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In conclusion, I return to my starting point on the question of morality. We have to ask questions about the kind of society in which we live and, more importantly, the kind of society which we are hoping to create. I do not think those can be simply cast aside. I hope that noble Lords will decide in due course that we want a caring and compassionate society, which includes our attitude towards animals; that we want a society with an attitude which is suited more to the 21st century than to the 19th century. For that reason, I hope that eventually option three will be supported in your Lordships' House.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, when he said to my noble friend that he thinks that the incidence of wounded foxes will be comparatively rare, can he tell the House how many foxes he has shot?
Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, I am being asked to shoot a few foxes in the argument today as no one else seems to have been subjected to interventions apart from myself. Of course, the answer is none--but, in terms of the information with which I have been supplied for the debate, I am as well informed as other noble Lords. In respect of the Bill that I am promoting in the Scottish Parliament, I have heard a great deal of evidence and seen filmed evidence from both sides of the argument. On that basis I have formed the contribution which I have made in your Lordships' House today.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, I have an extremely hard act to follow, speaking as I do immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie--a village that is high in my estimation, as I regularly get my hair done there. I have heard so many splendid, true, right, impassioned and brilliant speeches in favour of hunting, that there is very little that I can say that is different. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu made one of the best speeches I have ever heard in this House. She said it all. I shall, therefore, speak briefly of the joys of hunting.
Many years ago, my husband had a very small pack of basset hounds, only three couple, known as the Kilspindie Basset Hounds, with which we hunted hares--not, I may add, very successfully: in all the four years that we hunted we caught only one hare, which was a day that I fortunately missed. But we had such fun. My husband used to get up early every morning to take hounds out for a five-mile run over the hill; and on Saturday we hunted with them.
The hounds were kennelled next door to the church. During morning prayers on Sundays our hearts always fell as we heard them starting to join in the singing. They all sang lustily, particularly Garnish, with her high, cracked voice. We always hoped that the rest of the congregation would put it down to the wind or to supernatural forces.
Saturday was hunting day--not with a very good field, because those who came knew that basset hounds are not very good at getting over walls or fences and have to be carried. They are not light either--but they have a lovely cry.
Eventually the hounds had to return to other packs of basset hounds, but we could not bear to part with Comfort. She was averse to being house-trained, she was a thief, and spent much of her time asleep in our best armchair. We found a newspaper headline which suited her perfectly:
Perhaps the point of this rather discursive speech is to give some of the special flavour of hunting and the love of hounds to those who have not had the good fortune to share it. When we introduced Comfort to an old nun called Mother McKee, she was charmed with her and said that she was "just like our Lady's dog", and demanded a picture of her. So we gave her a picture of Comfort sitting in the daffodils. We said that we were not aware that our Lady had had a dog. "If she had", said Mother McKee, "she would have been like this one--a great comfort".
So I hope that there will, one day, be not "little comfort in the lull", but great comfort, for all of us who live in the country and love horses, hounds and hunting and who derive great health and happiness from them.
One of my nieces, for whom I have an abiding respect, is horrified by cruelty to any animal. She is a vegetarian, and in addition refuses to wear anything made of leather. She detests hunting and for years has been eloquent in championing a ban.
My mother as a young woman hunted with the Wheatland Hunt in Shropshire. Riding side-saddle, she took her fences with such spirited freedom that onlookers said that she had no self-preservation instinct. Today, she brings that same spirit to her advocacy of hunting.
With those voices clashing in my ears, I turned to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. Several passages are especially noteworthy. Some of the practices that argue for a ban include autumn or cub hunting; digging out and bolting foxes; and the use of artificial earths with a view to hunting. Some of the features that argue against a ban include the employment that hunting provides; the reasons for culling foxes; and the drawbacks to culling by snaring, trapping and shooting.
The Burns inquiry was not asked to make a formal recommendation on whether to ban hunting, and does not do so. However, one word calls out to me from page after page of the report, stilling those voices of passion. That word is "licensing". A study of the Burns report drives me to the conclusion that statutory licensing is the least bad way ahead. Accordingly, I shall vote for the "middle way" option.
Lord Vinson: My Lords, I live, and hunt, in one of the most remote parts of the British Isles, the English side of the Scottish Borders where there are indeed more sheep than people. I make no real apology for being slightly repetitive in my remarks. Never have I been approached so many times by so many different people to speak up for their interests. I particularly want to reiterate the points that they have made to me, because they are extraordinarily powerful.
