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Lord King of Bridgwater: The Minister made the comment that we are in deep water. Anyone who is familiar with rural areas, and many people not familiar with rural areas but who have different views from many others about hunting, know that there are very strong feelings on this issue. It is very important that we recognise that and that we deal with this matter in the proper way. Many people in the countryside know that the way in which this matter has been handled has added to the anger of so many and it has been the worst possible prelude to any action that the Government may wish to allow to happen in relation to hunting.

Looking back over the matter, the original attempt was made by Jack Straw as Home Secretary, who asked the noble Lord, Lord Burns, to undertake his inquiry.
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Then the Government requested Mr Alun Michael to hold the hearings in Portcullis House. There followed attempts to deal with the issue on principle and evidence and, although they were greeted with some scepticism by hunting people, they were seen as genuine attempts to see whether there was a fair basis on which this longstanding disagreement could be approached. Many noble Lords have experienced debates on this subject for years.

Of course, the approach has been pretty chaotic. My noble friend Lord Ferrers referred to the handling of the first Bill and the way in which the Government simply pulled stumps and abandoned progress on it. Now we have this Bill which has appeared at the last gasp of this Session of Parliament, having been lying around for a considerable period of time in the Commons, not being dealt with in any way. That has not given us any confidence.

The point made now by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, is whether this House is simply wasting its time, whether the Government are prepared to take any action or whether they will simply allow the will of their Back-Benchers to prevail, notwithstanding that they have admitted that this is quite the wrong way to approach the matter. They have warned of the dangers of what is proposed.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. I do not agree with the idea of the registrar; I do not believe it is the best way to approach the matter. I would much rather see self-regulation. Recently we had an example of self-regulation. Two very stupid people at the Labour Party conference produced two carcasses which they laid out on the street. The action may have been handled in the courts, but I noticed that the Masters of Foxhounds Association took immediate action and banned that hunt from hunting for a period of time. So the whole hunt was punished for the stupid action of two people. However, if we have a system of registration, people will not act with such speed. There will be a tribunal and all kinds of opportunities for people to argue their cases. That is an illustration of self-regulation.

There is no point in arguing such a point because we have gone beyond it. In the spirit of compromise that has been advanced here, the idea of registration is set out. I believe that it is the least worst alternative to self-regulation and that it is the way to proceed.

The Minister was absolutely right that one or two changes are proposed beyond the Alun Michael Bill, but they are not in this amendment. The amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, has made clear, deals with the Alun Michael proposal for a registrar for registration.

I may disagree with a number of noble Lords on the issue of stag hunting. Having represented a constituency in which one of the principal stag hunts in the country is based, I do not agree with people who believe that it should be banned. I accept that I have to argue that at the right time in this Committee stage.

The principle of registration, as in the Alun Michael Bill, is quite clear. I believe that it is now the duty of this House to save both the Government and the country from what could otherwise be a most
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unfortunate situation. I may be wrong, but I believe that successive Home Secretaries have never voted for this Bill and have never supported a ban. I have been a Back-Bencher and a Minister, and the benefit of being a Back-Bencher is that one does not have to take responsibility. Ministers and the Government will have to pick up the mess if this goes through in the way in which government Ministers have already stated is unworkable and is likely to lead to serious tension in our country.

I believe that it is the duty of this House to act, not because we are frightened of the Commons—many of us have been in the Commons and have seen it make mistakes on many occasions—but because we have to do what we believe to be right. We must stand by our honour, integrity, experience and knowledge and do what we think is right. In the present circumstance I am sure that the compromise of registration is right.

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: From these Benches I add my support for this group of amendments. I do so very much in the spirit of compromise to which the noble Lord, Lord King, has just referred. It seems to me that this is a compromise between those who want a total ban and those who want the present situation to continue without any regulation.

I support these amendments on the basis of a principle that my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, who is in his place beside me, indicated at Second Reading. He said that one of the marks of a civilised society is the ability to live with difference and that,

That is a principle that this House scrupulously sought to implement yesterday in a very different context. The right reverend Prelate also said at Second Reading that there are other matters which many feel are undesirable and socially corrupting,

It seems to me that this amendment does precisely that; it seeks to manage without banning in a situation where there is deep division in our country and where many people in the countryside, as other noble Lords have said, feel that there has been a failure to listen and to understand their way of life.

I very much hope that your Lordships' Committee will support these amendments and that we shall have the opportunity to discuss further the nature of registration and how it should, in practice, be implemented.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I spoke on this issue in Second Reading debates in the other place in 1995 and 1997. I have never spoken on it in a Second Reading debate in your Lordships' House. If some Members of the Committee think that some aspects of my speech might be a Second Reading speech, it is necessarily not one which I have already delivered in this place.
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In the other place I was an inner city MP. I had a sense of responsibility in that capacity—on the Burkean principle that a Member of Parliament owes his judgment to his constituents—to learn more about the fox than as an inner city MP I was likely to do. In those days the Earl of Cranbrook was the chairman of English Nature. I happened independently to know him. I asked him whether English Nature would provide me with as comprehensive a bibliography on the fox as it could. It produced a list of about a dozen books and an enormous list of articles. With the assistance of the House of Commons Library I secured those and read them. The animal welfare conclusion to which I came as a result of doing that reading derived from arguments such as those expressed in this debate by my noble friend Lord Renton. It was that hunting was the optimal way to proceed. That view has been sustained by the Burns committee, which was set up by the Government to assist Parliament in these matters.

My friend Tony Banks—and I can say genuinely "my friend Tony Banks" for he and I regularly meet to explain to American students how Parliament works; and I know him well—has said that we are now into politics and that we have moved on from animal welfare. If so, I regret that. But I have the feeling from the Minister's speech earlier in the debate that that is his view too and that we are no longer into animal welfare.

The Minister quoted two-thirds of a famous quotation by Mr Sherlock Holmes where he said, "These are deep waters, Watson". I am a bear of very little brain and I am therefore perfectly happy to play the role of Dr Watson in listening to what the Minister has to say.

The Prime Minister is said to be interested in compromise. I am not quite sure, in the light of what has happened so far, how he would deliver it in the other place. But that is by the by. He may still regret in due course what he said about my right honourable friend John Major when he was Prime Minister. On one occasion in the other place he said that,

that is Mr Blair speaking—

That issue may return to haunt him in the days ahead.

Of course the Prime Minister may say that this is a free vote. That is quite different from an issue of party policy under a Whip. But some of us were surprised by the opaqueness of his original pledge in the manifesto in 1997 that the Labour Party, if elected, would allow a free vote in the House of Commons. That was a meaningless commitment, considering that in the House of Commons a free vote had always been allowed on fox hunting. It added absolutely nothing to the status quo of where we then were.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham, said that he could not accept the middle way, although the Prime Minister is attached to that form of triangulation. I have heard what has been said about registration improving animal welfare; and I am prepared to accept that. For myself, I am clear that, whatever the Minister in due course says, the issue of animal welfare will
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determine my own vote when we go into the Lobbies and that animal welfare should remain our guiding star. I share the view of my noble friend Lord King that we should do what we believe in.

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