Hunting Bill

– in the House of Commons at 5:17 pm on 16 December 2002.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. The House will be aware that Mr. Speaker has put a limit of eight minutes on Back-Bench speeches today, and it would be greatly appreciated by the House in general if Front-Bench spokesmen could also limit their contributions to a reasonable length to allow as many Back Benchers as possible to take part in today's very important debate.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would you remind the House what the rules are on interventions, and what is the impact of interventions on the eight-minute limit?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Yes, I will again tell the House how this works. The first intervention that a Member accepts does not count against his time, and he is allowed an extra minute on the end of his speech. The same applies for a second intervention—the intervener's time does not apply, and the hon. Member is allowed a second minute on the end of his speech. After that, there are no allowances at all.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:22, 16 December 2002

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the long-running and contentious issue of hunting with dogs. Some people have congratulated me on achieving the impossible: creating a sort of unity by getting both sides in the debate to express initial opposition to my Bill. I am told that I have demonstrated a special talent.

In fact, such opposition is almost inevitable when entering a debate that has been raging for decades, in which both sides have been in campaigning mode for years, and where hon. Members have made personal commitments to one side or the other. Each person is looking for a Bill that enshrines his or her beliefs in law, and will take some persuading that they should consider supporting anything that differs from the Bill for which they last voted.

I need say little about the Conservative amendment because it says little that is helpful or true. The Conservatives talk about the rights and legitimate interests of minorities, but have they forgotten how their party devastated the rights and interests of minorities and majorities alike, and how rural communities suffered as well as urban communities? That is why Labour now represents some 180 rural and semi-rural constituencies. The Conservatives claim to be concerned about restrictions on individual freedom. Do they really demand the freedom to be cruel to animals? Is that how low the Conservatives have sunk?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way at such an early stage. Ignoring for the moment the intellectually obtuse remark that he has just made about licensing cruelty, would he tell us, as he dismisses the amendment, which parts of it he considers to be true?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. and learned Gentleman will have to suggest to me something that might qualify. The amendment is barely reasoned, and certainly not reasonable.

Since I first took on this job, I have been clear with everyone that my task is to put before the House a proposal that deals with the issue in a way that is based on the right principles tested against evidence, that will make good law, that is enforceable and that will stand the test of time. The Bill is robust when tested against all four of those challenging criteria in a way that previous Bills were not.

Many right hon. and hon. Members and others who have taken the time to look carefully at my Bill have, without compromising their views, acknowledged that it is well crafted and will make effective and enforceable law. It will tackle cruelty, but it also recognises the need to deal with pests and to protect livestock and crops.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

How does the right hon. Gentleman's Bill deal with cruelty if it will allow rabbits but not hares to be hunted with dogs and if it will allow falconry and therefore animals to be torn apart by hawks? The Minister has introduced a Bill that is riddled with inconsistencies and that is totally unacceptable. It shows why he is reading from the XYellow Pages".

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman has shown his prejudice, the fact that he has not read the Bill, and that he does not understand the concept of cruelty. He referred to suffering, which may be caused in a variety of ways. Cruelty is well defined in English law, and my Bill deals with the issue.

As well as being practical, the Bill deals clearly with the moral issue. At the Bill's heart is the key purpose of preventing the cruelty associated with hunting with dogs. That is why it is important to emphasise that the Bill, far from being a compromise, is uncompromising in seeking to root out cruelty. It will not allow cruelty through hunting in the way that the Protection of Animals Act 1911 did, it will not license cruelty in the way that the middle way group's proposals sought to do, and it will not just list the activities to be banned in the way that previous Bills have sought to do at the risk of creating a jamboree for lawyers in the courts. Instead, it goes straight to the heart of the matter by enshrining in law the principle of preventing cruelty as well as the principle of recognising utility. Those principles emerged from the Burns report.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Will the Minister explain why he has unfairly singled out hare coursing and stag hunting? Will he confirm that he has accepted that both stag hunting and hare coursing meet some of the tests of utility and cruelty? Will he also confirm what he said to stag hunters this morning, namely, that he had incontrovertible evidence that stag hunting is cruel?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If the hon. Gentleman will contain himself, I shall cover those points in few moments—

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am prepared to give way as generously as Mr. Deputy Speaker will allow me to do. However, I would be grateful if hon. Members would allow me to finish the odd sentence before I do so.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

The Minister said that, at heart, this was a moral question. Will he explain why it is moral to hunt a rabbit with a dog but immoral to hunt a fox with a dog?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I shall explain those points in a moment, as I did in the statement that I made last week. The hon. Gentleman should have paid attention to the careful explanation that I gave on that occasion.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

Does the Minister accept that, far from trying to license cruelty, the middle way group was also seeking a formulation? I accept that it is slightly different from the one that the Minister has come up with, but the whole point behind our view was that we could reduce cruelty more effectively through regulation than through a ban.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I accept that the hon. Gentleman and those involved with him sought to open up a debate that was not just part of the polarised yah-boo of much of the debate that had taken place. However, their formulation would have amounted to a licensing of cruelty and, as I have made clear to him on previous occasions, that would be unacceptable.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Would the Minister be good enough to tell the House the difference in principle between hunting with hounds, angling and pheasant shooting?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has read with great care his brief from the Countryside Alliance. It is the only group that believes that there should be any read across from the issue of hunting. That has been made a major issue because Members on both sides—those for and against hunting—have turned up on many occasions to vote one way or another. I suggest that he does not allow the Countryside Alliance or anyone else to confuse the issue. The issue is hunting with dogs.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

Will the Minister concede that, at no stage, did Lord Burns or any of the hearings in Portcullis House conclude that there was a proven link to show that hunting was in any way cruel?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman takes the trouble to read—or watch the video if he finds it difficult to deal with the print—the Burns report, the evidence provided to it and the transcripts of the proceedings. He should go through all the evidence and take the time that I have taken to engage with those who support hunting as well as with those who oppose it before he comes to the House with reasoned conclusions.

The principles that I explored with all the campaigning groups during the hearings in Portcullis House in September were those of cruelty and utility. The approach adopted in the Bill is challenging, but it is the way to make good law—law that is Xtough and fair", as The Guardian said in a leader that called on MPs and peers to support the Bill. [Interruption.] Opposition Members seem to want to cheer me up with their entirely predictable response. If they do not like that quote, perhaps they should try The Daily Telegraph for size. It said:

XThe Hunting Bill published yesterday represents the most serious attempt yet to resolve the issue."

Let us consider the Bill's practical effects. Hare coursing is indefensible. Bearing in mind the fact that the defenders of hunting have argued consistently that their activity is needed and necessary, we have to consider the utility aspect of hare coursing. As the objective is to test the speed and agility of the dogs not to catch the hare—the House should not take my word for it; that is what it says on the National Coursing Club's website—hare coursing has nothing to do with controlling pests, so it fails the test of utility.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Opposition Whip (Commons)

What estimate has the Minister's Department made of the number of hares that would survive modern intensive farming if it were not for a sport that has preserved their habitat, which is available to all wildlife?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman takes me into territory that is not covered by the Bill. I shall be happy to debate that with him another time. The question before us is whether coursing can meet the criteria laid down in clause 8, and it cannot. It may play well in tribal discussions for the Countryside Alliance to say that an attack on one form of hunting is an attack on all, but it does its case no favours. If it seeks to defend the indefensible, how can it be taken seriously when it argues for the utility of another form of hunting? I hope that it reconsiders the logic of its position.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

My right hon. Friend mentions the Countryside Alliance, which has circulated its brief extensively to its supporters in the Opposition. Will he join me and, hopefully, the rest of the House in condemning the act that took place only a few minutes ago when pro-hunt supporters threw a lighted flare at my hon. Friend Dr. Starkey? Is that the Opposition's idea of free speech and a genuine expression of protest?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Peaceful protest is the right of any citizen in this society, but protest that involves violence and a lack of reason has no place in it. It is hardly a persuasive way to approach the issue.

Having made the position on hare coursing clear, let me deal with the police. They will gain a real benefit from the powers that the Bill gives to them. As letters from a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have made clear, the threats, intimidation and violence associated with illegal hare coursing cause fear in many rural areas, yet the only law broken is the law of trespass. The police have few teeth and little power to act. The Bill will give them the power to deal with that nuisance for the first time. The power of arrest, the #5,000 fine and the power of confiscation of animals and equipment will enable that rural nuisance to be tackled effectively with a minimum of fuss and evidence gathering.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Conservative, Henley

Can the Minister give an idea of what extra resources will be committed to the police to deal with the thousands of people who will be criminalised by this absurd Bill?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the amount of police time that is taken up because they cannot deal effectively with illegal hare coursing. It is right to give them the powers to deal with it rather than simply letting it take up their time.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I must make a little progress before giving way again.

Let us consider deer hunting, another activity that is dealt with in the Bill. I have already taken one intervention on that. It is necessary to control deer numbers and to disperse the herd to protect crops and growing trees. Although the test of utility may be passed, the test of cruelty—to inflict the least suffering—is not. Both the Bateson report and subsequent evidence to Burns show clear evidence of chased deer suffering even if they are not caught. In stag hunting, a particular stag is selected for pursuit a day before the hunt. Even on Exmoor, where there is a widespread belief in the value of hunting, the belief is passionate rather than grounded in reason and evidence. I have spent time meeting a variety of groups there to understand the situation, and I know something of the distinct local culture on Exmoor.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

The Minister will be aware from the report sent to him by the Exmoor national park authority, in response to his consultation, that it believes that a ban on deer hunting on Exmoor threatens the sustainability of the wild deer herd. In reaching his decision on deer hunting, what do his calculations suggest will be the long-term life of that wild deer herd if he bans hunting on Exmoor?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have taken account of those views; indeed, I have met representatives of the national park authority, local authority representatives and others, and as I said, I spent some time in Exmoor because it is clear that there is an unusual culture in respect of the deer herd. Even some of those who strongly oppose deer hunting acknowledge that powerful cultural attachment, while those who support it appear to be unable to see the weakness of their case. Having given every opportunity to all sides, I have concluded on the evidence that deer hunting cannot satisfy the Bill's key principles and will therefore be banned outright.

Photo of David Cameron David Cameron Conservative, Witney

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves his beloved principles, will he tell us what is the utility of coarse fishing?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Bill is about hunting, and I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he leaves neither the important principles nor the topic of the debate.

There have been arguments in the past about the need to control or protect different species; for instance, about otters in the 1970s and more recently about mink, which has become a new quarry species. My point is that if the principles in the Bill are endorsed by the House, in future there will be good law in place to deal with each and every new element against clear principles and all the available evidence. The Bill will cover all mammals so that tests can be applied when circumstances arise, rather than us having to wait years for a legislative opportunity to clear up an anomaly.

Let us apply the principles to ratting. In this case, the alternatives to using dogs are poisoning or trapping, both involving a likelihood of prolonged suffering and both likely to cause suffering for other species. Similar exemptions on ratting and rabbitting were included in the Deadline 2000 Bill, but as a member of the Standing Committee that considered that Bill, I remind the House that those exceptions were concessions made in Committee, and therefore true compromises, whereas in this Bill they clearly come from applying the key principles set out in clause 8.

Is not that the logical outcome? Who can deny the need to eradicate rats to promote crops and animal health, and indeed human health? Who would wish to insist on the use of a more, rather than less, cruel method of doing so? Ratting is an example where hunting with dogs is necessary; undertaking such an activity just for fun is indefensible, and it will be banned, but there are circumstances in which the use of dogs is less cruel than the alternatives and in which there is a need to control pests, so the activity will survive.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

I congratulate the Minister on his handling of the debate so far. If I take out my long dogs and deliberately course a small hare, I will be breaking the law, but if I take them out the following day and deliberately course a large rabbit, twice the size of a hare, I will not break the law. Is not that ridiculous? Why has the Minister got it in for large rabbits?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No, there is a difference in the species. There is also the fact that hare coursing fails the test of utility. As I have said, it is also a pernicious activity in many parts of the countryside. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of that.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Is not the logic of the argument that rabbits should not be hunted by dogs either?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I shall leave my hon. Friend and Mr. Bellingham to continue that debate. I have put my conclusions before the House and I believe that they are sound.

The Bill deals with the fact that the 1911 Act specifically allows hunters to be cruel by releasing a captive animal in order to hunt it—a situation in which there could be no utility—so the Act remains explicitly a permission in law to hunt animals for the sheer fun of it. Few who defend hunting would argue for such an approach today. Indeed, the chairman of the Countryside Alliance, John Jackson, has said repeatedly that if an activity is cruel, we should not be doing it.

The principle of utility has also been acknowledged on the other side of the divide, not least in the exemptions included in the options Bill, which the House approved and which was introduced on behalf of Deadline 2000 in the last Parliament. I suggest to my right hon. and hon. friends that through those principles the Bill deals fairly and squarely with fox hunting too.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am still having difficulty with the concept of balancing utility against cruelty. If, like me, one is against hanging humans for crimes, the Bill appears to be introducing in legislation the contradictory concept of, XWe're against hanging, but we'll allow it on Sunday afternoons between 2 and 4 o'clock."

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is the point of the two tests in the Bill. People first have to satisfy a test of genuine utility—a need for the activity to take place for the protection of livestock, crops and so on—that is clearly spelt out in clause 8. If the utility test is satisfied, we must find the method of dealing with that utility least likely to result in suffering—the definition of cruelty involves needless or avoidable suffering. If another way of pursuing a necessary activity involves less suffering, the proposed activity cannot be undertaken—that is why the issue of deer hunting has not survived the drafting of the Bill. In the case of ratting, however, both tests are satisfied, so the activity can be undertaken. Cruelty is a precisely defined term in law, and I have used it as tested over a period of years.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire

What happened to mink? Was the Bill drafted by Baroness Golding?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

No. Any activity involving mink would have to survive the two tests to be undertaken in any particular circumstances.

I suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends that in applying the principles I have just described, the Bill deals fairly and squarely with the issue of hunting foxes. Of course, on the hunting of foxes, the divisions to which I referred a few moments ago go even deeper. Indeed, they can be almost tribal on both sides. I suggest to the House that in those circumstances it is even more important to be clinical in applying principles and looking at the evidence. Any hon. Member who looks at the evidence in the light of the key principles may or may not reach the same conclusion as before. I simply remind all my colleagues that in free vote territory like this, there is always an uncomfortable personal responsibility to be open to new evidence and the power of argument.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

My right hon. Friend said that with regard to the Bill we are in free vote territory, and I am very pleased indeed to hear that. I know that he will understand that when we come to vote next year on amendments that could bring about a complete ban, if the bulk of Labour Back Benchers voted for a ban, and if the bulk of the payroll vote voted against the ban, that would arouse outrage in the Labour movement.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can assure my right hon. Friend that this is free vote territory for all members of the parliamentary Labour party. I was about to touch on colleagues' wish to amend the Bill to achieve what is described as a Xtotal ban on hunting" and urge them to reflect. Of course, I understand their objection to the possibility of any form of fox hunting with dogs being allowed anywhere in any form. If my proposals are accepted as drafted, there will be the possibility of some use of dogs where the circumstances justify it. However, Members should consider the implications of a so-called blanket ban in certain circumstances. The Burns report says:

XIn areas where lamping is not feasible or safe, there would be a greater use of other methods. We are less confident that the use of shotguns, particularly in daylight, is preferable to hunting from a welfare perspective. We consider that the use of snaring is a particular cause for concern."

Lord Burns did not suggest open season for all forms of hunting, and neither do I, but only where concerns, to which he referred in a general sense, can be shown to apply—where the need for pest control has been demonstrated and where alternative means of pest control are demonstrably more likely to involve suffering. The provisions in my Bill deal with that situation.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Hall Green

I would like to clarify the position on registration. When someone applies for registration on the two tests of utility and least suffering, do they have to meet those tests only on application, or do they have to meet them throughout the whole period of registration? If the latter, how will that be supervised?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Applicants would have to justify the period for which they were applying. The provisions in the Bill deal with that situation. The applicants would have to show that the activity that they wanted to undertake was necessary. Clause 8 sets out the tests of what is necessary for the protection of livestock, crops and so on. The evidence would have to satisfy the registrar or, on appeal, the tribunal. On both the cruelty and utility tests, a designated animal welfare organisation can also provide evidence to the registrar and to the tribunal about the activity. Furthermore, the applicants would have to show that they passed the cruelty test. They would have to show that the activity that they wished to undertake with dogs involved less likelihood of suffering than the alternatives that were practicable in their area.

The measure is tough but fair, and it will be simple to enforce. I ask colleagues to consider that when the criteria can be met, the effect of a blanket ban would be to require the use of a method that is more cruel—that is, a method more likely to cause suffering. I am sure that that is not intended by those who support the idea of a blanket ban in principle. I simply ask colleagues to join me in testing the practical implications of different approaches as we consider the Bill further, to ensure that together we get it right. Again, bear in mind that any decision is not a licence to be cruel. The automatic conditions set out in clauses 27 and 28 impose a duty for any activity to be carried out humanely so that suffering is kept to a minimum. The error of the 1911 Act is avoided.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have given way many times, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I am conscious of your strictures about the number of Members wishing to speak. I give way to my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping, who has tried several times to get in.

Photo of Paddy Tipping Paddy Tipping Labour, Sherwood

My right hon. Friend has spoken of the practical consequences of the Bill. Has he seen the advice from Bill Swann, who used to work for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, that in his opinion the Bill will bring an end to foxhunting as a sport, and an end to foxhunting in low country areas by mounted packs? Mr. Swann has read the Bill. Is he right?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Mr. Swann has made an interpretation of the Bill. As the Minister responsible for making sure that these matters will go to the tribunal, it would not be right for me to anticipate, but it is right for hon. Members to study the Bill and ask themselves whether Mr. Swann's conclusions are right. I hope that both today, in Committee and on Report, we will examine the practical implementation of the Bill. I ask no more of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members than to consider how the Bill applies.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The tests, as I have said, are tough but fair. Supporters of hunting say that it is necessary, but that cruelty should not be allowed, so they should be satisfied that necessary activity will be allowed where it is not cruel.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Those who oppose hunting should be satisfied that it will be allowed only where it is necessary and that the alternative methods would be more cruel. Some colleagues have asked why Parliament should hand over its prerogative to an unelected—[Hon. Members: XGive way."] I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am happy to continue giving way, but I recognise that that will cut into the time of Back Benchers who wish to contribute. I am not sure whether I should continue to give way or not.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

It is entirely a matter for the Minister whether he gives way or not. The whole House will have heard the comments that I made earlier. I trust that he will bear those in mind, and so will all hon. Members who wish to contribute later to the debate.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I shall therefore be constrained, but I ask hon. Members to note that I have given way 21 times, I think, so far. However, it is a pleasure to give way to Mr. Soames.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. As the welfare of the quarry species will be seriously compromised if stag hunting is banned, and also in many cases if foxhunting is banned, where is the sense in that, from the cruelty point of view?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The aim of the Bill is to deal with the issue of cruelty associated with hunting with dogs. The questions of welfare—for instance, of the deer herd on Exmoor—is a serious consequential issue which, in view of the culture that I mentioned in reply to Mrs. Browning, needs to be tackled sensibly. It is foolish for people simply to say that they will ignore other methods of deer management or ways in which the herd can be properly controlled.

