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Baroness Byford: My noble friend did not say that.

Lord Hoyle: I am sorry, but that is what he said and the noble Earl is a member of the noble Baroness's party, not mine, thank goodness.

Surely we can disagree and still remain friends. While I may disagree with what has been said from the Benches opposite, I know that those views are held

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with conviction. Equally, however, I believe that the views of the majority in this country are the same as mine. They are held with conviction and they must be allowed. I have received letters asking me to oppose the Bill, but I have also been asked to support it. Some of those letters have described instances of damage caused by hunts and the arrogant way people are treated when they complain about the hunt riding over land which it has been forbidden to cross, or when domestic pets are chased. So there is a difference of opinion on this matter.

Much has been said by both sides about Burns, although more by those on the side of the hunting fraternity. But Burns also pointed out that hunting seriously compromises the welfare of the animal being hunted. It is there in black and white. That is why I believe that bringing to an end hunting with hounds is long overdue. The arguments about civil liberties are the same as those that were used in support of bear baiting, cock fighting and dog fighting when they went. There is nothing new in them; they have been used before.

It has been said in the debate that we should spend our time discussing other matters, as though we do not do so. Of course we discuss issues such as the NHS, crime, defence and education. While we may not discuss them as often as the other place, we do consider them in great detail. I would suggest that it is not enough to discuss them; action must be taken, and I believe that the Government I support are doing just that. Of course in the House of Lords we tend to discuss agriculture rather more because many landowners sit in this place.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I wonder if the noble Lord would give way. I resent slightly his last comment. Many noble Lords in this House speak in agriculture debates, in particular when they touch on the environment and rural affairs. I speak in debates on housing and many other matters. The noble Lord points a finger across at my colleagues, who unfortunately are not all in their places at the moment, and accuses them of being the reason why agriculture is raised. I suggest to the noble Lord that agriculture has been going through some very difficult times—more difficult times since his Government took over 1997 than before. It is not surprising that we discuss those matters.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I am rather surprised by the intervention of the noble Baroness. I am not being critical. I am merely pointing out—and, whatever the noble Baroness may say, it is true—that there are an awful lot of landowners in the House who are interested in the debate. The noble Baroness knows that, like her, I am interested in agriculture, but I very often discuss larger issues than the problems facing the countryside.

I make the same point on defence. Chiefs of staff, brigadiers and air marshals provide a wealth of knowledge in this House on defence matters. That is a good reason for debating defence issues. I heard many first-class speeches on Iraq from noble Lords with defence connections. That is another issue that has been discussed in the House.

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I should say to noble Lords on the Benches opposite that another issue that is discussed, given the age of the House, is of course other people's sex. That is regularly discussed here.

It has been said that the hunting of deer and, particularly, the hunting of foxes needs to be retained as a matter of pest control. Approximately 25,000 foxes are killed per year. Hunting accounts for about 2 per cent or, put at the top end of the scale, to be generous, 6 per cent. What happens to the other 94 per cent? How do they die? Many die because they are shot, trapped or are involved in road accidents. Certainly it can hardly be said that hunting is a form of pest control when it accounts for only 2.5 per cent of deaths.

It has been said that hunting is needed on Exmoor to cull red deer. About 1,000 deer die each year on Exmoor, but only 15 per cent die because of the activity of hounds. What happens to the other 85 per cent? I hope the legislation will improve the way in which they are killed. But that is a fact. How can you call that "control of deer"? It is not.

Why do we not debate the fact that people enjoy hunting because they regard it as a sport? I can understand that. That is a real reason. Please do not claim that hunting is a form of pest control when the figures are not matched by the rhetoric from the Benches opposite.

It has been said that if the Bill is passed there are people who will become criminals because they will defy the law. They need not become criminals. The choice will be theirs. They will only become criminals if they defy the law, but the passing of the Bill into an Act will not make them criminals as such.

It has been said from all Benches that the uncertainty must end. We gave a manifesto promise that we would give enough time for this issue to be brought to a conclusion. I believe that that will occur. Ultimately, the democratic House will speak; it will make up its mind. It will receive the Bill back from this House with whatever amendments we decide on, and then it will make up its mind. That is the right procedure because, ultimately, no one in this House has to face an election. We made the promise in 1997. We had more Members representing rural areas then than any other party. Those people stood again and were re-elected, and they again said, "We must ban hunting with hounds". They have faced the electorate. Whatever the merits of this House—and we have a right to amend legislation—we do not have to face the electorate.

