My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whitty.)
In moving Amendment No. 1, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 4 and 86A, which are grouped with it.
The amendment, which, as is clear from the signatories, has cross-party support, seeks to reintroduce the concept of registration and licensing for hunting, as was in the Government's original Bill in December 2002. That Bill followed long consultation. First, there was the Burns report which, in 2001, concluded that hunting could not be proven to be cruel, and the noble Lord, Lord Burns, confirmed that in this House this very month. Without objective evidence that hunting is cruel—and that does not exist—there is no case for a ban; there is just prejudice.
I remind the Committee that in 2002, the Minister, Alun Michael, conducted six months of consultation with all interested and expert parties. The aim, he said, was to have legislation based on evidence and principles—principles such as cruelty and utility. The present banning Bill ignores all that.
When introducing the licensing Bill in December 2002, Mr Michael said that it was based on "a golden thread" of principles and evidence. The proposed ban is not; we are proposing to revert to the Bill to which Mr Michael was referring.
In July last year, the Prime Minister told the Commons that he supported his Minister's compromise proposals in the registration Bill to which we wish to revert. All major countryside organisations support this compromise approach.
These are the proposals—the principles based on evidence which this amendment and its consequential amendments propose to reinstate in the Bill. The amendment would remove the crude ban before us. I may disappoint some, but I do not propose to detain the House by repeating all the defects of the ban, which have been stated in this House again and again. Above all—I say that because it is my prime priority, as someone who does not hunt and never has—the amendment would remove the attack on the civil liberties of countryside people.
Anyway, I have no need to go through the flaws in the banning Bill before us, because they have all been admitted by the Government. Mr Michael wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister last year saying that a complete ban would destroy the architecture of the original Bill. It would undermine its,
"strong, simple framework of enforcement"— that is what we are proposing to reinstate—and would,
"be perceived as pursuing prejudice rather than targeting cruelty".
"the strongest ever put forward".
She said that no Bill on a simple ban had ever been thought to be workable. If cruelty is the main concern, she said,
"I plead with colleagues not to wreck the licensing Bill".
Exactly. We propose to respond to the Secretary of State's plea.
In moving this and subsequent amendments, we are acting in what I believe is a true parliamentary and democratic spirit. What are we doing? For a start, we offer compromise. I need hardly point out that many supporters on our side have compromised and have moved significantly from their early inclinations towards laissez-faire to embracing registration. They have compromised; we have compromised. The Prime Minister and Mr Michael have stated in public that they want compromise. The Prime Minister has repeated that today. Well, they can achieve that—they can have that. So why, if they want compromise, do they support a non-compromising ban? That side has not yielded one inch, despite massive evidence that a ban would increase suffering. I say to the Prime Minister and to the Minister, if they want compromise, why not accept the compromise we offer?
We also offer considerable consensus. We have the support of many, in all parties in Parliament. We have the support of the main countryside organisations. The polls tell us that only 1 per cent of Labour voters say that such a ban should be a priority for the Government. Two-thirds of the public say that the Government should listen to the House of Lords.
In addition to offering compromise and consensus, we offer a rational approach to cruelty, based on tests, evidence and the principles that the Minister set out. We do not offer the irrational prejudice that is in the ban. We do not offer the greater degree of animal suffering that will follow the imposition of such a ban.
Above all, we offer the Government their original Bill, based on consultation, principles and evidence. If they do not accept this rational compromise and use the draconian Parliament Act against their own original proposals, then my Government, of whom I am normally a most loyal supporter, will, in my view, be shamed and humiliated by their actions.
I was once an adviser to the "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" programmes. We would have been happy to adopt this scenario as a satirical script in that programme, with the Government using the Parliament Act to resist their own proposals. But the two authors would have certainly said to me, "We won't get away with that because it is not credible". If it were not so tragic, it would be funny. I beg to move.
Without wishing to inhibit debate on this, which I am sure will substantial, I thought that it might be helpful to indicate at this early stage how the Government's spokespersons intend to deal with the Committee. This is particularly important, since the first batch of amendments includes a number of the issues on which the Committee would need some guidance. This is, of course, a free vote, and I have on several occasions made it clear what my opinion is. However, as I indicated at Second Reading, my role here on the Front Bench is to facilitate and guide the Committee in consideration of the Bill.
For that reason, and at this stage in the proceedings, neither I nor my noble friend Lady Farrington will vote on any of the amendments. I shall confine myself to pointing out to the Committee the relationship between the amendments before it, the original government Bill in the Commons, the Commons proceedings and the Bill finally adopted in the Commons and sent to this House.
As there is some misunderstanding, which is probably my fault, I also need to clarify the Government's position on government amendments. I am recorded in Hansard as saying that the Government would table a number of amendments. In fact, we are tabling only one amendment in Committee which concerns the delay, and is in the Marshalled List as Amendment No. 56.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Donoughue—I shall continue to call him my noble friend for these purposes.
Almost all purposes. I am also grateful to those whom, I regret, I am likely to slip into calling the gang of four, who have tabled most of the amendments. They have presented us with a coherent set of alternative proposals. That, in a real sense, is an advance on the last time we discussed these matters in Committee and indicates that they are—belatedly—trying to engage with the Bill rather than simply kill it. But my gratitude is finite.
The method of proceeding by effectively reintroducing substantial chunks of the original Bill with, as the proposers of the amendments would say, some improvements, presents us with some difficulties. In the normal course of events, the House as a revising Chamber takes the structure of the Bill that it receives, makes amendments, deletes and adds to that Bill. On this occasion, only one or two of the amendments tabled actually take the structure of the Bill as it is. The other amendments—the mainstream of the propositions from the gang of four—present us with a different Bill, one based on registration and tribunals. I noticed that my noble friend persisted in calling it "licensing", which is not quite the right term. If those proposals succeed to any degree in this Chamber, we shall be dealing with an entirely different Bill, and will send back a different Bill to the House of Commons. I have to say that that is not normally a recipe for a compromise between the two Houses.
My noble friend Lord Donoughue has said that the resulting Bill would in effect be the Bill that the Government themselves proposed to the House of Commons, which we proposed after consultation, in an attempt to find some common ground. Even if that were the case, it leaves us in some difficulty, as it ignores the obvious political fact that the House of Commons has now, on a free vote, voted several times by absolutely overwhelming majorities for the principle of a ban, and has specifically rejected the registration approach. By ignoring that, Members of the Committee supporting this group and subsequent groups of amendments go against the position which they purport to propose and which they wish to describe as a compromise.
In a sense, we are at a point in the parliamentary calendar when we are in some sort of negotiation on this and on other Bills. I am familiar with negotiation, and I must say that this is rather a peculiar one. As most Members of the Committee familiar with negotiation know, it is not usually a good move to send back to one's negotiating partners a proposal which has already been overwhelmingly rejecting—not unless one wishes to precipitate a complete breakdown of relations between the two sides. I say that as a warning.
In any case, the proposals from the gang of four, which my noble friend purports to call the "Alun Michael Bill", are not in fact the same as the provisions in that Bill. The most important change, which applies to this group of amendments, is that they do not propose a full ban on deer hunting. That may not be evident to all Members of the Committee on reading the amendments, because it is a change by omission. So I leave with Members of the Committee the difficulty of going back to the Commons with a Bill which is not the original government Bill but in fact drops the ban on deer hunting.
There is also the added complication that the House of Commons, in Committee, adopted a number of changes, many at the Government's instigation, some with the Government's support and some with consensus support. Most of those changes are reflected in some of the proposals from my noble friend Lord Donoughue and his colleagues, but they have taken a pick and mix approach to them, as we shall see with subsequent amendments. What is before us is a collection of amendments, some of which were in the original Bill and some of which reflect some but not all of the proposals that emerged from the Committee.
The main way in which the package of amendments departs from the Bill as it emerged from the Committee is over the key issues of the tests of registration, which we shall debate later under Amendment No. 10. Those who tabled that amendment have changed significantly the tests of cruelty and utility—as well as making other significant changes. It is, therefore, misleading to claim that this Bill, if we adopted the proposals of my noble friend Lord Donoughue, would simply be the original Bill.
The amendments have been referred to in the media as making some improvements to the Bill. Frankly, those so-called improvements are significant changes, all of which point in one direction. If, in a negotiating situation, it is not a good move to send back a proposition that has already been rejected, I would suggest to the Committee that it is an even more foolish move to send back to your negotiating partners an offer that is worse, in their terms, than the one that has already been rejected. What signal does that give to another place?
As I have said, my noble friend Lady Farrington and I shall abstain until it is clear what shape the Bill will take in Committee and through the proceedings in this Chamber. However, it is important that Members of the Committee understand what they would be doing if they adopted the proposals of my noble friend Lord Donoughue. For those reasons, and given the position that we are in with another place, those who support the Commons position on the Bill that came to this Chamber and those who supported—or have come later in the day to support—the original so-called "Alun Michael Bill" ought not to accept the totality of the amendments in their present form. For that reason, I believe that it may be useful to guide the Committee on the Government's intentions. Obviously I wish to reserve my right to come back later in discussion on this group of amendments and on others, but I shall try to confine my remarks to procedural matters rather than speak too much on the substantial argument.
No, I am specifically not saying that. I have said on Second Reading and subsequently that what happens hereafter depends on how this Chamber behaves. What I am saying is that if this Chamber behaves as these amendments imply that it will, it will not only send back to the House of Commons a proposition that the House of Commons has already rejected but, in terms of the majority position in the House of Commons, send back a proposal that is actually worse than the one previously recommended. That does not suggest to me a basis for compromise. There may be other bases of compromise, which the House of Commons would have to take seriously. But I have to say that it is unlikely—not impossible but unlikely—that the House of Commons would accept the totality of the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Donoughue.
I want to respond to what the Minister said. He made a great issue of the changes made in the Bill by the amendments, which I deliberately did not go into, because the most important amendment of all has no changes. When changes are proposed, we shall deal with them as we come to them and point them out. For the guidance of the House, they constitute only a dozen or so words and, in every case, in my view, add up to an improvement in animal welfare. That has been a guiding point.
The Minister has responded to the central point raised by my noble friend Lord Barnett on compromise, but would he help the House by telling us what kind of compromise this Chamber could make which would be acceptable?
This Chamber must decide what it is prepared to go along with. The previous position taken by this Chamber does not give a great hope for compromise on any front. However, relatively minor changes could be made to the Bill that the House of Commons would consider. In any case it must take seriously and consider whatever this Chamber sends back to it. It would consider those proposals with regard to whether there were grounds for compromise or further movement. But there are forms in which the Bill could be sent back to the House of Commons which are unlikely to deliver a compromise and others that might be more likely. The reality of the matter is that what is currently on the agenda and what Members in this Chamber have hitherto indicated that they would be prepared to support and go no further than, would not in my view be the best basis for compromise.
As to the differences between my noble friend's propositions and the position taken by the original, I felt it necessary to intervene on this group of amendments because, although he is correct to say that the first amendment does not of itself change the Bill, taken together with the other amendments in the group it would mean the omission of the important banning of deer hunting. That is not immediately clear, and my noble friend is being a little disingenuous in that regard. That may be an issue on which your Lordships may not agree with the Commons, but it is nevertheless important to recognise that that would be a change from the original proposition that was put to the Commons.
Can the Minister enlighten me on one point? It is the general understanding—it is mine, at any rate—that where there is a choice between banning something absolutely and not banning it absolutely, the choice is normally between banning it and permitting it only subject to certain stringent restrictions. One can think of many analogies, including the case of abortion, where the choice is between either a total ban or providing that the activity should be carried out only subject to registration or other kinds of restriction.
So I should be grateful if the Minister could explain what other type of compromise there might possibly be between an absolute ban and something that we might propose that was not that which is contained in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. I cannot myself see what other kind of compromise there could be.
We are getting into deep water here. The basis of my intervention was to guide the Committee on where we stand in relation to what is being proposed by the Commons and what was originally proposed by the Government. It is for Members of this House to propose changes at this or later stages of the Bill's consideration. Clearly, the Bill as it has come from the Commons does not impose a complete ban; there are exemptions to that ban, as is the case in many other fields, as the noble Baroness will know.
So there are other ways than reverting to the original Bill, but my key points are twofold. First, the original government Bill, whatever its merits, has been rejected overwhelmingly by the Commons. This group of amendments, taken together with other groups of amendments proposed by my noble friend and others, would go further backwards, in the majority view of the House of Commons, and are therefore unlikely to elicit a positive response from the House of Commons. Clearly, the House of Commons and the Government will listen to whatever this House says, but my guidance to this House, which is made genuinely, is that some avenues are more productive than others. I say no more.
The noble Lord made great play of saying that it would be wrong or inadvisable to send something back to another place that had been overwhelmingly rejected on three occasions. That sounds very plausible. But does the noble Lord not agree that in fact we are considering a Bill, a Bill that will be subjected to the Parliament Act? The point of the Parliament Act is that if there is a disagreement between the two Houses and the Lords will not bend over backwards, the Parliament Act is used. But on this occasion, this Bill is a replica of its predecessor. Its predecessor never contained any amendments passed by your Lordships that were put to the Commons. Your Lordships held a Committee stage. One set of amendments was passed and thereafter the Government said, "We will now not continue with the Bill". Therefore, no amendments were sent from your Lordships' House to another place; another place did not consider any amendments from your Lordships; and there was no disagreement between your Lordships and another place because the Government had stopped the Bill.
How, therefore, can it be reasonable to say that a disagreement has been shown on three occasions? It may have been shown on three totally separate occasions, but not on this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, shakes his head, but it is a fact that the Government stopped that Bill going through and prevented the House of Commons considering any amendments made by your Lordships. That is why it is wrong to introduce the Parliament Act on this Bill.
I am very pleased that, so far, speeches have been, by comparison to past occasions, short and to the point and I intend to follow that practice. The word used and over-used by my noble friend Lord Donoughue—I repeat the felicitous tone of my noble friend the Minister when referring to my colleague—was compromise, compromise and compromise. I look at that which we are being invited to support and, to me, it is not a compromise; it is a continuation of past and present practice dressed up with registration, licence and legality.
Under the arrangements that my opponents on this issue want, the fox will be chased by trained dogs and hounded to death. How is that death different from what has happened in the past? It is all very well for people here to say that hunting is a religion; it is a way of life; it is an arc of the Covenant. It may very well be and I respect that but, to me, it is a simple issue of right and wrong. You are either for the present practice or against it. I am against it.
The middle way amendments—substantially, that is what we are discussing—were designed to continue the present practice but dressed up with legality. That is what would happen if the amendments were carried and the Bill became law. Those who support the amendments have not changed their attitudes to hunting the fox with dogs trained in the manner that they are. They have not changed their views. They are looking for a way to get round the will of the House of Commons. I support the will of the House of Commons.
There is one thing that the Minister did not make absolutely plain. That is whether the Government are bent on using the Parliament Act if the other place rejects amendments sent there from here. Various views have been expressed during the course of our debates about the circumstances in which the Parliament Act should and should not be used—the principles that should operate in making such decisions. Surely the Minister must agree that if the Parliament Act is used in this case after we have sent to the other place amendments reinstating the licensing regime that the Government originally said that they wanted and the other place then rejects those amendments, that will be entirely without precedent.
