moved Amendment No. 28:
After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—
Tests for Registration: Utility and Least Suffering
(1) The first test for registration in respect of the proposed hunting of wild mammals is that it is likely to make a contribution to—
(a) the prevention or reduction of damage which the wild mammals to be hunted would otherwise cause to—
(iii) food for livestock,
(iv) crops (including vegetables and fruit),
(v) growing timber or regenerating woodland,
(vii) other property, or
(viii) the biological diversity of an area (within the meaning of the United Nations Environmental Programme Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992), or
(b) the maintenance of sustainable populations of any particular species of wild mammal, or
(c) the sustainable development of the area (within the meaning of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992).
(2) The second test for registration in respect of proposed hunting of wild mammals is that it is unlikely to cause significantly more pain, suffering or distress to the wild mammals to be hunted than would be likely to be caused by any other reasonably available method of achieving the contribution mentioned in subsection (1)."
The Committee is rather more peaceful, I am delighted to say. At the start of last week, on the first day of the Committee, Members of the Committee accepted the proposal that some of us made to reintroduce the Government's concept of registered hunting. The Minister whose Bill this is, Mr Michael, had previously made it clear that the Bill would be based not on a simple list of activities to be banned, but rather on a set of principles. Those principles would emerge first from the Burns report and, leading on from that, from the public consultation that he proposed to hold, followed by the three days of hearings at Portcullis House. That is pretty much what happened.
The original Bill that Mr Michael introduced set up what one might loosely call two classes of hunting, exempt and registered. By inference there was therefore a third class, hunting that was neither exempt nor registered and was therefore effectively prohibited. Prohibited hunting was to be hunting that was not exempt but had failed the necessary criteria for registration. The two tests that anyone seeking registration would have to pass have come to be known as the tests of utility and least suffering.
The purpose of the amendment is to put those two tests back into the Bill. It is a little cumbersome as it would have been more convenient to deal with them separately, but the drafting does not make that easy to achieve. The Committee will forgive me if I am a little long-winded, but the matter is quite complex to try to explain. Realistically, I am taking the role of a Minister at Second Reading in explaining a Bill, and I shall do my best.
The first test that we come to is that of utility. In a letter on 10th April 2002, the Minister described at the start of his consultation process what he meant by utility. He wrote of,
"the need for particular activities, particularly in the work of land and wildlife managers. It might be described as the need or usefulness of an activity for vermin control, wildlife management, habitat protection or land management and conservation".
It is reasonable to say that that is the basis on which people responded to his consultation.
That was also basis on which the hearings at Portcullis House took place some months later. The extensive results of the consultation are in the public domain. They were posted on the website and I believe that they were placed in the Libraries of both Houses. They can be seen if anybody so wishes. Many people have looked at them. The evidence is well known. There is nothing secret or quiet about it. Ninety per cent of the evidence received was firmly in support of hunting in its various forms and few respondents offered any evidence that even remotely justified prohibiting any form of hunting.
Most of the responses against hunting came from the organisation which, even at that stage, was called Deadline 2000, although for reasons which have since become clear, it subsequently became expedient to change that name. I believe that it is now called the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted Animal. It comprises three organisations: the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. They were the three main organisations which submitted evidence against hunting. They were joined by a few other individuals and a number of other smaller organisations, but the quantities involved were very low. The only scientific evidence of any substance to be submitted from that side of the debate came from Professor Stephen Harris of the Mammals Society. I am sure that he is a splendid fellow—I have debated against him, so I know that—but one could not regard him as entirely objective. His peers in the scientific word certainly do not, perhaps because a great deal of his funding comes from the three organisations to which I referred. Whether that matters or not, I am not in a position to say.
An enormous amount of evidence was submitted by a wide range of organisations that made the utility case for hunting. Virtually every land management organisation in the United Kingdom submitted evidence, backed in many cases by hard data and independent research, that clearly showed the contribution of hunting to wildlife management, the conservation of habitats, the environment, agriculture, forestry and the social and cultural life of the British countryside, as well as to biodiversity.
Among those organisations were the National Farmers Union, the National Farmers Union of Wales, the Country Land and Business Association, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, the Game Conservancy Trust, the Countryside Alliance—noble Lords will recall that I am a board member of that—and many other organisations. In particular, the Game Conservancy Trust submitted a lot of hard evidence, from a variety of studies, of the contribution that hunting makes to the conservation and maintenance of the countryside by actively managing and creating habitat that benefits a huge range of wildlife and not just the four species that are relevant to the Bill.
Research shows that hunts manage 10 per cent of the woodland in the areas over which they hunt. One of the few new pieces research to be published since the consultation was completed—it was published in the summer—was from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. It was a remarkable piece of research and it brought to light a number of things. Most of the conservation work in the United Kingdom takes place in uplands, moorlands and wetlands. The single biggest contribution to conservation in lowland UK is from landowners and managers who take part in hunting or shooting and who manage their land with that in mind. The report is in the public domain and I hope that many of your Lordships will have seen it. It concluded that the motivation that leads to that conservation work could not be replicated by subsidy, even if that level of subsidy were available.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe of Fairfield, is not in his place this evening. At Second Reading, he talked with pride about the work of the Co-op. When I was a master of hounds 10 years ago, my kennels were next door to a substantial estate owned and managed by the Co-op. All the gates were painted that revolting turquoise blue, which I suppose does not matter except that it appeared to infect the villages. There were no foxes on the land anyway—they would not have wanted to go there. There was no wildlife. It may have been well and profitably managed for the members of the Co-operative Society but, as a piece of environmental and conservation work, it was an absolute disaster.
That is one of the problems. Constructive and motivated management is required in order to produce the type of countryside for which we are famous. It only needs a landowner or manager to take his eye off the ball, as the Co-op has done in its Gloucestershire estates, to end up with an ecological desert with no wildlife, no hedgerows and coverts with no bottom in them. That is the other side of the coin.
There are examples to the contrary from the sporting world. I shall give just two; I do not want to detain the Committee for long. The Sinnington Hunt in Yorkshire manages a gorse cover, which contains the last remaining colony of piebald fritillary butterflies in the North East of England. The Butterfly Conservation charity wrote congratulating the Ravenswick Estate Company on achieving what the rest of Yorkshire had failed to do. The management strategy for that woodland was fox hunting. In the New Forest, the survival of the Montagu's harrier is threatened by foxes taking the chicks. In 1997, the Forestry Commission—
I am grateful. The noble Lord referred to the absence of my noble friend Lord Fyfe. Perhaps I may tell the noble Lord that my noble friend is ill and has had an operation. He would have liked to be here. He would have defended himself. However, I rise because of the astounding remarks that the noble Lord ascribes to the management by the Co-op—that is, the CWS—of its farms. He is well aware that members of the Co-op comprise the largest group of farmers in the country. They have an impeccable record. I can assure the noble Lord that I shall seek an early response either from the chief executive, Mr Martin Beaumont, or from the farms manager. I am sure that he will be written to and asked to substantiate what he said. What he said was a slur upon the quality of the management by the CWS of a very large holding. Whatever they say, I resent what he has said.
I am sure that all Members of the Committee will extend their sympathy and encouragement to the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe, and hope that he returns to us hale and hearty very soon. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Graham, for drawing that to your Lordships' attention.
I am very sorry if the noble Lord is upset by what I said about the Co-op land. I know that its members form a large group of farmers. I did not know that they comprised the largest group in Britain, although of course I know that the Co-op owns a large amount of land. I know only that one estate, which comprises perhaps 2,000 acres in Gloucestershire. I do not know it today, but 10 years ago I knew it extremely well. The manager, who was an extremely nice man whom I knew well, and his wife managed the estate as they were instructed, but I know that they were not particularly happy with the conservation policy that they were obliged to follow. I am certain that it was a very successful farm economically but it was not very pretty to look at and it stuck out like a sore thumb compared with some of the farms nearby, which were managed rather more sympathetically. However, I shall look forward to receiving a letter and hearing what the Co-op has to say about that.
I return to the subject of the New Forest, where the survival of the Montagu's harrier was threatened by foxes taking chicks. In 1997 the Forestry Commission called in the New Forest hunt to help. The hunt killed eight foxes within one mile of the nesting site and, using the hounds, was able to locate a den near the nest. A fox was dug out and humanely destroyed. So it is not just the quarry species themselves which benefit from hunting; a variety of other animals benefit from sympathetic management and the things that hunting can do.
The utility is not solely directed at culling or pest control. Both culling and pest control are important but pest control is simply one part of the management of any species. No doubt the Minister will return to the old theme that hunting accounts for only about 10 per cent of foxes killed in places such as the East Midlands. In my view, saying that demonstrates the absurdity of the position which the Government have got themselves into.
Why does anyone think it is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has a wildlife management department but not a pest control department? It is because wildlife management is the aim. Pest control is just one part of it. Wildlife management is about conserving healthy and balanced populations of species in numbers that are sustainable for very different environments up and down the country. I say that with one exception, on which we have not touched in these debates, which is that of mink. I am sorry to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, is not in her place. I am sure that she would have something to say on this subject.
We want sustainable, manageable, balanced populations of fox, hare and deer. We want, I think, no population of mink. Hunting is just one way of getting rid of them. I should like to see more ways of getting rid of them—of course humanely. Everyone accepts that and would like to see that, but we must get rid of mink.
It has to be remembered that in lowland Britain, where every man's hand is against the fox, hunting is the great preserver of foxes. Of course, in the uplands and moorlands the role of hunting is as the main or sole reducer of the fox population. We do not need to go over ground that we have been over earlier today to talk about hunting on moorland and in hill country. There, it is absolutely vital and the role of hunting is very different. Hunting in its many forms is an extraordinary activity and adapts to the local environment. It finds its way in so that it is suitable in lowland country, hill country and moorland country. Rather like the animals, it adapts to the circumstances required for the management of the environment. The object is that the level of livestock predation does not become untenable or that foxes encroach too heavily on fragile populations of ground nesting birds, another subject that we have discussed.
We were frequently told—we discussed this earlier—that foxes account for only 2 per cent of viable lambs. I do not apologise for repeating what I said earlier. Two per cent is 300,000 lambs. That is not so paltry for those who have to derive a living from them. It must be remembered also that that is against a background of intensive hunting—in any area where hunting accounts for over 50 per cent of the annual cull. I ask Members of the Committee to imagine what it would be like in Wales, the Lake District or the moorlands if we did not have hunting and it was not managing 50 per cent of the cull in an area where it would be difficult to find another way of culling.
At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Laird, who is not in his place, asked why the country was not overrun by foxes in the year of foot and mouth when there was no hunting. There was hunting for three-quarters of the first year and for half of the second year. So a great deal of the cull during the foot and mouth year had taken place at the front end and at the back end. But, as the Farmers Union of Wales said in January 2002,
"The ban on fox hunting over the last year has led to an explosion in the fox population to unprecedented levels".
In some cases farmers who lost six or seven lambs to foxes normally have seen numbers they lose jump to between 35 and 40. That is not an easy issue either. It is an important factor. One of the most difficult things about this debate is the sweeping statements that are made, possibly on both sides, which bear no relation to the facts.
There are two sides to the management of wildlife which are unique to hunting. The first is dispersal. Hares are not a pest in my part of the world in Gloucestershire or in many other parts, but they are in East Anglia and in the North East. One factor that leads to damage, whether it be hares in root crop—deer in young forestry is another example—or foxes among poultry and game, is concentration of numbers. In fox terms that occurs usually in the early autumn.
Whereas a small grass farmer in the Quantock Hills, for example, may tolerate half a dozen deer eating his spring grass, he cannot accept 40 or 50. All keepers know that they risk losing a few young partridges, but when three or four foxes get in among partridge coveys after they have been released, the economic loss is too great. Of course you can cull them all if you can get at them, but only hunting has the ability to disperse numbers.
The reason farmers in East Anglia invite in the beagles or the harriers is not because of the one or two hares that they kill, but to disperse the 20 or 30 hares that would do all the damage. Fox hunting alone can disperse the litters of cubs in the autumn that do the kind of damage I have just talked about.
Furthermore, hunting does that which no other method of culling, control or management can do: it encourages survival of the fittest, which is immensely important. The stronger foxes, hares and deer get away and the weaker ones get caught. There was some very interesting research done in Canada some years ago. Wolves had become extinct and over a period of time the caribou herds became listless and the quality of deer deteriorated enormously. The Canadian wildlife department reintroduced wolves to hunt the caribou. After a relatively short period of time—two or three years—the quality of the herds and their vigour improved beyond all recognition. They regained their previous energy and quality. They are a natural prey species. When such species are not preyed upon, clearly they start to deteriorate.
Hunting has a unique ability to despatch the weak, the injured and the old. No other culling method can do that. I draw your Lordships' attention to the recent report from the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting by Professor John Webster, the professor of animal husbandry at Bristol. In the last year to which this report refers—last season—of the deer killed by the deerhounds in the West Country, 44 per cent were casualty deer, which means that they had already been injured either by shooting or by motor car accidents, illness or some other injury. Without hounds it would be impossible to find those deer and despatch them.
About three or four months ago I spoke—it was nothing to do with this debate—to the warden of the National Trust's Holnicote Estate in the West Country. It must have been in the early summer. He told me that in February he had seen a hind with a broken leg. She was too far away for him to get to. Because he could not use scent hounds he could not catch up with that deer for more than six weeks. He finally found her. Her leg had not repaired. It was still gangrenous. She was in considerable pain and unable to feed. If he had had access to hounds—they are there, but as the Committee will know, they are not allowed on National Trust land—he could have caught up with that deer and put her out of her misery in probably half an hour. That is half an hour versus six weeks—an interesting equation in suffering.
Perhaps I may say that, having had the honour to represent that part of the world for 30 years, there were many instances of deer with half their jaws shot away and with other appalling casualties from poaching because carcasses are valuable and venison fetches a good price. The reality is that that the work of the Quantock and the Devon and Somerset staghounds was vital. Otherwise, those animals would never have been tracked down. You cannot just flush them out because you do not know where they are and you need a pack of hounds to find them.
I am most grateful to my noble friend for his comments. The same applies to foxes, but obviously on a much larger scale because fox hunting is on a larger scale. I understand that 43 per cent of the foxes caught in the past season by hounds were casualty foxes—which means casualties of shooting, injury, illness or car accidents. As we know, an awful lot of them are killed by cars.
So why, one wonders, did the Minister in another place, in drawing up his test of utility, or when he reached Committee, allow it to be restricted to pest control only? I know that he has argued that we—by which I think he means the Countryside Alliance and Council of Hunting Associations—have made the case only for pest control, but that is not so. Our response to his consultation states:
"The Alliance supports the view that utility in the context of hunting can be described as including hunting's effectiveness as either a controller or manager of wildlife populations; its contribution to rural economy; its value in terms of conservation and ecology; and the social and cultural contribution it makes to rural areas. And as we have previously suggested, the value of hunting cannot be limited to its role simply as a pest controller".
So the concept that hunting is just pest control certainly never came from us.
I have a suspicion about where it came from. If the Committee will forgive me for a moment, I shall explain. On Second Reading and in previous debates, I said that the Government were right to consult as they did; they were right to set up the Burns inquiry. The public hearings in Portcullis House were an extraordinary and effective exercise in open democracy.
The Minister, Mr Michael, met everyone that he could have and listened to everybody. I have no doubt that when he set out on this journey, which he is probably not much enjoying now, he intended to do his level best to find a resolution. Early in that consultation, he kindly agreed to meet me. We had a nice dinner together and covered a lot of subjects as we chatted away. Obviously, we talked a lot about hunting. I shall of course not reveal private conversation—that would be entirely unacceptable—but one part of that conversation that I do not think is especially private or confidential may shine a light on what happened.