Hunting in my area not only serves the important purpose of culling foxes; the social cohesion that it engenders lies at the heart of the life of the people in that community. In those remote parts, it is the one activity that they share in winter and plan for in summer. Its abolition would be like saying to football fans that they could no longer watch or take part in their sport. To many people, the whole reason for their social life would be destroyed. Regrettably, too few people who live in urban areas understand that aspect of hunting. All meet on equal terms to share the same experience. The social bond that it creates is of huge significance in rural areas.
Much has been said about cruelty. Country people understand about cruelty. They know that in nature a lion killing a zebra is not cruel. They know that a fox de-heading 20 chickens for the fun of it is not cruel. They know that the way in which a cat plays with a mouse or a heron eats a frog alive are in the natural order of things. Cruelty in nature is in the eye of the beholder. It is all part of the balance of nature. Nor is it any more cruel when a fox is killed through a bite in the neck in exactly the same way as it kills its own prey. There is no question in my mind that the fox would undoubtedly vote for the continuation of hunting rather than for the alternative of being shot and possibly wounded, to die a lingering death.
No, my Lords. The real motive behind many of those who would criminalise this ancient sport is deep prejudice masquerading as animal welfare. If they are really concerned about animals, why do they not do something about the caging of wild animals in zoos,
All of us are entitled to our prejudices, but we are not entitled to use them to destroy the preferences of others. Hunting both preserves and controls foxes, and we have in this country the healthiest and best fox population in the whole of Europe.
It is not the death of the fox that hunts rejoice in: it is actually the thrill of the chase, the unexpected--something that drag hunting can never substitute. We are talking about the chance to live dangerously and to share that relationship on totally equal terms with one's neighbour; to share the exhilaration in harmony with another animal, the horse; and to watch hounds doing what comes naturally to dogs in the wild--tracking their quarry.
Hitler abolished hunting in Germany. Its abolition in this country would be contrary to all our libertarian traditions and contrary to freedom of expression and freedom of choice, which are the essence of a liberal democracy. However, I respect the views of others with whom I do not necessarily agree. We should recognise the political realities. I believe that the NFU's compromise position to license hunting is the right one. It should be regulated, acknowledging in particular the problems of those areas where it is necessary to cull foxes that wreak such havoc to lambs and wildlife generally. This compromise would be the right way to interpret what democracy is all about and, at the same time, ought to be acceptable to the other place.
Democracy is not about the implementation of majority rule, because most interests are in fact minority interests. Democracy is about the protection of minority rights. When voting on this Bill, we have a chance to demonstrate that we understand this and that we understand the true meaning of a democratic society.
I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, is still in his place. The noble Lord must have had a very uncomfortable evening because, with one or two exceptions, all the speeches have been illustrating just how draconian the Bill is and how out of touch it is with reality. Yet the noble Lord is pressing ahead with his Bill in Scotland. I know that it is undergoing careful scrutiny in various committees in the Scottish Parliament, but the noble Lord must realise that he has been listening tonight to courageous speeches from Back-Benchers on the Government's side, all of which have said that a ban on hunting is not the right way forward. I hope that he will take that message back to Edinburgh with him and perhaps withdraw his Bill. I also hope that he will see a bit of common sense.
Although the Scottish Members of Parliament are quite entitled to vote on this Bill in another place, it is worth putting on record that they must also be prepared to accept some criticism for their actions in supporting the Bill until the West Lothian question is resolved and the Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster cease to vote on purely English Bills.
The arguments have been fully aired and brilliantly put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. We are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, for his report. We are also grateful to the Countryside Alliance and to the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, both of whom added most important information to the debate over the past few weeks. There is no reason for me to go into the detail of what we are discussing, but I should like to express my view that the Bill must represent a middle-way forward for all country sports.
I hope that I am putting forward a balanced view. I have been involved in conservation in Parliament for most of my parliamentary career. I was lucky enough to be rural affairs Minister in England, looking after the country parks, conservation, the NCC, and so on. I was also responsible for rural affairs in Scotland, looking after the SNH and our beautiful countryside there. But at the same time as being so involved with conservation, I was also very pro-country sports in every possible way. Indeed, I was the chairman of the council for country sports in the 1990s and did my best then to foresee what is happening now with a government Bill to ban hunting.
