My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House for explaining this slightly unusual procedure. I begin my remarks by formally moving the first Motion, but, as was explained, I shall refer to all three.
The House will be aware that similar Motions were debated and voted on in another place yesterday. A clear preference was established by that House. That debate fulfils our manifesto commitment that there would be an early opportunity to vote on the future of hunting with dogs. It also fulfils the announcement in the Queen's Speech after the election. This House is now to be given the same opportunity to express our view.
These debates are an important step towards fulfilling the second part of our manifesto promise, which is to enable there to be a conclusion on this issue. So today's debate is the next step towards a conclusion. It is not an invitation to opt for deadlock or for delay.
Hunting with dogs is contentious, and the issue needs to be resolved. There is obviously no right time for everyone to try to resolve it; yet the future of hunting is an important issue for many who want to see an end to what they perceive as cruelty, and for those who want matters to remain as they are.
There have been a good few legislative attempts to deal with hunting, mainly through Private Members' Bills, and last year the Government introduced the Hunting Bill. That Bill was an attempt to enable each of the—broadly speaking—three main lobbying groups to set out their preferred solution before Parliament, with the Government remaining neutral. It was a matter for a free vote on all sides in both Houses.
It was hoped—I say hoped rather than expected—that the three main groups would come together behind one option, but that did not happen. Rather than coming together, views had polarised between the Houses by the time the Bill fell in your Lordships' House.
I also remind your Lordships of the report on hunting, which the Government commissioned in 2000. Those of your Lordships who have been involved in the hunting debate, whatever their personal views on hunting, have been united in their admiration for the quality of the report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, which sets out the facts surrounding the hunting that takes place now and the consequences of a ban. I am sure there will be many references to it today.
We have already accepted the format of the Motions that we are debating in our consideration of the programme Motion. A vote on these alternative Motions provides—in relative terms at least—a straightforward method of taking the views of both Houses in as close as we can get to a clear and unambiguous manner, at a point during the Session that does not take too much time out of the busy programme faced by both Houses.
The options contained in the Hunting Bill 2000 form the basis of the options in the Motions before us today. The first option has been described as a ban or prohibition on hunting with dogs. The second is hunting under licence or regulation, which has also been described as the middle way. The third option is supervision, which has been described as self-regulation and is the nearest of the three Motions to the status quo.
My ministerial colleague in another place, Alun Michael, has held discussions at some length and in some detail with all the interest groups, all of whom have considered refinements to the detail of their options as originally drafted. Things have therefore moved on. In particular, the option proposed by Deadline 2000—the first of the options—was amended during its consideration in Standing Committee and on Report in another place before the Bill arrived in your Lordships' House. However, referring to the three options as set out at the time of introduction of the last Bill in the other place is probably the simplest way of defining the basic choices that your Lordships are being asked to vote on.
I am well aware from the long list of speakers that all interest groups are represented in your Lordships' House. Anyone speaking in the debate can explain the nuances of the latest thinking on their preferred option—or any others.
I remind your Lordships that the Government have remained neutral on the question. No Whip has been imposed on these Benches for the votes that will come at the conclusion of today's debate. I understand from the usual channels that that is also the position of the Official Opposition and of the Liberal Democrats. I understand from the media and other sources that there are some unusual channels operating around the debate, but they have nothing to do with the Government, the Whips or the political parties in this House. This is a genuinely free vote. It is therefore essentially a parliamentary issue rather than a government one. We certainly respect that fact.
Some of your Lordships may be interested in my own position. This is a free vote for Ministers as well. The way I voted on the issue in the last Session is on the record. For those who have not checked, I will give you a clue. I am a bit old fashioned about these matters. If an issue has both been long-standing Labour Party policy and been voted for overwhelmingly by the democratically elected House, I tend to support it. Unless in the next umpteen hours or so I hear something new in this debate—that is a possibility, albeit remote—I intend to stick to that position. In any case, my role today is not as an advocate of any position, but I thought that I should make my position clear for the record. My role today is as a humble facilitator to your Lordships to make your own decision.
My colleague Alun Michael gave an assurance in debate in the other place yesterday that the points made by your Lordships in today's debate will be given careful consideration. I shall ensure that all points, particularly new ones, are made known to my ministerial colleagues when they are deciding how to take things forward. Alun Michael has also said that once the votes have taken place today, he will make a Statement—which will, of course, be repeated in your Lordships' House—outlining the way forward. All I can say at the moment is that this will be before the Easter Recess.
The purpose of the Motions before the House is to give all your Lordships the opportunity to consider the issue, to make their views clear and then to vote. We all recognise that hunting is an emotive issue on which principled and deeply felt opinions are held among all groups and are likely to be expressed in this House as elsewhere. I have said clearly that this is not a party issue. All parties in this House and elsewhere have the full spectrum of opinions represented in their ranks. Although this will be a passionate debate, it will be genuinely and personally passionate, not a contrived party passionate debate.
However, there is another division, which I hope that we shall manage to avoid—the tendency to treat this as an issue between town and country. Whatever else the opinion polls are held to show, the division of opinion in rural areas is no more than a few percentage points different from that in urban areas. There are hundreds of thousands of people in rural areas who passionately oppose hunting with hounds, just as there are many in urban areas who oppose a ban. That is also my personal experience of people who live in town and country. Passions run deep on all sides, not just in the drawing rooms of Hampstead, but also in the market towns and villages of our countryside. It is hugely misleading and a disservice to the interests of the countryside to represent this issue as an attack by the town on the countryside.
Country dwellers of all persuasions also say—and here I have considerable sympathy with them—that this is not the most important issue facing the countryside. That is why I and my colleagues in DEFRA are spending all the other days of this Session and of this year trying to tackle the basic problems of our rural communities and the sustainability of agriculture and the rural economy.
However, today we are dealing with hunting, which is an issue that needs to be resolved. This debate is a step towards resolving it. It is not a cause for deadlock, but a path towards resolution. The debate in the other place yesterday was interesting, particularly for those who are fascinated by this subject. We shall see how the debate develops in this House. The Government—in particular my ministerial colleague Alun Michael and I—will listen to what is said today. I am confident that in one way or another it will illuminate the way forward.
I look forward to the debate. I beg to move the first Motion.
Moved to resolve, That this House considers that the hunting of wild mammals with dogs should be prohibited in accordance with provision similar to Schedule 3 to the Hunting Bill as introduced in the Commons in Session 2000–01 [Bill 2]. (Ban)—(Lord Whitty.)
My Lords, I say first from this Dispatch Box that today will be a free vote for us. I must then declare my interests: a family farm, an early career in poultry management and, in days when time and agility allowed, hunting with the Quorn. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has expressed his personal view. It shows, I suggest, not much compromise.
My remarks will focus on the issue of hunting with hounds as it is popularly perceived—that is to say, fox hunting. I do not propose to argue the nuances between that and stag hunting or hare coursing, or even coarse fishing. Noble Lords on all sides of the debate may wish to do so, but so far as I am concerned we are dealing with a fundamental principle that can be adequately explained by reference to fox hunting alone. I do not decry the subsidiary arguments, but I shall focus on the Motions before us.
It is incredible that we are again debating the question of hunting with dogs when the countryside is in crisis. Time given to this Bill has resulted in the abandonment of the criminal justice Bill and the extradition Bill. Farm incomes are at an all-time low; meat is still being imported illegally. France still refuses to take British beef and the Government remain unwilling to hold a public inquiry into the crippling foot and mouth outbreak. Does that not show clearly how out of touch the Government are with the concerns of people in the countryside?
Today we are being asked to vote on three schedules to the Hunting Bill which were considered last year. Government thinking has not progressed much in that time. I believe that there are four essential issues which need addressing—animal welfare, liberty, law enforcement and rural communities.
As regards animal welfare, I say to those who are so vocal in their opposition to hunting with hounds that banning hunting will not mean that fewer foxes are killed. Alternative forms of killing by shooting, trapping or poisoning are more abhorrent. None of them is painless; indeed, they will cause additional suffering. Is it not ridiculous that the Scottish Bill bans hunting but allows a regime where foxes are driven towards guns?
Vets are experts on animal welfare. Their views were sought in an NOP poll last autumn. In a survey of 1,000 members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, 520 were running rural practices, 380 urban practices and 100 a mix of the two. Out of those, 63 per cent of rural vets opposed a total ban, but so did more than half the number of urban vets. More vets of both types felt that a ban would increase the suffering of foxes rather than decrease it.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns—the Minister paid tribute to the noble Lord and his committee—in this House on 12th March last year stated that his inquiry concluded that if in upland areas dogs could not be used at least to flush out foxes from cover, their welfare would be adversely affected. He repeated that once the fox was caught, insensibility and death would normally follow in seconds.
Hunting disperses foxes to fresh pasture; it tends to cull the old and the sick and thereby reduce the risk of pockets of disease affecting foxes, livestock and other wild animals. Hunts provide a valuable service in taking fallen stock from farms. Indeed, this last year they helped with the culling of animals caught up in the foot and mouth outbreak.
I turn now to liberty. Hunting has been legal in this country for centuries and is currently open to anyone and everyone, as was reflected by Clarissa Dickson Wright's programme. As with football, bingo and coarse fishing—the latter the chosen hobby of Tony Banks—hunting is not everyone's choice.
But we live in a country that strives to tolerate its minorities. In recent years enormous efforts have gone into reducing prejudice and disallowing discrimination in all aspects of our daily lives. I cannot understand how a government who embrace inclusion and political correctness so loudly appear to be prepared to spend precious time on what is, when all is said and done, an attempt by a vocal minority to remove freedom of action from another minority of people of whom they do not approve.
The Government should be addressing real problems of rural resource, let alone running the nation generally. On grounds of liberty and freedom of choice for the individual, I shall oppose a ban.
Law enforcement is a serious issue. The Home Secretary tells us of daily increases in the number of police recruits and of increases in the number of inmates in our prisons and of car thefts. Parish councils complain of the lack of police presence in rural areas and newspapers stress the fear of crime which keeps people prisoners in their own homes after dark.
I have a postbag filled with letters from people and organisations explaining carefully, clearly, and, in many cases, despairingly, why a total ban will be bad law. Hard cases make bad law. A submission from the public order sub-committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers expresses "significant concerns" at the practical difficulties of enforcing a total ban.
I have a letter from a police inspector, retired after some 30 years in rural Derbyshire, alerting me to the potential impact of a total ban on hunting on relationships between the police and the community in rural areas—a particularly significant consideration in current circumstances. Is it, I ask myself, sensible to divert valuable police time to enforce a ban on hunting when they are under so much pressure from violent crime?
We have all heard of the growing tide of complaints from village to village about the lack of police presence, rising numbers of burglaries, serious traffic violations and drug-related crimes. What will happen in the event of a total ban and the only time the police show up is when local riders decide to go across country to give their horses or dogs some exercise? And indeed the reverse. What will happen if they do not show up?
We are adding to the statue book a measure which will be unenforceable. The noble Lord, Lord Donoghue, is in his place. He said—in different circumstances—that there is a particular concern with this Government in arguing in favour of banning things.
I turn to rural communities. Since foot and mouth has started to wane, I have had the opportunity of visiting companies, farms and rural businesses. I have had countless meetings with trade associations, charities and countryside organisations. There have been interviews on radio and television. I am utterly convinced that rural communities need every possible assistance to maintain a viable livelihood, as, indeed, the noble Lord has just acknowledged.
This is not the time—there never was a time—to drive a wedge between town and country, but I fear that if we support a ban we will do exactly that. It is wrong to criminalise an activity against the advice of the Burns inquiry which found neither the practices to be intrinsically cruel nor damaging to the national interest. Now is not the time for the Government to encourage bigots to destroy Britain's rural economies.
I find myself having to advance a view that may be antipathetic to some Members. I find it utterly extraordinary that the Prime Minister no less, against a background of the serious issues which require his dedicated attention, should feel comfortable to vote for one thing and perhaps mean another. Is this the underlying premise on which the third way was based?
To an extent it may be excusable because this is free-vote territory. Your Lordships are being offered two other options. The whole issue of hunting is as much about personal liberty as anything else. I cannot help but feel that the Government have failed to grasp that, perhaps even to the extent of putting spin and party political considerations ahead of the national interest. It is of course a free vote, but I am proud to say that I shall be opposing those who support a ban on hunting. I desperately hope that all noble Lords appreciate what is at stake here.
My Lords, running through my mind as I prepared for this debate was a comment apparently attributed to the chairman of a meeting in America who said that everything that could be said on the issue has been said but, unfortunately, not everyone has said it. I suspect that we could have our votes at 12 noon without too many changes of mind.
I should make it clear that I do not speak for my party on this issue. As with the Labour Party, there is a Liberal Democrat Party conference decision in favour of a total ban but we too are operating a free vote. As always with the Liberal Democrats, we will during the course of the day provide the House with a rich diversity of experience and opinion.
It is incumbent on me to say that I will vote, as I did last time, for the first option and against the other two. I am in favour of a total ban. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that this is not a town versus country issue. I was brought up on the cusp between seaside and countryside, in rural Fylde—close to Cumbria and the Lake District. I remember singing with gusto "Do yea ken John Peel?" in my primary school. During the half-term break, I took a holiday on Exmoor and saw what an excellent opportunity it provides for holidays. I came to realise how deeply held are the feelings about hunting on all sides in such an area and I respect the passion of the debate.
I put four questions to myself—and the House will be delighted that I have brief answers to all of them. First, do I believe that hunting with dogs is cruel? I do. Therefore, I do not think that there is a middle way between having hunting and banning hunting, which is why I shall vote as I said.
Secondly, should there be a separation between sport and pest control? I think so. I see the glamour, attraction and pageantry of the hunt. I am interested in knowing why that side of hunting could not be carried on by drag hunting as an alternative, not necessarily tied to pest control.
Individual freedom was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and I know that strong views on that subject are held by no less a person than my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, which I am sure will influence his vote today. However, our history has been of Parliament legislating against certain aspects of individual freedom. I am sure that banning bear baiting, dogfighting or cockfighting impeded individual freedom and probably cost some jobs—but Parliament's decision was accepted. Each age makes its own decisions on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
I put to myself also the question asked of me by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, in our last debate. I answered rather rudely, for which I apologise. The noble Lord questioned whether we were are the top of a slippery slope and suggested that we might next see legislation on shooting or fishing. I do not know what a future generation will decide. The question before us now concerns a ban on hunting. The Labour Party manifesto made it clear that there was no proposal to bring forward legislation on any other activity.
I accept that there are many more issues before the country than a ban on hunting. But the fact that this matter keeps returning cannot be laid only at the door of those who want hunting banned. We must reach a decision as part of a parliamentary process. We may do so on the basis of lobbying, which is quite legitimate, protests, marches and demonstrations, but ultimately it must be Parliament that makes the decision.
I am much impressed by another place coming to a clear and settled view. Four times since 1997 it has been asked its view on hunting and each time it has made the same decision. One remembers Henry Ford saying of the Model T,
"You can have any colour so long as it's black".
What more can another place do to make clear its view?
I understand that there may be a majority in this House for the middle way, which will leave an interesting constitutional position. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, rightly said that yesterday and today Parliament was fulfilling the first tranche of the Labour Party's commitment to allow Parliament to debate the issue. The second tranche is to allow Parliament to reach a conclusion. I am not aware of any Labour Party manifesto since 1918 that included the caveat that a proposal would be implemented subject to the veto of the House of Lords. Much of what the Labour Party has promised comes with a determination to defy this House to get its will.
Our procedures give the Government a clear way forward. In light of last night's vote in another place, the Government should bring forward a Bill based on the first option before us today. It might be sensible of the Government to offer a pre-legislative scrutiny committee—as with the Office of Communications Bill—to allow outside interests to put their views. Then the Bill should go through Parliament in the normal way. If your Lordships' House, in its wisdom, reaches a different view from another place, the Government should invoke the Parliament Act.
The clear and settled view of another place cannot be thwarted by this unelected House, the threat of extra parliamentary action or anything else. That would be a constitutional outrage. If such a veto were proposed in respect of any other issue, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, would be down here like a shot, threatening us, with that clinical smile of his, with an "Emasculation of Peers Bill". Why should this one issue be reserved for a veto by the House of Lords?
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that the Prime Minister should come clean. It is time to stop the spin. The Government asked for the opinion of both Houses. Honourable Members of another place who voted yesterday have to get themselves re-elected. Knowing how difficult it is to get into another place and how easy it is to get out, I respect honourable Members who have to test their views with their electorates in a general election. An unelected House should be wary of throwing its weight about—and against the clear views of an elected Chamber.
I hope that the Government see it as their clear duty to bring forward a Bill, so that no more time is wasted, which should be subjected to the proper parliamentary process. This House should, as is its right, revise and advise—but in the end, I have no doubt that our constitution and democracy demands that the rights and opinions of the democratically elected House of Commons should prevail.
My Lords, as the Minister said, this is not the most important issue facing the countryside—I agree with that—but it involves important principles. He pointed out that probably the majority do not feel strongly about it. That is certainly true. However, an important minority on both sides care passionately. Therefore, our debate and vote today matter.
I should begin by declaring some non-financial interests; I have no financial interests. I am a trustee of or associated with two charities related to animals and animal welfare: the International League for the Protection of Horses and Animals in War. I am involved in various horse-racing activities. I grew up in the countryside. I have never hunted and I do not anticipate doing so. I have a dog and a shotgun licence but these are reserved for domestic pest control, mainly against magpies, rats and journalists!
I do not propose to re-examine all the arguments on this complex issue with which the House is now familiar. Anyway, like my old noble friend Lord McNally, I suspect that few remain still to be converted by the pros and cons of various forms of pest control. Therefore, I wish to focus, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, so excellently did, on a few central issues of concern to the main parties represented here.
I address my noble friends on the Labour Benches who I know are genuinely concerned about animal welfare. As has been stated, I ask them not to be deceived by the false argument that any ban, or the ban that is proposed, protects foxes or other mammals from suffering. Nor is it the case in this debate that one side is against cruelty to animals and the other side is for allowing cruelty. Through my observation over many years I believe that virtually everyone here abhors cruelty to animals. I certainly do. In the previous Session I introduced a Bill to amend the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 and to create a new criminal offence of causing unnecessary cruelty to animals. If the Government do not include that provision in their new legislation, I shall reintroduce that Bill.
However, nothing we do, certainly not the ban, will prevent animals suffering and dying in the wild. Foxes, which are major inflicters of suffering on other animals, as my ducks discovered, as do thousands of lambs, will always have to be controlled. The excellent report of the independent Burns inquiry concluded that no method of fox control avoided suffering. It did not conclude that hunting is cruel and did not support a ban on hunting with dogs. That was an independent view. Indeed, a ban in some ways increases animal suffering because, of course, it would lead to unregulated killing by shooting, poisoning or setting traps in which wounded animals die slowly and painfully. It would also result in hundreds of beautiful hounds having to be put down.
In my view, the best way on offer to limit animal suffering is through the middle way licensing option because it has the welfare of animals at its heart. It advocates the amendment to the 1996 Act which I proposed to ban deliberate and unnecessary cruelty. The proposed statutory hunting authority would issue codes of conduct forbidding cruel practices and would license or withdraw licences accordingly; unlicensed hunting would be a criminal offence. As has been mentioned, chief police officers have announced their support for it as the only enforceable and therefore practical method. The majority of country vets affirm that it is the best approach for animal welfare.
I introduce what is for me an unaccustomed political dimension. I suggest to my noble friends on my Benches, speaking as a former Minister for farming, that the last thing our Government need at this time is to initiate fresh hostilities towards the countryside, which has enough problems. They certainly should not wish to impose unemployment on the countryside. Burns estimated that 10,000 to 13,000 jobs are directly or indirectly related to hunting. I always assumed that we were against unemployment. I add, having read yesterday's debate in the Commons, that I am still not totally convinced that those from West Ham in east London are necessarily best placed to judge what is in the best interests of the countryside.
I need not remind Liberal Democrats opposite, and also my own side, of that party's—I refer to the new party of the noble Lord, Lord McNally—great tradition of defending liberty. That has been a central theme in its proud history. The proposed ban would infringe the liberties of many country people. That may be what made Adolf Hitler an early supporter of banning hunting. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, said that throughout history we have infringed liberties. I say to the noble Lord that such an infringement of liberty could be justified only if it was clearly in the public interest. I also say to the noble Lord that the matter we are discussing is not like bear-baiting which was purely about cruelty and betting on cruelty. This matter is quite different. No such case for an infringement of liberty has been made anywhere, not in the Commons yesterday, in this House or outside.
My Lords, I should be happy to see the Waterloo Cup and hare coursing subjected to much greater control. However, that is not my view as regards the hunting of foxes with hounds.
Nowhere does the Burns report suggest that a ban was justified on any grounds. That case has not been made and there is not now even a crude majority in favour of doing so according to the opinion polls. The decline of 20 per cent in the support for a ban since the 1997 general election—that is, in less than five years—is a sign of the way that public opinion changes as it becomes better informed.
I know that many noble Lords on the Conservative Benches genuinely prefer and believe in principle in the status quo and hunting with supervision but without licensing. On the previous occasion we discussed the matter many noble Lords on the Conservative Benches argued that our middle way proposals were too complex, too bureaucratic and too expensive. We have worked to meet those criticisms and to simplify and refine our proposals without diminishing the powers of the proposed new hunting authority. Therefore, I hope that that argument will no longer be made.
As regards licensing, I emphasise what I consider the key point; namely, that to license is to legitimise. That is, of course, why some of my noble friends object to licensing. I repeat that to license is to legitimise. That applies to alcohol, shotguns, brothels and so on. Noble Lords on the Conservative Benches may prefer the unlicensed status quo but, frankly, the political reality is that it is not seriously on offer. I urge noble Lords on the Conservative Benches not to repeat the mistake they made in the previous Session when they rejected the prospect of preserving legitimate hunting and so gave renewed hope to those who seek a ban. Moreover, I urge those noble Lords not to rely on taking to the barricades. Arthur Scargill, we recall, did that and we know what happened to the mining industry and the mine workers' union.
The only practical, political choice today is between middle way licensing and a ban. Votes that are withheld from the middle way assist the ban. Frankly, those of us who support the middle way today need the maximum number of votes for licensing. I hope that the total number of votes in both Houses for that approach will exceed the total number of votes for the ban. That would give a form of parliamentary legitimacy, should the Government wish to take a more compromised route rather than follow the vote in one Chamber.
To the Cross Benches, fortunately, I need say nothing more because they always understand such matters very well. I urge that we concentrate on the two basic questions. The first question concerns liberty—the liberties of rural people to pursue a traditional sport would be infringed, with no public interest justification for a ban. The second question involves the complex issue of animal welfare. No option excludes some animal suffering, but the middle way has animal welfare at its heart.
The middle way is not just a compromise between two dogmatic extremes. It is a radically different approach, which is geared to protecting animal welfare and human liberty. I urge all who believe in rights and liberties to vote for the middle way and against a ban.
My Lords, I know that there is, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, a manifesto commitment to hold today's debate, but I regret its timing. Our time might have been better spent considering other manifesto commitments and attempting to reverse the collapse in our public services.
I am speaking today not because I am a fox hunter but because, as a board member of the Countryside Alliance, I may be able to help noble Lords to reach as constructive a conclusion to this debate as possible. Hunting, of course, has not changed during the past year, since we last debated it before the general election. We had a sensible debate and at the end of it we voted decisively. I hope that noble Lords will vote just as decisively against a ban in the first Division today.
It seems to me that today's debate needs to focus more carefully on the political position in which we find ourselves, to see if there is some way in which we can finally put this issue to bed. One point is absolutely clear—the public are now heartily sick of this debate and rightly believe that the Government and Parliament would do better to concentrate on the issues that concern them, such as schools, hospitals, transport and crime. A debate on hunting does nothing to encourage people about the relevance of the political process, particularly if they had attended the debate in the other place last night.
I detect, too, a certain boredom about covering the matter in the press. However, I am encouraged that the press, including what used to be called the Left-wing press, has now almost completely swung against a ban. I cannot also help but notice how much criticism the Government have taken for allowing this subject to resurface again. The press coverage also makes it clear that the case for a ban is universally rejected and that the issue is now seen as one involving the rights of individuals and minorities. Arguments about animal rights and class warfare are simply no longer credible.
At the same time, hunting's opponents cannot argue that their view is supported by the majority. The majority, as the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said, has now swung against a ban. More importantly, the overwhelming majority want the issue to be settled and settled quickly.
I cannot speak for the hunting community—I should not dream of trying to do so—but I can say with confidence that it, too, has had enough. It has been attacked—often physically—abused, insulted and threatened, again and again and year after year. The final insult now is that many in that community believe that they are being used as a pawn in a political game in which they have no interest. As a result, they are extremely angry, on top of which they are tough, resilient and very well organised. They will not surrender their way of life.
During the Committee stage of the Government's Hunting Bill, the Countryside Alliance presented its own option, which encompassed a system of open and independent regulation. I hope that we made it clear that the various hound sports have rules, codes of conduct and a proper regulatory body—the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting. I accept that hunting may have been slow to modernise, but the fact is that there is now a transparent independent regulatory authority which works, and it has been doing so for some time. Although I know that some people, for some extraordinary reason, do not approve of hunting, I have never heard anybody argue that we do not keep our own rules. It would therefore have been pretty odd if, during the passage of the Hunting Bill, I had not been confident about the option that I had helped to fashion.
At the same time, noble Lords may recall that I was more than a little sceptical about the middle way option as it was presented. I know that a number of noble Lords felt that the hunting community was wrong to reject that option out of hand. However, we did not reject it out of hand. We had a number of concerns about it. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, explained most of them to the House. We believed that the middle way option added little to the system of self-regulation and that it had a number of disadvantages. But it has changed.