The Minister will know that the Parliament Act's use is not actually an automatic process. It is not the case that if a Bill is rejected by this place, the Parliament Act must, as a matter of course, follow and the Bill must be presented to the Queen for Royal Assent. In fact, there is an important provision in the Parliament Act that is often ignored. That is to the effect that the Bill should go forward for Royal Assent unless the House of Commons directs to the contrary.
I suggest that, in the peculiar circumstances of this case, where this House is apparently intending only to reinstate, to all intents and purposes, the Bill that the Government originally presented, it would be perfectly proper for the Government to table a Motion that would have the effect of the House of Commons not directing that the Bill should be presented to the Queen for the Royal Assent.
I think that the mood of the Committee is that we should not have lengthy contributions today, but I must say that if this matter ends in the Bill in its present form being railroaded on to the statute book by the use of the Parliament Act, the prospect is bleak indeed. One of the things that particularly worries me is the inevitable souring of relations between the police and some of their natural supporters. Instead of fighting enemies of society the police in country areas will be spending their time treating as criminals upright citizens on whom up to now they have been able to rely for total support in carrying out their duties.
It should go without saying that the criminal law should be used to deal with activities which it is overwhelmingly in the public interest to bring to a halt, not activities of which some people disapprove. It makes no sense at all for the Government to preach the virtues of tolerance and the evils of intolerance and prejudice but at the same time allow themselves to be railroaded by bigots into denying people the right to follow occupations and pastimes which have been part of life in the countryside for generations.
On Second Reading this House was reminded that Hitler banned hunting. Indeed, we should be reminded that things like that should not happen here because we live in a democracy. In a healthy democracy the majority should not ride roughshod over the minority; rather the rights of minorities should be respected. I do not hunt; I have never hunted, but I cannot stomach this attack on personal freedom. These amendments will make the Bill less objectionable.
As the second member of the "gang", as we have been described, to speak in this part of the debate I hope that I may try to tempt the Minister into a further and informative intervention, which I am sure would prove most helpful certainly to myself and to the other members of the gang, and probably to the whole House.
In trying to tempt the Minister to make that intervention I remind him—I think that he was not entirely as fair as he would normally wish to be to members of the gang—of the history of attempts at compromise on this issue. The Middle Way Group and propositions connected with it have a very long history. Some Members of this House have for very many years sought a compromise both here and in another place on the issue of hunting foxes with hounds—some for much longer than the 20 years that I have been involved in one way or another in this place and in the other House. I remind the Minister that there have been many proposals, which have tended to come from one side of the argument only, to try to secure either a registration scheme or a licensing scheme or some other form of management of hunting which would be reasonably acceptable to all parts of the argument. There are more than two sides to this argument. For example, some hold different views on hare coursing than on hunting foxes with hounds.
My attempt to tempt the Minister to say a little more to the House is partly a result of what happened this morning. I am given to understand that this morning the Minister's right honourable friend the Prime Minister made some comments on this issue. I am informed that he said he hoped there could be a compromise, or that he was looking for a compromise. One is entitled to assume that that was said by the right honourable gentleman today in the full knowledge that there would be a debate on this subject in your Lordships' House today and tomorrow at least. Are we not entitled to assume that the Minister has been informed of those comments and is able to provide at least an interpretation of what they mean?
I invite the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to go a little further. He said that we were in deep water. He is absolutely right but the reason we are in deep water, as I see it, is that his very genuine attempt earlier to help your Lordships was the very depth charge that deepened the water. Someone behind me uttered the word "Delphic" as a description of his statement. I echo that and invite the noble Lord to give us a little more straightforward information on where we can go. He spoke of his many years of experience of negotiation. I suggest that his mention of deer hunting was plainly an attempt to take that negotiation on to the very Floor of your Lordships' House. If that is so, will the noble Lord be more explicit? Is he saying to your Lordships, "If the Bill that reaches the Commons has banned deer hunting, the Government will use every endeavour they can to prevent the Parliament Act—it is a matter for the House of Commons, of course, not for the Government—being used in relation to the Bill that emerges"?
If I can be so subjective, I think that we are entitled to an answer to that question. I refer to the spirit in which the "gang" has been described. I am not a habitual member of gangs so I feel a little out of sorts with that description. The noble Baroness, Lady Golding, who is also a member of the gang, will confirm that although she and I have worked together on various issues in the past, we have never quite regarded ourselves as part of a gang, and we certainly do not carry bicycle chains or anything of that kind. What we carry is a willingness to trade in negotiations with the Minister, if only he will tell us what the trade is. The fundamental issue, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is: what are the circumstances in which the Government will use every endeavour to stop the Parliament Act being used on this proposed legislation? Please tell us; I think that we are entitled to an answer to that question.
With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Graham, who I think fell into this trap, I share the view that has already been expressed that we should not make our Second Reading speeches all over again. This debate is intended to be very constructive and to deal with issues of detail not merely issues of principle. It is perhaps worth adding in that context that the amendments would introduce a strict registration system. It is worth reminding those who have not had time to read the whole of the sheaf of amendments which have been tabled, and all the previous legislation, that automatic conditions would be attributed to registration; that is to say, inalienable conditions. They are set out in Amendment No. 35 on page 13 of the Marshalled List. I suggest that they show a genuine attempt not simply to avoid a ban on hunting by any means available, as has been suggested, but to introduce an enduring, constructive and well thought out settlement of this issue so that those of us on both sides who year after year have had to deal with it can lay the matter to rest for a generation on the basis that a proper settlement has been reached.
Since this is the first of more than 80 amendments which are down for consideration it would be very helpful to have further clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Given the observations that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, there quite clearly is a difference of approach between the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is asking for compromise. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, as I judge given what he said earlier, is inviting this House to tinker with the Bill but not to change it fundamentally in any way. He is inviting this House to return a Bill to the other place that will retain a total ban on hunting. That is what I understand to be his point and purpose and what he is saying to us in this House. He is saying that we may tinker with the Bill, make a few minor amendments and a few cosmetic changes but that we should not prevent a total ban, which was the basis of the Bill which was brought before us for consideration today.
However, I remind the noble Lord that the Bill proposing a total ban was itself an amendment to the Government's own Bill and was brought in by the noble Lord's colleagues in the other place as an amendment to the original government Bill. What we seek to do through these amendments is to reinstate with improvements the original government Bill and let the Commons think again. That is the point and purpose of this place.
I want to make a brief point in response to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton. I am sorry that he is not still in his place, but the point is worth making. At Second Reading, he read out a number of letters that he had received complaining of some of the activities of hunts. I added to them and said that I would refer the letter that I had received to the relevant hunt, for it to take action in future.
It is not a peripheral or insubstantial matter that registration is to be the middle way forward if this and later amendments are accepted. The issues with which they deal are not unimportant. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was too dismissive in speaking to them. As my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew made clear, the registration process will be stringent and, so far as I understand it, designed to exclude henceforward activities and ways of hunting that are offensive, unnecessary and peripherally cruel. In effect, it will apply best standards to hunting, retaining none the less the central issue of the hunt—the killing of foxes in a method that is, as was made clear in the report by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, as humane, swift and certain as any method known.
We are not dealing with some cosmetic exercise, but with a very substantial one that should satisfy a great many of our fellow citizens who do not like some current practices that would be made impossible in future.
I urge the Minister to reply now to the many requests made to him to clarify the position that he stated earlier. He indicated that sending back Alun Michael's Bill totally unamended would not be an offer of compromise. He said, in what were rightly described as delphic words, that other compromises could be made. However, he has utterly declined so far to explain what he has in mind or what those could be. Unless and until we are told what sort of compromise he or his friend the Prime Minister have in mind when they use the word, one is driven almost inevitably to the conclusion that "compromise" means "unconditional surrender".
It may assist the Committee if I indicate that my noble friend will speak towards the end of the debate and answer points made to him to which he considers that he should reply. His speech at the beginning was discussed through the usual channels who were in the Chamber at the time, and was intended to be helpful. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was not aware at the time, but I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. All that my noble friend sought to do was assist the debate. If he needs to come back on points later, he will do so in due turn. That answers the many questions.
The noble Baroness rightly said that I was not in the Chamber at that moment and that she spoke to my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith. The truth of the matter is that we were told that the statement would be made; whether it was suitable was not discussed.
At this stage, at which we are talking about an individual vote, I urge the Minister to clarify the situation for the whole procedure of the Bill. If he does not, we will all keep speaking, perhaps unnecessarily. Perhaps a better steer could be given. At the moment, we have no steer whatever. I shall keep my remarks to the end, out of courtesy to all Members of the Committee, but we are going round the houses at much greater length because there is no clarification. I urge the Minister to respond to the requests of the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe.
I was not going to speak at all, but I want to come to the defence of the Minister. Cruelty is cruelty and the middle way does not alter that, but I shall not go into that. I listened with rapt attention to my noble friend Lord Donoughue when he moved the amendment, as I always do. He said that he was effectively introducing the Alun Michael Bill. The Minister pointed out that the amendments did not introduce the Alun Michael Bill because deer hunting, which was banned under it, has been included. If I am wrong, I invite my noble friend to tell me so, but I understand that deer hunting is introduced in the amendment, because it is not referred to.
I shall be very brief. It is ridiculous that this discourse should continue until we get an explanation from the Minister. He spoke about another form of compromise. We know that the Prime Minister has in his mind—he has said so—the type of compromise that is registered or licensed hunting. However, while the Prime Minister seeks that sort of compromise, the Minister says that he seeks a compromise that is not that but something else and he will not tell us what it is.
We can all make a speech, if we want to and if we can get in to do so. In the mean time, however, it is only right that the Minister should acquit himself honourably and let the Committee know what type of compromise he means. He used the word "government", saying that the Government would not accept the amendment. The Prime Minister will accept it, but the Government will not. Where are we getting? We are certainly in a deep hole.
I would like to help my noble friend. He will know that there is an amendment on the Marshalled List that fulfils the criteria of a compromise. Amendment No. 47A provides for the defence being the protection of sheep in grazing areas in designated national parks. Can he confirm that that is the kind of compromise amendment that would be seriously considered by the House of Commons, because it does not suffer from the problems that arise in the case of this group of amendments?
I wish to make a fundamental point that has not yet been made. Foxes have to be killed, because they are very destructive to lambs, poultry and game and in various ways. I speak from experience that I shall briefly mention. The least cruel way of killing foxes is to hunt them. I have hunted. Being of light weight, I was able to keep up with hounds, and I never counted more than four seconds between hounds closing in and the death of the fox. Yes, there had been a chase, but I never thought the chase itself cruel; it did not damage the fox until the hounds closed in.
The well meaning but ignorant people from towns assume that the other ways of killing foxes are less damaging to them than hunting. What are those other ways? Poisoning is illegal, although often done. Snaring is legal and very painful. I have twice seen foxes snared—by someone else—that have not died but have struggled while still alive. Shooting foxes is difficult; foxes are very evasive. Most of those that are wounded and get away die of gangrene—a horrible death. Trapping, which is lawful but ineffective, is the other method.
So if we are to get rid of foxes, as we must do, the easiest, simplest and least cruel way—I ask the townspeople to bear it in mind—is by hunting them.
As the Minister is clearly not going to intervene now, I should like quickly to make a point to reinforce the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers.
The assumption is that the Bill has gone through all its stages and that amendments have gone backwards and forwards. The logical conclusion to the proposition that the subsection can be cut in two and the process stopped after the House of Lords declines to pass the legislation would be to say—I do not think that it would be the normal legal interpretation—that the Bill has only to be presented for First Reading and, if the public debate is such that the Government know that the legislation will not get through the House of Lords and Ministers will not give it time, the Parliament Act can be used in the next Session.
Nothing in the Parliament Act suggests that a difficult Second Reading is sufficient reason to assume that the Bill will not get through the House of Lords. The subsection has to be read in its totality. It assumes that the legislation is unamended or has amendments that are acceptable to the Commons.
Looking at the situation in its totality, I do not believe that the first part of the Parliament Act has been fulfilled. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is correct on that. This is the first time that the Bill is being properly considered.
We have two difficulties. The Speaker's certificate has been mentioned. However, the Speaker's certificate will not apply to this provision until the Bill leaves the Commons with an attached certificate for the Queen. In the interim, the Speaker's certificate deals only with changes made to the original legislation in the Commons.
The second difficulty is a major problem. Do we have a court to which we can take this point for proper adjudication? I do not know whether this is a case for the Committee for Privileges. We do not have a proper separate Supreme Court, and nor will we under that legislation. So it is a problem.
The amendments present two positions: a total ban and, as at present, total freedom. Registration and licensing is the only possible compromise. I cannot see a logical compromise between the two position. Therefore, I support the amendment.
It would help the Committee if the Minister would say something. Will he stand up now, as many noble Lords have requested, and make his position clear? If there is a compromise, what is the Government's proposal? How are we to understand it? It would aid our debate if we knew the Government's proposal.
I do not think that the Minister is going to get up and enlighten the Committee. I shall therefore assume that we are still speaking to Amendment No. 1, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, and the so-called gang of four.
I shall make my position perfectly clear: I have supported the middle way for some time. I have done so because it will improve animal welfare. I should like to ask some of those who wish to ban hunting how a ban will improve animal welfare. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, said that cruelty is cruelty. That is all he said before sitting down. He did not go into any detail. I invite him to elaborate on that a little, perhaps when I have finished my remarks—or he can intervene on me now.
I am delighted to say that I have done so, but I could not find anywhere in his speech anything about improving animal welfare. When pressed, however, the noble Lord said he believed that lamping was the answer. As he will know perfectly well, lamping is dangerous—as we know from a recent accident—and is possible only in certain parts of the country. So, lamping is clearly not the whole answer.
None of those who spoke at Second Reading made a case for their method of control. They addressed only one point—fox hunting. The question is not whether we will kill foxes; it is how. We have not heard any reasons why fox hunting is any more cruel than lamping, snaring, trapping or illegal poisoning, which does happen. It is incumbent on those making the case to ban hunting to tell us why their particular method of controlling foxes—let us not mince words; killing foxes—is better than the methods put forward in Amendment No. 1.
Noble Lords should listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said in his report. The noble Lord also took the trouble to come to the House to speak at Second Reading. He made his position clear. Other noble Lords have already quoted his speech on that occasion, so I will not quote it again. However, that was the Government's own inquiry, and he was its chairman. He came to the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to ban hunting. Why do those who wish to ban hunting not answer the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burns? Where is the evidence on which we can ban hunting?
Some keen hunters, and I am among them, have strong reservations about the registration solution. However, it would be acceptable to the broad generality. The extremes on either side may disagree with it. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, will never agree. He will never compromise at all—cruelty is cruelty. On the other side are those who say, "We can self-regulate. We do not want to be messed about with". Generally, however, I think that the compromise solution as tabled by the gang of four is the sensible one. I think that, were it given the chance, it would be followed by the country at large.
It would be helpful if the Minister would indicate, if there is any spirit of compromise on the Government Benches, what their attitude is to the hunting of foot packs in upland areas in England and Wales.
I remind the Minister that there are tens of thousands of ewes—sheep—and their lambs on the hills of Wales and England. The greatest predators of those lambs are foxes. In the same areas, there are tens of thousands of acres of forest and hill land that afford cover for foxes. Those foxes cannot be controlled without the use of hounds. The hounds have to hunt them to get them out into an area where they can be shot. It is a very important instance of nature control in rural areas, which form a fair part of the country. If the Government are looking for a way out, the least compromise they could make is not to ban hunting there.
