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Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, given that I am going to speak later, but could he say how he would approach the Bill as presented by Alun Michael and whether he would fully agree with banning stag hunting and hare coursing?

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I have reservations about that Bill, as many colleagues do. Were it to appear again, we would look to ways to improve it, as we do with all legislation. However, I wholly support the basic criteria that Alun Michael has set out. I hope that colleagues on all sides of the House will attempt to improve the Bill. I look forward to my noble friend the Minister tonight telling us whether he supports the criteria set out by his Minister.

4.19 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I have never hunted in my life, but I have spent time, many years, among those who do so and in parts of this country where hunting is not just the eccentric luxury of a few but is one part of the social and economic structure of the countryside. I know that that point is hard to grasp for those who do not experience it. However, it makes a nonsense of the comparison which I am sorry that the Minister advanced again today—the comparison between fox hunting which is part of the structure, and old sports such as bear baiting and cockfighting which never were. As we all know, the structure of the countryside is now fragile. We have debated the reasons for that over and over again. The Government and Parliament should surely be trying to rebuild and strengthen that structure and not deal it an extra blow, this time of our own devising.

I should like to look at one particular aspect of this, as one who for 25 years represented part of Oxfordshire and was for five years at the Home Office and gained there some understanding of the policing of our country. Crime, and therefore the work of the

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police, is considerably concentrated on towns and cities. I take as an example my own police area, the one in which I live. Thames Valley Police inevitably, rightly, focuses on the conurbations of Slough, Reading, Oxford and others. That is where most of the men and the effort go. As your Lordships know, however, there is plenty of crime also in the scattered countryside. There is plenty of fear of crime; perhaps we feel particularly vulnerable to well organised burglary. We know that the police are stretched. They do not have the men or the money to cover the ground adequately.

In the countryside, in particular, the police rely on the co-operation—the friendship—of the citizen in villages and market towns. The Bill would make the main leisure pursuit of many of those citizens a criminal offence. The Bill would give the police the task of enforcing a law which those individuals would regard as unjust and plain wrong. I ask the Minister not to underestimate the passionate resentment of a minority. Ministers always find themselves opposed—it goes with the job. Wise Ministers try to avoid being hated, albeit by a small minority. That is the country into which these Ministers and this Bill are going.

We do not know how the hunting world would react to a ban, and nor do the police. I do not myself believe that established hunts would meet and hunt as they do now were a ban to be enacted. However, we cannot be sure what individuals will do. Some will certainly test to the utmost any loopholes in the Bill, and they are certainly entitled to do so. I can imagine, as one shrewd farmer said to me the other day, individuals meeting defiantly in a pub on a Friday evening and putting together an impromptu illegal hunt for a Saturday morning. More likely perhaps, and more widespread perhaps, I can imagine that individuals, feeling passionately, as many would, that this measure was unjust and oppressive, would find a means of civil disobedience which may be totally unrelated to hunting and would willingly pay the penalty set out by law as their protest against a perceived injustice. When such individuals came before the courts as alleged criminals, I am sure there would be a huge and vocal sympathy on their side.

We do not know, but all those are clearly possibilities. It is no good the Minister shaking his head and saying that they must not be taken into account. All those possibilities would pit the police against those who are now their strongest supporters. All of them would run the risk of disrupting the alliances—the co-operative arrangements—on which the police rely. All of them would distract the police in rural areas from the pursuit of real crime.

It was with those thoughts in minds that, on 18th August, I took a delegation to see our chief constable, Mr Peter Neyroud, at his headquarters in Kidlington. We made those points to him and he fully understood them. It is not for chief constables of police to tell Parliament what the law should be, but it is for them to tell the Home Secretary, the Government and the rest of us what the consequences of a law might be for the policing of England. Following the meeting which I

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mentioned, our chief constable did just that, as did other chief officers, as my noble friend Lady Byford has already said. Our chief constable said:

    "It is going to be extremely difficult for the police to enforce a ban and it will create some distinct tensions. It is going to generate more work for the police of the sort that rural communities are not going to value. Apart from the few who feel strongly against hunting, most people will regard it as a diversion from proper policing and those who want to hunt will feel victimised. It's an absolute no-win situation for the police".

Are we so confident of the success of the fight against crime, are we so confident of the position in which the police are placed today, that we are going to add what they believe to be a "no-win situation" to their existing difficulties?

I should like to append my final comments to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, on the fundamental issue here. Some 400,000 people marched on London mainly because of this matter. I should like to pick out just one of them, because I think that it goes to the heart of this question. He is a neighbour of about my age in our village. He spent much of his life as a gamekeeper. He is long retired but he is not idle. In the winter he follows the Heythrop hunt—first on a bicycle, and now in his own small car. He helps the hunt with local information about the condition of the land and the whereabouts of foxes.

