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Sir Richard Body: That intervention is comparable to the completely off-beam speech made by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter), who talked arrant nonsense about drag hunting and refused to give way, even after he had made outrageous remarks about the pack of hounds of which I am chairman.
Mr. Banks: I respect the hon. Gentleman's views and I am trying to follow his argument carefully. However, I wonder whether he will--or if he can--get to the point and explain why, if he is able to pursue his sport of drag hunting now, he will be unable to do so if foxhunting is banned. How does the question of obstacles relate to this issue? Will they disappear if foxhunting is banned? I do not understand in what way the two activities are linked.
I am not here to defend foxhunting. I am expressing the views of the members of the organisation of which I am chairman. They are very concerned about their future, and they believe, in good faith, that if foxhunting comes to an end, so will drag hunting.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument quite clearly. He is saying that people who pursue foxhunting can probably contribute more to the creation of obstacles in the countryside that are, in turn, used by drag hunters.
I shall take his argument a little further. Many of us would support his view that drag hunting is an effective sport. If that is true, he should argue that, like many other sports, drag hunting should receive financial support from organisations such as the Sports Council and the national lottery. That then--
Drag hounds cannot take over all the country of foxhound packs. So much of that country is on land that farmers do not wish us to use. As a general rule, we go over only grassland or set-aside land. The pack of hounds of which I am chairman--I am no longer master, having been superannuated--has in its area eight packs of foxhounds, and we are almost entirely dependent on foxhound supporters erecting obstacles. We put up a few, but we do not have sufficient manpower--the farmers and farm workers who support foxhunting.
Four joint masters do the work. One is a riding instructor, one is an industrial chemist, one is a computer engineer and the fourth is a hard-working wife of a farm manager. They cannot take time off. If it is thought that I should take time off to do the work, I shall go to the pairing Whip and ask that I might go fence building on a Thursday, but I think that he might give me a rather robust answer. I am sure that my constituents in Lincolnshire would not wish me to go fence building when they feel that I should be in the House. What I say about my pack goes for virtually all of them. I am authorised to say that on behalf of the drag-hunting world.
Mr. Garnier: Many people on the other side of the argument think that the abolition of foxhunting will be mitigated by the wider practice of drag hunting. Is not the problem that whereas foxhunts provide services to landowners and farmers, such as the removal of fallen stock, drag hunters cannot provide those benefits to the landowner?
Sir Richard Body: That is right. I only hope that Labour Members will read the Burns report more carefully. It carried out the most careful inquiry, given the time that was available. It came down in favour of the evidence that I and the other two representatives of drag hunting gave--that it is not an alternative to foxhunting.
I go further than that. We are now concerned--it is the view of both organisations--that if foxhunting goes, drag hunting will be virtually impossible to pursue; it will be possible only in a few areas where there is, for example, Ministry of Defence land, over which some packs are able to go now.
I am expressing my own views and those of the two organisations to which I have referred. I hope that as the debate continues, as it will for some time yet, no one who is advocating the abolition of foxhunting will persist in the argument that drag hunting can take its place. No one should fail to realise that drag hunting will be in danger if a ban is imposed on foxhunting.
Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): Most of us who have taken part in the debate feel a certain sense of deja vu. Those who take an active part in debates on foxhunting could be described as the usual suspects. Most of us have seen one another before. We tend to repeat the same arguments. It is with a certain sense of refreshment,
Unless I am mistaken, we have yet to hear from a single Member who supports option No. 1 and who proposes to support the Bill with a view to favouring that option. With respect to the parliamentary draftsmen who worked on it, I fear that they might have wasted their time. However, Conservative Front Benchers have failed to commit their party to restore hunting. On the one hand, they are more extreme than the Countryside Alliance, yet, on the other, they would not bring it back.
In principle, this ought not to be a party political issue and I acknowledge that distinguished Opposition Members take a different view from that expressed by the hon. Member for Aylesbury. However, rather than pursue the party political issues, I want specifically to examine the six arguments that I have heard during the debate from opponents of a ban. If our debate is to be useful, we should listen to each other's arguments and respond to them.
First, opponents of a ban drew a religious analogy--that we should not ban hunting because we do not ban halal or kosher meat out of respect for religious minorities. Hunting may be many things, but it is not a religion.
Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He might be referring to my previous intervention, but I certainly did not make that suggestion, although I did say that the matter touches on an individual's conscience. If one talks to people who hunt, one can easily ascertain how deeply it affects their conscience and how deeply they object to a ban. They are often people who lead moral lives, participating actively in the community in a wide variety of ways, which should command a great deal of respect. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
Dr. Palmer: I accept that a fundamental issue of liberty is at stake and I shall return to that. However, the special tolerance that we grant to people who follow a religious belief different from of our own stands in a slightly different category from that of people who follow a sporting activity different from our own.
Secondly, it has been asserted repeatedly that it will be hard for the police to enforce a ban and that it will be necessary to conjure up new police forces to pursue hunts around the countryside. Again, hunting is many things, but it is not a pastime suitable for operation by stealth. It is difficult to imagine a stealth hunt that secretly pursues foxes across the countryside. I do not believe that it will be difficult to enforce that aspect of the ban.
Thirdly, it has been argued that, although hunting may be cruel and may cause distress, the alternatives, which would be necessary, would be worse. We know that, in the overwhelming majority of the British Isles, hunting
Dr. Palmer: I accept that the Welsh uplands are a special case. However, in general, throughout most of Britain, the replacement for hunting is nothing, because hunting is a sport, not a form of pest control.
Fourthly, it has been suggested that a hunt ban would be divisive--either a town versus country issue or even one of class envy. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said: