Now that we have clarified the issue of procedure, I shall be able to make further progress in reminding noble Lords about the three options in front of us. As I have already indicated, the Government are neutral on this issue. My purpose is not to try to advocate or promote any of the options, but simply to give a brief and factual exposition of their purpose and effect.
Perhaps I may begin with the option currently contained in the Bill. Its purpose is to ban the hunting of wild mammals with dogs and to create a new criminal offence for that purpose. However, there are a number of exceptions. These cover the stalking and flushing out of hares, foxes and deer, rodent and rabbit hunting; the retrieval of hares that have been shot, recapturing escaped wild mammals and rescuing diseased or seriously injured wild mammals.
I should like to quash one suggestion before it gains any further currency; that is, that the formulation of the offence somehow reverses the burden of proof. The notion of a principal offence to which there are exceptions appears frequently in our legislation. Indeed, in another place, my ministerial colleague, Mr Mike O'Brien, was able to cite numerous examples which stretch back over 150 years, including, significantly, much of our animal welfare legislation. I can reassure noble Lords that, if this schedule were to be passed into law, no one would be convicted of an offence unless the prosecution was able to prove each and every element of the offence beyond reasonable doubt.
It may be helpful if I repeat some of the observations I made when opening the debate on Second Reading. I do so because some of the subsequent comments of noble Lords have appeared to call them into question. Let me stress the powers that are available to the police and to the courts under this option. They are modelled broadly on those contained in other animal welfare legislation. However, as I have explained, most such legislation provides for custodial penalties, so this option is less severe.
I should also mention that the police, in the person of the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said that he does not anticipate that a ban on hunting would impose a significant additional burden on police resources, given that the police are already required to devote a significant amount of time and person power to policing hunting.
The next option on which noble Lords will be invited to vote later this evening is the one put forward by the Countryside Alliance. As I am sure that noble Lords are aware, it is based around the principle of self regulation. There is already in existence a body called the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, known as ISAH. It is chaired by Sir Ronald Waterhouse, a former High Court judge, and comprises the heads of the various hunting organisations such as the Master of Foxhounds Association.
On behalf of its members, ISAH oversees the rules and codes of conduct of the organisation. It has the power to visit and inspect hunts and can impose disciplinary sanctions on those whose conduct warrants it. ISAH is funded by contributions from member organisations. Membership of ISAH, or of any organisation affiliated to it, is entirely voluntary. That would remain the case if this option were to be passed into law. In other words, anyone would still be free to hunt outside the ISAH regulatory umbrella if they so chose.
However, the proponents of this approach want as much hunting as possible to take place under the auspices of ISAH to ensure that it is conducted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct. Accordingly, this option creates an incentive for all those who hunt to do so under the watchful eye of ISAH.
The Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 both contain a number of offences relating to cruelty to animals. At present, both of these Acts contain specific exemptions for hunting, so a person cannot be prosecuted under these provisions if the alleged cruelty took place in the course of lawful hunting or coursing. This option would provide that these exemptions would apply only to what is termed "supervised" hunting, which is hunting undertaken under the ISAH regulatory umbrella. This is designed to ensure that there will be a strong incentive for everyone who goes hunting to do so, quite properly, under the auspices of ISAH.
I should at once repeat a point that I made at Second Reading: the Countryside Alliance does not believe that hunting, properly practised, is cruel, or that people undertaking hunting would be liable to conviction for cruelty offences but for these exemptions. It is worried about malicious or vexatious private prosecutions. To avoid being at risk from such prosecutions, the Countryside Alliance believes that people will want to continue to enjoy the protection of the statutory exemptions and would therefore seek to come under the ISAH umbrella.
Perhaps I may now turn to the final option that we will vote on later today. It has been put forward by the cross-party Middle Way Group, which seeks to introduce statutory regulation of hunting. The underlying principle is that in order to undertake hunting a licence would be required, either for an individual or an organised hunt or hare coursing event. Licences would be issued by a newly-created non-departmental public body to be known as the hunting authority.
The authority would be made up of between seven and 11 members, some of whom would represent the major interests-- such as hunting, farmers and animal welfare--but the majority would have no vested interest at all. The authority would be able to attach conditions to licences and would be required to draw up codes of conduct which licence holders would be obliged to follow. The authority would also be able to carry out inspections of hunting and of premises where animals are kept.
Once it is up and running, the cost of the authority would be met by licence fees. The idea is that fees should be set at a level which ensured that the authority neither made a profit nor a deficit. There would inevitably be some one-off start-up costs in setting up the authority, perhaps in the region of £500,000, which the taxpayer would have to bear.
Hunting without a licence or in breach of the terms or conditions of a licence would constitute a criminal offence, and the powers of the police and the courts to enforce this would be similar to those in the ban option, to which I have alluded. Not all hunting would be covered by the new regime and there would be activities that would constitute unrestricted hunting which could lawfully be carried out without the need for a licence. I understand that the Middle Way Group is considering whether it wishes to expand the list of activities which constitute unrestricted hunting to reflect the changes that were made to the Deadline 2000 option in another place. No doubt that is something the Committee will reflect on if this option is chosen.
Those are the options before the Committee. I look forward to an interesting and important debate on the merits of each. At the risk of labouring the point, I shall remind the Committee that there will be three votes today. The order of the votes will be the ban option, followed by the self-regulation option, followed by the statutory regulation option. Whichever is the last option to receive a majority vote will be the one that will be subject to detailed scrutiny when it is recommitted.
Finally, I emphasise once more that the Government are neutral. We have no preference; the choice rests with the Committee. As I am keen to hear what the Committee has to say, I shall bring my remarks to a close. I beg to move.
I have twice attempted to speak. I suppose that I will be allowed to do so eventually. I want to offer a solution to the grave problem which afflicts this House and this nation on this subject. I favour drag hunting. I was brought up to look upon hunting as a noble activity. I still think that it is a noble activity where human beings are concerned. My father was a master of hounds; I was blooded as a boy. Later on, my father commanded yeomanry; he had six hunters.
I was brought up in an atmosphere of hunting and I sympathise to the full with those who see hunting as a part of life. Nevertheless, as time has gone on, I have begun to think about animal rights. We never heard about animal rights when I was a boy; when I was blooded and my father was a master of hounds. When one thinks about animal rights, the pulling of a fox to pieces by hounds is essentially cruel. No statutory arrangements can alter that fact; it is a cruel event.
I therefore favour drag hunting. If anyone should say to me that drag hunting is not relevant because it is not banned, I would answer that it soon will be. If a ban is carried today, drag hunting will follow next. I am in favour of drag hunting.
It may help if I inform the Committee that I have advised my noble friend that if he wishes to table an amendment to deal with drag hunting he will be able to do so when we recommit the Bill. Today we are discussing the three options. I explained to my noble friend that the House adopted, by a substantial majority, the Motion in favour of the procedure today to choose between the three options. When we have chosen an option and we recommit the Bill, it will be perfectly in order for my noble friend to table an amendment to deal with drag hunting.
As the Committee knows, the whole Bill is to be dealt with on a free vote in our party, as in others, and therefore my remarks are personal and based on my long-standing support for hunting, which is well documented in another place.
Perhaps I may first say a word about the amendments and the grouping. The three options are very different and for each of them there are quite different considerations. Our soundings have suggested that it would be preferable to discuss them separately and decide on them separately so that we do not mix up the different considerations. Therefore, for the moment, I shall address my remarks primarily to Amendment No. 1 and to Amendment No. 4 and the schedule which goes with it.
As to the confusion about voting, the Committee believes that both the Chief Whip and my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, who was chairing the Committee at the time, were trying to do their best; no one accuses them in any way of anything else. However, we now know where we stand.
With regard to the two subsequent options, I made clear a fortnight ago my preference for option two--for supervision, as it is called in the amendment--rather than direct state regulation. However, both options are complex and merit further discussion. I should have preferred the Committee to be faced with the decision between the three options after we had had the opportunity to discuss the details of those options, rather than plunging in straight away. However, the House decided otherwise.
I emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said: it is the option that the Committee approves last in the sequence of voting that will remain in the Bill for further discussion. The other two options, whichever they are, will not be subject to the recommittal to which the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, referred.
Perhaps I may make a point about the position of the Minister and the Government. It seemed to me that the Minister was trying, as it were, to wash his hands of responsibility for the provisions of the Bill and the different amendments before us, and thereby preparing to side-step questions about the effects of the Bill. However, the Bill and the amendments have been put before Parliament by Ministers. The name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is on the front of this Bill and the name of the Home Secretary was on the front of the original Bill, with all three options contained within them.
Secondly, the Bill is being discussed in government time under a procedural Motion devised by the Government. Most importantly, the Government have a responsibility to guide this House to ensure that we pass good, workable, enforceable laws. We frequently hear Ministers in both Houses attempt to persuade Parliament by stating that such-and-such a provision is unworkable, unenforceable or undesirable from the Government's point of view. I confess to having done the same myself when I was a Minister.
Therefore, I hope that Ministers will do their best to answer points made by noble Lords on all three options in the course of these debates. Ministers are not simply facilitators; they must face up to their responsibilities to Parliament and the country. They must advise the Committee on all the information and advice available to them on the practical effects and considerations involved and on the legal drafting, while leaving the decision as to how to vote to each individual Peer.
I find it distasteful, to say the least, to be discussing this amendment today, when the countryside is plunged into such dreadful agony. It is very difficult to see what our countryside will be like when the present cataclysms are over. Some suggest that farming as we have known it cannot recover--at any rate in some parts of the country--or that farming will be substantially different from the way we have known it. It is said that even when the agony passes, a long, dark shadow will remain and that as yet unknown and immeasurable effects will stretch into the future.
It was not surprising that hunting was the first activity to stop entirely once the foot and mouth epidemic started, for it is intimately bound up with farming. However, the Government were determined to go ahead with the Bill. They wanted to push ahead with it even when it seemed certain that the election was to be held on 3rd May and that it had no chance of becoming law. Over the weekend there seemed to be a slight doubt about the election date because of the foot and mouth crisis. One might suppose that the timing of our discussions on the Bill would be rethought for the same reason. If the election is to be held on 3rd May, the Bill is going nowhere. If the election is not to be held on 3rd May, then there is plenty of time to discuss it and we do not need to press ahead in the present difficult circumstances. However, the Bill is listed on the Order Paper, so discuss it we must.
The Bill as it stands seems to lack clarity of purpose and definition. It never defines hunting--a serious omission given that that is what it is attempting to ban. Paragraph 24 of the schedule says something of what is included in the term "hunting", but it is not exclusive. Part II of the schedule sets out a variety of activities, which were mentioned by the Minister when he moved the amendment, which will not be offences, although they, too, are defined in a rather vague way.
Both this clause and the schedule attempt to impose a legal ban on all dogs, not only hounds, chasing certain other mammals. The provision does not solely relate to hunting and pink coats and horses. It would criminalise someone whose single dog chases a hare or follows the scent of a fox, mink or deer. Anyone who has walked dogs in the countryside can see the problems at once. It is natural for a dog to follow up scents that it comes across in the course of a walk, and even more natural for two dogs to do so because they encourage one another. I find it difficult to understand how one is to know, if one's dog first hits off a scent, whether it is the scent of a rabbit, a hare or some other forbidden mammal; it is perfectly legal to be in charge of a dog that is chasing a rabbit, a rat or other mammals. It seems that only dogs whose exercise is entirely confined to dragging their owners round parks on the end of a leash in the middle of a city can be sure of not getting their owners into trouble. The provision in the clause and in the schedule, if it were to be properly respected, would condemn all dogs to wear muzzles out of doors.
Nor is it easy to see how this provision is to be enforced by the police against an individual dog owner or dog walker. I suspect that only mounted police would be effective--which might be an interesting exchange for hunting--and they would need the permission of the landowner or occupier except where there were bridle paths as well as footpaths and they were open, which at the moment they are not.
I dislike legislation which is completely unenforceable in practice. It restricts those who are law-abiding, while allowing freedom to those who are prepared to disregard the law. If people are encouraged to disregard one law, they and everyone else come to have less respect for other laws. The progressive effect of that can already be seen in certain parts of our law. It is illustrated in the current government advertising campaign to encourage people to report benefit fraud.
People say that, on principle, the killing involved in hunting is wrong. I understand that, particularly when the proposition is put forward by vegetarians who avoid using leather. But if it is the killing that offends, why does not the Bill state that? An amendment could read: "Page 2, line 6, leave out 'hunts' and insert 'kills'". The first part of the schedule would then read: "A person commits an offence if he kills a wild mammal with a dog". Such an amendment might need slightly more elaborate drafting but that would be the idea.
Yes, exactly so. It is therefore not a question of being against the culling of foxes, but of being against the method. It is argued that the killing of foxes is necessary but that it should not be done by dogs. Not least, that would increase the cruelty involved in managing the numbers of foxes and other quarry species in the countryside. Shooting and snaring are more cruel, not least because they can, and sometimes do, leave wounded foxes, deer and other species to die slowly in agony, as we heard a fortnight ago.
Will my noble friend allow me to intervene? The Bill is even more inconsistent than he suggests. The Bill does not prohibit the tearing apart by hounds or other dogs of all mammals, only of some cuddly ones. Rats may be torn apart--indeed, rodents of all kinds may be torn apart. It may come as a slight surprise to some Members of the Committee that that includes beavers but not mink. I would rather see a mink destroyed than a beaver.
