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Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord McNally: You lot should be worried as well.

I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Fyfe of Fairfield and Lord Palmer, that speeches will not change attitudes. Only one speech today would have made me change my mind: the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. If, in 35 years' time, I can be as coherent and articulate as he is, it might even tempt me to take up the hunt.

We will not change many minds. It is therefore worth remembering when we bandy about ideas of democracy that, in our system, the firmest and clearest test of democracy is Members of Parliament being willing to put themselves up for election. That is what gives the other place its strength and authority. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is right in saying that the Government have wriggled and squirmed on the issue and produced part of the problem.

The other part of the problem is the catch-22 position of those opposed to the Bill. Of course we will spend more and more time on the issue if 50-odd opponents put their names down to speak in debates and to vote down Bills in this House.

However, those of us who believe that hunting is cruel have a right to take our case to Parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned, previously people have taken bear-baiting, cock-fighting and dog-fighting to Parliament. In response to those who warn of extra-parliamentary action if another view prevails, I ask what message does that send to animal rights activists who want to act in extra-parliamentary ways? The law is the law, and a civilised society has a right to prevent cruelty to animals.

I recognise that many in the hunting fraternity care greatly for animals. I would welcome support for drag hunting. I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said on the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is wrong; I love to see the drama, the colour and the theatre of the hunt. However, I do not

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accept the linkage between the sport—the riding, dressing up and so forth—and pursuing animals in a cruel way.

The other evening, I was explaining to an American guest the role of this House as an advisory and revisory Chamber. I do not object to any majority in this House pushing, to the very limits of its power, those capabilities to advise and revise—although I could think of better things to pursue to the very end.

We have the machinery, however, to resolve the deadlock. The Government have a majority in the other place and a mandate in successive manifestos, and the Parliament Act is there to resolve such deadlock. If the Government are not willing to use the Act—and in this case, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is right—they should tell their own supporters and the electorate at large that that is the case and that they are abandoning attempts to ban hunting. Anything else is dishonest.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is quite wrong. She and her family will be made criminals only when they break the law. As a parliamentarian, I believe that all of us should urge the same standards, whether on animal rights activists or those who believe in hunting. We must accept that it is within this Parliament that these decisions are made. In the end, it is the elected House whose views should prevail.

5.51 p.m.

Lord Bragg: My Lords, like many of your Lordships, I have spoken on this subject before in a debate in which, in my opinion, those of us opposed to the ban on hunting carried every single argument. Since that debate, it appears from a national poll that a majority of people in the country now believe, as many of us in this House believe, that hunting should not be banned. Since that debate, the countryside march showed the strength of feeling and opposition that could be mustered and, since then, the pro-hunting arguments seem, if anything, stronger. In the declarations of interest department, I do not hunt and, like the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, I do not own a horse.

It has still not been proved in any way at all convincingly to a reasonable examination of the case that the kill at the end of a hunt is any more cruel than shooting, snaring or poisoning the fox. As a matter of interest, Sir David Attenborough said a few years ago:

    "I don't suppose it matters much to the fox how it dies".

There is no verifiable evidence that marks out the hunt as uniquely cruel and therefore, for that reason alone, deserving to be banned. Nor has the knock-on case been answered since the last debate. For if we ban hunting foxes we will inevitably and logically move on to ban catching fish and shooting birds. We must then ban other country pursuits, and also, perhaps, the ritual religious preparation of meat, which some believe to be cruel. Why should that stop? What is the boundary? Would we go on to ban what some think of as the cruel caging of small birds, the cruel domestication of dogs and cats or the cruel over-training of race horses? Your Lordships may think that that is a mad logic but it could lead to absurd and

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wholly unforeseen consequences if hunting is banned against all argument and against all public majority opposition. If the force of argument is simply ignored, we are at the mercy of the merely politically correct of transitory fashion.

In that sense, hunting is holding the line. It is a line which must be held despite the many other arguments that can be marshalled against the anti-hunt lobby; the well-rehearsed and well-founded arguments from those who see hunting as an integral part of our country and our life in the country—which it is; the justifiable fears for the local economy and the general ecology—especially in the mountainous areas, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling; the arguments which see hunting as an important strand in local communities; and, above all perhaps, the fantasy that the fox is a cuddly and harmless little furry animal—the recent attack by a fox on a child in a house in north London just the other week rather undermines that mythical Disneyfication of a cunning predator. Apart from all that, the central and final argument I wish to propose to your Lordships today is far away from the caricature of pink-clad aristos in the heavy shires, and is rooted here, in the urban, equine-free Palace of Westminster.

One aspect of our democracy is that we respect the rights of the majority. It is a small miracle in the whole history of mankind that here, and in a very few other places, a majority of votes can lead to peaceful change of power. Another—I would say equal aspect of a democracy—is that we defend the rights of minorities. That is not so easy especially when, as seems to be the case here, a minority has the majority of public opinion against it but the majority of elected opinion in the other place—elected some time ago—against it. Unless we are prepared to tolerate what we do not like, any notion of liberty is a chimera.

Of course, there have to be rules. I suggest that the principal rule is that the activities of the minority do not endanger human life and do not harm other people. Hunting does neither of these. Minorities should obey the laws of the land—those who hunt do that. Minorities should not infringe on the rights of others. Those who hunt do not do that. Hunting outrages some people—but so do many other things. Indeed, when your Lordships look at some of our newspapers you could conclude that the British are in a permanent state of outrage about one thing or another, but that does not lead us to ban these "outrages" right, left and centre, regardless of logic and sound minority opinion.

One man's outrage is another man's right to have a richer life, provided that nobody is harmed and the law is not broken. There are other positive matters that I do not have time to talk about today—matters of tradition, sport, skill and enjoyment, none of which are light matters or dismissable. But what has emerged most strongly to me in the course of this debate, inside and outside Westminster, is the question of liberty. When we look at what is now permitted—in the name

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of minority rights in the sexual field, for example—the rights being demanded by those who are pro-hunting seem very modest.

Banning that which harms no one and brings much pleasure to parts of our society is a dangerous course of action. People feel the injustice of it. They look around and compare what they do with what others do and think, "Why should we be singled out in this way?" Sometimes a cliche gets to the heart of the matter. That is why they become cliches and why they are valuable. I believe that we are talking about blind prejudice. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who wish to ban hunting but sincerity has limited value. One can be sincere about the most questionable matters and causes. Social prejudice is a hangover from another age and no longer valid, but it is blind. The arguments to ban hunting are blind to reason, blind to the consequences that will follow and blind to the damage done to a society when a minority which has done no harm and no wrong is judged on wholly unsound and untenable evidence and condemned for following a pursuit which it has every right to follow. Like many of your Lordships, I strongly oppose the banning of hunting.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden: My Lords, I have no interest to declare on this occasion. I do not hunt, and confine my sporting activities to the riverbank. I hope that the Government have no plans to ban fishing. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who is not in his place, I do live in the Scottish Borders, where hunting was outlawed by the Scottish Parliament from August last year, by the passing of the noble Lord's Bill. He is entitled to his own opinion about the effects of that Bill, but I cannot say that I agreed with much of what he said.

I cannot say that the noble Lord is a popular hero where I come from. Many people in the Borders are connected with fox hunting in one way or another—most obviously in the livery stables, the blacksmiths and in looking after hounds. The Scottish Parliament, despite three different propositions for compensation schemes, said that there would be no compensation for those who lost their jobs or their businesses as a result of the ban. Yet those people saw compensation granted to mink farmers when this Government banned mink farming. No doubt the Government have a line to take on these matters, but those affected said that that was unfair.

There is no doubt that the passing of the Scottish legislation has added to the burdens carried by the police. As noble Lords can imagine, feelings run high when a minority is hit in the midriff. That is the feeling in areas in which the law is now enforced. We could say that Borderers are law-abiding folk—generally speaking, they are—but, looking at last week's sheriff's court page, I can say that there is crime in that part of the world that must be dealt with by the police. The police have enough on their plate without the Bill. In the Scottish elections last year, the First Minister pledged more money to counter increasing Scottish crime rates.

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The House should take note of what the Chief Constable of Suffolk said:

    "Parliament's vote for an outright ban on hunting fills many of my fellow officers with dread. Not because police are pro-hunting—the service is . . . neutral—but because of the practical implications of enforcing such a ban".

My noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell was right: the police need law-abiding people in the countryside to help them in their job.

From the Scottish experience, I observe that there is still a demand for fox control using hounds. Many farmers have noticed a rise in the number of attacks on lambs and other livestock since the ban started. As noble Lords know, hunting goes on, and the foxes are shot at the end of the chase. In addition, there is a problem of fox welfare; some observers have said that unskilled shots are causing unnecessary suffering. I assure the House that the Scottish legislation has dealt a blow to an integral part of Scottish border life. It is regarded by most Borderers as an example of the overweening power of the townies from the Central belt, who use their political muscle to crush hunt supporters in our area.

I shall not enter into the debate on cruelty promoted by supporters of the Bill. Others with more knowledge than I can address that. However, I have much sympathy with the views of Dr Lewis Thomas and his fellow vets who say:

    "The search and dispatch function is the most important welfare argument in favour of hunting . . . No other method of culling performs this unique function and were hunting be banned in England and Wales, the welfare implications for all hunted species, in the absence of natural predators, would be profound".

He goes on:

    "Hunting is thus uniquely selective in maintaining the health and vigour of the quarry species".

There was a Question earlier today about the consequences of a ban for the many dogs affected. I imagine that that aspect of welfare never entered the head of Mr Banks, when he moved his successful amendment.

I have a suggestion. The Government must heed the advice in today's Daily Telegraph from the leaders of major organisations representing land use and agriculture in England and Wales. They must resolve the hunting issue on the basis of evidence and principle, rather than personal taste. A workable system that is enforceable and likely to last must be found. I trust that, at the appropriate moment, your Lordships will not pass the Bill as it stands. The Government must think long and hard about a workable solution rather than, in due course, resorting to the Parliament Act for a measure that has been debated and voted on in a free vote. I can assure the sponsors of the Bill that, underneath it all, there is a deep-seated anger in the countryside that will not be easily assuaged. I hope and pray that people's vengeance will be sorted out through the ballot box, rather than through the courts.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I intend, in a few moments, to talk about six species of nature or human activity that are threatened by the Bill. However, in order to do so, I should set out the basis of what I intend to say.