Perhaps I can invite my noble friend the Minister, when he says a few words, to address the issue of the appropriateness of the use of the Parliament Acts in this case. I accept that the Parliament Act provisions are available for use. What I question is whether it would be appropriate to use the Parliament Acts at this juncture.
The Parliament Acts deal with the relationships between the two Houses of Parliament. However, let us put the 1911 and 1949 Acts in their historic and political context. What is behind that regulation of the relationship between the two Chambers? That regulation addresses situations in which the executive has support in the House of Commons for its legislative programme but is frustrated by not having support in the House of Lords. So it is a provision to enable the executive to obtain its legislation after a period of delay.
I cannot recollect any legislation that has been subject to the Parliament Acts where it has been a matter of a free vote in both Houses. I can, however, think of examples in the 1960s. Year after year almost, the House of Commons, on a free vote, voted for the abolition of capital punishment. However, that provision could not secure a majority in this House. As I remember, there was not even a suggestion that the Parliament Act provisions should be used in that context.
So I suggest that we are going into a new area where the Parliament Act provisions are being used for legislation that is not a matter of the executive securing its own legislation against frustration by the House of Lords. We have before us now a Bill that is subject to a free vote. In that matter, I do not believe that there is a strong case for the appropriate use of the Parliament Act.
Although I may be alone in this opinion, at this stage it would not be useful for the Minister to tell us what compromise is on the table, because I detect many shades of opinion in your Lordships' House, including among those of us who are minded to vote for registration and this first group of amendments—as I intend to. However, at a later stage there are a number of matters that I mentioned in my Second Reading speech, which I shall not repeat, that I would wish not to be included at any price. Those would include deer hunting and hare hunting. Those matters would be suitable to introduce as amendments at Report.
So, personally, I would not yet welcome the Minister's comments about where he would like to compromise until, in our own House, we have sorted out exactly what our opinions are by way of votes on each issue.
Reverting to the question that was just raised as to whether it would be appropriate to resort to the Parliament Acts, assuredly there are other reasons why it is not appropriate. Assuredly we are entering a new area. Those Acts were not devised to exterminate lawful minority interests and they have never been so used before. The question of civil liberties, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, is a live issue.
Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, to which I shall speak briefly, open a gateway to the path of compromise on some form of registration. A Motion in another place to withdraw the Bill would not appear to have much prospect of success, so the only prospect to which we return regarding compromise is some form of registration that is envisaged by the amendments. One might well ask why the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister should seek that sort of compromise.
The nation is divided and there is a turmoil of protest. The police would be put in an impossible position, which is not acceptable. One of the Prime Minister's own Back-Benchers, Kate Hoey, the honourable Member for Vauxhall, said, at Third Reading that the Bill was "unsustainable" and,
"We have made a great mistake".—[Hansard, Commons, 15/09/04; col. 1415.]
Another of his Back-Benchers, Jean Corston, the right honourable Member for Bristol, East, said that the question of a total ban should be settled only by due process at the next general election. The right honourable lady, who is a lifelong opponent of hunting and who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, also said, on the advice of that committee, that the Bill as certified by the Speaker would be incompatible with the Convention on Human Rights—Article 1, Protocol 1. If enacted, the Bill could not be enforced unless and until it was sanctioned by our courts. Bail would have to be granted pending the ultimate decision of the Appellate Committee of this House and the European Court of Justice.
There are three issues arising for judicial resolution, not for Parliament: first, whether three months' notice under Clause 15 is unlawful as it is inadequate, as advised by the Joint Committee; secondly, whether a total ban is in the public interest, or whether the Bill is in the general interest within the express provisions of Article 1; and, lastly, the point often made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, whether the Act of 1949 is an abuse of the Act of 1911 and, therefore, invalid.
Surely we must accept as a matter of comity, which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has accepted, that another place will reconsider the entrenched position that it has taken up regarding a total ban. If the Parliament Acts are invoked, would it not be better if resort were taken to the courts before we were to take to the streets?
Perhaps I may briefly speak on the question of whether the registration scheme would work. It is a somewhat complicated scheme and is none the worse for that. I voted for a registration scheme when the Countryside Alliance was against it. I am still in favour of it and it could be given a chance to work, provided that the ban was written into the Bill. So another form of approach could logically be that we have been challenged in the order of eight times by various noble Lords, mainly on the Opposition Benches, to specify what type of compromise might be on offer.
The Minister cannot possibly today suddenly produce a rabbit out of a hat, if I may use that expression. But presumably we could have a Bill which would specify that the ban would be activated in "x" years if the registration scheme proved ineffective. If people say that there are various other compromises in their heads, why do they not also think aloud regarding what they might be?
We do not seem to be making fast progress. All the talk is of the Parliament Act. I thought we were considering the amendment tabled by the noble Lord and the "gang of four"—an excellent expression, which I do not believe that my noble friend should resent at all. Many gangs are useful, I understand.
The Minister has also clearly indicated, as did my noble friend on the Front Bench, that the difficulty between us regarding the compromise might well be the issue of hare coursing and deer hunting. So the "gang of four" will have to make up their minds, as will the Committee, what they wish to do regarding that and what would be acceptable to the Commons. If, after we have put that to the Commons, that House rejects it, we could then begin to discuss the Parliament Act.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has already mentioned the matter that we are actually addressing in this group. Essentially, it is the principle of registration—whether it should be possible for hunting to continue, subject to the control of having to satisfy the registrar under the tests that were devised by Mr Alun Michael, when he produced his original Bill. Although there have been a number of variants and diversions during this debate, perhaps we may return to that matter.
First, I shall speak to Amendment No. 2, which is set out in precisely the same terms as the Government Bill introduced into the House of Commons in December 2002. That amendment provides that hunting by an individual can be registered in three ways. First, the individual can seek individual registration, which would allow him to hunt by himself or with a limited number of people who are not registered. In that case, he would have to apply to the registrar, submitting the species of wild mammal that he intended to hunt and the area in which the hunting would take place.
Secondly, individual registration is not necessary if an individual participates in hunting with a group of which at least one individual is registered under a group registration in respect of the species of wild mammal that is intended to be hunted and the place in which the hunting takes place. If that is the case, a record must be kept of the identity of each individual who participates in the hunt, regardless of whether they are registered or not. That record has to be kept for the duration of the registration. Thirdly, an individual may be considered as registered if he participates in hunting with a number of individuals one of whom must be subject to individual registration.
However, in every case, as has already been said, an applicant for an individual registration must agree to abide by the following conditions: any wild mammal which is injured or captured must be killed quickly and humanely; and any wild mammal which is shot in accordance with that must be shot by a competent person; and permission must have been received from the occupier of the land or, in the case of unoccupied land, from the person to whom it belongs. Any inspector who is appointed by a prescribed animal welfare body must be permitted at the request of the registrar to accompany the registered individual while hunting for the purpose of inspection. Insurance has to be in place in respect of loss or damage caused to people other than the registered individual. Finally, not more than two other unregistered individuals may participate in reliance on the registration of an individual.
Failure to abide by those automatic conditions would result in deregistration. Group registration has precisely the same conditions. Records must be kept of the identity of each individual who participates and reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that no individual who has been refused registration participates.
I suggest that those provisions, which are automatic conditions before any hunting can take place, will ensure that hunting is accountable and is carried out to the highest possible animal welfare standards. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 2.
I can be briefer about Amendment No. 53, because that relates simply to money, and it has precisely the same wording as the government Bill that was introduced in the Commons in December 2002. It states:
"(1) Any expenditure incurred by a Minister of the Crown in connection with this Act shall be paid out of money provided by Parliament.
(2) Money received by the registrar by way of fees shall be paid into the Consolidated Fund".
The amendment provides simply that the necessary moneys are made available to pay for the registration system and for the tribunal.
Perhaps I may briefly speak in support of the main amendment in the group, Amendment No. 1. Notwithstanding the somewhat Delphic statements of the Minister following the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord Donoughue, I hope that we can produce a compromise which is acceptable to the other place, because, frankly, this nonsense has gone on for long enough. I do not like Alun Michael's Bill; I did not like it when it first appeared. It would not have been my chosen method for reaching a compromise. I would have preferred to see reform of the Protection of Animals Act along the lines that were proposed in the Bill that was introduced by my noble friend Lord Donoughue, and I would have liked to have seen that combined with a licensing scheme as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, at Second Reading. That would have been simpler, clearer and less bureaucratic. However, I recognise that the essence of compromise is that no one gets exactly what he would like.
I recognise also that the architecture of Alun Michael's original government Bill, with its twin tests of utility and least suffering, was a reasonable approach to a licensing system. The same principles should apply across the board to all forms of hunting. An independent registrar should make a decision based on the evidence which is placed before him. Some applications would succeed and some would fail, but the process would be seen to be fair and, as such, would "stand the test of time", to quote the words that have been much used by the Minister.
At Second Reading, my noble friend Lady Gale and others—indeed, my noble friend Lord Hoyle said much the same today—said that hunting should be banned because it was cruel. I say that it is not, but neither of us is impartial. Both of us perhaps have our judgment clouded—in the one case, by a personal dislike; in the other, by a personal passion in favour. However, an independent registrar, looking at the evidence presented to him, applying the twin tests to it and determining the application on that basis, should command the respect of both sides. We may not like the outcome, but we will feel that there has been a fair hearing. If the hunting community is prepared for its case to be dealt with in this way, as I believe it is, I hope that, in due course, so will its opponents.
If we cannot reach a compromise, I fear that we will be well on the way to putting on the statute book a Bill which will be divisive, increase animal suffering and cause some real hardship to people in some areas. I hope that the process will succeed, and I hope that we will produce something that will stand the test of time. I hope very much that, when he comes to reply, the Minister, my noble friend Lord Whitty, will produce something more helpful than in his earlier interventions.
The noble Baroness will, like me, have heard the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, say that neither he nor the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, intended to vote on the amendment. Does not the government abstention on the issue of registration suggest that at least a system of registration is within the parameters of a compromise which might be accepted by the Government?
I have taken no part in any of the discussions on this or the previous hunting Bills. Hunting is not an issue that stirs my heart one way or the other. If people want to put on red coats and chase animals across a field, I am reasonably tolerant about that. I have heard the evidence, but I am not convinced that it is necessarily a cruel way of doing what we must do; that is, to control foxes. I have therefore previously abstained.
I have listened carefully to everything that has been said today and understand the great difficulty that the House is in. My noble friend talks about negotiations. So be it, but the trouble is that there are three parties to the negotiations; this House, the other place and the Government. It is important that before going into those negotiations this House should clearly express its view in principle of a registration scheme for the hunting of foxes by dogs.
Once the House has agreed the basic principle, the negotiations can legitimately start on the many details of the scheme; for instance, what should be contained in it and whether deer should be covered by it. One could negotiate about the form of the scheme, whether that proposed in the Bill is sensible or whether there should be another. However, we should first take a decision on whether in principle we are in favour of a registration scheme in respect of the hunting of foxes by dogs.
It is a simple question and we should take a simple decision on it. In a sense, it would mean degrouping the amendments and taking a vote on the first amendment. Thereafter, no doubt, discussions—sensible ones, one hopes—could take place between at least two of the parties to these tripartite negotiations; namely, the Government on the one hand and those who are passionately in favour of hunting on the other.
I think that there is something in what the noble Lord has just said. It also reflects upon what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who is not now in his place, said about the use of the Parliament Act. Although the War Crimes Bill—one of the Bills that he quoted—was the subject of a free vote, it was clearly the government's Bill. The executive wanted it and therefore it was probably not inappropriate that the Parliament Act should have been used.
We are now in a difficult situation because, as has been said, there are three parties to these negotiations. From what we have heard, we know that the Government would be very willing to find a compromise. We know that because, of course, the compromise which might arise would be a Bill very close to one that the Government themselves introduced.
The awkward squad in all this is the majority in the other place, which does not appear to be fully under the control of the Government. So it would be very strange—but we live in a strange world these days—were this House to oblige the Government by giving them a second chance to get their own legislation passed. In the event that the Government were able to persuade the majority in the Commons that that would be the right course, we could then forget the Parliament Act or anything of that kind and, with a little shuffling backwards and forwards, I am sure we would be able to find a compromise that would work.
So the question is: how will the Government deal with this legislation if we amend it so that it becomes the Bill that they really want? If I were the business manager in the other place or the Prime Minister, I would know that I had one weapon with which I could persuade the majority in the Commons to come into line—parliamentary time. If the Prime Minister were to let his majority know that, in the event that they did not compromise and accept what was basically the Government's Bill—the registration Bill—he would not allow time and the Bill would fall, then surely we could expect a compromise to be reached.
Therefore, it seems to me that, whatever else we do or do not do, we should at least provide the opportunity to find out whether, ultimately, the Government have the courage to stand by the Bill that they wanted or whether they will be pushed over by their own supporters in that place as opposed to, on this occasion, their supporters on both sides of this House.
I admit that it is a little odd for this place to support the executive against the majority in the other place, but I think that we should at least give it a fair chance. We should see whether the noises that have been coming from those informed sources and spin masters—that is, that the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, would like to avoid a confrontation between the Government and the rural interest in this country—are true. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is not going to vote either way on this matter suggests that there is a feeling of compromise in the air, and we should give it a go.
As the fifth member of the "gang of four", perhaps I may add my voice to those who have already spoken in support of these amendments, to which my name is attached. The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, explained quite adequately to the Committee at the outset of this debate why the Bill before us today—we have discussed it before and do not need to do so again—is unworkable and unenforceable and why it is based on prejudice and bigotry.
We have already been through that, but an important point was the contribution to the debate made by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, at Second Reading. Towards the end of his speech, he made a very important point, which has not been focused on as much as it might be. It was in the context of the phrase "good and robust law", which is what the Government were seeking in resolving this very difficult issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, told us that using the Parliament Act or a similar device to settle this issue in a way which those most involved—the rural community—would regard as unfair and unjust would, in fact, not settle the matter; it would mean that it would fester on in the countryside for years and years until a future government came back and resolved it properly. Regardless of any noble Lord's views on this issue, that is another incentive and another reason to find a more equitable way to settle the issue.
Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, and others think or, indeed, whatever I may think, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, who has considered this matter independently, believes that cruelty is not proven and that there is no evidence of cruelty to justify a ban or such a draconian step. That, in itself, is another reason that we should seek a better way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, and the rest of the gang of four are proposing an alternative. The alternative, the principle of which is enshrined in this first amendment and which we shall go on to discuss in detail as the amendments proceed, is, as your Lordships are aware, entirely consistent with the Government's original proposal. That proposal was based on the evidence and the principle that the Government promised to everyone, including the rural community. It is what we now know that the Government apparently want and, in particular, it is what the Prime Minister appears to want.
In his opening remarks, which, while they may have been Delphic, I found extremely helpful, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, made it clear that changes have been proposed to the Bill through amendments which we have tabled and which we are to discuss this evening and tomorrow. That is right. When we attempted, via amendments, to move from the present Bill back to the original government proposal, we were, if I may put it this way, shooting at a moving target because the Bill changed during its progress from First Reading to Second Reading and through the Committee stage in the House of Commons. We tabled those amendments not as a deliberate attempt to deceive your Lordships or to hide issues but in an effort to find the most equitable and reasonable way to proceed, bearing in mind that, as your Lordships will know, if something is changed early in the proceedings on a Bill, it frequently affects the Bill further along the line. This was, and is, a long and complex Bill but it is in a form to which we hope your Lordships will agree.
