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Mr. Hoyle: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I really must finish.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No. I know the hon. Lady's views. She has not changed, even after listening to me. At least she should listen to me until the end of my speech.

There is a moral case for saying that there should be no hunting whatever. It is an odd case, because it presumes that a human being is not an animal, and has no role in the predatory chain. That is a possible case, but not a logical one. However, there can be no moral case that makes a distinction between hunting with dogs and game shooting or angling.

There is an argument that we should ban hunting for the political benefit of the Labour party, and because some people have a distaste for that kind of behaviour. That second statement is very serious.

Mr. Banks: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, I shall not.

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Many minority groups in this country need the support of the House. I return to my own moral dilemma. I was asked by a large number of people to introduce a ban on ritual slaughter. I hate ritual slaughter. I consider it deeply offensive, and the religious ground on which it is put forward does not stand up, either historically or in modern times. However, I still believe that I was right to agree that religious slaughter should continue. I did so, much as I hate it, because I believed that a greater freedom was involved: the freedom of men and women to decide for themselves. If we take that freedom away because we do not care about a particular small minority, what will happen to the other minorities? What about the Muslims and the Jews? What about some of the things that townspeople do that I find distasteful? What about groups of any kind who can be cut off, divided and left undefended?

Too much of recent history reminds us what happens when we are not prepared to stand up for the rights of minorities to do--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has had his time.

7.40 pm

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): Many of the points in favour of a ban on foxhunting and stag hunting have already been made, so I shall be mercifully brief.

I am a long-standing opponent of this barbaric sport. In Reading, I campaigned on the issue long before the 1997 general election. The publication of the Bill has reinvigorated my faith in the Government; I went into the 1997 election with the perception that we would ban foxhunting, but that we would not privatise a certain public service. My faith has been restored.

It was a privilege to serve on the Standing Committee on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). We witnessed the tactics of Conservative Members who successfully frustrated the will both of the country and of this Chamber.

Mr. Garnier rose--

Mr. Salter: There is no doubt that the largest number of items in my constituency mailbag--and, I suggest, that of the majority of hon. Members--are letters from people in favour of an immediate and complete ban on the sport or pastime of hunting with hounds. It is right that the matter is the subject of a Government Bill.

There is overwhelming public support for such a ban. Of all the arguments, the most specious and spurious is that the issue is one of country versus town. There is no apartheid in this country. All the poll data show that between 70 and 80 per cent. of the population are opposed to hunting with hounds--that opposition is spread between town and country.

Mr. Luff: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of a poll conducted last week, which showed that less than half the population--48 per cent.--now support a ban on hunting?

Mr. Salter: The hon. Gentleman would say that. I have been studying polls on the subject for many years; all show an overwhelming opposition to hunting with hounds.

Mr. Öpik rose--

Mr. Salter: The report of the Burns inquiry is an excellent document. As my hon. Friend the Member for

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Worcester pointed out, the arguments that Members hoped it would provide in favour of hunting never emerged--in fact it will prove to be hunting's death-knell. I refer hon. Members to the exchanges between the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and myself during the debate on the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill on 7 April. We were arguing about the likely impact of a ban on hunting on jobs. At that time, the Countryside Alliance and its Conservative supporters were claiming--as an act of faith--that more than 16,000 jobs would be at risk. What did Burns tell us? The report told us that about 800 people are directly employed by hunts, and that any secondary job loss would be confined to between 6,000 and 8,000 people. In fact, not one job need be lost, if there is a switch to drag hunting.

Mr. Öpik rose--

Mr. Salter: I advise hon. Members who disagree with the Bill's proposals--especially those in the third schedule--to visit the master of the New Forest drag hounds and to hear about the prejudice he had to put up with in the countryside when he attempted to convert his hunt to the humane sport of drag hunting. He was discriminated against; his drag hunt was suddenly barred from crossing certain land in the area.

Mr. Paice rose--

Sir Richard Body (Boston and Skegness) rose--

Mr. Salter: It is clear that there is no interest among the foxhunting fraternity in allowing drag hunting to prosper. That is why it sees drag hunting as a big threat to its arguments. It is important to nail the lie about jobs.

The Conservative party and the Countryside Alliance are desperate to get another big lie up and running--that this country is being run by a metropolitan elite of ignorant townies who do not understand the country way of life. Conservative Members are nodding. Perhaps they should reflect on the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) is chair of the rural group of Labour MPs and that Labour Members represent more rural seats than the Conservatives represent currently--or in the foreseeable future.

The Conservative party and the Countryside Alliance should realise that we are alive to their lies and trickery, as they try to scaremonger among Britain's 3 million anglers--of whom I am one. There is no logical reason why a ban on cock fighting should lead to a ban on something else. We draw a line in the sand, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said.

The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) referred to angling as a sport in which we allow a fish to swallow a fly and then tear out its guts before throwing it back into the water. I and other hon. Members who fish know the truth: either we take and kill our fish humanely for the pot--as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) does--as a game, trout or salmon fisherman; or, in the case of coarse fishermen such as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester and myself, we may catch our fish, we may photograph our fish--I even confess to occasionally

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kissing my fish and to having pictures of them on my wall--but we put them back unharmed. So damaged are those creatures that I have caught the same fish on three occasions. Can anyone explain to me how people can hunt the same fox to earth, dig it out, have it ripped to pieces in front of them and smear its blood on their forehead three times in a day? There are no parallels between coarse fishing, game shooting and the barbaric sport of foxhunting.

Mr. Öpik rose--

Mr. Salter: The other big lie to be nailed tonight and every time we discuss this issue is the notion that hunting has anything to do with pest control. I have taken the trouble to visit the Garth and South Berkshire hunt in my constituency, where people admitted that the pest control arguments are complete and utter tosh; and that the most acceptable, efficient and sensible way to control foxes is by lamping with a rifle and a professional gamekeeper.

The Symington hunt nailed that particular lie after the exposure that it was breeding fox cubs in order to hunt them. What on earth has that to do with pest control?

Mr. Öpik: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Salter: It should be blatantly obvious to the hon. Gentleman that I have no intention of giving way.

Mr. David Taylor: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm whether you are taking the same line as your predecessor in the Chair--that there will be injury time for interventions during the 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is perfectly correct; it is the custom of the House.

Mr. Salter: I shall still not give way; I find that it disrupts my flow.

No group of people in this country is more inappropriate to pray in aid minority rights than the Countryside Alliance and many of its Conservative supporters. Anyone at the Labour party conference in Brighton who heard the chanting and slogans emanating from the mouths of members of the Countryside Alliance about black and gay people should be under no illusions about their commitment to minority rights--[Hon. Members: "What?"]

A recent Radio 4 programme included contributions from Robin Page--one of the most prominent activists in the Countryside Alliance--and my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham. Anyone who heard the programme will remember one particular quotation. Robin Page said that if hunters were gay or Muslim, the Labour party would leave them alone. That tells us volumes about the alliance's interest in minority rights.

We come back to the moral argument; it is about cruelty. All civilised societies must draw a line somewhere. Yes, a minority of people are interested in pornography. Presumably, a minority of people are interested in further lowering the age of consent. We have to make decisions as to where the lines are drawn.

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I conclude with one story from my favourite riverbank, part of the countryside that I know and love and in which I spend a lot of time. Will someone explain to me how, if hunting is allowed to continue, we shall have the opportunity to see the otters that are being released back into our riverside environment? Is someone going to tell me that a pack of hounds is capable of distinguishing between a mink and an otter? It is not. Such a suggestion is nonsense.

Hunting is a barbaric sport. It has no place in 21st-century Britain. It is time that it was banned, and banned now.

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