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The basis is an intensively researched consensus that fox control is necessary but must be done humanely and with utility. The original Bill provided, at least, a textual basis for achieving those ends. It was amenable to amendment, and it was, after all, the Government's starting-point on the issue in this Session. What we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, this afternoon was extraordinary. It amounted to saying, "We introduced a Bill that we believed in as a basis for legislation and amendment. We have now thrown it away, and we are going to start on a basis that we don't really agree with, but it's what we're lumbered with". The House should not have to consider such legislation.

I speak as one who believes in regulation. Nobody has yet mentioned a letter that many of your Lordships have received, dated, I think, 12th September, from Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who wrote on behalf of the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting. Voluntary regulation has been carried out for some time, and Sir Ronald provides evidence that regulation can and does work. The House should take that into account.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hooson, as I usually do. Between us, we represented the rural county of Montgomeryshire in mid-Wales for 31 years. For the reasons that my noble friend gave, hunting, properly regulated, creates a proper balance between the farmer and the fox. If we want to retain that balance, we must not go down the road of a ban. The balance would be shifted, not in favour of the farmer, but against the fox.

I listened with interest to my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I am sure that many Members will share my admiration for her doughty performances on our Front Bench. She is always prepared to argue the case against the Government, and she has never seemed reluctant to overturn decisions that have been made by the other place. On this occasion, she makes an ad rem argument, which seems to be inconsistent with her usual course.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe of Fairfield, is not still in his place. He spoke about the high principles of the CWS, of which he used to be chairman. I had the advantage of reading in detail the contracts that led to the sale by CWS of its food manufacturing group to the Hobson Group, some years ago. Those contracts were not notable for their insistence on animal welfare. The CWS does not let its principles interfere with its interests where money is concerned, although it may do, where publicity is concerned.

I turn to my first endangered species. They have all been mentioned already. The first is the fox. I live in rural Montgomeryshire, and I shall put the position in a sentence. If they get the chance, the farmers will get rid of all the foxes. If they cannot hunt the foxes—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, that there is no shame in enjoying the hunt—there will be no reason to have them any more. Why have on the farm something that, in one night, will kill, as my noble friend Lord Hooson told us, 18 newborn lambs? They will shoot them, trap them or poison them. In my experience, not only are

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farmers, on the whole, fairly bad shots, but one would be hard pushed to find many who could put their hand on their heart and say that the barrels of their guns were still straight and properly maintained.

The second endangered species is the hound, and there is a Welsh dimension to that. Whether it is the Plynlimon foxhounds, of which my noble friend Lord Hooson spoke, or the Plas Machynlleth foxhounds or any other foot packs, they are paid for by small subscriptions from ordinary farmers who do not ride horses—like me, the only horses that they have are rocked on by their grandchildren and are made of wood. Such people subscribe to the packs because foxes are pests that need to be proportionately controlled, which is what is achieved at present.

The third endangered species is the horses—the hunters. I have been to hundreds of agricultural shows. Occasionally, I have regretted it, although they are usually enjoyable. The horses are usually owned not by Members of your Lordships' House or by belted earls and baronets but by local shopkeepers and business people who, instead of buying a BMW or a Jaguar, choose to buy a horse, which they can use to hunt, for their pleasure and to contribute something to the local agricultural community. There will not be many of them after a ban.

The fourth endangered species is the industry that deals with fallen animals. Eighty-five per cent of fallen animals are taken by the hunt. What will happen to those arrangements?

I turn now to an endangered species which causes me great concern: it is a principle. It is the principle that the process of legislation should command the broad consensus of responsible citizens, though not necessarily agreement. Many of us disagreed with the poll tax, but we had a consensus that the Government were entitled to introduce it—right or wrong. But this is not such legislation. There is no consensus for this type of legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is right. Such legislation will criminalise decent, law-abiding people. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke with disdain about the possibility that people could indulge in criminal acts and civil disobedience. For heaven's sake, what was the Labour movement built on but civil disobedience and mild criminal activity? I hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, or one of his ancestors in spirit, saying, "Votes for women. How can they demonstrate for votes for women and commit criminal damage in that cause? It is a crime". And I hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and those who follow his line of reasoning saying of certain sovereign governments overseas, "Of course they are entitled to enforce the wearing of veils by women in all circumstances, because they are the lawful government". I am afraid that that argument does not wash. It is a residual constitutional right of all citizens to disobey the government, even to the point of criminality, if the government stray beyond the permissible range of legislation. It is a right enshrined in political philosophy and in jurisprudence.

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I turn now to my sixth and final endangered species, which is the policing of enforceable laws by consent. I have spoken to chief constables and other police officers about these proposals. I believe that there is not a chief constable in the land who is truly happy with the prospect facing them. The first Saturday that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, gets on her horse, with her husband and children, are the police in her area going to put the horses in the custody suite at the local police station? Are they really going to prosecute the noble Baroness and her extremely distinguished husband for criminal offences for which they can be fined on level 5? Are we really going to ask police officers—many of whom disagree profoundly with this legislation—to take part in that kind of policing? It is simply unimaginable.

Many of our fundamentals are threatened by this legislation. I have one final point. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, threatened us with the Parliament Act. Do not be afraid of the Parliament Act. The Government will not use it: it has not been used in relation to a matter of conscience of this kind, or remotely comparable with it, certainly in living memory. I believe that the Government have enough residual principle not to use it in this instance either. It is an argument based on the use of a big stick, but it is a pretty rotten stick.

6.13 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who has given us heart that we shall not be defeated yet. The Bill is the product of seven long months of debate and committee work. It has been around for five or six years and is nothing new to us. Sadly, I am no longer a fox hunting man. My riding abilities are long forgotten, but I believe passionately in the right of others to hunt with hounds, whether it be for foxes, deer, mink or hare.

There remain a number of questions which still need to be answered. Despite certification by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the Bill may be in contravention of human rights. Can the Bill be the subject of the Parliament Act? I shall not add to what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. In reality, is the Bill practical and enforceable? In the view of a number of eminent lawyers, the 1949 Act is not a proper Act. As has already been said, it is a conscience Act and it is therefore inappropriate to use it to force primary legislation on to the statute book.

Readers of Field magazine were undoubtedly amazed, shocked and alarmed by the front cover, which showed a very young boy on his pony, with the banner headline, "Will Labour make him a criminal"? Presumably, he was hunting. The caption inside said, "See you in borstal". A ban on hunting would make this youngster part of rural crime. Is that really what Mr Michael wants?

Surely, whatever one's personal view on hunting, there are more important matters to which the Government should give their attention; matters such as extradition, local government, anti-social behaviour and criminal

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justice, just to name a few. The Bill is thoroughly vindictive and threatening. It threatens the liberty of law-abiding individuals without justification. As has already been said, a number of prominent police officers have expressed the view that they have neither the manpower nor the financial resources to enforce such a ban.

Clause 8(3) authorises the search and seizure of any,

    "vehicle, animal or other thing",

which a constable reasonably believes may be used as evidence in criminal proceedings for an offence under the Bill. Does that mean that I must remove my hunting whip or my hunting horn from my car or be in danger of being arrested? I may be incorrect, but as I understand the Bill, field trials are to be exempt from the proposed ban. They are defined as a competition in which dogs flush out or retrieve animals that have been shot; the dogs are assessed on their usefulness with shooting. It is precisely a competitive event with very little, if any, relevance to pest control or conservation.

By comparison, hare coursing has been banned from the beginning, although it is also a competitive event in which dogs are assessed on their skill at hunting hares. Contrary to the belief of many people, the coursed hares are wild and are running on their home ground. Why does the Bill exempt field trials in which hares may be caught and killed, but not permit the competitive sport of coursing, which includes the prestigious Waterloo Cup?

I must also express my concern for the ordinary dog walker. Having been involved in the running of a local racecourse for many years, I know how many local residents derive much pleasure in exercising dogs under control, but which are off the lead or leash. There is a great deal of wildlife, ranging from nesting birds to foxes and deer, but if a dog chases and catches a wild mammal, as defined by the Bill, the dog would be liable to seizure and could be put down. Additionally, the owner could be fined up to 5,000.

If hunting is banned, it is estimated that some 68,000 horses and many hounds—as we heard at Question Time today—would be at risk of being disposed of. As vice-president of the International League for the Protection of Horses, I am aware that this league, which does so much for the welfare of horses, could be under great pressure. It is clear from talking to various field officers that in no way would we be able to cope with the many horses which would be put into our hands. To put it bluntly, we would be able to pick up only the pieces, such as welfare cases. The disposal of the horses will be a major problem.

The Burns report has been widely accepted as a valid and truly authoritative report commissioned by the Government. Why did such a report not receive more acceptance generally? Why have the Government been so against some of the findings? Is it because they do not meet with their intentions? Since the Burns report there have been several inquiries and reports into the effect of a ban on hunting. One report stated that hunting benefits the rural economy to the tune of 242 million per year.

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The economic effect of a ban would be felt by some 14,000 people in full-time employment and 36,000 in part-time employment. They include huntsmen, grooms, terriermen and knackermen, as has been mentioned. Other tradesmen who will be sorely affected by a ban are farriers and saddlers. My local saddler told me that he estimates that, on a turnover of 1 million, he will lose 30 per cent of his trade. The result is that he will probably have to close down his business.

Another matter that has not been mentioned so far is the future of point-to-points. They are organised by hunts and are very much part of the hunting infrastructure. Horses that start their career in the hunting field go on to hurdling and steeplechasing. This is a major part of the racing industry, which may well disappear if hunting were to cease.

Another aspect of the rural infrastructure is the collection and disposal of fallen stock—a necessary task that will not be undertaken if hunting ceases. In the future, farmers will have to pay for the removal of fallen stock. From 1st May next year, the burial of carcasses will be banned. At a cost of between 200 and 300 for the disposal of a horse, a great number of animals could well be abandoned in the countryside to meet their own end.