At one point, I said to the Minister, "If your consultation process shows that hunting is pretty useless in most areas and is really very cruel, I expect your Bill will ban it, won't it?" He said, "Yes, that is a reasonable thought; it probably will". So I said, "On the other side of the coin, if your consultation shows that hunting is actually, in the scheme of things, not very cruel and causes little suffering and, in a number of areas, is useful and fulfils a lot of needs, your Bill won't ban it, will it?" He thought for a minute and said, "Well, theoretically, I suppose that that is quite right". I then said, "The problem is: that is where you will get to". He said, "How on earth can you know that? What on earth do you mean?" I said, "Listen, I have been in this hunting and politics game for about 10 years and there is not really any new evidence. There is a bit of research here and there but, to tell the honest truth, it is all in the open. There is nothing new to be told about this great debate, this great argument. If you conduct the consultation as you plan to"—and, indeed, the way that he did: very openly—"that is where it will take you. It will take you to the conclusion that hunting is not very cruel but is pretty useful. What will you do then, because your Back-Benchers will not buy that?"
That was the only unhappy moment of our entire happy evening. I suspect that that is exactly what happened. The consultation arrived there and the Bill was moved to here.
I did not suggest that for a moment; I do not know where that came from. I agree that no one constrained anyone.
The second test that your Lordships are being asked to reintroduce to the Bill is the test of least suffering. We must remind ourselves that Burns found no cruelty and that is why he talked about suffering. The other important point that emerged from the hearings was that suffering cannot be measured on the Richter scale. At Committee stage in another place it was referred to as the Opik scale, in the name of Mr Lembit Opik. The other immensely important principle to emerge was that man's motive in those activities is irrelevant.
A vast amount of work has been done on the issue, but none of it produces any evidence that hunting creates any more suffering than any of the other activities. We have chosen the words in the amendment to reflect the test in what we believe to be the most reasonable way possible. The amendment would put the two tests back into the Bill in nearly their previous form, with two small changes. I beg to move.
I am very sorry to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe of Fairfield, is unwell. I am wearing my Co-op tie especially to please him, so I am sorry that he is not here. I wear it out of respect more for the Co-op's retail movement than the countryside management aspect of that enormous operation. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Graham, that the largest landowner in the country is the National Trust rather than the Co-op.
I bow to the noble Lord, Lord Graham. I am not 100 per cent certain whether he is correct.
When the Government conducted their six-month consultation, the definition of "utility" was drawn widely, recognising in the light of the Burns report that hunting had complex utility value. As I said at Second Reading, I believe that the Government will rue the day that the dreadful word "utility" was introduced into the Bill. Pest control is not simply about numbers killed but about the control and management of species. The amendment, in conjunction with the other conditions in the new clause, seeks to ensure that the registrar, in assessing utility, takes account of all aspects of hunting's utility. The amendment looks at the role of hunting as a control mechanism.
The contribution of hunting to species management is recognised by every major land use organisation, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said. It must not be forgotten that hunting is financed by its participants and, therefore, provides species management at no cost to the farmer or the public purse. Hunts do not require an enormous police presence as at any football match. All alternative methods of control have direct cost implications for farmers, who already suffer the most terrible economic hardship.
Following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the hunting associations immediately and voluntarily suspended all hunting. Although the hunting season was drawing to a close, there were many areas where normal spring hunting, including the "lambing call service", was prevented. Within a few days, hunts started to receive calls from farmers suffering acute fox predation resulting in severe lambing losses.
In summer 2002, a survey of one-third of foxhound packs across the United Kingdom found that the temporary suspension of hunting owing to foot and mouth disease had reduced their normal fox cull by nearly 5,000. There were 4,700 calls from farmers asking for assistance with fox damage. Welsh farms in sheep-rearing areas lost an average of £500-worth of stock by additional fox predation. To a hill farmer in Wales, that is an enormous amount of money.
Since the resumption of hunting—on 17th December in some areas and much later in others—there is clear evidence from standard reporting forms from hunts, that in many areas there are unusually large concentrations of undispersed foxes. Other UK major land use groups also express the importance of control. The National Farmers Union stated in its submission to the Burns inquiry that:
"Pest control requirements will vary sharply from one region to another and from one farm business to another depending on a range of circumstances".
Indeed, it is dangerous to generalise at all. For example, a sheep farmer may suffer persistent predation of his sheep by foxes which is not shared by his neighbours in the locality, perhaps because of his proximity to completely different features such as woodland. Full regard must be had to the fact that problems caused by agricultural pests, whether they be foxes, deer, hares, or mink—and I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, about what a shame it is that the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, is not in her place—or other species, can have severe consequences for farmers' businesses. It must not be forgotten that most farmers are still suffering terrible financial hardship.
Of gamekeepers asked in 1994, 96.4 per cent said that foxes were present on their land and needed to be controlled. Control was necessary to ensure that damage to game, wildlife and livestock was reduced or kept at acceptable levels. The particularly vulnerable times of year were obviously lambing and nesting.
The Ministry of Agriculture as it was in those days also stated in its submission to the Burns inquiry:
"Brown hares are typically a farmland species and high densities can be associated with grazing damage to crops and damage to young, unprotected forestry plantations. Hares are considered as agriculture pests and the Ground Game Act 1880 allows farmers to take them at any time of year".
However, foxes can cause serious local problems to farmers and landowners; as a result they may take measures to control local fox populations, as well as responding to individual incidents of fox predation. Foxes may also cause localised problems to free-range poultry interests, have a detrimental impact on grey partridge numbers and disperse colonies of all types of ground nesting birds. Nearly 95 per cent of those farmers questioned normally allow hunting with dogs on their farms. That includes the use of terriers and lurchers. Almost 4 per cent of those questioned said that they did not allow hunting with dogs on their farms. Nearly 50 per cent of farmers carry out no alternative methods of control other than hunting with dogs. I beg to move this amendment.
I made clear my objections to this Bill on Second Reading and I was glad to give my strongest support to the concept of registration in the votes in our first day of this Committee. However, Amendment No. 28 is the first about which I have some doubts. I share the objection of my noble friend Lord Palmer to the word "utility".
My main concern is as a fisherman. As was made clear by the Countryside Alliance in its brief for Second Reading, the test of utility was narrowly drawn in the Bill. In Committee, that test was narrowed specially to cover pest control. The word "utility" has come to mean pest control. However, both coarse and game fishing have no utility on that basis. The widespread introduction of catch-and-release on conservation grounds, which is to be welcomed, means that there is even less utility in fishing.
Fishermen worry that, if the concept of utility is seen not simply as something that has been put forward by the Government but as something that is approved of by the House, it will give an additional handle to the League Against Cruel Sports and the other organisations that may be concerned with banning fishing in due course.
At Second Reading in the Commons, Alun Michael defined the test of utility as,
"a need for the activity to take place for the protection of livestock, crops and so on"—[Official Report, Commons, 16/12/02; col. 576.]
The only person who raised the question of fishing was Mr Lembit Opik of the Liberal Democrats, who said that he was also concerned that the utility principle in the Bill could lead to the eventual banning of shooting and angling.
I am chairman of a committee known as the Moran committee, which comprises all the main fishery and angling organisations in England and Wales. At a meeting last week, I mentioned my concerns and found that they were shared by all the members of the committee. It would be good if we could get away from the concept of utility.
In Amendment No. 28, the definitions in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the things to which the registration should contribute are excellent, but the title of the new clause worries me—it is "Tests for registration: utility and least suffering". If those responsible for the amendment could take out the words "utility and least suffering", which are not needed, I would be happier.
I have never understood why the Countryside Alliance and those who support it were happy about the concept of utility when it has come to mean pest control. Inevitably, it will discriminate against the big lowland hunts. On Report in another place, Alun Michael said that the Bill, as then amended, would,
"only allow the hunting of foxes and mink in exceptional circumstances, for pest control and only when alternative methods can be shown to cause significantly more suffering".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/03; col. 56.]
That will not worry packs in my part of the world—Wales—who are engaged in pest control to a considerable extent, but I wonder whether the Quorn and the Pytchley would regard their operations as pest control. If tests were applied, hill packs in places such as Wales would be allowed to continue, and lowland packs would not. Surely, that is not what the Countryside Alliance wants.
