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Lord Hooson: It would be helpful if the Minister would indicate, if there is any spirit of compromise on the Government Benches, what their attitude is to the hunting of foot packs in upland areas in England and Wales.

I remind the Minister that there are tens of thousands of ewes—sheep—and their lambs on the hills of Wales and England. The greatest predators of those lambs are foxes. In the same areas, there are tens of thousands of acres of forest and hill land that afford cover for foxes. Those foxes cannot be controlled without the use of hounds. The hounds have to hunt them to get them out into an area where they can be shot. It is a very important instance of nature control in rural areas, which form a fair part of the country. If the Government are looking for a way out, the least compromise they could make is not to ban hunting there.

Lord Sewel: Perhaps I can invite my noble friend the Minister, when he says a few words, to address the issue of the appropriateness of the use of the
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Parliament Acts in this case. I accept that the Parliament Act provisions are available for use. What I question is whether it would be appropriate to use the Parliament Acts at this juncture.

The Parliament Acts deal with the relationships between the two Houses of Parliament. However, let us put the 1911 and 1949 Acts in their historic and political context. What is behind that regulation of the relationship between the two Chambers? That regulation addresses situations in which the executive has support in the House of Commons for its legislative programme but is frustrated by not having support in the House of Lords. So it is a provision to enable the executive to obtain its legislation after a period of delay.

I cannot recollect any legislation that has been subject to the Parliament Acts where it has been a matter of a free vote in both Houses. I can, however, think of examples in the 1960s. Year after year almost, the House of Commons, on a free vote, voted for the abolition of capital punishment. However, that provision could not secure a majority in this House. As I remember, there was not even a suggestion that the Parliament Act provisions should be used in that context.

So I suggest that we are going into a new area where the Parliament Act provisions are being used for legislation that is not a matter of the executive securing its own legislation against frustration by the House of Lords. We have before us now a Bill that is subject to a free vote. In that matter, I do not believe that there is a strong case for the appropriate use of the Parliament Act.

Lord Carter: With reference to the point made by my noble friend Lord Sewell—the War Crimes Act was passed on a free vote under the Parliament Act, as was the age of consent Act.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Although I may be alone in this opinion, at this stage it would not be useful for the Minister to tell us what compromise is on the table, because I detect many shades of opinion in your Lordships' House, including among those of us who are minded to vote for registration and this first group of amendments—as I intend to. However, at a later stage there are a number of matters that I mentioned in my Second Reading speech, which I shall not repeat, that I would wish not to be included at any price. Those would include deer hunting and hare hunting. Those matters would be suitable to introduce as amendments at Report.

So, personally, I would not yet welcome the Minister's comments about where he would like to compromise until, in our own House, we have sorted out exactly what our opinions are by way of votes on each issue.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: Reverting to the question that was just raised as to whether it would be appropriate to resort to the Parliament Acts, assuredly there are other reasons why it is not appropriate. Assuredly we are entering a new area. Those Acts were
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not devised to exterminate lawful minority interests and they have never been so used before. The question of civil liberties, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, is a live issue.

Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, to which I shall speak briefly, open a gateway to the path of compromise on some form of registration. A Motion in another place to withdraw the Bill would not appear to have much prospect of success, so the only prospect to which we return regarding compromise is some form of registration that is envisaged by the amendments. One might well ask why the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister should seek that sort of compromise.

The nation is divided and there is a turmoil of protest. The police would be put in an impossible position, which is not acceptable. One of the Prime Minister's own Back-Benchers, Kate Hoey, the honourable Member for Vauxhall, said, at Third Reading that the Bill was "unsustainable" and,

Another of his Back-Benchers, Jean Corston, the right honourable Member for Bristol, East, said that the question of a total ban should be settled only by due process at the next general election. The right honourable lady, who is a lifelong opponent of hunting and who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights, also said, on the advice of that committee, that the Bill as certified by the Speaker would be incompatible with the Convention on Human Rights—Article 1, Protocol 1. If enacted, the Bill could not be enforced unless and until it was sanctioned by our courts. Bail would have to be granted pending the ultimate decision of the Appellate Committee of this House and the European Court of Justice.

There are three issues arising for judicial resolution, not for Parliament: first, whether three months' notice under Clause 15 is unlawful as it is inadequate, as advised by the Joint Committee; secondly, whether a total ban is in the public interest, or whether the Bill is in the general interest within the express provisions of Article 1; and, lastly, the point often made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, whether the Act of 1949 is an abuse of the Act of 1911 and, therefore, invalid.

Surely we must accept as a matter of comity, which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has accepted, that another place will reconsider the entrenched position that it has taken up regarding a total ban. If the Parliament Acts are invoked, would it not be better if resort were taken to the courts before we were to take to the streets?

Lord Lea of Crondall: Perhaps I may briefly speak on the question of whether the registration scheme would work. It is a somewhat complicated scheme and is none the worse for that. I voted for a registration scheme when the Countryside Alliance was against it. I am still in favour of it and it could be given a chance to work, provided that the ban was written into the Bill. So another form of approach could logically be
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that we have been challenged in the order of eight times by various noble Lords, mainly on the Opposition Benches, to specify what type of compromise might be on offer.

The Minister cannot possibly today suddenly produce a rabbit out of a hat, if I may use that expression. But presumably we could have a Bill which would specify that the ban would be activated in "x" years if the registration scheme proved ineffective. If people say that there are various other compromises in their heads, why do they not also think aloud regarding what they might be?

