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Lord Denham: My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will allow me to intervene. The absolute rule of the National Coursing Club is that six months should elapse between the hare population having increased and a coursing meeting.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord whose judgment on these matters I greatly respect. He is better informed than I am. I do not suggest for a moment that there is any deliberate cruelty to hares, but that this takes place in some areas appears to be the consequence of the evidence. I accept that that does not take place within the National Coursing Club.

It is not easy to find our way through the massive accumulation of evidence, often conflicting. In what I regard as a highly commendable and fair presentation of the evidence and arguments, the Burns committee reaches a number of significant conclusions in paragraph 5.36: first, that shooting has a much greater capacity to reduce the fox population than killing with dogs; and, secondly, that the overall contribution of traditional fox hunting is almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole. I accept that there are differences between different localities.

The discussion by the Burns committee as to the most humane method of culling is complicated. I say only that if those who perceive a need for culling sat down and discussed carefully the most humane method in their local circumstances, and then gave effect to their considered conclusions, I would be content. Alas, I do not believe that that is what happens. I believe that their principal concern is with what affords most pleasure to human beings.

I turn to the mischievous consequences which, it is said, will arise from a ban on hunting and which must be balanced against the consequences of allowing it to continue. Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I propose to address only two. I am aware that other noble Lords intend to debate, for example, the effects on employment. I deal first with the question of freedom and tolerance which was raised initially by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. I am delighted that that subject is to be debated in this debate with so many noble Lords present. So often when freedom is debated in this Chamber it attracts rather less attention. In one or two recent debates the question of tolerance has been a little less in evidence. Of course, I exclude from that comment the noble Lord, Lord Cope.

Freedom is an important issue in any debate about controlling and regulating human conduct. No one should be restricted in doing whatever he or she pleases, unless it causes suffering to others. If it does, the restriction on freedom must be balanced against that suffering. It is true that freedom has been invoked in some unworthy causes. The debates on the abolition of slavery prior to 1833 and restricting the working hours of children are scattered with indignant protests

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about freedom. Animal welfare has been resisted time and again by arguments about freedom. In 1800 a Bill to ban bull and bear-baiting attracted virtually word for word arguments which have been invoked in the course of this Bill. The Bill of 1835 which reached the statute book and criminalised those activities was denounced as the end of freedom.

Freedom is not about everyone being permitted to do whatever pleases them irrespective of the consequences. That is not freedom but anarchy. The issue in this Bill remains whether hunting causes avoidable suffering and distress to the animals hunted. If it does not, there is no need for an argument about freedom because the case for the Bill fails; if it does, the arguments against the Bill are not enhanced by invoking freedom to cause suffering.

The next argument to be encountered in letters that I have received is the effect on the countryside if hunting is abolished. I strongly support those who argue that the countryside has more than its share of problems: animal disease, rural bus services and rural post offices. It is not for me to tell the Countryside Alliance how to present its case, but I believe that it has sacrificed some of its effectiveness by appearing to be obsessed with only one issue.

I do not propose to discuss the question of employment today. I am puzzled to be told that in many areas social life will wither and die. "It is not only without the local hunt", I am told, "but the hunt ball and hunt fund-raising, such as musical events". I understand that if there is no hunt there cannot be a hunt ball, but it does not seem to follow that there will be no more dancing. If people wish to organise a ball they will be perfectly free to do so. The fact that there is no hunt will not prevent that. Unless there are areas in which the only reason people wish to meet their neighbours is to chase foxes, it is difficult to understand why this Bill should reduce the countryside to eremitical silence.

Again, I believe that the Burns committee dealt kindly with the argument. In paragraph 4.41 it concluded:

    "It is plain, therefore, that any claim, even in respect of strongly rural areas where support for hunting is high, that hunting is the main source of social activity is exaggerated".

This Bill has been portrayed as an assault on all rural communities by those in the towns who have no sympathy with and understanding of rural life. We can all bandy statistics. There have been innumerable opinion polls among residents in the countryside, and we can all use them subjectively to suit our arguments. The Burns committee, which was obviously anxious to be fair, pointed out that opinions differed in different locations. Among those who responded to the MORI survey of rural areas, which is cited in chapter 4, views vary from Devon and Somerset where two-thirds favoured hunting to Leicestershire where two-thirds did not. In any event, majorities are not always right, but we can at least infer that those who oppose the Bill do not speak for the countryside in any meaningful sense but for those who agree with them.

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I was tempted to discuss the three options but, first, time is against me.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, of course how long one wishes to hear an argument depends on whether one agrees with it. But I accept that I have overrun the time that I intended to spend on the subject. Secondly, I understand that my noble friend Lord Tomlinson proposes to address the subject.

If the Bill receives its Second Reading today we shall have opportunities to debate the options, and that is something which unites this House. It is clear from the list of speakers that, whatever other issues await our attention, we all desire an opportunity to debate the options. Whether or not we should have that opportunity is the only issue before us today.

5.28 p.m.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the careful speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell. In one respect only I hope to do better than him. He dealt with three issues and I hope to deal with only one. I should perhaps begin by declaring an interest. I am a supporter of the Bolebroke Beagles, I follow foxhounds when I can and I am a paid-up member of the Countryside Alliance.

Those who support the Bill as it comes to this House from another place regard it as likely that I have an already closed mind. I hope that I shall be able to reassure them, if not today at least at later stages of the Bill, that my mind is not closed. I am not among those who regard hunting as black and white. It is, I believe, an issue where there are recognised pros and cons on each side which must be fairly weighed. It is perfectly possible to hold honourable passions on either side of the argument. The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, memorably demonstrated the truth of that .

For my part, I believe that when your Lordships have finished dealing with this Bill the option of self-regulation under independent supervision will be seen to be best. I am fairly confident that I shall continue to think it very wrong that hunting should be banned outright. What leads me to trouble your Lordships tonight, notwithstanding the enormous length of the speakers' list, is an experience I had in Cumbria just after Christmas which prompts me to make a plea for an understanding of what hunting means for so many people who live there. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, dealt with the point, but I shall reach a different conclusion.

I was some way up Mungrisedale, at the foot of a fell called Saddleback to the north of the road from Keswick to Penrith. It was a meet of the Blencathra Hunt. It was early morning; notwithstanding that, there were about 90 followers present.

Most of the country there is wild, steep and craggy. Accordingly, the Blencathra Hunt, like all fell hunts, proceeds on foot. It plays an important part in

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controlling the foxes that kill the Herdwick lambs, the mainstay and provider of the greater part of the meagre income of most farms in the area. To say that the hunt has the support of the countryside is to be guilty of a serious understatement.

The Chancellor in his recent Budget statement referred to more than one institution lying at the centre of our communities. He singled them out accordingly for special help. I am sure that that was very welcome. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells especially will agree. But in the fells of Cumbria it can truthfully be said that the centre of their communities is the hunt. To the Blencathra one can add the Ullswater, the Eskdale and Ennerdale, the Melbreak and the Coniston. They are all of a kind; hunts with long traditions. I have known the Blencathra for more than 40 years. I have seen the hound books kept by John Peel two centuries or so ago.

What are these communities like? Some of your Lordships will know them far better than I, and perhaps none better than the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, who follows me. I have known some of them for quite a time. They are farming communities. They have romantic names. There is no doubt about that. But at the best of times they are lonely places in which to try to sustain a living for one's family from the land. Apart from one's sheep and sometimes one's cattle, there is not that much company. There is not much scope for socialising. It is a fact of life that one is on one's own to a great extent. People do not complain, but in these desperate times for farmers, loneliness is, I fear, increasingly, a fact of death as well as of life.

What these communities have, cherish and depend upon is the hunt and all the social activities associated with it. The noble Baroness, Lady Castle, went to some entertaining length to diminish the importance of those activities. The noble Baroness asked which noble Lords had taken part in country dances and so forth. I cannot claim to have taken part in a country dance up there. At least I cannot remember it; if I had, other people certainly would remember it. But many is the time that I have sat in village pubs and sang songs like "Joe Bowman". It would seriously compromise your Lordships' welfare if I were to try to do so today. Joe Bowman was the legendary huntsman of the Ullswater hounds. He is commemorated in a marvellous song which is sung all over the Lakes with huge enthusiasm.

I would describe hunting as a lifeline for that countryside. I certainly do not diminish the hound trails, the puppy walking, the puppy shows, the dances--yes, there are dances--and the fund-raising suppers. To say, "Oh, well, you can do all those things without hunting" is simply, I fear, to ignore the facts. It is a lifeline that is passionately grasped. One has to go there to gauge the grief--yes, the grief--as well as the anger and the sheer incomprehension that is occasioned by the threatened ban on hunting. It comes when they feel so much has already been lost to them. They are not some privileged elite; they are certainly not a bunch of sadists, people who take pleasure from cruelty. They are everyday people of our own kindly country. In material terms, they do not ask for much.

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They are inured to hard lives and low incomes. They stick it because their fathers were rooted there before them and because it is a way of life that they love. But what they ask for is the understanding of their distant Parliament. This speech is an inadequate plea simply for that. They ask that the hunts which are at the centres of their communities should not be singled out for extinction.

I go back to those 90 or so followers I was with a couple of months ago. The talk was of little but the Bill. One man, as we prepared to set forth, after a glass, or perhaps even two, to set us up for the day, said, "Leave aside what will happen to our lambs, what else could bring this number of us together from this dale and around about and create this good company, this good cheer, this shared pride and interest in our hounds? That is what they don't understand down in London. They just don't understand what it means to us when we have already lost so much." He said to me, "Will you tell them?"

What it means to those people cannot, of course, be decisive. But I do entreat the House not to hold that their feelings are other than important. I promised that I would recount them to your Lordships, and I trust I have not broken faith.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, I shall not immediately follow on the admirable remarks of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden, although the picture he painted is one which is very familiar to me. A number of the hunts he mentioned are in my former constituency.

I have been much taken with the speeches we have heard, not least that of the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson of Lullington. As a rather flippant start he mentioned Soapy Sponge. I have always said of Soapy Sponge that I could have turned him into one of the greatest government Chief Whips of all time.

