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Baroness Nicol: My Lords, I welcome the Statement and, in due course, the Bill. This long-running sore needs to be dealt with once and for all and here is an
Lord Whitty: My Lords, they will be nation-wide exclusions. That applies also to falconry where the argument is slightly more balanced. But my right honourable friend has reached the conclusion that falconry should also be excluded. All of the exclusions will be national exclusions.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, the noble Lord said that the purpose of the legislation is to prevent unnecessary suffering to particular mammals. He will be aware that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, has brought forward a Bill to make illegal unnecessary suffering by any wild animal. Do the Government support that Bill? If it is passed, will it not render this legislation wholly unnecessary?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the original Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, was withdrawn. However, it could have potentially dealt with a much wider range of issues than provided for within the Bill we are now discussing. Hunting with dogs has caused huge controversy for years. It is an issue we need to resolve. We shall propose further legislation on animal welfare more generally, but this is the issue that has caused the controversy we are now attempting to resolve.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, how did the Government come to conclude that it is unacceptably cruel for a hound to bite the back of the neck and sever the spinal cord of a fox but that it is perfectly acceptable for a terrier to carry out the same operation upon a rat or a rabbit?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is the balance between the degree of cruelty and the unnecessary nature of the cruelty rather than the absolute pain of the animal. We are talking about unnecessary suffering. If you are trying to get rid of rats there will be some suffering involved. We are attempting to minimise the degree of suffering, but the term is "unnecessary suffering" balanced against the necessity for pest control in the first place.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister for clarification. The Statement says,
Lord Whitty: No, my Lords. When I refer to "national" I mean that the Bill relates to England and Wales. This issue is devolved to Scotland. It can take its own decisions in this area. Therefore the decisions taken there do not in any way bind the UK Government in relation to England and Wales. Nor is Scotland subject to the UK Parliament in this respect.
I can perhaps take this opportunity of correcting something I said earlier. Although the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, was withdrawn, it was immediately replaced due to a technical error. I am sorry for misleading the noble Viscount.
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, as a board member of the Countryside Alliance, I pay tribute to Mr Alun Michael for the very open and careful way he carried out this difficult consultation process. We shall look very carefully at the Bill when it is brought forward and try to play as constructive a role as possible.
Having said that, I should like to ask the Minister about the licensing or registration system. We are told that the onus will be on the people who want to undertake any activity to show that they can meet the tests of utility and cruelty. That is all very well. However, bearing in mind that the experts at the public hearings made perfectly clearas, indeed, did the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his excellent reportthat there was not sufficient evidence to come to a safe conclusion on cruelty, can the Minister tell the House how ordinary citizens will be able to do so if the experts cannot?
Why is conservation not mentioned in the list of features in the utility definition? The conservation of our countryside is paramount and hunting's role in that is most important. That appears to have been missed out. Is there a reason?
Can the Minister tell the House what is a prescribed animal welfare organisation, bearing in mind the helpful contribution during the hearings of Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who made it perfectly clear that it would be very difficult to have an animal welfare organisation that had been for years campaigning against a particular activity responsible for regulating it? I believe he used the analogy of having someone from the temperance society on a licensing board.
I studied the Burns report as carefully as any noble Lord, possibly more than most; I attended the hearings and I took as much part as I possibly could. I could not see a single scrap of evidence to justify a ban on stag hunting and on coursing. If the Government were so confident that these activities could not meet the cruelty and utility tests, they, too, should be subject to registration. If they could not meet those tests they would not get a licence. I get a feeling that the dangerously fragile community of Exmoor and the small and equally fragile coursing community will be the political footballs which are kicked to the Minister's Back-Bench colleagues. It has nothing to do with utility or cruelty.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, as to conservation, the Statement refersthis will be a reference in the Billto the protection of livestock, crops and bio-diversity. There is therefore at least some reference to conservation.
I am not in a position to give a definitive list of the designated animal welfare organisations. Obviously, there are organisations which self-evidently might fulfil that title. However, we want to proceed on the basis of as much consensus as possible.
The noble Lord referred to hare coursing and, I think, deer hunting. We want to restrict ambiguity in the Bill. There is evident cruelty in hare coursing with no significant utility in that activity. The balance was therefore clear and there was not an issue of judgment for the registrar to take. We also considered the evidence in the Burns report and that given to the hearings in regard to deer hunting. We concluded that there is evidence that deer hunting with dogs cannot meet the criteria in relation to the avoidance of unnecessary suffering. Therefore, again, there was not an issue of judgment for the registrar to take.
Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the Minister for repeating the Statement. I declare an interest as president of the Countryside Alliance and as someone who hunts regularly with foxhounds and most particularly with deer-hounds in the West Country.
Does the Minister agree that we all want to achieve legislation that has the respect and support of the rural communities to which it will apply; legislation which, it is to be hoped, will not create a constitutional crisis between the two Houses; and which will not result, as that in Scotland has, in damage to animal welfare?
I am greatly concerned about the explanation that the Minister has just given about deer hunting. Will he look carefully with his colleagues at the material that was placed before my right honourable friend Mr Alun Michael from the National Park on Exmoor to the effect that a ban on deer hunting would have a devastating effect on the local economy, on the local community and on the deer herd? Will he re-examine the independent report prepared by Professor Savage for the National Trust which said that simply to impose a ban on deer hunting without making a considerable number of other legislative changesin particular in relation to firearms, following up wounded deer on other people's land and so onwould have a devastating effect on the deer herd there?
Finally, does the Minister agree that it would be wrong, in order to resolve human conflictsdifferences of opinion between people in this House and another placeto take steps which destroy one of the great jewels of those western moorlands; namely, our deer herd? That could happen if a ban is imposed and there is no alternative management structure in place. What do the Government propose to do about imposing such a structure and financing it?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, my right honourable friend has seen the evidence that was submitted in relation to deer hunting and has taken careful note of the argument. He has visited Exmoor and has spoken to a significant number of people there who are concerned not only with the effects of the impact of the Bill but also with developing a positive deer management strategy. His conclusion in relation to the terms of the
I accept that there will need to be some new measures in certain parts of the country in relation to the management of deer. That is the matter on which my right honourable friend was attempting to start discussion when he visited Exmoor. That does not override the objective of the Bill, which is to avoid unnecessary cruelty. His judgment and the judgment of the Government is that deer hunting does fall into that category.
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