I hope and believe that we made it clear that we were not opposed to some form of statutory underpinning of the existing system, provided that the details were workable. There are of course some caveats. The hunting community has already gone some way towards regaining the confidence of the general public and the press and it is unlikely to sign up to a process that will, over a period of time, be used as a ratchet slowly to regulate hunting out of existence. It will not on any account throw coursing or stag hunting as a trophy to be done away with. Should that be the case, the Countryside Alliance will advise its members to reject the process. Any regulation must be genuinely independent, and that includes being independent of politicians.
The conduct of this debate in Scotland has drawn attention to the practical difficulties of legislation that focuses on human behaviour. That has brought the Scottish Parliament into disrepute. The issue will now have to be settled in the courts but, until it is, it would be an unwise government who travelled down that path.
On the face of it, there may now therefore seem to be even fewer reasons for adopting the middle way option than there were previously. However, times have changed. Since December, when hunting resumed, we have operated under a regime of permits although, for reasons associated with foot and mouth, that regime is somewhat cumbersome. But it worked and caused few problems. In part, that is due to the sympathetic and helpful way in which staff at local DEFRA offices worked with hunts. They are to be congratulated on that and we thank them. That has gone some way towards meeting the concerns that hunts had about licensing.
Many noble Lords may not be aware that hunting has operated under a licensing system in respect of National Trust land, Forestry Commission land and MoD land. That arrangement worked but it caused some problems. In particular, the unfortunate fact that two Ministers sought to use the licensing system to impose their own personal views did much damage. That must never be allowed to happen again; that is one of the reasons such a regime must be truly independent.
Noble Lords will recall that the Burns report, which was widely welcomed in this House, went beyond its remit to suggest that a licensing system might produce an answer to that dilemma. It is inconceivable that the inquiry team would have made such a suggestion if it had concluded that hunting was inherently cruel.
The Countryside Alliance understands the difficulties that the Government have with that issue and we have no desire to quarrel with them; indeed, we would prefer to work with them. I hope that the Government will not make the mistake of taking that as a sign of weakness. It is one year and one day exactly since the foot and mouth crisis caused us to cancel what would have been the largest demonstration that this country had ever seen. A substantial number of my friends want to march again, and some want to go further, so strongly do they feel about this unwarranted threat to their way of life. I cannot emphasise enough the feeling of real anger that there is in the countryside about the fact that, following the worst year that anyone can remember, we are back in Parliament once again talking about hunting.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, rightly said that Parliament decides and should decide. However, Parliament will bear the responsibility for its decision if the Government and Back-Benchers succeed in declaring war on a substantial minority within the electorate. That would be a terrible route to go down.
But we are prepared to give the Government the breathing space that they need to resolve their problems, and we have persuaded our supporters to go along with this at the moment. The chairman of the Masters of Foxhounds Association believes that he can persuade his members that the regulatory regime should be underpinned with a statutory licensing system, along the lines proposed by the Middle Way Group. We have some justification in hoping that the other hunting organisations will follow his lead, although I should emphasise that that is not a foregone conclusion.
The second element of the middle way option, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, concerns the introduction of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. The perception of cruelty is the one genuine issue that concerns people. I have hunted all my life in the certain knowledge that nothing that is done in properly conducted hunting causes more suffering than other methods of control—and a great deal less than most. I believe that it should be an offence deliberately to cause unnecessary suffering to any creature, and I am content to allow the courts to exercise their judgment in respect of hunting. I am slightly perplexed as to why hunting's opponents do not share my confidence.
Of course, I am concerned that we shall face a barrage of litigation and be dragged through the courts. That is exactly what happened following the passage of the Protection of Badgers Act some years ago and I hope that we can find a way of dealing with it. But it is important because this second element deals effectively and conclusively with the cruelty issue.
There are considerable risks for the hunting community in going down that path. Many in our community want nothing to do with it and would prefer to continue the political fight. They believe that the present system works well and that the proposed system will slowly but surely throttle them.
I do not hold that view. I believe that the middle way proposal can be made to operate if it is truly independent, and that we have little to fear from the courts. The board of the Countryside Alliance is willing to try to persuade its members and supporters, which now include over 500,000 fishermen, and the leaders of the hunting community to support us in trying to make this work. In order to do that, we need not only the resolve of the Middle Way Group, which I am sure we shall have, but also the support of your Lordships to give us the space to try. Having gained that space, most importantly of all, we need the Government to display a little courage, openness and honesty in their handling of this issue—qualities which, I am afraid, have not been entirely obvious in the debates thus far.
Consequently, we must take this one-off opportunity. When the Divisions are called, I shall of course vote against a ban. When the second Division is called—on the so-called middle way option—I shall vote "content". I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House, regardless of their views on hunting, will see that this is the only chance that we have of finding a peaceful resolution of this interminable and divisive debate.
My Lords, when it comes to blood sports, I am a spoilsport. When it comes to the hunting party, I am a party-pooper. When it comes to hunting with the hounds, my attitude is that of dog in the manger.
Killing for pleasure is wrong and should be banned. Fox hunting, stag hunting and hare coursing are moral issues. It is time that we stood up for morality. The commandment "Thou shall not kill" may be hedged with exceptions. "Thou shall not kill for pleasure" is not; it is a commandment for the 21st century and it is time that we respected it unambiguously, without prevarication and without procrastination.
I do not want to regurgitate the general arguments against hunting that I employed in your Lordships' House when last we discussed the issue. I want, instead, to parse the proposals of the so-called "Middle Way Group" and suggest that drag hunting is the best route to find a solution to this blot on the English landscape.
The middle way is still driving on the wrong side of the road; it still permits the killing of the fox for pleasure. One cannot kill half a fox. Like Monty Python's parrot, a fox torn apart by hounds remains dead, deceased and off its perch for ever. Before the fox has been dispatched—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly—it will have suffered the agonies of the pursuit by animals four times its size and four times its strength. The middle way is a compromise that still seriously compromises the welfare of the fox.
From that evident and unvarnished truth, there is no swerve, cover or bolt-hole. It is time its supporters owned up, as does, indeed, Peter Luff, MP, a leading exponent. His website declares that the middle way's proposals are, indeed, "not a compromise". Let us abandon, then, this piece of perverse prevarication. The middle way is the muddle way for those who are tiring of the chase. A ban must come, and it must come now.
Having asserted that fox hunting is cruel, which it is, perhaps I may pose a slightly different question. Do those who participate in fox hunting find the cruelty inflicted on the fox an integral part of their enjoyment of hunting? I believe that the answer is no. I am sure that a small minority gain some perverse pleasure at humiliating and hounding the fox. But the majority are not sadists in red satin. They enjoy the ride over England's unparalleled countryside; they warm to the test of skill between rider and horse; they celebrate the work of the hounds pursuing the scent; and, above all, they love the camaraderie and companionship of their fellow riders and the attendant pleasures of dressing and drinking gin in the pink. They value, too, the social life that flows from the hunt, the point-to-points, the hunt balls and the general exchange of being part of a community with a common cause. All of us can recognise that hunt for human companionship. It is what marks us out with our essential humanity.
But here is the interesting thing. Absent from that list of why people love hunting is mention of the cruel chase and the killing of the fox. If that is true, why oh why does the hunting fraternity want to retain the one element of its activity which is repulsive and rebarbative to the vast majority of our fellow citizens—the wanton pursuit and killing of a live mammal? There is a better way.
I support the real alternative of drag hunting, which allows those involved in live quarry hunting to continue their activities in a similar way but without the cruelty that the British public abhor. As noble Lords know, in drag hunting followers ride after hounds trailing a scent laid over country by a horseback rider pulling a scented drag. The trail includes fences and other obstacles which are more or less difficult according to the tastes and experience of those taking part. Bloodhound hunts are very similar but involve fewer hounds following the scent of a person on foot. As the trails are laid out in advance, drag and bloodhound hunts can avoid trespass and there is less risk of hounds straying across roads and railways and into residential areas.
Drag and bloodhound hunting are different from live hunting, and the Burns committee decided that,
"it is not possible to lay a trail artificially which simulates fully the subtlety and complexity of the scent left by a fox as it moves through the countryside".
However, these sports can be adjusted to suit the skills of riders of different ability levels, and they can operate at times of the year when live quarry hunting is not possible. Furthermore, the numbers of drag and bloodhound packs have been increasing in recent years, whereas the number of live quarry hunts has declined.
I believe that, in the event of a ban, more farmers would welcome drag and bloodhound packs on to their land, especially if it meant additional revenue through a payment system. That could easily be achieved through subscriptions and the usual social fundraising activities.
Many people enjoy riding in the countryside and are attracted by the social life that hunting can provide but feel unable to take part because of the cruelty currently involved in these so-called "sports". Drag and bloodhound hunting offer a non-controversial way of continuing the traditional aspects of hunting and the pageantry. I am confident that their popularity will increase in the event of a ban as more people feel able to take part.
I also believe that many hunters who claim that they would never take part in drag hunting will feel differently in the event of a ban. It is simply not in their interests to admit that drag hunting would be an acceptable alternative at this stage. On that point, the Burns inquiry concluded that,
"there would be greater incentive, in the event of a ban, to expand the number of drag and bloodhound packs and the level of participation in both sports".
All sides agree that an important determinant of the economic impact of a hunting ban will be what hunt participants subsequently decide to do with their horses. In recent years, horse ownership has continued to increase against a background of declining numbers of live quarry hunts. Research by Dr. Douglas Macmillan of the University of Aberdeen has shown that data for West Lothian and Midlothian, revealed that in the territory of a hunt that disbanded in 1991, horse numbers have increased faster than in any other area of Scotland.
The case for drag hunting is clear. It removes the cruelty, the element that is opposed by the majority of the British people, and retains the pageantry, tradition, hound packs and social activities. If the hunting community rejects drag hunting as that viable alternative, it then must understand that it leaves itself vulnerable to the charge that a bloodlust does indeed underlie its desperate and otherwise irrational defence of the hunt.
For those of us who want the ban, we must respond imaginatively and sensitively to the fears of the hunting fraternity. For them, a ban is a death-knell, not on the fox, but on a way of life that gives certainty, structure and strength to a community that feels itself harried and hurried and challenged by townies like myself.
We must assure them—and this Government, with their positive rural policies, most strenuously have—that change can reinvigorate and renew their community; that they, like the fox, need not feel threatened by outsiders invading their rural idyll; that to stay the same, they must change with the times; that now is the time to spurn a tradition that has become abhorrent to modern sensibilities. The drag on progress is their failure to embrace the drag hunt.
I support the ban and a better future for all our citizens in England's hunt-free green and pleasant land.
My Lords, I share the widespread frustration that we have to devote yet more time to this subject, over which every conceivable fact has been rehearsed countless times and every argument repeatedly deployed.
I believe that the continuation of hunting is vital for the rural economy, for animal welfare, for conservation and for the maintenance of freedom of choice for rural people. I hope that your Lordships will vote today overwhelmingly for the middle way. I believe that this is still politically achievable, as well as being the best option, for a variety of compelling reasons. If something is going to change today, I hope that it will be the votes of some of your Lordships who voted last time for the status quo.
Rural life has suffered grievously over the past year, after several years of severe pressure on farming and a steady loss of jobs and livelihoods in country areas. It is deeply hurtful to rural people to be faced with the threat of a ban on hunting. This is a further blow to a way of life already being battered by urbanisation and globalisation and the increasing separations of town and country in terms of attitudes and ethos. I beg to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, over that. There really is a difference between town and country attitudes. The vote in the other place last night was very much an urban vote.
When the Curry report is urging the farming community to reconnect with its market, society and the environment, the proposal to ban hunting is particularly damaging and very strongly resented.
We need to be realistic also about animal welfare, especially the welfare of foxes. There is no National Health Service for foxes. There are no retirement homes for elderly foxes. There are no analgesics for ill or injured foxes. The natural world is not a kindly place. Foxes are not kindly in their ways, if and when they gain access to the hen-house.
There is a very dangerous and misguided tendency towards anthropomorphism on the part of many of the most fervent opponents of hunting. This is a tendency which needs to be exposed and is an attitude which needs to be resisted.
However, we do need to acknowledge the real sincerity and passion with which very many people oppose hunting—not a majority despite last night's vote. That is why self-regulation is not a sensible option. I gladly acknowledge what has been achieved by the Independent Supervisory Authority on Hunting. It has been impressive. It includes some significant changes from previous practice in many areas.
Hunts no longer meet in places where they cause road congestion and inconvenience to the general public. Much greater care is exercised to avoid damaging public footpaths or allowing hounds to run across roads and into gardens and public places. Far fewer foxes are being dug out. All this is to be welcomed. It indicates that statutory regulation could be introduced and made to work with no difficulty. It would be a natural and acceptable transition from present practice under well-run hunts to the sort of regulation for which this Bill provides in its second option.
We need statutory regulation in order to reassure those people who believe that standards under self-regulation have not been uniformly high and that there have been incidences of malpractice or attitudes of arrogance or discourtesy or indifference to the sensibilities of those who do not share an enthusiasm for hunting. Statutory regulation would be a reasonable way of showing good will and ensuring good practice.
The benefits of regulated hunting are very significant. They sustain a wide variety of rural industries and occupations, of landscape management and nature conservation. They offer a service to farmers in the recovery of fallen stock and in the opportunities provided to young people to develop skills and learn the discipline of the hunt; above all, in providing the least cruel method of controlling the quarry species.
I am grateful, as I am sure are many of your Lordships, for the clear way this has been set out by those veterinary surgeons convinced of the advantages of hunting. They wish it to continue so that it may perform the vital function of enabling the weak, diseased and injured among the quarry population to be humanely despatched. They say that if hunting were to be banned, an uncertain but unacceptably large number of animals would be condemned to a lingering death, through disease, injury, malnutrition or illegal poisoning. Do those who care about animal welfare really want that?
I wish to differ from the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in saying that it is not just the perception of cruelty which people find offensive. That is a perception, albeit a misguided one, but there is also the social issue. There is the perception that hunting is indulged in by toffs, which has led to a great deal of jealousy and resentment.
Some of your Lordships will have read the article by Christina Odone in The Observer on March 3rd.
"The popular prejudice may be of whip-bearing toffs, tally-hoing over hill and dale, but in many rural areas, hunting is like some Chaucerian tale that brings together the Knight, the Wife from Bath and the Parson.
"When I accompanied the Beaufort Hunt..."
—the Beaufort Hunt of all hunts—
"..in Gloucestershire, the event proved a blueprint for a Blairite experiment in social inclusion. The hunt attracted a burger van driver from London, a plumber from Burford and a local waitress, as well as a couple of Lords-a-leaping."
The reality is, in most places, with most hunts, that social inclusion is even more comprehensive than with the Beaufort.
Farmers do not need more regulation and more cost. Hunting under licence would inevitably mean some increase in both. However, if that is what is necessary in order to enable hunting to continue—and I believe it is—then I know that farmers will gladly accept it.
I hope that there will be no political-party games this time but a massive vote in favour of the middle way. I speak not only for myself. Last week, there was a residential meeting of the Bishops representing the most deeply rural constituencies. We do not have a three-line Whip; we have a free vote. Every single one of those Bishops agreed with me that the middle way was the right way.
My Lords, I am most pleased to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. I have heard him speak on rural matters previously and know that he has always spoken wisdom on stilts. I have never heard him speak on hunting and I agree with everything that he said. I do not seek to damage him in the House of Bishops, but he can now number me among his fan club. His Holiness the Pope has given those of us in my religion no spiritual guidance on the matter, so I shall look to the right reverend Prelate as my spiritual guide and beacon in future years. I do not intend to extend that to all his colleagues on the Bench of Bishops, I hasten to add.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is not in his place at the moment, but I suspect that he was right in saying that most things that could be said have been said and that most minds have been made up. I intend to speak as briefly as I can in the interest of voting as early as possible. I shall not repeat what I said in earlier debates, except to say that I have no interest to declare. I do not hunt, shoot or fish, although for as much time as I can I live in what is by any standards deep countryside.
I believe that what looks good is leaving well alone and that the status quo is the best way forward. However, as we have the assurance of the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House that there is no pre-emption, I shall vote in favour of the middle way, but perhaps I may warn my friends in the Countryside Alliance to beware of the smile on the face of the tiger offering some form of co-operation. I suspect that little by little the smile on the face of the tiger will become wider and broader. In the hope that the Countryside Alliance will be prepared to be as robust as possible, as it has done previously not just in the interests of hunting but of threatened rural minorities at large, I seek to make only three points.
My first point relates to the social issue. We heard a lucid and clear speech on the matter from the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. I listened with great care to what he had to say. Speculating on an idea that I cannot prove, he caused me to think about the way in which the hunting of vermin with hounds has developed. As the noble Lord said, it has developed most colourfully, including coats of many different colours and rituals, and there is a certain amount of historic background. I believe that had the hunting of vermin such as foxes or mink developed in the way in which it was done by a few people, without the flashes of pink, scarlet, buff, green or whatever else, the social hackles of people in the countryside, and more predominantly in the towns, would never have been raised against hunting.
I do not pursue country sports, but in my view in my part of the country there is a high measure of social cohesion and hunting locally is most inclusive. As the right reverend Prelate said, people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds are part of the society in rural areas which supports hunting. I know that many people in rural areas do not support hunting and do not greatly care for it but, in my experience, they do not want to see it banned. Country people are liberal and tolerant and are prepared to rub along with each other in the interests of the social cohesion of the countryside.
My second point is that should this House and another place decide to ban hunting with hounds, there will be no more foxes, mink or other vermin left alive. It is difficult to speak with certainty, but I believe that the necessary putting down of vermin by shooting, trapping and other means, about which others have spoken with more authority, will lead to an increased amount of cruelty in the countryside. If hunting with hounds—or with dogs, as the Motion has it—is not allowed to take place, not only will there be a little more cruelty in the countryside as vermin is dealt with—I seek not to exaggerate—but I believe that attention will turn to other forms of countryside activity. I believe that shooting and fishing will be next.
Then logic draws one inexorably down the route of examining other forms of cruelty. Anyone who has been to an abattoir, a slaughterhouse or a chicken production line knows full well that the animals waiting to be killed know that something at least unusual is about to happen to them and that they can smell something rather rum in the air. I believe that there are some forms of slaughter which are practised today in 21st century Great Britain, particularly in the aid of minorities in the Jewish and Muslim faiths, which have a considerable degree of cruelty attached to them. Yet we do not see anyone much bold enough to come out and say so in comparing arguments about slaughterhouse practices with the arguments about hunting in the field.
Thirdly and finally, I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. He is a stalwart fellow and has sat for many a long hour on the Front Bench debating this and other issues. I cannot agree with him that the debate is not about the rural/urban divide. I spend about half my week in the town, in the City, and about half my week in the countryside. It is clear to me that if hunting with hounds is banned, it will send a terrible signal to a rural minority which is fast diminishing that its legitimate practices are not understood by an overbearing, overweening and overwhelming urban majority. People in the countryside really will begin to feel themselves threatened beyond all belief. Then there may be the explosion of anger that my noble friend Lord Mancroft, with his characteristic good manners, fell just short of predicting, but which I, with greater vulgarity, will predict will happen if the ban takes place.
I say to the House, and through the House to anyone in a minority who is listening, particularly in an unfashionable or politically-incorrect minority; "Do not under any circumstances do anything except be fearful about what will happen to you next, because you will be next".
I now pass on to the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, my uncovenanted minute and look forward to what she has to say.
My Lords, I must declare an interest as one of the chairmen of the all-party Middle Way Group. Indeed, it would be fair to say that the Middle Way Group was set up by three MPs, one man and a dog: Peter Luff from the Conservatives; Lembit Opik from the Liberal Democrats; myself from Labour; and Jim Barrington, who used to be chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports but who left because he did not think that the organisation was involved with preventing cruelty to animals. We had very little money and, as your Lordships proved in the previous vote on hunting in this House, not very much support when we first set up the group.
Following that vote, it would have been easy for us to have gone away and left hunting to its fate. But we did not do that. We decided to set up the committee. We organised, and I chaired, a two-day middle way development committee meeting. We held it in the House of Commons; it was a kind of Select Committee. We invited all the groups we could think of which were involved in the issue of hunting. Some wrote, some attended, and some gave personal evidence. We had evidence from the vets, from the Welsh packs, from the lurcher clubs, from shooting organisations, from the NFU and even from a professor of animal welfare. Many more people attended and gave evidence. The meeting was highly successful, and we hope that your Lordships will take into consideration our revised proposals when voting today.
Our proposals have two key elements: first, a change to the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 to create a new general offence of causing unnecessary suffering to wild mammals, as per the original Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, to whom I pay tribute; and. secondly, the establishment of a statutory hunting authority. Both of those elements would mean a ban on all uncontrolled and unregulated hunting.
As some noble Lords may know, I fly fish, which I have no doubt is a form of hunting, although I do not do it on horseback, wear a red coat or have a dog with me. I must admit that I enjoy it. I pay for a licence, which I obtain from the post office in the Commons and which gives me the right to use a fishing rod and line. But I also need permission from the owner or tenant whose water I want to fish.
There are codes of conduct for all types of fishing. For example, there is a closed season, the recording of fish and restrictions on the kind of fly one can use, the number of fish one can keep and the kind of fish one has to return to the water. One must supply a record of catches to the Environment Agency at the end of the year. Fishermen say, and I agree, that they are the protectors of our water and it is in the interest of their sport to be so. It is in the interests of all hunting sports that people protect the countryside.
All the evidence presented to the middle way committee convinced us that reasonably priced, easily obtained licences with individual codes of conduct like those for fishing would be acceptable to groups who hunt. Many of those groups, such as fox hunting groups, have already set up their own codes.
We, as human beings, have changed the balance of nature in this country. To suggest that we ignore that change is nonsensical. This debate is not about whether we kill wild animals but about how we do it: whether by hunting, poisoning, snaring, gassing or shooting. This debate is not just about fox hunting but about whether we ban all hunting with dogs.
It is about banning ratting. In the area where I live, a group of men went out for a day's ratting with their dogs. They killed 96 rats. Surely, we do not have to tell them that we are going to ban that—first, because they enjoy it; secondly, because they took a dog with them; thirdly, because they killed rats; and, fourthly, because they did not eat them. That is what we are telling fox hunters. Hunting with dogs is surely a more efficient and much safer solution to our rat problem than is the desperately dangerous attempt to control them with poison.
It is also about banning rabbiting with dogs. Yes, we eat them and people in my area who rabbit freeze the surplus to feed their dogs. Do we tell them that in future they must go to the supermarket to buy tinned meat produced from animals farmed and killed by humans because that makes it all right for their dogs to eat? It is nonsense, but perhaps those who support banning should tell that to the rabbits as we snare, shoot and gas them or kill them with the horrible myxomatosis.
My friends would think that I had gone soft if I did not mention that nastiest and most destructive animal in our country today: the mink. The mink is responsible for the decline of our water vole and the devastation of islands off the coast of Scotland where they have eaten or killed all the ground-nesting birds. They kill for pleasure anything that gets in their way. The only groups that consistently hunt those vicious creatures are mink huntsmen with their mink hounds. Everyone else has given up. When I write to the Ministry to ask what it is going to do, it passes the responsibility to someone else. When I discuss the problem with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, it does not want to know. The only people who want to do something about destroying mink in this country are the mink hunters with their dogs. Are we now to tell them that we want everyone to give up on that serious problem that threatens our indigenous wildlife?
The benefits of the middle way approach are consistent and improved standards of animal welfare; a clear and logical legal framework, with inspectors paid for by the licensing fee; and clear codes of conduct that do not criminalise honest people. The middle way has tried to reach as many people on all sides of the argument as it can. It represents not a pallid compromise but a strong, workable and better way. I hope that when we come to vote, many of your Lordships will follow me into the Lobby.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, has made a most valuable speech, and I am glad that she supports the middle way, as I do. As some of your Lordships will know, I was the Member for Huntingdonshire for 34 years and hunted regularly until I was 70.
What worries me is that if hunting of foxes is abolished, foxes will suffer terribly in ways that they do not suffer at present. If foxes are not hunted, they will multiply and become an even greater menace than they are at present. They are terrible predators, especially for poultry.
I remember being asked by a lady with a country cottage in my constituency to go to see the damage done to the poultry run at the back of her cottage. There she had 16 chickens, of which nine had been killed by a fox that had not attempted to eat any of them. I cite that merely as an example.
If hunting of foxes is abolished, they will have to be destroyed by much more cruel methods than hunting with hounds. There will be only four ways of killing them. The first method is poisoning, which is illegal and horrible. The second method is snaring, which is illegal and even more horrible. I have seen a fox caught in a snare. It must have been there for some hours and was suffering agony. That is illegal. The third method is shooting. People's skill in shooting varies widely. If a fox is shot at, wounded and gets away, I understand that it is likely to die from gangrene, which is a slow and horrible death. The only other way to destroy foxes is by trapping. That is not so cruel, but it is not very effective. Foxes are difficult to entice into traps, so we should not rely too much on that method.
Why, then, is it that I and others say that hunting is less cruel than any of those four methods of killing? Being a lightweight, I was often up front when hounds closed in on a fox. In my last few seasons, when the anti-hunting movement had really got under way, I decided to count the number of seconds between hounds closing in and the death of the fox. I never counted more than four seconds. So, that is not a very cruel way of killing.
There are those who say that just chasing the fox is cruel. I am not so sure about that. There was a distressed look on the face of old foxes, but the chase did not last long and they were killed quickly. I did not see a distressed look on the face of younger foxes. It may be almost irresponsible of me to say it, but I sometimes saw on a fox's face the nearest thing to a grin that I had ever seen. Of course, they were chased for long periods, but, as I said, they were quickly killed. When chased, foxes did not suffer the agony that, generally, they would suffer if killed by any of the other methods.
Townspeople do not know about such things. They should realise that abolishing the hunting of foxes will cause more cruelty to foxes.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to participate in the debate. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I believe that there is a difference between urban and rural views on the issue. There is a split between campaigners on the issue of whether the hunting of foxes with hounds or dogs should be banned.