I am a farmer. I do not hunt. I have never owned a horse. I have never seen a fox killed by hounds. I have never seen a coursing match or a deer hunt. But I remain totally perplexed as to why it is that the Government see fit to give time and effort to this issue. I cannot over-emphasise the resentment I have heard expressed over the past two or three weeks by country people in the north of England. With agriculture in desperate recession, with farmers in deepest despair, with herds and flocks of animals threatened with slaughter, they cannot imagine anything so insensitive and so insulting at the moment as Parliament spending its time debating this particular matter.

I ask myself: why is this happening to us? Is it really worth all this bother because of the cruelty which is alleged towards the fox. It is easy to forget--this was referred to by the right reverend Prelate--that the wild is a very rough place. Death often comes in a violent and highly vicious way. Foxes themselves are notorious killers for killing's sake. But that does not justify unnecessary cruelty on the part of man.

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I was glad to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, who repeated, helpfully, the key phrase from his report that, while the killing of a fox by hounds is not always instantaneous,

    "insensibility and death will normally follow within a matter of seconds once the fox is caught".

Of course, the welfare of the fox is put under pressure as it is being chased. We have all seen animals being chased, sheep being chased by sheepdogs and nipped in the leg or dogs chasing each other--big dogs chasing little dogs or sometimes the other way round. The real trauma is surely the trauma of death itself after the fox has been caught. However, it is not a more protracted death, following the catching of a fox by hounds, than other methods of controlling foxes. I have seen foxes shot at and wounded and being found hundreds of yards away, presumably having gone through tremendous agonies in that time. I have seen snaring and trapping. I have never seen a fox caught in a snare but I have seen rabbits. Few things can be more agonising. With hounds, one never finds a wounded fox. Death follows, as we are told, within a matter of seconds. Alternative ways of controlling foxes--shooting in particular--can often be downright dangerous, especially when carried out at night.

I ask myself a question. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, referred to this point. Do foxes really need to be controlled at all? I do not think that noble Lords have thought about that point during the debate. I refer to a sentence in the Burns report:

    "In most areas of England and Wales, farmers, landowners and gamekeepers consider that it is necessary to manage fox populations".

What really should be understood is that in some parts of the country sheep farming crucially depends on the control of foxes.

The speech of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew leads me to the principal point I want to make. My noble and learned friend referred to the life that surrounds the hunt and hunting in the Lake District and similar areas. In areas like the Lake District, upland Wales and parts of Yorkshire, the only way to control foxes is by hunting. As my noble and learned friend said, these packs are hunted on foot. There are no horses or mounted followers. There are no toffs here. There is no killing for fun here. But there is striking evidence here of what will happen if hunting is stopped.

I came across an extraordinary case that occurred in west Wales during the Second World War. One Mr Harry Roberts, the huntsman of the Plas Machynlleth Hunt in west Wales, was called up into the Army at the beginning of the war. As a consequence, hunting was totally suspended. Within two years, the fox population had grown to such an extent that farmers were suffering severe losses. The local War Agriculture Executive Committee in Meirionnydd, with the support of local MPs, including Mr Clement Davies, who, either then or certainly later, was the leader of the Liberal Party, petitioned the Government to release Mr Roberts. He was released in 1941 for six months in the interests of essential food production. Hunting was resumed in that part of

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Wales and Mr Roberts promptly killed 149 foxes. If any noble Lord wants a reference for that story, Picture Post picked it up in November 1941.

The Government must tell us today what they would do to control foxes in the upland areas if fox hunting was totally banned. I had hoped that someone from the Ministry of Agriculture would be present to tell us how foxes will be dealt with in the upland areas if we are to have a ban on hunting. I was given the totally nonsensical reply to that question--not by government but by one of the anti-hunting organisations--that the control of foxes in the uplands would be possible by surrounding woods with people armed with guns so that they could shoot foxes flushed out by beaters and dogs. Bearing in mind the massive areas and expanses in our uplands, and bearing in mind especially the fact that in the Lake District there is an agreement that trees are not planted on the mountains in order to maintain the historic and unique beauty of the area, it seems to me that that solution comes straight out of the madhouse.

I repeat my question: why are the Government pursuing this unnecessary and highly controversial legislation? I cannot resist the conclusion that it is much more an attack on those who hunt rather than a defence of those that are hunted. The final part of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, when she could not resist a stab at people who follow hunting, gave the game away. Do we really want to offend a massive body of country people, the majority of whom have never hunted and are never likely to hunt? Are we really prepared to throw out of work, as the Burns report says, between 8,500 and 11,000 people--that is between four and five times the number of people who are currently under threat in the Vauxhall motor works at Luton? Are we really prepared to condemn around 20,000 hounds if hunting is suspended?

We hear continuous stories that the Government are seeking to negotiate some kind of compromise over this issue. If so, we ought to be told what it is. If the Government are negotiating a compromise, it is fatuous to pursue discussion of the Bill at this time. We should be told, If some kind of compromise is being negotiated, the Bill should be withdrawn. I believe that it should be withdrawn anyway.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I have several interests to declare. My wife is a master of foxhounds and eight members of my family appear in the 2001 edition of Baily's Hunting Directory, including my son. I am also the landlord of kennels which house 40 couple of hounds and eight horses.

The irony here is that this Bill will not save the life of one single fox. Indeed, as was noted by my noble friend Lord Burns, some farmers and landowners tolerate foxes because of their own support for hunting. I have followed hunting all my life and have only once seen a fox killed. I remember vividly remarking to the huntsman how instantaneous it was. As other noble Lords have mentioned, one must not forget that

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hunting, and all that is associated with it, is a way of life for thousands of people. It must be wrong to jeopardise that legal way of life.

I have several key fears about the Bill. First, I am greatly concerned about the direct and indirect effects of a ban on employment in rural communities which, as we all know, are already suffering from the broader countryside crisis. Other noble Lords have already mentioned the British Equestrian Trade Association's estimate that up to almost 14,000 jobs are directly at risk. I am also concerned that a ban will harm conservation, both in the management and control of a healthy population of quarry species and also in the upkeep by hunts of woodland, hedges, walls and grassland. I, too, share the concern expressed by the National Canine Defence League regarding the 20,000 or so hounds which will be rendered unemployed and homeless by this Bill. As was mentioned by my noble friend, in his report a switch to drag hunting was ruled out as an alternative to hunting.

I am also worried about the loss to farmers of the valuable service of the collection of fallen stock; that is, diseased, injured or infirm animals which are removed and disposed of by hunts. I shall cite one small example. Our hunt in the Scottish Borders last year collected 234 cattle and 162 sheep. I dread to think what will happen to those animals in the future.

Like other noble Lords, I find it incredible that, while this Bill has been making its passage through Parliament, MAFF officials have been contacting hunt servants to assist with the slaughter of livestock affected by foot and mouth disease.

However, perhaps my biggest fear is that the Bill gives in to mob rule. As sure as night follows day, shooting and fishing will be the next targets for animal rights activists, whose direct action is on the increase, according to the Association of Chief Police Officers. The Hunt Saboteurs Association will be able to target more of its activities against game shooting. Already, cases have been reported of anglers being physically attacked by animal rights activists. To reward these terrorists with a hunting ban, thereby penalising the law-abiding minority, would be a deplorable precedent for law and order, demonstrating that violence pays. Surely that must be wrong.

I have heard the concerns expressed by ACPO, which is worried about the pressures on police resources in rural areas, which are already under enormous pressure to deal with crimes such as burglary and drug-related offences. The association has noted that,

    "without additional resources, hard decisions will have to be made on policing priorities".

As the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, has already mentioned, I am also worried that this Bill represents a gross abuse of civil liberties by allowing the majority to impose its views on a minority. I hope sincerely that this Chamber will fulfil its constitutional duty in holding the other place to account.

As an example, I have an aunt who loathes hunting, but she feels passionately that, if people want to hunt, they should be allowed to do so. Banning something

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on the grounds that you simply do not like it, with no objective evidence, is a draconian and illiberal move. I am also horrified that the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, is taking part in this debate today, especially as he has openly admitted that his Bill, currently before the Rural Affairs Committee of the Scottish Parliament, is being introduced purely to "test the system".

Noble Lords will have seen the adverts placed in today's newspapers by the RSPCA. I estimate that the conservative cost of placing those adverts is in the region of a quarter of a million pounds. The RSPCA has roped in out of date and one-sided figures for its advert and has then pretended that those are still valid. This simply will not wash. Noble Lords are fully aware that over the past few years, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, pointed out, there has been a profound swing away from support for a ban. The most recent major independent polls suggest that such support is now in the minority.

In conclusion, I believe that the Government have got their priorities wrong in expediting legislation to ban hunting. We must not forget that Damilola Taylor's murderers are still at large. Surely the Home Office should be using its parliamentary time to implement the recently announced 10-year plan for crime rather than trying to criminalise a law-abiding sector of the population. Hunt supporters genuinely believe that what they do is good for the countryside and good in terms of animal welfare.

I have often supported this Government, in particular when they were in opposition. But this Bill encapsulates how truly out of touch they are with the issues that really matter to this country.

5.56 p.m.

Lord Bragg: My Lords, like many of your Lordships, I am fully aware that much of what I say has been said already and will be said again, but I believe that it is important for a range of voices to be heard in this matter, even if many are singing the same song. I do not hunt; in that strict sense, I declare no interest. Nor does it give me any pleasure to oppose the massed and sincere opinions of fellow Labour Party Members in the other place and those concurring pro-banning voices in your Lordships' House, but oppose I do.

Background has something to do with it. I grew up next door--or rather, next field--to John Peel country in a country town steeped in country pursuits, one of which was hunting, and a welcomed, colourful pursuit it was thought to be, even by many, like myself, who did not hunt. Indeed, we were rather proud in that town, Wigton, that it bred the man, John Woodcock Graves, who wrote the words to the song "John Peel", which has urged on many Cumbrians to pleasure and, indeed, to battle.

