HL Deb 07 July 1997 vol 581 cc407-10

2.45 p.m.

Lord Denham

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will cause the Report of the Committee on Cruelty to Wild Animals, 1951 (Command 8266) to be reprinted and to ensure that enough copies are available to Members of both Houses of Parliament and to the general public before a Bill or a Resolution on the subject matter of that report is debated in either House.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, arrangements have been made to ensure that sufficient copies of the report are available to Members of both Houses and to the general public. Peers may obtain copies from the Printed Paper Office. Members of another place may obtain copies from the Vote Office. Members of the public may obtain copies from the Stationery Office, on demand, price £12.60.

Lord Denham

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the words in his party's manifesto foreshadowing a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation. Is he also aware how grateful Members of both Houses will be that they can now take that decision with the benefit of the one authoritative document that will enable them to do so objectively?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. The Government's policy means that, as he said, we are committed to allowing a free vote on the issue. As he probably knows better than I, the Scott-Henderson report is about 40 years out of date. Further research, opinions and all contributions to this genuine question of public debate are welcomed.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the solution is to approve drag hunting, which has all the advantages of galloping over wonderful country in costume and not the disadvantage of cruelty to the fox?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, certainly that is a proposed alternative. I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Denham, would agree with the thrust of the noble Earl's question. Drag hunting would have the benefit that it could not fairly be described as "the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable", which was Oscar Wilde's view of hunting. In any event, the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable has now been taken over by Mr. Tyson and Mr. Holyfield.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, last weekend the Prime Minister sent a message of support to the Gay Pride march. Is the Minister aware that on Thursday another minority group, people who live and work in the countryside of our nation and not just those who support hunting with hounds, is gathering in Hyde Park because those people feel that the voice of the countryside may not be listened to in this House and another place? Will the Prime Minister, who said that he would govern on behalf of the whole nation, also send a message of reassurance to the countryside rally on Thursday?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, your Lordships will be shocked that I myself was not consulted by the Prime Minister as to whether or not he was going to send a message of support to Gay Pride. The noble Baroness makes a very serious and well taken point. I shall certainly undertake that her request is transmitted to the appropriate quarter. It is important that everyone in our community is listened to. I myself live in the country. I do not hunt foxes but some of my best friends do so. It is very important that people who think they are in a minority should have their voice clearly listened to. Perhaps I may say that they are very fortunate indeed to have the voice of moderate, rational reason, which is always the voice of the noble Baroness.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, is the Minister aware that his assurance that everyone will be listened to is extremely welcome? Is he further aware that many people are worried that Ministers in particular, of all governments, listen carefully but, having done so, turn and go in the opposite direction to that advised?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Lord knows perfectly well that he and I often sat late at night on opposite Benches under the last regime; his comment is well justified.

Lord Monson

My Lords, will the Government also consider making available, though it is not a Stationery Office publication, the report of the expert scientific committee chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, published about 20 years ago, which established beyond doubt that fish feel pain and suffer from stress just as much as mammals?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am not sure that it is for the Government to disseminate the report of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. It is available. It is well known. And those who wish further argument for their views will dip in as appropriate.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, the report to which my noble friend refers covers many aspects of controlling wildlife. Can the Minister assure us that any review that is performed will look at the whole aspect of looking after rabbits, hares, otters and all other such animals? Will it also look at the whole question of trapping, gassing and poisoning as well as hunting which should be taken into consideration? The issue is how to control animals as well as how to prevent cruelty.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, it is extremely important that the welfare of all animals is carefully attended to. Whether it is wise to have a panoramic review of every single aspect of mistreatment of animals is questionable. What is likely to be before your Lordships if it passes another House is a Private Member's Bill which will be dealt with in the usual way. That seeks to outlaw the hunting of wild mammals with the use of hounds.