HC Deb 28 November 1997 vol 301 cc1199-272

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker

Before we commence the main business, let me tell the House that more than 50 hon. Members are seeking to speak in this debate. Therefore, I have imposed a time limit of 10 minutes on all speeches other than those from the promoter of the Bill and Front Benchers, but I hope that Front Benchers will respond to my appeal for short speeches.

9.38 am
Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester)

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

I owe a special debt of gratitude to my staff, Margaret and Phil, who have had to cope with an excessive amount of paperwork recently. Their task has been made more difficult by the fact that the Bill has come very early in my parliamentary career. The Bill has been supported by hon. Members of all parties, whom I thank for their valuable contributions.

I declare an interest in that I have received temporary support in the form of administrative, legal and research assistance paid for by the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals in support of the Bill. I have a further declaration. I have also received support from thousands upon thousands of ordinary British people who want hunting with dogs banned.

I have known for some time that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would not be in the House today. [Laughter.] Conservative Members may laugh, but they obviously do not know that he is in Bosnia, with the British troops overseas, overseeing the peacekeeping process. They should not laugh about that, but take it seriously.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster


I know, because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has told me, that, had he been in the House today, he too would have voted for the Bill.

This is not the first attempt to legislate to ban hunting with dogs. In the past, hon. Members have tried to pass private legislation, and have been frustrated by parliamentary techniques. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful then, but I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) and for Mansfield (Mr. Meale), because their work has enabled the Bill to be in the position that it is today, and I hope that the lessons learned from the Bills that they introduced will be used usefully by me in the near future.

Little did I know, about eight months ago, that I would be introducing such legislation to the House, but at least my electors were sure where I stood on the issue. Probably most hon. Members received probing letters from organisations such as the British Field Sports Society and the League Against Cruel Sports, asking what their views were as candidates. I replied clearly that, on a free vote, I would vote to ban hunting with dogs.

During the general election campaign, at the many public meetings that I attended, I also expressed that view. Indeed, I was the only one of the four candidates in Worcester who held that view. I must confess—

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)


Mr. Foster

I must confess an incident that took place in Worcester during the general election campaign.

Sir Michael Spicer

On the subject of Worcester—

Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Foster

At the time, it was not noteworthy in itself, but with hindsight, perhaps the hand of fate had some dealing with the following incident.

The Guardian followed me for the day on the campaign trail. I was keen to put over our core message—to restate our key pledges. When a Conservative-supporting lady approached me and asked for my view on fox hunting, I said that I would vote to ban it, and she then intimated to me that she was quite likely to support me at the forthcoming general election. I thought no more about it until The Guardian article appeared, which said that I had promised the end of fox hunting.

Perhaps there is something in the accusation by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), in my splendid local newspaper, the Worcester Evening News, that I can predict the future and should be called "Mike the Psych".

Sir Michael Spicer


Mr. Foster

Like many hon. Members entering the private Members' ballot, I did not anticipate coming in the top 20, let alone having No. 1. It is an almost unique position for a new Member, so I adopted a unique position: I chose to consult my constituents.

Sir Michael Spicer


Mr. Foster

I have only just started.

Through the good offices of the Worcester Evening News, responses were collated. People sent responses there; I also received responses directly in my office. The overwhelming majority view was that I should introduce legislation that banned hunting with dogs.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)


Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman who is on his feet has clearly indicated that he is not going to give way, and when that is the case I should be obliged if hon. Members would take note.

Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is this to be a debate or a series of soliloquies?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Foster

Before announcing the choice of my Bill, I consulted widely on the issue with interested groups. One meeting of particular note was held with the British Field Sports Society. I had asked to meet Mr. Robert Hanbury-Tenison, the organisation's chief executive, so I thought that the meeting would be just with him. However, he arrived with his political officer—that was fine—but also with Professor Stewart Harrop of Essex university, who is known for his academic input into the so-called "independent" Phelps report.

Also with the BFSS was Mr. James Barrington of the Wildlife Network, an organisation that is seen to promote a sanitised version of hunting with dogs. It was an interesting collection of people, given that I had asked only to see the British Field Sports Society. Perhaps there is some sort of cosy relationship between them.

I announced the title of my Bill on 16 June, with its First Reading on 18 June. The resulting postbag has been immense. Even national letter writing day made little impact on the overwhelming view expressed in my postbag that hunting with dogs should end.

Mr. Alan Johnson (Hull, West and Hessle)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Foster

Yes, I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Johnson

It shows what one can do with a bit of charm and finesse.

Mr. Luff

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that it was a convention of this House that, when an hon. Member is named in another's speech, he is allowed to intervene if he seeks to do so. The hon. Gentleman is now giving way for the first time to a member of his own party who he thinks may support him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order for the Chair. Hon. Members give way to whomever they choose.

Mr. Johnson

Like most hon. Members, I have had a record postbag on this issue. Of more than 300 letters, only one has been against the Bill. How many letters has my hon. Friend, as the Bill's promoter, received on this issue?

Mr. Foster

I have received 450 letters from my constituents supporting the Bill, and 19 against. I have also received a petition signed by 5,000 constituents and nearly 10,000 letters from ordinary members of the public. The overwhelming view expressed is the desire to ban hunting with dogs.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

The hon. Gentleman will not be aware that I have received 2,374 letters from my constituents in favour of fox hunting and 467 against. What does he say about that?

Mr. Foster

I say that that is what happens when people elect someone like the hon. Gentleman.

In July, I embarked on a consultation exercise with the major players of the debate. Responses were invited to be received by the end of September. I wrote to some 75 organisations, and 39 replied.

Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire)

I welcome my hon. Friend's democratic approach to formulating the Bill. As I have a Welsh constituency, will he tell me whether any of the submissions received affected the final draft of the Bill?

Mr. Foster

One important dimension of the written submissions came from those involved in sheep farming in Wales, who were concerned about controlling fox numbers and the perceived threat to their land. I say "perceived", because the scientific evidence that I shall produce calls into question the reality of that threat.

However, I acknowledge that it is a genuine fear, so I felt obliged to help protect the farming community. While remaining fixed on the principle of humane methods of controlling animal numbers, I agreed to accept the principle of flushing out in the Bill so that dogs could be used to flush foxes out of cover, where they could be quickly and humanely shot. Clause 5 introduces that exemption.

In October, I witnessed a hunt at the invitation of the Worcestershire hunt. I thank Mr. Robert Breirley for his courtesy in showing me around the hunt, and for other meetings that we have had. We fundamentally disagree on the issue, but the fact that we parted on speaking terms says a lot for both of us.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster

I wish to make progress, because complaints have been made about the slow start.

I expect that even my opponents would welcome the fact that I have been hunting. When my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton introduced such legislation, the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) severely criticised him for not having been on a hunt.

Mr. Garnier

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster

No, I said that I would not give way.

I followed the hunt on foot and in a four-by-four vehicle. Three foxes were sighted and chased, but none was caught. They were followed by some 40 dogs in hot pursuit. One fox came within 3 ft of where I happened to be standing. It was certainly not happy; indeed, it looked panicked, and did not know what to do. It is therefore surprising that the previously mentioned Robert Hanbury-Tenison should have said: If you have ever been hunting, you've seen how foxes laugh at the hounds". Foxes do not laugh at hounds when they are being chased, and to suggest otherwise is to act with ignorant disregard for the welfare of animals.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster


At the invitation of the Worcestershire hunt, I also visited the kennels there, and met the staff. A serious journalist covered that meeting, and someone from Horse and Hounds was also there—their reporting was somewhat less factual. I had frank discussions with the staff about their job content and about care for the dogs.

I have deliberately spent some time discussing the process that I have gone through, because I firmly believe in continuous process improvement: the better the process undertaken, the better the end product. The Bill is a good product. It aims to protect wild mammals from cruelty and from the unnecessary pain and suffering inflicted in the name of a so-called "sport". Preventing cruelty is the centrepiece of this Bill.

Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

Can my hon. Friend see parallels between the hunting of wild mammals with dogs and the previous practices of bear baiting, cock fighting and dog fighting? Does he agree that, given the animal welfare evidence available to us now, the hunting of wild mammals with dogs should have joined those barbaric activities a long time ago?

Mr. Foster

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She too has noticed the similarity, but it was also noticed by others in the past.

In 1825, somebody whom even Conservative Members may have heard of—a chap called Peel—spoke on the Cruelty to Animals Bill. Mr. Peel felt bound to oppose the Second Reading of that Bill. He confessed that he did not see on what grounds monkeys, badgers and bears were entitled to a distinct and separate legislative enactment for their protection. Why were the monkey and the bear to be protected, while the fox, the stag and the hare were subject to the most unrelenting persecution?

I shall state now, and repeat whenever necessary, that the Bill does not extend to shooting and angling. It extends to the 100,000 wild mammals that are hounded to death in the name of hunting. That number is a conservative estimate, because of the number of unrecorded killings by unofficial hunts.

Clause 1 approaches the task by identifying two basic offences. The first covers the public perception of hunting: wild mammals being followed on foot or on horseback. The latest survey by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee suggests that Britain's hare population is now only 800,000, compared with 4 million at the turn of the century. It is generally accepted that that reduction has been brought about by changes in agricultural practice, but the suggestion by hunters that hunting promotes animal numbers is a myth.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Foster


Hon. Members


Mr. Pickthall

Because we are much nicer than you lot.

I am glad that my hon. Friend is discussing hare coursing. Does he agree that hare coursing is particularly obnoxious—perhaps even more so than other blood sports—because it is a spectator sport? It belongs alongside cock fighting, bear baiting and bull baiting, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) said.

Mr. Foster

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. I am sure that the whole House recognises how hard he has worked for the abolition of hare coursing.

Hare coursing and hunting have not been significant in helping to conserve hare numbers. Official hare coursing is recognised as killing 1,000 hares annually. The speed of the greyhounds and lurchers that take part in the event enable them to catch the hare quickly, but they then often use the hare as a living tug-of-war rope pulled between them. The human race, if I may use the term loosely, often bets on the result.

It is estimated that 6,000 hares are killed annually by packs of harriers, beagles and bassets. Those are slower dogs. They follow the scent. They wear down their prey until the hare becomes exhausted, thus enabling the dogs to catch it. Hares are not naturally suited to such a chase. It is artificially created for the pleasure of the human followers.

The Waterloo cup hare coursing finals perhaps symbolise this obscene sport most graphically. In 1951, even the Scott Henderson report on animal cruelty condemned that event, and others of a similar nature.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

Those opposing the Bill are most likely to quote the Scott Henderson report. Will my hon. Friend draw to the attention of the House the part of the report that states: Consequently, the suffering which is caused to hares coursed at such meetings comes within the definition of cruelty which we have adopted"? Even Scott Henderson condemned hare coursing, and then did not have the courage to abolish Altcar.

Mr. Foster

I thank my hon. Friend. It is accepted that the Scott Henderson committee contained very few members of animal welfare organisations; in fact, it could be said to be biased towards people who hunted. Even so, it accepted that hare coursing was an extremely cruel act.

Mr. Garnier

Why does the hon. Gentleman go coarse fishing?

Mr. Foster

I do not believe for one moment that any reasonable person in this country thinks that fishing and hunting with dogs have anything in common. When anglers catch fish, do they feed them to the dogs so that the dogs can tear them apart while the fish are still alive? Of course not. That is rubbish.

Perhaps one of the cruellest forms of hunting with dogs is the pursuit of deer by hounds. This summer, thankfully, the New Forest buck hound hunt has been disbanded. Earlier this year, the National Trust banned stag hunting on its land, following a two-year scientific study conducted by Professor Patrick Bateson. He investigated the stress and suffering of hunted deer, compared to that of deer that had been stalked and then shot. His work had the full co-operation of the local stag hunts.

Mrs. Jackie Ballard (Taunton)

Will the hon. Gentleman join me in condemning the actions of the farmers on the Quantock hills who claim to have deliberately slaughtered 36 stags in the past week, in order to make some perverse point?

Mr. Foster

I, too, condemn those actions. It is ironic that the people who conducted that obscene act claimed that they were culling deer numbers, when in fact the cull took place after the hinds had become pregnant, so it was a pure act of symbolic vengeance on wild mammals.

A panel of 14 eminent zoologists and veterinarians, including those nominated by the hunters, checked Professor Bateson's methodology throughout. His final report was so devastating that the National Trust acted on it immediately. In his foreword, Professor Bateson wrote: To many people, witnessing a hunt is to feel part of English history and the sight of the full field of horses and hounds is both beautiful and thrilling. The field-craft of the Huntsmen is remarkable and the skill of the hounds marvellous to watch.… We really did not know what we were going to find. As always in science, we failed to find some things that we had expected to find and we uncovered some major surprises which nobody had foreseen. Inexorably we were led to certain conclusions. I hope that those who will undoubtedly dislike these conclusions will accept that we have arrived at them honestly and, in some respects, not without sadness. The conclusions of Professor Bateson's report are as follows: The study produced clear-cut scientific results. These show that lengthy hunts with hounds impose extreme stress on red deer and are likely to cause them great suffering. The hunts force them to experience conditions far outside the normal limits for their species… I conclude that the level of total suffering would be markedly reduced if hunting with hounds were ended. Hunting with hounds can no longer be justified on welfare grounds, taking into account the standards applied in other fields of animal welfare. The Bateson report has been scrutinised and accepted for publication in the proceedings of the Royal Society for London. That shows that its findings have been validated by the most respected scientists in this country. I hope that that will put an end to the scurrilous attacks on his integrity by the hunting lobby and its so-called experts.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Would the hon. Gentleman say that the Bateson report and what it says about the stress that the hunted stag undergoes can be a valid contribution to the debate only if we understand how stags would die in any event, if they were not hunted? What evaluation does Bateson make of that?

Mr. Foster

As many people have pointed out, dying is a natural activity. Stag hunting is an activity conducted for the artificial pleasure of members of the public.

I shall now deal with fox hunting, which is perhaps the most controversial of sports. Those who justify its existence claim that they are controlling a pest, but at the same time they argue that they are conserving fox numbers. The fox has no natural predator in this country. Baroness Mallalieu thinks that humans have replaced the wolves. She said in another place that we have taken over the responsibility of the wolf. I believe that we should aim to be somewhat higher than that, or is hunting an activity limited to werewolves?

The so-called sport of fox hunting is not confined to organised hunts. There is a much darker side to it. Let me describe a typical fox hunt. It begins with the blocking up of earths and other underground refuges where the fox may seek to hide when being chased. That means that the fox must stay above ground throughout the pursuit.

The hounds are slower than the fox over short distances, but possess much greater natural levels of stamina. With nowhere to escape—and laughing away, according to Robert Hanbury-Tenison—the fox is eventually caught, at the point of exhaustion.

I am told that the average fox hunt lasts less than 17 minutes before either a kill takes place, or the scent is lost. I shall read out a boast from the Worcestershire hunt, which states: I cannot let the occasion pass without putting forward the claims of the Worcestershire Hunt to the longest recorded run.… From the place where they found to that where they killed is more than 50 miles in a straight line and with the compass of the ground which must have been covered, the distance could not have been less than 80 to 90 miles. So says Alan Cure, the former master of the Worcestershire hunt. That is the equivalent of the circumference of the M25. I wonder when the fox stopped laughing.

The kill is also surrounded by myth. The hunters claim that the kill is instantaneous—a quick bite to the back of the neck, it is said. The reality, as ever, is somewhat different. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said in last month's sport hunting debate: It is certainly right, however, to acknowledge that fox hunting is fun. I shall describe the death of a fox, not in my words, but in those of innocent witnesses and of veterinary surgeons. The first case involves the Worcestershire hunt again. A witness reported: The dogs came across our field and attacked the fox and tore it to pieces. They were followed by members of the hunt and one of them got off his horse and tried to get over a fence on to private land to cut the tail off the fox. A pack of hounds savaged a pregnant fox and devoured her unborn cubs in a garden as a pensioner looked on helplessly. Eric Griffin, aged 71, said: It was the worst thing I have seen in my life. The hounds were totally out of control and tearing at the vixen. Three cubs spilled out. They were fully developed. I saw the dogs eat one of them.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

What would my hon. Friend say to the poor young girl whose two guinea pigs were killed by a fox two nights ago in Lansdowne gardens, less than a mile away?

Mr. Foster

It is accepted that foxes can be a nuisance. However, the answer is not to send a pack of hounds down the local high street.

Mr. Gray

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I hope that he will continue to do so generously throughout the debate: it is important to listen to both sides of the argument.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned me in his remarks, and he is correct in saying that I believe that fox hunting is fun. That does not mean to say that therefore fox hunting is a bad thing. The important point is that the only humane way of killing a fox is for the lead hound to bite it on the back of the neck, as the hon. Gentleman described correctly. The fact that the carcase is thereafter devoured by the hounds does not necessarily mean that the manner of killing the fox is cruel.

Mr. Foster

I simply quote the words of Janet George, press secretary of the Countryside Alliance. Speaking on a radio show on Wednesday afternoon, she said: Shooting is effective, safe and humane. I have other evidence about the cruelty of fox hunting. A vet who conducted the post mortem of a fox killed by the Cottesmore fox hounds concluded: I feel that the most likely cause of death was that of shock (in the pathological sense) brought about by blood loss, organ damage, lack of oxygenation of the blood due to lower respiratory dysfunction and upper airway obstruction … In short, the fox died a painful and unpleasant death, which probably was not as quick as evidenced by the areas of haemorrhage seen at many sites. A second vet's report on a fox killed by the Cheshire fox hounds stated: There are no bite marks on the neck. I am not convinced that it has been bitten on the neck or killed in that way. Personally, you've got to be very suspicious that it's just been killed by being ripped apart … It hasn't been killed with a single blow. A veterinary report on a fox killed by the Isle of Wight fox hounds found: I could detect no external damage to neck or throat areas, but there were extensive wounds to the abdomen and thorax. In fact, the abdomen was ripped open and the intestines were hanging out. The wounds were consistent with the fox having been severely bitten by another animal or animals. Lest anyone has forgotten, I remind the House of the words of the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, who said: It is certainly right however, to acknowledge, that fox hunting is fun".—[Official Report, 29 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 850.] Somehow those words now have a hollow ring. Any hon. Member who dares to stand up and argue the case for the quick-kill theory will be ridiculed not only by the House but by the nation.

Clause 1(2) of the Bill outlaws the wanton cruelty perpetrated in the name of sport involving wild mammals who shelter in a refuge, natural or man-made. That is the darker side of hunting that I mentioned. Dr. MacDonald of Oxford university calculated that half the foxes killed by hunts were slaughtered not by the hounds, but by terriers that were sent underground to pursue the foxes when they sought refuge. The terriers drive the fox out of the refuge or keep it occupied while humans dig it out. Even the official hunts have acknowledged that that practice must be tightened.

Those who take part in such activities boast about the horrific injuries suffered by the dogs in the subterranean battle between fox and terrier. In a report from that earnest journal, The Sunday Telegraph, Adam Nicolson described his day out with the Blencathra fox hounds: From above ground we could hear the terrible fighting below us, the screaming of dog and fox was only partly muffled by the layers of earth and rock that separated us from it. The noise moved for about 10 minutes…and then went quiet. The huntsman, the whipper-in and the followers stood listening in silence… Then the huntsman said, 'All right, that's us then' and headed back downhill. It was just before nine in the morning.'But what about your dog?' I said to the terrier man as we walked down. 'Oh,' he said, 'that's all right, it'll either be dead and the fox will be eating it or the fox will be dead and she'll be eating the fox. Don't worry, I'm sure she'll be back home in a couple of days, once she's slept the whole thing off.''' I am most concerned by the attitude of the Wildlife Network. In its submission to the debate, it says that unorganised terrier work should be stopped, but that the same activity is okay when conducted by the official hunt. Clearly, points of principle and consistency do not wash with the Wildlife Network. In addition, it wants terriers to go underground and only bark at the fox, not bite it. It wants to time the fox so that it spends only one hour underground. I would have far more respect for the Wildlife Network and its motives if it stopped trying to appease the hunt lobby.

One of the many problems associated with fox hunting is the lack of control exercised in respect of the route taken by the fox. In that regard, the hunt is guilty if not of negligence, then of downright arrogance. There are many recorded instances of a hunt operating close to built-up areas. I am particularly concerned about schools. I would expect a responsible hunt to call off the chase when it approaches a local school—it would be good public relations, if nothing else. However, the hunt's disregard for the feelings of young people is apparent from the following examples.