Hunting was not only a spectacle followed by scores who could never afford a horse; it was the begetter of singable songs, great paintings--Stubbs, to name but one--marvellous books from Surtees to Sassoon--brilliantly listed by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson

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of Lullington--long nights of pub and story; community in rural areas. It has been a sporting preparation for wars, a place of derring-do, bridled skills and unbridled spirits, and all without harm intentionally brought on a single human being. It looped around the outer circuit of my north Cumbrian boyhood, and that of others, romanticised further by epic tales of the foot packs in the fells--referred to so movingly in the excellent speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew--as something ordinary but exotic, a dab of our history. Had not Alfred the Great, Henry VIII and James I hunted? A harmless but vivid slash back, traditions galloping across a tradition-soaked country; a living reminder of the continuity and unity of our lives--all our lives--our history. That is no small matter, however remotely--as I was--you were connected to the sport itself.

The objection that hunting is now considered cruel is one that is sincerely held and has to be addressed. As to the final kill--quick, decisive and often more final than any of the kills inflicted by the fox itself--in those moments there will be cruelty. But it has been widely asserted, by the aforementioned 300 vets, for instance, and it deserves to be mentioned again, that this death is not as cruel as death by the gun, which can often result in the long pain of severe wounding; it is not as cruel as death by snaring, which is horrible; indeed, it is not as cruel as any other manner of culling of what indisputably is a pest which has to be culled, for that is not in question. I say again, hunting with dogs is the least cruel way to end the life of that hunting and rather cruel animal, the fox. Surely this has to be faced by those who assert this argument as their primary objection.

It is curious that some of the more strident objectors confess to, or even boast of, their devotion to fishing, even that form of fishing where the fish is hooked--and a vicious little hook rips through its mouth. It is then "played"--I think that that is the word--and, when landed, chucked back. Lucky fish; or not. For such legitimate sportsmen to condemn the alleged cruelty of the final few moments of a fox could be called humbug, at least, and a touch hypocritical. What of those who shoot? Ban the lot if you would ban the one and take on the full consequences, which would be, I suspect, outrage at such an assault on private pleasures and public liberties.

For banning hunting to those who are dedicated to the elimination of all kinds of harm to all animals will be only the first step; a victory here could be a vital breaching of the wall. In that sense, you could say that we who oppose the banning are holding a thin red line.

The redness--or, rather, the scarlet--has somehow become part of it. Most people in these islands love dressing up--all in white for cricket and tennis; mostly in black, the men, for dinner and celebrations of a superior kind; fancy dress balls; carnivals; and amateur theatricals, which partly exist for the dressing up. Scarlet against the green is a surprisingly effective composition, although to bring aesthetics to bear here is possibly a mistake because the scarlet itself seems to make opponents see red and, as ever in anger, argument becomes prejudice.

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There are those who detest the rather informal wear of football supporters and their contorted faces when their teams are at full stretch and losing, but that is hardly reason enough to ban football. There are those who deplore the costume demanded by Glyndebourne in the afternoons, but there are no moves to ban opera down in Sussex. Hating the scarlet is a threadbare cloak of disagreement and conceals other matters.

But red is a factor, I believe--red as in tooth and claw. The great quiet revolution of the 20th century, the mass movement from the land to the city, has left fewer and fewer people with any direct and educated experience of how the countryside actually works. It can be the killing fields out there. What do those who wish to protect foxes want to do about killer cats--the birds, the mice--or about terriers--the rats, the squirrels--or about the licensed mass killing for food?

The "Disneyfication" of nature is fun. But it is also fantasy, and those fed only on fantasy can see pests--such as deer, foxes, rabbits; all charming without question--merely as playthings or pets. They are not. Squeamishness has now become sanctified as tolerance. The brute truth is that, despite Peter Rabbit, thousands of farmers welcomed myxomatosis--and we do no favours to young people to tell them half truths about anything.

It is most unfortunate that terrorist groups have become involved in this issue. It has brought to it a degree of criminality and illegality which has clouded the matter. The vast majority of those opposed to hunting are equally opposed to saboteurs and terrorists, I am sure, and when they can give voice to their concern, they do so. But for the rest of us--every bit as concerned about issues of cruelty--the association is a deeply unhappy one because it is undoubtedly true that a victory for banning would also be seen as a victory for illegal violence, and that also must weigh heavily in the balance of things.

Timing is all; so is bad timing. The travails of the moment emphasise how irrelevant, even disgraceful, it seems to fiddle about with this petty ban while the countryside burns in so many ways. Many of us have read reports, especially the Burns report, which at the very least question and at the most challenge the arguments of the banners, all of them. Yet it is the strange character of this matter that logic and facts seem to count for so little. We have every right to be uncomfortable with that; for what replaces logic and facts? Hunting is the least cruel way to kill a fox. We who maintain that want to minimise cruelty and yet, perversely it seems, we are accused of wanting to maximise it. It is worrying when untutored emotion demands supremacy in any argument. It can be dangerous, as even a brief reading of recent history tells us.

Is it so very terrible that people enjoy hunting--not the killing; the hunting? People enjoy boxing, smoking, drinking; enjoy grand prix, gambling and the Grand National; enjoy all manner of rare and peculiar pleasures which have no intention of harming others. Frankly, I would put hunting low on the list of socially

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harmful pleasures. We should all be free in our society to follow the scent of our pleasure provided that we do not break the law or hurt others.

Other noble Lords will speak of the economic and social benefits of hunting. Perhaps I may conclude with this. A law which seeks to ban a traditionally accepted sport, the preoccupation and delight, the life and soul of a minority, which reaches across all class barriers, cannot be a good law--especially not in a country such as ours, which is making such progress elsewhere to enfranchise minorities, to let minorities live and let live, to understand and tolerate and enjoy the multiplicity of minorities. Let us find a way here. Banning this minority would be unjust and, in the scheme of things, a mean and unnecessary act. I shall vote against the ban.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Denham: My Lords, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, I must declare an interest. I do so with a certain amount of trepidation having heard the sincere and moving speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle of Blackburn. However, I get a certain amount of encouragement from that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and his outstanding survey of the morals and his experience of the issue.

I have been lucky enough to have hunted, shot and fished for most of my life. For four years I was joint-master of a pack of foxhounds. For 16 years, I was chairman of the same hunt--a job, incidentally, that I found considerably more taxing than that of being a Chief Whip in your Lordships' House.

All my family, past and present, together with a large proportion of my friends and neighbours, have been involved to a greater or lesser extent with an activity that for centuries was regarded as law-abiding but which is now, so to speak, standing in the dock and at grave risk of being branded as criminal overnight.

With regard to the Bill, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, made the point for an isolated community, but it is not only an average of, say, 15 or 20 winter days out in the countryside per person--on a horse, on foot, on a bicycle or in a car--that are under threat, but a whole year-round way of life; puppy walking, puppy shows, pony clubs, point-to-points, hunter trials, hunt-supporter club events, both fund-raising and social, and friendships that traverse boundaries of generation, occupation and class, as well as those of county and hunting country. All of these form strands--among many diverse ones, it is true, but none the less important for that--that go to make up the fabric of life in the country.

I plead these, not as a reason for hunting to continue to be allowed if it were to be proved to be cruel, but as a measure of the importance, particularly for Members of both Houses of Parliament, of being absolutely certain of the facts before putting such legislation through.

I have often heard people say that they do not have to see hunting take place, or even to inquire into it very closely, to know that it is wrong. That is tantamount to suggesting that hunting people should be deemed to

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be guilty of cruelty until they are proved innocent, which is contrary to the first rule of justice. It is my belief that there is at least as much informed concern for the welfare of wild animals among those who hunt as there is in any other group of people in this country.

It is also claimed that fox-hunting enthusiasts are illogical in that sometimes they say that the fox is an integral part of biodiversity that must be preserved and, at others, that it is a pest that needs to be culled. In fact, both are true. In reasonable numbers, foxes keep down rabbits and other vermin but, when they become too many in relation to their natural food supply, they start taking poultry and lambs instead.

The Attlee administration just after the war set up the Scott-Henderson committee, which produced in its report what I believe to be the best definition of cruelty in relation to field sports that has ever been made:

    "If in pursuing or destroying a particular animal in the course of a sporting activity the degree of suffering reasonably necessary is not more than would be involved in the use of other methods likely to achieve control or provide food with the infliction of the least amount of suffering, that particular sporting activity should not be regarded as cruel".

I know that the corollary to that, which immediately follows it, would be accepted by everyone who hunts:

    "But, however justifiable a particular activity which involves some degree of suffering may be, the infliction of more suffering than is necessary in the pursuit of that activity should be regarded as cruel".

Although it made some suggestions of detail, after applying this formula to each form of hunting, the Scott-Henderson report recommended that each should be allowed to continue. Some 50 years later, the committee of inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, with a different set of criteria, and allowing for the limits set by its terms of reference, seemed to produce much the same result.

Her Majesty's Government say--the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, repeated it today--that they are neutral on the Bill, and of course I accept that. But they have still singled out hunting with dogs from other field sports, in two ways: by making available parliamentary time and facilities for the Bill which it might otherwise not have been possible to obtain for it; and by giving an undertaking that, even if the Bill should go through, similar bans on shooting and fishing would not be allowed to follow it. To this last, the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister has added his personal guarantee.

It is therefore fair to ask the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, to answer this one question, if he answers no others, when he comes to reply--and I will pass a copy of it in writing to the noble and learned Lord when I sit down. What are the precise criteria that make killing with a pack of hounds unacceptable, while killing with a shotgun or with a rod and line is not?

It is vital for Her Majesty's Government to find an answer to that question now that is unassailable both in fact and in logic. If they cannot, the animal rights lobby, who have set no such limits to their ambitions, will in course of time put the question the other way round: "Now that hunting has been declared by the

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law of the land to be so unacceptable as to be made a criminal offence, what is it about the sports of shooting and of fishing that make them acceptable?"

