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Government confirms 20,000 hunting hounds will die

THE GOVERNMENT has ‘accepted’ that 20,000 Hunting dogs will be destroyed if hunting is banned outright in England and Wales, writes Nick Mays. During last week’s lengthy and, at times, stormy debate during the Government’s Hunting Bill’s Second Reading in the House of Lords, Lord Whitty the Rural Affairs Minister appeared the metaphorically shrug his shoulders at the ‘inevitable’ consequence of the Bill.

In a series of increasingly bad tempered exchanges, the Government’s lack of concern towards the fate of the hunting dogs became clear.

Lord Whitty tried to dismiss that matter saying: "…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 responded: "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 minkhounds, 420 fellhounds, 220 deerhounds, 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?"

Again, Lord Whitty tried to shrug off the matter, by sticking to the arithmetic: "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.

…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 re-housed 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."

The Earl of Onslow reacted angrily, demanding of Lord Whitty: "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 again tried to dismiss the matter, saying: "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."

Angrily shrugging off a suggestion from Lord Swinfen that he himself might adopt a Foxhound as a family pet he added: "…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."

Lord Mancroft demanded to know whether the Government had taken advice on the matter of the hounds’ welfare: "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?

The Minister, now clearly rattled, responded: "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."

Viscount Bledisloe asked if the Minister could explain why the Government appeared to value foxes so much higher than hounds; "Why are they so indifferent to the death of the dogs and so enamoured of the saviour of the fox? "

Lord Whitty fell back on the staple ‘cruelty’ answer so beloved of the Government when justifying the anti-Hunting Bill, and prompting shouts of anger from the noble Lords: "My Lords, in a sense we go to the heart of the debate: those who wish to restrict or ban fox hunting are concerned about the way in which those foxes are destroyed and the unnecessary suffering it causes."

Born in 1943, Larry Whitty was educated at Latymer Upper School and graduated from St John's College Cambridge with a BA [Hons] degree in Economics. He worked for Hawker Siddeley Aviation from 1960 - 1962 and at the Ministry of Aviation Technology from 1965 - 1970.

He was employed by the Trades’ Union Congress from 1970 - 1973) and the General Municipal Boilermakers’ and Allied Trade Union from 1973 - 1985.

He became the General Secretary of the Labour Party in 1985, a post he held until 1994. He was the European Co-ordinator for the Labour Party from 1994 - 97. He was created a Life Peer in 1996, becoming Lord Whitty of Camberwell. From 1997 Larry Whitty was a Lord in Waiting [Government Whip] covering education and foreign affairs.

From July 1998 Lord Whitty was Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions with responsibility for roads and road safety issues. In 2001, Lord Whitty of Camberwell was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The Kennel club comments

Speaking to OUR DOGS last week Caroline Kisko, KC Secretary, said ‘The Kennel Club has found the comments made by Lord Whitty during the recent House of Lords debate on hunting with hounds, somewhat contradictory, in that, on the one hand it would seem that Lord Whitty believes that a number of these hounds can be re-housed, yet, he is further quoted as saying that "I do not pretend that foxhounds would make a suitable family pet in most instances."

‘In August, concerned with the plight of the hounds, the Kennel Club organised and hosted a 'Hunting With Dogs' meeting that consisted of the major animal welfare charities and was chaired by Ian Cawsey MP, who also chairs the All Party Group for Animal Welfare at Parliament. The primary purpose of this meeting was to find a solution to the problem of the fate of the hounds, should hunting be banned. It is now the group - and Mr Cawsey's intention - to establish a working party consisting of members of the All Party Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) and representatives from the organisations that would be affected by a ban, as more thorough discussion is certainly necessary with regard to this issue. From this working party it is hoped that a number of recommendations will be circulated to Ministers, Members and Peers for their consideration in due course.

‘At no time during this initial meeting did the welfare charities, such as the NCDL, Battersea Dogs’ Home, the Blue Cross or Wood Green Animal Shelters, state that they had met with Government representatives to discuss the issue of re-homing hunting hounds, as mentioned by Lord Whitty during Question Time.

‘Furthermore, in light of comments expressed at the initial meeting, the Kennel Club wrote to all the Lords listed to speak during the Hunting debate urging them to consider the fate of the dogs and support Mr Cawsey's 'working party' initiative. The letter requested that the urgent need for an acceptable solution be recognised, and the fate of the hounds fully considered and debated, prior to arriving at any final decision. It would seem that whilst many members have taken our suggestions on board, unfortunately, Government may have already decided the fate of these dogs.