The Worcestershire hunt ripped a fox limb from limb in full view of a class of girls with emotional problems. The killing, which occurred within 50 yd of a classroom at Hallow Park special school near Worcester, left some of the girls hysterical and others sobbing. The headmaster, Ron Capper, said: Every time the hunt comes through, it ruins a morning's work. The girls get so upset it takes a whole morning to bring them back down to earth. Mr. Capper said that he had asked the hunt not to use Hallow park during term time.

The second example comes from Nottingham. Twenty shocked children looked on as a pack of 20 to 30 hounds of the Quorn hunt chased a fox across the football pitch about 10 yd away from the playground. The hunt master apologised, but gave no assurances that it would not happen again.

In Sheffield on 8 November 1997, about 50 dogs hurdled a 4 ft fence into the grounds of Wharncliffe Side primary school, before running into neighbouring gardens, where they tore a fox apart. The head teacher, David Rogers, said: had the hounds jumped the fence minutes earlier a group of up to 33 children under five would have been in their path. There are many other examples of trespass and disruption caused by the official hunt—which is, of course, self-regulating. That is why, among other reasons, clause 5 of my Bill—

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

I recognise the importance of regulating the rogues out of the business, but surely the best way to control the behaviour of which the hon. Gentleman has given us examples is by licensing. That would give a statutory basis to banning those cowboys who behave in such ways, instead of the responsible hunts, many of which do not even use horses with their hounds, and are simply trying to control the fox population.

Mr. Foster

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have realised, from the examples I have given, that the hunt cannot control what happens, licence or no licence. Clause 5 specifically excludes drag hunting from the definition of hunting activities that will be banned.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I have asked the Library for a definition of the term "wild rodent", which appears in clause 5 and is also excluded. The Library can find no legal definition. Can my hon. Friend tell me what "wild rodent" means?

Mr. Foster

Apart from hon. Members who may be present in the House, if my hon. Friend consults any scientific dictionary, she will find a valuable definition of Rodentia species.

Drag hunting is the following of a man-made or man-laid scent.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster


Drag hunting is a viable alternative to killing wild mammals. Such a hunt can follow a pre-planned route. It can have pre-determined obstacles to cater for all riding abilities, and a variety of slow or fast paces to suit all riders. It really could be fun. It involves enjoying the British countryside, riding on horseback and following the hounds, but the difference is that no kill takes place. Some 80 per cent. of British people agree that hunting should continue, but by following a drag with no kill.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Foster

I have taken several interventions already, and I am now coming to a close, when the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak.

I firmly believe that, when drag hunting replaces the hunting of wild mammals, many people who currently ride—but who would be appalled at being involved in the killing of a wild mammal—will take up that equestrian pursuit. It is wise, perhaps, to examine briefly the motives of people who hunt foxes.

We know from the hon. Member for North Wiltshire that they go for the fun of it, but some argue that hunting is a form of pest control. A recent report by Bristol university has examined the available scientific information on that point. The conclusions of that report are as devastating for fox hunting as Bateson's report was for stag hunting. The report states: Foxes do not warrant their reputation as major pests of agriculture. Nationally, losses of lambs, piglets and poultry to foxes are insignificant relative to other causes of mortality. Vastly greater improvements in lamb survival can be made by improving husbandry than by fox control. Local problems with fox predation of livestock can be prevented by electric fencing and secure housing. Foxes can be beneficial by consuming rabbits and other pests of agricultural crops.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster

I have said that I have nearly finished.

As for lamb predation, only 5 per cent. of lamb deaths are due to predation, compared with 70 per cent. due to abortion, stillbirth, exposure and starvation. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food states: the loss of lambs to foxes does not constitute a loss of economic significance to the farming community nationally. Some 86 per cent. of farmers surveyed lost five or fewer lambs a year to foxes. However, local problems may occur, and dealing with them promptly and humanely is in the best interests of the farmer. Shooting is the obvious method, and it is one that is commonly used today. Over 80,000 foxes are shot each year, compared with just 12,000 killed by the traditional hunt. That is why clause 5 will allow the flushing out of foxes into cover for a quick, humane kill—

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Foster

No, I am reaching my conclusion.

I am told that the Bill would do nothing for the welfare of animals. Try telling that to those who have witnessed the vile and cruel acts that I referred to earlier.

On a more general note, there is no evidence to suggest that a ban on hunting would lead to a significant increase in the number of foxes killed; nor is there any evidence to support claims that there would be an increase in the deaths caused, by illegal and cruel methods, such as poisoning. If any hon. Members have such evidence, they should report it to the authorities immediately.

The Bill has the overwhelming support of the British people. It has been a long time coming. Only through parliamentary techniques used in the past has such a Bill's progress been frustrated. The will of the people and the House will be heard, and it is time for the House to stand up for the majority—the quiet majority. Its members may not demonstrate or man picket lines, but their voice should still be heard.

The House is privileged, in that we have a duty to pass our judgment on legislation and to assess what Britain needs to become a better place. We want a proud country that is as proud of our animal welfare position as of our sporting success and innovative success. How can we pass judgment on Pakistan, where they set dogs on bears, or on Spanish bull fighting, when we allow dogs to be set on deer?

When we were elected to the House, we all wanted to change the world, or at least a small part of it. Today we have an opportunity to make a modern Britain. The House will be judged by future generations on our actions today, just as we judged the actions of our 19th-century predecessors. I urge every hon. Member to stand proud, to make a mark and to vote to end the unnecessary, cruel and outdated practice of hunting with dogs.

10.23 am
Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)

I shall not keep the House long, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you have rightly asked us to contain ourselves to 10 minutes. I have agonised about whether to declare an interest. I have never hunted foxes in my life, and it is unlikely that I shall start now. However, I have an interest, because the Bill is merely part of an agenda. That agenda will move relentlessly on to shooting and angling. Exactly the same arguments as we have heard today will be paraded then. Because I fish and shoot, I declare an interest.

I did not come here today to speak on behalf of any great constituency—although I have received letters, like every other hon. Member—but I was touched by the speech of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), who paraded a number of people in his support, and I take the liberty, therefore, of claiming the support of 125,000 people who turned up in Hyde park.

I will oppose the Bill for three reasons. First, it would not save the life of one animal. Secondly, I shall oppose the measure because of the effect that it would have on communities that are largely situated where hunting takes place. Thirdly, in my view the Bill represents a streak of intolerance that is wholly incompatible with the democratic process.

The hon. Member for Worcester, in a fairly discursive speech, revealed the weakness in his proposed legislation. "I am prepared," he said, "to include the process of flushing out." Now why do we flush something out? Flushing out takes place because those concerned have failed to kill the animal.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

Ask Mrs. Thatcher.

Mr. Heseltine

The process of flushing out has decimated the Labour party over a decade and a half.

The essence of the argument of the hon. Member for Worcester is that he needs to make a provision for flushing out because those who would cull by bullet cannot guarantee to kill. The Bill is flawed precisely because hunting is the only way that ensures that we kill or do not kill. All the other methods of containing and conserving the balance in the countryside are worse from the point of view of the animals that are hunted.

That is why the hon. Gentleman has had to acknowledge that, if we adopt the techniques of snaring, trapping, gassing, poisoning or shooting, there will be casualties that will enable future generations to portray those techniques with all the graphic indignation that we have heard today. They are all flawed, and that is why, as long as we accept that there will be culling—and the hon. Gentleman does—culling by hunting is the one certain approach.

We know—[Interruption.] Labour Members resent the argument. As I have said, the hon. Member for Worcester concedes the point, and that is why flushing out is to be accepted. He knows that all the other techniques will fail. He has had to acknowledge that. Otherwise, he will have a process whereby foxes and stags die of gangrene because the marksman missed, which is what will happen.

My second reason for opposing the Bill is the effect that it would have on communities affected by it. Many Labour Members represent urban constituencies—

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

What about the miners?

Mr. Heseltine

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to ask questions about miners, let him put his questions to those who sit on the Government Front Bench. I put up with all the hypocrisy of Labour Members because I at least had the guts to tell the truth. They were—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I should be grateful if our comments this morning were confined to fox hunting.

Mr. Heseltine

The old temptation to hunt the Labour party is overwhelming. Labour Members are much easier prey than foxes, and do not run for long.

The communities that hunt are often portrayed as a privileged elite. I can tell Labour Members that the rich will not suffer particularly from the Bill. They will merely hunt in Ireland or on the continent. I should have thought that the Labour party might be a little reticent in attacking the rich. Things have changed, and it now sponges off them.

As I have said, it is not the rich who will suffer. Instead, those who live in communities within the environment that the hunt organises for social as well as conservation purposes will suffer. I am speaking of the people who go to the social events, the people who watch the hunt from their cars, the people who are part of the entire community in areas that are remote and distant. These people would not have the social cohesion that they now enjoy if it were not for the activities of the hunt.

Labour Members largely represent urban constituencies. Let them take care as they see their communities dissipated by the pressures of modern life before they destroy the cohesion of the rural countryside. How is it that a party that spends most of its life arguing about the creation of jobs can decide that, in one piece of legislation, it will decimate the jobs—[Interruption.]—of those who live in some of the more remote and fragile economies in our countryside?

It is the same old story with the left. Those who support the left take up fashionable problems until they are faced with them. When unemployment issues get in the way of their prejudices, they do not care about the consequences of unemployment. They will have to face all those who work in farriers' yards, hotels and pubs, for example, in all the areas that depend for their livelihoods upon the hunting community. They will have to explain why, in future, they will have to queue to get handouts from the new Labour windfall tax so that they might be put back in jobs that the Labour party, when in government, destroyed.

Thirdly, I oppose the Bill because it portrays a prejudice against the freedoms and rights of hundreds of years of British tradition. The people of this country have cherished those freedoms and rights, which have provided one of the most beautiful rural environments in western Europe. I am talking of a time-tested system, and the Labour party has driven the argument against it time and time again.

Everybody knows that that is the Labour party's position. The only thing that is ever good about the Labour party is when it adopts Conservative ideas. That being so, I beg the Labour party to realise that the home-bred Labour tradition of prejudice against the countryside is as disastrous as all the other nostrums about which it has changed its mind. I will oppose the Bill, and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to do likewise.

10.32 am
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on his luck, skill and courage in bringing the Bill before the House.

As a child, one of the first things that I learned about the countryside and its cruelty was when I saw a coop of hens that had been slaughtered by a fox. A little later, I saw a fox that had been caught in a trap. Some of us kids had been setting traps for rabbits. We set one trap rather badly and caught a fox. I remember seeing the suffering and horror of that fox as we got someone to shoot it. That left me startled and appalled. We must recognise that the countryside can be a pretty cruel place. It is important that we as human beings should not make it crueller.

I do not want to argue too much about the merits of the Bill, which have been well addressed in the debate so far and in the country. I have one thought on the issue: if hunting is the best way of controlling foxes, what are we to do about the increasing number of foxes in urban areas? It is crazy to think that we can bring the hunt into urban areas to control foxes. We must find ways in which the fox can be controlled in so far as it needs to be controlled. There are many who argue that the fox controls its own numbers according to its food supply. Nevertheless, we must find humane ways of controlling it.

I remind the House that we have a duty. A substantial debate has taken place in the country and we are now debating the issues in the Chamber. The time has come when the country must make up its mind. It is important that at the end of the debate there is a vote, and that that vote sends from Parliament a clear and decisive message that recognises the strength of feeling in the country on this issue. If the Opposition decide not to vote, I shall be prepared to be a Teller so as to ensure that the will of the House is expressed.

There is plenty of time under the procedures for a private Member's Bill for the measure before us to be fully discussed. It is important to recognise that we must discuss it effectively. There is nothing worse than Parliament rushing to legislate and legislating badly. It is important that we scrutinise the Bill carefully and effectively in Committee, including the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester about hill farmers being able to flush out foxes from forested land and areas of gorse, for example. There is also the legitimate activity, which harms no one, of drag hunting, which we must ensure can continue.

I plead with the House to ensure that we get a Committee that will go into all the details and make sure that the Bill will work when implemented. When it returns to the Chamber in March, let the House give it a clear and substantial majority. We shall then have a mandate. If we have done our job properly in giving the Bill a clear majority after scrutinising it thoroughly and carefully, we must warn those in another place that they should think carefully before they defeat the will of the people as expressed so clearly during the election and in the ensuing debates and arguments. I plead with those in another place to recognise that, if we do our job properly, they should not obstruct us.

10.37 am
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

This is not a party issue, and there will be hon. Members from every political party on both sides of the argument. It presents all hon. Members with some difficulties, because of the passions that it arouses. I attended a public meeting at which the Labour candidate in my constituency said that he would put all the letters that he had received into two piles, and would vote according to which pile was the biggest. None of us can do that, because the Bill is not an opinion poll on whether hon. Members think that hunting is a good or bad thing. It is not even an opportunity to show to our constituents that we will follow the majority view. If that principle were to be followed, the hon.

Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) would have to have a poll in his local evening newspaper about the death penalty similar to the one that he had about fox hunting.

We must judge whether we would be justified in sending people to prison for continuing to engage in fox hunting, or for allowing fox hunting to take place across their land. The House must make such a judgment when it decides to make something a crime, which is what the Bill would do. We would have to have compelling reasons.

One reason might be that it is essential that no foxes are killed in the future, which is what we decided in the case of otters. They were so perilously close to extinction that we decided that they should not be killed or pursued in any way, and that they had to be utterly protected. No one is arguing that the fox must be utterly protected. Indeed, everyone recognises that foxes will continue to be killed by other methods. The Bill provides for the flushing out of foxes so that they can be shot.

It might be argued that there is something uniquely cruel about fox hunting as a way of killing foxes. That argument is not convincing to the point of sending people to prison. We should make a comparison between a fox being killed by fox hunting, which does not always happen—indeed, foxes pursued by hounds are killed on a minority of occasions—and a fox being shot, gassed or killed by any of the methods that will be used when fox hunting ceases. The difference in cruelty is not of the order that justifies someone being sent to prison for it. It could be argued that it is often less cruel.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (City of York)


Caroline Flint (Don Valley)


Mr. Beith

I want to put my argument, because we have limited time; I shall then see whether I have some time to spare.

The Bill would make common criminals of people who are engaged in an activity that has been practised for hundreds of years, and who in all other respects are regarded as responsible members of society. Hon. Members are asked to make that decision, and not to state whether they deplore, dislike or want nothing to do with hunting. They could continue to campaign against fox hunting without having to submit themselves to this test, but if they are going to send people to prison, they must ask whether fox hunting is uniquely cruel. If people are going to be sent to prison for hunting foxes, why will they not be sent to prison for fishing, shooting or any of the other activities that involve killing animals?

Mr. Bayley

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Beith

I said that I would put my argument and then see whether 1 had some time to spare out of my 10 minutes.

The Bill would have a drastic effect on life in rural communities. I think that that is one reason why the Labour candidate in my constituency felt that he could not simply take a line on the issue, but had to consider opinions in the area. Country areas are not devoid of people who are opposed to hunting. I do not accept for a moment the notion that everyone in the country likes hunting and everyone in the towns hates it: there is a balance of opinion in both. Hunting is widespread in my area and many people are involved, but that area also includes strong opponents of hunting.

Many people in my constituency owe their employment to hunting. Some of them owe their housing to hunting, because their home comes with the job. Many businesses, large and small, depend on the hunting trade. A saddler in my constituency employs 13 people and 80 per cent. of his business comes from hunting. The Bill's effect on rural communities must be taken into account.

The continued existence of hedgerows and copses is due to the fact that farmers who hunt, or who want hunting to continue, ensure that cover is available for foxes. The continued presence of foxes in the countryside is due to the fact that farmers ensure that foxes are not exterminated, because they support hunting and want it to continue; yet it is suggested that so great a penalty should be paid by rural communities because some people feel very strongly that hunting has no place in modern society, or is uniquely cruel. There must be a stricter test than that if we are to pass legislation that will send people to prison, and will have such a drastic effect on the countryside. The argument is not sufficiently compelling.

There will be secondary effects. The racing industry will be substantially affected, especially national hunt and point-to-point racing. Many other activities depend on the keeping of horses, and people will not keep stable staff in such numbers if hunting ceases to exist.

All those problems might have to be faced if the arguments that no foxes should be killed in future and that the use of hounds to control foxes is uniquely cruel were substantiated. However, the hon. Member for Worcester has recognised that dogs may have to be used to flush out foxes, and that foxes will be killed in the future.

Surely the way forward is for people who believe that no one should hunt to continue to try to persuade people that they should not do so. People who have real concerns about aspects of hunting, such as terrier work, should consider a licensing and control system to ensure that abuses are not tolerated. To go beyond that and to send people to prison, which the House would not be prepared to do in another context, and to inflict economic damage on rural areas cannot be justified by the arguments that have been made.

10.44 am
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North)

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to the serious matter of unemployment. Organised trade unions in these areas have found no evidence of any particular threat to employment. The assumption is that, if hunting is abolished, people will no longer ride on horses and use saddles, and there will be no more race meetings and point-to-point. That is nonsense.

The right hon. Gentleman also argued that we are making criminals of ordinary, honest people. That is nonsense, because we have already done that with otter hunting, bear baiting and badger baiting. We have said that those activities constitute such cruelty that people deserve to go to prison if they defy the law.

The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said that fox hunting was the most efficient way of getting rid of foxes. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that many foxes escaped. They cannot have it both ways.

The hounds used for fox hunting are bred and trained for stamina. Faster animals could kill the fox if the object of the exercise were to get rid of the rodent and the pest, but it is not. The object of the exercise is fun. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) graphically described seeing a pregnant vixen's cubs torn from her belly and eaten by hounds in front of a pensioner. Schoolchildren have seen hounds pulling foxes to pieces. That is the pleasure and fun of it. The right hon. Member for Henley says that hunting is fun. Hares are pulled to pieces by greyhounds at sporting events. People go to hear the hares squeal for fun. Stags are driven over cliffs for fun. What sort of a society has fun in that way? The virtue of the Bill is borne out completely by the comments and attitudes of the right hon. Gentlemen: the arguments of Berwick and Henley are inconsistent.

Conservative Members show a strange feeling of sympathy for ordinary working people in the countryside, whereas, if they could, they would use gangs with combine harvesters to depopulate the countryside of farm labourers. Their arguments are nonsense.

I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister about timing. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said that we should consider the Bill carefully. What will happen if attempts are made on Report to sabotage it?

The Government have said that they will not give time to the Bill, because it might interfere with other important legislation—legislation to deprive single mothers of their benefits, for example, but that is another matter.

During the 30 years for which I have been in the House, Governments have supplied extra time for private Members' Bills 36 times. I supported them on some occasions, and on other occasions I did not. The point is that time was supplied, more often than not by Labour Governments—the Governments of Lord Wilson and Lord Callaghan. This is one occasion on which I think that new Labour could take a lesson from old Labour. The Government should listen to the voice of the House, see what majority the Bill secures and then supply the time.

How can we avoid defeating all the admirable objectives that are contained in our Government's manifesto? We can do what we have done in the case of other private Members' Bills, and take the business after 10 pm. That would certainly flush Members out— Members on both sides of the argument—and those wishing to speak for and against the Bill would be able to do so through the night. We have done that in the past, and we can do it again. It would not affect the Government's timetable in the House, and it would be a sign from Ministers that they were not merely allowing a vote on the principle of the Bill.

Everyone in the country—and, I suspect, everyone in the House—believed that, following such a vote, we would have the legislation. That is why so many people who have written to us asking for the Bill to be given Government time feel betrayed. They believed that, if we approved the principle, we would be given the time. If the Government do as I have suggested, they will be able to meet their commitment and ensure that the Bill is passed.

What will happen in the other House? I suspect that the other House will try to mangle the Bill, as they tried in 1979 to mangle—and succeeded in mangling—my Hare Coursing (Abolition) Bill, which a Labour Government had taken over. If we are looking for justifications for altering the upper House, what better case can there be than this? The overwhelming majority of the population support the Bill, and, having seen the unelected sons— the bastards, even—of monarchs and others reject it, they would tell us that we would be justified in doing whatever we want to the other place.

Mr. Nicholls

The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful case. Does he think that we should have a debate on capital punishment on the same terms—that, if the people want it, they should be automatically entitled to it?

Mr. McNamara

If the hon. Gentleman can secure for a Bill to bring back capital punishment the same majority that we shall secure for a Bill to abolish hunting, he can take it to the upper House; but he knows that not more than a handful of hon. Members would support such a Bill in the House of Commons. Hon. Members have been elected on the basis of a manifesto commitment in regard to hunting, with the support of the overwhelming majority of people.