The end of hunting in England and Wales as we know it will see a revolution, the outcome of which is unpredictable. One thing for certain is that countryside people in no way will take the ban lying down. They will oppose it in every way they can to defend their freedoms.

The Government need to resolve this issue and to show real understanding and leadership of the countryside, otherwise the consequences will be truly devastating. If the Bill were to become law, our "green and pleasant land" would suffer irreparable damage. The rural economy would be bankrupted simply to placate a number of Government Back-Bench Members of Parliament who largely misunderstand rural affairs and are now hell-bent on destroying our heritage and our way of life. I strongly oppose the Bill.

6.23 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, in the previous debates held on this subject in your Lordships' House, the moral arguments on both sides have been eloquently presented, including in a number of contributions from these Benches. I have re-read those debates in preparation for this week and find myself in substantial agreement with the line taken by the then Bishop of Bath and Wells, the right reverend Jim Thompson. He readily acknowledged that Christians were as divided on this issue as the rest of our society, but believed that a moral case could be made for the continuation of hunting. I remind noble Lords of his conclusion:

    "On an issue where opposing views, to which great thought has been given, are held with such passion, and in a society where there is such uncertainty, can it really be right at this time to introduce legislation to ban altogether something that is so much in question and so much part of the rural way of life?".—[Official Report, 12/3/01; col. 539.]

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I wish to reiterate that view and, even though the arguments have been well rehearsed, to explain why as a Christian I believe it is right in our present circumstance, and that it is wrong to suggest that only one side can claim the high moral ground. This is not a debate between morality and pragmatism, but between firmly held moral convictions on both sides. Any legislation must take that into account.

Like the former Bishop of Bath and Wells and a number of noble Lords, I was brought up in the West Country. My early familiarity with Exmoor and the Quantock Hills has given me a lifelong affection for and interest in our native deer, most notably that noble animal, the red deer. I am sure that, along with a number of your Lordships, I enjoy eating it and my doctor says that venison is good for me because it is low in cholesterol.

My childhood also gave me experience of the Quantock stag hounds, an understanding of the contribution of the hunt to the conservation of this noble animal and of the improvement to the herd through the process of culling the weaker and older beasts. I have long understood it to be the case that when hunting was suspended on Exmoor and the Quantocks, both the quality and the strength of the herd rapidly declined.

Over two years ago both the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the former Bishop of Bath and Wells reminded your Lordships that there is also what Ted Hughes called the "strange agreement" between the farmers and the deer, to which reference has already been made in the debate. It hinders inexpert attempts to cull the deer because the hunt exists. The sight of a stag dying of gangrene, probably brought on by a mis-aimed bullet, still haunts me some 40 years after I stumbled across it as a teenager. The noble Lord, Lord King, has drawn on his vast experience to speak on these matters in relation to Exmoor and the Quantocks, so I shall not repeat the evidence he cited, but I share his understanding and support entirely his argument for the need for effective management.

I remain a countryman at heart and, like many of my colleagues, I have served in dioceses which have an urban title but encompass considerable rural areas; at present, in the good hunting counties of Northampton and Rutland. We are therefore acutely aware of how divisive this issue can be and of the strength of feeling in our rural communities.

I freely acknowledge that this issue raises difficult moral questions. It has provoked one of the largest postbags I have received, almost entirely in favour of hunting, and I do not think that was because my views were previously known. I respect those who feel that the killing of animals is wrong in any circumstance, although I personally, along with the majority, take a different view. I know that many believe hunting to be inherently cruel and tell us that it is unlike other methods of control. They feel that it deliberately inflicts suffering on animals for non-essential purposes and is intrinsically objectionable because it does so in the name of sport. Others, myself included, from equally firm convictions—including many from

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Christian convictions—fully recognise that the welfare of the animal kingdom is our responsibility, but argue that we do not know where the balance of suffering lies and that well-ordered hunting contributes both to control and to conservation by culling the weaker members of the species. We believe it to be neither immoral nor inhumane, and are convinced that it should not be made criminal.

In spite of these differences, I believe that it is important to recognise how much we hold in common across this debate. We agree on an understanding of our humanity which places it within the context of the whole of the created order; we have a shared concern for our environment, a deep respect for the animal kingdom and a desire to eliminate unnecessary suffering. For those of many faiths, that is undergirded with the conviction that the world is God's creation and therefore to be doubly respected.

Indeed, our understanding of the natural world also recognises that there is what could be called a hierarchy of preying—spelt not with an "a" in this case, but with an "e"—which has been disrupted by the dying-out of certain species. As a result, some of the natural processes which ensure the limitation of a particular species and the survival of the fittest are removed and the balance of nature disturbed.

We therefore have to provide artificial means of controlling and improving the quality of parts of the animal kingdom. To the taking of animal life for food, we have to add the reasons for the control of pests by the limitation of their number and the improvement of the species by the culling of the weak and the diseased. In so doing, we are seeking to act as the predator who takes out the weakest of the flock.

It is of course at this point that divisions between us begin to appear; between those who believe that hunting is as humane and efficient a way of doing that, and those who do not. The arguments, as we have already been reminded, about what is or is not humane are finely balanced. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, argued that in previous debates in your Lordships' House. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, who is in his place, said:

    "the case against hunting as a cruel practice is not proven. We do not know where the balance of suffering lies and we certainly do not know enough to base socially divisive legislation on what must necessarily be conjecture".—[Official Report, 12/3/01; col. 610.]

It nevertheless remains a matter of dispute whether, as I believe, hunting with dogs is at least as humane as other methods of culling wild animals. I hope, however, that we can agree that properly conducted hunting fulfils two other requirements of any effective method of control. It effectively conserves the species by taking out the weak and the injured—the fittest often escape and survive; and it has the effective support of those who are potentially "victims" of the animals which are hunted—the farmers whose crops may be devastated by grazing deer; the shepherd and the poultry keeper whose flocks may be decimated by the rogue fox.

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I have great sympathy with the arguments adumbrated by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. In a liberal democracy it is surely right that where there is such genuine disagreement about an issue—perhaps, particularly, an issue about the morality of which we are divided—we should continue to give people the freedom to make up their own minds and legislate only if we are clear that the health of our society is threatened. I do not believe that to be so and I do not believe that the case is proven that the Bill is for the general benefit of society.

I hope therefore, with many others, that the Government will listen to the voices of those who argue that the reintroduction of a Bill enshrining the middle way is the right course, following the careful work which Alun Michael and others carried out before the original Bill was introduced into another place and was then mangled there. To persist with the Bill in this form can only be divisive and illiberal.

6.32 p.m.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, there is not much more that can be said about the Bill—or hunting—which is new or which has not been said before. But, if the Government will continue with a deeply divisive Bill, rather like a water wheel churning round and round, such debates are bound to be the case.

I have never hunted. I was given a pony when I was about eight; the animal decided to throw me off, and I was winded. It was the most dreadful experience that I had ever had in my life. I thought I was dying. I thereafter concluded that horses are dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle.

I have in that respect, therefore, no interest to declare. The only interest that I have is one on a much wider basis—that we should ensure that people are entitled to enjoy whatever sport they like. To make people criminals all of a sudden for carrying out that which has been done for hundreds of years seems to be without logic or justice.

As to cruelty, I limit my observations to the fact that nature is cruel. Fox hunting is no more cruel than many other aspects of nature. Anyone who has seen a Jack Russell set about a hedgehog, of all things, will know that nature is pretty raw.

Hunting is entirely natural to wild animals. They do it all the time. They do it to live. And none is better at doing it than the fox. What might be a devastating experience for a human being is natural to the animal. One cannot transport the mind of a human into the mind of an animal. It does not work. They are different. In most wild animals the determination to live is at the expense of another animal.

In hunting, killing is instantaneous. Were hunting to be banned, as has been often said today, wounded and sick animals would be left to die a prolonged and lingering death, possibly for years. The fact is that animals have to be killed, either to preserve their species or to preserve other species. This applies as much to foxes as it does to rats, mice and stoats. Fox

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hunting is a quicker and sharper death than shooting. It has the added advantage—and no one seems to remember this—that the fox might get away.

Many will take a different view—I understand their reasons—but what worries me about the Bill is that the Government are deliberately continuing to pursue a policy which they know divides people against people and destroys the heritage of the countryside. At a time when there are so many problems besetting the Government, as my noble friend Lady Byford said—Iraq, Europe, hospitals, railways and education—it is nothing less than incredible that the Government should consider it prudent to spend hours of parliamentary time in destroying and alienating the countryside.

The Government are drawn from a party of largely urban MPs. There is nothing wrong with that, but they do not possess some superior moral knowledge of what is right or wrong for the countryside. I have told the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, before—I respectfully venture to tell him again—that the Government have shown that they do not understand the countryside and do not care about it.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling that that was not always the case. Tom Williams, Fred Peart and Cledwyn Hughes were all friends of farmers. Indeed, I admit to this extent—which I am hesitant to do—that some 25 years ago it was always said that agriculture did better under a Labour government than it did under a Conservative government. But not now. Over the past six or seven years we have witnessed the prosperity of the countryside collapse. We have seen businesses and people ruined. The Government now say, "And now we will stop them enjoying their sport". People will be made redundant; horses will be destroyed; saddlers will find their businesses ruined; blacksmiths will find their businesses affected; point-to-points will be closed, as the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, said; and, on top of that, 20,000 hounds will be destroyed. Why? All because we do not want to kill a fox.

Is not the real reason—I hate to put it as starkly as this—that this is a class issue; that people think those who go fox hunting are the rich? One enthusiast against hunting put it in that charmingly moderate way, which is so endearing to others, when he said, "Those toffee-nosed bastards deserve all that is coming to them". Not much about the fox there. A friend of mine had some correspondence with the RSPCA. The official who replied said that the society did not think dogs were cruel. What they objected to were the people who followed hounds. Not much about the fox there either.

I fear that that is what lies behind the Bill. That is why it is both discriminatory and divisive. And that is why it is so shaming that the Government should not only be a party to this divisiveness but should actually lead it. I find it appalling that the Government should put their muscle behind a Bill which sets man against man and which creates and adds to division. It is the Government's job to heal wounds, not to create or to exacerbate them.