On the whole, rural people wish to keep hunting going, and urban people appear to favour a ban on hunting, although that is not borne out by recent opinion polls. I declare an interest as someone who has always lived in the countryside. I was partly brought up on a small farm. I have been a farm worker, a farm manager, an agricultural economist and educationalist and a small farmer. I have never tried to force my rural views on city and town dwellers. However, urban views on hunting are being forced on rural people, who are a minority. Ignorance of rural life has never deterred those who campaign for a fox hunting ban. Sadly, an urban/rural divide exists.
In rural Wales, we must put up with some of the worst aspects of urban culture. For example, two weeks ago, a high-speed motorcyclist was prosecuted because he had been travelling at 160 miles per hour on country lanes. The evidence for that was provided by his own video camera on his motorbike; it displayed 160 mph. Rightly, he was banned, but we suffer incursions of motorcyclists travelling everywhere at 120 mph every weekend. They come from Birmingham, Liverpool, Shrewsbury, Bristol and south Wales. They are rightly condemned, but they are there.
Drugs come into our rural areas, and there are distribution networks. Only yesterday, a gang appeared in court in connection with a multi-million pound operation, bringing drugs into rural towns and villages. Such activity has an extreme effect on young rural people. Crime has spread from the cities to rural areas. Cottages and houses can lose all their slates overnight. The slates are sold in cities with no questions asked. Quad bikes, chainsaws, antiques and even four-wheel drives and livestock trailers disappear. City slickers are ready to market all that loot. Dyfed-Powys Police have just over 1,000 officers. They have the best detection rates in the United Kingdom, but even they have some difficulty in coping with such activity.
Decent urban people, when informed of the mayhem, are, naturally, horrified. They say, understandably, that such acts are not typical; nor is the worst behaviour ascribed to hunts. It is hardly surprising that, when told by city dwellers that fox hunting must be banned, country people ask, "Who are you to tell us what we can do, when many of you abandon your dogs on the streets? That is immoral, as are the other crimes perpetrated by urban people in the countryside". I hasten to add that the people committing crimes are a minority, but the majority seems unable, for various reasons, to control them.
Livestock farming is an unending, relentless battle against the weather, the politicians and the pests. Sometimes, in the pubs, country dwellers, in their laconic way, say that it is difficult to distinguish between the last two. On every farm that I have managed—my own farm of 65 acres, a college farm of 350 acres, a Scottish estate of 1,500 acres—the fox has been a pest. My worst experience was the loss, one spring, of 37 young lambs. Twenty-nine of them were left headless and torn apart, killed for the fun of it by foxes. That was from a 200-ewe flock that had been shepherded outside at midnight and 5 a.m.
Foxes must be controlled but not eliminated. If the fox population is kept in balance, there will be a balance of all species, wild and farmed, in the countryside, and that will remain stable. I am a former Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire, the largest constituency in England and Wales—87 miles long by 45 miles wide—where there are 16 sheep to every one person. There are many Welsh packs, and nine hunts operate in my former constituency. Many are foot packs, which are vital for fox control, as are gun packs, in the mountainous and deeply forested areas, for example, the Cambrian mountains. Those nine hunts kill 2,000 foxes annually. They keep the fox population stable and have done so every year for the past 30 years. The main problem in controlling foxes is the imposition of monoculture forestry. Fir trees offer excellent cover for foxes.
On the whole, hunts are well supervised. However, the general public need reassurance, and hunting practices need to come under a measure of control. The case for hunting under licence—the middle way—must be pursued. The other option—a ban—is out of the question. It would result in an explosion of the fox population and the ravaging of the lamb crop every spring, with terrible consequences for animal welfare. That view is backed by most of the veterinary profession.
The solution must be a balance between, on the one hand, liberty, tolerance of others and the survival of a lifestyle and, on the other, a set of rules that will take into account concerns for animal welfare and the well-being of those who live in the countryside. In a nutshell, that means a respect for animal welfare, the rural economy and the environment. Here I speak for my Welsh colleagues, the noble Lords, Lord Hooson, Lord Geraint, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Lord Thomas of Gresford.
I pay tribute to my colleague in the House of Commons, the honourable Member for Montgomeryshire, Lembit O pik, who has done tremendous work on the matter. With his colleagues, he has evolved a radically different approach. There is a guarantee of an improvement in animal welfare; a guarantee of balance; and a guarantee that human liberty will be protected. The alternative—banning the hunting of foxes—would mean that uncontrolled, unregulated killing would occur. There is no longer majority public support for a ban.
These proposals would amend the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 by creating the new offence of causing unnecessary suffering to wild animals, which would be a big improvement in the Act's current provisions. They would also result in the creation of a statutory hunting authority which would be appointed by the Secretary of State and include people from many different backgrounds. The authority would enforce codes of conduct, create licensed hunts and be funded by the sale of licences—which would themselves be affordable and readily obtainable. Codes of conduct would be policed for breaches, and licence holders would be subject to inspection. If a hunt did not have a licence, a £5,000 fine would ensue. The proposals would undoubtedly result in improved animal welfare standards, a clear and logical legal framework, and controls on hare coursing. They would also address the concerns expressed in the Burns report about fox control matters.
The alternative—a ban on fox hunting—would criminalise farmers and rural dwellers who have to protect their own livestock, and that would be a serious incursion on their liberties. A ban would deny to a minority the human right to protect their own livestock. Parliament's record on protecting basic civil liberties would be besmirched if we chose that alternative.
I believe that it is possible to reach a compromise on this issue, and that it is to be found in the middle way set of proposals. I shall oppose a ban and support those proposals. They are the best option from every point of view.
My Lords, in the past few days, many people have told me that they think it is positively obscene—yesterday, my daughter telephoned me and said precisely the same—that we are spending seven hours debating this issue today when we are surrounded by so many problems that should be debated. I am sure that the Minister will agree that he could be spending his time a little better than sitting here listening to this debate. I am not an active hunting man and I never have been, but I am a supporter and I always have been. I am also a countryman. Above all, I am a firm believer in people's right to enjoy country pursuits. I therefore totally oppose a ban on hunting. Nevertheless, I am prepared to consider joining others in supporting the middle way.
The other night, and for obvious reasons, the masters of my own hunt, the Atherstone, in North Warwickshire, came to see me. Richard and Penny Tyacke are family farmers who are up at 4 a.m. to do their chores and feed their livestock before they can have a day's hunting. It is therefore a total myth that only those who can easily afford it become involved in hunting. They told me that, this year, compared with two years ago, twice as many people are following the hunt. I think that that speaks for itself. Moreover, many of the supporters pay by instalment because they cannot pay the full amount during the season. They also include five doctors, some North Warwickshire miners and local families who enjoy a day's access to the countryside.
As others—not least my noble friend Lord Patten—have said, if we completely banned hunting with dogs, there would be a cry to ban fishing, all hunting and other country pursuits. I was born in a mining village. I can assure the House that, if we banned hunting with dogs, the outcry from that part of the world would be absolutely deafening in condemnation of those who they believe have taken away what they believe is their English tradition. The issue is about human rights and people's freedom to enjoy watching and participating in a well-organised and disciplined sport. As others have said, through the ages, fox hunting has set a fine example to all sportsmen, above all to respect the land that they hunt. Many of their supporters have occupied and farmed that land, and they respect those codes of conduct. My own son, at Wye College, led the beagles for a couple of seasons. When I teased him about the hares that he did not kill during the course of a season, he said to me, "This is not about killing hares. It's about hunting and managing the pack. It's about discipline in the countryside".
Well-established hunts are recognised well beyond the countryside. I have a new point to raise with the Minister. I have been reminded by my good friend and neighbour, a retired captain in the Royal Navy, that, in the Second World War, thousands of men served in His Majesty's ships named after and affiliated to the British hunts. They were known as hunt-class destroyers. For those who served in them, those ships were their homes, and in many cases their graves. There was a warm relationship—I speak from experience in this—between those who were in the ships and their hunting friends. The latter were generous in providing comforts for the sailors.
Destroyers included the "Beagle", the "Foxhound", the "Greyhound" and the "Hunter". One flat minesweeper was named the "Hound". Yes, there was also an HMS "Fox". Even today, the names of a class of mine-countermeasure vessel refer to the hunts, even to my own Atherstone hunt. Will the Minister tell us whether all those names are to be changed to satisfy political correctness? Today, we watch films in which two or three predators chase and kill innocent animals in the field. Does the Broadcasting Standards Commission receive complaints about that from animal rights activists, or is what we see on film all right because it occurs more than 3,000 miles away?
I am sure that the Minister will accept that a total ban on hunting would only add to the current economic crisis in rural areas with which he is so familiar. Such a consequence is the last thing that farmers and those involved in rural businesses such as tourism need. The Government may insist on proceeding with a certain type of legislation for their own political reasons, but—as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, concluded in his excellent report—the animal welfare case for doing so is far from compelling. What is needed, in the British tradition, is moderation and tolerance, not more red tape or bureaucracy.
The Burns report also concluded that it is necessary for man to manage the population of the species—in this case, the fox species. The use of dogs to hunt mammals, particularly foxes, makes a vital contribution to pest control across the country. As we speak, I can almost see the fox licking his lips as the lambs are being born. The report also acknowledges the important fact that hunts provide vital services to farming, including—as my noble friend Lady Byford said—the removal of fallen stock. The loss of that service would be a new imposition on the whole of the livestock industry and one which it can ill afford. A ban would also have knock-on implications, including—as the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said—the possible loss of 10,000 to 13,000 jobs.
The challenge for the Minister, his team in DEFRA, and everyone involved in or concerned about rural industries is to address the wide range of pressing issues highlighted in the Curry commission report on the future of food and farming. Those issues will have to be tackled to secure a sustainable, long-term future for the industry.
I suggest that those challenges are substantial enough without adding further restrictions to control pests and driving a wedge, as has been said, between town and country. In his foreword to the rural White Paper, the Deputy Prime Minister said that that was not government policy. I hope that he and the Government will stand by that.
My Lords, oh, dear! Here we go again. I must declare an interest as a resident of Scotland and being married, as of last Friday, to a redundant master of foxhounds. I shudder to think what she has spent in time, emotion and worry trying to make Members of the Scottish Parliament listen to the argument. A lot has already been said on both sides of the debate. Therefore, my contribution will be brief.
This time last year, when the country was in the grip of foot and mouth disease, it really was ironic that DEFRA enlisted the help of hunt servants to help eradicate the disease. Those same hunt servants are having their very livelihoods put at risk by single issue Back-Benchers who do not have the capacity to concern themselves with the real issues facing the country. As other noble Lords have said, it must be education, transport and the beleaguered National Health Service that matter, not foxes.
Only yesterday the Daily Telegraph ran a headline, "Street crime spiralling out of control, admits Blunkett". I believe that political commentators will look back in 20 years' time on all the parliamentary time wasted discussing foxes in utter disbelief.
I believe that there are lessons to be learnt from the hunting fiasco in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has set a damaging constitutional precedent by ignoring the findings of its own rural development committee. That committee spent 15 months taking evidence concluding that it would be,
"difficult or impossible to amend the Bill into a form which would adequately meet the aim of ending cruelty and for this reason recommends that the general principles of this Bill should not be agreed to.
My local police force in the Borders, from where most of the hunts in Scotland operate, stated that
"A ban is almost unworkable . . . because the legislation is not clear".
With inner city crime out of control, serious concerns were raised about the lack of police resources. The idea of helicopters looming over the Lammermuirs twice weekly is ridiculous in the extreme. Surely, Westminster must avoid the trap into which Hollyrood fell last month, which generated a most extraordinary collection of headlines from the mainly pro-government press, of which I shall quote a few: "Daft as a brush", the Sunday Mail; "NHS not foxes is top priority", the Sun; "A real dog's breakfast", the Daily Record; and "The mark of a civilised society is its tolerance of unpopular behaviour", the Independent.
It must be wrong for Parliament to put in jeopardy a hitherto legal way of life. The real irony is that a ban will not save the life of one single fox. As a result of the Bill in Scotland, foxes will undoubtedly suffer a far more cruel death by indiscriminate shooting, trapping, poisoning and gassing. In these times of real voter apathy, can the Motions before us be considered fully democratic? I fear not. As one national newspaper recently led, "Let us have a Bill to ban banning". I urge your Lordships to vote "no" against a ban, "yes" for the middle way and "yes" for the third option.
My Lords, I shall not attempt to follow up the reference to hunting in Scotland made by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, except to say that it may not be intelligible to them; it is certainly not intelligible to us. We have sympathy for the vast problem they have. Let us ensure that we do not go that way in this country.
I must first declare an interest. I have lived and hunted in the Pytchley country for over 60 years. I have hunted with that pack and with neighbouring packs. In the 60 years I have hunted I have never seen anything which I can condemn as cruelty in any shape or form. I would still be hunting but for the fact that my wife and my doctor told me not to.
One has to be lucky to be close enough to see the lead hound snip the neck of a fox and kill it instantly. On the few occasions on which I have seen the killing of a fox, it is clear that that is how it is done. In the photographs much publicised by anti-hunt papers and periodicals, one is presented with the fox being torn to pieces by the hounds. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who is not in his place, seemed to suggest that he has seen foxes killed by being torn to pieces. I defy any noble Lord to claim that he has ever seen a fox killed in a hunt by being torn to pieces. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made the same comment on a previous occasion.
All forms of nature have a degree of cruelty. A cat chasing a mouse is one of the most cruel events one can watch. If one has to put an end to it somehow, one must get hold of the mouse and kill it. In foxhunting I have never had cause to see anything remotely cruel. Foxes cause much cruelty by killing lambs. Farmers today are under great pressure at lambing time because of the number of lambs they will lose. Foxhunting has been under some control for months. Therefore, there are now more foxes slaughtering lambs than previously.
The alternatives to hunting are shooting, poisoning, trapping and snaring. I find those immensely cruel. They cause ghastly consequences, particularly poisoning. They are the alternatives. If a ban is imposed the result will be massive cruelty to foxes which, as a result, will be exterminated over a period by shooting, trapping, snaring, and poisoning. That is something to which I hope none of us will ever agree, accept or support.
The alternative to that is option three, hunting under supervision, which is very much hunting as it is now. I believe that a good master of foxhounds will ensure the most effective discipline in his hounds. That would be far more effective than government regulation. He will see that hunting is carried out without cruelty. I accept that the present mood of Parliament is not to agree to hunting under supervision but to go for the middle way, hunting under licence. In the circumstances, I accept that, provided that the conditions and regulations imposed are reasonable, fair and practicable, and proposed for the continuity of permanent hunting under that system so that it can be controlled unspoilt for the benefit of the fox, the sheep and the hen hereafter. Therefore, I accept that. I believe that it is the right course to adopt today. There needs to be a careful look at the controls and conditions which are imposed in order to enable the countryside's sport activity and control of pests to continue. Hunting should continue as in the past but with suitable discipline, control or licence.
My Lords, I have not spoken in previous debates about hunting. I want to speak today in support of the middle way proposal, so eloquently stated by my noble friend Lady Golding in what I thought was an absolutely terrific speech. In a sense I have little to add to it. But, following the injunction of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, I shall nevertheless do so.
I have never hunted. It is about the last thing in the world I would ever want to do. I am an inveterate urbanite. I get worried when pavements stop and coffee shops cease to be. I do not much like being in the open country. I like streets and facilities. Normally, I am racked with anxiety when faced with a political decision about what I should think and how I should vote. Nevertheless, despite my background of not being a country dweller, I have been quite certain all the way through the debates that have gone on since 1997 that hunting should not be banned. That has always seemed to be absolutely clear cut. I should like to explain why.
In some ways the defenders of hunting have done themselves a disservice. I can understand why they have done it; nevertheless, I think that it is a disservice. They have tended to emphasise a great deal the links between hunting, a traditional way of life, the local community and so on. There are some fine evocations of all of this in English literature. My friend and political opponent, Professor Roger Scruton, has often written about this kind of thing, about the way in which hunting and community and so forth are linked.
That is not an argument that will cut much ice with the urban population because they might just think, well, there are lots of forms of community life in Britain which have been undercut by economic and social changes—mining and fishing communities—so why should rural communities somehow be preserved indefinitely in a kind of aspic? One can understand people who live in rural communities wanting to emphasise all those kinds of reasons for valuing hunting as part of community life. But that will not be all that powerful in terms of trying to persuade other people that hunting should continue. What those who defend hunting need to do is to try to link the practice of hunting with reasons that people outside the rural areas who have never lived in a rural community can appreciate, understand and endorse. That points directly to justification of hunting as a form of pest control. It is something everyone understands and has nothing to do with arguments about sustaining local communities. It is about a particular way of controlling a pest. There is no doubt that foxes are pests. They will be killed. Indeed, they should be killed for all the reasons that we have heard today.
If we see hunting as a form of pest control—albeit rather upmarket pest control, with Gilbert and Sullivan elements attached to it, but nevertheless a form of pest control ultimately—then what are the appropriate ways of doing the killing? Is it by hunting? Is it by shooting, poisoning, snaring and so forth? I shall not add to all the points that have been made. It seems to me clear as a pikestaff that hunting is no more, and probably less, cruel that those other ways of killing foxes.
Yesterday morning an animal welfare campaigner said on the "Today" programme that there could be no compromise with cruelty. So if it turned out on investigation—as I think the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, showed—that these other methods of killing foxes are as cruel as fox hunting, does that mean that there can be no compromise with those as well? The attention of animal welfare people will then turn towards trying to ban other methods of killing foxes on the grounds that they are equally cruel. The logic of the situation would seem to imply precisely that.
The same person also argued that cruelty is indivisible. It may well be. But if we regard killing foxes with hounds as cruel, then, as my noble friend Lady Golding said, what about rats, for instance? I understand that rodents are excluded. After seeing the television programme mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, it seems to me that rats are killed in almost exactly the same way by small dogs as are foxes by hounds. So will the next focus be banning the killing of rats with dogs? If cruelty is indivisible and if killing foxes with hounds is cruel—
My Lords, it would certainly make ratting with dogs part of the indivisibility of cruelty.
Another argument often put forward is that it is morally objectionable that people take pleasure in killing. Let us assume the worst about the fox hunting fraternity and say that they do take pleasure in killing. But so do lots of other people. That is not a basis for trying to ban what they do.
One of the Sunday papers recently carried an interesting profile of a recently retired footballer who has now made a career in acting. I shall not make any clearer to whom I am referring. He finds it quite enjoyable late on a Saturday night to go out with a lamp and slaughter a few rabbits. He makes clear that this is very enjoyable from his point of view, a nice way to end an evening. So if fox hunters enjoy killing, what about people like him? Are we to say that anyone who enjoys it will be caught within some eventual legal ban? That is totally absurd.
What we need is some kind of legislation which looks at where people's freedom harms the interests of others. That freedom can then be curtailed. But whose interests are harmed by fox hunting? Certainly a ban would harm the economic interests of people attached to fox hunting. No doubt fox hunting may offend the sensibilities of many people. I do not think that offended sensibility is a reason for banning something. One must be able to show precisely what is wrong with it. The argument is, "Well it is cruel and people take pleasure in it". But, as I have tried to argue, those two reasons are not particularly compelling in the fox hunting case.
If we focus on fox hunting as a form of pest control, then we should have the licensing system. One has to be able to demonstrate the need for it and so forth. It also seems to follow from seeing hunting as a form of pest control that hare coursing should not be allowed. I was rather dismayed to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, take a rather absolutist position over stag hunting and hare coursing. I am rather agnostic about stag hunting because I am not sure of the extent to which they are or are not pests. I would be quite happy to see that depending on the evidence.
There is the same point about digging out. If one is actually trying to control the pest, it is not clear to me what is wrong with digging out unless it became clear that digging out a fox was somehow more cruel in the way it was subsequently killed. That may or may not be the case; I am not in a position to say. However, it is not clear to me that digging out is a practice that should be banned if the focus is put on to pest control.
We should try to reach a common view with regard to the appropriate way of controlling a pest. I do not think that it will do for the countryside movement to stress over much the way in which hunting helps to preserve a historic way of life. Since the early 1980s, many communities in this country have had to adjust to the collapse of their historic ways of life. Those communities will not necessarily be too sympathetic to rural communities on that basis. We shall need to find another basis on which to justify fox hunting. If that is achieved in terms of pest control, while retaining a reasonably clear-sighted view of the issues of cruelty, then we might get somewhere.
My Lords, since this issue was last debated in your Lordships' House approximately a year ago, a significant number of opinion polls on hunting have been published. However, to the best of my knowledge, we have not seen any significant publications on the scientific aspects of hunting; that is, whether the hunting of target species is unacceptable and detrimental to the welfare of animals.
On the contrary, several papers have been produced on the alternative methods of control which indicate that those methods, such as shooting, snaring or poisoning, are much less certain of a clean kill than would be provided by hunting. Indeed, they may lead to prolonged injury, pain and distress.
All these points have been made both in the previous debate and in the contributions of earlier speakers in today's debate. However, what is new in my opinion is the fact that there has been a significant shift in public opinion on whether hunting with dogs should be banned. Those who wish to see a complete ban on hunting have declined, as assessed by the National Opinion Polls Research Group. It has recorded a shift from 51 per cent in support of a ban in July 2000 to only 37 per cent seeking the same outcome in April of last year.
A detailed analysis has also been made of comparisons between various methods of control, should hunting be banned outright. As I have already mentioned, this would lead to prolonged injury, pain and distress. That analysis has been put forward by some 300 veterinary surgeons, my colleagues, who have country practices and who, I would submit, are well aware of the problems of suffering of animals in the countryside. In their general practices they may well take in such animals for treatment—I refer not only to foxes, but also to deer and other species—when the general public bring them into their surgeries. Those vets would submit—and I agree with them—that hunting is the method that produces what I would call the "cleanest" kill, if it does prove necessary to kill.
Again, a recent NOP poll taken of 1,000 members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons found that, again, some 63 per cent were against a ban on hunting on welfare grounds. The respondents felt that it would be detrimental to the welfare of animals that currently are hunted.
So what is next? In my speech to this House last year, I indicated my support for the then recently established Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, ISAH. Here I should declare an interest in that I have been invited and have accepted an invitation to serve on a small committee,
"to develop standards for hunt policy and hunt practices and procedures for the regulation and positive development of hunting practices through a policy of self-assessment, monitoring and independent inspection".
On this I am joined in agreement by two other very distinguished people, the first of whom is Professor John Webster of Bristol University. He is an animal behaviourist. The second is Professor David Macdonald of the University of Oxford, who specialises in wildlife management.
I have agreed to undertake these new duties on the basis of two issues. The first is that ISAH would attend to the welfare of wild animals in the environment as well as to the issue of hunting with hounds. Also, I shall seek permission to press for the curtailment of those practices that I believe are unacceptable facets of hunting, such as "digging out", "stopping up", "cubbing", the "hunting of hinds with calves" and so forth. I can say to noble Lords that useful progress has been made in this area. I believe that if ISAH is to progress, then it could produce a highly satisfactory level of supervision and control.
As the name, "Independent Supervisory Authority on Hunting" implies, it is an independent body, unlike the alternative proposal, which today is clearly gaining much support; namely, the Middle Way Group which has been set up by MPs and noble Lords and is strongly supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. It proposes statutory control.
In all this, my concern is to attempt to ensure a level of supervision and control such that public confidence with regard to the proper conduct and regulation of hunting can be assured. If either of the suggested routes put forward would achieve that, then I shall be willing to support it. But I believe that ISAH has already gone well down the road of ensuring that the aim can be achieved. The authority also benefits from the fact that to a great extent it is already in operation within the hunting fraternity. It is transparent and it already has a fair amount of teeth in the control and regulation of hunting.
Although I believe that the way forward lies in opting for an independent supervisory authority, I also understand and accept that the two options—one for statutory regulation and the other for self- regulation—could be brought together effectively. I say that because, if the proposal were to be accepted, much of what would be required of either of them is already common to both. We could derive considerable benefits from using the two options to develop what will be required in common practice. I also accept that ISAH may require statutory underpinning in order to make it effective.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has stated in a circulated letter that both sides of the debate must be willing to move from their entrenched positions. I believe that the hunting community is now showing itself willing to do that. However, I, too, echo the hope that has already been expressed that the supporters of statutory regulations and those in support of independent control will do the same; that is, they should join together in an effort to reach a common goal—that of effective regulation.
I firmly believe that we have here an opportunity—I would describe it as a golden opportunity—to develop a wider supervisory structure for all wild animals in our environment, of which hunting with dogs would be only one element of the wider issue.
My Lords, it is clear from the tone of the debate that the way in which your Lordships are approaching this tricky question has moved on from the lengthy and informative debate last year, which, if I remember aright, began at 3.5 p.m. on Monday, 12th March and concluded at 1.51 a.m. on Tuesday, 13th March. This debate raises many difficult issues. I want to call attention to three of them.
First, we are all affected, in one way or another, by our environment—where we were born, how we were brought up, the attitudes with which we grew up. In the part of the country that I know best—south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight—I see very different attitudes which echo what I have experienced elsewhere. Rural west Isle of Wight is a place where hunting is a part of life and has been for generations, as it is in many parts of Scotland, as I know from my own upbringing. Urban Gosport echoes parts of Manchester, where I worked for a time as a university chaplain. Many people there fail to see what hunting is about, except that they know that the fox is an increasingly local nuisance, even in the urban areas. Suburban Fareham, where I live now, echoes in some ways Guildford, where I worked as a parish priest, with animal rights activists vocal and, to many, very convincing. We are dealing with a deeply divided community and paradoxes within those divisions—I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, pointed out earlier—and we have to recognise that.
Secondly, there are the questions of fact and detail which were rehearsed during last year's debate, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, with a coolness and a clarity that had something of the forensic about it. I am glad that a number of speakers have referred to that contribution. We heard the noble Lord tell us about the differences between lowland and upland hunting and their relative economics— upland hunting being on balance less costly in economic terms than lowland—and we heard him speak of the relative differences in speed in the ways in which deer and fox are killed.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, provided some perceptive observations of the different meanings according to context of that slippery word "cruelty". That has been developed to a certain extent during this debate by the noble Lords, Lord Donoughue and Lord Plant.