If their Lordships mess the Bill around, there is always the Parliament Act 1949, which was introduced at the behest of the grandfather of my hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio in order to secure the legislation to nationalise steel. Those would be very good new and old Labour precedents.

Let me stress to Ministers that, if the Government are seen to be reluctant even to allow the Bill to go further than the House of Commons, the cynicism that exists about us and about politics will spread further—to the old lady in her twinset, to the labourer who stops us in the street to tell us that he supports the Bill, to people throughout the country. That is because, notwithstanding the flamboyant noises that we have heard from Opposition Members, people throughout the country support the Bill.

10.53 am
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

I spent a good deal of time in both the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment fighting to protect the whale, and I want to make a parallel between that and what we are discussing today. We fought to protect the whale first because it was likely that many species would become extinct if we did not, and secondly because the mechanism involved in killing a whale is by no means the most humanitarian that could be employed.

If we apply the same arguments to fox hunting, we see a very different picture. First, there is no question of extinction, and therefore no need to protect foxes. Secondly, there is no discernibly more humane way of killing them. That leads us to ask why the Bill is before us. I believe that it is because there is a battle not between town and country, but between fantasy and reality. It is a fantasy that drives Labour Members to support the Bill. First, they do not understand that the death of wild animals in any circumstances is not a pretty sight. Had the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) described the death of guinea pigs as graphically as he described other deaths, he would have had exactly the same effect on his audience. The only difference is that a fox tore the guinea pigs limb from limb when they were alive, whereas what happened to the hare in his account happened after it was dead. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman is one of those people who live in a world in which death has become so unacceptable that it cannot be described in reality.

Secondly, there is the question of man's position in the predatory chain. The fox has its own prey, and we prey on the fox; we need to perform our role in that predatory chain. [Interruption.] It is all very well for Labour Members to ignore that point, but the whole conservation movement depends on it. We conserve by protecting the balance of nature.

That brings me to the third issue. The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) failed to understand— probably accidentally—that my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) was saying exactly the same as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). We are talking about conserving the balance, not about killing every fox. That balance is best conserved by the traditional method, which is the least cruel method of conserving it. The Bill itself proves that. That is why the "flushing out" element is there—because those who support the Bill know perfectly well that all the other methods are more cruel and less effective. In the hunt, the quarry is either killed or not killed.

Mr. Gordon Prentice

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer

No. I have only 10 minutes, and I want to complete my argument. If we turn to any other method, we shall increase the cruelty.

We are hearing an unreal argument from Labour Members, especially in their references to rodents. Obviously many of them have not read the incomparable works of Richmal Crompton. "Just William" once asked a very important question. He asked, referring to a bird lover, "Why does she not have a rat table and a rat bath, and why is there no rat fancying, and what about a rat sanctuary?" The Bill's supporters do not care about the rats: rats can be torn apart, because rats do not provide the same attraction in advertisements or raise the same amount of money. There is no great movement for the protection of rats.

This is not an issue of cruelty; it is an issue of sentimentality. The Bill's supporters are presenting a sentimental view of the world of nature. Tennyson was much closer to the truth when he spoke of Nature, red in tooth and claw than was the hon. Member for Worcester. As a lifelong opponent of abortion, I felt that the comments about the pregnant fox come ill from the Labour party, which in successive Fridays voted to protect the fox one week and to kill babies the next. That is the sort of morality that we are talking about. It is a morality that allows—

Mr. McNamara

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to refuse to give way and then to make the most reprehensible statements, which some of us take as a personal affront? We do not need lectures from someone who served in a Government who allowed experiments on embryos.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for the occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Gummer

I am glad to acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman at least takes an honourable view and votes honourably on abortion, but the Labour party in general takes this curiously opposed view. It is a morality that would be inconceivable at any other time in history.

In a civilised society, we have to accept things that we do not particularly like. I do not like ritual slaughter, which is a disgraceful way in which to kill animals. When I was the Minister responsible, I allowed it. I tried to make it as uncruel as it could be, but I allowed it because I believe that, in a civilised society, we allow people to do things that we do not approve of ourselves. That is the mark of a civilised society.

Toleration is not about allowing people to do things that we do not much care about. If we do not much care, for example, about the way in which people behave sexually, it is not tolerant to allow them to behave in any way they like. That is merely apathy, acceptance and neutrality. It is tolerant, and it is the mark of a civilised society that we should be tolerant, when we allow people to do things that we may not wish to do, but which we accept are not things that people should be locked up for. There are many things about which we feel in that way and, in our tolerant civilised society, we have sought to allow.

I ask the Labour party—it is largely that party that supports the Bill—to remember that much of what the Bill says is unconnected with reality in the countryside. It asks us to stop doing something which needs to be done and which, if it is done in the way in which it would like, would be much more cruel. It suggests that those people who do it in that way would not be locked up, although they were more cruel, but those who wanted to do it less cruelly would be locked up. It suggests, too, that we should protect some mammals because they are popular with the public, but not others because the public do not like them.

11.2 am

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I shall confine my remarks to the subject of mink.

Mink are one of the nastiest, most destructive animals in this country. I fish. I talk to many anglers and many river keepers and they all tell me of the damage that is being done by mink. They swim like fish, burrow like rabbits and climb trees like monkeys. Mink kill for the sake of killing, and have no natural enemies.

I have raised many times the question of what is being done to control the animal. The previous National Rivers Authority told me: The control of mink has in fact always been a responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, not of NRA". So I wrote to MAFF and it said: It is entirely at the discretion of individual landowners/occupiers to decide whether they wish to control mink on their land. No one wants to take responsibility.

I wrote to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It hopes that something will be done. It accepts that many birds are destroyed by mink and says that the problem is perhaps out of control. It says that some investigations should be held into the problems of mink. It hopes to keep them out of areas where they are not present, but it does not know any way in which to control them.

The chairman of a local Labour party, who is also concerned about mink, sent me a copy of a leaflet from the Game Conservancy Trust. It says: any attempt to eradicate them from the mainland is not likely to succeed. However eradication may be possible on islands of a conservation interest such as the Isle of Lewis …we need mink studies to assess the ongoing loss to waterfowl, fish and other prey groups. Gamekeepers should give more attention to mink control in many lowland areas".

Angela Smith (Basildon)

Does my hon. Friend accept that mink hunting is a totally inefficient way in which to control mink and that, in effect, by hunting mink, the otters' habitat is being destroyed? We already have a grave problem in relation to otters.

Mrs. Golding

I am glad that my hon. Friend raises that question. I have a whole list of the number of the mink killed by mink hunters and they seem to be doing a good job in controlling mink. Often, they identify where otters are and keep the mink packs away from them.

Angela Smith


Mrs. Golding

I shall not give way again. I have only 10 minutes.

Let us consider this vicious creature that the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) is so intent on protecting and conserving. A MAFF leaflet from the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service says: Fish are usually an important part of the diet; both game and coarse fish are eaten. Birds are taken at all times of the year, particularly those on the nest and young. Waterfowl such as ducks, moorhens and coot are taken most frequently, although mink living near the coast will feed on seabirds and waders.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. Golding


The leaflet continues: Fish are killed by biting the backbone between the head and the dorsal fin. Mammals and birds are killed by a bite in the neck, usually near the base of the skull. In a fresh kill it is sometimes possible to see the punctures, about 8 mm apart, made by the mink's canine teeth. Some mink escaped from a mink farm. The Halifax Evening Courier says: Woman tells of savage attacks on her ducks and chickens by mink. An RSPCA officer said that the situation was extremely dangerous and Having this number of mink running wild in the countryside is a major problem. I've watched them eat ducks and chickens, and they present a real danger to other animals. Someone else said: I have had two guinea pigs killed. One was killed outright and one was left with its face disfigured, and had to be put down, it was horrible. In another case, a lady said that she witnessed an horrific attack by a mink on a cat: There was nothing I could do to make it let go and it was heartbreaking. That is the animal that the Bill will protect.

Scientific reports are often quoted. The Scottish Association for Marine Science laboratory in Argyll did a detailed report on the long-term effects of north American mink. It says: In the years 1989–95, feral North American Mink caused widespread whole-colony breeding failures of Black-headed Gulls, Common Gulls and Common Terns at colonies on small islands in a study area along 1000 km of mainland coast in west Scotland. After one or more years of such failure, most of the affected breeding sites held no birds or greatly reduced numbers. It goes on to say: the disappearance in the late 1980s of 50–100 pairs of Common Gulls from traditional breeding sites on the small islands in Loch Lomond and the contemporaneous disappearance of the large colony of Black-headed Gulls from nearby Endrick Mouth in Loch Lomond … occurred within ten years of the first records of mink predation of breeding birds in that area. There is much more in the report and my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester should read it to find out the effects of mink.

Where traps have failed, hunts are being called out to help gamekeepers, farmers, water bailiffs and fishery managers. East Dorset county council was so concerned that it also called out the region's hunt, which managed to eradicate many mink. One of my local fishery managers tells me that he estimated that he had lost more than £1,000-worth of fish in a little over two years to mink. They do not eat them all; they just kill them. They bite lumps out of them and leave many fish damaged. They tear bits off them. Mink are vicious creatures. He says that they come into the fishery by way of a stream, the banks of which are decimated of wildlife. He said that he would welcome mink huntsmen if he had a pack of hounds near where he lives.

What are we to do? Should we throw up our hands and abandon our countryside to the mink? We should not. We should maintain people with the knowledge that will help to control them. If the Bill is passed, who will deal with this destroyer of our native life? People mention traps. They are important, but they cannot be used everywhere. For example, they are ineffective in tidal waters and a danger to farmyard animals. They have to be checked and freshly baited every 24 hours.

Mink are an ever-increasing menace to our native wildlife and to legislate against a proven form of control of this vicious animal is totally unacceptable. The Bill has many flaws, but its greatest is that in setting out to protect wildlife it does much to destroy it.

11.10 am
Mr. Tom King (Bridgwater)

I remember when mink came to a neighbouring valley. I saw the disappearance of kingfishers, dippers and water rats. Some of them have returned because the mink have been hunted and, fortunately, they have gone. The area became the silent valley and I understand why the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) spoke so movingly on the subject.

I am a veteran of debates such as this and I have always recognised that the topic arouses great emotions in the House and in our constituencies. In my constituency, there are two packs of stag hounds and five packs of fox hounds. The life of many people in the more remote rural parts is tied to the community of hunting, whether it is of deer or foxes. There are strong feelings. I respect the views of those who support hunting but I appreciate that many people in the countryside are opposed to it, and I also respect their views. I hope that all hon. Members recognise that those who support hunting, and those who oppose, are not all nasty, extremist and vicious. Many decent people believe that their cause is right and that they are entitled to pursue it.

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) is a new Member and presenting such a Bill is a tough task. Whether he was wise to introduce such a contentious measure is his decision and he is entitled to make it. He was profoundly wrong when he said that he had never met anybody who thinks that fishing or shooting should also be banned. He does not think that his Bill is the thin end of the wedge. Those of us who have lived with some of these groups for some time know that many people who want to ban fishing and shooting are involved in backing campaigns with large sums of money. By his Bill, the hon. Gentleman is saying to them, "If your campaign can get the backing of the majority of people in this country, somebody can present a Bill to ban those activities." I do not suggest that the hon. Gentleman would vote for that, but he is endorsing that principle because banning fox hunting and stag hunting may encourage others to mount campaigns to ban the others.

In a most effective speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said that to despise somebody's opinions is one thing, but to seek to suppress them is another. That would not be the liberty and tolerance that we seek to maintain. The Bill opens the door to yet more such measures. I could speak about the effect on the economy, although the number of jobs involved is not huge. The important matter is where those jobs are located. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mrs. Ballard), whose constituency is next to mine and who shares Exmoor with me, knows that, in such an area, 20, 40 or 50 jobs are important. We are desperate for more opportunities for the young in rural economies.

Mrs. Ballard

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King

The 10-minute limit on speeches makes interventions impossible. I am sorry about that.

I do not wish to say any more about the economy, although it is a real issue, or about the issues of principle which others may discuss. I do not want further to discuss the Bill, which I regard as unworkable and unacceptable. I want to speak about the conservation of deer. I speak with a sad heart about the pictures on the front page of The Independent. The number of stags on the Quantocks have possibly been halved in the past few weeks. I deplore that and appeal to farmers and to the National Trust to work together.

Hon. Members may have noticed but may not understand why the Forestry Commission has today just renewed the licence that will enable the Quantock stag hounds to hunt again over its land. The commission has done that because it realises that the warnings about the problems for conservation are real. I speak not just for myself but with the backing of the opinion of the Exmoor National Park Committee, whose members are from all parties and are mainly non-hunting people as far as I can see. I also speak for the Exmoor Society, which is committed to the conservation and preservation of the ecology and wildlife of Exmoor, for the Quantock Deer Management Committee, and for the Exmoor Deer Forum, which was set up by the National Trust and has representatives on it of other conservation bodies.

Following the publication of the Bateson report, all those bodies said that we must not ban hunting before deciding on alternative deer management to put in its place. I should like to speak about the Bateson report before I explain why I am so frightened by the current situation. The hon. Member for Worcester recognised that the Bateson report is important. It is not the end of the matter, and it is unfortunate that the way in which it was handled by the National Trust allowed no debate in advance of the trust's decision. The report is extremely complicated and Professor Bateson himself said that he was surprised by some of the findings.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King

No. In view of the time limit, I cannot give way.

Others were even more surprised by those findings. One of the difficulties was that, understandably, all the Bateson report samples were taken from deer that had been killed. One understands why it was not possible to take samples from deer that had been hunted for some time and had escaped. The implication of Professor Bateson's report is that deer are so seriously damaged in every way during a hunt that their lives are seriously impaired. I asked whether any study had been carried out into carted deer in Ireland. I received a letter from a veterinary surgeon who has an interest in carted deer there. His letter states: some of the statements in the Bateson report are at variance with my professional experience… Many of the deer that are hunted in Ireland make apparently an uneventful recovery from the experience". What is required from Professor Bateson is a serious study of those issues. Data were not published and it is far from clear that there is a unanimous view by scientists. These matters must be seriously examined.

The issue comes down to a balance of suffering. I try to avoid the more emotive descriptions in debates such as this, but the most tragic pictures are those of deer which have been shot in the face. Such animals cannot eat or drink, and are infested with maggots. When they are known to be alive, the only way to dispatch them is for the hunt to find them and put them out of their misery.

Farmers on Exmoor feed the deer. The deer live on the hill and come down to the farms to feed. The hunt moves them on, thus preventing them from concentrating in specific areas. Now in some areas there is no hunt to move them on. A deer can eat as much as three sheep can and a farmer can have as many as 100 deer on his farm. When faced with the income problems that farmers face, they will take the matter into their own hands, as they are entitled to do. Unfortunately, that has happened on Exmoor.

The House is not guilty yet of condemning the Exmoor herd. If hunting is banned, I believe that the warnings that have been given by all the conservation bodies will become a reality and that we may face extinction of the herd. Victor Bonham-Carter said: The wild red deer of Exmoor will indeed be shot and trapped to extinction should hunting be prohibited. Richard Prior, the well-known naturalist, said: "If the day dawns when hunting is prevented for any reason, the deer will start a slide to extinction from which all the statutes of the House of Commons will not save them. If any hon. Member has an alternative deer management system, I should like to hear it. The House cannot now say that it did not know or understand the consequences of passing such a Bill. The survival of the last great truly wild red deer herd in England—the only one that we have left—is now at risk. Recognising the consequences of passing the Bill may not suit the prejudices of Labour Members, but they have now been told and warned by everyone who is concerned about conservation on Exmoor.

For the sake of the herd of red deer, which are one of the glories of our countryside, I beg Labour Members merely to study the facts and to be better informed before taking a decision—not in ignorance, but according to the reality of the dangers that we face, of which the clearest warning was given this week.

11.20 am
Dan Norris (Wansdyke)

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make my maiden speech on an issue about which I feel strongly and passionately. In advance, I should also like especially to thank Opposition Members for listening to me, under the convention, because I know that they, too, hold strong views on the matter which do not necessarily accord with my own.

I should first like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Jack Aspinwall. Although I had great political differences with him, he worked hard for the constituency and was a good constituency Member of Parliament. Unfortunately, he was best remembered by many members of the public for injuring his back in a charity parachute jump, as some hon. Members may recall. Also, two years ago, he was terribly ill and close to death. I am sure that all hon. Members will support me in giving him their best wishes for a happy and healthy retirement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I know that Mr. Aspinwall would want to have been known as a good constituency Member of Parliament and as one who tried his very best. Without reservation, I can say that he was and he did.

People often ask why my constituency is called Wansdyke, thinking that it is a northern constituency with chimney stacks, smoke, satanic mills and all sorts of things. It is in the heart of southern England—in the south-west, near Bristol. Its northern edge includes parts of Bristol, moving across to Bath and down to the old Somerset coalfields. In no sense, therefore, is it northern.

One of the main towns in my constituency is Keynsham, which is best known for its large chocolate factory, which makes many well-known brands, such as Turkish Delight, Double Decker and other household names. The next largest towns are Midsomer Norton and Radstock, in the south of my constituency, in the old Somerset coalfields. The area has suffered considerably since many of those coalfields closed in the 1960s and 1970s.

One very bad legacy of the previous Conservative Administration was the poor state of repair of school buildings, especially in the southern part of my constituency. I am very grateful, and pleased to be able to say, that the new Labour Government have already made a difference. Already, more than £1 million of new deal money to improve those school buildings has been injected into my constituency, lifting the hearts not only of the teaching profession, parents and pupils but of all my constituents.

In Wansdyke, 50 per cent. of people live in rural areas and 50 per cent. live in urban or town areas. It is therefore a very good barometer for this debate. Moreover, the letters that I have received well reflect the views, whether urban or rural, across the constituency. Back in 1991, and again last year, I asked people to write to me about their views on hunting animals with hounds. In total, I received more than 1,000 letters. Since the general election, I have received almost 800 letters. Of those letters, 80 per cent. expressed support for the Bill. It is even more interesting that the most overwhelmingly supportive letters have come from rural areas. That is surprising, but it is a significant fact.

The argument about town versus country certainly does not apply in north-east Somerset and south Gloucestershire, which I represent. Such an argument is completely inaccurate, and raising it was an own goal by the pro-hunt lobby, because it was flawed and did not truly reflect the nature of the countryside or of the town. The pro-hunt lobby made a big error by using that argument. Although all the objective evidence supports the passage of the Bill, I accept that the passions of those on both sides of the argument are sincere—a fact that is not always acknowledged.

Recently, like my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), I went to a hunt. About two weeks ago, I went to a drag hunt, and, this week, I went to the Mendip farmers hunt, which is one of two hunts that serve my constituency. Some hon. Members may be aware that I rode a horse, Dolly, who was no less than a 15.2 hands beast. I am very pleased to say that she was gentle and did not throw me off—a possibility that had worried me. I am sure that all hon. Members will identify with me as I say that—as I rode over the hill to the meet, to see more media people than hunters—I saw in my mind the headline "Anti-hunt MP rides Dolly!" I was concerned about that.

I ask hon. Members to weigh the evidence on the issue. If they cannot do that, I ask them to consider the issue on moral grounds. We can always find an argument to support anything. Ultimately, however, it comes down to morality. Before voting, hon. Members should ask, "In a civilised society, how can anyone be allowed to kill an animal for pleasure?" It is as simple as that. I know that the overwhelming majority of my constituents believe that that is true, and I shall vote accordingly.


Mr. Alan Clark (ensington and Chelsea)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris), and I congratulate him on a lucid and informative speech. I also commiserate with him on the ordeal of having to make his maiden speech before a very crowded Chamber. It is bad enough to make a maiden speech when there are, as there usually are, three hon. Members in the Chamber, but to do it on an occasion such as this, before such a crowd, is a most commendable act of courage.

Throughout my political life, I have been committed to the cause of animal welfare. One of the first acts that I did on entering the Chamber, as the hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) will know, was to support in a maiden speech his Hare Coursing (Abolition) Bill. Currently, I am a sponsor of the Welfare of Pigs Bill, which is promoted by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I believe that we are debating an issue that has to cross party divides.

During.my.period away from the House — from my own choice, I hasten to say—I was on a picket line at Dover docks. I also went to the funeral of Jill Phipps, an animal rights demonstrator, at Coventry cathedral. I hope that the House will realise that such activities are not likely to enhance one's standing with Conservative selection committees, although I was not then representing a constituency.

