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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I accused the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, of calling hunters hooligans. It was not him; it was the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester.

9.22 p.m.

Lord Desai: My Lords, like the noble Earl who has just spoken, and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, I, too, have not spoken before in a hunting debate. However, I have always voted with my noble friend Lady Mallalieu against a ban on hunting. It is late at night and we will not change any views, so I shall try to be brief.

When we used to have capital punishment in this country, especially before it became mechanised and made efficient, people who were facing death used to pay a little purse to the hangman because they wanted to die a clean death. They would pay him to use the sword to make a clean cut and not cause suffering while they were dying. Of course, to kill someone is cruel but there are ways which are less cruel and ways which are more cruel.

Like many others, I have never hunted or ridden a horse. I probably would not recognise a fox if I saw one in the street. Fox hunting has never bothered me and I do not know why I should ban something on civil libertarian grounds which has never bothered me. I do lots of things which I am sure would cause distress if people knew about them and they may want to ban them.

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Baroness Thornton: Surely not!

Lord Desai: You don't know me!

Therefore, I feel that at least on a personal utility calculus I have no reason to support a ban on hunting. I cannot judge, but other people tell me that there will be various effects on the rural economy, and so forth. I have always thought in all contexts, not just this one, that employment arguments are spurious. As an economist I believe that if people cannot do one thing, they will do something else. After all, that is what happened with coalminers, steel workers and many others. The countryside will adjust. But that is not the issue. The question at issue is: even if there is no effect, is this action worth taking?

I have already given the argument on at least my own calculus. As we are becoming tolerant in many other dimensions, such as sexual mores or in becoming multi-cultural, why is it that suddenly this issue has assumed such importance in the minds of people?

Obviously, there is the argument of majority rule, but majoritarianism is a peculiar argument. Of course the majority can always have its way. There is no doubt about that. Indeed, it may be that this majority will have its way. However, how do we take into account the fact that this Bill will cause distress to a minority, especially if that minority insists, as it has every right, on exercising civil disobedience and floods the prisons of this country, which is what I advise it to do? Let everyone be arrested and we will see what happens to the prison system in this country.

The majoritarian argument is false for the following reason. When I was young, I was a majoritarian. I had great confidence that I belonged, with the masses, to the majority of the population; and therefore whatever the majority wanted was right. Then we suffered 18 years of Conservative rule and found that we were not in a majority at all. There was another majority out there. When one is on the wrong side of majority rule, one realises that life is tough. The answer is not, as my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton seemed to argue, "Well, it's our turn now, so tough luck". The argument is, "No, we suffered during that time. Because we realise that that is not the way to conduct affairs, let us try to be more reasonable".

There is also, however, a defect in the constitution. I have argued about it for many years; not in the context of fox hunting, but on the reform of your Lordships' House. It is that the Westminster constitution has a unicameral majoritarian bias: the House of Commons can always do whatever it chooses to do. Very often, or a lot in this case, the House of Commons does what the Government in power ask it to do, if the party in power has a sufficient majority.

If this House had been reformed, as for a long time I argued that it should have been, and made into an elected Chamber, we could legitimately have said to the other place, "You are not the only representatives of the people. There are other views". There are other majorities, other ways of representation. Sadly, we have not fulfilled that manifesto commitment. But there are manifesto commitments and manifesto

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commitments. I have been long enough in the Labour Party to know that if a Labour government fulfilled every manifesto commitment, the annual conference would be deserted: there would be nothing to complain about. So, I do not put great faith in manifesto commitments.

Lastly, I turn to animal cruelty. I cannot judge what a fox feels; I cannot anthropomorphise a fox's feelings. But I want to say one thing: out in the streets today there are Animal Liberation Front people who are literally terrorising people who conduct experiments on animals. I believe very strongly in my calculus that human welfare ranks above animal welfare. If people do not like that, they do not. Experimenting with animals to improve human health is a fundamentally good thing. If we concede the animal cruelty argument now, God help the people of the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratories and every scientist who conducts animal experiments and, in consequence, all those people who hope that experiments on animals will ultimately benefit their health.