If Her Majesty's Government are not able to answer that far harder question then, they may find that they have precipitated a train of events, to an extent that neither they, nor the right honourable gentleman who leads them, will find themselves able to honour their pledge.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, first, I "re-declare" my interest as a member of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. I should like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the noble Lord's skilled chairmanship in dealing with a contentious and difficult subject. The noble Lord was admired by all members of the committee and by the individuals who gave evidence. It is proper to say that we admired those from the two sides who frequently came to put their case to us. They were well prepared, and, as a result, our report was welcomed; it dealt with the issue very well, and firmly.

Sadly, all members of the committee were subject to a certain amount of vilification by the press. We were misrepresented on a number of occasions. However, none of us had hunted--except possibly one person, and that was as a child. So we were, I hope, quite independent of hunting when discussing the issues.

No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Burns, shares my disappointment at the misrepresentation of certain statements in the report, which were taken out of context. One example appeared in a major newspaper today, giving entirely the wrong impression of our conclusions. It is important to recognise that the inquiry, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said, was not asked to recommend whether hunting should be banned; nor was the committee asked to consider moral or ethical issues--for example, whether hunting was cruel. At no point did the committee conclude, or even attempt to conclude, an assessment of cruelty. Yet many bodies have erroneously--I repeat the word "erroneously"--quoted the Burns report, stating that it clearly demonstrated that the practice of hunting wild animals with dogs caused cruelty. The report did not state that. It mentioned a severe compromise of animal welfare towards the end of a hunt when a fox or a deer was killed; but it did not, as would appear from the quotation, imply that the whole of the procedure of chasing an animal with hounds was cruel. The report uses the phrase "compromise of welfare" deliberately. A compromise of animal welfare was found only in the terminal stages of the hunt--where we mentioned that welfare was seriously compromised and fell short of best welfare practice.

The scientific evidence on animal welfare is very weak. "Animal welfare" is the measure of the ability of an animal to compensate physiologically to cope with its environment. Evidence is very slight. In almost every form of hunting, with the exception of the hunting of deer--an exception identified in the report--the report recognises that the evidence is

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weak. Even in relation to deer there is debate on the interpretation of such data by physiological scientists. As has been mentioned, at the point when a deer confronts the hounds in standing at bay, it is dispatched quickly by the huntsmen and the hounds never attack the deer in the way many people imagine happens. Hence, it is important that judgments based on the Burns report should reflect accurately what the report says. They should not misinterpret such statements.

Some will conclude on moral or ethical grounds that hunting is cruel. We all recognise that no scientific evidence in the world will move such individuals from that stance, and one should respect a person holding that opinion. It became clear, however, during the committee's consideration of the subject that some practices cause distress to many people when they hear about them, or cause distress to the general public. I refer, for example, to trespass on private land, dwellings and gardens, and to the digging out of foxes that have gone to earth--many people feel that if a fox has escaped the hounds and gone to earth, it has won the day and perhaps it should be allowed to go. I know there are reasons why farmers would wish that not to be the case, but many people believe that it should be so. Then there is the issue of cubbing--training young hounds to follow the hunt properly.

These and other issues have raised the profile of hunting with dogs. To allow it to go on without any change whatsoever is probably unacceptable. On the other hand, there is major concern that, were there to be a ban on hunting, there is strong evidence that the alternatives to control in many cases are certainly less "welfare positive" than hunting. Shooting has been mentioned by a number of speakers; and poisoning, trapping and other means of control are much more insensitive in terms of welfare than the death of the prey at the end of a hunt. Not all individuals are good shots: animals may escape wounded and die in a degree of agony.

Towards the end of our inquiry we were informed of the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, the body that was set up recently following the Phelps review of hunting with hounds in 1997 and the earlier Scott-Henderson report. En passant, had action been taken earlier as a result of those two reports, I believe that we might not be in this Chamber tonight debating the hunting situation.

The Burns inquiry offers a strong case for a supervisory authority, such as the one that has now been established. It seems to me that this may be a way forward as regards attending to the hunting controversy. However, I suggest not only that that authority should become a statutory body with nominations from the Government, but also that it should attend to another matter; namely, the welfare of wild animals in our environment. Indeed, the fox, the hare and the deer, and others, are all wild animals in our environment. If the authority could accomplish those two tasks it would serve a very useful purpose. That is what many people have called "the middle way". I believe that such a move would address the

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concerns of both sides of the debate--that is, the protection and preservation of the countryside and the acceptance of hunting as a method of control of foxes, deer and hare.

There is, perhaps, another interest that I should declare. As a very young veterinary surgeon I, too, sang with the Lakeland people, "Joe Bowman and his Ullswater Pack", as mentioned by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew. I know these people very well. They have a marginal life on their marginal farms, but the one thing that they enjoy is the conviviality of what is built round a sport that they have practised for many years. If we could have a regulatory authority serving both sides of the argument--I do not believe that this would be difficult or impossible to achieve--I believe that that would be the way ahead.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, when I rose to speak in the debate on the great House of Lords Bill on the reform of the House, I started by remarking that I began my speech at 1.45 a.m. and spoke 179th in a list of 186. I also said that I would rejoice when I went into the "Content" Lobby. Therefore, 16th out of a list of 69, which is my position today in the list of speakers, is some sort of progress. However, I shall still rejoice when I eventually have the great opportunity to vote for a ban on hunting wild mammals with dogs.

I join those who deplore violence from whatever quarter it comes because rather than enhancing their case, those who use violence do the opposite. I condemn violence and terrorism unreservedly. I begin by pleading guilty to two charges that have been thrown across the Chamber by the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson. Yes, I am one of the ignorant, urban majority; and yes, I am one of the class-conscious old Labour. If we are to declare our interests, I cannot possibly compete with the experiences of other people. My noble friend Lord Bragg referred to the colour red. Anyone who knows me will be aware that I am taken as red in more ways than one.

I should like to tell the House of the reasons why I have come to a certain conclusion. There are those who regard this as a matter of freedom; I do not. It is a matter of cruelty. It is a question of whether or not we live in a civilised society. The practice of fox hunting is as wrong as cock fighting, dog fighting, bear baiting and bull baiting. When it is abolished, fox hunting will go the same way as those that I have mentioned.

I share the view of others; namely, that, by voting for this Bill and then for a ban, I shall be voting for a cleaner, more moral and more civilised society. I should remind the House that many years ago Thomas Hardy said:

    "The prevalence of those sports that exist for the pleasure of watching a fellow creature, weaker and less favoured than ourselves, in its struggles to escape the death agony we mean to inflict in treacherous contrivance, seems to me one of the many convincing proofs that we have not yet emerged from barbarism".

I say that we have made very little progress since Thomas Hardy uttered those words.

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It was Ann Widdecombe, a Member of another place with a high position, who said that the town versus country claim was irresponsible because it attempted to divide Britain. She went on to say that her constituency--that is, Maidstone--covered both town and country, and that she found plenty of rural opposition to hunting.

The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, whom I deeply respect, said that there is no compromise. I agree with him. To those of my friends on this side of the Chamber who believe that by voting for the middle way there will be a compromise, I say that there is no compromise: you either support hunting with all that that implies, or you oppose it. However you tinker along the margins--possibly to salve your conscience that you are not completely against a ban, but only a little against it--there is no compromise.

I wonder how any decent, humane individual can condone the practice of setting greyhounds to rip apart a live hare. I cannot condone it; I condemn it. I have received a report from an RSPCA inspector which states that if both dogs catch the hare, one gets hold of the head and the other grabs the back end. They play tug of war with it. The officials run as fast as they can to get hold of the injured hare and kill it, so as to prevent any further suffering. However, they can take up to 30 seconds to do so. That may not sound a lot of time, but it is when you are being torn to pieces. That is the kind of practice that would be tolerated unencumbered by anything that the middle way or option number one will bring forward. I respect the people involved. I do not criticise any of my friends both on this and the other side of the Chamber and say that the practice that they support makes them cruel individuals. But the practice is cruel in its own right.

In a modern world I believe that civil liberties do not give us the liberty to do everything that we want to do. They give us the liberty to do certain things, constrained by our responsibilities for our actions. Liberty is for ever constrained; it is surrounded and hedged in by our potential liability for what we do. To those who argue that we are interfering with the liberty of the individual to do what he wants, I say that if we believe that what he wants to do is wrong, we are entitled to interfere with his liberty to do it.

Every time that this House makes a decision on a major matter that calls for restraint or penalty if you commit certain actions, we are said to be interfering with the liberty of the individual. There are also those who say that when we pass this legislation we shall be criminalising individuals. I simply say to them that when they take their decision, if the law is changed, they will be making themselves criminals if they decide to break the law. I am in favour of keeping the law; and I am in favour of helping to try to change the law.

Time is not on our side. I should have loved to describe to the House the illustrations that have been sent to me by individuals from all communities who have witnessed the manner in which the hunt goes about its business. People have been terrorised, intimidated and victimised because they have taken an

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opposite view. There is a raft of evidence that will perhaps be put forward at some time during the Committee stage.

We now have an opportunity given by the Government, which I applaud, to express a view. Indeed, as my noble friend the Minister said, 20 times since 1979 an attempt has been made to give this House an opportunity to express a view. In the main, that has been denied by parliamentary procedures. Tonight we have the opportunity to express a view.

I wish to say a few words about suffering communities in the countryside and elsewhere. They are not alone. Nine years ago I took part in a great march with thousands of individuals from communities I supported and from which I sprang. I refer to mining communities. We marched because a government whom we thought were uncaring were hell bent on destroying those communities. Therefore, I have much sympathy with communities who decide that the only thing they can do is to march. Hunting is not at the top of everyone's priorities in those communities. Speakers have mentioned polls and MORI. I cannot speak on behalf of a community on this matter. I cannot even speak on behalf of a class. I declare my class as the working class, the members of which are as heavily involved in their communities as are members of other classes. Tonight we have the opportunity to move the debate forward. I welcome the opportunity that has been given. If in future there is an opportunity to vote, I shall vote wholeheartedly for a ban on the hunting of wild mammals with dogs.

6.31 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I should declare some interests as president of the Countryside Alliance, as chairman of the Labour Leave Country Sports Alone Campaign and also as a member of the RSPCA.

It is sometimes only when one looks back on events that the defining moments stand out. At the age of 10 I went to a meet of the South Oxfordshire Hounds on a small black pony which had cost £25 in Thame cattle market. I had no family connections with hunting; I was just a child with a love of horses and kind neighbouring farmers who took me with them. From that moment hunting has been one of the great and enduring passions of my life. It has taken me into some of the most beautiful and secret places in England. It has introduced me to another country within our country and to people whose world I might so easily never have known. It has taught me only a little of the ways of wild animals but it has also taught me how vital man's role is in the management both of wildlife populations and of our countryside.

Following, or trying to follow, hounds on a horse has brought me excitement, exhilaration, exhaustion, not a little fear and a pleasure which defies words. But, above all, the hunting community has taught me, as a lifelong member of the Labour Party, the true meaning of the word "comradeship".

I am not sure that those who would pass a law to criminalise those who hunt even now begin to understand what they take on. If the foot and mouth

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epidemic had not intervened, next Sunday this capital city would have seen the biggest civil rights demonstration in our history. It takes a great deal to rouse quiet, hard-working, decent people with busy lives and families and to turn them into political activists for the first time in their lives. The sense of injustice generated as a result of this miserable Bill, hurled by the elected Chamber in the face of a countryside already in deep crisis has done just that. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, that march would have been an appeal to your Lordships from the countryside of Britain to protect its people against prejudice, perversity and intolerance.

If any noble Lords wonder whether they have the right to oppose the views of the other place, I must ask what on earth is the point of a second Chamber if it will not rise up and say so when the other place goes badly wrong? The countryside is looking to us to give that signal and to do so before a general election takes place. I have friends both in this House and outside who dislike hunting and I have others who love it as I do. Their views cross party political divisions. What distinguishes the two sides is not any greater affection for animals, or any greater imagination, or any greater degree of humanity, it is quite simply a different set of experiences, or, often, no experience whatsoever of the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, has made an impassioned speech. I greatly respect his views. I count him--I hope that I shall still do so later--as a friend. He admitted on Friday that he has never been out hunting. I venture to suggest that the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, one of my best friends in this House, is in a similar position.

If I had not gone out with those hounds all those years ago, I, too, might have disliked hunting from all that I would have read and heard from the pressure groups with large chequebooks who have placed a steady stream of propaganda, much of it wholly inaccurate, before the nation. But even if I had disliked hunting as a result of that, I still do not believe that I would have been prepared to vote to criminalise my noble friends Lord Graham and Lady Castle for something they did but which I disliked, particularly when an independent inquiry had not found either the practices they enjoyed to be intrinsically cruel or otherwise damaging to the national interest. I might argue with them and try to dissuade them, but I would not try to pass criminal laws to impose my personal morality on them. During the long journeys to and from this House late at night driving the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, back to the village in which we both live, I may have failed to convince her but I take some comfort from the knowledge that her spaniel, Bertie, who specialises in muntjac, totally agrees with my views.

The main objection which opponents of hunting have put forward is that they believe it to be cruel. I do not. If I did, I would not dream of doing it and nor should others. Cruelty is the deliberate infliction of unnecessary suffering. I accept that hunting involves suffering--the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, mentioned this--but the death of any

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wild animal almost invariably does. Let us remember that foxes die violently mainly in road accidents, or as a result of the actions of man, or from sickness, disease or starvation. The fortunate few--they are a few--die in seconds when they are hit by a vehicle and killed outright, or are killed in seconds by hounds, as the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, found to be the case. But the vast majority die slowly and often painfully over hours, days and weeks.

There is no perfect way to kill a fox or any other wild animal. But what this Bill would do is to take away from the farmer the option of getting the local hunt in to disperse the fox population and to control fox numbers. Yet that is the only option which both respects a closed breeding season, which is selective in that the old, the weak and the sick are most likely to be culled, and costs the farmer nothing. As other noble Lords have said, if one bans hunting--I shall cut this short--one leaves effectively three legal alternatives, which are snaring, using shotguns or, in those places where it is safe, where animals, people and the terrain allow it, the use of a rifle. I do not think that anyone in this House has suggested that either foxes shot with shotguns or those caught in snares die less unpleasantly than those who die at the hands of hounds. If anyone suggests that in today's crisis farmers should start to employ skilled marksmen to patrol their hills and fields to shoot foxes by night, he or she has no understanding of either the depth of the current farming crisis or of farmers.

It is no use making fine speeches--we have heard a number in the Chamber today--about the cruelty of hunting and calling for a ban when the result will be to leave available only methods likely to cause an increase in animal suffering. But that is the reality which supporters of the ban often find hard to confront. They say that it is morally wrong to kill animals for sport; yet in the same breath they also say that shooting and fishing are fine. That must be illogical and, in my book, takes the biscuit for hypocrisy.

The premise on which their argument is based is also wrong. No one out hunting kills anything for fun. The huntsman, and his assistant if he has one, have a job to do. Farmers give permission for hounds to disperse the foxes on their land, and to reduce the numbers--I stress, not to exterminate them but to keep the numbers manageable. The huntsman's job with his hounds is to carry out that task. But those who follow, whether on horses, in cars, on bikes or on foot, are observers only. Their reasons for being there are many and varied. Some like to gallop and jump. Some like to watch the hounds and huntsmen and some to ride in places to which they would otherwise have no access. But if any one of them went hunting to enjoy killing, he would have a very lean time of it. Hunting is conducted in public. In 40 years I have never seen anyone take such pleasure and anyone who did so would be out "quicker than that".

We tread a dangerous path once we in Parliament start to pass criminal laws based on what one person thinks is going on in the head of another. That is the path surely towards thought police. Few people

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outside the world of hunting know how much the practices and the organisation have changed in the past 10 years. There are now strict rules and codes of practice, a strict disciplinary procedure to enforce them, training and licensing of terrier men, inspectors and the independent regulatory body to which reference has already been made.

I accept that the situation is not perfect. Improvements have still to be made--as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, indicated; I welcome the suggestions they made in their excellent report--and aspects which should be re-examined. However, at the end of the day that report--it was provided to inform both Houses of Parliament--found hunting neither to be intrinsically cruel (and I am grateful that that has been spelt out this evening once and for all to nail what has been, I am afraid I cannot mince my words, a lie) nor any other overwhelming reason for a ban in the public interest.

The debate will take some time. I shall draw the remarks I should otherwise have made to a close. However, I simply say this. There will be little opportunity today to talk about the work that hunting does undertake. A large amount of our countryside is either owned by hunts or managed by them for hunting. With the benefits from looking after woodland to encourage wildlife come benefits for the whole of our population. Many in this House with no connection with the countryside none the less enjoy walking around it. But do they ever stop to look around and wonder who has maintained the woodland drives, put in the bridges and small gates and coppiced the woods, because more often than not that work will have been done by volunteers or employees of the local hunt.

For 24 hours a day, seven days a week hunt kennels provide a casualty service for injured animals and the disposal of carcasses. There is no alternative. It will be no good telephoning my noble friends Lady Castle or Lord Graham, or even Deadline 2000, to ask them to take away the cow with a broken leg, having first dispatched that cow humanely. The costs of that service to the hunts are astronomic. They involve wages of employees, vehicles for collection, fuel, and the oil costs which the hunts of this country pay for incinerators to burn the offal that cannot be used. For many packs it is far cheaper to buy food for their hounds but they continue to provide that service because no one else will do so. My local pack, the Bicester, last year spent £36,000 out of its subscriptions to provide that service to its local farming community.

On Exmoor the hunt is the only casualty service for the wild red deer. Even the National Trust, which refused to grant licences for deer hunting on its estate, cannot provide an alternative. It still calls in the stag hounds to find and dispatch injured deer which would otherwise face profound suffering. For all the rhetoric we have heard, there is no alternative and none is being suggested by those who support the Bill.

I find it deeply ironic that people who are now threatened with the loss of their jobs, homes and livelihoods which they greatly cherish, and who read

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descriptions of themselves particularly from another place as barbaric and inhumane, are now being called in by MAFF to help with the humane slaughter of livestock in the foot and mouth disease epidemic. We are, I think, living in mad times. We had hoped that we had a Government who would unite our country. It is to no little extent the fault of this miserable Bill that we are dividing our countryside and our nation. This madness must stop. Noble Lords on all sides of this House who value fairness, tolerance and liberty must by their opposition ensure that it does so.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, the brilliant and powerful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, enables me to shorten my speech to a considerable extent.

I should confess that having been MP for Huntingdonshire for 34 years, and having hunted regularly there and elsewhere until I was 70, I naturally have some interest in this matter. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has just left the Chamber because I would have pointed out to him that there would be less cruelty to foxes if hunting continued than if it were abolished. I shall refer to that later.

I am an animal lover, but we have to bear in mind, as has been pointed out, that some animals do a vast amount of destruction to wildlife, and to domestic animals and birds. That is especially true of foxes. Foxes love killing poultry and game. I remember being shown a chicken run which had housed about 30 hens and several cockerels. A fox had got in overnight and had killed 12 of them--but only for fun. The fox did not eat any of the poultry; it just loved killing. So foxes have to be controlled; their numbers have to be kept down.

Various methods have been mentioned by the noble Baroness and others. Perhaps I may comment on each of those methods. Snaring and poisoning are unlawful but a great deal of snaring has been done where there is no proper control. The trapping and caging of foxes was attempted but it was utterly unsuccessful. Shooting foxes with shotguns is the most frequently tried method, but it is only partly effective, as I know from experience. A fox that has been wounded by shotgun pellets but is still mobile and gets away often dies a horrible death from gangrene. Shooting with rifles is much more certain, especially at night using strong spotlights, but it is not completely effective. The only certain way to cull foxes is hunting them with hounds. It has the great advantage of providing the quickest death.

Being a lightweight, when allegations of cruelty were made against fox hunting some years ago I got into the habit of keeping up with hounds and being there when they closed in on the fox. I used to count the seconds before there was no more fox. I never counted more than four seconds. It is virtually sudden death.

Of the various ways of culling foxes, hunting is the least cruel. We cannot get away from that fact. People say that the fox may have been chased a long way beforehand and that that is not good. It is true that the

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fox is not killed until it has been chased. I have seen a worried look on the faces of old foxes, but they have not been chased for long because they are on the way out anyway. I hope that your Lordships will agree--I am not just inventing this point for fun or for the debate--that some young foxes seem to have a grin on their face. They give a longer run; but when the hounds close in, they are killed at once.

As foxes must not become too numerous anywhere in the countryside, their numbers must be controlled. Hunting them causes less suffering than other methods. Of course, one has come across people--alas, there are a great many in the other place--who have no experience or knowledge of hunting and are guided by prejudice. That is regrettable. Their prejudice may be based on ignorance. It has been very refreshing to hear your Lordships make constructive suggestions about the need to keep hunting. I hope that the compromise suggestion will be followed.

This is a Home Office Bill. I do not complain about that, but it is regrettable that none of the members of the Government Front Bench who are responsible for agriculture or for the countryside in any way have yet appeared in the debate. I hope that that may be rectified in due course.

I conclude by saying that it is in the interests of foxes that hunting should continue.

6.54 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, on 25th February 1949, the Second Reading of the Protection of Animals Bill took place in the House of Commons. The government at that time were Labour. The Prime Minister was Mr Attlee and the Minister of Agriculture speaking from the Dispatch Box was Mr Tom Williams, whom many hold as the most popular and successful Minister of Agriculture of all time. I make no apology for giving his speech, which I have shortened for your Lordships' convenience, but in no way have I altered its sentiment.

Mr Williams opened his speech:

    "Before the House reaches a decision on this Bill it is necessary for me to express the view of the Government, and to give what guidance we can, whether it is accepted or not, on what we believe is in the national interest".

He continued:

    "It is only after very patient and meticulous examination of all the facts that I am certainly satisfied myself that to abolish hunting without providing an effective alternative--and the Bill does not provide one: that is where the promoters have failed--would mean there certainly would be more rather than less cruelty in this country. ...

    While not every farmer or landowner or worker supports hunting--I have had letters from N.U.A branches against it and for it--any more than, for instance, every townsman supports greyhound racing, horse racing, fishing, football or boxing, it is obvious from my contacts and correspondence that a very large number of them do. ...

    It is not only the rural people who are asking Parliament for an early assurance that very long-established sports and recreations shall not be interfered with. There is no doubt about it, that all my contacts go to show that they hotly resent being singled out for special limitations and being charged with inflicting unnecessary cruelty. Nevertheless, high sentiment,

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    emotion and humanitarianism must not be condemned by any of us, but high pressure propaganda inevitably leads to exaggeration and this is no exception to the general rule. . . .

    What are the facts about cruelty, so far as one is able to collect them? One must face the fact that in the destroying of life and in particular wild life some pain is inevitable. Whether the purpose is to maintain a balanced wild life or to exterminate undesirable species of pests, life has to be taken, and all the evidence available to me shows that humanitarian interests are better served by an organised effort, under the control of responsible, experienced people who are all animal lovers themselves. Certainly, there is in that way much less chance of cruelty than by indiscriminate trapping or snaring or, indeed, inexpert shooting. I have seen traps which have caught animals, which have then escaped leaving a leg behind, and it is beyond my understanding to appreciate how much suffering that must have entailed. I know also about snaring, which means slowly choking the animal to death; and I know something about shooting, which cripples but does not kill and certainly produces a much higher rate of prolonged suffering than does the instantaneous kill of the hunt".

Mr Williams continued:

    "I am not for one moment suggesting that these sports are the only practical means of achieving the destruction of pests. I am suggesting, however, that as wild life must be controlled to abolish hunting would not necessarily abolish cruelty. Indeed, the alternative of unregulated action may lead to infinitely more cruelty. Moreover, the preservation of wild life would definitely be imperilled if controlled limitation as practised by hunts gives place to freedom of attack by persons with fewer scruples regarding wanton cruelty.

    Neither would I defend hunts on the ground that they are designed primarily as a measure of pest control. Their primary purpose is recreation and the joy of the chase, and the killing is merely incidental . . .

    After very careful consideration by the Government of the whole situation, we have reached the decision that this Bill cannot have the Government's support, and I advise the House to refuse it at a Second Reading on the following major grounds: first, that it is based on the false premise that its provisions would lessen cruelty; second, that the suppression of these sports without effective and efficient alternatives would lead to much less satisfactory activities . . .

    Finally, I ask Members to consider carefully whether the supporters of this Bill have really justified this interference with the liberties of the rural population ...

    In my view, the prohibitions in this Bill have no economic foundation and the humanitarian aspects are greatly exaggerated, if not wholly misconceived. Since this party have been given the power to govern the nation, I believe we have a record of achievement of which we ought to be proud, and I hope that at this moment we are not going to forfeit the good will we have so rightly earned, and go down to history as a party anxious to abolish the pleasures of others".--[Official Report, Commons, 25/2/49; cols. 2226-34.]

Your Lordships have now heard the wise words which the then Minister of Agriculture, Mr Tom Williams, spoke all those years ago. I agree with almost every word he said. I only wish that copies of his speech had been available to all Members of another place during the passage of this Bill in that House. I simply cannot see how the Minister can contradict those sentiments expressed in 1949; they are as relevant today as they were then.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for referring to a man who was one of my boyhood heroes. For many years, he lived in Wath upon Dearne and

12 Mar 2001 : Column 575

was the Member of Parliament for the constituency next door to the one that I represented. I also recall having heard him referred to as a superb Minister.

When I was a young candidate for the Scarborough and Whitby constituency, Tom Williams intended to address a meeting for me. Unfortunately, he was by then very old and his health was deteriorating, but he wrote a speech for me in longhand. The meeting was attended by many farmers, none of whom I believed to be politically sympathetic. They seemed rather restive as I developed the speech. I pointed out that they could shut up. It was not my speech. It was written by Tom Williams, and they deserved to recognise the contribution that he had made. I rather think that he would make the same speech today.

I am contributing to this debate basically because I am concerned, as I have always been, with nature conservation and the need to reduce the amount of cruelty inflicted on animals. On that basis, I am critical of the Bill. I am also critical of it for a number of other, related reasons. We tend to forget that the landscape of this country was designed for agriculture and field sports. If we destroy or end field sports, we shall see even more harm and damage caused to our landscape.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Bragg, made reference to the importance of our landscape. It has provided inspiration in music, art and literature, and has uplifted the souls of country and town dwellers alike. However, if we decide to allow field sports to end, people will say, "Why should we keep that copse or that hedgerow? Why should we not drain that pond or remove that spinney?" Then the habitat of wildlife will disappear, and our country will be the poorer for it because it enriches life.

I do not want to detain the House for long, but it may be as well to say where I stand and from where I come. When I entered the House of Commons in 1970, I had no wish to allow my private interests to obtrude upon my public activity. However, due to the actions of the people who dug out badgers during the part of the season when the cubs were underground, placed gin traps by badger setts, caught badgers for the purpose of baiting and maimed them in the process to give the dogs a better chance, I took the badger Bill through the House of Commons. The Bill was intended to ensure that badger-baiting, which had not been abolished in the 19th century, was legally prohibited.

In 1974, I was fortunate in drawing first place in the ballot for Private Member's Bills. I put together the Bill which became the Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act. It provided the mechanism by which endangered species could be protected. A year or two later, the Nature Conservancy Council recommended to the Secretary of State for the Environment that the otter should be protected. That ended otter hunting.

However, I recognised, and said, then that the reason for the decline in otter numbers was not only persecution; it was due also to disturbance, loss of habitat and pollution. Unfortunately (or fortunately at that time) an animal welfare body took out a series

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of advertisements--I was reminded of that this morning when I saw the national press--which said, "Please send us a donation and help us in our campaign to save the otter". That organisation had had very little to do with the matter. The success of the attempts on behalf of the otter was due entirely to the scientific and professional assessment of the Nature Conservancy Council. I was fortunate in that a number of Conservative Members of Parliament in the Commons--we were in a fairly tight situation from the point of view of party numbers--recognised that the case was a good one. They could have blocked the legislation very easily, and that particular animal welfare lobby almost destroyed our chances.

A year or two later, I met people from the Forestry Commission who were responsible for deer. We have already heard a little on that subject. The stories that I heard from some of the deer conservators were absolutely disgusting. In the Forest of Dean every deer culled that year had already been injured. One had been blinded in one eye by an airgun pellet; another carried a crossbow bolt embedded in its hind quarters. Those deer were culled.

Therefore, I put before the House the Deer Bill, which would have improved matters considerably. It would have provided a closed season for roe deer and would have stopped a number of brutal practices. It would also have specified the type of weaponry which could be used but which rarely was. Air guns, light shot guns and crossbows seemed the preferred instruments of barbarism.

Unfortunately, one of my colleagues--an able and good man--said to me, "I am going to block your Bill". I asked him why. He said, "Because it will still allow deer to be killed. Deer are lovely creatures which should not be killed. They should be there for everyone to enjoy". I pointed out that the number of deer in Britain was rising rapidly and was already higher than it was in the Middle Ages; that deer had no natural predators; and that culling was in the interests of the deer as it enabled them to survive starvation and disease. However, my colleague would not have it and he blocked the Bill. It needed only one person to do so.

Another Deer Bill went through a few years later but it was not quite as good as the one that had been blocked. That colleague meant well. He was a good man. He cared, but he was not adequately informed. That is the case with too many people in this country, as we see from the advertisements.

My position in relation to this Bill was finally determined by that type of advertisement and by a letter which I received from the Campaign for Hunted Animals. It said that the fox may not die instantly when the hounds catch it. It may suffer, while the fox that is wounded--the council accepted that foxes are wounded--will quietly go to its own environment and die there in peace. As one of my noble friends pointed out, septicaemia is not a pleasant thing for any animal to die from. It would probably be in agony for up to two weeks. That is not a suitable alternative to the one sensible approach.

