Hunting Bill

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Mr. Banks: First, may I say what a pleasure it is to be in Committee with you, Mrs Roe, in the Chair. I well remember our happy days at county hall and our exchanges on the police committee. It is nice to see that we have both translated ourselves elsewhere. Our exchanges were always friendly and I look back on those days with misty and rheumy eyes.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex has left the Room temporarily because I wanted to congratulate him on getting the names of both Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke into the same speech. We both have a great feeling for 18th century politics and he will recall that Fox and Burke fell out rather badly over the French revolution.[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has probably guessed that I am speaking about him, but I am doing so in a friendly fashion. For his benefit, I will say again that I congratulate him on referring to Mr. Fox and Mr. Burke in the same speech. They were great friends, but they broke over the French revolution. Indeed, when Edmund Burke made his speech on the Floor of the House, Charles James Fox broke down in tears. The hon. Gentleman bears far more resemblance to Charles James Fox than I. He and I share a friendship, but we will have to break on the question of foxhunting, hare coursing and the other pursuits covered by the Bill. Although there are times when differences breach friendships, I am sure that neither of us will break down in tears.

I did not recognise the pattern of Elysian fields created by gamekeepers described by the hon. Gentleman and how preserving game, dealing with foxes and providing for foxhunting had somehow shaped the appearance of the countryside. The common agricultural policy has done more than gamekeeping and foxhunting ever did in that regard. On train journeys—which no one takes any more because it is so difficult—one sees field after field of hideous yellow oilseed rape and how miles of hedgerows have been blasted out of existence. Those sorts of things have shaped the present face of the countryside far more than gamekeepers and the preservation of foxhunting.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: I want to underline what my hon. Friend has just said by quoting from the bible itself—the Burns report. It states on page 18:

    Nowadays . . . hunting with dogs is likely to form only a relatively minor factor in determining farmers' and landowners' land management practices.

That is the reality.

Mr. Soames rose—

Mr. Banks: If the hon. Gentleman will let me resume my feet, I will be able to give way to him. I have just done so.

Mr. Soames: Whatever the hon. Gentleman may say—he paints a caricature of the countryside—there are indeed parts of the countryside that look as he has described. Incidentally, very few of those parts--the prairie farmlands of Britain, for example, which I think are odious to look at—will be where there is a great deal of hunting, as opposed to Belvoir vale in Nottinghamshire, where a patchwork of countryside is intricately laid out for sport. What the hon. Gentleman says is untrue. I know of many hunts that plant covers and trees, keep hedges in good repair and run hedge-laying competitions to improve their area. If anyone does to the countryside the sort of things that the hon. Gentleman is mentioning, it is greatly deprecated.

Mr. Banks: I am only responding to what the hon. Gentleman said. He talked about the shape and appearance of the countryside. He did not qualify what he said. I refer him again to paragraph 77 on page 18 of the Burns report, which says:

    Hunting has clearly played a very significant role in the past in the formation of the rural landscape and in the creation and management of areas of nature conservation. Nowadays, however, hunting with dogs is likely to form only a relatively minor factor in determining farmers' and landowners' land management practices.

Therefore, not just I am saying such a thing; it is said in the report that all of us have praised to the skies.

Let me pick up a couple of points made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal. For all his famed moderation, he can be singularly unpleasant when addressing other people and their views, and he deliberately misrepresented me. He has done so on a number of occasions, both in the House and outside; I do not know what I have to do to convince him. He might want to misrepresent himself, but I should be grateful if he did not keep misrepresenting me and my views.

I have no hidden agenda--none whatever. That is probably why I am a humble Back Bencher rather than a great world statesperson. I tend to say what I believe in and say it openly, so that no one is in any doubt about my position. I find that a lot easier than having to remember all the lies told; it makes life a lot simpler. I have told the right hon. Gentleman about my position on fishing. There is no wish in the House, or any intention on my part or that of my hon. Friends, to move from this Bill to any form of legislation to ban angling—either game fishing or coarse fishing—and it is about time that he was prepared to accept our word.