9.29 p.m.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I wonder why it is that every time that I speak in your Lordships' House I speak immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Desai. Almost every time, he says that he is speaking on a subject about which he has never spoken before but is in agreement with third parties. I shall try to say something different.

I see before me the greatest natural schism that we have had since the early days of religion. Schism, or scisme, effectively means disunion, disharmony or mutual hostility—that word that has more meanings, pronunciations and spellings in the Oxford English Dictionary than any other word. It was once hijacked by the Church in the treaty of Constance when the great divide took place. Now we have the division between St Hubert, the patron saint of hunting, whose day is 3rd November, and St Francis, the patron saint of animals, who only a few years ago, in 1979, was made by Pope Paul the patron saint of the ecologists.

I will speak tonight, as I did a year or so ago, not on behalf of the pro- or anti-hunting lobby. I shall not try to heal divisions, but I shall try to speak on behalf of mammals as a whole. I begin by reminding your Lordships that within rural areas of the United Kingdom there are only 6 million human mammals—only 10 per cent of the population. When we consider that that is the smallest proportion of people living in rural areas of almost any developed nation we must think again: have we lost touch with the rural areas?

We know that the fox population, vulpes vulpes, has increased fairly rapidly since I spoke last March, partly due to clement weather, partly due to the town ecologists, who have been helping the urban fox, who has increased in numbers from about 20,000 to 50,000. As your Lordships will know, the fox population swells dramatically in May when the cubs are out. My favourite was the Belgravia fox on the Duke of Westminster's estate, who now, I fear to say, suffers from mange. He was fit and healthy last year; his cubs

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are at large and have managed, as leasehold enfranchisement takes place, to go downstairs and eat more and more from the rubbish bins.

Is the urban fox a threat? I do not know. Is the rural fox a threat? The urban fox has had problems in Bristol, which it heavily occupied, because of disease. The biggest enemies of the fox are disease and the motor car, not hunting. For those of us who love the country and have been brought up in it, one of the finest sights in the world is to see a really fit, beautifully trimmed fox in the early morning or evening. You feel nothing but admiration for that animal. More has been written about it in fables and poems than any other animal in history. It is said that the more the fox is cursed, the better he fares. Perhaps that is true of those who fight the Bill: the more they are cursed, the better they fare.

But the fox is only one mammal whose welfare may be compromised. Let us turn to the horse. In the days when I chaired one of the Government's bodies for sport and recreation, we always used to say that there were 400,000 horses in the United Kingdom. There are now 970,000 horses in the United Kingdom—a vast population. That is based on Swedish and other research. Because few are registered, DEFRA, for example, can account for only 270,000 horses. We must consider the inter-relationship between different horse activities. There are only 900—nearly 1,000—working horses. They are in the military or the police. We may talk of 83,000 horses involved with hunting, but we should not forget the pony clubs and the relationships that follow down the line, which may well involve as many as 200,000 horses.

An urban fox lives for seven years; a rural fox for four years; a horse may live for 15 to 17 years. What happens to those horses? They have been growing in numbers. The exports from the United Kingdom abroad are only 6,000, but the death toll is around 34,000 a year. Six thousand go to hunt kennels to feed hounds; 18,000 go to the knacker's yard; and another 10,000 go God knows where.

One fear is that, if we abolish hunting altogether, there may be considerable deaths among horses and movement abroad of live horses, which various bodies are trying to prevent at present, especially when we consider EU legislation that requires live horses, for quarantine and other purposes, to spend up to 12 hours in a horsebox, without water and goodness knows what. Considerable cruelty could apply if we moved down that route.

