it always offers new horizons. It is time to be cruel to cruelty; it is time to blow the horn on the hunt.

9.46 p.m.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I have an interest to declare. I am a farmer: I do not hunt. For the past 20 years I have been deeply involved in the conservation and protection of the English countryside. For 10 of those 20 years I sat on the Countryside Commission under the remarkable chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Barber of Tewkesbury. I am sorry that he is not well enough to be with us today because I believe we would have greatly benefited from his views.

One of the things that he achieved during that 10 years was to unite people. When he first took over as chairman of the Countryside Commission the English tribes were warring: the conservationists against the farmers. He did a most remarkable job in bringing together those warring tribes so that they were able to see a common purpose and to work together. That was a tremendous achievement. I believe that it is relevant to the dangers of dividing the country which would result from this Bill .

We have had a number of remarkable speeches and some interesting and important themes have emerged. One is the thread through our history of the British fascination with hunting in its various forms. This theme came out in the very powerful speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells and also in the equally fascinating speech from the noble Lord, Lord Bragg.

That made me wonder how far back it goes. There was an echo in my mind of something that I read many years ago in G M Trevelyan's History of England. So I went into the Library and looked it up. It is wonderfully written. Perhaps noble Lords will allow me to read a brief paragraph from that book:

    "For many centuries after Britain became an island the untamed forest was king. Its moist and mossy floor was hidden from heaven's eye by a close-drawn curtain woven of innumerable tree-tops, which shivered in the breezes of summer dawn and broke into wild music of millions upon millions of wakening birds;... unheard by man save where, at rarest intervals, a troop of skin-clad hunters, stone-axe in hand, moved furtively over the ground beneath, ignorant that they lived upon an island, not dreaming that there could be other parts of the world besides this damp green woodland with its meres and marshes wherein they hunted, a terror to its four-footed inhabitants and themselves afraid".

That gives us a feel for the tradition which has grown in Britain over the millennia.

I want to talk about the politics of hunting. It seems to me that the Bill is essentially a political exercise. The hunting interest has shown that it is prepared to compromise. It has recognised that there is a public perception of misbehaviour. One of the rules of politics is that perception, however unfairly, is reality.

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That is why the hunting interest has set up the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, ISAH, which would be a form of self-regulation. There are various forms of self-regulation which are possible. There is the Press Council. I said the other day to my noble friend Lord Wakeham that the Press Council does not really have any teeth, "You cannot fine the press, close them down or anything like that". He said, "Don't you believe it. We have very real effect". However, I am not sure whether that sort of regulation would be adequate.

I would prefer to move more towards the way in which the medical and legal professions self-regulate; that is, by a body which has statutory authority to ensure that if individuals misbehave they cannot continue to practice. That is the way in which I would hope self-regulation could be explored.

The width of the anti-hunting spectrum, Deadline 2000, is broad. In a sense it is rather like Islam. It spans the rational and compassionate, through the fundamentalists who will not compromise on anything, on to the terrorist fringe who will use any method, however violent, to impose its solution. Even this morning, when I heard Tony Banks on Radio 4's "Today" programme, it seemed to me that he was totally unreceptive to any argument which would allow hunting to continue. Indeed, I think that I would have had as much chance of changing his mind as Mr Kofi Annan had of persuading the Taliban not to destroy the buddhas in Afghanistan.

Mr Banks explained that although he realised that the election would prevent the Bill from becoming law, his objective was that the Labour Party should introduce a pledge in its manifesto to produce fresh legislation after the election. Perhaps I may say, more as a commentator than a participant in politics, that in my opinion that would make little difference to the result of this election, but I believe that it could make all the difference to the result of the following election.

To divide and alienate deliberately the great majority of the people of rural England and Wales would be hugely divisive. We must remember that there is a multiplier. It is not just the people who are directly or even indirectly involved in hunting who mind about this; it is the people with whom they come into contact. It is hard to exaggerate the extent to which there will become a growing support for hunting in the rural areas of England and Wales if it is felt that that interest is being unfairly persecuted.

