Should this be the last post for fox hunting?

Before Parliament decides, we asked eminent scientists and philosophers for their opinions on the pursuit of the uneatable
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Indy Politics

Richard Dawkins, the bestselling author and Oxford zoologist:

"I have always been opposed to fox hunting. Brought up on a Cotswold farm where the hunt has been excluded for 50 years, I am irritated by the fox hunting lobby's arrogant presumption to speak on behalf of country people. They have cleverly contrived to represent the dispute as one of town versus country. In fact, many country people oppose hunting, just as many town people support it.

"The serious argument in favour seems to be one of individual liberty: 'I wouldn't do it myself, but if people get their kicks from killing animals, they should be free to indulge their peculiar tastes.' The libertarian argument properly applies to sexual perversion between consenting adults in private: it isn't anybody else's business. But it doesn't work for fox hunting, at least without further discussion, because it is somebody else's business: the fox's.

"Outside of absolutist religion, there is no qualitative moral distinction between the rights of human animals and vulpine animals. Nobody claims that people should be free to conduct manhunts with bloodhounds, just because they enjoy it. Moreover, most people in Britain accept that bull fighting and bear baiting are obnoxious enough to overcome the libertarian argument. Incidentally, I also strongly support those decent Spaniards who are working to get bull fighting banned. The issue, for me, is not one of liberty, but of the quantity of suffering.

"Given that it is hard (actually in principle impossible) to measure suffering, I prefer to err on the side of the victim. The available evidence suggests to me that hunting with dogs causes the victim enough suffering to warrant a ban."

Patrick Bateson, the provost of King's College, Cambridge, who has investigated the welfare of hunted stags:

"It is very difficult to generalise our findings on stag hunting to fox hunting. Some evidence from finds of fox skeletons in land drains suggests that foxes that survive the hunt do suffer quite considerably and go into some sort of shock from which they don't recover. There are certainly other aspects of fox hunting that have significant welfare implications, such as the digging out of foxes using terriers. But, scientifically, there is not a great deal of good evidence to make definitive conclusions about poor welfare. I'm cautious about banning because there are some aspects of hunting that do have a conservation angle.

"If there was an outright ban, large parts of the countryside that are retained through fox hunting might suffer. I end up sitting on the fence regarding a ban."

Lord Winston, a fertility expert who is based at Hammersmith Hospital:

"I'm firmly committed to the humane treatment of animals, which is one of the reasons why I don't support a ban on fox hunting. The evidence is that the kill during hunting is quicker and safer than the protracted kill of a shotgun wound or poisoning would be."

Martin Rees, who is the Astronomer Royal and a Cambridge scientist:

"I find fox hunting distasteful but I don't think it should be made illegal. The pain involved cannot compare with the vastly greater cruelty of commercial farming."

Steve Jones, a professor of genetics at University College London and a best-selling science author:

"Fox hunting is about getting pleasure out of inflicting pain on animals. If the people that do it enjoy that – and it strikes me as a rather weird hobby – why don't they go and work in a slaughterhouse and get paid for it? We've banned bear baiting and cock fighting so we have set a precedent and I can see no reason why we can't ban fox hunting too."

Peter Singer, author of the book 'Animal Liberation' and Professor at Princeton College, New Jersey:

"We have lots of legislation to protect animals from cruelty such as legislation against cock fighting so why should fox hunting be any different in principle?

"There is a ban on keeping veal calves in stalls and the entire European Union has banned the standard battery cage. These laws are, in my opinion, part of becoming more civilised as a society in which we regard animals as beings that need protection.

"The issue here is not a matter of limiting the freedom of free, consenting adults, such as in the case of laws against homosexuality. There are many, greater issues around the nature of living in a liberal society. In my opinion, it is a matter of protecting animals from cruelty."

Dr A C Grayling, a liberal who has written essays on animal rights. A Reader in philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London:

"It seems to me that hunting and killing animals for recreation and pleasure is not something that a thoughtful society ought to be doing and I very much hope that Parliament will decide to ban fox hunting next month.

"To those who argue that hunting is a natural part of animal life, I would say that whatever is natural need not automatically be good. We, as a community, have deemed cock fighting, bear baiting and cruelty to dogs illegal, which caused animal suffering for recreational uses, so why should we not then ban fox hunting? Moreover, banning the sport will not ruin a pas-time or affect the economy if we substitute it with drag hunting, which will make it a competitive sport without an aspect of cruelty that it has at the moment."

David Conway, who is a professor of philosophy at Middlesex University:

"I do not think it should be banned although I am in two minds as to what form of regulation, if any, that it needs.

"I find reports of foxes being bred especially for hunting purposes disturbing but, as far as foxes living in the wild are concerned, they are classed as vermin in the countryside and have to be eradicated. In my understanding, the purpose of hunting foxes is not to cause pain any more than the purpose of insecticide is to cause pain to insects. The pain is a side- effect of the process.

"Cruelty, as I understand, has, as its aim, the intention to cause suffering. It is deliberate and wanton but, given that foxes are vermin and pests to the countryside, and given that they have to be destroyed, I cannot see shooting them is necessarily a preferred method or more humane than fox hunting, or perhaps only if you can guarantee all marksmen can take a fox out with a single shot. I see the motives behind the anti-hunting campaign as a form of class warfare; people who live in towns have no knowledge of what goes on in the countryside and those who grow up in the country see animals being slaughtered so their sensibilities have evolved for these activities."

Jonathan Glover, Head of medical law and ethics at King's College London:

"I would sit on the fence with this issue as I think that, on the one hand, it is important to live in a society in which unpopular actions are tolerated rather than banned. I do not think it reason enough to ban just because Guardian readers object to it.

"On the other hand, the matter does depend on how much weight one gives to animals compared with human beings; if you think that a fox is equal in moral terms to humans, then a fox's life ought to outweigh the desire to hunt them for sport. However, you may think, as I do, that animals do count for something but not as much as human life."

Timothy Sprigge, the Vice-Chairman of the Advocates for Animals Society in Scotland. Also a professor at the University of Edinburgh:

"Animals have moral rights in essentially the same sense as human beings do, including human beings who are not capable of being moral agents.

"Such rights pertain to all conscious beings. A such basic right is not to be caused pain or suffering by moral agents simply because they, the moral agents, enjoy the activity which causes it. It is therefore right to make it illegal."

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