Certainly. That is why I welcome the discussion. However, I am not sure that I put all mammals on the same side of the line as the Bill does in this respect.
It seems to me that shooting and snaring are actually more cruel than hunting with hounds or with dogs.
I agree with my noble friend. However, it is extremely difficult to be expert in such matters. Indeed, even experts cannot always get it right. I believe that that applies both to shooting and, as a matter of fact, to snaring. Nevertheless, those other methods are not, as hunting is, in favour of the fit and strong foxes, or other species, with all the natural benefits to the breed that that involves.
I also notice that it is not an offence to kill or wound a fox when driving a car, even if that is done through carelessness, excessive speed or some other negligence. However, such accidents account for more cruelty and more lingering and horrible deaths than ever this Bill, as it stands, would stop. This clause and this schedule do not constitute a fox protection Bill; nor, indeed, do they constitute a deer protection, a hare protection or a mink protection Bill. Of course, such a measure could have been proposed. Presumably it would not be too difficult to draft along the lines, for example, of the protection given to badgers, though that would no doubt raise the difficulties with which we are now faced in areas of the country, like my own, where TB in both cattle and badgers is a real problem.
Therefore, this is not primarily an animal welfare measure. Indeed, it is wholly unlike any existing animal welfare measure. There is no requirement within the Bill to show cruelty or unnecessary suffering as an essential part of the offence. However, Ministers in the other place referred frequently to "unnecessary suffering". Unless we amend the schedule, there is no requirement either to show intention on the part of the accused to perform the act of hunting--which, as I said, is not in any case defined--or the intention to cause cruelty or unnecessary suffering. It might be said that we could rely on the Crown Prosecution Service to use its discretion in deciding when to prosecute, but that would only add to its difficulties. In any event, others can also bring prosecutions, even if the only effect is to tie up the courts and scarce legal resources.
I believe that this clause and the schedule are, therefore, against the interests of the animals and the species concerned. After all, if those against hunting are so convinced of the cruelty involved, they can rely on the Bill put before us by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, a short while ago. When we come to a real Committee stage on this schedule to the Bill--indeed, if we do so--we shall need carefully to consider certain matters, including the exceptions to the basic offence. Potentially, the great disadvantage with the method of proceeding that we are using is that we may not be able to do so, even though this is the version of the Bill preferred by the Commons, and even though Members of another place did not discuss Parts 3 and 4 of the schedule at all because they ran out of time. According to some scenarios that have been suggested, those parts of the schedule are in danger of being passed into law without ever being discussed in Committee in either House of Parliament.
As I say, the Bill is silent about whether the "intention" to hunt is required. Therefore, it seems to create an absolute offence. That reading is supported by the existence of the various exceptions to the absolute offence. There are also problems in that respect. One of the exceptions is the use of a dog to flush out a fox, and then to shoot the fox. But if the dog happens to kill the fox in the course of flushing it out, an offence will have been committed. Moreover, if in the course of flushing out the fox, or whatever, the dog happens to go underground against the intentions of the owner, an offence will also have been committed.
If we were to have a full Committee stage, we should also want to consider the recommendations on the Bill as it stands from the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. In paragraph 3 of its report, the committee said that the removal of a defence that is provided for by paragraph 16 of the schedule,
"creates, in effect, new offences and alters the scope of the Bill. We do not accept that it is appropriate to delegate a power which allows such a fundamental change to be made".
If such a change is to be made, the committee suggests that further legislation should be laid before Parliament to deal with it. That is an extremely important report. We always pay close attention in this House to the reports of that committee.
The Minister referred to the burden of proof. I have seen legal opinion which is the exact opposite to that given to the noble Lord. There is a reverse burden of proof because of the exceptions. Someone can be convicted even if reasonable doubt exists as to whether he was within one of the exceptions. As I understand it, that is the nub of the point. The burden of proof is not usually reversed in our law unless there is extreme clarity as to the offence. Motoring offences like speeding and drink driving are examples of the precision of the offence and, hence, the reverse burden of proof.
However, there are further definitional problems with the Bill. No clear distinction is made in the Bill between "to hunt", "to pursue" and "to stalk". There is also the crime of not having the landowner's consent. One may be absolutely within the exceptions and creating no offence at all if, for example, one stalks and flushes out a fox--but not if one does not have the owner's consent. So the crime is not to flush out the fox, because that is in order; the crime is not to have the owner's consent. In those circumstances, it turns trespass into a crime.
In another place, Mr O'Brien, one of the Ministers involved, tried to set out the Bill on the basis of a moral case against inflicting cruelty for entertainment. That implies that the Bill is really aimed at the followers of a hunt, rather than at the professional huntsman going about his business of culling foxes with his hounds. I understand that case, but that is not what the Bill will do: as I have explained, it will stop anyone from using dogs to cull foxes, despite the fact that it is the least cruel method of achieving that aim, primarily because there are no wounded foxes.
There is also confusion in the drafting of the Bill about what constitutes "participation". Clearly, the huntsman--the person in charge of the hounds--participates. But do the followers participate? According to the Minister, mounted followers do participate, but not foot followers, unless the huntsman is on foot as he is in some packs. In that case, the foot followers do participate, while those in cars and riding bicycles following the mounted pack do not. The position is extremely confusing. The Minister in another place said that the Bill was not intended to catch spectators because they are passive. So the Bill is not really aimed at the entertainment aspect.
Finally, I do not believe that I need labour the point which was made very strongly in your Lordships' House at Second Reading, but I want to restate it. Each one of us is in a minority in some of the things we do. We do things that others do not wish to do. Some of us take part in, belong to or admire activities which others find distasteful or ridiculous. We practise religions with beliefs and ceremonies to which others find it difficult or impossible to give credence.
In Britain we have always prided ourselves on our toleration. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, we have even prided ourselves on our eccentrics, particularly if they happen to be Members of your Lordships' House. In this House we have rightly spent time recently debating, for example, racial discrimination, even though our laws against it are stronger and better enforced than in most other countries in Europe, Asia or elsewhere, and certainly they are stronger than the historical standards anywhere in the world. But that traditional toleration of a minority is being withdrawn in this Bill.
More than for most nations we see the countryside as essential to our national picture of ourselves, but this clause and schedule say to those who look after that countryside, "You cannot do what you think best. You must do as we, the majority, say". That is the proposition before us. I do not believe that this clause and schedule will help the welfare of the fox or any other animal. It will punish a minority of our fellow citizens who practise an ancient and skilful art deeply embedded in nature itself. We should reject this clause.
I propose to adopt the implicit suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that one speech would do where three might be made during the course of the debate this afternoon.
When I drove away from rural Montgomeryshire last night it was no surprise to me to realise that I was going to speak in this Palace of Westminster in a debate on hunting. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I have done it many times before, albeit in the other place. But this time it was different. I left rural Montgomeryshire after a week in which we have, for the first time in the 20-odd years I have lived there, smelled the powerful smell of burning pyres pervading the countryside. I can tell your Lordships that, although our towns and villages are not closed for business, whatever Mr Meacher says in another place the countryside is closed for business in rural Montgomeryshire at the moment. I add this: we who live in places like Berriew, which is my village, would discourage people coming on day trips to the countryside and tell them to keep off the lanes where they may spread the infection which many fear, for it has hit our area.
What was perhaps more of a surprise to me was that I found myself thinking that we were going to have a day of government time to debate rural matters in this House. A great deal of government time was spent debating these matters in the other place and in Standing Committee B. Having reflected on what would have been a pleasant surprise in most circumstances, I turned to different feelings very quickly. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, a great degree of surprise that this Parliament should be debating this subject, which affects the livelihoods of farmers and people living in country areas, when they are down. They do not need to be kicked while they are down.
I say further to your Lordships that this Bill seeks to do more than merely affect the activities of farmers. It seeks to change centuries of evolving custom and practice. It seeks to change what has been effective and de facto self-regulation. I did not speak at Second Reading so I believe I can say this today: the Bill seeks to undermine the proper and balanced liberties of country people, one of whom I am proud to be.
Furthermore, I have a little free but probably unwelcome advice for the Government. In my view, their failure to bring to a close their discussion about elections is extremely insensitive at the present time. Just as people in my area do not understand why we are debating this subject today, which does affect the residual--for they will be the residue--economic interests of farmers, they also do not begin to understand how this Government, who need not hold an election for another year, really feel that they should continue keeping country people on tenterhooks with the obscene suggestion that a general election will be held while the countryside is in its present state.
We submit to the Government that now is the time to recognise that there is a crisis. It is no use pretending to the rest of Europe that there is not. The Government should put the country before the party and, on this occasion, they should put the countryside before the party. When this crisis is over there will be new priorities in the countryside. New leaders, new ideas and strategies will have to emerge from the chaos caused by foot and mouth. It is surely wrong that country people, where there are elections, will have to wait four years for the next local government elections before the new priorities can be put into effect. We say to the Government, by all means have your local elections and the general election on the same day, but not now. It is the wrong time.
I now turn to the banning proposal in the Bill. During the course of Standing Committee B in the other place (Official Report, 6/2/01; col. 386), the Minister; Jane Kennedy, was asked about Welsh gun packs by the honourable Member for Aylesbury, and I am pleased to say, by my successor, the honourable Member for Montgomeryshire. She replied,
"The hon Member for Aylesbury ... asked if we intend to outlaw them, and the straight answer is no; gun packs"-- noble Lords should listen carefully--
"can fall within the exceptions".
That "can" reveals that she did not know the answer, and indeed nobody can. Like the noble Lord, Lord Cope, I draw the Committee's attention to Part 2 of the schedule to the Bill and particularly to paragraph 7. Let us imagine two situations. One can give dozens of examples from this paragraph and the noble Lord, Lord Cope, has given some. Let us suppose that a farmer stalks a fox in order to shoot it and while he is stalking it, his dog, acting on its instinct, follows the fox into some of the pretty impenetrable woodland we have in parts of Montgomeryshire.
Let us suppose that the dog follows the fox below ground. Is the farmer or is he not a criminal? Several legal minds have been applied to that question during the course of today and have produced the helpful answer, "Don't know". Many lawyers like me will say "Don't know" and happily collect our fee for saying "Don't know about law like this". One should look at paragraph 7(2) which states,
"It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that,
(b) the conditions in this paragraph were met".
If one looks at subparagraph (4) it states,
"The second condition is that the stalking or flushing out did not involve the use of a dog below ground".
Let us suppose that the farmer knows that his dog is likely to follow the fox into the wood but he does not want it to and he tries to stop it. Is he using the dog below ground? I see that even the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, looks puzzled by the question. It is not possible to give an easy answer. The burden of proving the defence is on him, the farmer. What if the magistrates consider the question and they do not have a clue? What if they are as bemused by the factual situation as they are by the Act of Parliament? What is the result? The magistrates do not have a clue; yet the farmer has failed to prove that he has a defence under the reverse onus of proof provision. Therefore, he is guilty of a criminal offence in a situation in which the magistrates do not have a clue on the facts. It is a complete absurdity.
The other example concerns subparagraph (7) of paragraph 7 in Part 2 of the schedule which states:
"The fourth condition is that the stalking or flushing out took place entirely on land ... which he had been permitted to use".
A man may be out with his dog when his dog decides to go under an insecure fence 20 yards into someone else's land to flush out a fox. The man is then considered a criminal. Can this Chamber, or, indeed, these two Chambers, with their wonderful tradition of trying to ensure that we at least produce intelligible, enforceable, good law, really live with that kind of legislation?
The Bill as it stands, with the ban, is a complete muddle; it is unenforceable; it is thoroughly bad law and it has not been thought through. The quotation from Jane Kennedy, to which I referred earlier, is but an illustration of the difficulty that arises.
I turn to what I see around me in Berriew. I live on a hill. I have a small number of acres--I am sure far fewer than most Members of the Committee. If I walk up to the top of the hill with my wife--as we used to do before the foot and mouth disease outbreak--and look down over the next valley on a summer's evening, I can almost guarantee that at some point we shall see a fox in the countryside in front of us, untroubled, unpursued and unhurried. A delicate but well understood balance between farmers and foxes has been formed and preserved. It has taken a thousand years to achieve that balance, but it works.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his report--I hope that I summarise it correctly--opined that other methods of killing foxes would be at least as cruel. That relates to the method of killing foxes; I want to reflect on numbers. As I said, I can see foxes almost at will, just as, incidentally, I can see badgers almost at will. In our area we have wonderful wildlife and birdlife. If the hunting of foxes with dogs is banned and if farmers who pay their annual subscription to footpacks are not allowed to hunt and are not allowed to protect their flocks in that way--I remind the Committee of the extreme cruelty of foxes towards some new-born lambs--I warn the Committee that there will be no foxes in Montgomeryshire at all. Many foxes will be killed using shotguns. I hope that my neighbours will not be offended by what I am about to say, but not all of them are Olympic marksmen. A fox is a moving target. As was mentioned in the Burns report, many cruelly wounded foxes will be left in the countryside until they have been exterminated.