I remember that in her amazing speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to the comradeship of hunting. Comradeship is an important characteristic. When I was a lobby correspondent, from 1974 to 1990, I went to the Labour Party conferences for 16 consecutive years. One of the most fascinating parts of those conferences was the fringe when the hard Left indulged itself in what in many ways were fantasies. On the fringe, not the main platform, the Trotskyist, Marxist, anarchist and republican movements preached every kind of disturbance. They disagreed among themselves on most policy issues, but they had a tremendous sense of

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comradeship, and that was what held together the hard Left, including people like Gerry Adams in his "Marxist Ireland" phase. Any government would have been crazy to seek to suppress the views of that comradeship.

If the Government still had their focus groups they would be told that a ban on hunting would divide the country in a way which would not only remove any chance of a third term--that would not worry me particularly--but also create a huge distraction from most of the other things that they might seek to do after this election, if they are re-elected.

To save her blushes, I should like to quote some words used by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, at the Hyde Park rally:

    "Hunting is our music. It is our poetry. It is our art. It is our pleasure. It is where many of our best friendships are made. It is our community. It is our whole way of life".

For a political party to defy such deep feelings is so unwise .

I have one final footnote relating to a current matter. It was the decision and right of the Government to put this Bill before Parliament. With their majority in the Commons, if they can get the Bill through with as little debate as they can that is up to them. But they do not have the right to decide how the Bill is considered in this House. As long as I am a Member of this House I shall seek to defend its right and duty to consider in detail any legislation which could become the law of the land. That is why tomorrow I shall oppose the Government's proposal to short-circuit that process.

9.57 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, like many noble Lords I declare an interest as someone who lives and works in the countryside but no longer hunts or rides. My local hunt meets a couple of times at my home, and that is a time when all members of the public are welcomed to my home and have access to all parts of my land. It is a time when the lowliest can speak to the highest. That is not something which one finds at many community gatherings.

We have heard arguments about the right to hunt. I believe they show that hunting is justified. Hunting is practised worldwide in such countries as the USA, France and Ireland which are proud of their tradition and do not find it unworthy.

We have heard about the impact of a ban on hunting and the irony that it will probably not save a single hunted species. We have heard that a ban will result in a loss of nearly 100,000 jobs, in addition to approximately 20,000 to 25,000 job losses in farming at the present time. The British Equestrian Trade Association believes that that figure is low. The Prime Minister stated that he would work night and day when important jobs were at risk in the car industry. Do the Government intend to address the loss of jobs caused by this legislation? I note that the Bill remains silent on the subject of compensation. I am somewhat

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ashamed that in this day and age the country can legislate to deprive its citizens of their livelihoods but offer them nothing by way of recompense.

We have heard that a ban on hunting will result in great cruelty. It will probably result in the destruction of about 20,000 hounds. To ban hunting will result in horses suffering. About 50,000 horses would have to be found new homes, and most would probably be destroyed in knacker's yards. I should be ashamed to be part of a country whose ideology resulted in the destruction of dogs and horses.

Banning hunting would stop much work being carried out in the lowland parts of England. Hunting not only encourages enhancement of the countryside but also was greatly responsible for sculpting it.

We are told that banning hunting would stop around 360,000 carcasses being collected by experienced local hunt staff--hunt staff who are at this time aiding MAFF in destroying livestock infected by foot and mouth disease.

Banning hunting, we are told, would terminate around 4,000 hunt events attended by 1.3 million people. The Burns report said that generally,

    "the impact would be felt most strongly in the more isolated rural areas".

Do the Government really want to see this kind of social exclusion occurring as the result of their legislation? Furthermore, tonight we have been advised that banning hunting would not improve the management of any of the hunted species.

Is it right for the Government to make time for a Bill that will result in restricting the liberties of a significant minority? I believe that it is wrong to do so. It will be ruinous for people. It is immoral to do so at a time when this country is beset with foot and mouth disease, and especially when the countryside as a whole is in deep and serious crisis. The countryside is in debilitating pain. Last week telephone calls on farming help lines increased tenfold--I repeat, tenfold. If that is so, I fear to think what the rise in the number of farmers committing suicide might be.

How much do the Government care for these country folk? One has only to look at last week's Budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to judge how much care the Government have for the countryside. The spending for next year on agriculture, fisheries and food is due to remain unchanged from last year at £1.3 billion, while there are to be healthy increases in other areas.