I must say—having, I hope, established my credentials on the issue—that this is a bad Bill. It is badly drafted. Nowhere in the text, for example, can be found the word "fox". Most of the text is devoted to penalties and to increased police powers. I do not understand how Labour Members—if they have read the Bill; perhaps they have not—can support a Bill that allows constables to make arrests without warrant and to stop and search. I thought that stopping and searching was one of the practices that Labour Members found most objectionable.

The Bill would also allow forfeiture of vehicles. Moreover, it confers draconian powers and discretion on the police. It is not an exaggeration to say that, on the Bill's literal terms, a family who go to a park with their children and a dog and are reported as possibly being about to use that dog to chase a wild mammal, such as a squirrel, may not only have their dog impounded—or, to use the euphemism frequently deployed in the text, "disposed of"—

Mr. Peter Bradley (The Wrekin)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clark

If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, he might be able to intervene a little later. The 10-minutes rule applies. I must develop this theme because it is an important aspect of civil liberties.

The family could lose the dog and the car and be subject to draconian fines purely on the suspicion, not even of a police officer, but of a member of the public who reports the family to a police officer.

As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, the penalties suggested in the Bill are grossly excessive. They are completely out of line with the Bill's aims. The powers that it confers on the police are grotesque, although I recognise that the issue arouses strong emotions.

The hon. Member for Worcester cited some extremely harrowing examples of what children have seen. My response to him is, how about a guided tour of abattoirs for schoolchildren? What about a guided tour of experimental laboratories where animals are confined and tortured for the furtherance of corporate profit? What worries me about the Bill is that it damages the cause of animal welfare. By taking one particular aspect in isolation, it focuses all the attention away from the real atrocities which are perpetrated daily, not for amusement—I fully accept that it is disreputable to torture animals for amusement—but in the pursuit of profit and so-called knowledge. The repetitious and brutal experiments and the conditions in stockyards across the country are such that the hon. Member for Worcester would never take a party of schoolchildren from his constituency there to see what really happens. The real danger of the Bill is that it distracts attention from all that and focuses—[Interruption.]What have hon. Members done, as 1 have done, to further the cause of animal rights?

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, when he was a Minister in the Ministry of Defence, the number of experiments in defence laboratories increased from about 5,000 in 1992 to 11,000 last year?

Mr. Clark

The hon. Gentleman's statistics cover precisely the period when I was not at the Ministry of Defence. I left in 1992, and it is clearly a tribute to my personal restraint while in office that, from the moment I left, the number of experiments increased. I am ready to defend my ministerial career, but this is not the right time.

This is an issue on which there has to be some compromise. The Minister has to tell us what the Government are going to do. The absence from the Government Front Bench of so many dignitaries, the equivocal role of the Minister without Portfolio and many other facts have to be explained, but if some kind of restraint is to become law—not in this Bill but in some other form—there has to be a compromise. I have to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), that they will have to cede some points. They have to fact the fact that stag hunting is utterly repellent and enormously offensive to many people.

The practice of digging out, stopping up and cubbing has to go, and the same is true of hare coursing. I voted in favour of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Hull, North to deal with hare coursing, but if there is to be a meeting of minds, I suggest that the hon. Member for Worcester and others who feel passionately about hunting with hounds have to move at least some way towards the centre so that something can be retained.

I do not want to get into the technicalities, as we do not have the time, but if the earths are not stopped up and if it is against the law to dig out the fox, the fox will nearly always win, and the element of sport returns. What is utterly despicable is that at the moment everything is weighted against the fox. That is what people find so offensive.

The Labour party has an enormous majority and can do anything it wants. If it chooses to do so, it can deploy the arrogance of power. One of my constituents wrote to the hon. Member for Worcester and was replied to in a manner that we are all often tempted to use, especially to constituents other than our own. The reply, which comprised only one line, stated: Your letter… amused me greatly. It has been some time since I have read such nonsense. We are all tempted to respond in that way, but it is hardly the way to reply to a reasoned argument.

On this subject, we must to some extent subordinate emotion and introduce reason. Unless we find a compromise, we will find all the attention focused on something that is a distraction from the fundamental issues of animal welfare, which need daily to receive attention and correction.

11.35 am
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

We all have regard for the long record of compassion towards the animal kingdom shown by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark). However, he boasted in his diaries of, among other things, his ignorance of parliamentary procedure. He was clearly correct about parliamentary procedure because he should know that if there are problems with the Bill of the sort that he describes, they will be dealt with in Committee. That is the proper way to proceed.

I was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman followed what Labour Members have said by attempting to demonise certain species. Does he really believe that animals live according to the ten commandments, and that some, like the mink or the fox, are wicked, have unpleasant instincts and thus deserve to be treated barbarically? Animals live according to instinct—they aim to survive and to reproduce; we are the superior species.

The nub of the debate was brought out during the debate on the McNamara Bill. I was intervened on when I said that all hunters have to lose is their cruelty. They can keep the pageantry, the jobs and the—

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

What would the hon. Gentleman say to Mr. Nicholson, a constituent of mine, who has written to me to say that he will lose his job and that his three-year old son and baby will lose their home if the Bill is passed? That is not theory but practice.

Mr. Flynn

I would tell Mr. Nicholson that he will not lose his job, because the number of jobs will increase if hunters turn to drag hunting. It is nonsense for Conservative Members to talk about 35,000 jobs being lost when the activity employs fewer than 1,000 people.

If hunters turn to drag hunting, they can keep the pageantry, the horse riding and the dressing up in strange clothes. Everything can stay the same except that at the end of it there is no live quarry.

Mr. Collins


Mr. Flynn

I am not giving way again.

Instead of having a live quarry, drag hunters have a trail laid by an intelligent human being. All they have to lose is their cruelty. The hon. Member for Romsey (Mr. Colvin), who was the hon. Member who intervened on me in the previous debate, said that there was a difference between hunting a live quarry and drag hunting. He said that having no live quarry was like kissing one's sister—there was no thrill. People who hunt want the thrill and the pleasure of seeing a live animal torn to shreds.

Some incidents in my constituency are the subject of a court case. A man from the hunt captured a fox from another part of the county, kept it in a milk churn for three days and then released it in front of the hunt. People were routinely capturing foxes, putting them in bags and releasing them in front of the hunt in order to ensure the long chase across the countryside before the animal was torn to pieces. That is the reality; it has nothing to do with pest control.

Foxes will reach their natural numbers, as they do in areas of the country where there is no hunting at all— in parts of Wales, for example—according to the amount of food available. They are also of use in forestry.

Perhaps the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea was right about the increase in animal experiments in our military laboratories since he left the Ministry of Defence. Perhaps it was all due to the other members of the previous Government. Some of those experiments are essential, but any sensible, right-thinking human being will be revolted by experiments that involve pigs, sheep and monkeys being crushed, irradiated or strapped to trolleys and shot. The number of experiments has increased threefold in the past five years.

The debate is about how we treat other species and our relationship with them. The compassion and consideration that we show those species is a mark of our civilisation. We cannot treat them as quarries for our entertainment or pleasure. They are creatures like us, with nervous systems. They feel pain, suffering and fear, just as we do. We cannot treat them as targets or a collection of inert, non-suffering chemicals. That demeans us as human beings.

Animal faces remind us of human beings. Can we tell children that it is all right to subject them to the torment of a long, protracted chase that is a highly inefficient ritual? Can we tell them that it is all right to make a social occasion of a hunt, to have a few drinks, to make it a celebration and a major event in the social calendar? If we do, we demean ourselves as a species and a civilisation. We cannot tell other countries that their treatment of animals is barbaric. Our treatment of the nearly 2.5 million laboratory animals that are killed is a measure of our standing in the world.

We are also making a point with some force about the role of Back Benchers. This is the No. 1 Bill for Back Benchers and has the support of a huge majority of us, who were elected on this policy. It was a live issue in my constituency, as in many other rural constituencies. We fought the election on a promise of being more compassionate to animals. If the Bill is passed with a large majority today, no power in this House, the other place or 10 Downing street has the right to say that it should not become law. It must become law and we must stick to our manifesto promise to create a modern, compassionate Britain. That means a Britain free from cruelty to other species.

11.42 am
Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn), who is a former parliamentarian of the year. His remarks about drag hunting did not demonstrate a total understanding of the subject. No doubt we can return to that in Committee, for which I volunteer.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris) on his maiden speech. I have walked a large part of the dyke, great stretches of which are devoted to sites of special scientific interest and nature reserves. He chose an appropriate subject for his maiden speech.

I declare an interest, having gone beagling while in Northern Ireland. I stopped when The Irish Times put the fact on its front page. The beagles and I were then under greater threat from unusually dangerous saboteurs.

I spoke in the debate on 3 March 1995. Those words are on the record and I shall seek to avoid repeating them, save to say that I patently speak as an urban Member and one of only two remaining examples of a temporarily endangered species—a Conservative Member in an inner-city seat. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) has already spoken, we have certainly pulled our weight in the debate.

I am particularly conscious that the consequences of the Bill will impinge not on my constituents or those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea, but on the rural community. Social scientists much to the left of me complained after the war of the effects of slum clearance on old people, which turned extended families into dispersed ones. I remark neutrally that that cause was pursued in the name of Greater London strategic planning. The effects on communities of our actions on fox hunting are smaller in scale, but potentially as seismic.

I have been a Londoner all my life, apart from evacuation, parts of my education, time in the Army and time spent abroad. My constituents who wish to see me continually during the week are as happy to see the back of me at the weekend as they are to see the back of the 700,000 daily commuters to the constituency. As an antidote to the metropolitan monopoly of discourse in this constituency, my wife and I have a shepherd's cottage in Wiltshire, where we are surrounded by sheep, pheasants, hares, deer, voles and foxes.

I understand the fox's place in the scheme of things. I derive pleasure from watching the fox in its habitat, and my admiration for its qualities of resource and adaptability are akin to Shakespeare's, who, in 33 references to the fox, is admiring of it in 31. I hope that my few immediate human neighbours do not regard me as that unlyrical creature, a townie, although I acknowledge that I am not a countryman in all senses of the word. Constituents have told me that townies are changing the countryside and imply that the Countryside Alliance is trading under a false banner.

I do not believe that. The "Reader's Digest Atlas" has a page devoted to hair colour, which demonstrates, 1,000 years after the event, a precise correlation with how far the Vikings got. In 1982, the Wiltshire Record Society published the judicial notebook of 500 cases tried by the resident magistrate in my former village from 1744 to 1749. The index of plaintiffs and prisoners shows a precise correlation with today's electoral register.

I quoted the written word in 1995. Hunting has produced the greatest body of sporting literature in our language after cricket. I might have added that Sartorius, the Herrings, Stubbs, Ferneley, Sir Francis Grant, Munnings and Lionel Edwards have similarly enriched our artistic heritage. I mention them again today, from Scott to Sassoon, because analogies are made with bear baiting, badger baiting and cock fighting. I cannot conceive the incomparable writing on hunting—from authors such as Fielding, Surtees, Trollope, Somerville and Ross, Conan Doyle, Kipling, Saki and Masefield— being devoted to any of those activities, and I cannot imagine any of those authors resisting their departure.

One agreeable by-product of the long forewarning of this debate is that I have had the chance to acquire economically at auction the great classic of 1784, Peter Beckford's, "Thoughts about Hunting in a Series of Familiar Letters to a Friend", which writers on the fox say has not been superseded in two centuries.

Of more recent writings, the League Against Cruel Sports published some years back, but undated—I can find no entry later than 1990—a series of excerpts by acknowledged experts. It was a trifle unscholarly, not giving the pagination from the various publications, but with the great assistance of the House of Commons Library, I have tracked most of them down, not least to read them in context. I shall return to them in a moment.

The great rally in July assembled in my constituency. It was a model of decorum, showing the British at their best. Most of my constituents who have written to me have been courteous, although that spirit of hysteria evident among the supporters of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) in the Carlton Television debate the other night has crept into some correspondence. That attitude may have been responsible for the television poll having a different outcome from national polls.

Some of the lobbying organisations seem to have an Ecclestonian confidence that spending a million quid on the Labour party is a good each-way bet. I find the enthusiasm of the lobbying organisations for stimulating my constituents to write to me is matched by a reluctance of those organisations to reply to me when I send them sentences that treat on tendentious statements and end in a question mark. It is possible that they are paying me the compliment of treating all my questions as rhetorical, but total silence in riposte from people who claim to be in charge of what they call parliamentary affairs is not ipso facto persuasive. One is left to conjecture whether they do not know the answers or whether they know them, but do not like them.

It is striking that the scientific evidence, by which I have been greatly impressed, has been transformed since the 1960s by radio tracking and infra-red binoculars. Debate in the 1960s about whether dog foxes bring food for vixens and their cubs was sparse because of shortage of evidence. That situation has been transformed in the past 30 years.

Like many hon. Members, I immensely enjoyed, both for its scholarship and its narrative, David MacDonald's "Running with the Fox", published in 1987. I am vicariously proud that he should have been a fellow of my old Oxford college. Some of the most moving and impressive features of the book are the passages where he describes, in the process of his researches, working with farmers, both in Cumnor—the village from which my father took his title in another place—and at Ravenglass in Cumbria, where fox research had already been done. It is a tribute to Mr. Macdonald that his relations with farmers were so good, but it comes forcefully and vividly through his narrative that the farming community was overall implacably opposed to the fox as a pest.

Unless the fox becomes a protected species, which seems unlikely after the cormorant experience since 1981, the perception of farmers if hunting goes will be a critical factor to the survival of foxes in the relevant areas. There is a hazard in this House in being intellectually honest, in that one's concessions can be pocketed while the central point is ignored, but I concede that Vesey FitzGerald in the 1960s took the view that foxes in hunting areas would survive the end of hunting.

In this year of grace, David Bellamy has implied the opposite view. I have seen comparatively little scientific comment or prediction on this hypothetical aspect. It is ironic to allude to the uncertainty of this scenario as a shot in the dark in the era of lamping, but it is one of the sad concomitants of lamping that the marksman cannot tell whether he has a pregnant vixen in his sights.

Other aspects of hunting require further research, as was acknowledged by the Phelps report, but those of us who do not hunt but take a serious interest in conservation can reasonably require that there should be evidence that farmers have accepted the conclusions of the hon. Member for Worcester about the agricultural evidence elements. I remark in passing that, when he quoted the Ministry of Agriculture as saying that the Ministry does not consider foxes to be a significant factor in lamb mortality", he notably omitted the next words: but it should be stressed that this is against a background of widespread fox control by farmers. The alternative is that scientists deliver a convincing forecast of what will happen to foxes if hunting goes. Neither the hon. Member for Worcester nor his allies have convinced me. If hon. Members who support the Bill think that it is a paradox that more foxes will die if hunting goes, they betray the fact that they do not understand the countryside.

11.52 am
Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire)

I have been waiting all morning for a convincing argument against the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), and, at last, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) has given us one. Apparently, it will bring about the end of English literature.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester on his fortitude in introducing the Bill. It cannot be easy to undergo for months the abuse that has been heaped on him by blood sporters, and keep coming up smiling as he has done.

I wish to refer to a different sort of literature—an article in The Observer last week by John Mortimer, who accused my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester of following the example of Nazi Germany. I am sorry to have to quote this, but he calls my hon. Friend nasty snide little Foster… you little turd". He was quoting the comedian Harry Enfield. In the circles where stand-up comedians and Members of the House of Lords move, that probably counts as Augustan satire.

Mr. Mortimer, or Lord whatever he is, goes on to say: "Mr. Foster wishes to cram our overflowing prisons not only with middle-aged horsewomen and pony-club girls from the shires, but with unemployed miners". He says that hunting with dogs is akin to Morris dancing, karaoke and synchronised swimming. That is an example of the informed argument that the blood sporters say they want. The quotation contains the fascinating assumption that blood sporters are the sort of people who will not obey the law—an assumption that we do not share.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickthall


In an open letter to Members of Parliament, one Robert Cooper claims: a ban on hunting would cause civil unrest for years to come. Do threats to disobey the laws of the United Kingdom constitute a legitimate or persuasive argument for debates in Parliament? I hope not. He also accuses my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester of inciting mob rule, hypocrisy and a whole string of other juicy adjectives.

The Bill starts by stating: Any person who uses, causes or permits any dog to hunt any wild mammal shall be guilty of an offence. The blood spotters have sought in the past six months to confine the argument mainly to foxes, and to maintain that foxes are vermin. Robert Cooper says that hunting is our traditional method of killing vermin. Are stags and hares classed as vermin? They figure little in the arguments of the Bill's opponents.

I want to concentrate on hare coursing, but I have some general points. There should be a sound argument for hunting, although we have not heard one yet. We are told that hunting with dogs ensures the survival of foxes, but also that they need to be regularly destroyed by hunting because they are vermin. That argument is self-contradictory.

In the north-west, we have had a circular from the National Farmers Union that tells us: the hunt can be the best method of getting rid of the fox". In the next breath, we are told: Many farmers consider that hunting with hounds is the most efficient form of control as the fox either escapes unharmed or is dispatched within seconds. The best method of getting rid of it is one in which it often gets away unharmed. Again, the arguments cancel one another out.

We are told by blood sporters—

Mr. Gray

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickthall

No. The next time the hon. Gentleman comes to my constituency, tell me.

We are told by blood sporters that our opposition to hunting with dogs is emotional. Their arguments for hunting are totally unemotional, of course. I quote the NFU circular again: In the Lake District some visitors come specifically in the hunt season to hear the famous pub songs sung after a day's hunting— Do Ye Ken John Peel being the most famous example". That is a coldly logical argument, of course. I have a fair knowledge of pub songs, which can range across piracy, rape, mass murder and so on. I look forward to seeing what "sporting" events are organised in the lake district so that visitors can come along and hear the associated pub songs.

Mr. Charles Drury of Abergavenny writes to us and tells us that unattended babies will no longer be safe in their own gardens. Unattended babies should not be in the garden anyway, but it is a ludicrous point to make.

More sinister is the argument advanced by, for example, the Country Landowners Association: there is no more justification for a ban on hunting than there would be for a ban on the ritual slaughter of animals for the Muslim and Jewish communities. He seems, at one level, whatever we think about ritual slaughter, to forget that those animals are slaughtered to be eaten, not for the pleasure in slaughtering them. At least the CLA avoided the incipient racism that is there in Robert Cooper's letter to us, where he bemoans the ritualised slaughter in the Jewish and Muslim communities as being for, very often, recent immigrants". Blood sporters, desperate for arguments for retention of their activities, have concentrated—to some effect—on presenting the debate as one between the country and the urban areas. MORI's October poll has found that rural people support the Bill, with 57 per cent. of those in rural areas saying that they agree with its purpose.

I represent a largely rural seat, and have done since 1992. In my repeated efforts to get hare coursing made illegal—the Waterloo cup is held in my constituency—I have had massive and consistent support from my constituents. That support has been evenly spread between country areas and small towns, and it includes support from Altcar and Downholland, where the Waterloo cup is held, and where people are as disgusted by it as they are elsewhere in the constituency.

The huge correspondence that I, like other hon. Members, have had on the Bill has been analysed by my office, and it shows the same thing. Support for the Bill is spread perfectly evenly between country areas and towns. Of more than 800 letters, only four expressed opposition to the Bill, and all four of those, by coincidence, came from people who lived in towns.

The interchangeability of urban and rural life, which the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster blundered into a few moments ago, has become incredible. People come from the rural areas into towns to shop, or for services; massive numbers of people go out of the towns and cities into the countryside, for hunting sports and other activities. I should love to know how many hunts were partially composed of Londoners, out in the countryside for their entertainment.

Blood sporters also talk about the individual right to choose and the rights of minorities. Of course one should protect the rights of minorities wherever possible but, although I hate to compare hunters with these categories, under the logic of that argument one might say that paedophiles, rapists or drug dealers were a minority. It is not logical to argue that because hunters are a minority they should be allowed to continue their activities.

The only argument that carries force is the argument about jobs. The number of jobs at stake has been wildly exaggerated, as the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) had the good grace to admit. Given the manifesto commitment and given our commitment as Members of Parliament, one would have thought that, from about 2 May, the people involved in such activities would have been looking to diversify somewhat into other jobs.

How can the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) have the bare-faced hypocrisy to complain about legislation damaging jobs when he presided over the events that led to thousands of coal miners losing their jobs?

Mr. Gray

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickthall


How can the right hon. Member for Henley complain when, year after year, his party presided over massive cuts in local government, which decimated jobs in many parts of the country? The Opposition's argument about jobs is unacceptable.

Our policy on land mines could come into the same category.

Hare coursing in my constituency is largely an urban matter. I am sorry to say that, in the middle of the country, its audience is mainly composed of representatives from the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Bootle (Mr. Benton) and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). It is not a rural activity.

