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Lord Henley: My Lords, I did not actually want to get up and speak. However, if the noble Lord wants to pose such questions, why are we not discussing those matters rather than the Bill that is now before the House?
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, we have had the opportunity to discuss these matters in the past. All I am telling noble Lords is what people in my village perceive as being the important subjects. Indeed, I should go further and say that, if we relied on the hunt to keep the number of foxes down in the area where I live, we would be over-run by them. In fact, that conclusion was reached by the Burns report. From a pest control point of view, the report also found that fox hunting does not keep the numbers down in the lowland areas. That is not my view; that was the conclusion reached by the report.
Earl Peel: My Lords, I intervene only because I believe that we are all trying to seek the facts here. I am sorry, but I have to tell the noble Lord that the independent research carried out by the Game Conservancy Trust, as part of the Burns inquiry, showed clearly that hunting does have an impact on fox populations in certain parts of lowland Britain.
Lord Hoyle: My Lords, the noble Earl is entitled to say that. Of course, evidence was given to the Burns committee to that effect. However, I am saying that the conclusion reached by the Burns report--and he tells me that he has read it--is that as a form of pest control hunting is not an effective method in lowland areas. Whether or not the noble Earl likes that is neither here nor there. He is quite entitled to his opinions. I have listened with great diligence to many of the opinions expressed in the debate. All I ask is that noble Lords listen to those who may be opposed to their views.
My noble friend Lord Ponsonby said that hunting is about pleasure. I take the opposite view. In my opinion, hunting is a cruel sport. When talking about this, many noble Lords do not compare it with bear baiting, cock fighting, and so on. Nearly all of the views expressed tonight about human liberties and about taking away people's rights were expressed in relation to those sports when such matters were debated in this and in the other place. I want to put that on record.
Much of the debate has been about foxes. Not so much has been said about deer and, indeed, a little less has been said about hares which, in many instances, mainly because of farming methods, are an endangered species. I believe it needs to be said that some of us do not arrive at the same position in this place.
I am very pleased about the number of libertarians that we have discovered in this House. I hope that those views will be expressed on other matters, not just on fox hunting, stag hunting or, perhaps, hare coursing. As a libertarian myself, I should just like to say--indeed, it has already been said--that I can go along with whatever a person engages in, provided that it does not affect other human beings or living creatures. I believe that hunting does affect living creatures. That is why I cannot go along with it.
I turn now to the middle-way option. I do not believe that there is a middle way in this matter. I admire those who favour hunting, and I understand where they are coming from. But the middle way will not get rid of the cruelty inherent in hunting. The chase will still continue. Little has been said about terrier work--that is, digging up foxes--which the Burns report found causes injury not only to the foxes but also to the terriers. That is yet another fault.
There is also the issue of the class divide. The argument is not about that at all. Yes, many noble Lords from the other side of the House have spoken on the issue. However, when one looks at hare coursing, it will be seen that that is mainly carried out by the working class. So that difference does not exist. It is a question of whether or not one believes that it is cruel.
I say to my noble friends who may support the middle way that there is one thing which ought to be borne in mind when we compare the views of the massive majority in the other place and those of this Chamber. This is not an elected House. I do not mind my noble friend behind me muttering but I should say that what we do here is to examine and reform Bills that come before us. I remind my noble friend who was formerly a Member of the other place that at the end of the day those in another place who have taken certain decisions have to face the electorate and gain another mandate. I accept that the Bill will not make much further progress as it will be overtaken by a general election. However, whether or not it makes progress, the matter will come back again and again until hunting is banned.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, like many speakers in this debate I am conscious of the ways in which complex social divisions in our nation affect and even determine the way people respond to the question before us.
I was brought up in the Scottish countryside where for many hunting is a way of life and has been for many centuries. I worked in urban Manchester where for many it is at best an irrelevance. I have also worked in suburban Surrey where animal rights activists are, if I may say so, rampant and roaring.
