16 Sept 2003 : Column 755

House of Lords

Tuesday, 16th September 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Hunting with Dogs

Earl Ferrers asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many hounds they expect to be destroyed if the Hunting Bill becomes law.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Hunting Bill does not require dogs to be destroyed. Evidence to the Burns committee suggests that hunts in England and Wales keep around 20,000 dogs solely for hunting. Several thousand dogs are put down every year. If the Bill becomes law it will be for dog owners to decide what to do with their dogs.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that astonishing reply. Does he not realise that if the Bill becomes law 11,766 foxhounds, 3,600 beagles, 1,200 harriers, 511 mink hounds, 420 fell hounds, 220 deer hounds, 300 basset hounds and 3,000 unentered hounds will be destroyed because there will be nothing for them to hunt? Is not the noble Lord ashamed of that?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that adds up to roughly the 20,000 to which I referred, several thousand of which in practice are destroyed every year because they outlive their usefulness or their ability to join the pack. Therefore, it is not unusual for hunts to destroy hounds. It is difficult to see that all of those hounds would be used for other purposes, but some might.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, further to that point, is it not a fact that in its evidence to the Burns inquiry the Countryside Alliance suggested that some 3,000 hounds each year are destroyed because they are surplus to requirements? Further, it is suggested that many of those hounds have lived only half—in other words, six or seven years—of their natural life.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend is correct. I think that that is received wisdom on these matters. That is the kind of culling which necessarily goes on in hunts every year.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, to what other purpose would hunting packs be put when disbanded? They would make awfully inappropriate children's pets.

Lord Whitty: Indeed, my Lords. Perhaps that is one of the matters that those of us who would argue that we

16 Sept 2003 : Column 756

wish to continue hunting should bear in mind and recognise. The packs are bred specifically for something which in all other contexts is anti-social. However, there is a difference of opinion as to whether they could be used for different purposes. That would depend on the temperament of the hounds. The animal welfare organisations have offered to the hunts and to others to see whether the hounds could be rehoused in different circumstances, and some undoubtedly could. So, it is unlikely that the number destroyed would match the total figures which have been bandied around.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that if 20,000 foxhounds, beagles and harriers had to be put down, that would far exceed the number of foxes killed by any pack in any one season?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Harrison pointed out, many of these hounds would have been killed within two or three years in any case. So let us not pretend that this is something new.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, once, or if, the Bill is passed, could not drag hunting save the lives of a number of these hounds?

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords, that is one alternative should the hunts decide that that was the way to go in the new era.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, can the Minister give any other instance of when, quite deliberately, it has been government policy to reduce the number of one species by about 20,000 with no possible thought for its survival?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, regrettably, there are a number of such instances which necessarily arise in terms of pest control and animal disease. Again, I do not believe that the situation is unique.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, if the Hunting Bill becomes law, will the Minister adopt a foxhound as a family pet?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we all have to make our own choices on this matter. I do not pretend that foxhounds would make a suitable family pet in most instances. I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, in that respect. However, in expert circles it is said that some could be used for other purposes: retrained for farm animals, or whatever. I suspect that that is a minority, but nevertheless there is scope for saving some of these hounds.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, can the Minister explain his anti-social remark? In the past would the members of a miners' pack have described themselves as anti-social? Would the members of the clergy who I have known to hunt have described themselves as anti-social? Can he explain himself?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I was referring to the hounds rather than the hunters; the point being that they would

16 Sept 2003 : Column 757

not easily—given the way they are trained—fit into any other use that humanity normally has for dogs. It is not a comment on the hunters themselves.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, the noble Lord said that hunting was unsocial. What does he mean by "unsocial" in those terms?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I said the dogs in circumstances other than hunting would behave in an anti-social way, as the record will show. I have views on hunting, as will become apparent in our debate shortly. However, that was not what I said.

Lord Mancroft: My Lords, putting aside for a moment the various exchanges, I do not know of any example where 20,000 domestic animals have been made obsolete and therefore potentially are going to be destroyed. Can the noble Lord tell the House what steps his department has taken to obtain advice and look at that problem? Can he tell us what advice he has received and what reports his department has commissioned into what is by any standards—putting hunting aside—a rather serious and unpleasant question?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the whole point and the reason for the problem is that these are not domesticated animals. We have discussed this issue with the animal welfare organisations. Indeed, other bodies are looking at it. The RSPCA and others have offered help in dealing with the problem of whether in the end we have to destroy the animals or whether we can use them for some other purposes. So, the Government, together with the animal welfare experts, are seized of the problem.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, would not the unwelcome invasion of private property by huntsmen constitute anti-social activity?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, while not wishing to stray on to the rather lengthy Second Reading debate with which we are faced later today, it is of course true that there are many in the countryside who would agree with that view.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why the Government appear to value foxes so much higher than hounds; and why are they so indifferent to the death of the dogs and so enamoured of saving the fox?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in a sense we go to the heart of the debate: those who wish to restrict or ban fox

16 Sept 2003 : Column 758

hunting are concerned about the way in which those foxes are destroyed and the unnecessary suffering it causes.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we are at the centre of the debate. The majority of the House of Commons—indeed, the majority of the country—believes that fox hunting presents unnecessary suffering.

Noble Lords: No.

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords, they do. They do not all necessarily support the particular form of legislation but the majority of the countryside believes that fox hunting involves unnecessary suffering. If we have to put down hounds, it will be done in the most humane way necessary. The problem with hunting is that it is not the most humane way of destroying a fox.

Haemophiliacs with Hepatitis C: Financial Assistance Scheme

2.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester : My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper; and in doing so declare an interest, not a pecuniary one, as president of the Haemophilia Society.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what further consideration they have given to introducing a financial assistance scheme for people with haemophilia and other National Health Service patients infected with hepatitis C by contaminated National Health Service blood products; and what action they are taking in this regard.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am pleased to be able to report that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health announced on 29th August that the Government have decided to establish a financial assistance scheme in England for people infected with hepatitis C as a result of being given blood or blood products by the NHS.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page