HC Deb 22 January 1998 vol 304 cc1132-3
6. Mr. Canavan

What steps his Department is taking to improve animal welfare. [22306]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)

We have taken a number of steps to improve animal welfare. Shortly after the general election we put in place new rules on transport and achieved European Union agreement to a legally binding protocol that recognises that animals are sentient beings. This last will provide an important basis from which to seek further improvements to EU welfare standards both during our presidency and beyond.

Mr. Canavan

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the protocol to the treaty of Rome. What progress is being made on delivering our pre-election commitment to ban fur farming? Will he confirm that there is no valid agricultural argument against a ban on hunting with hounds? Will he convey his support to his colleagues in the Home Office for the allocation of sufficient time to enable the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill to become law?

Mr. Morley

The Government remain committed to ending fur farming as soon as practicable. We have had a public consultation exercise and we are currently considering the best way forward. As a mark of our intention, we have recently reduced the period of application of Mink Keeping Orders from five years to three and introduced new charges for inspections. It is the view of the Ministry that hunting with hounds makes an insignificant contribution to fox control. As for Government time, that is not a matter on which I can answer.

Mr. Alan Clark

Does the Minister accept that very high hopes were raised in animal welfare bodies—and in a large body of people who care deeply about animal welfare—by his party's manifesto at the general election and that at meetings of the all-party animal welfare group that I attended immediately after the election he continued to nurture those hopes? In fact, nothing has happened save a few measures that were already put in the pipeline by the previous Government. When will he start to deliver on the undertakings that he gave in his manifesto?

Mr. Morley

I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's comments. The report that I gave to the all-party animal welfare group was not on intentions but on progress that the Labour Government had achieved. I recall that one of the members who offered their congratulations on that progress was the right hon. Gentleman himself.