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Lord Kimball: For 16 years I was chairman of the British Field Sports Society, which preceded the Countryside Alliance, and for many years I used to have to go down to Wales. It was an eye opener to me, having been brought up in Leicestershire, to see what hunting was like in Wales. We went right down into the valleys on the edge of the Banwen miners' country.
On another occasion, I was asked to go to Abergavenny. The Monmouthshire hounds went out on a Saturday. Everyone went out mounted, hoping to enjoy themselves, catch a few foxes and have a lot of fun. The next day, they went out as a gun pack. That was an eye opener to me. The cover was surrounded by people with their guns. The same hounds were put in and they flushed the foxes out. And, as always happens on these occasions, there was a fox that was not totally dead. The hounds pursued it and marked it to ground.
I know that the new rules are different, but, 20 years ago, the rules were perfectly clear. If you marked a fox to ground, you put the terriers in and bolted it, but you had to keep the hounds a long way off and give it a bit of a start. On this occasion, however, the huntsman formed up and said, "You realise, don't you, that lambing starts in a week's time and we have to kill these foxes?". That was the whole attitude of Wales: you have to keep the foxes down.
Viscount Bledisloe: I should like to make one lawyer's point. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred to the fact that it was suggested that the objection to his proposal was the difficulty of packs that hunt across the border. I would suggest to him that, at least in relation to registration, that really is not an objection at all. This Bill applies to England and Wales and a registered group will be excused under the amendment that has just been passed. Such groups will be registered whether they are registered in England or Wales. So they will not suddenly start committing an offence as they cross the
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border. All that will be needed is a reasonable arrangement between the two registrars that each of them deals with the hunt that is predominantly in England or in Wales. There is only one registration, but it seems to me that that registration will be totally valid for them when they cross the border.
So I hope that the noble Lord will not be daunted in his cause, at least in relation to a Welsh registrar and a Welsh registration system, by the point about cross-border huntingwhich seems to be no objection to a separate registration system.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I hope that enough has been said by now by noble Lords who have preceded me to persuade the Minister to consider Wales as a special case and, moreover, that this is precisely the sort of area where the devolved powers of the Welsh Assembly should be called into use. I have not contributed to any hunting debate before now. I have never hunted and have no interest in hunting. However, I have to say that it is something that is deeply embedded in the countryside around my home in north-east Wales.
I have risen to my feet because the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, referred to north-east Wales. The area where I was brought up was mining, steelmaking and entirely urban, but I never detected any hostility to those in the countryside around who chose to go hunting.
One of the things that I would like to say to the Committee is how deeply embedded in history is the Watkin Williams-Wynn hunt that surrounds the town of Wrexham, where I live. I recallit is nothing to do with studies into huntingthat, in about 1735, the Sir Watkin of that day imprisoned a Methodist minister who dared to preach outside the gates of his establishment in Ruabon. The following week, there was a reaction by a Methodist minister coming to the area in order to preach against him. He prayed to God that God would strike down that devil Sir Watkin. On that very day, Sir Watkin was killed. His neck was broken in a hunting accident in Acton.
I also recall that, towards the end of the 18th century, a local author, William Apperleywho wrote under the name of Nimrod many hunting yarnstold the story of the vicar of Gresford, where I live, who was so enthused by hunting that he allowed his parish clerk to give the sermon while he gathered with the local gentry at the back of the church in order to discuss how hunting had gone in the previous week. It is part of the community. The letters that I receive are from people whose livelihood depends on hunting and the existence of the hunts that surround the various urban areas in north-east Wales.
I believe that this is an issue that the National Assembly should be charged with looking at and regulating as it sees fit. If we are different from England,
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so be it. Scotland is different, anyway. Whether that is good or bad, I do not know; but I certainly think that the fabric of the Welsh countryside should be in the hands of the National Assembly for Wales.
Earl Peel: I should like to say just a few words in support of the amendment, not out of any particular sympathyor, indeed, deep affectionfor the Welsh, though I have many friends who live there. However, I wish to address this matter purely from a practical point of view. My question for the Minister is: if the Welsh are not to employ fox hunting as a means of controlling foxes, what are they going to do? The same applies to the Lake District, regarding which there is an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. Such areas have relied on fox hunting, not only as a means of social cohesion, but as a practical way of controlling foxes.
I have an interesting quote from the National Farmers Union of Wales, dated January 2002, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, probably more than anyone in your Lordships' House, will know the difficulties that Welsh farmers and, indeed, all upland farmers, face. The quote states:
"The ban on fox hunting over the last year (due to the foot and mouth epidemic) has led to an explosion in the fox population to unprecedented levels. In some cases, farmers who lost six or seven lambs to foxes normally, have seen the numbers they lose jump to between 35 and 40".
I do not think that many small farmers, whether they are in Wales, Dartmoor or the Lake District, can afford to sustain those levels of losses. If they are not going to employ fox hounds and the fell packs to control the foxes, how will they do so? We all know that lamping is a perfectly acceptable way of controlling foxes in certain areas. But there have to be tracks on which vehicles can cross. Much of the countryside that we are discussing in Wales is impregnable for vehicles. Such a means of control would not be feasible. When the Minister replies to my noble friend's amendment, will he explain to the Committee how foxes can be controlled in Wales if a ban on fox hunting came into force?
Lord Palmer: The contribution from the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has summarised how incredibly complex the system of fox hunting is. Like the noble Lord, Lord Monro, I live in Scotland. I wish to echo his words, because we have both suffered from the awful effects of that "pretendy wee parliament" in Edinburgh. It does not begin to understand the countryside and the saddest thing of all is that it does not care about it. The reason that I support these amendments is that I hope that the Welsh will not fall into the same dreadful trap that us poor Scots have had to fall into.
Baroness Byford: I thank my noble friend for bringing this group of amendments to the Committee. I do not often go to Wales, but for the past three years I have been able to holiday in the Brecon areaand would have this year, if the holiday had not been cancelled at the last moment. Like my noble friend Lord Kimball, I am used to the fairly low-lying area of
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Leicestershire. If I was being critical, I should say that I live on the slightly hillier side of Leicestershire. But in no way does that compare with the terrain that has been referred to by so many noble Lords today. It is that terrain that makes this group of amendments so important.
When the Minister responds I hope that he will provide facts and figures as to how he envisages the ban operating if it is imposed by another place. Noble Lords have referred to the loss of sheep. In my misspent youth I was a poultry farmer and if we did not get our chickens and hens in before dark we were likely to lose many of them. That situation applies to a controlled area. Where there are areas of hill, forest or rock, it is impossible to gain access to control foxes. The gun packs there have done a tremendous job of trying to protect many of those sheep farmers in Wales.
On one of my holidays the cottage that we stayed in was supposed to be the highest cottage in the Brecon Beaconsat some 1,200 feet. I was lucky on that occasion, because we had a clear week there and one felt that one was so near to the stars that one could touch them. There was nothing else around us except stars and a profusion of sheep. I have also been to Wales on official visits, and for the farmers that I have spoken to over the years, concern to protect their flocks was key to the success of their long term profitability. So this is an immensely important issue.
Some noble Lords have referred to the question of what would happen to fallen stock if the Government pushed ahead with a ban. I hope that when the Minister replies he will refer to that, because it is important for Wales, where there may be fewer options for farmers than in England. As my noble friend Lord Peel rightly asked, if a ban is to be imposed, how will those foxes in such difficult areas be controlled? My noble friend and all noble Lords who have spoken should not apologise for having raised this issue, because it is important to Wales. I will always fight the corner for UK farmers and English farmers in particular, but in this case Welsh farmers are that much more threatened than their English counterparts.
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