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Lord Denham: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. Her Majesty's Government have not only chosen hunting for attack. They have firmly promised not to attack shooting or fishing. That must mean that they have in their own mind the criteria that make hunting unacceptable whereas fishing and shooting are acceptable. What we have all been asking for a very long time is: what are those criteria? We have been asking for them, but they have never been given.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, that is a totally unfair summary of the Government's position. They have not put forward hunting for attack. They have put forward a multi-option Bill, one of which, drafted by ISAH, is self-regulation. We have done that and the reasons for it were made clear in the Commons and here. It is because it is an issue of great controversy. There have been 20 Bills in 22 years or 22 Bills in 20 years. There have been 100,000 letters. It is a huge controversy and proper parliamentary time has been made available for the debate to take place. Such controversy does not attend on either fishing or shooting. The extent to which that argument plays a part in the debate is a matter for Parliament to decide. We have always made our position clear on that matter. So, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, he is wrong when he says that we attack one and not the other. We provide Parliament with a multi-option Bill and Parliament must then make the decision.
Lord Denham: My Lords, I do not want to keep noble Lords at this late hour. It is not only the fact that they have provided the facilities for the one; the Government have also guaranteed that, if the Hunting Bill goes through, they will not similarly attack shooting or fishing. They have not said this, but they have guaranteed, fullstop, not to attack shooting or fishing if the Hunting Bill goes through.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I do not know whether the word "guarantee" has been used, but it is absolutely right to say that we have no intention to produce a Bill in relation to shooting and fishing, for the reason that there is not the controversy surrounding those activities that exists in relation to hunting. In the past 20 years there have not been 22 Bills in the Commons or 100,000 letters relating to fishing or shooting.
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord makes much of the controversy surrounding hunting. If he says that the Home Office has received 100,000 letters, I am sure that that is right, but it is not very difficult for a lobbying group like Deadline 2000 to organise matters so that the Home Office receives 100,000 letters. That is not a sign of major controversy. The reality is that every public opinion poll today, and for some years past, indicates that if people are asked about their priorities, they list health, education, crime and every one of the important issues; hunting always comes at the bottom. The reason why there have been 20 Private Members' Bills is not that the general public are interested in hunting--they could not give a damn about it--but because a large and effective lobbying group has imprisoned one particular political party. There is no interest in hunting on the part of the general public.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I understand that the Government have brought this Bill before Parliament because of the controversy that surrounds this matter. Having debated it and recognised that the degree of cruelty does not differ widely as between hunting, fishing and shooting, does my noble friend concede that the argument has now been addressed and we should treat all of them in the same way, or not deal with the matter at all?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I believe that if the basis on which the Bill is introduced is the public controversy that surrounds hunting, it should be treated differently, and that is how it has been done. It is then for Members of the legislature to decide whether they wish to draw a distinction between hunting on the one side and shooting and fishing on the other. The Government's role in this is to facilitate proper debate.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I apologise to the noble and learned Lord for interrupting once again. The Minister keeps returning to the 22 Bills. Can the noble and learned Lord remind the House how many of those Bills dealt with fox hunting? My memory is that a very small number dealt with fox hunting. Some dealt with hare coursing and some with stag hunting, but very few touched fox hunting at all.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the briefing that I have is that 22 of them dealt with hunting with dogs, but perhaps I may write to the noble Lord to tell him how many concerned hare coursing, how many concerned fox hunting, and how many covered all.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, the Prime Minister has courteously given the undertaking that if this Bill is passed, fishing and shooting will not be attacked while he is Prime Minister. He is of course Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Is it not a fact that if Scotland wishes to introduce measures against shooting and fishing, the Scottish Parliament can do so and, therefore, the diktat of the Prime Minister does not prevail in Scotland?
Although that is very much at the heart of the Government's position, because the Government are facilitators, it is worth making a number of other points. The debate began to revolve against cruelty on the one hand versus liberty on the other. It is for this House to decide what view it takes on how cruel hunting is. It is worth drawing attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said. I am dealing only with fox hunting. We do not have time to deal with anything else this evening. The noble Lord described the effect of fox hunting on the foxes. He concluded:
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for giving way. In my short contribution earlier I mentioned the problem of open access being granted to everyone in the country, which will come into effect later. Obviously, that covers millions of acres of land. If that is so, and the other methods that the noble and learned Lord has just said are not as acceptable, what is his solution to the problem on those acres which will need to be controlled?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is for the House to weigh up all the evidence given in the Burns report and make a decision. I seek to draw to the House's attention what the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said on the cruelty issue. There were a whole variety of accounts of what the noble Lord had said and it seemed sensible to identify precisely what he said.
I should try to get on before the day after tomorrow has been reached. There are two other issues to deal with. First, the question of fallen stock. It is clearly the case that if hunts cease to exist they will not be able to provide a fallen stock service to farmers. But it is worth pointing out that the disposal of fallen stock is an issue that goes far wider than the fate of hunt kennels. As a result of BSE controls, farmers have faced increased costs in disposing of their fallen stock and there has been a decline in the number of disposal outlets.
Furthermore, the European Commission has proposed a new animal by-products regulation which is expected to come into force in 2003. As currently drafted, the regulation would ban the burial of ruminant animals that die on a farm; it would introduce environmental standards for small incinerators; and it would require all premises that collect fallen stock to meet certain standards.
The consequence of that is that some hunts may be unable or unwilling to provide a fallen stock service to farmers even if hunting is not banned as a consequence of this legislation. That is why the Government are keen, irrespective, of the Hunting Bill, to address the issue of fallen stock in its broader sense.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, in an excellent speech, said that there are pros and cons both ways and that it is a matter for understanding on both sides. I earnestly ask the House, in continuing the debate on this issue, that both sides seek to understand the point of view of the other and that the debate is conducted in a civilised and sensible way and in a way that does not seek to increase division but rather to decrease it.
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