Mr. David Lidington
(Aylesbury): I beg to move amendment No. 43, in page 19, line 28, at end insert
``so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal''.
I tabled the amendment to tease out an explanation of why the offences framed in schedule 3 differed significantly from offences defined in other animal welfare legislation. Supporters of a ban on hunting with hounds always ground their arguments on the assertion that banning hunting would enhance animal welfare and lessen cruelty to wild mammals. However, nowhere in the Bill is there an explicit reference to cruelty. The schedule contains no list of actions that are defined as cruel. Nor is there any reference to the motivation of the person who is hunting; there is no requirement that he must act in a cruel manner for a criminal offence to be committed. Why is that? It puts the Bill at odds with previous legislation designed to improve animal welfare.
Section 1 of the landmark Protection of Animals Act 1911 sets out a series of actions that became criminal offences, if—and only if—they caused ``unnecessary suffering'' or were carried out
``without due care and humanity''.
However, although previous animal welfare legislation contains reference to cruelty in respect of the actions to be prohibited and the motivation of the person to be accused of the crime, none exists in this Bill.
The same principle extends to other animal welfare legislation. The Protection of Animals Act 1934 dealt with public exhibitions, contests and performances concerning animals. The Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) Act 1933 and the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954 also illustrated the principle. That last piece of legislation is worth drawing to the Committee's attention because it gave the courts the power to disqualify a person from owning an animal on the ground that he had acted with cruelty towards animals and had been convicted of such an offence. The Bill gives the courts the power to disqualify a convicted person from owning a dog for a period specified by the court; it may even encourage the imposition of a life ban on ownership, despite the Bill containing no reference to cruelty in the motivation or actions of the person convicted.
I could quote other legislation, but the only other example to which I would draw the Committee's attention is the most recent, the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. That imposed penalties on anyone who
``mutilates, kicks, beats, nails or otherwise impales, stabs, burns, stones, crushes, drowns, drags or asphyxiates any wild mammal''—
I stress this last phrase—
``with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering''.
Most members of the Committee, whatever side of the argument they take on hunting, would agree that such conduct is cruel. That list makes the point. The 1996 Act required proof not only that the conduct had taken place, but that the perpetrator had intended to inflict unnecessary suffering.
The absence of any reference to cruelty in the schedule's definition of offences suggests that either the Government or Deadline 2000, the authors of the schedule, do not have much confidence in their ability to prove beyond reasonable doubt in court that hunting per se is cruel.
It is possible that, during a hunt, unnecessary suffering might be caused to an animal but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) would be the first to say, the organisers of responsible hunts will strive to the utmost to prevent such suffering.
I will come to that shortly. I do not want to dodge the hon. Gentleman's question. However, to answer it properly, we need to consider the evidence in the Burns report and elsewhere about the experience of particular animal species during a hunt. That is the heart of the argument on animal welfare. I would be happy to give way to him during that part of my remarks. I contend that hunting does not normally involve unnecessary cruelty, as described by past animal welfare legislation. My reading of the Burns report suggests that that was its conclusion as well.
One of the striking things about the Burns report is how little scientific research there has been on the experience of hunted animals, particularly animal welfare during foxhunting.
My contention has always been that the onus of proof lies on those who wish to limit human freedom. They believe that they have an overwhelming case, but they must prove it with reference to evidence. From reading Burns, one realises that the evidence is lacking.
Far too little research has been done to justify such legislation.
Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on that with reference to Professor Patrick Bateson's work on stags and deer hunting? That is world-class research. If Bateson had been able to acquire other grants, he would have studied other quarried species as well. The resources needed to investigate all quarry are not always available, in contrast to the position with, for example, biomedical research.
The hon. Gentleman must make his case to the relevant Ministers for additional expenditure on such research. I agree that those of us on this side of the argument must take Professor Bateson's report seriously. However, other scientific reports into stag hunting have reached different conclusions from those of Professor Bateson. In fact, the most recent report that Professors Bateson and Harris conducted for the Burns inquiry came to slightly different conclusions from Professor Bateson's original work.
Will the hon. Gentleman quote that evidence in light of the Burns report, which brought the antagonists together and agreed a joint statement that the last 20 minutes of stag hunting were indeed cruel?
I salute the scientific expertise of the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson). We should bear it in mind that—as those of us who were on what I may colloquially call the Foster Bill Committee two years ago would know—Professor Bateson was involved in two reports. The first led to the banning of stag hunting on National Trust properties, but the later report considerably shaded off its conclusions. I respectfully suggest to my hon. Friend that one should not use the name Bateson as though it pointed only in one scientific direction.
We do not have to remain in thrall to scientists. Logic also plays a part. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that logic would dictate that being ripped to pieces cannot be fun?
Logic would certainly dictate that. However, evidence shows that that is not what happens. The hon. Gentleman is confusing what happens to the corpse of an animal that has been killed with the way in which the animal experiences death. We are discussing which of the various modes of killing wild animals we think is preferable on the grounds of animal welfare.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have given way a fair number of times, and I shall be happy to do so again later. However, I want to make progress.
It is acknowledged by both sides of the hunting debate that there are serious welfare implications in terms of every method of animal control. Paragraph 6.59 of the Burns report states:
``both snaring and shooting can have serious adverse welfare implications'' for the quarry animals.
Those who advocate a ban on hunting on animal welfare grounds offer three main criticisms: the animal suffers during the chase; the mode of death involves cruelty to the animal, which I think was the point made by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks); and the question of terrier work.
The hon. Gentleman drew attention to paragraph 6.59 of the Burns report. I have just looked it up and the paragraph that follows states:
``Our tentative conclusion is that lamping using rifles, if carried out properly and in appropriate circumstances, has fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting, including digging-out.''
Would he care to comment on paragraph 6.60?
Yes, indeed. The hon. Gentleman overlooks the view, which was accepted by Burns, of organisations representing farmers, landowners and other rural organisations. They consider that lamping—even if one accepts the hon. Gentleman's contention without qualification—is not a suitable method of control in every part of this country, particularly in upland areas, but also in areas where human beings may be inclined to roam across open ground, exercising their newly won rights.
The habit of not quoting the next sentence from the Burns report seems to be spreading alarmingly among Labour Members. The next sentence to the one just quoted by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) says,
``However, in areas where lamping is not feasible or safe, there would be a greater use of other methods.''
The right hon. Gentleman puts the point well. In the sentence from the Burns report that was quoted by the hon. Member for Pendle, Lord Burns said that lamping was preferable, provided that it was carried out in a safe and expert manner. An argument of those of us who oppose a hunting ban is that the likely consequence of such a ban would be to increase cruelty towards animals because there would be more inexpert marksmen shooting animals, more woundings, and greater resort to snaring and trapping, all of which carry implications for animal welfare.
I move on to the question of the chase and the three species that Burns commented on. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I do not mention mink, as that was discussed at length last week. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) may wish to talk about that later.
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that we are not considering species of animals, but the concept of unnecessary suffering. I ask hon. Members to bear that in mind in this debate.
Lord Burns' conclusions on the cruelty, or otherwise, of the chase were that, for most of the time the hare does not realise that it is being chased. [Laughter.] I have been prepared to acknowledge the parts of the Burns report that, in some respects, give weight to the arguments of supporters of a hunting ban. I think that we deserve a better response than laughter when hon. Members' attention is drawn to parts of the Burns report that are at odds with their assertions. Lord Burns concluded that there was no conclusive evidence either way on whether foxes suffered during the chase.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to paragraph 6.57 in the Burns report, which says,
``shooting does not involve the welfare implications which we have noted in relation to the chase or digging-out.''
No doubt that is right, but it is made clear elsewhere in the Burns report that if one is to assess the efficacy of shooting in terms of animal welfare, it is critical to bear in mind the likelihood that shooting will result in the wounding of an animal, which will be left to die a lingering death or to survive, perhaps suffering from permanent disability and pain. That is the balance that must be examined.
It is probably a mistake for those who seek to argue a particular case to draw one paragraph or sentence from the Burns report. One can read into the report—as one can read into any great work of literature—an argument to support one's case. The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) could have quoted paragraph 6.59. That says:
``None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective. Both snaring and shooting can have serious adverse welfare implications.''
Hon. Members who quote from the Burns report should read out the whole report.