Furthermore, what about the consequences for all the other important and economically strong aspects of the controlled fox hunting which we have in rural mid-Wales? I have a number of friends--not many because I do not have many rich, land-owning friends--who have hunters. I do not know what a hunter costs. I have not ridden a horse for years--ever since I fell off the last one I rode and could not tighten the saddle. Hunters cost many thousands of pounds. Who will keep those horses in this country if hunting is banned?
Even more importantly--I introduce a Welsh dimension here--some of the Welsh packs of hounds, although not all, contain Welsh foxhounds. These can be traced back historically hundreds of years to the time of Owain Glyndwr. They are an endangered species. They are rare looking, fine beasts which are expensive to keep. Who will keep those foxhounds if the ban is enforced in law?
I am grateful to the noble Earl. I simply say to him, "chwarae teg".
I turn to the two alternatives. The ISAH proposal--that is, the supervision of fox hunting--involves self-regulation. It has a distinguished board chairman in Sir Ronald Waterhouse. Sir Ronald has shown his quality not only in his work over the years as a judge of the Family Division and then of the Queen's Bench Division, but also in his magnificent report produced in the most stressful of circumstances on issues relating to the protection of children in care in Wales. To suggest that Sir Ronald and any members of his commission would not be both careful and independent would be to insult them.
The proposal for supervision is up and running; it has that advantage. It is workable; it has that advantage. It carries few bureaucratic burdens; it has that advantage too. Farmers and country people bear enough bureaucratic burdens as it is. However, it is recognised by many--I am one--that voluntary self-regulation is not always highly respected. I spent 10 years as a lay member of the General Medical Council which is a body of great quality. I know that one or two other Members of the Committee have also served on that body. However, like other bodies it is not always respected for the self-regulation which it operates. Self-regulation has something of a bad name. In those circumstances the political and empirical needs of the Government and the requirements of the public may be better met if the Middle Way Group's proposals were to come to fruition.
As someone who has opposed any form of control of hunting beyond that of the good sense of country people, I am reluctant to have any form of regulation. However, if we are to have regulation, surely it must be regulation that will stick. We do not want to come back to this issue year after year after year as we have in the past. We certainly do not want governments to devote valuable parliamentary time to the issue in the future.
On balance, and with some reluctance, I come down in favour of the Middle Way Group's proposals for the following reasons. First, the measure is statutory. It is not perfect in the form in which it stands, but there is plenty of room to amend it. As it is statutory, it has the imprimatur of Parliament upon it. Further, because it is statutory, in my view it is more likely to allay public concern. It has the support of those who are in the front line of dealing with matters when something goes wrong in connection with hunting; that is, the police. I understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers has given its backing in principle to the middle way. Furthermore, it seems to me that if supporters of hunting vote for the middle way licensing system, it will show that hunting people have nothing to hide and are prepared to face up to the same scrutiny as anyone else.
On balance, therefore, I shall vote for the Middle Way Group's proposals. In my view--certainly, this is my hope--if the Middle Way Group's proposals are accepted and hunting continues but subject to regulation, we shall not have to revisit the issue year after year after year. If that proves to be the case, I thank Heaven for that.
Perhaps I may make a short intervention. First, I declare an interest. I have always lived in the countryside. As I explained at Second Reading, I am not one who goes out hunting because my equine capabilities never extended beyond hanging on to the saddle with one hand.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Cope. He described this as a most unsuitable moment--I believe that it is a grotesque moment--at which to discuss the removal of hunting. When one sees the countryside in the absolute turmoil that it is, with sheep and cattle being slaughtered all over the place, when tourism has been cut down, when the countryside is in disaster and people's livelihoods have gone, when they may even--heaven preserve them from it happening--take their own lives because of the situation, for Parliament now to discuss the hunting ban is terrible. When the Prime Minister is so concerned about the situation in the countryside, when the Government are even talking about postponing elections, I should have thought that it would have been at least in the spirit of that concern for the Government to say that they will put this Bill on the back burner for the moment.
I do not believe that people in the countryside will begin to understand what Parliament is thinking about. There is all this trouble in the countryside; yet all we do is to say, "And now we will have a ban on hunting; and we shall see a whole lot more jobs go down the drain". It is said that about 8,000 people will lose their jobs. We shall see hounds destroyed. That is all for the sake of this Bill.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Cope. The Minister cannot get away with the platitude that it is entirely up to Members of the Committee to decide what to do; that the Government are neutral. The Government are not neutral. The Government produced the Bill. As my noble friend said, the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is on the Bill. It is a government Bill. The Government could put the Bill on the back burner.
My noble friend will recall that he and I were both in the Government when there was a general election in 1983. Does he recall that only Members of this House remained at their posts to serve the Government? Every other Member of the Government went off to fight an election. It seems to me that people have not realised the effect of calling an election during a crisis. The noble Baroness who speaks in this House for the Ministry of Agriculture would be left to run the department virtually alone and most of the Government would be run by the Civil Service. Does my noble friend want that during a crisis?
I am sure that my noble friend is absolutely right. However, his was not a particularly helpful intervention; nor was it in line with what I was saying. I make an appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that in the interests of the Government's own public relations they should not proceed with the Bill.
However, I turn to a procedural point, although I know that noble Lords are bored by them. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, says that the position is quite clear. We shall have three Divisions: one on Amendment No. 1 which bans hunting; then on Amendment No. 2; and then on Amendment No. 3. If we vote on Amendment No. 1 and the amendment is lost, banning remains in the Bill. I do not understand how one can then come to Amendment No. 2, the first words of which remove Clause 1, because we shall already have decided not to remove Clause 1. How can noble Lords revisit that on Amendment No. 2? The Committee will be told, "It has all been decided". Perhaps it has all been decided, but I think that it is procedurally incorrect.
If there is to be a vote on the three amendments, however we come to that procedurally, I shall vote against the ban. I think that it is wrong, inept and improper. It is wrong to curtail the livelihoods of minorities. Amendment No. 3 provides for licensing. It would be terrible to add more bureaucracy to the countryside and to set up a hunting authority with all the red tape that goes with that. Everyone says that that is the middle way. But all that it will mean is more bureaucracy. It does not follow that with bureaucrats an issue becomes legal and simple. Bureaucracy will merely add unnecessary chaos to the situation.
During the 20-odd years that I have had the privilege of being a Member of this Chamber, I have got to know and admire some of the principles that guide us when we make decisions. First, as a rule we are not influenced by technical arguments when there are broad policy considerations of importance. We say that if there is a technical fault, we shall rectify it at a correct stage of the Bill; we are interested in principle.
Secondly, the majority of noble Lords--I say it most respectfully--are not influenced by political points which do not answer the main principles involved. I do not believe that questions from this side about whether or not the Conservatives would have postponed elections will influence Members of the Committee. The fact of the matter is that the issue of hunting was dealt with in a manifesto a long time ago. It was discussed a long time ago. The fact that it is only before Parliament now is indeed coincidental and not on purpose. Therefore I have no doubt that the Prime Minister--noble Lords will be surprised to hear me say that I am not in his confidence--will decide the matter in the national interest.
I hope, too, that cheap points will not be made with regard to this matter. They will not decide the issue. In my humble view, what will decide noble Lords are the following. Is hunting a more cruel way than another of exterminating what is undoubtedly a pest? There has been a committee. An important and illustrious person has gone into the matter at the wish of the Government, and the objective decision was that other methods are in some cases more cruel, in some cases as cruel, and that hunting is not by any manner of means the most cruel. So I suppose that we shall consider that aspect.
Then, if I may say so, we shall ask, "Shall we harm a number of people if we ban hunting?" Perhaps I may say this to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. Whether or not farmers are hurt is an issue which affects my side of the Chamber as much as his. The Labour Party is no less keen on protecting the countryside and those employed in the countryside than any other party. I believe that the Conservative and Liberal parties care about the countryside and are pretty miserable at this moment in regard to what has befallen it. So we shall ask: "Will people be hurt?" And the answer is, yes. There are human beings who do not share our employment but who have a specialist employment. If they are robbed of that employment there is no easy place for them to go except in a queue. It is not a queue for the employed, but a queue for the unemployed. That will weigh with us whatever side we sit on. No cheap points ought to be made on that score either. It will affect us.
I imagine that we are all animal lovers. I have a horrible suspicion of anybody whom I meet who does not love animals. One thing that worries animal lovers, whether they have made speeches here or in another place in favour of hunting or against it, is a question that nobody has answered: why is it a sport to kill among civilised human beings? It is not a necessity. We are not talking about people going out to kill foxes, hares or whatever it may be because they are harming the countryside. People dress up and go out for sport. Many of us cannot understand how to kill can be a sport for civilised human beings. That is not a good lesson for the next generation. There is a sport in England--and Scotland, Wales and Ireland--to kill.
So, there is a dilemma. I can only speak for my own decision. I cannot tolerate making people unemployed unless I am convinced that it is necessary. Therefore, I am against a ban. I believe that there should be some regulation and I go for the middle way, but if that regulation is not successful and examples are brought to us of it failing, we may have to think again. I hope that I have interpreted some of the views and reactions of noble Lords. I have tried.
It is appropriate that we are discussing the Bill today. It creates a criminal offence. As a lawyer who has never hunted, albeit I fish and shoot, I have examined the Bill--without a fee--to consider whether its provisions are suitable to be included in our criminal law. It is my considered opinion, which I commend to the Committee, that the Bill offends against two cardinal principles on which our criminal law must be based.
First, it is the function of the criminal law only to represent the views of the whole of reasonable society as to what should be forbidden. It is not the function of the criminal law to impose the taste, judgments or morality of the majority on a sane and responsible minority. Imposing morality on the minority was the policy of Cromwell's republic, and look where it got them. If imposing the morality of the majority was still the function of the criminal law, homosexuality and abortion would still be banned and we would probably be moving to ban Halal forms of butchery and many other things.
That point was made by a large number of speakers on Second Reading and I shall not repeat it. However, I shall briefly quote the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, who said:
"To impose the ban would be a misuse of law. It would bring the law into disrespect and a vast section of the community would think it unfair. Moreover, it would be profoundly undemocratic. ... Democracy requires respect for the rights, beliefs and traditions of the minority. That would be offended if the Bill became law".--[Official Report, 12/3/01; col. 629.]
The second principle against which the Bill offends is that criminal statutes must be clear and unambiguous so that our citizens can know what they may and may not do. As the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Carlile, have already made clear, the Bill dismally fails that test. I shall draw attention to one or two particular points on which it fails.
Under the Bill, a person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog. As has been said, there is no guidance in the Bill as to what constitutes hunting. Obviously the Bill bans the activities of a full-scale organised hunt--what we might call a Hunt with a capital H--but what else does it ban? The Oxford English Dictionary gives various meanings for the transitive verb "to hunt". It can mean to pursue an animal for the purposes of catching and killing it. Presumably, catching and killing are required if we apply that definition, although it is not clear whether it is also necessary that there should be a reasonable expectation that the dogs can catch or kill the quarry in question.
However, alternative definitions are given, including to chase, to pursue and to drive away. None of those involves any concept of catching or killing, but merely some form of pursuit. If one interprets hunting in that manner, it will be an offence to use a dog to drive a fox away from a hen run with no intention of killing it, or to let an elderly pekinese--or the spaniel of the noble Baroness, Lady Castle--run after a muntjak.
What level of participation is necessary from the person in charge of the dog? Does he have to go forth with the deliberate purpose of setting his dogs on the hare or fox, or does he commit an offence if he takes his elderly labrador for a walk knowing that if it sees a hare it will probably chase it, albeit with only a very small chance of catching it? It is wholly unclear what the ordinary dog owner can do without committing the basic criminal offence.
That relates to the primary ban, but then there are exceptions, which appear to say that one cannot hunt a fox or a hare, but one can hunt a rat or a rabbit. That demonstrates beyond doubt that the Bill is not about cruelty. I am subject to correction by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, but I do not believe that there is anything in his report to suggest that rats or rabbits have a different threshold of welfare compromise from foxes or hares. If we had an educated rabbit among us today with a voice in the debate, might it not imitate Shylock in saying, "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you hunt us, is not our welfare seriously compromised?"? If that is true of a hare, why is it not true of a rabbit?
That argument assumes not only that the Bill intends to ban the hunting of hares and allow the hunting of rabbits, but that it achieves that end. However, it does not achieve that end. Paragraph 10 of the schedule provides that:
"It is a defence ... to prove that the conduct to which the charge relates consisted of hunting a rodent".
If the draftsmen of the Bill had bothered to look in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, they would have discovered that hares are rodents. The Bill says that it is illegal to hunt hares, but enables a defendant to say that he was hunting a rodent--namely a hare. Should we enact that?
On the question of rodents, one can also point out that the red squirrel is a rodent. Mr Blair may be confident of winning the next election but, once it is known that his Government are encouraging dogs to hunt Squirrel Nutkin, he will lose the whole Beatrix Potter vote and be doomed.
Many other points arise, such as, for example, the total unreality of the requirement that anyone who flushes a hare to shoot it must ensure--not merely try to ensure--that the dog does not obstruct the shooting of it. Anyone who has ever tried to shoot a rabbit or anything else with a dog in attendance knows that inevitably from time to time the dog will get in the way and prevent one shooting. However, if the dog does get in the way--not through its own fault but because the hare turns back--one will have committed a criminal offence.
