|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
I declare an interest at the outset as somebody who has supported the Countryside Alliance and the Middle Way Group and has taken a particular interest in these issues for a large number of years. I welcome the introduction of the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, and this debate. I think I am right in saying that I have not spoken on this issue before in your Lordships' House, although I spoke on it often in another place.
I come here this afternoon to speak with two hats onas somebody who is Welsh-born and domiciled and also as a lawyer. I wish to concentrate in particular on hunting foxes with dogs. I am a Liberal Democrat; I was a Liberal and Liberal Democrat MP for 14 years. I regret that my party has seen fit to treat what I regard as a matter of conscience as a matter of party policy. Consistent with over 50 per cent of the individuals who have served as Liberal Members of Parliament in the past 30 years, I have always treated it as a matter of conscience and the fact that others have done so to that proportion is a matter of record.
Let me put on my Welsh hatas a Welsh-born and domiciled personfirst. I live in rural Wales in roughly the centre of rural Montgomeryshirepart of what we call Powys Paradwys Cymru. I do not hunt, I have never hunted, and I have no intention of hunting. However, over many years now, I have investigated, witnessed at first hand and assessed the activities of hunts. Above all, I have assessed the attitude of those who hunt to that which they hunt. I have attempted to rationalise the reasons for the hunting; I believe that I have done so as best one can, and I have come to satisfactory conclusions about it. I am also married to a Welsh-domiciled professional artist. Artists have the most acute observation of the countryside that surrounds them and that has added, I believe, to my appreciation of these issues.
What happens in rural mid-Wales? Do we have toffs rushing around the countryside on horseback shouting "Tally ho" at one another? Very occasionally we do: I know of one mounted hunt in the part of mid-Wales in which I live. Who are the hunts? The best known are the David Davies Foxhounds who hunt on horseback fairly regularly, the Tanat Valley Foxhounds who do notthey are a foot packthe Plas Machynlleth Foxhounds, who are also a foot pack, and a number of other packs. Most of these packs of hounds one might describe as subscription hunts, paid for by farmers, who pay an annual sum to be able to participate in them. Why do they pay their annual subscriptions?
I learned about this from my late and lamented former election agent, Brian Jones, who farmed a small sheep farm near Llanfair Caereinion in Montgomeryshire. Every year he would show me what happened when his lambs were born, outside or in, for most lambs are born inside now. If the foxes got near the lambs, they would dismember them. They would cause the lambs considerable suffering, leave the wreckage and deplete the potential income of the farmer. I believe that nobody now alleges that foxes are not a pest, and a pest that requires some control.
Do people like Brian Jones want to behave cruelly towards foxes, however much damage they cause them? The answer is no. One will always find rotten apples in any profession, but the vast majority of farmers do not want to behave cruelly to foxes. Indeed, the farmer takes joy in seeing foxes in his countryside. They are part of the beauty of the countryside, provided they are kept under reasonable control. Control is agreed as a need, I suggest.
What would happen if the hunting of foxes with hounds was abolished? At present, I could take your Lordships to a particular gate at the top of a hill about a quarter of a mile from my home near Berriew on any pleasant summer evening, and I could almost guarantee that if we were to lean on that gate and chat for 15 or 20 minutes, we would see a fox running across the field during that period. I could take your Lordships to the hill where I live in Camberwell, south-east London, when I am in town, and I could point you at two or three in the morning to a greater number of foxes going up that hill. The foxes in Montgomeryshire are fatter, fitter and faster, and much more beautiful to observe.
What would happen if the Government's Hunting Bill were passed? I hope that my friends who are farmers will forgive me for saying what I am about toI am not going home this weekend, so perhaps they will have forgotten by next weekend. Most of them have shotguns. Few of them would win Bisley with their shotgunsindeed, many of the shotguns are not that good and many farmers are not terribly good shots. Many of them would hit a fox, which would be left to wander limping around the countryside. That is the truth of what would happen if hunting were banned. It is one of the aspects.