Burns concluded that there was no conclusive evidence one way or the other. Dr. L. Thomas, a veterinary surgeon, submitted an interesting paper to the Burns inquiry, which has subsequently been updated. The conclusions were supported by nearly 300 practising veterinary surgeons, who drew on their experience of foxes and their knowledge of animal behaviour and physiology. They concluded that for most of the chase—perhaps between 90 and 95 per cent.—the fox has a normal fright and flight response. It acts in the same way as it reacts to unfamiliar sounds, senses or sights throughout its normal life.
Even the paper by Dr. Thomas and others, who are avowed supporters of hunting, admits that the fox almost certainly experiences some fatigue and stress as the hounds overhaul it in the last five minutes or so of the chase. However, I have not seen any evidence that the fox is hunted until it is completely exhausted and physically can run no further. In trying to assess a concept such as unnecessary cruelty, it is important to make that distinction.
I quoted the very same Dr. Thomas when we considered the three options on the Floor of the House. Dr. Thomas is secretary of Vets for Hunting and, in his letter to The Times on 20 December, he wrote that the animal had no apparent premonition of death. How can scientists divine such things? Do we use our common sense, or do we always bow the knee to the ridiculous statements of scientists, just because they come from people with a few letters after their name?
The hon. Gentleman's intervention is puzzling. Scientists can examine the changes to the bodily systems and functions of an animal that is pursued or trapped, and compare them with the state of an animal at rest. The hon. Gentleman appears to be asking us to make some sort of psychological assessment about whether a fox or other animal can foresee its own demise.
I understand exactly what the hon. Member for Pendle means. Indeed, I was extremely wary of Professor Bateson's work on hunted stags because of the impossibility of getting inside the mind of a stag when it is being hunted. The same clearly applies to a fox. However, there has been some detailed scientific work, as my hon. Friend said. Has he seen the work of Ian Jones, a vet from Powys in Wales, on hunted foxes? He took extensive post-mortem examination results and reached the same conclusion as my hon. Friend; that there was no evidence in the physiological make-up of the fox to show that it had suffered any trauma whatever.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The investigations that Professor Bateson and others have conducted into the experience of pursued deer show that there is more scientific evidence available about the experience of animals to enable us to make a judgment about cruelty and suffering than is the case with foxes or hares. Lord Burns set out his conclusions, having considered those reports at some length, on pages 110 to 113. He noted that there were differences in the conclusions of the various scientists who had examined the subject, but that there was also a degree of agreement.
I am not a scientist—I do not have the expertise of the hon. Member for Norwich, North—but all three reports found that deer that had been pursued had depleted levels of the glycogen carbohydrate in their muscles, higher levels of fatty acids and the cortisol hormone and higher body temperature. It is necessary to consider those findings and try to assess what they mean in terms of cruelty and animal suffering.
Burns came to the view that no clear conclusions could be drawn about indicators such as the cortisol levels, the moderate muscle damage, the break-up of red blood cells and raised blood temperature. However, the finding of glycogen depletion in particular led Burns to conclude that shooting or stalking was a preferable method of control to stag hunting. As the hon. Member for Norwich, North said, Burns concluded that deer probably experience some suffering during the last 20 minutes or so of the hunt, as glycogen depletion sets in. Burns concluded that that was the view of the majority of scientists. However, others, including the veterinary surgeons whose opinions I referred to earlier, argued that the physiological changes in deer resembled those in horses or human beings who had been involved in a prolonged bout of continuous or intermittent exercise, and were, therefore, no more indicators of suffering or cruelty than they would be in the case of a tired and panting athlete or racehorse after a race.
The hon. Lady has returned to the issue of foxhunting. Foxes respond to any unfamiliar scent, sound or sight by taking fright and running away. That is their first instinctive reaction. There is, therefore, nothing strange about the behaviour that she described; it does not prove that the fox is suffering or that cruelty is being inflicted on it.
It is a truism that concepts such as suffering and cruelty are human philosophical constructs that we use to describe our own condition in particular circumstances. That presents us with a problem. It is fair to debate the concept of cruelty, because that involves actions by human beings towards other humans or animals. It is legitimate to argue whether hunting, shooting, snaring—or fishing—are cruel to animals. However, suffering is a trickier subject because we have to try to put ourselves in the place of the animal, which requires a great leap of imagination. In doing so, we must assume that other species experience life in a comparable way to human beings. Therefore, as my hon. and learned Friend implied, there are dangers in the anthropomorphic approach.
I do not think that that has any bearing on today's debate. We are discussing an amendment that raises the issue of whether the schedule singles out for prohibition activities that can be legitimately defined as cruel and as causing unnecessary suffering to wild mammals.
During last July's debate on hunting, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) to give an order of cruelty. He could not. Will he now speculate on how cruel it is to keep an overweight fox terrier in an overheated tower block, compared with giving a fox a fair chance in an open hunt? Anyone who hunts is always greatly relieved when foxes get away.
My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. If someone is accused by an organisation such as the RSPCA of cruelty or causing suffering to a domestic animal, specific conduct or a reckless intention must be proved in court. I have a problem with the schedule because it does not require charges to be proved with the same precision.
I am not certain whether the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex was advocating an extension of the rights of hunters to plough through tower blocks, but the question is now raised of whether there are more humane, and more insane, ways of addressing problems of pest control and management.
I was intrigued by the notion of suffering in connection with spontaneous reaction to unfamiliar smells. Flight is a spontaneous reaction. In nature, there is little evidence that when a fox detects the smell of chickens, it says, ``I'd better get out of here, this smells trouble for me'' rather than, ``Lunch.'' I did not know that rabbits, confronted with the smell of carrots, thought, ``This is not the place to be. I'd better do a runner.'' All the evidence of the animal kingdom suggests that animals understand the smell of threat and know the difference between being the diner and being the dinner. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a clear and intuitive understanding of threat should be the starting point from which to consider the question of unnecessary suffering in the chase?
I differ from the hon. Gentleman in that he gives insufficient weight to the fact that wild mammals experience what he termed ``threat'' many times a day. If a fox in a wood were to pick up the scent of a human being some distance away—someone unconnected with a hunt—it would be likely to spark off the fright and flight response to which I alluded earlier. If the hon. Gentleman examines the Burns report and the evidence presented to it, he will find that particularly in the early stages of a foxhunt, the animal pursued sometimes pauses. It does not appear to be in headlong flight the whole time. The question of an animal's response to potential threat is more complicated than he gave credit for in his intervention.
I turn from the chase to the kill—the other central argument in the debate, to which the hon. Member for West Ham referred. In the case of foxes in particular, Burns accepted that some were killed not simply by a hound biting through the cervical vertebrae, but by massive injuries to other organs. The inquiry considered evidence from 15 post mortem examinations of foxes: in 10, death was shown to be due to cervical dislocation; in five, it was due to massive trauma to the thorax and the abdomen. Burns's general conclusion was that, whatever the actual cause of death, whichever part of the fox the leading hound bit, insensibility and death happened within a few seconds of the fox being caught. When it came to hares, he again concluded that insensibility and death followed very swiftly after the animal had been caught.
The argument whether the fox is killed by a bite to the neck or to the thorax and abdomen is less important than whether death is quick. The evidence available is that the fox is almost always killed extremely quickly. One point about hunting with hounds is that there are no wounded survivors—the great risk of alternative methods of control.
I am tempted also to deal with the question of cruelty and suffering in terrier work, which I appreciate, because I know that Committee members take that subject seriously. However, as I am conscious of a later group of specific amendments, I hope that the Committee will understand if I leave the subject to debate at greater length in due course.
Burns concluded that the impact on animal welfare of hunting had to be assessed by comparison with other methods of control. When referring to both foxes and deer in his commentary on the thoughts of Bateson, Harris and others, he repeatedly returned to the key point of how many animals would be wounded if shooting were to become more popular following a ban on hunting. In paragraph 6.39 about deer hunting, he qualified his conclusion that stalking would be a more humane method of control, by saying:
``if carried out to a high standard and with the availability of a dog or dogs to help find any wounded deer that escape''.
He reiterated the point in the following paragraph, when he said:
``A great deal depends, however, on the skill and care taken by the stalker . . . In the event of a ban on hunting, there is a risk that a greater number of deer than at present would be shot by less skilful shooters, in which case wounding rates would increase.''
I endorse what my hon. Friend says. Because of the pernicious advice of the Red Deer Commission on deer numbers in Scotland, too many deer are being shot there at present by people who do not know what they are doing—with disastrous consequences. Hinds, with calves incapable of surviving for longer than a couple of days, die in the most distressing circumstances. That would be the fate of the west country deer herds, were hunting to be banned.