Is that really the type of rubbish which Members of the Committee should be invited to enact? Whether or not one agrees with the principle, no noble Lord should dream of allowing into the criminal law provisions which are a muddle of this kind. I venture to suggest that a ban is unacceptable. Therefore, I come to the question of which alternative is to be preferred.
With some reluctance because I share with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, an intense dislike of bureaucracy, none the less I have no doubt that the best solution is regulation--the middle way--rather than voluntary supervision. Voluntary supervision suffers from one irredeemable difficulty: if a hunt is told by the ISAH, "Your conduct is unacceptable", frankly it can ignore that and continue to hunt. The ISAH will be unable to do anything about it, other than to throw the hunt out of the association if, indeed, it is a member. Therefore, in my respectful but disappointed opinion, voluntary self-regulation is just not on.
If a licensing system is voted for, it may well be that much will need to be done in amending the detail; for example, in order to give the ISAH a substantial role as the advisory body to the licensing authority. However, that can be done only once licensing is put on to the face of the Bill. It cannot be done, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, appeared to suggest--
I am most grateful to the noble Viscount for giving way. I hope that I did not hear him correctly. Under the Countryside Alliance option, the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting can indeed overrule the individual governing bodies of the sport. If the governing bodies issued a sanction to one particular hunt--or, in the case of one or two of them, a group of individuals--in respect of something that it had done wrong, the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting could indeed overrule the governing body and increase the sanctions.
A substantial sanction could be issued against a hunt. For example--it sounds rather absurd in these circumstances--the removal of a hunt's or a mounted pack's right to hold a point-to-point would remove, at the stroke of a pen, in the region of 30 to 50 per cent of its income. Further sanctions exist, but the important point is that the ISAH can, if necessary, overrule the governing bodies.
I fully accept that. My point was that, if the hunt chooses to ignore what the ISAH and the association of which it is a member decree, it can be thrown out of the association but there is no way in which its activities can be banned.
My second reason for suggesting that one must adopt the middle way was put well by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. He said:
"What concerns me is that there is an increasing polarisation between these twin aspects of our society"-- namely, the town and the country--
"in a way which is proving damaging to the nation as a whole. For that reason I support the so-called 'middle way' which I believe will in some degree promote a sense of understanding and level-headedness in [the] ... matter".--[Official Report, 12/3/01; col. 665.]
If your Lordships do not vote for licensing, inevitably there will be a risk that the antis will continue to press the matter. To put the right reverend Prelate's argument more succinctly, there is a chance of a compromise in the middle way; there is no chance of a compromise with self-regulation.
I am so sorry to have interrupted what I thought to be the terminal remarks of the noble Viscount. I had cherished some hope that he was approaching his end, but he was not.
Listening this afternoon to the speeches made by my noble friend Lord Cope and by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, I found myself in agreement with every word that they said. I do not always find myself in such warm agreement with the Front Bench; however, on this occasion, I am very glad to say that I am. During those two speeches a dreadful nightmare began to form in my mind as to what we would be faced with later. I realised that we might have to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, floundering in an attempt to answer the unanswerable. If he achieves it, it will be a miracle which I would not expect from the noble Lord.
Let me make it clear that I do not hunt. However, I have on occasion attended meets. I have always been very surprised by the motley collection of people who have attended, sitting on a variety of mounts which beggared anticipation, and dressed in a variety of clothes which I could not possibly have expected.
I face the question which no Members of the Committee can answer easily this afternoon. How can it come about that we in this country, faced as we are with a huge variety of complex issues, are considering the banning of fox hunting--not only that, we are considering doing so in a messy, squalid little Bill which does not deserve a moment's serious attention? I am immensely surprised.
I believe that one thing that people forget about hunting is the paradox that those who go out oddly dressed on a variety of strange mounts with the intent to kill an animal nevertheless know more and care more about wildlife than the majority. It is a paradox which is, I fear, supposedly intentionally ignored by the partisans and the enthusiasts who support this measure.
Another surprising matter to which such people might at least have adverted is the point that has already been made: one consequence of this measure, were it passed, would be that there would be fewer foxes and fewer red deer. Can anyone contemplate that and say that they are willing to risk it?
I turn briefly to the issue of cruelty. Cruelty has many faces. It occurs frequently throughout the whole of nature; yet we are being invited to be rather selective and to consider only one of its aspects. If one accepts that foxes are pests and must be culled, I certainly would not dream of suggesting to the Committee that hunting is not the least cruel of all the available methods. No fox in its senses would wish to be shot at by people such as myself. If I were to hit it, it would undoubtedly not receive a fatal wound.
The closure of many small abattoirs throughout the country was accepted by the Government without question and sponsored through the not-very-respectable organisation that is known as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way and I am most interested in his argument. Does he agree that it was the previous government, whom he supported, who were responsible for the abolition of about 850 small abattoirs? He probably voted in support of that government on this particular issue.
I did not hear what my noble friend said but I shall deal briefly with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. It does not seem to matter who made that mistake; the point is that the continued closure of small slaughterhouses involved a great deal of cruelty to thousands of animals which, as a result, have been transported over long distances and often in far from ideal conditions.
I turn to the question of other sports, including shooting, fishing and racing. Will such sports be targets? It is unlikely and unrealistic to think that those who detect cruelty in fox hunting will be keen to lay down their arms and abandon a crusade that they have really rather enjoyed.
If we go down the road of banning everything that we find offensive, something of a nuisance or rather discreditable, we will alter the face of this country, not just that of the countryside. I do not believe that people will be content simply to ban fox hunting; they will proceed to interfere with and challenge those other activities. To expect them to do otherwise is about as realistic as expecting members of the IRA to abandon the bomb, the bullet and its bullying methods and to sit down around the table like polite little parliamentarians.
Reforming is rather fun. Reforming other people--their pleasures, habits and institutions--is an activity in which the other place revels. The pity is that the host of people who went exultingly through the Lobbies to give the Bill a Second Reading in another place seldom look at themselves or their institution in the mirror. If they did, it would tell them a story that might occasionally make them stop in their tracks.
I do not believe that the advocates of the Bill have thought seriously of the Bill's effects on wildlife, farming, horses, racing or the countryside; they have certainly neglected the hounds. They ignore traditions that are not theirs. To them, the ways of the countryside are not important; they are even anathema. I hope that they will have second thoughts and that they will not deceive themselves with the thought that the issue will simply blow over. Their proposal will cause enormous problems of enforcement. The only benefit of which I can think is that we might see the odd policeman in the countryside, which would make a change.
The main point is that the issue will not go away. It will leave behind it a legacy of bitterness among people who feel that their ways have been threatened by those who neither understand nor care.
The noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred to the virtue of tolerance. In view of what I am going to say this evening, I suspect that many Members of the Committee will need to show me a good measure of tolerance.
Responsibilities at the Council of Europe meant that I was sadly unable to be present at our Second Reading debate. However, I have read that debate carefully and with fascination from beginning to end. Passion and emotion spring from almost every column. But that debate left me with two overriding impressions: that if ever a subject needed a cool, considered and rational approach, this is obviously one; and that with all the pressures and traumas being experienced in the countryside at the moment, it is precisely the wrong time to have such a debate because such an approach will inevitably be all the more difficult to ensure.
Many in this House whom I deeply respect, some of whom I would like to claim as personal friends, have convictions on this issue that are totally at odds with my own. In ill-fated Cumbria, where my wife and I have in recent years begun to make our home, there are, among our best new friends and neighbours there--people who have gone out of their way to welcome us and to show us generous kindness--those who hold convictions on hunting which I do not share. I do not mind saying that there is a great temptation to lie low and to keep my views to myself, but that would fall short of what true friendship demands.
Like other noble Lords, I have received numerous letters on this issue. Many stress the key social significance of the hunt in rural life. As newcomers--"offcomers", as we are called in Cumbria--we have found that much of the social life there thrives in groups, associations and organisations that have absolutely nothing to do with hunting. To ban or not ban hunting with dogs will have no impact on such activity. Indeed, we have been repeatedly impressed by the vibrant variety of social life in the county. I say to my noble--and genuinely admired--friend Lady Mallalieu that for most people in the county, comradeship is found elsewhere than in the hunt.
Civil liberties have been stressed. Hunting with dogs is certainly not a private or a non-intrusive event. Its noisy and dramatic enjoyment for those involved--not to mention those who follow it and who crowd our narrow lanes with their cars, play radios and carry binoculars--is very public and obtrusive. It is not just a matter of sometimes straying into the gardens and properties of those who are not involved or of disturbing or even occasionally harming their domestic animals, livestock and poultry, which from time to time inevitably occurs; it is much more significantly a matter of the anxiety and distress caused to those who are in the vicinity of the hunt but who do not favour it. Their liberties also matter, as do the liberties of those in society more generally who are offended.
Of course the size and activities of the fox population have to be controlled. It would be foolish to argue otherwise. But in recognising that, it is essential to be measured and objective about just how many sheep, for example, are in fact killed by foxes as distinct from those that die from other causes--and here I do not refer to the current massacres resulting from foot and mouth with the questions that that raises about ultimate responsibility.
In the uplands, more frequent killers include poor mothering, starvation, adverse weather and inadequate shepherding. Foxes are opportunistic and will take dying or sickly lambs, especially twins. There are, I know, predacious activities by individual rogue foxes. Special, professionally competent, targeted arrangements are therefore needed for dealing with that. If clarification in the Bill is necessary, so be it. My noble friend Lord Mishcon was right to underline that. But the number of such occurrences is frequently exaggerated and does not justify a generalised response which is clearly not efficient if the rogue fox is genuinely the target. We would also do well to bear in mind the positive contribution made by foxes to the control of other vermin.
But what most leaves me still unconvinced is why sport and recreational enjoyment have in any way to be confused with the need to cull and control. The necessary management functions should surely be organised dispassionately and professionally, and hunting with dogs as at present undertaken in a sporting context is neither efficient nor cost-effective. Sport and recreation are surely about regeneration; about enabling us to be physically and mentally a qualitatively healthier and better species. I find those objectives impossible to reconcile with the chase; with the unavoidable and well evidenced stress and cruelty that too easily ensues; and with the blood and gore, quite apart from the terrier sent below and the digging out.
We are repeatedly deeply concerned in this House by violence and unsociable behaviour. We talk of zero tolerance. There is an urgent need to re-emphasise sensitivity, concern, compassion and care in our society. I fear that, to say the least, hunting with dogs as it is presently undertaken plays a part in blunting the cutting edge of such social commitment.
The challenge to which I argue that we should be addressing ourselves is how we can keep as much of the excitement and the exhilaration of the hunt, which has been so powerfully described in this debate on behalf of the significant and highly articulate minority who enjoy it, completely separate from any cruelty or danger of cruelty. Indeed, the challenge is to set an example of how fun and joy can be found without hounding or bullying--drag hunting, as advocated by my noble friend Lord Longford, is one obvious approach--and how we can at the same time adopt a professional, economic, effective and altogether more soberly humane method of controlling the fox population by, for example, highly professional, targeted rifle shooting. My noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen made this point, I thought, particularly well in the Second Reading debate. She argued that, when hunting with dogs is banned, minds will then concentrate on the alternatives.
Those then are some of the reasons why I shall vote for the ban and against the first amendment. The so-called "middle way", in my view, makes matters worse. In effect it gives the approval of the state to a sport in which cruelty will remain an inescapable element, albeit regulated cruelty, and will thereby perpetuate the dependence of enjoyment on activity which entails such cruelty. It will also raise issues of supervision for the police about which, despite what the Minister and others have said in this debate today, it appears many policemen themselves are far from happy.
Above all, I believe that it is no message to be sending out to the young in an increasingly brutalising age of egocentricity when the civilised qualities of sensitivity, care, compassion and responsibility are in jeopardy as never before in the past half century.
I shall be brief, partly by not making any Committee stage points and partly because the true Committee stage will be the recommittal stage that we have been promised.
I have never hunted and am far too old now to start. Such knowledge as I have of fox hunting derives from the fact that parts of the Leicestershire constituency I used to represent in another place were hunted over by the Atherston and the Fernie and, when we moved to Northamptonshire, my youngest daughter occasionally used to hunt with the Pytchley. I learnt a little that way and I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who talked about animal lovers, that of all my children, she happens to be the most devoted animal lover.
The pleasure in hunting is not a pleasure in the kill; it is the pleasure in the chase. But then, to adapt Macauley, those who wish to ban fox hunting do so not because they wish to spare the foxes pain, but because they dislike the pleasure it gives to the participants.
Strong emotions are involved on both sides of this debate, and we have heard some of them today. But they are rather different. On one side, it is overwhelmingly the love of hunting and the way of life that has grown up around it; on the other side, it is predominantly, although not entirely, a hatred of those who hunt and what they are perhaps mistakenly believed to represent. I have no difficulty in deciding between the two which is the most congenial.