Let us not forget that in a place like rural Montgomeryshire, the economy depends to an extent on the existence of the hunts, not just because of the work they provide, but also because of the facilities. There was a time when farm casualties were dealt with very easily. A firm turned up and took them away and nobody had to pay any money. That is not so any more. It is very difficult to dispose of farm casualties, but the hunts do it. They will collect the casualty and dispose of it in an appropriate way.
In rural mid-Wales we have the advantage over the English of having Welsh foxhounds, the most beautiful dogs in existence. They are very expensive to keep. Who on earth will keep Welsh foxhounds, except as the odd petand they are unsuitable as household petsif they cannot be used for hunts? Those Welsh foxhounds are well documented as having been used for hunting even in the days of Owain Glyndwrthis has a very long historical tradition.
What about the horses? I used to ride when I was a child and later. I gave it up when I was a Member of Parliament and a constituent saw me falling off. I thought, "This is bad news, it will get into the local newspaper. I had better give up now". Keeping a good hunter costs a lot of money. People who keep good hunters do so because they love horses and because they can use their horses for hunting. The horse business is internationalmost of the good hunters in mid-Wales are bought in Ireland. The horse business and the number of fine horses will decrease severely if hunting is abolished.
I turn now to my viewpoint as a lawyer. As a lawyer andanticipating the view of my noble friend Lord Greavesas a Liberal, I believe in a fair balance of freedoms. That does not simply involve a fair balance of freedoms between those who are free and those who are not free. It involves a fair balance of rights, and part of that balance of rights is a balance between the rights of those who live in the city and those who live in the country. That is an aspect of rights that is often ignored. As it happens, I believe that people who live in the country areas of the United Kingdom probably accept a greater number of duties than do many of thosethe other side of the rights coinwho take the advantages, as they see it, of living in the city for granted.
I say to those who are opposed to the Bill and to hunting that country people often feel, with justification, offended and patronised by the attitude of some who occupy the countryside at weekends but understand little of the issues affecting the countryside. The countryside is made up of beauty and beasts, including human beasts. Many people who come into the countryside appreciate the beautyit is not very difficult to appreciate the beautybut they do not understand how the beasts live, all of them, including the humans and the foxes.
My belief is that a fair balance is reflected in this Bill, which plainly outlaws undue suffering but preserves the balance of the countryside. It preserves that critical balance between fox and farmer, which is the right balance. I sometimes stand in the Central Lobby of this place with visitors and say, "Look that way; it is the Throne. Look the other way; it is Mr Speaker's Chair. This is the critical balance of our democracythe dynamic tension that exists which makes this country democratic and, relative to many other countries, extremely free". I believe that a similar balance is held between town and country, between the rights of country people and attacking the rights of country people. This Bill contributes to that balance.
The Bill also has, to a lawyer, the advantages of simplicity, uniformity, clarity and consolidation. At the same time, it recognises that government control may be exercised, though my preference would be for the negative procedure rather than the affirmative procedure for statutory instruments, because I think that that would be adequate. As for malignant Secretaries of State, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, that a very effective way of removing malignancy in Secretaries of State is by what I would describe as administrative court therapy. As successive Secretaries of State know, it works rather well on the whole.
I suggest to noble Lords that this Bill adequately addresses all the outstanding issues concerning matters of cruelty. It does not anthropomorphise those issues in a way which so many people do. It does not look at obsessions; it looks at facts and reasons. It does not easily allow for the intervention of party Whips because it is clearly a matter of conscience. It also accords to common sense.
What I fear about this whole issue is that the rights of country peoplethat critical balance or dynamic tension of which I spokewill be sacrificed to a perceived interest to keep happy some bored Back-Benchers in another place. I do not want to see that. I believe that this Bill addresses the issue with far more intelligence.
Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, the noble Lord has made an excellent speech which I hope will receive a great deal of attention. I declare an interest as a patron of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and an honorary member of the Kennel Club. My noble friend Lord Donoughue might like to know that I agree with almost everything he said except for the outrageous claim that his terrier was the most beautiful in the land. I am sure that both of mine would qualify for the same title. Once upon a time, one of them won Crufts. Tomorrow is terrier day at Crufts. I shall attend, and I will no doubt make certain remarks about the Bill. I believe that it is extremely valuable, partly because it requires people to refrain from deliberate and intentional cruelty.