My hon. Friend is correct. I believe that farmers on Exmoor and in the Quantocks area are willing to tolerate depredations by red deer of their crops and young trees partly because they support the hunt and want it to continue. They would be much less likely to do so if hunting were abolished.
My hon. Friend's argument has cross-party support. My constituent, Baroness Mallalieu, is firm in her belief that if stag hunting on Exmoor and in the Quantocks were banned, fewer deer would survive and far more animals would die slowly and in pain. Lord Burns made much the same qualification in his conclusions on foxhunting: shooting would be quick, if it worked. Shooting is a good and effective method of control, provided that one can guarantee killing an animal with a single shot and not letting it linger on in pain—or, perhaps, disabled—to die many hours or days later.
Hunting, as I said earlier, has one great advantage: it produces no wounded survivors. Even those who advocate lamping as the most humane method of fox control have yet to produce a persuasive argument that the greater use of shooting or other methods of control in areas where lamping is not feasible would result in an improvement in animal welfare or a reduction in cruelty towards wild mammals.
The hon. Gentleman is comparing differing forms of animal control. Has he taken into account what can sometimes happen to hounds in a foxhunt? Would he care to comment on the incident on Saturday when the Crawley and Horsham hunt was in the Shipley and Dial Post area? A pack of hounds split on a hill, and one group went to the A24, where one hound was killed by a lorry. Others were left wandering by the side of the road. Luckily, some of the hunt protesters arrived on the scene and caught the hounds and kept them safe until the whippers-in came along. One hunt foot follower said when told that a hound had been killed and others had been left wandering by the side of the road, ``It doesn't matter. We have plenty more hounds.''
I am grateful to you, Mr. O'Hara. It would in any case be wrong for me to comment on an incident of which I do not have first-hand knowledge.
If people do not rely on shooting, they will resort to snaring and trapping, and even the most ardent supporters of a ban on hunting will acknowledge that those methods of control have drawbacks in terms of animal welfare and inflicting unnecessary cruelty on animals. The risks involved in snaring are self-evident. Even if a snare is checked daily in accordance with Ministry recommendations, an animal can be left in it for up to 24 hours, experiencing the physical pain about which hon. Members who are against hunting talk when discussing hunting with hounds. An animal may injure itself in trying to escape from a snare.
Live trapping may appear to be a more humane method of control—but that assumes that traps will be checked regularly. Even if they are checked daily, the wild animal will still be incarcerated in a very small space for up to 24 hours, which will undoubtedly put it under severe stress. Most veterinary surgeons who have had to treat wild mammals would agree with that, whatever their views on hunting. Another disadvantage is that snaring and trapping are indiscriminate. One cannot be certain that the quarry species will be trapped rather than some other wild mammal which happens to be the first on the scene.
Order. I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman and I commend him for keeping broadly to the terms of the amendment. I can see the difficulty in doing so and the temptation to stray beyond the amendment to general arguments about hunting. The amendment refers to the ``unnecessary suffering'' involved in hunting with dogs. Although it may be appropriate to allude to other forms of suffering, it is not appropriate to go into detail.
I accept that, Mr. O'Hara. I was coming to the end of my remarks.
In summary, the evidence that hunting with hounds causes unnecessary suffering to wild mammals is, at best, inconclusive and, in my view, at odds with most of the evidence. If one follows the Burns recommendation to compare the cruelty that is supposedly inherent in hunting with the cruelty and suffering inflicted on wild mammals by alternative methods of control, there is a strong argument to allow hunting to continue.
The Bill has been framed in a peculiar way. It ignores the tradition in Bill after Bill on animal welfare, in which Parliament has sought to define both the cruelty of a particular action and the motivation of the perpetrator of it. For those reasons, my amendment would improve the Bill.
This is an important amendment, which goes to the heart of the Bill. It would make it clear that a criminal offence would be committed only when unnecessary suffering was caused to the hunted animal. If there is any justification for the measure, it is that those who proposed it are concerned about the unnecessary suffering of the hunted animal.
We—those who support hunting and those who oppose it—are all concerned about unnecessary suffering. In the light of that, it is surprising that paragraph 1 contains no definition of the offence in terms of animal welfare or of unnecessary suffering or the intention to cause it. Is the lack of such references in a Bill that purports to be about animal welfare owing to the promoters realising that it would be impossible to prove, to the standard that we have come to expect in criminal law over many centuries, that hunting imposes unnecessary suffering? One would have expected such a reference given that they seem so convinced that hunting imposes unnecessary suffering. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said, other animal welfare measures that Parliament has debated and passed during the past century have all contained such provisions.
``in circumstances likely to cause the animal any unnecessary suffering.''
Section 1 of the Agriculture (Misc. Provns.) Act 1968 requires proof of the causing of
``unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress.''
The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 specifically prohibits the culling or injuring of badgers, and an offence is also committed if one ``cruelly ill-treats a badger''. Section 1 of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 states:
``If, save as permitted by this Act, any person mutilates, kicks, beats, nails or otherwise impales, stabs, burns, stones, crushes, drowns, drags or asphyxiates any wild animal with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering he shall be guilty of an offence.''
Given those precedents in English law, why does the Bill contain no reference to an intention to cause unnecessary suffering? Is it because it is impossible to prove that the purpose of the hunt is to cause unnecessary suffering? Indeed, that is not the purpose of the hunt. A constant mantra of those who oppose hunting is that it is similar to practices that have rightly been outlawed in the past, such as bear baiting and cock fighting. The whole point of those practices was to impose unnecessary suffering. People gathered in a huddle around an animal that was deliberated tortured to death, and put wagers on it. That is different from a hunt. It is not the purpose of a hunt to impose suffering.
I wholly support the line that my hon. Friend is taking. Does he agree that foxhunting involves no gratuitous cruelty—that is, cruelty inflicted for its own sake?
Yes. That is why in order to understand the amendment, the Bill must include some concept of why people hunt and of what goes on in the hunting field. There is no intention to impose suffering on the hunted animal, and that does not happen.
I advise members of the Committee to read Roger Scruton's book on hunting, which I have taken out of the House of Commons Library. One would have thought, given the number of hon. Members who voted to abolish hunting, that someone else would have taken it out of the Library during the past year, but I am the only person to have done so. That suggests a lack of interest. Perhaps hon. Members have their own copies. Anyone who has read that book, or has made any effort to understand hunting, will know that the huntsman is a countryman. He is part of the process that humanely controls the wild fox population. Hunt followers are precisely that—followers. They do not gather round in a circle inflicting unnecessary or cruel suffering. They follow the hunt primarily because they want to participate in a process that is part of nature. Unlike drag hunting, foxhunting is not just a test of riding skill.
Hare coursing is an entirely different activity. I have never attended a hare course meet, so I am not prepared to say that I would abolish it. However, as a Member who represents a rural area, it is incumbent on me to take part in an activity that is important to many of my constituents. I am not a regular huntsman like my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, but unlike most members of this Committee I have actually been hunting, so I understand that those who hunt do not intend to cause unnecessary suffering to animals. Given the nature of a hunt, most do not witness the kill, so that is not their reason for hunting. They want to take part in a traditional British countryside activity.
One of the most striking aspects of hunting is that people are often very relieved when foxes get away, which they frequently do. As I understand it, the charge against hunting is not so much that it is cruel, but that people enjoy it in some way. However, that betrays a profound misunderstanding of the art of venery and other types of hunting that have been practised in this country since the dawn of time.
Order. Before the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) responds to that intervention, I should point out that we are trying to stay close to the amendment's terms of reference. It refers not to the hunter's motivation, but to the hunt's consequences for the wild mammal. I ask the hon. Gentleman and those who intervene to bear that in mind.
I knew that I was trying my luck, Mr. O'Hara, but I felt it necessary to make that point. People should understand that there is no intention to cause unnecessary suffering, and in one sense that point is indeed germane to the amendment. As I have said, although one can read much into the Burns report, in my view it did not conclude that hunting is cruel or involves unnecessary suffering. Therefore, one should not find those who hunt guilty of a criminal offence without first meeting the requirement—which has existed for a century in respect of other offences—to demonstrate intent, or mens rea, as it is commonly described in criminal law.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I rise with considerable diffidence given that I want to invite you to reconsider your ruling. The amendment, which would insert the phrase
``so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal'', would seem to require a discussion of the sort that you have just ruled out of order. I wonder whether you quite understand what you have said.