Photo of John McFall John McFall Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

Will my right hon. Friend take an example from Scotland, where the Deer (Scotland) Act 1959 allows the culling of deer, so that we have proper control in dealing with pests? A foxes Act could be introduced to allow the culling of foxes while enabling those who wish to participate in foxhunting as a sport to practise drag hunting. We would then all be happy.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am delighted that my hon. Friend would be happy. I am not sure that the situation in Scotland precisely translates elsewhere, but there are lessons to be learned from the control of deer in other parts of the country.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He rests a great deal on the objective tests and tells us that he does not want to prejudge the tribunal's decision on whether lowland hunting meets them. In that case, why does he prejudge the tribunal on hare coursing, stag hunting, ratting and all the other activities about which he has spoken?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

For the simple reason that those activities fail to pass the test in general terms and that it would be a waste of time and a bureaucratic addition to the work of the registrar and the tribunal to allow that to happen.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. He provides in clause 10 for the Lord Chancellor's Department to make rules that the tribunal will abide by and in clause 48 for this House to annul those rules by resolution if it so wishes. Is it his intention thereby to enable the House to consider whether the rules genuinely allow for hunting only in very restricted and special circumstances and to reconsider and perhaps annul them if they do not?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My hon. Friend points to a way in which the opinions of this House are respected in the drafting of the Bill.

Some colleagues have asked why Parliament should hand over its prerogative to an unelected registrar or tribunal. The answer is that it will not do so. Parliament will make the law on this matter, as on every other. The registrar and tribunal—

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but you will see on the Annunciator that there has been a serious disturbance at the Carriage Gates, which are now closed for exit and entry. In view of the fact that the Sessional Order that we passed on 13 November lays down that entry by Members of Parliament through New Palace Yard and in other ways should not be interfered with, if it has clearly been broken, can Mr. Speaker be notified so that action can be taken and those responsible detained not by the police, but by the authorities of this House—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am sure that the appropriate authorities will be investigating those matters even as we speak. I suggest that we now get on with the debate.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I was explaining the situation regarding the tribunal and saying that Parliament would make the law on this as on every other matter. The registrar and tribunal will be required simply to interpret the legislation as similarly appointed tribunals do in other spheres, such as employment and housing. The tribunal will be a national body, not a local one. Colleagues who have worked in other spheres will know that simple cases can be dealt with quickly by a tribunal that has the capacity to focus on genuinely difficult cases whose circumstances could not have been anticipated in primary legislation.

The registrar will have to be an independent person. We demand such independence in all sorts of circumstances in our parliamentary system. The Charity Commission is a good example in that regard. The registrar will have to have regard to the decisions of the tribunal in reaching his or her decisions. The registrar and tribunal will be strictly non-partisan. They must operate within the terms of the Bill and will not be able to exercise a discretion that it does not allow. They will not start with a blank piece of paper.

The Bill clearly sets out two tests that must be met in order for any hunting with dogs to continue. Those tests must be the starting point for the registrar and the tribunal. It is highly likely that a body of case law will develop quickly, so that subsequent decisions can be made authoritatively and expeditiously. If hon. Members consider the challenges that any legislation has to face—we are now seeing such challenges in Scotland, more than a year after enactment—they will see the strength of the Bill. Instead of a variety of complex court challenges, we will have a Bill that is based on principle and tested against evidence, and legislation that can be enforced without creating a legal bureaucracy that is dependent on prosecution and complex legal interpretation after the event.

Those who say that the scheme is complicated should consider how it will work in practice. We will have simplicity in respect of enforcement that has not been offered by any previous Bill, and simplicity and clarity about who can and cannot do what. I have tested out the ideas with experienced senior police officers, who confirm that enforcement will be straightforward and involve a minimum of bureaucracy.

Some have wrongly suggested that the Bill is a compromise pulled out of thin air and others that it is a vindictive attack on a beleaguered minority. It is neither. It is based on clear principles and on evidence against which they have been tested in a uniquely open and transparent process over the past eight months.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have given way on numerous occasions and I must make progress.

Nothing better illustrates the tribal nature of this debate than the way in which those who support hunting have been encouraged to come to Parliament square today to make a great deal of noise. Given the time that I have taken to listen again and again to such groups, their representatives and groups of individuals who have been involved in protests of different sorts, some well mannered and others not, and also the way in which their genuine concerns have been taken into account, it is disappointing that they are not showing similar respect to the process and to Parliament. Of course, in a free society everyone has the right of peaceful protest, but I remind the Countryside Alliance and its supporters that the process that I have undertaken has involved them at every stage, has been every bit as open and transparent as they asked and has taken the Burns report as its starting point, as they asked.

Those on both sides of the argument should recognise that it is now for Parliament to look at the outcome of that work and take the decisions. I am sure that the vast majority of those involved in the protests today are law-abiding people who will respect the law as determined by Parliament and indeed may regret the behaviour that is taking place. I ask the Countryside Alliance and its supporters, including the more extreme wings, which include some Opposition Members, to show to Parliament the respect that I have shown to them in the past few months. I also ask those who want to return to a different sort of Bill to bear it in mind that the way in which we deal with the Bill will say a great deal about the capacity of both Houses of Parliament to deal with issues that are difficult and wildly contentious. It is Parliament that has to take the decision, but we should reflect that decisions taken through sensible debate frequently make better law than those designed in the heat of the moment.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be grateful for your guidance, as I could not help but notice that the Minister appeared to be reading about the blockage at the Carriage Gates as though he knew about it in advance. I dare say that he can clear up the matter by disclosing his text.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

It is clear that the hon. Gentleman does not understand that when one has carefully prepared a text and things change, one adds words. If he wishes to see my notes, he will see that they contain no reference to the events at the Carriage Gates. Obviously, he does not have the flexibility to speak in such a way.

I ask all hon. and right hon. Members objectively to examine the Bill, the clear principles on which it is based and—

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Paymaster General

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the light of the Minister's response, I dare say that he would be willing to give you an undertaking to place his notes, as they are, in the Library.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

That is even less of a point of order for the Chair.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

If it is of any interest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall be pleased to hand my notes to you immediately after I sit down, but I have to say that the hon. Gentleman demeans himself in his intervention.

I was asking in reasonable tones that all hon. and right hon. Members should objectively examine the Bill—something that Opposition Members seem unwilling to do—consider the clear principles on which it is based and the evidence-based process that led to its drafting, and ask whether it will achieve what they believe in while being seen by the public as tough and fair and being strong enough to withstand legal challenges.

Let us remember that while this is a difficult and contentious issue, it is not as important to the countryside generally as the issues with which my colleagues and I grapple day by day: the creation of jobs and opportunities in a strong rural economy, education, health, tourism, transport, post offices, services in rural areas and the future of farming and food—which was given a fresh lead and new hope by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs only last week.

Yesterday the Sunday Express also helped to make the case for the Bill, although I am not sure that that was its intention. Its headline claiming that hunting had so far cost Parliament some #30 million was based on extremely dodgy arithmetic, but its point about the cost in terms of parliamentary time and opportunities and the impact on far more important parliamentary business was right.

We cannot go on debating this subject year after year after year without a conclusion. That is why the Government gave a commitment to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion, and that is why I have fulfilled the remit given to me by presenting a Bill that will prevent cruelty caused by hunting with dogs while dealing with the genuine needs of farmers, gamekeepers and land managers—a Bill that will stand the test of time and make good, effective law. I commend it to the House.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment) 6:01, 16 December 2002

I beg to move,

That this House
declines to give a Second Reading to the Hunting Bill because it seeks to impose unjustifiable restrictions on individual freedom, would increase the suffering of foxes and other animals that will be culled by less humane means, threatens the future of dogs and horses used in hunting and would rob British citizens of their livelihood;
because it is intolerant of individuals who should be free to participate in hunting, which is not morally different from all other country sports and should not be singled out for discriminatory treatment;
and because the Bill fails to uphold the duty of Parliament to defend the rights and legitimate interests of minorities.

First, let me make it clear that there will be a free vote for Conservative Members on both Front and Back Benches.

The Bill will turn into a criminal offence an activity now lawfully enjoyed by a small but significant minority of our fellow citizens. I agree with one thing the Minister said. He said that at the heart of the Bill lay a moral question, which, to my mind, is this: do the claimed benefits in terms of enhanced animal welfare justify the restrictions on individual liberty that the Bill, even in its current form, seeks to impose? I shall argue that the Bill will impose unnecessary and unjustifiable restrictions on individual freedom, that it will rob some of our fellow citizens of their livelihood and take homes from a number of families, and that, far from enhancing animal welfare, it will do that cause considerable harm.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

The hon. Gentleman's arguments about the removal of the rights of a minority to pursue a particular activity are precisely the arguments that were used when bull-baiting, bear-baiting, cockfighting and otter-hunting were banned. Obviously, when we pass laws in this country people must obey them. If they do not, they criminalise themselves.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he has taken a long and consistent stand in favour of an outright ban on all forms of hunting with hounds. What he does not take into account, however, is that when the aim is, through legislation and as a matter of public policy, to outlaw a recreation that has been lawful and enjoyed by a large number of people—albeit a minority—for many years and many generations, the burden of proof should rest with those who wish to restrict individual liberty. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman or others on his side of the argument have proved their case.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

My hon. Friend could develop his argument further by pointing out the necessity of measuring what is to be banned against what is to be allowed. If there is no distinction in principle between foxhunting and angling—which Mr. Banks enjoys so much—what possible case is there for banning foxhunting?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

My right hon. and learned Friend has made an important point. It is clear to those who examine the details of the Bill that it is based on no consistent ethical principle.

I was rather pleased when Paddy Tipping teased out from the Minister something of what I believe to be the intention behind the Bill, suggesting that if it were enacted in its present form it might lead to the banning of hunting in most of lowland England and Wales while, perhaps, leaving it to survive in a few parts of upland areas. Certainly, it is clear that the Bill is very far from constituting any sort of compromise. The Minister would be horrified if he believed for a moment that as a result of his legislation the registrar would grant a licence to all or even most of the 300 or so hunts currently operating in England and Wales.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

A number of Conservative constituents have told me that they will never vote Conservative again if the party maintains its commitment to reintroducing hunting if elected. Will the hon. Gentleman maintain that commitment?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

I certainly repeat the commitment given by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that were a ban on hunting to be enacted, we would, on our return to government, make time available for Parliament to reverse it. My right hon. Friend has made that perfectly clear, and we stand by it.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

I would not like my hon. Friend to leave the morality question without thinking a little about the rather curious fact—if this is indeed a moral issue—that no known Church leader of any kind has ever said that hunting is immoral.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

I bow to my right hon. Friend's superior theological and ecclesiastical knowledge. He has made an important point about the assessment of a moral debate.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Labour Members have suggested that hunting is akin to bear-baiting. Such sports, which were banned a long time ago, were intended to enable spectators to enjoy seeing an animal being tortured. Will my hon. Friend confirm that that simply does not happen in hunting? Most people who follow the hunt never see the kill. They are not doing it because they want to enjoy the kill; they are doing it as part of country life, and to control the fox population.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

My hon. Friend is right—and, according to my understanding of the present law, if a fox were baited as bears and other wildlife were centuries ago, that would indeed constitute a criminal offence.

The Bill would make hunting a criminal offence unless it fell within the narrow range of exemptions defined in schedule 1 or, alternatively, had been registered under the system described in part 2. Much of the debate has centred on the registration scheme. I find it objectionable that the burden of proof in that scheme rests so clearly with the applicant for a licence—which is stated clearly on page 6 of the Government's regulatory impact assessment. It will not be for the authorities to prove that cruelty takes place; if the Bill is enacted, hunting will be unlawful unless those who hunt can meet the tests of cruelty and utility described by the Minister. Those tests are defined in the Bill in such a way as to weaken the chances of a successful application.

Let us first examine the utility test. The definition in clause 8 is extraordinarily narrow: it is, in effect, restricted to the work of pest control. That is the case despite all the discussion involved in the Burns inquiry, and all the evidence heard then about the relationship between hunting and conservation, the role of hunting in species management and its role in providing employment, especially in remote rural areas.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

If the Minister were to be truly fair, would not he allow the tests to be applied to the rural community, and to the hounds and the horses?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

My hon. Friend is right. It is striking that the Bill's definition of utility is narrower than that of the Minister in a letter to various interested organisations in April. The letter stated:

X'Utility' addresses the need for particular activities, particularly in the work of land and wildlife managers. It might be described as the need or usefulness of an activity for vermin control, wildlife management, habitat protection or land management and conservation."

Even that list was inadequate because it failed to take account either of the point of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) or of the importance of hunting as a direct and indirect provider of employment in rural areas where other employment is not easy to find. Yet the Minister's description of only a few months ago was winnowed significantly before it reached the Bill.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test

Is the hon. Gentleman making a case against a specific tribunal or tribunals in general? Surely the principle behind any tribunal is the need to make a positive case before it on the basis of law. The hon. Gentleman appears to suggest that the tribunal, if established, would be different from any other in the land and should therefore be opposed.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

My argument is that if the Government want to criminalise people, they should define in law the activity that they believe should be outlawed. The burden of proof should rest with the prosecution. It should have to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt in court, as happens with other criminal offences.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that at the hearings in September, witnesses for all sides accepted that recreational activity should be considered a utility? Indeed, that is the only way one can make a consistent case for maintaining fishing and shooting.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. As he said, all sides, not only the Countryside Alliance, accepted that in the hearings in Westminster Hall over which the Minister presided.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

The hon. Gentleman referred to employment earlier. I have never understood why people cannot go drag hunting and thus provide employment.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

If the hon. Gentleman has not yet done so, he should study the detailed analysis of the Burns report, because it concluded that the impact on employment of banning hunting would be especially severe in remote rural areas, where it remains an important generator of work. I ask the hon. Gentleman to take it into account that drag hunting cannot easily substitute for foxhunting or mink hunting, and that it is not easy for people who are employed directly by hunts in specific specialist roles to transfer to other forms of employment, even if they can find them in areas such as Exmoor.

Clause 8 tilts the balance still further against hunting. The applicant has to prove to the registrar not only that hunting would help in controlling vermin, but that it would

Xmake a significant contribution to the prevention or reduction of serious damage".

Those words will further weight the scales against those who wish to apply for registration under the Minister's scheme.

The cruelty test shows that the definitions have again been rigged to place applicants for hunting registration at a disadvantage. The normal requirement in animal welfare law is for the prosecution to prove that a defendant has caused unnecessary suffering to an animal. However, under the Bill, the applicant must prove his case, and that no other method of pest control would have caused Xsignificantly" less pain, suffering or distress. Again, the qualifying adverb is important.

If one relies on common sense or the evidence of the Burns report, all methods of killing a wild animal will involve some risk of causing pain, suffering or distress. As Lord Burns said in the House of Lords debate in March last year:

XThere was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 12 March 2001; Vol. 623, c. 533.]

He argued that the scientific evidence that would justify firm conclusions about the cruelty of hunting was not available. Yet the Bill provides that the applicant has to prove his case that hunting is not cruel.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that the Minister believes that the welfare evidence against stag hunting is incontrovertible. However, does he know that, according to the evidence of Professor R. C. Harris and Dr. Douglas Wise on the second day of the September hearings, such an interpretation cannot be justified? Does he agree that several vets, such as Douglas Wise and R. C. Harris, say that the Government should not dismantle one of Xthe few and best" existing systems for looking after the deer on Exmoor?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

My hon. Friend makes the point well. When one considers stag hunting, the veterinary evidence about the experience of the deer is divided. The evidence that Professor Bateson originally presented has been challenged by other veterinary surgeons. There is also a powerful argument, which was most notably made by my constituent Baroness Mallalieu, that deer hunting on Exmoor contributes to the overall health and conservation of the red deer herd in that part of the country.

The Bill provides plenty of further examples of the way in which the terms of trade are systematically rigged against the continuation of hunting, especially in lowland regions. The Minister will have the power to designate animal welfare groups. Those prescribed groups will have the right to make representations to the registrar about any application. No equivalent right is granted to farmers, land managers or national park authorities, despite the strong views that they hold, as shown by the comments of my hon. Friend Mrs. Browning.

Under the Bill, the taxpayer will reimburse the animal welfare groups for their costs in making representations. We could therefore be in a position whereby the hunt has to pay for legal advice and any other expenses to do with its application and giving evidence to the registrar, whereas the animal welfare groups—one must assume that they are designated to present the case against an application—will stand to have their legal fees or other expenses reimbursed from taxpayers' money. That is indefensible.

Let me give a further example. The Minister said that someone whose application for a licence was rejected by the registrar or tribunal must wait a minimum of six months before making a fresh application. However, no such limit applies to an application from one of the prescribed animal welfare bodies or anyone else to deregister a hunt that has been registered. So even if the hunts overcome the hurdles that the Minister is seeking to place in their way, they could be subjected to a continuous campaign of applications for deregistration, subsidised by the taxpayer, without any certainty that their registration, once granted, would be allowed to continue.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

At the front of the Bill, the Secretary of State has made the declaration in relation to section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998. As my hon. Friend proceeds with his speech, however, he exposes breaches of human rights line by line. Has he been advised by the Minister of how the Secretary of State came to issue that declaration?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

I hope that this matter can be explored in Committee in due course. The Minister will have to explain whether that certification can stand up, in the light of the criticisms that my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier advances.

The central argument of those who support the Bill and those who have long campaigned for a ban on hunting is that a ban is necessary on the ground of animal welfare, yet it is clear that the Bill is based on no consistent ethical principle whatever. Foxhunting, beagling and mink hunting are to be subject to a registration scheme. Stag hunting and hare coursing are to be outlawed completely. If the Minister has the confidence that he expressed today in the principles of utility and cruelty, he should leave it to the registrar and the tribunal to decide the fate of those activities as well. Falconry is explicitly protected under the terms of the Bill. Shooting and angling are, at least for the time being, not mentioned. The argument that the killing of a wild animal should be prohibited unless someone can prove that the Minister's two tests can be passed could logically apply as much to those two sports as to hunting with hounds.

Photo of David Heathcoat-Amory David Heathcoat-Amory Conservative, Wells

My hon. Friend is making a most important point. In one of the weakest speeches that I have ever heard from the Government Front Bench, the Minister founded his argument on the principles of utility and least suffering, but if those principles are applied to other sports, notably coarse fishing, those sports will obviously and inevitably be banned in turn. Does my hon. Friend agree that we are, therefore, opposing the Bill on behalf of millions of other sportsmen whose activities are condemned by Ministers, even if they are not outlawed by the Bill?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is no secret that some of the animal rights groups that have been to the fore in campaigning for a ban on hunting will want to move on, once that goal has been achieved, to campaign against shooting and fishing.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I would like to reinforce the point made by my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory. The whole House has heard the definition of cruelty, as given by the Minister, relating to needless or avoidable suffering. All of us who practise country sports, such as the shooting of game birds and angling, know that those phrases can be used just as properly in the context of those activities as in the context of foxhunting. If that be the case, it is clear that game shooting and angling are next.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

My right hon. and learned Friend is right. If we listen to comments from organisations such as the League Against Cruel Sports, we learn that they are quite open about that being their ambition.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

I should like to reinforce what my right hon. Friend Mr. Heathcoat-Amory and my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg have just said. Match angling, in which the fish is kept in a keep-net and subsequently released, is specifically outlawed in Germany and Belgium.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Perversely, Mr. Lidington is making a very good case for the Bill from an anti-hunting point view. I am sure that that is not what he wants to do. Because he is being diverted away from the Bill by interventions about game shooting and angling, will he make it quite clear that, although there will be some people—including, probably, some in this House—who would like to ban angling and game shooting, there is not a majority in the House to get such a provision through? There are probably some people who would like to ban the Tory party as well, but there—[Interruption.]

