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Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Gibson: I am sorry, but I must move on.

However, there was a major difference between the two studies in terms of interpreting results. The authors of the latter study disagreed with Bateson, maintaining that the physiological effects of hunting are merely those of exercise, with suffering restricted to perhaps the last 20 minutes before the kill. They argue that deer are well-adapted to being hunted by hounds.

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That is a narrow view of the demands placed on hunted deer, which are exhausted when they go to bay. The joint universities study likened their condition to that of an exhausted footballer, but it is many years since I have seen such a footballer. Given the size of modern squads, players are substituted before they become exhausted. None the less, such a comparison was drawn with an animal that is chased by a noisy pack of potential predators and suffers harassment from shouting human beings—we will still call them that—but we should remember that fear itself is a great factor in causing stress. A deer is hardly the same as a self-motivated athlete.

We need to consider what others have said about those two studies, and I shall quote one of the many eminent people who have reviewed them.

Sir John Krebs, who was head of the department of zoology at Oxford university, became chief executive of the National Environmental Research Council and now heads the very successful Food Standards Agency, says that the essence of the findings in both studies is that red deer show certain physiological symptoms at the end of the hunt. He says that Bateson concluded that hunting causes a greater degree of suffering than does stalking. According to the summary paper that he has looked at, the new work does not shed significant new light on that question. I could mention other people with the same opinion.

It has been argued that it is necessary to cull populations of animals. Bateson argued that the contribution of hunts to the necessary culling of red deer is small, and chasing wounded deer before killing them is not a contribution to the welfare of those injured in road accidents or entangled in fence wire. He recommended stalking, so he does recommend some degree of culling as against hunting.

The supporters of the middle way option argue that it would guarantee an improvement in animal welfare and boldly attempt to merge that point with arguments about human liberty and freedom—but we will ignore that one. Is it necessary to regulate animal populations, and will that lead to unregulated and uncontrolled killing? I have seen no published evidence showing that that will happen. It is a surmise by the proponents of that argument.

We may need to cull populations, and Bateson agreed. Burns was ambivalent on the need to control foxes or any animals. The report said that

That is not the same as saying that it is necessary.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree with the Burns report where it says, two paragraphs below the bit he has just quoted, that

Dr. Gibson: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There is no argument about the need in certain instances for some degree of culling. Bateson admits that and I agree, but the issue is how it is done and the extent of it. How many animals need to be killed to regulate a population? The urban fox studies in Bristol have shown clearly that no regulation is needed. The fox numbers go up when people feed them and down when

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the animals become infected with mange. The control and regulation of animal populations is done naturally. Studies from across the world show that. Territorial changes take place, with animals moving to bigger territories, or the animals' social interactions change. The animals control their own numbers.

I understand what people say about the comparison of suffering being a complex matter, and it is. Is one animal suffering for many days worse in welfare terms than many animals suffering for a few hours? We do not know how much time deer wounded by stalkers spend suffering. However, at least Bateson made an effort to tackle the problem by obtaining some measurements on which we can make a judgment.

Of course we need to make a moral judgment on whether culling is acceptable, but that will not rest only on the considerations that I have mentioned. It will also depend on the extent to which people who cull red deer knowingly inflict suffering and the extent to which the suffering inflicted by their method of culling may be minimised. Those are deep questions. In opposition to the views of some vets, about which we have heard, and the Middle Way Group, there is solid evidence that the regulation of populations of animals is controlled by a complex interaction of variables.

The Burns report did not conclude that we would see an inexorable rise in fox numbers if we stopped culling them. He did not accept that argument, although he was put under pressure to do so. There are some reasons for culling, but the arguments on how it should be done and to what extent require serious and proper debate. There can be no compromise on the issue. A total ban is what the public want and there is no evidence that the middle way will benefit the welfare of animals or help to control numbers. It is not a time for political fudges but time to listen to the public, the science and the House of Commons.

9.24 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) that, in many ways, the debate is not particularly well informed. At the outset, I must declare my interest as a farmer who has hunted almost every season since the age of six and, I think, the only Member of the House to have ridden winners in point-to-points and under national hunt rules. So, I have a role to play in the debate, although which role depends on one's point of view.

There have been two important events since we last debated the matter in the House. First, the Independent Supervisory Authority on Hunting is up and running, so it is worth describing exactly what it does. The authority is chaired by an independent retired High Court judge, Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who has no bias and has seven independent commissioners who run the authority. All 11 hunt licensing bodies and all the hunts have signed up voluntarily to the authority, which has a considerable code of conduct, powers to fine masters a considerable sum and the ultimate power to suspend a hunt. On that basis, I recommend that the House seriously considers the supervision option.