I believe there are very few matters of principle in the changes that we have made, but we would welcome comments from either the Government Front Bench or elsewhere if it is felt that we have it wrong. There are two major changes to the Bill introduced by Mr Alun Michael, and we shall reach them in due course. They are not, I think, matters to be dealt with at present. At the moment, we need consider only the principle of registration.
Of the two changes that we are proposing, one is to do with coursing and stag hunting and the other is the second test of registration—the test of utility. We shall discuss those as and when we reach them. The Minister suggested that we had changed in some way the test of least suffering. I think that, on reflection, he will find that we have not or, if we have changed it, that we have done so inadvertently, but I believe that it remains the original test of least suffering. However, again, we shall come to that in due course.
What we have produced here is a compromise. There is no doubt about that. We have compromised considerably in going down this route, and that was our intention. We would like to find a compromise solution. We have made considerable concessions. I shall not go through them in detail now, but as we go through the later amendments, which take us stage by stage through the registration process, the concessions that we have made, and are prepared to put on the table in a gesture of goodwill to solve this very difficult issue, will become clear. On the other hand, I point out—without, I hope, any inflection in my voice—that I have yet to detect one single concession that has come from the other side. It takes two to tango.
I hope that we have produced what the Government wanted: a registration Bill—their registration Bill. We have produced exactly what was recommended by the Government's independent report under the noble Lord, Lord Burns; and we have produced exactly what the Prime Minister appeared to be talking about at lunch time this very day. Therefore, we hope that your Lordships will look on it favourably and work with us as we go through this somewhat complicated process over the next day or two to try to produce the compromise that we hope the Government will accept.
My last point is that in listening to the Minister speaking from the Front Bench—I do not make this comment in a judgmental way—from time to time I found it difficult to work out his position. My understanding was that Ministers on the Front Bench represent the government of the day, not the House of Commons. The House of Commons must represent itself. So, when the Minister speaks at the end of the debate, it would be immensely helpful if he could explain not the position of the House of Commons—we all know that—but the position of the Government. That is the key to the issue. We are giving back to the Government the Government's Bill; we are supporting the Government and we hope to find a compromise. I hope that at this late hour the Government, for once, will support the same compromise.
The Minister made the comment that we are in deep water. Anyone who is familiar with rural areas, and many people not familiar with rural areas but who have different views from many others about hunting, know that there are very strong feelings on this issue. It is very important that we recognise that and that we deal with this matter in the proper way. Many people in the countryside know that the way in which this matter has been handled has added to the anger of so many and it has been the worst possible prelude to any action that the Government may wish to allow to happen in relation to hunting.
Looking back over the matter, the original attempt was made by Jack Straw as Home Secretary, who asked the noble Lord, Lord Burns, to undertake his inquiry. Then the Government requested Mr Alun Michael to hold the hearings in Portcullis House. There followed attempts to deal with the issue on principle and evidence and, although they were greeted with some scepticism by hunting people, they were seen as genuine attempts to see whether there was a fair basis on which this longstanding disagreement could be approached. Many noble Lords have experienced debates on this subject for years.
Of course, the approach has been pretty chaotic. My noble friend Lord Ferrers referred to the handling of the first Bill and the way in which the Government simply pulled stumps and abandoned progress on it. Now we have this Bill which has appeared at the last gasp of this Session of Parliament, having been lying around for a considerable period of time in the Commons, not being dealt with in any way. That has not given us any confidence.
The point made now by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is whether this House is simply wasting its time, whether the Government are prepared to take any action or whether they will simply allow the will of their Back-Benchers to prevail, notwithstanding that they have admitted that this is quite the wrong way to approach the matter. They have warned of the dangers of what is proposed.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. I do not agree with the idea of the registrar; I do not believe it is the best way to approach the matter. I would much rather see self-regulation. Recently we had an example of self-regulation. Two very stupid people at the Labour Party conference produced two carcasses which they laid out on the street. The action may have been handled in the courts, but I noticed that the Masters of Foxhounds Association took immediate action and banned that hunt from hunting for a period of time. So the whole hunt was punished for the stupid action of two people. However, if we have a system of registration, people will not act with such speed. There will be a tribunal and all kinds of opportunities for people to argue their cases. That is an illustration of self-regulation.
There is no point in arguing such a point because we have gone beyond it. In the spirit of compromise that has been advanced here, the idea of registration is set out. I believe that it is the least worst alternative to self-regulation and that it is the way to proceed.
The Minister was absolutely right that one or two changes are proposed beyond the Alun Michael Bill, but they are not in this amendment. The amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, has made clear, deals with the Alun Michael proposal for a registrar for registration.
I may disagree with a number of noble Lords on the issue of stag hunting. Having represented a constituency in which one of the principal stag hunts in the country is based, I do not agree with people who believe that it should be banned. I accept that I have to argue that at the right time in this Committee stage.
The principle of registration, as in the Alun Michael Bill, is quite clear. I believe that it is now the duty of this House to save both the Government and the country from what could otherwise be a most unfortunate situation. I may be wrong, but I believe that successive Home Secretaries have never voted for this Bill and have never supported a ban. I have been a Back-Bencher and a Minister, and the benefit of being a Back-Bencher is that one does not have to take responsibility. Ministers and the Government will have to pick up the mess if this goes through in the way in which government Ministers have already stated is unworkable and is likely to lead to serious tension in our country.
I believe that it is the duty of this House to act, not because we are frightened of the Commons—many of us have been in the Commons and have seen it make mistakes on many occasions—but because we have to do what we believe to be right. We must stand by our honour, integrity, experience and knowledge and do what we think is right. In the present circumstance I am sure that the compromise of registration is right.
From these Benches I add my support for this group of amendments. I do so very much in the spirit of compromise to which the noble Lord, Lord King, has just referred. It seems to me that this is a compromise between those who want a total ban and those who want the present situation to continue without any regulation.
I support these amendments on the basis of a principle that my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, who is in his place beside me, indicated at Second Reading. He said that one of the marks of a civilised society is the ability to live with difference and that,
"One should not impose something on people against their consent unless there is an overriding reason for it".
That is a principle that this House scrupulously sought to implement yesterday in a very different context. The right reverend Prelate also said at Second Reading that there are other matters which many feel are undesirable and socially corrupting,
"but we have found ways of managing them without banning everything in sight".—[Hansard, 12/10/04; cols. 135-136.]
It seems to me that this amendment does precisely that; it seeks to manage without banning in a situation where there is deep division in our country and where many people in the countryside, as other noble Lords have said, feel that there has been a failure to listen and to understand their way of life.
I very much hope that your Lordships' Committee will support these amendments and that we shall have the opportunity to discuss further the nature of registration and how it should, in practice, be implemented.
I spoke on this issue in Second Reading debates in the other place in 1995 and 1997. I have never spoken on it in a Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House. If some Members of the Committee think that some aspects of my speech might be a Second Reading speech, it is necessarily not one which I have already delivered in this place.
In the other place I was an inner city MP. I had a sense of responsibility in that capacity—on the Burkean principle that a Member of Parliament owes his judgment to his constituents—to learn more about the fox than as an inner city MP I was likely to do. In those days the Earl of Cranbrook was the chairman of English Nature. I happened independently to know him. I asked him whether English Nature would provide me with as comprehensive a bibliography on the fox as it could. It produced a list of about a dozen books and an enormous list of articles. With the assistance of the House of Commons Library I secured those and read them. The animal welfare conclusion to which I came as a result of doing that reading derived from arguments such as those expressed in this debate by my noble friend Lord Renton. It was that hunting was the optimal way to proceed. That view has been sustained by the Burns committee, which was set up by the Government to assist Parliament in these matters.
My friend Tony Banks—and I can say genuinely "my friend Tony Banks" for he and I regularly meet to explain to American students how Parliament works; and I know him well—has said that we are now into politics and that we have moved on from animal welfare. If so, I regret that. But I have the feeling from the Minister's speech earlier in the debate that that is his view too and that we are no longer into animal welfare.
The Minister quoted two-thirds of a famous quotation by Mr Sherlock Holmes where he said, "These are deep waters, Watson". I am a bear of very little brain and I am therefore perfectly happy to play the role of Dr Watson in listening to what the Minister has to say.
The Prime Minister is said to be interested in compromise. I am not quite sure, in the light of what has happened so far, how he would deliver it in the other place. But that is by the by. He may still regret in due course what he said about my right honourable friend John Major when he was Prime Minister. On one occasion in the other place he said that,
"the difference between the Prime Minister and myself"— that is Mr Blair speaking—
"is that I lead my party and he follows his".
That issue may return to haunt him in the days ahead.
Of course the Prime Minister may say that this is a free vote. That is quite different from an issue of party policy under a Whip. But some of us were surprised by the opaqueness of his original pledge in the manifesto in 1997 that the Labour Party, if elected, would allow a free vote in the House of Commons. That was a meaningless commitment, considering that in the House of Commons a free vote had always been allowed on fox hunting. It added absolutely nothing to the status quo of where we then were.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that he could not accept the middle way, although the Prime Minister is attached to that form of triangulation. I have heard what has been said about registration improving animal welfare; and I am prepared to accept that. For myself, I am clear that, whatever the Minister in due course says, the issue of animal welfare will determine my own vote when we go into the Lobbies and that animal welfare should remain our guiding star. I share the view of my noble friend Lord King that we should do what we believe in.
I originally voted against the proposal that is before us today that has become known as the middle way. I think and I admit that that was a tactical error. I remember very well my noble friend—I think that he is still my noble friend—Lord Willoughby de Broke trying to persuade me and others to do the same but we rejected it. However, there is such a thing as political expediency. We all have to move; we all have to think; and we all have to make judgments. I believe without any question of doubt that the judgment now before us means that we have no option whatever but to accept the proposal in the form of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue.
I accept the strong feelings expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Hoyle and Lord Graham, but there is no question of doubt that foxes need to be controlled. It is therefore a question of clinically looking at the science available and asking what is the most humane way to deal with it. Clearly, hunting is the least cruel.
I would simply make an intervention at this stage. I have not done so to date, but there have been in my view a number of misrepresentations made during the course of the hunting debate about other methods of fox control. I fully acknowledge that hunting is a least cruel method, but Members of the Committee should be under no misapprehension that snaring and shooting if done correctly are humane ways of controlling foxes. I would not want anyone to be under the misapprehension that all shooting and all snaring leads to an untimely death for the fox because that simply is not the case.
It seems to me that on this issue there are two fundamental points. One is that of least cruelty and the other is the one of civil liberty and respect for the minority. That to me is perhaps the burning issue; the one on which we should concentrate more than anything else. Seldom, if ever, in the legislative history of Parliament can so much evidence have been accumulated against a piece of legislation as that which we have in front of us today. That I believe is the key issue. Many noble Lords have referred to Alun Michael and how he himself supported, quite naturally, his original Bill and how he wishes to have something similar returned to the House of Commons.
We had the evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and we had the Portcullis House hearings. It all points in one direction. We have the opinion polls which show quite clearly that the majority of people are now uncertain about the hunting issue; and I do not believe that many of them think that hunting should be outlawed. Then we have the press and these hugely important libertarian arguments that have been put forward time and time again. I said at Second Reading and I say again that if the Government ignore that, they do so at their peril. It is one of the most fundamental and damaging things they could do towards the well-being of the countryside and the well-being of people who live in a democracy and expect fair play.
I believe that this amendment offers that alternative. It offers fair play and I genuinely and sincerely hope that your Lordships will support it.
I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House at the Second Reading of the Hunting Bill. I asked for the House to try to find a way forward that would answer the genuine questions of those who oppose hunting and would find a proper solution to all who value freedom and tolerance. This amendment answers exactly those questions.
I agree with my noble friend Lord King. In an ideal world I would prefer self-regulation as that fits with my philosophical view of life. But if we need a registrar in order to ensure that whole swathes of our fellow men and women are not criminalised, I feel that this is the way forward and I urge your Lordships to support the amendment.
If there are no further speakers in the debate I should like to start to conclude it. The interesting amendment on registration is pivotal to the whole of the Bill. The issue has to be resolved shortly in a vote, but on listening to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I thought that there was a hint of a nod and a wink on occasions in what he said. Indeed, he admitted that the four noble Lords whose names are attached to most of the amendments are trying to be helpful. But then he said that it differed radically from the original Bill.
During this debate important points have been made about what the Government's view is on this Bill—after all, it is as near as possible to their original Bill that came here from the House of Commons. Noble Lords asked whether the Government are still prepared to support the principle of registration of hunting or whether they will look at the House of Commons and back away from its decision to ban hunting. That is contained in the Bill that we are now debating.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asked the Minister to come clean and tell us whether he is highlighting hare coursing and deer hunting, and whether that is the compromise sought. I hope that the noble Lord will express his views on that. The debate on the Parliament Act is important but we must stick to the amendments before us. The purpose of Amendment No. 1 is to secure a registration scheme for hunting in the United Kingdom.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke to Amendment No. 2, which lays out specific ways in which individuals and groups can hunt and become licensed to do so. Groups of individuals can also seek a licence. The conditions were read out, so I shall not repeat them. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, rightly mentioned that one cannot negotiate without ground rules and that in some respects we are debating in a vacuum. He said that the principle of registration must be accepted or rejected. We will do that, I am sure, in the forthcoming vote.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, who has been referred to, expressed his opinions on cruelty. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, sought a more equitable solution to the issue, which was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, himself. The noble Lord, Lord King, rightly responded to the situation in the countryside, which is in turmoil over the issue. We need to be responsible in resolving it.
I shall now address specifically Amendment No. 1. It is the constructive alternative to a ban. The fact that the Government produced a registration Bill at the conclusion of a two-year consultation process was a very objective conclusion. It creates a degree of ethical control of hunting by regulation. The registration and licensing of hunts ensure that standards must be adhered to; that will be very, very acceptable in the countryside. As a fisherman, I get a fishing licence every spring and adhere to the rules clearly stated on my licence. Others shoot, for which they obtain shooting licences. I see nothing wrong in getting licences to hunt under certain conditions. It is a principle already accepted in the countryside.
The registration body will be equally independent of pro- and anti-hunting interests. The registrar must be objective and independent in determining who is fit to hunt; if hunts disobey rules, there must be rulings that will be enforced; and licences must be withdrawn if rules are breached. That provides for an appeals mechanism, which is contained in this set of amendments.
This is the way forward for the countryside, and the way to get much more cohesion between town and country. I beg those not only in this place but in another place who believe in a ban to think again and find a civilised solution that most people can accept.
I rise very briefly because nearly everything appropriate has already been said, so I shall not cover the ground again. I wish to draw noble Lords' attention to some specific points.
I find it very strange that, having made his statement at the start of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, refused to enlarge on it. The question must be: why? If we are told that the Government seek a compromise, we are at least due an explanation of how we could compromise. If the only compromise that the Government seek is to accept the Bill as a ban Bill, I see no compromise at all. I hope that the Minister will address those very specific issues that Members of the Committee raised today.
