Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, moved his amendments in a disarmingly reasonable way which I am sure will prove very persuasive to some Members of the House. I know that he will be supported in those amendments by my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and I have great respect for her views.

I see the way the argument has been presented by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, as a conscientious attempt to achieve a utilitarian compromise on this issue. However, I have to say to the noble Lord and to my noble friend that I think they are wrong. They are wrong for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, which I shall attempt not to repeat at all. The House would not be assisted by repetition.

The noble Lord talked about compromise and told us that he is by nature and by profession a compromiser. I have never had to negotiate with the noble Lord, but I would fear doing so in the future because I feel that he would be likely to win—certainly if compromise was in issue on something specific in which I could see the merits of one side of the proposed deal he had in mind as well as the merits of the other side. But the speech of the noble Lord, in my view, was about compromise for the sake of compromise, not compromise for the sake of the merits of the cases presented on either side of the argument.

Having been a card-carrying, woolly-minded liberal for the past 33 years, I know all about compromise. I see the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, an old friend, nodding in agreement. If anyone knows, he does. Also I have been a lawyer for the past 34 years. So if compromise
 
11 Nov 2004 : Column 1028
 
does not enter your soul in those two activities over 30 or so years, it never will. However, I do not believe that what is on offer is a compromise at all.

I have only ever become involved in this argument about hunting over these many years—in this House, in another place and outside—because of my concern about sheep farming in rural Wales. I have never hunted. I have been out with a hunt—not toffs on horseback—on one or two occasions. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has said many times, in most parts of the country hunting is not an activity of toffs. It certainly is not in rural mid-Wales.

My concern and my involvement in this issue is about the viability, the livelihoods and the traditions—and I do not apologise for referring to traditions—of sheep farmers throughout rural Wales and the villages in which they and, confessing an interest, I live.

The best estimate of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, was that less than 2 per cent of lambs were subject to fox predation. Mr Michael's response to that last year was that this loss was insufficient to justify extending the provisions he had in mind. There is clear evidence that if we return to—or almost entirely to—the Alun Michael Bill, then certainly Alun Michael himself believes that fox hunting in areas such as rural Wales, where I live, will effectively be banned. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has rehearsed the arguments why that will be the case; it is because the tests that are set out are impossible to meet—mainly because they are so woolly-minded, to be frank with the House.

The 2 per cent figure that came from the Burns report does not totally reveal the regional variations. Foxes have instincts. Anyone who has spent any time in London late at night, as Members of the House do from time to time, will have seen foxes wandering around London. Their instincts do not lead them to going to places where there is no prey and no food for them; we see them—and we see many of them in London—in places where there is food to be found, around collections of bins and in the wildlife which we are lucky enough to find in this amazing metropolitan capital. Equally in the countryside, foxes use their instincts to go to places where they will find prey.

My noble friend Lord Livsey of Talgarth spoke in a previous debate about his own medium-sized flock, which is typical of the size of flock that some of the smaller-scale sheep farmers might have in rural Wales. He spoke on that occasion of 37 lambs being slaughtered shortly after birth by a small number of foxes. That amounts to something like 10 per cent. In many parts of the area in which I live, where there are particularly vigorous foxes, over small periods in the lambing season the percentage of new lambs killed can rise to, or even beyond, 10 per cent. I do not want to exaggerate the figure, but it is significant.

If the local farmers are not to be allowed to pay their subscriptions to the foot packs and to go and take out—kill—the most predatory foxes, it will have a very significant effect on the economy of some sheep farms.
 
11 Nov 2004 : Column 1029
 
If 5 per cent or more of their profits is removed, then in bad years it will be 5 per cent of next to nothing and, indeed, it could increase a loss. Many farmers— particularly small-scale sheep farmers in rural Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire, Merionethshire and areas around that part of Wales—operate on the tightest possible margins. Applying any sort of rational test, they probably would not be doing it any more on the grounds of economics. They do it on the grounds of family tradition, pleasure in the countryside, enjoyment of countryside management, loyalty to the area in which they live and to their culture; and, in some parts of Wales, loyalty also to the very important language and linguistic tradition.

If the amendments are carried it will mean the end of foxhunting in those areas. As I said earlier, repetition does not improve matters, and so I shall say in a sentence—I have said it many times before—what the consequence will be: in five years' time, after the banning of foxhunting, you will find very few healthy foxes living in country areas like mine because they will be killed by other means, and the whole balance of wildlife, which includes the fox, unfortunately and to the regret of all, will be removed.

The farmers are prepared to enjoy a reasonable dynamic relationship between farm and fox, so let me add this to the comments about compromise. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, the proposals in what is now being called the original Michael Alun Bill shift the burden of proof—which, as the noble Baroness also said, is an impossible burden of proof—to those who wish to hunt. Is it a compromise to remove from people who carry out this activity in my area, for the reasons I have described, a right that they have enjoyed for hundreds of years?

I do not believe that it is a compromise for the civil rights of citizens to be removed at a stroke and for an impossible burden, which none will be able to achieve under these amendments, to be shifted to them for the future. That is not a compromise at all in my view. Indeed, I believe that if I were to vote for these amendments it would not be compromise but surrender.

It is on that conscientious basis that I feel I shall have to take the opportunity to oppose these amendments. I shall do so with deep regret because I understand the motives of my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe.

Lord Carter: My Lords, I support the amendments so clearly explained by my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. They are completely in order. They have been checked with the House authorities, I know, and I would not be speaking in support of them if they were not in order.

