§ 1. Mr. Hutton
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is his Department's policy on fox hunting for the armed forces.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Nicholas Soames)
The demanding standards of horsemanship required in the hunting field help service men of all ranks with mounted ceremonial roles to maintain their high standard of equitation. Provided no additional public expense is incurred and there is no detriment to military or ceremonial commitments, hunting may be undertaken at their commanding officers' discretion.
§ Mr. Hutton
Given the widespread public opposition to the hunting of wild animals, what possible justification can there be for allowing members of the armed forces to participate in fox hunts during duty hours? When will the taxpayer stop subsidising that appalling and barbaric sport? Why does not the Minister act now to end the waste of public money?
§ Mr. Soames
I hope that my hon. Friends will acknowledge that, when more than 50,000 service men and women are deployed on overseas detachments—7,500 of whom are supporting United Nations operations overseas—the only defence question that the Opposition can ask concerns fox hunting. That shows a fantastic order of priority. No public funds are used to subsidise hunting. Salaries and the cost of the upkeep of the horses would have 836 to be met regardless of participation in hunting and all other costs are met privately. The activity is undertaken at the discretion of the commanding officer.
§ Mr. Duncan
Does the Minister accept that mob rule and class war should not be allowed to stop the Army doing something that is perfectly legal throughout the country? Does he further accept that the Army is popular in my constituency, that hunting is good exercise for horses and that there is something inherently noble and nothing cruel in the great and glorious death of a fox in the field?
§ Mr. Soames
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who represents the Elysian fields of fox hunting. I wholly endorse his point. Hunting is a legal and perfectly honourable recreation and there is no reason why members of all ranks of the armed forces, if they have the time and inclination, should not take part in it.