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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Does the Home Secretary think that, in the light of the Government's foolish moves to grant access to all to heath and moorland by night, it is sensible to advocate lamping and the use of high-powered rifles?
Mr. Straw: Although I am expert in a great many matters, happily one of the few matters for which I have no responsibility is legislation on the countryside. However, I will look up the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, and get back to him.
Other matters highlighted in the report would require consideration in the event of a ban. They include the recommendation of training for stalkers, concerns about the increased use of snares and the loss of the fallen stock service provided by hunts, and compensation.
The committee received evidence about a number of practical effects of hunting that gave rise to concern. They include trespass, disruption and disturbance by hunts, concern about the fact that hunting is not open to public scrutiny, the practice of autumn fox hunting, digging out using terriers, and the stopping up of badger setts. Those points are made in chapter 9. Chapter 9.47 points out that England and Wales, unlike most other countries, have no statutory regulation or licensing of hunting. The committee concluded that, in the absence of a ban, those matters should be considered.
Some of the concerns raised would require legislative action, but it would not be appropriate to deal with them in separate legislation ahead of a Bill on hunting. The relevant hunting bodies will want to consider each concern carefully, and to think about whether any changes to hunt rules could be made to deal with them.
The committee concludes that it is a reasonable assumption that any adverse impact on animal welfare is greater in the case of hunting not undertaken under the auspices and rules of the various hunt associations. Those rules were recently strengthened by the establishment of an independent supervisory authority. The committee suggests, in the absence of a ban, a licensing system to control all forms of hunting.
As I made clear in my statement, there will be a Government Bill in the next Session. The Government remain neutral: their role in presenting a Bill is that of a facilitator, enabling Parliament to reach a conclusion. Our task will be to ensure that the Bill is manageable in Parliament, and that it contains workable proposals. We have not reached a final conclusion on the options, not least because we want to hear hon. Members' opinions first. No final decision has been made about the number of options, but I believe that, if the Bill is to be manageable, it should contain no more than a handful of options, reflecting the proposals made by those on all sides of the debate.
I suggest--it is a matter for the House--that the broad options are as follows: to maintain the status quo, which would involve negativing the Bill; a wide-ranging ban along the lines of the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster); a more limited ban aimed at restricting the hunting of particular species, or taking account of particular differences in geography, topography and animal welfare; much tighter regulation, for example through the creation of a licensing authority; or the delegation of one or more of those decisions to local communities through local referendums, although the House would wish to take into account the strong recommendation against that option made by the Burns committee.
As the House may be aware, the Welsh Assembly recently passed a Conservative motion to the effect that decisions on hunting in Wales should be the Assembly's prerogative. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and my hon. Friend the First Secretary have advised Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales respectively that hunting is not a devolved issue. They have also explained that any ban would require primary legislation, which is a matter for Parliament. I assure the House that, on that issue, as always, my right hon. Friend and I will continue to discuss with the First Secretary any primary legislation that affects Wales.
The 40 Welsh Members of Parliament are as representative of Wales as the 60 Assembly Members, and I am sure that their voices will be heard during the passage of the forthcoming Bill. As I said in my statement to the House on 12 June, hon. Members will be free to table amendments proposing that decisions on the matter should be taken by the National Assembly for Wales. However, the Government position is that the matter has not been transferred to the Assembly, and is therefore the responsibility of this House.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The Home Secretary will be aware that I tabled a written question, which was answered yesterday, asking him what estimate he had made of the number of extra firearms licences that would be needed for lamping foxes at night; what implications there would be for safety; and what compensation provisions the Bill would contain. I had a rather unsatisfactory reply from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien)--who is on the Treasury Bench--which stated:
Mr. Straw: I think that the hon. Gentleman is being rather ungracious about that. The Home Office goes to very considerable lengths to provide as much information as possible to all right hon. and hon. Members who ask questions. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who answered that question, tells me that we do not have that information or estimate now. However, we shall do our best to get it as the debates unfold. The legislation will not be before the House until after the end of this Session.
The proposed options will, of course, be susceptible to amendment as the Bill makes progress. In framing alternatives, we shall certainly take into account the concerns that were expressed by various hon. Members, and reflected in the report, with the idea of different regimes applying as between upland and lowland areas.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is beside me on the Treasury Bench, has held meetings with the main umbrella organisations--Deadline 2000, the Countryside Alliance and representatives of the Middle Way group, which involves the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff).
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has asked the umbrella organisations to present proposals later this month. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that should any of the hon. Members just mentioned be fortunate enough to catch your eye, they will tell the House the rationale behind their proposals.
The Government will not be committed to any particular option for reform. As we have made it clear, we shall give Parliament the opportunity to vote on the merits of all the main options. All Labour Members, including Ministers, will have a free vote on all options.
It is too early to be precise about the procedural mechanisms for such a Bill. However, as I have already indicated, we believe that it should follow the model that was used for the Sunday Trading Act 1994. For that legislation, the then Government ensured that this House could choose between options for reform, and that, when the legislation proceeded to the other place, arrangements were made for the same choice between options to be made available there. Although that legislation was delivered to the other place in the form decided in votes by this place, the Government tabled in the other place the options that were available to this place.
As we all know, discussion of hunting is often characterised by strongly held views. Those who are opposed to it often focus solely on the welfare of individual animals, whereas the hunting community have often argued their case from the standpoint of the activity
What the report does not do is to arrive at any overall conclusion on the value of hunting or the implications of a ban. It is up to each right hon. and hon. Member to reach a conclusion on that matter. In so doing, I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to consider the report as a whole. It is a valuable document, and I thoroughly commend it to the House.