The Bill is a good one, and 1 hope that it completes its passage—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


12.2 pm

Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire)

I hope to provide the arguments that the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) says have not been put, although I profoundly disagree with him.

I oppose the Bill, and I do so in principle because it is wrong to deprive people of their rights, liberties, livelihood and traditional way of life unless one has compelling reasons to do so. I oppose it because it will not help the fox or the deer or the hare. On the contrary, it will destroy what hunting of each type has helped to preserve—the balance of nature in our countryside.

The Bill will destroy what that wise countryman, our present Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, recently called the pact between the farming community and country people and those animals—the pact whereby, in return for the right and opportunity to pursue ancient sports, those animals live in their natural habitat, with closed seasons voluntarily observed, in controlled but thriving numbers.

It is ironic that supporters of a Government who profess to believe in human rights, as I do, and who propose to incorporate the European convention on human rights into British law, now propose to remove them without considering with real care whether it is justified and proportionate to do so. To justify such a removal of rights, there must first be some objectively justified and compelling public interest reason. It is parroted like a mantra that that compelling public interest reason is the cruelty and barbarism which is said—I believe profoundly wrongly—to be unique to those sports.

Herein lies the illogicality of this bad Bill. The Bill's supporters accept fishing, and say that they will not attack it. They also accept shooting and the fact that foxes, deer and hares must have their numbers controlled and must all be somehow culled, and therefore killed. Clause 5 expressly preserves the right to use packs of dogs to flush out foxes from cover so that they may be controlled by shooting. The object is to preserve what are known as the "gun packs" of Wales and Scotland. Those packs of fox hounds, which are necessary for control, are used in exactly the same way as normal hunting packs, as that is the only way to flush out foxes from large woodland areas for control. Not only are hundreds of foxes necessarily shot but a number are certainly killed by hounds in the course of the shoot. Sadly, some are inevitably wounded, which never happens in hunting. In hunting, the fox is never wounded; it is either killed outright or it goes free. Why, then, is hunting said to be so barbaric and cruel?

The Bill is not only wrong in principle but badly drafted, and it would have side effects which it is hard to believe are intended. I have studied it carefully and found that, in future, citizens who walk their dogs on commons will need to keep them on a lead, for if they are permitted to chase rabbits or even to hunt in the long grass for mice or voles, their owners will be guilty of a criminal offence. If people are out on a rough shoot and their dogs flush out a hare, that will be a criminal offence under the Bill. If those who own or occupy land invite friends to shoot pheasants, partridges or pigeons and to bring their dogs with them, and if the dogs then chase rabbits, hares, or even voles, shrews or field mice, the dog owners will be guilty of a criminal offence with a penalty of up to six months' imprisonment.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

My right hon. and learned Friend said that if, unintentionally, one allows one's dog to pursue a mammal defined in the Bill, criminal sanctions will follow. Clause 5(1) clearly states: In this Act 'hunt' means intentionally to course".

Sir Nicholas Lyell

I am sorry, but my right hon. Friend is wrong. I have not relied only on my own judgment on this matter, but have taken advice from two Queen's Counsel, who practise exclusively in criminal law, and they confirm the points that I am making.

Let us consider further the side effects for those caught up in this new criminality. One assumes that the police will act reasonably, and they usually will, but those suspected of any such offence are liable to arrest without warrant, and to have their cars or dogs detained by the police and their garages, gardens or outbuildings— anywhere but their homes—entered and searched without so much as a warrant.

On a different point, some say that drag hunting can take the place of fox hunting. I organised a drag hunt in my youth. It is fun for a good gallop, but it is no substitute for real hunting. There is none of the skilful art of venery, and there is no need for the huntsman to have the deep knowledge of country lore and of the fox and his habits that is possessed by real huntsmen.

Those who drag hunt enjoy jumping the fences, but they have no need to care for the habitat. They do not collect much of the fallen stock for the farmer. They are no substitute for the great tradition and way of life that would be lost.

In summary, the Bill is ill thought through. The topic is admittedly one of much controversy, and sincere views are held on both sides of the House. The Attlee Government, the first Labour Government after the war, when faced with a similar situation, did not leave the matter to elective dictatorship. They set up an objective interdepartmental inquiry, which produced the Scott Henderson report. That report rejected the allegation that hunting was cruel and barbaric, and found that it had significant advantages over other methods of fox control—gassing, poisoning, snaring or shooting.

It is as wrong today as it was then to ram the Bill ahead without objective inquiry. If real inquiry were held, hunting would be vindicated, or at least those whose rights, livelihoods and traditional way of life are to be taken from them would know that they had had a fair hearing. I sincerely believe that hunting of all types would be vindicated. My plea to the supporters of the Bill is: stop; think again.

12.10 pm
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall)

In the summer, when my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) won the right in the ballot to introduce the Bill, I had no intention of speaking. I thought that he might have chosen a measure more relevant to bread-and-butter issues, after 18 years of Conservative rule. However, it was his choice.

Over the past months, as I have watched millions of pounds being spent on advertising by the promoters of the Bill, I have felt increasing concern about the untruths, the emotional hysteria and some of the facts.

I was born and bred in the country. I was brought up on a small farm. I understand what goes on in the country. I know about hunting. I do not hunt, and I have never hunted, but I understand the reasons for it and the benefits that it can bring to rural communities. The economic arguments for hunting focus on rural jobs, but most important to me is the role that hunting can have in helping to maintain the ecological balance in nature.

I believe in animal welfare. The farm on which I was brought up was pesticide-free and chemical-free long before the word "organic" was thought of. Hens, pigs and other animals were free range, and many were the litters of pigs that I helped to bring into this world. I need no lessons in animal welfare from anyone, but I have a vivid memory of the sight, early one morning in the fields, of a sea of white feathers sprayed all over the grass—the result of a fox's excursion into the chicken house. Not just one chicken had been killed to eat, but every single one had been routed and killed.

I do not want to hear any more romantic ideas about pretty little innocent foxes. They are pests and they need to be controlled. However, I accept that foxes are a natural part of country living. The irony is that those who supposedly care most for the well-being of animals and who want to stop those animals being hunted have failed to grasp the fact that not one fox will be saved by the Bill. Indeed, it has been pointed out repeatedly that unless farmers know that hunting takes place on their land, and without farmers' commitment to the hunt for whatever reason, the foxes will simply be massacred in whatever way is cheapest and most convenient, and most cruelly.

One cannot hunt unless there is a suitable habitat for the species concerned. That means that corners of fields are left fallow, hedges are not entirely grubbed out, edges of forests are planted with deciduous trees and chalk streams are maintained. Those habitats suitable for hunting are an example of biodiversity and support many other species. Once hunting goes, I am convinced that they will be at risk to commercial forestry and the desolate monoculture of agro-industrial farming.

We already face a countryside in rapid decline, with many once-familiar birds and mammals disappearing. Hunting is one of the few rural activities that has a beneficial effect on the countryside habitats. Conservationists the world over will affirm that, if there is no reason to sustain a habitat, sooner or later the pressures of making a living lead to its disappearance. It is nonsense to argue that drag hunting is a suitable alternative to hunting. Drag hunting does not require the maintenance of suitable habitats.

In hunting areas of the country, there are ancient woods whose local names are known instantly by hunting people. They survive only because they have always provided cover for foxes and are preserved for that reason. Significant areas of grassland have not seen a plough for generations and they are preserved because the owners are hunt supporters. There would be no reason to preserve such areas but for the pressure of local hunt supporters.

In the wake of BSE, the easiest way for farmers to make a profit from farm land is to clear and plough it. The cheapest way to divide fields is with barbed wire. Woods, grassland, hedges and walls are being destroyed at an alarming rate, and the abolition of hunting will greatly accelerate that process. Like it or not, the continuation of field sports—particularly fox hunting—is one of the best protections for the sort of countryside that people enjoy looking at, and living and working in, and where they choose to spend their recreation hours.

In an excellent article in The Mail on Sunday several months ago, Stewart Steven said: MPs who are determined to ban hunting find themselves on the side of the most rapacious and unfeeling of country people, the agro-industrialists. Their profit comes from the flat and boring landscapes in which all natural life has been destroyed by their noxious chemicals. Compare them with rural people who hunt and shoot. They are not destroyers because their whole way of life depends absolutely on respect, understanding and tolerance. We live in a nation that has legislation to protect minority groups from discrimination and to give them the freedom to enjoy their cultures and traditions without harassment. Therefore, I cannot understand why a country that prides itself on its pluralism and tolerance, and that is home to so many ethnic minorities whose cultures and customs have enriched our own so much, should be so prejudiced against its own rural inhabitants.

I respect the way in which some hunt supporters have recognised that they must change also. There must be dialogue. I welcome very much the booklet produced by the Wildlife Network. Its director, Jim Barrington, the former chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, began the dialogue by offering to work with pro-hunting groups to see whether we could find a way forward. He was then thrown out of the League Against Cruel Sports. That document should be read by everyone. It talks about getting rid of some of the abuses, such as terrier hunting and other practices, that I find distasteful. Genuine people who care about the country and about hunting do not support such practices. That is the way forward: it is through not legislation and banning.

No one—except vegetarians—can make a coherent case for banning hunting. All farming is cruel in some way: we have factory farming, calves are taken from their mothers at birth, and animals are castrated, clipped and crated, forced to eat unnatural food and to bear unnaturally large litters, and dispatched to horrible abattoirs. There is so much cruelty in this country: we should be looking at that rather than trying to ban hunting.

If the Bill succeeds, we shall make criminals of many law-abiding, decent citizens. That is bad legislation. It is intolerable and intolerant. It will do nothing to stop real cruelty and it will ruin the countryside. I shall oppose it.

12.18 pm
Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) in the debate. I shall return to the substance of her remarks later. I do not discount the possibility that she and I hold broadly similar views because we were both raised in the same environment.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris) on his maiden speech, to which hon. Members on both sides listened with great approval. His generous comments about Jack Aspinwall were particularly appreciated on the Opposition Benches. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that Jack was considered to be a good constituency Member—and I was grateful to see those Labour Members of Parliament who served at the same time as Jack nodding their heads in agreement. The hon. Member for Wansdyke made a balanced speech and contained the emotion that he clearly feels about the subject, to the advantage of his speech. I hope to have the opportunity to listen to him on many more such occasions.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on his speech and on coming top in the ballot. It is a tradition to offer congratulations, although I have never quite understood why coming top in the ballot should be attributed to an hon. Member's personal qualities. Nevertheless, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. He made a brave decision in choosing this Bill and he will certainly be remembered in the first year of this Parliament when others among the new intake are still struggling to make themselves known. I hope that he will enjoy the process that he has launched this morning, although I am not absolutely certain that in every respect he will. I will return to one or two of the points that he raised as I develop my own thoughts.

At the beginning of the debate, Madam Speaker encouraged us to try to stick to 10 minutes and she included Front Benchers in that stricture. I may not quite make that, but I will do my best and shall conduct my speech to maximise the time for others, who might wish to intervene to make their own if they catch Madam Speaker's eye.

On a personal level, I have never hunted in my life. I have not indulged in country sports, although I have a great interest in sport. The sports in which I have an interest are likely to take up all the free time that I shall have in the foreseeable future, so I do not approach the debate with any vested interest in country sports. I wish to make it clear that Conservative Members are not whipped today, and I assume the same to be the case for every party. We shall have a free vote, as is appropriate and traditional on such matters. I am therefore in no sense setting out an Opposition position on the Bill, although I shall draw on what I believe to be Conservative principles and instincts. At the same time, I shall respect the views of colleagues who, having those same principles and instincts, choose to vote differently at the end of the debate.

I wish to start by addressing the single biggest issue raised by the Bill. I begin by accepting that a majority of the citizens of this country disapprove of hunting with hounds, are genuine in their disapproval, feel strongly about the issue, see it as a moral issue and would support a ban criminalising it as an activity. However, the contrary argument is that those reasons do not justify depriving the individual citizen of the right to take part in a lawful activity, and I share the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that it would be a damaging day for all our freedoms if they were ever held to do so.

Hunting with hounds is a lawful activity that has been engaged in by ordinary men and women in the United Kingdom, and in other countries, for centuries. Indeed, most of the hunts still in existence in Britain today are at least 100 years old. Each person in this and every civilised country has now and always has had the right to engage in or to desist from those activities, according to his or her inclination. Those are freedoms inherent in the citizenship of a civilised society, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall has just said.

The freedom of each individual to hunt with hounds is no different in principle from the freedom of each individual to—or not to—fish, shoot, eat meat, drink alcohol, use tobacco, gamble or worship as he or she chooses. A free society is one that jealously protects the freedoms of its individual citizens. Indeed, one of the acid tests of a free society is the extent to which individuals and minorities are permitted to exercise their rights.

Mr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Brian Mawhinney


The threat to the freedoms of individuals and minorities inevitably comes from majorities—or at any rate from more vociferous or powerful minorities posing as majorities—who hold different opinions from the minority. The individual people who make up that majority may lose sight of the fact that they, in other aspects of their lives, are also members of a minority.

It is essential for us all to realise that the protection of the unpopular minority interests of others is a vital part of our own freedom. One of the most important freedoms is the right to continue to be unpopular. We have traditionally looked to Parliament to protect these rights notwithstanding the acceptance on both sides of the House that Parliament has the power to abolish any right. That means that Parliament has the power to abolish freedoms. It has the power to act illiberally. It can ban hunting, fishing, smoking, the reading of certain books and the worship of any god, but the exercise of that power would diminish Parliament and our society would be less free. If Parliament is not to circumscribe freedoms improperly, it must decide to act only in accordance with principle.

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), who said that the only justification for the removal of a freedom is that the exercise of the freedom is unacceptably harmful to society. There is no serious suggestion that hunting with hounds is seriously anti-social. It is an activity that is pursued by the widest possible range of law-abiding citizens of all ages and backgrounds. They pose no threat to public order, they cause no appreciable disturbance to their fellow citizens and they challenge no vital public interest.

The supporters of hunting would say that the activity that they pursue is sociable, disciplined, healthy and natural. However, it is essential for freedom's sake to recognise that it is not necessary for the protection of hunting that they should persuade anyone of that argument. That is because a ban can never be justified unless the proposers of the ban prove the opposite. They must show that hunting is positively harmful to society, and appealing to the strong disapproval of the majority does not prove that case.

I am pleased to say that there is no serious dispute in this debate about the need for control. The hon. Member for Worcester recognises the need for control. I believe that the initiators of previous Bills on this issue have not come to that recognition but the hon. Gentleman has, and that is made clear in the Bill.

Many bodies and the Labour party's rural policy documents recognise the need for fox control. One of the essentials of that recognition is that it is not possible in our world to control foxes without some element of suffering. The weakest part of the speech of the hon. Member for Worcester to which, as I hope he observed, I listened carefully without jeer or cheer, was that he did not at any time address the other methods of fox control— control which he recognises to be necessary—in comparison with hunting.

The hon. Gentleman made a big issue out of hunting and used many emotional descriptions. I do not blame him for that. I have no difficulty with him developing his speech in that way. However, by so doing he drew the more attention, if he will forgive the mixed metaphor, to the dog that did not bark. He did not address what should or could be the alternatives, and the level of suffering attached to those alternatives. Instead, he concentrated on the one issue. The House will have noticed—if I may put it this way without, I hope, sounding aggressive—that deficiency in the hon. Gentleman's speech.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall specifically understood that deficiency. She articulated it as effectively as I have heard in a long time. She supported the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire, who drew on his considerable legal experience. None of the species hunted with hounds is protected. Fox numbers have been increasing over the years despite all the culling methods now being employed. All the species now hunted with hounds need to be culled if we are to preserve the delicate balance of nature in the British countryside, which is the envy of the world. It is worth reflecting that the species currently hunted with hounds have been controlled successfully and healthily in the same traditional way for centuries.

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), I also spotted the fact that the hon. Member for Worcester quoted selectively from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food document. The quotation began with a sentence to which the hon. Gentleman did not make reference. It said: The Ministry's interest in foxes is as a predator of livestock, especially of lambs. The hon. Gentleman did not mention that, but I am pleased that the Minister agrees with that statement. I grant that the hon. Gentleman accepted it in principle, because his Bill recognises the need for culling.

The hon. Gentleman quoted the second sentence of this passage, which states: On the basis of current evidence, the Ministry does not consider foxes to be a significant factor in lamb mortality". He stopped there, creating the impression that the phrase ended with a full stop. His hon. Friends murmured their agreement. As my right hon. Friend said, there is no full stop—it is a semicolon. The sentence continues: but it should be stressed that this is against a background of widespread fox control by farmers. The document goes on: Foxes can cause serious local problems for individual farmers and the Ministry therefore considers that foxes do need to be controlled to minimise lamb losses. I do not want to get into a debate with the hon. Gentleman about this; I simply want to point out that, had he given the whole quotation rather than the selective half-sentence, it would have destroyed the essence of his argument. Hon. Members should always assume that someone else has the full quotation.

Having referred to farmers, I shall give the view of the National Farmers Union, as sent to me and, I am sure, to other hon. Members. Farmers, who tend to take an independent view of life, have come out against the Bill. A large majority of the union's membership believes that it should press for the retention of the present right to use dogs as a method of agricultural pest control. Its document says: The NFU believes that Parliament should change laws only where objective grounds for so doing in the public interest are established beyond reasonable doubt: in a country famed for its tolerance and the upholding of liberty, it would be wrong for minorities to be oppressed (and their lives made very much more difficult, including loss of livelihoods for many of them) following an emotive and well-financed campaign by the Bill's promoters. Who or what will benefit from the Bill? It will not be the hunted species, for it has to be controlled, and that control will involve some suffering, whatever the methodology. It will not be Britain's unique and envied balance of wildlife, nor the conservation of Britain's landscape. It will not be the preservation of our rural heritage and its communities, nor the prosperity of rural businesses and trades and the creation of rural jobs. It will not be the survival of thousands of horses and hounds, nor the liberty of tens of thousands of law-abiding and decent people, virtually all of whom look after animals, whether domestic, farm or wild, and none of whom would countenance cruelty. It will not be leisure activity for rural people. Let us not forget that, even with mounted packs, 60 per cent. of followers use their cars or are on foot. For many retired people, this is their principal form of exercise and recreation. It will not be the farmer who, without the hunt, will have to replace and, in turn, pay for the collection of dead farm stock.

As the House will note, I have tried to approach the issue at what appears to me to be the most fundamental level. I, too, have received letters and, given the similarity of the content, I detect unseen hands behind letters on both sides of the argument.

The debate has featured an acceptable and appropriate degree of emotion. That emotion reflects even more unbridled emotion in the country as a whole. The issue, however, is not one of pure emotion; the issue is what reasoned judgment we ought to reach. Although it is not my usual practice, for once I consulted the national media, whose editorial viewpoint spans most of the political and social views in the country. I was impressed by the unanimity of judgment that they reflected. I will quote a few of them.

On 12 July, The Independentsaid: Nor, when disapproving of something, should we rush to ban it. Tough-minded liberalism allows much to continue that the liberal personality abhors. On 10 July, The Expresssaid: If we were wise, we shall wish failure on the Foster Bill. Not because we do not care for the fox. But because we care for freedom more. The editor of the Evening Standardwrote: The issue is not foxes—it is that of personal liberty and the rights of minority cultures in a free society". Simon Jenkins wrote in The Times: City-dwellers may hate hunting and feel repelled by the spectacle of the country community marching on London, but we must still defend their freedoms.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Could not all those arguments also be used in support of badger baiting?

Sir Brian Mawhinney

What they all address is the issue of fundamental freedom that the Bill has raised.

On 10 July,The Timesstated: The countrymen who have marched on London should remind Members of the new Parliament, who will flourish their majority and mandate, that settled traditions and the liberties of minorities also have their claim. Using a Private Member's Bill to make outlaws of thousands who enjoy themselves as Britons always have, and to make unemployment statistics of thousands more, does not seem a One Nation measure. According to Hugo Young inThe Guardian, Hunting is in danger of taking its place on the altar where offerings are burned before the god of British uniformity. The Bill's Committee and Report stages will allow the specific issues in it to be examined with care and in detail. I look forward to that process, which I believe will assist the Bill's progress. The issue before us, however, is not just the issue of fox hunting: the primary issue is the historic role of fox hunting in protecting freedom—a freedom in which individuals may not themselves participate. We are talking about protecting the freedom to take part in activities of which we may disapprove. If Parliament does not defend freedom, who is to defend it?

The hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) quoted from John Mortimer's article in The Observer last Sunday. I was intrigued that he chose to quote all the nasty bits about the hon. Member for Worcester. I want to quote not the nasty bits about the hon. Gentleman, but the part of the article dealing with the principle on which this debate turns: Mr. Foster and his adherents are entitled to hate fox hunting and to try to persuade those who practise it to desist. What they must not do is to call for those who hold contrary opinions to be locked up. The great moral flaw in this Bill is not understanding that a penal sentence requires a consensus in our society. The convicted murderer, rapist and fraudster all have to admit, in their hearts, that their punishment is just and deserved. But a huge body of decent opinion does not regard fox hunting as a crime. The man or woman engaged in the sport, which is arguably a valuable part of traditional country life, cannot be made to think of himself or herself as a criminal just because Foster's Bill says so. If this bizarre legislation ever finds its way on to the Statute Book it will be seen as a gross miscarriage of justice. I bow to Mr. Mortimer. He has put it better than I could, and I endorse his sentiment.

12.40 pm
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North)

I have found it exciting this morning: there has been a whiff of class struggle in the air.

Scientists are used to being despised and discredited when they challenge the accepted wisdom, and when they confirm what everyone says they knew anyway. That has been no less true where scientists have attempted to add some rational debate to sport hunting.

On 29 October, an Adjournment debate on the matter documented some of science's arguments, and we have heard some more today. Letters and individual scientists—none of whom has, to my knowledge, done any work in this sector—have been quoted to argue against the eminent researches of Patrick Bateson and his group. He and his staff, Elizabeth Bradshaw in particular, have worked at King's college, Cambridge, a university that many Conservative Members have told us is the equal of the Ivy League in terms of research. One could not say, therefore, that anything bad has come out of Cambridge or Oxford. Bateson is part of that tradition.

Bateson's group concluded that hunted deer are subjected to high stress levels. He acknowledged that the stress, suffering and pain are defined in terms of human subjective experience, and he asserts that such projection of human experience and emotion can be made transparent by building a profile of both behavioural characteristics and the physical processes involved. Indeed, he is brave and says that, on occasion, the animal must be given the benefit of the doubt—a somewhat revolutionary concept compared with some of the arguments that we have heard today.

Bateson's work, which was commissioned by the National Trust, studied the effect of hunting on red deer in Exmoor and the Quantocks. It involved taking blood samples from deer that had been chased by hounds and shot. The deer had run an average of 20 km over three hours. The physical studies showed that Cortisol—a hormone that is a scientific compass for stress in human beings as well—blood sugar and lactate levels rose as oxygen levels fell, due to overworked muscles. Red blood cells broke down to release haemoglobin into the bloodstream, and muscle enzymes leached into the blood.

Cortisol levels were 10 per cent. higher in deer chased by hounds than in animals shot by stalkers. Blood lactate levels reached peak levels after 5 km of chase, and dropped as the lactate was used to fuel muscle activity. The consequence was that, after 15 to 30 km, energy stores were completely depleted—some hon. Members have said that that was surprising and unpredictable. Haemoglobin spilled into the blood after a few kilometres of chase.

Those are the facts. Let me turn to some of Bateson's critics, many of whom spoke in the Adjournment debate on 29 October. The work has been reviewed by peers,

and stood the test of conference scrutiny, unlike much of the work quoted by Conservative Members in trying to rubbish Bateson. It has been described as pioneering, illustrative and conclusive.

As the Bill's promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) said, 14 well-respected scientists endorsed Bateson's methods and unanimously said that hunting deer made demands upon muscles to pathological levels. I understand that none of the critics disputes these physical findings.

I stress two other observations by Bateson. He states that the stress level indicators in shot deer as opposed to the hunted deer were lower even when two shots were actually fired. He also concluded that 5 per cent. of stalked deer got away. A greater proportion of deer that were chased by hounds escaped, and it is Bateson's hypothesis that they endured suffering for various lengths of time.

That work is being followed up. Those deer would have to be added to those that were hunted to death in terms of the suffering that is inflicted on the animal population. Bateson's hypothesis was that shooting caused less suffering, and he stated that total suffering would be reduced if hunting by hounds was completely banned.

In the Adjournment debate I mentioned, the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), who has just entered the Chamber, asked whether anything in Bateson's report suggested that mental stress was experienced by the deer in addition to the physiological aspects which have been mentioned. I have been in touch with Sir Patrick Bateson, who states: It is not correct to say"— as was recorded in Hansard

that we were exclusively concerned with the physiological aspects of hunting. We also monitored the behaviour of the hunted deer. His information to me points to some of the behavioural patterns that were experienced by deer when the hunts were milling around. He states: severe behavioural measures have a direct bearing on interpretation of the physiological evidence. For instance, deer tend to circle in the course of a hunt, returning to the home range which they know well. Bateson has carried out a comprehensive study of the behavioural and physiological effects of suffering and, I would say, the cruelty inflicted on the deer.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Gibson

No. I have only 10 minutes of facts which will be a surprise to the hon. Gentleman. I will see him in the bike shed afterwards.

The work of MacDonald and Johnstone of Oxford has also been mentioned. They are the leading international experts in the field, and we have heard about the brilliant book that was written by MacDonald on foxes. Their scientific studies on the socio-economic infrastructure of rural communities is second to none in terms of the analysis of the effects of hunting on foxes. Their conclusion is that fox hunting is not even sufficient to protect game birds, and that other methods will be necessary. They conclude: Fox hunting is a sport and certainly not a method of fox control. I might argue with them about that. The conclusion goes on: It certainly does not control in population dynamics terms the number of foxes that are in any particular community. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) that MacDonald also concludes that hunting is not the major factor in allowing fanners to carry out hedgerow maintenance and development and countryside preservation. Many other political initiatives are being taken to encourage people to keep hedgerows intact. They are important ecologically.

Science shows that deer—and, I would guess, all mammals—suffer stress from hunting of any kind, and that that results in many deleterious effects. It is an unacceptable pursuit in a civilised society. I would define hunting as cruel, callous and unnecessary.

12.48 pm
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

Hon. Members have been asked to be brief, so I shall focus on just two aspects of the Bill. First, the House needs to be clear about the nature of all traditional country sports. The sports of angling, fox hunting, stag hunting, beagling and shooting are all intrinsically the same, and have identical characteristics.

I come to the debate with a degree of personal knowledge. I have shot all my life. I have shot thousands of pheasants, and I beagled. I have participated on many occasions in fishing. I am also a supporter of fox hunting, although I do not ride to hounds. I know that all those activities, without exception, involve a degree of suffering.

I tell hon. Members who try to argue that fishing does not involve suffering that they are wrong. They have only to examine the 1979 and 1994 reports of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—I can send them copies if they do not have them—to learn that the RSPCA's conclusion is that fish feel pain, and that one cannot draw a sensible distinction in terms of pain between the activities.

If the RSPCA's conclusion is right, there is no intellectually sustainable case for distinguishing between those activities. All of them are right, or none of them is right. I believe that all of them are right.

Mr. Gray

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr. Hogg

I will not give way at this juncture.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), the former Attorney-General, drew attention to the penalties that are to be attached to fox hunting. The penalties are substantial fines and the prospect of imprisonment. Hon. Members must ask themselves whether it is appropriate to impose such penalties on people who are pursuing activities that are manifestly not in the range of those that should be subject to the criminal law.

One way in which to judge the matter is to ask oneself the question, how would we react if fishermen were subjected to such penalties? On a Sunday, all of us go for walks down by the river, on the Trent, and to the dikes— [Interruption.] Labour Members may not go walking in the country, but I do. I go to the Trent, and I see angling ponds. I visit lakes, and I see dikes. I also see families fishing together. I ask myself whether such people should be the subject of a criminal law, and the answer is: manifestly not. If that is true of fishermen, why in all conscience should we try to subject fox hunters or others, such as beaglers, to such a penalty?

My second point is very similar to that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), and goes to the rights of minorities in free societies. In a free and tolerant society, minorities have rights that they are entitled to assert against the majority. That tolerance requires us to be tolerant of activities of which we may disapprove.

A free society is not one which says that people have rights that happen to be conferred on them by the majority. That is neither a free nor a tolerant society. Sophisticated constitutions recognise that fact, which is why many societies have bills of rights entrenched in those constitutions, to ensure that majorities cannot oppress minorities.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold):

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the message sent to me by very many of my constituents who support hunting, telling hon. Members who will vote for the Bill's Second Reading, "We do not seek to ban those activities that you participate in—so, please, exercise tolerance towards our activity, and do not seek arbitrarily to criminalise it"?

Mr. Hogg

I entirely agree with that message.

One may disapprove of many things in society. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, I do not like ritual slaughter. When I was Minister of Agriculture, I was pressed to ban it, but I took the view that the rights of the Jewish minorities and those of the Muslim community overrode other considerations.

The same applies to many other activities. I have no time for obscenity, I find blasphemy pretty disagreeable, I am not very keen on boxing, and I well understand that abortion raises serious moral questions, but my conclusion is that these things are best left to the individual, because, in a tolerant and free society, people have the right to make moral decisions for themselves. They have a right to choose between the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy. It is for them to decide, not for the criminal law to impose its own restrictions.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. Gordon Prentice


Mr. Hogg

No, I shall not give way.

For that reason, I believe that the Bill is a very serious erosion of political and personal liberty, and I shall vote against it on that basis.

12.55 pm
Angela Smith (Basildon)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on introducing the Bill. Contrary to reports that it is a bad Bill, it is in fact an excellent Bill. Indeed, the Public Bill Office made compliments about its drafting.

I have listened to the arguments deployed in the debate, and what has struck me is that so many of them have been contradictory and somewhat misleading. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) is no longer in the Chamber, because some of his points should be corrected. He said that people would be prosecuted for chasing a squirrel in a park. However, if he had read the Bill, he would know that, as squirrels are rodents, they are specifically excluded from the Bill. He also said that the powers in the Bill are draconian—

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)


Mr. Hayes


Angela Smith

No, I am not giving way. I have 10 minutes; many hon. Members wish to speak, and there is little time.

The right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea said that the powers in the Bill were draconian. He should be aware that they are the same as those provided in the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which were accepted under a previous Government and are working well. The power to seize vehicles is rarely used; it is an ultimate power, not an automatic one.

It has been said that a fox is a pest and needs to be controlled, but fox hunting has been around only for the past 250 years. What happened before then? Were we knee-deep in foxes in the middle ages? I suspect not.

There are artificial earths where foxes are encouraged to breed. We cannot have it both ways—either the fox is a pest or it can be encouraged to breed. Fox hunting does nothing to control the fox population. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) mentioned mink hunting and the terrible problems that mink cause, which mean that mink still has to be hunted to be controlled. If mink hunting is so effective, why do we still have these problems? It is clearly a wholly ineffective method of mink control.

I shall deal now with hare coursing. I attended the Waterloo cup competition with my hon. Friends the Members for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) and for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). We were told that the hare was in a state of serious decline. The House may be surprised to know that the Waterloo cup's budget includes an item for restocking, which means transporting hares to Liverpool to ensure that there are adequate hares to be coursed for the competition. Coursing supporters are advised not to identify with the hare as it may spoil their enjoyment of the event—I suggest that it would.

We have heard much about minority rights. It has been said that minorities have a right to hunt, to torture and to kill our wildlife, but the same argument was deployed by badger and bear baiters. Minorities have rights, but they do not have the right to cause suffering to our wildlife. We, as the majority in the House, must stand up for the majority of people in the country and make our views heard.

We all know that the Bill should be given a Second Reading with a good majority. The danger is that there may be an attempt to stop it in another place. The only hope that fox hunters have for the survival of their sport is to use parliamentary procedures. Right is on our side. We have a majority in the House and, if the House expresses its will and if a majority of hon. Members support the Bill today, it should not be obstructed in another place.

We have a mission to modernise the country. [Laughter.] Conservative Members may laugh, but we want to move forward. Instead of bleating on about losing their so-called sports—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)


Angela Smith

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I repeat: we have a mission to modernise the country. It is important that we bring ourselves up to date. Instead of bleating on about losing their so-called sport, hunters should be astonished that it has lasted so long. It has lasted until the 20th century, but it will not continue into the 21st.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should like to say that there are streams of people coming to the Chair, asking about their place in the queue. I cannot hear the debate. I am enjoying the debate, so perhaps they could refrain from approaching the Chair.

12.59 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on his choice of subject. I particularly congratulate him on his courage in introducing a controversial Bill so early in his time in the House.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris) on his maiden speech and on having the courage to make it in such a debate. His predecessor, Jack Aspinwall, was much respected on both sides of the House. I am grateful for the tribute paid to him.

Having started on that friendly note, I should like to engage in one of my favourite sports—trying to flush out the Prime Minister. The hon. Member for Worcester told the House that the Prime Minister supported the Bill. I am pleased to hear that. Does that support extend to making parliamentary time available? I hope that I shall be assisted in the resolution of that query by the spokesman for the Opposition. I hope that he will help me to flush out the Prime Minister.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

Spokesman for the Government.

Miss Widdecombe

That is true. It takes a lot of getting used to, and it will not last long, anyway.

On 15 April—hon. Members may recall that that was in the middle of the general election campaign—the current Prime Minister, in his then role of Leader of the Opposition, wrote to the current Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). He said: Our policy is to have a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation. If such a vote is passed, it will be a decision made by Parliament and parliamentary time will be made available for appropriate legislation to progress in the normal way. I repeat: parliamentary time will be made available". If the House passes the Bill—or at least gives it a Second Reading, as it is unlikely to pass the Bill—I hope that the Prime Minister will honour his promise and will make time available, not for a measure on licensing or some other watered-down proposition, but for the measures in the Bill. We have heard a lot of talk about what the upper House will do. I want to know what the Prime Minister will do if Parliament votes—

Mr. Peter Bradley

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

No. The hon. Gentleman is not the Prime Minister.

I have a couple of concessions to make about the Bill. It may not be the most perfectly drafted Bill in the world, but it is a pretty good attempt. If it is possible for a lawyer of the eminence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) to interpret clause 5 in a different way from what was intended, we shall tidy that up in Committee. What is the Committee stage for? That is a common plea in private Members' legislation, and one that I have often made— and Labour Members have not granted it. One does not need perfection the first time, because the Committee stage is designed, elementarily, to clear up such problems.

Yes, the fox is exceptionally cruel. When it goes into a hen-house it is concerned not only with getting a good supper but with having a horrible time with the hens. Does that mean that we should take our standards from the fox? Is it proposed that, because a fox eats a couple of guinea pigs in a nasty way, the House should take its standards from the fox? I find that proposition amazing, as I have some of the other arguments advanced today.

It is argued that if we abolish hunting we will abolish jobs. If we abolish crime, we will put all the police out of work. If we abolish ill health, we will put all the nurses and doctors out of work. Does anyone seriously suggest that we must preserve at all costs crime and ill health because they keep people in jobs?

We are told that there must be consensus before we lock people up, that if there is a large body of opinion that says that something is okay, we must not lock up the practitioners. What about the legalisation of cannabis? A sizeable body of opinion, with which I am totally at odds, says that cannabis is all right. I defend to the hilt society's right to lock up the purveyors of cannabis. I defend also to the hilt—although this will not be so acceptable to Labour Members—our right to lock up people who did not pay their poll tax when it was a lawfully levied tax.

If this democratically elected House decides that hunting is against the law, it is our right to exact penalties against those who fight the law. We will be penalising not the fact that they like to hunt but the fact that they break the law. I do not believe that the sort of people who tell me that they want to carry on hunting are the sort who would wilfully break the law. There seems to be an underlying assumption that such people will go out breaking the law. Frankly, I doubt it. If Parliament changes the law, I believe that people will largely obey it and that we are entitled to take action against those who do not.

It is important to ask ourselves a simple question. Is hunting so wrong that we wish to abolish it? If it is, all else flows from that. We do not need to be concerned about jobs or liberties to do wrong; we need only ask whether it is so wrong that it should be abolished.

My problem with hunting is not that I contest the right of farmers to practise pesticide. Hunting is a most ineffective pesticide. Its supporters have tried to have it both ways by saying that they do not kill too many foxes but also that they kill so many that it is a good pesticide. In fact, nine tenths of fox control is done by shooting, not hunting.

Hunting is not a pesticide, so we must ask what it is. It is cruelty. I am not against killing foxes or culling deer. I am against the chase, the cruelty involved in the prolonging the terror of a living, sentient being that is running for its life. They laugh at it, apparently. When the deer is running, can feel the hounds closing in and knows that its strength is not going to last, it is uproariously funny. If it is so funny, why do not those who favour hunting take a trip to Kenya and stand unprotected in a lion reserve and see if they enjoy the hunt? I admit that I might enjoy watching it. Prolongation of terror is wrong. Those who practise it when there are alternatives that are already widely practised do wrong. Yes, the scenes of a hunt are splendid, so splendid that they are all over my dining room curtains, but they are colourful scenes of olde England, and in olde England, not in modern Britain, they belong. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members should not clap after a speech. It is not necessary.

1.9 pm

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hesitate to make my maiden speech after that magnificent speech by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), but I thank you for calling me to speak. I am very pleased to speak during this important debate, because I am a lifelong and passionate opponent of hunting. I wish to express my strong support for the Bill.

It is customary in a maiden speech to mention one's predecessors. The seat of Luton, North has changed in name and shape on several occasions in recent times and has been represented by several notable Members, two of whom are still hon. Members of the House.

John Carlisle retired from Parliament before the May election, having represented Luton, North and Luton, West for 18 years. Often controversial and outspoken, he was a good constituency Member, who spoke his mind in the House and elsewhere. However, we held opposite views on almost every issue.

Suffice it to say that I was a founder member of the Luton Anti-apartheid Group, that I supported the idea of the all-woman shortlist to increase the number of women Members and that I welcomed the ban on handguns. Older hon. Members will need no reminding that John Carlisle had very different opinions on such matters.

Those differences of view seemed to be of little consequence to at least one local voter who spoke to my son as he emerged from the polling station on l May. He said that he had come to vote for "that John Carlisle" but that, as he was not standing, he had voted for me instead. For all our political differences, John Carlisle was very charming to me and I wish him well in his retirement from the House.

My predecessor was my hon. Friend the current hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), a personal friend for 26 years whom I served as both constituency party chair and campaign organiser in three general elections. I am delighted that I am now able to join him in the House as a colleague as well as a friend. My hon. Friend is a forceful and compelling speaker, a doughty champion of many causes over the years and a strong civil libertarian.

Before 1974, most of what is now Luton, North was in the seat of South Bedfordshire, and its Member was the current hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel). I congratulate him on his appointment to the Opposition Front-Bench team and I am extremely pleased that he is in the Chamber on the occasion of my maiden speech. He took the seat in 1970 from Gwilym Roberts, another personal friend for whom I have the warmest regard. If I have a mentor in national politics, it is Gwilym Roberts, who first suggested in 1971 that I might seek to stand for Parliament. It has taken 26 years for his encouragement to bear fruit, but he was one of the first to congratulate me after 1 May.

Luton, North has a number of distinctions, including that of being the smallest constituency in the eastern region. It comprises many good homes, fine parks, excellent schools and colleges. The Luton and Dunstable hospital not only serves my constituents but is strategically placed next to the M1 and provides a vital accident and emergency centre. Luton, North borders much pleasant Bedfordshire countryside—especially the attractive Warden hills—but itself includes no rural areas.

Luton, North is very much a 20th-century constituency. Before 1930, it was mainly farmland, and the names of its major estates—Lewsey farm, Marsh farm and Bramingham farm—betray their recent rural past. Former hamlets and villages such as Challney, Leagrave and Limbury are now substantial residential areas.

There is much of interest in the physical geography of Luton, North. It provides the source of the River Lea at Five Springs near Sundon Park, and the northern edge of the constituency marks the watershed between the Thames basin and the Great Ouse.

Remains have been found of early settlements, from the stone age right up to Saxon times. The River Lea in the constituency formed one boundary of the Danelaw, and the name Luton derives from the old Norse name meaning simply the "town of the Lea". The constituency is crossed east-west by the ancient Icknield way, and north-south by the modern M1.

However, the most significant feature of the constituency is its people. There are many old Lutonians, but many thousands more have come to Luton from other parts. These include Ireland and the West Indies, India and Pakistan, and especially Kashmir. They include Bangladesh, the continent of Europe, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. Many Scots, Welsh and northern English people have also made their homes in the town. We are a fascinating mixture in Luton, and if there is one word to describe us all it is "friendly". We enjoy our cultural variety and get along well with each other. I am pleased that my children have grown up in such a diverse and interesting community. After 28 years, Luton is definitely home as well as the town that I help to represent in the House.

