Mr Michael J Foster (Worcester)

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if he will make a statement on hunting with dogs.

Mr Straw

I am announcing today how the Government wish to proceed on this issue.

The Governmentís manifesto commitment was for a free vote on whether hunting with hounds should be banned. Such a free vote took place during proceedings in the 1997-98 Session on the bill to outlaw hunting with dogs sponsored by the Hon Member for Worcester (Mr Michael Foster). His bill received a Second Reading by 411 votes to 151. I well understand the frustration of many Honourable Members that no legislative conclusion followed.

I am, therefore, pleased to announce that the Government will offer reasonable time, if necessary, and drafting assistance for this issue to be considered by the House of Commons through a Private Memberís Bill on a free vote. We shall consult the House authorities, as appropriate, on how this can best be taken forward.

The Government have decided that there should first be an inquiry. This will be a committee of inquiry not into whether hunting is right or wrong, which is a matter for Parliament to decide. Instead, the inquiry will be put in place better to inform the debate.

The inquiry will look at the practical issues involved in hunting with dogs, how a ban could be implemented and what the consequences of a ban would be. It will provide an opportunity for the facts about hunting properly to be considered.

Also, it will enable an examination of the effect on the rural economy, agriculture and pest control, the social and cultural life of particular areas of countryside, the management and conservation of wildlife and animal welfare of hunting and if hunting were to be banned. The inquiry will take evidence from all interested parties.

The inquiry will be chaired by the noble Lord , Lord Burns. It will be asked to report by late Spring next year. The names of the other members of the inquiry will be announced as soon as possible. The report will be put before Parliament.

Once the inquiry has reported, the Governmentís offer of time and drafting assistance will take effect.

Copies of this reply have been placed in the Library and Vote Office.

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