Before the next stage, those who tabled the amendment should consider the dangers of opening the door to a move against fishing and, I suppose, shooting. I am surprised that those in the Countryside Alliance responsible for shooting and fishing have not raised that point. Perhaps they have or perhaps they have been asleep. It is important that the fishing and shooting fraternity are at one with Members of the Committee on this issue. Therefore, if the word "utility" could be eliminated from now on, I, for one, would be extremely grateful.
As I have added my name to the amendment, perhaps I may refer Members of the Committee to what it does in relation to the process which Alun Michael started and to the Bill which he introduced into the House. From some of the remarks made by my noble friend the Minister before we adjourned, I anticipate that it will be suggested that, in some way, this is a dramatic change.
I turn briefly to what it was that we started out to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has already said, when Alun Michael announced his consultation process in a letter to interested parties in April 2002, he gave some indication of the two key principles which he intended to address in the Bill; that is, the prevention of cruelty and the concept of utility. I do not understand utility to be a term of art. I simply understand it to mean that it serves a useful purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has already read out part of that letter. Perhaps I may read the rest. Alun Michael wrote:
"Cruelty is already dealt with in our legal system in regard to a variety of aspects other than hunting".
I shall pause there to say that the definition which appeared later in his Bill bore no relation to the definition of cruelty in our legal system in any statute that I have been able to find. I understood the definition of cruelty generally to be the deliberate infliction of unnecessary suffering. We shall come to see how that changed. He then wrote in relation to utility that,
I apologise for repeating the words, but they are important in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has just said.
"'Utility' addresses the need for particular activities, particularly in the work of land and wildlife managers. It might be described as the need or usefulness of an activity for vermin control, wildlife management, habitat protection or land management and conservation".
At that stage, it was clear that the Minister had in mind something very much wider than we finally got in the Bill.
Alun Michael completed the Portcullis House hearings and on the final day, 11th September 2002, he issued a press release, in which he wrote:
"The future of hunting with dogs should not be decided on personal taste, but on evidence on the principles of whether or not it is serving an effective purpose in managing wildlife and whether it is more or less cruel than the alternative methods currently available".
So even at the end of the Portcullis House hearings, he had in mind sensible definitions of utility and, no doubt, of cruelty, to which he had referred earlier.
I think that I have an advantage over most noble Lords in having a copy of the original government Bill which has been annotated to show the amendments that are being made by the proposal made in the amendment now before the Committee. Perhaps I may just indicate what the changes are to Alun Michael's original Bill. Far from totally changing what is to be done, I hope that what we are doing is to go back to those principles which the Minister said at the outset he would introduce legislation to meet.
In relation to subsection (1) of Amendment No. 28, some words have been deleted which would have made better English. Mr Michael's original version read:
"The first test for registration in respect of proposed hunting of wild mammals is that it is likely to make a significant contribution to the prevention or reduction of serious damage which the wild mammals to be hunted would otherwise cause to"— followed by the paragraphs listed below in the original Bill. What we have done is to take out the word "significant", so that it refers simply to "contribution", and to take out the remaining words in that paragraph so that the test now reads,
"is likely to make a significant contribution to,
(a) the prevention or reduction of damage", and involves the following sub-paragraphs.
In subsection (1)(a)(ii), we have added the words "or wild birds", the original protection having been given simply to game birds. That seems to be a sensible amendment to the provision which can be regarded only as an improvement.
In sub-paragraph (v), to the words "growing timber", we have added "or regenerating woodland". Again, that is a plain and common-sense improvement to the Bill and could not possibly be said dramatically to alter it.
Towards the end we have added to paragraph (b) the words,
"the maintenance of sustainable populations of any particular species of wild mammal", which goes straight back to a point enunciated at the outset by Alun Michael as one of the principles of wildlife management; and paragraph (c) reads,
"the sustainable development of the area . . . within the meaning of the Rio Declaration".
That should have been included in the original government Bill. There is no point in our signing up to such conventions only to ignore them when we come to introduce our own domestic legislation.
All those points seem to be totally in accordance with what Alun Michael indicated that he proposed to do, and all the alterations are improvements to the original version.
I turn to subsection (2), which could be described as the "cruelty subsection". The original test proposed by Alun Michael was, frankly, difficult to follow even for lawyers. It stated:
"The second test for registration in respect of proposed hunting of wild mammals is that a contribution equivalent to that mentioned in subsection (1) could not reasonably be expected to be made (whether by the person proposing to hunt or by another person) in a manner likely to cause significantly less pain, suffering or distress to the wild mammal to be hunted".
Noble Lords can see what has been done. I submit that we have produced a sensible, fair and readily comprehensible test.
If it is said, as I expect it may, that this amendment seeks to run a coach and horses through what Alun Michael produced as the government Bill at the outset, I respond by saying: go back to what he announced to the public, what he wrote to those who communicated with him, and what he produced at the outset. What we have done is to take his initial proposals and seek to clarify and strengthen them. Surely that is the role of this Committee.
I am extremely grateful, as I am sure are other noble Lords, for the concise explanation given by the noble Baroness of the way in which the definition has been expanded under this amendment. I add my thanks to my noble friend Lord Mancroft for explaining at such great length the complexities of this amendment.
I had the distinct impression that when the Minister, Alun Michael, originally decided to base a system of licensed hunting on cruelty and utility—bearing in mind the original definition of "utility"—there was a general agreement that that was a useful way forward. Why that definition of utility was later allowed to be confined solely to pest control was, in my view, something of a mystery and certainly a travesty. I say that in particular given that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, produced his lengthy and time-consuming report on a whole host of other factors which embraced the social, economic, environmental and conservation elements that inevitably accompany hunting. Indeed, those discussions went further and were deliberated during the Portcullis House agreements.
So I believe that everyone had a genuine expectation that the definition of utility, as explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was something that we wanted and expected to find set out in the Bill. As a result, I think it is wholly sensible for the amendment to be worded in this way.
One has to ask, therefore, why the Minister removed such tests, thus prejudging in effect what decisions the registrar was going to make. Of course the truth of the matter is that the proposal was tightened so that there would be a ban in everything but name—and that, I repeat, is the truth.
We are being asked, through the amendment, to reinstate under the utility tests the other considerations that were so painfully considered by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and in the Portcullis House discussions. It is a perfectly legitimate and reasonable objective.
As regards the sustainable development of areas within the meaning of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, what on earth is the point of the Government negotiating and agreeing these declarations if we do not implement them into the law of this country? We should bear in mind the cultural, social and economic aspects rooted in these agreements which are such a fundamental part of hunting. We cannot isolate the human dimension from the environmental dimension and the economic dimension. They are all part of the thread that makes the countryside work.
I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment. It is a thoroughly responsible way of redefining—not in a massively different way but in a more comprehensive way—the word that the Minister himself wished to use as a test, that of "utility".
This is a very important amendment. Many of the issues I wished to address have already been spoken to and defined. I shall therefore confine my remarks to the topics of utility—in particular its impact on livestock, fisheries and mink—the Middle Way Group scientific study on shooting and the principle of least suffering. I shall also address some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in his excellent amendments.
As we have heard, "utility" in the context of the Bill was defined by the Minister, Alun Michael, at the time the hearings took place. Indeed, quotations of what he said have already been given. The doubts expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, about the possible impact on fishing cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, the debate at the moment concerns the way in which these topics were defined by the Minister at the time. Quite clearly he intended to use the two tests of utility and least suffering as part of his Bill. The fact that it was overturned in the House of Commons and modified as time went on is a story with which we are all familiar.
I declare an interest as someone who was brought up on a farm, who has managed farms both in a commercial sense and in an agricultural college, and who farms a medium-sized sheep flock. I also declare an interest as someone who is particularly keen on fishing.
There is no doubt that foxes prey on poultry and livestock such as lambs, calves and piglets. It is widely acknowledged that foxes engage in surplus killing—that is, killing more than they need to eat. There is a great deal of evidence of lambs being killed and left in the field. I have experienced it myself. Usually, headless lambs are found first thing in the morning. When you are lambing, "first thing in the morning" is about 5 a.m. That is when you find that lambs have been killed and their carcasses left in the field. This is quantified much more easily these days because sheep farmers often number their lambs from one to 300 as they are born and it is quite easy to count the numbers that have gone. In my worst experience, 37 lambs disappeared, which came to twice as much as the £500 loss quoted as an average figure.