Luton built its reputation on hatting and still makes hats, but for much of the century the town has been a centre for large-scale manufacturing, with SKF, Electrolux and Vauxhall Motors, among other companies. Since 1979, many thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost to the town. I have spent the past few weeks trying to prevent the final closure of the Electrolux plant in my constituency. On the positive side, London Luton airport is growing rapidly and is a burgeoning success for the town. The local economy has diversified, but I still believe that a strong manufacturing sector is vital for Luton and for Britain. I do not accept that gearing our whole economy to the financial services sector and the City of London promises a viable future for our country.

Luton has a fine new university and its thousands of students have brought new life to the town. For four years, I chaired the governing body of its previous incarnation, Luton college of higher education, and in 1993 I was delighted to be made an honorary fellow of the university. Barnfield college is one of the largest and best further education institutions in the country with a superb, newly opened technology centre. The young people of Luton are especially fortunate to have access to a splendid sixth form college whose dedicated staff provide a quality of post-16 education that is second to none. Their success goes on year after year and I am proud to be associated with it as a college governor.

Luton has a good Labour council that does its best to serve local people, sometimes in difficult circumstances. The town offers a variety of cultural and sporting activities, and we play hard and enjoy ourselves. Our football team, the Hatters, has seen great days. They will come again, especially once we have our new multi-purpose stadium.

At its heart, however, Luton is about work. Tens of thousands of people came to Luton for jobs, to make a living and to give their families a decent life. That is why I regard it as my job to campaign above all for employment in the town—for new jobs to replace those lost in the past two decades. Unemployment has blighted the lives of many of our people in recent years and I want nothing less than to bring full employment back to Luton. Some of those new jobs will be found in new industries, but many jobs of the future will be found in the services, including the public services. Luton and Dunstable hospital, local mental health services, social services, education and leisure services should, in the longer term, seek to employ more people so that we can have smaller classes in schools, better care for the elderly and a wider range of health provision.

I was one of a small number of new Members who confessed to an interest in economics. Being any sort of economist is not an admission that one makes lightly. The 20th century has seen a catalogue of economic policy blunders that have had devastating social and political consequences. Defending sterling's link to gold in 1931 brought down a Labour Government and contributed to the misery of the 1930s. The exchange rate mechanism debacle also brought a surge in unemployment and led directly to the Conservatives' defeat this year.

Economic policy is often dictated by fashion, prejudice and political predisposition, but rarely by rationality or even common sense. Thus economists have earned themselves an unfortunate but justified reputation for incompetence. However, some economists get it right. They are often mocked by the political establishment and resented when proven later to have been correct, while the incompetents' transgressions are frequently overlooked and forgiven. I hope to make a modest contribution to the economic debate during my time in the House. I also hope to be among those whose judgment in economic matters is more accurate than fashionable. The modern fashion for neo-liberalism will bring yet more tears to the world before its gurus and their incantations are finally rejected.

For 30 years after the second world war, we achieved full employment, rapid economic growth and a welfare state based on the principle of universality. We gave hope and optimism to our children and provided security for our pensioners. In more recent decades, free market nostrums and monetarist dogma have made the world less secure and more unhappy for millions of our citizens, especially the poor. The Government have a duty to create and sustain employment for their people, to redistribute income and wealth, to promote equality and social justice, and to eliminate poverty. The free market, left to itself, will achieve none of those.

Democracy is not just about voting; it is about economic power. Abdicating power to the market undermines and devalues democracy, and gives comfort only to those for whom democracy is a threat. The House is the focal point of our democracy, and I am privileged to be a Member of it. I shall try to use my time in the House to good effect, to the benefit of my constituents and to the ends to which I have referred.

I am grateful for having been given an opportunity to speak in this debate. Britain has a proud record of campaigning for animal welfare. We can, and do, take a lead in the world on animal rights issues and against cruelty to animals, but our influence is undermined when others can point to the cruelty that we permit to continue in our country, as dogs are unleased to hunt animals to death. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on his Bill. It has my unqualified support and should be passed into law forthwith.

1.20 pm
Sir Richard Body (Boston and Skegness)

It is truly a privilege to be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) on his maiden speech. Those of us who have heard very many maiden speeches will agree that we have just heard a model of what a maiden speech should be.

I did not think until now that anyone could be lyrical about Luton, but all of us who have just heard the hon. Gentleman must now be persuaded that that town is a much more interesting and attractive place than some of us had hitherto believed. I also thank the hon. Gentleman very much for what he said about his predecessor, John Carlisle.

In the few precious minutes left to me, I shall raise the problem that we face with drag hunting. It has been claimed on several occasions in the press, in advertisements and in the debate that drag hunting could provide the jobs that would be lost if other forms of hunting come to an end as a result of the Bill, and that it is a humane alternative to the other forms of hunting.

For 25 years, I have been master of a pack of drag hounds, as defined in the Bill. I am now superannuated and I am chairman of the hunt committee. More important than that, I am chairman of one of the two associations that represent the interests of that form of hunting.

I shall illustrate the problem with the example of the Berks and Bucks drag hounds, which is not untypical of most packs. As the name suggests, it hunts throughout the whole of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, a large part of Oxfordshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire—in five counties. In language that we can perhaps more readily understand, that huge area encompasses no fewer than 20 constituencies, and also the areas covered by eight packs of fox hounds.

The drag hounds hunt just one day a week; the packs of fox hounds always two or three days a week, over a slightly longer season, giving a ratio of 1:20. For every one day's drag hunting, there is in that vast area fox hunting for some 20 days.

Hon. Members may ask why drag hunting cannot be expanded twentyfold. I shall explain. We require to hunt on grassland. Over the past 25 years, I have never been able to persuade a farmer to allow 30 or 40 horses to gallop over his precious winter wheat, which is already two or three inches high, or over any of his other arable crops. The farmers wish for the drag hounds to be only on pasture. In the past 25 years, large parts of our countryside have been taken over by the plough for growing arable crops. I assure the House that it is extremely difficult to find sufficient grassland to enable a pack of drag hounds to operate. A satisfactory day's hunting requires three lines of about three miles each— that is about nine miles of almost continuous grassland that avoids motorways, other main roads and railways.

Drag hunting is even more difficult now. Over the past 15 years, farmers with substantial amounts of grassland have turned to grazing sheep. The lambing season coincides with the hunting season, and no farmer is particularly enthusiastic about having a pack of drag hounds and 30 or 40 followers galloping through a flock of pregnant ewes. To my certain knowledge, farmers have been very generous in accommodating those packs of drag hounds and blood hounds that operate in the country. They usually agree to one day's hunting in the course of a year.

However, it is inconvenient for farmers to allow the hounds to come more frequently. Almost invariably, they must move stock on the morning of the hunt and ensure that fences are repaired and made stock proof afterwards. If conditions are wet, 30 or 40 horses will chum up the turf. Farmers are generous in allowing drag hunts on their land, but few are willing to allow them to occur more than once in a season. Therefore, it follows that it is impossible to increase the number of drag hunts per year and thereby accommodate, with the existing packs of drag hounds, the 400 or so people who go fox hunting—indeed, the hunts are already oversubscribed.

It is unrealistic to extend the scope of drag hunting— and, in many ways, I regret this. A large number of members of my association—all of whom have the responsibility of preparing the countryside for packs of drag hounds and blood hounds—agree with me. I have been authorised to say on their behalf that the scope for increasing drag hunting is very limited. We could introduce probably only about 10 more packs of drag hounds into the countryside. That situation will continue as long as we have limited grasslands and other areas that are suitable for drag hunting.

I hope that some hon. Members remember the late Reggie Paget, the former Labour Member of Parliament for Northampton. He was brought up as a countryman and to treat animals humanely. Throughout his time in this place, he applied a test to legislation involving animal welfare of any kind. He would ask: will it decrease or increase the total amount of suffering in the whole animal kingdom? He would disregard all other factors and apply only that test. I believe that this Bill fails that test.

Like Reggie Paget, I disapprove of shooting foxes. Long ago, when I was 14 and fox hunting had been curtailed for the duration the war, 20 of us went out with our shotguns to destroy as many foxes as we could by flushing them out in the way that the Bill permits. We were at it all day and, by the afternoon, we had shot four foxes outright. However, we saw at least 20 other foxes. We had shot at them also, and they clearly all perished later.

I hope that hon. Members appreciate that, when one uses a shotgun to try to kill a fox, a pellet will pierce the skin, drive the fur into the bloodstream and set up gangrene. Death follows as sure as night follows day. That death may take one week and usually takes at least five or six days. Many years ago, after that fox shoot, I saw a fox dying of gangrene and I resolved then that, once I took control of any farmland, I would never allow the shooting of foxes. I am glad to say that I have held fast to that, even though I have lost all my free-range chickens.

1.29 pm
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I join the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) on his maiden speech. It was excellent, but I became worried towards the end because I thought that he would not pull the fox out of the hat. He did so in the last minute. I was encouraged to learn that, in my hon. Friend, we have a critic of some of the economic orthodoxy of our day and someone who will be an articulate champion for fresh thinking on the economy.

Like everyone else who has spoken in the debate, I am not a hunter. I wonder where the hunters are.

Mr. Gray

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Sheerman

No, although I recognise a hunter.

I have never hunted and all the time I have been in Parliament I have been a supporter of every Bill that decreases the amount of cruelty to animals. Indeed, I supported all three of the most recent Bills. However, I do not want people to think that I am anti-hunt: I am against cruelty to animals. Many people have criticised the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) and claimed that his supporters are anti-hunt, but I do not believe that to be the case.

I have always been a passionate advocate of decreasing the violence that people do to animals and I wish to be assured by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, as the Bill progresses, that we have the right answers. Decreasing cruelty is a good aim and I am sold on the idea that we must stop stag hunting. I am convinced by all the arguments. I believe that we must stop hare coursing, because I am convinced by all the arguments. On the subject of fox hunting, I wish to ensure that the alternatives are better than the methods that we wish to prohibit.

I do not go along with the libertarian argument, because I agree with the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who spoke with such passion, that this sovereign Parliament has in the past stopped people doing ghastly things that they thought were all right for many years. That included badger baiting and hunting, which I detest.

I share another passion with many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that is a concern about our rural environment. Many of the thoughtful speeches today have pointed out that we are living at a time when our rural environment is at risk in the worst possible way. If we go into the countryside now, and walk by a stream or river or down a tiny country lane, the most significant indicator of the demise of the country and rural environment is the lack of birdsong. Who would have thought that we today would no longer think it commonplace to hear the common hedge-sparrow, the skylark or the song thrush? What have we done to our environment when so many creatures that were plentiful only a few years ago have disappeared? A number of common small mammals have also disappeared or become endangered species.

The former Conservative Government were responsible for allowing a free market in the careless expansion of the urban environment and supermarkets. Let the market decide what can be concreted over and what can then be built. That was the philosophy of the previous Government for most of their 18 years. As a result, dreadful things happened to our environment. We must haul back that damage and put things right.

Labour is not blameless, but under the Conservative Government we saw the growth of a sort of agriculture that is the most inhumane that anyone could imagine. However, we are all responsible for that. We like to go to supermarkets to buy meat that is nicely packaged in plastic. I am a meat eater so I am guilty, but what agriculture, the food chain and the processors in the food industry have done to the rural environment is shocking.

We do some ghastly things to animals, and too often behind closed doors. People should go—certainly Members of Parliament—to an abattoir to see what goes on. If Members do not do so, they are not doing their job properly. I was talking to a junior Minister—one of an entirely different breed—who went to see something about training in an abattoir. For a long time he was pretty much destroyed by that experience. He gave up eating meat for at least a week. Despite that slightly humorous aside, there is something desperately wrong with the rural environment and we must work extremely fast to get it right.

We must maintain a partnership that is aware of the dangers and does something dramatic about them before it is too late. I recognise that there is great passion on both sides of the debate. It appears from the results of most of the polls of which I am aware that two thirds of the people are against hunting with dogs, with about a third being in favour. That is a considerable majority and a substantial minority. If we are to tackle the problems that we see in the rural environment, men and women of good will on both sides of the argument must carry things forward through the Bill and out the other side, as it were, by working together. That is important. There is great passion, but an understanding of the other point of view must pervade the Bill. I hope that that becomes evident as we consider the Bill in Committee.

I live, as estate agents say, betwixt town and country. I know, as a Yorkshire Member, that the small towns of Yorkshire are close to the rural environment. We do not see much fox hunting in my part of the county, but we do see the ghastly terrier gangs, which come extremely quietly, sometimes at night, with their packs. They dig out foxes. They also dig out badgers when they can get away with it. They do the most despicable things with their dogs to those poor dumb animals.

I do not want the Bill introduced in a crude way that will swell the numbers of those who engage in an unacceptable way of hunting. Let us ensure that we do not have a planned and assigned sport that is much more cruel than anything we have seen so far. The hunting that we see now is something to which we have become accustomed and it must not be replaced by something that is much more terrible.

I shall be trying to balance the two criteria to which I have referred. I want to ensure that we preserve our rural environment and diminish cruelty to animals. If we all work together in adopting that approach, we can take some positive steps. There is the possibility that the Bill will become an extremely good measure. I hope that it will include flexibility and that the promoter and his supporters will work with the rest of us to ensure that it is an excellent measure.

1.38 pm
Mrs. Jackie Ballard (Taunton)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Members for Wansdyke (Dan Norris) and for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) on having the courage to make their maiden speeches in such a heated and well-attended debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Luton, North especially on so successfully managing to take up the powerful and effective speech of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe).

I support the Bill, but I intend to confine my remarks to deer hunting. There are three packs of deer hounds in the United Kingdom, two of which are based in my constituency. That gives me the right and the responsibility to speak on the subject. The vast majority of my constituents are opposed to deer hunting. I have received almost 1,000 letters and numerous petitions on the subject, including one specifically opposing deer hunting that was signed by more than 14,000 people.

At the countryside rally in Hyde park, and later when my advice surgery in Dulverton was lobbied, the cry was, "Listen to us." Hon. Members may have the impression that that is the authentic voice of the countryside, but it is not—no more than the Conservative party is the true voice of the countryside.

A small number of people get pleasure from chasing wild animals. Deer are chased for hours on end until they are caught and shot, or escape having suffered untold stress and pain. When opinion polls show that there are as many people in rural areas who oppose hunting as there are in urban areas, the supporters of hunting redefine what they mean by rural. They say that only people who live in villages on Exmoor or in the Quantocks have the right to decide on the future of deer hunting—and by that they mean only the people who were born and brought up there, not people who have moved from elsewhere—and that the rest of us should keep out of their business.

I will quote from one of the many letters that I have received from rural people. A farmer in Huish Champflower says: I have lived in the country all my life, I was in the farming community—I have always worked with animals. I was in the Young Farmers Club, and I married a farmer. I hunted when I was young, and I do know the real facts of life about hunting. She strongly supports the Bill and asked me to vote for it.

I have received many such letters from people who live on Exmoor and are opposed to deer hunting, but who are frightened to speak out. If they live in small, isolated communities, they are subject to powerful pressures to conform, especially if the most influential local landowners and employers support hunting.

Hunting deer with hounds is not the majestic spectacle portrayed on calendars, table mats or even the dining room curtains of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, which show people on horseback wearing red coats, a magnificent stag standing at bay and disciplined hounds at the master's feet. I will quote from a letter written by a constituent from Brompton Regis, in the heart of hunting country on Exmoor, who has seen at close quarters the pitiable state of the hunted deer—the glazed eyes, the heaving flanks, the lowered head and hanging tongue, the stumbling, aching gait—and also the frenzy of blood lust which grips the followers when the kill is near. Why does deer hunting take place? Many of its supporters say that without it the deer herd would die out. Yet hunting deer with hounds was banned in 1959 in Scotland, where all necessary culling is carried out by stalkers and guns. Those who have the welfare of the deer at heart agree that wild deer numbers need to be controlled: without management their numbers would expand, and without resources to feed on they would do increasing damage to farmers' crops.

How should deer numbers be controlled? On Exmoor and in the Quantocks, 1,000 red deer are already culled annually by rifle. The hunt accounts for only 150 deaths a year. Many deer manage to outrun the hounds and escape death—or, at least, instant death. However, the Bateson report showed that deer which escape have suffered severe stress and pain during a three to six-hour chase. Bateson's conclusions were unequivocal, and we have already heard about them in the debate.

Deer management groups are already in existence on Exmoor and in the Quantocks. With proper management, the red deer can thrive without being hunted. Contrary to the assertion of the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King), herds of red deer in south-west England, Cumbria, East Anglia and the Pennines are not hunted, so none of them is controlled by hunting. In Scotland, it is illegal to control deer by any means other than shooting. Red deer numbers in Scotland have risen from 150,000 in 1900 to 300,000 in 1989.

What are the other excuses for hunting deer? Some people say that deer hunting is a tourist attraction on Exmoor and that jobs would be lost without it. Tourists are attracted by the beauty of the Exmoor scenery, the attractive villages and excellent walking, and by the chance of seeing the majestic stags and hinds in the wild—and there might be many more visitors if they did not fear the awful spectacle of an animal being chased to its death by a pack of hounds, people on horseback and distant, four-wheeled followers.

A high percentage of people who live in rural areas are opposed to hunting not only on animal welfare grounds, but because of the disruption to their lives caused by the entourage of hunt followers and their vehicles, which block narrow country lanes on hunt days. Many of my constituents have told me how much they resent the cap that is thrust through their car windows as they wait in a queue of traffic. The cap belongs to the hunt, and constitutes a request for a donation. It is sometimes difficult for those who live in small communities to refuse to make a donation and thus to be marked out as not supporting the hunt.

Another plea of the hunt supporters is that without the hunt they would have no social life, because the hunt organises whist drives and balls, as well as point-to-points and other events. In the local paper this week, a supporter of the Devon and Somerset staghounds and sometime resident of Exford, Mrs. Anne Heseltine, is quoted as expressing concern that young mothers would have no social life without hunting—no safari suppers or whist drives. They could always join the Tory party: I believe that it, too, has whist drives and safari suppers.

I have even had a letter from a local general practitioner warning of the increase in psychiatric disorders that will result if hunting is banned. Perhaps a little more imagination is needed if people are to find organisations to join and social events to support that do not have at their heart an activity that most people find objectionable. In truth, there are many more activities to enjoy on Exmoor, and there are no good reasons for allowing deer hunting to continue.

I cannot end without referring to individual liberty. While most Liberal Democrats will vote for the Bill enthusiastically, some of my hon. Friends have told me that although they oppose hunting—especially deer hunting—they will not vote for the Bill because they consider it to be an infringement of personal liberties. I ask them to think again about personal liberty and the notion of freedom. When deer are farmed, they are subject to the same animal welfare legislation as other farmed species. The farmer cannot take it into his head to chase his stock around the field before they are sent for slaughter. The domestic pet owner cannot torture his cat or dog for entertainment.

The law already interferes with personal liberty to protect other sentient beings. Deer are as sentient as any farm animal or domestic pet and they need the House's protection from the barbaric sport of hunting. Deer hunting is cruel and unnecessary, and Parliament now has the chance to enable England to catch up with Scotland and consign it to the history books.

1.46 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth)

We have had a good debate. I know that this is a clich é, but I think that the House is often at its best when it is to have a free vote, and is debating issues on their merits and not necessarily on a party political basis—which, for the most part, is what it has done today.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I made a manifesto commitment that there would be a vote on banning fox hunting, and that it would be a free vote. That manifesto commitment will be met today: hon. Members are free to vote according to what they think, and to what their consciences tell them.

I especially noted four speeches today. As is normal, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) on his good fortune in drawing No. 1 in the ballot. I have never been so fortunate myself—although I suspect that, given what has happened over the past few months, my hon. Friend considers it a rather mixed blessing. His speech showed great courage, and also thoroughness: it was clear that he had researched the matter very thoroughly. He had considered all the issues, and taken them into account wherever possible in drafting the Bill. I think that the House enjoyed his speech, and I think that his constituents will be rightly proud of him.

In a maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Wansdyke (Dan Norris) spoke knowledgeably and—as I am sure the House observed—without notes. That is very brave in a maiden speaker. He spoke about his constituency, and about some of the issues—particularly this issue—that he had researched on horseback. He paid a generous tribute to his predecessor, Jack Aspinwall. A little-known fact about Jack Aspinwall is that he was born, some time before me, a few streets away from where I was born. I am not sure whether that distinguishes him— or me, for that matter—any further, but I have some connection with him and I know that he was well respected in the House and in his constituency. I am sure that the House and my hon. Friend's constituents will look forward to more speeches from my hon. Friend, who spoke in the best traditions of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) displayed a deep knowledge of his constituency—which many of us now share—and spoke in particular about the recent political history of the region and the effect of the previous Government on its economy. Again, it was a well-researched and knowledgeable speech, and I expect that we will hear much more from him.

