1997 Onwards -
Below is the text of Mr Major’s Commons speech on fox hunting, made on the 20th December 2000.
MR JOHN MAJOR:
Mr Major: I have never hunted a fox or a deer, nor have I attended a hunt or seen one, except at a distance, yet I oppose the Bill every bit as strongly as any one of the country dwellers who are likely to lose their livelihood should a ban be imposed by Parliament.
I am surprised that the Government introduced the Bill, and truly astonished at the timing of its introduction. At the end of a Parliament in a truncated Session, priority is being given to a measure that is classically the stuff of a private Member's Bill. We are bound to wonder at the priorities and motives that lie behind the Bill. If it is a priority for the Government, that is laughable. As for the Government's motives-
Some polls say not, but a majority may well oppose foxhunting. In the Government's eyes, the Bill is to unite that majority against the minority who hunt. It is as simple as that. It is a breath-
Generally in our political system-
That is the definition of tolerance. They are not my words but those of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who uttered them the very day before the Queen's Speech was delivered to Parliament. What a pity that the right hon. Gentleman's laudable sentiments do not apply to the Bill. On this issue, Labour Members generally-
In the Bill, which was introduced with sweet reason by the Home Secretary, there are in theory at least options to outride prohibition. There could be an independent supervisory authority-
Hunting has always been a tricky issue. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) has said, I was originally from the towns. I understand clearly the strong feelings of many people who oppose hunting. Hunting may offend them, but it should not affect their intellectual judgment of the merits of the activity in terms of pest control when set against other options; only facts should influence them. I congratulate Lord Burns on a report that exposes the complexities of a debate that is too often presented solely in simplistic terms.
Let us consider some of the facts. What are the merits of the Bill? Does it preserve rural traditions? Does it create rural jobs? Does it add to rural prosperity? The answers are no, no and no again.
There are, I hope, points of agreement across the House and I shall suggest some. Foxes are vermin that spread disease. They kill sheep, poultry, free-
Shooting may seem humane, but it is often ineffective. A fox that is wounded and not killed-
Many emotive arguments, including some hoary old chestnuts, will undoubtedly be made by Labour Members to advocate the end of hunting. Many of those are conventional wisdom, but that does not make them right. I remember that the concept of a not-
I began by saying that I have never taken part in hunting but that I am intellectually convinced that it is necessary, not least because, having represented a rural constituency for 20 years, I have seen it at close quarters and I care for it. Whatever the personal feelings of Labour Members, I ask them, why wilfully go out of the way to introduce specific legislation to destroy jobs? That is what a ban will do. Why wreck traditions and "modernise"-
Rural Britain is in severe crisis, but instead of offering help and comfort to the countryside, the Government intend to use the juggernaut of their majority to hurt it further. This is the wrong measure introduced at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. I say to Labour Members that, if the Government force it through, it will be bitterly resented and long remembered.
I invite the opponents of hunting to accept that foxes must be destroyed, that hunting creates jobs, that minorities must not be legislated against simply because they are minorities, that hunting helps to preserve the balance of wildlife in the countryside and that huntsmen and the hunts manage conservation of woodland scrub and hedgerow.
Let Labour Back Benchers open their minds for a moment, banish the image of huntsmen as red-
Let Labour Back Benchers banish the image of huntsmen as red-