HC Deb 22 May 2000 vol 350 cc662-3
5. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

When he expects to receive the report of the Burns Inquiry; and if he will make a statement. [121535]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

We have always indicated that Lord Burns hopes to submit his report to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary by late spring. My right hon. Friend hopes to publish it shortly thereafter.

Mr. Prentice

That is splendid news, but what is the Government's general position? Do they still want a ban on hunting with dogs to be piloted through the Commons by means of the private Member's Bill mechanism? If so, would not that risk the measure being torpedoed in the House of Lords? Would not it make sense for the Government to bring forward a multi-option Bill, along the lines of the one that became the Sunday Trading Act 1994? That would allow hon. Members of all parties to express a definitive and conclusive opinion on an issue that at present is merely festering?

Mr. O'Brien

I understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The Government are, of course, neutral on the issue, which is a matter for a free vote in the House of Commons. The Government took the view that the best way forward was by way of a private Member's Bill, after the Burns inquiry has reported. We have said that we will offer reasonable Government time, if necessary, and drafting assistance for a private Member's Bill, which would be considered by the House on a free vote. I understand that all parties are likely to allow a free vote.

I am sure that my hon. Friend would be pleased to welcome to his camp the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). Unlike the rest of the Conservative party, she has always made clear her belief that there should be a ban on fox hunting.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Has the Burns inquiry assessed the likelihood of Britons hunting abroad in the event that hunting is banned in this country?

Mr. O'Brien

What the Burns inquiry assesses must be included in the terms of reference that we have set for it. It is for the inquiry to determine how to interpret the terms of reference.