First, the last time the Bill was before us, the House of Lords did not block it; we all agreed that at Second Reading, however much noble Lords opposite tried to say that that was not true. Secondly, it was clearly the House of Commons that altered its own Bill—it was the Alun Michael Bill, a government Bill, which Back-Benchers hijacked at the last minute. Following that, the Government decided to leave the Bill for 10 months before they brought it back to your Lordships' House. Indeed, they introduced it into the House of Commons first, in September, leaving us very little time to go through it in the normal way. Thirdly, the House of Commons never debated the amendments or the work that we had done on its previous Bill. The Commons had guillotined the Bill before us today into such a short space of time that it did not have the chance to debate it. So it is not this House that altered the Bill at that stage; the Commons altered its own Bill.
Amendment No. 1 concerns the principle of registration. Although I noted the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, Members of the Committee should bear in mind that at the moment we are not debating the question of whether to look at different aspects, including stag hunting and hare coursing; we are debating whether to approve the principle of registration. As one of my noble friends has stated, the Government are setting down some very high standards for registration, and some hunts currently might not qualify. Noble Lords should not let that point go amiss. Most importantly, we must end up with a robust law, in whatever form. Registration should apply to all forms of hunting, not just specific ones.
If the Minister seeks a compromise, as he said earlier, does it include the Alun Michael Bill? If it does not, what does it include and what are we talking about? Perhaps there is no compromise. I was very disappointed that, on the many occasions when the Minister was invited to comment, he declined to do so. I wish to put that on the record because I suspect that, if things do not turn out the way the Government hope, this House will be blamed. That would be very unfair because many noble Lords have asked the Government to clarify what their compromise would be, but clarification has not been forthcoming.
We are where we are. I agree with other noble Lords who have said that it is for this House to decide. My own position is well known, but it is for each individual noble Lord to look at the amendment and consider it as it is presented at the moment. I hope that we will not look further down the line at other amendments to come. We are where we are at the moment, and this is the amendment before us, which I beg to support.
Perhaps I may say why I have difficulty listening to this debate on compromise. I applaud my noble friend Lord Donoughue for seeking compromise, but I have difficulty in seeing it as such because the amendment seeks registration for hunting of all species and does not distinguish between the different species of animals hunted. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said that that could be addressed later. My difficulty is that, in addressing the matter later, it may be decided that stag hunting is in exactly the same category as fox hunting, which I cannot accept. At this point, therefore, it is very difficult for me to support the registration option.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness and others feel that my intervention earlier was not helpful and that my refraining from intervening subsequently was equally unhelpful. It was not intended that way: it was intended, as is often the case in this House, to give some guidance on how the Government should behave on this Bill before Members of the Committee made comments on what was bound to be a contentious and, in some sense, a principled amendment.
For that reason, I have also referred to the various options that have been discussed and the implications for the totality of the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lord Donoughue and the gang of four, five or however many it is. In many respects, it is a crucial vote because it will begin to define the structure that the Committee intends to put back to the Commons.
I have been asked some extraneous questions that I will not answer. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and my noble friend Lord Sewel, all asked about the Parliament Act. We are not at the Parliament Act yet; it is there to resolve a deadlock between the Houses. It is available to use on this Bill, but we are not yet at deadlock.
My attempted guidance to the Committee was to give my judgment on how it might best avoid that deadlock. By and large, most speakers have not accepted that advice. It may well be that the vote does not accept that advice either, both on this and subsequent amendments. But on a subject that has historically always been a free vote—we are not in new territory here in that sense—it is the main job of the Government's spokesperson to give guidance to the Committee and to the House.
The noble Lord refers to the issue of the Parliament Act as an extraneous argument. Of course, it was he, in his speech, who referred to the fact that the House of Commons had voted overwhelmingly three times for the banning. That, according to the noble Lord, was a reason why we should continue to ban it.
My point was that at no point has the House of Lords had full Committee, Report or Third Reading stages. The House of Commons never had the ability to consider our views. Therefore, that was a reason for not having the Parliament Act. The only reason I mentioned that was that the noble Lord referred to it in the first place.
Perhaps I may intervene with an important point. The point made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and me is that we do not think that the Parliament Act applies. It is being abused. The Minister should understand the danger: if one starts to accept that a procedure where there was a hostile Second Reading in the House of Lords is capable of triggering the Parliament Act—that is not in the 1911 Act at all and is not one of the conditions under which rejection by the House of Lords is counted—when the Minister's party is not in power, that procedure may be used by another party in power.
A very dangerous precedent is being set because it has never been used as a triggering of the Parliament Act in the past. We will move into new waters in which a government of the day who control the House of Commons will be able to force through legislation, after getting it only as far as Second Reading in the House of Lords. On that interpretation, it may be possible to reduce that to a First Reading in the House of Lords. I do not think that the Minister realises how dangerous the avenue that they are going down is. It is not clear.
We can have as many examinations of history as we like. As the noble Baroness just said, "We are where we are". I dispute the interpretation of the timing on the previous occasion, which I have already put on record. It is not sensible to reopen that argument today.
In so far as it has implications for the Parliament Act, I repeat that we are not at the stage where the Parliament Act has to be triggered or not triggered. It is there to avoid deadlock. In any case, it becomes a matter not for me, not for the Government, but for the House of Commons and for the Speaker if there is deadlock at the end of this process. We are not yet there.
No: I am saying two things. First, the Parliament Act is available, which I accept that some Members of the Committee dispute. Secondly, the Parliament Act at that point is not a matter for the Government, it is a matter for the House of Commons. I am therefore not in a position to say—nor are the Government or anyone from the Government—whether the Parliament Act would then be triggered. We would certainly consider it in those circumstances because we have to fulfil the manifesto commitment made in the last few manifestos to ensure that there is some resolution of the issue, but it is not a decision for today. It is a decision that I have been trying to advise the Committee on how best to avoid. Regrettably, the Committee has hitherto not taken my advice.
Yes, but, as has been rather underlined in some of the debate, the Government do not always speak for the House of Commons. Ultimately, it will be a matter for the House of Commons whether the Parliament Act is there or not. All that I am saying today is that the Parliament Act is available on this kind of legislation. If we are in deadlock, there will need to be consideration of using the Parliament Act at that point. We are where we are, and we are not at that point yet.
Does the noble Lord not accept that if the Government wish to avoid using the Parliament Act, all they have to do when the Bill goes back to the other place is refrain from giving parliamentary time to the Third Reading of the Bill? Then there will be no Bill on which to use the Parliament Act. It is entirely in the hands of the Government. It is not within the unilateral control of the House of Commons whether or not the Act could be used.
Even when the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, was Leader of the House of Commons, there were occasions when he recognised political reality. That would be one of these situations, I fear.
We could debate that for some time. I apologise for awarding him the wrong office.
The issue has been around for the whole of the period of this Government. It is time that it was resolved; therefore, the potential use of the Parliament Act comes into discourse. If people feel threatened by that, that is the reality. We have all been threatened in this. We have been threatened with civil disobedience; we have been threatened by all sorts of things. But the fact is that parliamentary procedures exist for resolving the issue if the two Houses remain in conflict.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, asked me if my abstention on these matters indicated a position that the Government were likely to take. I tried to explain that. In fact, I took the same position when we were last in Committee—the aborted Committee or the Committee that failed to complete its business. I felt that it was right that I should primarily use my position as Government spokesman to guide the House rather than allow my personal opinion on a free vote, which is of course applicable to Ministers as well, to cloud the issue. That is all that I am doing during this Committee stage. There may come a point when I will use my vote, but I shall not use it in Committee. No one can draw any conclusions one way or another from that as to the eventual position of the House of Commons, let alone the Government.
I was really trying to clarify whether the Minister's abstention on the vote indicated that registration, which is the subject of the amendments, was within the parameters of a possible compromise.
I shall come on to the point about negotiation. A compromise is not a matter for me or, indeed, ultimately a matter for the Government. A compromise and a free vote is a matter for negotiation between the majority of this House and the majority in the House of Commons. In so far as that remains the case, there are difficulties about a system of registration. If the House of Commons maintains its position, it will not accept that which looks likely to be the position of this House.
That is not an absolute "no" to the noble Lord's question, but it is not a "yes" either. I am taking a position that I hope will be of guidance to the Committee rather than misleading.
I love people moaning when they have to listen to questions they do not agree with. Is it not quite extraordinary that the Minister does not say yes, does not say no, and does not know what he is talking about when his name is on the Bill? This is his Bill and no one else's. Surely he must have an opinion of it, or is that asking too much?
The noble Earl knows very well my opinion, as he knows my opinion about his interventions on the Bill. Everyone has an opinion and everyone is entitled to a free vote. What I am attempting to help the Committee through is the procedural position here and what the likely procedural position will be if noble Lords take one or other stance. If noble Lords do not want my advice, that is fine. If they wish to ignore my advice, that too is fine. Everyone has a free vote. However, I am giving my advice anyway.
We are in a negotiating situation, and it is with deep regret and some trepidation that, for the first time ever—certainly in public and probably also in private—I have to disagree with my noble friend Lord Richard. This is not a three-way negotiation. On a free vote it is a negotiation between the majority in this House and the majority in the House of Commons. I do not say that the Government have no influence on that, but that is the negotiating position. If anything, the Government have tried to be something of a mediator in the past, although we have failed.
Let us not pretend that, when we presented the proposal now seen as a shining compromise, it was greeted with great enthusiasm by the pro-hunting lobby. It was rejected by all sides. However, broadly speaking the intention behind the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Donoughue is to go back to that position. The negotiations are not primarily for the Government and therefore it would not be sensible for me to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, with the Government's proposition for a compromise. However, it is for this House to make a judgment about what proposal or compromise might engage the majority of the House of Commons in constructive dialogue so that the stage of ping-pong could be constructive rather than a stand-off.
My solid advice has been this: do not go back to an offer that has already been made because it has already been overwhelmingly rejected; and even more strongly: do not go back with an offer which, from the point of view of the other party, is less desirable than the one it has already rejected. That is common sense. I have been accused of being Delphic, but perhaps I may say that that is blunt common sense and pretty good advice. However, it is the privilege of noble Lords not to take that advice.
It is for noble Lords to consider whether there is another alternative which might better engage and thus could lead to a compromise. For example, my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours referred to his own amendment. I do not know whether the House of Commons would accept that proposal, but it is an amendment, along with others, which basically accepts the structure of the Bill. In normal circumstances, therefore, it is an amendment which the House of Commons should seriously consider. I am not sure whether that is a basis for compromise, but in my view it would be a more sensible way of proceeding than the one we are embarked on now.
Nevertheless, if the House wishes to pursue a system of registration, it would also be sensible to bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has graciously accepted; that is, that the proposition on registration is neither the same as that which was put to the House of Commons by Alun Michael in the first place, nor is it the same as that which came out of the Committee in the House of Commons. It does not bear a relationship to the position of either the Government or the pre-ban position of the House of Commons. Bearing all that in mind, at this point the House has to make a judgment on the principle of registration, with the implication on deer hunting, and at later stages it will have to make a judgment on the various points set out in the proposition for registration. However, if noble Lords wish to maximise the area of agreement, even on registration, they should not go further than the original Bill.
However, it still remains my advice that the original Bill in itself is probably unlikely to lead to a position whereby the House of Commons could accept the proposal being made by the House of Lords, and therefore the House of Lords should be a little more creative, inventive and constructive rather than seek to redefine an already entrenched position. What we are trying to avoid is a collision course, to which for a long time this House has been completely devoted, although one could argue that the vote of the House of Commons also put it on a collision course. But it is in the interest of both the Government and the constitution that we should at least examine whether there are any other means of compromise. Those I have advised against are ones which I genuinely believe will not do the trick, and I suspect that that will be the view of the House of Commons as well.
Will the Minister help the Committee a little more? As a mediator—to use his word—he has been advising us about what he as a mediator is against. Will he please tell us something, just one thing, that he as a mediator is for, because that might help us to reach conclusions and table further amendments?
If the noble Lord had any knowledge of industrial relations he would know that that is not the mediator's job. The mediator encourages the two sides to make propositions which bring them closer to each other. That is the position, I am afraid, and it is the sensible position to take today.
No doubt noble Lords will be talking across the lines to those who take a different view to see whether there are any other propositions which might secure a positive response in the House of Commons. Certainly the indications from the Government have been that we would consider such propositions, but ultimately the issue before this House is whether noble Lords can come up with a proposition which is likely to engage the majority in the House of Commons. If not, then it will be noble Lords themselves who put the House on course for deadlock and therefore the potential use of the Parliament Act. It would not be the Government and, at this point, it would not be the majority of the House of Commons.
My points have been procedural, although obviously I could respond also to a number of substantive points. However, we should deal with those in later amendments. In my two interventions I have probably said enough and I therefore defer to my noble friend Lord Donoughue to sum up the debate.
The amendment in my name is about registration, because we may have lost sight of that. I should point out that no one, not even the Minister, has spoken seriously against registration in the sense of pointing out any defects in it as a structural approach. I would also observe that the Minister has just said that the amendments being moved and the position we are moving towards "bear no relationship" to the Alun Michael Bill. I suggest that he might like to think about that again. Others would say that that was nonsense, but I do not use words like that about my noble friends. However, the vast bulk of this Bill, upwards of 90 per cent, is identical.
The main diversion in our discussion has been into compromise. I shall leave to one side the Parliament Act because that comes later. However, it is sad that, even when giving his reasons, the Minister has declined to indicate any direction towards compromise in which we could move that the Government might accept. I acknowledge that he cannot speak for the House of Commons.
I believe that this amendment proposing registration is a constructive compromise, and that within the framework of registration other moves towards compromise might be possible. That was indicated by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in her excellent speech, and by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. It is certainly possible. We are putting forward a structure of registration which contains within it the possibility for further compromise.
In this situation, one in which we still lack any information from the Government on other acceptable directions of compromise, the amendment would be a major and desirable step forward. I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
If noble Lords are leaving the Chamber, will they do so quietly and have conversations outside? My noble friend Lady Lockwood is having difficulty being heard.
moved Amendment No. 2:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—
(1) Hunting by an individual is registered if he is the subject of individual registration in respect of—
(a) wild mammals of the species hunted, and
(b) the area in which the hunting takes place.
(2) Hunting by an individual is also registered if—
(a) he participates in hunting by a group,
(b) at least one of the group is registered under a group registration in respect of—
(i) wild mammals of the species hunted, and
(ii) the area in which the hunting takes place, and
(c) his participation in the hunting is recorded under arrangements made in pursuance of section (Automatic conditions of group registration)(5).
(3) Hunting by an individual is also registered if—
(a) he participates in hunting by a number of individuals,
(b) one of the individuals is the subject of individual registration in respect of—
(i) wild mammals of the species hunted, and
(ii) the area in which the hunting takes place, and
(c) the condition of registration imposed by section (Automatic conditions of individual registration)(5) (maximum number of hunters) is complied with.
(4) In this Act—
"group registration" means registration under Part 1A pursuant to an application under section (Application on behalf of group), and
"individual registration" means registration under Part 1A pursuant to an application under section (Application by individual)."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 2 [Exempt hunting]:
In moving Amendment No. 3, I should like to speak to the remainder of the amendments in this variegated group relating to Wales. They are mainly probing amendments at this stage. We shall all wish to study the impact of the stupendous vote that has just taken place. The success of the amendments that have just been voted on has an implication for some of the amendments in this group.