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

The difference between what the hon. Member for Newham has just said and what the Minister has said is that the hon. Member for Newham made his point about angling by saying that there was no majority in the House of Commons to carry a motion to outlaw the practice. The Minister, however, was not arguing on pragmatic grounds. He said that there were consistent ethical principles at work here. It is quite obvious from the intervention of the hon. Member for Newham that there is a complete absence of consistent ethical principles in the contents of the Bill.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Will my hon. Friend tell me where he thinks that halal slaughter lies in the great sweep of the argument on principles and ethics?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

My hon. Friend Mr. Soames knows that there are a number of people in this country, as well as some of the animal welfare organisations, who object strongly to the practices of slaughter involved in the preparation of both halal and kosher meat. I remember from previous debates that my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer had to wrestle with precisely this issue when he had responsibility for it as a Minister. The argument that persuades me is that, whatever view I or anyone else may have on the slaughter practices involved in the preparation of these kinds of meat, the religious liberty of the Jewish and Muslim minorities in the United Kingdom is of much greater importance when we take that moral decision.

Photo of George Osborne George Osborne Conservative, Tatton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for breaking from his excellent speech to give way to me. I would like to return to the intervention by Mr. Banks—I think that is his proper title—who gave the clearest possible indication that fishing and shooting would be next in line if the Bill went through, when he said that all that it would take would be to get a majority in favour of such measures in the House.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Will my hon. Friend return to the matter of principle? The Minister has raised the matter of principle, but if it is to be anything other than a convenient phrase, it must be able to be applied everywhere else. My hon. Friend has listed a whole series of areas in which, if that principle were applied, people's normal activities would have to be banned. As the Minister has no intention of banning those activities, this is not a principle but a convenient series of phrases to be applied to the Bill to carry through what was the prejudiced view of the Minister before the Bill was introduced.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

My right hon. Friend is right. The sad truth about the Bill is that the Government—certainly the Prime Minister—accept that a ban on hunting is undesirable and, in practice, likely to be ineffective, but the Government do not collectively have the courage to face up to their Back Benchers who have been campaigning for a ban for many years. So we end up with this shabby, unhappy Bill as an attempted compromise.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

In responding to these points, could my hon. Friend also carry West Ham with us in considering the issue of point-to-point racing, and its connection not only with the hunt but with national hunt racing? If there were dramatically few exempt hunts available, what would the future of national hunt racing be?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

Precisely. That is a further example of why the utility test needs to be tightly drawn if the Bill is to apply much more widely than the Government propose. The irony is that it will do nothing to improve animal welfare. It does not propose to protect foxes, mink or hares. In fact, more animals will probably die if it becomes law. The reality is that a lot of farmers and land managers tolerate deer, foxes and hares because they support hunting as a sport.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Is not that exactly why the farmers on Exmoor provide not only fodder, but cover, from which the wild deer benefit? If that all disappears, the wild deer herd will disappear too. My hon. Friend will have noticed that the Minister did not answer my question. Either he has the information as to how long he anticipates there being a wild deer herd on Exmoor or he has not. Would it not be wrong if he has not made that calculation?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

It would be quite wrong, but I do not have great confidence that the Government have done it.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

I shall give way to my hon. Friend, but then I want to move on to allow time for the many other Members who wish to take part in the debate.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Opposition Whip (Commons)

The experience of the New Forest is instructive in this respect. Now that the Buck hounds have disappeared, the forest supports vastly fewer deer, but the Forestry Commission is required to cull them in much larger numbers, as the previous regime merely dispersed the population throughout the forest. It did not kill very many at all.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. The truth is that if hunting is ending, there will be little incentive for anyone who farms or owns land to conserve wild mammal populations that prey on their crops or livestock. Many of those animals that the Bill purports to help will almost certainly die more painfully if killed by methods other than hunting with hounds.

One thing that came out again and again from the Burns report and all the debates around it is that shooting and snaring are indiscriminate—more animals are left to die a lingering death. I refer briefly to a letter describing the impact of the ban on hunting in Scotland and what it means in terms of animal welfare:

XRecently a fox was seen to run within 50 yards of a Gun. A shot was fired head-on and the animal somersaulted. A second shot was fired as the fox ran away. He spun round then went to ground in a badger sett. It would be difficult to believe that this fox had not been hit at least once, probably twice. The Guns, all experienced shots, were making a sincere effort to kill the fox cleanly, but they failed. By law, we were then forced to leave this fox to live with his wounds, or die from them. In all my hunting life, I have never been party to causing suffering. In conventional foxhunting, it could never happen."

If the Bill proceeds into law, more wild mammals will die the lingering, painful death that that correspondent describes.

It is almost surreal that we are spending parliamentary and Government time debating the future of foxhunting when our country is on the brink of possible war in the middle east and we have major crises in our public services, but the Government have chosen to introduce the Bill. If they had wanted, as the Minister said, to spare Parliament that time, they need only have ignored their Back Benchers' campaign for yet another go at legislating on this topic.

The Bill is intolerant, illiberal and arbitrary. It will restrict freedom and do nothing to help animal welfare. The House should reject it.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I have a point of order from Mr. Flynn.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I raise a point of order on the Sessional Orders? I walked across from Waterloo at quarter past 5 with extreme difficulty. May I say a word of thanks to the police? I quoted the Sessional Orders to them and they led me through a crowd of loutish people whose behaviour was very threatening. I witnessed at least one act of violence, which I am sure will be on the television tomorrow. What on earth are those people doing in believing that by holding up the London traffic and causing unnecessary disruption they can persuade anyone—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but that is not a point of order for the Chair. I call Mr. Banks.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Thank you. Perhaps I ought to explain that this rather garish necktie, which has been pointed out by the hon. Gentleman, was presented to me at a dinner in Scarborough on Friday night. I said that I would wear it for the debate on Second Reading, but it is not an attempt, as it were, to emulate the shadow leader of the House, Mr. Forth, whose sartorial taste defies adequate description. I shall not bother to press the button on the tie, as the House will get a rather tinny version of XJingle Bells". If Mr. Bellingham wants to borrow it while he makes his speech, I shall give it to him afterwards. The hon. Gentleman has diverted me totally from what I was going to say, but what the hell.

The Scarborough and Whitby constituency has about six hunts, and what bothers people there is the fact that if the Bill is unamended they will still have six. They were certainly not happy about that. I do not altogether agree with them, however, as Mr. Lidington inadvertently made a rather good speech from an anti-hunt point of view. He said why the Bill should be given a Second Reading and why it should be unamended. I do not happen to agree with him, but he made a good case suggesting that the Bill could—just could—end hunting altogether. [Interruption.] We do not have to bother to amend it if it will, but I have to disappoint hon. Members, because that is exactly what we intend to do.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury concluded by saying that surely we have more important things to do. I can assure him that many people on both sides of the House who are bored with the issue would like to resolve it, which is why the Government have made it clear that the two Houses of Parliament will be given the opportunity to do so. Let us do that. We will never agree on the issue, but at least we can agree that we need to resolve it.

Interestingly, the hon. Gentleman used exactly the same argument when my right hon. Friend the Minister made his statement on the Bill on 3 December. The hon. Gentleman said, XWhat are the Government's priorities when we end up with this statement before the one on A-levels?" What happened when we reached the end of my right hon. Friend's statement and moved on to the statement on A-levels? Everyone got up and went out—on both sides of the House, I might add.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I will not give way. The issue might not be the most important facing the country—it most certainly is not—but it is not unimportant and we have to resolve it.

I do not intend to speak at length on the arguments over the Bill—certainly not after the diversion caused by my tie—but I must make a few points on the issue. Parliament has been debating the matter of hunting wild mammals with dogs since 1893. There have been dozens of attempts to take Bills through the House. Most failed as they were voted down, talked out or abandoned, but the arguments simply do not go away, and they will not until we have resolved the issue. It is a moral issue about cruelty to animals. I take a straightforward view: it is wrong to take pleasure from the killing of animals. Indeed, it is as wrong to take pleasure from the killing of animals as it is to take pleasure from the killing of human beings.

All the points that have been made about halal meat and so on are not the issue. There is a lot of cruelty in intensive farming, for example, and I deplore it, but no one can say that anyone takes pleasure from it, or from the halal process, although I would be in favour of stopping both.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very welcome that the Minister with responsibility for animal welfare, in negotiations with the Muslim community, has greatly reduced the suffering involved in the preparation of halal meat?

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Yes, indeed, I think that 90 or 95 per cent. of the animals killed using the halal process are now pre-stunned, and there is nothing in the Koran to prevent that. I hope that we will make it 100 per cent.

This is not a class issue. If all those who went out hunting were registered members of new Labour, I would still oppose hunting. It is not a town versus country issue. Dozens and dozens of Members of Parliament with rural constituencies will be voting with me tonight—more, I suspect, than will be voting the other way. It is a moral issue and one on which we cannot compromise.

Conservative Members have talked about hunting and tradition, but exactly the same argument was used about bull baiting, otter hunting—only recently—dog fighting, cock fighting, pig sticking, and so on and on. Some say that this is a matter of human rights, but we do not have rights as humans to torture and kill animals for pleasure. There cannot be any human rights involved in that.

By definition, the animals cannot speak for themselves, so we will speak for them here in Parliament. I must say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that, in my humble opinion, we cannot accept a licensing regime. We must support the Bill, because we need a Bill to amend. Some people on our side of the argument say that they will oppose it, but that is crass. Frankly, if it is defeated, hunting will continue. That is precisely why Conservative Members want to vote it down. There will not be another opportunity in this Parliament to end the hunting of wild mammals with dogs, so we must vote for the Bill on Second Reading and seek to amend it in Committee and on Report.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am happy to give West Ham a penalty point—I fear they may need it at the moment.

Did I carry the hon. Gentleman with me on my remark about the contribution that horses that participate in hunting make to the future of the national hunt? Does he agree that if the number of exempt hunts was reduced to such a low level that the national hunt was jeopardised, this would indeed be a very bad Bill?

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

It would be, if that was the conclusion, but the fact is that drag hunting provides precisely the same opportunities as foxhunting, so the hon. Lady's argument is not especially strong.

The Bill is good in that it takes us a step further. I say that as one who has been consistent in opposing all forms of hunting wild mammals with dogs. The Bill bans hare coursing and deer hunting, which is good. The hon. Member for Aylesbury may have a point: it could end up with all hunting being finished through the licensing system or the failure to get a licence under the Bill. However, there is no guarantee. I commend the Minister for his valiant effort, as it takes quite a lot to unite—almost—the Conservative party and bring out its true face. So much for caring, compassionate conservatism, and welcome back to evil, nasty, vicious conservatism, which gives us back our compass so that we know what is really going on.

The Bill is a good try, and if we did not have it we would have nothing to amend, but because it does not give a guarantee I cannot entirely support it as published, although I will certainly vote for it tonight. I look forward to seeing an end to hunting at long last. I hope that, by the end of next year, hunting will be finished. Then, of course, John Peel will have to find something else to do with his horn in the morning.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:45, 16 December 2002

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Banks, whose knowledge, commitment and passion on this issue are widely recognised.

As I represent a rural constituency with two hunts in it, I know that the issue generates high emotions and indignation on all sides—certainly to the extent that it creates serious disturbance outside the House, which none of us would endorse. The hon. Member for West Ham is right to say that the belief that it is a question of townies versus the countryside is misplaced. As a countryman, I do not feel that I am represented by some of the lobby groups who claim that country people should be pro-hunting. Many of my family are engaged in farming, and they have a variety of views on hunting, but I do not think that any of them will allow the hunt over their land, often for good, practical reasons. For example, livestock farmers at Mullion will not allow the hunt on their land because the participants are so inept that they worry the livestock, destroy the hedgerows and disturb the farmland.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

The hon. Gentleman is making a sensible point. Farmers and landowners who do not want the hunt to go across their land have only to say so, but plenty of them see the utility of having the hunt there, and they should not be prevented from exercising their free choice to allow it.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I appreciate that point, and no doubt the civil liberties theme will run through this debate, as it has through all our earlier debates on the subject. Many have said that this is a matter of principle and consistency, but I challenge anyone in the House to claim that they have been consistent throughout on all policies.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

While we are talking about consistency, if a future Conservative Government proposed to take parliamentary time to reverse a ban, what would be the Liberal Democrats' position?

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

That is a matter for the Conservatives, but the hon. Gentleman knows that there is a range of views within all the parties, and we will cherish them all, as he will no doubt cherish all the views on the Labour Benches. The Liberal Democrats have been consistently in favour of a ban, and that will remain the case. Personally, I think that any review of that position is unlikely. However, I must say that this issue is monumentally less important than all the other country issues that concern me, such as rural housing, the future of farming, rural services and the potential devastation of the fishing industry, which may be literally only days away. Many hon. Members recognise that a disproportionate amount of parliamentary time has already been spent on this issue. Of course, it was not my decision to introduce this Bill, but now that that has happened, it is clearly important to deal with this issue properly and to get it right once and for all, rather than having it come back again.

My concern is that the Bill compromises perhaps a little too much. I agree with the Minister when he says that one of its great strengths is that it is enforceable, unlike the previous failed Bill, which would not have passed the enforceability test for legislation. However, although the current Bill is strong in that respect, it does not set the thresholds for utility and cruelty sufficiently high to make it worth pushing such a Bill through Parliament. It compromises so much that it compromises the welfare of the Bill itself.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten the House by telling us whether it is still official Liberal Democrat party policy to ban hunting, and if it is not, is there a free vote on the issue?

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thought that I had already answered that question, but for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman—who perhaps was not listening or was not present at the time—I shall repeat that the party policy is clearly in favour of a ban on hunting, and there is a free vote for Liberal Democrat MPs on that issue.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

Does my hon. Friend agree that this issue is so tribal—a point that the Minister has already made—that the last thing that we want to do is to add party political tribalism to it? It must be regarded as a matter of conscience.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and as Conservative Members know, a range of views exists among them—[Interruption.] Well, they may be embarrassed about that, but such a range does exist among them, just as it exists among Labour Members in this House, among Labour peers in the other place, and among Liberal Democrats. If we see this as a moral issue, it is right that we have a free vote on it.

We will doubtless rehearse many of the arguments that we have had many times before, but I am looking forward to getting down to the nitty-gritty of the Bill itself. I hope that the hon. Member for West Ham is right in saying that amendments will be tabled to it. [Interruption.] As a Front-Bench spokesman, I shall ensure that I cover all of the issues that I want to cover in this speech. We must get down to the nitty-gritty of the Bill in Committee, because it is important to do so.

I realise that there are Conservative Members who perhaps do not want to hear about these matters, but I was surprised at their failure to mention the importance of the future of farming. In fact, there are important farming matters that relate directly to the Bill. I hope that the Minister can clarify in his winding-up speech—or in Committee, at least—that the Bill does not unreasonably or inadvertently limit practical pest control measures on farms. I foresee that in a number of respects—I shall not detain the House by discussing them now—the Bill may affect farmers' ability to implement effective, humane and efficient pest control measures.

No mention has so far been made of the issue of fallen stock, which I questioned the Minister about when he made his initial statement. When the Bill is considered in Committee, it is important that the Minister reassure livestock farmers that cast-iron proposals are in place to assist them, should they lose a convenient outlet for fallen stock. It is clear that animal by-product regulations will ban on-farm burial from May next year. The Minister's Department is responsible for such matters, so it is important that he bring forward suitable measures. There is a greater likelihood of support in this House, and in another place, if we are reassured on that issue.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman and others who may be concerned about this issue that we are indeed addressing it vigorously; however, the Bill is not the legislation to deal with it. I am entirely happy to discuss how the Bill relates to that issue, but it does not refer to it directly.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I appreciate that the matter may not relate specifically to the Bill, but the Minister will understand that it directly affects the likelihood of the Bill winning the level of support that he would like.

I am also concerned that in certain circumstances, the utility argument may set—

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Trade and Industry)

My sister recently had to have her pony put down, and it was the west Norfolk hunt that did so and removed the carcass to its kennels. Who would have taken that carcass away had the hunt not been there? The council would not have done it, and it certainly could not have been buried.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is simply assisting me in making the point that such arrangements need to be in place. As I have already said, it is clear that on-farm burial will be banned from May next year. This is an important matter.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

The hon. Gentleman is on to a good thing here, and I support what he is doing in calling for compensation—if that is what he is doing—or for alternative arrangements to hunts for farmers who wish to dispose of their stock. However, nowhere in this tawdry Bill does it remotely address the question of compensation for those whose livelihoods depend on the hunt.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I appreciate that a compensation culture exists in certain circles; perhaps it now exists among Conservative Back Benchers, rather than among Conservative Front Benchers. I have made the point about fallen stock, and I want to move on to another farming-related matter.

I am concerned that the utility argument may set farmer against farmer. As I have said, many of the farmers in my family will not allow the hunt across their land, often for good practical reasons. However, in constructing a utility argument, we may find that one farmer argues that hunting is necessary in a certain area, but that a number of other farmers and landowners argue that they do not want hunting there. It is important that the Minister recognises that the measure may lead to an unwelcome conflict in rural areas, simply in order to enable an application for a hunting licence to be pursued.

On clause 7, I further caution the Minister that he should not inadvertently criminalise the landowner who permits hare coursing on his or her land. Sometimes, such activity has taken place against the will of the landowner or farmer, has been enforced by a gang of thugs, and has resulted in serious physical assault on the landowner or farmer. The Bill needs amending in that regard. The Minister needs to recognise that the issue is the giving of permission, rather than where hare coursing happens to take place. On first looking at the Bill—and as my initial response to the recent statement made clear—I felt that it constituted a de facto, workable ban on recreational hunting that none the less permitted efficient and humane pest control where necessary. However, I am not sure that it will actually achieve that; it needs strengthening in a number of respects.

Photo of Adrian Sanders Adrian Sanders Liberal Democrat, Torbay

The Minister also used the word Xhumane", but to me Xhumane" means by or of the human being. I cannot understand how, in any circumstances, a trained dog tearing another animal apart could be described as humane. Surely this Bill ought therefore de facto to outlaw all hunting.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We will have an opportunity to probe the boundaries of where permitted pest control should take place.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will not give way any more. I am concerned that other right hon. and hon. Members will not be able to speak, so I will bring my comments to a close.

The Bill will need strengthening in Committee. I will support amendments brought forward by others—and, if necessary, by me—to strengthen the Bill so that there is a presumption that hunting is banned and applications are made for lawful, effective and efficient pest control.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I will not give way any more.

Clause 48 provides an opportunity for future Secretaries of State to introduce regulations—not primary legislation—that would substantially amend the legislation. The Minister and the Government should consider the clause carefully and amend it so that primary legislation will be required for any such changes.

The Bill sets a number of challenges. The Minister has put himself in the political equivalent of a leper colony and seems to have alienated many of his Back Benchers as well as Opposition Members. However, I take my hat off to him for his bravery and commitment, not to mention the time that he has put into this. I hope that he will be as receptive in Committee as he has already shown himself to be and that he will accept reasoned and reasonable amendments that would strengthen the Bill in the manner that I have described.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind hon. Members that Mr. Speaker has imposed an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.

Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Labour, Worcester 7:02, 16 December 2002

First, I congratulate Andrew George on his speech and the position that he has adopted. I look forward to the contribution that he will make in Committee.

I welcome the opportunity that the Bill provides to bring this matter to a conclusion—provided, of course, it is the conclusion that I and the majority of Labour Members want. I will be supporting the Bill's Second Reading—it is not perfect but it is the vehicle that will deliver what I think the House and the country want. The Minister has made a brave attempt to find common ground on both sides of the argument—sufficient to let it pass through both Houses of Parliament. I fear, however, that he will find very little accommodation to this approach in the other place.

I intend to let my right hon. Friend know of my concerns about the approach that he has taken and suggest three ways in which the Bill could be amended to keep it within its existing form and structure. However, I warn him that if these amendments were not to be made, there is a serious risk that more substantial amendments will be tabled.

The Minister outlined two tests—to prove the utility of hunting and that the alternative methods of culling are less humane. I am confident that in all probability, from what I have seen, read and experienced, the hunting of fox, deer, hare and mink would fail both tests. This is where I disagree with my right hon. Friend. His approach risks becoming a lottery for cruelty. We will not know which hunts can carry on and which cannot. This is a matter of conscience. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House hold very strong views, and it is no secret that I want hunting to be banned. I believe that it is my duty to vote accordingly, and to vote to make it happen, not to pass the buck to an unelected body to make that decision. Parliament is elected to make the difficult decisions—the tough choices. I do not want the House to be undermined in this matter of conscience.

Using the Burns report, as my right hon. Friend did for the basis of the Bill, I suggest that the following three areas should be amended. First, the Burns report concluded on hare hunting:

XThere is little or no need to control overall hare numbers and, indeed, they are a Biodiversity Action Plan species. However, the distribution of hares is uneven: they are abundant in some areas, mainly in the east of England, and scarce in much of Wales and the West Country. Hare hunting and coursing are essentially carried out for recreational purposes and have a relatively small direct impact on hare numbers. A ban would therefore have little effect in practice on agriculture or other interests."

Notice how Lord Burns put hare coursing and hare hunting together, as he did when he considered the manner of the hunt and the kill. He said later in the report:

XThere is a lack of firm scientific evidence about the effect on the welfare of a hare being closely pursued, caught and killed by hounds during hunting. We are satisfied, nevertheless, that . . . this experience seriously compromises the welfare of the hare."

He said in the following paragraph:

XWe are similarly satisfied that being pursued, caught and killed by dogs during coursing seriously compromises the welfare of the hare."

Lord Burns reached exactly the same conclusion for hare hunting and hare coursing. I suggest that hare hunting should be included in the Bill and banned outright.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Does the hon. Gentleman think that shooting, poisoning, gassing or snaring any quarry would seriously compromise their welfare?

Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Labour, Worcester

That is self-evident. I assume that the hon. Gentleman knows that gassing and poisoning foxes would be illegal. As for shooting, Burns makes it clear that lamping has fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting with dogs.

I would also like my right hon. Friend to consider the activity known as cub hunting. The Countryside Alliance gives three reasons for the existence of cub hunting. It says that some 40 per cent. of foxes killed by registered packs are killed during cub hunting, it disperses the fox population and introduces young hounds to hunting. Burns concludes:

XIt does not seem to us, from the evidence we received, that these arguments are wholly persuasive."

The report continues:

XIn the absence of a ban"— that is, assuming the status quo prevails—

Xconsideration could be given to a number of options for responding to the concerns about . . . cub hunting. These options include: prohibiting the practice entirely; introducing a closed season for hunting foxes, so that hunting would start at a later date than it does at present".

I would like to pursue that issue at a later stage in the Bill.

The third issue that I wish to consider is the practice of lowland foxhunting. The overall contribution to traditional foxhunting is relatively insignificant in terms of the number of foxes killed. Burns makes the distinction between lowland and upland hunting:

XIn lowland areas hunting by the registered packs makes only a minor contribution to the management of the fox population, and terrierwork, especially by gamekeepers, may be more important."

I would like to explore the distinction between lowland and upland hunting later in the Bill's passage. However, I warn my right hon. Friend of the inconsistency that terrierwork will be included in the Bill but lowland hunting will not. That issue needs to be addressed.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

Am I right in understanding that, on the basis of the evidence that we have both seen, the hon. Gentleman accepts that in some upland areas hunting with dogs may not be the most cruel way in which to control the fox population? I am not trying to trick him into saying anything about lowland foxes.

Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Labour, Worcester

I am always wary of the tricks that the hon. Gentleman might play. When I introduced my private Member's Bill in 1997, I exempted the flushing out of foxes to be shot in upland areas because of the distinction between the pest control method used in upland areas, such as in parts of Wales, compared with lowland hunting.

I have been involved in both the hunting Bills since 1997 that have had their Second Reading. Both were full of promise but also full of uncertainty because of the time and the opposition that they faced. The Minister can do the House a great favour by clarifying that the Bill will be brought to a conclusion and that the other place should take heed of that. Members of this House were elected and our views should ultimately prevail. In the words of the odd poster or two that I have seen today—listen to us.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 7:09, 16 December 2002

In my 20 years as a Member of Parliament, it has been my privilege to speak in every debate on hunting. However, I do so today with a genuinely heavy heart as, despite all the Government's protestations to the contrary, it is clear that they are determined to destroy hunting and following that, both shooting and fishing—[Interruption.] Noises from the Government Back Benches show that my assertion is correct.

It shows a perverted and grotesque sense of the ordering of the Government's priorities that, at a time when the British economy is reeling from the worst trade deficit in goods since 1697, when the pensions of millions of our fellow citizens are affected by a deeply serious crisis from which the Government appear to want to run away, when, after all the Government's fine and wholly unbelievable talk, the public transport situation is catastrophic, and when they have lost their way in dealing with immigration, health, drugs and crime, they seek to introduce such a draconian Bill. It shows a want and a lack of proportion, and a misunderstanding of the feelings of ordinary people that is wholly astonishing.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Is my hon. Friend aware that the latest polling evidence shows that only a minority of the public support a ban and that even that support has fallen to a 10-year low?

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

That is indeed wholly correct and offers further evidence of the foolishness of the Bill.

I want to make it plain that, without question, most people who oppose hunting are largely fuelled by a cocktail of ignorance, spite and vindictiveness. Their case is made the more irrelevant for that. Of course, I accept that some of our fellow citizens genuinely disapprove of hunting with hounds and that some of them feel so strongly about it that they would support a ban criminalising the activity. My response, however, is that those reasons do not even begin to justify depriving the individual citizen of the right to take part in a lawful activity and that it would be a deeply damaging day for all our freedoms if ever they were held to do so.

Hunting with hounds is a lawful activity in which ordinary men and women in the United Kingdom have engaged for centuries. Most of the hunts in existence in Britain today are well over 100 years old. They have a tremendous pride in their traditions and in their contribution to the life of the countryside and to its conservation. Many of them play a vital role in the life of hard-pressed rural communities.

I want to make it plain to the Minister that, having hunted all my life and having listened with the greatest care for many years to all the arguments, I truly believe that a ban on hunting would not only have a profoundly adverse impact on the welfare and, in some areas—for example, the west country—the very survival of the quarry and other species, but would also be a gross abuse of human rights and individual freedoms, and would thus be open to legal challenge. Furthermore, it would continue to be a cause of deep-seated contempt and resentment throughout rural communities.

With a large number of my family and 407,000 of my fellow citizens, I took part in the march for liberty and livelihood. As we marched past the Cenotaph, I was deeply moved at the solemnity with which people removed their headdress as a mark of respect and gratitude to those who died in two world wars for the cause of freedom.

Although I do not expect Labour Members to understand the concept, it must be true that all those people who gave their lives would wonder today whether the pursuit of liberty and their final sacrifice for the defence of freedom against tyranny was worth dying for—[Interruption.]

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

When one contemplates Labour Members, one realises that all those people who gave their lives would be deeply and rightly horrified, and above all mystified, that a land that used to cherish the cause of freedom above all else could have sunk so low.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Does my hon. Friend agree that freedom is about allowing other people to do things of which one profoundly disapproves? It is not merely about allowing people to do things with which one agrees.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Indeed. My right hon. Friend is correct. More should be made of that point.

In fairness to the Minister, he conducted an even-handed consultation process. I am glad that he took trouble over it, but his conclusions are plain wrong. The National Gamekeepers Organisation took a huge amount of trouble to brief the Minister and his officials on the various uses that keepers need to make of their dogs. In fact, the organisation was the only shooting body invited to give evidence to the public hearing, but its views were almost wholly ignored. That is one by-product of an ill-judged proposal.

However, neither in the excellent Burns report nor in any of the consultations was there any proven evidence of cruelty. For example, no evidence was produced in DEFRA's hunting consultation that would necessitate a ban on either deer hunting or coursing. Indeed, the proposed exemption for ratting and rabbitting shows a complete lack of consistency. If it is acceptable, in moral and animal welfare terms, to use a dog to hunt a rabbit or a rat, why is it not acceptable to use a greyhound to hunt a hare? Indeed, I assert that both deer hunting and coursing, as evidenced by independent observers, have strong utilitarian value and are conducted to the highest standards.

The truth is that no case has been made to justify a ban on any form of hunting. There should thus be a presumption in favour of issuing hunting licences; when turning down an application, the burden of proof should be with the licensor rather than that hunting people should have to justify why they require a licence. Those matters will have to be dealt with comprehensively in Committee.

It is surely not the role of Parliament to initiate the passage of bad law to the statute book. Its role should be rather that the love of liberty and the tolerance of the views of others—especially views of which one disapproves, as my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer said—should be made the cornerstones of our parliamentary democracy.

Members on the Labour Back Benches—the Government's Lobby fodder—must be clear that the real issue in this debate is whether it is right for the continuing advance of the power of the state to encroach on our liberties as citizens. Members on the Conservative Benches wholly oppose this rotten Bill.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee 7:16, 16 December 2002

Mr. Soames talked of what we fought for during the last war but I do not remember that very great man, his grandfather, saying, XWe will fight them on the hunting fields".

The hon. Gentleman said that he took part in the march of the Countryside Alliance. It was appropriate that he should do so because the march was overwhelmingly Conservative. A MORI poll of people on the march found that 82 per cent. of them were Conservative voters and that 9 per cent. were Liberal Democrat and 4 per cent. Labour voters.

The hon. Gentleman supports an amendment tabled by his Front-Bench colleagues that includes the incredible hypocrisy that the Bill

Xwould rob British citizens of their livelihood".

The Burns report, which the hon. Gentleman described as Xexcellent"—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman said that the report was excellent, so his hon. Friends should argue the point with him. The report states that 700 jobs are directly connected with hunting, yet the Conservatives believe that at a time of ultra-full employment those jobs should be sacrosanct.

Between 1979 and 1987, the Conservative Government reduced the number of coal miners from—[Hon. Members: XAh!"] Yes, coal mining is a countryside industry; it is a rural industry. The Conservatives reduced the number of coal miners from 232,000 to 17,000, but the Countryside Alliance did not march for the coal miners; it marched for cruelty—[Interruption.] That is what the Tory party is about. It is a satisfaction for me to see how the Tories conduct themselves because they remind me of why I am a socialist.

My hon. Friend Mr. Foster referred to what the Bill is about. It is important that he did so, because although we shall vote for the Bill's Second Reading, we do so in order for it to become the vehicle for a complete ban.

My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester talks about the ban on stag hunting. The Burns report says that 160 stags are killed each year. I am glad that will save them. My hon. Friend rightly distinguishes between hare coursing, which the Bill will ban, and hare hunting, which it will not necessarily ban. The Burns report says that 250 hares a year are killed by hare coursing, but 1,650 hares are killed by hare hunting, so the Bill will allow most hare killing to continue. However—this is why my right hon. Friend the Minister has introduced a Bill, the quickness of whose words could deceive the eye, but should not—the Burns report points out that between 21,000 and 25,000 foxes are killed every year, so the Bill will make about 95 per cent. of present hunting licensable. That is why it is utterly unacceptable to a large majority of Labour Members, and it is why we will vote to ban it.

Andrew George said that we need to deal with this issue once and for all, so that it does not come back again, and he is absolutely right. The only way that we can do that is by enacting a complete ban. This issue will come back to the House time and again until we get a complete ban.

One of the first Bills that I supported when I was elected to the House of Commons more than 32 years ago, with my hon. Friend Mr. McNamara, was intended to ban hare coursing. After nearly 33 years, we still have not got that ban. I will remain in the House, if necessary, for another 33 years to get it, but I have got other things to do in the second half of my parliamentary service. I want to get this done in this Session.

The key thing is that, by Thursday, we had 192 signatures for a complete ban. We can get more; we will get more. If we have a free vote, we will ban hunting. I want my right hon. Friend to clarify when he replies to the debate tonight that, if the House votes for a ban, that is what Parliament will enact.

I was a Minister when we used the Parliament Acts to put aircraft and shipbuilding into public ownership. The parliamentary process is simple and clear. When my right hon. Friend the Minister responded to my hon. Friend Kate Hoey during his statement, he promised that, if the House of Lords blocks whatever the House of Commons decides, the Government will reintroduce the Bill at the beginning of the next Session. I trust him; I believe him. We have to do our part by amending the Bill to bring about a ban. I will then rely on my right hon. Friend and the Government to ensure that the ban becomes law so that, in the words of the hon. Member for St. Ives, we do not have to deal with this issue again because, if we do, we will and will and will.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 7:23, 16 December 2002

Like my hon. Friend Mr. Soames, I wish to express my total opposition to this Bill. I do so on the ground that it is a profoundly illiberal Bill—the kind of legislation that brings a democracy into disrepute. The plain and simple fact that one part of society may disapprove of the activities of another part of society is not a good or sufficient reason to ban those activities.

Many activities cause death or injury to animals. Some of them are justified in terms of medical research; others are justified in terms of religious belief—halal meat, for example—and others in terms of sport. The House is addressing the issues involved in the latter category tonight. Most notable among those activities, of course, are angling, shooting and fishing. The central question that the House ought to ask itself is whether there is a substantial and significant difference between angling, shooting and hunting with hounds. If the answer is that there is no such difference, surely there are only two conclusions to which an honest person can come: either all those activities should be subject to the Bill, or none of them should be subject to it, and I happen to believe that none should be.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

Is not the other possibility that, if that issue were not addressed, a so-called total ban would create an inconsistency? Surely it would imply that shooting, fishing and angling might indeed be next.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Yes, indeed, that is precisely the case.

I bring some modest experience to this matter; it is perhaps not so considerable as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex. I am a modest angler. I have practised beagling and I support the local hunt, and I have shot game birds all my life. My considered view is that there is absolutely no difference of principle between any of those activities.

Let us first take angling. For coarse fishing, there are no arguments of utility—such fish are not pests and they are generally not eaten. The justification for fishing lies in the pleasure of the sport. That is a perfectly genuine and proper justification, but let us be clear that, to use the words of Lord Burns, the welfare of the fish is seriously compromised because many are killed and all are injured.

The Minister used the phrase Xneedless or avoidable suffering" when defining cruelty. The phrase Xplaying the fish" is no euphemism. Most honourable people would accept that fish feel pain or, at least, that that should be the working assumption. The fact that fish are scaly, not furry, and cold-blooded, not warm-blooded are, of course, differences—but they are not distinctions that go to root of the argument.

I want to say something about shooting, which I know a lot about; I have shot all my life. I am talking about game shooting—shooting pheasants and partridges. Again, we are not talking about arguments of utility because pheasants and partridges are not pests. Of course they can be eaten, but that is not the primary reason why people shoot; they go shooting for the sport and to exercise their skill, to be in the countryside, to meet their friends and to see the dogs work. That is a perfectly proper thing to do, but the welfare of the bird is seriously compromised, to use Lord Burns's phrase. The lucky ones are shot dead. The less lucky ones are wounded and picked up later. The very unlucky ones fly away with buckshot in them and die later, slowly through starvation or because they are eaten by foxes.

The truth is that there is no difference between those activities; they are all acceptable or they are all unacceptable, and I happen to believe that they are all acceptable. In any event, they are surely moral and ethical issues to be considered by individuals, not by Parliament.

I know that I have only a few minutes more, so I shall be very brief. The second point that I want to make is that hon. Members should be very chary about imposing on others their own view of what is right and wrong, especially when the criminal law is involved. I deem many activities to be wrong, but I do not wish to ban them.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I am afraid that I will not give way.

I am very concerned about religious slaughter, but I would not ban it; nor did I when I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I do not like boxing, but I would not seek to ban it. I find obscenity and pornography deeply degrading, but I am not in favour of censorship, and I would not intervene through the criminal law. I accept that abortion raises moral issues of major importance, but those are matters for the individual, not for Parliament.

That brings me to my final point. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, I joined the two countryside marches. I was at the demonstration in Hyde park. I look forward to welcoming my local hunt at my house in Lincolnshire in February. They are a cross-section of society: honourable, respectable, law-abiding and decent, and the very bedrock of the society that I recognise and for which my hon. Friend's grandfather fought. If we strain their loyalty by doing things in this Bill that are so manifestly wrong, we diminish ourselves and cut at the very foundations of a democratic society.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown 7:30, 16 December 2002

I have not seen such passion from the Opposition Benches for a long time. That passion is not directed in defence of the freedom of individuals to have jobs or not to be poor; it is the kind of passion that their forebears probably exercised, 150 years ago, when Parliament was debating banning bear baiting or public executions—it is not very different.

Mr. Hogg defended his sporting interests by saying that we should allow people to do things of which we disapprove. I am happy for him and Mr. Soames to dress up in ridiculous coats, get up on their horses and gallop around the country—even with dogs—as much as they want, as long as they do not hunt and kill foxes. They can have drag hunts—if they want to break their necks by jumping over ditches, that is fine. That is an individual liberty that I will defend on their behalf. What I find repugnant is the inevitable cruelty and the sport based on ritual killing.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

I shall not give way as I do not wish to detain the House for long. I want to present some of the evidence that was submitted to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs inquiry, which is relevant to the issues in the Bill of utility and cruelty.

On the question of utility, much of the defence that has been put up for hunting has concerned controlling the numbers of foxes. A fairly definitive piece of work by Baker and Harris was published in Nature, the most reputable journal in its field, which studied the fox populations. Basically, they divided the country up into kilometre squares and went around counting the fox droppings—that is the way to assess animal populations. One of the blessings of foot and mouth was that, for a long time, hunting could not take place, so it was possible to examine the effect of hunting on the fox population. If anything, the fox population decreased during the period when hunting was banned. There was no difference between areas that were normally hunted and those where there had not been hunting. The argument about utility, therefore, does not stand up in relation to lowland hunting.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise the speciousness of his argument? First, all his argument proves is that foxes were being killed, albeit in perhaps more cruel ways than hunting. Secondly, does he realise that reports in Wales found clearly that, on the 118 farms surveyed, there were 1,600 extra killings of lambs during the year of foot and mouth? There is a cost attached to not controlling the fox population in this country.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

I am afraid that those who have undertaken systematic studies would disagree with the hon. Gentleman. They would conclude that the most potent factor in controlling numbers of foxes is neither hunting nor lamping but availability of food. Whatever control methods are used, the effect on the fox population is minimal—it can only account for a small percentage of it.