I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that I have given careful thought to the matter and have listened to every word of this debate. I am conscious of the need to keep the Committee strictly to the amendment's terms of reference. As I understand its syntax, the phrase ``so as to cause'' refers to the consequences of the action, rather than the intention. A hunter might behave with the best of intentions in his terms, but the consequences under the terms of the amendment could be disastrous. Although he might have good intentions, he causes unnecessary suffering. I wish the debate to be confined to the consequences of the hunt for the animal being hunted.
I am happy to deal with the consequences of the hunt for the animal being hunted. Given that banning hunting would have severe implications for the freedom of the individual and pest control, surely members of the Committee who support the Bill must convince us that hunting causes unnecessary suffering to the animal in a different way from other methods of pest control. They must prove that because they proposed the Bill. The Burns report does not support their contention, because the British fox population is increasing, and must be controlled.
Hon. Members who support the Bill point to the Burns report and suggest that one useful way of controlling foxes would be lamping at night using rifles. They have referred to paragraph 6.60 of the report, which states:
``lamping using rifles, if carried out properly and in appropriate circumstances, has fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting, including digging-out.''
They constantly refer to that phrase, but, as we heard earlier, they always leave out the next sentence:
``However, in areas where lamping is not feasible or safe, there would be a greater use of other methods.''
In this morning's debate—or, indeed, any other debate that I have heard—the Bill's supporters have signally failed to make an argument that would convince any serious, objective person that lamping is an acceptable and safe way of controlling foxes in difficult areas, such as hill country. Furthermore, they do not quote that part of paragraph 6.60 that states:
``We are less confident that the use of shotguns, particularly in daylight, is preferable to hunting from a welfare perspective. We consider that the use of snaring is a particular cause for concern.''
In lowland areas such as my constituency, it may be possible in certain circumstances, if one is highly skilled, to use a rifle at night with lamping, but most farmers lack the expertise to do that.
Sticking strictly to the guidelines that Mr. O'Hara has understandably set down, would my hon. Friend care to speculate on whether it is safe to use high-powered rifles in built-up areas at night?
That point is especially germane to constituencies such as that represented by my hon. Friend; Mid-Sussex is not as rural as my constituency, and contains more villages and houses. I do not know how many farmers currently go out at night in Mid-Sussex and use rifles as a regular means of fox control. I am not familiar with pest control in Mid-Sussex, which is a heavily built-up area, but I suspect that lamping would alarm its good residents.
Paragraph 6.61 of the Burns report states:
``In the event of a ban on hunting, it is possible that the welfare of foxes in upland areas could be affected adversely, unless dogs could be used, at least to flush foxes from cover.''
Lamping may produce instantaneous death, but what if it does not? As has been repeatedly made clear—I have never heard an effective reply to this point—when an animal is hunted, it is killed; it is not left wounded. Those who are primarily concerned with unnecessary suffering must convince the Committee that it is less cruel to attempt to dispatch foxes with alternative methods. They have no answer to the point that we have made constantly; that when an animal is hunted, it is hunted to death. It dies and is not wounded. Numerous studies, which the Burns report adduced, have shown that death is almost instantaneous in the hunted animal; it is not wounded or left to suffer. We make the point repeatedly but, again, there has been no reply.
What will be the result of the Bill? Hunting will be abolished, so one form of pest control will go. There will be no incentive for farmers to keep a fox population on their land. The overwhelming majority of farmers support hunting because they believe that it is a natural process in the countryside. They see foxes as vermin and know that they will have to deal with them when hunting has gone. There will be no incentive to keep any foxes on their land because they perform no useful service, so farmers will get rid of them. They will get rid of them by a means that is just as cruel as hunting. Shotguns are totally ineffective, so farmers must take out a licence and wander round the countryside with a rifle.
A colleague who is not a country person and not particularly aware of the habits of foxes told me that he stayed in the countryside at the weekend. He happened to be looking out of a window when he saw a fox on an island in a lake. He could see how extraordinarily well it blended into the countryside. Anyone who knows anything about the countryside knows how skilful the fox is at evading detection. It is a wild creature. It does not wander around waiting to be shot. Have any Committee members who so blithely quote the Burns report ever tried to shoot a fox? None of them has. I am not as good a shot--
Does hunting, under the strict terms of the amendment, cause unnecessary suffering to the fox? The truth is that, despite the evidence given to the Burns committee, there has been no serious scientific study of stress in the fox or the hare and it may not be possible to conduct such a study. Those who say that hunting causes unnecessary suffering to the fox and the hare cannot produce any scientific evidence whatever. This morning, we have heard only jokey references to tower blocks and foxes running away. Animals in the wild die from being eaten by other animals or from disease—usually from being eaten by other animals. What evidence is there that the fox works out in its mind that it is being pursued and that it is in terror during the chase?
Few members of the Committee have been hunting. I think that they assume that it is an appalling, gory procedure, with people chasing an animal that is mad with fear. Anyone who goes on a hunt realises that although the so-called chase may last as long as 16 or 30 minutes, for most of the time, the hunt pauses because the hounds have lost the scent. That is why people go hunting. They do not go for a wild chase across the countryside. The fox is not chased in fear of its life all the time. That simply does not happen in the real world. It is an entirely natural process and no unnecessary suffering is caused to the fox. We should not attribute our own fears to the mind of the fox because that does not add up.
Even the evidence relating to deer is mixed. Bateson is often mentioned, but what is written about Bateson's work on deer in the report is very different. There is no conclusive evidence even that deer become unduly stressed, and nobody has been able to prove that they feel fear or that hunting is uniquely unnatural and causes unnecessary and unusual suffering to wild animals. The hunt is part of the natural process that goes on every hour, every day of the week, for foxes, hares, deer and all wild animals. It is not the intention of the hunt to cause unnecessary suffering and it does not do so. Neither does the hunted animal suffer unnecessarily.
I do not know, but it is not my Bill. I am not proposing to change centuries of tradition and to take away the civil rights of 250,000 citizens. There is no firm evidence either way—we simply do not know. Labour Members are right to say ``Enough of these scientists.'' We all try to further our case by producing bibles to prove the argument one way or the other. Instead, we should consider from the point of view of common sense whether hunting produces unnecessary suffering in a wild animal. I believe that that is unlikely because hunting takes place naturally in the countryside. Animals chase other animals and eat them. That may not be very nice, but it is a fact of life in the world in which we live.
What evidence do those who propose the Bill have that this entirely natural act is causing animals such acute and unnecessary suffering that we have to take away 6,000 jobs, civil liberties and a form of pest control and put at risk the conservation of the fox population? There is none. The veterinary evidence to the Burns inquiry found—as have all other vets—that death is almost instantaneous, often as the result of a single bite to the neck; if not, death follows within seconds.
I hope that those who proposed the Bill will say, ``I am concerned with animal welfare, not with the minds of the hunters''. The amendment makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering. It is not about the enjoyment of the huntsman, but the suffering of the hunted animal.
That is precisely the point on which I shall end. Those who may in a few moments reject the amendment have to ask themselves, ``When I have abolished hunting, will I have eased the suffering of wild animals in this country?'' They will not, and therefore the amendment should be made.
The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury would have the consequence of rendering paragraph 1 as follows:
``A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal.''
You, Mr. O'Hara, have directed that that means that a person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog and that has the consequence of inflicting unnecessary suffering on the wild mammal. That is a logical reading of the amendment, although not one on which I had alighted. None the less, the central point behind the amendment is the prevention of cruelty to wild mammals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, in a cogently expressed collection of arguments, advanced a line of thinking that is wholly sustainable and incapable of contradiction. I regret that the mathematics of the Committee's composition means that the amendment will be rejected if put to the test. The Bill will be all the poorer for that.
Paragraph 1 is about the prevention and prohibition of the infliction of unnecessary cruelty to animals. The Hunting Bill is not an animal welfare measure, unlike the other Acts of Parliament on the protection of animals that have been referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and for Aylesbury. There seems to be increasing confusion about the genesis of the Bill. The Home Office Minister says that the Bill is all to do with Deadline 2000, but when its drafting is criticised, he says that it was drafted by parliamentary counsel—so we are all in a bit of a muddle about who is responsible for which bit.
If the Bill were genuinely about the prevention and prohibition of cruelty to animals, a provision along the lines of amendment No. 43 would already have been included. There have been references in other Acts to inflicting cruelty or behaving in a cruel way, as my hon. Friends have mentioned. The absence of a reference to an intention to cause unnecessary suffering to a wild animal is a serious flaw which must be corrected if the arguments of those supporting the Bill are to have any value.
