Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Hancock: I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey). He was right to cite the New Forest hunt as a classic example of how a licensed hunt cannot adhere to the rules. That hunt was in breach of the rules as recently as Boxing day, when the only thing it killed was a year-old cub. At first the hunt denied killing the cub, but it finally gave in when three lots of video film shot at the scene were produced. It then admitted that it had killed the cub and broken its licence.

I represent the inner-city heart of Portsmouth, which is one of the most densely populated parts of the United Kingdom. I was born and brought up there, and I have no connection with the rural areas outside Portsmouth except that I now live on the fringes of Portsmouth. Nevertheless, I am totally opposed to hunting. Why? I am against it because, 30-odd years ago, I went to my first hunt, in the hope of trying to prevent a fox being killed. In the past 30 years, I have been to dozens of hunts, most recently on Boxing day in the New Forest.

My experience at that New Forest hunt was quite interesting, as there were probably more policemen helping the huntsmen to cross the major roads of the New Forest than there were patrolling Portsmouth, which is a city of 200,000 people. One interesting fact is that in the past year the New Forest hunt has killed more of its own hounds than foxes. It has lost nine hounds, but admitted to killing four foxes.

The figures for the cost of patrolling the New Forest hunt's 26 meets in the past year are quite stark. A total of 613 riders were counted at the meets, which is an average of 24 per meet. They killed two foxes on Forestry Commission land, and two that went to ground on private land, using terrier men who dug out the foxes and shot them. Police, railway police and Forestry Commission representatives attended each of the meets. The total cost of policing just those 26 meets of the New Forest hunt was more than £20,000.

It has been interesting to hear the reasons given by hon. Members for voting for a ban. However, we should vote to ban foxhunting for the simple reason that the deaths of foxes in hunts are cruel and obscene. Those who have been at a hunt when a fox is killed will know what the kill sounds like, and those who have seen a kill will know that the memory of it will stay with them. Those who advocate hunting could never have been anywhere near a hunt when a fox is killed. If they had been, they could not possibly justify opposing a ban by citing an infringement of liberties.

What liberty and whose liberty do ban opponents think is at stake? It is certainly not the right to dress in hunting garb, to own a horse or to ride a horse across the countryside with dogs and accompanied by friends.

17 Jan 2001 : Column 445

The only liberty that will be removed is the one to kill a wild animal in the most obscene and grotesque way. That is what the debate is about.

The third way is an impossible dream and makes Don Quixote look positively sane. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) could not even say how regulation would be policed or operated. We cannot regulate cruelty. A practice is either cruel or it is not. We either allow a practice or we do not. Some people honourably maintain that they want hunting to be allowed, but one cannot honourably maintain that it is possible to licence cruelty. That in itself is an obscenity and has to be rejected.

People have been duped into believing that this mythical third way is possible. As I said, however, it would be about as effective as Don Quixote tilting at windmills. It really is a fool's dream. The only real choice today is between allowing and stopping hunting. After 30 years of campaigning against hunting and attending dozens of hunts, I believe that there is no answer but to ban it.

My experience on Boxing day was that the only potential problem arose when some huntsmen on horses demanded that a person in a wheelchair be moved so that they could go down a path to which they thought they had right of access. Most huntsmen riding that way had gone the long way around, but some stopped and insisted that the person in the wheelchair be moved. That was the closest thing to confrontation that occurred.

9.30 pm

There were probably nearly 200 demonstrators present at the Boxing day hunt. I was proud to be there with my family. I was proud, too, to witness the good discipline of the anti-hunt campaign's reaction. What was hideous was the delight that some of the hunt participants evinced at the fact that the only kill that they achieved was that of a year-old cub. That is why we should all be ashamed to allow hunting to continue, and why we should be proud to go into the Lobby tonight and vote to throw it out once and for all.

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): My contribution will be short, as I wish to cover only one issue. It is that of civil liberties, which has been mentioned by most Opposition Members who have spoken. The argument for civil liberties has been the loudest that we have heard tonight, and is probably the strongest that can be adduced against a total ban on foxhunting. I disagree with that argument.

I hope that I do no disservice to the argument by saying that it asserts that a ban on foxhunting threatens to criminalise law-abiding citizens simply for exercising their free will to enjoy a recreational country pursuit. In that way, the argument runs, we would offend against people's fundamental civil liberty to carry on hunting. I share those civil libertarian instincts, and I am proud to describe myself as a civil libertarian, but I wish to put on record why I profoundly disagree with the assertion that I have just set out and why I will vote tonight for a total ban.

