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The Prime Minister was either deliberately wrong or stupid. Either way, that gives me small confidence that what we are debating is anything other than a cynical exercise designed to get the Prime Minister off the hook from an idiotic undertaking that he knew he could not keep. However, he made it on television, to the effect that the Bill would be on the statute book by the end of this Parliament.
I am worried that hundreds, if not thousands, of people outside this place are following the debate and waiting for me to go, as I will, through the Lobby in support of a total ban, believing that the Bill will go on to the statute book. However, all hon. Members know at the bottom of their hearts that there is not a snowball in hell's chance of its being on the statute book, as the Prime Minister promised, by the end of this Parliament. It is no longer any good saying that that is due to the Tory House of Lords. It is Tony's cronies' House of Lords. He created it. No matter how we feel on the subject, it is time that we injected a little honesty into the cynicism that lies behind this.
Another fundamental thesis of dishonesty in tonight's debate is what has become known as the third or middle way. I do not share their view, but I respect those who honestly believe that foxhunting is not cruel, as I respect those on both sides of the House--some of my hon. Friends and many friends on the Labour Benches--who fought alongside me, as I fought alongside them, to bring foxhunting to an end because we believe that it is cruel. A woman cannot be a little bit pregnant. One either believes that hunting must go or that it must stay. Anything in the middle is nothing short of idiotic.
Therefore, I shall go through the Lobby to vote for a total ban tonight, as I always have done. I shall be joined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and other colleagues. That will not deny me the respect of Labour Members, such as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), who will go through the other Lobby, because there is a genuine difference of opinion on the matter. It should not be a party political matter.
I want to place on the record tonight two matters that worry me a lot. As I am on the Chairmen's Panel and shall not, therefore, serve on the Standing Committee, I want to know that the Committee will consider these two issues. The first, which has already been referred to, is the possibility, nay probability, that hundreds of hounds, and possibly horses as well, will be destroyed. I want foxhunting to end. I expect that, in due course, the red-top tabloids will print pictures of piles of dead dogs and say that that is what has been done. I am ready for that, but I am not sure whether many supporters of the ban are ready for it.
My friend, the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey), the chairman of the all-party animal welfare group, quite properly said that he could not take a foxhound into his own home. My friend, the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said likewise. I have two labradors, a collie, nine cats and two rabbits in my house and I do not have room for a foxhound either. I am already over-dogged and over-catted by several factors. If we cannot do it, believing the way that we do, I wonder how many of the hundreds, possibly thousands, of foxhounds can be found homes. I fear that many will be destroyed and we need to be ready for that. It is no good ducking the issue.
Secondly, I was delighted to understand that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be in the Lobby with us tonight voting for a total ban. I hope that he has spoken to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister and that there is an understanding that fallen stock, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) referred, will be disposed of. A farming industry in crisis, with farmers facing bankruptcy, unable to employ the services of veterinary surgeons to treat live animals, sure as hell will not be able to dispose of dead bodies that are currently disposed of by the hunt. Those who want a ban, as I do, have to face the hard reality that such issues must be dealt with. I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture is not on the Front Bench tonight to hear what I have to say, but I am sure that he will read it and I hope that those on the Front Bench will realise that such issues must be dealt with in Standing Committee.
I want the ban, I want the issues dealt with and I want it done by the end of this Parliament, as promised by the Prime Minister. For those reasons, I shall go through the Lobby and vote for a total ban tonight.
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): I shall be extremely brief. I want to take up issues in chapters 5 and 6 of the Burns report that have not really been examined, concerning the scientific work carried out by Professor David Macdonald of Oxford university on the population management of quarry and the work of Professor Patrick Bateson of Cambridge university on stag hunting. In both cases, and in work with people who have disagreed with them in the past, the professors state that science itself should never be--and, in this case, has not been--the answer to the whole problem, as many other factors must be taken into consideration.
I have heard much tonight about how different techniques are going to control the population numbers of different species. That is balderdash. There is no evidence for it whatever, and science does not purport to make that claim. Much more needs to be done on that front. So much of what has been said by the proponents of hunting tonight is nonsense: it does not control population numbers.
Bateson and his collaborator Harris co-operated with the Burns inquiry and were commissioned to do research. Previously, there was disagreement between them, but they have now made a joint statement, in which they say:
Mr. Hogg: May I ask a favour of you, Mrs. Heald? I am conscious of the fact that you want us to be quick. I would not want my speech to last more than eight minutes. If I reach eight minutes, would you be good enough to indicate that? I want to be brief.
If the Bill passes and if hon. Members choose the third option, three things will certainly happen. First, many people--many thousands, probably--will lose their jobs. Secondly, many more thousands will be prevented from doing things that they want to do. Lastly, there will be a serious infringement of civil and political liberties. The House should not allow that unless there is a compelling reason for it. Many of my hon. Friends and I believe that there is no such reason.
I have had the opportunity to speak in previous debates on this matter, so I can put my comments in short order. I propose to do so and, if I have time in my eight minutes, I wish to make four points. First, this is essentially a matter of freedom. We must recognise that, in a free society, people must have rights to do things of which others disapprove. We are not living in a free society if we can do only those things of which the majority approve. There are many things of which I disapprove with which I have had to wrestle as a politician and, formerly, as a Minister. For example, I dislike boxing very much, but I would not ban it. When I was Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I was asked to consider religious slaughter, which, if I am honest, I also dislike, but I would not ban it.
Let us take, for example, homosexuality. We will shortly be asked to consider making lawful sado- masochistic behaviour in groups of consenting adult homosexuals. I find that pretty disgusting, but I do not want it to be subject to criminal law. I shall therefore support such a Bill. I also accept that abortion raises important issues of principle. However, generally speaking, I do not wish to see criminal law intervening in that matter. I am trying to make the point that, in democratic societies, we have to respect the rights of minorities.
My second point is that people like me, who defend foxhunting, are often accused of being the sort of people who would have supported bear baiting and so on. That is simply not true. The proper comparisons with foxhunting are angling, pheasant shooting and other forms of game shooting. I have shot all my life. I did so most recently last Saturday, although rather less well than my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), with whom I have had the pleasure of shooting many times.
I know that pheasants and fish suffer as the process of the sport is conducted. If one is wholly honest, one must recognise that the comparison with the other activities to which I am referring, which I defend, is favourable to fox hunting. Foxes are pests and must be culled; coarse fishes are not pests and do not have to be culled; and pheasants are bred for the purpose of shooting. Foxes either get
From my time at MAFF, I know that those of us who eat meat are party to processes that are infinitely crueller than foxhunting. Anybody who doubts that should visit an abattoir or poultry-killing plant. I have visited many such places in my life, and I shall not describe the processes that go on there. However, it is clear that the animals in abattoirs are deeply distressed and know that something horrid is happening. If we are discussing cruelty, surely we should focus on the things that really matter, and not on foxhunting.
My third point is procedural. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), who spoke earlier, is not in his place--at least I do not think he is. I do not believe that hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies should be voting on the Bill, as it applies exclusively to England and Wales. Surely it is in the nature of democracy that those who make laws are accountable to those affected by them. If their constituents are not affected, there is no accountability at all--and in the absence of accountability, there is a form of tyranny. The precedent established by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is, therefore, wholly and utterly right. Scottish Members--by which I mean Members who represent Scottish constituencies--should not vote on the Bill.