It is the first time in nearly 18 years in your Lordships' House that I have spoken in a debate on hunting. I have not spoken before because I have long held the belief that if there is nothing new to say, say nothing. However, we have reached the point—as is clear from the speeches we have already heard—where
 
11 Nov 2004 : Column 1030
 
the House is facing a crucial decision on the Bill. What the House decides today may—and I emphasise "may"—determine the final outcome of the Bill.

I support the amendments because they are exactly in line with the stance I have adopted since a hunting Bill was introduced in the final Session of the previous Parliament in March 2001. I supported hunting under licence then and have done so ever since—unlike some noble Lords who support hunting and who voted in the debate in March 2001.

I knew nothing about the amendments intended to be tabled by my noble friend until about a week ago. I have decided to speak in support of them for two reasons. First, many noble Lords will confirm that I have always argued outside the Chamber that the only chance of a compromise with the Commons was to send back the Alun Michael Bill. I shall return to that later. Secondly, this is the last realistic chance, in my view, to amend the Bill to reflect that compromise.

When the Bill came to the Lords from the Commons in the previous Session, I held steadfastly to the view then that we should send the Bill back to the Commons in the form that emerged from the Standing Committee in the other place before it became a Bill to ban hunting. I shall refer to that Bill as the Alun Michael Bill, as have other noble Lords.

The amendments in this group, as has been clearly said, effectively reproduce the Alun Michael Bill. So if they are accepted, we shall send the Bill back to the Commons in the only form which, in my view, has any chance of being accepted. To send the Bill to the Commons in the form in which it has emerged from Committee in this place—and I understand all the arguments supporting it—is, in my view, inviting rejection and thereby ensuring a ban.

I should make it clear that, as I have always done, I voted in Committee, a fortnight ago, for a system of regulation. I have always supported hunting under licence, and I voted accordingly. I was assured, outside the Chamber, that I would be supporting the Alun Michael Bill with only 12 or 15 words being different. I freely admit to losing my touch, as I never checked what those 12 or 15 words were.

I do not propose to take the time of the House in rehearsing all the arguments surrounding the Bill. I merely intend to set out my view of the possible scenarios depending on what the House decides today. I emphasise that this is my personal view, based on the stance I have adopted throughout. It is not what I believe has been described somewhere as a cynical political manoeuvre. The House should know me well enough to know that I am nobody's stalking horse. I spent some five years as Chief Whip, when my stock in trade was compromise through negotiation.

I support these amendments because I am convinced that there are only two outcomes on offer—the Alun Michael Bill or a ban. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was completely honest; she said that she would prefer a ban to the Alun Michael Bill. I can understand that point of view.
 
11 Nov 2004 : Column 1031
 

If these amendments are accepted, this House will have offered a substantial compromise to the Commons. Those in the Commons who support a compromise—and all sorts of names have been quoted—will clearly be able to support the amendments. If—and I emphasise "if"—there is a move for compromise in the Commons, these amendments provide the opportunity to effect that compromise.

I know that there are noble Lords who say that a majority in the Commons will never accept even this compromise. They may be right. But there is only one way to find out, and that is to send the Bill back with these amendments in it. It meets the point that was made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh. However, if the amendments are rejected today, this House will, for the third time, have rejected the chance to send the Alun Michael Bill back to the Commons—I refer to the Committee stage in this House in the previous Session, the Committee stage in this Session and the Report stage today.

To underline the consistency of my stance on this issue, a number of noble Lords will remember that I strongly urged those who supported hunting to send the Bill back to the Commons, amended to be the Alun Michael Bill, in the previous Session. There was plenty of time to do it in two Committee days, as we have demonstrated in the Committee stage of this Session. Although the Committee stage was spread over three days, it took two days in terms of time. If, in the previous Session, noble Lords had wanted to amend the Bill as they have done this time around in two days, they could easily have done it. They were free to do that, but they chose not to do so. I think that they were wrong then, just as they were wrong, as they now admit, to reject hunting under licence and vote for the status quo in the previous Session.

I know that other possibilities have been canvassed, but what I find hardest to understand is the suggestion that if the Bill is returned to the Commons in the form in which it left our Committee, during ping-pong, the amendments which have been tabled today can be put in the Bill then and offered as a compromise, after having been rejected today. If the Bill comes back it will, by definition, be a Bill to ban hunting. Is it really feasible to expect that Members of another place, who have voted for a ban in the Aye Lobby at, say, 2 p.m., will troop through the No Lobby a few hours later to accept a compromise? I find that hard to believe.

I know that a number of noble Lords regard the Alun Michael Bill as a ban by another name. If that is the case, why did the Commons reject the Alun Michael Bill and vote for a ban? If those who support hunting are confident of their case, let them go to the tribunal and win. Exactly the same applies to those who support a ban.

The fact that the banners in the Commons rejected the Alun Michael Bill and the hunters here feel exactly the same way convinces me that the Alun Michael Bill has it about right.
 
11 Nov 2004 : Column 1032
 

Mention has been made in previous debates of the use of the Parliament Act. That debate can wait. We are not at that stage yet, although what we decide today could well affect the outcome and the use of the Parliament Act.

We are long past the stage of arguing the pros and the cons. As I have said, it is my personal belief that we now have a simple choice—the Alun Michael Bill or a ban. These amendments would produce the Alun Michael Bill—that is why I support them.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page