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Lord Whitty: There has been widespread support for at least the principle of the amendments in the group, including support from some fairly unlikely devolutionists. I must take account of that. However, some of the remarks ignored the obvious effect of the vote we have just taken. We are now talking about a Bill that includes a system of registration. A system of registration would allow the tribunal to look at some of the particular characteristics of Wales, whoever it was run by.
The problem with the amendment as it stands is that under the Government of Wales Act hunting is a reserved matter. There are no powers for the Assembly in that Act. To reopen that issue would threaten to reopen the matter of the whole devolution settlement. I appreciate that some of your Lordships might be in favour of that, but it is a much bigger issue than the matter that we are dealing with today. It is true that members of the Assembly, Ministers and others in
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Wales provided evidence to Alun Michael in the period before the original Bill was brought before the House of Commons. Their views were taken into account and there was no separate proposition for Wales in the original Bill; nor was it considered necessary in Committee in the House of Commons. Of course, some administrative arrangements could be made under the unified system, with a tribunal meeting in Wales, which would make it convenient for those who had issues relating to specific terrain or problems of pest control and so on within Wales. Within a registered system it would not be necessary to devolve powers to take account at least of some of Wales' special characteristics.
Earl Peel: Perhaps the Minister could explain to the Committee how, if a ban was implemented, he would expect the Welsh Assembly to control foxes, given the circumstances that noble Lords have explained.
Lord Roberts of Conwy: That remains an interesting question which is at the heart of the debate. I thank the Minister for his brief reply, but I also thank all noble Lords who have participated in this enlightening debate. We have covered a substantial group of amendments with varied notions behind them. But there were certain points on which all speakers agreed. The first was that made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, regarding the singular nature of hunting in the countryside in Wales. It is something with which we have all been brought up and which we all enjoy. It is certainly not, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, a pastime for the snobbish and so on. Many people in Wales who wear red ties also wear red coats, especially when one goes in the direction of the Banwen hunt.
So we are certainly all agreed on that point. We are all agreed also about the importance of hunting to agriculture. I am grateful to my noble friends who mentioned the very real lamb losses that have been and are incurred in Wales because of foxes. My noble friend Lord Peel was absolutely right to say that during the foot and mouth epidemic, lamb losses leapt from a fairly low average to something of the order of 35 to 40.
Although there are many ways, as we all know, of reducing the fox population, in the terrain of Walesin the uplands and the mountainous regionsthere is really nothing for it but to hunt the fox population with dogs. That has been borne out to me on a variety of occasions. A farmer at Betws-y-Coed, at the far end of our valley, was plagued by a fox that killed more
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than 30 of his lambs, which was a loss that he, as a small farmer, could not endure. He tried everythinglamping, shooting and so onbut nothing could dislodge that fox apart from, in the end, the call on the Aber Hunt, and, of course, the dogs were effective.
The whole subject of devolution has also been raised. In my opening speech, I referred to a reply that was given by Mr Rhodri Morgan in the National Assembly for Wales. Anyone who listened to that reply would know that Mr Morgan was clearly not particularly interested in this Hunting Bill, because he did not know that it prohibited hunting with more than two dogs. His reply made me wonder why he was not so interested in hunting. Perhaps it is a measure of the unpopularity of the Bill that no profound cry has been heard from the National Assembly for the right to implement it. Certainly, it is very unpopular in Wales and none of those who spoke in this debate indicated anything other than total opposition to the ban.
I thank again those who have participated and I end where I began; that is, by recognising the fact that the overwhelming vote in favour of registration earlier today will certainly have an impact on the view that we take of the various amendments in this group. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Peel: As Schedule 1 is attached to Clause 2, it would be right and proper to draw to your Lordships' attention the anomalies that exist in Schedule 1. I do not know to what extent your Lordships have had the opportunity to examine it in close detail but, quite frankly, as it stands, it deems this legislation to be virtually unworkable.
There are clearly two issues here: the issue of hunting and whether we should be allowed to continue; and the practical implication of the legislation. It is the latter which I would like to draw to your Lordships' attention.
The Government made a firm commitment, which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, confirmed at Second Reading, that it was not their intention to impinge in any way on shooting or fishing. However, I would suggest that Schedule 1 impinges quite considerably on shooting. I acknowledge that I have tabled a number of amendments that will deal with these specific points later on, but it is worth looking at Schedule 1 as it stands. As I have said, it is an unworkable piece of legislation.
As I understand it, if a beater on a pheasant shoot had more than two dogs, he would be committing an offence. One would have to ask whether 20 beaters with one dog each were committing an offence. I welcome the anomaly that gamekeepers would be allowed to use a dog underground to control foxes for game birds, but why on earth would farmers not be able to do the same in order to protect livestock?
Furthermore, it would be illegal to put a dog underground to control a fox in order to protect birds which are not being preserved for shooting. Therefore, if the warden of a nature reserve on which there is
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golden plover, curlew or whatever finds foxes creating difficultiesas undoubtedly they dohe would not be able to control them by that method. The provision is riddled with anomalies and, frankly, I deem this legislation unworkable.
However, one point is more important than all others; the inconsistency in our dealings with mammals. Why is it that rabbits and rats can be hunted with more than two dogs, yet mice, stoats or weasels cannot? That strikes me as completely inconsistent. Unless the Government can come forward with a moral and scientific justification for these strange differentials, I question whether the schedule has any relevance.
Lord Eden of Winton: I agree with the noble Earl that time would be saved if the Minister could answer one or two of the points that have been made. I have a worry about Schedule 1. It describes exempt hunting being where two dogs are used in flushing a wild mammal out of cover provided that it is shot dead by a competent person. That is one of the conditions. Do the proponents of a hunting ban really want dogs to be used to flush an animal out of cover, provided that a competent marksman stands ready to shoot it dead? That seems an absolute absurdity.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: We have a difficulty because amendments have been tabled to Schedule 1, and it is very difficult to reply on the provisions of that schedule in advance of those amendments. In a way, it would be more practical to consider the Question whether the clause shall stand part following the Committee's deliberations on those amendments.
I do not want to go into the detail of Schedule 1 but, following what was said by my noble friend, can the Minister tell us under what principles the Government are including those mammals in Schedule 1? Indeed, if the Government want the power to vary the measure, how do they consider that they will do that? What are they looking at? Are they to vary the types of animals that are included or, under Clause 2, can they vary the terms on which those animals may or may not be hunted? It would be helpful if the Minister could answer the questions of principle that relate to Clause 2 rather than those relating to any individual parts, to which the noble Baroness referred, when we consider the amendments to Schedule 1.
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