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The professionals most involved in animal welfare are the vets. It is not insignificant that more than 500 of them have stated that a ban on hunting would be detrimental to animal health because, in the absence of hunting, animals who are old, sick and ill will continue to live and go free.

But who are the people who go hunting? They are not only the rich. They are people who come from all walks of life. Some own and love horses, but not all of them ride. Some go in cars; some go on foot. The common factor among them is that they enjoy a day out in the countryside. They do not go hunting to see a fox killed. They go for the pleasure of a day out; for the fun of friendship; for the excitement of a gallop; for the thrill of jumping a hedge or a ditch; for the determination to hang on like grim death and not fall off; for the exhilaration of succeeding; and for the contentment of having the cobwebs and the anxieties of life momentarily blown out of their minds. Those people talk, they laugh, they take exercise, they enjoy the fullness and the beauty of the countryside, and they often end the day exhausted—in other words, they love a day out in the countryside.

I sometimes think that if some of those who roam the streets of the cities with nothing better to do than carry out crimes had a day out hunting they would be fitter and far too exhausted to carry out their nefarious pleasures. In fact, it would do them good to have a day out hunting and it would do society good. In fact, I only wonder why the Government do not promote hunting instead of destroying it. But no, the Government say, "We want to stop this and we will see that those who do it will become criminals". The real reason is that they are so out of kilter with the left wing of the Labour Party that they have decided to throw it a bone to give it something to chew over and keep it quiet. The countryside and this great country sport are to be the sacrificial lamb.

The Prime Minister recently made a speech to the United States Congress. It greatly impressed the United States, as it did many other people in the free world. The Prime Minister has great personality and that envied ability to put over fundamental thoughts in an easy and understandable way. In his speech, he said:

    "We are fighting for the inalienable right of human kind . . . to be free. Free to be you, so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others".

Quite rightly, he was given a standing ovation. Why does he not apply the same dictum to this Bill? Since when has hunting impaired the freedom of others?

6.41 p.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, around 350 supporters of hunting with dogs have urged me to oppose a ban on this activity. They use three main arguments: first, that a ban ignores the wishes of the rural community; secondly, that it would remove what is described as a fundamental freedom; and thirdly, that this House should make what is described as "good law". I wish to respond.

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First, the largest number of Members of Parliament representing rural areas were elected on an election promise to provide Parliament with a free vote on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation. That was in 1997. Those Labour MPs—because it is Labour MPs who overwhelmingly represent rural areas—were re-elected in 2001 on a pledge by the Government to provide Parliament with time to come to a conclusion on this matter.

Alongside these real measures of rural opinion, subsequent opinion polls show a majority in both country and town in favour of a ban on hunting with dogs. Since I am enjoined to respect the wishes of the rural community, let me give voice to that part of the rural community which has had no mention, as far as I know, in this debate. I refer to agricultural and allied workers. They are part of that rural community—much more so, may I say, than those who treat the countryside as a second home. I am told by Peter Allenson, national secretary of the Rural, Agricultural & Allied Workers group of the Transport & General Workers' Union:

    "Agricultural and rural workers accept that the killing of animals is a necessity in the rural way of life. However, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that that is always done in a humane and proper way, and our members take a professional pride in ensuring that this is done. We do not believe that there is any justifiable reason why hunting with dogs should continue".

Lest it be thought this is a sudden new policy, I cite Barry Leathwood, a former secretary of the agricultural workers' union. He says that agricultural workers,

    "have been at the forefront of farm animal welfare campaigns for decades; it must therefore be no surprise that they strongly oppose the gratuitous cruelty that is the reality of hunting with hounds".

Secondly, there is a cry of freedom, which I regard as wholly bogus. It was doubtless heard, in this House and elsewhere, when bear-baiting, cock-fighting and bare knuckle boxing were made illegal. It is my view that there is no such thing as absolute freedom in a society. It would amount to anarchy if we were all free to do whatever we wanted. I might also observe that many of those who now cry freedom were among those bitterly opposed to the freedom of ordinary people to enjoy the countryside and what they claim to be their right to roam.

Thirdly, I am not sure that I know what is meant by "good law". It presumably depends on who is making the judgment. However, I know that in our democracy, the elected House has the right to have its way, not least on the back of election manifesto undertakings. I have been here long enough to understand that this unelected House is a revising Chamber, not a wrecking Chamber. If this unelected House, at its will, could veto legislation from the Commons, what, then, is the point of general elections? I regard the invitation from those who have written to me to reject the Bill as profoundly undemocratic and a rejection of our parliamentary democracy. I do not believe it is remotely acceptable that deliberate and wilful cruelty to wild animals should be any part of our way of life.

I also have concerns about the effect on those people who get pleasure from taking part in these practices, not least the effect it may have on vulnerable children and

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young people. I hope it is a shared belief that there is too much casual, everyday cruelty in our world without dressing up this version of it as "sport" and "country pursuits".

Many of those who have written to me—and it has also been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon—claim that more important matters than hunting demand Parliament's attention. I simply observe that 60 noble Lords have their names down to speak in this debate against the 43 who did so when this House debated a motion on Iraq on 18th March.

I welcome the Bill.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Kimball: My Lords, I speak as vice-president of the Countryside Alliance and chairman of the Cottesmore Hounds. Since my misspent youth at Cambridge, where I was Master for three years of the drag hounds, I have hunted both the Fitzwilliam and the Cottesmore hounds. When, getting into the House of Commons, I could not give the hounds my undivided attention, I found myself field master to no less than five different huntsmen.

It was almost a year ago today that over 500,000 people marched through London and the Prime Minister said:

    "We govern for the whole of the country, and must take note of opinions that were democratically expressed".

A ban on all forms of hunting would do nothing for the welfare of the quarry species. It would have serious economic, agricultural and cultural consequences for the rural community, already in crisis, and would represent an intolerant and anti-democratic measure, based not on fact but on a prejudicial dislike of an activity carried on by a significant minority of ordinary, law-abiding people.

We have over the last few years had the independent supervisory authority for hunting. This now needs statutory backing as suggested by the Middle Way Group. I was so pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, mentioned what Sir Ronald Waterhouse has achieved. He has already reviewed the conduct of all hunts; he has reviewed the discipline of all hunts; and he has arranged for all hunts to be inspected annually.

The attacks on hunting with hounds in one form or another have been going on since 1928. In 1947, we had the Scott-Henderson inquiry, and in 2001, the Burns inquiry.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, did not find that hunting was cruel. He said:

    "Naturally, people ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel. The short answer . . . is 'no'".

He went on to say that there was not sufficient reliable evidence to come to a decision about cruelty. My noble friend Lord Soulsby was also on that committee with the noble Lord, Lord Burns.

A hunting Bill should allow for all currently legal forms of hunting with hounds to be eligible for registration. There should be a presumption that licences are obtainable. To create a fair and workable system of registration, the original Bill needs to be

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amended significantly. The Bill should be based on a proper and consistent application of evidence that, in turn, will promote wildlife management and safeguard animal welfare.

We now have a system whereby we must include in a Bill the wording that the Bill is in line with the human rights convention. When the Bill is finally produced, will we have that same arrangement in it? We have already had a human rights lawyer advising us that this Bill falls foul of the convention in seven different ways. It would be pointless to continue with the Bill unless that particular point had been clarified.

I remind the noble Lords of what was said in this House in the Queen's Speech last November:

    "A Bill will be introduced to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on hunting with dogs".—[Official Report, 13/11/02; col. 3.]

All the evidence points to the fact that hunting under licence is the way to a fair and equitable solution.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, the heart of this debate is the clash between liberty and cruelty. It should have nothing to do with whether one likes the people who hunt or disapproves of them treating hunting as a sport. Part of the confusion is that the fox has been sentimentalised, or "Disneyfied", as the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, called it.

Mr Fox has always been one of the great characters in children's books and fables. Yet far from being the cuddly toy in the nursery, Mr Fox is a natural born killer, a mass murderer, a predator that not merely kills to eat but kills for pleasure, which terrorises for pleasure, sending chickens and geese into a frenzy and petrifying sheep and lambs as it gratuitously decapitates the latter. Those who assert that foxes are not much of a menace these days—which is of course disputed—should remember that they are also relentless predators on a host of wildlife, some of it endangered.

Thus if Mr Fox is to be endowed with human feelings and personality, so too should his countless victims. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, touched on that matter. The abolitionists will say, "You can't blame the fox because it's a natural killer". Fair enough, but then do not pretend that it has feelings comparable to human feelings when being hunted down. One cannot have it both ways.

One thing I do accept is that the manner of killing is crucial, albeit more in terms of our cultural and moral health than out of regard for the stony-hearted fox. If the means of death is sadistic, one can reasonably conclude that it is coarsening for its practitioners and for the society that is indifferent to it.

On all those matters I waited for the Burns report for guidance, as I am sure that many of your Lordships did. His committee was clear that hunting is the only method of killing a fox with a cast-iron outcome: 100 per cent alive when the fox escapes, or 100 per cent dead when the fox is caught. Further—and this was a surprise to me—the kill is almost instantaneous, by a matter of a few seconds. By vivid contrast, as many of

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your Lordships have said, shooting, trapping, gassing or poisoning leads in many cases to a long, lingering and cruel death and/or maiming.

My last thought is that if one endows the fox with human instincts and feelings that in reality it neither has nor deserves, which would you—transmogrified into a fox—prefer: to be hunted by hounds with a sporting chance of escaping unscathed, or to be shot, trapped, gassed or poisoned unawares, but with the prospect of an agonisingly slow death or permanent maiming? The question answers itself. That, I suggest, is at the heart of the real choice today.

