HC Deb 20 May 2004 vol 421 cc1092-3
12. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab)

When she will be in a position to bring forward legislation to ban hunting with dogs. [174413]

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael)

I can only repeat the assurances, which the Government have given consistently and repeatedly, that the issue will be dealt with in the present Parliament.

It must be remembered that the Government did bring forward legislation during the last Session, which was amended in the House of Commons, and that the House of Lords failed to complete its consideration of the Bill.

Mr. Blizzard

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer.

There have been inquiries and endless debates on whether hunting is an essential tool of countryside management, but is not the key to be found on the placards that huntsmen hold up when they go on their demonstrations? The placards say, "Leave country sports alone". Hunting is a sport. It is a cruel sport. It is an unnecessary sport. It is a sport that the people of this country want banned. It is a sport that the House wants banned. May we have a Bill as soon as possible so that we can do just that?

Alun Michael

My hon. Friend is right to point to the revealing nature of the messages on some of the placards. I do not think that such messages did any favour to those who tried to make a case for hunting having a role in, for instance, the control of vermin and so on. I would only point him to the conclusions that I reached and brought before the House as a result of exhaustive inquiries and listening to all sides of the debate. The evidence deserves better attention than the sort of placard to which he refers.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con)

The Minister again referred to the evidence during his answer to the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), and the Minister often professes a great attachment to scientific objectivity and curiosity in matters that relate to hunting with dogs, although his body language and rhetoric sometimes suggest something rather different. I suspect that that criticism could be made of me, of course. The peer group review will be completed soon into the middle way group study into the welfare effects of shooting foxes. May I ask the Minister to pay very careful attention to that peer group review, whatever it says? It may or may not support our study, but may I ask him for an assurance that he will at least look at the peer group review before introducing any further legislation in the House?

Alun Michael

As for body language, the hon. Gentleman is sometimes referred to as enthusiastic and perhaps as over-excited. I think that he will acknowledge that I have always looked at any evidence that he, the middle way group or, indeed, other organisations have produced, and I have tried to do so objectively and to listen with care where they have evidence that should be treated as a serious contribution to the debate. So, of course I will look at anything that he and his group produce.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab)

Would it shock and surprise my right hon. Friend if I were to tell him that I no longer believe that this Government will ban hunting with dogs? May I remind him—this is why he is being pressed by Labour colleagues—that the Parliament Acts can be used only if a Bill is brought back in this Session? If a Bill is not brought back in this Session, we will not ban hunting with dogs. So why does he not forget about being so delphic and just give us a straight answer to a straight question?

Alun Michael

Nothing that my hon. Friend contributes in the Chamber could shock or dismay me. I assure him that he lost all capacity to have that sort of impact a long time ago. I have given a straight answer to a straight question: the matter will be dealt with in this Parliament. If he wishes to extrapolate from that into the mechanics, I can assure him that I have looked at the implications of the procedures as well, and with great care.