Worse still, one might perceive that the Government seems more interested in politics. The expected general election means that the Hunting Bill will probably not become law this Session. So the question must be why the Government are so committed to using up precious government time with such a damaging Bill, which has little chance of success. Why not use the time on business that will benefit a demoralised countryside, such as the rural White Paper? Could it be that the Government are using the countryside that they care and know little about to placate their Back-Benchers in another place? Could it be that they would not have received funding by animal rights organisations to

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bring forward legislation? One could say "cash for legislation". Can the Minister declare--I shall ask later on if he does not--what donations have been given to his party last year and this year by animal rights organisations in Deadline 2000? Can he further tell us whether these organisations were charities or commercial entities? I shall vote against restrictions on the liberties of a minority.

10.4 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I first apologise to the House and to the first 12 speakers for having missed their speeches. My wife and I set out in excellent time to drive south for the debate. Unfortunately, continental left-hand drive HGVs piloted--if that is the word--at 70 miles per hour by individuals who evidently have little or no experience of driving on the left-hand side, are perhaps not the best recipe for road safety on our busy dual-carriageways. I suppose that I am lucky to be here at all.

However, I arrived in time for the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. He made many of the points I should have liked to make and expressed them very much better than I could have done. There have been many other excellent speeches since then, many of them from the government Back Benches.

In a free society--our society has always been considered exceptionally free by international standards--it has been taken for granted that no activity should be criminalised unless it is either harmful to non-consenting humans, directly or indirectly, or cruel to other species over and above the normal mild cruelty inherent in most human interaction with animals, be they wild or domesticated. Hunting with dogs falls into neither category, as many noble Lords have pointed out; not least those two most eminent medical Peers, the noble Lords, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Winston. It is therefore an outrage that a ban should be proposed in what still purports to be a free society.

Noble Lords would not be surprised, of course, if people's traditional sports and pastimes were to be outlawed in a dictatorship. When Saigon fell to the communists approximately 25 years ago, one of the first things the victors did was to ban bridge, which they deemed to be a bourgeois capitalist game. Anyone caught playing bridge faced six months in prison. About 40 years before that, as the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, pointed out, the Nazis in Germany--mainly urban and small-town sentimentalists with an unrealistic and romanticised view of the animal kingdom--banned hunting: just what you might expect from them. It is no coincidence that people with an evident neo-Nazi ideology are threatening the lives of those brave Labour honourable Members, Kate Hoey and Llin Golding, who have been calling for toleration in this matter.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, for an animal the size of a fox, hunting is not more cruel than other methods of pest control--indeed, it is less cruel--with the possible exception of lamping. However, in our overcrowded island, lamping is very

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rarely safe or feasible. It is no good using a .22 rifle, which will wound rather than kill unless the bullet hits a vital organ. Only a larger calibre rifle will do the trick; and large calibre firearms of any kind are anathema to this Government, as I am sure they will concede. Nor is hunting more cruel than other field sports. Indeed, of the three main ones--I exclude falconry--hunting is almost certainly the least cruel.

Many supporters of a ban, one suspects, have not read the Scott-Henderson report, initiated by Mr Attlee, as he then was, and I suspect that even fewer have read the Cranbrook report, which was actually commissioned by the RSPCA. As Lord Cranbrook once explained to me, he and his committee were very surprised to discover after meticulous research that fishing was more cruel than shooting. But such were the committee's findings. In turn, I have no doubt whatever that shooting is, on balance, more cruel than hunting--for the very simple reason that in hunting the fox is either killed within four seconds, according to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, with his 34 years of experience of hunting, or gets away unscathed. With shooting, alas, very large numbers of birds, hares and rabbits are not killed outright but are wounded. Those that are picked up by the guns, beaters or others at the shoot are quickly dispatched, to the great indignation of some of the city-based tabloids, many of whose readers doubtless imagine that steaks and hamburgers grow on trees. But, unhappily, a great many are never picked up and run, limp or flutter away to die slowly over hours or even days.

Despite that, Mr Blair has, somewhat illogically I have to say, rejected a shooting ban out of hand while declaring himself in favour of a hunting ban. However, a future Labour Prime Minister, as the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, pointed out, will not feel himself bound by Mr Blair's promise. He or she may well rate intellectual consistency above the opinion of focus groups. So shooters should beware, they are bound to be next in the firing line. Incidentally, the "antis" who have become so indignant at the idea of "killing for pleasure" should be reminded that it is the shooter for whom killing is virtually essential in order to enjoy a day out, not the rider to hounds or other hunt followers.