The Government's attitude is supposed to be one of neutrality. But any of us who have been at Westminster for any length of time know perfectly well that it is not a neutral Bill. If it was a Private Member's Bill, it would not have received government time. This is a government Bill overtaking a Private Member's Bill. Time has been given for a subject that the Government want discussed; it has not been left entirely to private Members.
We have listened to the Prime Minister making attacks on hunting. More seriously, we have heard his comments that Bills on hunting have been delayed in this House, despite the fact that this is the first time we have discussed the subject during this Parliament. In any event, he, as Prime Minister, forced through the legislation on the reconstitution of this House and is responsible for the composition of this Chamber. He must, therefore, accept the decisions that it makes. I hope that that is more democratic than what went on in the Scottish Parliament last week. The Scottish Executive were defeated on compensation for fishermen, yet Ministers seemed to be casting that aside and saying, "When Parliament votes we are not particularly worried; we'll carry on with our policy". I trust that that will not be the attitude of the present Government in London when this House makes a decision.
Noble Lords have rightly made severe criticism of the Government relative to their priorities. Here we are debating hunting when the countryside is in real crisis. I know that we shall debate foot and mouth disease tomorrow, but that debate has been tabled at the last
One cannot help thinking that the Bill has been brought forward for political expediency before an election, rather than considering what needs to be done in the countryside at the present time. In fact, this wretched Bill has done more to unite the countryside against the Government than anything else. The march that would have taken place on Sunday would have been the most tremendous display of comradeship of the countryside. It is a tragedy that the spread of foot and mouth has prevented that taking place. It has denied the countryside the opportunity to bring home to the Government just why they are going down the wrong road at the present time.
Comments have been made on the other side of the Chamber and on this side to the effect that the next attack will be launched on firearms and then on angling. That anti-countryside attitude is bitterly resented in the countryside. The immediate impact of the Bill, if enacted, would be extremely serious from the point of view of the rural economy. We have heard of its knock-on effects. They have been well explained by the British Equestrian Trade Association with regard to the income people make from saddlery and other horse equipment and the income of farriers, vets and those who breed horses.
Yet in the middle of this economic and social strife we have a Hunting Bill. The Government must be blind to their priorities or have just run out of "spin" to think up something else. I represented a rural constituency for many years. Hunting, shooting, coursing and angling brought many benefits and offended few. If this Bill is enacted, all that will go. This will be the beginning of the end for other country sports. My former constituents should know that their present Member of Parliament, my successor, the Labour MP, Mr Russell Brown, voted for the Bill on Report, on Third Reading and on the timetable Motion which certainly curtailed debate. I have no doubt at all that the Scottish Member of Parliament for Dumfries also supported the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, in the Scottish Parliament. The people of Dumfries ought to know that their elected Members are going against the views of the vast majority of those who live there. I am glad that we have MSPs, David Mundell and Alex Fergusson, who will do all they can to resist the Bill. When John Charteris is elected to succeed Russell Brown, he will play his part at Westminster.
On 22nd November, an agriculture Minister, the right honourable Joyce Quin, stated in a Written Answer that hunt kennels provide a valued service to farmers. However, on 27th February she voted against an amendment which would have helped the situation. Many noble Lords have rightly highlighted the community spirit surrounding hunting in the countryside. They have mentioned events such as point-to-point races, and their importance to steeplechasing, puppy walking and local shows. Others have mentioned the hill and fell packs in England and, indeed, in Scotland. I do not want to omit the Liddesdale which hunts from Newcastleton. Those packs hunt on foot.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, should bear in mind the importance of hunting in Scotland. When I was in the Scottish Office the then government provided grants to foot-hunt packs in Argyllshire to enable them to control foxes as there was no alternative way to deal with them. One cannot go lamping up a steep mountainside. One can do that only in relatively easy countryside where one can take a four-wheeled vehicle. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act opened the countryside to everyone at night. That has made lamping extremely dangerous. The Government have committed a double whammy as regards dealing with foxes at night. The situation should be controlled by the hill packs of England and Scotland.
