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Lord Harrison: Perhaps the noble Lord will reflect on the fact that so far as estimates go, four out of five foxes

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that are dispatched are dispatched by shooting. As that is the current situation, we therefore have a cruelty problem now. Would the noble Lord's solution be to eliminate shooting and to introduce universal fox hunting with hounds? I think not.

4 p.m.

Lord Eden of Winton: My conscience is quite clear on this subject in that hunting with hounds is the least cruel method. In wild animal control, shooting occurs right across the board. There is shooting of deer, hare, rabbit, fox, wild boar and other animals which I shall not detail. But shooting takes place, and one has to hope that it is carried out by skilled marksmen and that it does not cause undue suffering. But the fact remains that shooting does cause suffering and hunting with dogs causes least suffering.

Therefore, if I may put it at its mildest, there is room for exercise of one's conscience on both sides of this argument. Members of the Committee may well call to mind the words of Mark Twain:

    "It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practise either of them".

On this particular occasion, I do choose to practise my conscience, and I strongly support the amendment moved by my noble friend.

Baroness Mallalieu: I do not like to sound a discordant note and I agree with all that has been said in the course of this debate, save for one thing. I do not believe that the amendment should appear on the face of the Bill. As currently drafted, it would be unworkable and, in my view, would drive the proverbial coach and horses through the registration and licensing scheme which Mr Alun Michael devised and which I hope this House will try to restore and improve.

However, in one sense, this amendment is one of the most important and fundamental on the whole Marshalled List because it raises the topic which underlines the enactment of any new criminal legislation. The Bill that we received from the House of Commons was designed to turn into a crime something that has been done for hundreds of years with the approval and encouragement of the communities where it takes place and with the approval and encouragement of those without whose co-operation hunting could not happen—namely, the farmers.

Without exception, all the major farming organisations opposed that Bill. Organisations such as the campaign of which I am chairman—the Labour supporters' Leave Country Sports Alone campaign—undertook the production of some maps in a number of marginal rural constituencies. Every farmer was interviewed and a map was coloured accordingly. In no constituency did the proportion of farmers who wanted hunting to continue fall below 90 per cent.

This spring on Exmoor, where I farm in a small way, 722 farmers in the area hunted by the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, whose farms accounted for more than 90 per cent of the total area hunted by those

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hounds, signed a declaration stating that they regarded deer hunting as the only practical way in which the herd of red deer could be managed and preserved there.

Those who have direct responsibility for the management of populations of wild mammals in this country are overwhelmingly the farmers and landowners who want hunting to continue. Not merely do they believe overwhelmingly that hunting is an option which should remain available to them in doing that job; there is also a widespread opinion that the effect of a ban would not be, as others have already said, to decrease numbers killed but probably the reverse. As noble Lords will remember, there was evidence to that effect in the Burns report and at Portcullis House. But, even more importantly in the context of this amendment, there is among very many a firmly held view based on evidence and their own experience that the other methods of control that would be left to them are likely to increase and not decrease animal suffering. So far, we in this Committee have changed that Bill to permit registered hunting, and the extent of it is something that we shall go on to deliberate in due course.

But I ask those who oppose hunting to reflect on this. If, for example, my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton and those who support him were asked whether they would comply with a law which required them to do something which in their view caused an unnecessary increase in suffering to an animal, I suspect that I know what their answer would be. Yet that is the very position in which the majority of country people, who have responsibility for managing wild animals, would find themselves in the event of a ban.

A criminal law which does not have the support of the law-abiding community to which it applies because that community holds the belief that it is being asked to do something wrong, and a law which requires the members of that community to adopt methods in their ordinary, essential tasks which they believe deliberately cause unnecessary suffering—the original definition of "cruelty"—is a recipe for bad law. It is a recipe not only for a law which is unenforceable but for one which brings the legal process generally into disrepute.

Once one passes legislation which offends the conscience of the community to which it applies, one strikes a blow at the administration of justice and, just as significantly—perhaps even more so—at the unity of those communities and of our nation. To force such legislation on to the statute book would—as the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, reminded me I have already said—create lasting resentment, I believe, not only in rural communities but among those who care that we live in a free society. As the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead—a true liberal—reportedly told the Prime Minister, it would be widely perceived as,

    "the most illiberal measure in the past 100 years".

The difficulty of enforcement of a measure which does not have the support of the community and which offends that community cannot be exaggerated. Time and again I have heard people say, "The police are our

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friends. Many of them come hunting with us. This would make them our enemies". Enforcement is a matter that we must consider at every stage of the Bill.

A chilling picture of what might happen is contained in an article in the Police Review of 19th September this year, written by Mr Hamish Rogers, an RSPCA chief superintendent. I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Simon, who drew it to my attention. In an article in which the RSPCA inspector dismisses the arguments against a ban and says that there will be no difficulty in enforcing it, he says:

    "It would be nearly impossible to prepare dogs, horses and riders for a hunt without going unnoticed. Where reports of illegal hunting are received, intelligence-led operations could prevent a meet taking place".

He goes on:

    "The successful prosecution of offenders is often reliant on information from members of the public, and there is no reason to suspect this will change".

What a picture of life in rural Britain in 2003 or 2004. Are we to have spies and snoopers peering through the gap in the fence to see whether the little girl next door is plaiting her pony in preparation for the meet the next day and then ringing the authorities? What a problem for rural police, who rely on the good will and co-operation of local people to do their general policing job effectively. And what a problem, ultimately, for the administration of justice. We have already heard about that from a number of very senior police officers, not to mention the Magistrates' Association.

Who are the new criminals to be? The local vet? Five practising vets used to hunt with the pack with which I hunted until quite recently. One can brand people as criminals, one can change the law and one can tell people that they are criminals, but in the dock will be elderly people, women, children, vets, doctors and nurses. No matter how much one calls them criminals, it will be apparent to the nation that they are nothing of the sort. The law will be brought into disrepute and so will a Government who devoted their time in office to such nonsense and allowed their zealots to have their way. Bad law does not last.

There is general agreement, at any rate in this Chamber, that much as many of us dislike the idea of still more regulation, hunting which is properly conducted, which serves a useful purpose and causes no greater suffering than other available methods, should be permitted under strict control. Mr Alun Michael spoke over and over again to that effect: he wanted a law to emerge which stood the test of time. A banning Bill will not end this matter; rather, it would be the start of a new and more unpleasant period of division.

In his evidence at Portcullis House, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, made that very point; namely, that a quick fix, a quick solution, would not be the answer. He said that something which would work needed co-operation and agreement. When one tells people that they must do something they believe to be wrong they tend to take no notice. I cannot forget the day when I and others in this House walked down Whitehall past the Cenotaph at the front of a column of people who numbered over

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400,000. That was just over a year ago and was then the largest demonstration this country has ever known—there have been larger since. The silence as we walked past the Cenotaph was something that those of us there will never forget.

Freedom of conscience is what this country is about. We do not readily give in to bullies or to people who use their power in office to force us to behave in ways which we believe are wrong. The amendment is right to remind us that those who seek to do so are embarking on a course which would have unpredictable and unpleasant consequences for the whole of the nation, but to put it in this form on the face of the Bill would be a mistake.

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