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Lord Crickhowell: It is a pleasure to follow my former Member of Parliament in Powys, who speaks
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with particular knowledge of the conditions that exist in that county and in mid-Wales as a whole. He spoke about the cultivation of monoculture softwoods in Wales combined with intensive sheep farming. I live in a valley where that is especially true; the valley is heavily forestednot entirely, I am glad to say, with conifers for pit props, because it is now being felled and replanted. Luckily, there are markets for that softwood in the paper mills and chipboard mills in Wales. The noble Lord is absolutely right about the conditions that exist there. There is a huge number of sheep on the hills, where the foxes are free to breed and roam in the forestry. Those sheep are therefore particularly vulnerable. So the noble Lord is right to suggest that there is strong feeling among the farming community in that area and other parts of Wales about the Bill.
I add that I have received representations from my former constituents in Pembrokeshire, many of whose jobs are threatened by the Bill. In fact, it was in Pembrokeshire that I learned painfully the lesson that it is hard to shoot a fox. In my early days as a Member of Parliament there, we used to have a snipe and woodcock shoot in the weeks after Christmas. Around St David's, where the hunt does not go, we used to try to shoot foxes. I fear that we wounded foxes more often than we killed them. To kill a fox with a shotgun, at any rate, is extremely difficult.
Like my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy, I support Amendment No. 59, to exclude Wales, but we are engaged in the business of compromise. Therefore, like my noble friend, I feel that we must drop that proposal and go along the line of registration. I have mixed feelings about the idea that the Assembly should deal with the matter. Of course, the Assembly could bring local knowledge, but there are problems on the borders. I live close to the border, where neither the hunts nor the foxes will observe the national frontiers. We do not want considerable differences between decisions taken by the authorities in each country. However, I suppose that my greater fear is that if we go down that road, we may again prejudice the compromise that we are all attempting to achieve. I will refrain from a final judgment on that issue until we develop the argument and see whether any form of compromise appears possible.
As this is the first occasion on which I have spoken during proceedings on the BillI did not speak at Second ReadingI want to make one other point. We are continually told, especially by some newspapers and certainly by a considerable number of Members in another place, that hunting is an occupation of the toffs. We are told that people dress up in red coats, and so on. Well, you will not find many red coats among the packs in Wales, and certainly few toffs.
I illustrate that point with one rather sad example. The son of some very close friends of ours, some near neighbours, was tragically killed at the age of about 19 in a car crash. There was a memorial service in the Roman Catholic church at Abergavenny. It is a very large
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church. That young man was widely known throughout the county, largely because he had hunted since he was a small boy. I do not think that I have ever seen a gathering that so widely represented the community. The church was packed; it was overflowing. There were not many toffs there. There were miners from the eastern valleys of Monmouthshire; there were farmers; and there were all sorts of people from in and around Abergavenny. It brought home to me, if it had not already been brought home to me through numerous other examples, that hunting is something that brings the community together in a remarkable way.
I make one other remark about the campaigns that have been fought on the issue in recent weeks and months. Again, we are told that those who were most vigorous in the demonstrations, those who occasionally go a little too far, are all old Etonians or those of a similar kind. I must tell the Committee that that is not true. I fear that a considerable number of them are Welsh former miners, trained by Arthur Scargill in the act of demonstrating vigorously. In Parliament Square, I have seen some of my fellow Welshmen waving the red dragon above their heads as they attacked the gates of Parliament itself.
I make that point only to reinforce the argument that we are not dealing here with some snobbish pursuit of an elite. In Wales, certainly, we are dealing with an occupation, a sport, a social and agricultural necessity, that embraces a huge range of people. It certainly embraces all those who live in the countryside, or a very large number of them, but, as anyone who knows anything about hunts in south Wales will know, it embraces a large number of miners, steelworkers and others of that character as well. They feel almost more strongly about the matter than anyone else.
So I conclude my remarks on the amendments by saying that we should not think that this is a matter of dealing with social issues and trying to put down the so-called toffs. We are dealing with something far more important. In Wales, we are dealing with the whole of the community.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I respectfully disagree with him in one respect. I have total confidence that if compromises are being looked for, Wales can find a compromise to beat them all. The reputation of Welsh fudge at every possible level one could imagine is rightly maintained. Indeed, I suspect that in WalesI think that I hear the late Lord Geraint in my ear at a moment like this, although he might not put it like this, because he cut his teeth in negotiation and compromise as one of the creators of the Farmers' Union of Waleswe can manage impenetrable subtlety and enduring intellectual integrity with an ease that would baffle the English.
