Hunting Bill

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The Chairman: I commend the hon. Gentleman as a model of strict adherence to the amendment.

12.15 pm

Mr. Banks: It is reasonably well known that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex and I are friends, and we tend to call each other ``hon. Friend'' in debates. I am pleased about that, but we disagree fundamentally on this issue. He said that there is no scientific evidence and quoted a letter from a highly qualified veterinary surgeon. On the question of whether hunting is cruel, the Committee will swap statistical or post mortem evidence that tends to support an argument on one side or the other. When trying to prove a point, Members of Parliament often quote statistics, and they may even do so selectively. We often hear an hon. Member praying in aid quotes from learned scientific sources. However, if there is a conflict, as there is with hunting, we must exercise our judgment.

How often have we heard Ministers of this and previous Governments quoting scientists as if they were gods and infallible? I remember scientists saying that there was no connection between smoking and lung cancer and no way in which BSE could ever get into the food chain. As Members of Parliament, we must sometimes think logically for ourselves and ask ourselves what an issues means to us. It is not always necessary to be highly qualified in science. As with lawyers, scientists sometimes respond according to how much they are paid. Someone can always be found to say what is wanted if the fee is substantial enough, although that is not to say that all lawyers and all scientists are venal. There comes a time when we, as Members of Parliament, perhaps without scientific knowledge, must exercise our judgment, and this is one of those times.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex quoted a veterinary surgeon. I shall reciprocate, but by quoting Richard Edwards, MSc, MA, VetMB, MRCVS—an impressive line of qualifications. Mr. Edwards refers to a report on the preliminary findings at a post mortem that was carried out on 14 January:

    ``The animal was a young male fox approximately 18 months of age. It appeared in good body condition for this time of year and there was no evidence of skin parasites.''

The principal findings were as follows:

    ``At presentation, the animal had apparently been partially eviscerated, with large portions of the large and small intestine plus spleen protruding through a ventral abdominal tear. There were also massive wounds to the chest through which 2 portions of lung were protruding. Most of the major internal abdominal and thoracic organs had been severely lacerated.

    There were multiple bite wounds to the left side of the face, left hind leg and left and right inguinal regions.

    Radiographs confirmed that there was massive traumatic disarticulation of the thoracic spine in 2 places. The caudal skull had been crushed, causing the left mandibular ramus to become disarticulated and there was brain tissue exuding from the right ear. This injury caused the skull to become effectively disarticulated from the cervical spine. The spinal cord had been severed. However, the lack of haemorrhage associated with this injury suggests strongly that this injury occurred after death. Bite marks around this injury suggest that it was caused by a single animal biting the fox's head from a forward direction, slightly to the left.

    There were also multiple penetrating bite wounds to both hind legs and the inguinal regions.''

The conclusions were:

    ``Due to the extensive nature of the trauma here, it is not possible to determine the precise cause of death''--

there were plenty to choose from, of course.

    ``The extent of the bruising associated with the bite wounds to the hind legs suggests that this damage occurred before death.

    The marked lack of bruising and haemorrhage associated with the crush injury to the skull and also around the anterior cervical spine suggests that this damage occurred after death.

    The massive bruising and haemorrhage present around the chest and abdominal wounds suggest that this is damage occurred before death.

    Whilst it is difficult to draw firm conclusions as to the exact timing and nature of the cause of death, the post mortem findings support the conclusion that this animal was initially caught by the hind legs. The animal was probably then caught by other dogs that delivered massive bite injuries to the chest and abdomen. The extent and nature of the injuries suggest that the fox was bitten by multiple animals simultaneously, each pulling in different directions and its body was literally starting to be torn apart.

    I would tentatively suggest that the cause of death was massive chest and thoracic trauma caused by multiple bites. It would also appear probable that the bite wounds which caused the skull and facial injuries were delivered after the animal's heart had stopped.''

The idea that the fox somehow enjoyed the experience is nonsense. I do not know whether those hunting the fox and who witnessed its death enjoyed the experience. I find it cruel and I do not understand how a decent man, with whom I can be friends, can defend that. I shall never understand that.