The thrust of the matter is that there really is no demand for this Bill in Wales, for the full spectrum of reasons—the full gamut—with which we are all familiar. All the letters that I have received have been against it; they come from hunting and non-hunting people, and from all parts of Wales—from Rhondda, Cynon Taf and Pembrokeshire in the south to Towyn, Llanrwst and Wrexham in the north. The counterpart—the need for hunting to continue—is also very strongly felt in Wales.
I did not speak on Second Reading because I had expressed my views on a previous occasion—on the second day of the Committee stage of the Bill last year. I shall certainly not repeat that speech in case the Government decide to withdraw the Bill at this stage too. But I described the unique importance of hunting with dogs, usually far more than two, and a ubiquitous scattering of terriers, in keeping down the fox population in an upland mountainous country with literally millions of sheep. The pest control motivation for hunting with dogs is very strong in Wales and is largely maintained by the farming community in its own interests and that of its flocks.
The temporary suspension of hunting during the foot and mouth crisis in 2001 led to an explosion in the fox population, and lamb losses soared. I had foxes camping on the lawn that summer in my home in the Conwy valley. So I have considerable sympathy with the arguments put forward by those who wish to disapply the Bill to Wales. My favoured amendment is Amendment No. 59 to Clause 17, which would simply exclude Wales from the extent of the Bill. Nevertheless, I recognise that the total exclusion of Wales may not be an acceptable proposition to the Government and their diehard supporters in the other place. In that event, my second preference would be for the implementation of the Bill to be governed by the National Assembly for Wales. It is to achieve that end that the bulk of the remaining amendments in this group is devoted.
The National Assembly would, one hopes, be more sensitive to the requirements of different areas and interests in Wales. It did, in fact, ask the First Minister, Mr Rhodri Morgan, to approach central government with a view to ensuring that any decision to ban hunting with dogs should be taken by the Assembly rather than by this Parliament. I am bound to say that that made good sense, as the Assembly already has devolved to it some powers related to agriculture and animal welfare.
In replying to a question from Mr Glyn Davies, a Conservative Member of the Assembly, on
"I wrote to Jack Straw, who was the Home Secretary at the time, asking him to take into account the request of the previous Assembly—if I recall correctly, this was in 2001—to allow us to make that decision. He replied that he could not see any way of allowing that, because many hunts near the Wales-England border hunt across that border. He therefore thought that it would be unacceptable".
It seems to me that cross-border issues of that sort are usually soluble. They occur in the context of many England and Wales Bills in which the Assembly has powers, so I am surprised that that was advanced as a substantial reason for denying the Assembly a role in the Bill's implementation.
The First Minister went on to say:
"There are other areas where, as you correctly identified, there is a different pattern of hunting foxes, with gun and foot packs. That is much more common among the 56 hunts in Wales. As far as I am aware, and I will write to you if I am wrong, the Bill, as it is presently constituted, allows for the continued use of dogs to flush out foxes for the purposes of pest control. If I am wrong about that, I will write to you".
The First Minister has not yet written to Mr Davies, and when he does I hope that he will refer to the two-dog limitation, which is totally absurd, unless it actually means two dogs per huntsman.
I should have liked to see a clause in this Bill similar to Section 214 in the Education Act 2002, giving the Assembly a role in implementing the Bill in Wales. But that has never been on offer, so we have no option but to try to excise Wales from the scope of the Bill altogether or, failing that, to prescribe a role for the National Assembly as in the amendments in this group. I do not propose to go into them in further detail at this stage, but other Members of the Committee are welcome to do so. I beg to move.
The rationale behind the amendments is that many Defra functions have now been devolved to Wales—many more of them relating to agriculture than was first envisaged. The latest transfer of powers relates to veterinary decisions, particularly over disease control. The situation with regard to foot and mouth was very unsatisfactory during the outbreak, because decisions were being taken in London when the situation in Wales was totally different. That change recognises the fact that there is a very different situation in the countryside in Wales.
One problem in Wales is that there is a huge proportion of monoculture conifer softwood down the central Cambrian mountains area. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of softwood. One might refer to those trees with a wry smile, as they were planted deliberately between 1947 and 1960 for pit props. In retrospect, we know that pit props were themselves to become virtually redundant. Therefore, there is a lot of woodland of very low value, which cannot compete with the woodland from the Baltic states, which have a higher quality of wood on the international market.
That woodland provides a reservoir for foxes; there are hundreds of thousands of foxes in that unnatural monoculture. There are also, to compound the problem, massive numbers of sheep. There are more sheep in Wales than there are in the whole of Scotland, which is quite something when one thinks about it. The stocking densities are higher in Wales than they are in New Zealand—and sheep farming in those two countries can be compared because of the similarity in numbers of sheep. The fox is unfortunately the main predator on lambs, and there are very substantial losses of lambs from the predation of foxes. Much evidence on that matter was given in the Burns inquiry and in the Portcullis House hearings. Local evidence will prove crucial with regard to licensing and registration.
There are 49 hound packs in Wales and another seven or eight that cross the border and hunt in both countries. Indeed, the number of amendments in the group is large to cover the differences between Wales and England in terms of foxes, and they give powers to the National Assembly. For example, Amendment No. 3 would allow the National Assembly to vary a class of hunting. Amendment No. 12 would amend Amendment No. 11, which refers to registration. It ensures that the Bill is specific to England, because Wales needs special attention in this respect. The same applies to Amendment No. 14.
Amendment No. 15 ensures that the National Assembly for Wales can appoint a registrar for Wales. That means that someone who is knowledgeable and truly independent and who knows the situation of foxes and hunts in Wales can assist from a completely objective point of view.
Amendment No. 54 concerns the time when the Act comes into force. The point behind that amendment is that we want a separate decision from the National Assembly for Wales, which may need to be different. That power is found in Amendment No. 55. Amendment No. 59 would take Wales out of the Bill, and action would be decided by the National Assembly for Wales. Under Amendment No. 86, appeals would be provided for in Wales and the tribunal would sit in Wales, so disputes could be heard and settlements made locally.
So there are specific amendments to recognise the differences in Wales concerning the Bill. From what I said earlier, it is clear that, especially concerning registration, it is necessary that all those differences are taken into account. There is a democratic body to do so, and those decisions should be devolved to it.
It is a pleasure to follow my former Member of Parliament in Powys, who speaks with particular knowledge of the conditions that exist in that county and in mid-Wales as a whole. He spoke about the cultivation of monoculture softwoods in Wales combined with intensive sheep farming. I live in a valley where that is especially true; the valley is heavily forested—not entirely, I am glad to say, with conifers for pit props, because it is now being felled and replanted. Luckily, there are markets for that softwood in the paper mills and chipboard mills in Wales. The noble Lord is absolutely right about the conditions that exist there. There is a huge number of sheep on the hills, where the foxes are free to breed and roam in the forestry. Those sheep are therefore particularly vulnerable. So the noble Lord is right to suggest that there is strong feeling among the farming community in that area and other parts of Wales about the Bill.
I add that I have received representations from my former constituents in Pembrokeshire, many of whose jobs are threatened by the Bill. In fact, it was in Pembrokeshire that I learned painfully the lesson that it is hard to shoot a fox. In my early days as a Member of Parliament there, we used to have a snipe and woodcock shoot in the weeks after Christmas. Around St David's, where the hunt does not go, we used to try to shoot foxes. I fear that we wounded foxes more often than we killed them. To kill a fox with a shotgun, at any rate, is extremely difficult.
Like my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy, I support Amendment No. 59, to exclude Wales, but we are engaged in the business of compromise. Therefore, like my noble friend, I feel that we must drop that proposal and go along the line of registration. I have mixed feelings about the idea that the Assembly should deal with the matter. Of course, the Assembly could bring local knowledge, but there are problems on the borders. I live close to the border, where neither the hunts nor the foxes will observe the national frontiers. We do not want considerable differences between decisions taken by the authorities in each country. However, I suppose that my greater fear is that if we go down that road, we may again prejudice the compromise that we are all attempting to achieve. I will refrain from a final judgment on that issue until we develop the argument and see whether any form of compromise appears possible.
As this is the first occasion on which I have spoken during proceedings on the Bill—I did not speak at Second Reading—I want to make one other point. We are continually told, especially by some newspapers and certainly by a considerable number of Members in another place, that hunting is an occupation of the toffs. We are told that people dress up in red coats, and so on. Well, you will not find many red coats among the packs in Wales, and certainly few toffs.
I illustrate that point with one rather sad example. The son of some very close friends of ours, some near neighbours, was tragically killed at the age of about 19 in a car crash. There was a memorial service in the Roman Catholic church at Abergavenny. It is a very large church. That young man was widely known throughout the county, largely because he had hunted since he was a small boy. I do not think that I have ever seen a gathering that so widely represented the community. The church was packed; it was overflowing. There were not many toffs there. There were miners from the eastern valleys of Monmouthshire; there were farmers; and there were all sorts of people from in and around Abergavenny. It brought home to me, if it had not already been brought home to me through numerous other examples, that hunting is something that brings the community together in a remarkable way.
I make one other remark about the campaigns that have been fought on the issue in recent weeks and months. Again, we are told that those who were most vigorous in the demonstrations, those who occasionally go a little too far, are all old Etonians or those of a similar kind. I must tell the Committee that that is not true. I fear that a considerable number of them are Welsh former miners, trained by Arthur Scargill in the act of demonstrating vigorously. In Parliament Square, I have seen some of my fellow Welshmen waving the red dragon above their heads as they attacked the gates of Parliament itself.
I make that point only to reinforce the argument that we are not dealing here with some snobbish pursuit of an elite. In Wales, certainly, we are dealing with an occupation, a sport, a social and agricultural necessity, that embraces a huge range of people. It certainly embraces all those who live in the countryside, or a very large number of them, but, as anyone who knows anything about hunts in south Wales will know, it embraces a large number of miners, steelworkers and others of that character as well. They feel almost more strongly about the matter than anyone else.
So I conclude my remarks on the amendments by saying that we should not think that this is a matter of dealing with social issues and trying to put down the so-called toffs. We are dealing with something far more important. In Wales, we are dealing with the whole of the community.
It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I respectfully disagree with him in one respect. I have total confidence that if compromises are being looked for, Wales can find a compromise to beat them all. The reputation of Welsh fudge at every possible level one could imagine is rightly maintained. Indeed, I suspect that in Wales—I think that I hear the late Lord Geraint in my ear at a moment like this, although he might not put it like this, because he cut his teeth in negotiation and compromise as one of the creators of the Farmers' Union of Wales—we can manage impenetrable subtlety and enduring intellectual integrity with an ease that would baffle the English.
I wish to make three points. The first is that the character of hunting in Wales is singular, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said. I have received a very large number of letters on the Bill from people in Powys—mostly, as it happens, from former constituents of my noble friend Lord Livsey rather than my own former constituents. They all point out the singular character of hunting in Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, it is the activity not of "toffs" but of farmers and their friends. Hunting has a very singular rationale in Wales. Under a registration scheme it would combine an economic purpose, which is very important—namely, that of avoiding the deaths of large numbers of valuable young lambs that suffer a very cruel death at the hands particularly of a certain minority of dog foxes—with the welfare principle which I and the other members of the gang of four wish to insert in the Bill. I am making up for lost time tonight as I am also a member of the gang of three, as one of the signatories to this amendment. Therefore, my first point is about the character of hunting in Wales: it is very much a singular type of hunting.
My second point is about the views of the public in Wales. I know of no public opinion survey that contradicts in the slightest what I am about to say. The predominant number of the population of rural Wales is still engaged in, or is in some way connected with, farming. I am not sure what the relevant figure is now in Powys but in Montgomeryshire, at one time known as north Powys, there used to be 4,000 farmers in my living memory. So there are many thousands of farmers and the whole population, bar a few, is dependent upon that major industry of agriculture. The view of the population of the rural areas of Wales, not only in Powys, is virtually unanimous—as unanimous as one could ever find in political life—in opposing this Bill. Furthermore, the opposition is based not just on the merits of the case but is felt with a passion that exists in my experience only in politics in Wales. It is an opposition founded upon a sense of rank injustice that the Government—it is seen as the Government and not the House of Commons—seek to impose a ban on something which has utility and which is in the interests of animal welfare taken in the round, particularly if it is subject to registration. No one is really opposed to registration.
However, the more important point perhaps is the following. There are, of course, urban areas in Wales. There are highly industrialised urban areas in the south and some urban areas in the north, particularly in the north-east. Wales has large strips of coast which are to a great extent inhabited by a very mixed population, many of them people who have come from England to enjoy their retirement on the Welsh coast. I can confidently say that in so far as there is opposition in English urban areas to hunting, such opposition is very much less in Wales. On the whole the urban Welsh support hunting, particularly hunting subject to registration. The balance of the urban population of Wales regards what the Government are seeking to do as unjust. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, can blame the House of Commons as much as he wants, but the population in Wales will not accept that it is the House of Commons that has in some way ignored the compromise sought possibly by himself and certainly by the Prime Minister: it will be seen as the Government imposing this upon them.
The third point I want to make is about devolution. Devolution in Wales is still a very imperfect creature, as was recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in the commission report that he chaired, and as I think is recognised by almost all Members of the National Assembly for Wales. One of the reasons why devolution in Wales is an imperfect creature is because although in agriculture, for example, functions are very much devolved to Wales, not all of them are devolved. The classic example that I always think of concerns bugs on canals. The canals themselves are subject to control by a Westminster government department, but control of the bugs is devolved. That kind of confusion is not terribly helpful to good government in Wales and it makes it all the more difficult for people in Wales to get their heads round the fact that most Welsh government is run by the Assembly in Cardiff.
However, devolution is maturing quite well. On the whole support for the devolved functions of the National Assembly is increasing slowly but I think surely. What is absolutely certain is that devolution is here to stay. We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Crickhowell. I believe they both recognise that devolution is part of Wales' future and will continue to be so. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, cited the Assembly member, Glyn Davies, who happens to be the nearest thing I have to a next-door-neighbour. Glyn Davies, who is a very articulate member of the Welsh Assembly, recognises that devolution is part of the permanent political settlement for Wales. If devolution is to mean anything very convincing to the people of Wales—I am trying to avoid making the comparison with Scotland because that is over simplistic—surely the National Assembly for Wales should be able to determine matters of this kind. If it ends up taking a different view from that of England, so what? As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, I am sure that we can resolve the border issues. I think that I can cite Scotland in this regard as it had to resolve border issues and although that has caused difficulties it has led to neither revolution nor mayhem. My third point is that the maturing process of devolution justifies the amendment to which I have put my name and the devolution of decision-making on hunting to Wales.
We are not talking about something dramatically different in Wales; we are talking about the registration body in Wales looking at the rather different Welsh conditions. We are talking about the registration body considering the very high number of foxes with regard to the ecology referred to by my noble friend Lord Livsey. We are looking for what seems to me to be a reasonable settlement of the issue.
This amendment has been put forward by three very distinguished representatives of Wales whom we are lucky to have in our House. I am only sorry that the late Lady White, who used to speak up so passionately for Wales when I first came to the House, is no longer alive because I can imagine what she would have said tonight.
