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Mr. Luff: I apologise for not being present; I was serving on a Standing Committee. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) has a point because it was a difficult decision. I know that it is unusual in the House, but I shall be honest with the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin). We took the view that to vote for the Bill would be seen by the outside world as a vote against hunting. I make no secret of the fact that I want to retain hunting. A decision was made on the perception of the vote by the outside world. I agree that the intellectual arguments were in favour of casting a vote for the Bill. It was a difficult decision, but I still think that I made the right one.
Mr. Caplin: We have finally flushed them out. I have made my point and that is the purpose of the Committee stage. We are properly scrutinising the middle way to determine whether it is a legitimate and credible way to take foxhunting forward. I have not been convinced by any of the arguments that I have heard.
Mr. Caplin: They are only men, that is true. In particular, I have seen the Countryside Alliance's performances at Bournemouth, and more recently on the streets of Brighton and Hove during the Labour party conference, which, frankly, were disgraceful. I have asked
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): Is the hon. Gentleman seriously telling the House that, in a democracy, the only means of expressing an opinion is to stand for election? There are pressure groups and organisations of every type, fashion and fad, many of them on the left, but they do not all put forward candidates for election. The Countryside Alliance, like every other group, has every right to put its view in a democratic, fair and open way. It ill befits the hon. Gentleman to say that, because it has not proposed candidates for election, it is not a democratic organisation representing the views of many people in Britain.
Mr. Caplin: I have heard some spinning, but that takes some beating. If the Countryside Alliance wants to take part in our democratic process, I am inviting it to put forward candidates for election. Of course there are other ways in a democracy to put forward views, whether they are those of pressure groups or of the Countryside Alliance, representatives of which I have seen at my surgery. I do not understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. I simply advise the alliance that, if it wants to be involved in the democratic process, it should put forward candidates at elections.
Mr. Hogg: The Countryside Alliance is involved in the democratic process. In many Conservative-controlled constituencies, it strongly supports the Conservative Members who defend hunting. That is to participate in democracy in Britain.
Mr. McFall: I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) regarding the Countryside Alliance. One of the issues that should be nailed is that the Countryside Alliance is representative of the whole community. Bob Worcester has undertaken a MORI poll, so we have a ready democratic ear which shows the voting intentions of the Countryside Alliance to be 79 per cent. Conservative, 7 per cent. Labour and 10 per cent. Liberal Democrat.
It has been alleged that the Bill presages a move to ban shooting and angling. I would not support such a move. I have been involved in animal welfare campaigns since I have been involved in politics, which is some time now, and I would not support a move to ban shooting or fishing, as some hon. Members and as some in the Countryside Alliance suggest might happen. That is a red herring to distract us from the fundamental nature of this important debate.
Mr. Hayes: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being so generous as to give way a second time. He said that he is against any move to ban shooting, and at the beginning of his speech he referred to foxhunting as an ineffective means of controlling pests. If foxhunting is an ineffective and not sufficiently ruthless means of controlling a pest, and if he wants to exterminate the British fox population, what means of control does he advocate or recommend?
Mr. Caplin: I made it clear that I supported Lord Burns's conclusions on pest control. I refer the hon. Gentleman to page 89, the relevant quotation from which also appears in my previous speech on the issue at column 548 of Hansard on 7 July.
I come now to why people should vote for the third option. I have said that there are only two options on which the Committee should vote--either to support hunting, in which case one votes for option 1, or to ban hunting, which means option 3. No other option is worthy of further consideration, and I hope that the House will reflect on that.
My decision is based on two points. First, during the election campaign, like my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester I made a clear commitment to my electors that, if the opportunity arose, I would vote to ban hunting. When my hon. Friend provided the opportunity I fulfilled that promise, but I was still prepared to say that I would continue to consider the issues, and that is why I made a contribution to the debate on the Burns report. I read the report at least twice and considered the issues, but I still came to the conclusion that the only option is to ban hunting. I came to that conclusion not just because of what I said before the election but, quite simply, because foxhunting, deer hunting and hare coursing are cruel.
I end by telling the House of something which occurred in Sussex over the past few days. Last Saturday, monitors attending the Chiddingfold, Leconfield and Cowdray foxhounds found a fox on which a preliminary report was made before it was passed on to a local veterinary practice for analysis. The preliminary findings state that the
I start from this premise. My maternal grandfather and great grandfather were gamekeepers. My great grandfather was gamekeeper to one of my predecessors as Member of Parliament for Banbury. As a Scot, he might have been rather surprised that, although the legislation does not apply to Scotland, Scottish Members of Parliament from Aberdeenshire, whence he came, are entitled to vote on it--but that is another matter.
What I learned from my grandfather and saw as an Agriculture Minister and in my time as a Member of Parliament representing a partly rural constituency, is that, for gamekeepers, farmers and everyone involved in the countryside to succeed, they must be in complete harmony with the countryside. Hunting has been part of the tapestry of English rural life that has evolved over centuries. If one looks at the countryside of Oxfordshire, whether Roman roads or fields made up following the Enclosure Acts, one can see that the landscape partly comes about from the coverts, hedgerows and fences established as a result of hunting. Whether hon. Members like it or not, part of the tapestry of the countryside has come about because of field sports.
If hunting is banned, that tapestry will be lost. Part of the harmony of the countryside will be irretrievably lost, and it will alter. I hope that Government Members accept that if hunting is banned, we will not have a Milly-Molly-Mandy or anthropomorphic Beatrix Potter existence, and we will not have "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" of Roald Dahl. I suspect that, in constituencies such as mine, we shall see the emergence of men in vans late at night with spades, shovels and shotguns controlling foxes. At present, we have a perfectly responsible community of farmers and others who, through the hunts, control the fox population within agricultural and farming areas.
The other thing that has not been fully explained in our debate--although my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon tried--is the fact that this is not a division between town and country; people are not trying to set one against the other. However, hon. Members must try to understand that many people in the countryside genuinely feel that they are being misunderstood and their voice is not being heard. They feel beleaguered, not just in relation to hunting and field sports, but in many other ways, and believe that their way of life is threatened. They are otherwise law-abiding citizens who go about earning a living and making a full contribution to the community, and they cannot understand why what they perceive as urban values will be imposed on them.