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Lord Whitty: This Chamber must decide what it is prepared to go along with. The previous position taken by this Chamber does not give a great hope for compromise on any front. However, relatively minor changes could be made to the Bill that the House of Commons would consider. In any case it must take seriously and consider whatever this Chamber sends back to it. It would consider those proposals with regard to whether there were grounds for compromise or further movement. But there are forms in which the Bill could be sent back to the House of Commons which are unlikely to deliver a compromise and others
 
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that might be more likely. The reality of the matter is that what is currently on the agenda and what Members in this Chamber have hitherto indicated that they would be prepared to support and go no further than, would not in my view be the best basis for compromise.

As to the differences between my noble friend's propositions and the position taken by the original, I felt it necessary to intervene on this group of amendments because, although he is correct to say that the first amendment does not of itself change the Bill, taken together with the other amendments in the group it would mean the omission of the important banning of deer hunting. That is not immediately clear, and my noble friend is being a little disingenuous in that regard. That may be an issue on which your Lordships may not agree with the Commons, but it is nevertheless important to recognise that that would be a change from the original proposition that was put to the Commons.

Baroness Warnock: Can the Minister enlighten me on one point? It is the general understanding—it is mine, at any rate—that where there is a choice between banning something absolutely and not banning it absolutely, the choice is normally between banning it and permitting it only subject to certain stringent restrictions. One can think of many analogies, including the case of abortion, where the choice is between either a total ban or providing that the activity should be carried out only subject to registration or other kinds of restriction.

So I should be grateful if the Minister could explain what other type of compromise there might possibly be between an absolute ban and something that we might propose that was not that which is contained in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue. I cannot myself see what other kind of compromise there could be.

Lord Whitty: We are getting into deep water here. The basis of my intervention was to guide the Committee on where we stand in relation to what is being proposed by the Commons and what was originally proposed by the Government. It is for Members of this House to propose changes at this or later stages of the Bill's consideration. Clearly, the Bill as it has come from the Commons does not impose a complete ban; there are exemptions to that ban, as is the case in many other fields, as the noble Baroness will know.

So there are other ways than reverting to the original Bill, but my key points are twofold. First, the original government Bill, whatever its merits, has been rejected overwhelmingly by the Commons. This group of amendments, taken together with other groups of amendments proposed by my noble friend and others, would go further backwards, in the majority view of the House of Commons, and are therefore unlikely to elicit a positive response from the House of Commons. Clearly, the House of Commons and the Government will listen to whatever this House says, but my
 
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guidance to this House, which is made genuinely, is that some avenues are more productive than others. I say no more.

Earl Ferrers: The noble Lord made great play of saying that it would be wrong or inadvisable to send something back to another place that had been overwhelmingly rejected on three occasions. That sounds very plausible. But does the noble Lord not agree that in fact we are considering a Bill, a Bill that will be subjected to the Parliament Act? The point of the Parliament Act is that if there is a disagreement between the two Houses and the Lords will not bend over backwards, the Parliament Act is used. But on this occasion, this Bill is a replica of its predecessor. Its predecessor never contained any amendments passed by your Lordships that were put to the Commons. Your Lordships held a Committee stage. One set of amendments was passed and thereafter the Government said, "We will now not continue with the Bill". Therefore, no amendments were sent from your Lordships' House to another place; another place did not consider any amendments from your Lordships; and there was no disagreement between your Lordships and another place because the Government had stopped the Bill.

How, therefore, can it be reasonable to say that a disagreement has been shown on three occasions? It may have been shown on three totally separate occasions, but not on this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, shakes his head, but it is a fact that the Government stopped that Bill going through and prevented the House of Commons considering any amendments made by your Lordships. That is why it is wrong to introduce the Parliament Act on this Bill.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am very pleased that, so far, speeches have been, by comparison to past occasions, short and to the point and I intend to follow that practice. The word used and over-used by my noble friend Lord Donoughue—I repeat the felicitous tone of my noble friend the Minister when referring to my colleague—was compromise, compromise and compromise. I look at that which we are being invited to support and, to me, it is not a compromise; it is a continuation of past and present practice dressed up with registration, licence and legality.

Under the arrangements that my opponents on this issue want, the fox will be chased by trained dogs and hounded to death. How is that death different from what has happened in the past? It is all very well for people here to say that hunting is a religion; it is a way of life; it is an arc of the Covenant. It may very well be and I respect that but, to me, it is a simple issue of right and wrong. You are either for the present practice or against it. I am against it.

The middle way amendments—substantially, that is what we are discussing—were designed to continue the present practice but dressed up with legality. That is what would happen if the amendments were carried and the Bill became law. Those who support the amendments have not changed their attitudes to
 
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hunting the fox with dogs trained in the manner that they are. They have not changed their views. They are looking for a way to get round the will of the House of Commons. I support the will of the House of Commons.

Lord Waddington: There is one thing that the Minister did not make absolutely plain. That is whether the Government are bent on using the Parliament Act if the other place rejects amendments sent there from here. Various views have been expressed during the course of our debates about the circumstances in which the Parliament Act should and should not be used—the principles that should operate in making such decisions. Surely the Minister must agree that if the Parliament Act is used in this case after we have sent to the other place amendments reinstating the licensing regime that the Government originally said that they wanted and the other place then rejects those amendments, that will be entirely without precedent.

The Minister will know that the Parliament Act's use is not actually an automatic process. It is not the case that if a Bill is rejected by this place, the Parliament Act must, as a matter of course, follow and the Bill must be presented to the Queen for Royal Assent. In fact, there is an important provision in the Parliament Act that is often ignored. That is to the effect that the Bill should go forward for Royal Assent unless the House of Commons directs to the contrary.

I suggest that, in the peculiar circumstances of this case, where this House is apparently intending only to reinstate, to all intents and purposes, the Bill that the Government originally presented, it would be perfectly proper for the Government to table a Motion that would have the effect of the House of Commons not directing that the Bill should be presented to the Queen for the Royal Assent.

I think that the mood of the Committee is that we should not have lengthy contributions today, but I must say that if this matter ends in the Bill in its present form being railroaded on to the statute book by the use of the Parliament Act, the prospect is bleak indeed. One of the things that particularly worries me is the inevitable souring of relations between the police and some of their natural supporters. Instead of fighting enemies of society the police in country areas will be spending their time treating as criminals upright citizens on whom up to now they have been able to rely for total support in carrying out their duties.

It should go without saying that the criminal law should be used to deal with activities which it is overwhelmingly in the public interest to bring to a halt, not activities of which some people disapprove. It makes no sense at all for the Government to preach the virtues of tolerance and the evils of intolerance and prejudice but at the same time allow themselves to be railroaded by bigots into denying people the right to follow occupations and pastimes which have been part of life in the countryside for generations.

On Second Reading this House was reminded that Hitler banned hunting. Indeed, we should be reminded that things like that should not happen here because
 
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we live in a democracy. In a healthy democracy the majority should not ride roughshod over the minority; rather the rights of minorities should be respected. I do not hunt; I have never hunted, but I cannot stomach this attack on personal freedom. These amendments will make the Bill less objectionable.


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