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Lord Judd: My Lords—

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Hurd.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we have plenty of time. Let us hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, first.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, despite what the Minister said about revitalising the peace process, is it not a grave mistake, in these particularly tense and dangerous weeks, for the United States effectively to put on hold any serious early initiative for an even-handed peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians? Is there not a real danger that, unless this policy is changed—as of course it could be, since there is still time—any other decisions that the Americans and ourselves take on the Middle East will be regarded as being taken not by campaigners against injustice and terror but by people who are essentially protecting the policies of Prime Minister Sharon?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe that it is very important to revitalise the peace process, because of the repercussive effects that not doing so will have on a broader basis in the region and because it is right to do so. The United States is an active part of the quartet along with the UN, the EU and Russia, and has been playing its full part in that forum. I hope that the part that the United States has played will be seen to have been a vigorous one on publication of the route map.

Lord Judd: My Lords—

Lord Bramall: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if we have two short questions and two short answers, we can do them both.

Lord Judd: My Lords, following the important initiative by the Government in their conference, do

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they foresee any role for an international presence as a way forward both in the peace process and in bringing the Palestinian state fully into operation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, any fresh thinking on the issue is to be welcomed. However, as I hope I made clear, our efforts are concentrated on the route map from the quartet, which we hope will be forthcoming early next month.

Lord Bramall: My Lords—

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is the turn of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall.

Lord Bramall: My Lords, will the Minister go further? Does she agree that any invasion of Iraq that has not meanwhile ensured a withdrawal of those illegal settlements, or at least meaningful negotiations towards it, risks incurring intense odium throughout the Middle East, which could invalidate any benefit that military action may bring?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that the two issues are entirely separate. However, there is no doubt that the settlements are a touchstone issue in the Middle East, with repercussions well beyond Israel and Palestine. It is an issue that inflames public feeling, not only in the countries of the region but elsewhere in the world. That is one of the reasons why my right honourable friend has put so much effort into trying to take forward the peace process—that and because my right honourable friend believes that it is right to do so.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we, too, welcome the discussions on Palestine going forward, and hope that they are helpful. Does the Minister accept that there must be agreement with my noble friend Lord Gilmour when he points to the aggravating nature of the settlements—a policy by which the Israelis are doing themselves no good at all? Would she and other Ministers also spare a word of sympathy for the innocent Israeli women and children who are slaughtered by the continuing suicide bombs? Does she agree that the biggest victim of the suicide attacks is the cause of Palestine itself? Until they stop, the chances of really going forward are bound to be limited.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I made it clear in my answer to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, that the Government fully understand the aggravating nature of the settlement. Of course, the Government have never held back for a single moment on condemnation of terrorist activity that results in the death of innocent women and children.

It is important to take every opportunity open to us to take the process forward. We concentrated on one particular issue in the meeting earlier this week, but

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opportunities that arise should be taken by all people of good will around the world. We hope to pursue that, not only through the means that my right honourable friend has already espoused but through the quartet meetings.

Deer Hunting

3.17 p.m.

Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a board member of the Countryside Alliance.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government following the statement by the Minister for Rural Affairs (HC Deb, col. 756, 3rd December), when the "incontrovertible" evidence that justifies the proposed ban on deer hunting and coursing will be published and copies placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, all the evidence has been published. The Burns report was the starting point, and related documents were published in 2000. The wide-ranging consultations undertaken by my right honourable friend Alun Michael have been praised from both sides of the debate as uniquely open, transparent and fair. My right honourable friend met a range of organisations. Letters from organisations are available in the Library, as are transcripts of the hearings and evidence submitted by the witnesses at those hearings, several of which cover deer hunting.

Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his Answer. It will not surprise him to know that I am reasonably familiar with the contents of the Burns report. I took great note of the hearings, and I congratulated, and do again, his right honourable friend on his courage in holding them. That was an interesting experiment in open democracy.

Will the noble Lord help me further, however? The evidence is immensely important, because it is on the evidence that the principles of the Bill before Parliament are based. He told the House a moment ago that there is an enormous amount of evidence. My friends and I have looked at it carefully and cannot find the evidence that points to the need to ban stag hunting. Will he tell the House precisely what the evidence is, where it is to be found and whose evidence it is, bearing in mind the fact that his right honourable friend admitted the other day that stag hunting could fulfil the criterion of utility? Where is the evidence that stag hunting cannot fulfil the criterion of "least suffering"?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Bill is based on the principles of assessing cruelty and utility, as the noble

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Lord rightly said. It is clear from many studies that deer suffer in the course of being hunted by dogs. The issue of cruelty has to be judged on whether deer hunting is a less or more cruel method of achieving the utility. Certainly, deer hunting can meet a utility in some circumstances, but the evidence indicates that other forms of controlling deer herds are less cruel.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the Porchester report on the future of Exmoor, commissioned in the 1970s by the late Harold Wilson, concluded categorically that stag hunting was essential for the future welfare of the deer on Exmoor. Where is that evidence weighed in the balance? Is it found wanting? I think it is not.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, not only the Porchester report, but also the Burns report recognised the special situation in Exmoor and parts of Somerset and Devon, where hunting helped control the deer. However, it still remains the case that there are less cruel methods of managing deer herds, on Exmoor as elsewhere.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that only about 16 per cent of the deer culling in Exmoor is as a result of hunting? The Burns report is also clear that most scientific opinion agrees that the deer are very likely to suffer in the final stages of hunting.

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords. That is why I conclude—I think this is incontrovertible—that chasing deer over several miles, in some cases, and cornering them is a more cruel method of control of deer herds than other methods.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I declare an interest, having represented a large part of Exmoor for 30 years in another place. I entirely agree with the conclusion of the Burns report that hunting makes a significant contribution to the management of the deer. That view is endorsed by the Exmoor National Park Authority, the Exmoor Society and the Exmoor and District Deer Management Society. In the light of that endorsement and because the Government claim that there is incontrovertible evidence, will the Minister come with me to the Library, where I have been for the past hour, trying to find out where in all the submissions, in which many different views were expressed, that incontrovertible evidence lies? This is a very serious step to take.


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