It is the propensity of the fox to prey on agricultural stock that brings the biggest demand for fox control from farmers. The Burns report said of mid-Wales, my part of the world, that farmers, landowners and gamekeepers consider that it is necessary to manage the fox population. Over one-third of foxes in mid-Wales are culled as a result of terrier work, for example.
I take issue with some of the things that have been said about pest control. It is clearly an important part, although not the only part, of the issue. In its press statements, the NFU refers to the control of foxes as pest control. It refers to pest control tests that can lead to a notice being served on occupiers of land by the Ministry of Agriculture, as was, and now by Defra, under Sections 98 and 99 of the Agriculture Act 1947. That notice can require people to ensure that these pests are destroyed. Failure to comply may result in the pest being destroyed by the ministry at the occupier's expense. I know of no repeal of that part of the 1947 Act.
Those problems impinge on the effective management of ewe flocks. As has been said, the impact of foot and mouth and the fact that there was quite a long delay until hunting resumed caused a considerable increase in the number of foxes in the countryside.
I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, is absent from the debate. I am sure there is a very good reason for that. The situation with regard to fisheries and feral mink is very serious. Apart from preying on ground-nesting birds, mink kill a tremendous number of fish in our rivers and have contributed to the virtual disappearance of the moorhen, a delightful bird, from our countryside.
The mink is not native to this country; it was introduced in the 1920s from America. Hunting with dogs has a huge utility in controlling mink. It is my view that mink should be exterminated from the United Kingdom and that the Government should bring forward legislation to achieve that. In the mean time, the hunting of mink is very important. Mink are not passive. Being confronted by one in a farmyard is very challenging. It is a very unpleasant animal. The trapping of mink does occur, but as far as fisheries are concerned, it is imperative that mink are controlled.
The Middle Way Group commissioned a scientific investigation into shooting foxes instead of hunting them. The results of the study were released in June 2003; it was conducted by five independent qualified animal experts who observed and filmed foxes being shot by both shotguns and rifles. The study was made under field conditions and concluded that,
"for every fox shot dead with a shotgun, at least the same number of foxes are wounded and many of these are never found".
I have done quite a lot of shooting in the countryside, and I am not making a case against shooting in a general sense. I am saying merely that it is not an effective method of controlling foxes. Even with experts, only about one-third of all shots fired hit their target. Shotguns are not a very effective method of doing it, and we all know the dangers of using rifles in the countryside, given the increased access that people now have.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said;
"Cruelty is justifiable only if the alternative is worse cruelty or there is no alternative in achieving the utilitarian objective".—[Official Report, 16/9/03; col.892.]
There is scientific evidence to show that certain types of shooting will cause a much higher level of wounding than previously claimed. Indeed, that claim of low wounding rates has been exposed as seriously flawed. In December 2002, Alun Michael said of the regulatory Bill in a Written Statement:
"There are no restrictions on hunting with dogs of rats and rabbits because this method of controlling the populations satisfies the two tests and causes less suffering than alternative methods of control such as poisoning or snaring".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/02; col. 79WS.]
So snaring is considered by the Minister, and presumably by the Government, to be worse than hunting with dogs. Now there is scientific evidence to show that certain shooting regimes will cause high levels of wounding. Indeed, it appears that the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is right—that only hunting with dogs is to be singled out for abolition.
Animal welfare issues must be addressed—that is very important indeed—but there is a clear inconsistency in many of the arguments put forward by some anti-hunting organisations. The Government have stated that they want to improve the welfare of wild mammals, so they must surely see that such muddled thinking provides no basis for good legislation. The more that the Government ignore scientific evidence and restrict their attention to hunting with dogs alone, while at the same time accepting that there are methods that cause even more suffering, the more they will leave themselves open to the charge of hypocrisy.
I am pleased to say that, at a press conference this morning, there was a discussion on the Middle Way shooting study. There was present a representative from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Professor Stephen Harris. It was exposed in this morning's meeting that his evidence challenging the Middle Way findings was contained only in a press release. The completion of his research had not been validated yet, and not even published, so he was making assertions with no substantial background.
I am pleased to be able to report from that meeting that the co-operative discussion eventually took place after some confrontational argument. There is now a basis for a joint study to be held by the Middle Way Group and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, so that independent principles can be established for least suffering, and in particular in relation to shooting as an alternative to hunting.
We believe that to be a breakthrough and to deserve consideration, because it will be a much more objective outcome than some assertions that have been made on the issue. It is a constructive set of proposals, perhaps to find out the truth. In the mean time, there is insufficient evidence to say that hunting is not the best way of controlling foxes. Indeed, it is the most effective way of doing so.
I support Amendment No. 28. We are addressing the issue of whether registered hunting should be allowed. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, referred to the 11th September 2002 news release which was quite clearly headed,
"Hunting with dogs: the solution should be based on evidence and principle, not personal taste—Alun Michael".
The release continued:
"As three days of hearings of evidence from experts on hunting with dogs ended today, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael commented:
'This innovative process has brought together some of the country's top experts on this contentious issue. Together with the three umbrella groups I have been able to explore in depth the key principles of least suffering and utility.
'These are two principles on which I base my proposals for enabling the House to reach a resolution—so fulfilling our manifesto commitment'".
Well, we all know what happened to that.
In her earlier comments the noble Baroness also quoted from that particular brief, which states:
"The future of hunting with dogs should not be decided on personal taste".
I shall not finish the quote. After it, however, there is a most important passage. It reads:
"Taking account of the evidence given at these hearings, and of the response to my two consultation papers, I plan to set out proposals for Parliament which can form good and robust law and can take us forward into the 21st century, able to reflect evolving views on animal welfare and wildlife management".
The rejection by the House of Commons of the original Bill completely overturned that statement, following which a ban was proposed.
As many Members of the Committee said, we are proposing restoring the clause that deals with utility and cruelty. Reference has been made to the number of sheep taken. I should declare and remind the Committee that, originally, after leaving school, I became a poultry farmer. As evening approached I had to be very careful to ensure that my hens and chickens were locked up or the fox would come round. Please do not think that a fox kills only one or two because it does not. It will kill the lot regardless of whether it intends to eat them. Other figures—such as 300,000 lambs killed—have also been cited.
I should also remind the Committee that farmers are being encouraged to promote free-range activities in both pig and poultry farming. There is an acute risk that fox predation of those types of livestock will increase. My noble friend referred to the dispersal role played by hunts. We should not undervalue that role.
I turn to the issue of least suffering. As we know, hunts hunt only during a closed season. They do not hunt when vixen are carrying cubs as that is banned. If this provision is not reintroduced into the Bill, it is likely that foxes will be shot year round. Whatever happens, more foxes will be shot; of that there is no doubt.
Some Members of the Committee have mentioned the issue of controlling the fox population by snaring, gassing—which is illegal—and shooting. None is a good alternative. Snaring is probably one of the worst ways in which an animal can die. They are left in agony, perhaps for a long time, dying from the snare injury, starvation, cold or exposure. It is estimated that of animals caught in snares, 50 per cent are species other than the target one. That is very worrying.
"Deer are a major problem in both upland and lowland areas of the UK. The intense grazing by deer means that trees unable to regenerate and remain in wooded areas die off slowly from the ground up".
The Forestry Commission in its submission to Burns stated:
"Currently Forestry Commission policy is to implement deer management procedures involving assessments of populations and their impact followed by the control of the numbers to ensure that an acceptable balance between deer numbers and damage to the forest environment is maintained".
It is not just those of us who have hunted in the past, or perhaps are still involved in hunting, who are concerned about the way in which this Bill has been presented to your Lordships over the past few days. The original government Bill brought forward by Alun Michael was altered totally on Third Reading in the House of Commons.
Certain bodies have suggested that we need this statement regarding the whole question of registration, utility and cruelty. The NFU, the CLA, the Game Conservancy Trust and many others support this amendment.
I hope that we shall reach a swift conclusion on whether we support the amendment. I say to Members of the Committee who wonder whether it is wise to support the amendment that the alternative ways of killing and controlling foxes and deer are much crueller. I beg Members of the Committee at least to consider that. I support the amendment.
