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The Minister stated categorically that there had been a lot of time to discuss the issue. It is not a new issue that has suddenly arisen. Debate on it has continued for many generations. I shall make my remarks in the light of that. Most hon. Members do not have closed minds and have reached a conclusion having spent a bit of time looking into it. We will have differences of opinion; that is only natural.
The latecomer in the issue is the clause 2 option from the Middle Way Group. It reminds me of a device that I have seen from time to time in elections: a ringer. For those who do not know what that is, when someone appears to be a favourite and another appears to have a rather poor chance a third person is brought in to create the right amount of confusion. Sometimes, the favourite can be overturned and the non-favourite elected because there is a so-called compromise among votes.
I shall vote against clauses 1 and 2 because they are not very different. I shall vote in favour of clause 3. There are several reasons for that. Since I was at school, I have found foxhunting abhorrent. It may suit some hon. Members to say that they do not like the word "barbaric". We all have different ways of expressing ourselves and we do not always mean quite the same thing when we use the same word. I consider foxhunting to be as barbaric a method of destroying a fox as it is possible to imagine. What makes it even worse is that I find it impossible to understand how, in the name of sport, human beings can entertain themselves by their cruel destruction of an animal, as happens with foxhunting.
It goes further. It is not just a matter of lack of concern for animal welfare. I am as concerned about animal welfare as any hon. Member. It is very important and it is part of the foxhunting issue, but there is a more important issue: where human beings involve themselves in a barbaric practice, they demean the human race. The way in which animals such as foxes are treated with contempt can spread. A philosophy can grow whereby some human beings think that it is all right to treat other human beings in the same manner.
I have no doubt that some hon. Members will accuse me of being immoderate in my views. People are entitled to be in favour of foxhunting, but they are not entitled to impugn the motives and will of others who oppose them. They shout loud and long about how they are not understood. I think that they are well understood. The fact that people do not
The argument about town and country is ludicrous. I have lived most of my adult life in the country, although I represent a city constituency. I do not detect much difference in people's opinions. I have not had one piece of correspondence or representation from a constituent in favour of the clause 1 option, out of about 70,000 voters. Numerous people have made representations asking me to vote against foxhunting. I do not know why they bothered. If they had followed the publicity closely, they would know that that was what I was going to do.
I hope that the argument will end. I hope that we start to end it tonight. I felt sorry for my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). He secured a satisfactory vote for his private Member's Bill. The Government did not deign to send the matter to the House of Lords. A bit of a legend has built up that it was defeated by the Lords. I do not know how that has come about, but I have read that in several places. Suffice it to say that I know that it is untrue. It does no one any credit.
As and when we vote in favour of clause 3 tonight, as I think we will, may we have an undertaking from the Government that they will take the Bill forward on our behalf to the House of Lords and tell it that, if it does not act properly and democratically, as we will have done tonight, the Parliament Acts will be invoked and the Bill will be brought back here? That is what people outside are looking for.
When our constituents and voters were given an undertaking that there was to be a free vote, they did not understand the niceties of this place. They did not understand that that could be a promise that meant nothing. They thought that it would be part of a sequence of events to help to bring about the end of foxhunting.
I do not want to hear a lot more about the fact that a minority are being oppressed. There is no oppression of a minority where a majority decides to use that majority to change legislation. I have no doubt that when legislation was introduced to abolish slavery, slave traders said that their personal rights and freedoms were being eroded. I know that we heard the same arguments from coal owners when children were prevented from working underground in the mines. The principle is the same.
The minority has to understand that, in a democracy, a majority prevails. If a majority does not prevail and a minority is allowed to prevail, we will have something that is very close to anarchy. In a democracy, one cannot be asked to be left alone when a vast majority of people do not agree with one's activities. If the majority does not prevail, everyone can do as they wish and that would be the end of it.
Mr. David Taylor: I am grateful to my good Friend for giving way. However, he is not saying, is he, that an activity should be prohibited in legislation because a majority disapprove of it? Do we not need a stronger reason for prohibition? I disagree with and disapprove
Mr. Etherington: I can think of quite a few candidates for that. However, as I do not believe in hanging, I shall have to divest myself of that particular pleasure--just as foxhunters will have to divest themselves of their pleasure.
It churns my insides to think that people can get enjoyment out of seeing an animal torn limb from limb. It is absolutely appalling. As a nation, we have quite a good reputation around the world on animals. However, it is perhaps wrongly thought that the United Kingdom is full of animal lovers. Although I wish that that were correct, it seems that many people in this country who love their own animals have no time for anyone else's animals. So, that reputation is not quite true.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): The hon. Gentleman has been talking about a majority who are anti-hunting. However, as he well knows, recent polls have shown that the reverse is true--that people are willing to tolerate hunting. In many cases, particularly in farming, people wish to protect their own animals, which they look after very well, from foxes.
Mr. Etherington: Different polls will always give different results and there will be fluctuations. However, over a great many years, a majority of the public have stated that they abhor hunting with dogs, and that is good enough for me. I remember that, not so long ago, a national poll showed that the Conservative party was in the lead. However, we all knew--even Conservative Members knew--that that was just a blip. I suspect that the fluctuation that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is just the same.
Several hon. Members have asked whether we are legislating to criminalise people. Legislation does not criminalise anyone; people criminalise themselves by ignoring that legislation. If people believe in democracy and the rule of law--we are signed up to, for example, the Council of Europe and the United Nations charter on human rights--and if Parliament, using parliamentary procedure, bans foxhunting, as I sincerely hope it will, we should expect everyone to fall into line.
I have had to fall into line with legislation that I did not much like. At such times, I had a choice: fall into line, or stand by my principle, break the law, as was my privilege, and be dealt with accordingly. However, the consequence would be the result of my own choice, not the fault of those who passed the legislation. Therefore, we should not be talking about criminalising people.
I hope that this will be an historic day. About eight and a half years ago, not long after I was first elected to the House, I was asked what single change would give me the most satisfaction in politics, and I said, "The abolition of foxhunting." I think that we are quite near that goal.