The other House will speak and the uncertainty will come to an end. When it does, I hope that it will be in favour of a ban to bring to an end now the cruelty that should have been brought to an end in the 18th century.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Nickson: My Lords, we are in very dangerous waters—that has been emphasised again and again in this debate. Two and a half years ago we had the last Second Reading of a hunting Bill. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will not be too upset with me—I

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am not trying to provoke him—if I recall remarks that I made in that debate. I quoted remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I would like your Lordships to dwell on these two sentences.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said:

    "It is deeply necessary not to confuse what we may disapprove of with what must be criminalised".

I repeat:

    "It is deeply necessary not to confuse what we may disapprove of with what must be criminalised".—[Official Report, 11/4/00; col. 92.]

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will recall saying

    "it is one of the great constitutional . . . balances of our system—to respect and protect the interests of minorities against a populist majority".—[Official Report, 24/7/00; col. 124.]

They were not talking about fox hunting; they were talking about buggery. One was in the context of the sexual offences legislation in 2000, and the other in the context of local government amendment legislation, also in 2000. But I do not think the principles have changed particularly.

When the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, opened his speech, he said he was consistent and, indeed, he has been consistent in his attitude to the Hunting Bill. But I suggest to him in the most gentle and polite way that there are principles which can apply in other directions.

I must declare non-interests. I have never hunted; I am no longer a director of the Countryside Alliance, and I live in Scotland. If I did hunt, I would have the great misfortune to have to operate under the legislation of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie. I was sorry to hear he was proud of it; the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, said that Ministers may expect to be opposed—they should not seek to be hated. I can only say that this perfectly dreadful Bill in Scotland has caused great distress in the countryside there.

I oppose this Bill on three counts—first, on the grounds of cruelty; secondly, because it is a distinctly illiberal measure; and thirdly, because it is a dangerous misuse of the criminal law.

I do not hunt, but I fish, I stalk in the Highlands and I shoot. I encourage and authorise others to kill foxes by whatever legal means possible. I try to kill foxes myself, and I am not particularly good at it. When foxes are shot, whether lamping, snaring or other methods are involved, there must be considerable suffering. Even expert, trained marksmen would say that four out of five foxes may be all right but the others are not. Those foxes go away to die slowly, in great agony. The great merit of hunting, as I see it, is that the fox is either dead, quickly, or alive.

Secondly, the countryside sees itself as unloved, misunderstood and uncared for by a Government who are much more interested in urban issues. I am sure it is correct that a majority of the rural constituencies are represented by Labour Members, but I can only say

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that very many people in the countryside do not feel they are being adequately looked after and believe their liberty and livelihood to be under threat.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I believe there is a real threat in the use of the criminal law. This goes far beyond the countryside, beyond the ranks of the country sports. I believe that the law-making process itself is at stake. For if a nation's people come to lose respect for the law-making process, if they hold the law-makers in contempt, and if it becomes extremely difficult and unlikely that it will be easy to enforce that law, those people will no longer feel the need to obey the law. That can become a very dangerous habit indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, was right to draw attention to that great threat.

There are people—I may not be among them—who believe that the Government showed insensitivity, intransigence and, perhaps, inflexibility, in the approach to constitutional reform in this House in various ways in the past few years. My belief is that, if that process had been approached differently, some form of consensus over a longer period could have been achieved. Some agreement could have been made on all those controversial issues on which we have got ourselves into a considerable muddle.

There could have been a middle way, and I believe that there is still a middle way in relation to this Hunting Bill. If the Government are wise, they will accept that there must be very significant changes to the Bill that is presented to us. Were that Bill to go back from this House to another place and be totally rejected, I would urge the Government to think very hard indeed before they sought to invoke the Parliament Act to force through the Bill as it stands at present.

8.51 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, this is the first time that I have spoken in this House on hunting, and I do so now fully realising that many noble Lords know much more about the subject than I do. I intervene because I am appalled by the Bill. Without having given the matter my full attention, I had assumed that the Government's registration proposal was a sensible compromise between those who wanted to ban hunting with dogs and those who wanted it to continue as before. Now that the House of Commons has decided that it wants a total ban, it is time for the defenders of liberty to speak out.

I also now understand that the system proposed in the original Bill was not the even-handed compromise that I had assumed. Tony Banks's amendment brings all hunting to an end, but the Bill's registration system would have had much the same effect because it required applicants for a hunting licence to prove something that could not be proved—that hunting causes significantly less pain, suffering or distress than any alternative method. The task facing us is not only to restore the original structure of the Bill but to revise the registration system so that the onus is shifted on to opponents of hunting to show that there are more humane methods of pest control.

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I oppose a ban because I do not believe that the case has remotely been made. Those who want a ban say that individual liberty must give way because its exercise imposes unnecessary cruelty on foxes. Unfortunately, we cannot line up a sample of foxes and ask them by which method they would prefer to be killed. If we could, there might be much lively disagreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, tried to do that job in chapter 6 of his authoritative report. The report admits that hunting,

    "seriously compromises the welfare of the fox".