In the United Kingdom there are 6.2 million dogs, of which around 20,000 are hounds, 150,000 are related to coursing and 50,000 are terriers. However, many more dogs are involved in rural sports and activities. The individual may, in his own right, take his dog out for a walk or a run, and it is common practice for the animal to hunt or chase. I do not know how many dogs live in rural areas. I have been brought up to believe that there are only two types of dog: hounds and terriers. The hound sniffs and follows, and the terrier, whether it be a Shih Tzu or a Lhasa Apso,

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has a remarkable habit of occasionally deciding to roll in the excrement of a badger or fox and then to pollute the home.

We all love animals of one form or another. But, given that the welfare of many more mammals other than the fox many be compromised, I ask the Minister whether he is certain that the welfare of the horse, hound and other dogs will not be compromised by the extension of the Bill at this time. We all know that there is a division on the issue. I would just as happily sit on the Benches opposite if I could find a way to solve that divide. We are on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. We believe and respect his personal views, and we respect and understand the difficulty that he faces. As I said previously, Tiberius outfoxed the Senate. Please will the noble Lord outfox his own Government?

9.36 p.m.

Lord Monson: My Lords, the Bill is illiberal, as has been said in many quarters of the House. It is also immoral because it seeks to outlaw people's way of life, traditions and liberty, and, in many cases, to abolish their livelihoods, for reasons that are, to a considerable extent, malicious or frivolous.

Let us remember that attacks on tradition and liberty affect not only those directly involved but millions of others who value such qualities, even though they may never have hunted or even followed a hunt. Attacks on the freedom of one group are, to a considerable extent, attacks on the freedom of us all. I am sure that the noble Lords, Lord Phillips of Sudbury and Lord Desai, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford agree with that proposition, judging by their speeches.

I have used the strong words "malicious" and "frivolous", so let me justify them. First, it is malicious to use the criminal law to target those whose imagined character and lifestyle you disapprove of, whether or not they bear any relation to those individuals' actual character and lifestyle. It is also malicious—and hypocritical, to boot—to ban hunting on the grounds that people must not be allowed to kill for pleasure, while cynically assuring the electorate that shooting has the wholehearted support of the Government and the Labour Party, even though shooting is all about killing for pleasure—far more so than hunting. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, reminded us, many animals are wounded during and after a shoot; it is never the case with hunting.

Is it not frivolous for educated people, trained to analyse and evaluate—one can perhaps forgive less educated people—to seek to criminalise a longstanding, hitherto legal activity, not on the basis of hard scientific evidence but out of self-indulgent and often anthropomorphic emotionalism? That is all the more so since scientific calculations have now, within the past year or so, been underpinned by the Scottish experience, which reveals that, on balance, there is far more suffering among foxes, now that they can no longer legally be killed by a pack.

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Of course, not everyone can be an expert on guns and shooting, but educated people must surely be aware that the alleged marksmanship depicted in Hollywood westerns, when the target is always dispatched cleanly and instantaneously without a drop of blood, is entirely bogus. Alas, shooting a moving target in real life is a much more messy and uncertain business. Traditional hunting really is the least cruel practical method of culling foxes. As the country vets have declared:

    "We do not pretend that hunting is necessarily the most efficient method of control but it is irrefutably the most humane".

I accept that some supporters of this Bill concede that point. They do not claim that the kill is particularly cruel, but they nevertheless support the Bill on the grounds that the chase is. That argument is certainly worthy of respect, unlike some others. However, it has now been categorically refuted by vets and experts in zoology and clinical pathology in the past 10 months—since the subject was last debated. Certainly, their findings tend to match one's empirical observations. Hares driven by beaters and dogs towards a line of guns always look terrified, whether they actually are or not. However, if a fox is being pursued, it generally appears unhurried and unworried.