I seem to remember reading newspaper reports, which were fairly convincing, that in the area of the Beaufort hunt, foxes were being fed to make sure that there were enough of them to hunt. I therefore do not think that controlling fox numbers is an argument that can be used to support hunting, even in upland areas. If one believes that controlling fox numbers is a necessity—I do not—other, more humane, methods can be used. Those methods, of course, are not so much fun. They do not involve dressing up in fancy clothes, galloping around and blowing horns.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

When Mr. Soames was telling the House that my father, among others, was fighting at El Alamein to defend fox hunting, fox hunting was banned in this country, although, of course, there was no alteration in fox numbers. If they were fighting for fox hunting, it was a funny old war, as it was banned in this country at the time.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

My hon. Friend makes a totally supportive point.

Photo of Desmond Turner Desmond Turner Labour, Brighton, Kemptown

No, I have given way enough.

On the issue of cruelty, I shall quote what some people said to the DEFRA inquiry. One of the most telling quotations was from Huntsman Jones of the David Davies foxhounds, an upland hunt in Wales. Mr. Jones was asked the following question by a representative of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

Xwhat modifications of activity are possible that would eliminate the unnecessary suffering, the cruelty, that would be involved from the chase and unpredictabilities of the kill?"

He replied:

XI do not think there is any way you can".

Huntsmen were in agreement that there was no difference in terms of cruelty between upland or lowland hunting. One said:

XIt is no more cruel at 3,000 feet than at 1,000 feet."

I shall follow the same course of action as my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman. I shall vote for the Second Reading of the Bill, not because I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister has got the approach right—he has made a noble effort, but he is doomed with that approach—but because we must have a vehicle that can be amended to produce a total, outright ban on hunting with dogs.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal 7:39, 16 December 2002

The Minister introduced his speech by saying that this was not a compromise but a matter of principle, that he would adduce certain principles that he would apply, and that that would give us an objective way of handling this matter. He proceeded to say that he would not apply those principles to stag hunting or hare coursing. That was evidently because he had already applied them and decided that they did not meet the facts. He then said that he would not apply them to rabbitting and ratting. The principles are very difficult to understand. He could have said, XI am going to do my best to get everyone together, and I will do that by satisfying my Back Benchers by banning a bit, by making a bit difficult and by allowing another bit." We could have understood that, and that is what he has done. However, to suggest that such proposals are based on principles is manifestly untrue.

I do not believe that the rabbit would understand the principles, nor, indeed, would the rat, but what is the reason for the distinction between the two animals? The distinction has come about for the reasons that my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg gave. Certain animals—fish and other beings—are less cuddly than others. That is a sentimental reason, but not one of principle. People feel more sentimental about some animals than others.

We should approach the issue by using principles. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, either it is wrong to hunt, fish or shoot in any form or it is not. The fact that a distinction has been made shows that the proposals have been introduced not for reason of principle or animal welfare, but, as we have heard again and again from Labour Members, because they are intended to get at a particular section of the population. It was a matter for great sadness for those Labour Members when they discovered that that section is not made up of a lot of toffs, as they thought, but of a widespread group of people from the countryside.

The Bill's supporters then said that it is a matter of morality. My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that it might be more sensible to allow people to make up their own minds about morality. One of the issues that I dealt with as a young politician resulted from the Wolfenden report. We argued that what was sinful in some people's minds should not be made illegal. Many of those who fought against us said simply, XI find this repugnant and, therefore, I do not believe that it should be legal." That is precisely the argument that Dr. Turner used. He finds something repugnant, so everyone must accept his view. When my right hon. and learned Friend said that we should be careful about imposing our morality on other people, someone on the Labour Back Benches shouted, XThat is what we are here for."

The position has wholly changed. The Labour party used to be about the enlargement of freedom and the provision of wider choice on issues on which many people, including many on this side of the House, wished to enforce their own sense of repugnance. I find it repugnant that people voted in favour of saving foxes when, only a few days earlier, they voted on killing babies. Although I find that repugnant, I accept that, in this topsy-turvy world, it is possible to kill babies and call that moral and yet call the killing of foxes immoral. [Interruption.] Some of us stand up for morality across the board and not just for what happens to suit our particular voters in particular circumstances.

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

No; I will continue with my speech.

We also have to deal with the issue of sustainability. I notice that the Labour party says that sustainability should be at the heart of government. Therefore, when the national park authority in Exmoor says that the only way to keep the stag population sustainable is by continuing with the system that has achieved that goal for generations, the Labour party and the Minister cast that view aside and say that they will find another way. This Minister has not shown a huge ability to find another way on rural matters up to now. I suspect that he will not on this issue.

The final issue is practicality. The Minister refers to a practical system. However, all the legal advice that we have already received shows that the Bill—under a good number of headings—will find itself in the courts again and again. It makes distinctions between people in similar situations, it makes distinctions that have no moral or principled base, and it makes distinctions that could not pass any test in the European Court of Human Rights.

The Bill is also not practical in its suggestion that the police will enforce it. That suggestion comes from a Government who only last week showed that they give even less money to rural police forces than they give to other police forces. Police forces are stretched all over the country, but they are supposed to enforce a Bill that goes wholly against the views of a majority of people in the country. The situation will be so unfair that while the opponents of hunting will be able to seek deregistration again and again at the taxpayers' expense, those who wish to continue with what has been a legal activity for generations will have to pay all their expenses themselves.

The Bill is not about hunting—it is about prejudice, class hatred and all those things that new Labour was supposed no longer to believe in. We have seen precisely what we knew we would see—antagonism for the countryside, for anybody who has a different way of life and for anyone that Labour Members feel they have a need to attack. They have nothing else to offer the people of Britain, and the people of Britain are beginning to catch on.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North 7:47, 16 December 2002

The debate has demonstrated that there is no meeting point between those who want the existing situation to continue and those of us who are determined that there must be change and a total ban on hunting with dogs. Mr. Gummer said that we were class motivated. He may believe that, and he is entitled to that view. However, like my hon. Friend Mr. Banks, I believe that, even if a different social group were involved, my opposition to hunting with dogs would remain as firm as it is. The right hon. Gentleman said that hunting is not carried out by toffs any longer, but by a wider social group. That fact has not changed my mind or the opinion of my hon. Friends.

The argument has been used that debating hunting is a waste of parliamentary time. If that were so, we would never be able to debate the subject or any issue concerning animals because there is never a shortage of other foreign and domestic issues to debate. That would be very odd. If there were a total ban—as I hope there will be—and Conservative Members tried to reverse it in future Parliaments, would they then argue that debating the issue was a waste of parliamentary time? I very much doubt it.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

No, I wish to continue my speech.

The official Opposition's spokesman made the position clear. If there is a ban on hunting, it is our duty to warn the country during the general election that, if there is a Tory majority in the House of Commons—we should not forget the words that have been uttered today—it is likely that the ban imposed by this Parliament would go in a Parliament dominated by Tory Members.

Bull baiting was mentioned. It is such an obvious subject for a ban that perhaps the issue should not even have been raised. When, however, the first attempt was made to prohibit bull baiting in April 1800, the Bill did not make much progress. It was defeated and its opponents said that it was

Xpetty, meddling, to gratify petty personal motives . . . would only give additional means of vexing and harassing one another".

Such was the opposition to an activity that even Conservative Members would agree is totally unacceptable.

Those are much the same words as we hear used today against a ban on hunting with dogs. As for wasting parliamentary time, in 1800 they debated that issue when this country was involved in a major war with France and there was a fear of invasion.

I have no sentimental illusions about foxes. They are a danger and measures are necessary to cope with them. I recognise the arguments; it is merely a matter of what method should be used to control and contain them. The two sides are divided on what constitutes the least cruel way of dealing with them, and that sharp divide cannot be met.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

No. I want to continue.

Our view, which is supported by a clear majority in the country, is that it is unacceptable that animals, including foxes, should be hunted down with dogs with a scent for blood. They are often torn to pieces when still alive. There can be no possible justification for that.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on making progress on the subject. As hon. Members said, he has devoted a great deal of time to finding a solution to the problem, and has been conscientious. However, it is simply not possible to compromise on hunting with dogs. We must go further and have a total ban.

In the other place, Lord Ferrers said that fox hunting is a sport that has been going on for hundreds of years. He said nothing about controlling foxes; he merely said that it is a sport. Future generations will find it very difficult to understand how such activity has continued into the 21st century. Minorities have rights—I have often spoken in favour of minorities and no doubt will continue to do so—but majorities have rights as well. If there is a clear, sharp difference of opinion between the minority and the majority in the House on an issue such as hunting, the majority must prevail.

Obviously I will vote for Second Reading, for all the reasons explained by my hon. Friends. The Bill needs to receive a Second Reading and I hope that that will be by a large majority. However, it also needs to be amended in Committee. If it is not, the argument will go on in this and future Parliaments. My argument with the Government is that the problem should have been resolved in the last Parliament. We had the majority to do so and we should have taken advantage of it. Like anyone who is in favour of a total ban, I am not going to be intimidated by the Countryside Alliance or the hooliganism and occasional violence with which that cause is associated, including as it has been today.

If the Bill is amended and it is clear that a large—indeed, overwhelming—majority of Labour MPs want a total ban, we know that the Lords will throw it out. I hope that in those circumstances the Government will have the courage to use the Parliament Act. The issue must be resolved at long last and the way to do that is with a total ban. That is what the majority of hon. Members and, I believe, the majority of people in the country want.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire 7:53, 16 December 2002

David Winnick says that a clear majority in the country favour a ban. That is plainly wrong. Eight out of the nine last polls between July 1999 and October 2002 clearly show that only a minority support a ban. When I was first elected, the League Against Cruel Sports told me that the majority in my constituency supported a ban. I am sure that that was the case in many constituencies. However, people have started to think about the issue and that has changed the way in which they vote on it. It is the Chamber that is out of kilter with public opinion. For that reason, it is dangerous to invoke an argument about a majority when one does not have one. Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that the Government were elected with 42 per cent. of the vote. Some 58 per cent. of people voted against the Labour party. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that the tyranny of the minority is a justification to ban hunting with dogs.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

When did the hon. Gentleman change his mind? When I was a member of Newcastle city council, he was a member of the Liberal Democrat group in the city. I do not remember him having strong views on the subject. He certainly did not support the line that he takes now.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

In 1992 I actively supported a ban on hunting with dogs. Like many people in this country, despite being told that a majority in my constituency wanted a ban, I considered the issue and was not able morally to support a position that seemed incorrect. As a very educated politician from Newcastle upon Tyne, sooner or later the hon. Gentleman will see the light. In the meantime, I shall pray for his soul.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

No. I need to make progress.

Hon. Members talked about principles. Let us consider the principles that came out of the three-day hearing—the seminal debate—in September 2002. Lamentably, many of the hon. Members who oppose hunting and support a ban did not bother to attend. All three key organisations accepted that foxes need to be controlled. It is not a question of whether we kill foxes, but of how. Sadly, those who keep talking of a total ban focus entirely on one single process to kill foxes rather than looking at the whole picture.

Lord Burns, in his important inquiry, said that killing a fox with dogs is not necessarily the most cruel way to do it. The Minister has accepted that in certain circumstances and, in fairness, so have Mr. Foster and others. Crucially, there was some consensus among all groups on that and other issues. Various key points arose, including that the prevention of undue suffering is a prime concern. It was also clear that the motive behind the use of a particular activity was not a consideration in banning it. If that were the case, angling and other sports would have to be banned because they are enjoyed and involve harm to animals. Another important principle was recreational use. All sides accepted that that was a utility that should not be discounted to zero. The use of dogs to hunt animals is acceptable in certain circumstances. Once again, there is nothing in principle that is wrong with using dogs to kill animals.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

Did any evidence to the three-day hearing include, as part of the utility argument, the principle of sustaining a living and viable countryside from the aspect not only of people working in the countryside, but of biodiversity too?

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

The discussion on that was equivocal because there was no consensus around a particular principle. However, hon. Members will have noted the hon. Gentleman's point.

The principle that suffering can be reduced by modifying practices was accepted. Scientific opinion was clearly divided on the degree of suffering caused by the chase of an animal. No one came up with unequivocal proof that it was cruel to chase the animals and that they felt suffering. However, we did accept that there is a problem with wounding when an animal is shot. In other words, while the kill is almost always instantaneous with dogs, killing a fox with guns is sometimes a messy business that can be drawn out, which causes a lot of suffering.

Another crucial principle was that specific activities within the range of methods involving the hunting of wild animals with dogs can be regulated and controlled. The point was also made that regulation can work because hunts have the capacity to modify their actions. We know that because one of the witnesses who monitored hunts, who was an anti-hunt protester, said that the behaviour of hunts often changed when he observed it. So hunts can regulate and control their behaviour, and inspection works.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

As someone who represents a constituency in which fox hunting takes place on a reasonable scale, can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether regulation and registration can work? How can hunts control that small but dark underbelly of people who are involved in some of the cruellest practices of all, such as terrier cubbing and so on?

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

That is why I support licensing and regulation. It was a hunt monitor himself who said that hunts behaved differently when he watched them.

It is sad that Mr. Banks did not have time to hear the rest of the debate, because I want to deal with the weakness of calling for a total ban. Mr. Kaufman and the hon. Member for Walsall, North also called for that, but no one has explained what a total ban means.

If we look at Scotland we see the mess that is created when we try to ban hunting with dogs, because all that has changed is the fact that instead of riding horses to hounds, people ride horses while carrying guns. It is impossible not to have exemptions if one wants to be fair to the public, and once there are exemptions, there is no question but that the activity will continue. Regulation can be achieved, but we see in Scotland that the most intensive effort to ban hunting with dogs simply failed.

The amazing comments by Dr. Turner included a description of the clothing of people who hunt, which has nothing to do with the moral issues here. The hon. Gentleman also made the point that he is happy to allow individuals to hunt on horseback with dogs as long as they do not kill any animals. Let us be clear: dogs are genetically programmed to kill animals from time to time, so even the hon. Gentleman must accept that there must be exemptions.

The middle way group is is concerned about the over-strict definition of utility. We think that recreational activity should be included because that seemed to be a point of consensus in the three-day hearing in September. If the concept of utility is too limited, an inconsistency is introduced, which must mean that shooters, fishers and anglers will be concerned about the potential extension of the ban to their activities. I make no bones about it: if I were a member of an animal welfare organisation and I achieved a ban on hunting with dogs, I would naturally try to go further. There will be a momentum in those organisations to try to achieve more.

Rats and rabbits are exempted, but should not there be provision for mice, voles, shrews and squirrels? Dogs do not distinguish between hares and rabbits, so we may make criminals of people who go out with good intentions of killing rats and rabbits but end up killing mice or voles. We need to consider exemptions in Committee.

There is very little scientific evidence to show that killing a fox with dogs is better or worse than using another method. The middle way group will seek to initiate research in the months ahead which may be useful in Committee. We are also concerned about what may be an arbitrary distinction between the forms of hunting that will be allowed and stag hunting and hare coursing. Why not allow those questions to be determined by the registrar according to the same criteria?

The Bill provides a serious opportunity for us to have a rational debate, leading to a sensible and sustainable outcome, but only if we have an informed debate. It is not good enough to sit here for two hours, make a speech and walk out. If Members are serious about the matter, they will study the findings of the Burns inquiry and the three-day hearing, which was a seminal achievement by the Minister in obtaining information on the matter, and, in a cool, collective and, so far as possible, non-tribal manner, come to a lasting solution. If we achieve that, we will be a credit to a democratic institution; if we do not, it will be to our shame that we sought to regulate on the basis of emotion rather than on the basis of the facts, which are there for all to read.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle 8:03, 16 December 2002

Tonight we have seen the anger of the Tory grandees and the violence out in Parliament square, and the reason is obvious—they know that the game is up. The Bill will be passed. We have a commitment from the Minister, with which I am sure the Prime Minister agrees, that there will be a free vote for Labour Members and Ministers. We also have a commitment from the Government that if the Bill is thrown out by the other place, we will use the Parliament Act. That is why there is real anger among the Opposition, in the House and on the streets outside. Tonight is the beginning of the end for hunting as we have known it in this country.

My right hon. Friend is a very clever Minister. He has worked hard for many hours, consulted everybody and introduced a Bill that hardly anybody agrees with, but nobody blames him. That is the art of being a great politician. I welcome the Bill because it does two things: it bans hare coursing and it bans stag hunting, and I have for a long time been part of attempts to get those measures passed. The Bill will be much better when we have amended it, and I am sure that it will be amended so that it bans much more hunting.

I want to concentrate on upland hunting. I know what the Burns report said about upland hunting, which in my area is run by the fell packs. My hon. Friend Mr. Banks mentioned John Peel, who, like me, was a Cumbrian. John Peel is part of our history; he is not part of our future. There can be no difference between fell packs and mounted packs, whether in Cumbria or Leicestershire. If an activity is cruel, it is cruel, and I find it difficult to believe that there is utility in it.

If we consider the fell packs—the Ullswater, the Melbreak and the Blencathra are those nearest me—we find that they use artificial earths. They dig a hole and put in a pipe so that the foxes will be nice and warm and able to breed. The local hunt's code of practice says that foxhunting is a sport.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Shadow Minister (Transport)

I have been out with the Blencathra hunt. Has the hon. Gentleman? If so, is he aware that one reason it goes to such lengths is to ensure a balance in the countryside for future generations of foxes? My problem with the Bill is that it would lead to the eradication of all foxes, which is not what the Opposition want.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

When the Blencathra gets back home to Cumbria, it says that hunting is necessary for pest control; the hon. Lady says that it is not necessary for pest control and that the hunt needs extra foxes for its sport. I do not think that it will be pleased with the hon. Lady's intervention.

There is no doubt that in the Lake district, hunts use artificial earths. Not only that, but it is recorded that they put sheep carcases inside to make sure that the foxes have enough to eat. The idea that hunting is pest control is wrong. I hope that the Minister is aware of that. I am sure that he is taking notes.

Hunting also causes problems of disturbance, disruption and trespassing in the Lake district, as it does everywhere else. It can be argued that because the roads are busy in the Lake district the hounds are in greater danger there than in many other parts of the country. There are other dangers in the fells. There are many records of hounds being killed by falling off a crag. In the 1990s, the Ullswater mountain rescue team was called out to rescue hounds that were fell-bound.

A hunt follower of 30 years' experience came to see me. He was not in favour of banning hunting, but he said that hounds were cruelly treated. He told me of a hound with a broken leg which was made to go out on the chase and of hounds that were kept half-starved so that they would run better. He also said that a hound's life is brutal and short because when it is too old to follow the hunt, it is not retired; it gets a bullet in the back of the head.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour/Co-operative, North West Leicestershire

Is it not also the case that apart from shooting hounds that are too old, hunts shoot at an early age hounds that do not show a great inclination to hunt?

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

That is the case, and it is another reason for cub hunting. It not only trains hounds to kill foxes; it allows the hunt to find out which hounds do not have the killing instinct. Young hounds without that instinct are destroyed—there is no argument about that.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink Conservative, Castle Point

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously arguing that shooting or poisoning foxes—many of them suffer a lingering, evil death for many hours if not days—is better than dispatching them with hounds which, by instinct, must kill the fox quickly so that it does not nip them?

