Hunting Bill

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Mr. Leigh: On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I am a law-abiding person and I always do what I am told, but I am mystified by your ruling. Amendment No. 43 says:

    ``Schedule 3, page 19, line 28, at end insert `so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal'.''

Surely, in order to understand and debate the amendment, we must deal with the question of intention. That is why I do not understand your ruling.

The Chairman: I entirely respect what the hon. Gentleman says and I have given it careful thought. The wording can be interpreted both ways. I am interpreting the words

    ```so as to cause unnecessary suffering''

as referring to consequences, but the words ``so as to cause'' could refer to purpose. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Aylesbury when he moved the amendment and I commended him for restricting himself broadly to consequences. He used the word ``cruelty'' sparingly, because cruelty implies intention; ``suffering'' was the word that he used. I did not hear him deny that he intended the amendment to refer solely to consequence, but if he were to advise me that he intended it to include purpose—which he did not say when he moved it—I should be prepared to consider that.

I invite the hon. Member for Aylesbury to comment.

Mr. Lidington: I am grateful, Mr. O'Hara. To avoid misunderstanding, my primary intention in tabling the amendment was to deal with consequences, as you have said, but the record of my remarks this morning will show that I made some allusion to intention. In particular, I drew attention to the difference between the way in which much previous animal welfare legislation has related the creation of a new criminal offence to proof of the perpetrator's intention to act in a cruel way and the absence of any such provision in the Bill.

The Chairman: I find it rather colloquial if the words ``so as to cause'' refer to intention, but if the hon. Gentleman says that he intended them to include intention, I am happy to allow it.

Mr. Garnier rose—

The Chairman: Order. Is this further to the point of order?

Mr. Garnier: Yes.

The Chairman: I have ruled, but—

Mr. Soames: I want to make a speech.

Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend wants to make a speech and I am sure that we all want to listen to it.

I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. O'Hara, for reconsidering your earlier tight ruling. The expression used in the amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury,

    ``so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal'',

seems to import intention. Having listened to some of the contributions this morning, you have at least allowed that as an alternative interpretation.

I do not want to push at an open door. I have already spoken to the amendment once, and I do not want to bore the Committee with a further contribution. However, given that you have reconsidered your ruling, Mr. O'Hara, I would not want it thought that arguments that I might have made in relation to intention—

12 noon

The Chairman: Order. I hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. It is of course possible to speak to an amendment more than once. If he feels a burning need to make some observations that, in his view, I unfairly stifled, he may seek to catch my eye.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): It would be remiss of me not to mention mink in this debate. Anyone with common sense realises that mink have to be controlled—the question is how to control them. In keeping with the amendment, our side of the argument proposes that they should be controlled by mink hounds specially trained to do the job quickly and effectively. The alternative proposal, which is supported by many Labour Members, is to trap them in cages, but I seriously doubt whether that method is the most humane and causes the least suffering. During the fur farming debate on the Floor of the House, it was pointed out that mink trapped in cages chew their own tails, bite off their feet and act in a generally distressed way. Moreover, the cages in question are much larger than those proposed in the Bill.

We cannot have it both ways. Either mink that are trapped in cages are disturbed and chew off their tails, or they are not. Such suffering should certainly be regarded as unnecessary. Moreover, mink trapped in cages in estuaries are drowned by the river, and such a death is far more distressing than being caught and swiftly dispatched by mink hounds. Hunting with mink hounds would not cause unnecessary suffering to mink, and the amendment would therefore enable such hunting. For that reason, I strongly support it.

Mr. Soames: I shall be brief, even though my point is difficult to make. Whatever hon. Members on the other side of the argument might say, as none of them has been hunting—

Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester): Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. Soames: I am sorry; I make an exception in respect of the hon. Gentleman, who has been hunting. Generally speaking, there is a profound ignorance among members of the Committee about what actually takes place at a hunt. In sticking closely not only to your extended ruling on unnecessary suffering, Mr. O'Hara, but your original ruling, I want to put on the record that I have hunted all my life, am familiar with every aspect of the hunting ethos and have met no one who sets out to cause gratuitous suffering.