Despite the conclusions, we are told to do away with carefully reasoned scientific argument and say, "The public wants a ban and the public must have its way". That is a most interesting proposition. I remember a public opinion poll published in a reputable broadsheet about 40 years ago, when the notion of decriminalising private homosexual activity between consenting adult males was being canvassed. The poll showed a small majority in the south of England in favour, but 68 per cent of people in the North were against, as were no less than 89 per cent of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom as a whole wanted such behaviour to remain criminal. Nevertheless—quite rightly, in my view—the government eventually pressed ahead and liberalised the law, although it took a bit longer in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Those who demand a ban on beagling, should the public wish it, should logically demand a ban on buggery should the public wish it, coupled no doubt with the reintroduction of capital punishment. I doubt that those who pray in aid public opinion on the issue of hunting are prepared to be so logical and consistent.

In any case, as the honourable member for Montgomeryshire, Mr Lembit Opik, pointed out in the other place on 16th December last year, it is the Commons Chamber that is out of kilter with public opinion. The public have started listening to the arguments, unlike many MPs, unfortunately. Now, between 57 per cent and 59 per cent of the public oppose a hunting ban. The riposte to those new statistics seems to be, "Fickle public opinion is neither here nor there. Moreover, we don't decide such matters by plebiscite in this country. The House of Commons is the true voice of the people and it is for the House of Commons to decide". However, even if one takes the view that the majority has the right to

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ride roughshod over the rights of a minority—and that is a big "if"—to what extent is the House of Commons the true voice of the people at the present time?

In this country, we have constituency boundaries that are grossly unfair to the main opposition party at the moment, to the extent that, if each of the main parties attracted 40 per cent of the popular vote, Labour would still, I am told, have an 80-seat lead. It has not always been like that; there have been periods in the past when the Labour Party has been similarly disadvantaged, albeit to a lesser extent. However, that is the situation today. Then, we have the fact that MPs from Scotland, still over-represented in another place, can vote on hunting in England and Wales but it cannot happen the other way round.

Finally, we have the first past the post system. The consensus is that it is the lesser of two evils because it prevents governments being held to ransom by tiny—often extremist—parties, as happens in many other countries of which one could think. Nobody can seriously claim, however, that the results accurately reflect the precise balance of public opinion, even on polling day. On occasion, the difference between the popular vote and the number of seats gained is wildly out of line; in other words, fairness is sacrificed to effectiveness.

My point is that, of course, the Government and their Back-Benchers have the technical right, in a narrow, constitutional sense, to use their disproportionate majority to ride roughshod over their opponents not only in Parliament but in the country, if they so choose. They need give no quarter and brook no compromise. However, they might ask themselves whether, in the circumstances, they have any moral right to deprive a minority of its liberties for no sound reason.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke: My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as chairman of St Martin's Magazines, publishers of Country Illustrated and Hunting Magazine, and also as a member of the Warwickshire Hunt. I was relieved that it was not in the list of hunting villains with which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, earlier regaled us.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, for reminding the House that hunting is a sport. It is a sport like shooting, stalking or fishing. The Government must explain why fox hunting, stag hunting and hare coursing have been singled out as sacrificial victims, while shooting, fishing and stalking have been ignored. Is it because hunting unquestionably causes more animal welfare problems because it causes more suffering than shooting or fishing? If so, where is the evidence? There is no evidence for that. Is it because people enjoy hunting? Is it therefore, in some way, morally repugnant? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough dealt with that point very well. People enjoy shooting, fishing and stalking, never mind ferreting or ratting.

The Government have stated that they do not intend to legislate on shooting or fishing, so what is so unique about hunting that it makes a large number of Labour Back-Benchers foam at the mouth? Why must hunting

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alone pass the spurious test of utility? What if that test were applied to shooting and, even more, to fishing, particularly the coarse fishing so beloved of some of the fish kissers in the other place? Are tench such an obvious danger to life and limb that we need not pass a utility test in order to fish them?

The separation of sport from pest control is virtually impossible in many field sports. The animals involved neither understand nor care about motive; they care only about what is done to them. The honourable Member for West Ham, Tony Banks, was right—perhaps uncharacteristically so—when he said that the debate on fox hunting was,

    "a situation in which passions and subjectivity rule the day".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/03; col. 91.]