The liberty factor has loomed larger with me the more I have contemplated the issue. Liberty is multi-faceted, indivisible and priceless. It depends on tolerant restraint. It would be bizarre to me if, in an age of increasing awareness of real human rights, we succumbed to a moral majoritarianism—if it is that—on the issue, which undermines the very context in which their own freedom is enjoyed by that majority. Since the abolitionists have signally failed to discharge the onus on them of proving the relative cruelty of hunting, it follows that it would be absolutely wrong and woundingly intolerant to criminalise this age-old country pursuit. Far more is at stake in this debate than the future of hunting.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Moran: My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, I believe this to be a sad day, even for those who like myself do not hunt. To most people outside, it must seem stupefyingly irrelevant that we are spending time considering this deplorable Bill instead of addressing the way in which we are getting bogged down in the mess in Iraq or seeking to sort out the increasingly urgent domestic issues that worry all of us, such as the lack of cleanliness in our hospitals, inadequately controlled immigration, all-pervading crime, the state of our railways and the Tube, the problems of Northern Ireland, the threat to the very independence of our country, and much else.

Many of us said what we thought about hunting in the debate on 12th March 2001. I did myself. We know all too well that for many Members in the other place, it is primarily a manifestation of class envy and dislike of toffs dressed up and on horseback. They are obsessed by the image of a few smart packs. They are indifferent to the fact that with most hunts, certainly in Wales, where I live, the reality is quite different. However, despite devolution, the Welsh Assembly is not allowed to decide for Wales on this issue; I cannot think why not. All that is massively financed by people, often foreigners, who dislike all country sports. If the Bill goes through, it will certainly be followed by well financed pressure to ban shooting and fishing. As a fisherman, I am gravely concerned about that.

Much is made of the issue of cruelty. Peter Hain is reported to have said on Sunday that the Commons has made it overwhelmingly clear that it wanted a ban

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on the cruelty to animals. However, a ban on hunting would result in not less but more cruelty to foxes. Anyone living in the country knows that foxes have to be controlled. A hunt ends in the swift killing of a fox or its escape unscathed. The alternatives—poisoning, gassing, trapping or shooting—involve much more cruelty, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, pointed out.

The numbers of letters that we have all received show how bitter and distraught so many country people are. Surely it is wrong to pick on a minority who do no harm to others. There are many sports and activities that I dislike, but I do not see merit in trying to ban them. Banning hunting in England and Wales would have many lamentable results. Many hard-working men and women would be thrown out of work and many horses would probably have to be destroyed. I received a letter from a 16 year-old girl in Wales, who said:

    "As the huntsmen will have lost their jobs they will not be able to afford to take each hound to the vet and have it humanely put to sleep . . . Instead it will have to be taken care of by themselves. This will be the hardest thing asked of them. How can they be expected to kill twenty to forty of their own hounds when they have bred, named, trained, got out of bed before dawn every morning to feed them is beyond me".

There will also be adverse effects on conservation and wildlife, particularly in the removal of small coverts and patches of gorse and thorn. I do not think that the proposals put forward by the Government and rejected by the other place did, or do, offer a reasonable alternative. Certainly there should be regulation. There has been regulation under the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, under the chairmanship of Sir Ronald Waterhouse. Supervision must now be made compulsory. However, Mr Michael's proposals went much further. As he said on Report in the other place, the amended Bill would,

    "only allow the hunting of foxes and mink in exceptional circumstances".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/03; col. 56.]

Hunting as we know it would have been brought to an end. I see little merit in our attempting to revive his proposals, which in any case would only be thrown out again by the other place. However, if we rewrite the Bill on sensible lines, stressing regulation, that may be a different matter.

Above all, I think it dreadful that this Parliament, actuated in large part by envy and hatred, should seek to put an end to hunting, which has for years past been an integral part of the life of the countryside and of our rural heritage and means so much to country people of all sorts and conditions. Parliament must, I believe, recognise what is reasonable for it to do and not try to exceed its proper authority. To continue to push people around and order them about, making ever more of them angry and frustrated, is not good sense. We must learn to leave people alone if they are not doing harm to others. We rightly treat murderers, rapists and thieves as criminals; we have no business to make hunting people criminals.

My inclination was to urge that we should reject this Bill and that this was one of the rare occasions when we should decline to give a Bill a Second Reading. However, I have respect for the views of those most

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involved that it would be better to amend the Bill. The amendments will need to be drastic to make it sensible and it will not be easy. Practically everyone who has spoken agrees that the Bill is awful. Consequently, in order to amend it to make it a satisfactory Bill, it may need to be effectively rewritten. However, it must be done.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I should think that the remark just made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that we must learn to leave people alone, will be very much echoed from all sides of the House. It was very much in contrast to the preceding speech of the noble Lord, Lord Corbett—who I see is no longer in his place—who seems to show all the blind prejudice against hunting that is typical of those who know nothing about hunting and very little about the countryside.

I have never hunted. My wife hunted with the Eglinton and with the Southdown and Eridge, where we have lived for many years. I have a short personal reminiscence. Two or three years ago, she and I, with our family, went to the Boxing Day meet in Lewes High Street, in Sussex, opposite the White Hart Hotel—which is known for the fact that it was there that Tom Paine wrote the many pamphlets which helped to stir up the French revolution. It was an extremely happy occasion on which antis and pros mixed with each other. Right in front of us were two children on their ponies—in ratcatchers, their ponies beautifully groomed—and in front of them their father, also on his horse and in ratcatchers. The anti next to me suddenly pushed his way forward and shouted at them, "Your father is a child abuser to let you go hunting". Their joy and excitement changed very quickly to fear. One of the ponies shied.

I thought to myself, what an extraordinary remark. Those kids were there primarily to enjoy the pleasure of a gallop on their pony, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers said; that is the real reason why they were there. They were excited. They wanted to follow hounds, but they were probably never going to see a fox. What they were going to do was, in the company of others, go over fences and hedges that were a bit more difficult than perhaps they would normally have done, which would challenge them and where there might be a bit of danger too. That is one reason why putting drag hunting in place of fox hunting does not work. Drag hunting is all pre-ordained and predestined, and inevitably there is no danger or excitement in it—which is why the children were there.

Although highly unlikely, those children might have seen a fox killed. As many others have said in this debate—most recently the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury—if a fox is killed, it is a matter of only seconds. Moreover, foxes have to be killed. They are at the top of their animal tree. No other single mammal is ever going to kill a fox. If they are not killed, there will be far too many of them. Living on the edge of the South Downs, I know exactly what they can do to young lambs. There is a chicken coop only 100 yards from my house that has been constantly emptied by a

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fox. Every time there is a hole in the netting, the fox gets in and kills every hen in the coop, perhaps to eat just one of them. They are natural killers.

On that basis, I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who with all his usual intelligence tried to introduce on Second Reading a Bill which I guess is very different from the Bill for which he would have voted had he been in the other place a few months ago. On the question of cruelty, I do not think that it is in any sense proven that the cruelty of the killing of a fox by hounds is so heinous that it in any way justifies the wholesale stopping of hunting. I just do not believe that that is the case. It is much more quick and certain than shooting, gas, snares or poison. It is nothing like as cruel as, for example, putting a wild animal in a cage in a zoo, where it is very likely that the animal will in due course go mad; or playing for 10 or 15 minutes with a fish with a hook in its mouth and then putting the fish back into the river in order that the same thing may happen to it the following weekend.

The other point on which I seriously disagree with the noble Lord is his apparent view that the fact that this legislation is unenforceable is not an acceptable argument for going against it. That seems to me exactly the sort of thing that the American administration might have said at the end of the First World War when they introduced prohibition. Although a lot of people said that it was good and important to stop people drinking, the prohibition was totally unenforceable. It certainly led to new riches for the Mafia. A few years later, however, it had to be abolished because it was unenforceable. Surely governments should think about whether laws are enforceable.

The chairman of our local hunt association went to talk to Chief Inspector Mike Flynn—formerly with the Sussex Police, two or three years ago, but now at the Home Office—and he said that, quite frankly, the legislation is unenforceable. Sussex Police are very relaxed about it all at the moment because they do not expect hunting ever to be banned.

Unfortunately, my wife and I have recently experienced two small burglaries. Our neighbours have also suffered two burglaries. We have told the police—who show proper concern and worry but absolutely no sign of catching the burglars. If I was to ring up the police and say, "I have just seen two people walking across the grass fields in front of my house with three dogs—two of them terriers—and I think that they may be going into the wood above us to try to catch a fox", I know what the police would do. They would laugh in my face. Perhaps they would be too polite and not actually laugh, but they would certainly do nothing about it. However, Clause 3(1)—under the heading "Hunting: assistance"—states:

    "A person commits an offence if he knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used in the course of the commission of an offence under section 1",

which makes it an offence to hunt a wild animal with a dog. So as I read the Bill, if I do not ring up the police and say, "These people are walking on my land and

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this is possibly in their minds", I would be committing an offence. It is hard to imagine anything quite as silly as that in government legislation.

The kindest thing we can do in this House is to get the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—we all have great respect for the noble Lord—out of the fix he clearly is in. I have no doubt that if he had been in the other place when Alun Michael's Bill first came forward, he would have voted for it. Now he has the difficulty of trying to persuade us to accept a Bill that I do not believe for a second the majority of the Labour Government believe in. The kindest thing to do, therefore, is to let the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, off the hook by changing the Bill back to something very close to what it was when it entered the Commons in order to make certain that hunting can go forward but in a regulated, clear and well defined manner.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, what are the benefits of passing the Hunting Bill? First, we end the uncivilised practice of killing mammals for sport, and killing them in a way that most rational people would deem to be cruel. In respect of foxes, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his report, using understatement of the most cultured kind, suggests that the kill at fox hunting,

    "probably falls short of the standards we would expect for humane killing".

I am persuaded that that is a distinguished Treasury mandarin's way of saying that hunting is cruel. I am also conscious, as is Burns, that hounds are also imperilled by this sport. An example is the avoidable straying of hounds on to live railway lines when their minders, as so often, fail to follow the chase. But, of course, none of this need happen. We in the Chamber today have an opportunity once and for all to expunge this blot on the landscape of Wales and England's green and pleasant land. Hunting must be banned and replaced with drag hunting.

