Hunting Bill

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Mr. Lidington: I differ from the hon. Gentleman in that he gives insufficient weight to the fact that wild mammals experience what he termed ``threat'' many times a day. If a fox in a wood were to pick up the scent of a human being some distance away—someone unconnected with a hunt—it would be likely to spark off the fright and flight response to which I alluded earlier. If the hon. Gentleman examines the Burns report and the evidence presented to it, he will find that particularly in the early stages of a foxhunt, the animal pursued sometimes pauses. It does not appear to be in headlong flight the whole time. The question of an animal's response to potential threat is more complicated than he gave credit for in his intervention.

I turn from the chase to the kill—the other central argument in the debate, to which the hon. Member for West Ham referred. In the case of foxes in particular, Burns accepted that some were killed not simply by a hound biting through the cervical vertebrae, but by massive injuries to other organs. The inquiry considered evidence from 15 post mortem examinations of foxes: in 10, death was shown to be due to cervical dislocation; in five, it was due to massive trauma to the thorax and the abdomen. Burns's general conclusion was that, whatever the actual cause of death, whichever part of the fox the leading hound bit, insensibility and death happened within a few seconds of the fox being caught. When it came to hares, he again concluded that insensibility and death followed very swiftly after the animal had been caught.

The argument whether the fox is killed by a bite to the neck or to the thorax and abdomen is less important than whether death is quick. The evidence available is that the fox is almost always killed extremely quickly. One point about hunting with hounds is that there are no wounded survivors—the great risk of alternative methods of control.

I am tempted also to deal with the question of cruelty and suffering in terrier work, which I appreciate, because I know that Committee members take that subject seriously. However, as I am conscious of a later group of specific amendments, I hope that the Committee will understand if I leave the subject to debate at greater length in due course.

Burns concluded that the impact on animal welfare of hunting had to be assessed by comparison with other methods of control. When referring to both foxes and deer in his commentary on the thoughts of Bateson, Harris and others, he repeatedly returned to the key point of how many animals would be wounded if shooting were to become more popular following a ban on hunting. In paragraph 6.39 about deer hunting, he qualified his conclusion that stalking would be a more humane method of control, by saying:

    ``if carried out to a high standard and with the availability of a dog or dogs to help find any wounded deer that escape''.

He reiterated the point in the following paragraph, when he said:

    ``A great deal depends, however, on the skill and care taken by the stalker . . . In the event of a ban on hunting, there is a risk that a greater number of deer than at present would be shot by less skilful shooters, in which case wounding rates would increase.''

Mr. Soames: I endorse what my hon. Friend says. Because of the pernicious advice of the Red Deer Commission on deer numbers in Scotland, too many deer are being shot there at present by people who do not know what they are doing—with disastrous consequences. Hinds, with calves incapable of surviving for longer than a couple of days, die in the most distressing circumstances. That would be the fate of the west country deer herds, were hunting to be banned.

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend is correct. I believe that farmers on Exmoor and in the Quantocks area are willing to tolerate depredations by red deer of their crops and young trees partly because they support the hunt and want it to continue. They would be much less likely to do so if hunting were abolished.

My hon. Friend's argument has cross-party support. My constituent, Baroness Mallalieu, is firm in her belief that if stag hunting on Exmoor and in the Quantocks were banned, fewer deer would survive and far more animals would die slowly and in pain. Lord Burns made much the same qualification in his conclusions on foxhunting: shooting would be quick, if it worked. Shooting is a good and effective method of control, provided that one can guarantee killing an animal with a single shot and not letting it linger on in pain—or, perhaps, disabled—to die many hours or days later.

Hunting, as I said earlier, has one great advantage: it produces no wounded survivors. Even those who advocate lamping as the most humane method of fox control have yet to produce a persuasive argument that the greater use of shooting or other methods of control in areas where lamping is not feasible would result in an improvement in animal welfare or a reduction in cruelty towards wild mammals.

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion): The hon. Gentleman is comparing differing forms of animal control. Has he taken into account what can sometimes happen to hounds in a foxhunt? Would he care to comment on the incident on Saturday when the Crawley and Horsham hunt was in the Shipley and Dial Post area? A pack of hounds split on a hill, and one group went to the A24, where one hound was killed by a lorry. Others were left wandering by the side of the road. Luckily, some of the hunt protesters arrived on the scene and caught the hounds and kept them safe until the whippers-in came along. One hunt foot follower said when told that a hound had been killed and others had been left wandering by the side of the road, ``It doesn't matter. We have plenty more hounds.''