Although Labour Members may not accept it, hunting is not about cruelty; it may be about a number of different things, but cruelty is not one of them. Cruelty may be what Labour Members think that hunting is about, but if they took the trouble to discuss it with those who know, they would perhaps reach a completely different conclusion.
The hon. Gentleman, no doubt for the most wonderful of reasons, has completely misunderstood the point. If cock fighting, badger baiting or bull fighting were simply for the purpose of entertainment, that would be wrong. As I recall, cock fighting and badger baiting are not lawful activities in this country in any event.
Hare coursing is not solely about the cruel motives that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I do not resile from the suggestion that hunting is an activity that people enjoy. The hon. Gentleman and those who think like him—in so far as they think at all—do not like other people to enjoy themselves. [Interruption.] I may have cast the fly rather too far across the water.
My hon. Friend has made the point that I intended to make. Everyone who hunts does so not because it is a terrible chore, but because they enjoy it. They enjoy riding, following hounds, seeing the hounds work, jumping fences and hedges, and so on. One cannot translate that enjoyment into an enjoyment of cruelty, killing and inflicting unnecessary harm on a wild mammal.
I confess that hare coursing is a subject about which I do not know a great deal. Let me try to explain what I believe is the purpose behind hare coursing. If I get it wrong, no doubt those who know more about hare coursing than I will tell me so, although I suspect that I may know marginally more about it than the hon. Gentleman.
Yes, the people who go to hare coursing enjoy it; otherwise, presumably they would not bother to go. The purpose of going to a football match is presumably to enjoy oneself. However, the purpose of hare coursing is not to inflict unnecessary cruelty on the hare but to watch two greyhounds competing to show how skilled they are at turning or moving another animal. There are competitions in the constituency of the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), where cups are given to the best hound, greyhound or whatever animal wins the Waterloo cup. However, that does not resolve the problem of the hon. Member for Pendle, which is that the Bill does not advance animal welfare one jot.
Indeed, the Bill, if unamended by amendment No. 43, will have, perhaps unwittingly, the reverse effect to that spoken of by Labour Members. If hunting with hounds were banned under the Bill, other means of culling animals would have to be used, which inevitably means an increase in gassing, shooting—with rifles or shotguns—cage trapping, trapping by snares and poisoning. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Aylesbury and for Gainsborough that each of those methods is far less damaging to the animals' welfare. I do not need to go into the details of what happens when an animal is gassed or shot and wounded by rifle or shotgun. However, I remind the hon. Member for West Lancashire that I referred him to a speech by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) about his experiences of a gun pack in his part of the country.
I shall not tell the Committee about the terrible effects of cage trapping, although the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme told us a little about that last week when she was talking about mink hunting. She may attempt to catch your eye, Mr. O'Hara, to draw our attention to the cruelty caused by cage trapping. Snaring is such an appalling activity that it needs no explanation. I cannot believe that any Labour Member wishes one consequence of the Bill, if unamended by my hon. Friend, to be an increase in trapping by snares.
As for poisoning, one has only to think about it to realise how silly a means of controlling fox or other wild animal populations that would be. Poisoning is wholly indiscriminate and is as likely to catch someone's dog or cat, or other wildlife, be it bird life or four-legged, as the fox, mink or other intended victim. Each of those methods of culling or killing involves inflicting far more cruelty, and unnecessary cruelty, than anything that happens on the hunting field.
I know that nothing that I have said or will say in the Committee, or later on Report or Third Reading, will change the minds of Labour Members. They have made up their minds, they know what they know and that is an end of the matter. I simply wish to place on record my deep concern that the Bill will fail to achieve the purpose that supporters of animal welfare claim it will have. It will have precisely the opposite effect.
I shall not rehearse—this is not strictly relevant to the amendment—the arguments that would expose the motives of many of those who want to see a total ban; that would merely inflame tempers and would not advance my argument one jot. However, if the Bill passes into law, the RSPCA will have to rescue animals that are caught in traps, badly injured as a result of shooting or gassing or sick and wasting away in hedgerows as a result of being poisoned. The welfare of those animals will have been severely compromised because the Committee will not accept my hon. Friend's sensible and logical amendment.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I am a law-abiding person and I always do what I am told, but I am mystified by your ruling. Amendment No. 43 says:
``Schedule 3, page 19, line 28, at end insert `so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal'.''
Surely, in order to understand and debate the amendment, we must deal with the question of intention. That is why I do not understand your ruling.
I entirely respect what the hon. Gentleman says and I have given it careful thought. The wording can be interpreted both ways. I am interpreting the words
```so as to cause unnecessary suffering'' as referring to consequences, but the words ``so as to cause'' could refer to purpose. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Aylesbury when he moved the amendment and I commended him for restricting himself broadly to consequences. He used the word ``cruelty'' sparingly, because cruelty implies intention; ``suffering'' was the word that he used. I did not hear him deny that he intended the amendment to refer solely to consequence, but if he were to advise me that he intended it to include purpose—which he did not say when he moved it—I should be prepared to consider that.
I invite the hon. Member for Aylesbury to comment.
I am grateful, Mr. O'Hara. To avoid misunderstanding, my primary intention in tabling the amendment was to deal with consequences, as you have said, but the record of my remarks this morning will show that I made some allusion to intention. In particular, I drew attention to the difference between the way in which much previous animal welfare legislation has related the creation of a new criminal offence to proof of the perpetrator's intention to act in a cruel way and the absence of any such provision in the Bill.
I find it rather colloquial if the words ``so as to cause'' refer to intention, but if the hon. Gentleman says that he intended them to include intention, I am happy to allow it.
Mr. Garnier rose—
My hon. Friend wants to make a speech and I am sure that we all want to listen to it.
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. O'Hara, for reconsidering your earlier tight ruling. The expression used in the amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury,
``so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal'', seems to import intention. Having listened to some of the contributions this morning, you have at least allowed that as an alternative interpretation.
I do not want to push at an open door. I have already spoken to the amendment once, and I do not want to bore the Committee with a further contribution. However, given that you have reconsidered your ruling, Mr. O'Hara, I would not want it thought that arguments that I might have made in relation to intention—
Order. I hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. It is of course possible to speak to an amendment more than once. If he feels a burning need to make some observations that, in his view, I unfairly stifled, he may seek to catch my eye.
It would be remiss of me not to mention mink in this debate. Anyone with common sense realises that mink have to be controlled—the question is how to control them. In keeping with the amendment, our side of the argument proposes that they should be controlled by mink hounds specially trained to do the job quickly and effectively. The alternative proposal, which is supported by many Labour Members, is to trap them in cages, but I seriously doubt whether that method is the most humane and causes the least suffering. During the fur farming debate on the Floor of the House, it was pointed out that mink trapped in cages chew their own tails, bite off their feet and act in a generally distressed way. Moreover, the cages in question are much larger than those proposed in the Bill.
We cannot have it both ways. Either mink that are trapped in cages are disturbed and chew off their tails, or they are not. Such suffering should certainly be regarded as unnecessary. Moreover, mink trapped in cages in estuaries are drowned by the river, and such a death is far more distressing than being caught and swiftly dispatched by mink hounds. Hunting with mink hounds would not cause unnecessary suffering to mink, and the amendment would therefore enable such hunting. For that reason, I strongly support it.
I shall be brief, even though my point is difficult to make. Whatever hon. Members on the other side of the argument might say, as none of them has been hunting—
I am sorry; I make an exception in respect of the hon. Gentleman, who has been hunting. Generally speaking, there is a profound ignorance among members of the Committee about what actually takes place at a hunt. In sticking closely not only to your extended ruling on unnecessary suffering, Mr. O'Hara, but your original ruling, I want to put on the record that I have hunted all my life, am familiar with every aspect of the hunting ethos and have met no one who sets out to cause gratuitous suffering.
To me, cruelty is the intention to cause gratuitous suffering for its own sake, but people who go hunting do not set out to cause suffering. As a result of fundamental and profound ignorance about foxhunting, we are about to do away with the civil liberties of tens of thousands of people who are not criminals and who care deeply about the effects on their lives and communities. That is the fault of people who do not have a clue about what is involved.
The Hafren veterinary group, a large mixed practice in Newtown in Powys, has circulated a note by Ian Jones, a veterinary surgeon who qualified from Cambridge in 1995. He says:
``Subsequent to discussions with some other veterinary surgeons, which highlighted our ignorance of the actual cause of death of foxes caught by foxhounds, I decided to perform some post mortems on such foxes.