But what are the other benefits of freeing the countryside from the public nuisance of fox hunting and its associated hunt havoc? First, children happily playing in schoolyards and on village greens will no longer have to witness foxes being torn to shreds in front of their very eyes by hounds once again out of control—the responsibility of adults who should know better. Indeed, can it be right to parade such images of manmade violence in front of our children? Gone will be the trespass on to private property by hounds in pursuit of the fox, with the attendant hounding of farm animals and domestic pets. Is that not hooliganism by any other name which all of us would be quick to condemn in any other circumstances? Gone will be the indifference, sometimes the rudeness, and, yes, sometimes even the intimidation shown by huntsmen to distressed householders fearing the worst for life, limb and property when hounds trespass and maraud. Gone will be the over-running of railway lines imperilling passengers in trains and the dogs on the rails.

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Gone will be the stopping up of narrow country lanes by the hunt and its car-borne supporters, interfering with an Englishman's right to move freely about his own country to reach his home, church or place of work. Gone will be the necessity of those seeking to exercise their lawful human rights having to appeal to the police to defend those rights. Wasting police time is a consequence of the hunt and its wayward practices. We shall all be better off when hunting is banned because police time will be freed to catch the kind of criminals who, for instance, broke into Norfolk farmer Tony Martin's house.

To conclude this point, let me make it quite plain that I expect neither difficulty in implementing the new ban nor a lack of compliance with it by the hunt. After all, for decades the hunting community has always told us that it is comprised of the most law-abiding members of the community. I believe them. Let the ban commence.

Our opponents sometimes charge us with wasting valuable parliamentary time in proposing such legislation. I agree that parliamentary time has been wasted on this issue as our opponents seek to frustrate the democratic will of the Commons, which has voted consistently and convincingly to bring in the ban. Time, indeed, could be better spent on, for instance, the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, on which some of our opponents are professed experts! But the remedy is this: let the proper procedures of the two Houses of Parliament take their course and if a ban is agreed, let our opponents acknowledge it as the law of the land and desist from wasting further parliamentary time. I, for one, wish to uphold the traditions of this House which, having advised the Commons, should submit to its democratic mandate.

One further benefit which ensues from the creation of the ban is that the Countryside Alliance might be encouraged to turn its energies to those more pressing challenges that confront rural Britain today. Hitherto, the alliance has shown itself obsessed with hunting, which is the sport of few and the bane of many, at the expense of tackling high priority issues such as jobs, transport and housing. It is time our opponents got their priorities sorted out.

The ban will have other beneficial consequences for followers of the hunt. First, it will encourage them to institute proper measures for picking up and disposing of fallen carcasses on a sound economic basis. The ban will also obviate the absurd and contradictory practice of building artificial earths to breed foxes to hunt. The disgusting practice of leaving the carcasses of dead sheep near to such earths exposes the rotten contradictions of this rebarbative sport which pollutes the very countryside that we are told our opponents claim to hold so dear.

Indeed, that brings me to the vexed question of the stewardship of the countryside and the maintenance and improvement of its environment. We are threatened by the hunt lobby that the ban will result in the churlish abandonment of their responsibilities to mind the land, even though they are richly rewarded by government and European grants to nurse the countryside. It is quite

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insupportable for them in a fit of pique to say that they will neglect those responsibilities and mess up their own backyards.

When, further, I am told that a fox hunting ban will destroy community life and lead to lives of lonely desperation in the countryside, I am dumbfounded. It is an unhealthy and bizarre culture that blames the poor old fox for the destruction of our countryside, its customs and its communities.

One final lament—the fear that jobs will be lost in the countryside as a result of the ban. Burns estimates that as few as 700 jobs are directly related to fox hunting, as against the 9,000 jobs lost each year due to the contraction of the agricultural industry. Burns hazards further that within a decade those jobs will be easily absorbed. My prediction is that many of those jobs will not be lost and the remainder absorbed quickly. The tourism and leisure industries, especially those linked to equine activities, are due for exponential expansion over the coming years. In addition, the switch to drag hunting, which is already happening in Scotland, will help retain jobs currently associated with fox hunting. The future is rosy if only those with rose-tinted spectacles would doff their glasses to see the changing world about them.

Nowhere in Britain is life changing so fast as in the countryside. Many in rural Britain are indeed showing the entrepreneurial spirit to reshape its economic, cultural and social landscape, dispensing with outmoded practices such as fox hunting and adopting a fresh outlook on life and work in the countryside. These new bloods recognise that the agricultural industry barely sustains 2 per cent of jobs in rural Britain today. They see that we must look elsewhere for new jobs and industries, but I have to say that, whenever the countryside is discussed in this House, 98 per cent of the speeches concentrate on agriculture at the expense of the countryside's other new and vital industries and the real challenges facing rural Britain today.

I would like to thank all those who wrote to me such heartfelt letters on both sides of the argument. I have studied each letter in turn.

We all, in this House and beyond, should now bend our energies to help rural Britain reshape itself into a land that we can all cherish, whether as visitors, tourists, commuters, workers, householders or landowners. In doing so, we must promulgate the wise philosophy that guides all humane and sensible change—that to stay the same, we must learn to change. The historic liberation of the fox from gratuitous cruelty enshrined in the Bill will, I believe, propel us on to that common path of jobs and prosperity, and instil in us all an abiding respect for the natural world about us.

7.21 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, got a kick out of making that speech, because it certainly did not do a thing for me.

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Someone recently said to me that if foxes looked like rats we would not be having this argument. Be that as it may, when the subject of a hunting Bill first came up in this House, I was given valuable advice by the late, much-loved but tough Lord Cocks, who was Chief Whip in the then Mr Callaghan's Labour government. "You can do no better," he said, "than to copy the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Tom Williams, who spoke on behalf of Mr Attlee's Labour government in favour of hunting when that subject was debated at that time in the House of Commons".

I did exactly what Lord Cocks suggested. In fact, I read Tom Williams's speech to your Lordships as, in my opinion, his arguments could not be bettered. At the end, I asked what had happened in the intervening years to cause the present Labour Government to totally change their tune. Of course I did not get a reply, I suppose because there was not one. Under the circumstances, I really feel sorry for the Minister, who has to reply this evening to the knowledgeable speeches that we have all been listening to, with one or two exceptions.

I wonder whether I could persuade the Minister to talk about hounds instead of dogs. In the context of today's business, it grates on me every time I hear "hunting with dogs". They are hounds. I also want to say that to produce the argument about bear baiting is simply pathetic. It also grates on me when I repeatedly hear hunting equated with cruelty. Dr D.R. Wise, the distinguished Cambridge veterinary surgeon, defines cruelty as the deliberate infliction of unnecessary suffering.

Starting from that definition, Dr Wise notes that mainstream neurobiological thinking supports the view that animals can indeed suffer, but in a manner limited by their restricted conceptual repertoire, which will not allow them to contemplate past woes in the abstract, worry about the future or understand the meaning of death. Following in the footsteps of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I point out that throughout the Bill the Government ignore the fact that animal and human brains differ greatly, and that animal fear is not equivalent to human fear. A hunted animal will be instinctively programmed to run from a threat, but it will not appreciate that it has been uniquely targeted or that its life is threatened.

The Government claim to be legislating in a principled manner. Why then have they prejudged the issue with respect to deer hunting and coursing? Why has hunting been singled out for such treatment when other culling methods and non-quarry wildlife species have been ignored? How can the uncontrolled destruction and associated suffering of wildlife caused by cats be deemed more acceptable than the vastly lesser, highly targeted and accountable deaths occasioned by hounds? Does Ann Widdecombe, whom in most ways I greatly admire, ever pause to dwell on the agony incurred by her darling cats, which may play the dance of death with all the birds and mice that, unfortunately for them, cross their path?

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The Bill is negative in every respect and has nothing whatever to recommend it. It will not reduce cruelty to foxes but merely ensure that the only natural way of controlling the fox population, and indeed the deer and hare population, is made illegal. More wild animals will die slowly and in pain from the effects of trapping, poisoning and poor marksmanship than ever suffer in the hunting field.

The Bill will make potential criminals of hundreds of thousands of ordinary law-abiding people who understand the quarry that they hunt and conserve. It will place thousands of rural jobs at risk, at the very time when sources of rural employment are needed more than ever before. As my noble friend Lord Hurd said, it may place chief constables and their staff in an impossible position, diverting scarce resources away from fighting crime to attempt to police the unpoliceable.

The world is in a dreadful state, yet here we are discussing the possible death of hunting. What an indictment of this Government.

7.26 p.m.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I want to make two points very briefly. One is general, the other particular. The general point is this: it has become clear over the months and years during which the issue of hunting has been debated that it has become, and perhaps always was, a moral issue seen as having wide, indeed universal, implications, for man's relation with other animals and his freedom to pursue his chosen way of life without infringing the liberty of others. As is the way with moral issues, there are irreconcilably opposed views, passionately held, neither of which can be proved correct.

Like most other noble Lords, I have been involved over the past years in matters of public policy concerned with irreconcilable moral values. We all understand how difficult that is. However, regardless of the subject matter, it has become clear to me over the years that regulation is almost always to be preferred to prohibition. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, when he suggests that it is possible—indeed necessary—for good legislation that there be, if not agreement between people of opposing views, nevertheless a kind of consensus about what will work and do as legislation.

I therefore very much hope that, even at this rather dismal stage of our proceedings, there may be some way in which we can go back to the concept of the middle way, with regulation rather than any prohibition or unregulated hunting. As has been said, a good deal of work has been done in the direction of regulation by my friend Sir Ronald Waterhouse.

There could be a regulatory system within which hunts must apply for a licence—how easy or difficult it may be for them to get licences would have to be decided—with mechanisms of monitoring and inspection in place, and the power to revoke a licence should the conditions of granting it be infringed. Liberty would be preserved, with the reassurance that no outrage would be permitted. In such a system, the

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criteria for granting or revoking a licence should be clearly set out and widely publicised. That would ensure that merely disliking a habit or way of life was not being used as a reason for criminalising it.

That was my first and general point. My second one is particular and pragmatic, and I shall repeat it despite the fierce words of the Minister. Among all the evidence that has been received and studied by your Lordships, the most telling is that from police forces, many of which have said that they possess neither the resources nor the physical ability to prevent hunting with dogs should people decide to continue it, whatever the law. So strong is the feeling among those who oppose the ban that there will be many who would prefer to incur the risk of criminal prosecution rather than abandon their chosen way of life and recreation. My point is that the risk would be very small. The police and the law could be made fools of and that cannot be the outcome that Parliament wants to bring about.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, despite the gentle hint from the Minister, I want to touch briefly on the problems of enforcing a ban. As the Bill is currently drafted, the primary offence of hunting is sketchily defined. It is not clear who is liable for prosecution. Is it the huntsman, who may be up to half a mile from the hounds, the whipper-in, the masters, the followers or the hunt chairman? How will the guilty person be identified if all hunting people copy hunt saboteurs and wear balaclavas?