That is an unremarkable statement in view of the circumstances. However, it goes on to state that other methods can also have, "serious adverse welfare implications". The noble Lord never goes beyond that hedging conclusion, for the obvious reason that we cannot measure the suffering caused by different methods of culling.

Those who argue that we have scientific evidence about such matters are perpetuating a wicked deception on the public, but the public basically agrees with that sensible conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. Asked by pollsters which method they thought inflicted more cruelty, 25 per cent suggested hunting foxes with dogs, 27 per cent said killing them by other means such as snaring, shooting and trapping, while 44 per cent thought that both were equally cruel.

Foxes are hunted by people. If we are to argue the case, as the anti-hunters do, on grounds of pleasure and pain, we need to go beyond animal welfare to human welfare, balancing the distress that the existence of hunting causes some people against the pleasure that hunting and its existence gives others.

What is the size of the population of those who feel passionately about this subject? I think that that is where we ought to start. The number of those who are intensely distressed by hunting is certainly quite small. According to a recent poll, only 2 per cent of those asked put abolition of hunting at the top of their political priorities. That makes 500,000 of those who voted at the most recent election. On the other hand, last September, more than 400,000 people turned up at the Countryside Alliance pro-hunting demonstration in London. So there is not much difference in the balance of strong feelings on this subject.

Abolitionists argue that the pleasure people get from hunting is purely sadistic, and, therefore, their interests do not deserve much consideration against those to whom it causes great pain. However, that is an assertion for which there is no evidence. The hunters rarely see foxes being killed, much less torn to pieces. The pleasure from hunting seems to lie in the hunt itself and the social life associated with it, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, pointed out earlier.

What about the population at large? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, to the extent that their views should certainly be taken into account. So what is the evidence? The evidence is that support for a complete ban has been decreasing. According to a Daily Telegraph poll conducted last September, 47.9 per cent

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believe that hunting should be allowed to continue as now or under licence, while 49.9 per cent want to ban it. An ICM poll in July of this year showed that 57 per cent believed that the Government should allow hunting to continue. So the balance in our utilitarian calculus is still as near zero as makes no difference.

I embark on these tedious calculations only because the case for banning hunting with dogs rests entirely on such pleasure and pain arguments. I have not even tried to estimate the adverse effect of a ban on the welfare of those humans and animals—horses and dogs—whose occupations are bound up with hunting. That would make a formidable addition to my side of the argument. However, for the purposes of this argument, I do not need to do that. I only have to show that utilitarian logic does not produce a positive balance in favour of banning. In the nature of things, I doubt whether it ever will, unless a much more painless way of controlling pests is discovered.

If the need for pest control is accepted, if no one method of exercising it is obviously more cruel than another, if the passions are equally balanced, if the electorate are equally indifferent—if, in short, there is no compelling public interest argument for banning hunting—then liberty should surely be allowed the last word.

I do not accept the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that the will of the House of Commons should prevail in all circumstances. That is a perversion of democracy. If the House of Commons decide to do something wicked or abuse human rights, then, regardless of whether it is a manifesto commitment, the will of the House of Commons certainly should not prevail.

A ban on hunting would be a gross interference with individual liberty. It is a proud tradition in our country that liberty should be curtailed only with great and sufficient cause. I contend that no such cause has been adduced to curtail the liberty of those who want to hunt with dogs to continue to do so. That is why our House will need to amend this Bill. We cannot stop the House of Commons getting their own way, but it is our duty to ask them to think again.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, it is my pleasure again to take part in this debate. I begin by thanking a number of people to whom I shall refer later. I want particularly to thank the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA for their steadfast support for those such as myself who have more than once been obliquely referred to as blindly prejudiced, blinkered and so on. I start from the premise that it is cruel and wrong to hunt to the death another animal. I accept all the arguments we have heard about nature and the law of the countryside, but that is not what we are discussing in this Bill. We are discussing whether to allow—in the name of sport or pleasure or leisure—the training of one animal, the hound, to hunt to the death another animal, the fox. However you dress it up, I

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think that that is wrong. Those who do not share my view think that that is right. For a very long time their view has held sway. I am no stranger to being in a minority in this House; I had almost 18 years of that. However, the electorate, the public, changed their mind and the value of this House in the eyes of some people changed too.

I want to deal with the situation that has been painted, that somehow or other in the areas in which hunts operate they form the bedrock and the core of a social and cultural life which, if not idyllic, is something which we ought to envy. Sitting here I listen to that point time after time. I have received many letters on the matter. I was astounded when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford said that he had received 260 letters and not one of them was in favour of a ban. There is an explanation there somewhere which I do not have time to go into. I received 100 letters, the majority of which urged me to support a ban. I have them with me. I did not solicit any of the letters.

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