But emotion is not a good basis for legislation. Legislation must be based on principle and on reason. The principle at stake here is one of the most fundamental we could possibly find; that is, the principle of liberty. I know that against that there is, ostensibly at least, a case made in terms of animal welfare. But if concern for animal welfare was the overriding consideration, why pick on fox hunting? Fishing and shooting "compromise welfare"--to use the term of my noble friend and former Treasury colleague Lord Burns--just as much as fox hunting, as does the process by which we are able to enjoy the pleasures of meat eating. So, if there is any distinction to be made, it should tell in favour of fox hunting. At least if there were not fishing or shooting, the fish and the pheasant would be spared the predation of man. Similarly, if there were to be legally enforced vegetarianism, the cow and the sheep could sleep peacefully and be protected. But foxes will be culled anyway, and as we know from the Burns report, whatever theoretical abstractions may be put forward, in practice that would cause at least as much and probably more cruelty than fox hunting. So, why pick on fox hunting? The only person who has addressed this on behalf of the Government--it was the Government's choice--was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, replying on behalf of the Government at Second Reading. When asked about this matter, he stated:
"There is huge public interest in it. There is no such public interest or support in relation to any sort of ban on fishing or shooting".--[Official Report, 12/3/01; col. 674.]
What sort of principle is that? It is simply an unprincipled surrender to presumed popular prejudice. I suspect that the noble and learned Lord is secretly deeply ashamed of that.
We have before us in the first vote this evening the issue of whether we shall uphold the principle of individual freedom and whether we shall assert the value of reason in legislation over and above popular prejudice. That is what this place is for. I hope that we shall do our duty by a very large margin.
So much has been said already that it seems inappropriate to say anything else. Indeed, I have been urged by a previous commander merely to move that we stop talking and start voting.
I feel a great deal of sympathy for that. However, I did not speak earlier and want to make a modest contribution in as brief--and I shall be brief--and as dispassionate a way as possible. I am not a hunting man, nor have I ever had a great urge to be one. However, bearing in mind the eye needed for country; the exhilaration of going fast across country and the not inconsiderable but dashingly accepted risks involved, I have long recognised that hunting provides an excellent challenge to courage and nerve, as well as to horsemanship. It is therefore a pastime seen to have some relevance to those intent on preparing themselves for even greater challenges and risks ahead, particularly in the profession of arms.
I respect that view, and those who hold it, as did Friedrich Engels, which some may find surprising. I am less impressed by the arguments sometimes bandied about that we cannot ban hunting because many of those who now indulge in it would defy the law and go on doing it. Certainly, a total ban would cause large-scale problems in the country. Jobs would be lost. There would undoubtedly be widespread alienation among country folk, and stalwart and honest citizens could well be criminalised. The question of priorities and overstretched police forces would also arise.
If a Bill to ban hunting became law, it would have to be enforced at some time and in some way, however difficult that would be. The argument that after it is on the statute book members of the hunt would still have a birthright or human right to do what they please would have no more validity than the arguments of animal rights protestors and similar groups who feel that they can seriously, and often violently, break the law because they are doing so in the interests of what they believe to be a righteous cause.
Nor can the human rights argument and the "freedom to do what the individual thinks is reasonable" be entirely justified on historical grounds. The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, raised that issue in an earlier debate. If that were so, those who might want to pursue other forms of behaviour which have, over the years, been banned on the grounds that they constitute unacceptable conduct in an otherwise civilised society could argue the same way.
I am in agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on the issue of timing. However, apart from that, with the minimum of emotion and sentiment, the case for or against hunting should rest on whether, with the world as it is, the act of hunting with dogs in a properly supervised way is or is not so contrary to standards of human behaviour in a civilised society and so important in upholding those standards that this popular pastime which requires skill and courage, gives work and livelihood to many and plays a significant role in rural life and nature conservation, should be singled out for special legislation.
From all that I have read and heard--that is a very great deal--listening to the arguments on both sides and, on rare occasions observing, I can only conclude that hunting neither demands nor deserves such special treatment. I strongly suspect that the Bill would not have got as far as it has had it not in some cases been for reasons and attitudes not exclusively associated with the welfare of the fox.
We must consider the predatory and vicious cut and thrust of the animal kingdom in its natural habitat, to which animals must be conditioned; the pain and grief of other forms of necessary fox control and the fact that in a well-organised hunt there is not, as some critics would say, intentional, gratuitous cruelty of inflicting pain of a voyeuristic nature, which is more than can be said of some activities which go on in public. All that must be put into the context and perspective of many activities impinging on the welfare and health of human beings--some may find such activities excessive and perhaps even, at times, degrading, yet they continue to happen--together with even more urgent examples of man's inhumanity to man and that which has to be done to the benefit of man, which cry out to be solved.
Properly controlled hunting cannot possibly fall within the category of being so unacceptable and urgent in terms of standards of human behaviour that it justifies Government interference and cannot be left where it rightly belongs; as a matter of personal conscience and choice whether to hunt or not to hunt; whether to hunt the stag, the fox or the hare--some may see a distinction between those three--or whether to hunt without involving animals but with a drag, which my mother always claims one of her ancestors invented. Although that is not the same in terms of hounds working, it undoubtedly provides as much if not more challenge and risk.
It is a matter of choice, not legislation. It is on that basis alone that I feel that a total ban on hunting with dogs would be not only unnecessary but utterly unreasonable. If I can work it all out, I shall vote to omit the present Schedule 1; I shall vote against any total ban and for the continuation of hunting, to be supervised as other sports such as racing, steeplechasing, boxing, football, cricket and many others so controlled, by those who understand the sport, and with the minimum, if any, Government intervention.
I hope that those in favour of abolition will not think me presumptuous if I say that nothing short of a cataclysm in the views of this House, judged by the debate 10 days ago, can lead to anything but a vote tonight against abolition. It seems to me, therefore, that we, in this House, should concentrate on the choice between self-supervision and independent regulation. That is what I propose to do.
I believe that we should look at this issue not from within the walls of this fine Chamber but from how our debates and the outcome will look to those beyond. I refer in particular to the very many people in this country--whether we think them right or wrong, well-informed or ill-informed--who feel passionately that hunting is in need if not of abolition of some sort of regulation and control. Perhaps I might give three reminders to the Committee. First, an election is in the offing; secondly, the manifesto has yet to be written or completed, and thirdly, after the election this issue will not have gone away. The question will then arise, which the Government will have to decide, as to whether or not to use the Parliament Act in relation to the issue that we are debating tonight.
If one contemplates those three matters, one may reach the conclusion, as have I, that self-supervision in the future will not satisfy that part of the British public which is there to be influenced. I put it that way because it would be a serious stupidity on our part to concentrate on the zealots--the antis--who will never be convinced of anything bar the need to abolish not only this sport but, I suspect, others too. We can forget them.
Furthermore, we must not caricature those who do not agree with the hunting fraternity as either having class hatred, as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, stated, or being prejudiced. Millions of our countrymen are neither suffused with class hatred nor intentionally prejudiced but they are unhappy with the status quo. Unless we face that fact, we shall lose the argument, if not tonight in the future.
I strongly believe that independent regulation has advantages over self-supervision to which we should not close our eyes. The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, remarked on compulsory licensing as having a real sanction against those hunts which breach the code. However, I draw the attention of the Committee to the lack of independence of the ISAH alternative. The Explanatory Notes indicate that the membership of ISAH comprises the chairman of the Countryside Alliance's Hunting Committee; the chairmen of the hunting associations; the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the Central Committee of Fell Packs, the Federation of Welsh Packs, the Association of Masters of Harriers and Beagles, the Masters of Basset Hounds Association, the National Coursing Club; the Association of Lurcher Clubs; the Masters of Deerhounds Association; and the Masters of Mink Hounds Association and the National Working Terrier Federation. Do not Members of the Committee think that that is a list of highly independent members?
I put it to the Committee that it will not be credible for us to say that we must not allow the abolition of hunting on libertarian, communal and traditional grounds but that it is sufficient to leave it to ISAH, which has as its members those groups I have mentioned, and the commission of which is made up of seven people, and which is presided over by the chairman drawn from the members and the chairman of the Countryside Alliance. It is absolutely paramount--
Perhaps I may correct the noble Lord. The chairman of the commissioners is Sir Ronald Waterhouse. Only one of the seven members of the commission which conducts the affairs of ISAH is a nominee from the Hunting Committee of the Countryside Alliance. The other six members have no connection with any hunting body whatever, either pro or anti, and they are the people who take the decisions. The members provide the money, but the commission is independent.
Perhaps I may help the noble Lord. An appointments committee was set up consisting of Sir Ronald Waterhouse and a representative of the National Farmers' Union, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Country Landowners' Association. They in turn nominated the commissioners who comprise a number of distinguished professors, a distinguished Queen's Counsel and a prominent farmer. Indeed, I believe that all Members of the Committee have received a note from the current chairman setting them out.
Therefore, the commission was nominated by those bodies, but the commissioners are wholly independent of any connection with hunting, save for the one single representative.
No; members of ISAH are all from the hunting fraternity and that is a fact.
We have been told that the seven commissioners are nominated by three bodies; that is, bodies representing farming, the veterinary profession and country landowners. Even though they may have appointed professors and others of independent minds, I do not believe that that framework will satisfy a sceptical public when compared with an independent hunting authority appointed by the Home Secretary, the majority of the members of which must be entirely independent.
I understand those who would prefer the self-supervision option having concern about whether the Home Secretary will be impartial and fair in the appointment of members of the hunting authority. However, I believe that the right place to deal with that issue--I believe that it can be dealt with--is when the detail of the chosen option is entered into. I can see amendments being made to the schedule put forward in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, which could go a long way to satisfying any unease on the part of the hunting fraternity about the independence of the hunting authority.
However, any such unease is but as nothing compared with the level of suspicion and uncertainty on the part of millions of our fellow countrymen as regards a self-supervision alternative. For that reason above all others, I believe that those who want to see hunting survive should tonight make it emphatically clear that they are willing to accept that which they may not want in their heart of hearts; that is, an independent statutory hunting authority. I believe that that would satisfy all but the closed-minded among the public.
Like my noble friend Lord Mishcon, I shall not address the technical elements of the Bill but the principles of the matter before us. When I spoke at the Second Reading, I addressed, as others did, the questions of culture, control and cruelty. Many other speakers dealt with the question of job losses as well as what would happen to hounds and horses if hunting was banned. Indeed, I believe that no aspect relating to hunting was left unexplored by the 60 speakers who felt that the banning of hunting was unnecessary and unjustified.
As indicated on 12th March, I have no personal interest whatever in hunting, fishing or shooting. However, throughout I have been concerned that those who have been campaigning for hunting to be banned have not, in my view, been able to present logical and coherent arguments in support of their position. Of course, I hasten to add that a great deal of emotion has certainly been generated, particularly on behalf of foxes, but in my view the emotive statements expressed do not conform to reality.
During the Second Reading, fewer than 10 speakers spoke in favour of a ban on hunting. But despite being challenged none of them seriously addressed the fact that the fox population needs to be controlled; neither did they address the cruelty of the alternative methods which would need to be employed to a greater extent if hunting was banned.
Like many other Members of the Committee, I recently received a communication from those who want to ban hunting. It stated:
"The debate is not about the countryside, it is about cruelty".
Of course there is a measure of cruelty in hunting, as there is in many things, such as the slaughter of animals for food and the experimentation on animals in order to produce life-saving medicines for human beings--men, women and children. Furthermore, I am well aware of the argument about cruelty arising from a sporting activity, and cruelty arising from the activities to which I have just referred. But the letter that I received which supports a ban, like the speakers in the Second Reading debate, completely ignores the cruelty which arises from alternative methods used to control the fox population.
However, if those who support a ban on hunting are concerned solely with cruelty that arises from a sporting activity, there is a clear inconsistency in their arguments. When it is put to them that cruelty to creatures arises from other sporting activities, there is complete silence. Why should that be? When a fish is on the end of a line, often for a very long time, with a hook in its mouth or throat and fights to get free and is landed completely exhausted, the hook is removed and it is returned to the water to suffer the same fate time and time again. Is that not every bit as cruel as hunting? Why are those who call for a ban on hunting so silent about fishing?
Birds are bred for shooting. Beaters drive them into the air and they are shot, and often they are only wounded. Dogs are sent to recover them and carry them back between their jaws. Is that not cruelty arising from a sporting activity? But those who call for a ban on hunting are once again silent. Why? It seems to me that there can be only two explanations. One is that the killing of creatures by way of a hunt is regarded by those who wish to ban the sport as giving rise to a unique level of cruelty. But that stance cannot be justified. The second explanation is that cruelty to creatures arising from hunting is not regarded as giving rise to a unique level of cruelty, but the belief is that all cruelty arising from sporting activities should be banned. If that is the case, the silence is unworthy and the justification for a ban on hunting even more unacceptable. It would appear that a stepping-stone strategy is being employed, with hunting banned today, fishing banned tomorrow and shooting the day after. For all these reasons, I believe that those who call for a ban on hunting have not made out their case, even though many of them claim to have held the same view all their lives. Therefore, I believe that the House should reject the call for a ban on hunting.
Finally, I wish to address the way that I believe this House should vote on the options before it. As already indicated, I shall vote against a ban on hunting and self-regulation. I shall vote in favour of statutory regulation and the continuation of hunting under licence, because I believe that in the circumstances, given the strength of opinion in the other place, that is the only way to prevent hunting from being banned. Should this House vote overwhelmingly for self-regulation, the polarisation of views will work to the advantage of those in the other place who have voted by a very large majority to ban hunting. They will claim, quite correctly, that this unelected House is displaying an intransigence beyond its authority. It will turn into a battle of strength on the constitutional position as much as on hunting itself. On the other hand, if this House demonstrates its magnanimity, acknowledges the authority of the other place and is prepared to compromise, our opponents will be disarmed and our supporters in the other place, the foremost of whom is my right honourable friend Jack Straw, will be reinforced in their support for the prime objective, of which we must not lose sight; namely, to retain hunting. Failure to follow the course that I propose may very well result in the coming to pass of the very thing that we fear most: a ban on hunting.
