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Lord Jopling: My Lords, I am most obliged to the Minister for giving way. On a matter of procedure, he will have noticed that the speakers' list states that it is discourteous for Members not to be here for the winding-up speeches, and that any Members who are unable to stay until the end of the debate should remove their names from the list. I have noticed that five Members who spoke are not present now. I shall not name them. Does the Minister agree that it would
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I am not certain that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is correct in asking the Clerk to do that. I can assure the noble Lord that that is the role of the Government Whip with regard to the Government Benches, and I am quite sure that those on the Opposition Benches who have noted any absences will do likewise.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, with the greatest possible respect to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, by my recollection there are six such Members. They include the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who made a very powerful speechmost of us disagree strongly with what he saidand I remind noble Lords that he did not stay for the winding-up speech last time we debated this vexed subject.
The nature of the winding-up speech from the Opposition Benches reflected both the apex and the bathos of the debate. On the one hand, the noble Viscount engaged in high-flown rhetoric about human rights, and, on the other, he engaged very clearly in reverse class conflict.
This is a difficult situation for the House and, in many respects, the Government. Neither sweeping generalisations about the constitutional position nor petty remarks about the motivation of others are particularly appropriate. Many good points have been madealthough not many that have not been heard before. At this time of night, I do not intend to reply to all of them, but will try to refer to specific points in correspondence. I will now make some general points.
I regret that I have to make this point almost every time we discuss the countryside, and certainly every time we discuss hunting. Those who oppose the position of many of us on the Labour Benches and others in other parties on fox hunting are wrong to accuse us of being against the countryside or ignoring or disparaging the countryside. It is especially wrong for those who claim on behalf of the pro-hunters to speak for the countryside. There are plenty of people in the countryside who oppose, want to restrict or ban hunting.
There has been some argument about opinion polls. I have spent a fair part of my life putting the best gloss on bad opinion polls, but I do not intend to engage in discussion on particular opinion polls tonight. However, it is significant that, at every stage of this argument, when there has been a breakdown between urban and rural dwellers in opinion polls, the difference has been 2 per cent or 3 per cent either way. There is no huge difference between the views of country people and those who live in towns or suburbs on this issue. There is conflict in both communities. It is very important that we recognise that.
We should also recognise the stage we have now reached with this Bill and how we got here. This was a live issue for many years before this Government came to power on a manifesto to allow Parliament to vote on a ban on fox hunting. We introduced a Bill in the last parliament. That Bill did not complete its passage through Parliament and this House. We had a Second Reading, and this House voted overwhelmingly for what was called independent supervision but was in effect close to the status quo.
The vast majority of people who took an interest in this debate in that House voted at that stage not to do anything about fox hunting, despite the fact that the vast majority of public opinion wanted something done about italthough maybe not this particular Bill or any other Bill. I have checked the list, and about 50 people have spoken in this debate, excluding the Front Benches, rather fewer than 10 of whom were more or less on the side of this Bill, some of whom were not in the House in 2001. Of the remainder of the speakers, 30 out of 40 noble Lords who spoke against this Bill voted for the status quo the last time legislation was before this House in 2001. That is the situation in this House that the House of Commons has had to take into account.
Admittedly, when we debated the general Motions in 2002, there had been a vast conversionat the time I said that some conversions are more convincing than others and that some of those conversions were rather like Charlemagne's conversion of the Saxonspeople recognised the way the wind was blowing and therefore made a token vote. That has also been evident from some contributions tonight. People speaking in favour of the middle way and of reversion to the original Bill that was put before the House frequently went further. There were greater restrictions than even the Middle Way Group proposed, and significant additional points were made over and above the position in the government Bill at the beginning of its Commons stage.
People called for a middle way, but what that meant was pretty vague the last time your Lordships voted on this issue. It is important to recognise that that was not what the Government proposed to the House of Commons. The government proposals were much closer to a situation in which tribunals and registration would very much limit the scope of hunting within England and Wales. In other words, the Bill presented to the House of Commons would not have received support from many who spoke today. Let us not kid ourselves about that. Had the Government, instead of allowing a free vote, used the normal whipping system and put forward the Bill originally presented to the House of Commons by Alun Michael, most of the people who have spoken in this House today would not have supported it in any way. Many of their pronouncements and the pronouncements of some of the hunting organisations make it clear that they opposed that Bill almost as vociferously as they oppose a complete ban. So, let us not have any kidology about that.
Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, I thought that the Government's original intention was to try to build a consensus on the matter. The Minister has just said to anyone who has moved their position or sought to move towards the Government's position, "I don't believe you. You weren't going to agree to everything that we required and, therefore, I dismiss you". Is that the best approach?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am going on what was said today and what was said when the government Bill was introduced at the beginning of the procedure in the Commons. Some people switched their view in the second vote in this House in 2002. The Government also shifted their view by producing the legislation that they did. They did not go as far as the Middle Way Group, but, nevertheless, they shifted position.
What happened in the House of Commons? Various pejorative phrases have been used to describe proceedings in the House of Commons. "Giving in to the bully boys" was probably the most extreme; "mishandling", in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, was possibly the gentlest. We have been told that the Government were "bounced", "rolled over", "ambushed". What has actually happened is that the Government have accepted a free vote of the House of Commonsthe elected Houseand have done so in line with what was in the manifestos for two elections in which the Government won an overwhelming majority.
Democracy is about such procedures. We have not acted hastily; we have not acted without taking into account the views of others. Ultimately, the elected House did not accept the compromise that the Government proposed and, certainly, would not have accepted the kind of compromise that has been talked about in this House today.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the Minister accept that another place did not have an opportunity to vote on the compromise proposed by the Government? Mr Michael withdrew his amendment, and there was no vote on it.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, that is a misleading statement. What actually happened is that, on Report, the Commons accepted another amendment, which Mr Michael voted against, that would have rendered much of what the Government proposed redundant. That is why the Government withdrew at that stage. The House had already made its determination clear. It was not a question of the Government running away from gunfire; Ministers had already voted against an amendment that significantly adjusted the Government's overall approach.
There are important issues of principle involved. Some of the principle is clouded in some uncertainty about the facts. I accept that. The issue of cruelty is central to the debate. We have indicated that by "cruelty" we mean
The real point about hunting is that it gives enjoyment and engagement to some people in the rural community. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, perhaps, put it a bit extremely when he said that it was better than an orgasm. I am not sure that there is any objective research on such matters.
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