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Sir Nicholas Lyell: The hon. Gentleman is dealing with the issue of cruelty and saying that hunting is barbaric. Many hon. Members hoped that the Burns report would say the same, but it did not say anything of the kind, and nor did the Scott Henderson report under Mr. Attlee's Government. Should the hon. Gentleman not consider the objective view of independent people before he calls for the removal of the rights of tens of thousands of people?
Mr. Baker: The Burns inquiry's terms of reference did not ask it to ascertain whether hunting was barbaric, but the report made it clear that hunting compromised the welfare of the fox. As the hon. Member for West Ham suggested, other methods of dealing with foxes are less invidious.
It has long been established in society that it is right to take into account the impact of humans on animals in deciding whether to legislate. For example, many years ago, we decided as a society to outlaw bear baiting and cock fighting, because they were deemed to be unacceptable sports. Foxhunting and hare coursing are similar in that regard. The principle has been established that, if animal welfare is compromised to such a degree, it is justifiable for a human freedom to be removed.
Mr. David Taylor: I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's unremitting campaign on animal welfare during this Parliament. Does he agree, however, with the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), who has now left the Chamber, that on the spectrum of animal cruelty in our society there are many activities that inflict much greater harm than hunting, including the killing of 4 million animals in experimentation and the breeding of 800 million broiler chickens in unimaginable circumstances of dire cruelty?
Mr. Baker: Of course I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the way in which animals are treated in vivisection laboratories and in some aspects of farming. Sadly, however, we are not faced with a protection of animals Bill that would deal with all those matters in a unified way across Departments. The Bill before us deals with a relatively narrow aspect and we must address ourselves to that rather than to what we would like to see in legislation. I would like wider legislation, and I can press for it, but we are not dealing with that today.
My conclusion was that preventing the suffering of animals outweighed the human freedom that the Bill would remove. I asked myself whether there are offsetting factors that suggest that hunting should be allowed to
The second factor is whether the impact on the social structure and on people's way of life is such that, notwithstanding the impact of hunting on animals, it is right to protect it because it is so important to those people. I understand that the hunt is the centre of some people's social activities, and that will be removed if the third option becomes law. I will be sorry if that social structure is removed, but the arguments in its favour do not justify cruelty to animals. However, no one has mentioned drag hunting today, and there is no reason why members of a social structure who want to come together to hunt and to go through the associated rituals, such as drinking from the stirrup cup, should not continue to do so. No one is suggesting that such activity should be outlawed; we can have the spectacle without the death. That is a reasonable way to proceed.
Mr. Öpik: To return to the argument about cruelty versus civil liberties, is my hon. Friend rejecting Lord Burns's assessment that in at least some areas, such as upland Wales, hunting with dogs is an acceptable, and probably the most effective, way of controlling the numbers of foxes?
Mr. Baker: My point was about cruelty, and my hon. Friend's point is about control, a matter to which I now turn. I visited my local hunt kennels to talk to the people there. They told me that they catch about 50 foxes a year, which may be an optimistic figure. That would make very little impact on the fox population locally, and we know that nationally only about 5 per cent. of foxes are dealt with by hunts.
Members of the hunt often say to me that they are maintaining the fox population by removing the weakest of the species, so we should be grateful to them. At other times they say that they are removing a pest that causes massive damage. Those two arguments are contradictory, and need to be made clearer. I do not believe that killing 5 per cent. of foxes nationally or 50 foxes in my constituency makes much difference to the number of foxes. The argument about control is a bit of a red herring.
Returning to my hon. Friend's point, there are areas where the argument for control is stronger. That brings me on to the Welsh Assembly and the amendment tabled by Plaid Cymru Members. [Hon. Members: "Where are they?"] They are not present, although I am sure they are watching the debate on the screens in their offices. It is perfectly proper for the Welsh Assembly to take a view on the matter, and I am uncomfortable about this House deciding for Wales what should happen in the uplands. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the devolution settlement. There is plenty of opportunity for Members of the Welsh Assembly and the Assembly as whole to reach
Mr. Baker: I do understand the settlement. However, I suggest first, that the House can, at any time, move on or take a different view if it wants to; and secondly, that that might be appropriate in the current case. If the House passes the amendment, it would be entirely proper for the House to take a view on whether the settlement should revisited in that respect.
Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman has said, and I agree, that we should be careful about legislating for the Welsh uplands. Does he agree that, by the same argument, Members representing Scottish constituencies should not vote on the Bill, which does not apply to their constituencies, but applies exclusively to England and Wales?
Mr. Baker: I am being tempted down a constitutional road that I prefer not to take. I have dealt with the Welsh point as best I can. The Minister answered the point fully and satisfactorily and I should prefer not to delay the Committee by dwelling on it.
Mr. Hancock: Is my hon. Friend saying that voting for the proposal tabled by our colleagues from Wales is acceptable to him, and that, although he opposes hunting because it is cruel, he is prepared to see the Welsh allow hunting to continue if their Assembly votes for it? I cannot understand his argument. We have a chance to get rid of hunting in England and Wales, which is what we all want to happen.
Mr. Baker: I make no secret of the fact that I should like hunting to be banned in Wales and everywhere else in the world if possible, but I recognise that devolution is with us. It is entirely proper that people should be responsible for activities carried out in their own area--and not the House, not the Committee, not any hon. Member nor I should try to impose our views on our colleagues in Wales.
We have two substantive options, both of which are intellectually honest; both are held with fervour, and I understand why. One is that hunting should be banned and the other is that it should be allowed to continue. Those are the only options before us today, because, with all due respect to my colleagues, there is no middle way. I am not knocking those proposals--that has been done by others and people can make up their own minds. I think that the proposals are a little threadbare in places, but that is not for me to say. I think that the middle way is a bit of spin--there is no middle way. The proposals might be justified, but they are merely a variation of the option to allow hunting to continue. The choice before us today is between one option to ban hunting and two to keep it. There can be no middle way on matters of principle such as hunting.
I did not manage to intervene on the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), who has now left the Chamber. He, rightly, condemns those who have broken the law and behaved in a criminal manner towards those
As for the House of Lords, ours is the elected Chamber. The House has already voted once, by a very large margin, to ban hunting, and unless I am greatly mistaken, it will do so again tonight. It is improper for an unelected House--marginally reformed or not--to try to dictate to our Chamber and tell us what to do during a free vote. I hope that their lordships will think carefully before attempting to interfere with votes in the House of Commons.