He said that the issue was "totemic" to Labour Back-Benchers. That makes the whole business absurd and makes the claim made by the Minister, Alun Michael, that any Bill would be based on evidence and principle look shamingly cynical.

What we have now, as many noble Lords have said—I make no apology for repeating it—is a Bill based on prejudice, not principle. Any evidence that is contrary to the beliefs of the other place has been ignored in the scramble to institute a ban. The Burns committee might as well have saved itself six months' work. The hearings that we had last year in Portcullis House were a waste of time.

Sydney Smith once said:

    "I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so".

Similarly, the other place has never considered the evidence, in case it interfered with the lip-smacking drive to a total ban. It is that drive that produced the Bill that we are now discussing. It is a sorry piece of work. The Minister's attempts to produce a Bill that was even remotely based on utility and least suffering were hijacked on Report and ended in a humiliating climbdown, when he was forced to withdraw his Bill.

Unsurprisingly, the Bill that has resulted is rubbish. The scientific evidence produced by the Middle Way Group in a study of the control of foxes by shooting has been ignored. That study showed that shooting had serious animal welfare implications. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who tried to imply that such considerations did not apply in Scotland, where hunting has, allegedly, been banned. It has not been banned; there is a different way of doing it. According to this scientific study, which is now undergoing peer review, shooting incontrovertibly leaves many animals wounded. That can hardly be described as an advance in animal welfare legislation. The other place also ignored the recent study by the University of Kent, published in Nature magazine in May, which concluded that field sports make a significant contribution to conservation and biodiversity.

The Bill is riddled with inconsistencies. First, the Minister has admitted that snaring causes more suffering than the use of dogs, but snaring remains in the Bill. Why? Secondly, hunting rabbits is allowed, but hunting hares is not. Killing rats with dogs is allowed, but killing foxes with dogs is not. Why? I am

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sure that the Minister has no problem spotting the difference between a hare and a rabbit at 100 yards. But what about dogs? Are they quite as discerning? Has he got plans to introduce a Defra rabbit recognition scheme for visually impaired dogs? Perhaps he will tell us about that at some stage. Thirdly, and bizarrely, the Bill will allow the use of dogs to protect birds kept for the sole purpose of being shot, but will ban the use of dogs for the protection of lambs and rare birds.

Where do we go from here? Like my noble friend Lord Peel and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, I am rather uneasy about returning to the Bill that was originally sent to the House of Commons before the Standing Committee in the other place got at it. The definition of "utility" was very tightly drawn: if it is to make any sense it must include economic, environmental and social issues, as well as pest control.

The test of "least suffering" was equally defective. The only scientific study to date was that which I referred to earlier, carried out by Dr Nick Fox on behalf of the Middle Way Group, which showed that control of foxes by shooting has its own welfare problems. In the absence of other studies, it seems unreasonable to require hunts to prove "least suffering". It should be up to those who wish to ban hunting to prove their case by fact and science, not simply by personal taste, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, rightly pointing out.

In that context, I was disappointed by the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Corbett and Lord Harrison, who, unfortunately, are not in their places. I thought that they were going to produce something new and different; it is 18 months since the last debate in this House. I thought that they were going to produce facts, which would show that hunting was definitely cruel. But, no. They have come up with the same old insults, the same tired old cliches about hunting being cruel, being a blot on the landscape, and so forth. Unless noble Lords are to suggest that the fox should become a protected species, they must produce more evidence before tens of thousands of men, women and children are criminalised.

Was I the only person to find the introductory remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, slightly aggressive in tone, or perhaps prescriptive? He told us that we were not allowed to discuss this and that we were not allowed to amend that. Yet, in the next breath, he said that we should engage fully with the Bill. Perhaps he can explain how he expects us to do that when there are so many restrictions on what we are and are not allowed to do.

