Previous SectionIndexHome Page

8.55 pm

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole): I shall make a few brief comments on hunting with dogs—although when the Government announced that we would have three votes this evening, I thought that perhaps we did not need a debate at all, but could go straight to the votes, because I shall be surprised if, at the end of the debate, any hon. Members have changed their views since they came into the Chamber. Nevertheless, as we have this opportunity it is important to say what we feel on the subject.

I want to talk about three issues—the effectiveness and welfare aspects of hunting with dogs; public opinion and its merits or otherwise; and the liberty argument that several hon. Members have mentioned. I was delighted to listen earlier in the debate to the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), whom I followed as chair of the all-party animal welfare group. As he said, there are lots of other animal welfare issues for us to get stuck into, so I hope that the Government will put this matter behind us, so that the Members in all parts of the House who share a great interest in animal welfare can begin to consider some of those other issues.

I must take up one small issue with the hon. Gentleman, however, because he said that the Government had done nothing for animal welfare since they came to power. It was the late Alan Clark who said that the Labour Government had done more for animal welfare in their first 18 months in office than the Conservative

18 Mar 2002 : Column 112

Government had done in 18 years, and I rest my case on his words, not mine. None the less, there is much more to be done.

I live in, and represent, the countryside. I have spoken to many people in my constituency about the rights and wrongs of hunting with dogs and the necessity, or otherwise, of a ban. We have heard it said tonight that hunting is a seasonal activity, and many hon. Members, particularly if they are in favour of hunting, have said that it is the lesser of the evils—that foxes have to be killed somehow, and all the other methods are worse than hunting.

I do not agree, partly because I have seen many people who work in and manage the countryside and look after the stewardship of various species, and in my experience most people who use other methods do not act out of cruelty; they have an interest in protecting and enhancing the countryside that we all enjoy and love.

I think that everybody has acknowledged that, in controlling foxes, hunting is hardly used as a method at all. To say that other ways of killing foxes, such as shooting, are crueller is to accuse all those people who work in the countryside of being more cruel than they need to be. In all the time that I have lived in and represented the countryside, I have seen no evidence that those people have that view.

Lembit Öpik: The hon. Gentleman will, of course, accept what Burns said—that in some parts of the United Kingdom hunting is regarded as the most effective means of controlling fox numbers. He has already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) that although the proportion might be 6 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole, hunting accounts for 60 to 70 per cent. of the control methods in areas such as ours.

Mr. Cawsey: There are issues involving gun packs and flushing out that I would be the first to acknowledge; indeed, I am on record as saying that in the past. However, in general terms it is on the record that shooting is used more by the people who work in the countryside—and they do not do it because they want to be cruel.

The only person who has offered an argument against that is the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page), who rightly pointed out that hunting with dogs is seasonal because at certain times of the year hunts cannot go through the growing crops. He then rather gave that argument away by saying that although people can hunt with dogs only in certain seasons, they can shoot all the year round.

If the point at issue were cruelty, logic would say that people had to hunt with dogs in the appropriate season, and would be allowed to shoot only when it was not possible to hunt with dogs. However, that is not the arrangement—because the alternatives are not more cruel. I once visited an RSPCA hospital in Norfolk. I spoke to the vets working there, and asked them how many times they had had to treat a fox that had been brought in with a shooting injury. The answer from a vet who had worked there for many years was, "Not once." When I asked him why, he said, "You can take it from me that when the fox is shot in the countryside by somebody trained, it is dead." Hon. Members shake their heads, but I return to my initial point: if they are saying that that is not true, they are accusing people who live and work in the countryside,

18 Mar 2002 : Column 113

and who manage it, of engaging in more cruelty than is necessary to do their job. I simply say that, in my experience, I have not seen that.

Mr. Barker rose

Mr. Paice rose

Mr. Cawsey: I shall give way to the hon. Member for South–East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice), who used to be on the Front Bench.

