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Baroness Stern: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the death penalty is still in operation in Kazakhstan? According to Amnesty International, no accurate figures are published on the number of executions carried out. Is the Minister also aware, and does she welcome as I do, the announcement by the Government of Kazakhstan that they have launched a public debate on the death penalty with a view to imposing a moratorium? In the light of that, will she raise with the Kazakhstan Government the importance of publishing accurate information on the number of executions and give all possible support to

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the government in their efforts to initiate a public debate, which should lead to a moratorium on the death penalty?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware that that matter is of great concern. Indeed, I discussed it yesterday with the parliamentarians who were visiting us. As the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, pointed out, Kazakhstan is discussing the possibility of a moratorium on the death penalty. Her Majesty's Government hope that very soon that will become a reality. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the pertinent suggestion she made about ensuring that we ask the government at least to be clear about the numbers currently suffering that penalty.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, what is the attitude of Kazakhstan to the campaign against terrorism? Given its geographical location and its ethnic composition, is that not quite an important question?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government of Kazakhstan have adopted a robust attitude over the issues around terrorism. Some of those issues are associated with the very fraught question of drugs and the ways in which drugs move from or through Kazakhstan. Again, that is a matter we touched on in your Lordships' House when we discussed this matter in May last year. That is another important reason why we should ensure that the level of debate we have with Kazakhstan is one that reflects the importance of that country as a huge thoroughfare from Asia into Europe. It is important to ensure that it is as secure as possible, both as regards drug trafficking and the very important question the noble Lord raised in relation to terrorism.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, is the Minister aware that my noble friends the Chief Whip, Lady Hilton and Lady Smith and I visited Kazakhstan a few years ago? We have the happiest recollections of that visit and the greatest affection and warmth for the Kazakh people. We were delighted to renew the acquaintance of some of them on their current visit here.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I was not aware that the noble Baronesses had had such a successful visit. I am now, and I am delighted to learn of it.

Hunting: Civil Service Impartiality

2.49 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to allow civil servants from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to attend hunt meets.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, staff in Defra have not been

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prevented from attending hunt meets in a private capacity. However, all Defra staff are subject to a duty of impartiality, so it may not be appropriate for an individual staff member to attend a hunt meet—either in support or in protest—if that creates a conflict of interest.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, it is difficult to see how there can be a conflict of interest in just attending a hunt meet. Does the Minister recall the leader in The Times of 28th April? It suggested—anticipating the review of Defra by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins—that many hundreds of senior Defra staff would be required to put on their wellies, leave Whitehall and go and live in the countryside in order to be nearer those whose lives they rule. That is a splendid idea.

Will the Minister consider actively encouraging some of those "expats" to go to a hunt meet, to follow the hunt—either by car or on foot—and thus to learn from close-to what tremendous enjoyment of the countryside hunting gives to thousands of people?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord anticipates what I am sure will be some lively debate in this House when the Hunting Bill reaches it. We have yet to receive the details of my noble friend Lord Haskins's report on the structure of Defra and its agencies. It is important to recognise that a good number of Defra and the agency staff delivering services to the countryside are resident in the countryside. They do not all—contrary to the noble Lord's impression—live and work in Whitehall. They have close contact with many in the countryside, including those involved in field sports and other activities.

As to the question of impartiality, I was referring only to those few members of staff who are dealing with the hunt proposals. Other members of Defra staff are perfectly free to do whatever they like in their own time.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, are officials from Defra allowed to attend hunt meets in France where hunting has flourished ever since the right to hunt was granted to the people by the French Revolution?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not sure that this House would approve of all aspects of the French Revolution. Francophile though I am, some things have moved on further in the United Kingdom than they have in France.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, has the Minister attended a hunt meet? If he has not, will he do so in order to improve his knowledge and, indeed, his impartiality?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the answer to that is, "Not for many years". That is the kind of question addressed to me when, as a junior civil servant in the Ministry of Aviation, I was asked whether I could have a view on a matter if I could not fly an aeroplane. One

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can take a view on these matters whether or not one has actually participated in them. That applies to civil servants as much as it does to Ministers.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I hunted for one-third of the past century while MP for Huntingdonshire—until I was 70. Is the Minister aware that if fox hunting is abolished, foxes will suffer terribly because they are so prolific and so destructive of poultry and game that they will have to be killed by other means, which are much more cruel than fox hunting?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, again we are anticipating other debates. I do not accept that finality, either in terms of the relative cruelty or as to the effect on pest control. Analysis has shown that a small proportion only of foxes die as a result of hunt activity. Already, therefore, most foxes are controlled by means other than by hunting with hounds.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I refer back to my noble friend's answer as to getting staff delivering services to live nearer to the people who are to enjoy them. Does that mean that it is now government policy that the Home Secretary should be based in HMP Wandsworth and the Minister for Defence in Aldershot?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I think that I shall repeat my noble friend's remark, "Don't tempt me". There is a serious point behind the report of my noble friend Lord Haskins and the second question of the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry; namely, that a perception of Defra staff is different from the reality. The reality is that most people who deliver services are fairly close to the point at which those services are received. It is only really the "upper echelons"—if one wants to put the matter that way—of the former MAFF and DETR who are located in Whitehall. It may well be that we shall want to deliver some further decentralisation. It is not the case that we are all already metropolitan.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is it not possible for Defra officials to attend a hunt—totally impartially rather than in a partisan way—in order to observe what actually happens so that they can speak from experience? One does not have to be partisan when one attends a hunt meet.

Further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, if Home Office officials go to the country to see what happens—they do not have to actually live there for a long time, and I understand that the report of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, does not say that they must live there—they will understand it much better and get more co-operation from the local people. For my own part, I should welcome any civil servant who cares to come and see what actually happens on the ground.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is important to recognise that those involved in dealing with hunting, both

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currently and in previous periods, have a lot of contact with hunt organisations and people involved with hunting. That has been very much the case over the past few months. I am asked whether it is sensible for people who are directly involved with the drafting of the Bill to appear at a hunt, with the consequent suggestion that they are supportive of hunting. That would not be any more sensible than it would if they were to join a bunch of hunt protesters. The impartiality of those particular civil servants needs to be preserved.

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