I am reminded of my unsuccessful attempt, 20 or more years ago, in the Commons, to promote a Deer Bill. I introduced it after talking to people such as Forestry Commission conservators, and because of personal observation. It was obvious that some dreadful things were happening to deer. They were being shot by all sorts of weaponsair rifles, shotguns with birdshot, crossbows. It was happening not only in season; in some cases, as with roe deer, there was no closed season.
Almost everyone in the House of Commons seemed to be in favour of the Bill. Then, one honourable Member came and said, "I am going to block your Bill". I asked why, and he said, "Because you are allowing deer to be killed". I asked whether he understood that the deer population was increasing to the point at which, in many areas, they were suffering starvation and the risk of disease; that they were being controlled by cruel and improper methods; that the cruelty involved could be obscene; and that, as there was no natural predation of deer in these islands, we had to have a code of conduct, code of practice, methods of slaughter and closed seasons. The Member maintained his objection. He was there at four o'clock one Friday and shouted "Object" and the Bill fell. Probably several thousand deer suffered horribly as a result. Some years later, a rather weaker Deer Bill reached the statute book.
Sometimes the welfare lobby can be unhelpful to the cause that it is supposed to espouse. I believe that the Hunting Bill will lead almost to the extermination of the fox in many areas. I recall following the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in a debate on these matters when I was proposing an alternative to a ban on hunting. I am not a hunter, but I was trying to protect hedgerows. I suggested that, instead of a Bill to ban hunting, we should promote many more hedgerows and have them that bit higher. I think I said that the noble Lord had probably eaten more sheep than foxes had. I do not know whether he recalls that. However, I was told that the hedgerow alternative would lead to cruelty to horses, and no one seemed to wish to perpetrate that offence.
The consequences of banning hunting will mean that many people within the shooting fraternity will exterminate the fox. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said, they will do that with shotguns. I have not yet received an explanation to a question I put to the welfare lobby last year, when I received from them a message which said, "The fox is not always killed instantly by the hounds. It is true that, if shot, the fox may be wounded instead of killed instantly. But if the fox is wounded, it will go back to its home environment and die in peace and dignity". I considered that an obscenity. I am still waiting for an explanation, which has not been offered.
The fact remains that the fox may be a pest and a nuisance, particularly in rural areas. But the fox is also a predator, and the predator has a useful ecological role to play. I have made the point before that the brown rat population is rising remorselessly. I understand that it is rising most rapidly in the areas which are most heavily keepered as natural predators are kept down. That very serious pest is increasing in numbers considerably. So there is a case for the predator.
If hunting is continued, the shooting lobby will inevitably be more tolerant of the fox as it will not want to exterminate the prey of fellow field sportsmen. But if we ban hunting, there will still be trapping, poisoning, gassing and snaringnot all gamekeepers necessarily subscribe to the splendid code of practice for the shooting fraternitywhich I do not like at all.
I am also anxious about the most effective means of controlling foxes; namely, shooting them with a rifle, provided the rifle is fired by a marksman. There is a new danger here to which the Government may unwittingly contribute. I was uneasy about the right to roam at night. I thought that it would not necessarily be helpful to conservation given its effect on ground nesting birds. If a person goes out at night with a light and a suitable rifle to shoot foxes, he may forget that the lethal range of a rifle bullet is rather longer than the range of his eyesight or hearing. Sooner or later we may hear of some happy nocturnal rambler meeting a very unpleasant fate if the marksman misses the fox. Sometimes a more considered view, such as that offered in this Bill, is wiser.
One of the aspects of the Hunting Bill that worries me concerns the problem of fallen stock. Many of our livestock farmers face very real difficulties. If hunting is abolished, the fallen stock question would present them with a significant problem. I have not yet discussed the matter with the Kennel Club in any detail but I believe that that body, which supervises the activities and hobbies of hundreds of thousands of people in this country, is rather worried about the present situation. There is cause for concern at the possibility that legitimate activities could be imperilled by the Bill as it proceeds through the Commons. We must have regard for liberty and ensure that there is no unnecessary oppression. We ought also to ensure that there is no unnecessary cruelty. My noble friend's Bill points us in the right direction.