In his admirable speech on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, spoke of the importance of hunting in his former constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire. Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I have always failed to understand how, having decided to devolve some important responsibilities to Wales, some matters of deep concern to Wales' rural population have not been devolved. This was brought home to me tremendously during the foot and mouth crisis when the whole of the government policy was run, not at all efficiently, from London although it affected people deeply in Wales, and all the decisions were taken by people far away who knew nothing of the local problems. Now we have hunting which is quite different in Wales from what it is in most parts of England. Here again policy is decided in London.
As has been said, there is very strong support for hunting in Wales. The other day my wife and I had to go to our local graziers' meeting, which is something I always enjoy as the meeting is very outspoken. Nearly all the members who attend are working hill farmers. When the meeting broke up I was pushed into a corner and told in no uncertain terms what the members thought about the possibility of a hunting ban. I will not repeat all the things that they said about the House of Commons and the Prime Minister, but they felt very deeply about it.
Where I live in Radnorshire is wild and rocky country that suits foxes to a T. Hunting is really the only way to control them in the countryside, and they need to be controlled. It would have been far more sensible had Wales been allowed to make up its own mind on such issues, particularly on hunting. Conditions are very different, and it would be much more sensible for policy to be made by those who live in Wales and understand them. Reality being that they are not allowed to decide on the matter, I agree with what was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts—that the National Assembly be allowed to control implementation of the Bill. I am therefore very glad to support the amendment.
It would be appropriate if a Scot gave some support to the Welsh in the debate. They certainly deserve it; they have put their case very strongly. As one who has been around Westminster far too long, I think that the Government's manipulation of the procedure in the House of Commons and here is a disgrace. Under the guise of having a free vote, they think that they can get away with anything, whether it is a guillotine or no time for discussion at Second Reading, in Committee, on Report or at Third Reading in another place, where it was all rushed through in a day merely to suit the Government's wish. It is no use the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, saying that the vote is free, that the matter is up to the Commons and all that. The Government organise everything; they have led the way into the trap and muddle in which we find ourselves.
I support my Welsh colleagues on the amendment. My old constituency of Dumfries is very similar to parts of Wales, in having deep and steep river valleys in which the only way to hunt foxes was on foot. In my lifetime, we have had three foot packs, one of which was very good until devolution. Welsh Members of the Committee rightly want to give the devolved Assembly the power to make the decision. I hope that they get a better decision out of it than we got from the Scottish Parliament, which all too quickly banned fox hunting and has been singularly unhelpful to the countryside generally. It is essential to have hill packs in Scotland, as it is in Wales. The valleys are too steep for horses, and one has to go on foot to find the earth on the hillsides. They have to be carefully managed in terms of hill lambing each spring. It is vital that we do not have a superfluous number of foxes, which do so much damage to the hill lambs in April and May.
We want to give all possible power to the Welsh Assembly on the matter, because I suspect that it has much greater knowledge of fox hunting on foot than the Scottish Parliament does. We have already lost the eight Scottish foxhound packs, although they are being revived as gun packs. There has been a loss to the countryside. Farming has been hit hard by the removal of the fallen stock option in relation to the hunt kennels. The Government have certainly not taken that sufficiently into consideration.
We Scots have seen how important it is to have packs of hounds, and how sad it is that we have lost them through devolution and a Parliament that does not understand the countryside. I hope that the Welsh Members of the Committee are more successful than the Scots.
I will not follow the noble Lord in casting any aspersions at the Scottish Parliament, as it looked after me rather well at the opening ceremony very recently. However, it is a pleasure to concur with the remarks in relation to foot packs and the nature of the countryside. I had not intended to speak at great length on the amendment, but I want to support it. In doing so, I obviously declare an interest as Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, at least for the next three years.
I want to try to impress on the Government that the issue is one on which they can pursue the much-heralded compromise that we heard about earlier. I detect nothing constitutionally out of order about Amendment No. 3 or the consequential amendments. However, I was bemused to see that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy—we have shared a valley for many years—had suddenly become a separatist. I assume that he is only a constitutional separatist for the purposes of the Bill; I shall stop there. The rest of the amendments are consequential on the proposal to give the Assembly order-making powers in lieu of those of the Secretary of State within the Bill.
One of my duties in the National Assembly is to sign the orders proposed by government Ministers and made by the Assembly because, under the relevant Act, they are signed by the Presiding Officer. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has regular dealings with agricultural and countryside ministerial colleagues in Wales; Alun Michael himself was once a Minister of ours, but I should not stray down that avenue either. My point is that the issue is a good example of where an order-making power—it could vary the way in which registration would function in Wales—could work effectively. It could take account of all the views conveyed by other Members of the Committee. I live in the middle of Snowdonia, and have those views conveyed to me forcefully every weekend. We feel it important that we should not only represent those viewpoints, but look for a tidy constitutional way to deal with them. The amendments on a registration system in Wales set up by resolution of the National Assembly on a piece of subordinate legislation seem the clear and obvious way of doing that.
The matter is not for the House of Commons, but one on which we would expect a view from the Minister. It is very much on the same wavelength as all the other devolution that has taken place on animal welfare and agriculture, as has been pointed out. The Government could make a gesture this evening, and at least indicate that the subject might be returned to during the Bill's passage through this House—even that something might be considered appropriate to be introduced in whatever form when the Bill returns to the House of Commons. That would reflect precisely the form of devolution that we have, in terms of its principle and practicalities. It is not the form that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, hopes to bring to us, but it is the form that we have, whereby primary legislation designed for England and Wales is then adapted by order, with the National Assembly standing in place of the Secretary of State.
I commend Members of the Committee on producing the amendment, and earnestly hope that the Government can see that it is a fine example of the compromise that they seek.
In rising briefly, perhaps I can declare my interest as a non-Welshman in this debate among the Welsh. I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Roberts for two reasons. First, I have spent time hunting in Wales, both on foot and mounted. I have also spent summer holidays in Wales riding there. I know very well all the reasons for this amendment and why it should be a separate matter. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said. He has put the case for why the Welsh case is separate extremely well and I shall not go over it again.
Among those reasons are the number of sheep in Wales and the amount of money involved. We are always being told by those who seek reassurance from the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, that only 2 per cent or 3 per cent of lambs are killed by foxes. However, if 2 per cent of the approximately 3 million ewes and 4 million lambs in Wales were killed by foxes, it would amount, at £50 per lamb, to a cost of about £5 million to the Welsh rural economy. I think that that should be taken into account. It is not a point that can be put on one side and forgotten. It is a lot of money to Welsh sheep farmers. I agree with everything that noble Lords have said on that.
The fact that this amendment had to be tabled shows how utterly inadequate the Bill was when it came from the other place. It was railroaded through the other place. It did not have a Committee stage; it was deemed to have had a Committee stage, rather like Alice in Wonderland. So none of these points were examined there. Surely that is what we are here for. That goes to the heart of the weakness that we have to accept the Bill whole or reject it whole if we are not to be threatened with the Parliament Act. It seems utterly absurd that the whole problem for Welsh farming and the depredations of foxes on lambs and on farming should simply be dismissed with no discussion at all. It is so astonishing.
I hope that this amendment at least will find favour with the Committee, the Government and the other place. Surely it is a matter of natural justice. I strongly support the amendments in this group and what has been said about them. If there is a vote, I shall certainly join noble Lords in the Lobby.
For 16 years I was chairman of the British Field Sports Society, which preceded the Countryside Alliance, and for many years I used to have to go down to Wales. It was an eye opener to me, having been brought up in Leicestershire, to see what hunting was like in Wales. We went right down into the valleys on the edge of the Banwen miners' country.
On another occasion, I was asked to go to Abergavenny. The Monmouthshire hounds went out on a Saturday. Everyone went out mounted, hoping to enjoy themselves, catch a few foxes and have a lot of fun. The next day, they went out as a gun pack. That was an eye opener to me. The cover was surrounded by people with their guns. The same hounds were put in and they flushed the foxes out. And, as always happens on these occasions, there was a fox that was not totally dead. The hounds pursued it and marked it to ground.
I know that the new rules are different, but, 20 years ago, the rules were perfectly clear. If you marked a fox to ground, you put the terriers in and bolted it, but you had to keep the hounds a long way off and give it a bit of a start. On this occasion, however, the huntsman formed up and said, "You realise, don't you, that lambing starts in a week's time and we have to kill these foxes?". That was the whole attitude of Wales: you have to keep the foxes down.
I believe that we should support the amendment, which allows the Welsh to make their own arrangements for dealing with the particular problem of foxes.
I should like to make one lawyer's point. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred to the fact that it was suggested that the objection to his proposal was the difficulty of packs that hunt across the border. I would suggest to him that, at least in relation to registration, that really is not an objection at all. This Bill applies to England and Wales and a registered group will be excused under the amendment that has just been passed. Such groups will be registered whether they are registered in England or Wales. So they will not suddenly start committing an offence as they cross the border. All that will be needed is a reasonable arrangement between the two registrars that each of them deals with the hunt that is predominantly in England or in Wales. There is only one registration, but it seems to me that that registration will be totally valid for them when they cross the border.
So I hope that the noble Lord will not be daunted in his cause, at least in relation to a Welsh registrar and a Welsh registration system, by the point about cross-border hunting—which seems to be no objection to a separate registration system.
I hope that enough has been said by now by noble Lords who have preceded me to persuade the Minister to consider Wales as a special case and, moreover, that this is precisely the sort of area where the devolved powers of the Welsh Assembly should be called into use. I have not contributed to any hunting debate before now. I have never hunted and have no interest in hunting. However, I have to say that it is something that is deeply embedded in the countryside around my home in north-east Wales.
I have risen to my feet because the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, referred to north-east Wales. The area where I was brought up was mining, steelmaking and entirely urban, but I never detected any hostility to those in the countryside around who chose to go hunting.
One of the things that I would like to say to the Committee is how deeply embedded in history is the Watkin Williams-Wynn hunt that surrounds the town of Wrexham, where I live. I recall—it is nothing to do with studies into hunting—that, in about 1735, the Sir Watkin of that day imprisoned a Methodist minister who dared to preach outside the gates of his establishment in Ruabon. The following week, there was a reaction by a Methodist minister coming to the area in order to preach against him. He prayed to God that God would strike down that devil Sir Watkin. On that very day, Sir Watkin was killed. His neck was broken in a hunting accident in Acton.
So the Watkin Williams-Wynn hunt has been going a very long time. It is from them that I receive the correspondence, as most of your Lordships have, in connection with this matter.
I also recall that, towards the end of the 18th century, a local author, William Apperley—who wrote under the name of Nimrod many hunting yarns—told the story of the vicar of Gresford, where I live, who was so enthused by hunting that he allowed his parish clerk to give the sermon while he gathered with the local gentry at the back of the church in order to discuss how hunting had gone in the previous week. It is part of the community. The letters that I receive are from people whose livelihood depends on hunting and the existence of the hunts that surround the various urban areas in north-east Wales.
I believe that this is an issue that the National Assembly should be charged with looking at and regulating as it sees fit. If we are different from England, so be it. Scotland is different, anyway. Whether that is good or bad, I do not know; but I certainly think that the fabric of the Welsh countryside should be in the hands of the National Assembly for Wales.
I should like to say just a few words in support of the amendment, not out of any particular sympathy—or, indeed, deep affection—for the Welsh, though I have many friends who live there. However, I wish to address this matter purely from a practical point of view. My question for the Minister is: if the Welsh are not to employ fox hunting as a means of controlling foxes, what are they going to do? The same applies to the Lake District, regarding which there is an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. Such areas have relied on fox hunting, not only as a means of social cohesion, but as a practical way of controlling foxes.
I have an interesting quote from the National Farmers Union of Wales, dated January 2002, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, probably more than anyone in your Lordships' House, will know the difficulties that Welsh farmers and, indeed, all upland farmers, face. The quote states:
"The ban on fox hunting over the last year (due to the foot and mouth epidemic) 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 the numbers they lose jump to between 35 and 40".
I do not think that many small farmers, whether they are in Wales, Dartmoor or the Lake District, can afford to sustain those levels of losses. If they are not going to employ fox hounds and the fell packs to control the foxes, how will they do so? We all know that lamping is a perfectly acceptable way of controlling foxes in certain areas. But there have to be tracks on which vehicles can cross. Much of the countryside that we are discussing in Wales is impregnable for vehicles. Such a means of control would not be feasible. When the Minister replies to my noble friend's amendment, will he explain to the Committee how foxes can be controlled in Wales if a ban on fox hunting came into force?
The contribution from the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has summarised how incredibly complex the system of fox hunting is. Like the noble Lord, Lord Monro, I live in Scotland. I wish to echo his words, because we have both suffered from the awful effects of that "pretendy wee parliament" in Edinburgh. It does not begin to understand the countryside and the saddest thing of all is that it does not care about it. The reason that I support these amendments is that I hope that the Welsh will not fall into the same dreadful trap that us poor Scots have had to fall into.
I thank my noble friend for bringing this group of amendments to the Committee. I do not often go to Wales, but for the past three years I have been able to holiday in the Brecon area—and would have this year, if the holiday had not been cancelled at the last moment. Like my noble friend Lord Kimball, I am used to the fairly low-lying area of Leicestershire. If I was being critical, I should say that I live on the slightly hillier side of Leicestershire. But in no way does that compare with the terrain that has been referred to by so many noble Lords today. It is that terrain that makes this group of amendments so important.
When the Minister responds I hope that he will provide facts and figures as to how he envisages the ban operating if it is imposed by another place. Noble Lords have referred to the loss of sheep. In my misspent youth I was a poultry farmer and if we did not get our chickens and hens in before dark we were likely to lose many of them. That situation applies to a controlled area. Where there are areas of hill, forest or rock, it is impossible to gain access to control foxes. The gun packs there have done a tremendous job of trying to protect many of those sheep farmers in Wales.
On one of my holidays the cottage that we stayed in was supposed to be the highest cottage in the Brecon Beacons—at some 1,200 feet. I was lucky on that occasion, because we had a clear week there and one felt that one was so near to the stars that one could touch them. There was nothing else around us except stars and a profusion of sheep. I have also been to Wales on official visits, and for the farmers that I have spoken to over the years, concern to protect their flocks was key to the success of their long term profitability. So this is an immensely important issue.
Some noble Lords have referred to the question of what would happen to fallen stock if the Government pushed ahead with a ban. I hope that when the Minister replies he will refer to that, because it is important for Wales, where there may be fewer options for farmers than in England. As my noble friend Lord Peel rightly asked, if a ban is to be imposed, how will those foxes in such difficult areas be controlled? My noble friend and all noble Lords who have spoken should not apologise for having raised this issue, because it is important to Wales. I will always fight the corner for UK farmers and English farmers in particular, but in this case Welsh farmers are that much more threatened than their English counterparts.
There has been widespread support for at least the principle of the amendments in the group, including support from some fairly unlikely devolutionists. I must take account of that. However, some of the remarks ignored the obvious effect of the vote we have just taken. We are now talking about a Bill that includes a system of registration. A system of registration would allow the tribunal to look at some of the particular characteristics of Wales, whoever it was run by.