The third question is about what lies before your Lordships today as we play our constitutional role in trying to manage the deep sociological, conceptual and attitudinal disarray that this intractable issue engenders. We are faced with a very strong majority in another place for a total ban and a marginally stronger minority for regulation and supervision, so what kind of signal should we give?
I began my speech by suggesting that things had progressed in the public debate on this matter—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby—and that demonstrates the Government's wisdom in not trying to force the pace last year. Many of those who then seemed implacably opposed to a total ban are coming round to seeing the need for regulation by law. They realise that they need to be held to scrutiny, down to the kind of detail mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, last year—for example, in how packs of hounds are properly controlled all the time. That relative opinion shift is visible, and my post bag verifies it. On the other hand, the total ban lobby has quite rightly taken the opportunity to restate its absolute stance, and once again our post bags, whether here or at home, reflect that very proper pressing of the case.
The debate is about more than pragmatics; it is about weighing the evidence before us—evidence of human attitude and how we can continue to live together as a community, as well as evidence of uncontestable fact, and both are in tension. However, I cannot escape the fact that, for all the research into our evolution as a species and that of other sentient beings, there is in the tradition of the three Abrahamic faiths a gulf fixed between the human race and the rest of the created order. For all our weakness, humanity is still described as "the crown of all creation" in a modern Church of England prayer inspired by an early Christian source. That gulf, which I believe to be a fundamental given, is what clinches today's debate for me. It could lead others to vote in other directions; it will help me to vote for regulation.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of a number of conservation bodies reflecting my life-long interest in conservation and natural history. I am not a hunter. I could be held responsible for the end of otter hunting as a result of the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975—a very necessary measure in view of the appalling, declining position of the British otter. During one period more than 40 years ago I went beagling. I went three or four times but, on the fourth time, there was an event which led me to become very angry and to cease the practice immediately. However, I am fairly confident that that kind of incident would not occur today. Certainly it would be less likely to occur if the middle way were to succeed.
In our debates last year I said that if I were a fox I would be voting against a Bill, and I see no reason to change my mind. If the hunting of foxes is abolished, the killing of foxes will increase. I should regret the increase because I believe that the fox has a useful role as a predator. It is perhaps a more effective killer of rats than many of the small terriers to which reference has already been made.
If fox hunting is abolished, many people will be remorseless in reducing the rural fox, and the method of killing will be far more obscenely cruel than fox hunting is usually. I brought the badgers Bill before the Commons when someone placed gin traps by the side of a badger sett which I was watching close to a nature trail. Gin traps had been illegal for many years then—but they are still in use today. In 1981—21 years ago—I was involved in securing the abolition of the self-locking snare. It is still in use today. If fox hunting ends, the gin trap will probably still be used; the self-locking snare certainly will be.
How often will the traps and snares be examined? It was said earlier they would be examined every day. Therefore an animal could be stuck in a trap for up to 23 hours. Even if a more conscientious attendance of the snares and traps were carried out, they still could be stuck for 11 hours. It does not take that long for a fox to be killed by a pack.
There is also gassing and poisoning—each of which takes far longer. As for shooting, shotguns do not usually kill foxes outright. If the fox in Scotland is to be driven to guns—and the guns are shotguns—then the cruelty in Scotland will be far greater than it would be under a Bill in this country. A shotgun is likely to wound. The fox is small, but a shotgun is not particularly appropriate as a weapon because it normally fires birdshot not designed to kill larger mammals.
The animal welfare groups considered this point last year and came forward with an argument which I regard as obscene. They said that the fox may not be killed instantly by the hounds—and, true, it may not die instantly if it is shot—but if it is shot the fox will go gently into its earth and die at peace in its home environment. They forget that it might take the fox a fortnight to die in agony from septicaemia. So I am not an enthusiast for a Bill, even though it may be fashionable in the other place.
Fox numbers will fall. If people want to see a fox in 10 years' time, they will have to come to the centre of London or to the centre of some of our other great cities. I should hate to think that children in my area will not have the pleasure that I had in my boyhood of seeing the diversity of wildlife.
When the Bill surfaced last year, there was a horrid photograph in the national press. It showed 32 head of red deer, shot and dumped in a field in the South West of England. It was a horrid picture—and it carried a horrid message; namely, that if hunting were banned, the deer would be shot, and the red deer of the South West of England would be completely exterminated. Perhaps if I were a deer I might not vote for the Bill either!
The press did not give much attention to the fact that the following week a photograph appeared in the press in Yorkshire of 32 dead foxes placed in a field in South Yorkshire. The same message was being spelt out: ban hunting and the modern shooting fraternity—although there are examples of conservationists within it—will not tolerate foxes on the scale on which they currently accept them. Pheasant and partridge are not a sufficiently profitable harvest.
Another aspect has not received adequate attention. The landscape of this country may have resulted from the raw materials provided by God; but it was certainly shaped by man for the purposes of agriculture and field sports. It may be that the influence of field sports was rather greater than the interest in agriculture.
I have spent 25 years seeking protection for hedgerows. The result has been a scarcely satisfactory system of regulation. Yet, if hunting is abolished—and certainly if we go on to limit other field sports—the landscape of this country will be subject to an even greater devastation than that caused by the intensification of farming in the years since the Second World War. The landscape of our country is vital. It has inspired our artists, poets and musicians; it has uplifted the hearts and minds of those confined to an urban environment. Are we prepared to make a decision that would have such an effect? Some people will say that we can protect the copse, the spinney, the wood and the hedgerow. My own experience over the past 25 years suggests that we would not be moving fast enough.
Therefore, I support the middle way. I am opposed to cruelty to animals, and if the middle way reveals cruelty, let it be persecuted. But let us remember also that if a Bill secures the banning of field sports we shall not see an end to the digging and baiting of badgers, to dogfighting, or to lamping carried out by gangsters who move from the urban areas to the thinly populated rural areas. If the criminals will not be in any way inconvenienced by such legislation, why should we take an otherwise divisive and probably—in conservation terms—disastrous step?
My Lords, I must first declare an interest as a vice-president of the RSPCA and a former member and chairman of its governing council. So your Lordships will not be surprised to find that I strongly favour a total ban. Indeed, yesterday, one or two noble Lords suggested that this would be an excellent day for me to have some time off. Indeed, one noble Lord suggested that he could provide for me a "charming male companion". I said that I would readily take up the offer—after I had voted. But I gather that it was not extended that long.
I have felt strongly about this matter for many years— although I readily confess that, as a youngster, I spent a great deal of my time riding, and I certainly followed a hunt at that time. So perhaps I may be excused any suggestion that I am particularly antagonistic towards the hunting fraternity. I understand very well the attractions of hunting. None the less, my major concern is what I regard as the inherent cruelty—or at least ill-treatment—of animals that are hunted.
I am not so concerned as to whether the death of the animal is instantaneous. I accept that in many cases it may be instantaneous at that point—although I beg leave to doubt whether that is the case 100 per cent of the time; I think that is highly unlikely. My main concern is the exhaustion suffered by an animal which is hunted, particularly in the case of stags, to the point of exhaustion.
Some interesting research was done by Professor Patrick Bateson on the subject of stress caused to stags that were hunted. It was reproduced for the benefit of the Burns committee. It seemed clear to me from that hard scientific evidence that the animals suffered real distress. The comparison that was made was that of the injury suffered by an animal having its leg broken in a car accident. If I have to choose between that scientific evidence, carried out specifically on that topic, and the views of 300 rural vets, then—I am sorry to say to my noble friend Lord Soulsby—I prefer to take Patrick Bateson's word for it.
That aside, there are other matters that concern me very much, even in regard to the hunting of foxes—for which there seems to be much less sympathy than there is for stags or hares. We know that it is one of the practices of a hunt to dig out foxes that have gone to ground, using terriers and terrier men. It seems to me that there is a very real chance that that will involve cruelty, simply because each animal may do the other a great deal of harm. I am sure that there is evidence on the point, if anyone cares to look for it. So that, too, concerns me—apart from the fact that I feel that, if a fox has evaded capture by going to ground, it is singularly unsporting to try to dig him out again. But that is my own personal view. It is clearly not shared by many in this House. For me, that is the critical matter on which I fear there is no compromise. I am not prepared to support either self-regulation or the middle way.
A great deal has been said about pest control. If the main purpose of hunting is pest control, it would seem to be about the most expensive and inefficient method of pest control that one could hope to find. I understand that the evidence accepted by the Burns committee was that pest control by hunting alone was insignificant when it came to the control of foxes. The word "insignificant" should be clearly remembered.
I have heard the arguments often enough, today and previously, that alternative methods of control are worse. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath. I beg to differ. I believe it is possible to find methods which are at least more humane than hunting. Let us take the example of stags. If they need to be controlled as a pest—the case has to be made out, not just assumed—then the stalking and shooting of them by skilled marksmen is infinitely preferable to hunting them to the point of exhaustion.
On the question of shooting foxes, I agree that shotguns are singularly unsuitable. However, the process of lamping—putting foxes in a powerful light at night so that they are temporarily stationary, and then shooting them with a suitable firearm—is a better method. So I do not accept that there are not alternative methods, if this should prove necessary.
Let it not be forgotten that foxes are very efficient at dealing with rabbits and other rodents. I thought that farmers were especially concerned about the depredations caused by rabbits. So it is important to recognise that foxes can do some useful work in that regard.
Therefore, I feel very strongly that we should vote for a ban—although I recognise that I am in a small minority and I have no doubt that the middle way, or something like it, will prevail in this House this evening.
My Lords, as a young cadet at Sandhurst, I was summoned by the then commandant, General Hugh Stockwell, and told that I was to be excused all academy parades and should go fox hunting instead—an invitation that I did not refuse.
We again find ourselves debating hunting with dogs. There can be few arguments for or against that have not been fully explored here in Westminster, in Scotland and throughout the rural and urban communities. Sadly, the debate is about the loss of freedom of choice, as well as conscience and many moral issues. Tied in with all that are one's own principles, scruples and sense of right and wrong. I believe that it is wrong to be debating the subject without a Bill before us, while other important legislation is being kept waiting and important matters of state remain unresolved.
Since the outright ban on hunting was rejected by a substantial vote in your Lordships' House, much has happened to affect the countryside, not least foot and mouth and the need to slaughter tens of thousands of animals, leading to loss of livelihood and devastation of parts of our countryside. We have also heard of the progress made by the Middle Way Group, which has affected the opinion of a number of your Lordships.
It is more than 18 months since the publication of the Burns report. It is worth reminding ourselves that at no point does that report conclude that hunting is cruel. Insensibility and death will normally follow within a matter of seconds once the quarry is caught. That is true of the foxes and deer that I have seen hunted and killed. In the subsequent debate, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, confirmed that. The veterinary opinion on hunting with hounds recently came to the same conclusion. We have heard a great deal about cruelty in the debate today.
That same opinion examined in great detail the alternatives for controlling the fox population—shooting, snaring, leg-hold trapping, killing traps, gassing and poisoning. All were found to be open to error, cruelty or abuse.
The fox population of this country needs to be effectively controlled. Like the badger, the fox is without natural predators other than man. The badger, which has been a protected species since 1973, has a steeply rising population and is increasingly suffering from tuberculosis, which is also spreading to man and throughout the farming industry.
As the noble Lord, Lord Burns, stated in paragraph 3.63 of his report:
"Hunting as an economic and social activity is intrinsically intertwined within the horse and countryside economy".
A national equestrian survey carried out in 1999 estimated the horse population to be in the region of 900,000. I declare an interest as a vice-chairman of the International League for the Protection of Horses, and a past chairman. If hunting were to be abolished, which I sincerely hope that it will not, large numbers of horses would come on to the open market and might well end up in the food chain. That is a staggering thought that no right minded government should ever consider as acceptable to the welfare of our countryside and all those who live in it.
I remain convinced that a total ban on hunting with hounds or dogs is unworkable and unacceptable. However, having in the past supported the status quo, I now believe that we should move to the middle way option as a compromise. We are showing good will, patience and a sense of responsibility in our debate today. I very much hope, for the sake of the countryside, that the Government will match that good will by coming up with a workable alternative and not invoking the Parliament Act, which would cause a lot of trouble in the future.
Although in the past the Masters of Foxhounds Association has effectively controlled the sport and we now have ISAH, which is doing valuable work, the time is surely right to institute a workable and unbureaucratic system of licensing. We must avoid prolonged periods of uncertainty in the countryside and we must at all costs avoid the mistakes and uncertainties that have been created by the recent Scottish legislation. Anyone who has followed that will know what a shambles it is. However, we need to identify what actions will constitute illegal hunting and where responsibility will lie for the different forms of hunting that we undertake in the country at the moment.
Finally, I urge the Government to drop further legislation for an outright ban on hunting with dogs, on the grounds that the countryside has suffered enough deprivation in recent months. I hope that it will soon get back on to its feet. We need to support our countryside, not to deprive it of one of its vital assets—control of foxes. I, too, support the middle way.
My Lords, like others, I find it extraordinary that we are spending yet more parliamentary time discussing fox hunting, when the countryside is so in need of our support in many different ways. To be considering legislation to outlaw an activity that has been and remains the pivotal point in the lives of so many who, by and large, are good and honest people, seems perverse—but there it is; that is what we are doing.
"The case against fox hunting is muddled, grossly sentimental and sometimes laced with social spite".
As an aside, if the case against fox hunting is muddled, try stag hunting.
Sentimentality is always a powerful emotion, particularly when it is allowed to develop in isolation. Too many of those who oppose hunting do so without allowing the facts and the human dimensions to be put into proper perspective. Whereas I quite understand that the natural reaction to hunting from those alien to it is likely to be hostile, those who wish to change the law have the added responsibility of finding out the facts. The casual observer can afford to make comments without ramifications, but those of us who have legislative responsibilities need to take a different view. So often in the case of hunting, that is sadly and irresponsibly ignored.
Social spite, as Brian Walden puts it, has long been an overwhelming obsession for some and a driving motivation for a ban on hunting for others. So often, it misses its real target.
However, the notion that the squire in his red coat chasing a fox across the countryside is unacceptably cruel, whereas a couple of lads in a yard encouraging their terriers to chase and kill rats is not, is clearly muddled thinking, as the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, said. Of course, there are many other examples besides.
According to one interviewee on Radio 4 on Saturday morning, "Hunting is a rich man's sport", implying, I assume, that if it were subsidised by the state it would be acceptable. Try telling that to the hill communities of Wales and the Lake District. Try telling that to those who follow hunting in the low country where hunting is undoubtedly more expensive. They would not be able to hunt but for the fact that the hunt is subsidised by those who can actually afford to do so.
When I turned on my television yesterday to watch the evening news, I was confronted with a master of one of the hill packs explaining the need to control foxes and just what hunting means to the many who benefit from it. There was a camera shot which depicted hounds and followers spread out across a hard and wet Cumbrian hillside. To me, it was man and nature working in harmony. Compare that to what followed, which I can only describe as the somewhat ludicrous spectacle of Mr Tony Banks standing outside the House of Commons, under his multi-coloured umbrella, flanked by two people, one dressed up as a fox and the other as a stag. I thought to myself, that just says it all: reality versus sentimentality. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I believe that what I have just cited as an example illustrates that there is a rift between town and country. I am not saying that we should not try to cement it, but unfortunately it exists.
There is the question of legislation itself, which has been mentioned by other noble Lords, and the need for Parliament to make laws which are unambiguous and enforceable. Here the Scottish situation should act as a warning. It seems to me that the only clear outcome to have emerged from the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, is that the Scottish parliamentary system has been shown to be woefully inadequate. Despite all the evidence produced by the Rural Development Committee and its subsequent recommendations for wholesale change to the Bill, the Scottish Parliament rejected the advice of its expert committee. Judging by some of the extraordinary remarks made in debate, bias and bigotry were allowed to prevail, which has resulted, sadly, in hopelessly inadequate legislation which can only result in ongoing legal challenge.
However, despite what I have said, I found the debate on hunting over the past few years fascinating. Opinions have changed, in some cases radically. There are examples of those who were diametrically opposed to hunting now actively supporting it and, indeed, in some cases actually participating. Many more have become increasingly dubious about the merits of a ban.
Many of the myths surrounding hunting have been exposed by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee, to which other noble Lords have paid tribute and in which I join—indeed, let us not forget the other reports which preceded it. I believe that they have lifted the lid on this arcane rural pursuit and dealt comprehensively with many of the issues, not least the cruelty aspect.
The media appear to have given virtually overwhelming endorsement to hunting with the libertarian argument very much to the fore. I believe that it is very telling that when your Lordships voted on this issue last year, 31 government Peers, all of whom are ex-Members of another place, either abstained or voted in favour of hunting and only 20 voted against.
I have no right to assume anything and I do not. But I suspect that the majority of those noble Lords who either abstained or voted for hunting might have found it difficult to have done so in another place because of "constituency commitments" or peer pressure or non-peer pressure as it may be. The additional freedom of your Lordships' House to be able to listen to the arguments in a less encumbered way may well have been the reason for such a vote. I therefore suggest—no more than that—that there are in fact quite a number of Members of Parliament in another place who voted against a ban yesterday who deep down must question whether such a curtailment of liberty can really be justified.
The point that I am trying to make, therefore, is that as the debate goes on, so the arguments against hunting become increasingly questionable and unfounded. The time has come to once and for all give those who passionately believe in what they do the benefit of the doubt. Tolerance must be allowed to prevail.
I move on very quickly to the question of the middle way. I have listened most carefully to the arguments of those who suggest that we should vote in favour of that proposal. I have my doubts. I believe intrinsically in self-regulation and that it has worked. But I pay enormous tribute to those who have worked so steadfastly to try to find a way forward. But I also acknowledge that they reject the notion of a simple compromise in favour of a completely different approach.
Provided that such a regulatory body is free from government interference and the rules are clear, then I acknowledge that it may be the way forward. I am certainly prepared to listen; I am prepared to be convinced to change my mind. But I do so simply because I feel so strongly that hunting must be allowed to continue to be a fabric within the English countryside in which it has contributed so much. But I say one thing: I would not accept any attempt to divide fox hunting from stag hunting and hare coursing. They are all hunting and all part of the community. I believe it is incumbent that we support them all. There must be no division.
My Lords, I speak today in support in support of the ban on hunting with hounds. I am pleased to note that I am in the very good company of the Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Whitty and the majority of Members in another place. I wish to declare an interest in that I am the vice chair of the Labour Animal Welfare Society and a joint secretary of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare.
One form of cruelty which is often overlooked in this debate is the unnecessary suffering caused to the thousands of dogs used in fox, deer, hare and mink hunting. I am in no doubt as to the immense suffering caused to wild mammals when they are chased to exhaustion, brutally savaged by a pack of hounds, or forced to fight underground with terriers. But what is often forgotten is the plight of the tools of all this cruelty, particularly the hounds and the terriers.
The plight of the foxhound starts early in its short life. When puppies that do not show aptitude for hunting, or their colouring or body shape does not meet requirements, they are usually shot by the kennelman. Those foxhounds that are fortunate enough to make the grade as puppies are then trained to chase and kill foxes during the cub hunting season, a particularly unpleasant aspect of hunting that involves the chasing and killing of fox cubs in order to teach the young hounds to kill.
Hunts will follow wherever the scent of their quarry takes them and it is this that makes the route of hunting live quarry so unpredictable. As a result, many hounds end up being run over on the roads, or even hit by speeding trains after straying onto railway lines. Others become injured on barbed wire fences or get lost from the pack for days on end.
Perhaps I may give an example. In November 1999, six hounds were electrocuted and killed as the New Forest Foxhounds trespassed across a railway line. The incident was witnessed by passengers on a London to Bournemouth train that ran over the bodies of the hounds. Not only did that incident cause the senseless loss of six hounds but also delayed the train involved, which led to another 61 trains being delayed. The Wiltshire Times reported the needless deaths of three beagles from the Wiltshire and Infantry Beagles at Steeple Ashton, near Trowbridge. A car hit two beagles as they chased a hare across the A350 between West Ashton and Stoney Gutter—with one of the beagles sustaining fatal injuries. Another dog was killed at a nearby roundabout and the third fatality occurred as the dog tried to make its way back to the pack.
When hounds reach the age of six or seven—around half their normal life expectancy—most are shot by the very people that they have loyally served since their birth. It 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 when they do so anyway. It is estimated that between 3,000 and 5,000 hounds are killed in that way by hunts every year.
The RSPCA believes that a mass slaughter of hounds in the event of a ban would be totally irresponsible and unnecessary. The society has pledged to do everything it can to prevent such needless destruction at the hands of the hunts. The Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs found that,
"any need to put down hounds or horses, in the event of a ban, could be minimised if there were a suitable lead-in time before it was implemented".
The Government's Hunting Bill, which fell in March last year, contained such a lead-in period although the RSPCA believes that responsible hunts should start to wind down their breeding programmes immediately, to reduce the number of hounds left in the event of a ban.
When the time comes for hunts to disband, they will have three options open to them: disband and rehome their hounds; disband the hunt but keep their hounds; or convert to drag hunting. I believe that a switch to drag hunting would be the preferable option, as it would allow the hunt to retain the sport, pageantry and social side of hunting while allowing the hounds to continue to be kept in packs.
Hounds that cannot be rehomed with drag hunts should be assessed for their suitability for rehoming elsewhere. The RSPCA has offered to work with hunts to help find alternative homes.
Perhaps the most brutal and callous form of cruelty inflicted on dogs in the name of sport occurs in terrier work. Most registered fox hunts use the services of terrier men or fox diggers—individuals employed to find, dig out and kill foxes that have found an underground refuge during a hunt. That activity has become a "sport" in its own right, attracting thousands of enthusiasts who kill an estimated 50,000 foxes a year for fun.
Most people are familiar with the illegal practice of badger digging, in which terriers are sent underground to find badgers—often resulting in appalling injuries to both dog and badger. Fox digging works in exactly the same way. The only difference is that fox digging is perfectly legal because foxes are not afforded the same legal protection as badgers. The legal loophole that allows the digging out of foxes while outlawing the same practice for badgers has provided persons engaged in the illegal practice of badger baiting with a convenient alibi.
In recent years there have been several court cases where suspected badger baiters have escaped or have attempted to escape conviction by claiming they were hunting for foxes rather than badgers.
Only recently, a gang of suspected badger baiters—most of whom were Welsh, I am sorry to say—escaped conviction by exploiting that very loophole. The six men, accompanied by 12 dogs, were found at the entrance of what was believed to be a badger sett in Wales. When found by police, the men claimed that they had been digging for a fox that had gone to ground. The court heard that two of the dogs were seen trying to get into a tunnel at the bottom of the hole and that a squealing noise could be heard. When one of the dogs was pulled out of the tunnel, it was heavily bloodstained and was later found to have badger hairs in its mouth. A veterinary surgeon that examined the dog said:
"The injuries to the dog were consistent with dogs fighting a badger".
The magistrates felt that it could not be proven that the accused were hunting badgers rather than foxes, so acquitted the six men.
When a fox finds an underground refuge during a hunt, terriers are sent into the earth to locate it. If the terrier finds the fox, an underground battle may ensue between the two animals—one in which both dog and fox can suffer horrific injuries. The fox is then either flushed from the earth by the terrier or is dug out and shot at close range by a waiting terrier man.
The RSPCA has successfully prosecuted a number of terrier owners for failing to seek veterinary treatment for terriers injured during such encounters. I am pleased that one recent case of that type led to recognition by the High Court that those who send terriers into earths, where an underground battle may ensue as the terrified quarry tries to defend itself, can be guilty of "cruelly ill-treating" their dogs—not to mention the suffering inflicted on the fox. Those can hardly be regarded as the activities of animal lovers.
The cruelty that these so-called sports inflict on dogs and wildlife is totally unjustifiable. The only way that it can be prevented is by the introduction of a ban on these barbaric and bloodthirsty forms of hunting with dogs.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have occupied many National Health Service beds through falling off horses while hunting and breaking various bones. On those grounds alone, it is probably a good thing that I have given up hunting. When I recently fell off, reluctantly I had to sell a stupendously good horse. I am extremely pleased that it has been promoted to be huntsman's horse of the Cottesmore hounds—where it will have even more fun than it did with me.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, described hunting in a way that bore no resemblance to what I know of it. She went on, perfectly reasonably, about digging for badgers. We are talking about hunting for foxes. The noble Baroness referred also to digging out foxes. I know that the policy of the Fernie hounds—which I believe is also that of other packs—is that they only dig out when specifically requested by the farmer on whose land the fox has gone to earth because the farmer does not want the fox eating his sheep. I see nothing wrong with that. It seems the right thing to do. It is a rapid and humane way of killing something.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he could not vote against the decision of another place. I know perfectly well that the noble Lord was in this House when Mr. Major was Prime Minister. I will give way if the noble Lord will say that he did not then vote against the Government. Did he?
My Lords, I said that I will always vote for something that is both long-standing Labour Party policy and which has, on successive occasions, been overwhelmingly voted for by the democratically elected House. I stand by that.
My Lords, in other words the noble Lord is perfectly happy to vote against the House of Commons. We have established that.
Last night, I was on a television programme with Mr. Gordon Prentice. There was a bit of a ding-dong but Andrew Neil chaired it well. It all hinged on one remark. I said something and Mr. Prentice responded, "Jolly hockey sticks". We all turned on him and said, "You're not talking about cruelty. Battery chicken farming is more cruel. You are talking about class envy". To that, Mr. Prentice had no answer.
It is amusing, if not slightly sickening, that we can have a modern Parliament advocating abortion. We know that can involve six-month foetuses being chopped up in the womb and destroyed. We have a modern Parliament advocating the repeal of Section 28. We have a saint of hunting and yet we have an urge to ban it. That is a very interesting moral change which has occurred recently. One thing is yesterday's moral certitudes, something different is today's moral certitudes and something different again will be tomorrow's moral certitudes. But there is, I suggest, one overriding thing for which English Parliaments were founded and which is their primary duty; namely, to protect the liberty of the Queen's subjects.