I declare an interest as the chairman of the standing conference on country sports and the President of the Game Conservancy Trust. I do not hunt but, unlike the noble Lords, Lord Donoughue and Lord Carlile, I wish that I did. I have taken a greater interest in hunting since this whole hunting issue has come before us. I am bound to say that the more I learn about the sport, the more fascinated I become, the more intrigued I am and the more I appreciate it as a great community activity serving the purposes of the countryside in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, described so admirably.
The noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Hardy of Wath, rightly made reference to alternative methods of fox control. It is sometimes assumed that snaring and shooting are always cruel. Nothing could be further from the truth. Snaring in the right hands, and shooting done properly, are genuinely humane ways of disposing of foxes. I acknowledge that in the wrong hands that is not the case. However, that point needs to be made.
I return to the noble Lord's Bill. His timing is impeccable but I should not have expected anything else from the noble Lord. The way in which he introduced the Bill was refreshingly honest and straightforward. Inevitably, we shall make comparisons between the noble Lord's Bill and that Bill going through its various stages in another place.
The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, referred to the noble Lord, Lord Burns. Goodness me, what a pickle the Government have got themselves into over the Hunting Bill. If I were the noble Lord, Lord Burns, or, indeed, any member of his committee, I would ask myself what on earth I had been doing. They have gone to a lot of trouble, taken evidence and produced a report but now the Government who commissioned it are simply ignoring everything that it recommended. The noble Lord's committee painstakingly considered all aspects of hunting, including the social, economic and environmental aspects, but its report is ignored. The word "utility", which is supposed, as I understood it, to embrace all those important dimensions, has now been narrowed down to a point where, quite frankly, any regulatory body could license a hunt only if it circled exclusively the pinnacle of Snowdon.
The matter has become a complete farce. At the first puff of opposition the Minister collapses. So in effect the Bill that will come to your Lordships' House will constitute a ban on hunting in everything but name. One is bound to ask about the evidence given by the experts at the hunting hearings. Was that nothing more than a farcical charade? What about the Minister's main evidence against stag hunting produced by Professor Bateson? We should not forget that stag hunting is excluded from the Bill. It will be an illegal activity. The Minister has always argued that the evidence from Professor Bateson was the argument on which he would defend his decision to ban stag
Then we have the latest fiasco when the Minister voted against his own Bill to prohibit the use of terriers underground despite his commitment that shooting was safe under Labour. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has already given this House a commitment that the Government would introduce amendments to give the gamekeeper back his rights, but I am bound to say that promises made under the Bill are becoming rarer and rarer as it makes its rather seedy way through the parliamentary process. What is now perfectly clearas many of us suspected right from the outsetis that the Government's Hunting Bill is more concerned with curtailing human activities based on that word "prejudice" than dealing with the issue of animal welfare.
That brings me back to the noble Lord's Bill which I believe does address that very issue. As the noble Lord explained, the Bill amends the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996, which exempted country sports. I can fully understand why that happened as it was considered that there could have been a series of frivolous proceedings. On the other hand, no participant in country sports I know would consider intentionally causing undue suffering.
As I have already explained, I do not hunt. I shoot, but I would give it up tomorrow if I considered that I was in breach of such a principle. What is more, I am bound to addthe point has already been touched on in connection with shootingthat, from an environmental dimension, what I do by conserving habitats and controlling certain predators contributes enormously to the healthy state of many species of wildlife. They might not be there if it were not for the interests of shooting people, as has been increasingly demonstrated by different pieces of research.
We desperately need to move on from the sterile ground of seeking to legislate about dislikes of human behaviour, to more fertile discussions about proper consideration of wildlife management and how best we can foster its welfare in our all too diminishing countryside. The Bill is clear-cut and helps to focus on how we should manage that wildlife. It deals with cruelty in a straightforward fashion. Its solution is a way forward in commanding the positive engagement of country people, who look to Parliament to do what is right by acting in a responsible way and not trying to distort the facts that are being driven underground under the sheer weight of prejudice.
