Hunting Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:18 pm on 11th November 2004.

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Photo of Lord Jopling Lord Jopling Conservative 1:18 pm, 11th November 2004

My Lords, these two amendments have been received by your Lordships in our discussion this afternoon in a much more friendly way than was the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and my noble friend in Committee. I very much welcome that. I am sorry that my name does not appear attached to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Inglewood, but that is purely because I forgot to add it. I hope that your Lordships will remember that I have spoken on the issue of fell hunting at every stage of the Bill—in Committee and on Second Reading—as I did on the previous Bill in the previous Session. If we are moving towards restrictions on hunting, fell hunting is the one area that we must do everything that we can to save because of its essential nature to farming in those parts of the world.

Reference has been made to further discussion on these lines at Third Reading. I must tell your Lordships that I shall not be able to be here next week for Third Reading, because I shall be attending a NATO meeting as a representative of your Lordships' House. Of course I understand why there is a feeling of great unity among all hunting people, whether they hunt foxes or other mammals and whether they hunt in the lowlands on horses or on foot in the uplands. I understand that unity.

I am sorry about some of the arguments that have been advanced—in a much more friendly way, as I said— especially by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke. With regard to his three points, the issue of whether a run should take place over the border of a less favoured area could easily be got over if we defined hunting by the place where the hunt met on a certain day. Provided that it met in a less favoured area, it would not matter at all if it happened to run over the border. We could easily get over that. My noble friend also said that he did not see why there should be an exception for the fells. Others have made that point: why should there be an exception for fell hunting?

The answer is simple. Hunting foxes in the fells is essential for sheep farming in those areas, whereas in the lowlands—I speak as a farmer with a hunt that runs over my farm—it is nowhere near as important. As my noble friend Lord Inglewood said, it is important in some cases, but it is nowhere near as important for economic farming practices as it is in the fells.

On my noble friend's third point, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said that if we were to get licensing and the registrar, the amendment would be unnecessary. That is exactly the point that my noble friend Lord Inglewood made. As I see it, this proposal is a long stop in the event that another place decides that it is not interested and rejects the concept of a registrar and controlled hunting.

Sooner or later, noble Lords must face up to the possibility that realpolitik will come in to this issue. There are Members of another place who have been fighting this battle for a very long time. I cannot believe that when they are within a week or so of attaining their goal, they will buy some of the solutions proposed by your Lordships. I have voted for all of them gladly. I hope to heaven that they do accept some of them.

However, given my many years of experience as one who tried to control voting habits in another place as a Government Chief Whip, if the Government want a compromise in another place and set on the Whips to try to attain a compromise on the lines of some of the proposals of my noble friends, and if they achieve that, it will be the greatest whipping achievement. I should be immensely surprised if the Whips were to succeed in getting the majority in another place to agree to some of these proposals.

The time is coming. We will have to decide. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, talked earlier about whether we should be prepared to let the babies out with the bathwater or whether we should all sink or swim together. As I said, I understand that there is a great unity of feeling and purpose among people who are hunters of one sort or another. But I can just imagine the fury in the Lake District, which I know best, if it were seen that a compromise to save fell hunting had been passed by and that fell hunting had gone down the sink with the rest of the bathwater. I have not met those who run the Central Committee of Fell Packs; they have not approached me. But if they were seen to have been a party to allowing fell hunting to be banned with everything else when there was a chance of saving it, the fury of followers of fell hounds would be such that, I believe, they would never be forgiven.

We have here a much better compromise, in the name of my noble friend Lord Inglewood, than we had previously. As noble Lords have said, it could be improved again before Third Reading. I, too, very much hope that this debate can be used as a method of perfecting an amendment for Third Reading on these lines, so that when the Bill goes back to another place, if they are minded to find a compromise, they will have a ready-made one to parachute into the Bill, even if it has not been put in by noble Lords at Third Reading. Alternatively, perhaps noble Lords can put it back in the Bill if ping-pong takes place next week. That, I hope, will be the outcome of the debate at this stage in trying to perfect an amendment for which support is growing and which, by the end of next week, will, I hope, have the full support of your Lordships' House.