The Government must think again carefully. It would be better for the countryside if the Government withdrew the Bill rather than forcing through some amendment over the coming weeks which will inevitably be lost due to the general election. It is to be hoped that that would be the end of the matter for good.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, has put forward some options which we have discussed today. I believe that the way forward is through an independent supervisory authority--by voluntary means if we can; if not, by statutory regulation. The Government have not made out the case for a ban. The alternative methods of killing foxes are more painful and cruel. The Government must try to bring some harmony to the countryside, distance themselves from hunt saboteurs and Labour MPs who are so in favour of the Bill, and bring some reason to the countryside; otherwise they will reap the consequences.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I have sometimes wished that we in this House knew more about the experience of those who live in our inner cities who cannot find a footing in life. I think particularly of all those young men who grow up without the presence of a father in areas where schools, housing and healthcare leave much to be desired. The experience of many country people has been overlooked in a similar way. So even though I am not a countryman, merely a landowner whose uncle was a farmer, I speak in the debate today.
Two facts stand out from the report of my noble friend Lord Burns. First, the benefit to the welfare of the fox of the abolition of hunting with dogs is doubtful. Vermin will be controlled in other ways which may cause prolonged and painful death. Secondly, farmers living in dispersed rural communities will be hit hardest by a ban. According to the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, hunting is a highly co-operative social activity. It acts as a significant cohesive force encouraging a system of mutual support. It brings people together. If a ban is accepted, many farmers may have little to think about in the long winter months except the collapse of their businesses. In January, average net farming incomes had fallen by another 10 per cent to £5,200. If hunting with dogs continues, those farmers can still look forward to joining regularly with the communities over the winter period, taking exercise, catching up on news and enjoying the excitement of the chase.
I spoke with an individual who delivers the Government's New Deal for communities to housing estates in south London. He had been shocked at the entrenched demoralisation of the communities he served. If the intention of the Government is for thinly spread rural communities to taste the demoralisation of some of the communities in our inner cities then a ban on hunting with dogs would be the way to proceed.
Urbanites have a wide choice of cultural activities which involve close co-operation with others. We can sing in a different choir every night of the week, row in an eight or attend an evening class on the history of art. That scope is not available to the rural people we are considering. Their traditional form of collective enjoyment--apart from the pub and the church--is hunting with their neighbours. Banning hunting will weaken those communities and make small farmers in remote areas less resilient in the face of the farming crisis.
If I had to choose between the welfare of people and the welfare of animals I would choose people every time. But that is not the choice before us. The choice is between the welfare of people and a legislative ban of questionable value to animal welfare. I hope that those noble Lords who support a ban will think again.
Lord Habgood: My Lords, I want to reflect for a few moments on the concept of cruelty. We have used the word constantly throughout the debate, but it is a tricky word, because it can have different meanings in
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie--I am sorry that he is not still in his seat--said that hunting was an event with cruelty at its core. That is a remarkably slippy statement. We need to tease out exactly what he meant by using the word in that all-embracing way.
Let us analyse the meanings of the word for a moment. Cruel events or circumstances may be just facts of life. A cruel fate--death--awaits us all. Countless animals die every day. Millions are deliberately killed by human beings: we wage war on vermin; we slaughter animals for food; we sacrifice them in laboratories; we destroy them when they are diseased. Death is cruel, yet we justify it on the grounds of necessity. Our way of life as human beings depends on keeping other animals under control and, when necessary, using them for our own purposes. In that sense of the word, the world is full of cruel events, some of which are caused by us. That is the way the world is.
The second meaning of the word is cruel practices. To employ cruel practices in exploiting or killing animals raises a different set of questions, separate from those concerning death itself and distinguishable from intentional cruelty. I am talking about the way we do things. Nobody who puts down rat poison intends the rats to suffer, but they probably do. Nobody who brings farm animals to slaughter intends it to be an occasion of terror, pain and distress, yet, in view of all that leads up to the final moment, it probably is. Animal experimenters do not mean to be cruel, but to achieve their ends they sometimes have to use cruel methods.
What about hunting with dogs? We have been amply reminded throughout the debate that all methods of destroying animals, particularly wild ones, have the potential to cause distress. The Burns report made that clear. In the light of all that we have heard this evening, the case against hunting as a cruel practice is not proven. We do not know where the balance of suffering lies and we certainly do not know enough to base socially divisive legislation on what must necessarily be conjecture.
