Hunting Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:30 pm on 11th November 2004.

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Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative 12:30 pm, 11th November 2004

My Lords, as other noble Lords have said, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, put forward a very persuasive argument to try to give the impression to your Lordships that if the amendments were accepted, a sensible system of registration would be put in place and decisions could be made accordingly. But as my noble friend Lord Astor has quite rightly pointed out, there is no question of doubt that if the amendments are accepted, they would lead to a ban in everything but name.

I was very interested in the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, whom we all respect, particularly on matters to do with the rural environment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, the noble Lord suggested to your Lordships that if we were to reject the amendments, we would, for all intents and purposes, be saying goodbye to a possible registrative Bill. However, he put an interesting question to us: if the Alun Michael proposals, which were amended in Standing Committee, would, in effect, have allowed hunting to continue, why did the House of Commons reject it? Why did we end up with the Banks/Kaufman Bill?

It is a pretty well known secret that the Minister, Alun Michael, was distressed, to say the least, by the outcome. He tried to persuade his colleagues in another place not to pursue an outright ban, because, in effect, that is what they had anyway. I think that we all know that. So I urge your Lordships to reject these amendments because, as I have said, they amount to a ban in everything but name.

I want to make two points. The first is on the question of wildlife management, which we debated in Committee. That debate was led by my noble friend Lord Mancroft, who put forward the arguments in a highly persuasive fashion. As somebody who is involved in the management of the countryside, I find it quite incomprehensible that we could not embrace the concept of the management of wild mammal populations. That is the cornerstone of the inter-relationship between predators and prey, between wildlife and the countryside. It is absolutely basic to the very principles of what we are trying to do. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, pointed out, the Minister, Alun Michael, recognised that in the early part of the discussions on the Bill. He said:

"I plan to set out proposals for Parliament which can form good and robust law and can take us forward into the 21st century, able to reflect evolving views on animal welfare and wildlife management".

Nothing could be clearer than that.

Among other points, the noble Baroness raised the whole question of principle and evidence on which the Minister has been basing his approach to the Bill. If we accept the amendment, principle and evidence go out of the window.

I shall say a few words about stag hunting. I do not hunt. I have been down to Exmoor only once, out of interest and curiosity, to see for myself how that form of hunting operated. I was convinced beyond any question of doubt, as the noble Baroness said, that it is by far and away the most effective way of managing that deer population. Where is the evidence to suggest that we should pre-empt what a registrar may decide by taking stag hunting out of the registration system? That would be quite wrong. I have always been immensely impressed by some of the comments that have been made by the Exmoor National Park Authority. It has stated that a ban might adversely affect the future sustainability of the herd. It has referred to cultural heritage. It has stated that a ban could put the national park authority's own statutory purposes and duties at risk. They are very powerful arguments.

In the absence of evidence against stag hunting, who are we to pre-determine the outcome of any deliberations or decisions by the registrar? Who are we to impose in such an arbitrary fashion a restriction on those who have managed these herds so effectively and for so long? To bend to prejudice in this way would be wholly contrary to the democratic process.

The Bill as it stands produces a framework by which stag hunting can be judged along with all other forms of hunting. I believe that to be the responsible approach and it would be highly responsible for your Lordships today to be acting as judge and jury.