ABOLITION OF FOX-HUNTING – 15 September 2004

Dr Julian Lewis: It is a real privilege to follow what one can truly describe as an extremely brave speech by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey).

I had not intended to contribute to the debate, but I have been provoked into doing so by the Minister's [Alun Michael's] attitude in introducing the debate on Third Reading. I was astonished by his sensitivity about the language used by certain people today. He apparently regards it as inappropriate for my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) to talk about people's rights being trampled on, and he regards it as inflammatory for people from the Countryside Alliance to talk about their resentment at being criminalised. He is nodding; he confirms that.

Where has the Minister been for the past number of years when terms such as "rights being trampled on" have been used time and again in the House without any suggestion that such language is inflammatory? Where was he during the debates on the reduction in the age of consent for homosexuality, when it was constantly alleged that young people were being criminalised by a failure to reduce that age of consent? So it is all right to use such language in favour of a left-wing cause, but it is inflammatory to use it in favour of the defence of country sports, according to our oh-so-sensitive Minister.

I should like to make a couple of other brief points. Why has no one replied to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Henry Bellingham), who suggested that there might just be a practical problem to carrying this law into effect? What will happen if a hunt starts out as a drag hunt, but the hounds end up following foxes? Will people be criminalised? Will they be prosecuted? Will they be fined? Will they be imprisoned? If the answer is no, I suspect that an awful lot of hunts will start out as drag hunts and end up as fox hunts.

The other point, the crucial point, the absolute killer point that has been made time and again without satisfactory response from the people on the other side of the debate is how does it benefit animal welfare when the result of foxes being shot and snared is that more of them will die more horribly than die as a result of being hunted?

The only conclusion that one can reach as a result of the failure of people on the other side of the argument to address that crucial point is that the Bill is not about animal welfare; it is about class envy; it is about class hatred; and it is the last flicker of conscience from those people on the Left wing of the Labour Party who have abandoned their principles in supporting the Government on every other policy and who are desperate to wring a petty victory from the litany of failures of the conscience of the Left.