Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: I support the amendment just moved by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and have added my name to it. As the noble Lord said, it is extremely important that the registrar, who will decide whether to give a licence, be seen as an independent, impartial character. It is important that the judgments made by the registrar should be made on the twin bases of cruelty and utility, as has already been discussed this afternoon.

I think that this is a probing amendment. It is possible to argue that it would be difficult to be appropriately qualified and have a good knowledge of hunting and, at the same time, have no association with hunting or any organisation that directly or indirectly supports or opposes hunting. However, I see the principle that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is getting at. The emphasis of the amendment is that we should amend the Bill in a way that stresses the impartiality, moderation and care that the registrar will bring to the issue of licensing.

I shall divert the Committee for a moment by suggesting that any noble Lords who have not yet been to see the play "Stuff Happens" at the National Theatre might go. As those of us who have seen it will know, the play is a documentary about the events surrounding how the decision was taken to go to war with Iraq without a second UN resolution. The characters in it are, obviously, George W Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Prime Minister, Jack Straw, Chirac, the French ambassador and others. In many ways, it is a serious play, but there comes a moment, early in 2003, when the Prime Minister flies over to see George W Bush. He says, "Look, I have helped you up until now. I am now in great trouble, and I need your help". That is repeated several times. Finally, the President says to the Prime Minister, "What's your trouble? Why do you need my help?". There is a long pause, and then the Prime Minister replies, "It's fox hunting". At no moment in the play was there more laughter than at that.

The Government should consider carefully the thought that, if they push the Bill through the Commons and send it back to us with the Parliament Act attached, that would be one of the crassest, most stupid actions that any government in my 30 years in Westminster have taken. They will deserve all the laughter and scorn that they will get. If that is the decision of 200 or so extreme Labour Back-Benchers, led by the likes of Tony Banks and Gerald Kaufman, who have precisely no knowledge of the countryside, history will never forgive the Government and will take a long time to forget. The Government should remember the laughter from "Stuff Happens".

The small amendment that the noble Lord has moved is another example of how we are trying to make the Bill as reasonable and sensible as possible.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: The noble Lord has just referred to 200 extreme Back-Benchers in the other place. That is a slur on the integrity of Members of the other place. Those 200 people whom he alleges to be extreme were elected by people who listened to their
27 Oct 2004 : Column 1323
views on a range of things. A majority of rural seats have Labour MPs. They were elected in 1997, and they were re-elected in 2001.

By all means, we should have an argument on the merits of the case, but we should not descend to the depths of using such language. It is a slur, and it is unworthy of the noble Lord.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: The noble Lord amuses me: we were both in the House of Commons for a long time, and we both know that there are extreme Members on both sides of the House of Commons—there always have been, and there always will be. That is, perhaps, one of the features of the House of Commons.

If the Bill is pushed through by the use of the Parliament Act by a bunch of extreme Labour Back-Benchers who know nothing about the countryside, it will hang round the neck of the Labour Government for a very long time.

Viscount Bledisloe: May I ask the Minister where we are on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft? I think that the noble Lord will agree that, as the Committee has voted for registration, there must be a registrar and so on.

The proposals made by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, are, I understand, straight from the Alun Michael Bill. Can the Minister tell us that, as I assume, he does not oppose that amendment and that the only thing that we are discussing at the moment is the amendment to the amendment, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer? Is the Minister content at this stage to see all the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, passed, even if he does not love them?

Lord Whitty: As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said, most of the amendments in the group are a straight lift from the Alun Michael Bill. There are two exceptions. One is Clause 17, which reflects a minor amendment made in Committee. It goes with the strain of the rest of the amendments, although it indicates that there is a bit of a pick-and-choose approach to the amendments that were made in Committee in another place. However, it does not clash with the other amendments. Given that we have, as the noble Viscount just said, adopted a registration structure, it is sensible that the bulk of the amendments be accepted.

I understand the motivation behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and supported by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, who went somewhat wider in his remarks. If we had a registration system, it would be the Government's view that we would have to seek someone impartial to be the registrar. However, the definition of impartial here seems to restrict substantially the choice of registrar.

The amendment refers to somebody who is knowledgeable about hunting but has no association with any organisation which directly or indirectly
27 Oct 2004 : Column 1324
supports or opposes hunting. I suspect that the shortlist for the post would be very short. Most people who are knowledgeable about hunting have, at various times, taken a view—maybe a different one—or at least had an association with somebody who takes a view. It would rule out any member of the Conservative Party or the Labour Party. That may, of course, be a good thing; it certainly is in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer.

It is too restrictive an approach. The registrar would be appointed through the normal public appointments system, so he or she would have to meet the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and of the Civil Service Commissioners, who would have to take into account the need to find somebody impartial. Restricting the list in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, would be over the top.

Apart from that, there is now a logic in this group of amendments, following from the general principle of registration. Therefore, I do not have the same warnings that I had for the previous group of amendments. It is in line with that decision and with what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has said that he is trying to do.

Baroness Byford: I accept the Minister's comment. I am grateful to him for accepting the bulk of the amendments, which I think is what he has indicated to the Committee. As regards the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, does the noble Lord see any merit in giving a steer or does he just feel that it should be left to the appointments committee? That would be helpful to my noble friend.

Lord Whitty: I do not think that the appointments committee would need a steer; certainly not one as tightly defined as that proposed by the noble Lord.

I am neither accepting nor rejecting these amendments. I am saying that, given where the Committee is on the principle of registration, the bulk of the amendments are a logical extension of that and therefore help us get to a Bill that is a sensible overall package. I have indicated that I am not voting or even recommending people to vote on that. It is a free vote. I am just pointing out where we are.

Lord Mancroft: If I heard the noble Lord correctly, he seemed to indicate an issue about Amendment No. 17, which I did not think was in this group. Perhaps I misheard him or he meant something else.

Lord Whitty: I apologise. I am ahead of myself: it is in the next group. Therefore, I withdraw that view.

Perhaps I may clarify that. I have misread my brief. Amendment No. 25, which refers to Clause 17, was marginally amended in Committee in another place. So my remarks stand, but with that correction.

Lord Palmer: It is rather difficult to understand exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said. Part of him seemed to accept this amendment and part of him seemed to not accept it. Perhaps I may be able to
27 Oct 2004 : Column 1325
reserve the right to look again very carefully in Hansard at what he said and bring it back at a later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 13, as an amendment to Amendment No. 11, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15, as amendments to Amendment No. 11, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 11 agreed to.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page