After the two days of debate we have had in Committee no one can say that anyone has been inhibited either in what they have said or in how long they have decided to take to express it. From time to time comment has been made about a paucity of speakers on this side of the Committee among those who are favour of the ban. We have tried to exercise due diligence and caution in ensuring that the Bill gets back to the Commons as quickly as possible. Therefore, we have maintained a strict control upon the number and length of speeches. I make no complaint. We are all adults.
On the first amendment that we discussed last Tuesday I was the only person to express a certain view. Twenty-two others expressed an opposing view. That was the way in which they decided to use their time. When the Chief Whip spoke at the beginning of the two days of Committee debate, he pointed out that he had allocated two days for the Committee stage. Noble Lords opposite in their wisdom and maturity have decided to take the time that they have in speaking to a very small part of the Bill. That is their choice. I have certainly learnt a lot from what has been said and I respect the integrity of those who have said it. But at the end of the day these amendments we are dealing with now deal with qualifications that need to be complied with before a hunt becomes registered.
I have never been in favour of registration and a great many Members of the Committee were never in favour of registration until their original choice, the status quo, was seen to be absolutely out of order and out of sympathy. So they decided that registration of a hunt to kill—a licence to kill—was the best way forward. In their minds—they may be wrong—they see this as the best way of continuing the practice in which they believe and which they have enjoyed. So far as I am concerned, registration is not even a second best; it is a licence to kill and to continue hunting. If one subscribes to the qualifications and upholds them, one is allowed to continue hunting as one has in the past. I have said before that I am against that. If the amendment is pressed to a vote, I shall urge anyone who cares to listen that it should be voted down.
Earlier when I mentioned my co-operative interest I failed to declare that I have a registered financial interest in my relationships with the Co-op.
The noble Lord just said quite clearly that if the amendment is agreed to, it would constitute a licence to kill. Will the noble Lord acknowledge that if registration does not occur, more animals will be killed by shooting and other methods? I do not mind that he does not agree with those who want to hunt, but the fact is that more foxes, deer and vermin may well be killed than would have been killed had the registration amendment been agreed to.
"on those estates which favour hare coursing or hunting, rather than shooting, a ban might lead farmers and landowners to pay less attention to encouraging hare numbers. The loss of habitat suitable for hares could have serious consequences for a number of birds and other animals".
Does the Minister agree with that statement? In addition to the point made by my noble friend Lady Byford, there is the wider dimension of birds and other animals.
Does the Minister agree that the formula of the adhesive agent for round-up was changed because of research not by the Government but by the coursers? That research showed that it was the adhesive agent of round-up that was causing damage to hares and other wildlife and, because of the coursers' actions, the formula was changed for the benefit of all wildlife.
I do not really intend to engage in a repeat Second Reading debate, as many have today. I shall try to address the amendment. That is important, because it is a linchpin amendment. As a result of last week's decisions, we are in a situation where we have changed the Bill and moved to something like a registration system, with all the qualifications. The amendment and the subsequent amendments that hang on it would change to something entirely different.
The amendment and the subsequent groups—it goes right through to Amendment No. 57—purport to be the Alun Michael Bill, but are nothing like that Bill. The formal structure of registrar and tribunal is put back, but a lot of changes have been made to the original provisions. They are presented as improvements and clarifications, but they undermine the key intentions of those clauses in the Bill.
After some wide-ranging discussion, I was grateful in a sense to my noble friend Lady Mallalieu for taking us back to what the provisions are. In so doing, however, she betrayed the motivation of everyone who supports the amendments; namely, that they disagree with what Alun Michael presented in the original Bill. Therefore, they have tried to take it further, to dilute, weaken and reverse, while staying broadly speaking within a structure that the original Bill presented.
That is a hypothetical question. Indeed, the original Bill could have been dealt with on a rather more rational basis than that on which we have dealt with the Bill that we actually got. It is rare that this House seeks to destroy Bills that it receives from the House of Commons; it normally seeks to amend and revise them. I hope that that might have been the case with the original Bill as compared with the Bill that we received. Nevertheless, Members of the Committee have to recognise that this is a very unusual method of behaviour by your Lordships.
Unlike the noble Baroness, I refrain from commenting on procedures in another place. We have to deal, as we always do, with the Bills that we get from another place. We may not like them, but we normally deal with them within the framework in which they are presented. It is quite frequent that Bills change between their original introduction in another place and their final arrival here. I make no comment on that. What we have to deal with in this House is what we receive from the House of Commons.
Can the Minister give any example in the past 15 years of a Bill which has gone into the House of Commons stating one thing and come out stating something completely and utterly different? I cannot remember any. He is obviously cleverer and better informed than I am, so perhaps he will be able to tell me.
One of the reasons why noble Lords are not prepared to work from the original Bill, as they are purporting to do, is that they recognise that had the original Bill been before this Chamber, all the pro-hunting elements would have opposed it almost as strongly as they are opposing the Bill which is before us now.
And they know it. They know that had that Bill stood, there would have been drastic changes to the way in which hunting is carried out in this country. They would have resisted it as fiercely as they are resisting the Bill before us now.
The utility test would be broadened to allow hunting with dogs for purposes that can hardly be called necessary. That is the original form of the utility test, not the one amended in Committee. Whereas the original Bill required the quarry species to cause serious damage if hunting were to be considered, the test would now be passed if a deer—the hunting of which would be banned in any case by the original Bill—ate a single leaf of any crop. That is a ludicrous extension of the test.
The revised utility test would also permit hunting for the purposes of population management and sustainable development. It is hard to see how either of those purposes could be achieved by hunting with dogs. Both can certainly be achieved by other means, without any need to inflict the suffering caused by chasing and killing wild animals with dogs.
The second test, the cruelty test, is also weakened by effectively reversing the burden of proof. The presumption would be in favour of allowing hunting. That underlies all the amendments which stem from that. That presumption is explicit in the changes to the way in which the registrar and the tribunal would assess applications. That is a reversal of the original government Bill.
That the proposers of the amendments are not serious about the two tests is also evidenced by the amendments which would allow hunting from an area. That would mean that hunting which had passed the test in one place would be allowed without any subjection to it in an entirely different part of the country and for an entirely different species. Again, that broadens, and in a sense drives a coach and horses through, the concept of the original Bill.
No. I do not think that "sympathetically" was a word I used to my noble friend. I said that I would be slightly more benign about it because it respected the structure of the Bill which we received from the House of Commons. I did not say that I was in favour of that amendment. In any case, that amendment, if agreed by both Houses, would have resulted in hunting being allowed in a very specific situation. One would be allowed to hunt in Lakeland, but that would not mean that one could take that licence to hunt and go and do so in Surrey. However, the amendments before us provide exactly that facility; in other words, if one obtains a licence in one part of the country to hunt deer, one can obtain a licence in another part of the country to hunt foxes or vice versa. That was never the intention of the original Bill or of anybody who supports any sensible system of registration.
Other amendments would make changes to the openness of the registered hunting system by limiting the powers of inspectors and removing public access to the register. Therefore, noble Lords opposite and other noble Lords who support the amendments are not even in favour of transparency so that the public can examine the system. Indeed, if we go further down the list to amendments that we would reach somewhat later this evening—if we reach them—we find amendments to Schedules 2 and 3. There, the same group of noble Lords who have tabled amendments effectively propose to continue all the ancient and outmoded privileges that hunting enjoys; for example—my noble friend Lord Graham alluded to this last week—the right to trespass in search of game and to inflict cruelty on captive animals which are deliberately released to be hunted. The amendments would delete the exemptions in that respect.
The amendments propose a completely different tone, content, mechanism, process and outcome from that envisaged by the Bill the Government first put before the House of Commons. Let us not kid each other. We are now dealing with amendments which retain a little of the form of the original Alun Michael Bill but virtually none of the content and which, effectively, are designed to allow hunting to continue more or less in its current form. Frankly, the overall effect of this Bill would also make the job of the tribunals and the new form of enforceability fairly impossible.