I performed post mortem examinations upon three foxes in January and February 2000. Each of these foxes had been caught by foxhounds. The carcasses were collected and I performed the examinations at my surgery premises.
The foxes were firstly weighed, then had their head and neck area X-rayed and were then post mortemed.''
I shall not go into the details of the veterinary examinations, but they are available for those who want to see them. All three were similar.
In his conclusions, Mr. Jones says:
``In my opinion each of these three foxes died as a result of a powerful bite to the chest over the heart (cases 1 and 3) or posterior chest/anterior abdomen (case 3). The degree of trauma caused by the bites is so enormous as to result in instantaneous death. When the weight ratios of the fox to foxhound are considered this is not that surprising. These foxes all weighed less than 7kg whereas the foxhounds weigh 30-40kg and would easily be able to take a fox's chest within its mouth. None of the foxes appear to have gasped after the fatal bite was delivered, as there was no bloodstained fluid or froth within the trachea. Considering the damage to the lung tissue there should have been such material in the trachea had the foxes tried to breathe.
It is my opinion that these foxes would have died almost instantaneously upon receiving the massive bite injuries seen.''
When a fox is snared, one sees real and dreadful unnecessary suffering and mutilation. A fox with its leg, neck, shoulder or upper or lower body trapped in a snare for a long time—less conscientious keepers do not get round as quickly as they should—mutilates itself to death. That is the most appalling and disgusting form of suffering that I can think of, and I am sure that the hon. Member for West Ham would agree.
I beg the Committee to take on board the fact that we are not discussing what I understand to be cruelty. We all object to cruelty, but that term must be defined. No gratuitous cruelty is involved in foxhunting. Death is instantaneous and there are no wounded survivors. I do not shoot foxes, because a shotgun is not a proper weapon with which to kill a fox, and I have never been in a part of the world where one would use a high-powered rifle to do so. However, if it is done properly, it results in an extremely quick or instantaneous death. What will flow from paragraph 1 will be catastrophic in terms of the welfare of the fox and of causing unnecessary suffering.
Labour Members appear to feel that the enjoyment derived by people who hunt is offensive, making it necessary for the House of Commons to ban an entirely legitimate pastime. I cannot tell them how wrong they are. I beg them to listen to vets—if not to me, because I am entirely parti pris—and to read what Burns says about hunting and cruelty. Of course the welfare of the fox is compromised if it is about to be killed by a foxhound. It is not necessary to be a rocket scientist to work that out, but whether that constitutes ``unnecessary suffering'' is absolutely not proved. All the alternatives that will flow from a ban are much, much worse for the fox.
I give way to my hon. Friend.
In deference to my hon. Friend, I shall finish quickly.
The Committee owes it to all those who are watching and listening to the debates to try to understand the truth about what happens and not just to listen to the propaganda. It is deeply important that the House of Commons is seen to do its job properly and not just to respond to black propaganda. Many people, for understandable reasons, loathe hunting. I totally understand and respect that point of view, but does anything that we have heard or seen, or that Burns says, warrant the complete banning of hunting with hounds? The answer is no.
It is reasonably well known that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex and I are friends, and we tend to call each other ``hon. Friend'' in debates. I am pleased about that, but we disagree fundamentally on this issue. He said that there is no scientific evidence and quoted a letter from a highly qualified veterinary surgeon. On the question of whether hunting is cruel, the Committee will swap statistical or post mortem evidence that tends to support an argument on one side or the other. When trying to prove a point, Members of Parliament often quote statistics, and they may even do so selectively. We often hear an hon. Member praying in aid quotes from learned scientific sources. However, if there is a conflict, as there is with hunting, we must exercise our judgment.
How often have we heard Ministers of this and previous Governments quoting scientists as if they were gods and infallible? I remember scientists saying that there was no connection between smoking and lung cancer and no way in which BSE could ever get into the food chain. As Members of Parliament, we must sometimes think logically for ourselves and ask ourselves what an issues means to us. It is not always necessary to be highly qualified in science. As with lawyers, scientists sometimes respond according to how much they are paid. Someone can always be found to say what is wanted if the fee is substantial enough, although that is not to say that all lawyers and all scientists are venal. There comes a time when we, as Members of Parliament, perhaps without scientific knowledge, must exercise our judgment, and this is one of those times.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex quoted a veterinary surgeon. I shall reciprocate, but by quoting Richard Edwards, MSc, MA, VetMB, MRCVS—an impressive line of qualifications. Mr. Edwards refers to a report on the preliminary findings at a post mortem that was carried out on 14 January:
``The animal was a young male fox approximately 18 months of age. It appeared in good body condition for this time of year and there was no evidence of skin parasites.''
The principal findings were as follows:
``At presentation, the animal had apparently been partially eviscerated, with large portions of the large and small intestine plus spleen protruding through a ventral abdominal tear. There were also massive wounds to the chest through which 2 portions of lung were protruding. Most of the major internal abdominal and thoracic organs had been severely lacerated.
There were multiple bite wounds to the left side of the face, left hind leg and left and right inguinal regions.
Radiographs confirmed that there was massive traumatic disarticulation of the thoracic spine in 2 places. The caudal skull had been crushed, causing the left mandibular ramus to become disarticulated and there was brain tissue exuding from the right ear. This injury caused the skull to become effectively disarticulated from the cervical spine. The spinal cord had been severed. However, the lack of haemorrhage associated with this injury suggests strongly that this injury occurred after death. Bite marks around this injury suggest that it was caused by a single animal biting the fox's head from a forward direction, slightly to the left.
There were also multiple penetrating bite wounds to both hind legs and the inguinal regions.''
The conclusions were:
``Due to the extensive nature of the trauma here, it is not possible to determine the precise cause of death''-- there were plenty to choose from, of course.
``The extent of the bruising associated with the bite wounds to the hind legs suggests that this damage occurred before death.
The marked lack of bruising and haemorrhage associated with the crush injury to the skull and also around the anterior cervical spine suggests that this damage occurred after death.
The massive bruising and haemorrhage present around the chest and abdominal wounds suggest that this is damage occurred before death.
Whilst it is difficult to draw firm conclusions as to the exact timing and nature of the cause of death, the post mortem findings support the conclusion that this animal was initially caught by the hind legs. The animal was probably then caught by other dogs that delivered massive bite injuries to the chest and abdomen. The extent and nature of the injuries suggest that the fox was bitten by multiple animals simultaneously, each pulling in different directions and its body was literally starting to be torn apart.
I would tentatively suggest that the cause of death was massive chest and thoracic trauma caused by multiple bites. It would also appear probable that the bite wounds which caused the skull and facial injuries were delivered after the animal's heart had stopped.''
The idea that the fox somehow enjoyed the experience is nonsense. I do not know whether those hunting the fox and who witnessed its death enjoyed the experience. I find it cruel and I do not understand how a decent man, with whom I can be friends, can defend that. I shall never understand that.
I follow exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying and I entirely concur with him that we are bombarded with evidence that sustains and supports our own case. I spared the Committee from Ian Jones's description of the three foxes' injuries, but they were similar to those described by the hon. Gentleman. The argument between us is stark. No one enjoys seeing the death of the fox. There is no pleasure in that, but it is the natural conclusion of a hunt. The hon. Gentleman must decide whether that is unnecessary suffering and whether it warrants the banning of hunting.
There is a simple answer to that: yes. If the hon. Gentleman tells me that there are other cruel methods of killing, I shall agree with him. I would ban snares as well. We are talking about hunting, but if an amendment to ban snares were tabled, it would get my support, from whichever side of the argument it came. I am considering the particular form of cruelty before the Committee, which is why I answered my hon. Friend very much in the affirmative. He said, in repeating his hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, that hunting with dogs was a natural act, but in nature, animals chase and kill each other for food purposes. If that were part of the hunt, I could appreciate it, which is why to some extent I defend game shooting and fishing. I would not necessarily participate in those activities, but I can see the purpose of them.
Therefore, to say that hunting is a natural act is nonsense. It is not natural for a fox, which is at the top of the chain of predators in the countryside, to be chased by people on horses and a pack of hounds. It is not a natural act; it is totally unnatural. Nature did not intend that to happen, so it is no good people trying to purport that it is some sort of natural act that is at one with nature and part of the normal chain of events. The hunt is wholly artificial and engineered by human beings, who do not chase the fox for food. It is a form of entertainment, which the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex might enjoy. He says that he does not like gratuitous cruelty, which I accept, but there are one or two people who do. I accept that I have not gone on a hunt, but I have watched hare coursing and I have picked up animals that have been snared. I have also seen plenty of video evidence and footage of the hunt showing people enjoying themselves. People have said that they are disappointed if they do not see a kill.
