Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble ex-friend is trying to provoke me. This is the third time that my words on civil disobedience have been mentioned. I do not reject the right of people to use their conscience and engage in civil disobedience. What I said in my opening speech was that it would be wrong for our democracy for decisions by the legislature to be guided by a threat of civil disobedience. That is entirely different from condemning all civil disobedience.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, that is complete rubbish—

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I must say to the Minister—my previous noble friend—that I was not just getting at him. I was surprised to hear some of the sentiments expressed on the Labour side with regard to direct action. The Labour movement has, through direct action, made an enormous difference, for the good of the country.

16 Sept 2003 : Column 848

I have gone over my seven minutes because of the Minister. I finish by saying that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, in order that its provisions can be seriously and rigorously examined.

8.25 p.m.

The Earl of Arran: My Lords, I am proud, this evening, to be the fourth voice of Exmoor, after notable speeches by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough. I am also proud to be British and proud of our defence of democracy, but I take no pride in the application of bullying majorities. The true test of democracy, as speaker after speaker has said, is how the majority treats minority views.

Within our rural population, there is growing despair about the circumstances affecting its culture, its values and its hopes for the future. There is pent-up frustration at the failure of Parliament to recognise and respect its views. At the core of that disbelief is the decision by the responsible Minister to abandon advice presented by the most recent studies on hunting. Like so many of your Lordships, I suggest that there is no incontrovertible evidence that enables decisions to be made wisely. What replaces wisdom is emotion, for the subject brings out passionately held views. Both sides lift the temperature of debate beyond the boiling point of reason.

Like my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell, who made a most eloquent speech, I fear the consequences for our society, if a ban on hunting is imposed. I cannot produce evidence for the likelihood of civil disobedience nor for the problems of policing the ban or action by others in support of the ban, but I am sure that they will be severe and will, possibly, cut to the very governance of our country. The uncertainty that surrounds this major decision is compounded by a deafening silence on what compensating and replacement arrangements—at what cost and when—will be introduced.

Life in the wilds of Exmoor, close to where I live, does not stop. The life or death of many of the beasts now hunted will not wait. It seems that there is a great reluctance to give any form of definition of how our wonderful red deer herd, which has hinds 20 per cent bigger than those controlled by stalking in the highlands, and our foxes, which, although no bigger than others, still present real danger to the income of sheep farmers, are to be controlled without hunting. I retain a deep fear that controlling the red deer exclusively by shooting will lead to a decline in quality, as trophy hunters gather to take the best stags. Animal welfare organisations will not be able to provide the response needed to deal with wounded or injured deer.

I recognise that many parts of our country have been affected throughout the ages by the dreadful economic impacts of shifts in trade or supply. But the impact on the rural communities that would be initiated by a hunting ban would a pure form of direct, government-imposed unemployment, probably without redundancy. Were it to happen in areas not constrained by planning and

16 Sept 2003 : Column 849

development restrictions, as national parks are, or in areas that had existing diversity of employment or had not seen such a rapid decline in the number of people employed in agriculture, it might be a lesser evil.

I am profoundly concerned about the impact of any ban on the wider economy of Exmoor.

This is already one of the poorest areas of England, where the average working household income is below 17,500. We have seen dramatic shifts in the balance of population as the young cannot find employment nearby. Retirees and second-home owners are too ready to snap up local housing, which is now well above the affordable limit for young people wishing to stay. Schools, post offices and pubs are closing. This vortex of despair, exacerbated by the impact of foot and mouth disease and fears for the loss of seasonal and full-time income provided by hunting, is creating a heady brew of reaction.

Regrettably, the economic benefit of hunting to tourism has never been assessed. But the impact on tourism within rural areas in the shoulder periods of winter when other visitor numbers drop must be a real benefit to the economies of local tourism and its supporting services.

Of course, it is a privilege to live within a national park or in our countryside, but the attraction of the countryside within a national park is for all people to enjoy. We, who live there, have to tolerate the variety of interests which need the freedom of the rural environment. Motorcycle rallies and four wheelers of every size join the thousands of people who simply want to watch, walk or ride around the country. Toleration and respect for diverse interests is always under threat from protectionist and activist alike.

But this country has a future as well as a history. The future should be based on respect for the need to find appropriate measures to enable all our people, crammed into an increasingly congested island, to live with one another's differences. Although many people living in the South West have experienced or still experience the pleasure of chasing across beautiful country, there is another even larger population that enjoys the social life, which is enriched by the need to raise funds to support the employment and costs of hunting.

On Exmoor alone, there are usually six point-to-points attended by some 20,000 people, hunter trials, sponsored cross-country rides, gymkhanas and country shows, puppy shows, skittle leagues, dances, whist drives—the list and variety is endless. But it provides the very backbone and framework of social exchange for the communities of Exmoor. Many people would experience a profound sense of loss and increasing isolation were this range of activities to cease.

Hunting on Exmoor is like Premier Division football in Liverpool or Manchester. It gives social cohesion to the whole area. To ban it would be to tear the heart out of the community; it would be a fundamental attack on individual liberty and freedom of choice. In my humble opinion, this Bill combines vicious class prejudice with wilful and sentimental

16 Sept 2003 : Column 850

ignorance about country life. It would have the effect of making life much worse for foxes. One of the hallmarks of a sophisticated democracy is the protection of minorities. Hunting people are a minority. To destroy their sport and their whole way of life would be the act of an elected dictatorship.

Who was it who, as recently as last July, said:


    "We are fighting for the inalienable right of human kind . . . to be free. Free to be you, so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others. That's what we are fighting for. And that's a battle worth fighting."?

Yes, your Lordships are right: it was none less than the Prime Minister in his speech to Congress, and well worth a standing ovation.

8.33 p.m.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I have said this before, but I want to say it again: I do not live in the town. I have always lived in the countryside and I am very proud of living there. However, I do not recognise at all the countryside described from some of the Benches opposite. In my village, hunting is rarely, if ever, discussed. It certainly is not the Saturday night topic at the Elephant and Castle or the Spinners. People may talk about Manchester United or Blackburn Rovers or even my own team, Bolton Wanderers. I am sorry to say that they may be talking about Wigan rather than Warrington, which always dismays me. But hunting? No.

Perhaps I may give a practical example. Recently we had three ducks taken by a fox. That was our fault because they were not locked up; we shall ensure that they are in future. But if we were to wait for that fox to be killed by a hunt, we would be waiting for ever. To be honest, that fox would draw its old age pension first. I just want to put the record straight. In many areas of the country hunting is not a topic for discussion or a part of country life. Rural transport, education, schools and the closure of post offices are what the people of the village talk about when they are not discussing football or rugby league.

Since I came here, I have always been one of those who advocated the reform of this House. I am very fond of all noble Lords and I have been made welcome ever since I arrived. But during this debate I have been surprised by some of the extreme views expressed about people who support a ban on hunting. I am so sorry that the Bishops' Benches are empty, because I was really disgusted by the comment of one right reverend Prelate that there might be a mental deficiency among some of my noble friends because of our views. As regards other Peers, I can always forgive them. To say that we are all supporters of Adolf Hitler because we happen to take a different view—


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page