The Bill would not just ban the main pleasure of my neighbour's old age; it would tell him that the way he has spent all those winter days has been cruel and wrong. Yet this is a wise man who knows as much about cruelty and kindness as any of us, and knows much more than any civil servant or lawyer about fields and woods and the animals and human beings who frequent them. Who are we to pass this verdict on him and on his life? My neighbour and his friends have written to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, and they received a perfectly correct and bureaucratic reply—a reply, I must say, from another world.

This Bill in its present form is presumptuous and illiberal. It passes the bounds which should constrain all of us, which should constrain politicians and lawyers in seeking to direct the life of the individual citizen. I believe that it is the duty of this House to haul the Bill back within that sensible and necessary boundary.

4.28 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I rise to support a complete ban on hunting. For me it is a conscience issue, and I trust that those who do not agree with me will respect that, as I do their different views. I would say to some earlier speakers in your Lordships' House today that to call those of us who support this Bill unprincipled, bigoted, vindictive, illiberal, zealots and class prejudiced is nonsense, unhelpful and gets in the way of cogent argument. I do not intend to reciprocate in kind. They are our principles. They are strongly and genuinely held. They may be different from yours, but it is because they are held so strongly that I have the courage today to stand up in a minority, I believe, in

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your Lordships' House and explain why I reach my conclusions. I hope that I will be listened to in that spirit of tolerance.

I reach my position through a conjunction of three particular aspects of the matter. First, I believe hunting with dogs to be cruel. According to my personal moral code, human beings should avoid cruelty to animals wherever possible and should not cause suffering, especially not in the name of sport. Secondly, I believe hunting with dogs to be predominantly a sport and not vermin control. Thirdly, I believe that the sport of hunting often impinges on the rights and freedoms of other country dwellers and their property and livestock in a way which is quite unacceptable.

Let me consider these one by one. First, the issue of cruelty. Clearly in some parts of the country at some times of year there is a need to reduce the number of foxes to protect farmed animals. I do not deny that and believe that it is justified if it can be done with the minimum of cruelty. There is probably no way of killing a mammal with a well developed nervous system and senses which is totally free from fear or pain. However, flawed though they are, there are other ways which, done properly, can be less cruel. Gassing is rather indiscriminate, so careful trapping or shooting is preferable but must be done by good marksmen to avoid wounded animals dying in pain. A fox that is hunted suffers enormous fear for prolonged periods of time which, for a higher animal, is extremely cruel, to say nothing of the few minutes it takes for the hounds to tear it apart. My reading of the Burns report is that there is proven cruelty of a significant level here. Professor Donald Broom, Professor of Animal Welfare at Cambridge University, having examined all the available evidence, has concluded that,

    "careful shooting or trapping . . . will result in a lower net extent of poor welfare than hunting with dogs".

Anyone who chased and killed a cat or a domestic dog in the same way as a hunt chases and kills a fox would be convicted for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. The same protection should be given to a fox. It is a natural hunter but it is not naturally hunted in this country, not since wolves and bears ceased to roam our countryside anyway. It is part of our ecosystem. I believe that there is a case for a close season for shooting during the breeding season to protect the fox. What it boils down to is that cruelty is cruelty, and regulated cruelty is no better.

Secondly, hunting is a sport and not vermin control. If that were not the case, why would hunts breed foxes, as they do? Any pest control should pass three tests: necessity, effectiveness and humaneness. Hunting with dogs passes none of those tests. I myself used to keep chickens in the middle of an area with plenty of foxes. They ran freely in a run surrounded by high wire and they were safely closed in their hutch at night. I never lost a single chicken to a fox. Some of the letters I have received have talked about the exaggeration of the need to control foxes. For example, one eyewitness

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wrote that a fox was blamed for killing a lamb which actually died at birth and was then half eaten away by ravens. In another case a farmer called out the hunt because the remains of a sheep were found in one of his fields. On investigation the so-called remains turned out to be years old.

In May 2002 an investigation by the League Against Cruel Sports revealed that even in upland areas such as Cumbria that are perceived to have a greater need for fox control, sheep carcasses were being dumped on hunting land adjacent to artificial earths to encourage foxes to live in suitable places with a view to hunting them.

Neither is hunting effective in controlling the fox population. Those countries such as Ireland that do not allow hunting with hounds are no more overrun with foxes than we are. The Burns report concluded—

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