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Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the League Against Cruel Sports, which he has already thanked for the assistance it has given, provided its supporters with a list of people in this House to write to, which included only those such as himself who had previously supported a ban or who had previously abstained? If the noble Lord compares the letters he received with others in the same category, I believe he will see that they are copies.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, that is news to me. Someone has just whispered that that is not true. The matter will be investigated later. In the interests of individual liberty I wish to quote from a letter from Ms Stretch of Oaktree Close, Wareham. Ms Stretch writes:
I want to bring to the attention of the House some hunts that have not been mentioned tonight but which my correspondents inform me have caused great distress to their individual liberty. I refer to hunts in the Isle of Wight and in the Lake District, Weardale and Tees Valley Beagles, Essex and Suffolk Foxhounds, Cotley Harriers, Quantock Hills, Budleigh Salterton, Shropshire, New Forest Hounds, North Shropshire Hunt, Beaufort Hunt, Wynstay Hunt, East Devon Hunt,
I want to say a word about my colleagues in the Commons. When many of them fought the 1997 election they stood on a platform that, among other issues, included their opposition to fox hunting, and they were elected. The great shock to many Conservative Peers was that they were elected for rural areas. Between 1997 and 2001, they took part, stood up and were counted and put their jobs on the line, and overwhelmingly they were elected again in 2001. What does that say about the people in their areas, who knew their views, and knew that they could damage them but did not? They returned them instead.
The issue is obviously very important to many people herefar more important than it is to me. I conclude my seven minutes by simply saying that I believe that setting one animal against another to destroy it in such a way is wrong. I think that the Government are courageous in proceeding with the Bill, and I will certainly support it tonight and in future.
Lord Northbrook: My Lords, I would like to make one comment straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton: if those MPs elected for rural areas vote for a ban, they are unlikely to be elected again.
Lord Northbrook: My Lords, I declare an interest as a landowner and member of the Countryside Alliance. The Bill has been transformed into a completely illiberal measure without any proper justification except for pure prejudice. As the writer Roger Scruton put it clearly in an article in the Spectator earlier this year:
The Burns report covered the civil liberty aspects, looking at them under a European law perspective. It examined how a ban would be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Chapter 10 of the Burns report states, on page 160:
According to the Burns report, both the pro-hunting and anti-hunting lobbies agree that Article 1, Protocol 1, is triggered in the sense that a ban on hunting, although it does not deprive someone of the use of the land or the animals involved, constitutes a control on their use or an interference with the substance of ownership. The issue then turns on whether a fair balance is struck between the interference with the fundamental rights of individuals and the general public interest. In my view, there is no doubt that there is not a fair balance and that human rights are being severely interfered with.
The Burns report states that there is a key issue in each paragraph of Article 8: first, whether hunting with dogs can be regarded as coming within the concept of "private life" and, if so, whether interference is justified on the grounds set out in Article 8.2. I strongly believe that hunting is an activity which is strongly identified with the ethos of the private and family life of a local community. It also takes place to a major extent on private land. Thus, the ban without doubt would be an interference with Article 8.1 rights.
So, in summary, I would say that it is far wiser for the Government to have a sensible licensing Bill than to risk a legal challenge to a ban on European law grounds, together with the problems of enforcing bad legislationwhich could even result in civil disobedience. I am sure that we can rely on the Prime Minister's good sense to achieve such a solution.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I have enjoyed parts of the debate. I enjoyed hearing the points when they were first made but after hearing them repeated three times, one becomes a little weary. I see the Minister smiling and agreeing with me.
A certain amount of logic has been spoken and there has been a fair amount of heat. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, who is no longer in his seat, was a little brave to describe those who hunt as "hooligans" when the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, sits behind him.
The debate boils down to two questions. First, is hunting with hounds cruel? What has clearly been demonstrated by my noble friend Lord Hooson and others is that if you want to control foxes, you must use hounds, terriers or whateveryou may call them dogs.
I believe it has clearly been shown that hunting is no more cruel than shooting or any other means of control. In fact, from the speeches that have been made, it appears to be clear that the hunting and killing of the foxor its escapeduring a hunt is probably less cruel than shooting. I know from personal experience that one can wound animals and not kill them outright. Therefore, I believe that the cruelty issue has been put aside. From the evidence presented here and from the many investigations that have been carried out, there is no question in my mind but that the hunting and killing of foxes with hounds is no more cruel than the other methods of control.
The second point, which has been made with great sincerity by a number of people, including my noble friend with whom I disagreed, although I consider that she expressed it extremely well, related to the morality of people who enjoy hunting. I believe that this point has also been answered by a number of speakers. The enjoyment of people who hunt is not in the death of the fox; it is in the excitement, the danger and the general feeling of good will engendered by hunting.
The Earl of Liverpool: My Lords, I enjoyed listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and I find myself in agreement with almost everything that he said. I apologise if I am guilty of being somewhat repetitive, and I hope that I shall not cause him offence in that.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, this is the first time that I have spoken on this subject in your Lordships' House. I should explain that I do not hunt, having given up following an accident when I was 16 years old. One reason that I feel compelled to speak now is that I, like so many other noble Lords, am appalled and bemused that this issue has been allowed to take up so much precious parliamentary time when there are so many other important issues that we could, and should, be addressing.
We are supposed to be a tolerant society but, in my view, the Bill goes beyond all reasonable bounds of tolerance. It will make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding individuals who have been doing what has been done for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
It is man's destiny to manage his environment and the wildlife within it. That is a given. Foxes are vermin. That is also a given. I believe that hunting is the most efficient way of managing this particular species as it maintains some sort of reasonable balance. Those who consider that foxes will be better off if and when this legislation is passed are, I believe, deluding themselves.
If foxes had the vote, they would not vote for this Bill. It will be open season for them if the Bill is passed, and they will be persecuted far more than they are at present. If the police had the vote, they would not vote for this piece of legislation. As my noble friend Lord Hurd said earlier, they would not do so because they would see it as completely unmanageable and a serious misuse of police time. If the public had the vote, apparently 59 per cent would vote to keep hunting. That, of course, is an even greater number than those who voted against the euro in the Swedish referendum. I believe that the figure there was 56 per cent, which was reported in the press as being a decisive majority.
According to a newspaper article that I read yesterday, even magistrates are dreading the passing of the Bill. Apparently, if the article is correct, some 25 per cent of all magistrates living in countryside areas are seeking to resign because they do not want to find themselves being forced to criminalise perfectly law-abiding members of their community.
So who would vote for this Bill as it now stands, apart from a majority in another place? The only people I can think of are the lawyers, who will be queuing up at the court of human rights in the Hague and who stand to make lots of money as they
The economy in the countryside is like a finely interwoven fabric. If hunting is banned, thousands of people will lose their livelihoods in areas where getting on your bike is not an option. In any event, the fox, deer and hare population have to be controlled if we are to operate efficient farms in this country. So for the life of me I cannot see arguments for an all out ban. Neither can the many hundreds of people who have written to me. I have had hundreds of letters, one of which was in favour of a ban. But the others, probably 200, were against a ban.
As I have said, it seems to me that almost everyone, including foxes, would be the losers. So I shall certainly join with other noble Lords in seeking to amend the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, suggested, so that it resembles the Bill first presented in another place. As other noble Lords have said, we can speculate on what the Government will do then but I do not think the electorate will easily forgive another place if they use the Parliament Act on this piece of legislation.
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