Will prosecutors be able to assimilate sufficient evidence to secure conviction? Barristers have argued that the standard "It wasn't me" or "I wasn't hunting" defence remains as strong as for any other offence, and the countryside will clam up if locals are prosecuted.

The matter will be further complicated by drag hunting, which the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, would like to see. A conviction surely cannot be secured if the accused testify that they intended to hunt the line of a drag, but the hounds smelt a real fox and killed it.

Equally, what happens if dogs are used to hunt rabbits, which are exempted, as my noble friend Lady Byford said, and they switch to pursuing a hare? Would that constitute an offence? How will the police prove intent? Indeed, how many enforcement officers could distinguish between a hunted rabbit and a hare?

Rural crime is increasing and a hunting ban raises serious issues for police resources. The House has been told how a ban fills many police officers with dread, because of the practical implications of enforcing it. Would it be practical to stop and arrest people on horseback and seize the hounds and horses that they used to commit the offence? No police force has the resources to do that, nor would it be able to accommodate horses or a pack of hounds to the required welfare standards until the case came to trial.

The alternative approach of reporting offenders for summons is also impractical. It will be impossible to ask 30 or more people on horseback to wait for officers to report them for summons and deal with all the

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evidence that must be gathered during an interview. Della Cannings, Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, recently said:

    "There would have to be a growth in police resources, and I'm not sure that council taxpayers would be prepared to pay the extra money required to meet it".

I sympathise with my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry over his two burglaries, yet if hunting were banned and the police were to try to enforce the law, how would a member of the public feel if there were no response to a 999 call for a burglary or assault, because all available resources were employed to stop hunting?

The enormities of policing a ban become apparent when one considers that there are more than 300 packs of registered hounds in England and Wales, regularly involving 100,000 people, plus an estimated 200,000 individuals who work lurchers and terriers. That will create an enormous surveillance task for the police. As most rural areas are remote, the chances of hunting being reported are slim, and the chances of any officers reaching those areas even slimmer, especially on a Saturday, when a football match is on.

For legislation to be successful, it must have the consent of those whose behaviour it seeks to govern. A large and significant minority in this country believes that hunting is morally acceptable; that it is an efficient method of species management; and that it derives benefits for the rural environment. The members of that minority will regard the legislation as oppressive and do everything in their power to discredit it by showing that it is unworkable and unenforceable. They will flout it, deliberately and publicly, and make matters as bureaucratically difficult for the police and prosecuting authorities as they possibly can.

Each hound might be owned by a different person, giving varying permissions about its use; everyone involved could dress identically and carry a horn; horses and jackets might be swapped between riders during the course of the day; land-use permissions could be noted and respected between those prepared to allow drag hunting or exercise only, and those prepared to defy the legislation.

Police forces in counties with a strong hunting tradition could find their already-strained resources stretched to breaking point. Community relations would be broken, with the police bearing much of the mistrust and ill feeling. Farmers invite the hunt over their land because it is part of their life. The police will be seen to be stopping it.

There appears to be a growing will to revolt. Thousands have already signed The Hunting Declaration, stating their intention to continue to hunt in defiance of the law. Tens of thousands more, many of whom have never hunted, have said that they will take part in protest hunts.

Deep anger is felt by much of middle England towards the Government for allowing themselves to be cornered by Back-Benchers on this issue. In the event of a ban, they will find themselves opposed by well

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organised, entrenched minorities, battling to save their way of life. They should not underestimate the strength of rural solidarity.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Grabiner: My Lords, I should begin by declaring a non-interest. I have never hunted in my life. Indeed, I have racked my brains and I have no recollection of ever having sat on a horse.

Like other noble Lords, I find it surprising that we spend so much time in this House and in another place debating this subject. One may perhaps be forgiven for thinking that there are other, more pressing issues that are more deserving of valuable parliamentary time.

I can be brief, because everything that I intended to say has already been said very eloquently, if I may respectfully say so, in particular by my noble friends Lady Mallalieu and Lord Bragg, the noble Lords, Lord Hurd and Lord Carlile, and other noble Lords. As I understand it, my noble friend Lady Mallalieu and her family spend their weekends in the season hunting. She has apparently enjoyed that experience all her life. The point I wish to make, and the principal reason why I decided to speak in the debate, is that my noble friend's pastime has, since time immemorial, been entirely lawful. The effect of the Bill would not be to render that activity simply unlawful: it will constitute a criminal offence punishable by a fine.

Leaving aside the fact that, these days, we rightly look for ways of decriminalising behaviour where appropriate, I find it difficult to stomach the proposition that the lifelong behaviour of my noble friend should be regarded as so repugnant to our moral values as to be declared to be criminally unlawful. Our debate is about private liberty and there is no justification at this time for extending the criminal law into that sphere of activity.

I accept that it may be right and proper for previously lawful behaviour to be criminalised, provided there is a genuine consensus in society that such behaviour has become morally unacceptable by the standards of the day. That is presumably a reason for cock-fighting and bear-baiting being criminalised. It is also the reason that in 1991 this House, in its judicial role, declared that rape within marriage was a criminal offence, despite the fact that, in the middle of the 17th century, Sir Matthew Hale had expressed a different view on the subject.

In the case of hunting, there is no consensus. There is a polarisation of views within our society, even if that is not fully reflected in the voting in another place. A number of references have been made to the importance of bowing down to another place. The implication from a number of observations made by some noble Lords is to the effect that this House is not part of our parliamentary structure.

I should add that, like other noble Lords, I have received a huge postbag on this subject over the past several weeks—literally hundreds of letters. For what it is worth, I have received one single letter in support of the Bill. In its present form, I believe that this is a grubby and illiberal Bill.

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7.41 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, it is hard to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, but I shall do my best. I shall not speak in defence of hunting this evening but in defence of the principle that, on the whole, people should be free to act as they think fit so long as there is no overwhelming public interest to the contrary. In my view, governments should steer clear of legislating on matters which are largely a matter of private taste or personal moral judgment.

Personally, I have never hunted; I have never fished; I have never shot at anything. In the unlikely event of my acquiring a large country estate, I might try to prevent anyone hunting over it. But that would be me exercising my moral judgment over the use of my own acres, rather than forced obedience to government thought police.

There are some circumstances under which a ban on hunting can be justified. We are all aware of national and international bans on the hunting of endangered species, such as is the case with whaling. But the population of rural foxes shows no sign of decline and that of urban foxes is rising dramatically. Interestingly, it seems that hares are more numerous in places where coursing is practised than where there is no coursing.

So where is the public interest—the peace and tranquillity of the realm for which prayers are said every working day in your Lordships' House—to be found to justify the Bill? If one turns to the legal treatment of other matters on which public opinion is divided on moral and ethical grounds, then the contrast with the ill-judged effort to ban hunting is very striking.

There can be little doubt that, in the minds of all but the most extreme animal liberationists, abortion is a matter of greater moral weight than hunting. At the same time, whether or not doctors should be permitted to perform abortions is clearly a proper matter for action by government in their prime role as the defender of the life and well-being of the citizen. Many people in this country had, and still have, strong moral and religious objections to legalised abortion. Yet current law does not prohibit abortion but creates a legal definition of the circumstances in which it may take place.

Does it make sense for the Government to ban hunting, while the law—correctly, in my opinion—enables women to obtain abortions? And what about the Government's present intention to widen the circumstances in which people can drink and gamble? Surely drunkenness and gaming are at least as morally repugnant as hunting and do far more damage to individuals and families alike. So why is the one to be forbidden and the others to be encouraged?

I repeat that I am not here to defend hunting but to defend the principle that the opinion of some—even of a majority, if indeed it still is a majority—that hunting is immoral is no reason to ban it. I do not have the polemical gifts that Milton displayed in the Areopagitica, but I share his views on the damage done by puritanical legislation and his plea for tolerance. I am very happy

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to be in the company of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, my noble friend Lord Carlile, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, and my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, to name but a few of those who have touched on this aspect of the subject. I shall support a Bill for the regulation of hunting, but I shall never support a Bill to ban it.

7.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who served us well in Surrey county over a number of years. One of the delights of my life as Bishop of Guildford was the year I spent as president of the County Agricultural Society, which meant that I presided over the county show. For me, it was a year of learning about some of the issues that confront us in rural life today. It is one reason that I am speaking today.

I make no apology for the fact that this will be a long debate. We should not be ashamed of that. This is an important moral issue that divides our society, and Parliament is here to discuss and debate the concerns of the people. Therefore, let us not flagellate ourselves for giving a length of time to a matter which is of real concern to many people. The moral issue is clearly not only central—how we relate to the animal world, to the ecological systems that surround it and to life itself—it is complex, and the issue before us is unresolved.

What does one do when one has an unresolved moral issue? We on these Benches are all too aware that at present in the Church of England we face a number of unresolved moral dilemmas. What one does not do is close down the debate. An Act which seeks to give one opinion primacy in law is closing down the debate. In an open and civilised society, the task of Parliament is to resist the temptation to close down the debate; rather, it is to provide the environment and atmosphere in which we might persist with it.

Therefore, I believe that it is unwise to legislate in this environment. I do not consider that we in this House helped ourselves when, on the previous occasion, we did not take the opportunity to seek a stronger form of regulatory culture. We might have helped the process of finding a way forward in this matter had we done so.

Sadly, the issue has become a campaigning one, with sectional interests on both sides easily stereotyped: the long-haired Lefties, who are for animal rights; the bucolic aristocracy, who are for hunting. Parliament gets drawn into a lobbying debate, and that is a very dangerous position for us, as part of the legislative process.