Mr. Paice: I am still a Front-Bench spokesman, but not on this occasion. Does the hon. Gentleman not realise the fallacy of his argument about foxes being taken into animal hospitals? The simple fact is that if a fox has been wounded with a gun, a rifle or a shotgun, it will not be readily visible for somebody to pick up and take in. It will either go to ground or hide under brambles or whatever, where it will lie until it dies, probably of gangrene. It will not be found in a place where someone will pick it up and take it to be treated.

Mr. Cawsey: I accept the point made by the hon. Gentleman who is nearly on the Front Bench tonight—and who, I understand, usually still is—but that would also apply to lots of other animals that get injured in the countryside. However, one would think that, perhaps once in those many years, someone at that RSPCA hospital would have come across a fox in that situation. The simple truth is that no one ever has. I therefore do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument.

Furthermore, I do not accept the argument that dogs kill a mammal in the most humane way—the single nip on the back of the neck argument. Every single year—I accept that this is not the intention of those who hunt—there are instances of hunts attacking other prey or quarry. It might be people walking the dog—[Hon. Members: "No, they don't."] Opposition Members are saying that they do not, but I can give them as many examples as they like of domestic pets that have had to be taken to the vet because they have been attacked by a hunt. As a result, those animals have had to be treated. There are two remarkable things about that. First, their injuries do not tend to be in the neck area—they tend to be in the hind legs or the underbelly. Secondly—we should remember that the hunt has to separate the dogs from the quarry—they are still alive. If the hunt is such a wonderful, quick way of killing mammals, why do we find, every year, examples of animals that survive the process and can be treated and returned to their owners? It is complete rubbish.

A lot has been said about public opinion this evening. I do not believe, like many Opposition Members, that Governments should legislate purely on the basis of opinion polls. What is remarkable, however, is that public opinion hardly moves. I suspect that we shall see a similar lack of movement in this place this evening. When my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster)—who is in his place now—introduced his private Member's Bill in 1997, a MORI poll showed that 71 per cent. of the electorate wanted hunting with dogs to be banned. The latest poll shows that 72 per cent. of the population want a ban. There is very little change in that. Similarly,

18 Mar 2002 : Column 114

a recent NOP poll showed the figure as 67 per cent. I understand that Opposition Members are quoting a telephone poll in The Sun, which shows 76 per cent.

Mr. Luff: A poll in The Sun was quoted, which I think showed a 74 per cent. result. However, we are quoting scientific opinion polls collected by NOP that show a clear majority against a ban.

Mr. Cawsey: I have not seen a single poll that has reached that result in which the question has not been geared one way. When the question is open, there is a clear result in favour of a ban. Just before the last general election, a phone poll found that 80 per cent. of people were going to vote Conservative, but that did not happen in reality.

Mr. Mike Wood (Batley and Spen): They believed that as well.

Mr. Cawsey: As my hon. Friend says, the Opposition believed that as well. So we must therefore be cautious about polls that are unbalanced.

I shall finish my speech by considering the issue of liberty. I spoke in the previous debate on this subject when I told the House that I had attended the New Forest drag hunt. When I got there, like many other people, I was subjected to a chap shoving a camera in my face. He took photographs of me and everyone else who attended the hunt. When I asked the people who had converted the old New Forest hunt into a drag hunt why that was happening, I was told, "They are taking photographs to show around the pub tonight so that everyone can see who is letting the side down." That is an issue of liberty.

I also referred to the hunt that came through the playground of a school and to a village in Essex where the villagers had held a poll establishing that they did not want it. The hunt, however, continued to go through the village and, when the leader of the hunt was questioned by the press, he asked, "What's that got to do with the people of the village? Why have they got any say?" That is the sort of libertarian issue the debate is all about. It is not about people's right to hunt, because one cannot control a hunt. It will follow the quarry and go wherever the quarry goes. Because of that, other people's liberty is affected.

Those who take a libertarian view about how people live in the countryside should vote for a ban. That is the only way of achieving their aim. The other proposals are a cop-out and should be defeated in the Lobbies, as I am confident they will be this evening.

Next Section

IndexHome Page