De Tocqueville writes of the tyranny of the majority over the minority. If the ban is accepted, it will comprise a tyranny imposed on a minority through class envy and crass sentimentality. I accept, however, that many people find some aspects of hunting, to their way of mind, wrong. Therefore, it seems to me totally sensible to follow the advice of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding. I wish that I had made her speech as it was excellent. The liberty argument is so strong. Parliament should protect liberty arguments. I do not like using the word "fascism"; I heard a noble Lord say something about that earlier. It is a word which one should use extremely rarely. However, if Parliament imposes tyrannies on large minorities, it is going down that road. We are heirs of a phenomenal tradition of liberty and freedom. Do not let us throw it away.
I now turn extremely briefly to my noble friends all over the House who are thinking of voting for supervision. I say to them, "Please don't", not because I would prefer it, as I would, but because the middle way offers everyone a way out. It offers the Government a way out. They can say that they have tried and that they accept the liberty argument. They can also say that they accept the arguments and the feelings of the "antis" and will not sacrifice that on the ground of liberty but will go half-way down that road. If we vote overwhelmingly for that option, we shall send out a message. Therefore, do not let us vote, or even move, the third way. I do not say that because I do not prefer it, as I do. I say that because tactically and politically it would be wrong to do so. If, however, the Government do not accept the olive branch and the sensible compromise produced by the statesman, the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, the Countryside Alliance will have a million people on the street. Then there will be an argument. There is a middle way: that is the English way; that is Parliament's way and that is the sensible way. I urge it upon noble Lords.
My Lords, I am a ready apologist for the present culture of rural life. As noble Lords know, I have an interest in the countryside. I have partaken in many field sports, but not, I emphasise, hunting on horseback. I have a farm and estate. In the interests of that, and five or six farms round about, we have at times killed up to 100 foxes a year in an effort to protect the livestock. I hope that they were all killed in the most efficient and least cruel fashion. I firmly believe that the people I employed to do that were skilled in that way.
Yesterday a number of Members in another place said that they just could not understand how anyone could take pleasure in killing a wild animal. However, many people do. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, emphasised that point earlier. I draw noble Lords' attention to one or two examples of that: small boys out with an air rifle; people with high-powered shotguns who shoot at and often wound geese and wildfowl with no sense of the suffering experienced by wounded animals, or who turn up with powerful searchlights and do the same thing to deer at night. I am aware of all those activities from personal experience.
However, as regards the basic issues at stake here, there is a challenge in the search, there is skill in the chase and there is the reward of possession in the kill. That occurs whether the operation is conducted legally or illegally. My noble friend Lady Byford spoke of law enforcement.
We have a revealing example in the 1997 amendment to the Firearms Act 1968 of how legislating with the best intentions for a wholesale ban can produce entirely the wrong result. We have prohibited all possession of handguns and implemented rigorous efforts to reduce the number of legally held firearms. The perhaps unintended result of that is that the influence, and possibly even the authority, of the responsible citizen has been reduced and the criminal feels at greater liberty to do as he wishes. It may not be entirely coincidence that we have now seen in the 21st century the reintroduction of the highwayman who stops people and robs them. Since that legislation was passed, the number of crimes involving handguns has gone up, not down.
The only way to keep the suffering of wild animals to a minimum is to have sufficient numbers of people involved in a legitimate activity on the ground to provide the eyes and ears and, if necessary, the authority to prevent the activity of those who will inevitably operate outside the law. The Scottish Parliament has just passed the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act, which is an effort to end hunting with hounds while at the same time allowing for the necessary control of pests. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, drew to your Lordships' attention the amount of time that was taken trying to draw up a workable and reasonable measure. The Act has 12 clauses and a schedule which are all very convoluted and involved. It was classed as unworkable by the committee which had to look at it. However, the Scottish Parliament insisted on that matter.
As your Lordships are probably aware, there will now be arguments as to whether it breaches Articles 1, 8, 11 or 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. There is also considerable doubt as to what kind of hunting it will prevent. If protecting wild mammals is the purpose, why should falconry be exempt as opposed to hare coursing? Anyone who has been on a moor and seen the way in which a grouse will allow itself practically to be trodden on before it flies up if a hen harrier has flown past in the previous half hour, will realise what fear can be generated in animals and mammals by birds of prey.
Under the Scottish Act, because a fox is classed as a pest, one is allowed "using a dog" to flush it from cover when one proposes to have it shot or killed. If the dog happens to catch the fox and kill it, one has not committed an offence. How far is the dog allowed to chase it if one has missed or wounded it? Perhaps the crime occurs if one flushes it out with two dogs. A similar situation applies to roe deer. Because one might be interested in killing them for food, one is allowed to flush them from cover with a dog such as a lurcher.
I shall not bore your Lordships with all the other anomalies that seem to emerge from that Act. One can only say that in the near future there will need to be produced a further volume of Halsbury's Laws, or something similar, that the average countryman can carry in his backpack whenever he goes out with a dog.
The noble Baroness, Lady Golding, vividly described some of the needs for the control of vermin that are required and which I do not believe are fully addressed in what has been proposed. There was an attempt to deal with them in the Scottish Bill but that was found to be very difficult and a solution has not yet been found.
My Lords, I shall be brief. It seems to me that this subject has been exhausted and I have no wish to detain noble Lords any longer than is necessary.
I do not claim to be an expert on hunting but I do claim to have some knowledge of the subject. The fox has few, if any, redeeming qualities. It is a ruthless and destructive predator, a pest and a squalid nuisance and it must be controlled. But does it deserve to be literally hounded to death?
I should declare an interest at this point. I was, until fairly recently, chairman of the Co-operative Group—CWS—which is the largest active farmer in the land. It banned fox hunting and all forms of hunting with animals in the mid-1980s. I live in Leicestershire, the heart of fox hunting country, and my experience was not particularly pleasant. Social invitations were declined, eyes were averted and backs were turned because I happened to be the chairman of an organisation that had banned fox hunting. I know people who hunt and many people who follow hunts. Incidentally, they are not all "toffs", whatever that means.
I pride myself on respecting the other man's point of view and I trust that he in return will respect mine. I witnessed a hunt in the 1980s, prior to the CWS banning fox hunting, to see for myself what actually happens. I was a member of a group that contained several children of varying ages. We had the misfortune to be in at the kill. For those children, it was a harrowing and traumatic experience. Imagine the questions they asked. I give an example. Why would civilised human beings allow another creature to be torn apart in full public view?
Those who say that there are greater priorities have a point. However, we banned bear baiting and cock fighting when we had greater social priorities than we have now. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to that.
I shall not press the point about the manner of controlling the fox population. We all acknowledge that it needs controlling, but it should be done in a humane and compassionate way. I do not know the merits or de-merits of gassing, poisoning or shooting. All I know is that it cannot be beyond the wit of man to devise some process that is much more effective and less cruel than tearing an animal to pieces.
My noble friend Lord Harrison made many points about drag hunting. As he did so very effectively, I shall not discuss it except to say that it appears to be a way of preserving the sport and removing the cruelty. It is a course of action that I, a countryman myself, would like to see adopted. It would preserve the pleasure and take away the inhumanity.
People have talked at length about the various means of controlling the fox. I do not know whether anyone here or anyone else is ever likely to ask a dead fox what it was like to be torn apart. Indeed, I do not know of anyone who would be capable of asking a fox—and the fox would not be capable of answering—about its preferred means of death. I suggest that if we had the ability to ask such questions and the creature had the ability to answer, being torn apart by dogs would not be at the top of the list.
By allowing hunting in its present form, each one of us participates in the process. I do not want to participate in that process. I believe that by demeaning living creatures, we are—all of us—ultimately demeaning ourselves.
My Lords, I begin by reminding noble Lords of my interests. I hunt with the Warwickshire hunt, I support fox hunting and I am chairman of St Martin's Magazines, which publishes Country Illustrated and Hunting magazines.
I am most grateful to Mr Stephen Byers for giving us the opportunity to debate this matter. I should obviously regret it if at any stage I appear ungrateful. I differ from those noble Lords who made critical comments about the timing of this debate. This is a good opportunity to air some of the issues and to expose some of the inaccuracies and falsehoods that have been perpetrated by those who would ban fox hunting. It is important to nail what I can only call the lie at the centre of the case to ban hunting. The noble Lord, Lord Hardy, did that very well when he described the difficulties that are associated with other methods of control. Many noble Lords have discussed that and I shall not go into details. I thought that the speech of the noble Lord was very telling in that respect.
My noble friend Lady Fookes wheeled out our old friend the crack marksman, who will dispose of foxes so efficiently. Our experience of crack marksmen during the foot and mouth epidemic exploded that myth. We saw the horrors of so-called marksmen going around shooting cattle and sheep and creating the most frightful havoc—wounding, failing to kill and missing. That is the future of the crack marksman. That experience gives us no confidence that crack marksmen will do any better trying to control foxes. If those crack marksmen are unable to hit a cow in broad daylight, how will they hit a much smaller target at night?
Moreover, when the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill comes into force, the situation will be even worse. Are we really going to allow deranged marksmen to go around with high-powered rifles at night and shoot willy-nilly? The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is not in his place but he should look out. He was a great supporter of the right to roam at night in order to find a mountain to climb. He had better be jolly careful or he will find himself in the sights of some licensed marksman wearing a baseball CAP with "Offox" written on it!
The real difficulty with this whole debate is that those who wish to ban fox hunting engage in the debate only on their own terms. They want a simple ban; they will not look beyond that or consider controls. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said, "Fox hunting is cruel and I therefore want it banned". He went on to discuss the option of controlling foxes by shooting with a rifle. He suggested that that method was preferred in the Burns report. However, nowhere in that report, so far as I can see, does any conclusion suggest that fox hunting is cruel. I defy the noble Lord to find a reference in the Burns report that says that fox hunting is cruel. It does not say that anywhere. Therefore, the only conclusion to draw is that fox hunting is not cruel.
No, my Lords, I do not think that that means that cruelty is involved. It means that that approach compromises the welfare of the fox, just as any other method of control compromises the welfare of the fox, including shooting, gassing, snaring or trapping. Likewise, fishing compromises the welfare of the fish; that is obvious.
I believe that those who wish to ban hunting must look a little beyond the case for a simple ban by considering the consequences. We have heard that a ban would not save the life of a single fox. That is self-evident; we know that. Apparently it does not matter that possibly tens of thousands of people would lose their jobs, their livelihoods and, in some cases, their homes if hunting were banned. It does not matter if the rural economy suffers so long as those who wish to ban hunting can go home with a clear conscience saying, "We have banned hunting. It does not really matter what happens to the rural economy or jobs".
Apparently it does not matter that, in most cases, farmers welcome hunting. I remind your Lordships that hunting simply could not continue to exist without the co-operation and encouragement of farmers. We hunt because farmers invite us on to their land to control foxes. The idea that we can somehow substitute drag hunting for fox hunting is fanciful. What farmer would allow people to gallop all over his land if there were no pest-control element—a point made very well by the noble Lord, Lord Plant?
Therefore, it seems to me that so long as people who want to ban fox hunting obtain a ban, nothing else really matters. That is a pity. But, of course, such a stance is morally and intellectually unsustainable. What is it about fox hunting that is so singularly deserving of the attention of the antis and the banners? As my noble friend Lord Patten said, what about fishing or shooting? Shooting causes suffering and fishing certainly does so. The noble Baroness, Lady Golding, admitted that. Even in the debates in the other place, which were not terribly illuminating, it was clear that those who support coarse fishing glory in the fact that they have caught their fish. They catch it, weigh it, photograph it and then put it back for someone else to catch all over again. Fishing and shooting have their own problems. Why is only fox hunting the focus of the ban? I do not understand that.
No real case seems to have been made for a ban either in yesterday's debate in the other place or today. I hope that, when it comes to a vote tonight, this House will send out a strong message that it will not support vindictive legislation that seeks to criminalise law-abiding people who pursue the sport—one of the many country sports—of their choice.
I believe that a far better approach is that advocated by the Middle Way Group, which I strongly support. I shall not waste your Lordships' time by going through the provisions of the middle way in any detail. That has already been done very effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, and by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. I can only say that it is a vast improvement on the middle way as originally postulated in the Bill, which we still have here in front of us. We held two days of hearings and everyone who was interested in the issues was invited to attend. We even invited Deadline 2000, which I understand now trades under a different name. Members of that organisation declined to come. I do not know why. They simply said that they were not interested in discussing issues. I believe that that meant that they were not really interested in going beyond their ban. They did not want to engage in the debate.
It may be worth reminding your Lordships that, I believe, four directors of the League Against Cruel Sports have resigned because they have thought about the matter. They have engaged in the debate and have gone beyond the wish for a simple ban. They realise that the best way to control foxes is through fox hunting and that the alternatives will be more cruel.
Therefore, I believe that the middle way is the way forward. Last year, I received a number of letters from friends and other people who fox hunt who said, "We do not really support the middle way. It is too bureaucratic". I have received a series of letters this year from people who say, "We would like to give it a try. We believe that things have changed. It sounds as though the middle way has modified its proposals. It is less bureaucratic and less cumbersome. It will be easier to get a licence".
We see no difficulty at all—I speak for myself and for my local hunt—in complying with any rules and regulations which are put forward provided that they are reasonable. After all, we complied very happily with the DEFRA rules which were sensibly put in place. There was no problem in complying with the need to disinfect our boots, our horses, our cars and everything else. Hunting people are law-abiding. We shall obey the law.
If the middle way is put forward along the lines that we have proposed, I do not believe that there will be any difficulty in obtaining the obedience and co-operation of the hunting community. I believe that that community would accept a middle-way Bill and we should be that much further forward. I hope that any eventual middle-way legislation would work and that it would be obeyed in the same way as the DEFRA rules were obeyed. In that spirit, I ask noble Lords to give the middle way a strong vote of confidence tonight.
My Lords, I intervene as a former Speaker of the other place and a former Whip. By the way, if hunting is banned, I suppose that we shall have to think of another word for "Whip". Perhaps some of my noble friends on all sides of the House will be able to assist in that.
When I was the Speaker, I longed to hear the comment that I am about to make: the point that I had intended to make in this debate has been better made by the noble Lord who has just spoken and I shall not delay your Lordships.
The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, is a member of the Middle Way Group, as, indeed, am I. Its case has been very well put not only by him but by our chairman, the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, and by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. Therefore, I shall not repeat it.
I declare a personal interest. Some of your Lordships may know that I am a tailor by trade. I completed a four-year apprenticeship as a breeches maker. Most of the garments that I made, I judge, were used in the hunting field. I regret to say that, whenever I open Horse and Hound, I find far too many advertisements in the agony column for "second-hand Bernard Weatherill hunting coats". That may not be of much interest to noble Lords but it is perhaps an eloquent example that hunting is not only for the toffs.
This has been a very serious debate and I hope that we can relax for one moment. I am a great devotee of Surtees' John Jorrocks. I hope that it is of interest to your Lordships that this fictitious hunting grocer used to hunt the Surrey hills in my former constituency of Croydon. Indeed, there is a statue to him in George Street, Croydon. It is regularly desecrated but, of course, he never existed. Many of his bons mots are well worth bearing in mind, and I hope that I may be allowed to quote just one. It went something like this: "Eh, you, 'airdresser, 'old 'ard". "Hairdresser be damned. I am an officer of the 41st Foot". "Well you, officer of the 41st Foot what looks like an 'airdresser, 'old 'ard". Then we had: "'Anging's too good for 'e. 'E should be forced to 'unt in Berwickshire for the rest of your life". In that comment, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, who is a very good friend of mine. I mention it merely to stress that we must not get into the awful mess in which they find themselves in Scotland, as so eloquently expressed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose.
We all know why we are spending parliamentary time on this issue when there are many other pressing matters demanding the Government's attention. When our hospitals, schools and transport system all seem to be near collapse and when our streets are becoming even more unsafe, the question of whether or not to ban a minority blood sport is, essentially, a trivial issue. However, that is not the case in the countryside where jobs, work and wages will be put at risk if hunting is banned.
The issue is not one of cruelty. As we have heard on several occasions, foxes are serial killers and need to be culled. We have heard that shooting, poisoning and trapping as alternatives to hunting may cause even greater cruelty and, often, a lingering death. If the issue were simply one of cruelty, then opponents of hunting should visit the slaughterhouses where meat is prepared in conditions that do not bear scrutiny. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I can say that because I am a vegetarian. In the light of the biblical references made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, I imagine that he has also signed the pledge.
This issue is essentially one of freedom and of liberty. The freedom of country people to go about their traditional way of life is being put in jeopardy for political expediency. What comes next? Possibly shooting, even fishing.
Despite the vote in the other place last night, despite the Prime Minister's personal vote, I do hope that wiser counsels will prevail. I hope that our vote tonight will demonstrate the importance of the role of your Lordships' House in asking the Government to think again.
My Lords, those noble Lords with white speakers' lists may be confused to see me rise, but the green lists have my name on them. This is due to a mix-up on hearing my name over the telephone. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, will not be speaking today.
I have never hunted, but I have been stalking and I shoot. I wish to make some brief points. First, the democratically elected House that we hear so much about was not actually elected by a majority of the electorate. It was elected on a very low turnout. When one has an issue like this, with no clear government line, it is not suitable to use the Parliament Act to force it through.
Secondly, the overwhelming majority of the lobbying material I have recently received has been pro-hunting and against a ban—at least 99 per cent. I have had only one letter advocating a ban. However, we know there are many people who would like a ban. The answer seems to be that the strength of opinion is much stronger among people who want to see hunting continue. They care about it. The rest do not really care. Pollsters ask them a question and they reply. We should think about that when we talk about forcing measures through Parliament which may not be strongly supported in the country.
At the countryside march, a huge number of people turned up in central London, many more than the figures published for political reasons showed. With the low turnout at the general election, I cannot understand what the Labour Party is trying to do. This issue could get many Conservatives, who could not be bothered to vote last time, to turn out at the next election, particularly if another party suggested it might reintroduce hunting under licence. The whole thing is very stupid.
Job losses are grossly underestimated. The speech of my noble friend Lord Weatherill illustrated that. Many industries depend indirectly on sporting pursuits. Many of those are intertwined with country pursuits and field sports.
With regard to control, the Bateson report has been referred to. There has been a good deal of debunking of that report. It can be very dangerous to look back at older reports. I saw a very good debunking in a magazine called LM—I later discovered it stood for "Living Marxism"—which amused me.
Another point needs to be clarified. I refer to the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, about "seriously compromising welfare". He was asked about this later and said that he deliberately used those words to avoid saying that hunting was cruel. It is wrong for people to read more than that into his words .
As a result of this envy of foxhunters, a good many other problems will arise. Mink are difficult to control. I am given to understand that hunting mink with dogs is one of the very few methods of achieving moderately effective control. In trying to protect endangered species, it is sad when measures do not stand close scrutiny. The debate does not apply in Scotland because the Scottish Parliament has banned hunting with dogs. However, that decision may not stand.
At this point I declare an interest. One of the tiny bits of Scotland I own is a rock off the coast of Aberdeenshire on which puffins nest. I would hate it if mink managed to get on to that island. They would wipe out the puffins immediately. If there are no means of controlling the mink, what should one do?
I stalk and I am therefore well aware of the dangers of shooting animals and birds with rifles, particularly in populated areas. In large tracts of England, it is difficult to find somewhere where one can fire a rifle safely. One has to be very careful about what is in the background or who might be around. The country is criss-crossed with footpaths. It is not a simple thing. The police are tightening up heavily on the use of firearms—probably too much—but one does have to be careful. Shooting is not a realistic method of controlling pests in populated areas.
Envy is at the heart of the debate. Someone said that hunting is a very expensive form of pest control—but not for the person who wants his pests controlled. It is one case in which the pest controller is willing to pay huge amounts of money. As a Scotsman, I think that it is wonderful to get them to pay. They are law-abiding members of society. They co-operate with the police. I would hate to see that break down. But why do they pay? I am sure it is because of the thrill of the chase. There is a thrill in hunting.
Perhaps the Government would do better to spend all this money on enabling disaffected youths to take part in hunting and field sports. They might then direct some of their aggression, which they release elsewhere, on something that is not harming other people.
Finally, I shall see what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, advises. She is always very sound on these issues.
My Lords, yes, it is possible, but one would have to be very close—about 20 yards—to get a clean shot. To do that one would have to drive the fox. It would never happen if one was walking around in the bushes.
My Lords, I want to congratulate all noble Lords on the fact that I am speaking, not in the nocturnal hours, but rather earlier than even I imagined. It is very difficult for any of your Lordships to say things that have not been said before. Most things have been said in previous debates and, given the speed at which we are moving through this debate, I think we all agree that we want to get to the vote and what we hope will be a decisive vote.
My noble friend Lord Whitty, in opening the debate, made the point that this was not an issue between the urban areas and the countryside. I have always lived in the countryside and I could not agree with him more. In our village, there is an interest in fox hunting, but there is also great interest in other rural subjects, particularly whether the post office will be kept open, the standard of the schools, the bus service and agriculture. Tourism is just as important. As stated by many speakers, we need to decide where we are going.
A debate on hunting with dogs always appears to concentrate on one issue—fox hunting. There is much more. It is about hare coursing and deer stalking; it is about pursuing mink as well as foxes. Often, those who support fox hunting say that it controls foxes, generally termed "pests". That is not correct. The foxes killed by hunts each year number between 20,000 and 25,000. That is only 6 per cent of the total killed. There are 50,000 to 60,000 killed on the roads, which is double the fox hunting figure. I have not heard anyone in this House suggest that the fact that foxes are killed on the road is a means of controlling them. I want to put that point in perspective.
I turn to hare coursing and deer stalking. I interrupted one of my noble friends when he was talking about the outlawing of pursuits such as bear baiting, bull baiting and cock fighting. All the issues that have been raised today about interference with civic liberty were raised in connection with those pursuits. More recently, they have been raised in connection with otter hunting and badger baiting. The Bills passed relating to those activities affected people's enjoyment. There are restrictions, and rightly so, on what we do and on what we want to do. We must take into account the effect of our actions on others; in this case, on the animal being pursued. It is difficult to do that, which is one of the reasons why those in favour of hunting do not try to defend hare coursing. That is a spectator sport, although how people get pleasure from it I do not know. Nevertheless, that is what it is. In stag hunting, an animal is chased over a long period by hounds which are bred for stamina. The stag either falls exhausted or surrenders itself to the hounds. If it is lucky, it may be shot before they reach it.
Those two issues are not debated, but I am told that people in various parts of the country may give up hare coursing and stag hunting in order to save fox hunting. That may or may not happen, but I must remind noble Lords that the issue goes far wider than fox hunting.
I cannot see how anyone arrives at the middle way. It is a licence for hunting or a licence for cruelty. That is my view of it and not everyone will agree with me. I know that there are those in the House who are in favour of hunting with hounds. I understand their position. I do not agree with it, but I understand it.
Equally, the House is always an extremely tolerant place and kind to all its Members. Noble Lords understand when people such as myself say that we are against it. However, I do not understand the so-called middle way—I say that it is a licence to hunt or to kill—which would introduce a huge bureaucracy but would not eliminate the cruelty; the chasing of animals by hounds. There is no middle way because a fox, deer or hare is killed at the end of the hunt. The cruelty is the chase, and the chase will remain. Some of my noble friends are attracted to the licensing of hunts. I ask them to bear in mind not only the bureaucracy which that will entail but also the chase, which many of us who are opposed to hunting with hounds see as the difficulty.
Finally—we have said almost everything that can be said on the subject—I want to deal with the House's position in relation to the elected House. The elected House has spoken decisively and similarly to the way it voted previously. When arguing for the reform of this Chamber, I have always been told that it is a reforming House. I have been told that we do not intend to challenge the other House but that we can ask it to think again. In this case, we are being set up. That is what I understand from the media and from what has been said. Perhaps not equal weight but certainly a great deal of weight will be placed on what this House decides as against what happened in the democratically elected Chamber.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. His Government have produced the plan. It is not this House or those of us who dream nostalgically of our long-past fox hunting days. The Government have given this House the opportunity to debate the issue, so surely it is not for the noble Lord to complain about what his Government have done to it.
My Lords, I am most pleased that the noble Earl and I find ourselves on the same side. I am not saying that the Government have decided the matter—I know no more than the noble Earl knows about what the Government might decide. However, I am pointing out to the House the danger if it decides to go down a certain path and then has to face the other place whose Members must face the electorate. We do not have to do that. I have argued many times for changes to be made to this House. I believe that if noble Lords take that path they will bring democratic changes—many of which I would like to see—far quicker. I am pleased that the noble Earl agrees with me but we must not make too much of a habit of it.
This House is used to defending the indefensible. It often shows itself to be out of touch. When I first became a Member I was stopped by one far more experienced who said, "You will find that this House likes to discuss three subjects; agriculture, defence and other people's sex.". I would like to add another subject; hunting with hounds. That is fine. But I want to conclude by saying to your Lordships; please be extremely careful about going down the road on which you might be seen to challenge the other place, which is democratically elected. I believe that that is the way to disaster.
My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that the bans on bear baiting and badger baiting are previous examples of legislation on animal welfare and cruelty? If so, is he aware that that legislation was in fact passed on public order grounds, because the sessions at which those activities took place were unruly and had nothing to do with welfare or cruelty?
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that in relation to legislation against badger baiting, which is relatively recent, that is certainly not the case. That was passed by both Houses. My point in drawing the comparison was that it would be far better if those who go fox hunting did not say that it was about pest control but admitted that it was about a sport they enjoy.
My second point was that other sports that have been outlawed have attracted speeches similar to those made here today. I am sure that the noble Lord does not want me to do, as several Members of the House of Commons did yesterday, and quote from people in 1800 making exactly the same speeches about interference with human liberty. I am amazed that we are even debating this so late as in this new century, but sooner or later hunting with dogs will come to an end. I am warning: do not get on a collision course with the elected House.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, made it into his earth by the skin of his teeth, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, no doubt due to the failure of government transport policies, missed his earth by a long stop but will speak later.