I really must correct the hon. Gentleman. I love going hunting and it has nothing to do with killing the fox. It may be because I am slow and old—[Hon. Members: ``No.'']—that I have only once seen a fox killed or rolled over by hounds in the open. That is because I have often hunted in the south-east, where much of the land is woodland. I must correct my hon. Friend if he believes that people say, ``Gosh, marvellous, we shall see a fox killed today.'' That is nonsense. He must understand that point, as the core of the argument is that hunting is all wrong because people enjoy it. Why should it be wrong because people enjoy it?
There is nothing wrong with people enjoying themselves. The hon. Gentleman and I both enjoy ourselves regularly. I do not accept that he is old; he is a fine figure of a man. There were times when I thought that perhaps he went out hunting for the joys of the stirrup cup beforehand and the chance, when he was younger, to get across to some of the rural totty what a fine figure of a man he looked in his gear. He is suggesting that because he does not believe in cruelty and his motives are honest and decent, everyone else is the same. I cannot accept that. I have read about and watched some of the activities of terrier men. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to tell me that they do not enjoy seeing cruelty inflicted on animals, I do not know what world we are living in.
I suspect that such activities are utterly grotesque and would be deplored by everyone who hunts or has anything to do with the proper regulation of hunting. The hon. Gentleman is a keen lover of football; there are some rotten apples in that sport and some rotten people who follow it. Every barrel has some bad apples in it, and it would be disgusting for the hon. Gentleman to associate such a thing with properly organised foxhunting, which is what we are discussing.
All I am saying is that if the excitement of foxhunting lies in the thrill of the chase and the ride through the countryside, drag hunting provides that without anything being killed. We can swap the advice of veterinary surgeons, some of whom argue for one side and some for the other, but I would maintain that the method employed and the injuries sustained are cruel. I therefore cannot support the amendment.
In terms of scientific evidence, a letter sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) says:
The most horrendous sound Jim and I have ever heard was the agonised screams of a fox being torn to pieces by dogs in the thicket 30 yards from our house.
It took a long time to die.
The huntsmen were nowhere near at the time and only appeared 20 minutes or so later''— the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex was a bit slow that day—
``apparently searching for their hounds.''
There is enough evidence, even if it is not enough to satisfy the other side. In the end, it is up to us to exercise judgment, which is what we are doing in the Bill. That is why I cannot support the amendment.
I suspect that I am one of the few Members who has actually seen a fox being caught, disembowelled and dismembered. I witnessed it by accident when I was out with hunt saboteurs. I would like to disentangle some of the points that have been made by Opposition Members and especially by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex.
The hunt was nowhere near the fox. Most of the pack had been given the slip by the fox, had got lost and were on their way home. The fox had doubled back on itself only to find that it was in the same field as some straggling hounds. It was pursued and torn apart at the edge of the road in front of rapturous onlookers. That might be immaterial to the nature of the hunt, but the hunters were some distance away, and fairly indifferent to what was going on. I suggest to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex that if it was the ride that they had wanted, they would probably have got the same enjoyment from a drag hunt.
The central issue is whether it is right to train dogs to pursue mammals in order to kill them and whether that is cruel and inflicts ``unnecessary suffering''. That is distinct from the natural pursuit of one animal by another for food. The one thing that everyone—
I am puzzled that the amendment was not moved by the hon. Member for Newham and his colleagues, because it seems to be in keeping with their view of the Bill's declared purpose. If that purpose is to end unnecessary suffering for animals, it should be specified in the Bill. It would be right for them to seek to import it into the Bill, and I agree in some measure with the hon. Gentleman on that point.
After Berwick Rangers' magnificent feat in holding Hearts to a draw on Saturday in the Scottish cup, I am bound to accept that intervention.
The hon. Member for West Ham indicated that he too might welcome some such words in the Bill. I am sure that that is his primary purpose. However, another purpose became apparent in the debate. It is not to protect the hunted animal from unnecessary suffering but to end what opponents of hunting think of as the inappropriate, demeaning or unworthy behaviour of people who enjoy participating in hunts. Members are entitled to the opinion that hunting is an unworthy or demeaning activity, but they are not entitled to construe from that opinion that it should be made a criminal offence. The basis for making it a criminal offence is that it might cause unnecessary suffering. It would be helpful if he would clarify the purpose by disposing of those that are not relevant to the Bill.
There are many areas in which conduct might be considered inappropriate or undesirable, but we cannot ban everything that we think other people should not do. We bring in the apparatus of the law where there is a powerful justification because of harm caused. In this instance, the harm is supposed to be the unnecessary suffering of the hunted animal, not whether some people are entertained by participating in a hunt. We will never have coherent legislation on hunting if we take that road.
A pest control officer might enjoy his work, but we do not prevent him from doing his job simply because he gets satisfaction from it. How would slaughterhouses operate if everyone who worked in them had to go home every night disgusted and appalled by what they had done? That would be reasonable to the strict vegetarian who believes that vegetarianism must be enforced on everyone, but people who eat meat must accept that someone has to kill animals and that they might not find the job so unpleasant that they are not prepared to continue with it.
The right hon. Gentleman is a reasonable individual. He should not slip in the suggestion that vegetarians are food fascists who believe that everyone should be forced to accept their beliefs. I am a vegetarian, but I do not believe that anyone should be forced to become a vegetarian. However, those who enjoy eating meat should visit an abattoir, as I have. They would quickly become vegetarians.
I used to visit abattoirs in my constituency, but other policies have greatly reduced their number. I respect the hon. Gentleman's vegetarian views. I know that he does not try to enforce them by law on everyone else, but such enforcement could be the logical consequence of arguing that the killing of animals cannot be carried out unless the activity is surrounded by loathing and unwillingness.
If hon. Members who oppose hunting had tabled the amendment on the ground that it more clearly declared their purpose, those who think as I do would not have opposed it. We do not believe that hunting should cause unnecessary suffering, or that it generally does. If it does, action should be taken. The Bill was originally structured to do that through self-regulation or a licensing system. We would not oppose such an amendment, because it would prohibit something that we, too, think is unacceptable. The amendment is not hostile to either point of view, and should be carried unanimously.
I wish to deal briefly with unnecessary suffering in hare coursing, if it occurs. Some comments did not take proper account of the nature of the activity. Hare coursing differs from hunting in that it is not a normal part of the control apparatus that is used to keep down numbers of a species. Along with its relative rarity, that is one of the reasons why people find it difficult to understand what occurs.
The purpose of hare coursing is to test the ability of dogs and the pursuit of a hare is a natural way to do that. The relevant question with respect to the amendment is whether hares experience ``unnecessary suffering'' through hare coursing. That question must be set against what will happen to hares if there is no coursing.
Regulated hare coursing traditionally takes place in some areas of my constituency. If I wanted to see a hare, those are the areas to which I would go. They are the areas with the most hares because, over the rest of the year, farmers do not shoot them. It is expected that coursing will occur in such areas and, therefore, the hares flourish during the year. A small reduction in hare numbers—estimated to be between one in six and one in eight—takes place on the couple of days in the year when coursing occurs. Of course, most of the hares get out from the other end of the field, and that is the end of it. During such days, a hare in a coursing area is exposed to the risk of being driven towards a field, where it will be chased by two dogs—to which it has superior skills—and from which it will probably escape. In most other areas, the hare is liable to be shot at any time by a farmer, who may or may not be a good shot. The hare is a difficult animal to shoot successfully, and, if shot, may only be injured and consequently suffer for a long time before it dies.
I wholly support what the right hon. Gentleman says about the shooting of hares. People who do not know what they are doing will often open up at hares when they are much too far away to kill them. That is very cruel, as the hare will escape and take a long time to die.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Therefore, the question that must be asked is whether ``unnecessary suffering'' is caused to hares in a coursing area or in a coursing-free area, where hares are shot at, as in most areas, to keep numbers down. It would have been helpful if the Bill had been constructed in such a way as to allow the separate consideration of hare coursing, as hon. Members may arrive at different conclusions from those that they reach about foxhunting.