I want to make a further moral point about law in a free society. I want to pick up the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in relation to civil disobedience. I hope that in his summing-up he will also make the point that law-making should always seek to be with the consent of the communities to which it applies. It is dangerous for Parliament to try to impose on unwilling communities laws that they do not understand, based on a morality that they do not

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accept, and with language around the issue, such as calling things "cruel", which they do not accept. We should not impose such languages upon them. Is it not our duty in Parliament as a whole and our fundamental moral responsibility to preserve the liberties of the people? Is that not what we are here for?

Frankly, I am not interested in opinion polls around the issue: whether 59 per cent of people are in favour or against is irrelevant. Minority opinions have a right to look to Parliament to have themselves defended in an open, democratic and civilised society. That is not only a pragmatic point; in my view, it is a moral point about our duty as legislators.

How are we to deal with these matters? I suggest gently that we have to find a way of returning to licensing and regulation, which introduces the issues of transparency and accountability and the possibility that those who are involved in hunting can continue to adapt their practices in the light of the changing cultures and circumstances of life. Is not that a wiser way forward? Should not we, in this House, without being railroaded around issues about whether or not we have been elected, stand firm and insist that Parliament does its duty properly and constitutionally?

7.50 p.m.

Earl Peel: My Lords, I address your Lordships tonight in the firm belief that we are discussing one of the greatest threats to personal liberty that this country has ever witnessed. I know that many other people in this country share that very firm but simplistic view.

I declare an interest to the extent that my wife and 12 year-old daughter hunt. I do not and never have, but as I have said in other speeches in your Lordships' House, as I have become more embroiled in the hunting debate, I have become more and more impressed by hunting as a means of controlling foxes and of providing the community with a wonderful community spirit and sport.

What struck me, and, clearly, members of the press judging by what I have read, is that as the debate on hunting with hounds has escalated, the evidence against it as a cruel and unnecessary activity has become weaker to a point where now those who want to implement such a ban are struggling to substantiate such claims. Now, their only argument is that there is a majority in the House of Commons. Frankly, having listened to some of the speeches in the House of Commons, that makes me want to fight even more strongly to protect something which I regard as an integral part of the British countryside. I remember very well when Robin Hanbury-Tenison, the last director of what was the British Field Sports Society, said,

    "The longer the debate on hunting continues and the facts become increasingly clear to the people of this country, the greater support it will receive".

Certain noble Lords have said tonight that we all have entrenched positions and that speeches will not have an effect. I am quite certain that mine will not but clearly something that has been said has had an effect.

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Perhaps we should give credit to the Countryside Alliance. In the speeches made to date, those who have mentioned the alliance have done so in not particularly complimentary terms. I take the opportunity to express my great regard for the way that it has managed the hunting debate and persuaded people that there is another argument to it. It is more complex than people thought, but clearly, judging by the change in opinion in this country, it has done hunting a great service.

Despite that and the fact that three independent inquiries have failed to come up with evidence to condemn hunting, including that commissioned by this Government—the report under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Burns—the Government continue to press on with legislation which, frankly, is an affront to the whole process of democracy. It strikes me as incomprehensible that in a society such as ours there is not sufficient tolerance to allow such an activity to continue, which means so much to so many even if they are in a minority.

As I have said, I do not hunt, but many people I know from around my home in the north of England, who are from all walks of life, simply live for their hunting. I do not exaggerate; they live for it. It is the most important thing in their lives. I refer to respectable people, who respect the law. I find it quite astonishing and, as my noble friend Lord Hurd said in his exceptional speech, would deplore the prospect of the Bill driving a wedge between law-abiding citizens and the police. As has been mentioned, but is important, the fact that 400,000 people took the time and had the courage to march in London is a testament to the anger and betrayal they felt.

When the Government first embarked on their attempt to resolve this issue, the original Bill appeared to incorporate tolerance combined with facts, with one notable exception: it excluded deer hunting and hare coursing on the grounds that there was already sufficient evidence of cruelty to preclude them from the process of regulation. However, subsequently, when challenged to produce such evidence, the Government have failed to do so. Indeed, Professor Bateson—my noble friend Lord King touched on this—to whose evidence the Government resorted to introduce the ban on stag hunting, went on to say that anyone who used his evidence to reach such conclusions would be regarded as scientifically illiterate. If that is the case, I ask the Minister to tell the House in winding-up what was the evidence that the Government had to prevent stag hunting from being part of the original Bill. I can assume only that there must have been evidence other than that produced by Professor Bateson.

The two tests which hunts would have had to have passed in order to receive a licence to continue—namely, "utility" and "least suffering"—as I understand it, were based on the report of the Burns inquiry. However, the original definition of utility—this is very important—included not simply the requirement for a hunt to demonstrate its role as a means of controlling a pest but also those essential elements of the social, cultural,

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economic and environmental aspects of hunting to which the Burns inquiry attached so much importance and on which so much time was spent.

It seems, therefore, quite extraordinary that the Government allowed the term "utility" to be redefined in Committee to a level to which only pest control would qualify as a means of acceptability. So by doing that—the Minister, Alun Michael, voted for the amendments against his own Bill—the Government shunned the Burns inquiry and ignored so much of the evidence that had been so painstakingly presented at the Minister's request at the three-day Portcullis House hearings.

It became abundantly clear that, despite promises of fair play, the Minister had every intention of selling hunting short by allowing his Bill to become a ban in everything but name as virtually no hunt would have been able to qualify for registration. I believe there is a myth that the original government Bill, the one which was not hijacked by Messrs Banks and Kaufman, was a Bill that this House could have lived with. I do not think that it was. I think hunting was sold down the river by the Government and the Minister.

Furthermore, so far as concerns the test of least suffering, further amendments in Committee resulted in hunts having to prove significantly less suffering—that is very different—which is an almost impossible task. So, in effect, an automatic bias against the Bill was introduced.

I hope we have no crocodile tears from Ministers when they say that they are sorry that the original Bill was hijacked. I do not believe for one moment that that original Bill would have supported in any way the basic principles to which the Minister adhered when he first embarked upon this mission.

We had the evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Burns, which was presented at Portcullis House, and the arguments from scientists, from vets and from Exmoor. Noble Lords who have not read the presentation from the National Park Committee on Exmoor, should do so. It adds another extremely interesting dimension to the argument. Most importantly, we had the pleas from those whose livelihoods depend on hunting and those to whom the whole process means so much. All that demands that we reconsider the whole issue in a thoroughly comprehensive way.

We must not allow sentimentality, coupled with that basic error of allowing the human thought process to be confused with natural animal instincts and behaviour to compromise or cloud our deliberations. Furthermore, we must seek consistency and practicality and, above all, avoid bad law. As my noble friend Lady Trumpington said, why should rats be treated differently from foxes? Why should cats hunt mammals and birds but hounds not foxes? Why should we be allowed to chase a rabbit but not a hare?

The management of the countryside, in whatever capacity, is not a simple matter. It is not a question of either/or. Methods and customs have developed over

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centuries through trial and error. What is right in one set of circumstances may be different in another. We should respect that. Your Lordships should uphold the principle of democracy, not base their arguments, as too many others have, on class warfare and battles of the past. We must reconstruct a Bill that allows all forms of hunting to continue, subject to a well-defined and enforceable code.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Earl, Lord Peel, in two respects. I agree with two things he said. First, the consideration of the Bill in this House should pay attention to the interests of democracy. I shall explain in a moment why I believe that this Bill does exactly that.

The second service he gave to the House was to make it clear that for the pro-hunting fraternity there would be no Bill from the Government limiting hunting—whether or not under licence—which would be acceptable to your Lordships' House. That is in marked distinction to what the noble Baroness, speaking from the Front Bench for the Opposition, said at the beginning of the debate. It bears a great deal of relation to reality. The fact is that there is no Bill that your Lordships as a whole would accept, but this Bill has come to us from the other place and is the one which we must consider.

I want to look first at whether the Government are right to bring the Bill before Parliament. Secondly, I want to examine whether this is an appropriate moment for Parliament to be considering the issue. Thirdly, I want to ask what should happen if the two Houses fail to agree.

Taking the first issue first, this debate is unavoidable. The party currently in power has been elected twice since 1997, on both occasions winning very large margins in the House of Commons. My noble friend Lord Corbett referred earlier to the 1997 election manifesto. The 2002 election manifesto stated:

    "The House of Commons elected in 1997 made clear its wish to ban fox-hunting. The House of Lords took a different view (and reform has been blocked). Such issues are rightly a matter for a free vote and we will give the new House of Commons an early opportunity to express its view.

    We will then enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue".

That is what we are being asked to do with the Bill today, because the Bill is the fulfilment to the letter of that election manifesto commitment.

That takes us to my second question: are there not any more important issues for us to debate? Here I detect an uncanny resemblance to arguments used in this House and in another place when animal cruelty issues were being debated in the 19th century. In 1825, for example, a Mr Gordon opposed a Bill to outlaw bear baiting, on the grounds that it was,

    "petty legislation, when questions of so much more importance were before the House".

The abolition of bull baiting was opposed because,

    "the sport . . . cultivates the qualities of a certain species of dogs, which affords as much pleasure to their owners as greyhounds do to others".

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I shall go no further down that road, however, because I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, that there is no direct parallel between the animal cruelty barbarities of the 19th century and present day hunting. However, there is an immense wealth of evidence that deliberate cruelty is inflicted in the name of sport by certain hunts.

I am sure I am not the only Member of your Lordships' House who has had a mass of letters from people asking us to support the Bill and giving evidence of some terrible things that have happened. I give an example from a lady who writes from the Isle of Wight, referring to the Isle of Wight Hunt:

    "Worst of the illegal activities I witnessed was terrier men digging out a live fox and throwing it to the hounds, who tore it apart. This was in Combley Wood, near Havenstreet, where I also saw a fox being released from a sack taken from a Hunt van, just before the hounds arrived on the scene. I found a badger sett near Brook in the West Wight whose entrances were blocked with large quantities of earth stamped down heavily by men's boots, and reported it to the police who were following the Hunt.

    I witnessed a number of instances of the Hunt trespassing on private property. The worst case was when several hounds strayed into the RSPCA's animal shelter . . . and had to be locked up".

The description goes on and on.

The third issue I wish to touch on concerns the role of this House—

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