Is everything in the garden perfect as far as hunting is concerned? Most probably not, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior. On occasion, too little sensitivity and courtesy is shown to householders and other members of the public who unexpectedly come up against the hunt, although one senses that the younger generation of masters have developed rather more tact and public relations skills than some of their elders. But hunting's minor faults, which can after all be rectified fairly easily, are no justification for an authoritarian assault on a great British tradition, immortalised on canvas, in prose and in poetry. This is equally an assault on the chief pleasure and the livelihood of tens of thousands of decent people.

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10.11 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I decided to speak in this debate because I want to help to show people living in the countryside that there is a substantial body of opinion existing in the Labour Party--I am glad to say that it has been expressed by many contributors from this side of the House today--which understands and has sympathy with their problems and certainly does not want to rob them of their traditional pastimes which they have enjoyed over a very long period of time; in fact, for centuries. That is especially the case when those pastimes also help the rural economy and the farming community, without whose efforts the countryside that urban dwellers like myself so enjoy would fall into rack and ruin. I am really very sorry indeed that the Countryside March had to be postponed until May. I would have loved to join that march. I would have participated in it with great alacrity, to demonstrate my solidarity with the countryside which I so love.

I believe that this Bill is more about class hatred than about the welfare of animals. If it were not, its provisions would be cast far more widely to cover many other kinds of field sports and activities involving the killing of animals for sport. The very fact that animals such as rabbits and rats have been exempted helps to prove my point. Do they not also feel the pain of death that foxes are alleged to feel?

The detailed arguments have already been made by those who have recent experience and first-hand knowledge of this issue, but I want to emphasise that there are still those in the Labour Party who believe in personal liberty as well as the improvement of economic life for the many. We want to fight the increasing tendency of government and, indeed, of Parliament itself, which is supposed to be the guardian of our individual liberty, to intervene in all kinds of ways in every nook and cranny of our lives. I sometimes get the impression that some top politicians will not be satisfied until the only things we are allowed to do will be to get drunk, to fornicate and to stab each other in the back. That is the way they sometimes carry on.

For most of my life I have lived in an urban setting, but at the beginning of the Second World War, I was evacuated from Shepherd's Bush in London to a fairly large farm in Mapledurham near Reading. It was there that I learnt about the pleasures and the difficulties of the countryside, and of the kindness and the consideration of the people living there. The family who adopted me as one of their own were so great; they altered my life completely, quite frankly. It was from them that I learnt my love of animals and the need to nurture them and to treat them with kindness and consideration. Certainly, all the animals on the farm were properly fed before anyone else was fed; they were properly housed and certainly were not ill treated in any way.

The farmer also hunted. He did so because he believed that the foxes, which devastated the chicken run and killed young lambs in the field, were vermin which had to be controlled to protect the domestic

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animals. To describe these people, as they have been described, as cruel and barbaric, is a libel and a slander against decent people.

Anyone who has seen the wanton destruction of a flock of chickens--not for food but for the sheer hell of it--does not have any illusions about foxes being little cuddly creatures which do no harm. I believe that hunting foxes with dogs is no more cruel--it is probably less cruel--than any other form of culling. So why are we persecuting huntsmen and huntswomen?

Where will the banning stop? We have heard about that from many noble Lords, but I shall repeat it because the message has to get home to other people who enjoy field sports. Where will it stop? Noble Lords and others should not imagine that hunting with dogs is the end of the road. The increasingly powerful and increasingly extreme animal rights and welfare organisations, once they have tasted blood, if I can put it that way, will lust for further prey. That lust will be heightened and they will not be satisfied only with fox hunting, the next target will be game shooting; after that, non-food fishing; and perhaps eventually the Grand National itself.

Indeed, as we have heard, some river fishermen have already been harassed by masked animal rights extremists and it has been made clear that angling is a legitimate target for a ban. Shooters and anglers may feel that they are safe because of assurances given by the Government. Let us examine the assurance. During the Committee stage of the Bill, the Home Office Minister, Mr Mike O'Brien, said:

    "Let me reassure those who may be concerned that, whatever happens tonight, there will be no ban on fishing or shooting under a Government led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister".--[Official Report, Commons, 17/1/01; col. 452.]

Listen to those qualifying words:

    "led by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister".

That really is a very weak and limited assurance. The present Prime Minister may be with us for a year or two yet, but he could be gone in weeks or months.

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