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House of Lords Hansard
17 July 2017
Volume 783


    Asked by

  • To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to legislate to lift the ban on fox hunting as set out in their 2017 manifesto.

  • My Lords, as my honourable friend Thérèse Coffey already said by way of a Written Answer on 3 July:

    “The government’s manifesto includes a free vote on the Hunting Act 2004, but we are not planning to bring forward a free vote in this session”.

  • I thank the Minister for that Reply. Obviously, the message is beginning to seep through that Theresa May’s support for hunting with hounds was massively unpopular on the doorstep in the election. The manifesto pledge to reopen the debate illustrated once again a party that is out of touch with the British people. The latest poll showed that an overwhelming 84% oppose fox hunting, which is widely regarded as cruel, inhumane and ineffective. Can the noble Baroness confirm that the ban on fox hunting is now here to stay for the long term and give a guarantee that any approach from the Council of Hunting Associations to reverse the legislation will indeed be rebuffed?

  • My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness for her continued probing, but I can say little more. Any decision or announcement on future legislative programmes will be made before the start of the second Session of Parliament in 2019. However, the Government acknowledge the high level of public interest in this debate and the strength of feeling on this matter on both sides of the debate.

  • My Lords, does my noble friend share my confusion that the noble Baroness and her friends are so interested in the law, its application and the political debate, but apparently show absolutely no interest in the welfare of the quarry species that was supposedly the object of this Act? Does she share my concern that since the ban, the latest research by both the British Trust for Ornithology and “Springwatch” has shown a significant decline in the numbers of both hares and foxes? In asking this question, I am happy to declare my interest as chairman of both the Council of Hunting Associations and the Masters of Foxhounds Association.

  • I am pleased that that gives noble Lords opposite so much amusement, but they are clearly the only two organisations that have any interest in the welfare of the animals concerned.

  • My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his detailed question. Of course, animal welfare is particularly important; it is the welfare of livestock and game, the hounds and the other dogs used, and of wildlife, including foxes. Maintaining a balance between biodiversity and the numbers of each species is important. It is in no one’s interest to see overhunting in our countryside, and Defra monitors populations of a number of species where overhunting is suspected, and appropriate action is taken. However, it should be remembered that in the Burns report of 2000, it was concluded that just 6% of foxes died due to hunting with dogs at that time.

  • Given the latest successful prosecution by the police of three members of the Grove and Rufford hunt, does the Minister agree with me that the Hunting Act is both enforceable and effective?

  • I agree with the noble Baroness in that the police are under a duty to enforce the Hunting Act, and enforcement is ultimately a decision for local police chiefs. However, as with any suspected criminal activity, we also rely on the general public. Anyone who believes that an offence is taking place or has taken place should report the matter to local police.

  • My Lords, I declare my interest as the president of the Countryside Alliance and a passionate hunter. Perhaps I may take up briefly with the Minister the point that has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. Is she aware that the methods now available to those who suffer fox predation—something from which I have suffered considerably in recent weeks—are snaring, which in my view is likely to cause considerably greater and prolonged suffering, and night shooting, which causes a high degree of wounding? Does the Minister agree that it is important, as soon as politically possible, to look at how we manage wildlife populations and to come up with a method that is stable, acceptable on both sides of the argument and puts animal welfare at the forefront, which I do not believe this Act does?

  • My Lords, I think we all agree that we must continually look at alternative ways of culling different forms of wildlife humanely. It is the responsibility of those involved in pest control to ensure that it is carried out properly, effectively and humanely. Snaring, when practised to a high standard, can provide managers with a humane and effective way of reducing the harmful impact of foxes, as can lamping. However, I go back to the Burns report of 2000, which notes that none of the methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective. Of all the available methods, lamping, if done correctly, is the most satisfactory. However, I reassure the noble Baroness that the entire framework of wildlife legislation will be looked at once we have left the EU and are able, once again, to take control of those laws.

  • Will my noble friend join me in commending as holiday reading one of Anthony Trollope’s novels, The American Senator? It describes the visit to the English countryside in the mid-19th century of Mr Senator Gotobed, who is at first shocked by what he sees there, and by fox hunting in particular, but after weeks of experience comes round to the merits of what he sees and indeed applauds it?

  • My Lords, I have not read that particular book, but I shall commend it to your Lordships anyway because they have weeks off. I watched my first hunt earlier this year and was amazed to see the diversity of people involved from all walks of life—on horseback and on foot. I also got a taste for mini-sausages and port for breakfast.