I should like to begin by declaring my interest as chairman of St Martin's Magazines which publishes Hunting and Country Illustrated and also my membership of, and great support for, the Countryside Alliance. I pay great tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, for her presidency of the Countryside Alliance and to its chairman, John Jackson. They do a wonderful job in defending not only field sports but also the interests of rural people and the rural economy. That makes it all the more difficult for me to say that I do not believe I can support the option of self-supervision put forward by the Countryside Alliance. All things being equal, I would much prefer to have hunting self-supervised, but at the moment all things are not equal.
In the other place an enormous majority voted against hunting. Sadly, the Government have given time to discuss a ban on fox hunting at a time when the countryside is in flames. Piles of animals are rotting in fields and are being incinerated, the rural economy is falling apart and yet we are talking about the welfare of foxes. It does not make sense. But we must recognise that that is what is happening.
The majority in the other place is a hard fact that we must recognise. If at the end of this evening's debate the Bill which is sent back to the other place puts in place independent supervision, how will that play in the other place? I believe that we already have the answer to that. A Bill providing for self-supervision will be treated with the same disdain and ignorance as before and dismissed. How will it play with the public and the press? I suggest that we also know the answer to that. Until the middle way was introduced, every opinion poll, however fallible it might be, indicated that the country was against hunting.
I should like to thank the all-party group of MPs, none of whom hunts--I believe that Llin Golding fishes--for the enormous amount of time and trouble that it has taken to defend hunting. It deserves the thanks of all of us who support hunting for bringing forward those ideas. The fact is that until its ideas were put forward hunting appeared to be extremely unpopular. If we send out a message from this House this evening that we shall not listen to the proposals for a middle way and the voices of reason, if that is what we believe they are, but simply press ahead with self-supervision, it could be very dangerous. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, said, how will it play with the Ministers and MPs who have supported hunting and come out in favour of the middle way? Will they switch their opinions to support self-supervision? I do not know the answer to that, but I know where I would put my money. I do not believe that they would do that.
To echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, the crucial question that we must ask ourselves is not whether self-supervision would be fair. It would be fair. I am convinced of that because of the people in charge of it--for example, Sir Ronald Waterhouse--and all the trouble that has been taken to put in place the ISAH, which is up and running. I hope that the fact that it exists will be used later when we come to amend the Bill. The crucial question is not whether it is fair but whether it will be seen to be fair. Will a vote for self-supervision be acceptable or will it be seen as the last stand of the last ditchers? There is a danger that that will happen.
If in reality self-supervision is a political non-starter--I believe that that is the case--we should give serious consideration to supporting the middle way. That option is by no means perfect. Even those who propose it accept that. But we have been promised recommittal and, therefore, will have the opportunity to amend the middle way to make it workable. I believe that it has serious flaws: it is far too bureaucratic and prescriptive. And I believe that the enforcement provisions, which are also far too harsh, have been lifted straight out of the option to ban hunting. I do not believe that it will be remotely acceptable. We shall have the chance to alter it.
The middle way proposals are not unreasonable. They are not that frightening. No reputable hunt should be too frightened of licensing if it is satisfied that its activities are not cruel. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said at Second Reading, those of us who hunt do not believe that we are doing something cruel. If hunts are properly run, and most of them are, they will have nothing to fear from licensing.
Licensing is not state controlled as has often been depicted. Pubs, drivers, banks and casinos are licensed. Does anyone suggest that those are all state controlled? Of course they do not. Licensing will give hunting the right to continue under responsible hands. All Members of the Committee who want hunting to continue must give that matter very serious consideration.
The composition of the hunting authority appears to be fairly reasonable. There is to be a representative from an animal welfare group and one each from a hunting group, from farmers, from landowners and from veterinary interests. I qualify that statement by saying that it is out of the question that the RSPCA should be the representative of the animal welfare group. It should hang its head in shame at the waste of its members' money in sponsoring anti-hunting advertisements and propaganda.
A vote against the middle way would send quite the wrong message to the Government and to the country at large. The message would be that supporters of the ISAH are reactionary dinosaurs. That is not the case, but that is how it would be seen and how it would be spun by those who are against hunting. The extremists in the other place must be absolutely praying that we vote down the middle way tonight.
The middle way is supported by the NFU. I remind Members of the Committee that without farmers there would not be any hunting at all. It is supported by the Home Secretary, the Association of Chief Police Officers and a number of MPs. If we send a clear message today, more Members of the other place might come out and support the middle way. That is why I really believe that it is the only option left to us.
It would also be a kick in the teeth to those people who over the years have been brave enough to come out in support of hunting and have been threatened with violence. It would be a terrible way to treat them, to say, "No, thank you very much. We are not interested in what you are saying. We don't need your support. We'll go on our own merry way". As I asked previously: will they stick with the hunting supporters after that? I do not know; I rather doubt it.
Regulation of hunting by a public authority with a balance of interested parties answerable to Parliament could prove acceptable to everyone except the most rabid of extremists. I hope that Members of the Committee will vote for the middle way tonight.
Perhaps I may deal as briefly as I can with the three options before the Committee.
So far as concerns the first option--the ban--my objections, which I previously expressed at Second Reading, are both in principle and practical. Those who support a ban do so, as I have understood the debate both today and on the earlier occasion, essentially for two reasons: first, they say that hunting is cruel. Simply saying so, however strongly the speaker holds the belief and however eloquent and passionate the speech--we have heard a number tonight and on earlier occasions--does not make it so.
The inquiry, of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, set up by the Home Secretary to inform this debate, found that the evidence of cruelty is not there. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, told us that the inquiry did not find cruelty; nor do the four veterinary surgeons who go out hunting regularly with my local pack; and nor did that inquiry find that alternative methods of killing caused less suffering.
Secondly, opponents of hunting say that it is morally wrong to use a form of killing as a sport. It does not matter tuppence to the animal which is killed whether its killer enjoyed what it did, or whether it wore absurd clothes; what matters surely is that it is skilful and efficient. But, they say, it is for the good of our society and to send a message to the next generation.
However, the morality behind option one, the ban, is both selective and profoundly hypocritical. It is apparently morally wrong to kill foxes, deer and hares unless it is done without enjoyment, for pest control or meat. Yet, it remains perfectly acceptable to kill rabbits and rats with as many dogs as one can muster and to shoot foxes, deer and hares, not to mention birds and killing fish, and to take as much pleasure as one wishes in so doing.
Once Parliament goes down the path of outlawing activities because of what some imagine is going on in the minds and thoughts of others, we set off down a slippery path towards a society in which I and others who care for freedom would have no wish to live.
Those are my objections in principle to option one. There are also practical objections which others have spelt out. There is no comprehensive workable definition of the offence of hunting contained anywhere in the proposed Bill. It would be a nightmare for the police, the prosecuting authorities and the courts. The powers that it gives beggar belief--arrest without warrant; stop and search, and, whatever has been said, as the Bill is presently drafted the onus to prove that one comes within one of the exceptions rests on the accused; forfeiture and destruction of animals and a life ban on keeping a dog. It is ironic that the RSPCA, which is currently unable to find homes for tens of thousands of unwanted, neglected and cruelly treated animals, which it destroys each year, should be promoting legislation to remove much loved, well-cared-for animals from responsible owners and to kill them.
The provisions of option one do nothing for animal welfare. They are an undisguised attack on people. It is all the more ironic that those who would be primarily affected are those in the farming community. Whatever views Members of the Committee hold on the merits and demerits of hunting, a vote for option one is to deliver a kick in the teeth to part of our nation which needs our support now as never before. Furthermore, it will be seen by them as just that.
Several Members of the Committee have addressed the merits of options two or three. In particular, my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity and the noble Lords, Lord Willoughby de Broke and Lord Phillips of Sudbury, have urged Members of the Committee to think how such a vote would play, spin or look, and whether a vote for independent supervision would be acceptable. I may be accused, probably rightly, of being politically naive, but I always mistrust suggestions that one votes according to the way one thinks the vote will be received. The right course for each one of us is to look at the options in the Bill and to vote for the one which we honestly believe offers the right course.
Whatever noble Lords' views on the merits or demerits of options two and three, it would not be right for Members of the Committee to reject both those options. There is a widespread desire to find a resolution to the issue which allows all those who truly care about the countryside to devote their energies to the massive task of securing some future and regeneration for it and to avoid further damaging and divisive fights such as this. Such a resolution must in part involve, as other Members of the Committee have said, reassuring public opinion that hunting is conducted according to proper codes and rules; that complaints and breaches are properly, independently and publicly scrutinised and dealt with; and ensuring that the concerns highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his report, are properly addressed.
I support option two. I could barely do otherwise, having played a small part in setting up the independent supervisory authority. It is not the status quo. Indeed, it involves a significant change to current animal welfare legislation. The change centres around the recently formed independent supervisory authority, of which others have spoken. That authority not only has the power to review and revise the codes of practice of all those member hunting organisations but also oversees and controls the disciplinary procedures of those organisations and makes recommendations for improvements and changes where necessary.
A major change to the law proposed in option two is that those who do not operate under the control of ISAH will lose their exemption from prosecution under the Protection of Animals Act and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act. Therefore, anyone who is not supervised by ISAH and does not subscribe to its codes and who goes hunting or coursing would not in a subsequent prosecution be able to claim any exemption under the law. It has other benefits. It is self-financing. It will not cost the Exchequer one penny. Unlike the middle way--option three--it is fully operational now and, unlike the middle way, it has a disciplinary procedure that is already in place. It is not overly bureaucratic and examination will show--I know that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, will examine it when he has a chance to look at the documents that were sent out--that its independence is unchallengeable.
I shall support option two and I commend it to the Committee. But I should like to make the following point about the middle way option. I, too, pay tribute to those in another place who have stuck out their necks to raise this issue and widen the debate. In particular, I should like to pay tribute to Ms Kate Hoey and Mrs Llin Golding on my side of the House who at considerable personal risk have stood up to threats, intimidation and abuse for their views. My concerns about the middle way are as follows. As they themselves accept, it has as yet been only in a draft form in the sense that it has had no scrutiny in another place. I am concerned that it creates yet another government quango, with still more bureaucracy, complexity and expense. I am concerned also that in the present draft Bill licensing is treated in a way that does not foresee many of the potential difficulties. It is perfectly possible to devise an excellent licensing system for the existing organised hunts. But they are in a sense the tip of the iceberg because there are tens of thousands of people who use their dogs either for pest control or sport but who are not part of any of the recognised groups that would be registered. At some stage, that problem may have to be grappled with.
Whichever of the two options the Committee chooses--assuming that it votes against option one--I have no doubt that there will be a considerable degree of good will from all sides of the Committee and from all those who wish to see a resolution of this issue. There may be those who think that a licensing system is necessary. I believe that they would be better advised to vote for option two and then seek to put the teeth that they require into that option at later stages in Committee, if we have them. If the Committee supports independent supervision--option two--I shall not vote against option three, the middle way; I shall abstain. However, if the Committee rejects option two--independent supervision--it is essential that it should not rule out all forms of regulation and I, together with others, will do my best to ensure that option three is put into a workable form for return to the other place. But it is surely the first vote in the Committee that is by far the most important.
It is not often that this House is called upon to defend the freedom of our people against prejudice. I hope that that is what we are about to do today.
Perhaps I may first declare an interest, although it is entirely non-financial, as a member of the RSPCA for many years, a former chairman of its council and currently a vice president. The Committee will not therefore be surprised to find that I am a member of an endangered species--a Conservative Peer who supports the total ban. However, I do not intend to hang my head in shame at any of the activities of the society, which I support. Hell will freeze over first.
I do feel very strongly about this issue, but I hope that I can be absolved from either total ignorance or perpetuating class hatred. As a child and youngster, I rode a great deal. It was a natural extension in those days, as I believe it still is today, to follow the hunt; and I did. But I changed my mind and I have held my present views for a good many years. So I hope at least that the sincerity of my motives will not be questioned, however much Members of the Committee disapprove of the view that I take.
For me, the main issue is the welfare of the animals that are hunted and whether or not they suffer. I prefer not to use the word "cruelty" because it has particular connotations. What I am concerned about is whether the animals suffer and whether, if they have to be killed for reasons of pest control, hunting is the best way to do it or whether there are other better ways. In that respect, I disagree fundamentally with the views expressed so eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu.
In my view, the suffering comes in two phases. At the end, it is by no means certain that the animal concerned is killed instantaneously. Indeed, post-mortems on foxes and other creatures show that death is not instantaneous. Therefore, there is suffering at that point. What is even more important for me is the actual rigour of the chase. Let us remember that we are not simply talking about foxes, as many Members of the Committee have tended to do. We are looking also at stags, hares and even mink. I believe that real suffering is involved. Some very respectable scientific research suggests that there is a real element of suffering in the chase, a chase that may last for 20 minutes or several hours. That, to me, is totally unacceptable.