The problem with the amendment as it stands is that under the Government of Wales Act hunting is a reserved matter. There are no powers for the Assembly in that Act. To reopen that issue would threaten to reopen the matter of the whole devolution settlement. I appreciate that some of your Lordships might be in favour of that, but it is a much bigger issue than the matter that we are dealing with today. It is true that members of the Assembly, Ministers and others in Wales provided evidence to Alun Michael in the period before the original Bill was brought before the House of Commons. Their views were taken into account and there was no separate proposition for Wales in the original Bill; nor was it considered necessary in Committee in the House of Commons. Of course, some administrative arrangements could be made under the unified system, with a tribunal meeting in Wales, which would make it convenient for those who had issues relating to specific terrain or problems of pest control and so on within Wales. Within a registered system it would not be necessary to devolve powers to take account at least of some of Wales' special characteristics.
Having said that, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, indicated that this was a probing amendment at this stage and I hope that he will not take it any further this evening.
I suspect that, in the light of the decision made by the Committee, that matter is strictly out of order.
That remains an interesting question which is at the heart of the debate. I thank the Minister for his brief reply, but I also thank all noble Lords who have participated in this enlightening debate. We have covered a substantial group of amendments with varied notions behind them. But there were certain points on which all speakers agreed. The first was that made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, regarding the singular nature of hunting in the countryside in Wales. It is something with which we have all been brought up and which we all enjoy. It is certainly not, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, a pastime for the snobbish and so on. Many people in Wales who wear red ties also wear red coats, especially when one goes in the direction of the Banwen hunt.
So we are certainly all agreed on that point. We are all agreed also about the importance of hunting to agriculture. I am grateful to my noble friends who mentioned the very real lamb losses that have been and are incurred in Wales because of foxes. My noble friend Lord Peel was absolutely right to say that during the foot and mouth epidemic, lamb losses leapt from a fairly low average to something of the order of 35 to 40.
Although there are many ways, as we all know, of reducing the fox population, in the terrain of Wales—in the uplands and the mountainous regions—there is really nothing for it but to hunt the fox population with dogs. That has been borne out to me on a variety of occasions. A farmer at Betws-y-Coed, at the far end of our valley, was plagued by a fox that killed more than 30 of his lambs, which was a loss that he, as a small farmer, could not endure. He tried everything—lamping, shooting and so on—but nothing could dislodge that fox apart from, in the end, the call on the Aber Hunt, and, of course, the dogs were effective.
The whole subject of devolution has also been raised. In my opening speech, I referred to a reply that was given by Mr Rhodri Morgan in the National Assembly for Wales. Anyone who listened to that reply would know that Mr Morgan was clearly not particularly interested in this Hunting Bill, because he did not know that it prohibited hunting with more than two dogs. His reply made me wonder why he was not so interested in hunting. Perhaps it is a measure of the unpopularity of the Bill that no profound cry has been heard from the National Assembly for the right to implement it. Certainly, it is very unpopular in Wales and none of those who spoke in this debate indicated anything other than total opposition to the ban.
I thank again those who have participated and I end where I began; that is, by recognising the fact that the overwhelming vote in favour of registration earlier today will certainly have an impact on the view that we take of the various amendments in this group. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
As Schedule 1 is attached to Clause 2, it would be right and proper to draw to your Lordships' attention the anomalies that exist in Schedule 1. I do not know to what extent your Lordships have had the opportunity to examine it in close detail but, quite frankly, as it stands, it deems this legislation to be virtually unworkable.
There are clearly two issues here: the issue of hunting and whether we should be allowed to continue; and the practical implication of the legislation. It is the latter which I would like to draw to your Lordships' attention.
The Government made a firm commitment, which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, confirmed at Second Reading, that it was not their intention to impinge in any way on shooting or fishing. However, I would suggest that Schedule 1 impinges quite considerably on shooting. I acknowledge that I have tabled a number of amendments that will deal with these specific points later on, but it is worth looking at Schedule 1 as it stands. As I have said, it is an unworkable piece of legislation.
As I understand it, if a beater on a pheasant shoot had more than two dogs, he would be committing an offence. One would have to ask whether 20 beaters with one dog each were committing an offence. I welcome the anomaly that gamekeepers would be allowed to use a dog underground to control foxes for game birds, but why on earth would farmers not be able to do the same in order to protect livestock?
Furthermore, it would be illegal to put a dog underground to control a fox in order to protect birds which are not being preserved for shooting. Therefore, if the warden of a nature reserve on which there is golden plover, curlew or whatever finds foxes creating difficulties—as undoubtedly they do—he would not be able to control them by that method. The provision is riddled with anomalies and, frankly, I deem this legislation unworkable.
However, one point is more important than all others; the inconsistency in our dealings with mammals. Why is it that rabbits and rats can be hunted with more than two dogs, yet mice, stoats or weasels cannot? That strikes me as completely inconsistent. Unless the Government can come forward with a moral and scientific justification for these strange differentials, I question whether the schedule has any relevance.
I agree with the noble Earl that time would be saved if the Minister could answer one or two of the points that have been made. I have a worry about Schedule 1. It describes exempt hunting being where two dogs are used in flushing a wild mammal out of cover provided that it is shot dead by a competent person. That is one of the conditions. Do the proponents of a hunting ban really want dogs to be used to flush an animal out of cover, provided that a competent marksman stands ready to shoot it dead? That seems an absolute absurdity.
If that is what the Minister regards as exempt hunting, it is way beyond anything I can imagine in terms of animal cruelty. I therefore hope that he will take this opportunity to give an explanation.
We have a difficulty because amendments have been tabled to Schedule 1, and it is very difficult to reply on the provisions of that schedule in advance of those amendments. In a way, it would be more practical to consider the Question whether the clause shall stand part following the Committee's deliberations on those amendments.
I do not want to go into the detail of Schedule 1 but, following what was said by my noble friend, can the Minister tell us under what principles the Government are including those mammals in Schedule 1? Indeed, if the Government want the power to vary the measure, how do they consider that they will do that? What are they looking at? Are they to vary the types of animals that are included or, under Clause 2, can they vary the terms on which those animals may or may not be hunted? It would be helpful if the Minister could answer the questions of principle that relate to Clause 2 rather than those relating to any individual parts, to which the noble Baroness referred, when we consider the amendments to Schedule 1.
I rise briefly to support the Motion that Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill. I am suffering a certain amount of shock, as, I am sure, is the Minister, for whom I have a growing sense of sympathy due to the position in which he finds himself. He gave clear advice to the House and then found that his noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor had voted against him, as did a number of his ministerial colleagues, in what was, in my brief experience of this House, a fairly overwhelming vote in favour of the setting up of registered hunting.
I am concerned about Clause 2 because of the continual problem of registration, regulation, licensing, or whichever word one chooses, and the complexities that it brings with it. I am an unashamed admirer of, and would prefer to see, self-regulation, for the reasons that I gave a little earlier. There is no question that one success that those who are opposed to cruelty and hunting can claim is that hunting is now in the spotlight and that the hunting community is determined to see that its activities are conducted in an acceptable and fair way.
From the debates at Second Reading and earlier today, it is clear that a number of Members who are opposed to hunting, and who have expressed their views clearly, have had unpleasant experiences. Having heard a description of those experiences, no noble Lord will have had any difficulty in recognising them to be quite unacceptable and matters on which, in the current climate and the foreseeable future, the Masters of Foxhounds Association and others will have no hesitation in taking drastic action. That is a success.
As the noble Lord will know, that is a matter for the police. Of course, the invasion was wrong. I do not think that we want to overdramatise it. Although they should certainly not have been there and it was wrong that they were there, I do not think that those involved in the Chamber did any damage. I believe that they assisted the Deputy Serjeant at Arms to his feet when he fell over, and they behaved in an otherwise courteous way. However, the invasion was unacceptable, and the noble Lord and I, who have served in another place, would be the first to defend the sanctity of the House of Commons and its Chamber. I hope that the noble Lord is not suggesting that that is a reason to ban hunting, as I do not think that that argument would stand. However, he has had unpleasant experiences.
The noble Lord made his personal view absolutely clear. He thinks that hunting is cruel and he does not accept cruelty. Of course, he has not studied the matter with anything like the depth that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his commission have done. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, made clear that his commission did not find that hunting was cruel and they made that clear in their report. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, has his personal view, which he is perfectly entitled to have. But he is seeking—
I understand that the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, does not wish to give way at this point. It is Committee, and my noble friend can intervene later. I repeat my warning that we are debating at length whether a clause shall stand part of the Bill, but we shall come to that clause later. The Committee may like to know that the whole debate may be repeated then, and it may not wish that to happen.
In the interests of the Committee and of time, the noble Lord will excuse me if I do not engage in a running interchange. I know that his views are different from mine. I am simply making a valid point, and I hope that he will allow me the freedom to make it. He has a personal view about cruelty. It is not a view that I share. From the vote, it will be clear to him that it is not a view that the vast majority in the Committee shares. Against that background, I am obviously disappointed that the noble Lord feels that he should seek to impose his view, as have those in another place. They not only disagree with the other view but they are compelling other people not to pursue what they think is right.
The reason that I rose to speak is that the new clause proposed in Amendment No. 2 is the start of the process of debate on various amendments relating to registered hunting. That is the new clause that we shall add to the Bill if the Committee decides to vote for it.
The reason that I was disappointed with the comments of the Minister is that we in this Chamber have another duty. Having said that I think that it is the least worst alternative to my preferred option—I am compromising on that and am prepared to say that we should go for registration—if we put it in place, we have a duty to ensure that it is workable.
Having inherited a Bill which the Ministers responsible for it themselves say is not workable, the biggest crime that we could commit would be to introduce a registration system that was not workable. That is why I attach such importance to the amendments which are not before us at present and which, in the interests of the noble Baroness, I shall not discuss. But the principle of registration, establishing the new clause and ensuring that we debate the further issues and make it workable are very important.
I shall speak briefly. I have a great deal of sympathy for the remarks expressed by my noble friend Lord Astor a short time ago. I am uneasy about Clause 2(2). The noble Baroness will be glad to hear that I shall not go into the detail of Schedule 1, but that schedule is a very extended piece of literature.
It seems to me that if the Bill were to go through with Clause 2 in its present form, giving the Secretary of State the power to amend by order any class of exempt hunting in Schedule 1, a coach and horses could be driven through the Bill by the very simple parliamentary device of laying an order. It does not say here, although I imagine that it is stated somewhere in the Bill, whether it is an affirmative or negative order, and those are very different matters. I should have much preferred the Bill to say that the Secretary of State may by order amend Schedule 1 so as to extend, rather than vary, a class of exempt hunting.
We may go through the whole parliamentary process of this House and another place by making amendments to the Bill. It must go through the process of primary legislation, but the Bill could be changed completely by the device of laying a statutory instrument. I think that that is very dangerous and perhaps we should think about that between now and Report.
My reply will be slightly strange because issues have been raised on a schedule on which we have subsequent amendments and, with one or two honourable exceptions, on more general points in a debate on clause stand part. I do not believe that that is an appropriate use of a debate on clause stand part.
The key issue which relates to the clause stand part debate was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. Almost all the other remarks were either general or related to something that will arise under Schedule 1. I shall deal first with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, raised.
It is only my second mistake—maybe I have made more. I apologise to the noble Viscount and to his cousin.
The second part of the clause includes a provision allowing the Secretary of State, by order, to vary an exemption as provided in Schedule 1. That is a much more limited power than the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, feared. It does not permit new exemptions to be added, or ones that are there to be subtracted. But it enables the detailed conditions set out in Schedule 1, relating to those different mammals or operations, to be varied in the light principally of changes in best practice for securing animal welfare outcomes. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, those changes would be subject to affirmative rather than to negative resolution.
To be honest, I believe that was the only point on Clause 2 as it stands, which is a clause that was in the original Bill. As it introduces Schedule 1, it applies equally well to a registration system and to a ban. I do not believe that any other points were made on the clause to which I need reply.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I apologise to the House for the fact that I am struggling with my voice at the moment. My noble friends have raised two important issues. I believe the Minister said that the clause varies a class of exempt hunting and that that would relate to a matter of animal welfare. If that is so, would it not be more sensible if it said that? At the moment it certainly does not say that.
On the second point, raised by my noble friend Lord Jopling, the Minister knows well that I am not keen on statutory instruments and orders coming through, although it would be an affirmative one, because at that stage there would be very little that the House could do to alter it, whereas in Committee we can make alterations. Perhaps the Minister would quickly comment on that.
If the noble Baroness wishes to table an amendment at a later stage no doubt we can reflect on that. On being able to change the conditions that relate to animals or activities specified in Schedule 1, that would be by affirmative order and would probably be introduced on the basis of changes in experience and best practice in animal welfare circumstances, but there could be other reasons.
The point I am making is that this clause is primarily to introduce Schedule 1 and it is equally applicable to a system of registration. Therefore, I would hope that any attempt to remove the clause, which would destroy many of the purposes of exemptions to registration or exemptions to a ban subject to registration, would fall. I am not sure if the other points were, in reality, points to be made in a clause stand part debate. I hope that that will not be repeated at later stages of the Bill.
I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He said that there is a limited power of variation. In the mean time, I have looked at the Bill, but I cannot find where that comes in. It is not in Clause 1. Can the Minister tell me where it comes in? He said the power was limited in the way that it affected exempt hunting and exempt animals. I cannot find it in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister and his advisers will be able to tell me quickly where it is.
It is in the clause to which he objects. The clause states:
"may by order amend . . . so as to vary a class".
It does not say "add" or "exclude" a class specified. It says that it can vary the definition and the conditions attached to the exemption.
I have a brief question for the Minister. It relates to coursing, but not, of course, to hare coursing as referred to in Clause 5, which deals with coursing events. Those of us who live near the downs in Oxfordshire suffer from illegal coursing. It happens every weekend and it happens in one of my fields on the edge of the downs. Almost every weekend groups of people—often more than a dozen—participate in coursing there. We have one extremely helpful policeman with a Land Rover who occasionally comes along and chases them but, not unreasonably, he is somewhat nervous of getting out of his vehicle and dealing with them because there are more of them than us.
When I read this clause I suddenly realised that it says,
"knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used".
I do not want those people there, but I am rather concerned that I knowingly permit them because I have no way of stopping them. Can the Minister tell me whether that is an adequate defence?
Any action taken under threat of force can be taken as an offence. The point of the clause is to make it an offence to permit illegal hunting, or if coursing were back in, subject to a subsequent amendment that we shall reach shortly, it would be an offence to allow people knowingly to operate on your land. Anything that is done under duress, of course, is covered by the criminal law in any case.
I want to raise a very short but important point. Clause 4 sets out a defence of a person charged with an offence under Clause 1. It is what is called in my profession and by the judiciary a reverse onus provision. It requires the person charged to prove on the balance of probabilities that he believed that the hunting was now register exempt and to prove that that belief was reasonable.
It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that the Government either have taken into account or will take into account the very recent decision of your Lordships' House in the case of DPP v Sheldrake, which was reported in recent days. It may be that a reverse onus provision of that kind may be found not to be compatible with the European Convention and may require some amendment.
The noble Lord will recognise that this is a standard safeguard to ensure that people who have no intention of doing something illegal are not found guilty of doing so if they reasonably believe that it is legal. I am not aware of any implication from the case that he cites. Clearly, I shall take the matter away and see if there are any implications. If there are, it will have fairly widespread implications in other statutes.
This may be an appropriate moment to move that the House be resumed. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.30 p.m.