When I look at the Portsmouth diocese I see in many ways a microcosm of the United Kingdom, urban, suburban and rural including, in Idsworth, a church dedicated to St Hubert. I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, for writing my next St Hubert's Day sermon for me. However, I know that the real picture is more complex still, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out earlier this morning.
I know farmers who are keen on regulation and I know city dwellers like the cab driver I recently met who would heartily welcome fox hunting in their backyards. On a broader picture, however, the reality is that life is even more complex and interrelated. Cities are dependent upon the agriculture industry for many products; farming communities depend upon urban areas for the markets they represent. In between lie areas of rural suburbia where tensions often lie hidden because of differing expectations. The plain truth is that we are enmeshed one with another whether we like it or not in just the same way as we are enmeshed with global markets and resources. What concerns me is that there is an increasing polarisation between these twin aspects of our society in a way which is proving damaging to the nation as a whole. For that reason I support the so-called "middle way" which I believe will in some degree promote a sense of understanding and level-headedness in this whole matter.
That leads me to the second of two points that I wish to raise which is rarely touched upon in open debate. It is the philosophical one--which some would say is also spiritual--of how we understand sentient beings. The matter was touched upon in some speeches earlier but it has not really had a full hearing. This too is an area where it is possible to perceive that there are sharp divisions where under the surface there is a great deal more complexity. I believe that this is something which deserves more attention than it has so far received.
There will be those who argue--as they have in the course of this debate--that human society in terms of employment as well as culture should not be held to ransom by what is regarded as a pest, or at least as an animal to be culled among many in the countryside. Equally, others will argue, as they have in this debate, that if human beings are truly a civilised and civilising force there should be no need to engage in such activities as hunting for pleasure.
All this seems to me to conceal the fact that we have not yet had a full and informed debate here and elsewhere about whether all animals, including human beings, have the same rights to life and liberty, or whether there are genuine or de facto differences which preclude that. I refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I know that the Judaeo-Christian tradition has some important resources to bring to this discussion, particularly in the Hebrew scriptures, Ezekiel, and in Revelations where one has the vision of the four living creatures--the human being, the lion, the ox and the eagle--which emphasises our unity with the rest of the created order and our distinctiveness from it.
I believe that it is precisely because that kind of debate has not been held that the question over fox hunting has aroused such emotions. The different groups involved are speaking different languages. We are divided by a common tongue; and until we face those wider questions about human nature and our relationship with the rest of the created order, I do not believe that there will be any lasting resolution of the question before us.
The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Standing Conference on Countryside Sports. My first hunting experience was when, returning from the war, I was invited by my commanding officer to have a day's hunting with the Pytchley. At the end of the day I wondered whether it was more frightening to be in Italy or hunting with the Pytchley, following my commanding officer who was a great rider.
Several references to Exmoor and stag hunting by other noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the noble Lord, Lord Hutchinson, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Earl, Lord Arran, remind me of my report in 1977 which was commissioned by the noble Lord, Lord Shore of Stepney, when Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture. Red deer were a major factor in the conservation of the
Last week I was very impressed with a teach-in by the chairman of ISAH, Sir Ronald Waterhouse. ISAH is a possible way ahead, but I strongly recommend that two new commissioners be appointed by the Home Secretary to make ISAH efficient and official. The noble Lords, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Soulsby, and, I believe, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, would support such a move.
Finally, there has been much talk in the Chamber about the liberty of the individual. I shall quote a statement by John Stuart Mill, philosopher and Member of Parliament in the late 19th century. He said:
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, I do not know how it happened that I find myself at the end of this very long list of distinguished speakers--perhaps it is because I am the most ignorant on the subject. I also regret that I have to rob the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, of the prize for the shortest speech, because what I have to say is very simple and consists of five sentences.