In the modern world, civil liberties do not give us liberty to do everything that we want. They give us the liberty to do certain things, constrained by our

17 Jan 2001 : Column 446

responsibilities for our actions. Liberty is for ever constrained. It is surrounded and hedged in by our potential liability for what we do.

We recognise that every day in respect of our responsibilities towards other human beings. We accept that civil law constrains our liberty. We owe a duty to our neighbour to take reasonable care, not to trespass on his land, and not to act unreasonably so as to cause nuisance. We accept also that our liberty is properly constrained by criminal law and that, if we breach criminal code imperatives, our liberty can be taken away.

We accept also that the duty is owed not only to other human beings, but to the environment and to animals and their welfare. That is why, in certain circumstances, we can be convicted of a criminal offence for causing pollution, and why certain activities and leisure pursuits affecting animals--bear baiting and badger baiting, for example, among others--have been banned in the past.

In a civilised society, when we assume the right to kill animals we assume two further responsibilities--that we will not exercise the right other than for good reason, and that we will exercise it only in the least cruel way possible. As a civil libertarian, I therefore ask myself three simple questions. Is there a good reason to kill? Is hunting with dogs the least cruel method of making that kill? If not, is the extra cruelty involved none the less justified?

I accept that there can be good reasons for killing foxes, if not for killing hares. I say that even though, as a vegetarian, I have not eaten meat for 20 years. I used to wear shiny plastic shoes--until my noble and learned Friend Lord Irvine of Lairg, my former head of chambers, told me that I could not go into chambers dressed like that.

The second question is not whether hunting with dogs is so unusually cruel that we should ban it, but whether it should be allowed because it is the least cruel method of killing. I have read all the evidence and listened to all the debate, and I simply contend that it is not the least cruel method of killing.

The final question is whether there is, none the less, some compelling reason for allowing that additional cruelty to take place. In my view, there is none. It is not a case of the welfare of the hounds--there are no geriatric hounds, because they are killed anyway. It is not a case of jobs, because jobs should not trade in cruelty. It is not tradition, because we should not allow traditions to continue if they are cruel, and it can never be pleasure, because human gratification does not justify killing anything.

Mr. Robathan: I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak, albeit briefly. This measure gives more pleasure to Back-Bench Labour Members than almost anything else has done in the past three and a half years. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington), who has been in the House for eight and a half years, said that this was what he had been waiting for. That is extremely sad, in my opinion, but it is what this is all about. This is a bone to faithful hounds--a sop to loyal supporters. It is to turn out the core vote before the election--we all know that.

I do not usually quote Oscar Wilde, but he wrote, very amusingly, of the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. On this occasion, that refers to Labour Back Benchers--many of whom are usually quite decent--in pursuit of the uneatable huntsman.

17 Jan 2001 : Column 447

On Radio 4 this morning, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), refused to accept that fishing was cruel or that it had anything to do with the Government. To those who believe that this is about cruelty, let me quote from a report entitled "Pain and Stress in Fish", prepared by Mr. Kestin of the university of Bristol school of veterinary science and last updated in 1994. It says that the society's policy is

The report refers to evidence that strongly confirms that fish can suffer pain and distress. It goes on to say:

Finally, it says:

So I say to those who fish but wish to ban hunting that it is not a question of cruelty but of hypocrisy.

I do not hunt, but I have been to meets. I shoot, but I do not particularly like watching football. I do not want to spend my Saturday afternoons careering around the countryside after a fox, breaking my neck on a horse; nor do I want to spend them with a football jersey pulled over my distended stomach, waving a scarf, half drunk, walking up and down the streets of West Ham or Chelsea and chanting. However, I defend the right of those who wish to do so, as long as they do not unreasonably infringe other people's rights.

When 700-odd English fans were arrested in Charleroi last year, who called for the banning of football? Not many, but it was a serious incident. How many huntsmen have been arrested in the past 10 years for committing any infringement of other people's rights?

I said that I would be brief. We know that the Bill will be passed in the House of Commons. It will be passed to cheers from some of the more mean-minded on the Labour Benches. [Interruption.] They laugh now, but it is mean-mindedness and chippyness, and it is very distressing.

The public in general do not really care about this issue. I spoke to a Minister some time ago--before he was a Minister--who said that he could not care two hoots about hunting, but 300 or 400 people in his constituency were passionately opposed to it. As most of them were in his constituency Labour party, he said that he would vote against hunting. That is what the issue is about. The legislation that will be passed tonight will be shabby and shoddy. It will be cheered by those who should be ashamed of themselves for persecuting others who want to do something that they do not want to do.

Next Section

IndexHome Page