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Other noble Lords have already raised several of the points to which I have referred, but I believe that I must be the first to speak in favour of the fox. Most people see the fox as a villain, but it is a predator, a scavenger and an essential part of our natural fauna. It kills lambs, but I believe that sometimes when a fox is blamed for killing a lamb, the lamb has been stillborn. The people who really do not like the fox are the shooting fraternity.

The logic has already been suggested that if we were to tackle cruelty inflicted upon our wildlife, criticism would be directed at the shooting fraternity rather than at the hunters. In my case, the criticism would be directed at the people who have been shooting close to my home every Saturday almost since Christmas. They have done so even on days when wildlife has faced a difficult time because the ground has been frozen. They did so even until last Saturday, when there was very little left for them to shoot. They do not like foxes; they do not like any of the predators because they represent a challenge to their prey; that is, the game bird in particular.

We need predators in nature. If noble Lords considered the population of the brown rat in their area, they would find that its population is increasing in many areas of Britain at the rate of about 20 or 30 per cent a year. If people shoot, trap or poison foxes--they will do so if they do not have to tolerate foxes for the hunt--what will happen to the rat and rodent populations? Those animals cause considerable economic damage to our agricultural industry. We need foxes. When there has to be control, the most humane method is hunting. That is why we need to be careful.

I shall finish with another illustrative experience of mine. Forty-five years ago, as a young man, I--or a bitch of mine--saved the lives of three or four beagle puppies. The mother of those puppies had no milk, and a man asked me whether I knew of a bitch that had milk. I said, "I have a bitch with several puppies and a great deal of milk". She raised the beagles, and I was asked whether I would like to go on a hunt. I went--I did so several times. But we did not catch anything. In fact, the hares did not seem to be terribly worried. On one occasion--my last occasion, after which I ceased to be involved forthwith--an incident occurred in which the hare should not have been caught. After that, I wanted nothing more to do with the practice. I certainly do not claim to be a practitioner of field sports.

I am attracted by the fact that if the middle way and practices that avoided unnecessary cruelty were introduced, we should make a powerful contribution to the solution of the problem. We should certainly not allow the House to accept that which can be obscenely cruel--that is what would happen if the will of the House of Commons were to prevail--merely because this House may feel that it should be subordinate.

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7.12 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, when I had the privilege of becoming a Member of your Lordships' House almost 12 years ago, I vowed that as a matter of personal policy I would normally speak only on medicine, science and education.

Why, therefore, have I chosen to speak in this debate? Throughout my professional life I have been a city dweller, first in Newcastle upon Tyne and later in Oxford. However, I have been privileged to have homes in the countryside--in north Northumberland and in the Cotswolds--and have become increasingly aware of the crucial importance to country life of the continuation of hunting in some form. If the Bill imposed a total ban on hunting, that would have a devastating effect upon life in the countryside. It would also constitute, as other noble Lords have said, a massive and unacceptable infringement of civil liberties.

At the outset, I must declare an interest. My son is a farmer in the Scottish Borders and his wife is the co-ordinator of an organisation called the Borders Foundation for Rural Sustainability. That organisation has produced two comprehensive reports on the effects that a ban on hunting would have on the rural economy. I confess that I find it extraordinary that so much valuable parliamentary time is being taken up debating this Bill at a time when farming is in such deep crisis, not simply because of the recent epidemic of foot and mouth disease but also because of the savage reduction in farm incomes, which happened during the past few years.

Many years ago, as a youngster, I confess that I had some sense of distaste at the prospect of a fox being pursued and killed by a pack of ravening hounds. That distaste was based on profound ignorance on my part. That ignorance has been totally assuaged by what I have learnt about hunting in recent years and by reading the excellent report by my noble friend Lord Burns and his colleagues. That report requires the most careful attention.

In the course of my professional career, I have been concerned with the assessment of evidence in science and medicine. I have studied with great care the evidence presented by all sides of the argument. As many other noble Lords have said today, I am totally satisfied that the hunting of foxes with hounds is the most humane means of culling and controlling the fox population. As we have heard, foxes are responsible for the death of much farm livestock and poultry.

Much opposition to the practice is based on ignorance and prejudice. That was encapsulated many years ago in the famous quote by Oscar Wilde, who referred to the English country gentleman on a horse hunting a fox as,

    "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable".

In my view, "unspeakable" refers to the unfortunate and intolerable violent behaviour of many hunt saboteurs and, more so, to the appalling behaviour of those terrorists who recently laid siege to Huntingdon Life Sciences. That is unspeakable.

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I fully appreciate the sincerity with which noble Lords and many Members of another place have suggested that hunting with hounds is intolerable on the grounds of cruelty. I am satisfied that the evidence does not support that conclusion.

As many other noble Lords have said, hunting is carried out not just by the landed gentry but by many farm workers and country dwellers. As the Borders Foundation for Rural Sustainability made clear, hunting is enjoyed by those who ride with the hounds and by many non-mounted followers, who follow in cars, on foot, on cycles and on quads. The foundation produced evidence that showed that seven hunts in the Scottish Borders and in north Northumberland in 1998-99 were followed by 14,380 non-mounted followers. If that is true of seven hunts, how many non-mounted followers follow hunts throughout the length and breadth of the country? As I have already said, the foundation's reports showed that the proposal would have a devastating effect on the rural economy in financial and other terms.

I shall give one or two quotations from some non-mounted followers. One said:

    "Hunting gets me outside to enjoy good hound-work, meeting company, seeing and enjoying the countryside. Otherwise, I should be an arm-chair pensioner".

Another said:

    "If hunting were banned it would leave a big hole in my life. I would be cut off from people and a marvellous opportunity to see and know the countryside".

A third said:

    "Hunting keeps me socially alive. Many of the foot-followers are retired farmers and shepherds. It is my only social life. My friends and I would be bereft without hunting".

I could give many more quotes. I fully appreciate that they are anecdotal comments and that they do not constitute scientific evidence. However, the burden of evidence regarding the effect that a ban on hunting would have on the rural economy and on social life in rural communities is extremely powerful.

Is more regulation needed? I have been very impressed by the work of the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, which is chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, whom I heard speak last week. It is an excellent voluntary regulatory body. What effective sanctions can we impose on unregulated hunts or on individual hunters who may break its rules and conventions? The answer is none. They would be allowed to continue although the well-organised hunts would continue to follow the guidelines that that body has laid down. In much of my professional life, I have been concerned with issues of professional self-regulation of doctors, dentists, vets, nurses and other professions. Many people argue that hunting is a sport and not a profession, but, in my view, many of those involved in organising and administering hunting are highly professional individuals, and I believe that the principles involved are similar.

We require an authority with statutory powers, but it should not be a totally Government controlled or Government appointed authority. It should be a free-standing regulatory body, with a membership that is

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drawn from many different walks of life, not just rural-dwellers, vets and farmers; it should be given powers to license and to inspect; and it should be able to withhold licences, where appropriate, or withdraw them where there is evidence of misconduct. As the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, stated, such a body could be built around the existing independent supervisory authority and given statutory powers, without involving too much bureaucracy.

We should not allow this long-hallowed traditional activity of the countryside to be banned. I fervently believe that proper regulation is the only reasonable way forward.

7.22 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, we have listened to some amazing speeches this afternoon, and to some fascinating speeches, into which category I regret the one that your Lordships are about to hear will not fall. I greatly enjoyed listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who is renowned for making the most trenchant and articulate speeches on these matters. As the noble Baroness said, the small things in life often stand out when you are young. She was introduced to a pony when she was 10 years old, and from there went on to hunt, which she has enjoyed ever since.

My experience was rather different from hers. I was given a pony at the age of eight, and the pony succeeded in throwing me off. I got winded and thought I was dying; and it was the most disagreeable experience I had ever had. When I was older, because I was rather large, in those days in height as opposed to girth, I was always given the largest horse. I would clamber on top of this thing and promptly get vertigo. When somebody asked me today whether, when I lived in Leicestershire, I went hunting, I practically fell off my chair with laughter. I have always regarded the horse as a beautiful animal, but dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle. I have not, therefore, been involved in hunting at all.

Hunting is a fine sight; it is part of the spectacle of the countryside and part of the life of the countryside. It is also part of the lives of people. It would be a great disaster if that were to go, still worse if it were to be made a criminal offence. Governments are supposed to protect minority interests. Although the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton said that the Government are neutral about the issue, all I can say is that they have not told that to the marines, because that is not the impression that they give at all. Everyone feels that the Government are setting the pace. They can have a free vote in another place when they know perfectly well that the majority of the Members are Labour-oriented and therefore will vote for a ban. The fact is that the Government have given the impression that they are in favour of banning hunting. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, stated, it is extraordinary that the Government have given so much time to the Bill, given the disastrous plight of the countryside. No parliamentary time or thought appears to have been given to the total

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disaster, which includes not just foot and mouth, but swine fever and the whole position of the countryside, before one even starts to think about the weather which has done nothing but pour with rain. On top of that, along come the Government with a Bill to dispose of hunting, to dispose of the hounds and to do away with jobs in a part of the country that is already deeply depressed. I believe that it would be a great error.

Had it not been for the foot and mouth outbreak, a huge rally would have been held this weekend. It would have been huge because the people of the countryside feel that Westminster is alienated from them, and that members of Parliament at Westminster do not understand the problems of the countryside. I regret to say that I believe that they are right to hold that view.

We have heard widely differing views this afternoon as to whether fox hunting is right or wrong. People are entitled to hold the view that it is wrong, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant said, it is a terrible thing when the animal liberation movement takes up its cudgels and threatens people, including two Labour Members of Parliament for voting against hunting. Look at what happened at Huntingdon Life Sciences. The balaclava and the baseball bat are not part of democratic life; they are an offence to it. It is terrorism; they are terrorising people. I gave the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, notice that I would ask this question. What do the Government intend to do about this terrorism? It is just as bad to terrorise people like that as it is to terrorise people in an aeroplane or anywhere else. It is the use of illegal fear to try to get your own way.

