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Mrs. Golding: I shall forgive my hon. Friend for suggesting that I am a ringer and that I do not stand up for what I believe in. No one puts me up to anything. He has been talking about foxhunting, but the legislation encompasses rabbit hunting and all other forms of hunting. The only hunting that will be allowed is hunting for rats on one's own ground, in one's own garden. Therefore, all those terriers belonging to the miners about whom he cares so much will not be allowed out to hunt for foxes, rats or anything else. What does he feel about that? Is he as passionate about that?

Mr. Etherington: My hon. Friend mentions my regard for miners, but my record in standing up for miners is second to that of no hon. Member. I should think that that is indisputable. However, my great regard for miners does not require me to agree with every single one of their activities. It would be a little ridiculous if she were suggesting that I should let miners do whatever they wish because I like them.

I also did not accuse my hon. Friend of being a ringer. I said that the tactics being used by the Middle Way Group reminded me of electoral tactics involving a ringer. Then I defined a ringer. I did not suggest that anyone was a ringer or that anyone involved with the Middle Way Group was a ringer. I hope that my hon. Friend is clear on that.

I have said enough and I feel happy now. This is the first opportunity that I have had to speak on the subject, which is somewhat surprising to me if to no one else. I hope that we shall make some progress. I also hope that we can bring the United Kingdom into the 21st century on the issue. Hunting is more reminiscent of 14th and 15th century activities than of current ones.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire): I am rather worried about the hon. Gentleman's prospects. However, it was rather refreshing to hear him admit that the Prime Minister, who went on television to say that the House of Lords had defeated the Foster Bill, had committed a terminological inexactitude.

Mr. Etherington: On a point of order, Sir Alan. The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong; I did not say that. I said that it came from some source.

The Chairman: Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman must know that that is not a matter for the occupant of the Chair, but a matter for debate. I remind the Committee that we are rapidly losing time, and that I am trying to get in as many hon. Members as I can.

Mr. Townend: I should also think that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) might be in danger of being classed as politically incorrect by comparing slaves with foxes.

I approach the debate from the point of view of one who has never hunted, fished or shot. However, the force that drove me into politics was a passionate belief in and

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love for individual freedom. In the late 1940s and 1950s, when I first became involved in politics, individual freedom was being undermined continuously by the rampant progress of socialism and the increase of state control.

As the hon. Member for Sunderland, North said, in a democracy, the majority will usually prevail. There is, however, one caveat. It is very dangerous if a majority try to legislate to remove a minority's right to partake in pastimes and pleasures that do not affect anyone else. When that happens, democracy becomes tyranny.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): According to the hon. Gentleman's argument, he should believe in an individual's freedom to do as he or she likes. Did he believe that badger baiting should be banned?

Mr. Townend: There is a great difference between badger baiting and foxhunting, as badger baiting contained no element of pest control. It was in an entirely different class. As I said, however, we are debating foxhunting. Although I have reservations about hare coursing, I want to talk about foxhunting, as that is what really affects my constituents and I have a couple of hunts in my constituency.

Both today and in our previous debate on the Bill, Labour Members have claimed that those who oppose a ban on foxhunting are a minority in the countryside. I contest that, and suggest that those hon. Members should study the numbers who will come to London for the freedom march. I should be very surprised if those who feel passionately about banning foxhunting could get an equivalent number of people from the countryside to demonstrate. That is very unlikely.

We are told, rightly, that we must respect the customs of the minority. Our country has been turned from a homogenous English nation into a multicultural, multi-ethnic nation. We have accepted that ethnic minorities have a right not be forced to integrate but to have their own culture. Indeed, under the law we allow the barbaric system of ritual killing known as halal slaughter, even though it undoubtedly causes suffering to the animals killed, who have a long and slow death. I suggest that the suffering of those animals and the number of animals involved are far greater than the number and suffering of hunted foxes.

Mr. Hogg: When I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals made representations to me about halal slaughter. I said that in many respects I found the process distasteful, but that it seemed wrong to prohibit it under the criminal law simply for that reason. I therefore declined to act. That is the course of action that people should take.

