Hunting Bill

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Mr. Alan Simpson: I suspect that I am one of the few Members who has actually seen a fox being caught, disembowelled and dismembered. I witnessed it by accident when I was out with hunt saboteurs. I would like to disentangle some of the points that have been made by Opposition Members and especially by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex.

The hunt was nowhere near the fox. Most of the pack had been given the slip by the fox, had got lost and were on their way home. The fox had doubled back on itself only to find that it was in the same field as some straggling hounds. It was pursued and torn apart at the edge of the road in front of rapturous onlookers. That might be immaterial to the nature of the hunt, but the hunters were some distance away, and fairly indifferent to what was going on. I suggest to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex that if it was the ride that they had wanted, they would probably have got the same enjoyment from a drag hunt.

The central issue is whether it is right to train dogs to pursue mammals in order to kill them and whether that is cruel and inflicts ``unnecessary suffering''. That is distinct from the natural pursuit of one animal by another for food. The one thing that everyone—

The Chairman: Order. I must intervene on the intervention. The hon. Gentleman has made his point about the amendment.

Mr. Banks: I agree entirely with your conclusions, Mr. O'Hara.

Mr. Beith: I am puzzled that the amendment was not moved by the hon. Member for Newham and his colleagues, because it seems to be in keeping with their view of the Bill's declared purpose. If that purpose is to end unnecessary suffering for animals, it should be specified in the Bill. It would be right for them to seek to import it into the Bill, and I agree in some measure with the hon. Gentleman on that point.

Mr. Banks: I do not want to be too pernickety, but my constituency is West Ham. In view of their tremendous victory in the FA cup, I would like to mention the name, even though West Ham is not my team.

12.30 pm

Mr. Beith: After Berwick Rangers' magnificent feat in holding Hearts to a draw on Saturday in the Scottish cup, I am bound to accept that intervention.

The hon. Member for West Ham indicated that he too might welcome some such words in the Bill. I am sure that that is his primary purpose. However, another purpose became apparent in the debate. It is not to protect the hunted animal from unnecessary suffering but to end what opponents of hunting think of as the inappropriate, demeaning or unworthy behaviour of people who enjoy participating in hunts. Members are entitled to the opinion that hunting is an unworthy or demeaning activity, but they are not entitled to construe from that opinion that it should be made a criminal offence. The basis for making it a criminal offence is that it might cause unnecessary suffering. It would be helpful if he would clarify the purpose by disposing of those that are not relevant to the Bill.

There are many areas in which conduct might be considered inappropriate or undesirable, but we cannot ban everything that we think other people should not do. We bring in the apparatus of the law where there is a powerful justification because of harm caused. In this instance, the harm is supposed to be the unnecessary suffering of the hunted animal, not whether some people are entertained by participating in a hunt. We will never have coherent legislation on hunting if we take that road.

A pest control officer might enjoy his work, but we do not prevent him from doing his job simply because he gets satisfaction from it. How would slaughterhouses operate if everyone who worked in them had to go home every night disgusted and appalled by what they had done? That would be reasonable to the strict vegetarian who believes that vegetarianism must be enforced on everyone, but people who eat meat must accept that someone has to kill animals and that they might not find the job so unpleasant that they are not prepared to continue with it.

Mr. Banks: The right hon. Gentleman is a reasonable individual. He should not slip in the suggestion that vegetarians are food fascists who believe that everyone should be forced to accept their beliefs. I am a vegetarian, but I do not believe that anyone should be forced to become a vegetarian. However, those who enjoy eating meat should visit an abattoir, as I have. They would quickly become vegetarians.

Mr. Beith: I used to visit abattoirs in my constituency, but other policies have greatly reduced their number. I respect the hon. Gentleman's vegetarian views. I know that he does not try to enforce them by law on everyone else, but such enforcement could be the logical consequence of arguing that the killing of animals cannot be carried out unless the activity is surrounded by loathing and unwillingness.

If hon. Members who oppose hunting had tabled the amendment on the ground that it more clearly declared their purpose, those who think as I do would not have opposed it. We do not believe that hunting should cause unnecessary suffering, or that it generally does. If it does, action should be taken. The Bill was originally structured to do that through self-regulation or a licensing system. We would not oppose such an amendment, because it would prohibit something that we, too, think is unacceptable. The amendment is not hostile to either point of view, and should be carried unanimously.