The matter illustrates that it would be helpful to include the phrase ``unnecessary suffering'' in the Bill. That would be a declaration of purpose and allow the conduct of such activities as hare coursing to be tested against that purpose, rather than assuming that a ban would confer benefits on the hare by freeing it from cruelty, when it might do no such thing.
There has been much passionate advocacy about the argument, and I want to make what I am afraid are dry points about the wording and meaning of the amendment. The hon. Member for Gainsborough—who is always interesting—glossed the amendment. I am sorry that he is not in Committee at the moment, and I hope that I will not misquote him. He said that the amendment would make the clause read, ``so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal compared with other methods.'' The last words are not in the amendment. The amendment says,
``to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal''— full stop. It does not mention shooting, trapping or any other method; these have formed the bulk of this morning's debate. The debate about which method is the cruelest is valid, and will no doubt come up during consideration of other groups of amendments.
Earlier, I asked the hon. Member for Aylesbury to define necessary suffering in the context of hunting. If an amendment makes an exception to an activity by stating that a person cannot do it if it is unnecessary, that amendment must identify when it is necessary. For example, in the pharmaceutical world, which has been in the news recently, the suffering of animals may be accepted—perhaps reluctantly—because it is necessary to produce a medicine or treatment. However, within the context of banning hunting with dogs of deer, hare, fox and mink, it is obvious that that suffering is not necessary.
I admit that we can get into tangles because the Bill pays some attention to pest control. We have wrangled about it already and shall continue to wrangle about the necessity of using dogs for pest control in certain circumstances. That will be discussed when we come to later amendments. We will then consider whether other methods of control are equally efficient. The House has already decided that it wishes to ban hunting with dogs of certain species of mammals. The House could not logically decide to ban hunting with dogs if it believed that it was necessary. How could any legislature ban an activity that it believed to be necessary? The amendment is therefore otiose.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury is left with his argument about suffering. If the amendment had said, ``so as to cause suffering to the wild mammal'', that would at least have made sense and enabled the courts to act, even if the hon. Gentleman would not have liked it. We now have a strange situation where we are busily comparing the merits and depths of suffering, and whether an animal suffers more or less through different methods of pursuit.
No, I think that I said the opposite in my remarks about the pharmaceutical world and the need to experiment on animals. I hope that that need is minimised, if not eliminated, but the example suggests that animal suffering could be thought of as necessary.
The point is that hunting activity has already been judged to be unnecessary by the House and by the majority of the country's population. Therefore, one is left swimming around in endless arguments about what is more cruel or what causes more suffering. A large majority of the House believes that hunting with dogs causes suffering. It does not matter whether the period of suffering is short, or that it is proved to have lasted 10 or 20 minutes. Suffering is caused, and so to table an amendment that includes the word ``unnecessary'' is nonsense.
I simply do not accept the comments about hare coursing made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Having visited Altcar on many occasions, as a protester and a guest, I have seen what goes on there. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is about testing the ability of the dogs. Of course, that is the traditional purpose. I have no reason to doubt that points are scored according to which dog turns the hare most often or skilfully.
Whether the hare is caught depends almost entirely on when the dogs are released. If the hares are not being killed in sufficient quantities, the dogs are let go a little earlier; if things are going well, the dogs are held for longer to give the hare a better chance. A few years ago, I went to a hare coursing event with my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), the late Member for Wigan, Roger Stott and other Members. We were there for almost three hours in the morning and not one hare was caught. The dogs caught 12 before we arrived and about another 12 over the rest of the day. None was caught while we were there because the handlers did not want us, as guests, to be upset by the sight. I was much more upset by the audience than by the dogs.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that most hares get away. That is true—the majority of hares probably escape—but there are plenty of other people with dogs waiting for them in surrounding fields and a hell of a lot more get caught in the outskirts. I apologise for wandering into the general debate. I did not intend to do so but I was tempted by the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman also compared the pleasure that people might get from hunting to the pleasure that people get from eating meat. However, people who eat meat do not kill animals for pleasure and pursue them to the abattoir. The animals are killed because people wish to eat them, which is an ordinary, natural process. To compare the killing of animals for food to the killing of animals for a thrill or entertainment is a false argument. I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman because he is highly articulate and intelligent. That argument has been around for a long time and has been battered enough.
Several Opposition Members said that hunting, and therefore the killing of an animal at its end, was totally natural. Is it natural to spend vast amounts on keeping specialist dogs that have been artificially bred to do the business and to do it slowly? If one pursued foxes with greyhounds, the foxes would not last very long, so slower dogs with greater stamina are bred specially for the purpose. That is not a natural process in the countryside and it is wrong-headed to pretend that it is. Putting our human intelligence into inventing a sport such as tennis is natural only in that the human brain thought it up. The human brain is part of nature, but it is capable of creating disturbing things as well as the energetic, helpful, thrilling and culturally wonderful activities that most sports are.
What the hon. Gentleman said is untrue. The breeding of hounds has evolved over centuries. For instance, hounds in the south-east are stronger and bigger because they go through thicker undergrowth. They are also bred to be paler in colour so that they can be seen in the woods, as opposed to hounds bred in Leicestershire or Nottinghamshire—where there is more open country—which need to be lighter in weight. There is nothing artificial about it. Breeds have evolved through the centuries, almost since Norman times.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because his intervention makes my point exactly. He confuses evolution with what we might call forced or engineered evolution. It has, of course, taken generations to breed particular types of animal. One can even breed different coloured dogs for different parts of the country—he is better able than me to enlighten the Committee on such points—but that is not a natural process.
The hon. Member for Aylesbury has again instigated an interesting debate. We have enjoyed thoughtful and well argued contributions on a subject that, having heard some of the difficulties that we have had with definitions, is both practical and philosophical.
The effect of the amendment would be that hunting with dogs would constitute an offence only where unnecessary suffering was caused to the mammal being hunted. If I understood the hon. Member for Aylesbury correctly, he claimed that all the offences in the Protection of Animals Act 1911 are qualified by the term ``unnecessary suffering''. It is not correct to say that all the offences are so qualified. For example, many of those mentioned by other Committee members, such as procuring or assisting at the fighting or baiting of an animal, are absolute offences. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 makes it an offence to damage, destroy or obstruct a badger sett or to cause a dog to enter a badger sett. There is no mention of cruelty or intention to cause suffering.
The amendment does not help us to resolve that difficult issue. There are many different views. Some believe that hunting with dogs, by its nature, inflicts suffering on the quarry, while others argue that no unnecessary suffering is caused, because any method of pest control is ultimately to the detriment of the pest that is to be controlled. Other arguments are advanced to defend the motives of those riding to hounds. Each side chooses to interpret the scientific evidence—and the Burns report—differently, so as to support its own point of view. Each is entitled to do that.
If we were to agree the amendment, we should not resolve the question of whether hunting with dogs causes unnecessary suffering. Rather, we should hand the courts an incredibly tricky, difficult, controversial problem. This is an issue that Parliament should decide, rather than placing it in the hands of the courts. The exchanges between the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex and my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham illustrated my point. I fairly frequently agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, and on this occasion I entirely agree with him; this is a question of judgment. The House of Commons has made a judgment on this issue and, on that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for Aylesbury will withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Lidington—I am sorry, I mean Mr. O'Hara. The danger of being a politician is that one risks talking to oneself because one can be sure of an appreciative audience.
As the Parliamentary Secretary said, it has been a thoughtful and constructive debate. All Committee members have presented their arguments in a balanced and moderate manner although, as the hon. Member for West Ham reminded us, the matter arouses real passion on both sides of the fence.
To respond briefly to the points made by the hon. Member for West Lancashire, I think that he will find that the phrase ``unnecessary suffering'' has a respectable pedigree in previous animal welfare legislation; it is found in the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and, more recently, in the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. If he reads my remarks in Hansard, he will find that I did not claim that every offence defined in the 1911 legislation was subject to the qualification that it had to cause unnecessary suffering. I referred to the general qualification in the 1996 legislation, which lists specific actions that are unlawful if they are done with the intention of causing unnecessary suffering.
Most of the offences listed in section 1 of the 1911 Act carry the sort of qualification that I am seeking to introduce into the Bill through amendment No. 43. Under section 1(1)(a),
``If any person shall . . . beat, kick, ill-treat'' or otherwise harm an animal, that action becomes a criminal offence only if it is done cruelly. Section 1(1)(b) refers to causing ``unnecessary suffering'', and a later section refers to an action being carried out
``without due care and humanity''.
Therefore, I do not believe that the courts would have any difficulty in interpreting my amendment in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 17.