That brings me to the third and most significant meaning of cruelty--namely, intentional cruelty. To be intentionally cruel is to find pleasure in the infliction of suffering. It is morally abhorrent and there is every reason for legislating against it. But is hunting with dogs intentionally cruel in that sense? Some of its opponents clearly believe that it is, which is why they draw comparisons with such morally repellent practices as bear baiting, cock fighting, badger baiting and so on, in all of which suffering and the cruelty that produces suffering are the name of the game. I believe that we have already heard enough this evening to show that such comparisons totally misrepresent what hunting with dogs is about and why people do it.
Why, then, do people hunt, apart from the exercise, the good rides, the new scenery and the camaraderie, and so on? This evening we have received many answers, and, although it is 55 years since I hunted, I want to add another one. I believe that part of the answer as to why people are fascinated lies in the kind of competitive encounter that one has with a wild animal. It is an encounter which must entail both knowledge of the animal and respect for it as a wild thing. That is why drag hunting can never be a substitute for hunting in the wild.
The competitive encounter with a wild animal is not about blood lust and it is certainly not about pleasure in causing suffering. Perhaps it is about a deeply embedded mental residue from the time when we all had to live by hunting--at least, our ancestors did. But, however we understand and evaluate it, the crucial point that I want to make this evening is that it shares the same fundamental motive with all other traditional blood sports.
In rough shooting or stalking, the pleasure lies in tracking and finding one's quarry and in the quickness of one's response to it. I cannot say the same about driven shoots. It seems to me that there is something morally dubious about breeding birds and then sitting in a hide to shoot at them. Perhaps some people will disagree.
Fishermen enjoy their competition with a wily fish. They, too, know and respect their quarry. They talk about the pleasure of playing a fish which puts up a good fight. The fact that so many fish are thrown back again is proof that it is the catching and not the necessity for food which is important in that type of fishing. I know that the standard answer to such a comparison with hunting is that fish do not feel as foxes do. The truth is that no one has the remotest idea what fish feel, but we know that they resist being caught and are not likely to enjoy being suffocated.
My point, however, is not to compare fishes', birds' or foxes' emotions but to compare our human emotions in these differing sporting contexts. I believe that they are all broadly the same. They all involve excitement, but I believe that only in rare individuals do they involve intentional cruelty. Because of that, it would be both hypocritical and discriminatory to single out just one of those sports for special condemnation.
It is important not to be complacent about the possibilities for cruelty, but I do not think that the case has been made that hunting with dogs is inherently cruel. I shall therefore vote in favour of control of one sort of another rather than for an outright ban, which would be grossly unfair to the many good people for whom hunting is important.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, fox hunting is cruel. That is not just my view but the confession of Dr L. H. Thomas, who wrote to all of us on behalf of Vets for Hunting. In The Times last December, he conceded that foxes in the final 10 per cent of the hunt are,
Thomas's assertion that "death is almost instantaneous" acknowledges that death can be both delayed and agonising for the individual fox. The conclusions reached by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, may indeed be "ambiguous"--that is Thomas's comment--but to most of us the report's declaration that the fox's welfare is "seriously compromised" translates into cruelty.
Fox hunting inflicts unnecessary cruelty. Only one in six foxes is killed by the hunt. Thus, if hunting were banned, other methods of culling, such as shooting, would still be necessary to effect the cull. Killing one extra fox in six will hardly extend the shooters. In terms of numbers, hunting is simply not necessary to maintain pest control. That, too, is asserted by Burns. Hunting, moreover, is an expensive form of pest control, at £1,000 for each fox that is culled through hunting with hounds. Moreover, hunting is lamentably inefficient. Again, I am indebted to the pro-hunting vet, Dr Thomas, who gave the game away. His letter to The Times confides that "hunting is selective". It kills,
Fox hunting is an unnecessary and cruel sport and it is unworthy of Britain in the 21st century. That is the butt of my case for supporting option three of the Bill. It is a moral case and it is an argument that states that fox hunting should be abated in the same way that bear baiting and cock fighting have been abandoned--because they were practised as sports. Taking pleasure in murder should be confined to reading detective novels, not killing wild animals for pleasure.
Our opponents argue that the alternative forms of culling also compromise the welfare of the fox. According to Burns, they do. However, the salient difference is that fox hunting, unlike shooting, is done for sport.
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