I wish to make three points. The first is that the character of hunting in Wales is singular, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said. I have received a very large number of letters on the Bill from people in Powysmostly, as it happens, from former constituents of my noble friend Lord Livsey rather than my own
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former constituents. They all point out the singular character of hunting in Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, it is the activity not of "toffs" but of farmers and their friends. Hunting has a very singular rationale in Wales. Under a registration scheme it would combine an economic purpose, which is very importantnamely, that of avoiding the deaths of large numbers of valuable young lambs that suffer a very cruel death at the hands particularly of a certain minority of dog foxeswith the welfare principle which I and the other members of the gang of four wish to insert in the Bill. I am making up for lost time tonight as I am also a member of the gang of three, as one of the signatories to this amendment. Therefore, my first point is about the character of hunting in Wales: it is very much a singular type of hunting.
My second point is about the views of the public in Wales. I know of no public opinion survey that contradicts in the slightest what I am about to say. The predominant number of the population of rural Wales is still engaged in, or is in some way connected with, farming. I am not sure what the relevant figure is now in Powys but in Montgomeryshire, at one time known as north Powys, there used to be 4,000 farmers in my living memory. So there are many thousands of farmers and the whole population, bar a few, is dependent upon that major industry of agriculture. The view of the population of the rural areas of Wales, not only in Powys, is virtually unanimousas unanimous as one could ever find in political lifein opposing this Bill. Furthermore, the opposition is based not just on the merits of the case but is felt with a passion that exists in my experience only in politics in Wales. It is an opposition founded upon a sense of rank injustice that the Governmentit is seen as the Government and not the House of Commonsseek to impose a ban on something which has utility and which is in the interests of animal welfare taken in the round, particularly if it is subject to registration. No one is really opposed to registration.
However, the more important point perhaps is the following. There are, of course, urban areas in Wales. There are highly industrialised urban areas in the south and some urban areas in the north, particularly in the north-east. Wales has large strips of coast which are to a great extent inhabited by a very mixed population, many of them people who have come from England to enjoy their retirement on the Welsh coast. I can confidently say that in so far as there is opposition in English urban areas to hunting, such opposition is very much less in Wales. On the whole the urban Welsh support hunting, particularly hunting subject to registration. The balance of the urban population of Wales regards what the Government are seeking to do as unjust. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, can blame the House of Commons as much as he wants, but the population in Wales will not accept that it is the House of Commons that has in some way ignored the compromise sought possibly by himself and certainly by the Prime Minister: it will be seen as the Government imposing this upon them.
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The third point I want to make is about devolution. Devolution in Wales is still a very imperfect creature, as was recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in the commission report that he chaired, and as I think is recognised by almost all Members of the National Assembly for Wales. One of the reasons why devolution in Wales is an imperfect creature is because although in agriculture, for example, functions are very much devolved to Wales, not all of them are devolved. The classic example that I always think of concerns bugs on canals. The canals themselves are subject to control by a Westminster government department, but control of the bugs is devolved. That kind of confusion is not terribly helpful to good government in Wales and it makes it all the more difficult for people in Wales to get their heads round the fact that most Welsh government is run by the Assembly in Cardiff.
However, devolution is maturing quite well. On the whole support for the devolved functions of the National Assembly is increasing slowly but I think surely. What is absolutely certain is that devolution is here to stay. We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Crickhowell. I believe they both recognise that devolution is part of Wales' future and will continue to be so. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, cited the Assembly member, Glyn Davies, who happens to be the nearest thing I have to a next-door-neighbour. Glyn Davies, who is a very articulate member of the Welsh Assembly, recognises that devolution is part of the permanent political settlement for Wales. If devolution is to mean anything very convincing to the people of WalesI am trying to avoid making the comparison with Scotland because that is over simplisticsurely the National Assembly for Wales should be able to determine matters of this kind. If it ends up taking a different view from that of England, so what? As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, I am sure that we can resolve the border issues. I think that I can cite Scotland in this regard as it had to resolve border issues and although that has caused difficulties it has led to neither revolution nor mayhem. My third point is that the maturing process of devolution justifies the amendment to which I have put my name and the devolution of decision-making on hunting to Wales.
We are not talking about something dramatically different in Wales; we are talking about the registration body in Wales looking at the rather different Welsh conditions. We are talking about the registration body considering the very high number of foxes with regard to the ecology referred to by my noble friend Lord Livsey. We are looking for what seems to me to be a reasonable settlement of the issue.
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