Another speech that I wanted to mention was that of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who unfortunately is not in her place. I shadowed her when I was an Opposition spokesman.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

The Minister has the marks to prove it.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman is right and I will explain what I mean by that in a minute. His long period in government made its mark on him as well, which hon. Members will no doubt observe.

Unknown to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald, I once entered a competition to try to visit as many prisons as her. She had visited every prison in this country before I had visited even half of them, so I gave up on that competition, but it shows her commitment. She made a passionate and witty speech. Whether it agreed with her or not, the whole House will have appreciated her sincerity and courage.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I do not think that he has been here for much of the debate.

Mr. Hughes

I have.

Mr. Howarth

As the hon. Gentleman gives me that assurance, I give way.

Mr. Hughes

Before the Minister goes on, will he deal with the centra] point that he has to address: the prospect of the Bill being allowed through Parliament this Session? The Labour manifesto was clear. It said that there would be a free vote. The Minister needs to tell the House whether the clear implication is that, if there is a majority, the Bill will be allowed to pass into law.

Mr. Howarth

If the hon. Gentleman exercises a little patience—the whole House exercises endless patience when he gets up to speak—he will in due course receive an answer to his question.

The Bill hinges on two matters of substance, which have been debated. They are both legitimate and we should be concerned with both. The first is the effect of hunting with hounds on the quarry, whether it be deer, foxes or hare. Basically, the question that the House and each Member has to answer is: is hunting with hounds unnecessarily cruel?

Two speeches answered that question differently, but convincingly. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) coolly and dispassionately reviewed the scientific evidence, as he did in a debate on 29 October. The whole House should have listened to the intelligent and cool way in which he reviewed that evidence.

Basically, I agree with the balance of what my hon. Friend says. The Bateson report on foxes and other forms of hunting and those by MacDonald and Johnstone use proper scientific measurement to make it clear that an unacceptably high level of cruelty is involved in those forms of hunting. My hon. Friend made that point dispassionately, and the House has to deal with those arguments before it makes a decision. I think that he tipped the argument in favour of a ban. As a result of his speech and the evidence that has been published, it seems clear that those forms of hunting are unacceptably cruel, and that now is the right time to make changes.

Mr. Nicholls

The Minister is coming to a matter that will concern people throughout the country, let alone in the House. Surely the point about fox hunting is not that it is devoid of cruelty but that all the alternatives, such as gassing, snaring and shooting, are more cruel. We have heard about badger baiting, and so on. There is no question of having to control the badger and, anyway, baiting would not be the correct way to do it. As I say, surely the alternatives are more cruel than what has been proposed.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman should know that, as I understand it, gassing is already illegal. I shall shortly deal with the management of foxes, and I acknowledge that foxes cause damage. The question that the hon. Gentleman and those who share his view must answer is whether the chase itself is sufficiently cruel to make fox hunting unacceptable. The evidence that was presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North proves beyond reasonable doubt that the chase itself is cruel enough to make the banning of fox hunting acceptable.

Mr. Gray

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

No, because the time for my reply is limited. The hon. Gentleman should be patient. The last time we debated this matter I think that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman more than once. In the past I have been generous with him on this issue.

Mr. Gray

Not with me.

Mr. Howarth

The speech by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald contrasted with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, but was equally valid. She used a combination of common sense and colour, enabling her to make the more passionate case. She graphically described hunting with hounds and her speech was received with great respect on both sides of the House. All hon. Members should have listened to the right hon. Lady.

In the late 20th century as we move to a new millennium, the spectacle of hunting is unacceptable. The idea of people riding horses and chasing a pack of hounds to hunt down, sometimes in the most cruel way, a quarry that is sometimes killed in the most appalling way is beyond the scope of most people to understand. They wonder how it can possibly be considered a sport.

The speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North and by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald bear out what most of the British public think: that it is repugnant for such practices to continue. Both science and sentiment are on the side of my hon. Friend.

The second matter that must be debated is the so-called country versus town issue. I immediately make two concessions to those who argue in favour of the countryside. I agree that, if the Bill receives its Second Reading and reaches the statute book, there will be some job losses, although I do not know how many. As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald said, sometimes changes have to be made and sometimes they will dislocate parts of the economy and some people may lose jobs.

Mr. Dafis

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth


Some of the wilder estimates of job losses that have been put about are ludicrous. There may be some job losses, but the Bill will not destroy the rural economy or change the face of Britain as we know it. It is a sensible measure that has the support of most of the British public and, I suspect, the overwhelming support of the House.

I shall deal with the town versus country argument of some Opposition Members. They seem to suggest that because they represent deeply rural constituencies only they have the right to speak up—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There are far too many conversations in the Chamber. The Minister must be allowed to be heard.

Mr. Howarth

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Conservative Members seem to believe that only they can speak for rural England. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) just said that he represents a rural constituency. If Conservative Members examine the demography of most United Kingdom constituencies, they will discover that the real voice of rural Britain is represented by those on the non-Conservative Opposition Benches and on the Government Benches. A simple fact after the general election is that most of rural Britain is no longer represented by the Conservative party.

Hon. Members who, like me, have rural areas in their constituencies will know from their postbag that the overwhelming majority of letters from rural areas express support for the Bill. The idea that rural Britain is outraged by the Bill is unacceptable, inaccurate and wrong.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howarth

I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman. It will be the last time that I give way.

Sir Peter Emery

I have been in the House for the entire debate, and one point has not been made which will be of considerable importance to hon. Members on both sides of the House. The British Horseracing Board has made it absolutely clear that it opposes the Bill because of the effect that a hunting ban would have on point-to-point racing, on other racing and on other countryside activities that are of considerable importance to jobs and that have nothing whatever to do with hunting.

Mr. Howarth

I have received the same correspondence from the British Horseracing Board, which makes the point that development of certain types of horse racing—such as hunting point-to-point and national hunt racing—[Interruption.] Hang on. If the right hon. Gentleman will listen, I will reply to his question. There is probably some strength in the board's argument, but there are alternative ways of training horses so that they can participate in national hunt racing. I do not accept that there is only one way of preserving national hunt racing.

The argument is that foxes are a pest, and that farmers and livestock maintenance require some means of control. We accept that point. Foxes must be controlled. I do not believe, however, that there is only one means of controlling them. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald made exactly the point that foxes must occasionally be culled because of their effect on fanners' livestock, but there are more than one means of exercising such control.

Miss Widdecombe

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Howarth

I will give way, for the last time, to the right hon. Lady.

Miss Widdecombe

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman that I was not in the Chamber for the beginning of his speech; perhaps he covered my point and I missed it. Will he tell me, please, whether the Government will provide parliamentary time in this Parliament for the measures?

Mr. Howarth

The right hon. Lady is entitled to ask that question, as I have not yet answered it, although I was about to do so.

I should like to deal with the matter of the Bill's future progress if, as seems likely, it receives a Second Reading. I will take the argument to its conclusion in the manner that I think is most appropriate.

As I said, the Government gave a manifesto commitment that we would allow a free vote on the issue. Today is that occasion, and the opportunity for us to realise our manifesto commitment. My right hon. and hon. Friends will have a free vote on the Bill. The right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) made it clear that Conservative Members would have a free vote. I welcome that.

If, as I suspect, the Bill receives a Second Reading, it will have a Committee stage, which is the normal procedure for private Members' Bills. There is no time limit on that Committee stage. I do not invite hon. Members to use the Committee stage to hold up every other private Member's Bill in the queue, but it is the stage at which the Bill—as the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire said—can be examined in detail and at which any difficulties can be ironed out. Subsequently, on a designated date, the Bill will have a Report stage and a Third Reading in the House. The Government agree that that is quite right.

If those procedures are followed, and if those Conservative Members who have expressed concern about the Bill continue to do so but in a way that does not delay the Bill's progress in Committee or on Report— in other words, if they do not deliberately use delaying tactics—there is no reason why the Bill should not complete all its stages in this place. [HON. MEMBERS: "So the answer is no."] I am glad that Conservative Members have reacted in that way. Why do they suddenly lead us to believe that we will need more than the designated time for the Bill to complete all its stages? Is it their intention to delay it? I see several Conservative Members nodding in agreement.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

When a Bill as bad and pernicious as this comes before the House, I will use every possible device to delay it, as it is discriminatory and wholly wrong.

Mr. Howarth

We are now at the heart of the matter. The hon. Gentleman has made it clear that, no matter how much time the Bill had, he and his colleagues would not support it in any circumstances but would use the procedures of the House—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) should not be shouting; she has made her case.

Mr. Howarth

I give way to the right hon. Lady for the last time.

Miss Widdecombe

My question is terribly simple: if the Bill runs into difficulty, just as Bills that I have introduced have been obstructed by Labour Members in the past, will the Government give it Government time?

Mr. Howarth

That is a hypothetical question, but I will deal with it by answering the point made by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). The hon. Gentleman made it clear that, however much time the Bill has, Conservative Members will try to thwart it. Indeed, when I suggested that earlier, several Conservative Members nodded in agreement. They will use every delaying tactic available to them to stop the Bill passing all its stages in this House and moving to another place.

They are already deeply unpopular in this country, and if they thwart the will of the House which is to support a Bill that has been given a Second Reading and which has the overwhelming support of the British public, they will sink into even greater unpopularity.

The same condition—[Interruption.]

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We have had good order all day, so let us keep it that way.

Mr. Trimble

My point relates not to the subject matter of the Bill but to the remarkable doctrine that the Minister seemed to enunciate. He seemed to be saying that, if a Bill is given a Second Reading, it must become law, irrespective of what the House decides. Surely that is not right.

Mr. Howarth

I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because I thought that he might have a sensible point to make, but he did not. I was not saying that at all. My point was that, if Conservative Members want to thwart the legitimate will of the House by using parliamentary delaying tactics to stop the later stages of the Bill, and several Conservative Members suggested that that was the case, they will have to answer not just to their own constituents but to the British public. The public do not want Conservative Members using parliamentary tactics to delay legislation that is popular and which will, I think, shortly be given a Second Reading. That is an entirely different principle from what the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Let us suppose that the House passes the Bill through all its stages, as I suspect that it will. What will happen when the Bill goes to another place? There are 324 Conservative hereditary peers. Many of them have said that they will use another place to defeat the Bill by whatever means are available to them. Nothing could more eloquently support our argument that hereditary peers should not have those powers. If the Lords want to take on the House of Commons, let them do so. They will find that the public believe what we believe—that hereditary peers should not have that right.

I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading today.

Mr. McNamara

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth

I cannot give way to my hon. Friend. I am about to conclude.

I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading. It will have my support. I hope that the House will deal with it fairly and properly in Committee and on Report, so that the will of the House and the will of the British people is accepted.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House proceeded to a Division—

Mr. Garnier (seated and covered)

On a point of order,Mr. Deputy Speaker. The closure motion is wholly unnecessary. There are 20 minutes left until a Division needs to be called.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that that is a matter of discretion for the Chair. I have used my discretion.

Mr. Garnier

I am appealing to your discretion, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There was no question of the Bill being talked out. I invite—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is the hon. and learned Gentleman's opinion. There is now a Division. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman may wish to take part in that Division. It is up to him. I shall now put the Question again.

Question agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 411, Noes 151.

Division No. 100] [2.14 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Brake, Tom
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Brinton, Mrs Helen
Ainger, Nick Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Alexander, Douglas Browne, Desmond
Allan, Richard Buck, Ms Karen
Allen, Graham Burden, Richard
Amess, David Burgon, Colin
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Burstow, Paul
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Butler, Mrs Christine
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Byers, Stephen
Ashton, Joe Cable, Dr Vincent
Atherton, Ms Candy Caborn, Richard
Atkins, Charlotte Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Austin, John Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Baker, Norman Campbell-Savours, Dale
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Canavan, Dennis
Banks, Tony Cann, Jamie
Barnes, Harry Caplin, Ivor
Barron, Kevin Casale, Roger
Battle, John Caton, Martin
Bayley, Hugh Cawsey, Ian
Beard, Nigel Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Chaytor, David
Begg, Miss Anne Chidgey, David
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Chisholm, Malcolm
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Church, Ms Judith
Bennett, Andrew F Clapham, Michael
Bermingham, Gerald Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Berry, Roger Clark, Dr Lynda(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Blackman, Liz Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Blears, Ms Hazel Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Blizzard, Bob Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Boateng, Paul Clelland, David
Borrow, David Clwyd, Ann
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Coaker, Vemon
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Coffey, Ms Ann
Bradshaw, Ben Coleman, lain
Colman, Tony Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Connarty, Michael Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Cooper, Yvette Hancock, Mike
Corbett, Robin Hanson, David
Corbyn, Jeremy Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Corston, Ms Jean Harris, Dr Evan
Cotter, Brian Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cousins, Jim Healey, John
Cox, Tom Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Cranston, Ross Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Crausby, David Hepburn, Stephen
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Heppell, John
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hesford, Stephen
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hill, Keith
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Hinchliffe, David
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Hodge, Ms Margaret
Darvill, Keith Home Robertson, John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Hood, Jimmy
Davidson, Ian Hoon, Geoffrey
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hope, Phil
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Hopkins, Kelvin
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly) Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Dawson, Hilton Howells, Dr Kim
Day, Stephen Hoyle, Lindsay
Dean, Mrs Janet Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Denham, John Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Dismore, Andrew Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Dobbin, Jim Humble, Mrs Joan
Donohoe, Brian H Hurst, Alan
Dowd, Jim Hutton, John
Drew, David Iddon, Dr Brian
Drown, Ms Julia lllsley, Eric
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Edwards, Huw Jamieson, David
Efford, Clive Jenkins, Brian
Ellman, Mrs Louise Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Ennis, Jeff Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Hatfield)
Etherington, Bill
Fatchett, Derek Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Fearn, Ronnie Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Fisher, Mark Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Jones, Ms Jenny(Wolverh'ton SW)
Fitzsimons, Lorna
Flint, Caroline Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Flynn, Paul Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Follett, Barbara Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Foster, Don (Bath) Jowell, Ms Tessa
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Keeble, Ms Sally
Foulkes, George Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Fyfe, Maria Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Gale, Roger Kelly, Ms Ruth
Galloway, George Kemp, Fraser
Gapes, Mike Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Gardiner, Barry Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Khabra, Piara S
Gerrard, Neil Kidney, David
Gibson, Dr Ian King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Gilroy, Mrs Linda King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Godman, Norman A Kingham, Ms Tess
Godsiff, Roger Kumar, Dr Ashok
Goggins, Paul Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Gordon, Mrs Eileen Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Gorrie, Donald Laxton, Bob
Grant, Bernie Lepper, David
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) Leslie, Christopher
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Levitt, Tom
Grocott, Bruce Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Grogan, John Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Gunnell, John Linton, Martin
Hain, Peter Livingstone, Ken
Lock, David Quinn, Lawrie
Love, Andrew Radice, Giles
McAllion, John Rammell, Bill
McAvoy, Thomas Randall, John
McCabe, Steve Rapson, Syd
McCafferty, Ms Chris Raynsford, Nick
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
McDonagh, Siobhain Rendel, David
Macdonald, Calum Robertson, Rt Hon George(Hamilton S)
McDonnell, John
McFall, John Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
McGuire, Mrs Anne Roche, Mrs Barbara
Mclsaac, Shona Rogers, Allan
Mackinlay, Andrew Rooker, Jeff
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert Rooney, Terry
McNamara, Kevin Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McNulty, Tony Rowlands, Ted
MacShane, Denis Roy, Frank
Mactaggart, Fiona Ruane, Chris
McWalter, Tony Ruddock, Ms Joan
McWilliam, John Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Mallaber, Judy Ryan, Ms Joan
Marek, Dr John Salmond, Alex
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Salter, Martin
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Sanders, Adrian
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Sarwar, Mohammad
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Savidge, Malcolm
Martlew, Eric Sawford, Phil
Maxton, John Sedgemore, Brian
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Shaw, Jonathan
Meale, Alan Sheerman, Barry
Merron, Gillian Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Michael, Alun Shipley, Ms Debra
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Milburn, Alan Singh, Marsha
Moffatt, Laura Skinner, Dennis
Moonie, Dr Lewis Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Moran, Ms Margaret Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Smith, Miss Geraldine
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Morley, Elliot Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Soley, Clive
Mudie, George Southworth, Ms Helen
Mullin, Chris Spellar, John
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Squire, Ms Rachel
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Murphy, Paul (Torfaen) Steinberg, Gerry
Naysmith, Dr Doug Stevenson, George
Norris, Dan Stewart, David (Inverness E)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Stinchcombe, Paul
O'Hara, Eddie Stoate, Dr Howard
Olner, Bill Stott, Roger
O'Neill, Martin Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Organ, Mrs Diana Stringer, Graham
Osborne, Ms Sandra Stuart, Ms Gisela
Palmer, Dr Nick Stunell, Andrew
Pearson, Ian Sutcliffe, Gerry
Pendry, Tom Swinney, John
Perham, Ms Linda Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann(Dewsbury)
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Plaskitt, James Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Pollard, Kerry Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Pond, Chris Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Pope, Greg Taylor, Sir Teddy
Pound, Stephen Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Powell, Sir Raymond Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Timms, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Tipping, Paddy
Primarolo, Dawn Todd, Mark
Prosser, Gwyn Tonge, Dr Jenny
Quin, Ms Joyce Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon Williams, Rt Hon Alan(Swansea W)
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Desmond (Kemptown) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Willis, Phil
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Wills, Michael
Vaz, Keith Winnick, David
Vis, Dr Rudi Wise, Audrey
Walley, Ms Joan Wood, Mike
Ward, Ms Claire Woolas, Phil
Wareing, Robert N Wray, James
Watts, David Wright, Anthony D (Gr Yarmouth)
Webb, Steve Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Welsh, Andrew Wyatt, Derek
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan Tellers for the Ayes:
Wicks, Malcolm Mr. Dennis Turner and Mr. Joe Benton.
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Hammond, Philip
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Harvey, Nick
Arbuthnot, James Hayes, John
Beggs, Roy Heald, Oliver
Beith, Rt Hon A J Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Bercow, John Hoey, Kate
Beresford, Sir Paul Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Blunt, Crispin Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Body, Sir Richard Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Boswell, Tim Hunter, Andrew
Brady, Graham Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Brazier, Julian Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Jenkin, Bernard
Browning, Mrs Angela Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys MÔn)
Burnett, John Keetch, Paul
Burns, Simon Key, Robert
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Cash, William Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Chope, Christopher Kirkwood, Archy
Clappison, James Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth(Rushcliffe) Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Collins, Tim Letwin, Oliver
Cormack, Sir Patrick Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Cran, James Lidington, David
Curry, Rt Hon David Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Dafis, Cynog Livsey, Richard
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Loughton, Tim
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Luff, Peter
Donaldson, Jeffrey Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Duncan, Alan Mcintosh, Miss Anne
Duncan Smith, lain MacKay, Andrew
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Maclean, Rt Hon David
Evans, Nigel McLoughlin, Patrick
Faber, David Madel, Sir David
Flight, Howard Maples, John
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Fraser, Christopher May, Mrs Theresa
Gamier, Edward Moore, Michael
Gibb, Nick Moss, Malcolm
Gill, Christopher Nicholls, Patrick
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Norman, Archie
Golding, Mrs Llin Oaten, Mark
Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair Öpik, Lembit
Gray, James Ottaway, Richard
Green, Damian Page, Richard
Greenway, John Paice, James
Grieve, Dominic Paterson, Owen
Gummer, Rt Hon John Pickles, Eric
Hague, Rt Hon William Prior, David
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew Trend, Michael
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Trimble, David
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Tyler, Paul
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham) Tyrie, Andrew
Ruffley, David Viggers, Peter
St Aubyn, Nick Wallace, James
Sayeed, Jonathan Walter, Robert
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Wardle, Charles
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk) Wells, Bowen
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Whitney, Sir Raymond
Soames, Nicholas Whittingdale, John
Spicer, Sir Michael Wilkinson, John
Spring, Richard Willetts, David
Steen, Anthony Wilshire, David
Streeter, Gary Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Swayne, Desmond Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Syms, Robert Woodward, Shaun
Tapsell, Sir Peter Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Temple-Morris, Peter Tellers for the Noes:
Thompson, William Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Mr. Peter Atkinson.
Townend, John
Tredinnick, David

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).