Lord Mackie of Benshie: We do not seem to be making fast progress. All the talk is of the Parliament Act. I thought we were considering the amendment tabled by the noble Lord and the "gang of four"—an excellent expression, which I do not believe that my noble friend should resent at all. Many gangs are useful, I understand.

The Minister has also clearly indicated, as did my noble friend on the Front Bench, that the difficulty between us regarding the compromise might well be the issue of hare coursing and deer hunting. So the "gang of four" will have to make up their minds, as will the Committee, what they wish to do regarding that and what would be acceptable to the Commons. If, after we have put that to the Commons, that House rejects it, we could then begin to discuss the Parliament Act.

Baroness Mallalieu: In addition to supporting the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Donoughue, perhaps I may also speak to Amendments Nos. 2 and 53 which are grouped with it, the second of which is in my name.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has already mentioned the matter that we are actually addressing in this group. Essentially, it is the principle of registration—whether it should be possible for hunting to continue, subject to the control of having to satisfy the registrar under the tests that were devised by Mr Alun Michael, when he produced his original Bill. Although there have been a number of variants and diversions during this debate, perhaps we may return to that matter.

First, I shall speak to Amendment No. 2, which is set out in precisely the same terms as the Government Bill introduced into the House of Commons in December 2002. That amendment provides that hunting by an individual can be registered in three ways. First, the individual can seek individual registration, which would allow him to hunt by himself or with a limited number of people who are not registered. In that case, he would have to apply to the registrar, submitting the species of wild mammal that he intended to hunt and the area in which the hunting would take place.

Secondly, individual registration is not necessary if an individual participates in hunting with a group of
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which at least one individual is registered under a group registration in respect of the species of wild mammal that is intended to be hunted and the place in which the hunting takes place. If that is the case, a record must be kept of the identity of each individual who participates in the hunt, regardless of whether they are registered or not. That record has to be kept for the duration of the registration. Thirdly, an individual may be considered as registered if he participates in hunting with a number of individuals one of whom must be subject to individual registration.

However, in every case, as has already been said, an applicant for an individual registration must agree to abide by the following conditions: any wild mammal which is injured or captured must be killed quickly and humanely; and any wild mammal which is shot in accordance with that must be shot by a competent person; and permission must have been received from the occupier of the land or, in the case of unoccupied land, from the person to whom it belongs. Any inspector who is appointed by a prescribed animal welfare body must be permitted at the request of the registrar to accompany the registered individual while hunting for the purpose of inspection. Insurance has to be in place in respect of loss or damage caused to people other than the registered individual. Finally, not more than two other unregistered individuals may participate in reliance on the registration of an individual.

Failure to abide by those automatic conditions would result in deregistration. Group registration has precisely the same conditions. Records must be kept of the identity of each individual who participates and reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that no individual who has been refused registration participates.

I suggest that those provisions, which are automatic conditions before any hunting can take place, will ensure that hunting is accountable and is carried out to the highest possible animal welfare standards. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 2.

I can be briefer about Amendment No. 53, because that relates simply to money, and it has precisely the same wording as the government Bill that was introduced in the Commons in December 2002. It states:

The amendment provides simply that the necessary moneys are made available to pay for the registration system and for the tribunal.

Perhaps I may briefly speak in support of the main amendment in the group, Amendment No. 1. Notwithstanding the somewhat Delphic statements of the Minister following the opening remarks of my noble friend Lord Donoughue, I hope that we can produce a compromise which is acceptable to the other place, because, frankly, this nonsense has gone on for
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long enough. I do not like Alun Michael's Bill; I did not like it when it first appeared. It would not have been my chosen method for reaching a compromise. I would have preferred to see reform of the Protection of Animals Act along the lines that were proposed in the Bill that was introduced by my noble friend Lord Donoughue, and I would have liked to have seen that combined with a licensing scheme as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, at Second Reading. That would have been simpler, clearer and less bureaucratic. However, I recognise that the essence of compromise is that no one gets exactly what he would like.

I recognise also that the architecture of Alun Michael's original government Bill, with its twin tests of utility and least suffering, was a reasonable approach to a licensing system. The same principles should apply across the board to all forms of hunting. An independent registrar should make a decision based on the evidence which is placed before him. Some applications would succeed and some would fail, but the process would be seen to be fair and, as such, would "stand the test of time", to quote the words that have been much used by the Minister.

At Second Reading, my noble friend Lady Gale and others—indeed, my noble friend Lord Hoyle said much the same today—said that hunting should be banned because it was cruel. I say that it is not, but neither of us is impartial. Both of us perhaps have our judgment clouded—in the one case, by a personal dislike; in the other, by a personal passion in favour. However, an independent registrar, looking at the evidence presented to him, applying the twin tests to it and determining the application on that basis, should command the respect of both sides. We may not like the outcome, but we will feel that there has been a fair hearing. If the hunting community is prepared for its case to be dealt with in this way, as I believe it is, I hope that, in due course, so will its opponents.

If we cannot reach a compromise, I fear that we will be well on the way to putting on the statute book a Bill which will be divisive, increase animal suffering and cause some real hardship to people in some areas. I hope that the process will succeed, and I hope that we will produce something that will stand the test of time. I hope very much that, when he comes to reply, the Minister, my noble friend Lord Whitty, will produce something more helpful than in his earlier interventions.

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