Mr. Townend: I agree entirely. I find that form of ritual killing rather abhorrent, but I understand the culture and history of the people involved, and believe that we must be tolerant. It is very strange that Labour Members who are so keen that we respect and tolerate the cultural rights and beliefs of minorities should now propose to destroy part of the culture and freedom of the countryside.

I am amazed that those who favour banning hunting are not prepared to extend the same tolerance to minorities of their own countrymen, the English and the Welsh, who

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want only to continue the traditional country sports that they and their forefathers have enjoyed for centuries. I suggest that that is a flagrant example of double standards.

Many Labour Members consider most people who hunt to be toffs. Those of us who live in the countryside know that that is not true. The vast majority of people who hunt are ordinary people. However, if the majority of people who hunt belonged to minorities--if they were coloured people or homosexuals--I suggest that the Bill would never have been brought before us. [Hon. Members: "Shame."]I think that I make the point very well. I am in favour of the rights of minorities, but Labour Members are not in favour of the rights of the people of the countryside.

I am fortunate to live in the countryside, although I was brought up in a city. We townies have a duty to respect the traditions and way of life of those who have lived in the countryside for generations. I suggest that most people who live there and who oppose hunting came from the towns. They live in the new estates in the villages, and are not countryside people, born and bred.

There is a crisis in the countryside. Farming is in an appalling state, and people's incomes have fallen dramatically. It is unbelievable that we should be doing so little to deal with the real problems of the countryside, where many people's livelihoods are being destroyed, yet are prepared to destroy a pastime that is part of the countryside's social fabric. There is no doubt that that will have some economic effects.

It is worrying that people say that 16,000 jobs lost might pose a problem, but that only 7,000 or 2,000 jobs will be lost. The problems faced by people who lost their jobs would be equally great, however many of them there were.

Mr. David Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman regale the Committee with details of the level of his opposition to the loss of jobs in rural coalfields that happened under the Administration that he supported in past Parliaments?

7.15 pm

Mr. Townend: I do not want to go into the question of coal, but I certainly strongly supported the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) to save a number of our pits. [Hon. Members: "Save?"] My right hon. Friend saved them in the short term. I do not think that the record of this Government has been particularly good in that respect.

Labour Members dismissed this point earlier, but I firmly believe that if hunting is banned tonight, many people in the anti-hunting camp will move on to shooting. That would be logical. They will then move on to fishing. I suggest that one of the reasons Labour Members deny that is that many Labour voters take part in fishing.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in the Chamber tonight. Those who speak so passionately about the cruelty of hunting do not seem to appreciate that foxes are vermin that must be controlled. There is no doubt that foxes will suffer more if they are killed not by dogs but by shooting. Death by shooting is not always clean. Wounded animals can crawl away and take days to die of gangrene.

I was recently given a snare--a horrible item that gets tighter around an animal's body the more it struggles. It is an appalling instrument, but it is legal. The suffering of foxes will be even greater if hunting with dogs is banned.

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Shooting causes a great deal of suffering. At a pheasant shoot, 500 birds can be downed in a day. That compares with the one or two foxes killed in a hunt, and not all the birds are killed instantly. In fishing, the poor fish gets a hook stuck in its throat. It is then played--tortured--before it is taken out of the water. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said that he was a good fisherman and very gentle, but fish are thrown back into the water for the torture to recommence. There is much talk about the need to return to nature. However, we must never forget that man, by his very nature, is a hunter.

Who will enforce the law if this Bill is passed? The police will, of course. The country is very short of police. Rural crime has been rising. I do not accept the argument that the amount of police time at present spent dealing with the thugs who are anti-hunt demonstrators will equate to the amount of time needed to enforce a hunting ban.

We are proposing to turn tens of thousands of people into criminals. What they are doing is at present within the law. We will be telling them that their pastime will be turned into a criminal act. The inevitable result would be a massive loss of support for the police in the countryside. That would be very dangerous.

I was among those who passionately opposed the incorporation of the Strasbourg human rights regime in British law. It is ironic that whatever the Committee decides will probably be overruled on the ground of human rights.

To people who disapprove of hunting I say, "Don't do it, but for goodness sake don't take away the individual freedom of those who want to do it." Over the generations, many people have fought and died for that individual freedom.

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