I was going to seek clarification from the noble Lord with regard to the regulations that may be made under his Bill, but he explained them extremely carefully. I am grateful to him for coming forward as he has with the suggestion of amendments that would certainly overcome my concerns. I commend him on his considerable efforts in introducing a straightforward and effective piece of legislation. I believe that it is a genuine attempt to try to resolve a long-running problem.
The key element that the Bill brings to the question of cruelty is consistency. That is what is missing from the government Bill, which contains the notion that terriers have to be able to distinguish between a rabbit and a hare. Under the noble Lord's Bill, that ridiculous situation would not occur. In terms of consistency, the comparison between the two Bills is stark. It would be encouraging if the Government were to take heed of what has been said and what is in the noble Lord's Bill, but I fear that that is extremely unlikely.
Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I begin by declaring my interests as a farmer, a member of the Warwickshire Hunt, a supporter of the Middle Way Group, and chairman of St Martins Magazines, which publishes two magazinesHunting Magazine and Country Illustratedthat deal with country sports and issues.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, on introducing the Bill. I agree with everything that he said, except possibly for categorising himself as naive. I do not even think that his best friends would accuse him of naivety.
The most recent time that the House debated a similar Bill was 9th March 2001, just before our debates on hunting. Almost exactly two years later to the day, we are being given the chance to consider this Bill in time to inform our debates on the hunting with dogs Bill, which has recently completed its lengthy but, I am afraid, predictably one-sided Committee stage in another place. We may have to wait some time before that Bill comes to this House, while Members in another place consider whether they want to compromise the welfare of the Iraqi army before returning to the other burning issue of national importance, the welfare of the fox.
It is on the issue of welfare that I strongly support the noble Lord's Bill for two reasons. First, it will rationalise and clarify the current law, the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996, which paradoxically started life as a Private Member's Bill to ban hunting. Secondly, as a supporter of the middle way approach to hunting, I believe that the Bill is a way forward for the Government to find a more sensible, generally more acceptable and less contentious way through their difficulties on the Hunting Bill, which are getting worse and worse.
Under the current law, hunting enjoys an exemption from prosecution, rather bizarrely. The noble Lord's Bill would mean that that exemption would be removed, and any activity within legal hunting that caused undue suffering would henceforth be open to prosecution. The vast majority of hunting people would be able to support that. Hunting is not cruel. In spite of the noisiest efforts of the anti-hunting zealots and the expenditure of millions of pounds, the verdict
Given what the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, referred to as the shambolic animal rights situation in Scotland following the introduction of the ludicrously named Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Actas he pointed out, animals are being shot and left wounded to die in agonyI hope that the Government will look very carefully at what happened there, and ask themselves whether they wish to be responsible for the same consequences in England and Wales.
The Bill will address concerns about undue suffering not only within hunting itself, but caused by the alternative methods of control, thus offering a guaranteed improvement in animal welfare across the board. That certainly cannot be said of current attempts to concentrate on one activity alone. By bringing hunting within the legislation, the Bill will mean that it will be open and accountable, and that anyone who has proof that a hunt has been responsible for causing undue suffering will be able to take that evidence to court.
In the light of that I share the noble Lord's disappointment, although I may not be as surprised as he is, that the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA have labelled the Bill "unhelpful". How can a Bill that will improve animal welfare across the board be called unhelpful? Is it, perhaps, because the RSPCA is less concerned than it should be about animal welfare, and is more concerned with pursuing its political agenda to ban hunting? In his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, called that an obsession. It would of course be unhelpful to that agenda if the Bill were passed. At a stroke, it would remove the need for the RSPCA to campaign against hunting, as any cruelty would be subject to legal challenge. The Bill would expose the RSPCA's real reasons for continuing its campaign.