Mr. Soames: I follow exactly what the hon. Gentleman is saying and I entirely concur with him that we are bombarded with evidence that sustains and supports our own case. I spared the Committee from Ian Jones's description of the three foxes' injuries, but they were similar to those described by the hon. Gentleman. The argument between us is stark. No one enjoys seeing the death of the fox. There is no pleasure in that, but it is the natural conclusion of a hunt. The hon. Gentleman must decide whether that is unnecessary suffering and whether it warrants the banning of hunting.

Mr. Banks: There is a simple answer to that: yes. If the hon. Gentleman tells me that there are other cruel methods of killing, I shall agree with him. I would ban snares as well. We are talking about hunting, but if an amendment to ban snares were tabled, it would get my support, from whichever side of the argument it came. I am considering the particular form of cruelty before the Committee, which is why I answered my hon. Friend very much in the affirmative. He said, in repeating his hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, that hunting with dogs was a natural act, but in nature, animals chase and kill each other for food purposes. If that were part of the hunt, I could appreciate it, which is why to some extent I defend game shooting and fishing. I would not necessarily participate in those activities, but I can see the purpose of them.

Therefore, to say that hunting is a natural act is nonsense. It is not natural for a fox, which is at the top of the chain of predators in the countryside, to be chased by people on horses and a pack of hounds. It is not a natural act; it is totally unnatural. Nature did not intend that to happen, so it is no good people trying to purport that it is some sort of natural act that is at one with nature and part of the normal chain of events. The hunt is wholly artificial and engineered by human beings, who do not chase the fox for food. It is a form of entertainment, which the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex might enjoy. He says that he does not like gratuitous cruelty, which I accept, but there are one or two people who do. I accept that I have not gone on a hunt, but I have watched hare coursing and I have picked up animals that have been snared. I have also seen plenty of video evidence and footage of the hunt showing people enjoying themselves. People have said that they are disappointed if they do not see a kill.

Mr. Soames: I really must correct the hon. Gentleman. I love going hunting and it has nothing to do with killing the fox. It may be because I am slow and old—[Hon. Members: ``No.'']—that I have only once seen a fox killed or rolled over by hounds in the open. That is because I have often hunted in the south-east, where much of the land is woodland. I must correct my hon. Friend if he believes that people say, ``Gosh, marvellous, we shall see a fox killed today.'' That is nonsense. He must understand that point, as the core of the argument is that hunting is all wrong because people enjoy it. Why should it be wrong because people enjoy it?

Mr. Banks: There is nothing wrong with people enjoying themselves. The hon. Gentleman and I both enjoy ourselves regularly. I do not accept that he is old; he is a fine figure of a man. There were times when I thought that perhaps he went out hunting for the joys of the stirrup cup beforehand and the chance, when he was younger, to get across to some of the rural totty what a fine figure of a man he looked in his gear. He is suggesting that because he does not believe in cruelty and his motives are honest and decent, everyone else is the same. I cannot accept that. I have read about and watched some of the activities of terrier men. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to tell me that they do not enjoy seeing cruelty inflicted on animals, I do not know what world we are living in.

Mr. Soames: I suspect that such activities are utterly grotesque and would be deplored by everyone who hunts or has anything to do with the proper regulation of hunting. The hon. Gentleman is a keen lover of football; there are some rotten apples in that sport and some rotten people who follow it. Every barrel has some bad apples in it, and it would be disgusting for the hon. Gentleman to associate such a thing with properly organised foxhunting, which is what we are discussing.

Mr. Banks: All I am saying is that if the excitement of foxhunting lies in the thrill of the chase and the ride through the countryside, drag hunting provides that without anything being killed. We can swap the advice of veterinary surgeons, some of whom argue for one side and some for the other, but I would maintain that the method employed and the injuries sustained are cruel. I therefore cannot support the amendment.

In terms of scientific evidence, a letter sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) says:

    ``Dear Jackie,

    The most horrendous sound Jim and I have ever heard was the agonised screams of a fox being torn to pieces by dogs in the thicket 30 yards from our house.

    It took a long time to die.

    The huntsmen were nowhere near at the time and only appeared 20 minutes or so later''—

the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex was a bit slow that day—

    ``apparently searching for their hounds.''

There is enough evidence, even if it is not enough to satisfy the other side. In the end, it is up to us to exercise judgment, which is what we are doing in the Bill. That is why I cannot support the amendment.

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