To me, cruelty is the intention to cause gratuitous suffering for its own sake, but people who go hunting do not set out to cause suffering. As a result of fundamental and profound ignorance about foxhunting, we are about to do away with the civil liberties of tens of thousands of people who are not criminals and who care deeply about the effects on their lives and communities. That is the fault of people who do not have a clue about what is involved.

The Hafren veterinary group, a large mixed practice in Newtown in Powys, has circulated a note by Ian Jones, a veterinary surgeon who qualified from Cambridge in 1995. He says:

    ``Subsequent to discussions with some other veterinary surgeons, which highlighted our ignorance of the actual cause of death of foxes caught by foxhounds, I decided to perform some post mortems on such foxes.

    I performed post mortem examinations upon three foxes in January and February 2000. Each of these foxes had been caught by foxhounds. The carcasses were collected and I performed the examinations at my surgery premises.

    The foxes were firstly weighed, then had their head and neck area X-rayed and were then post mortemed.''

I shall not go into the details of the veterinary examinations, but they are available for those who want to see them. All three were similar.

In his conclusions, Mr. Jones says:

    ``In my opinion each of these three foxes died as a result of a powerful bite to the chest over the heart (cases 1 and 3) or posterior chest/anterior abdomen (case 3). The degree of trauma caused by the bites is so enormous as to result in instantaneous death. When the weight ratios of the fox to foxhound are considered this is not that surprising. These foxes all weighed less than 7kg whereas the foxhounds weigh 30-40kg and would easily be able to take a fox's chest within its mouth. None of the foxes appear to have gasped after the fatal bite was delivered, as there was no bloodstained fluid or froth within the trachea. Considering the damage to the lung tissue there should have been such material in the trachea had the foxes tried to breathe.

    It is my opinion that these foxes would have died almost instantaneously upon receiving the massive bite injuries seen.''

When a fox is snared, one sees real and dreadful unnecessary suffering and mutilation. A fox with its leg, neck, shoulder or upper or lower body trapped in a snare for a long time—less conscientious keepers do not get round as quickly as they should—mutilates itself to death. That is the most appalling and disgusting form of suffering that I can think of, and I am sure that the hon. Member for West Ham would agree.

I beg the Committee to take on board the fact that we are not discussing what I understand to be cruelty. We all object to cruelty, but that term must be defined. No gratuitous cruelty is involved in foxhunting. Death is instantaneous and there are no wounded survivors. I do not shoot foxes, because a shotgun is not a proper weapon with which to kill a fox, and I have never been in a part of the world where one would use a high-powered rifle to do so. However, if it is done properly, it results in an extremely quick or instantaneous death. What will flow from paragraph 1 will be catastrophic in terms of the welfare of the fox and of causing unnecessary suffering.

Labour Members appear to feel that the enjoyment derived by people who hunt is offensive, making it necessary for the House of Commons to ban an entirely legitimate pastime. I cannot tell them how wrong they are. I beg them to listen to vets—if not to me, because I am entirely parti pris—and to read what Burns says about hunting and cruelty. Of course the welfare of the fox is compromised if it is about to be killed by a foxhound. It is not necessary to be a rocket scientist to work that out, but whether that constitutes ``unnecessary suffering'' is absolutely not proved. All the alternatives that will flow from a ban are much, much worse for the fox.

I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Banks: No, I am just waiting for the hon. Gentleman to finish.

Mr. Soames: In deference to my hon. Friend, I shall finish quickly.

The Committee owes it to all those who are watching and listening to the debates to try to understand the truth about what happens and not just to listen to the propaganda. It is deeply important that the House of Commons is seen to do its job properly and not just to respond to black propaganda. Many people, for understandable reasons, loathe hunting. I totally understand and respect that point of view, but does anything that we have heard or seen, or that Burns says, warrant the complete banning of hunting with hounds? The answer is no.

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