I find myself as a British mammal—the only British mammal not on the list of the British Mammal Association; the human being is not there—speaking on behalf of mammals today. There are three sorts of mammals: the mammals of your Lordships' House and the mammals of another place, all of whom are in the hands of various control freaks. The mammals of another place live in fear of being chased out of their earth if they are not kind to all the minority groups that live in their constituencies, whether or not they believe what they say.
The mammals in your Lordships' House, to go back to when Tiberius outfoxed the Senate, are here—some 200 of them—with the support and on the decision of another type of mammal, which is known in French as the blaireau. When last I mentioned him, the Chief Whip gave me a rocket for speaking in a foreign language. I should therefore explain to your Lordships that a blaireau is an animal that wanders around the world, often up to no good, but is effectively a badger—Meles meles, as he is often known. It is on behalf of Meles meles, Vulpes vulpes and a few others, such as Rattus rattus, that I shall speak today.
Those are mammals of Celtic origin. The one that we are missing is of course the wild boar, the original symbol of the Celts, of whom I am proud to be one. We wiped out the wild boar some 270 years ago. My noble friend Lord Geddes still has the wild boar on his coat of arms but no longer hunts it. We wiped it out because it was what we in Norman French would call a nuisible. I apologise for using a foreign language, as does the Queen when she approves Bills, but a nuisible means a nuisance; it is vermin or something that does harm. The wild boar did harm, in that it ate crops and therefore threatened farmers' livelihoods. The wild boar had one great advantage, which was that we could eat it, and people are thinking of reintroducing it here.
I should explain that I have not hunted since I was 15 and gave it up with great pleasure. I had already become bow-legged and I now find myself bandy legged. I have not fired a shot in anger for many years. I have not fished. I suffer from the disadvantage that, by accident rather than design, I am now a fully qualified French peasant farmer, bound by certain rules and regulations that come to cause problems. I take as my texts today Aesop and La Fontaine.
As your Lordships will know, the figure of the fox, or Vulpes vulpes, is not just 100 years old, it goes back to Erasmus and many others. Erasmus said that a fox—meaning an old fox—can never be caught in a snare. We have not really discussed foxes. We can read of the Rattus rattus, which is in fact the more intelligent of the rats, the ship's rat that went ashore and destroyed the dodo in Madagascar. The common rat is not so common and, although there is meant to be one within 15 metres of everyone in London, the fox finds it difficult to catch the common rat. Ratting is vital to our society and rat catchers are some of the most skilled people that your Lordships may meet.
But now to the fox. There are three types of fox. First, we must consider for how long a fox lives. He lives on average for 18 months. Why are there three sorts of fox? During the first year, he is called a cub. In the second year, he is called a fox. In the third year, he is called an old fox.
He may well live—this is the rural fox—until four to five years. At four and a half years, his tail will go grey, but he is wise and we cannot trap him. He hunts never near his home. Like a crafty thief, he goes abroad so that no one can trace him. He is cunning and wise beyond all mammals. He is never inbred with other mammals. He is cheery and crafty and his life is short, mainly because of predators. The predator of the fox is not so much man as disease. Many of the young cubs, which are born around now, will die in the early autumn or the winter. Few foxes live to a ripe old age until we come to the question of the division between the town and the country.
The people in the town do not understand the country, and that is understandable; the people in the country, while they may from time to time feel envious of it, do not understand the town. But the fox—the Celtic fox in particular—knows which side his bread is buttered. If he moves into urban areas, his life expectancy rises to seven or perhaps 10 years. His predator in the urban area is not so much man but, as the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, pointed out, the motor car.
In the country, there is an average of 1.5 fox families per square kilometre—the British Mammal Society and others have moved to kilometres in this; in urban areas, that may rise to five or even 30. In the United Kingdom, we have a total fox population of about 220,000 before the spring births. That can rise to 600,000 before the autumn culls. Between about 15 and 20 per cent of Celtic foxes now live in urban areas, where they are well provided for. They do not fight with each other. Males passing by will conveniently turn their heads the other way, like Pharisees. They will squabble with cats but not fight with them—they will, of course, kill kittens. They like being fed and in general feed upon mice, worms, fruit and their friends, who feed them so much.
Foxes prefer gardens, of course; they do not like supermarkets, like many of us. They will go to eat to their pleasure in the garden of the person who feeds them—often with expensive dog food—and will then move to the neighbour's garden to remove the bits of the food that they do not want to keep within them, which brings with it an enormous great smell. That is harmful and we could therefore say that they are nuisibles; they are vermin.
Some of us are worried that the predator, which is often disease, is now at large again. In some urban areas, sarcoptic mange has substantially reduced the population during the past year. It can lead to scabies in humans. I am advised by those who know much more about the subject than I that it is transferable to dogs and that the mites that carry it then follow trails of carbon dioxide in order to attach themselves to other beasts—dogs. Then there is toxicara, which can lead to blindness in children. Those diseases are occurring. Your Lordships will have seen the difference between a really good looking, crafty fox, well-fed and moving at high speed and those which now cross Abbey Road—near where the Beatles used to cross—which are very mangy. The foxes on the estates of some of my former noble friends, such as the Duke of Westminster, are very healthy. The Belgravia fox lives in a rich area and many people feed him well.
I am not being light-hearted about this deliberately. Our worry is that it is fairly difficult to dispose of foxes. I return to my peasant farming environment. I do not hunt, but the hunters on the continent of Europe—I have consulted Italians and others because we thought that we might lead a peasants' revolt—are very passionate and see this as the thin end of the wedge. Foxes in northern France—the Pas-de-Calais and the Ardennes—are sick with rabies at the moment. To control them, we get some bright pilots from the RAF—or the equivalent, l'armée de l'air—and give them contraceptive pills, which they drop over fox country to stop the foxes reproducing. One cannot poison them, because one might also poison the dogs.
There are many hunting dogs in France and elsewhere on the Continent. I have said before that there was some enthusiasm about the prospect that there would be many good hunting dogs going cheap, if we got rid of hunting here. The dogs are used there, particularly at this time of the year, to cull foxes. When the shooting season has finished, they must get rid of the foxes. It is extraordinarily difficult to shoot them without packs of dogs. The areas of continental Europe are often divided into quartiles, in which all those with hunting licences—anyone with a gun must have a gun licence and a hunting licence—are dragooned by the mairie into bringing out their dogs, often 50 or 60 of them. They surround an area from which they flush out and shoot foxes and also retrieve those that may be wounded. Many foxes are wounded; it is extraordinarily difficult to shoot a fox. Your Lordships should try to work out how many times they have seen a fox within range when out walking in the country, compared with the number of times that one might see one within range when driving around urban areas.
I have a great regard for the fox. I have a great regard too for the badger and the wild boar. However, we must realise that they are vermin, and we should determine the harm that they do. The fox does an incredible amount of harm; we need not go back to the fables to realise that. He is a trusty opponent of man. At the moment, I think that he is winning the argument. Tiberius once said that he had out-foxed the senate: at the moment, we are being out-foxed by the fox.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, is always a hard act to follow.
I thought of starting by extolling libertarian principles and the value of our traditions, particularly those traditions that go with the grain of the natural order and have inspired so much magnificent prose, poetry and painting. However, it is plain that many people do not rank individual freedoms highly in their list of priorities. Many others are positively impatient with tradition—British tradition, at any rate—and their convictions are unlikely to be changed by five or six minutes of argument. I thought it wiser to concentrate on the accusations hurled at those who hunt by those who want to criminalise hunting and try to refute their allegations.
I was prompted to do so, above all, by an intervention made last Wednesday, 13th March, by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours—I am glad to see that he is in his place—in which he claimed, at col. 852 of the Official Report, that there would be,
"a reduction in the reputation of this House" which would "discredit this place" because people would turn up to vote out of alleged self-interest. When he used the term "self-interest", he was certainly not referring to the antis. The only grumbles about parliamentary self-interest that I have heard from members of the public recently concern the sharply higher pensions awarded to Members of another place. I would guess—I may be wrong—that most Members of this House who vote against a ban will never have hunted in their life. I have never hunted, nor has any member of my family. I have no personal axe to grind.
The first accusation or slur made against those who hunt is that they take sadistic pleasure in watching from close quarters foxes being ripped apart. If those who hunt protest that that is nonsense, the answer is, "Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?". I, who do not hunt, say that it is nonsense, and I have spoken to many people about it. When it comes to the kill, most hunt followers, other than those whose job requires them to be right up at the front, rein in their horse, hang back and avert their gaze to the maximum extent consistent with not appearing wimpish. As in all cultures and civilisations over the past 4,000 or 5,000 years, death is the natural culmination of the chase. However, it is not something to be gloated over. The swift death of the quarry is what all sportsmen and sportswomen hope for.
Some who make a less extreme claim absolve those who hunt from sadism or gloating but maintain that they derive pleasure specifically from death. How much more is that the case with those who shoot? Unlike a hunt, a day's shooting is a disaster if no animals are killed. Will shooting shortly be banned? There is also the claimed analogy with bear-baiting. Bear-baiting was not a rural sport; it was an urban entertainment. A present-day equivalent might be a striptease show. Bear-baiting was totally one-sided. There was no danger to the humans who participated and no uncertainty as to the outcome. The analogy is false.
There is the challenge, "How would you like to be killed by a pack of dogs?". Of course, I would not like it, any more than I would like to be shot in the abdomen and left to die slowly or have a barbed hook shoved through the roof of my mouth into my nasal passage or be gassed or poisoned or lined up outside a slaughterhouse, waiting to be killed and with the smell of the blood and guts of those of my companions who had gone before me assailing my nostrils. However, those of an anthropomorphic inclination fail to realise that, although animals—including fish—certainly feel pain and instinctive fear, they do not have imagination. Above all, animals are not squeamish.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford said, hardly any wild animals die comfortably tucked up in bed. Given that most animals' deaths are uncomfortable, painful or both, their interest lies in having a death that is as quick as possible. In that respect, as many noble Lords have said, hunting comes out well, compared to shooting, poisoning or trapping.
We come to the next fallacy, the fallacy that shooting is quick and painless. It is understandable that a generation of people, of whom few have seen battle and few themselves shoot, should imagine that. They have been brought up on a diet of Hollywood films in which people are either grazed lightly on the arm by a bullet or shot dead instantaneously and painlessly without a drop of blood. I am afraid that the reality is somewhat different, and that applies to shooting with rifles as well as shotguns. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, explained that concisely.
What is left? There is the Ann Widdecombe argument, echoed today by the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who advanced it with great courtesy and moderation, as one would expect. As I understand it, Miss Widdecombe concedes that the kill at a hunt is no more cruel than any other method of killing but maintains that the chase is cruel. How can one be so certain? As has been said, the Bateson report has been criticised from many professional quarters. I have seen quite a few foxes hunted in my time. Generally, they look unfussed and often trot off at a leisurely pace. In contrast, hares and rabbits being driven by beaters towards a line of guns look positively terrified. Should we ban shooting on that account?
If noble Lords do not trust me, as a layman, they should trust the experts. Some might choose to misinterpret Burns, but they cannot misinterpret the vets. Few of them hunt, but a decided majority supports hunting, not on libertarian grounds—that may have played a minor role—but on animal welfare grounds. What more need one say?
My Lords, as we are getting on in this debate, I do not wish to over-repeat some of the excellent points that have been made both in this debate and the previous one and both in this House and the other place. However, I think that they clearly show that the issue is not about the welfare of the fox. I also make no apology for coming back to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, as it needs to be re-emphasised. Mr Course, previous director of the League Against Cruel Sports, and three of that organisation's directors had the moral integrity to become convinced during their period of office that the safest and most humane way of controlling foxes is by hunting. I think that their evidence is very telling. As the current arrangements have given us the healthiest and best fox population in Europe, it is difficult to argue that hunting needs to be abolished on welfare grounds.
This ancient and venerable sport lies at the heart of the social cohesion of deep rural areas. It is for many who work there the one activity that alleviates their hard-working lives. It is at the centre of their socialising, giving them a shared sense of purpose with their neighbours. It bonds the community. To deny it would be like saying to those who live in town, "You cannot play football". Its termination would be a travesty of justice and a wholly unnecessary end to a great tradition. It would also do away with one of the few occasions in this over-nannied world when one can be personally brave. Most of those who object to fox hunting have never done it and have never seen it. Their objection to fox hunting, sadly, is social resentment masquerading as animal welfare. The sad thing is that they do not know the harm that they would do.
I say all that by way of background because to ask Parliament to turn something of which some people disapprove into a criminal offence is a big and dangerous step for any government to take. It has huge political implications as to how government deals with other ethical issues in a free society. Unfortunately, we do not have a written constitution. The central point that I should like to make, really in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, is that democracy is not in its simplest sense the enforcement of majority will. Democracy should be about the protection of minority rights. I remind the House of the famous words of the American President Jefferson:
"All too will bear in mind the sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable, that the minority possess their equal rights which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression".
Legislators in those days carefully thought about their actions within the framework of personal liberty. In 1859, John Stuart Mill, in his famous essay on liberty, said:
"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of the civilised community against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant".
I doubt that Hitler had that in mind when he banned fox hunting in Fascist Germany.
The real issue today is one of personal liberty and the degree to which the state should interfere in a free society where the rights of no fellow human beings are being endangered in any way. That is why the outcome of this debate should cause everyone, even the most ardent defenders of animal rights, deep misgivings over what the right to live in a free country really means. I hope that this House, whose task it is to take a reflective and balanced view, will do so, and in due course vote that this aged tradition shall continue in some middle way in this country, as it will continue in other free countries of the western world.
My Lords, I am afraid that I have a fistful of interests to declare. I am president of the Countryside Alliance; chairman of the Labour supporters' "Leave Country Sports Alone" campaign; a member of the all-party Middle Way Group; and a member of the RSPCA. I hunt every week, sometimes with foxhounds, but usually with the staghounds on Exmoor.
As a lawyer, I ask myself, what are we doing here? Leaving aside what is going on abroad, two weeks ago, our Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, urged a reduction in prison sentences as our prison system had reached danger level. Two days ago, our Home Secretary had to accept that serious crime had made it unsafe to walk on the streets of many of our towns and cities. Yet, last night in another place, and here in this House today, the Government have provided time for us to consider passing legislation to criminalise up to half a million of some of our most law abiding, deeply rooted, most responsible citizens, drawn primarily from the farming and the rural communities which are just recovering from their worst economic blow in modern times.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, in a powerful speech, and the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, after him, urged that this House should not seek to frustrate the wishes of the elected Chamber. But surely it is not the role of this House to stand by and watch an injustice being perpetrated. Nor is it our role here to sit back and watch bad law reach the statute book. When those of us who were appointed to this Chamber gave up our right to vote for our elected representatives, we did not take a vow that we would not object or raise our voices when legislation came before us. I for my part have no intention of doing so either today or later if, as I suspect, this matter returns here.
It is, I think, also our role to remind those in another place that love of liberty, and tolerance of the different views of others, particularly those which one may dislike, are the cornerstones of our particular brand of parliamentary democracy. If we knock them aside, the whole institution will be weakened. I accept that in a civilised society—which all of us here today will claim that we want—liberty cannot be paramount. Cruelty trumps liberty. If there were evidence that the activities we are discussing, when properly conducted, are cruel—and let us be clear what we mean by cruelty; it is the deliberate infliction of unnecessary suffering—then liberty and tolerance must give way.
The former Home Secretary, now Foreign Secretary, my right honourable friend Mr Jack Straw, set up the inquiry under the noble Lord, Lord Burns, so that we should know the answer. In this House, in our previous debate, the noble Lord spelt out in clear and unequivocal terms that his team did not find evidence of cruelty. My noble friend Lord Harrison cannot have been in his place when the noble Lord said that. Indeed, it was the Burns report which raised the possibility of a licensing system, which we are also discussing today and I shall be supporting. Such a suggestion could not possibly have been made had that inquiry found that there was inherent cruelty. Others have mentioned that the majority of vets have urged caution in relation to this legislation because, in their view, animal welfare will be harmed, not improved by it.
Despite all that evidence, supporters of a ban press on. If we are to pass criminal legislation based on cruelty, there must be some evidence of it. Saying something is cruel—as the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Harrison, and my noble friend Lady Gale did—does not make it so, any more than my saying that it is not cruel means that it is not. The test of cruelty surely must be an objective one for the courts, with findings based on evidence after an impartial and unemotional examination of the facts. The proper way to address the question of cruelty in hunting is not a blanket ban in the face of the evidence, but reform of the Protection of Animals Acts along the lines proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, in the previous Session and adopted now by the middle way. It should be a criminal offence deliberately to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal. I believe that properly conducted hunting passes that test, and the refusal of the supporters of a ban to support that approach makes me suspect that, in their heart of hearts, so do they.
Since the previous debate, I have changed my approach. I still believe that the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, which I helped to set up, is working well and effectively. However, I now believe that this damaging and divisive issue must be removed from the mainstream political agenda. In order to do that, there has to be public confidence in the way in which hunting is conducted and regulated, and both sides of this debate have to be willing to move from their hitherto entrenched positions. I do not know whether that can be achieved but I know that on the side from which I come there is a will to try, and we shall do so. Therefore, I shall vote against a ban, vote for hunting under licence and shall abstain from the third vote, on supervision.
I have been greatly encouraged—I should be grateful if the Minister would pass on my comments—by the universal praise I have had from local hunts for their DEFRA officials at local level who have been handling the licensing and permit system since December. That shows that with co-operation and good will on both sides, a licensing system can be made to work well.
I understand that my right honourable friend Mr Alun Michael is to make a statement shortly about the way forward. Contrary to his speech last night, there have been rumours that decisions already have been made. I hope that those rumours are wrong. I make it clear that any attempt to criminalise any of the present forms of hunting in the absence of evidence of cruelty would be wholly unacceptable and, indeed, an outrage to those who feel as I do.
My noble friend Lord Hoyle spoke about deer hunting, which is close to my heart. I have to say to the noble Lord—he is a good friend of mine—that if I could take him and show him, I could point out that almost everything he had to say on the subject was wrong. In my view, of all forms of hunting, that is the most defensible. The red deer herds on the Quantocks and Exmoor simply would not exist but for the protection which the local community and hunting provides for them. It is the local culture that one does not shoot the deer. That is why there is the strongest, healthiest herd in Great Britain and why recently the Exmoor National Park—I hope that the Government will listen to this even if they ignore every word I say—has expressed the deepest concerns, not just for the economy of that region but also for the welfare of that valuable deer herd, which, with a ban, would be gone in a short time.
It is significant that on the National Trust estate on Exmoor, where deer hunting stopped in 1997, today four times as many deer are now shot each year and the casualty rate has soared by 25 times. I fear that what we warned would happen is happening. My noble friend Lord Hoyle also said that no one supports coursing. I have not been many times, and I have enjoyed it. I have a lurcher and I go out around my farm. In some places, illegal hare coursing is a serious problem. Indeed, it is virtually unpoliceable. The police accept that they have to give it a low priority. Is it therefore to be suggested that the small number of regulated hare coursing meetings should be criminalised, despite the benefits which conservationists tell us they have, not only for the environment but also for the hare population? If so, I fear that we are about to set off down the "hand gun route", where the ban on those who were responsible target shooters has been followed by a massive increase in illegal hand guns on our streets. Gesture politics so often produces the opposite result from that which was intended.
Other Members from all sides of the House have said what I am about to say. I cannot overstate the sense of injustice and anger which this attack is generating on those most affected. The Minister must understand the emotions in the countryside, after all that has happened. I refer in particular to foot and mouth and to the way in which those whose jobs and homes depend on hunting, who volunteered and helped the Government in that crisis, feel betrayed. To throw a match on to that tinder would be divisive madness. This Government, whom I support, were not elected in order to divide our nation.
We look to the Minister here and his colleague in another place, who have been charged with dealing with this issue, for leadership because that is now needed. If that means putting aside some of our personal prejudices and views, on my side I am prepared to try to do so. I hope that there is a willingness on his side. If there is, the matter will be resolved amicably. If not, I cannot begin to foresee the extent of the trouble that will result.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. She has said all that needs to be said, extraordinarily well. I shall speak for a short time. However, before I begin on my reasons for supporting the views of the noble Baroness, I must take issue with my noble friend Lord McNally. I disagree with his views but I do not defend to the death his right to voice them. It is curious that a man of his high intelligence and great ability should hold such views, which are not held by all Liberal Democrats. A bad Bill on this subject has just been passed by the Scottish Parliament. I am happy to tell my noble friend that only one Liberal Democrat voted for it.
Having listened to the debate, it is obvious that everyone agrees that foxes must be killed, so the issue comes down to the method of killing. The Burns committee clearly stated that the degree of cruelty caused by hounds is not as much as the distress caused by shooting. I shall not repeat the arguments. Hunts ensure a healthy population of foxes, which is controlled. If it was left to horrible commercial farmers such as myself, there would hardly be a fox left anywhere. Hunts almost certainly do a great deal of good.
There is not much more to be said—it has all been said—except that this House missed a great opportunity in the last debate to take up a splendid offer from the Government to reconsider. When we consider the speeches in the House of Commons yesterday, the hope of the Government being able to produce a compromise is small, but it is there. If this House votes sensibly this time against the ban and for the second option, there is a chance that a sensible solution will be arrived at. That is what we should aim for.
My Lords, I need to begin with an apology for not being present during the earlier part of this important debate, as it was simply not possible to alter a prior commitment in my cathedral. I am grateful to your Lordships for the opportunity to take part in the debate, which over the years has considerably exercised my mind and conscience.
For 12 years I lived on Exmoor in North Devon where hunting has been woven into the social fabric for many centuries. It was not difficult to understand the wrath of the farmer towards the fox when new-born lambs had been killed or maimed. Furthermore, I could appreciate that the meeting of the hunt brought a welcome diversion and excitement into what was otherwise a demanding pattern of living for many people. But on a number of grounds I remained opposed to hunting, and still have deep reservations about stag hunting and hare coursing. Clearly, I need to have a session with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu.
My conversion to a different position, in support of the middle way, over fox hunting has been slow. Careful and rigorous regulation is essential. That has come through again and again during the debate. The regulation needs to include, in my view, among other factors, the prohibition of the digging out of the fox after it has gone to ground.
There are two moral obligations on humans towards animals that can be expressed in guiding principles. Maybe these have been rehearsed earlier and I missed them. First, human beings have a moral duty not to cause wanton cruelty to animals. Is hunting compatible with the consideration that humans arguably should give to animals? Recent scientific studies, albeit disputed, generally confirm that mammals perceive pain in ways analogous to human pain mechanisms. Individual foxes are frightened. The moments immediately preceding their death are very likely to be characterised by extreme physical distress. Invariably, however, the fox is killed by the lead hound and not torn apart by the other hounds until death. But a ban on fox hunting, as has come over again and again, is likely to substantially increase the number of foxes that would suffer.
A ban would quickly result in farmers and landowners wiping out the fox far more assiduously than is currently the case.
My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. But I think that a lot of evidence would suggest that the culling of foxes, particularly through shooting, is indeed a very hazardous and imprecise method of control.
The second principle that I want to underline is that human beings demean themselves as well as animals if they cause wanton cruelty to animals or act against the long-term well-being of the animal species. Here the question of motive is vital. In the main, the dominant motive of the hunt and the hunter is not the prospect of the killing of the fox, but rather the social interaction, the relationship with the countryside, the exhilaration, the challenge and risk of jumping dangerously over fences and hedges. Are we not in danger of creating a sanitised society?
Where I now live in East Anglia there have been significant changes in hunting practice since the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting was formed. Hunts no longer meet in places where they could cause inconvenience to local people. They no longer meet at pubs alongside busy roads or where they could cause congestion in the middle of small towns or villages. They generally meet at farms or private houses off the road. Hunt boxes are no longer parked where they can cause inconvenience or traffic congestion. Field masters who are in charge of the mounted followers take care that they should not ride on public footpaths to avoid cutting up the ground and making it inconvenient for those walking in the countryside. Great care is exercised to prevent hounds from running across busy roads and into people's gardens and other public places. These and other changes since self-regulation came into being strengthen the confidence that the middle way is the one to pursue.
The hunting debate needs surely to be seen within the overall care of rural Britain. Fox hunting cannot, I believe, be seen in isolation from the total picture of our responsibility as co-partners with God the creator, for the stewardship and care of our countryside.
As we well know, many people who live and work in rural areas have taken devastating knocks in recent years and not only through the consequences of the outbreak of foot and mouth. In the countryside there is a widespread and growing feeling of being beleaguered, of alienation from urban dwellers. As one farmer's wife put it to me the other day, "We can't seem to see any light at the end of the tunnel". The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, expressed aptly in The Times yesterday this need to relate the urban to the rural, the need to respect our different communities. He put it this way:
"Britain is committed to a pluralist society; we have many different communities, some with their own faiths, some with ritual methods of slaughter, all with their own pattern of life, all with their own values. The only way this can be made to work is by mutual respect, community to community, majority to minorities. A nation which refuses respect to the community of the countryside will not be able to hold together all the other communities of modern Britain".
I believe that a ban on hunting would further exacerbate the divide between town and country—urban and rural. The middle way could offer a bridge between the two.
In conclusion, I ask the question: is there not a very real danger that this whole debate will obscure wider and, I suggest, even more important issues concerned with animal welfare? As I have indicated, I shall vote for the middle way, but I am even more concerned about the conditions under which live animals are transported hundreds of miles across Europe, often without food and water, to be met at the end of their horrendous ordeal with a death that is far less humane than the one suffered by the fox.
My Lords, in preparation for this debate I looked at what I feel about animals in all the various ways in which we use them and relate to them. I find that I am remarkably inconsistent. I am a mess of emotions, prejudices and particular feelings and experiences. That is probably the way most people feel. It is the human condition. It is something that we should not seek to alter. But I think that we can reasonably ask for consistency of government.
