HL Deb 30 November 2004 vol 667 cc373-6

Lord Denham asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they intend to take in order to further their commitment to protect game shooting, in view of the recently declared intentions of animal rights activists which are the direct result of the passage of the Hunting Act 2004.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, the Labour Party manifesto made it clear that we have no intention whatever of placing restrictions on the sports of angling and shooting and we stand by that completely. The Government recognise the significant contribution that shooting can make to the social and economic well-being of rural areas as well as bringing environmental and conservation benefits.

Lord Denham

My Lords, that simply is not good enough. The noble Lord will have heard the new watchword of the animal lobby, "Hunting down; shooting to go". Is he aware of the extraordinary dip in the morale of farmers and other members of the agricultural community owing to the passage of the Hunting Bill which was orchestrated by his department? Does he realise that it is up to him to do something to see that shooting and fishing do not follow in the same way, both of which he is in honour bound by the promises of his party and himself to protect?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not know what the noble Lord needs from me. I said that we have no intention whatever of placing restrictions and we stand by that commitment completely. I said so several times during the hunting debate. I do not know what could be clearer than that for the noble Lord and for the shooting interests who, by and large, understand the Government's position and with whom we work very well. As to morale in the agricultural community, I do not recognise what the noble Lord says.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, in view of the allegations of cruelty and of the ill treatment of birds, will inspections be carried out at game farms to bring them into line with other institutions?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Veterinary Service has access to game farms and shoots. However, they are not subject to the same inspection regime as farming because they do not receive the same subsidies. If shooting grounds were to qualify for and claim for the new single farm payment, they would be subject to the same inspection regime.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, should not the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, reply to the noble Lord, Lord Denham, by saying that the Government have no intention to ban shooting in England, but of course the devolved assemblies can do exactly what they like?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, "exactly what they like" is exaggerating slightly, but certainly in some of these areas they do have devolved powers. I do not claim to speak for the devolved administrations; I speak for the United Kingdom Government and in this respect for our powers within England.

Baroness Miller of Chillthorne Domer

My Lords, does the Minister know of and welcome the Game to Eat campaign which has raised the standards of food hygiene with regard to game preparation and has encouraged more of the game that is shot to be sold for consumption?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention. Clearly, significant improvements have been made in the preparation and marketing of game and they have brought significant income to rural areas. My department has been very supportive of those efforts.

Lord Monro of Langholm

My Lords, are not the Government doing all this through the back door? By making it harder to obtain gun licences and with chiefs of police becoming ever more restrictive, we will all be reduced to bows and arrows.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord would be more dangerous with a bow and arrow than he is with a gun. I believe that we should not confuse the freedom to pursue the sport of shooting with concerns about the criminal use of guns. The Home Office and the police service are clearly concerned with that, but they are not concerned to place any restrictions on sporting guns.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, one aspect of the issue troubles me. Was it not the case that the Government did not commit themselves to banning fox hunting but left it to the opinion of the other place to direct the outcome of that issue? The other place was much inspired by animal rights activists and similar lobby groups. Is not the same kind of situation likely to arise in respect of shooting and fishing? If so, what would then be the attitude of the Government?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord makes my point. The commitment on hunting in two manifestos in two elections, which we won by an overwhelming majority, was to allow a free vote of Parliament and therefore ultimately the voice of the House of Commons to prevail. That was a manifesto commitment. Of equal validity is the manifesto commitment that we have no intention of placing restrictions on shooting.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, following the passing of the Hunting Act, what is the maximum number of dogs that a group of people going out on a shoot may employ?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, if they are engaged in illegal activity with hounds, none.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, this is getting a little confusing, I am afraid. If we are to have a situation in which the Government will defer to pressure groups indirectly—that is what happened in relation to hunting in the end—if those groups continue to exert the pressure which they say they will do—and it is part of a wider issue than the single issue of shooting and fishing because there is the whole question of this spreading across into other areas besides those two specific ones—and if the Government are to take the approach that the Commons none the less can have its will, is there really any great value in an assurance that the Government will not do anything about these subjects?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I find that somewhat convoluted. Clearly, the Labour Party's long-term commitment to allowing a free vote on fox hunting has, in part, been influenced by outside pressure groups, as is the case with all parties and all kinds of pressure groups. The point is that for 80 years there has been pressure for banning fox hunting, and much of that has been reflected in Labour Party policy over many of those years. There is no such tradition of influence on Labour Party policy or, indeed, on the majority of MPs in relation to the current view of some animal rights activists on shooting or angling. Quite the opposite is the case. The Labour Party has repeatedly made it clear that it has no intention of banning those activities.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, is not the simple truth that Labour MPs would never in any circumstances vote to ban either angling or shooting? Indeed, they have just voted for shooting in the Hunting Bill.

Lord Whitty

Indeed, my Lords, and some of the provisions of the Hunting Bill directly supported the continuation of shooting in its current form.

Lord Denham

My Lords, perhaps I may come back to what I was trying to say just now. Will the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, rethink the initial Answer that he gave? He said that the Labour Party will not seek to attack shooting or fishing in the same way as it has with regard to hunting, but during the course of the Hunting Bill he gave guarantees that the Labour Party would protect shooting and fishing. I want to know what steps he is going to take in the face of the animal lobby now turning its attentions on shooting. After the lobby has achieved that, it will turn its attentions to fishing. What steps will he take in relation to that?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I cannot improve on my Answer because I stated the Government's position and the party's position—that is, we have no intention whatever of placing restrictions on the sports of angling and shooting. Of course, opinions on these matters, both for and against, will be expressed in the country, and I do not intend to restrict that debate. If such animal rights activists engage in illegal activity, that will obviously be a different matter, and the Government made clear in the Queen's Speech that they intend to take action against animal rights activists who take the law into their own hands. That is not what we are talking about here. Government policy in relation to shooting and angling is as stated and that has long been the position. As my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours said, the Labour Party in Parliament has repeatedly said that it will not act on shooting or angling.

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