|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that agriculture is at least partly devolved to the Welsh Assembly, and that foxhunting is closely associated with the farming community? That is a very good reason why this matter should be decided by people who represent family farms in Wales.
Mr. Thomas: No, I shall continue because I want to deal with the point about primary legislation. It is clear that if the House, as the primary legislative body, were to place in clause 4 of the Bill an option to allow the National Assembly for Wales to make the regulations in Wales that the Secretary of State will be making in England, the responsibility for primary legislation would remain in the House and there would not be further devolution. We would be devolving the regulations to the Assembly and allowing it to choose one of the options.
Mr. Gummer: The hon. Gentleman is not addressing the real reason why the Bill does not offer that possibility. It is because the Prime Minister is totally uninterested in hunting and very interested in votes and in keeping his Back Benchers in line. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly logical, but he is not being listened to by a Government who have no interest in this issue except as a means of party management.
If the Government allowed the matter to be decided in Wales, the likelihood is that the National Assembly would vote in favour of a ban on hunting. An opinion poll of all National Assembly Members showed that they would go for something similar to option 3 in the Bill. The points I am making are not so much about hunting, but about the ability of the National Assembly to deal with issues that impinge on devolved matters.
Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman is seeking primary legislative powers for the Welsh Assembly through the back door. We had a referendum in Wales and only one in four Welsh people voted for an Assembly. They voted to keep primary legislative powers at Westminster, and that is exactly what the Government are doing.
Mr. Thomas: Without straying too far from the subject of the debate, I should point out that primary legislative powers were not on the agenda or in the referendum in which the people of Wales voted. I reject utterly the hon. Gentleman's point. The House could include in the primary legislation a provision to allow the National Assembly to make the regulations.
The Home Secretary made the point that the same criminal law applies to England and Wales. That is true. However, there have been different penal codes in England and Wales in the recent past. Hon. Members from England who visited Wales in the past 15 or 20 years may have found it strange that they could not get a pint in a pub on a Sunday night. At one time, Sunday closing orders were decided in Wales by local referendums. It is true that the Burns report dismissed that argument, but people in Wales were allowed to have a different priority and a different way of viewing social issues.
Serving a pint on a Sunday carried a criminal penalty. In the past, Wales and England have had different criminal codes, so it is possible to envisage something similar for hunting if that is what the National Assembly and the House decided. A social custom that is legal in England was once illegal in Wales, and the same could happen again with hunting. There is no reason why the National Assembly could not make its own preferred regulations, because that is not a primary power. As the National Assembly is the main body for agriculture in Wales, it is appropriate to allow it that option in the Bill.
Some features of agriculture in Wales demand attention. The Burns report carefully considered upland farm areas and upland sheep farming. It stated that the use of dogs in such circumstances is probably the best and most effective method of fox control. I concur with that. I accept that the feature is not unique to Wales, but I remind hon. Members that we have 5 per cent. of the United Kingdom population and 25 per cent. of the country's sheep, mostly in upland farms. That demands careful consideration by legislators. I suspect that the matter is being overlooked, and I believe that the National Assembly could and should do a more thorough job, although it may conclude that a ban is appropriate.
If the Bill goes forward, we will debate the three main options in the new year. I prefer schedule 2, and will seek to amend it. It is not perfect, but it can be amended to reflect the needs of Wales. The Hunting Authority could be the National Assembly, and that would give it the remit and powers that it deserves.
I believe that the public want the House to act on hunting, but the Bill in its present form does not allow the proper voice of Welsh farmers, conservationists or the public to be heard. That is why I shall vote against Second Reading. If the Bill proceeds, I shall seek to amend as appropriate and support the main thrust of schedule 2.
Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): I make no apologies for my views. I am an animal lover. I carry a picture of my Staffordshire bull terrier around in my pocket and I hate cruelty to animals. I am thinking of putting a picture of my wife in my wallet, but the Staffordshire bull terrier currently takes precedence. To be honest, I think that I like animals better than people. I am, therefore, completely opposed to hunting a live animal with hounds, in any form. [Interruption.] Fortunately, my wife does not watch the pantomime that goes on in the House on the television. Neither does she listen to it on the radio, so I am pretty safe.
During my years in Parliament, I have listened to many debates on hunting and have heard evidence to back claims that it causes significant pain, suffering and distress to the animals involved. Over the years, that has convinced me even more that hunting with hounds is barbaric. By agreeing to the Bill on Second Reading, we can proceed to vote on option 3, which will ban foxhunting all together.
I want to follow a slightly different path in my remarks from that taken by some other hon. Members. Hunt supporters try to make us believe that they care for the hounds, dogs and horses that are involved in hunting. However, I am sorry to say that wild animals are not the only victims of hunting. The dogs and hounds that are involved in hunting are almost forgotten, but many of them suffer at the hands of hunt supporters.
The worst extreme of their involvement is called terrier work. The supporters and followers of most foxhunts include terrier men and their dogs, whose function is to deal with foxes that find an underground refuge from the hunt. It is colloquially said that such foxes have gone to earth. I accept that some people participate in foxhunts because of the thrill of the chase, socialising, equestrian interests or the desire to watch the dogs work, but I know that some of them, including terrier men, gain their enjoyment from the killing of foxes.
For some terrier men, the hunt starts only when the huntsman's horn signals that a fox has gone to earth. Small terrier dogs enter the fox's refuge to locate the sheltering animal. If the fox does not bolt, a vicious