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

I was arguing strongly that it was bad not only for the foxes but for the hounds as well.

I believe that there is a need for fox control by lamping on the high ground of the Lake district. The idea that we can control foxes with hounds is rubbish. A BBC video called XCumbrian Tales" featured a local landowner who was a member of the mounted hunt and a local shepherd who supported foxhunting. When the shepherd had a problem with a fox, he did not tell the local hunt, but got a couple of his mates to flush out the fox and shoot it. I asked a shepherd friend of mine what he does if he has a problem with foxes. He told me, XI get the men with the lamps."

Some will argue that we cannot have people with guns on the fells, as there are too many tourists. However, lamping happens at night in remote areas, and there has never been an accident or incident with anybody lamping or killing foxes—to argue otherwise is to argue from a false premise. Finally, I welcome the opportunity to vote for the Bill. However, it is nonsense to ban foxhunting in Leicestershire but leave it in Cumbria.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough 8:11, 16 December 2002

I agree with Mr. Martlew that it would be nonsense to ban fox hunting in Leicestershire. Apart from that, however, I fear that we disagree.

I have attended or participated in every debate on hunting since I was elected to the House in April 1992. Each of those debates has been fuelled by a mixture of personal experience, knowledge, prejudice, ignorance, enthusiasm and an unwillingness to appreciate the other side's argument. Every hon. Member has come to this and previous debates with a firm and fixed opinion. He or she has left the Chamber and gone into the Lobby with that opinion unchanged by any of the arguments deployed during the course of debate. Tonight will be no exception—the issue that we are addressing will leave us as divided tonight as it has in the past.

That does not give me great confidence in the Chamber's ability to reach a rational and sensible conclusion on what to do about hunting, not least because I am as guilty as every other Member here—I passionately support the continuance of hunting in Leicestershire and Cumberland and passionately reject the arguments of all hon. Members who have spoken against its continuance. If I feel sorry for anybody, however, it is for the Minister. When the options Bill was in Committee during the last Parliament, he spoke with considerable force in favour of a total ban on hunting, but he has now been forced to come to the Chamber to represent the Government and make an argument in which he clearly does not believe. That is one of the professional problems that goes with being a Minister—sometimes Ministers have to advance Government policy contrary to their personal opinion. The Minister has done so, and no doubt he will now tell me why.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I have introduced a Bill based on the principles that I believe are right after looking at all the arguments and available evidence. I should be grateful if the hon. and learned Gentleman would accept that from me.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

If that is what the right hon. Gentleman says, of course I believe him—he is an hon. Member of the House. However, it is interesting that the views that he expressed in Committee on the last occasion are poles apart from the views that he purports to express on this occasion, but let us leave it there.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

As was said in an intervention during my speech, does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that some of us have changed our views, as the Minister also suggested? I happily admit to having done so, not least because of the three-day hearing that delivered more consensus than those who did not attend it may accept. In addition, the public themselves have changed—a majority supporting a ban has been replaced by a majority not supporting a ban, so there has been movement.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

The hon. Gentleman's opinion may have changed since he became an adult and served on Newcastle city council, but I do not believe that his opinion has been changed by any of the debates in the House since he became a Member. However, I have made my point, and people may consider it.

I shall comment briefly on the Bill, and shall do so in headlines because we have only a short time available and plenty of other Members wish to contribute to our debate. It is intellectually confused, and is a muddle that has been exposed by my hon. Friend Mr. Lidington and other hon. Members who have spoken on both sides of the argument. For the hon. Members for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and perhaps for Walsall, North (David Winnick) the Bill is not consistent. They and many Conservative Members believe that cruelty cannot be licensed in one place and banned in another—that is what the Bill attempts to do. Furthermore, it makes an improper distinction between the welfare of rabbits, rats and deer; it takes another view of foxes and, most incomprehensibly of all, seems to permit falconry.

The Bill's muddled status is also demonstrated by the Minister's inability—he faced this problem on 3 December when he made his statement—to explain what he had learned from the three-day hearing that he could not have learned from the Burns inquiry. The evidence presented by Burns is no different in essence from the evidence given in the Portcullis House hearings, yet the Minister proclaims those hearings as a new advance.

The Bill is economically illiterate. Banning hunting in my county will have a serious and immediate financial and economic effect. Although the figures are pooh-poohed by those who disagree with me, there will be a 100 per cent. hit for people who will lose their jobs and individuals whose businesses and livelihoods will be damaged. I have heard the arguments about what the Conservatives did when we faced the coal-mining problem, but if two wrongs can be said to have existed, they do not make a right. That argument is of no assistance to people in my constituency, the county of Leicestershire and elsewhere who are to lose their jobs. Furthermore, the registration and tribunal system introduced by the Bill is uncosted, and I am surprised that the Minister did not think it appropriate to tell us how much that great bureaucratic system will cost.

The Bill is politically inept, as is amply demonstrated by arguments deployed tonight. It is a Bill that pleases nobody and annoys everybody. That may be a wonderful trick to pull off, but it does not go down well with my constituents or Members on both sides of the argument. To return to a point made by Andrew George—I urge people who did not hear his speech to read it tomorrow—the Bill will be socially divisive. It is also morally unjustifiable—I merely refer hon. Members to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg and my right hon. Friend Mr. Gummer. Indeed, some of their remarks were underlined by Lembit Öpik. There is no moral justification for the Government's position or that of people who are introducing the Bill on their behalf that I have been able to appreciate or understand. Nor do I believe that the arguments for the Bill are coherent or cogent.

Finally, the Bill is legally unacceptable. Extraordinarily, its superstructure rests on two highly subjective tests that are to be adjudicated by a registrar and, if necessary, on appeal to tribunal—they may be presented with different evidence of fact and opinion to justify arguments which, if applied to another part of the county or country, may not be successful. The fact that the burden of proof rests upon those who wish to continue hunting seems to me inimical to natural justice. It is of some interest that the Bill is silent about the standard of proof to which the applicants will have to conform.

The tests set out in clause 8 are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury pointed out, so vague as to be almost indefinable in anticipation. How can any person who wishes to practise hunting, anyone who wishes to represent those who wish to appear in front of the registrar—I understand that there will be a number of registrars—or any member of an appeal tribunal come to a considered view about expressions such as Xsignificant contribution", Xserious damage", Xa contribution equivalent to" or Xsignificantly less pain", and do so on a consistent basis right across the country?

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

Will my hon. and learned Friend give way?

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

I will not, if my hon. Friend does not mind. I see that I have 48 seconds left.

I must also express concern about the fact that, unfairly, animal welfare groups, whose identity has yet to be specified, are to be provided with Government finance, whereas those who wish to apply to hunt are to be given no Government financial assistance at all.

There is so much wrong with the Bill that to give it a Second Reading would be an abuse, and to prevent it from having a Second Reading would be to do it a kindness. I trust that those who are persuaded to give it a Second Reading and permit it to go to Committee will listen carefully to the arguments deployed in Committee and not allow the Bill to be a disguised ban Bill, when that is not what the public want or require.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Labour, Alyn and Deeside 8:21, 16 December 2002

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, which I hope will finally bring a conclusion to the matter, although perhaps not the conclusion envisaged in the current wording of the Bill.

When previous Governments have legislated to ban cruel and barbaric sports, if one can call them sports, such as foxhunting, bear baiting and badger digging, they have done so on a moral basis. The strength of public opinion opposed to such bloodthirsty activities has promoted bans to stop them, so society has long accepted the principle of banning activities that are cruel to animals. A Bill to ban bull baiting was passed by Parliament some 200 years ago, and bans on bear baiting, cock fighting and dog fighting have followed since. When these issues were discussed in Parliament, as my hon. Friend David Winnick made clear, many of the arguments that we hear today in support of hunting with dogs were made at that time, but to my knowledge there has never been a suggestion that those activities should be licensed.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Will my hon. Friend note that, contrary to the statements made twice by Lembit Öpik, there is support for a ban on hunting, as evidenced in appendix 1 to the research paper in the House of Commons Library?

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Labour, Alyn and Deeside

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. There was a Sky poll today which showed that nearly two thirds of people are against foxhunting. That figure is consistently thrown up by surveys. I do not know where Lembit Öpik gets his figures, but they are somewhat different from the facts.

As I said, other so-called sports were banned because people found such activities abhorrent. Most people view hunting with dogs with the same abhorrence. In England and Wales, hunting with dogs is the only activity where animal is set upon animal for so-called sport, and has not yet been outlawed. The idea that there is some middle way whereby animal cruelty can be licensed is nonsense.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would clarify one point. He said that England and Wales were the only two places where animal was set upon animal. He represents a Scottish seat. In some circumstances, that happens in Scotland, does it not?

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Labour, Alyn and Deeside

Unfortunately, I do not represent a Scottish seat. The hon. Gentleman has made his point, but perhaps he should get his facts right to begin with.

We cannot justify compromising the welfare of foxes or any other animal just because a small minority of people enjoy hounding them to their deaths.

Photo of Mark Tami Mark Tami Labour, Alyn and Deeside

I will not. I have given way twice, and we are eating into other hon. Members' time for speaking.

If there is a proven need for an individual animal to be controlled, that should be done swiftly and humanely. If it can be shown that an activity is cruel and unnecessary, and that there is a more practical and humane alternative, the only justifiable outcome is that that activity should be banned. I can understand those who argue that hunting is not cruel—not that I agree with them or accept their contention—more than those who say that hunting is cruel, but it is okay to license it.

The test that the Government propose in relation to hunting with dogs is based on utility and cruelty. As a result of that test, the Government rightly propose to ban hare coursing and deer hunting outright—hon. Members clearly welcome that—but to introduce a licensing system for foxhunting, which the majority of hon. Members probably do not welcome.

The concept of utility is open to broad interpretation, but I believe there are two aspects of it: the extent to which it is necessary to kill certain animals, and when that is the case, the most appropriate method of carrying out that task. Whether or not an individual animal is designated a pest has no bearing on whether it should experience pain or suffering. Any pest control method should pass three tests: it should be necessary, effective and humane.

Is it even necessary to control foxes? The Burns inquiry found that there was a general perception among farmers, landowners and gamekeepers that that was indeed the case. Individual foxes can undeniably cause local difficulties, but there is little evidence to support the view that the fox is a significant agricultural pest nationally. The Burns Committee stated:

XIt is clear that only a small proportion of foxes kill lambs; otherwise lamb losses would be much higher".

In addition, a study published in September showed that the number of attacks by foxes on lambs and other livestock is low, and that in some circumstances such attacks can be controlled by better husbandry and fencing.

The next test is whether fox hunting with dogs is effective. Research has shown that fox populations are resistant to culling. As regards the effectiveness of foxhunting, the Burns inquiry concluded that

Xthe overall contribution of traditional fox hunting, within the overall total of control techniques involving dogs, is almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole".

Research published in September in the science journal Nature found that a ban on hunting would not have a dramatic impact on fox numbers. Even the Countryside Alliance used to claim that hunting was effective in controlling only 5 per cent. of the fox population, but seems to have dropped that argument now as it contradicts its case that hunting is an effective means of controlling fox numbers.

The final test is whether foxhunting with dogs is humane. The Burns committee concluded that hunting with dogs

Xseriously compromises the welfare of the fox".

If that is not an understatement, God knows what is. The results of the four post-mortems commissioned by the Burns committee on foxes hunted above and below ground showed that all had suffered multiple injuries caused by dogs before being killed. In summary, it is clear that there are no circumstances in which the continuation of traditional foxhunting with dogs can be justified.

The introduction of a licensing system would send out a message saying that foxhunting is less cruel than hare coursing or deer hunting with dogs, but that argument cannot be sustained by any of the available evidence. Licence or no licence, foxhunting is cruel, barbaric, unnecessary and very ineffective. I for one would find it extremely difficult to go back to my constituency and say that I had voted for legalised cruelty, and I will not do it. We need a total ban and we need it now.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion 8:29, 16 December 2002

Since coming to the House, I have consistently opposed any attempt to ban hunting. I have done so on two premises. First, hunting, certainly as it is practised in my constituency, goes with the grain of country practice and of maintaining a sustainable, lively and viable countryside. Secondly, I have not seen any evidence to date to suggest that hunting with hounds is any more cruel than any other method of disposing of foxes.

One of the key issues that we must understand in this debate is that those on every side of the argument have agreed to a greater or lesser extent that we must control fox numbers. The variation relates to where those numbers need to be controlled. Mark Tami spoke about individual foxes as if they could be taken to a cashpoint and fined for antisocial behaviour because they had attacked a lamb in certain circumstances or whatever else. He must understand the wider context. He spoke about better husbandry and fencing, but fences cannot be erected along miles of open countryside. Indeed, his Government want to turn that countryside into a right-to-roam area. Surely, they do not want it to be electrified as part of stock husbandry.

We need to work with the grain of sustainable and forward-thinking country practices and to try to support farmers in maintaining a biodiverse countryside while recognising that the fox is the top predator there, so it is down to us as human beings—after all, we created the situation—to try to do the best that we can for the whole biodiverse countryside with the minimum of cruelty to foxes and other species.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the right to roam. How can that right be reconciled with lamping, which requires the use of rifles in the dark on open land to which legislation gives a public right of access?

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

I recognise the problem to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I believe that lamping has a future in controlling fox populations. We will have to address that issue in dealing with the Bill.

I accept that there is a large body of public opinion outside the House—it varies and can represent a majority or a slight minority, but it is always at about 40 per cent.—saying that foxhunting should be banned, as well as hare coursing and stag hunting by association. As legislators, we cannot ignore that. There may be inconsistencies in the arguments. Indeed, the opinions advanced by Mr. Hogg and Mr. Gummer have great validity in philosophical terms. The fox is sometimes seen as much more worthy of protection than other species simply because it is furry. None the less, as legislators, we cannot ignore what people are telling us, so it is important that we bring some conclusion to the process.

That is why I think that the Minister has worked hard on the Bill and give him credit for having undertaken the three-day hearings, listened to hon. Members and tried to introduce a Bill that can work in practice. The one thing that I recognise in the Bill is that it has underpinning principles. This is the first time that we have debated a Bill on hunting that is based on principles, rather than prejudices. The principles go wrong in some of the workings. On stag hunting, for example, a fair question has been raised as to whether we should prejudge its banning and whether it would be better to apply the principles in individual cases, as it may be possible to convince an independent authority or even animal welfare groups that a stag hunt is better in the wider context in some circumstances.

The two clear underlying principles are cruelty and utility. Cruelty to animals is defined and established in law, and I do not see a problem in making the Bill work in that context. Utility is a bit more difficult. The Bill demands that those of us who support a more integrated, holistic and traditional way of maintaining the countryside show how hunting with hounds, whether of foxes, stags or whatever, works for the greater good. It requires us to show that the individual evil of killing a fox in a particular way is offset by the greater good or utility of maintaining the countryside. The Burns report said that it was not clear in upland regions in Wales, Cumbria and other areas whether killing the fox by hunting with hounds was necessarily more cruel than doing so by any other method, and that that was a moot point. We must bring together the two principles to which I have referred and make them work in practice.

Let me tell a story relating to my constituency. This did much to persuade me that the Bill is the only realistic way of proceeding, although it would have to be amended in Committee to accord with my expectations.

In 2001, during the foot-and-mouth outbreak, hunting with hounds was of course banned throughout my constituency, although we did not suffer from foot and mouth as such. The constituency contains a site of special scientific interest called Cors Fochno in one of the low-lying bog areas north of Aberystwyth and along the Dyfi estuary. Under the European habitats directive, it is now a special area of conservation as well as an SSI. I told the Minister that when he was kind enough to meet me in the summer.

When foxhunting was banned in that area, the Countryside Council for Wales decided to control the fox population in the bog in a different way. It called in shooters and tried to introduce lamping, for instance. The move was a complete failure, resulting in enormous predation of ground-nesting birds by an over-expanding fox population.

The whole area is a bird nature reserve, abutting the RSPB, called Ynyshir. If its carefully established ecosystem was to be maintained—it being both an SSSI and a home for waders and visiting winter birds—the fox population had to be controlled. As soon as it was physically possible, the hunt was invited back in. It was the only sustainable option. I would expect the Bill to give the go-ahead to such measures, and I would like Labour Members in particular to apply them to their own circumstances.

By now, surely, we should have moved away from circumstances in which any form of foxhunting is seen as an issue on which to raise the class standard. There are more important issues on which to raise it. I agree with some of the criticisms of Conservative policy, but I think that—not just in Wales, but in many parts of England—principles relating to cruelty and utility can be made to apply at grass-roots level, and in a way that supports a more sustainable countryside. I want that to happen in co-operation with people on the ground, which means not penalising them or making criminals of them but asking them to join us in trying to accommodate the significant number of people who want foxhunting to be banned. I believe that a complete ban would be an ecological disaster in many parts of both England and Wales.

Many people are now isolated from the countryside. They immediately perceive country practices as cruel, because they involve killing and because they involve control. Most people, having visited an abattoir, would be turned off the meat industry, yet, thankfully, most people continue to support the industry by purchasing meat, and there is no reason to suppose that they will turn away from it.

We must bridge the gap. The Minister has tried to do that, and at this stage I support him. I want to see whether he can make the Bill work in favour of the reality of the countryside rather than the prejudices that we have heard tonight.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg Labour, City of Durham 8:38, 16 December 2002

I have opposed foxhunting on cruelty grounds for the last 20 years, and I have not changed my mind. It was cruel 20 years ago, and it is cruel today. I will vote for Second Reading, but only because the Bill can be amended in Committee.

I despair when I consider the situation in which the Government have landed us because they did not have the guts to ban hunting when we were elected five years ago, and now have not the guts to introduce a Bill to ban hunting with dogs outright. I am very disappointed with the Bill, and with the way in which the Government have handled things since 1997. During the last five years they have lost a huge amount of reputation and trust over this issue—especially among members of the Labour party, and particularly among people who voted Labour on two occasions because banning hunting was a manifesto commitment—which has been very damaging.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not look a gift fox in the mouth? If we succeed in banning hunting through the Bill, hon. Members who have been disappointed will forgive us.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg Labour, City of Durham

I am not sure whether we shall be forgiven, but my hon. Friend is right that the Bill is the only way in which we can ban foxhunting. I shall therefore vote for it tonight.

There has been an inexcusable delay in resolving the issue, and more than 100 hours of parliamentary time have been spent in wasted, repetitive debate, when the arguments were clearly won by hon. Members who wanted to ban hunting. More important, thousands of animals have continued to suffer and die unnecessarily in the past six years. That includes the hounds and other dogs that are used in fox, deer, hare and mink hunting.

The Burns inquiry and the public hearing have demonstrated that hunting with hounds causes immense suffering to wild animals. They are chased to exhaustion, brutally savaged by the pack of hounds or forced to fight underground with terriers. However, what about the tools of all that cruelty, the hounds and the terriers?

The foxhound has a short and harsh life. Puppies that do not show aptitude for hunting or fail to meet the requirements are normally shot by the kennel man. Those that are fortunate enough to make the grade are trained to chase and kill foxes during the cub-hunting season. That unpleasant side of hunting involves chasing and killing fox cubs to teach young hounds how to kill. One does not often hear hunters discussing the merits of cub hunting; they prefer to keep quiet about it.