Of course, Members of the Committee are entitled to take that view. It is unusual for them to do so in such a revolutionary way in respect of a Bill received from the Commons, but they can take that view. However, if we pass this amendment—as I said, subsequent amendments follow on from this one and I do not propose to make this speech more than once—we shall be in direct conflict with the lower House and, indeed, with the Government's original intention.
It is clear that the proposers of these amendments have failed to convince me. It is only my judgment—although I believe it will be shared fairly widely—that they will fail to convince the House of Commons. The House of Commons, by a large majority, went dramatically further in some respects than the original Bill, even though both Bills—the original Bill and the final one—would have gravely restricted hunting. Therefore, if the amendment is passed and if the subsequent amendments build on it, we shall be in a position where this House is in serious and direct conflict with another place.
I seek clarification from the noble Lord. Can he explain to the House why literally hours and hours were spent by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee discussing all the issues that have been raised in this amendment? Furthermore, those subjects were discussed at length at the Portcullis House hearings. I cannot believe that it was not the original intention of the Minister, Alun Michael, to embrace all these concepts as part of the system that would be considered by the registrar if he did not intend them to be part of the original Bill. Hours and hours were spent on it. Can the noble Lord really tell the Committee that it was never his intention to embrace these notions when the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and those at Portcullis House spent such a long time discussing them? That seems to me completely irrational.
The noble Earl has paid tribute to Alun Michael for engaging in this process and it was obviously important that the Government sought as wide a range of opinions as possible. A number of issues were raised. Some were taken on board in relation to the Bill that we eventually produced and some were not. That is part of the normal process of consultation. The fact that many hours were spent on this matter should have made that consideration sharper, but it does not necessarily mean that every point that was raised, even if raised by a majority of consultees, would necessarily appear in the legislation. That was never indicated.
Therefore, Alun Michael and the Government produced a Bill—the original Bill before the House. It was a Bill that we, as government, believed could work and one which we considered we could recommend to the House of Commons. The House of Commons, both in Committee and on Report, then decided otherwise as, in its opinion, this Bill did not go far enough. However, I repeat that the original Bill would have very severely restricted the kind of hunting that Members who support the amendments now before us wish to preserve by the amendments and by the system that they are proposing. The Alun Michael Bill was very much closer to the Bill which came out of the House of Commons than it was to this Bill as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and others are seeking to amend it.
From what the Minister is saying, I get the impression that he is taking the speech he is making now as an answer not merely to this amendment but, as he implied, to all the other amendments on the Marshalled List. I have tabled amendments which in background and difficulty are not that far away from those tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. They address an issue on which I have written to the Minister and which everyone who has studied this matter—the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the Portcullis House inquiry—accepts, and as is set out in letters from Ministers—has to be addressed. I demand the opportunity to be able to debate those amendments from a wildlife point of view.
The Minister is not a supine Minister whose job is that of post-box for the House of Commons. He does not pretend that. I respect his ability to stand his own ground. That is what his job is. He is a Minister in this House of Lords. We have a duty to do this.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, made this point, which is a very serious point indeed. Jack Straw set up the Burns inquiry because he realised the difficulty of the issues that were being tackled and tried to tackle them in a constructive way. The Government decided that they would pursue that constructive course. It was overthrown by a majority. Because of "leakiness" we know that a letter went from Alun Michael to John Prescott—I have the exact phrase—stating that it would be wrong to,
"be perceived as pursuing prejudice rather than targeting cruelty".
We know what the Government thought was the right way. Real problems will exist if we let the Commons decision on that one vote throw out the whole issue. That would leave major problems for wildlife in this country. It is simply not sufficient for the Minister to waft it away and say, "I have answered all the amendments and that is all I shall say". There are serious issues and I insist that we have the opportunity to debate them.
Of all people, the noble Lord will know that the Government cannot comment on leaked memos. Nevertheless, perhaps I may reply to the procedural point he raised. When I said that there are subsequent groups of amendments which hang on this one and to which I do not intend to reply twice or in detail, I did not include going as far as the noble Lord's amendment, which, if I remember rightly, is Amendment No. 94A. I was referring to the immediately subsequent next 10 or so groups of amendments, which all relate to the system which the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and his colleagues are attempting to set up.
All I was indicating, for the benefit of the Committee, was that if noble Lords in their wisdom accepted it, I should not seek to prolong debate on the other amendments. I cannot speak for colleagues but I would not oppose the other amendments because there is a certain logic to them and we would get a coherent Bill out of them even if it was one that I could not accept and I do not believe that the House of Commons would in any way accept. However, that stops after Amendment No. 57, when we get back to amendments which deal with more specific subjects, which include the amendment tabled by the noble Lord.
I did not realise how very contentious these amendments were going to be. I have to say that it is depressing how painfully slow progress in Committee has been. I take slight objection to my dear friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, reminding us not to make Second Reading speeches. On such a complex Bill it is very difficult not to verge on making a Second Reading speech.
My noble friend Lord Moran hit the tip of the iceberg. The dreadful word "utility" is a very serious danger to all field sports. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, also hit the nail on the head. Killing is not the issue here. None the less, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 28A.
We have had a very long debate. There is not a great deal of point in going a whole stage further. I certainly do not wish to answer everyone who took part in the debate. That would be ludicrous at this hour of the night.
Perhaps I may make two points to the Minister. The amendment may not be perfect—amendments never are. One will always listen to hear whether a word is in the right place. Constructive criticism of any amendment is always welcomed. However, the intention was to return this, not necessarily to the Alun Michael Bill, as we have come to call it, but to the principles. The principles were public, open, consulted upon and, to a certain extent, agreed. That was and is the purpose.
In responding, the Minister slightly derided us. There is no intention that anyone should apply to hunt on the basis that a deer has eaten one leaf. It is silly to say that. The noble Lord knows full well that that was never our intention. Reversing the burden of proof on the least suffering test is a significant fact, for reasons we have already discussed. I do not want to go over them again, but, as there is no ability to measure suffering, it seems a little harsh to expect thousands of private citizens to do that if the registrar cannot. The noble Lord will have read, as I have, the hours the Standing Committee in another place spent going through that. It is almost impossible at times to see with both sides switching their arguments constantly. The reality is that in reading that and in looking at it, it is almost impossible to do. It seems very harsh that an individual should have to do it.
I have two other short points. The noble Lord talked about where the word "from" comes in. There is no intention for anyone to get a licence in place A to hunt one species and then to go off and hunt another species in a completely different part of the country. If that is the effect of the amendment, we shall have to look at it and improve upon it. That is not the intention at all, nor is it the intention to dilute or weaken it; it is merely practical because in the course of a hunt one can move from one area to another. It seems sensible to have both areas covered. We are not talking about moving about all over the countryside.
The Minister talked about transparency regarding the register. There is a very simple reason for that. If he sat on this side of the debate and had been involved in hunting, he would realise that you do not want to have your name and address on a public register in case people come and visit you. I had to have special branch outside my house in London for six weeks because of the threats made against my wife and children. That is not very amusing. I do not want my name on a list. I am sure the noble Lord understands that. That was the purpose in taking off that list. If he looks at the amendment he will know that the kind of people who should be able to see that register are quite welcome to see it. These are reasonable things; these are not massive changes. This is the kind of fine-tuning that this Chamber does all the time.
The Minister slightly let the cat out of the bag when he went on to the areas of ancient privileges and rights to trespass. No one out hunting has a privilege or a right. It is a privilege to hunt and to be out in the countryside. It is quite right that everyone should behave properly. There is no intention in any of these amendments to go down some awful route that his words implied.
I make a last comment. There is no intention in this amendment or any that follow on to conflict with the House of Commons. We conflict with the House of Commons when we reach the end if we disagree with them and they disagree with us. We are an awfully long way from that and I hope that we will not reach it. Perhaps we will. But let us climb that mountain when we get to that stage. I was certainly under the impression that the Minister speaks for the Government in this House and not for the other place.
In saying that, it must be borne in mind that the Secretary of State and the Minister who promoted the Bill have themselves described the Bill that came into this Chamber—the Bill that we are apparently meant to be welcoming with open arms—as "wrecked, unenforceable and unworkable". So these circumstances are strange; they are unique even. I cannot remember a wrecked and unenforceable Bill arriving in this Chamber and noble Lords being expected to deal with it. How else could we do it? This is what we have chosen to do. We believe it is reasonable and justified. I hope the Committee will agree with us on that. I seek to test the opinion of the Committee.
I beg to move that the House do now resume. We are well past 10 o'clock, which is the normal time for rising. Having looked at the number of groups of amendments still to be considered, I do not believe that further consideration of the Bill is appropriate for us today.
I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, may be taking the mood of the House. Nevertheless, the Government would be prepared and have been prepared to continue with this Bill. If we are to move to a vote on this, I need to put some things on record.
First, the Government have provided for two days in Committee for this Bill—an entirely routine and well-precedented proposal for a Bill that is only 17 clauses long. We also made it plain to the various participants that, should some further time be necessary for the Committee stage, we would be flexible and would consider, among other proposals, referring parts of the Bill to Grand Committee or finding an extra day on a Friday. However, there was no agreement on that flexibility.
At the beginning of the Committee stage, which we started last week, in appeared that we had two full days to deal with just over 50 groups of amendments, which is not an unreasonable task for this House. Indeed, this week that has been performed on Bills in one day. For this Bill, we took an hour per group last Tuesday and longer today—nearly an hour and a half before dinner and more than an hour and a half per group after dinner. We have had 12 hours of debate and, to date, we have dealt with only five groups of amendments. That is pretty unprecedented. Even in the days when we were dealing with huge constitutional issues such as the reform of this House, devolution for Scotland and the human rights Bill, we never took that long over single amendments to a Bill.
The Government have been criticised for their sense of priorities in bringing this measure forward. Your Lordships must consider their sense of priorities in relation to the time that they have taken in this House. At the present rate of progress—we still have more than 40 groups left—we calculate that it would take a further seven days in Committee of the whole House to complete the Committee stage. That is clearly impossible unless it had been agreed that some of the Bill could be taken in Grand Committee.
That is the situation that the House finds itself in and I must tell the Committee that I am advised that it is now impossible to complete the Committee stage this Session, if the resumption of the House is agreed now.
I support the Motion proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Roper. I understand all the arguments about the sense of priorities and everything else, but the House did agree some time in 2002 that on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we should stop work at 10 o'clock in the evening. It is now well past that time. We have reached Amendment No. 28 on a list that approaches 100 amendments. I believe that even those who find this debate absolutely fascinating have probably had about enough for today. I therefore support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Roper.
The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, is quite wrong. We agreed that we would normally finish at 10 o'clock. This Bill has not been normal: it has been abnormal in my 17 years' experience in this House. In my five years as Chief Whip, we never spent so long on groups of amendments. Those who wished to kill the Bill in this House have succeeded.
Will the Minister answer two questions? Am I correct in believing that, when the Commons debated the Bill, it did so under a timetable Motion, so the Government decided how much time was needed to debate the Bill? Under that timetable Motion, how much time was allowed for the Committee stage?
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, is right—for the wrong reason, if I may say so in the kindest way. It is an exceptional Bill. It was never discussed in Committee. There have been complaints about the time that the Committee stage has taken, but the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, has already pointed out the glaring problem that arises from the last-minute amendments that were passed on Report in another place and completely changed the character of the Bill.
For presentational reasons, the Minister may wish to say that a tremendous parliamentary outrage has been committed by the House. I must say in the kindest way and with the greatest respect that, given the good nature and good sense of noble Lords in all parts of the House, nobody will believe him. The argument that it is not an extremely difficult Bill cannot be sustained. It is entitled to more time. I suspect that the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms knows how long was spent in Committee in the Commons, under the timetable Motion. If he gave us that figure, it would help the House to know whether it was being treated fairly or unfairly.
In answer to the final point made by the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, I must say that, in my experience as a Government Whip, the way in which people have abused the normal practices of the House with regard to the time taken to speak to amendments has been unprecedented. Noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite may not have seen the number of heads behind them that nodded when I complained about what could even have been interpreted as the deliberate lengthening of speeches.
I am advised that in another place, the timetable was agreed. I am also aware, as, I am sure, is the noble Lord, that, in another place, the Bill was debated in Committee off the Floor of the House. That option was available to your Lordships and was not accepted.
I do not have that figure to hand. Of course, we can ensure that the noble Lord obtains the figure. It might be helpful if a Written Question were put down on the matter. There is a misapprehension in the House that, somehow or other, less time is spent on the consideration of Bills in the other place. That is not the case—I say that emphatically—for the simple reason, as the noble Lord knows as well as I do, that Bills are considered in Committee. They are considered at greater length and, inevitably, in considerably greater detail than in this House. That is the fact. Should anyone wish to verify that fact, the simple procedure of asking a Question for Written Answer is available. The facts can be demonstrated in respect of virtually every Bill that has gone through the House this Session.
I must press the noble Lord. My understanding is that there were 27 sittings in Committee in another place, although I could be wrong by one or two. We on these Benches offered through the usual channels a timetable that would have included a third day in Committee and still allowed the Bill to be completed in this Session. That was not taken up.
Do I take it that those were two-and-a-half hour sessions and that there were 27 sessions? I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. I did not have the information myself. With the greatest of respect to the Captain of the Gentleman-At-Arms, he made a brave point. But the idea that we should have such a minimal amount of time in comparison to the time spent in the Commons, does not stack up.
The timetable problem is not a new problem. At the request of the Captain of the Gentleman-at-Arms, I met him on two occasions some two or three weeks ago. He was always aware, as were the Whips of all the usual channels—that is, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, and my noble friend Lord Cope—that we on the Back Benches involved had always said that we thought that this Bill would take three and possibly even four days in Committee. That was several weeks ago. We always said that this was going to happen.
The reality also is that not only did the Bill spend 27 sittings in Committee in the House of Commons, but, as my noble friend Lord Jopling reminded the House at Second Reading, there was also 70 days between Committee and Report in the House of Commons. I suspect that the purpose of the Minister's comments at the start of the Motion for this short debate was simple: it was to lay the blame for the death of this Bill at the door of this House. That is perfectly clear and the facts are perfectly clear. The whole world knows it. The reason that the Bill is where it is tonight is because the Government have chosen to delay their own wrecked Bill.
Can my noble friend Lord Whitty confirm that a third day and possibly a fourth day involving two Fridays was offered through the usual channels for the Bill? That certainly would have enabled the Bill to complete Committee stage had it moved at a normal rate. Can the Minister also say on how many previous occasions the mover of an amendment has spoken for 28 minutes? It is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, but to say that a 28-minute speech when moving an amendment is normal or is not an abuse of the procedures of the House strikes me as extraordinary. That is not to mention what happened at the beginning of the day when we debated for an hour and four minutes an amendment which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, who was moving it, admitted half way through had no place in the Bill at all. Speaking for myself, I am happy to put on the record that if it is necessary to go through the night tonight to consider the Bill, I should be happy to do so. I certainly oppose the Motion for the adjournment.
It is always very easy to get worked up about these matters. It has always been perfectly clear that this Bill would be highly contentious. Therefore, it was understandable that there should be a clamour for a reasonable amount of time for these matters to be considered. I have found these debates fascinating, not only because one person would say, "I approve of hunting" and another would say, "I do not approve of hunting", but the way in which the Bill was considered with all the bits and pieces drawn out of it to demonstrate that it was unworkable.
From time to time, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has fallen into the trap—it is always fun to hear him talking when he addresses the House—of saying that noble Lords opposite have done such and such. But it is not noble Lords opposite. The previous vote shows that 106 people were in favour of the amendment and 22 were against. On looking back at the amendments voted on last week, if all the hereditary Peers' votes were removed—which I remind Members of the Committee were the only elected Members of this House; all the others were appointed—and if all the Conservative Peers' votes were removed, the Government would still have lost. Therefore, it is not a question of addressing the Conservative Benches and saying that we are trying to filibuster or something like that. As a whole, the Committee has come to this conclusion. The fact is that in this House, the Government do not have the support of their own Back Benches.