My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Standing Conference on Countryside Sports. My first hunting experience was when, returning from the war, I was invited by my commanding officer to have a day's hunting with the Pytchley. At the end of the day I wondered whether it was more frightening to be in Italy or hunting with the Pytchley, following my commanding officer who was a great rider.
Several references to Exmoor and stag hunting by other noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Earl, Lord Arran, remind me of my report in 1977 which was commissioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, when Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture. Red deer were a major factor in the conservation of the moor. Against the advice of my two assessors, both senior civil servants, I decided to include the Devon and Somerset Stag Hounds in my report to the Government. On page 19, that report states:
"Stag hunting and fox hunting are both notable features of the Exmoor way of life. Whilst it may come as a surprise to some and prompt the wrath of others, it is undeniable that stag hunting on Exmoor operates as a force for conservation. The stag hunt is supported by almost every member of the farming community and this guarantees the deer's continuing existence. In the normal run of things, they can do considerable damage to crops and, without the active participation of the farmers in the hunts, their days would be numbered. Moreover, such is the local interest in stag hunting that substantial areas of land within the Critical Amenity Area are corporately owned with a view to securing the deer's habitat. So long as stag hunting continues it is unlikely that such land will be substantially altered by conversion or enclosure".
My report received an unopposed Second Reading but never reached the statute book because the Labour government fell. The people of Exmoor whom I met then and know now are not interested in cricket and football, and other forms of sport. For 11 months of the year, their lives are involved with hunting either foxes or stags.
Last week I was very impressed with a teach-in by the chairman of ISAH, Sir Ronald Waterhouse. ISAH is a possible way ahead, but I strongly recommend that two new commissioners be appointed by the Home Secretary to make ISAH efficient and official. The noble Lords, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Soulsby, and, I believe, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, would support such a move.
Finally, there has been much talk in the Chamber about the liberty of the individual. I shall quote a statement by John Stuart Mill, philosopher and Member of Parliament in the late 19th century. He said:
"If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind".