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The assurance is very short term, whichever way one looks at it. Of course, we were given similar assurances about the introduction of university tuition fees. Noble Lords will remember that we were told that a Labour government would not introduce university tuition fees, and yet they were introduced. We were assured that there would be no part-privatisation of air traffic control if Labour came to power. Look what happened to that assurance. We are now to have part-privatisation. I am glad to say that I voted against it. At least I held to my belief.
Therefore, I want to give anglers and shooters a bit of advice. We are apparently going to have a general election in a few weeks' time, possibly on 3rd May. I advise them to be careful what they do. Before voting for any MP who voted for this Bill or for any candidate
I hope that noble Lords have gathered from my remarks that I am totally opposed to the Bill. Even at this late stage I wish that the Government would drop it. That is the best thing that they could do, for themselves and for everyone else. However, I fear that they will not do so. At later stages, like other noble Lords, I shall have to decide how to deal with the various alternatives which I hope that we shall have the opportunity to consider.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I begin with an admission. In our family we keep two lurchers as pets. I suspect that, apart from anything else, if this piece of legislation gets on to the statute book, it will--not through any wilfulness on my part but simply thanks to the dogs' nature--make me a criminal.
I am a farmer in Cumbria and part of my farm is an upland sheep farm in the Lake District. I am also a subscriber to the Melbreak and the Blencathra Hounds and I follow them from time to time. I want to restrict my comments to the Cumbrian fell packs, which have been mentioned by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew of Twysden, who was out with the Blencathra when I was out on New Year's Day, and by my noble friend Lord Jopling and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. I know practically nothing about any other form of hunting, so (as is not always the case in this House) I do not propose to say anything about it.
The fell packs hunt the wide open spaces of the fells. It is all done on foot and they are supported by many small subscribers. One of the obvious features of the Bill is that, as a matter of principle, it has no difficulty with killing animals, and in particular pests which threaten livestock. It goes beyond that. It also accepts that mammals may be killed for sport. I refer, for example, to falconry and an argument might be made for Welsh gun packs. With that background, it seems to me both extraordinary and inconsistent that the Bill as drafted will finish off the Cumbrian fell packs.
In the Lake District, as in many other places, the fox is a pest, especially as it takes hill lambs. Over the past couple of hundred years or so, fell hunting has developed in this difficult terrain as a means of controlling and curtailing the number of foxes, thereby preserving livestock. Rather than wait for the foxes to become too numerous, their numbers are kept in check. I believe that it is called "the application of the precautionary principle".
The opponents of fell hunting will say, "Oh, well, you can shoot them". I do not believe that that is quite what we want in the United Kingdom's premier area for recreational walking and our leading national park, much of which will very shortly be subject to the statutory right to roam and much more of which has had for many years de facto general public access. If that approach is accepted, it will follow that every fell farmer will need a rifle. The experience of a Caldbeck GP, and joint master of the Blencathra Hounds, might be interesting in this respect. He returned to his land-rover after visiting a patient to find it drilled with a rifle bullet--not doubt a ricochet from a lamping shot. Such an experience is bound to become much more common place. Incidentally, the GP offered to lend me the windscreen so that I could show it to your Lordships this evening, but, on balance, I thought that that was unnecessary. Equally, and very much to the point, I have in my time shot foxes. More importantly, I am ashamed to say, I have wounded them. It is no fun for the fox and, similarly, it is not much fun for the person involved.
Farming in the fells is a hard and solitary business. The hunts are one of the few social networks in the Dales. In a community that has relatively few of the amenities and opportunities so easily and widely available in most places today, quite honestly I think that it is rather patronising to dismiss the point, as people matter just as animals matter.
Many Cumbrians, and, for that matter, what we call "off-comers" as well, enjoy the hunt. Of course, it is much more than merely the chase. I believe that to be a major point in its favour. After all, we have over recent months in this House discussed various types of what to some are somewhat exotic personal practices, which some enjoy and others find repellent, and worse. As far as I am concerned, as long as all those involved are of mature judgment and are conducting themselves so as not to intrude into the lives of others, I do not believe that it is for us to legislate against them. The same applies in this instance.
In the Cumbrian Fells a balance has been struck among the fox, sheep and man. The fox may be a pest, but he is not mere vermin. Quite rightly he has a place in the ecological balance of the fells. I do not believe that any fell farmer wants the animal exterminated. The sheep also has a place--mowing the grass--and man has his, looking after the sheep and the landscape. What man has done is to contain, but not exterminate, the fox. In my view, fell hunting is the best way, the most efficient, safest and most satisfactory way, of achieving that. It has evolved with the grain of nature over the many years.
Nature is red in tooth and claw. As we know, all life involves death, with all that that entails--be it an old fox starving to death in his lair, being killed by hounds, or run over by a car. For the reasons that I have given, I believe that hunting as practised in the Cumbrian Fells is entirely consistent with the principles on which the Bill that we are discussing this evening is drafted. As such, it seems to me that it must logically follow that it should be permitted; indeed, I would go further,
Lord Scott of Foscote: My Lords, I must begin by making clear my personal interest in fox hunting. I have hunted every Saturday of this season when hunting has been on and not frozen off. I have hunted mainly with my local pack in south Northamptonshire. I have also enjoyed some wonderful days visiting. I hope to have the opportunity to hunt for many years to come, having hunted for some 30 years with the same pack in respect of which I am now a member.
It is a strong measure to impose a legal ban to prevent the continuance of an activity that provides great enjoyment to thousands of people. The fact that it provides such enjoyment for those people is not, by itself, a reason why a ban cannot be imposed; it plainly can be. However, it requires a careful, long and analytical look at the objections to the activity before the extreme of a legal prohibition can be justified. I therefore invite your Lordships for a moment to consider the case that is made against fox hunting. I shall confine my remarks mainly to fox hunting because that is what I do and what I know about. I do not know much about the other forms of hunting which would be covered by the proposed ban.
The case against fox hunting is put in two ways. They are usually intertwined with one another by the opponents of hunting. First, it is said that the activity is cruel. Your Lordships have heard that from a number of speakers today. It is an argument which must be addressed. It is mainly an argument that must be looked at on the facts. If it has justification at all, it is as a factual objection. The second argument is more morally based. It is said that it is wrong for people to enjoy hunting. That is a quite different argument which has nothing to do with the facts. It is an emotional and a moral argument. It is possible and quite proper for opponents of hunting to run these two arguments together so that it is never clear which one is being put forward. However, in my view those who support hunting as I do need to take them apart to give a separate answer to each as they are quite different objections.
I start with the factual objection, the cruelty argument. It is said that hunting is cruel. It is said that it is cruel because it involves unnecessary suffering to the hunted fox. The fox would undoubtedly rather not be hunted; there can be no question of that. The invaluable report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has, I suggest, given the factual answer to the complaints about fox hunting on the cruelty ground. It is common ground that whether fox hunting continues or not the number of foxes in the country must be controlled. It is also common ground that the number of foxes killed by the hunt in any season is not, as a proportion of the total number of foxes killed, very large. But if those foxes were not killed by the hunt, they would have to be dealt with--or a similar number would have to be dealt with--by some other means. Normally speaking,
So what is the cruelty case? Is it that it is less cruel and preferable for the fox to be killed by the other means? I suggest that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has given a complete answer to that charge. Of course he said that hunting seriously compromises the welfare of the fox. Of course it does; the object of fox hunting is to kill foxes. But that is also the object of every other means of controlling the numbers of foxes; that is, killing by snaring, by trapping, by poisoning, or by shooting either in the daylight with the fox flushed out of cover by dogs or at night with a lamp. How is that preferable to the fox? How is that a less cruel way to deal with foxes? I suggest that, looked at purely from the cruelty point of view, measuring what is done to the fox in relative terms--that is what it amounts to--there is no case against fox hunting on the ground of cruelty, not because the fox does not endure discomfort and wish it was not being hunted, but because fox numbers need to be controlled--that is common ground--and there is no other means of killing foxes that is any better.
It is not to the point, I suggest, to say, "Oh, but the reason you hunt is not to control foxes". Indeed, so far as I am concerned, it is not. But that leads to the second way of putting the case--the complaint that people who hunt enjoy it. I enjoy hunting, as do the thousands and thousands of people who every hunting day take part in the sport. What is the matter with enjoyment? On the one level it might be asked how one can enjoy an activity which has as its object the death of an animal. That argument has been addressed today. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, nods. If that is a sufficient argument, one must ban all field sports. All field sports involve an attempt to bring about the death of the hunted or pursued animal, fish or bird. That is the objective of the sport. No one suggests that all field sports should be banned. If they are not to be banned, it must be accepted that those who engage in them enjoy what they are doing; otherwise they would not do it.
Rabbits are exempt from the Bill's proposed controls. Young men with ferrets may, therefore, go ferreting. No one goes ferreting in order to control the rabbit population. People who have ferrets and go out ferreting do so for fun. They enjoy the competition between ferret and rabbit. It is a field sport like any other but it is not covered by the Bill, and rightly so. Rabbit numbers are excessive and need to be controlled. Ferreting is a way of controlling rabbits and people enjoy themselves while doing so.
I believe that the same argument applies to hunting. There is nothing the matter per se with enjoying the sport of hunting. There is no glorification in the kill. The fun in hunting is the amalgam of a number of factors: it is in part the excitement; the spice of danger; and the competition between the fox on the one hand and the hounds and huntsmen on the other. The field take part as spectators, participators, in this competition. It matters not that the vast majority of the field do not really understand what the huntsman
The percentage of foxes that escape is high. Those that escape are almost bound to be fit and healthy. On the last two Saturdays on which I went hunting this season, before the foot and mouth epidemic stopped it, the hounds killed a fox which had been maimed, probably by a car accident. One had no shoulder left; it was lying in a drain where it would have died in pain if the hounds had not found it and put it out of its misery. Hounds will kill diseased and maimed foxes although there is not the enjoyment of the chase. But the function of the hounds is to kill foxes. If the foxes are maimed or diseased they will be killed. Other forms of hunting probably would not find those foxes. They will not be flushed out of cover. They will not come out at night hunting, to be identified with a lamp, their eyes shining in the dark.
The enjoyment of hunting is the enjoyment of competition and the chase. If at the end of the hunt the fox has escaped no one minds except the huntsman. He thinks that his job is to kill foxes. He hopes that he will kill every fox he chases. But the field are enjoying themselves and they do not mind. The objective is to kill foxes but if at the end of the chase the fox escapes, there is no diminution in enjoyment.
What goes into the balance when deciding whether a sport with these characteristics should be banned? There is a balance to be struck. Not every activity to which moral objection is taken by some is properly made the subject of a legal prohibition. The objective of the law is to maintain order; it is not to support the moral views of a part of the population even if it is a majority. There must be more to it than that. What is the addition to the moral repulsion that some people feel--I accept that they genuinely feel it--about the spectacle of people such as myself enjoying fox hunting? Is there a public order issue? The only public order problems are caused by the anti-fox hunting enthusiasts who try to disturb the hunt. No public order problems are caused by the hunt. It is plain that hunting needs control. We live in a crowded island and an activity such as hunting needs regulation. I leave that issue aside.
The principle of not using the law except when its use is justified is highly important if respect for the law is to be observed. We all know of examples from the recent past of what happens when public opinion does not regard a legal prohibition as justified, even though it may accord with moral views. The Victorians imposed a prohibition on homosexuality, but over time, particularly in the past decade or so, the view has come to be held that whatever the moral arguments, the law has no business there. The same is true of abortion. Many people have strong moral objections
Other systems of law, such as the Sharia, I believe, do not distinguish between morality and the law, but our system does. We must observe that distinction if we want to retain respect for the law in a country where there are many divided views about moral principles and culture. We would not dream of outlawing Halal methods of butchery of animals, although I have heard objections raised to them on the grounds of cruelty. We would not dream of outlawing the circumcision of male children, although some doctors believe that there is no medical justification for it. We must respect the culture of people who support such practices. The law and legal prohibition should be kept in their proper place.
It has been suggested that drag hunting would be a satisfactory substitute for hunting. I have enjoyed myself hunting on many occasions, mainly with the Mid-Surrey drag, but also with others. It is great fun, but it is not the same as fox hunting. It is simply another equestrian sport. It lacks the competition between wild animal and hound. It lacks the natural element of fox hunting, to which other speakers have referred. I have an association with my local pack of bloodhounds. Their hunting is nearer to natural hunting, because at least they hunt a natural scent. There is no artificial hyena urine or anything like that laid down for them to follow. However, even in that case, the runner goes along a pre-ordained line and there is no unpredictability or competition as there is between fox and hound. Both are valuable equestrian sports in their own right, but they are no substitute for fox hunting.
The case for a ban on fox hunting has not been made. To impose the ban would be a misuse of law. It would bring the law into disrespect and a vast section of the community would think it unfair. Moreover, it would be profoundly undemocratic. Democracy is not just something that happens at general elections, when a majority is put into the House of Commons with the power to pass Bills. Democracy requires respect for the rights, beliefs and traditions of the minority. That would be offended if the Bill became law.
I shall not dwell on the technicalities of hunting or on arguments about whether it is right or wrong. Many of your Lordships have already done so and others will continue to examine such arguments and carefully consider the economic, conservation and animal welfare issues, which are all of huge consequential importance.
Instead, I want to draw your Lordships' attention to the impact that a ban on hunting would have on communities and, in particular, on those that I know best in the West Country, in Devon and on Exmoor.
With regard to the impact on communities of a ban, it was rightly said in another place that in principle it is irrelevant whether one job or many thousands of jobs are at stake if there is no justification for a ban. If something is unjustifiable, no one should lose their job or way or life.
Hunting in the West Country is a way of life. It is a way of life very similar to that in Cumbria, described so eloquently by my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew. It is a crucial part of the fabric of our communities; it brings people together from all walks of life; and it binds communities together. It is a recreation that involves people of all ages, all sexes, all classes and all incomes. In a typical hunting field one might find a Peer and a plumber, an eight year-old and an 80 year-old, and probably more females than males, all meeting on equal terms with a common interest in the same activity. They are not barbarians filled with bloodlust; they are people devoted to animals with high standards of care for their horses and dogs.
Now, of course, we have the current bitter irony. With hunting disallowed due to foot and mouth disease, we already have a foretaste of what might come to pass. With no hunting taking place on Exmoor during this month or next month, when so many hunt supporters would have come from all over
I do not say that there will be civil war if hunting is banned, but those who live on Exmoor and in other rural areas of the West Country were already seething with discontent at the Government's treatment of rural issues well before the outbreak of foot and mouth disease and were becoming increasingly angry and bitter at the prospect of a ban. With the new background of the fearful and dire consequences of foot and mouth disease, a ban on hunting is more than they can be expected to bear. I genuinely feel that there would be increased hostility to government and the police, increased non-co-operation, civil unrest and perhaps even civil disobedience.
While I have restricted my remarks to the West Country and the impact of the Bill on those communities, what I have said applies to no less an extent to large parts of this country. The appalling damage that a ban on hunting would inflict cannot be underestimated or brushed aside.
In conclusion, unless there is overwhelming evidence against hunting, Parliament simply does not have the right to take away people's freedoms, jobs or homes or to destroy hundreds of families and communities on the grounds of prejudice alone. To do so would herald the beginning of the end of all our freedoms and liberties in a tolerant and liberal society. It would be profoundly wicked and it must be resisted.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, during my two-and-a-half years in the House, I do not think that I have been party to a debate in which speech after speech has acted like so many nails in the coffin of, in this case, the abolitionist's case. As the 45th speaker this evening, it would be a mercy if I resisted the temptation to give the full-blown speech that I had prepared and confined myself to a few reflections on some aspects of the debate.
Although I have never hunted, I was born and bred in Suffolk, where I still live, and I think I understand the passions that this issue raises in all country areas of these islands. If I did not naturally understand that, I certainly understood it from my French master at school. A hero of the First World War and long bored with the teaching of French, he arrived in the autumn with a light raincoat over his full riding kit. He would set us dictation and flee the classroom, never to be seen.
I remember too, when I was a young prospective candidate in the Saffron Walden constituency, that one of my main supporters was the rector of Steeple Bumpstead, who conducted morning prayer mid-week, with a cassock over a full riding outfit. When God was done, the fox was followed.
The issue really boils down to cruelty against liberty. Everything else is consequential. We have heard some distinguished and perceptive speeches tonight and I should like to appropriate verbatim particularly the speeches made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, and by the former Archbishop of York. The simple point that was reinforced by the Burns report, which is crucial to this debate, is that, after the hunt, the fox is entirely alive and unharmed, or entirely dead, and quickly dead. There is no other way of controlling foxes that has that supreme advantage.
This very morning, as I left home, a Suffolk man who is building a wall for me, when I asked him for his view of this subject, said that he did not much like hunting, but, on the other hand, you have to control foxes. On Wednesday last he had found a wounded, maimed fox under his van, and had to call the RSPCA from Ipswich to have it put down, which, somewhat grudgingly, they did.
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