When we look at all the existing legislation and practice in the ways that we deal with animals it is clear that there is a lot to be done to improve the level of consistency across our general practice. There is a general pattern. Apart from those who oppose the use of animals in any form whatever—they certainly have a defensible and honourable stance—most of us are prepared to do harm to animals in return for a benefit to us.
The most obvious example is the use of animals as food. We kill millions of animals every week in order that we may eat them. By and large we seek to impose standards on the way we keep them. We demand that animals are kept in reasonable conditions. We do not look too closely. I do not think that many people who enjoy chicken have spent much time on a battery farm. The average chicken that we eat lives six weeks from the moment it hatches from the egg to the moment it is flung into a small cage packed tightly with other chickens so that they break their legs on the way to the abattoir. That is not a nice life. It is not a fulfilling life. I am sorry that the promoter of the Welfare of Ducks Bill is not with us today. That Bill seeks to tackle a small part of the problems we impose on poultry. There are many other animals where perhaps we could look more honestly at the cruelty we impose as part of the process that we require in order to have cheap food at supermarkets.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has drawn attention to another of these aspects; that of transport. Over time, in blind accordance with European regulations, we have reduced enormously in number our local abattoirs. That was done from a misguided thought that we would thereby increase the safety of our food. The result has been a great increase in the harm done to, and discomfort suffered by, animals sent to abattoirs, along with an increased danger of food poisoning. In those large abattoirs, disease has proved much harder to control. When outbreaks do occur, they are much larger than ever they were in the little back premises of the village butcher down the road. At least there you knew which animal you were buying.
At the moment I serve on a committee which is looking at the use of animals in research. In the course of scientific research, things are done to animals which would lead to those involved serving very long prison sentences if such things were done in any other context. We are prepared to expose animals to the extremities of discomfort in order to avoid exposing ourselves to a chemical which might do us some harm. Animals are dosed to the point where they can take no more and where their suffering is extreme. When we want to find out how the nervous system operates, the heads of rats are cut open and electrodes are put on what is inside. Those rats are then left alive and unanaesthetised for months, simply so that we can see what is happening. We benefit from such research, but in the main I do not think that we appreciate the extremities to which we expose, if not the majority, at least some of the animals which are subjected to research.
I turn to pest control. If you have a mouse problem, you get the mouse man in and the mice go away. We do not think any more deeply on the matter than that. Warfarin does not result in a "fun" death, the common form of control. If we consumed warfarin, we would take hours to die in agony and discomfort. Where rodents have learned to avoid the poison, we put down mouse papers, sticky pads which, when a mouse comes along, will hold fast its foot. More often than not, the mouse will tear itself free, leaving behind a leg. It then wanders off to die in great pain elsewhere. We do this to avoid a bit of mouse shit in the cornflakes, to avoid an animal with which we have evolved and survived over thousands of generations. Such practices are of relatively little benefit to us but mean a great deal of suffering for a mouse.
Many of us are prepared to keep cats as pets. I keep one myself. We are happy with the consequences; namely, that hundreds of millions of wild mammals and birds are killed every year by cats. When feeling so inclined, cats will kill with great cruelty, playing with their victims for half an hour or so with no great difficulty. We are happy to allow our cats to exercise their natures in that way. But when it comes to allowing dogs to exercise their natural instincts as pack hunting animals, we seem to think that that is something extraordinary and horrible. A little consistency would not go amiss here.
In his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, said that "thou shall not kill for pleasure". That is a reasonable position if taken consistently. However, what I find hard to understand or to deal with is that there are those who say that about fox hunting, but then go out fishing. If fox hunting was conducted in the same way as fishing, it would be an extraordinary sport. We would gather up 100 or so foxes in a little fenced field. We would throw over baited hooks and we would play them for 10 to 20 minutes, pulling at a hook in each fox's mouth which would cause great pain. Eventually we would exhaust them, whereupon we would haul them in and hit them on the head.
How someone can think reasonably that in this country we should introduce laws to ban fox hunting but that we should not tackle the cruelty of fishing is quite extraordinary. In another place, the main proponents of the legislation are fishermen. That, too, I find extraordinary. They should look harder at what they themselves do before they look at what other people are doing. They should recognise that a parallel may be drawn, in particular in an area where both groups are doing much the same thing. They are gaining pleasure, if not from killing—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, was wrong in that—then from the hunt.
There is a great difference between hunting an animal and killing it. The noble Lord might well take a fish out of a bowl and hit it on the head, but that would not be fishing. The difference is bred into us because we are hunting animals. All societies and many, many people take pleasure in the hunt. I myself take a great deal of pleasure from hunting animals and consider it a noble part of my make-up. I am not in the least ashamed of it; it is a part of being human.
However, as already pointed out, at its edges the hunt can descend into cruelty. A fox let loose in a barnyard full of chickens will eat one and kill all the rest for the sheer pleasure of killing. In the past people on the edges of hunting have done many things which were cruel. The noble Lord mentioned bear baiting. Indeed, hedgehog football was only recently outlawed. But the fact that hunting can become cruel does not mean that we have to regard all forms of hunting as automatically cruel. Those of us who are prepared to admit to taking pleasure in the hunting instinct must look at those activities in which we do not participate—I am neither a hare courser nor a hunter of foxes—in parallel with those in which we ourselves indulge.
If we can accept that, in the widest sense, human beings are hunting animals and should be allowed to exercise that instinct, then we have to look at each particular case on its own merits. We must look at what benefits are derived and what harm is done; what benefits are brought to the countryside and its economy and what costs are borne by the way in which an animal is treated. Such problems do not call for a ban to be imposed on one particular practice; rather they should be addressed by a well thought-through Bill which I hope we shall see in due course from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. That should come to pass once all the consultations being undertaken on the welfare of animals have been completed.
I hope that we shall be offered legislation that looks consistently across the spectrum at what we do to animals. Similarly, I hope that we shall be able to move away from involving the courts or other judicial mechanisms in deciding when and under what circumstances a particular practice is or is not reasonable.
It is reasonable for us today to look at what the Commons have decided and to say, "Yes, we understand those emotions". However, in fairness to everyone and in pursuit of a law which all will feel provides an honest reflection of the ways in which we conduct ourselves as well as the ways in which we want others to conduct themselves, then today we should vote for the middle way. I did so on the last occasion. This time, I hope that I shall be able to take with me enough of my noble friends to make that Motion the one which is carried rather than the outright defence of hunting.
My Lords, I rise as speaker number 39 in a cast list of 45. Noble Lords are quite right: there can be very little new that could be used in the argument. The last occasion on which I spoke towards the end of a debate was around three years ago. At the time I was the 182nd speaker out of a cast list of 190. That took place at 2.30 in the morning when we were debating the future of the hereditary peerage. I was as proud then as I am now to have the opportunity to express an opinion—not as an expert, not as a participant but as someone who has the chance to express an opinion on what he has felt all his life was either right or wrong. I shall not go into the detail of the arguments. I come to this issue in the way I came to the issue of the hereditary peerage—with emotion and the belief that it was wrong.
My Lords, time will tell—and we have all the time in the world in this House.
I come to this debate, as I did to the previous one, with a set of emotions. I asked myself what has changed since the issue was last before the House. The main change is a sense of movement from those who voted last time for self-regulation and who will now vote for the middle way. I then asked myself why this should be. When I examined the proposals for the middle way, I understood why someone who believes in hunting will cheerfully vote for it—because they will be able to continue to enjoy that which they enjoy now, albeit under some kind of regulation or bureaucracy. There will be no change.
If you vote for the middle way you will be voting for licensed hunting. When you licence a hunt you are licensing an amorphous body; you are not licensing a dog because a dog is incapable of being controlled. When you talk about a licence in normal circumstances—for instance, when someone is licensed to hold a gun—you know that the person with that licence is a responsible person. But the killing in a fox hunt is carried out not by the hunters but by the dogs—and dogs cannot be controlled. I understand the role of the whips, but it is a fallacy to believe that when you licence people to do that which they should have been doing without the need of a licence, they will comply.
Let us reflect on the extent to which hunts comply with the law as it stands today. I shall not weary the House, but my noble friend Lady Gale gave illustrations of where, despite what is understood to be legal and illegal, hunts all over the country sometimes trespass beyond the bounds. There are those who will vote for the middle way today who said in the last debate that the middle way could lead to more and more bureaucracy—they are right, but they will still retain their right to hunt.
I could take objection to some of the phrases that have been used. The noble Lord, Lord Vinson, who is in his place, said that part of the support for a ban came through social resentment. Not from me. I do not resent the lifestyle of anyone in the House. I do not have a scrap of resentment of that kind. Other noble Lords have said that this was "class prejudice". I do not know where they get this from. Which class is prejudiced against the other? One of the fallacies of the debate lies in the attempt to turn it into a town versus country argument. That is a nonsense.
We should reflect on the picture in the other place last night, where a majority of what are recognised as rural seats are represented by Labour MPs. Those MPs stood up to be counted, as they did at the previous election. They not only put their votes on the line but their livelihoods on the line at the previous election, and they were elected. I do not say that everyone who voted examined every line of every manifesto, but they were returned, through the democracy of the general election, with a manifesto which stated that we wish to see the banning of hunting with dogs.
Let me read, very briefly, two unsolicited letters I have received—one from someone living in the country and one from someone living in a town. The first one comes from a lady who lives in north Devon. She said:
"Here in the west country there is great opposition to a ban but in the 21st Century there should be no place for the 'sport' of hunting with dogs. It is cruel and unnecessary and is not effective as a means of control ... They also argue that jobs will be lost and hounds will have to be destroyed but there would be no need for this to happen and the Hunts could still carry on their sport by following a man made trail and not by chasing a terrified animal to an horrific death.
I think that a Press Report of a statement by a senior politician's wife at the time of Michael Foster's Bill, that banning stag hunting would ruin her social life reflects more accurately the true feelings of people who are members of a Hunt".
I have a letter from a lady who lives in Palmers Green, north London. She writes:
"Please may I count on your vote to 'Outlaw Hunting with dogs' on Tuesday 19th March 2002.
This bill would cover the hunting of more than the Fox, also the Deer and Hare coursing, and other animals. No animal should be subject to this carnage. There would be a change of jobs for people, as happens in many places of employment, and help would be needed".
People are, I use the word advisedly, threatening the debate by calling in aid the possibility that there will be a mass march against proposed legislation for a ban. I simply say that they will kid themselves that they are arguing to protect their countryside; the foxhunters will know that they are using the march for their own purposes. I have marched over the past 30 years to protect the health service, to protect jobs, to protest against the closure of post offices, to argue that affordable housing should not be sold. Not a peep; not a word. Country life apparently does not exist in such mundane ways. Country life exists only when it comes to this kind of issue.
My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that only two or three weeks ago we had a debate in the House on social housing. I was the only one in the debate to raise the issue of social housing needs in rural areas. It is untrue to suggest that we are not concerned with those kinds of issues as well.
My Lords, where was the noble Baroness when the legislation was going through to enable deprived villages and towns access to affordable housing? The point I am making is that these matters do not stand in isolation.
My Lords, I did not understand a word of what the noble Lord said—but I agree. He is a gentleman.
"it has always been the purpose of the law to curtail liberty to do something that is believed by the democratically elected body of this House to be wrong. We eliminated cock fighting, bear baiting and badger digging . . . we curtail liberty when we believe that something is wrong".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/02; cols. 80-81.]
I believe fox hunting is wrong.
Of course there will be consequences, damage and danger. A great deal has been said about the effect on employment. I refer to the Burns report on this issue. The report estimates that somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 full-time equivalent jobs depend on hunting, although only around 700 of these jobs, involving some 800 people, result from direct employment by the hunts. In the event of a ban, short-term job losses,
"would be limited, and extend not much further than those employed by the hunt and some employed by those hunt followers who immediately reduced their use of horses".
I believe that there has been gross exaggeration, perhaps on both sides of the debate. We ought to recognise that the Government will have a difficult job to do. I say to my colleagues on these Benches: remember what your colleagues in the other House did last night, by an overwhelming majority. They put their livelihoods and their jobs on the line. If, as we are told by those on the other side of the Chamber, people will rise up, my colleagues went into the Lobby in that knowledge.
We should recognise that when the vote is cast tonight, the most difficult job facing anyone will be that of Alun Michael and his ministerial colleagues, who will have to implement the Government's decision after this indicative debate has provided an opportunity to resolve the matter. It will not be easy. We know that there are deep divisions. I cannot see a clear way forward at this time. I appeal to noble Lords to follow their conscience. Once we have done that and have resolved the matter by means of a vote, let us await what Alun Michael tells us before Easter and what is proposed thereafter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is a dear friend of mine. I am always happy to say that some of my best friends are hunters. She, too, recognises that there is still an opportunity to try to reach a solution. I stand by my view that the middle way is a licence to carry on as before. You cannot compromise on cruelty. When the matter goes to a Division, I shall vote for a ban; I shall vote against the middle way; and I shall vote against the status quo. I urge not only my colleagues but the whole House to follow me into the Lobbies tonight.
My Lords, there are several common themes running through the debate, one of which is the argument of those noble Lords who would ban hunting with hounds. It has been echoed by many speakers and goes along the lines: "We think hunting is cruel and so it must be banned. There must be a more humane way". To this, many noble Lords who favour the continuation of hunting in one form or another have replied that there is no more humane way of controlling foxes, and that hunting is in fact humane.
There seems to be widespread agreement in this House that foxes need to be controlled. There has been widespread agreement also that the alternatives of trapping and poison are much less humane than hunting. If that is so and there is common agreement, it leaves us with our old friend, shooting, as a way of controlling foxes.
For some reason those who want to ban hunting seem to think that shooting foxes will be less cruel than hunting. There has been much talk of "marksmen"—so effectively demolished by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, who reminded us of the horrors of the cull during the foot and mouth crisis, when many so-called marksmen—and one must presume that these are the same people whom those who favour a ban on hunting will use against the wretched fox—failed to hit a much larger and more stationary mark than the wily fox.
I want to make a slightly different point which I do not think has been made in quite the way that I want to make it; namely, that even for good marksman—and there are not many of those—the fox is a very difficult animal to kill cleanly. It is tough, wiry, resilient; it has very good eyesight and a keen sense of smell; it moves incredibly quickly. It can turn and run between your decision to fire and the bullet or column of shot reaching its target.
It is at this point that I have to confess that I bring long personal experience to this subject, which is usually a good thing in debates in this House; but I say "confess" because the fact that I have shot dozens of foxes in my life does not endear me to noble Lords who hunt and who on the whole do not approve of people who shoot foxes. My excuse to them is that the terrain of Rannoch Moor, where I live, is too boggy to permit riding to hounds, and we do not have a competent foot pack within striking distance; and so we do have to shoot foxes.
When I was child, we used to poison them too. Some of my early memories are of shooting desperate foxes which had been caught by a limb in a gin-trap for several hours; or of dragging their bodies from the pool of water in which the trap had been set and in which they had drowned. Thank goodness such practices have been illegal for some time.
So I have to ask noble Lords who believe that they would prefer foxes to be shot rather than hunted to think again. If a fox is shot with a shotgun containing normal shot, it has to be very close—perhaps 15 yards; which is about as close as the Minister is, if I could have his attention. If it is that close, unlike the Minister, it is almost certainly moving extremely quickly and therefore becomes an even more difficult target. I admit that if buckshot is used, a fox can be killed somewhat further away, but it is still difficult to kill instantly. Most foxes are shot when people are shooting other things—rabbits or pheasants—so the shot is small and the range has to be extremely close. Of the foxes I have seen shot with a shotgun, nearly all have needed a second barrel—and even then the wretched animal is often finished off by a dog.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his excellent report, preferred shooting by rifle: specifically, lamping at night. But that is not safe either. I am privileged to have one of the best rifle shots, or marksmen, working for me in Scotland. Every winter, he shoots 200 female deer, most of them in the top of the neck. The larder records, the records of the carcasses, are available for noble Lords to inspect, and indeed he has won the prize for being the best shot among stalkers in Scotland for three years in a row. So he really is a brilliant marksman. Yet even he lost a fox last winter, lamping at night. The fox was clearly hit, but we never found it. I shudder to think how it died.
I suppose that most people who oppose hunting do not hunt, but nor do they shoot. The trouble, therefore, is that they have no experience of how difficult it is to kill cleanly. It may be that many who oppose hunting are influenced by what they see in films or on television. That is not helpful to this debate. We all remember the cowboys in western films who had only to lift their rifle, squint briefly down the barrel and fire, and the bad man dropped dead several hundred yards away. In most violent films nowadays—and that seems to be a good many films—people are shot dead with an ease which never ceases to amaze me. It is really not like that in real life, and it really will not be like that for the many thousands of foxes which at the moment are hunted to a swift and certain death by hounds, but which opponents of fox hunting would rather submit to a death by shooting.
So before noble Lords go down the road of believing that shooting will provide a comparatively and acceptably painless alternative death, I humbly submit that they should ask themselves one question—perhaps among many. That question is: have they ever shot a fox? Have they ever even seen a fox shot? If they have not, I suggest to them as gently as I can that they should think again before causing such pain to be inflicted upon thousands of innocent animals.
My Lords, my contribution to this lengthy, often emotional, but nevertheless outstanding debate will be brief. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, who wrote an excellent article in The Times yesterday, I have never hunted. The last time I was on a horse was in Egypt while serving in the Army just after the war. I was bodily lifted into the air by a series of dragomen and deposited on the back of a poor animal in order to visit the Pyramids. The dragoman who was my guide said, "My horse very good horse, sir. He called Charlie Chaplin". Charlie Chaplin was a little slow, so I gave Charlie Chaplin a slight tap on the rump. "Oh Mister, you no hit Charlie Chaplin. He pregnant". My last equestrian experience before that had been as a small boy in a mining village in County Durham when some of my schoolmates and I used to ride the pit ponies bareback when they were released from the pit.
I must declare an interest. My son is the chairman of the Lothian and Borders branch of the Scottish National Farmers Union and his wife is a keen hunter, as is their son. They are deeply distressed by the effects of the recent Scottish ban on hunting. I have studied that legislation and in my opinion it is one of the most deeply flawed measures to have been enacted by any legislative assembly. It has major defects. It is not clear to me whether the members of the Berwickshire hunt would be acting illegally if they were to pursue foxes over the nearby border into Northumberland and whether, vice versa, a Northumbrian hunt would be acting illegally if it pursued a fox over the border into Scotland. No doubt those matters will be clarified in the months to come.
I have heard much today about the importance of continuing with the licensing of hunting under the middle way. The Burns report was clear. There is no doubt that it came to the conclusion that hunting with hounds is not cruel. Secondly, as many noble Lords have said—and I do not propose to labour the point—there is clear evidence that if a ban were enacted it would drive an increasingly vital wedge between the town and the countryside. At this moment, the countryside is suffering from the after-effects of BSE—I speak with authority, having been a member of the Southwood working party on BSE—and from the devastating effects of foot and mouth disease on the rural economy. As the Burns report made clear, if a ban is enacted, the effects on the rural economy will be extraordinarily intense.
What would be the effect if a ban were enacted by law? How could the provision be policed when the police have many more things to do? They need to deal with urban street crime rather than those who are following what in the past has been a legal pursuit.
I accept that a few of those who have spoken today hold a sincere opinion that hunting is cruel and should be banned. I venture to dissent from that view. It is almost 13 years since I had the privilege of becoming a life Peer in your Lordships' House. Many noble Lords today have spoken about the ultimate authority of the other place, the fact that the elected Chamber will and must have the ultimate say on matters of this nature and the fact that the executive has a powerful voice. I wholly accept that and I do not in any sense deny the strength of the democratic principle. However, I can think of innumerable occasions over the past 13 years when Bills coming from the other place have been extensively and very properly amended by this House. On many occasions, this House has invited the other place to think again.
When I have talked to people about my experience in your Lordships' House, I have said repeatedly that one of its great strengths is that there is virtually no topic on which there is not an expert present. This is a House with an enormous repository of experience, authority and expertise in a wide range of different activities.
Many years ago, the great English poet, William Cowper, wrote:
"Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,
Have ofttimes no connection. Knowledge dwells In heads replete with thoughts of other men; Wisdom in minds attentive to their own. Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; Wisdom is humble that he knows no more". One of the great strengths of this House is its wisdom. I have appreciated that over the past 13 years. On the last occasion that this measure was debated in your Lordships' House, a serious tactical error was made in voting for the status quo. I fervently believe that today the House will, properly and advisedly, in its wisdom, vote for the middle way. I hope that in consequence the other place will be able to think again to try to enact a compromise that will be acceptable to all parties, however difficult that may be. I can only say fervently, "Thank God for the House of Lords".
My Lords, yesterday's debate on this subject in another place started exceptionally late, because a very important Statement on a most important development in the deployment of troops in Afghanistan took precedence. Nothing could bring home more clearly the fact that in the world and country in which we live, there are issues facing the Government and Parliament of far greater seriousness than the issue that we are debating today.
When the debate in another place started, the Minister said that he would make a Statement at the completion of the two debates. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, say that careful consideration would be given to the contributions made in this House and in another place before the decision was taken.
In an outstanding speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was concerned as to whether the decision has already been taken. Those who have looked at yesterday's Hansard will have seen that Mr Alun Michael has promised to make a Statement on the Government's decisions before next Monday. If that is truly the situation, and knowing the processes of government, I hardly imagine the he is going to be allowed to go into a padded cell with two copies of Hansard and quietly make up his own mind. I imagine that there will be some consultation with colleagues. If he has given a pledge that by not later than Monday he will be making an announcement of the Government's decision, some of us will be suspicious that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is indeed right and that in a sense the decision has been taken. I hope that that is not true. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is not in his place at the moment. I understand that he will be responding to the debate. I shall be grateful if his colleagues ensure that he responds to that point.
I come with certain credentials to speak in this debate. I took part in 17 debates on hunting in the past 22 years in another place. In that time I had the honour to represent a constituency that has been frequently mentioned during the course of this debate because it encompasses a significant part of the Exmoor National Park. It encompasses two packs of staghounds and five packs of foxhounds. It also encompasses a significant amount of the town and country which has been referred to today. While the noble Lord, Lord Graham, can refer to one letter that he has received for one side and one on the other, I cannot think how many letters I have had over 30 years from people in my rural constituency. Some are passionately opposed to hunting and a considerable number believe that it is their right and freedom to follow a pursuit of their choice.
What I do know from my experiences in these debates is that it has been a dialogue of the deaf. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham. He reminded me of what debates in the House of Commons used to be like. He said, "I know nothing about this subject. I approach these things in an entirely emotional way". He then proceeded to lecture the House with various details that he had picked up from various people. I know the noble Lord well and he knows the spirit in which I say this.
My Lords, I know the noble Lord's power of repartee. He will recall that that is what he said. That is the spirit which underpins a huge amount of the debating on this subject in the House of Commons.
I have been elected more times than most of the people who voted on this subject yesterday in another place. I have listened to these debates. The depth of ignorance is profound. I had hoped that an intelligent contribution made by the Government and Mr Jack Straw to ask the noble Lord, Lord Burns, to conduct his inquiries and to publish his report might actually inform the subject rather better for the benefit of many of my colleagues in the House of Commons. The noble Lord may not wish to comment.
The disappointing thing about the debate after the Burns report was that hardly anybody in the House of Commons had actually read it. I am prepared to say that to the noble Lord who, in the interests of new technology, published the Bateson and Harris report. It was a very important report on the welfare of the stag and the deer and the effect on the hunting of deer. Contract 7 was published only on a CD-Rom. I am prepared to guess that nobody has read that except me. The reality is that it is a dialogue of the deaf founded on profound ignorance. As a recent Member of the House of Commons, that tells one a lot about the present House of Commons. If I needed a reminder of that, the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, made the point very well.
The first debate in which I had the pleasure to take part in your Lordships' House was on the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. It was produced as something of a knee-jerk reaction by the Home Office in response to September 11th. It was an understandable and desirable political response to be seen to act. That Bill came virtually unamended and untouched from another place. It was wafted through on guillotines. I do not believe that a single iota of it was changed. It came to your Lordships' House where it was the subject of serious debate. There was significant amendment by your Lordships' House anxious to protect the proper liberties of the subject and the freedom of the individual, which many of your Lordships felt were seriously threatened by measures in that Bill.
If I remember, the same speeches were made in the other place—"outrageous interference by unelected Peers". But after the shouting and the fury died, wiser counsels prevailed. I believe that I am right in saying that, with very few exceptions, your Lordships' amendments were all accepted. They were an indication of why your Lordships have a role to play. As one of the most recent recruits to this House, I say that after a lifetime spent in another place.
As to the need for wiser counsel and consideration of the issues, the best speech on the subject that I heard in another place was by the then leader of the Liberal Party, David Steel—now the noble Lord, Lord Steel. He rode a horse but did not hunt. He said then and would say again today, I am sure, that the issue is not whether one is for or against hunting. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So much of this debate is people expressing their opinion.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham, spoke of his emotional reaction—which I respect. Thousands of my constituents have the same emotional reaction. The issue is not whether one is for or against hunting but whether one bans other people from doing something of which one personally disapproves. David Steel said that no true Liberal should embrace that offence against the liberty of the individual and freedom. It is one thing to hold an opinion; it is another to seek to impose that opinion on others, to prevent them doing something that may be properly conducted and legal.
I mentioned that I represented a constituency having two packs of staghounds. It has also two of the finest herds of deer in this kingdom. It is no accident that the two go together. Lloyd George required the reintroduction of staghounds to the Quantocks during the first world war, to protect and preserve the stags there—which were in danger of extinction. That herd survived and now flourishes.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, because I did not know that he was going to speak about stag hunting, so I missed what he said. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke of the subtle balance. That was the subject of a very good video, "Guardians of the Deer", for which Ludovic Kennedy did the commentary. The farmers and hunters on Exmoor and the Quantocks feed and protect the deer. There were deer throughout the country at one stage. Venison is a valuable meat. Once the hunt goes, the poachers and the guns arrive and the deer are threatened. The noble Baroness gave some worrying figures for National Trust land on the edge of Exmoor where hunting has been banned.