I wish to deal briefly with unnecessary suffering in hare coursing, if it occurs. Some comments did not take proper account of the nature of the activity. Hare coursing differs from hunting in that it is not a normal part of the control apparatus that is used to keep down numbers of a species. Along with its relative rarity, that is one of the reasons why people find it difficult to understand what occurs.

The purpose of hare coursing is to test the ability of dogs and the pursuit of a hare is a natural way to do that. The relevant question with respect to the amendment is whether hares experience ``unnecessary suffering'' through hare coursing. That question must be set against what will happen to hares if there is no coursing.

Regulated hare coursing traditionally takes place in some areas of my constituency. If I wanted to see a hare, those are the areas to which I would go. They are the areas with the most hares because, over the rest of the year, farmers do not shoot them. It is expected that coursing will occur in such areas and, therefore, the hares flourish during the year. A small reduction in hare numbers—estimated to be between one in six and one in eight—takes place on the couple of days in the year when coursing occurs. Of course, most of the hares get out from the other end of the field, and that is the end of it. During such days, a hare in a coursing area is exposed to the risk of being driven towards a field, where it will be chased by two dogs—to which it has superior skills—and from which it will probably escape. In most other areas, the hare is liable to be shot at any time by a farmer, who may or may not be a good shot. The hare is a difficult animal to shoot successfully, and, if shot, may only be injured and consequently suffer for a long time before it dies.

Mr. Soames: I wholly support what the right hon. Gentleman says about the shooting of hares. People who do not know what they are doing will often open up at hares when they are much too far away to kill them. That is very cruel, as the hare will escape and take a long time to die.

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Therefore, the question that must be asked is whether ``unnecessary suffering'' is caused to hares in a coursing area or in a coursing-free area, where hares are shot at, as in most areas, to keep numbers down. It would have been helpful if the Bill had been constructed in such a way as to allow the separate consideration of hare coursing, as hon. Members may arrive at different conclusions from those that they reach about foxhunting.

The matter illustrates that it would be helpful to include the phrase ``unnecessary suffering'' in the Bill. That would be a declaration of purpose and allow the conduct of such activities as hare coursing to be tested against that purpose, rather than assuming that a ban would confer benefits on the hare by freeing it from cruelty, when it might do no such thing.

Mr. Pickthall: There has been much passionate advocacy about the argument, and I want to make what I am afraid are dry points about the wording and meaning of the amendment. The hon. Member for Gainsborough—who is always interesting—glossed the amendment. I am sorry that he is not in Committee at the moment, and I hope that I will not misquote him. He said that the amendment would make the clause read, ``so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal compared with other methods.'' The last words are not in the amendment. The amendment says,

    ``to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal''—

full stop. It does not mention shooting, trapping or any other method; these have formed the bulk of this morning's debate. The debate about which method is the cruelest is valid, and will no doubt come up during consideration of other groups of amendments.

Earlier, I asked the hon. Member for Aylesbury to define necessary suffering in the context of hunting. If an amendment makes an exception to an activity by stating that a person cannot do it if it is unnecessary, that amendment must identify when it is necessary. For example, in the pharmaceutical world, which has been in the news recently, the suffering of animals may be accepted—perhaps reluctantly—because it is necessary to produce a medicine or treatment. However, within the context of banning hunting with dogs of deer, hare, fox and mink, it is obvious that that suffering is not necessary.

I admit that we can get into tangles because the Bill pays some attention to pest control. We have wrangled about it already and shall continue to wrangle about the necessity of using dogs for pest control in certain circumstances. That will be discussed when we come to later amendments. We will then consider whether other methods of control are equally efficient. The House has already decided that it wishes to ban hunting with dogs of certain species of mammals. The House could not logically decide to ban hunting with dogs if it believed that it was necessary. How could any legislature ban an activity that it believed to be necessary? The amendment is therefore otiose.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury is left with his argument about suffering. If the amendment had said, ``so as to cause suffering to the wild mammal'', that would at least have made sense and enabled the courts to act, even if the hon. Gentleman would not have liked it. We now have a strange situation where we are busily comparing the merits and depths of suffering, and whether an animal suffers more or less through different methods of pursuit.

 
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