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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I have been asked by Members with widely differing views on the Bill before us to remind Members of the Committee to speak to the amendment which is before us rather than to make Second Reading speeches. The particular amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, deserves consideration rather than Second Reading speeches.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I should just like to say that the whole of my speech was inspired by the way in which a section of the party opposite has paraded its own conscience and ignored that of other people.
It is that combination of conscience with rational argument that makes the case for hunting so strong and convincing, and makes resentment and opposition to the Bill in the form in which it has come from the other place so strong and unrelenting. There is in this matter more than a little spark of that "celestial fire called conscience".
I shall move from the philosophical to the practical and pragmatic. There is a real risk of unwitting contravention of this deeply unpleasant and undesirable Bill, if by any mischance it were to become law. Imagine an elderly farmer walking with three or four dogs and unexpectedly flushing out a mammal that is not exempt. Do we have to rely on the good sense of the police not to prosecute because that man, or whoever else may be in that position, will technically be guilty of infringing the new law? Do we have to rely on the restraint of those who administer the law?
It has been said many times that we can rely on that restraint and moderation, but is it really sensible? Would it not be better to acknowledge that there is real risk of gross injustice of the prosecution of someone who conscientiously believes that the activity in which he or she is engaged should be exempt? I support the
Lord Renton: I, too, support the amendment, moved for very strong reasons by my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil. I wish to put forward yet another reason. Unless we are very careful, we shall find that foxes suffer terribly if hunting is abolished. I speak not merely as one who hunted regularly in Huntingdonshire until I was 70, but because I live in the countryside. We find there that if foxes are not controlled in numbers, they spread terribly and do enormous damage. They kill lambs, poultry and game. In the interests of life in the countryside, it is therefore essential that the number of foxes should not be increased by the abolition of huntingand it certainly would be. We cannot get away from that fact.
If hunting is abolished, foxes, because they will become so numerous, will have to be killed by other means, all of which are most cruel, except one. Shooting is all right if a fox is killed, but if it is wounded it goes away and dies of gangrene, a terrible death. Poisoning and snaring are both illegal, but of course take place already and would do so to a much greater extent. They are horrible ways of killing foxes. The only other way is trapping, but that is ineffective. Foxes are difficult to get into traps; they somehow instinctively do not get in.
If hunting were abolished, foxes would run the risk of dying of gangrene or being poisoned or snared. I have seen foxes snared; they were still alive and suffering terribly. Of course, one has to go up to the snare and kill the fox. Poisoning is horrible and we do not know how long it takes, because it must vary depending on the poison.
People say, "Yes, but chasing a fox a long way is cruel". Being of light weight I was able to keep up with hounds, and I got into the habit of counting the number of seconds between hounds closing in and the fox being killed. I never counted more than four seconds. That is a very quick and certain way of killing foxes. In the cubbing season, of course, young foxes are killed without much of a chase. Old foxes are sometimes killed quite quickly in the cubbing season also, as they are during the hunting season. Only those foxes in the prime of life have to be chased.
I quite understand that what I am about to say will seem incredible to some Members of the Committee. Sometimes I have seen foxes in the prime of life being chased with what looked to me like a grin on their face. I do not think that they minded being chased. When hounds closed in, the end was quick.
I would like those Members of the Committee who want the Bill to be retained in its original form to bear those factors in mind. For the reasons that I have given, if hunting is abolished foxes will suffer terribly. The amendment does something to avoid that.
Baroness Byford: The whole issue of hunting is a non-party and free-vote issue, but I should support the Government and the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, in her remarks. It is important that we stick to the amendments. Much though I love my noble friend very dearly, I think that his contribution would have fallen under Amendment No. 28. It might help the Committee all round if we tried to focus on the amendment.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I shall speak exactly to the amendment, which is totally about conscience. The right reverend Prelate talked about conscience, and I am rather struck by the fact that all of us here who vote on the Bill shall do so on the basis of a free vote, as did all those who voted on it in the House of Commons. Therefore, that was voting on the basis of conscience.
The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, wants to give other people the benefit of conscience. Since we are allowed to have a conscience about the issue, and bearing in mind that about 60 per cent of the British electorate do not believe in a ban on hunting, other people should be able to have a conscience about it as well.
There is another point about conscience. In the Labour Party, and in other parties, we have always held that if a person has a conscientious objection to an order, he is entitled to take action against it. The person whom the amendment describes would be doing what many people have urged their Members to do for a long time.
Finally, the Bill is about more than fox hunting; it is about hunting with dogs. One is entitled to point to the Labour Party manifesto, which undertook to bring forward a Bill to ban fox hunting. The Government have gone far further than that. Anybody who hunted deer with dogs would therefore be able to say, "Look here. You did not have a mandate to extend your hunting ban to deer hunting".
Although the amendment may seem strange to a number of people, who perhaps believe that it should not have been moved and that laws passed by Parliament should be obeyed, that point of conscience should be addressed. Moreover, how far outwith the people's expectation at the previous general election should the Government and Parliament go? We have had a worthwhile discussion. I will be interested to hear the Government's response.
Lord Eden of Winton: I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. He spoke with that cogency and moderation to which we have become accustomed in your Lordships' House. I strongly support the views that he expressed.
When speaking about conscience, most people in this country become rather embarrassed. We feel a little bit uncomfortable when talking about our conscience. We do not like people who parade their conscience publicly.
It is important to emphasise that people feel very strongly. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said in his opening remarks at Second Reading, people feel strongly on either side of the matter. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for example, has strong feelings about it. He has spoken frequently about the matter and expressed his views powerfully.
Conscience, therefore, traverses both sides of the argument and is not the exclusive preserve of those who are opposed to hunting. There are those who are conscientiously opposed to killing animals full stop. They do not like to engage in any form of killing animals. If they carry it to its logical conclusion, they tend to be vegetarians. Many of those who oppose hunting, ostensibly on the ground of conscience, do not oppose eating hamburgers, chicken or other forms of meat at their dinner tables, yet there are those who clearly and conscientiously object to the taking of life for those purposes. The Bill does not defend that, because Schedule 1 exempts certain forms of hunting on the grounds that the hunted species can be eaten. "Conscience" is therefore a fairly loose term in some people's books, but is rigidly applied in the case of others.
My own attitude to the whole of the Bill, and to the amendment in particular, derives from my conscientiously and deeply held view that hunting with dogs of the quarry species entails least suffering and preserves that degree of utility, which are the two yardsticks by which the measures should be judged, according to Mr Alun Michael when he started out on this course.
Like the right reverend Prelate, my prime motivations for supporting the continuation of hunting with dogs are the proper management of the quarry species, the proper management of the environment and the conservation of the countryside. I conscientiously believe that it is far less cruel to hunt and kill with dogs than it is to use other methods, as my noble friend Lord Renton made clear. That view was strongly supported in 2000 by two vets, who explored the subject in great detail in an interesting pamphlet, A Veterinary Opinion On Hunting With Hounds. The vets pointed out the grave suffering that could arise from shooting and wounding animals without being able to retrieve them. The shooting and wounding of a fox was anticipated by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in the Bill. He expressly indicated that shooting a fox because it is too big to retrieve with a dog would not be exempt under Schedule 1. So what happens to the wounded fox? It suffers. It suffers a cruel death as a result of the wounding. The vets to whom I referred said that that,
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