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Lord Moran: I made clear my objections to this Bill on Second Reading and I was glad to give my strongest support to the concept of registration in the votes in our first day of this Committee. However, Amendment No. 28 is the first about which I have some doubts. I share the objection of my noble friend Lord Palmer to the word "utility".

My main concern is as a fisherman. As was made clear by the Countryside Alliance in its brief for Second Reading, the test of utility was narrowly drawn in the Bill. In Committee, that test was narrowed specially to cover pest control. The word "utility" has come to mean pest control. However, both coarse and game fishing have no utility on that basis. The widespread introduction of catch-and-release on conservation grounds, which is to be welcomed, means that there is even less utility in fishing.

Fishermen worry that, if the concept of utility is seen not simply as something that has been put forward by the Government but as something that is approved of by the House, it will give an additional handle to the League Against Cruel Sports and the other organisations that may be concerned with banning fishing in due course.

At Second Reading in the Commons, Alun Michael defined the test of utility as,

The only person who raised the question of fishing was Mr Lembit Opik of the Liberal Democrats, who said that he was also concerned that the utility principle in the Bill could lead to the eventual banning of shooting and angling.

I am chairman of a committee known as the Moran committee, which comprises all the main fishery and angling organisations in England and Wales. At a meeting last week, I mentioned my concerns and found that they were shared by all the members of the committee. It would be good if we could get away from the concept of utility.

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In Amendment No. 28, the definitions in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the things to which the registration should contribute are excellent, but the title of the new clause worries me—it is "Tests for registration: utility and least suffering". If those responsible for the amendment could take out the words "utility and least suffering", which are not needed, I would be happier.

I have never understood why the Countryside Alliance and those who support it were happy about the concept of utility when it has come to mean pest control. Inevitably, it will discriminate against the big lowland hunts. On Report in another place, Alun Michael said that the Bill, as then amended, would,

    "only allow the hunting of foxes and mink in exceptional circumstances, for pest control and only when alternative methods can be shown to cause significantly more suffering".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/03; col. 56.]

That will not worry packs in my part of the world—Wales—who are engaged in pest control to a considerable extent, but I wonder whether the Quorn and the Pytchley would regard their operations as pest control. If tests were applied, hill packs in places such as Wales would be allowed to continue, and lowland packs would not. Surely, that is not what the Countryside Alliance wants.

Before the next stage, those who tabled the amendment should consider the dangers of opening the door to a move against fishing and, I suppose, shooting. I am surprised that those in the Countryside Alliance responsible for shooting and fishing have not raised that point. Perhaps they have or perhaps they have been asleep. It is important that the fishing and shooting fraternity are at one with Members of the Committee on this issue. Therefore, if the word "utility" could be eliminated from now on, I, for one, would be extremely grateful.

Baroness Mallalieu: As I have added my name to the amendment, perhaps I may refer Members of the Committee to what it does in relation to the process which Alun Michael started and to the Bill which he introduced into the House. From some of the remarks made by my noble friend the Minister before we adjourned, I anticipate that it will be suggested that, in some way, this is a dramatic change.

I turn briefly to what it was that we started out to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has already said, when Alun Michael announced his consultation process in a letter to interested parties in April 2002, he gave some indication of the two key principles which he intended to address in the Bill; that is, the prevention of cruelty and the concept of utility. I do not understand utility to be a term of art. I simply understand it to mean that it serves a useful purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has already read out part of that letter. Perhaps I may read the rest. Alun Michael wrote:

    "Cruelty is already dealt with in our legal system in regard to a variety of aspects other than hunting".

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I shall pause there to say that the definition which appeared later in his Bill bore no relation to the definition of cruelty in our legal system in any statute that I have been able to find. I understood the definition of cruelty generally to be the deliberate infliction of unnecessary suffering. We shall come to see how that changed. He then wrote in relation to utility that,


I apologise for repeating the words, but they are important in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Moran, has just said.

    "'Utility' addresses the need for particular activities, particularly in the work of land and wildlife managers. It might be described as the need or usefulness of an activity for vermin control, wildlife management, habitat protection or land management and conservation".

At that stage, it was clear that the Minister had in mind something very much wider than we finally got in the Bill.

Alun Michael completed the Portcullis House hearings and on the final day, 11th September 2002, he issued a press release, in which he wrote:

    "The future of hunting with dogs should not be decided on personal taste, but on evidence on the principles of whether or not it is serving an effective purpose in managing wildlife and whether it is more or less cruel than the alternative methods currently available".

So even at the end of the Portcullis House hearings, he had in mind sensible definitions of utility and, no doubt, of cruelty, to which he had referred earlier.

I think that I have an advantage over most noble Lords in having a copy of the original government Bill which has been annotated to show the amendments that are being made by the proposal made in the amendment now before the Committee. Perhaps I may just indicate what the changes are to Alun Michael's original Bill. Far from totally changing what is to be done, I hope that what we are doing is to go back to those principles which the Minister said at the outset he would introduce legislation to meet.

In relation to subsection (1) of Amendment No. 28, some words have been deleted which would have made better English. Mr Michael's original version read:

    "The first test for registration in respect of proposed hunting of wild mammals is that it is likely to make a significant contribution to the prevention or reduction of serious damage which the wild mammals to be hunted would otherwise cause to"—

followed by the paragraphs listed below in the original Bill. What we have done is to take out the word "significant", so that it refers simply to "contribution", and to take out the remaining words in that paragraph so that the test now reads,

    "is likely to make a significant contribution to,

    (a) the prevention or reduction of damage",

and involves the following sub-paragraphs.

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In subsection (1)(a)(ii), we have added the words "or wild birds", the original protection having been given simply to game birds. That seems to be a sensible amendment to the provision which can be regarded only as an improvement.

In sub-paragraph (v), to the words "growing timber", we have added "or regenerating woodland". Again, that is a plain and common-sense improvement to the Bill and could not possibly be said dramatically to alter it.

Towards the end we have added to paragraph (b) the words,

    "the maintenance of sustainable populations of any particular species of wild mammal",

which goes straight back to a point enunciated at the outset by Alun Michael as one of the principles of wildlife management; and paragraph (c) reads,

    "the sustainable development of the area . . . within the meaning of the Rio Declaration".

That should have been included in the original government Bill. There is no point in our signing up to such conventions only to ignore them when we come to introduce our own domestic legislation.

All those points seem to be totally in accordance with what Alun Michael indicated that he proposed to do, and all the alterations are improvements to the original version.

I turn to subsection (2), which could be described as the "cruelty subsection". The original test proposed by Alun Michael was, frankly, difficult to follow even for lawyers. It stated:

    "The second test for registration in respect of proposed hunting of wild mammals is that a contribution equivalent to that mentioned in subsection (1) could not reasonably be expected to be made (whether by the person proposing to hunt or by another person) in a manner likely to cause significantly less pain, suffering or distress to the wild mammal to be hunted".

Noble Lords can see what has been done. I submit that we have produced a sensible, fair and readily comprehensible test.

If it is said, as I expect it may, that this amendment seeks to run a coach and horses through what Alun Michael produced as the government Bill at the outset, I respond by saying: go back to what he announced to the public, what he wrote to those who communicated with him, and what he produced at the outset. What we have done is to take his initial proposals and seek to clarify and strengthen them. Surely that is the role of this Committee.

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