Hounds will follow wherever the scent of their quarry takes them. That makes the route for hunting live quarry unpredictable and much more exciting for the mounted field. The price of that Xfun" is that many hounds are run over on roads or even hit by speeding trains after straying on to railway lines. Others become injured on barbed wire fencing or get lost from the pack for days.

There are numerous reports of hounds being electrocuted and killed. In one case, the New Forest Foxhounds trespassed on a railway line, resulting in the death of six hounds. [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not like to hear such information because they enjoy seeing the killing and the cruelty to animals. They will vote for that this evening. Passengers on a train from London to Bournemouth witnessed the train running over the bodies of the hounds.

If the hounds survive all that, we would expect them, like most working dogs, to be retired to live a comfortable life in the country. Sadly, we would be wrong. When the hounds reach the age of approximately six or seven—half their normal life expectancy—they are simply shot. They are taken around the back of the kennels, where a bullet is put in the back of their heads. That makes a mockery of the hunts' claims that, in the event of a ban on hunting with dogs, they will have no alternative but to shoot their hounds; they shoot them anyway. It is estimated that hunts around the country kill between 3,000 and 5,000 hounds every year.

I support the RSPCA's view that a mass slaughter of hounds in the event of a ban would be irresponsible and unnecessary. I am pleased that the RSPCA has pledged to do all it can to prevent such needless destruction at the hands of the hunts. The Burns inquiry into hunting with dogs found that

Xany need to put down hounds or horses, in the event of a ban, could be minimised if there was a suitable lead-in time before it was implemented".

The previous Government hunting measure, which fell in March 2001, contained such a lead-in period. The RSPCA believes that responsible hunts should start to wind down their breeding programmes immediately to reduce the number left in the case of a ban. I call on responsible hunts to start to wind down their breeding programmes now.

I am sure that the Bill will be amended to reflect the will of the public and Parliament. I hope that there is no pressure on the payroll vote, although it is normally applied in the case of a Government Bill. If, through such pressure, the measure is passed in its current form, hunts will be left with uncertainty that may cause further suffering to hounds. It may take years for some licence applications to be resolved. In the meantime, hunts would be left with packs of redundant hounds, with no subscriptions to cover the cost of their care.

If foxhunting, hare coursing and deer hunting were banned outright through the Bill, at least hunts would have time to consider three options properly. First, they could disband and give their hounds a different home. Secondly, they could disband the hunt but keep the hounds. Thirdly, they could convert to drag hunting. I believe that a switch to drag hunting would be the preferable option, as it would allow members of the hunt to continue to enjoy the sport, the pageantry that they like, and the social side of hunting, while allowing the hounds to continue to be kept in packs.

The cruelty that these so-called sports inflict on dogs and wildlife is totally unjustifiable. The only way to prevent it is to introduce a ban on these barbaric and bloodthirsty forms of hunting with dogs. My hon. Friend Mr. Skinner has called the Bill a fudge, and I absolutely agree with him. As we have seen this evening, it causes confusion and uncertainty, and creates the possibility that the cruelty of foxhunting could continue. I must ask the Minister why it stops short of a complete ban. In reality, he has chosen a Bill that appeases absolutely no one. It does not appease the Countryside Alliance, the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, or the public, and it certainly has not appeased Members of Parliament. I can only imagine that it has been devised in an attempt to appease both sides in this long-running debate. Perhaps the Government were frightened by the pro-hunting lobby's ability to get large numbers of people to take to the streets by wrapping the issue up in a number of genuine rural concerns.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

While I accept my hon. Friend's views on the Bill, I would ask him to accept that the way in which the process has been undertaken and the way in which the Bill has been drafted have been based entirely on trying to get the right principles into place and to deal with the issue so as to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on it. I ask him at least to accept the integrity with which I have attempted to bring the Bill before Parliament.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg Labour, City of Durham

I certainly accept that; I am not questioning the Minister's integrity at all. I think that he has been misguided in bringing us a Bill that appeases nobody, but I would certainly not accuse him of doing anything that was not proper.

Having said that, however, I would say to the Minister that if the Bill was introduced to appease the Countryside Alliance, whose actions we have seen outside the House today, let us consider the reasons that its members took to the streets for a so-called liberty and livelihood march. In my view, that march had nothing to do with foxhunting at all. Only 47 per cent. of the marchers lived in the middle of the countryside. A quarter of them lived in towns, and 52 per cent. were affluent people from social categories A and B. Eighty-two per cent. of the marchers voted Conservative. The Countryside Alliance march was a political rally. It was an anti-Government march, not a pro-countryside march. Recent military-style action and the threat of civil disobedience and law breaking are indicative of a growing desperation among the pro-hunt lobby that simply goes to show that its members have lost the arguments on hunting. Attempts by a small minority to block the wishes of the majority of people in this country and cause significant disruption to commuters, businesses and families travelling away for the weekend show scant regard for the democratic process.

I would have liked to go on speaking. I acknowledge the effort that the Minister has put into the Bill, but he could have saved himself a lot of time and a great deal of hard work by producing a Bill that reflected the will of the House. I suggest that he removes part 2 and allows the democratic process to stop this cruelty once and for all. It is time that the democratic will of Parliament and of the majority of people in this country was listened to, and time that hunting with hounds was finally abolished.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 8:48, 16 December 2002

I am grateful to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have a great respect for Mr. Steinberg, but I have to say that I think that that was the most prejudiced and ignorant speech I have heard in my 10 years as a Member of Parliament. The House is at its worst when we debate this subject. I have been involved in hunting all my life, and I have heard so much ignorance this evening that it is unbelievable.

I feel sorry for the Minister. Whatever his personal views, he has approached the subject with integrity. The hearings that he conducted in Portcullis House were fair, and he relied on the evidence of the Burns inquiry. If we study the evidence fairly and objectively, however, it would be difficult to introduce this Bill. I hope that some of its deficiencies will be dealt with in Committee, because we all want to see hunting regulated and managed properly, if it is to continue, with the least cruelty attached to it. I would maintain that the Independent Supervisory Authority on Hunting, which few people know anything about, is extremely tough and should be used as the model for the Bill, but that is an argument for another day.

One main weakness of the Bill is that it does not rely on proper scientific and objective evidence, as I said in an intervention on the Minister. I cannot understand why hare coursing and deer hunting have been specially ruled out with an automatic ban, especially in view of the objective evidence of Wise, Bateson and Harris, who

Xconcluded that all of the changes observed are the normal psychological expression of arousal and exercise. All are reversible and none are of clinical significance to the hunted deer."

It is probable that similar reversible processes would be found in hunted foxes, hares and mink. So, if one takes the expert scientific opinion, no incontrovertible evidence exists, as the Minister said this morning to a stag hunting delegation, to show that stag hunting is cruel. If we are to legislate, we should do so on proper objective, scientific principles.

If paragraph 5.26 of the Burns report is to be believed, hunts cull 21,000 to 25,000 foxes each year; if the 2010 biodiversity regime is to be applied, farm animals are to be protected. Presumably, that same number of foxes will still need to be culled. How will they be culled? There are a number of alternatives. The first is using a high-powered rifle. That might be safe in vast areas of Wales, but it would not be safe at night in vast areas of the south of England due to people wandering on footpaths, the right to roam and so on. Even if it were safe, I can tell Members, as I have done it, that using a high-powered rifle and killing the fox with the first shot requires a degree of expertise.

The second method that could be used is shooting foxes with a shotgun. I can tell Members that the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food ran a trial, which found that 46 per cent. of foxes that are shot with a shotgun go away wounded. Anybody who knows anything about shooting foxes with a shotgun knows that when they go away wounded, they suffer a long, lingering death. Mostly they go to ground, unfound and unseen, but they live in their earth for a long time before they die, and very painful it is too.

The third alternative is some form of running snare that is legal. Again, however, unless the running snare is inspected every day— [Interruption.] I wish that the Minister would listen, because he might learn something from somebody who knows about the subject. One could use a running snare, which is perfectly legal, but the issue of cruelty would become immense if it were not inspected every day. Members should imagine being caught by the leg in a snare and desperately trying to get away.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

If a fox is caught by the leg by a snare, it will bite its leg off to try to get away. That is how cruel running snares are.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I would maintain that all the alternatives are crueller—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. There are far too many sedentary interventions.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. All the alternatives are crueller, but let us be under no illusion—the Bill will license cruelty.

I refer to the business of the tribunals, which is unfair. Under the tribunal process, the opponents of the licence for an individual hunt will be allowed to appeal and re-appeal, yet the applicant for a licence may not reapply on the same grounds until at least six months have passed. I would maintain that that is unfair and disproportionate. Also, given the acknowledged absence of any scientific evidence, applicants for registration face an impossible task, as the burden of proof will be on them to show that they can pass the least-suffering test. To quote clause 8 in part 2, applicants will have to prove that an equivalent to the utility contribution

Xcould not reasonably be expected to be made . . . in a manner likely to cause significantly less pain, suffering or distress to the wild mammals to be hunted."

As Lord Burns said, there is not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty.—[Hansard, House of Lords, 12 March 2001; Vol. 623, c. 533.]

In other words, it is impossible to pass the test to get a licence. The Bill will certainly mean that a significant number of hunts will not continue—otherwise, what is the point of it?

Along with many of my colleagues, I took part in the March for liberty and livelihood, as did 407,000 other people: honest, law-abiding citizens, the bedrock of this country. The Bill will impose all sorts of sanctions on them, including forfeiture of vehicles and animals. How on earth is a police constable at the scene of a suspected breach to compel a person to give up his animals? We are introducing powers to search property, and criminal sanctions on people who breach the provisions: ordinary, honest, law-abiding citizens such as many of my constituents. I represent more hunts, I suspect, than any other Member of Parliament: 10 at the last count. Large numbers of people will be subject to fines and possibly criminal sanctions. Is that what we really want? Do we want to send people to jail? I wonder whether the House is really cognisant of what it is taking on. As Churchill said, we must not underestimate the power of minorities.

I urge the House to think very carefully about how it legislates on this subject. This is a bad Bill, and one that the House will come to regret.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe 8:56, 16 December 2002

To clarify one point, Mr. Gummer accused me and others who oppose hunting of class envy. I do not know which class he believes himself to belong to, but I have no wish to join it.

I welcome the Government's consistency and courage in delivering a conclusion to a debate that has been running for more than 100 years. I especially welcome the personal dedication of the Minister, who is informally becoming known as the Minister for heroic efforts. We look forward to his being asked to solve the fire dispute, abolish the common agricultural policy and disarm Saddam Hussein.

The Bill is an honourable attempt to find a logical common ground, but both the riot outside this place earlier today and the blatant hostility of Conservative Members show that most hunt supporters are not interested. It has been informally suggested that, unlike a total ban, the Bill has a chance of getting through the other place, so that we could complete the business this year. God loves optimists, but after what we have seen today that appears very unlikely.

I accept and welcome the Bill's basic philosophy. It is right and logical to consider utility and cruelty in each case. I will support the Bill tonight. There are two central problems, however. The first is that there is nothing to stop thousands of people clogging up the machinery with individual applications. Applications are not limited to existing hunts, so every individual member of a hunt could propose to set up a new one. I see no logical end point to the process. Six months after an application is rejected, the individual will be back to apply again.

The second problem is that the Bill, as it stands, delegates the decision on the utility or cruelty of the hunting of foxes, hare and mink to a tribunal. The Minister has made great efforts to ensure that the tribunal is fair and representative. As many of us have speculated and as Opposition Members have suggested, it may well be that the tribunals will find that the majority of hunts do not satisfy the criteria; however, we do not know. A glance at legal processes in Britain over the years shows that one cannot sensibly and firmly predict how tribunals and courts will behave. In practice, we are taking a gamble if we take this option.

What do the public expect? I believe that they—by which I mean a majority—expect Parliament to reach a conclusion on this matter, and they will be surprised if the one that we reach is that we should delegate the decision to a tribunal. Most people simply do not want us to do that. They want us to come to a view, and as has been said, about 50 per cent. want us to conclude that hunting with hounds should be banned.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

If we accept that the outcome that we want is an improvement in animal welfare, and that in some circumstances—as the Minister has suggested and the hearings have proved—killing a fox with dogs is not necessarily the most cruel approach, it surely makes sense in the interests of animal welfare to allow a registrar to look at the specific circumstances and to judge whether a particular hunt application is justifiable within the very terms that the hon. Gentleman is discussing.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

I understand the consistent position that the hon. Gentleman has taken for some years now, but I agree with my hon. Friend Dr. Turner that the primary determinant of fox numbers is the availability of food. Although there are regional variations, nationally the number of foxes that die due to hunting is just over 5 per cent. That means that hunting's contribution to the control of fox numbers is actually insignificant. We spend a great deal of time debating whether alternatives are less cruel or more cruel, but the reality is that replacing hunting in most areas with nothing will make no more of a difference to fox numbers than did the absence of hunting during last year's foot and mouth outbreak.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

The hon. Gentleman's point is that the major constraint on fox numbers is the amount of food available, but what sort of pain and cruelty do foxes experience if they die from lack of food?

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, except that it is well established that animals breed in greater numbers if plentiful food is available. We could discuss that issue at greater length than the time available to me allows; indeed, perhaps we could do so outside the Lobby.

Most Members, as well as most of our supporters, will want the House to decide on these matters. Ultimately, the question of whether to allow foxhunting, mink hunting or hare hunting is a very simple one. Given that only 5 per cent. of foxes are killed by hunts, it is clear that the objective is primarily recreational. Do we want a sport that involves the suffering and death of animals to be regarded as legal and recreational? When confronted with that basic issue, the great majority of people say, XNo, I don't think that that should be legal."

This is an issue for debate only because it is so familiar. Let us transpose it to a different environment. Let us consider the example of children chasing a stray dog across a council estate. Stray dogs are a pest and they need to be controlled. The children chase the dog across the estate and stone it to death; they are stopped, and people are horrified. What is the difference? It is only the existence of tradition and a long-standing habit. Our society is so rich that we do not need to depend on suffering and killing for our entertainment. I will vote for the Bill, regardless of the social composition of the group and the state of the opinion polls. I have said that for many years. In the last election, one of my Conservative opponents said that I put vermin before constituents. I quoted him in my election address, and I was returned with an increased majority.

We should support the Bill with enthusiasm, and I urge all Members whose sympathies lie primarily with the hunted to join me in voting for the Bill tonight.

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 9:06, 16 December 2002

This Bill is duplicitous and malicious. Mr. Steinberg ranted about it being an appeasement of the Countryside Alliance. He, at least, can rest assured—wherever he is—that this is a total ban in all but name. The Government have struggled to cobble together an intellectual or rational basis for imposing this unwarranted and draconian regulation on foxhunting, but have singularly failed to make a coherent or logical case. The Bill, as has been demonstrated this evening, is shot through with intellectual inconsistency.

I have no doubt that for a minority of Members, a ban on foxhunting will be a logical extension of a principled, personal concern for animals, which no doubt includes vegetarianism and a determination to ban all forms of pest control. However, for the majority of Members who seek a ban, their motivation is fuelled by ignorance, prejudice and spite. As we prepare to launch a highly controversial war in the middle east that is so unpopular with the Labour Back Benches, is it not transparent that the Bill is a bit of red meat to be chucked to the troublemakers on the Back Benches in an effort to buy them off and appeal to the basest instincts of the Labour party?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

I am afraid not.

This measure has nothing to do with animal welfare. Deliberate cruelty to animals is, quite rightly, already a criminal act. The arbitrary application of the tests of cruelty and utility to foxhunting is illogical when it excludes rats, rabbits, birds and other animals, to say nothing of fish.

The Bill requires no amendment to exterminate foxhunting as we know it across rural England. It is no more than a cunning device by the Government to ban the sport under the cloak of regulation. The effect on my constituents, who stand to lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their homes and their community will be exactly the same as that of the most blatant ban. The Government have chosen to discard the Burns report, which was commissioned at great expense to allow impartial, educated scientific men and women to find out what many of us knew already—that hunting is no more cruel or inhumane than any other form of vermin control. What is more, according to Burns, not only would a ban have a catastrophic effect on thousands of rural families but thousands of hounds would have to be shot. The fox population would be left to be indiscriminately gassed, trapped or maimed. There is no Walt Disney solution to the problem of fox control.

The likely consequence of a ban on hunting will be that farmers will take greater responsibility for controlling predators. Those predators will drag an unborn lamb from a ewe or slaughter every bird in a hen house and not take a single carcase. Faced with indiscriminate pest control carried out by farmers, many foxes will disappear completely from many parts of our countryside.

It is not only foxes that will disappear from our landscape if hunting is banned. Those of us who care about the environment know that if a ban is forced through Parliament, the well-kept hedgerows, the coppices, the covers and the ditches that attend an active foxhunt also face extinction. No thought or consideration has been given in the Bill to the important contribution that foxhunting makes to the preservation of the biodiversity of the English countryside. It is no wonder that so many committed and well-respected environmentalists oppose a ban. It was no surprise to hear Mr. Thomas, who is a particularly assiduous member of the Environmental Audit Committee, speak so powerfully in favour of foxhunting as a method of preserving the biodiversity of the British countryside.

Coppicing, hedge-laying, dry-stone walling and woodland maintenance would all be hammered by a ban, or by a regulatory framework that squeezed the life out of the country sports industry. A ban on hunting in the present climate of low incomes for farmers would make it likely that, owing to the cost, necessary conservation work would disappear altogether.

It has become more and more apparent that the debate is about neither cruelty nor care for the countryside. If Members were so concerned about cruelty, where is the vote in Government time to ban halal meat? Where is the vote in Government time to ban kosher meat? Where is the vote in Government time to ban the importing of meat from animals reared in obscene conditions that really warrant the description Xcruel"? Where is the vote in Government time to reverse legislation that has closed slaughterhouses the length and breadth of Britain, thus requiring livestock to travel hundreds of miles on motorways rather than being dealt with humanely in their own locality?

The debate has exposed some of the worst double standards in public life and I hope that Members will reflect on that the next time that they tuck into a factory-farmed roast. The debate has not shown a rational analysis of the facts: misplaced concern for animals may inform some voices in the argument, but it is self-evident that what drives most Members who are baying for a ban is old-fashioned spite, prejudice and bigotry. This profoundly illiberal Bill, which should concern everyone who holds dear civil liberties, sets a dangerously worrying precedent. It is liberty, not foxhunting, that is really at stake.

Singling out rural communities in such a measure is akin to the Government's repealing race relations laws to allow the persecution of a single ethnic minority. Thankfully, that may not happen, but the effect on our small rural communities is exactly the same. It is no historical coincidence that the first European ban on hunting was enacted by Adolf Hitler. Despite the Minister's pretence at compromise, the Bill owes nothing to the third way but everything to the Third Reich.

Down the ages, we in Britain have fought against the persecution of minorities. For hundreds of years, the defence of civil liberty has been cherished at Westminster—something that may be a laughing matter for Labour Members. Although many people may not approve of hunting as a sport, or may question its relevance to a largely urban nation, millions of people recognise that to criminalise at a stroke a large section of rural Britain would be a monstrous misuse of the power of Parliament.