Hunting has always been part of the social fabric of the countryside. I have no particular views about cruelty, but I am deeply persuaded by what people have said about the speed of the death. If a fox is left to be shot, that would be infinitely more cruel. Perhaps some noble Lords have tried shooting hares, and may have been more successful than I have been, but a hare is a difficult thing to shoot, and if that is difficult to shoot, a fox is far worse.

Why do people go out to hunt? It is not really just for the fun of the kill. As I understand it, only two people do the hunting, the master of the foxhounds and the huntsman. Everyone else goes out for a day out with their friends, a day out on the horses, a day out in the countryside. They like to try and jump the fences, ditches and gates, and hope to goodness that they manage to hang on and not end up on the ground. That is why they go out hunting, and that is why it is so valuable. If people who commit urban crime were to go out and exercise themselves in that way during the day, they might be too exhausted to carry out some of their more felonious deeds at night.

Some people are paranoid about the killing of foxes. I always find it odd that, politically, we are quite content to see 170,000 babies a year killed by abortion, and yet we worry about killing a fox, which is, after all, a pest. What will happen to all the hounds that will be

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slaughtered? Where are all the protests from the animal rights organisations about that? Those hounds have as much right to live as the foxes.

At a time when the countryside is suffering such devastation, it is extraordinary that the only contribution the Government can apparently make is to say that they will criminalise hunting, remove people's jobs and greatly alter the sight and shape of the countryside. I believe that it would be a great mistake and would not do the Government any good whatsoever.

7.29 p.m.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, I have hunted all my life, having started very much like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, but I have perhaps been more successful than my noble friend Lord Ferrers. I hunted all my life, until three years ago, when a combination of my wife and my doctor persuaded me to stop. I have never seen any cruelty to the fox in the hunting field. Had it happened, I am quite sure that the masters, the followers and the hunt servants would not have tolerated it, and it has not been so.

I have been fortunate in having some good horses and on occasions have been in at the kill. And I agree with my noble friend Lord Renton that when the hounds catch the fox, they snap back the neck and kill it straightaway. I have never seen a fox killed otherwise than instantaneously in that way. Nonsense is spoken of hounds tearing a fox to pieces while it is still alive. Such sentiments appear in the press from some of the more difficult anti-hunting bodies--including the RSPCA--with pictures purporting to show hounds tearing a fox to pieces while it is still alive. That is nonsense. I am sure that anyone who says such things has never been hunting and has never seen a fox killed, otherwise they would know it could not be right.

Control of hunting is the responsibility of the masters. In my experience, and I have been fortunate enough to hunt most of my life with the Pytchley, all the masters of all the packs I have known have shown consideration, discipline and a firmness which ensured compliance with all the rules and ethics of hunting. That is the practice of a pack of established fox hounds and the practice of a good master. I cannot believe that a statutory body can provide more effective supervision and control of the conduct of hunting than such masters.

No doubt we shall have an opportunity to discuss that point in Committee. At the moment this Bill refers only to banning hunting. No amendments have yet been tabled and cannot be debated as to their merits. But to deprive the country of fox hunting will be to deprive vast numbers of people of a tradition and sport which they consider to be part of their lives, especially those who live in the countryside. Scores of people wrote to me to say that, although they do not hunt, to ban hunting will deprive them of something they value as an essential part of rural life. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke movingly in that regard and I endorse what she said. Others will speak and may have spoken already on what the Bill will do to our freedom,

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our liberty and the rights of minorities. I agree with them, and the noble Lord, Lord Walton, spoke effectively on that point a few moments ago.

Finally, this Bill has been given priority over many other Bills which wait to be debated in this place, such as the Health and Social Care Bill. That has been put aside so that this Bill can take its place on the statute book. The Government will then be able to say that they attempted to get this Bill through, but could not. To give this Bill priority over those other Bills is proof of the Government's abdication of their responsibility and of their yielding to noisy cries of hunt saboteurs and "upsetters".

7.32 p.m.

Lord Hooson: My Lords, while listening to this debate I have been reflecting on the nature of cruelty. I have lived in the countryside for most of my life and was brought up on a farm. Our farm being family owned, it was interesting that we were anti-hunt. That was rather because my mother, who was a great radical, regarded the hunt in the Vale of Clwyd as "Tories on horseback" and therefore to be banned from her land. I farmed in the foothills of Snowdonia and then moved to Montgomeryshire. It was there I realised that the hunt was at least 50-50 "Liberals on horseback".

I farmed for most of my life until two years ago and enjoyed it enormously. But I have never hunted. However, I have always subscribed to our local foot pack in mid-Wales. Without the foot pack economic farming would be extremely difficult in our part of the world. I live in a mountainous area. Noble Lords have already referred to the problems in that type of country, as did the Burns report.

However, although I have farmed for most of my life I am a rather squeamish fellow. In her remarkable and most impressive speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to the fact that our attitude towards these problems is so much conditioned by our experience. I have shot; I have fished. I always felt squeamish about it. But I have never felt as squeamish as I felt as a farmer with the domestic animals. I reared a herd of Welsh black cattle and a flock of Texel sheep, and I loved them greatly. I enjoyed them, as did the farm workers and staff. It was always with a sense of doing something cruel that I either delivered them to the slaughterhouse or the market. They were all squeezed together, not knowing where they were going. And all that happens in agriculture.

I suppose when people in the cities buy their meat in the supermarkets, they never think of that. But the stress on the domestic farm animal, especially in these days of travelling long distances to slaughterhouses or being transferred here and there between dealers before they eventually reach the slaughterhouse, must be far greater than for any hunted fox.

The fox is by nature a predator. I love the fox. I have seen a number of them over the years, because of the nature of my farm, as I am sure have many people. Two memories stick in my mind. When I started farming, around 35 to 40 years ago, I remember going

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into a field one morning during lambing time and, to my horror, finding 17 dead lambs. Each had been killed in the same way. Their tails had been bitten off and they had been killed by being bitten under the neck. It was a pattern. I did not realise then, in my ignorance, until my neighbours explained, that it was probably done by a rogue fox. They suck the blood out of the lamb, which explains their method of killing.

That scene stayed indelibly in my mind. I realised how important our foot pack was to the community. Every farmer supported the foot pack. In fact those that did not pay a subscription kept a hound for the non-hunting season on their farm or smallholding. Nowadays, the hounds are already back on the farms because hunting has stopped due to foot and mouth disease.

The other memorable scene I remember happened a few years ago when I was driving round my farm and saw two of the mangiest-looking foxes I have ever seen in my life. Also, it was the first time I had ever seen foxes in close vicinity to one another. In my experience they had always been lone animals. I stopped my four-wheel drive car and looked at the foxes. They looked at me. I drove round and later saw another one. They seemed to be almost entirely tame. I spoke to my farm bailiff about what I considered a strange phenomenon. He said that they were Wolverhampton foxes. I was unaware of a habit whereby people, with the best of intentions, caught urban foxes in Wolverhampton, put them in the back of their vans, delivered them to an area like Montgomeryshire and released them on the hills intending that they should return to the wild. They were in fact destined for certain death because for them life outside their urban environment was impossible.

I do not believe for a moment that the perceived cruelty in foxhunting is anything like sufficient to justify a ban. No doubt there should be some change in practices and some regulation, but that is about all. Far worse things are taking place in our country than hunting. There have been references to the Lake District and other areas. In districts like mine, hunting with dogs is absolutely essential if we are to keep the fox population down. Our local hunt, to which I subscribe, kills on average about 150 foxes a year, sometimes more. There is also a "proper" hunt--the David Davies Hunt. There are about 15 horses and ponies which meet on a Saturday morning to go hunting. For the rest of the week they hunt as a foot pack.

Another hunt in mid-Wales hunts properly on a Wednesday, but on Saturdays goes out as a shooting foot pack. My particular foot pack is also a shooting pack. The hunt covers parts of Radnorshire, Montgomeryshire and Cardiganshire and is known as the Plynlimon Hunt. It covers terrain where only shooting will clear the foxes. The dogs are required to go into the forestry areas and drive out the foxes. If it were not for the animal culling there would be absolute slaughter at lambing time.

During the lambing season the huntsman is informed immediately a farmer believes that a fox is stealing lambs. This year I took a statement from our

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huntsman. He had no complaints at all in March last year, but April proved a very inclement month. For the first time in his 20 years' experience he had a number of complaints in April.

One complaint in particular has remained in my mind because I followed it up. There was a complaint that about 20 lambs were missing. It was thought that a fox had taken them because they had completely disappeared. After the complaint the hunt went off at 6.30 in the morning. The dogs followed the scent and found the fox's lair about 200 yards away. The dogs were put down. A vixen came out and was shot. She had nine cubs. I am no expert, but I was told that this was an unusually high number. Within the den there were a number of dead lambs. The fox had killed because she had nine cubs to feed. It was inclement weather and she simply went to the nearest possible supply.

That kind of thing can happen all the time at lambing but not to the same extent. Foot packs are essential in what is an afforested area with probably the greatest density of sheep in the whole of the United Kingdom.

I had hoped that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, would be in his place. There are two kinds of foot packs, the shooting foot pack and the non-shooting one. It is arguable which is the most effective because the hounds kill the foxes in suitable terrain as quickly as any gun can in very difficult terrain.

In House of Commons Standing Committee B on 6th February, Mrs Jane Kennedy, who, I believe, is a junior Minister in the Lord Chancellor's Department, said:

    "The hon. Members for Aylesbury and for Montgomeryshire asked about Welsh gun packs. The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked if we intend to outlaw them, and the straight answer is no; gun packs can fall within the exceptions".

This is very important. Does the noble and learned Lord repeat that undertaking on behalf of the Government? Foot packs not being outlawed means that hunting by dogs can be justified. Yet when one looks at the Bill, which is badly drawn, its wording does not suggest to me that a foot pack working in this way would come within one of the exceptions, although it is clearly the Government's intention that it should. Surely, if the exception is extended to the gun foot pack it should also apply to the other foot packs because they operate on different terrain without guns.

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