The Chairman: Order. Having listened to the whole of that anecdote, I rule it out of order, because the amendment refers specifically to

    ``unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal''

being hunted.

Mr. Lidington: I am grateful to you, Mr. O'Hara. It would in any case be wrong for me to comment on an incident of which I do not have first-hand knowledge.

If people do not rely on shooting, they will resort to snaring and trapping, and even the most ardent supporters of a ban on hunting will acknowledge that those methods of control have drawbacks in terms of animal welfare and inflicting unnecessary cruelty on animals. The risks involved in snaring are self-evident. Even if a snare is checked daily in accordance with Ministry recommendations, an animal can be left in it for up to 24 hours, experiencing the physical pain about which hon. Members who are against hunting talk when discussing hunting with hounds. An animal may injure itself in trying to escape from a snare.

11.15 am

Live trapping may appear to be a more humane method of control—but that assumes that traps will be checked regularly. Even if they are checked daily, the wild animal will still be incarcerated in a very small space for up to 24 hours, which will undoubtedly put it under severe stress. Most veterinary surgeons who have had to treat wild mammals would agree with that, whatever their views on hunting. Another disadvantage is that snaring and trapping are indiscriminate. One cannot be certain that the quarry species will be trapped rather than some other wild mammal which happens to be the first on the scene.

The Chairman: Order. I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman and I commend him for keeping broadly to the terms of the amendment. I can see the difficulty in doing so and the temptation to stray beyond the amendment to general arguments about hunting. The amendment refers to the ``unnecessary suffering'' involved in hunting with dogs. Although it may be appropriate to allude to other forms of suffering, it is not appropriate to go into detail.

Mr. Lidington: I accept that, Mr. O'Hara. I was coming to the end of my remarks.

In summary, the evidence that hunting with hounds causes unnecessary suffering to wild mammals is, at best, inconclusive and, in my view, at odds with most of the evidence. If one follows the Burns recommendation to compare the cruelty that is supposedly inherent in hunting with the cruelty and suffering inflicted on wild mammals by alternative methods of control, there is a strong argument to allow hunting to continue.

The Bill has been framed in a peculiar way. It ignores the tradition in Bill after Bill on animal welfare, in which Parliament has sought to define both the cruelty of a particular action and the motivation of the perpetrator of it. For those reasons, my amendment would improve the Bill.

Mr. Leigh: This is an important amendment, which goes to the heart of the Bill. It would make it clear that a criminal offence would be committed only when unnecessary suffering was caused to the hunted animal. If there is any justification for the measure, it is that those who proposed it are concerned about the unnecessary suffering of the hunted animal.

We—those who support hunting and those who oppose it—are all concerned about unnecessary suffering. In the light of that, it is surprising that paragraph 1 contains no definition of the offence in terms of animal welfare or of unnecessary suffering or the intention to cause it. Is the lack of such references in a Bill that purports to be about animal welfare owing to the promoters realising that it would be impossible to prove, to the standard that we have come to expect in criminal law over many centuries, that hunting imposes unnecessary suffering? One would have expected such a reference given that they seem so convinced that hunting imposes unnecessary suffering. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said, other animal welfare measures that Parliament has debated and passed during the past century have all contained such provisions.

The Protection of Animals Act 1911 includes a definition of unnecessary suffering. The Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 defines cruelty as the abandonment of domestic or captive animals

    ``in circumstances likely to cause the animal any unnecessary suffering.''

Section 1 of the Agriculture (Misc. Provns.) Act 1968 requires proof of the causing of

    ``unnecessary pain or unnecessary distress.''

The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 specifically prohibits the culling or injuring of badgers, and an offence is also committed if one ``cruelly ill-treats a badger''. Section 1 of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 states:

    ``If, save as permitted by this Act, any person mutilates, kicks, beats, nails or otherwise impales, stabs, burns, stones, crushes, drowns, drags or asphyxiates any wild animal with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering he shall be guilty of an offence.''

Given those precedents in English law, why does the Bill contain no reference to an intention to cause unnecessary suffering? Is it because it is impossible to prove that the purpose of the hunt is to cause unnecessary suffering? Indeed, that is not the purpose of the hunt. A constant mantra of those who oppose hunting is that it is similar to practices that have rightly been outlawed in the past, such as bear baiting and cock fighting. The whole point of those practices was to impose unnecessary suffering. People gathered in a huddle around an animal that was deliberated tortured to death, and put wagers on it. That is different from a hunt. It is not the purpose of a hunt to impose suffering.

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