I am one of those who find the deliberate killing of any living creature painful and hunting with dogs distasteful. I am also one who profoundly believes that only actions that harm other people and infringe their rights require the force of the law, whereas activities that are merely disagreeable or distasteful to some do not. When it comes to legislation, as a matter of principle I would rather err on the side of restraint than on that of interference. This is what liberty means and to me liberty matters above all other values. For that reason, I prefer the option of self-regulation of hunting with dogs and am strongly opposed to the idea of a ban.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, next Sunday, had it not been for the recent tragic outbreaks of foot and mouth, London would have been full of at least half a million people marching under the banner, "Liberty and Livelihood". The countryside would have been able to have its say against a ban on hunting. I am against a ban on hunting. I declare an interest. I have hunted all my life. I have been master of my local hunt, the Old Berks, and I am now chairman of the hunt.
There are four myths about hunting that I shall try to expose this evening: first, the myth that hunting is not an integral part of the countryside; then the myth of cruelty; then the myth that foxes would be better off without hunting; and finally the myth that there is a moral case against hunting.
I shall not refer to any noble Lord by name--it would take too long even to read out the names of the 60 or so noble Lords who have spoken this evening--but I shall try to pick up the various strands of the debate.
Hunting is part of rural communities. There are 178 hunts in this country that average 74 days' hunting each. That amounts to 13,172 days in total. That does not mean that one cannot live in a rural community without being involved in hunting or other field sports. Many people are not, and they pursue other interests. However, last year 4,000 hunt functions took place, with an overall attendance of 1.3 million people. Millions more attended events associated with shooting and fishing.
We all benefit from the richness and diversity of our countryside, which has evolved over many years. It is a largely man-made countryside, tended by those who live in it and care for it. To quote the Burns report:
Animals are not moral beings. They have neither rights nor duties. They are not sovereign over their own lives and they can commit no crimes. If they were moral beings, how could we justify killing them for food, capturing or confining them? It would follow that lions would be murderers, magpies would be thieves and mice would be burglars. The fox would be the worst of all living criminals, killing not only for food but for wanton pleasure.
The reality is that there is a cycle of life and death in the animal world. Those who promote Utopian animal rights promote ecological anarchism. Some people believe that animals have similar rights to humans. In his book Unfettered Kingdom, John Bryant of the League Against Cruel Sports writes on pets:
If there is one issue from the Burns report that has caused more debate than any other it is that relating to cruelty. Opponents of hunting claim that the Burns report says that hunting is cruel. I cannot find any reference in the report to back up that claim. As my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior said, the Burns report did not conclude that hunting is cruel.
What about the domestic cat which is let out at night when small birds are on their nests? And what about animal experiments? Do not they, too, compromise the animal's welfare? All those actions compromise the welfare of animals, but that does not necessarily make them all cruel. If angling involved lifting a fish out of the water to cause it pain rather than returning it or dispatching it quickly, we might have a different view of angling, although little might differ in the fish's perception.
Would foxes be better off in the world if they were not hunted? Would they enjoy a happier and easier life and an easier death? The fox would gain nothing from the abolition of hunting. Faced with that evidence, two former directors of the League Against Cruel Sports abandoned their advocacy of a ban on hunting.
Hunting a fox discriminates against the old and the diseased. It is not easy to catch a healthy fox. Shooting foxes, while necessary in some parts of England, discriminates against bold and healthy animals. Hunting involves the pursuit of the quarry in its wild and natural state and the quarry encounters nothing outside its natural repertoire of defences.
As we heard, hunting, like many sports, brings together people from all walks of life. Just come hunting and have a look. It is old Labour cant to suggest otherwise. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is old Labour and he is fighting old battles. He recently said on Radio 4:
Those who are against hunting seem to object most not to hunting with hounds but to the followers. Let us remember that it is the hounds that do the hunting and that the followers follow the hounds on foot, horse, bicycle or car. It is that pleasure--of following the hounds--that seems to cause more bitterness than anything else to those who are against hunting.
Before I deal with the Bill in a bit more detail I should commend the Government on setting up the Burns inquiry. I do not often commend the Government so I hope that the noble and learned Lord will appreciate that commendation. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee on their extremely fine report.
The Bill as it stands has much wrong with it. Anyone who puts an injured animal out of its misery could be branded a criminal. The Bill reverses the normal burden of proof, which is contrary to a recent ruling of the European Court of Justice. The Bill offers us three options: a ban, independent supervision and regulation. This House must have the opportunity to consider and to vote on all three options.