Subject to amendments to what I call the Alun Michael Bill, I join the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, in preferring the Middle Way option; that is, hunting should be regulated by a licensing authority and linked to the Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, which amends the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. I shall not go into detail now, but I believe that that would be workable and acceptable to the vast majority of people who want a

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solution to this problem without occupying Parliament for any more valuable time. After all, that Middle Way solution was supported in this House in March 1992 by a majority of 306 votes. I therefore hope that it will find favour with noble Lords when it reaches Committee stage.

Fifty one weeks ago, half a million people marched through London to Parliament Square to ensure that their voices were heard. Their voice has been ignored by another place. They now look to us to protect them. I am very encouraged by the speeches today and I believe that we shall not let them down.

9.55 p.m.

Baroness Golding: My Lords, I too begin by declaring an interest as co-chairman of the Middle Way Group, which has done so much to try to produce a workable Bill that we could all agree with and which would do much for animal welfare.

Wildlife protection must extend beyond the issue of hunting with dogs. That is why members of the Middle Way Group consider that the regulation of hunting, alongside my noble friend Lord Donoughue's Wild Mammals (Protection) (Amendment) Bill, is the way forward. There is no animal welfare benefit in the Bill before the House tonight. The Middle Way Group has estimated that around 30 million has been spent over recent years by the three main campaigning groups that wish to ban hunting with dogs. What a waste of money that could have been better spent on really protecting animals.

By what logic do those who wish to ban hunting say that a fox shot at and injured may then be chased by only two dogs for the purpose of relieving its suffering, presumably by killing it? Surely anyone with any knowledge would understand that a trained pack of dogs would catch a wounded animal more quickly and put it out of its misery. I believe that that is a case of prejudice over common sense, which underlines much of what this Bill is all about.

The Bill is most certainly not based on the results of the report produced in October 2001 for Defra by its European wildlife division entitled the Review of non-native species legislation and guidance or, indeed, on the Convention on Biological Diversity which arose from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio in 1992 and to which the British Government are signatories. Why do I say that? The reason is that the convention requires, as far as possible,

    "and as appropriate, to prevent the introduction of, and to control and eradicate, those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or native species".

I shall pass over Muntjac deer, which have invaded woodlands throughout central England, and Sika deer, which have hybridised with our native red deer, and turn to my least favourite non-native species, the American mink. I want to speak for the mink hunters, for this is not a Bill only about fox hunting, to which many noble Lords have referred while ignoring the effect on other forms of hunting.

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One of the main reasons given by the anti mink hunters is that mink hunting is inefficient. Let us compare the Border Counties mink hounds which hunt near me. At the beginning of the hunting season this year, that hunt killed 26 mink in 15 days. By contrast, the Scottish islands have a 1.65 million project for eradicating mink using only traps. Nine trappers, two foremen and a scientific director using 2,024 traps over 35,450 trap nights caught just 124 mink, at a reported cost of 400,000.

Defra's own report states that to meet its commitment to the United Nations convention,

    "adequate funds and commitment must be in place continuously over the timescale required to achieve the eradication of these alien species".

Given the Scottish experience, if the Minister can tell us how much the Government have set aside to eradicate mink once mink hunting is banned, I should be very interested to hear the amount.

There will be consequences on the management of our countryside if this Bill is passed. The Government have signed up to the convention to protect our native wildlife. This Government—my Government, I am proud to say—should be working with the hunting community to protect all our wildlife. I hope that this Bill will be amended to take on that most important task.

10 p.m.

Lord Greenway: My Lords, one of the problems of speaking late in a long debate such as this is that one cannot listen to every speech. Much has been said about cruelty to foxes and danger to animals, but I do not think that anyone has mentioned the fact that hunting can be dangerous to those who take part. There have been a number of fatalities over the years in the hunting field. In the age in which we live, I am surprised that the diligent zealots in the Health and Safety Executive did not close it down years ago. That would have saved all the time we have spent debating this subject.

Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I, too, live on the edge of Exmoor. I fully endorse what they have said. They have much greater knowledge of this subject than I, but I am used to hunts being around where I live. A few years ago I was enjoying my garden when, out of the blue, a deer leapt over my front gate, followed in short order by what I can only describe as a waterfall of hounds. It was a most unnerving and alarming experience. They raced in front of me, across the lawn and down some steps and negotiated—I do not know how—a double fence, the outer one of which was covered in barbed wire, apparently without any undue damage, and they all raced off across the field and disappeared.

I must admit to being rather shell-shocked by the experience. But, distasteful though I found it, I nevertheless still recognise and strongly support the right of people in my neighbourhood to do what they and their families have done for years. They have done it better than anyone else, and that has been greatly to the benefit and well-being of animals and birds, both

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wild and domestic. As the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said, hunting is the glue that cements the community in which I live, although I do not take any part in it and never have done.

What will happen if the Bill is enacted in the form in which it stands and hunting is banned? Like many other noble Lords, I have received hundreds of letters. One in particular came from an 80 year-old, who lives no more than 10 or 12 miles from me, and related what may be a pointer to what might happen. It concerned what happened during the war when hunting in his locality ceased and the neighbouring hunts were overstretched and could not reach across to his locality. The fox population increased and farmers had to do something to control it. In those areas where there were organised shoots, the gamekeepers shot or snared the foxes and they disappeared. Elsewhere, foxes ran riot, killing lambs and poultry, until they caught mange, which in turn infected the sheep dogs and so on, causing, as the gentleman said in his letter, untold ecological damage. Is that what we want for our countryside—more foxes being killed or dying in ways that are crueller than happens at the moment?

What worries me most about the Bill is its rank intolerance. I do not hold myself up as any paragon of moral virtue, but if the line that I have taken had been taken up more widely in another place, it would have saved us from all the time and bother we have had over the issue of hunting.

The Government have made a grave error in giving in to the bully boy tactics in another place, because it has opened the door to further action of this kind—action that the late lamented Lord Hailsham described as "elective dictatorship". That is the way we are going. What the Bill as drafted proposes is unworthy of this country. It will greatly damage our reputation as one of the most tolerant nations in the world.

10.5 p.m.

Lord Laird: My Lords, I welcome this Hunting Bill as a huge step forward for animal welfare and I urge your Lordships to support it wholeheartedly. In one way, it is an enormous shame that we are debating this Bill, because it has one big flaw—it does not cover Northern Ireland.

The campaign to ban hunting is not an attack against rural people or against class. It is a question of morality. It is fundamentally wrong for human beings to chase and kill wild animals for enjoyment. Human beings are aware of differences between right and wrong, unlike natural predators. We in Northern Ireland insist that guns must be taken out of politics because we do not want to live in a society where the strongest get their way through threats and violence. Precisely the same argument should apply to our dealings with the animal kingdom.

Domestic animals have been protected from cruelty for around 90 years, but still today we are allowed to chase and kill wildlife for fun. If you chased a domestic cat round a field with a pack of dogs and watched as it rips the cat apart, you would rightly be prosecuted for

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cruelty. Other cruel sports such as cock fighting, bear baiting and badger baiting have long since been made illegal. It is time for hunting with hounds to join those cruel sports and be banned.

Even the hunters accept that there is suffering involved. That is why they seek to justify hunting by claiming that it is pest control. Pest control is not a true justification. Several scientific studies have shown that this is not the case. The scientific journal Nature published research last year which showed that during the time when hunting was banned during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, there was no significant increase in the fox population. In other words, the fox population was stable whether or not hunting took place. Farmers I speak to would rather deal with a problem fox by lamping than chasing round after a fox, often damaging property and trespassing in the process.

If the Northern Ireland Assembly is resumed, I look forward to the campaign of the League Against Cruel Sports to ban fox hunting in Northern Ireland. It has already launched its campaign against hare coursing in Northern Ireland. For all these reasons, this Bill should be supported by your Lordships, and the cruel sports of fox, hare, deer and mink hunting and hare coursing should be banned.

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