Report from Chris Smith
THE parliamentary committee discussing the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill seemed at first like a kangaroo court. At the top table sat the convener, Alex Johnstone (Con), Fergus Ewing (SNP), Mike Rumbles (Lib Dem), and Alex Fergusson (Con), all of whom have previously made rude noises about Lord WatsonÕs bill.
Two fat farmers, a grinning buffoon, and the Attila the Hun of the countryside.
Milling about in the corridor outside was an assortment of weirdos in tweed so thick it could stop a spear. It all augured badly.
There has been more hot air over this subject than there was gas in the Hindenburg. However, it is only necessary to grasp the fact that the issue is not a rural but a psychological one. The plain fact is that people who enjoy inflicting pain upon animals are mentally ill, and it is a fundamental flaw in the bill that it does not discuss how to treat them.
Never mind, the proceedings began with an academic debate on the definition of cruelty, which the arrival of Dull Des McNulty (Lab) helped put in perspective.
Personally, I would rather be chased by a pack of slavering beasts - accompanied by hounds - than sit through a speech by Des. Mercifully, however, he restricted himself to a couple of stuttering questions.
James Morris, of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said there was increasing evidence that creatures could think; which is why none of them stand for parliament.
Mike and Fergus stood for parliament, and spent yesterday trying to trip up the anti-cruelty people while appearing to give the fox-manglers an easy time. ( So just how bad do you think this bill is? That sort of thing.) Light bulbs kept going off above MikeÕs head when he had thought of something clever. But it was always something dim. When he asked Mr Campbell about the difference between fox-hunting and fishing, he was told gently that fish were edible. DÕoh.
Ian McCall, of the Game Conservancy Trust, said that in areas where there was hare-killing, there were more hares. Duncan Hamilton (SNP) asked him if he was really saying hare-coursing benefited the hare. And indeed he was, because those who enjoyed the "pastime" needed to preserve hares to kill them.
Mr Hamilton: "Do you accept that this is a sort of warped logic?"
Mr McCall: "We donÕt find it odd."
Strange days at Nutbourne. Jamie McGrigor (Con), the noted shellfish enthusiast, arrived looking flushed. I understand he had been out prawn-hunting with hounds. Jamie actually talked horse-sense about his experiences as a hill farmer having to kill foxes, but everyone just laughed at him as usual.
Andrew Knowles-Brown, of the Scottish Hawk Board, was next in the comfy chair. His main concern was the hunting of hares, those sly beasts that kill thousands of chickens and lambs every year.
Mr Fergusson, still grappling with the concept of cruelty, said of the chased hare: "It will be aware that all is not well in its perfect world." Unless, of course, it is a Liberal Democrat.
Ann Taylor, of the Deerhound Coursing Club, introduced the beardy-tweedy man next to her as "a top breeder". Frankly, he looked the type.
She didnÕt believe hares were torn apart when caught by mutts. They are, of course, licked to death or, failing that, given a painless injection by one of the nice men in Barbour jackets.
"Who knows what is going on in the hareÕs mind?" she added. Hey, look I have the transcript: "Man, what larks. IÕm so happy. Ouch."
Asked if she thought what she was doing was good for the hare, she said: "I do". Then added: "It might not be good for the individual hare."
John Gilmour, Master of the Foxhounds Association, said death was a way of life and that people followed the hunt for fun: "They enjoy galloping and jumping. Some people fall off." Splendid.
Not only that, but nine out of ten foxes lived to fight another day. "So, whereÕs the pest-control argument?" asked Duncan. The point, said Mr Gilmour, was that hunts preserved animals. "If hunting disappeared, I would have no interest in protecting the wildlife," he admitted. It was a telling confession.
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