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Mr. Hogg: Is not my hon. Friend's reference to healthy mature foxes terribly important? Is it not the truth that foxhunters, on the whole, kill elderly and infirm foxes? If those animals were shot, there would be indiscriminate culling, including that of healthy and young beasts.

Mr. Paterson: My right hon. and learned Friend endorses my point. In addition, hunters catch foxes that have been wounded by shooting. Marksmanship is not a skill for which most of the farmers in north Shropshire are noted. Lamping would put at risk humans and livestock within at least a mile of the shoot. Most shooting would take place with No. 6 gameshot, probably fired from shotguns, and most foxes would go on to die an agonising and lingering death that is infinitely more cruel than the details of the moment of death in a hunt, which the hon. Member for Worcester goes on and on about.

Last weekend, I visited the members of one of the gun packs in the area above Oswestry. They kill 250 foxes a season and they are skilled people. They use shotguns with BB shot, but only 20 per cent. of the foxes that they kill are killed outright with the first shot; the rest have to be pursued by hounds. Therefore, the evidence that I have given shows that lamping and shooting are certainly not less cruel than hunting.

8.30 pm

Some years ago, I visited a shooting area in the north of England in which there was no hunting at all, and I found a vixen in a snare. That was absolutely revolting. She must have been in the snare for some time and I will not give a gory description of what I saw. However, I am completely convinced that trapping and snaring are hideously cruel. Gassing is illegal and it is revolting in the indiscriminate manner in which it kills and partially poisons other animals down an earth, particularly badgers, which are protected.

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Those who support a ban on hunting have comprehensively failed to address the cruelties of alternative methods. They also ignore the practical consequences of a ban. First, foxes will be less healthy--there is no doubt about that. Yesterday, I spoke to the master of a German pack of drag hounds who was clear that, since the ban in Germany in the 1930s, the fox population has been plagued by diseases. Germany has just got on top of rabies, but it now has a particular problem with a tapeworm, which he described as Fuchsbandsworm. The worm is so dangerous to human beings--[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Worcester is laughing, but the gentleman told me that, in Germany, people touch foxes only with plastic gloves and a handy bin liner, which they then take to an incinerator, because the Fuchsbandworm can cause a contagious reaction in human beings that can affect the liver and also can be lethal.

A ban will no doubt cause terrible damage to the sheep industry, as we heard from the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), who was backed up by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey). In the area above Oswestry, four or five valleys each have a gun pack that kills 250 foxes a season. The masters of those packs are adamant that only packs of hounds can flush out foxes from blocks of forest, some as large as 10,000 acres. Einion Evans, the master of the Banwy fox control society, said last night:

A serious conservation question is also involved. On the hills, most ground-nesting birds, such as curlew, plover, merlin or hen harriers, would be wiped out. Yesterday, I spoke to a researcher who works for Severn Trent at lake Vyrnwy, where the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds runs a large reserve around the lake. It collaborates with the pack of hounds that I have just mentioned and the researcher has carried out a study on the black grouse in that area. He was quite clear that only hounds can effectively keep foxes down. He said:

Mr. Livsey: The situation in my constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire is far more graphic. Nine hunts dispose of 2,000 foxes per annum. They have done so for the past 30 years and maintained a steady fox population.

Mr. Paterson: I am grateful for that helpful intervention, which endorses what I have just said. I think that the hon. Gentleman would also agree that lamping could not work in upland areas, because one has to use a vehicle.

Another consequence of the ban that has not been touched on in the debate is the benefit that the hunts bring from disposing of fallen stock. Hunt kennels provide a crucial free service--24 hours a day, every day of the year--in humanely and quickly putting down injured animals and in disposing of the carcases in an environmentally friendly manner. In the last year, the Wynnstay and the North Shropshire hunts have alone each taken 2,500 calves and more than 300 cattle. A vet would charge at least £50 to come out, do the diagnosis and put down the animal and the carcase would still have to be disposed of. A knacker charges £70 to £80, but a local

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knacker to whom I have recently spoken doubted that the industry could handle a huge increase in work given the extra costs imposed by recent regulations.