That brings me to the question of whether it is right that the RSPCA should continue to enjoy charitable status. I believe that it should not. It pours its members' money into a nakedly political campaign to have hunting criminalised. Every RSPCA letter that I receive, for example, is franked with the slogan, "Ban hunting with dogs". I intend to raise that matter with the Charity Commission and ask it to rule on whether the RSPCA's political agenda is consistent with its charitable status.
I agree that the Bill may need some amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, dealt with that in his speech. However, the principle behind it is entirely sound. It will bring new coherence to animal welfare legislation in England and Wales, and improve animal welfare across the board. I welcome such a sensible solution.
I welcome the Bill and I agree with perhaps everything that noble Lords have said. This is a much simpler and much better solution than a hunting Bill. That has always been the case; it was certainly the case when we debated virtually the same Bill two years ago. In September, I sat through the three days of evidence when the Minister in another place, Alun Michael, listened so that he could make up his mind about hunting. I believe that at that stage he did listen and I was encouraged by the Bill when it was first published in another place. Sadly, it has changed; the Standing Committee has not involved a very edifying process. The Minister voted for an amendment that now means that shooting is included in the Bill, having said that it was his purpose never to do so. The antis in another place have taken over the process and forced the amendment through. Sadly, the Minister, Mr Michael, seems to bear the imprint of the last anti who sits on it.
There is no assurance that the Government will be able to get through on Report in another place their promised amendment to take out shooting. The matter may end up with noble Lords. At the moment, we are in the ludicrous situation in which if the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, takes his beautiful terrier for a walk and it runs away and goes down a hole, it may or may not be committing an offence under the Bill.
I turn to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. I note that he noted the points made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee about codes and the tribunal. The code of practice is a good ideaall sports benefit from such a code. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, designed his Bill in a way that deals with the criticisms that were levelled at the previous legislation, when the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, replied on behalf of the Government because that responsibility was still with the Home Office. Noble Lords have said that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, supported the concept of the Bill in the debate last time round. As my noble friend Lord Peel said, it involved a definition of cruelty that was consistent and easy to enforce.
I do not believe that the Government will let the Bill proceed in another place. I hope that it will proceed through this House. The present Hunting Bill, which is in another place, is a total mess. It will, sadly, take days in Committee in this place introducing amendments to get it right. The Bill was quite good when it was first published but it has now been mucked up. Although it is a licensing Bill, it in fact involves a ban and I suspect that it will not survive.
The Government should take this Bill forward and put the other Bill aside, although they probably will not do so until the next Session. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, mentioned Scotland and said that the situation there was a shambolic muddle. That is indeed
The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, mentioned the benefits of hunting with regard to fallen stock. We realise that on-farm burials will not be allowed from 1st April. As the chairman of a hunt, it is noticeable that hunters are increasingly being called out to deal with fallen stock. There is no local lack of business any more; that does not exist. If it was not for the hunt, I do not know what would happen.
As we have heard, the RSPCA said that the Bill is "unhelpful". It is extraordinarily sad that the RSPCA, instead of being an organisation that deals with animal welfare, has become totally politicised in its agenda. I look forward to hearing about the reply that my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke will receive when he questions its charitable status.
All noble Lords who have spoken have supported the Bill, and I, too, do so. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said that he had never ridden or been hunting, but he has owned a racehorse. I had the privilege of riding his racehorse in order to try to get it fit to win a race. Sadly, it did not win a race. Whether that was because of the horse or me, I cannot tell. However, I warmly support his Bill.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, this is an interesting debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, on his ingenuity rather than naivety in introducing it at this time. What I will say represents my views and not those of any other individual member of my party in your Lordships' House. However, as my noble friend said, we have a party policy outside the building.
The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said that, like everyone else, he would declare his interests. I do not believe that I have any interests to declare, in that I am not a member of a hunt and I have never been hunting. I asked myself why that was. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, said that he wished that he had hunted but had not done so. From a personal and selfish point of view, hunting is one of the activities in which I wish I had taken part. It appears to be an exciting activity and I believe that I would have enjoyed it. The reasons why I did not do so in my younger days were probably more to do with my levels of equestrian performance and skill. If I got on a big hunter and started chasing across the countryside, I would have fallen off at the first major fence that I came to.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page