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The Lord Bishop of Worcester: We should take it as read, as an assumption, that those who oppose a ban and those who support it are likewise motivated by conscience. Having listened on more occasions than this to my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford speak with very great force on this matter in a direction opposite to the one that I hold, I could hardly think otherwise.
It is clear that those who support the continuance of hunting with dogs do so in the belief that it is best for the country and the countryside that that should happen. It is also clear that those who oppose it do so from a Christian perspective because they believe that whatever may be the utilitarian arguments, the control and, indeed, even the protection of animals, should not be made a matter of sport if that evinces an inappropriate attitude between humankind and animals. So there is conscience on both sides of the matter.
I want to speak entirely on the inclusion of the reference to conscience on the face of the Bill and to agree on that particular matter, if on no other, with what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has just said. It is important that we live in a country that recognises conscience, but it is also important to be clear that conscience is not simply what we feel strongly about. Conscience is about being informed by convictions. I believe that in our society and, I regret to say, in our Church, we have reached a situation where the word "conscience" is used rather more freely than it should be.
On this matter the word "conscience" probably is entirely appropriate to the views of some people, but it is also appropriate to the views of those people who would see it as their business to obstruct hunting if it were allowed to continue. It concerns me greatly that there should be written on to the face of the Bill a reference to something which will be used on both sides of this particular argument which will allow both sides to appeal to this amended clause as justification for their attitudes.
I believe that we live in a country with freedom of conscience. However, I also believe that freedom of conscience involves being prepared to pay the consequences of breaking the law if you believe that your conscience drives you to do that. The words here are witness to the seriousness of the debate and to the fact that for many people this is a religious issue which has come to us from the other place for that reason. For many others
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: I thank the right reverend Prelate for giving way. It may save him a good deal of pain and anxiety if I tell him at this stage that I agree entirely with what he says: these are not words which should be written on to the face of the Bill. However, he is right in thinking that my aim is to ensure that the people who espouse the Bill recognise that conscience is a two-edged weapon.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: I would not want to continue a speech in favour of a course of action which those supporting the amendment no longer support. So I am happy to sit down and trust that we can proceed to consider the amendment.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: In her excellent speech the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, began and, indeed, ended by telling us that the amendment was unworkable. I perceive a rather dangerous situation arising. When those on the Government Front Bench insist on passing a law which they have been warned is unenforceable, it is hardly surprising that noble Lords table amendments which are also unenforceable. I think that we are getting into a rather dangerous position.
I have not sought previously to intervene in the debate. I have never hunted and cannot claim to know anything about the finer points of the sport. However, I strongly support freedom, conscience and tradition. As soon as I read the amendment I felt that I must speak, albeit briefly, in support of it.
I am very well aware of the need to destroy foxes. Surely, there can be no doubt in anyone's mind that there is that need. I have lived in the country for most of my life and know all about the harm these vermin can do. I have seen a hen-house in which every single bird was killed by a fox for absolutely no reason. One chicken was quite enough for a good meal for him. Foxes kill far more than just chickens. I believe conscientiously that foxes must be destroyed. I believe conscientiously what I read in the reports of those who have studied the matter, which tells me clearly that the other methods to be used if hunting ends are far more cruel and far more likely to cause pain to the fox. So I was greatly impressed when I read the amendment.
It seems to me that the Bill came into being because a section of the public declared that they conscientiously objected to hunting. Everyone has a right to their conscience and to hold views that he or she thinks are right and in accord with that conscience. However, I think that those people reserved quite a large part of their conscientious objections to country people and their traditions; they did not understand the first and they disliked the second.
Apparently, they had no conscientious objection to lambs, pheasants, quail or hens being torn to death. It was only the fox who was enjoying himself, after all. That seemed to be perfectly acceptable and perfectly in line with their consciences. But no government should run a country which allows some of its citizens a conscience but not others. They should not adhere only to what they hear from the section of the public that they believe in and agree with because others have a right to their conscience too.
In a free countryand I sometimes wonder whether this one is still freeeveryone has a right to a conscience, whether or not the Government agree with what he says. The amendment makes that point. On two occasions at least hundreds of thousands of people took part in hugely impressive demonstrations in London. They were expressing their wish and their conscientious belief that hunting should continue: some because their livelihoods were threatened; some because they followed the hunt; some because they knew that foxes must be controlled; and some because they believed in freedom. But all of them, in their different ways, were expressing what their conscience led them to believe. Only the Government believe that their wishes and their words should be ignored and that their consciences are not as important as the consciences of the anti-hunt lobby.
How can it be right on an issue of this kindwhich has nothing whatever to do with national politics, which sets country against town and which is deeply divisiveto pass such a hated law and to ignore what free people are expressing as their conscience. If country people truly believe that hunting breaks no moral code, who are this Government to criminalise them?
Viscount Bledisloe: The noble Lord who moved the amendment has now, quite rightlyalbeit belatedlyadmitted that it would be wholly wrong to put on the face of a Bill a provision which states that, taking part in 'X' is criminal, but you don't need to obey that; you can get off it if you thought that the legislation should be something different.
Surely, it is now timeif not past the timefor the noble Lord to withdraw that amendment and to enable the Committee to get on with its proper duty of considering amendments made to the Bill and intended to alter it, rather than those merely pegged for Second Reading speeches.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I go further than the noble Viscount: as one who is totally opposed to the abolition of hunting and totally in favour of returning a Bill to the Commons that is more nearly like the one introduced to the Commons, I believe that this amendment is inimical to that tactic. It gives a hostage to fortune; and it will be held up by those against hunting and against this House
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It seems to be the Committee's wish to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on whether he wishes to withdraw his amendment. I am finding this difficult. I am trying to go with the mood of the Chamber. It seems that the Committee would like to hear first from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton.
Earl Peel: With the leave of the Committee, it was not my intention to speak to the amendment, but one or two points have been made which have inspired me to rise to my feet. I refer to some of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Renton. It is absolutely essential that we understand from the outset that the ways and means of controlling foxes in this country have evolved over the years. Different practices suit different places, and hunting plays a hugely important part in that process.
However, and I say this with the greatest of respect to my noble friend, to condemn snaring as being automatically cruel is wrong. Snaring, if done correctly, is a perfectly humane way of controlling foxes. The same applies to shooting. The noble Lord referred to poisoning. Poisoning is an illegal activity. You are not entitled to poison foxes, and quite rightly so. So my only point, which I regard as very important, is to try and clarify that, unless we get our facts absolutely straight, we compare one form of control against another at our peril.
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