|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Bradley: When the Countryside Alliance marches on London next year, it will not be marching for the rural way of life, but for its own way of life. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with defending what one values, but I beg Conservative Members not to try to persuade me that hunting is necessary for pest control, for conservation and for employment. It is not necessary for any of those reasons; it is a sport. People do it because they enjoy it. I accept that people may have different values from my own and that they enjoy that sport. I accept that the argument is valid, but I do not agree with it.
Mr. Bradley: No. Unlike the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), I have been out with my local hunt. I have done so during the three short years that I have been a Member of Parliament, while the right hon. Gentleman has represented Huntingdon for considerably longer, showing the commitment--of which he spoke--to his rural community. I have been out with the hunt in my constituency and I respect the right of those people to hold their views. They are utterly decent people, but I do not share their value system. People on both sides of the argument are entitled to their views.
The biggest difficulty for those who support a ban on hunting is the issue of civil liberties. In a democracy, we acknowledge that minorities have rights and that, by and large, the majority should respect those rights. That is true. In civilised society, majorities do not infringe minority rights to worship, to associate and to pursue their own interests, but I would contend that majorities have a right to interfere when the practices of a minority seriously affront the moral code of the majority.
Mr. Bradley: I apologise to the House for giving way to such a specious intervention. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman's former clients are glad that he is here and not in the courts. I accept the equal right of people on the other side of the argument to hold their views, but that does not mean that I have to subscribe to those views. I should have thought that one would encounter that argument at an elementary stage in the practice of the law.
Mr. Hogg: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Will he please tell the House whether he is drawing a distinction of principle between foxhunting, game shooting and fishing? If he is, what is that difference of principle, and, if not, is he proposing to ban fishing?
Mr. Bradley: As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said, it is a matter of degree. It is important for society to be as tolerant as possible, but we have to draw the line beyond which our tolerance cannot extend. Many Labour Members do not participate in shooting and fishing, but we acknowledge the right of others to do so. However, we do not acknowledge people's rights to pursue foxes, hare and deer because we consider it to be a practice of a different order.
As I said before I was so speciously interrupted, I believe that the majority should have rights--that is how we make progress in a democratic society--to decide that the moral climate has changed and that some activities are no longer tolerable. I believe that there is a settled national consensus that the hunting of foxes with hounds is morally repugnant and cannot be justified by any extenuating argument. That has been the view of the anti-hunting lobby not since 1997, as some Conservatives Members suggest, but for centuries.
The first animal welfare Bill was presented to Parliament as long ago as 1800. It was argued then that bull baiting was not civilised and should be banned. It failed because a majority of MPs considered that such a ban would interfere with personal liberties. The same argument is being extended today, 200 years later. In 1809, a second Bill sought to protect farm animals from cruelty and was rejected again because it interfered with the rights of men to own animals and treat them as they chose. The Protection of Animals Act 1911 was a landmark because it acknowledged not just the physical cruelty that could be inflicted on animals, but the mental cruelty too. Although the Liberals of the day did not dare to include wild animals in that legislation, the Act was passed.
Why is it cruel and unlawful to torment domestic animals, but not to torment wild animals? How are they different? What is the moral difference between the cruelty inflicted on domestic animals, which is not lawful, and the tormenting of wild animals, which is currently lawful? That question has been hanging in the air for 100 years and I believe that there is no better time than the present for an enlightened Government to reflect the enlightenment of the age and allow hon. Members to determine what they believe to be the right answers today.
The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who has left the Chamber, spoke about the reforming Tory Government of 1833. There is a striking parallel between the movements for civil and constitutional reforms and for reforms to protect animals. But each time Parliament has had to confront powerful reaction. Men fought to retain the right to beat their wives. They fought for the right to own slaves. They said that it was their civil liberty to do so. They fought to retain the right to force children to work in the mines and the factories. They fought against the franchise and each time they adduced the same arguments to defend those indefensible principles that are being used today. They opposed every attempt at civil reform as Parliament's interference in inalienable, individual rights. However, the moral culture has changed. Each reform that has been achieved has reflected and advanced the quality of our democracy and our society.
It is the right time for this historic reform and for Parliament to reflect the public mood. In doing so, I hope that we will show tolerance to the minority and an understanding of their predicament. I would support an amendment to provide compensation packages to those who lose their livelihood. I believe that there is a serious problem with fallen stock, which should be addressed. But no one can deny that Parliament has a right to secure this reform. History might say that it has a duty to do so.
Before I was diverted to England, I was about to say that I want to concentrate my remarks on the reasoned amendment that I and my colleagues and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) have tabled, which would decline to give the Bill a Second Reading on the ground that it does not allow the National Assembly for Wales to decide these matters in Wales. I want to explain the reasons why we tabled that amendment.
The Bill is a curious priority for a Government seeking to address the problems of rural areas. However, I agree that the public want this issue to be settled. We have talked about it for long enough, and it is time to bring the matter to a conclusion. Having said that, I should like to give some background to the issue as it has developed in Wales. We view hunting, especially foxhunting, in a slightly different way in Wales.
On 12 June, I asked the Home Secretary whether the Bill would contain an option for the National Assembly for Wales to decide these issues in Wales. He rejected that argument, and has done so again this evening, although I am pleased that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) referred to that possibility. I make no apology for returning to the matter, because on 27 June this year the National Assembly voted that it should have the right to decide the issue of foxhunting in Wales. This Parliament, which has devolved powers to the National Assembly and has asked it to address certain issues in Wales, should listen to the Assembly when it says that it wants a stronger voice on these matters.