The Prime Minister will have to build new jails if he sets his face against reason and tolerance. In my constituency, fine upstanding members of the community, who have never received so much as a parking ticket, are ready to go to prison for their beliefs.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

Is the hon. Gentleman inciting his constituents to break the law?

Photo of Gregory Barker Gregory Barker Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

No, I am trying to explain the anger and disillusionment that they feel owing to the intolerance and arrogance that is being exhibited in this place. Is that really how Labour Members want to be remembered? Does the Prime Minister want to be remembered as the man who ripped apart the fabric of rural Britain and passed the most illiberal and divisive piece of legislation for 200 years?

I ask every Member of the House to examine their conscience and to vote tonight not because they hate hunting, but because they love liberty.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn 9:14, 16 December 2002

I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs on his hard work and patience and on the wide consultations that he held before introducing the Bill.

My right hon. Friend knows my views on hunting, especially on hunting with dogs. He is also familiar with the terrain of my constituency so he knows—literally—where I am coming from.

I agree that it is in everyone's interest that the issue of hunting with dogs should be brought to a conclusion. No one has benefited from the protracted debates without decision. Parliament and the House of Commons have certainly not benefited from the inability to take a decision on this matter. As a Member who represents a predominantly rural constituency, I can tell the House that it is the will of my constituents to bring this matter to a conclusion. Since my election in 2001, I have received a vast amount of correspondence on this subject, the overwhelming majority of which has come from people in rural areas who support my stand for a ban on hunting.

Hunting is a sport. I have always recognised the need to flush foxes out to the gun where necessary. As the Burns report emphasises, that practice is widespread in Wales. Indeed, such a practice would have been permitted under the Deadline 2000 option that many of my hon. Friends supported. Although I support the principle of the Bill to outlaw the cruelty associated with hunting, I am unhappy with part 2, which deals with registration, as are many other hon. Members. Part 2 will be unworkable because, for example, it will be impossible for a tribunal to be certain whether the losses cited are accurate. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Foster, for whom I have enormous respect on this subject, that that will create a lottery for cruelty.

Photo of Martin Salter Martin Salter Labour, Reading West

Would my hon. Friend echo my concerns about the possible lack of impartiality of a tribunal that includes a vet and a land manager, especially as a notable vet in my constituency has put a sign on his surgery today that says, XAnyone who opposes hunting is no longer welcome at this veterinary practice"? How impartial would that system be?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I am concerned about the tribunal process for the very reason that there may be inconsistency across the country.

Part 2 is unnecessary because, if there were a complete ban option and we allowed foxes to be flushed out to the gun, as in schedule 1, and stalking and flushing remained part of the Bill, there would be no need for any traditional hunt and this matter could be solved.

The reason for the so-called traditional hunts is the enjoyment of the chase and the kill as pure sporting activity. Yes, a prolonged chase of a fox across open countryside is cruel; it is needless and avoidable. The very dogs used for that function prolong the chase so that those who partake can extend their pleasure—the thrill of the chase. That aspect of hunting has nothing to do with utility, but everything to do with entertainment and sport.

Many pro-hunting sportsmen, some of whom reside in my constituency, have asked me whether I would take part in one of those hunts. XCome along," they say. Well, I have declined that offer. I am mindful of the last vote that we had on this subject. I voted in the same Lobby as Sir Teddy Taylor, who is not in his place at the moment. I can assure hon. Members that that does not happen on many occasions, but I asked him whether he had always been against hunting. He responded, XNo, not until I accepted an invitation to go on a hunt." I believe that I would have found the experience exactly the same as he did and that it would have consolidated and reinforced my opposition to hunting.

I have some experience of hunting. I, too, was born and raised in a rural constituency. As a young boy, I went shooting and rabbiting frequently. I like to think that I never performed too much cruelty because I was trained to do so, but I was young then and I also believed in Father Christmas. I have grown up and matured since then.

I am very pleased that the Bill will not outlaw shooting, as that makes nonsense of the argument used by the pro-sport and pro-foxhunters that this is the thin end of the wedge. I am grateful to the Minister for reaffirming in his statement to the House on 3 December, as reported in column 757 of Hansard, our manifesto commitment that we have no intention of restricting angling or shooting. The provision to outlaw hare coursing shows that the Government intend to address the cruelty issue. The hare coursing event, as described in the Bill, is not unlike the traditional foxhunting event. It has little to do with liberty and everything to do with cruelty.

I started by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Minister on all his hard work in bringing this measure to Parliament and on providing the opportunity to reach a conclusion on the issue of hunting with dogs. The Bill will assist in that process, but unless it outlaws foxhunting, with exemptions for flushing out, I am not confident that it will achieve its aim. I will support the Bill's Second Reading tonight, but I fear that I will not be able to support it at a later date unless it is amended accordingly.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries

With regard to flushing out, does my hon. Friend agree that flushing out should involve no more than two dogs and two guns?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Yes, I agree with that. That is the normal practice in the area that I represent.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

I am surprised by the discovery that Santa Claus may not exist, and I am even more stunned by what the hon. Gentleman says about flushing out. Is he aware that a flushing out team needs to surround an entire wood? How does one do that with two dogs?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

That is not the case in every circumstance. In the terrain in my constituency, two dogs are used, the animal comes to the point of the gun, and it is shot cleanly.

I was pleased to take that intervention from Lembit Öpik, as I do not support the middle way; I believe in the right way forward. In terms of outlawing foxhunting as a sport, the Bill has a number of pitfalls. It has several good clauses, too, and, importantly, good intent. I accept that there is no such thing as perfect drafting. I am certain that the opportunity will present itself at a later stage to amend this Bill. Failure to do so will allow the muddled way to continue, satisfying nobody and wasting more important parliamentary time. Let us focus attention on rural depopulation, rural housing and rural regeneration, but let us deal with the unfinished business of hunting with dogs, too, and let us do it in a mature fashion. Let us legislate to end cruelty, to end hunting with dogs as a sport, and to restore the credibility of this House of Commons.

Photo of David Burnside David Burnside UUP, South Antrim 9:22, 16 December 2002

Before I briefly address the substance of today's debate, I wish to make an apology to the House. I included remarks about hunting and farming in my contribution to the debate on the Queen's Speech on 19 November. In the past, I have had a financial relationship with the Countryside Alliance through my company, David Burnside Associates Ltd. That relationship was included in the Register of Members' Interests when I came to the House, but it ceased in March 2002, so no such entry appears in the current register. I now understand that I should have declared that past relationship when I spoke on 19 November, as it appeared in the printed version of the register current at the time, and I apologise for not doing so.

As I have not been able to take part in the main debate, I shall comment on one piece of work that I did for the Countryside Alliance when I was previously retained by the alliance as a consultant. I carried out research in 20 constituencies in England and Wales, and listed 20 subject matters of importance to those constituencies. Hunting was one of them, and it came 20th—it was at the bottom of the list. We are insulting the countryside, the interests of the farming industry and all the problems that we face in the countryside by even having this debate tonight. I will oppose the Second Reading of the Bill because it does not reflect what the countryside really wants.

Photo of Russell Brown Russell Brown Labour, Dumfries 9:24, 16 December 2002

I appreciate that time is moving on, but I first wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on introducing the Bill and, as we have already heard, on the excellent work that he did in the three-day hearings. He has done his level best to deal with the issue, but I think that he would accept that, if he has had a rough ride at all today, he has had a rough ride from the Conservative Members who clearly do not accept anything that he has said. In fact, Mr. Clifton-Brown said that we were doing nothing more than licensing cruelty. Although I hope that many Labour Members will go into the Lobby with my right hon. Friend, we expect amendments to be tabled in Committee. If he sees defeats staring him in the face, I hope that he will accept the will of the House of the Commons and accept such amendments.

I want to mention briefly the effects of the hunting ban in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has been in being for just three years, but it has pushed through a Bill on hunting. Although I agree with those who have said that it is not an ideal Bill, it shows the Parliament's boldness to do something about the issue. It has not been caught up in what this House has been caught up in for a century. The Bill contained loopholes and those who want hunting to continue are determined and have gone to the extreme of almost breaking the law.

The only hunt that has been disbanded in Scotland is in my constituency—the Dumfrieshire hunt. That happened only because the landowner was not prepared to let the hunt carry out its activities on his land. I sincerely hope that this Bill, as it goes through Committee, will place much more emphasis on the responsibilities of landowners and on what will happen if they are caught allowing something illegal to take place on their land.

It has been claimed that hunting still continues in Scotland. Lothian and Borders police had to investigate a hunt that openly boasted about the killing of eight foxes by its hounds. We could expect flushing out to lead to the killing of one or two foxes, but the fact that as many as eight were killed shows that either illegal activity took place or that the pack of hounds was totally out of control.

My Conservative opponent at the last general election has now become a rural rebel. He has boasted in the local press about having hunted on several occasions and, in more than one outburst, he has admitted that, whereas he previously hunted on his land, he now brings in guns to take out the foxes. In effect, he is openly admitting that he allowed foxes to breed on his land for nothing more than the sport of hunting. That takes us to the crux of the matter. The Bill that my hon. Friend Mr. Foster introduced in 1997 was all about the argument that controlling fox numbers was the main reason for hunting. Controlling their numbers by hunting has been an unmitigated failure and it is now admitted in several places that hunting is all about sport and cruelty.

My right hon. Friend the Minister's arguments about utility and cruelty are admirable. However, the Bill's proposals are a gamble that many Labour Members are not prepared to take. I again thank him for his efforts, but I hope that he will be prepared to accept amendments in Committee.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire 9:29, 16 December 2002

Although I am happy to follow Mr. Brown, it is a parliamentary absurdity that I cannot go to Edinburgh to pontificate on foxhunting in Scotland, but he can come down here and squeeze out—

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

No, I will not give way.

It is absurd that the hon. Gentleman can come down here and squeeze out Welsh and English Members of Parliament who have not been able to speak about foxhunting in their countries because they have had to listen to him. In particular, it is absurd because the regime introduced in Scotland is a shambles by any standard. It is nonsense to think that we would listen to anything that he has to say on hunting.

The debate has been disappointing in many respects. As Mr. Steinberg reminded us, something like 100 hours of parliamentary time have been spent on the subject in recent years. I have been involved in all of them, and here we all are again: the same old speeches, the same old faces and the same old arguments—pretty tired old arguments they are, too. The fact is that hunting of all kinds is a minority and peripheral interest. Most people do not understand why we spend hours and hours of parliamentary time discussing it because it is not important to most people. However, it is of huge importance to the 407,000 decent country folk who came to London early this year. For each of them, 10 people who agreed with them stayed at home. It is also of huge importance for a small number of animal rights activists, on whose behalf most Labour Members speak, but for most of the 55 million people in England it is of peripheral interest.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

Is it true that the hon. Gentleman sponsored 1,000 people to come to the House to demonstrate and that he put them into Room W1 tonight? That is outrageous. Frankly, his mathematics must be appalling. Will he condemn, without reservation, the fact that some of those people whom he supports have thrown firecrackers at police horses outside the House?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I have sponsored no one to come here today, but the fact so many people are so angry that they have come here should demonstrate to Labour Members how very important the issues are to people in the countryside.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House will recollect that earlier today I brought to the attention of the Chair the fact that the Sessional Order on access to the House of Commons, which we passed on 13 November, was violated and that action needed to be taken. We now hear from my hon. Friend Mr. Banks that a Member of the House was involved in organising the demonstration that violated—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I dealt with the gist of that earlier this evening. We are taking time unnecessarily from the end of the debate.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

For the sake of good order, perhaps I can make it plain that I played no part whatsoever in organising the disturbance earlier today. I took no part in it. Of course, I would be the first to decry any illegal activity. That sort of thing should not take place around the Palace. However, the fact that tens of thousands of people are here this evening, making such a noise, shows how important the matter is to them.

The arguments advanced by most Labour Members are the same tired old arguments. They were exploded by Lord Burns and in the three days of hearings in Portcullis House. They largely ignore the real evidence as inconvenient to their in-built prejudices. The truth is that almost every Labour Member ignored the Bill's content.

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

No. I do not have much time.

This is the first time that I remember every Labour Member, with the sole exception of Dr. Palmer, speaking against the principle of a Government Bill on Second Reading. The purpose of a Second Reading debate is to agree with the principle of a Bill, but the Opposition and Labour Members do not. I hope that they have the power of their convictions and join us in the No Lobby.

Like the hon. Member for West Ham, from whom we heard much, Mr. Kaufman and the hon. Members for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) and for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) concentrated entirely on what they believe to be unacceptable human behaviour. They do not like it. One hon. Member talked about funny coats. Others talked about people with horns. They talked about all kinds of funny behaviour and whether people enjoy hunting, but ignored what is central to the debate—namely, animal welfare. That, and not all those aspects of human behaviour, is what the Bill should be about. The National Farmers Union, which we must believe to have some knowledge of these matters, made its views plain in its briefing, when it said that the Bill

Xin practice would prove to be a disservice to the cause of animal welfare."

That is because the central question should be that of comparative cruelty.

The Bill does not seek to define cruelty, so we do not know what cruelty is. We have only the concept of comparative cruelty. When the Minister winds up the debate, will he tell us which method of killing a fox is least cruel? Should one use hounds? Should one shoot it at night at a range of 300 yd, using a shotgun or—the Minister must be clear about this—a rifle, and watch it limp off to die of gangrene? That has been the experience in Scotland, as the hon. Member for Dumfries should know. Should one snare it, which is perfectly legal, or poison it or gas it, both of which are illegal? We need to know which of those practices are more, and which less, cruel, and the Bill must take steps to ensure that only the less cruel are allowed. Conservative Members would argue that a swift death after being hunted with hounds is the least cruel.

The onus should be on the objectors to prove that the practice in question is more cruel than some others. Lord Burns, to name but one, certainly did not do so in the case of hunting. He went to great lengths to say that he did not believe that hunting with hounds was cruel, and the scientists giving evidence in Portcullis House did not say that it was cruel. Cruelty is subjective and comparative, and the Bill entirely fails adequately to define cruelty or utility.

As my hon. Friend Mr. Lidington pointed out in a fine opening speech, the Minister's definition of utility has significantly changed since he wrote us a letter on 10 April. It has become much narrower and harder to achieve. I wonder why that should be. Perhaps the Minister will tell us why he has changed his definition.

My suspicion is that utility, as defined in the Bill rather than in the letter of 10 April, will prove extremely difficult for most hunts to achieve. Labour Members may well welcome that, but Mr. Foster should be aware that if the test of utility is applied according to the strict definition in the Bill, coarse fishing will be outlawed and shooting will be called into question. Coarse fishing has no utility and must, because it involves hooking a fish by its mouth, involve cruelty. Most modern livestock practices would not pass the Minister's test of comparative cruelty and utility, and nor, as several hon. Members have said, would halal butchery, boxing, cigarette smoking and a variety of other activities. Why is the test applied only to hunting with hounds?

Photo of John Gummer John Gummer Conservative, Suffolk Coastal

Does my hon. Friend agree that given the Bill's importance to the country people of Britain, it would be reasonable for the Cabinet Minister responsible to be here and to take part in the debate? Is not it unacceptable that the responsibility for both introducing and responding to the debate should be shovelled off on to somebody who has been given that role because no one else wants it? Why is not the Secretary of State here?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

My right hon. Friend is right—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs makes a dramatic appearance in the Chamber. She has missed the best bits, but at least she is here now to hear her Front-Bench colleague.

My right hon. Friend makes a good point in that the Bill is being shuffled off into the background and given to a Minister of State to handle, presumably so that he can try to recover his political career, which was so damaged previously. The Secretary of State is a crafty enough politician to have absolutely nothing to do with the Bill; the reaction from her Back-Bench colleagues confirms what a sound decision that was.

The definition of utility is extremely bad, and as the RSPCA has made plain on several occasions, most recently in an interview in The Daily Telegraph, it would seek to extend the ban to both fishing and shooting. If there is to be any usefulness at all in the Minister's golden thread of utility weighed against cruelty, it must be defined much more widely to include species management and habitat improvement, which were both included in April, and should also include economic livelihood, sport and recreation. Some believe that sport and recreation should not be included, but the Bill allows hounds to be used to preserve birds that are being bred for shooting, and the only reason to do so is for sport and recreation. The utility of sport and recreation is therefore recognised in one part of the Bill, and should also be recognised in the parts dealing with hunting with hounds. Comparative cruelty must also be defined much more carefully.

Conservative Members wish to make it plain that we have no objection at all to the principle of licensing as long as it is a reasonable and liberal regime. After all, 40 hunts use the Ministry of Defence and Forestry Commission land and have been licensed by the Government at least since the last war. Every year, MOD Ministers sign a licence allowing foxhunting on MOD land. We in the hunting world do not like some aspects of those licences, but if vets and scientists oppose certain aspects of hunting, it would be perfectly reasonable to license those aspects to make the rest of it legal.

The Bill does not begin to address that issue. There ought to be a presumption of innocent until proved guilty. The Government should set out in the Bill the way in which they want hunting of all kinds to be practised, and allow hunts conforming to that code of conduct to continue to hunt. The onus of proof should be on people seeking to end hunting, rather than on people seeking to preserve it. That applies particularly to stag hunting and coursing—why should they be singled out for an outright ban? Why should the Minister's golden thread of balancing cruelty against utility not apply equally to them? If there is what the Minister described as incontrovertible evidence of the cruelty of deer hunting, he must tell us what it is. Why are rats and rabbits exempt? Surely, the golden thread should apply to them just as much as anything else. After all, how will hounds differentiate between rabbits and hares, the killing of which will be illegal? The only thing on which scientists on both sides of the argument agreed on in Portcullis House was that all mammals should be treated equally under the Bill. The Minister has not made such a provision, and has not listened to scientific advice. There is no justification whatsoever for outlawing coursing and stag hunting, and we shall seek to reverse that in Committee.

The Bill fails to provide a liberal and practical licensing regime, and fails to limit cruelty. Indeed, those of us who know something about these issues, unlike many Government Members, know that it would increase cruelty because of the inherent cruelty of shooting. It fails to allow utility, and achieves the worst of all possible worlds. Like the Bills that went before it, it seeks to impose unjustifiable restrictions on individual freedom, trying to justify itself, but failing, in the name of animal welfare. It is a bad Bill, and we will oppose it on principle.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

As the hon. Gentleman and Conservative Members go on about individual freedom, may I ask who has the greatest civil liberty or individual freedom—the person born and brought up in the country, managing the countryside without hunting who is offended by hunting, or the person who arrives from town one day, buys up the land, and declares that he will get pleasure from hunting? Who has the pre-eminent freedom—the townie or the countryman?

Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

I always thought that the Liberal Democrat party was interested in individual freedom. Apparently, its Front-Bench Members are opposed to the Bill, but its Back-Bench Members are all in favour of it. The hon. Gentleman is all over the place, and we will not bother to respond to his rather silly point.

This is a very bad Bill. In a free country, it is fundamentally wrong to criminalise innocent citizens for activities that harm no one. That is the important point, and perhaps it is the answer to the question posed by Andrew George. Hunting may harm animals, but it harms no one. Parliament's first duty should be to defend the rights and legitimate interests of minorities. The Queen's Speech says that Ministers want to resolve the issue of hunting with dogs. I shall tell them how to resolve it—leave it alone. Leave the people of countryside in peace, and respect their liberty and livelihood. Listen to them, and join me in voting against this unnecessary, illiberal and ineffectual Bill.