Much has been made of the fact that the Burns report did not refer to cruelty. But it is enough for me to hear the phrase, reported a number of times, that the welfare of the fox, the stag and so forth is "seriously compromised". That is an attempt to make it as impartial as possible, but for me that must mean suffering and I do not accept that it should continue. I understand the views of those in the countryside who are suffering so greatly at the moment, but I am not responsible for that or for the timing of the Bill. We can deal only with what is before us today. I shall vote for the ban.
Perhaps I may deal briefly with another point, as I know that Members of the Committee are anxious to proceed to votes. I am concerned that the very worst of the other methods of control are being put before us. That is a clever device, but there are means of controlling animals that are pests. Perhaps I may refer to lamping, which was indeed mentioned in the Burns report, whereby the fox is found at night under a powerful beam of light and is then shot with a rifle. That may not be appropriate in all cases, but in the hands of those who are competent, it is a way of dealing with foxes satisfactorily and with the minimum of suffering.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Over the weekend she will have seen reports on the television and in the press stating that the chief vet of the RSPCA, of which my noble friend is a vice-president, has drawn attention to the very real welfare concerns as regards the culling of livestock by soldiers using rifles.
It is clear that it is difficult to kill sheep with a rifle at close range, even for a trained soldier. If it is difficult for a soldier to kill a sheep at close range with a rifle, does not my noble friend understand how much more difficult it could be for a marksman to kill a rather smaller animal at longer range and under more difficult conditions. Although I understand the points made in his report by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, as regards the use of alternative means of control, the matter is not quite that simple. Considerable difficulties will be encountered if lamping is to become the sole means of culling foxes.
I am not suggesting that lamping should become the sole means, but those who wish to see a total ban on hunting have been challenged to suggest other methods. I still believe that, in skilled hands, lamping should be perfectly possible. I assume that soldiers are not used to killing sheep.
I remain firmly of the opinion that other methods can and should be sought. In any case, if the culling of foxes and other animals is so important, it seems to me that hunting is an extraordinarily inefficient way of achieving that aim. I do not believe that anyone is suggesting that, currently, hunting accounts for the majority of those animals killed for culling purposes. That is a very important point to make.
I am aware that I am highly unlikely to change anyone's views, but I felt that I had to put on to the record the feelings which I have held, and still hold, very strongly indeed. Finally, I am not happy with the proposed alternatives because they do not deal with what for me is the essential point about hunting: that is, the chase. It may be prolonged, and it is a fact that hounds--I believe that I should call them dogs now--cannot be controlled to the extent that one can be sure that death will be instantaneous. I rest my case.
I should remind the noble Viscount that we are in Committee, not at Second Reading or on Report. I hope that the noble Viscount who is trying to speak from the Dispatch Box does not believe that he can close down debate on this Bill simply because he has risen to speak. That is not going to happen. Other people, including myself, wish to speak. I am going to speak. The noble Viscount should make up his mind. If he wishes to speak now, he can do so. Indeed, if he wishes to speak before the right reverend Prelate, he can do so. However, I intend to speak in this debate.
I am delighted to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Furthermore, if the right reverend Prelate wishes to speak, I am sure that the Committee would like to hear what he has to say. However, it may be convenient to noble Lords if, after those contributions, I say a few brief words in order to give the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, a chance to respond.
I should like to make two points in this debate, both of them of a moral character. They follow on from the speech of the noble Baroness.
First, when we are dealing with legislation, perhaps it takes a Bishop to make the point that not every immoral act should be turned into a criminal act. It is important that we distinguish that point. Parliament needs to consider extremely carefully the effect on society of criminalising behaviour. As a Christian and as a Bishop, there are many things that I believe to be wrong and immoral, but I do not think that the law should ban them. Indeed, if the law did engage in banning many of the things I believe to be immoral, we might have a rather thinner House tonight.
I am opposed to gambling, for example. Many people choose to gamble. We have chosen to regulate that behaviour. Regulating behaviour does not mean to say that the state either approves or disapproves of it; it makes provisions for the benefit of the whole community. We need to consider that carefully when we are legislating.
With my second point, I should like to build on the two excellent speeches made at Second Reading by my colleagues the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Bath and Wells and of Portsmouth. The other night, I went to see the film "Billy Elliot". I am very sorry that it did not win an Oscar. It took me back to the days of the miners' strike and reminded me of a year of very great social difficulty in our country. It brought back to mind my feelings of uncertainty and opposition to the behaviour of the unions in calling and prosecuting the strike, but also my anxieties as regards the way in which the authorities were dealing with mining communities on strike. To this day, those communities bear the scars of that dispute. They felt themselves to be engaged in a battle with their own government, with the police and with the authorities.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, a minority of people in this society felt themselves to be very much on the fringe of our community. People who went down into the mines to dig out coal, at great cost both to themselves and to their families, and people in generations past whose communities had gone to war by serving in our Armed Forces in defence of our country, were now on the receiving end, as they saw it, of policing and of government behaviour that they found extremely difficult.
At Second Reading, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth made a very important point about social cohesion. I do not believe that democracy is concerned with how the majority can impose its will on everyone else. I believe that Parliament has a duty to listen to the voices of minorities. Thus, in an atmosphere where a serious moral debate is taking place--a proper, moral debate to which the noble Baroness has just contributed so excellently--it is the duty of legislators to provide the climate for that moral debate to continue in decency. It cannot continue if legislators impose their will on people who simply do not understand what they are doing.
Only when we achieve a sense of consent within the communities most directly affected by what we seek to do will we be in a position to legislate. The danger of legislating in the face of communities which find that intention extremely difficult to accept is that we may then undermine and fracture our social cohesion. That is a very important moral and spiritual point which needs to be made in this debate. Parliament, and this House in particular--because of its nature and character--have a responsibility to hear the voices that might otherwise be shut out of this debate. We need to consider these matters as we move towards the vote tonight.
I am sure that the whole Committee will have listened to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, with great respect. Noble Lords will respect her views, even though they may not be universally popular. However, I would say to the Committee and to the noble Baroness that I reached my decision by another route. Many years ago, I was in favour of a ban; I have now become a "non-banner". The reason for that change is because, as the right reverend Prelate has just told the Committee, if we are not careful, no one will be able to do anything because one person's pleasure will become another person's ban. As we heard from my noble friend Lord Davies of Coity, next on the list will be shooting and, after that, will be fishing. In terms of cruelty, they are all cruel in one way or another. So we have to be careful what we are doing.
I listened, as I always do, to the great speech of my noble friend Lady Mallalieu. I agree with her. We have not only the stench of burning carcasses in the fields around the country but also the stench of hypocrisy around this issue. Many people who wish to ban hunting--and, indeed, many other things--are quite prepared to put up with things which are just as bad or even worse.
I sometimes think that I am a member of a mad house rather than a Parliament. As has been mentioned, we are here discussing the culling of vermin while we are contemplating the destruction of perhaps up to 30 million well animals. That is the advice that we are getting from our scientists. To kill 30 million foxes--which are vermin--at the present rate of culling would take 750 years. If we killed only 1 million well animals--which do not do any damage to anyone; they make the landscape look much better and provide us with food--it would still take 25 years for the hunt to kill as many foxes, which are vermin.
When people talk about cruelty, barbarism and so on, all kinds of actions are barbaric. In fact, I think that the slaughter policy is complete madness--there are alternatives--but the people who have sent this Bill to us appear to be contemplating this mass slaughter, this animal holocaust, with complete equanimity. That is why I say there is the stench of hypocrisy around the place.
I shall risk this comment. We have heard that cats kill 200 million small mammals and birds; that is 5.5 million a day. I hope that we shall not hear from people who own cats that we are barbarians and cruel.
As to the two alternatives, I believe that the self-regulatory body has been working. It is not a myth; it is not something in the distance; it has been working. Huntsmen and others have been happy to subscribe to it and to obey the rules which have been thought out and imposed. I believe that that should continue to go forward. It is the real way forward and I am inclined to support it.
What worries me about the middle way--I have thought about it deeply--is that it will be bureaucratic. The penalties are, quite frankly, far too heavy. The penalties contemplated will even include banning people from owning a dog for life, make no mistake about that. They are very arduous indeed.
We all know that bureaucracies, once set up, like to creep forward and forward and forward. The noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, knows that very well because he is a member of the European Union Select Committee. He has very often told us how we have this creeping bureaucracy in Europe. I should tell him that all bureaucracies creep.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He is quite right, of course, about bureaucracy in the European Union. Unfortunately, try as we might, we are unable to amend it. I hope that if we can persuade the Committee to vote for the middle way we can amend the current proposals and make sure that it is not under any circumstances a back-door way of banning hunting.
I am afraid the noble Lord is completely and utterly wrong. We can amend European bureaucracy by repealing the European Communities Act 1972. Indeed, on 31st January 1997, this House gave a Second Reading to a Bill which would have amended that Act.
Nevertheless, we have to give the Commons something to cling on to. If we go for the self-regulation, as I believe we should, it would be open to Members of the Commons--the Bill has to go back there--if they are open minded, to say, "Well, chaps, along in the Lords there, even though we do not quite agree with them about self-regulation, there is another proposal for the so-called middle way. We will agree to that and send it back to them for their further consideration".
Under those circumstances--bearing in mind that the Bill has a long way to go; it will not finish in two or three hours or two or three days--I believe that we should opt for self-regulation and then see what happens.
We have heard all sides of the argument, even if we have not heard from all Members of the Committee who wish to speak. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 1 and 4, the first grouping, and to the other amendments later, as I am sure will other Members of the Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said that this was not a political issue. In one sense it is not a political issue-- it is a free vote and there are different views on all sides of the House; the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, on one side and my noble friend Lady Fookes on the other--but, of course, this was in the Labour Party manifesto. We have to ask why have the Government waited for four years to bring the Bill forward, knowing that an election was imminent. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, judged his party too kindly, giving it credit for behaving properly, as perhaps he would have done had he been a member of the Government.
I have a number of questions briefly to put to the Minister about the part of the Bill that we are currently debating. As my noble friend Lord Cope said, there are provisions in the Bill which reverse the burden of proof. That has been put to us by legal opinion, and I should like the noble and learned Lord to explain to the Committee why that is not the case.
As it stands, the Bill has a number of rather strange parts. If one looks at page 2, it refers to hunting with "a dog". That is an extraordinary term. It should be hunting with "dogs". I do not know how you can hunt with one dog. The term seems designed to catch innocent walkers who occasionally let their badly behaved dogs off the lead.
As drafted, the Bill would certainly catch drag hunting. Some members of the Committee who are against fox hunting have said that people will be able to continue to go drag hunting. But, under the Bill as it stands, no drag hunts could possibly take place because of the risk involved. Should hounds cross the line of a fox or a hare and decide that it was more entertaining than the drag they were following, the hunt would then be breaking the law, and no hunt can afford to do that. As regards drag hunting, as the Bill stands, no one could take the risk of taking part in it for fear of prosecution.
Under the Bill as it stands, if a landowner gives permission for someone to walk his dog and the dog, unbeknownst to him, misbehaves, it seems to me that the landowner would also be liable for prosecution. I should be grateful for the noble and learned Lord's comments on that.
Under paragraph 19 of the schedule, on page 6 there are powers of entry without a warrant. But most extraordinary is the provision in paragraph 18:
"the constable may stop and search a vehicle, animal or other thing".
I do not know what the Government were thinking when they included the phrase "other thing"; I am not sure what an "other thing" is when you find it out hunting. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord will be able to explain. These are draconian powers. Paragraph 22 of the schedule includes a power to ban someone for life from owning a dog. This is an extraordinarily severe power.
As we see from a quick reading of the Bill, if your dog chases a rabbit and then changes its mind, finds a hare and starts chasing that, if you chase the dog you are hunting; if you leave it alone and say that it is out of your control, you are not. Obviously, if the dog does that, you would want to stop the dog doing it and get it back. You would then be committing an offence. Finally, there is the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, about a dog who goes down a hole. The provision for a ban does not work. It would catch innocents taking their dogs for a walk; it is morally wrong; and it would not work in practice.
Turning to the moral debate, I have only one point to make. I commend to any Members of the Committee who were not present at Second Reading the very fine speeches made by the three right reverend Prelates. I was delighted to give way earlier to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, who made an extremely good point and an interesting speech; and I am always delighted to give way to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart.
I said that I should be brief, and I shall. This is a bad Bill at the wrong time. Although we are being offered a free vote, the Bill is being taken in government time and it is promoted by government Ministers. They cannot hide behind a free vote. They cannot deny responsibility for deciding when to bring the Bill forward both in another place and in this Chamber. A vote to ban hunting would be an insult to all those who live in rural areas at this time of national emergency.
The role of the Government is as follows. The Labour Party stated in its manifesto that a free vote would be held on this issue. A Private Member's Bill was proposed in another place. There was a free vote in relation to that. Subsequent to that Private Member's Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, was commissioned by the Home Secretary to write a report which I believe all Members of the Committee who have taken part in this debate have found useful in informing the debate. Once the noble Lord finished his report, the Government made time, using the method that was used in relation to the Sunday Trading Bill which had been used by the previous government as a means of giving the legislature a chance to decide what it wished to do about hunting. They did so because there are very strong feelings about hunting--feelings that are not shared in relation to shooting and fishing. That is why the Government have made time in relation to it; that is why it has been done in this way. It gives the legislature the opportunity to express its view on this important issue, which needs to be resolved. That is why we have done it in this way.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that the Government should answer any legitimate questions that have been raised in relation to the legislation, and that is what I shall do. What I shall not do is engage in the debate as to whether it is right to ban hunting, whether it is right to have regulation or whether it is right to have licensing. That is a matter for the legislature to decide. That is the way in which we have addressed the issue. The Government have made it clear, as Members speaking on behalf of the main Opposition party have said, that this is to be a matter for a free vote.