Anyone who is familiar with Exmoor will know that the deer are the pride of that national mark, which is symbolised by the fine head and antlers of a red stag. It is no coincidence that the all-party pro or anti-hunting Exmoor national park committee and the pro-hunting/anti-hunting all-party Exmoor society, dedicated to the conservation of deer on Exmoor, say that one cannot ban stag hunting on Exmoor without an alternative deer management strategy. Otherwise—I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle—we shall be condemning the magnificent deer herds on Exmoor to potential extinction.
That is a difficult argument to explain. Many people cannot understand that hunting, which they think as killing, serves to protect in a community of interest. For a farmer, one of the worst experiences in one's life is the prospect of as many as 100 deer coming down from the top of the Quantocks to graze on one's stocks. Unless one has a sympathy for the herd and a real identity of interest one will not tolerate that happening. The National Trust is having to pay out larger and larger funds in compensation to farmers on the Honeycut and other estates because of the banning of hunting and the number of deer eating the crops of tenant farmers. That will be reflected across 280 farms within the perimeter of the Quantocks and on Exmoor.
In a wise speech, a former Speaker called for wiser counsels to prevail in another place as well as in your Lordships' House. We are holding this debate at a time of the greatest depression in rural areas in my lifetime. People have said that there will be real anger if Parliament and the Government take unwise decisions. I do not support direct action but there is a sense of despair and anger. The Minister responsible for the decision is the Minister for Rural Affairs, so he has no excuse for saying that he does not know the gravity of the current situation. The decision that the Government will take on this matter is not without consequences. I hope that they will think hard. I have supported the status quo but tonight I shall support the middle way in the hope that we can at last find a sensible and constructive way of resolving this difficult issue in a way that can unite our country again.
My Lords, in addressing noble Lords this evening I have to declare a total lack of interest! I find it impossible to understand why someone apparently in his or her right mind would get up on an ugly great animal and go out on a cold, wet and windy day in order to gallop across fields accompanied by yapping dogs in pursuit of a quarry they rarely see and do not always catch. But I find it hard to understand the pursuits of many of my fellow men and women. In this country many of us are eccentric to a degree that is just about this side of sanity. I give an example. Tomorrow evening I shall sit in front of a television set wearing my lucky red and white scarf and hope that it helps Arsenal beat Juventus.
But whatever the eccentricities or oddities of our fellow citizens, they are none of my or our business. Anyone devoted to the liberal empiricist tradition of our country knows that full well. The presumption must be that people should be free to go their own way and to get pleasure how they will. The trouble is that within our society we have the busybody tendency. I refer to those who with nothing better to do poke their noses into a variety of activities with which frequently they have no direct connection but which they are convinced ought to be banned. I am reminded of the great H L Mencken's definition of "Puritanism" which noble Lords will recall is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.
The case that is put forward is that the activities we are discussing are offensive. The reply to that is twofold. First, from a philosophical standpoint, one cannot go logically from, "I find X offensive", to "X should be banned". One simply cannot do that logically. History is littered with the appalling consequences of arguing in precisely that way. Secondly, if not giving offence is the criterion, one wonders what will be left for any of us to do except to watch the mindless rubbish put out on television. As I find that offensive, perhaps that ought to be banned too.
Apart from enunciating the classical liberal position, we also have to ask ourselves: what is this really all about? I noticed that in the other place one honourable Member said that it was all about the Prime Minister's way of reigniting socialism
"red in tooth and claw".
I am a much weaker character than anyone else in this House. If I thought that was a possibility, I would abandon my liberal position immediately and go back to all the traditions of the great party to which I belong. But I do not believe that is on offer at all.
I believe that this is the first step in a much more powerful busybody tendency—various other noble Lords have already mentioned this—which will lead us to banning all sorts of other activities. It will clearly lead to the banning of game shooting, angling and many activities of that kind. Taken logically, it will certainly lead, so far as I can see, to the end of all farming with animals and so on. It will also lead—I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made this point—to the complete abandonment of the use of animals in experiments, no matter how beneficial the results of those experiments may be for human beings. My own judgment is that you must interpret this as a first step. I believe that the role of Parliament is to try to stop it now, not much later, when the argument will be, "You banned fox hunting. Now let's ban this, this and this". The list would be endless.
Finally—in the great desire to be brief and to get the vote over and done with—I turn to the constitutional position. One day, when we have legislation before us, we may be threatened with the Parliament Act and, if we do not behave, with the abolition of your Lordships' House. Whatever happens then, the constitutional position today—by "today" I mean at this very minute—is different. We have a free vote. I believe that the duty of noble Lords—every one of us—is to vote not for what the Commons has told us we have to vote for but for what we ourselves believe is right. We must do no more but surely no less. In my case, that means that I shall vote against an outright ban and in favour of statutory control.
My Lords, I apologise for speaking in the gap. Unfortunately, my request to be put at the proper and lowly place at the bottom of the speakers list led to my immediate elevation to an inaccessible place at the top. I want to make one point, about which I feel very strongly as a lawyer.
As the noble Lords, Lord King and Lord Peston, pointed out, this is not a question of whether one likes or does not like hunting; it is a question of whether one bans it, and whether one does so by making it a criminal offence. Surely that would be a fundamental misuse of the criminal law. Whatever Miss Widdecombe may have said in another place, the criminal law exists to enforce generally accepted principles of behaviour. It is not there to impose the views or ethics of the majority—or of an alleged majority—on a sizeable minority. The acts that constitute criminal offences are those that virtually everyone regards as being wrong in principle. There may be doubts about the details. Everyone agrees that there must be a limit on how fast one can drive, but they may argue about how fast that should be. However, the criminal law criminalises acts that the world—or the country—at large agrees are unacceptable.
It is because of those principles that I argue that the criminal law is not there to forbid the minority its activities. Those are the reasons why we have decriminalised homosexuality and why we do not make smoking or adultery—if that remains a minority activity nowadays—criminal offences. If it is logical to ban hunting because the majority of people in the country do not approve of it, we should go back and ban homosexuality, smoking and so on and—probably—return to puritanical law.
I therefore urge noble Lords to remember that this is not a matter of individual taste; it is a matter of whether the criminal law should be invoked to impress the wishes and ethics of some on other people, who are right-minded citizens.
My Lords, early in our debate, my noble friend Lord McNally said that he doubted whether anyone would change their mind during our debate and vote differently. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, who, although he did not change his mind this afternoon, at least admitted to changing it in the course of time from supporting a ban to supporting the middle way.
That is particularly interesting in view of the attitude of those noble Lords who opposed any change when we previously debated the matter. If noble Lords at that time had dug their heels in a little less and been more willing to opt for the middle way, as we have heard today they are now willing to do, we should not be having this debate. I was very disappointed by the way in which they voted last time. I shall with pleasure join them in the Lobby this time to support the middle way. They should be under no illusions—for people such as me, that will not entail simply supporting the status quo by another name. I shall be looking to amend any Bill that comes forward under that option so that the hunting of hares in all forms, including hare coursing, and, indeed, the hunting of deer, will not be an option. I believe that that is the message from the Burns inquiry.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, found serious compromises for animal welfare in many areas. In fact, I believe that the only area where he considered that there could be justification for hunting was in relation to foxes in the uplands. In that case, he found it to be a reasonable method of pest control. It would be a great shame if anyone were to behave like the lizard's tail, continuing to twitch when detached from the body of evidence before it.
Where noble Lords did manage to reach a degree of consensus—whether they were for a ban or against it—was on the matter of the evolutionary approach. My noble friend Lord McNally said that everyone, in his own time, would reach a conclusion as to what was appropriate. I believe that some of the differences between my noble friend and me may be accounted for by the possibility that he is further forward on the evolutionary scale than I am. I also respect those who are vegetarians because I believe that they are even further forward on that evolutionary scale. However, that does not mean that trying to reach a consensus little by little is wrong.
I turn now to the reasons against a ban, mentioned by various noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe. Those noble Lords said that a ban would be unenforceable. I believe that many noble Lords agree that the criminal justice system is experiencing an extremely difficult time. If we should opt for the middle way, I hope that when the Minister comes to reply he will be able to say that the enforcement of such a system will be given careful consideration.
Several other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie, the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, mentioned the difficult issues faced in Scotland by the hasty introduction of legislation.
On the other side, the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, believed that we were perhaps grossly exaggerating the issue of social activity. I believe that hunting is a social activity—it is a natural meeting place for the like-minded. However, I agree with the noble Lord that it is exaggerated. My experience last Saturday illustrated that point. My husband and I were out walking across the Somerset moors when we came across a meeting with a pack of beagles. We noticed that on the passenger seats of the shiny, mud-free cars were open road atlases. That did not exactly suggest that only locals were meeting for the afternoon.
However, the main issue raised by many noble Lords was that of species management and the framework within which it could be progressed. The Government must address that matter, whichever way the issue goes. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, who set out in great detail the issues of deer management on Exmoor, in particular.
Another issue which the noble Lord may have noted, and about which I am sure he is most knowledgeable, is that of damage caused by deer. It is estimated that the cost of such damage to each farm-holding is approximately £500 a year and that in the order of 40,000 highway accidents occur each year. Thus far, the Government have resisted bringing forward any legislation to give a statutory framework to deer management, but I believe that such legislation will be essential.
There is also, of course, the issue of badgers. At present they are protected but they also cause an increasing problem in many areas, not least urban areas where the foundations of houses are affected. In rural areas, again, badgers are a road hazard and, indeed, are killed on roads. There is also the ongoing issue of TB in cattle. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that the Government bring forward some means of managing the various species which will no longer be hunted.
Many noble Lords also mentioned the unacceptable aspects of hunting, such as digging out, hare coursing and hunting. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, suggested that we get rid of those unacceptable practices. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, suggested that we should not throw them in as a trophy. I fundamentally disagree with that. It is not a new problem. Looking back, I notice that in 1848 the Hare Act facilitated hunting. In 1892, the government of the day had to pass the Hare Preservation Act.
What we are looking at is balancing minority rights against animal rights. I know that some noble Lords like the noble Earl, Lord Peel, deny that animals have rights, but I believe that they do. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, for his kind remarks about my noble friend, Lord Steel. It is a question of balance. Today's debate should have been helpful to the Government.
The reasons mentioned against statutory legislation by noble Lords have been more red tape. If the process is managed properly, that should not be a difficulty.
I shall try to be brief, in order to get to the vote, which I know noble Lords are anxious to have. The noble Lord, Lord Fyfe of Fairfield, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wath, all mentioned different forms of cruelty.
Hunting is certainly no more cruel than keeping unfortunate animals in cages as pets to be overfed or poked at by their owners—often small children encouraged to own such pets. Nor is hunting more cruel than condemning chickens to life in battery cages for cheap eggs. We are still able to do that because we have not addressed that problem sufficiently.
We have been caught between an upbringing on a diet of Beatrix Potter and Wind in the Willows belief. The noble Lord, Lord Monson and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford both mentioned how we anthropomorphize animals—where Ratty and Renard are animals with human wishes and feelings. Yet, in a globalised world, we are able to ship animals over continents, so they suffer for days, not minutes or hours.
Noble Lords will be aware of the cruelty caused by carelessness when we flush hormones down our lavatories which threaten to wipe out whole species of fish and molluscs by changing males into females. This is not intentional cruelty, but is cruelty by carelessness, nevertheless.
Within such a context, we should not be diverted into a belief that banning all hunting will make this country a much better animal habitat. That will be done by the less headline-grabbing work of habitat restoration and its maintenance to support the creatures who live within it.
The Government took some first steps last year by implementing the Countryside Rights of Way Act, especially Part III. They need to progress that work and bring in species management. They need to support a consensual approach to all this work in the countryside. I do not believe that will be achieved by banning hunting with hounds. I do believe it will be achieved by voting for the middle way.
My Lords, it is nearly a year since I stood at this Dispatch Box and wound up our last debate on the future of hunting. Last time 60 noble Lords spoke, today there are only 46. That is modest progress.
Much has happened in the last 12 months. The Government called a general election. I admit I did hope to be speaking from the Benches opposite today, but the British public, in their wisdom, took a different view.
The Labour Party in its manifesto promised a free vote in this Parliament. I welcome the opportunity to debate the issue again in your Lordships' House. It is an issue not just about hunting, but about individual civil liberties and tolerance in a democratic society.
I should like to make clear what my beliefs are. I remind your Lordships that I speak for myself and not for my party. I support hunting; I hunt. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, that I bought my hunt coat at his fine emporium. I shall shortly be taking it back for repair at the end of the season. Since the previous debate, the important issues which surround hunting have not changed. In that debate, my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, a distinguished vet and a member of the Burns committee—I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his place—reminded the House that the Burns report did not state that hunting was cruel. Nor did the report recommend a ban.
It used some words which have perhaps become candidates for the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations when it stated that hunting "seriously compromises" the welfare of the fox. The report went on to say that death will normally follow within a matter of seconds once a fox is caught. It also states that none of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty.
When a farmer sends an animal to a slaughterhouse, it compromises its welfare. It is no different from netting a fish in the sea, catching a trout in a river, shooting a game bird or having lamb for lunch. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, that a compromise involving welfare has been made in all of those situations.
The important issue that must be addressed is whether the chase is intentionally cruel. Does it cause unnecessary suffering to the fox? Hunting is the pursuit of the quarry in its wild and natural state, a quarry that encounters nothing outside its natural repertoire of defences. The hounds do not put the fox under stress except only in the final moments.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that if hunting could be shown to cause unnecessary suffering and the alternative methods of control less suffering, the argument for a ban would have some merit. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said, the Burns report does not make that case. To be fair, the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, acknowledges the point but does not agree it. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, conveniently always ignores the point when pressed on it.
Even the Scottish Parliament, in its somewhat bizarre and I believe unworkable Act, accepts that the chase does not cause unnecessary suffering. In the future in Scotland, it will be legal to hunt a fox with a pack of hounds provided that an attempt is made to shoot it at the end of the chase. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and my noble friend the Duke of Montrose pointed out that the Scottish Parliament rejected all the recommendations from its own rural affairs committee and produced an Act which had nothing to do with the welfare of the fox but seemed to be more an attack on those who followed hounds on horse.
I turn to the veterinary profession. As we have heard, the majority of vets are quite clear that a ban on hunting would represent a serious threat to the welfare of the fox population. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford reminded the House that, sad as it may be to some, foxes do not live to a happy old age in semi-retirement. They have no upper house to depart to. Sadly, they die of disease, or are run over on the roads, or die of starvation—a threat which does not often face your Lordships. Would the fox population be better off if there were no hunting? It is clear that the fox would gain nothing from the abolition of hunting.
Moving, if I may, from vets to vicars, I trust that your Lordships have read the letter from "Clergy in Field Sports". It is clear to me that there is no moral or spiritual case for banning hunting. The speeches in the debate last year by the four right reverend Prelates all put the case better than I can and they all voted against a ban. Today, we have heard from the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Hereford, Portsmouth and Chelmsford, who once again gave us their guidance, both spiritual and moral, on hunting and spoke out against a ban.
We have a history of tolerance in this country. We accept different religious beliefs and different customs. Some in this country disapprove of the religious slaughter of animals but it does not follow that that practice, central to the life of Jews and Muslims, should be banned. Equally, some in the country violently campaign against animal experiments. But Parliament has accepted the need for humanely conducted research using animals, subject to proper regulation. Some in this country protest violently against hunting. Indeed, it is sad to see how some organisations have been taken over by those promoting animal rights rather than animal welfare, using threats, intimidation and violence to achieve their aims.
The English countryside is a common possession. All of us benefit from the richness and diversity of our countryside. It is largely man-made and tended by those who live in and care for it. It is our common inheritance. Indeed, it occupies a favourite place in every English person's image of their homeland. It is criss-crossed by footpaths, bridleways and byways. In many different ways, we all have a responsibility for it if we use and enjoy the countryside.
Many who live in the countryside have had a tough time during the past year. As we have heard from many noble Lords, farmers' incomes are as low as they have ever been. The countryside was closed to all during the terrible epidemic of foot and mouth disease. Rural businesses suffered, tourism declined, fuel duty increased, country people felt under threat. The last thing we need now is another crisis and greater rural unemployment.
I do not want another crisis in the countryside. When we last voted, many noble Lords were nervous of the middle way proposals. They asked: why regulate something that is working well and smother it with red tape? I voted against the middle way last year. But, like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, I have changed my mind. I will vote against a ban; I will vote for the middle way; and I will abstain on the third motion, self-regulation, providing the middle way vote is carried.
I should like to explain the reasons why I have changed my mind—apart, of course, from hearing the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, who always convinces many of your Lordships when she speaks in this House. The reason I have changed my mind is that, as a result of the dreadful time we have had with foot and mouth disease, for the past two months we have had licensed hunting in this country. Every hunt has been licensed under permit by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Licensing has worked well.
I should today like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and in particular his officials. His department has received much criticism in recent months, but the officials at the Reading DEFRA office could not have been more helpful. They had to deal with 22 local hunts, all of which received their licences efficiently and quickly. I thank them for that.
We have a unique opportunity today, even though last night another place voted for a ban. Because a significant number of Members from all parties in another place voted for the middle way, we have a chance to find a workable compromise. The time has come for compromise on all sides. I recognised that compromise will not satisfy those who want a ban. I recognise that my limited powers of persuasion will not change the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, but I also recognise, reading his entry in Dod's, that he is a member of the Worshipful Company Of Butchers.
My Lords, that is an interesting motto. In that case, the noble Lord will be interested to know that the NFU Wales reported that while hunting was banned because of foot and mouth disease in Wales, farmers who normally lost five or six lambs to foxes saw the number jump to 40 or 50. That shows how important hunting is in those upland areas.
Even if I cannot persuade the noble Lord, Lord Graham, opinions can be changed. My noble friends Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Vinson described how no less than four senior executives of the League Against Cruel Sports left that organisation, concluding that a hunting ban would be bad for animal welfare. Some noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Harrison and Lord Fyfe of Fairfield, promote a ban and offer the alternative of drag hunting. Drag hunting is not an alternative. No drag hunt could ever take the risk that, should the hounds cross the line of a fox or hare and decide that that was a more interesting scent, it would be breaking the law. It would not be possible, day to day, to take out packs of hounds for drag hunting.
Licensed hunting—the middle way—will not allay the concerns of those who support hunting and see the possibility that a Bill could be hijacked by wrecking amendments in another place. Nor will it allay the concerns echoed by my noble friends, Lord Boardman and Lord Peel, that a Bill with licensing could impose so many conditions that hunting would be practically impossible in most parts of the country. Those are serious issues that we would face if a Bill were to be introduced. If a Bill contained conditions that made hunting impossible in most parts of England, we should throw it out.
I believe that licensed hunting has a future. It could enable the public to have confidence that hunting was properly conducted and regulated. I hope to persuade those on both sides of the argument that we have the opportunity to take conflict out of the countryside and create a future in which the Animal Liberation Front will no longer have an excuse to threaten Members of Parliament. We have heard that the Government face more important issues. However, they have shown a willingness to listen to all sides of the argument and seek a solution. I commend that.
In some ways, I had rather a deprived childhood. I was not brought up wearing a CND badge, so I never had the opportunity to march regularly, as many noble Lords opposite have done. I must admit that I rather enjoyed the Countryside rally and march. I have done that now, and I hope that we will not need to march again. However, we will march again, if necessary, and in greater numbers, to make sure that our voices are heard.
This is a free vote. We have the opportunity today to send the message that this House can take a sensible view, balancing civil liberties and individual freedom with sensible and reasonable legislation. We are a revising Chamber, and we have the right—the duty—to ask another place to think again, if we wish. I hope that noble Lords who voted for a ban last time will now seriously consider voting for the middle way. They would show that they understand that there should be a difference between disapproving of something and wanting to ban it. They would be showing tolerance and voting to prevent strife and division. They would be demonstrating respect for the countryside. They would be voting, as I hope, to take conflict out of the political issues in the countryside.
My Lords, I hope not to take up too much of your Lordships' time. I said that I was here as a facilitator, rather than an advocate, but one or two matters have provoked me to make a few remarks on the debate.
It has been a more interesting debate than I had anticipated. It has been remarkable that, although many noble Lords made more or less the same speech as they made last time—and revealed more or less the same commitments and prejudices—we have ended up with an entirely different conclusion. I would hope to see that in a benign way. I hope that, at last, a majority of Members who would otherwise go to the last ditch to defend hunting as it is, recognise that that is no longer a tenable position, that there is a different view among the great British public than is held by most Members of this House and that a consistent majority in a democratically elected House—
My Lords, some are still in denial, but no position in favour of carrying on hunting as it is—as opposed to making some change—can be defended.
My Lords, none of the polls that I have seen support the status quo. A vast swathe of those who have defended hunting today defended the status quo in the previous debate. Many have shifted to what is known as the middle way. I hope that, by doing so, they have recognised public opinion and the importance of at least taking strong note in this House of the repeated view of the democratically elected Chamber.
Therefore, compared with the position two or three weeks ago, we have an unexpectedly large amount of support for what is being called the middle way. One might almost call it a mass conversion. The trouble with mass conversions—as I am sure those on the Bishops' Bench will confirm, with their knowledge of ecclesiastical history—is that some converts are more convincing than others. There is a range in what people think the middle way might be and what it might deliver. In order to avoid provoking anyone on the Opposition Benches, I shall mention just two of my own colleagues.
The speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, has been rightly acclaimed by many noble Lords. In a very consistent piece of advocacy, she effectively said that the third way would be similar to acquiring a fishing licence. Although conditions are attached to a fishing licence, they are, in season and within reason, reasonably easily met. My noble friend Lord Plant, however, if I understood him rightly, said that, to justify hunting along the lines of the middle way, one would have effectively to prove that it is important for pest control. Getting through that particular eye of the needle involves a much tighter passage, particularly since, as has been pointed out by my noble friend Lord Hoyle, very little control of pests and foxes is achieved by hunting with hounds.
Many inconsistencies have emerged in this debate, and much of the emotion and difficulty in reaching understanding between the points of view remains. There has also been some disingenuousness about the nature of cruelty. The fact that other practices may be cruel is not necessarily a reason for maintaining cruelty in this sphere—particularly when the cruelty in many of the examples given is a by-product of the main objective, whereas in fox hunting much of the cruelty emerges from the motivation for and the exhilaration of the chase. I believe that there is a difference that has to be addressed in one way or another.
I was particularly struck by another inconsistency. I wish that this same tolerance for activities that bring excitement and exhilaration to a significant minority of the population had been exhibited in our discussion a few years ago on Section 28. I think that, in respect of a number of Members of this House, there are minorities and minorities. I believe that we do have to respect the position of minorities. However, the position of the majority also must be taken into consideration.
The Government recognise that we have had a significant debate and that there has been significant movement. The Government will have to take account of that in their proposals on the next steps. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, we do not have a fully developed alternative approach that we are about to present to a surprised nation. However, we shall take account both of this debate and of the discussions that my colleague Alun Michael has been having with the various interest groups involved in the issue, and make a statement on the next steps towards resolving the issue. As I said, we shall make the statement before Easter.
We shall not, however, take account of one set of issues which have been alluded to, albeit obliquely, by some noble Lords: the not very veiled threat of civil disobedience.
My Lords, no one in this debate has said anything about civil disobedience. What they have said is that there will be a demonstration, which is the right of all freeborn Englishmen. If the noble Lord cannot tell the difference between civil disobedience and the right to demonstrate, he should not be occupying the Government Front Bench.
My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl should read the text of some of his colleagues' pronouncements today.
My Lords, all right; he should not. He can remain in a state of ignorance if he wants to. His contributions often demonstrate that. I believe that noble Lords indicated that if we go down the road of a total ban, there would be illegal hunting and problems of law enforcement. A number of noble Lords referred to that. It has been referred to outside this House and obliquely within it. I am not referring to the right to demonstrate. Half a million, a quarter of a million or a million people on the streets does not alter whether an issue is right or wrong.
The Government will have to take a decision in the light of all arguments; of what is felt in the countryside and by the population as a whole and of what is legally possible and legally appropriate. We shall take all those matters into account.
My Lords, the noble Lord said that the Government will have to take a decision. I wonder whether he can clarify what he means by the statement about the way forward? His colleague in another place was asked that precisely. He said:
"I intend to make a statement on the way forward before the Easter Recess".
He went on to say:
"My right hon. Friend will appreciate that there is a fairly narrow window of opportunity between now and next Monday, let us say, and it will be within that time frame".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/3/02; col. 53.]
I am not clear about what will be the way forward and whether we shall have a statement. I fail to see how it is possible to take account of the views expressed in another place and here, to have proper government consultation and to make a Statement before next Monday. That is disturbing to a number of noble Lords.
My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that another place rises two days earlier than this House. Therefore, the timescale between now and Easter is between now and Monday. The statement, which will be made at some point in that period, will relate to the next steps, how we shall take account of the debates here and how we shall come back to Parliament at a later stage. That will not be the end of the matter necessarily, but it will indicate clearly how the Government now intend to take account of all these pressures, including in particular this debate and the one in another place yesterday in reaching a conclusion. That will be, therefore, before the end of Monday. I have probably said enough.
My Lords, I am glad to have the support of at least three people on my Back Benches. It is therefore important that the House now moves to a vote. I hope that in so doing it will be recognised that the Government will weigh that vote heavily in their consideration. As has been said on all sides of the House, we do not want this occasion or, indeed, the next steps, to be the excuse for the possibility of widening the gap between town and country. I do not believe that it is the Government who have widened that gap. In many cases it has been those who have tried to make fox hunting the symbol of the difference between urban and rural areas who have opened the gap. That was never the intention nor the reality either in urban or rural areas. If noble Lords opposite think that fox hunting is the most important issue in the countryside, they do not have the true interest of the countryside at heart. I commend the Motion to the House.