The second important event is the foot and mouth epidemic, which was catastrophic for people in rural areas. Above all, it led to a system under which everybody

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who goes hunting must fill in a form to say that they have hunted. In other words, we have a de facto licensing system. Taken together, the ISAH and the licensing system imposed by foot and mouth are an effective supervisory system. Having said that, I am sure that all my constituents and all my hunts—I represent 10, at the last count, which is more than any other Member of Parliament—would consider some form of licensing enshrined in statute.

The foot and mouth crisis brought further misery on my constituents. We already know from parliamentary answers that 44,000 jobs have been lost in agriculture in the past three years, but the Burns report estimates that we will lose another 8,000 to 10,000 if we ban hunting, so anybody who votes for a ban is voting to put my constituents out of a job. [Interruption.] Those Labour Members who are laughing should be ashamed of themselves if they want to put my constituents out of a job.

In a superb speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said that hunting is the glue that binds the rural areas together. He is absolutely right. Let me give two brief examples of why that is so. First, agriculture, which is already suffering, plays a good role in disposing of fallen stock. If we do not have the hunts, farmers will have to go to a great deal of trouble and expense to find someone, if there is a knackerman out there, to get rid of dead and fallen stock from the land.

That is one example of hunts performing a useful role in rural areas; the second is less tangible, although it applies to all those in urban areas who like to go out into the countryside and enjoy it. The countryside was laid out as it is by our forefathers and by many of the current generation because they like hunting and enjoying the countryside in a proper environmental situation, so hunting is the glue that binds rural areas together. Often, hunts are the first to notice that stock has escaped on to a road and report it.

As well as job losses caused by the foot and mouth crisis and the general decline in agriculture, we have suffered a decline in tourism since 11 September. Tourism draws a significant number of people and a significant amount of foreign exchange to this country. The hotels and the bed-and-breakfast accommodation in my area and in many others badly need tourism during the winter, and they depend on the hunting fraternity to fill them so that the businesses can survive.

Some of the ignorance of the facts of the debate centres on the alternative methods of disposing of foxes. I was brought up in the countryside. I know how to use a high-powered rifle, and I can tell the House that, unless it is skilfully used, it is very difficult, particularly at night, to kill a fox with the first shot.

In paragraph 60 of the summary and conclusions, the Burns report makes it clear that high-powered rifles can be used only in certain areas. A high-powered rifle of the sort necessary to kill a fox with one shot is lethal to a distance of well over a mile, so footpaths, buildings and, increasingly, the right to roam will restrict the areas in which such a weapon can be used. Burns says that a shotgun is not a suitable instrument for killing a fox, and

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anyone who has seen a fox in its lair, as I have, knows that it can suffer a slow and lingering death from shotgun wounds. Even worse, a fox that has been poisoned can go away and spend many days suffering from gangrene before it finally dies following the poisoning that has been inflicted.

I would like to address the issue of imposing criminal sanctions on people who transgress any law that we might pass. Imposing criminal sanctions on anybody is a serious matter. The resources that we have to uphold the Queen's law in this country are always going to be scarce; there is always going to be a shortage of policemen. Do we really want to use them to chase around the countryside trying to arrest otherwise law-abiding hunting people? The reason that criminal sanctions are accepted in this country is that the generality of thinking by the majority of people is that a particular crime ought to be outlawed by society. We can all identify with murder, robbery and rape attracting criminal sanctions, but to make criminal those people who otherwise want to go about their lawful business, by banning hunting, does not seem to be a very good use of scarce resources.

This country has always had a reputation for tolerance. In the 18th and 19th centuries, many poets, philosophers and authors came here because they would have been guillotined or otherwise executed in the rest of Europe, merely on account of their views. We have always been tolerant of minorities, and the way in which some hon. Members are laughing and chatting instead of listening to this speech shows that they are not tolerant of minorities, and that they do not really understand the issues. I would say to those hon. Members that, before they vote for a ban, they should think about putting my constituents out of a job, make sure that they have read the Burns report and understood it, and, above all, make sure that they are tolerant of minorities. It has been said:

Those are the words of the Prime Minister on 30 April 1998, when he was doing a partisan issue for Country Life. I say to my constituents, "Do not be beguiled by this Government saying that they will do a deal. Protest at every opportunity." We want to protect our minorities.

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