We have had a good debate. Perhaps I may single out two particular speeches: that of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the brave, clear speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. Perhaps I may deal with the particular issues raised. The first was the appropriateness of debating this matter today, when the countryside is going through the trauma of foot and mouth disease. If we could have done anything today in debating the matter to assist in relation to foot and mouth, we should have done it; but there was not anything we could do. The Government must fight the disease with every skill that they have. But, equally, things must go on in other areas, just as they have in relation to other pieces of legislation. Having embarked on this legislation, I am sure that the right course is to continue with it. That is what we are doing.
Perhaps I may interrupt the Minister. What he says is of great importance and great interest. However, does he agree that the Government could have withdrawn the Bill for the time being to allow the problem of the countryside to be overcome before adding yet more difficulties and yet more anxieties for the countryside?
It was a matter for the usual channels as to what were the issues for debate today. So far as concerns the result, it is a matter for this House to decide what it wishes to do about the three options. I am sure that the right course is to continue to allow the Committee to express its view on the options.
It was said that the Bill does not define hunting. It would be a matter for the court, if a case ever came before it, as to whether there was any difficulty with the provision,
"A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog".
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, who raised the point, will know perfectly well that the fact that there are a number of definitions in dictionaries has never prevented the courts reaching a conclusion previously.
A question was raised about the dog which, unbeknownst to its owner, follows a scent and begins to hunt a wild mammal. The crime that is created in Part 1 is in relation to the individual, not to the animal. The individual must have the necessary criminal intent for a crime to be committed.
Reference was made to the point raised by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee about the inappropriateness of delegated legislation being used to change defences. If the schedule survives in the Bill--that is plainly a matter of which the Government will take great note, particularly after any debate that follows on recommitment.
The question was raised as to where is the burden of proof in relation to the exceptions. The burden of proof would be on the defence, on the balance of probabilities. That is perfectly normal in relation to any Bill where a crime is created but a defence is also created which is an exception to the crime. So I do not think that that would be regarded as in any way abnormal.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, raised issues relating to the defence where a gun pack was involved and in particular where foxes were being flushed out. The noble Lord asked what would happen if the dog went underground without the consent of the owner. Again, the question would relate to the intent of the owner and it would be decided as a matter of fact in every case. I do not think that there would be any difficulty in relation to the magistrates' court dealing with that.
Because they have dealt with statutes drafted in this way on many previous occasions.
The noble Viscount also said that Bill was not clear and unambiguous. Plainly, if the schedule survives, any amendments that would be required to make it clearer and more unambiguous would be entertained by this House. But I do not think that there would be any doubt as to the intention of the statute.
So far as concerns "rodents", the position is that rabbits and hares are not rodents, despite the researches of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Within the classification of "mammal", they do not fall within the order "Rodentia" but within the order "Lagomorpha". They differ from rodents in having an extra pair of incisors and in other skeletal features. I am sure that would be clear to the court.
That is the position so far as concerns the facts.
I believe that I have dealt with all the points raised. I do not think that the Committee wishes me to detain it with any more detail.
We shall now proceed to the first vote. I remind the Committee that the procedure we are following is one that this place agreed by a substantial majority to adopt. This first vote will be on the Question of whether we should remove the ban option from the Bill. Therefore, those noble Lords who support a ban on hunting with dogs should vote "Not-Content" on this first vote, while noble Lords who favour the continuation of hunting should vote "Content". I commend the amendment to the Committee.
It may be helpful at this stage if I say something about independent supervision. No matter what Members of the Committee on my right say, there are a few questions which we have to consider and there are a few points which I would like to make.
The first point is that the organisation exists and works. Surprisingly, it has received no complaints since it has been in place. I do not believe that there are many other sports that could claim that credit. I make the point that it is an independent commission. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, is now clear about its independence. Although its members are involved in hunting, it is independent and only one member represents hunting.
There is a code of conduct which is clear about how hunts should behave. I remind the Committee that should independent supervision be selected by the Committee, that does not mean that licensing does not exist. Currently, there are at least three types of licences in existence of which I am aware. Hunts have licences with the Ministry of Defence, the National Trust and the Forestry Commission.
There is one question which we have to address; namely; does the commission have teeth? I believe that it does. Perhaps it could be improved. Speaking personally, there is a case for the Secretary of State having the power to appoint either two or three of the commissioners. That would give it enormously greater authority while maintaining its independence. It must be a preferential route to licensing. No other sports would be licensed in this way. Angling, falconry, and rambling are not licensed. It does not seem to make any sense. This provision would work and I believe that it has the support of your Lordships' House.
At Second Reading, very late at night, I said that when the Bill reached Committee stage I would move an amendment to option two. When the Bill is re-committed I would like your Lordships to know that I shall move an amendment to add to ISAH commissioners two commissioners appointed by the Home Office and one by the Welsh Assembly.
As regards ISAH having teeth, I know from experience sitting on another body, that insurance is the issue. I am fairly certain that if hunts had their permission withdrawn by ISAH they would no longer be insured in which case they would be unable to continue hunting. If one wants the dead weight of bureaucracy to kill hunting, I suspect that the middle way is the option to go for. One has only to look at the 21 pages of Amendment No. 6 to understand what that will involve. Alternatively, you can pass that on to ISAH.
This has been an interesting debate. The arguments have been set out extremely thoroughly. The suggestion that has been made as regards the amendment is important and we shall obviously consider that. Those Members of the Committee who favour self-regulation should vote "Content" in this Division while those who oppose the self-regulation option should vote "Not-Content".
Perhaps I may be the "odd Lord out". With my background and my practice, I have believed all my life in self regulation. In the past, whether as regards Lloyd's or elsewhere, I have believed that it has been better for people who understand the matter to regulate themselves. However, we have to be realistic. The general public are not so sold on hunting as are Members of this Chamber. Many members of the public will look for a middle way, a compromise. This House should send them a compromise--the middle way. We should accept that we would rather have regulated hunting than no hunting. That is my view. That is why I shall vote for the amendment. I may be the only person in the Whole House to do so, but I believe that that would send the right signal to the House of Commons. We may propose but they will dispose. We should recognise that and help the goodwill generated there and with the wider public by voting for the middle way.
I am concerned at the advice given from the Conservative Front Bench. I belong to a party in which many Members are hotly opposed to hunting in any form. I believe that members of my party in the country, who believe in individual liberties and freedom, will see the middle way option as a compromise which keeps the public involved in the issue of hunting but is more satisfactory because it has the imprint of Parliament upon it. I respectfully urge noble Lords to vote for that middle way option.
As a fanatical fox hunter, my bones have been broken; I have lain in the mud; I have jumped ditches. I understand why some people do not like hunting. What the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, said earlier was right. We should take the noble Earl's suggestion on statutory regulation: that we split the compromise between those who want ISAH and those who want 20 pages of statutory regulation. If we make ISAH statutory under regulation we have the right balance. I shall vote for Amendment No. 3.
I state again a position I have declared previously. One is either for fox hunting and chasing wild mammals or one is against it. It has been stated more than once in the debate today that there is a middle way, a compromise. I call it a cop-out. There is no compromise about what I abhor in fox hunting. A number of references have been made to the people out there--the public. I know the people in my area. I celebrate my birthday today
Sixty years ago I joined the Labour Party. When I reflect on where I should look for guidance or comfort I look to the Labour Party and the Labour movement. I look in particular to my friends on this side of the Chamber. It is a free vote. I respect whatever they do. However, I remind them that in another place our comrades voted 383 for a ban, with 13 voting for the middle way. Although it is said that we are entitled to our view, we must remember this. Of those Members who voted, 75 represent rural constituencies. Whenever the election will be, they will have not have taken part in an academic exercise: they stand up to be counted. They had the courage to do that.
Some of my friends believe that there is a genuine compromise or middle way. I do not believe that there is. The manner in which dogs hunt to the death remains. One can license a man; one can license an organisation. But when those dogs are let loose to hunt, one cannot control the instincts of the dog. That is why I believe that the middle way is not a compromise; it is a cop-out. Whether or not my friends vote for a ban, I urge them not to be fooled. If they lend their strength to this issue, it will be a sad and sorry day not only for themselves but for elements of the Labour Movement. We have all had letters. I have posted 52 replies today, many of them to individuals who had urged me to oppose the ban. I treated them with respect. I also had letters from Labour and trade union organisations. If my friends want some guidance beside their conscience on what the Labour movement wants, I can tell them that it does not want anything to do with the second or third options.
The decision is on whether to lend our support to an option that would allow the continuation of hunting. I urge my noble friends to vote against it.
I have one thing in common with the noble Lord, Lord Graham--we both celebrate our birthday today. However, I totally disagree with what he has said. Those who want to increase the divide between the countryside and the urban population should follow his advice.
I shall put a simple political point to those who do not want this countryside sport banned. The Government have offered a compromise. If we reject the third option in favour of self-regulation, they can move as they wish. Those who want to preserve the opportunity for people to hunt without cruelty should vote for the amendment in large numbers to correct the harm that was done by the previous vote.
I suggest that we move to the vote without further delay. I remind noble Lords that the vote is on whether to insert the Middle Way Group's statutory regulation option into the Bill and to remove the self-regulation option. Those who favour a statutory licensing regime for hunting--the middle way option--should vote Content, while those who are opposed to the licensing option should vote Not-Content.
moved Amendment No. 5:
Leave out the schedule and insert the following new schedule--
:TITLE3:Hunting with Dogs: Supervision
:TITLE3:Supervised hunting and coursing
1 Hunting a wild mammal with a dog is "supervised" for the purposes of this Schedule if it is engaged in by--
(a) a hunt which is a member of or registered with a supervised body, or
(b) an individual who is a member of or registered with a supervised body.
2 (1) Hare coursing is "supervised" for the purposes of this Schedule if it is carried on as part of a hare coursing event arranged by--
(a) a supervised body, or
(b) a body which is a member of or registered with a supervised body.
(2) This paragraph is without prejudice to the generality of paragraph 1.
3 (1) In paragraphs 1 and 2 "supervised body" means an organisation which is a member organisation of--
(a) ISAH Limited (a registered company incorporated on 30th December 1999 as a supervisory authority for hunting in the United Kingdom), or
(b) such other body as the Secretary of State may designate by order in place of ISAH Limited.
(2) An order under sub-paragraph (1)(b) may be made only if--
(a) ISAH Limited ceases to exist, or
(b) the statement of objects in its memorandum is altered.
(3) An order under sub-paragraph (1)(b)--
(a) shall be made by statutory instrument,
(b) may make consequential amendments to this Schedule,
(c) may include transitional provision, and
(d) shall be subject to annulment pursuant to a resolution of either House of Parliament.
:TITLE3:Restriction of statutory exceptions
4 (1) In so far as they relate to hunting a wild mammal with a dog or hare coursing the statutory exceptions listed in sub-paragraph (2) shall apply only in relation to--
(a) supervised hunting or coursing,
(b) hunting rodents,
(c) using a dog to retrieve a rabbit, hare, fox or mink which has been shot,
(d) using a dog to find a wild mammal which has escaped from captivity or confinement (and which was not permitted, for the purpose of being hunted, to escape),
(e) using a dog to find a wild mammal which has been released from captivity or confinement (and which was not released for the purpose of being hunted), and
(f) using a dog to find a wild mammal which has been injured.
(2) The statutory exceptions are--
(a) section 1(3)(b) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 (cruelty: exceptions: coursing or hunting), and
(b) section 2(b) of the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 (unnecessary suffering: exceptions: mammal injured or taken in hunting or coursing).
5 The Secretary of State may make grants or loans to ISAH Limited out of money provided by Parliament.
6 If the Secretary of State receives a report from ISAH Limited about its activities he shall lay a copy before Parliament.
7 In this Schedule--
(a) a "hare coursing event" is a competition in which dogs are assessed as to speed or skill in hunting hares,
(b) "a hunt" means a body of persons (corporate or unincorporated) who combine wholly or partly for the purpose of hunting wild mammals with dogs,
(c) a reference to "hunting a wild mammal with a dog" includes, in particular, any case where--
(i) a person engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal, and
(ii) one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit (whether or not by him and whether or not under his control or direction), and
(d) "wild mammal" includes, in particular--
(i) a wild mammal which has been bred or tamed for the purpose of being hunted or for any other purpose,
(ii) a wild mammal which is in captivity or confinement,
(iii) a wild mammal which has escaped or been released from captivity or confinement, and
(iv) any mammal which is living wild.".
The Deputy Speaker:
My Lords, the Committee of the Whole House to whom the Hunting Bill was committed has gone through the same and has directed me to report it to your Lordships with amendment. In accordance with the decision of the House on 13th March, the Bill stands recommitted to a Committee of the Whole House.