Let me say another thing to the right hon. Gentleman. When he was Secretary of State for the Environment, he said something that I have always remembered, because it was good. He was carrying out a good policy on scientific whaling, well supported by myself as an individual and by many others. The Japanese--the venal Japanese when it comes to scientific whaling--once said to him, ``We might kill whales, but you kill cattle'', to which he replied, ``Yes, but we don't chase them through five fields before shooting a harpoon into them.'' I make the same point to him with regard to fishing. Fishing is not about ripping a creature to pieces; it is not about chasing it down a canal or a river or across a lake. It is a completely different form of activity. Before I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, I want to make it clear that there is no agenda with regard to angling on my part, on the part of my party or, as far as I am aware, on the part of any Labour Member.

Mr. Gummer: I am happy to apologise to the hon. Gentleman if he feels that I have misrepresented him, and I am perfectly prepared to say that he has no hidden agenda. I believe that there is a hidden agenda, but clearly he is not part of it. I withdraw my remarks if I have given the impression that he was.

I can envisage very little that is close to sticking a harpoon into a whale and playing it and sticking a hook into a fish and playing that for hours and hours. The hon. Gentleman proves the case that there is no moral distinction between hunting, angling and shooting. It is a matter not of morality, but of sentimentality.

Mr. Banks: One must be careful because we are talking about hunting with dogs. There is a big difference between a fish and a mammal. The Japanese never seemed to work that out, and it appears that the right hon. Gentleman has not done so either. What does he mean about playing a fish for hours and hours? I do not know what he is talking about. Most fish are hooked, caught and landed fairly easily in this country. I am not talking about fishing on the high seas for game fish, such as marlin. I accept the withdrawal of his statement about my having a hidden agenda. I shall not have to listen to him saying it again. There is no hidden agenda elsewhere.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal made some unpleasant and personal comments about me, too. Perhaps he might like to know that I represent a predominantly rural constituency, and that rural opinion is not unanimous, as he portrayed it. I have visited my local kennels and talked to hunters who have been helpful in advising me on these matters. How dare he claim a monopoly of wisdom on rural areas in such a supercilious and ill informed way?

Mr. Gummer rose—

Mr. Banks: There is no need for us to get personal. I respect the views of Opposition Members, even though I may not agree with them. I do not try to personalise their position and make it look as if they are ignorant, prejudiced and—in the words of my hon. Friend the Minister—ill informed. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says in good faith, as he is defending his constituents, as he sees them. The unpleasant and personal fashion in which he speaks belies the image that he likes to project as a rather holy and sanctimonious gentleman.

Mr. Gummer: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman noticed that his hon. Friend the Minister used the word ``hunter'', which would not be used in his constituency. It shows that he does not call people by the name that they want to be called, so it was not unreasonable for me to say that when he speaks on urban matters, he does so with credibility, but on rural matters, he does not.

Mr. Banks: The right hon. Gentleman sneered at the Bill's wording by saying that the phrase ``hunting with dogs'' was ``ignorant'' and should have referred to hounds. All hounds are dogs, but not all dogs are hounds. We understand that point. The term ``dogs'' is used because the matter is not just about foxhunting. Anyone listening to our debates would think that the only issue was foxhunting, but there is also hare coursing. Greyhounds are not hounds, but dogs. If the right hon. Gentleman wants to nit pick, we shall get nowhere. This debate is about not just foxhunting, but the evil practice of hare coursing, which I am still waiting to hear an Opposition member of the Committee defend.

I have already spoken for longer than I intended, but I should like to deal with a comment of the hon. and learned Member for Buckingham, who made great play of a statement by Mr. Graham Sirl.

6.30 pm

Mr. Garnier: I point out to the hon. Gentleman that I am the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, not Buckingham. Buckingham is a quite different place and my hon. Friend the Member for it is a quite different person.

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