Those urging a ban must address that issue. Farm incomes have collapsed, so who will pay for the disposal of carcases? Will they just be buried at night? It is disgraceful that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has come out in favour of a ban without a response to those questions, at the same time as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food puts out literature commending hunt kennels to farmers.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): I spoke to the Malpas farmers club only last week and it was clear that the attack on the rural economy that a potential ban represents will be enormous when one takes into account the added costs of disposing of fallen stock. That will be an on-cost to the farming community, which forms part of the proper balance in the fragile and inter-dependent rural economy that is under terrible attack from the Government.

Mr. Paterson: I agree with my neighbour; I endorse his remarks.

Many farmers tolerate hunting because of the service that hunts provide for fallen stock. Many will not allow drag hounds across their land and there will be a drastic reduction in the horse population. The German drag pack that I mentioned now has only 12 mounted followers and it meets only 35 to 50 times a year, because landowners will not tolerate it meeting more often. That point was made clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Sir R. Body).

There will be significant job losses. The hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin) was disingenuous because he cherry-picked the Burns report. Burns referred to 6,000 to 8,000 jobs--but, luckily, the hon. Gentleman was tripped up by my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who took the figure up to 12,000 to 13,000 at least by considering more than job equivalents and part-time jobs.

Businesses near me will be disproportionately affected in rural areas. I know a saddlery business that will be wiped out--it will close down--and a family feed business that will also close entirely. Yesterday, I talked to the head of a substantial feed chandler whose turnover is at least 50 per cent. devoted to hunting. He thinks that half his work force will go. There is a disproportionate impact in isolated rural areas. Many blacksmiths get through the winter only because of hunting and I know that, in some areas near me, farriers no longer take on apprentices. A major veterinary practice has told me that it will almost certainly reduce the number of fully qualified vets that it has, to the detriment of the whole animal population in the area.

Above all, the horse industry will be severely damaged. At the moment animals bred for specialist activities, such as racing, point-to-pointing, show jumping and eventing, that do not make the grade can be sold on as hunters for £3,000 to £5,000. They will go on to enjoy 12 to 15 years of happy life. If a ban is introduced, this floor will be torn up and the only option will be the vile alternative of the Belgian meat market where prices are currently as low as £300 per carcase, and would obviously be depressed further.

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Hunts draw young people into a social network that lasts all their lives. Drag hunting is only suitable for wealthy, aggressive thrusters. [Interruption.] Labour Members may laugh but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) said, they totally underestimate the determination of country people to defend their freedoms. As I was about to say, people can hunt well into their 70s and the loss of social cohesion in isolated rural areas will be a further totally unnecessary consequence of a ban.

The ban option is thoroughly incompetently drafted. It does not define hunting. It requires breathtaking double standards. It will be illegal to hunt rats with a terrier, but not with a ferret. It will be illegal to hunt rabbits with a dog, but not with a hawk. The ban is drafted in such a way as to presume guilt in direct breach of the most ancient traditions of English law. It is quite wrong that a person innocently walking his dog should be subjected to intrusive visits by police without a warrant.

Above all, a ban will be supremely difficult to enforce. The last march in London totalled 300,000 people; the next will be a lot bigger. We understand that Members have their power, but it is not possible to run a pluralist society if the majority abuses its powers over a significant minority. [Interruption.] If Labour Members listened, they might learn something.

As a former tanner, I know what damage is done to cattle during halal slaughter. However repulsive I find it, I would not dream of banning an activity that is central to the religion of a small but significant minority. The proposers of a ban must provide an overwhelming reason for the deprivation of such a large minority's freedom to pursue an activity that is legal in all other western countries except Germany. Before they troop through the politically correct Lobby, brimming with self-righteous bile and spiteful prejudice, they should remember the unhappy precedent of 1936 when the revolting Reichsjagermeister Hermann Goering persuaded Adolf Hitler to ban hunting. We should not create criminals lightly. No one gained in Germany then; no one will gain now. A ban will be an ominous portent of further freedoms to be lost at the hands of an intolerant majority.

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