The second option involves the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting and is my preferred option. It was set up following the Phelps review of hunting and had been recommended as far back as the Scott-Henderson inquiry. Since its creation, hunting has shown that it conducts its sport in a responsible manner. The ISAH has had no complaints since its inception, even from the "antis". That is a record that other sports would find hard to match.
Licensing is seen as the middle way. It does not satisfy the "banners" of this world. It is anathema to the likes of Tony Banks, a Member of another place, who recently said in an article in the Independent:
The Government brought forward the Bill for one reason: because they received a donation of £1.1 million from the political animal lobby. A large donation can get one a lot from the Government: a ban on tobacco advertising lifted, a passport and an awful lot of tickets to the Dome. That is new Labour showing itself at its most cynical. The Government have allowed a Bill to be introduced so late in the parliamentary timetable that it cannot succeed. They knew that when they started this process.
In short, they want more money from the political animal lobby, more donations to fight the next election. Look at those groups that are lobbying the Government. Deadline 2000 is made up of three organisations. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is not a charity; it is a lobbying group. It has no membership, and therefore none of the accountability that a membership organisation would have, and it has been accused, in America, of misusing its funds. The League Against Cruel Sports is an organisation that is dedicated to the disruption of hunting. Its press officer, Andrew Walsley, the public face of the League, pleaded guilty to taking part in a riot at Hillgrove Farm in 1998. He was sentenced to three months' imprisonment for violent disorder. When leaders deny the role of their extremist members and violent acts, they sound less convincing than the most fervent IRA Sinn Fein apologist.
The RSPCA is the third part of this triumvirate. It will be judged by the company it keeps, and it will be judged harshly. Sadly, now it is an organisation that is more obsessed with animal rights than animal welfare.
There are other extremist groups, including the Animal Rights Militia, which openly promote violence. Only yesterday, a spokesman for the Animal Liberation Front refused to condemn the extremists among its ranks who have targeted MPs who are pro-hunting.
A ban on hunting would lead to pressure on shooting and fishing. The Prime Minister says that he is not against shooting and fishing, but the political animal lobby and its friends, the people who are in favour of ethical treatment of animals, do not agree. They want to start a national campaign against anglers. Their spokesman, Andrew Butler, stated recently:
We therefore have to ask the Government, should they win the next election, which I doubt: if £1.1 million was all it took to ban hunting, how much will it take to ban shooting--£2 million or £4 million? How much will it take to ban angling--£5 million or £10 million?
The Government ought to be concentrating on the crisis in British agriculture, a crisis that is affecting all those involved in farming and rural industries. Rural tourism is also in crisis: hotels, holiday lets, bed and breakfast establishments are all facing economic disaster, but no compensation will be offered to them. The Government should be dealing with the crises in rural schools, rural hospitals, and the cuts in police numbers in rural areas.
I agree with the right reverend Prelates. The moral objection to hunting is not one that I can accept, however honestly or deeply it is felt; nor can I accept the gesture politics of those who vote for a ban just after finishing their steak for dinner.
Many people disapprove of religious slaughter of animals, but it does not follow that this practice, which is central to the lives of Jews and Muslims, should be banned. Tolerance of minorities is one of the traditional English virtues, but it does not seem to be one of new Labour's.
I conclude with a warning to the Government: to allow a ban would be a cynical use of the tyranny of the majority to settle the question without regard to the rights of a minority. A large majority of noble Lords who have spoken this evening spoke against a ban. The Minister is very patient, and we look forward to his response.
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, since 1979, 22 Private Members' Bills have been promoted in another place to ban hunting. Since the election, 100,000 letters have been received by the Home Secretary in relation to the hunting issue, some for and some against abolition. In those circumstances there cannot be any doubt that it is a significantly controversial issue in this country.
