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Earl Peel: I originally voted against the proposal that is before us today that has become known as the middle way. I think and I admit that that was a tactical error. I remember very well my noble friendI think that he is still my noble friendLord Willoughby de Broke trying to persuade me and others to do the same but we rejected it. However, there is such a thing as political expediency. We all have to move; we all have to think; and we all have to make judgments. I believe without any question of doubt that the judgment now before us means that we have no option whatever but to accept the proposal in the form of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue.
I accept the strong feelings expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Hoyle and Lord Graham, but there is no question of doubt that foxes need to be controlled. It is therefore a question of clinically looking at the science available and asking what is the most humane way to deal with it. Clearly, hunting is the least cruel.
I would simply make an intervention at this stage. I have not done so to date, but there have been in my view a number of misrepresentations made during the course of the hunting debate about other methods of fox control. I fully acknowledge that hunting is a least cruel method, but Members of the Committee should be under no misapprehension that snaring and shooting if done correctly are humane ways of controlling foxes. I would not want anyone to be under the misapprehension that all shooting and all snaring leads to an untimely death for the fox because that simply is not the case.
It seems to me that on this issue there are two fundamental points. One is that of least cruelty and the other is the one of civil liberty and respect for the minority. That to me is perhaps the burning issue; the one on which we should concentrate more than anything else. Seldom, if ever, in the legislative history of Parliament can so much evidence have been accumulated against a piece of legislation as that which we have in front of us today. That I believe is the key issue. Many noble Lords have referred to Alun Michael and how he himself supported, quite naturally, his original Bill and how he wishes to have something similar returned to the House of Commons.
We had the evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and we had the Portcullis House hearings. It all points in one direction. We have the opinion polls which show quite clearly that the majority of people are now uncertain about the hunting issue; and I do not believe that many of them think that hunting should be outlawed. Then we have the press and these hugely important libertarian arguments that have been put forward time and time again. I said at Second Reading and I say again that if the Government ignore that, they
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do so at their peril. It is one of the most fundamental and damaging things they could do towards the well-being of the countryside and the well-being of people who live in a democracy and expect fair play.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House at the Second Reading of the Hunting Bill. I asked for the House to try to find a way forward that would answer the genuine questions of those who oppose hunting and would find a proper solution to all who value freedom and tolerance. This amendment answers exactly those questions.
I agree with my noble friend Lord King. In an ideal world I would prefer self-regulation as that fits with my philosophical view of life. But if we need a registrar in order to ensure that whole swathes of our fellow men and women are not criminalised, I feel that this is the way forward and I urge your Lordships to support the amendment.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: If there are no further speakers in the debate I should like to start to conclude it. The interesting amendment on registration is pivotal to the whole of the Bill. The issue has to be resolved shortly in a vote, but on listening to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I thought that there was a hint of a nod and a wink on occasions in what he said. Indeed, he admitted that the four noble Lords whose names are attached to most of the amendments are trying to be helpful. But then he said that it differed radically from the original Bill.
During this debate important points have been made about what the Government's view is on this Billafter all, it is as near as possible to their original Bill that came here from the House of Commons. Noble Lords asked whether the Government are still prepared to support the principle of registration of hunting or whether they will look at the House of Commons and back away from its decision to ban hunting. That is contained in the Bill that we are now debating.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, asked the Minister to come clean and tell us whether he is highlighting hare coursing and deer hunting, and whether that is the compromise sought. I hope that the noble Lord will express his views on that. The debate on the Parliament Act is important but we must stick to the amendments before us. The purpose of Amendment No. 1 is to secure a registration scheme for hunting in the United Kingdom.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke to Amendment No. 2, which lays out specific ways in which individuals and groups can hunt and become licensed to do so. Groups of individuals can also seek a licence. The conditions were read out, so I shall not repeat them. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, rightly mentioned that one cannot negotiate without ground rules and that in some respects we are debating in a
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vacuum. He said that the principle of registration must be accepted or rejected. We will do that, I am sure, in the forthcoming vote.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, who has been referred to, expressed his opinions on cruelty. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, sought a more equitable solution to the issue, which was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, himself. The noble Lord, Lord King, rightly responded to the situation in the countryside, which is in turmoil over the issue. We need to be responsible in resolving it.
I shall now address specifically Amendment No. 1. It is the constructive alternative to a ban. The fact that the Government produced a registration Bill at the conclusion of a two-year consultation process was a very objective conclusion. It creates a degree of ethical control of hunting by regulation. The registration and licensing of hunts ensure that standards must be adhered to; that will be very, very acceptable in the countryside. As a fisherman, I get a fishing licence every spring and adhere to the rules clearly stated on my licence. Others shoot, for which they obtain shooting licences. I see nothing wrong in getting licences to hunt under certain conditions. It is a principle already accepted in the countryside.
The registration body will be equally independent of pro- and anti-hunting interests. The registrar must be objective and independent in determining who is fit to hunt; if hunts disobey rules, there must be rulings that will be enforced; and licences must be withdrawn if rules are breached. That provides for an appeals mechanism, which is contained in this set of amendments.
This is the way forward for the countryside, and the way to get much more cohesion between town and country. I beg those not only in this place but in another place who believe in a ban to think again and find a civilised solution that most people can accept.
I find it very strange that, having made his statement at the start of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, refused to enlarge on it. The question must be: why? If we are told that the Government seek a compromise, we are at least due an explanation of how we could compromise. If the only compromise that the Government seek is to accept the Bill as a ban Bill, I see no compromise at all. I hope that the Minister will address those very specific issues that Members of the Committee raised today.
First, the last time the Bill was before us, the House of Lords did not block it; we all agreed that at Second Reading, however much noble Lords opposite tried to say that that was not true. Secondly, it was clearly the
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House of Commons that altered its own Billit was the Alun Michael Bill, a government Bill, which Back-Benchers hijacked at the last minute. Following that, the Government decided to leave the Bill for 10 months before they brought it back to your Lordships' House. Indeed, they introduced it into the House of Commons first, in September, leaving us very little time to go through it in the normal way. Thirdly, the House of Commons never debated the amendments or the work that we had done on its previous Bill. The Commons had guillotined the Bill before us today into such a short space of time that it did not have the chance to debate it. So it is not this House that altered the Bill at that stage; the Commons altered its own Bill.
Amendment No. 1 concerns the principle of registration. Although I noted the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, Members of the Committee should bear in mind that at the moment we are not debating the question of whether to look at different aspects, including stag hunting and hare coursing; we are debating whether to approve the principle of registration. As one of my noble friends has stated, the Government are setting down some very high standards for registration, and some hunts currently might not qualify. Noble Lords should not let that point go amiss. Most importantly, we must end up with a robust law, in whatever form. Registration should apply to all forms of hunting, not just specific ones.
If the Minister seeks a compromise, as he said earlier, does it include the Alun Michael Bill? If it does not, what does it include and what are we talking about? Perhaps there is no compromise. I was very disappointed that, on the many occasions when the Minister was invited to comment, he declined to do so. I wish to put that on the record because I suspect that, if things do not turn out the way the Government hope, this House will be blamed. That would be very unfair because many noble Lords have asked the Government to clarify what their compromise would be, but clarification has not been forthcoming.
We are where we are. I agree with other noble Lords who have said that it is for this House to decide. My own position is well known, but it is for each individual noble Lord to look at the amendment and consider it as it is presented at the moment. I hope that we will not look further down the line at other amendments to come. We are where we are at the moment, and this is the amendment before us, which I beg to support.
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