As my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton stated, there is absolutely no prospect of a Bill getting time for a full debate in both Houses of Parliament, unless government time is given to such a Bill. That is what the Government have decided to do. They are neutral on the issue of whether or not hunting should be abolished. The Bill contains three options: one has been drafted by the Middle Way Group, one by the Countryside Alliance, of which my noble friend Lady Mallalieu is the president, and a proposal to abolish drafted by Deadline 2000.
The approach of a multi-option Bill gives the House and the other place the option to consider what should happen to hunting in the long term. We believe it right for Parliament to decide what happens. In the light of the history of this matter, we feel that Parliament should have a proper opportunity to consider what should happen to hunting. It is well known in this House that there was a majority in excess of 200 in the other place to adopt the Deadline 2000 approach. No doubt noble Lords will bear that in mind in their consideration of this Bill and the options contained in it.
It is not for the Government, taking a neutral stance as they do, to answer the impressive issues raised in the course of this debate on both sides of the argument. We are facilitating Parliament making a decision on this controversial issue. Other members of the Government made clear that other issues have a higher priority than the issue of hunting--health, education and crime. But this is a controversial issue that has been around for a long time and it is right that Parliament should have a proper debate on it.
That is our approach to the matter. That approach was made clear in the last manifesto when we said that Parliament would have a free vote. It was made clear when the Bill was introduced in another place. That is the reason it was introduced. There is no sinister reason. It is perfectly clear and perfectly sensible. I note that the noble Earl, Lord Peel, welcomed the opportunity for this debate so that greater light could be shone on the issues relating to hunting. So the Government have taken a perfectly responsible stance.
Perhaps I may mention two specific points in relation to procedure and hunting generally. First, I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Cope--sadly in my absence, but it was passed straight on to me--whether the Parliament Act will be used in relation to the Bill. It is much too early a stage, only half-way through the process, to give any indication in that regard. Let us get through the process before we start talking about the end game.
Secondly, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, gave me notice before the debate that he intended to raise the issue of unlawful and criminal threats posed by animal rights extremists, both to people engaged in the hunting debate and also engaged in animal experimentation. Like the noble Earl, I utterly and unreservedly condemn such activity and join with all noble Lords who made that point. We utterly condemn anybody who resorts to that sort of action in relation to this issue.
The noble Earl asked what the Government are doing about it. We are doing four things. First, we included in a recent Bill police power to disperse protesters more easily than before; secondly, we increased the penalties for malicious communications; thirdly, we removed the obligation on directors of certain companies to provide their home addresses in publications to avoid their being attacked, as we all know one of the directors of Huntingdon Life Sciences was attacked. In addition, we made a special grant available to the Cambridgeshire Police Authority to meet the costs of policing at Huntingdon Life Sciences.
I join with everyone in expressing the Government's gratitude for the depth of the study and the information contained in it. The report was entirely fit for its purpose; namely, providing the basis on which an informed debate could take place on this important issue. There is absolutely no doubt that the right course was taken in asking the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his team to make the report. It has made for a much more informed debate than it would otherwise have been.
Perhaps I may try to deal with only the important points. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, it would be wrong to read out everybody's name. That would lead to my speech being longer, which would not be acceptable at twenty-five minutes to two in the morning.
An important issue was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Denham. In effect it was to ask what is the difference in the criteria that apply to shooting and fishing to that applying to hunting which require it to be banned. Fearful that I might forget the matter, the noble Lord handed me the question in writing after he delivered his speech, which was very helpful. I hope that I have accurately expressed the question. It has been expressed by others also throughout the debate.
We are putting this matter before Parliament for it to decide what it wishes to do. We have done that because of the constant interest in the hunting issue over the past 20 years and before. There is huge public interest in it. There is no such public interest or support in relation to any sort of ban on fishing or shooting. We have absolutely no intention of bringing forward a similar Bill in that regard. It is quite wrong to say that public interest in the hunting issue is the same as that in relation to angling and shooting. They are different and one should recognise that. That is why this Bill has been brought forward.
The distinction between shooting and fishing on the one hand and hunting on the other will no doubt inform the debate. What we have done as a government is allow Parliament to properly debate the issues.
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