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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, if my noble friend checks what I said, he will see that I stated that it reverts, quite rightly, to the Alun Michael structure
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and basic approach of registration. I also stated that there were changes in it and that all were based on the principle of animal welfare.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am simply referring to some early words in my noble friend's moving of the amendments that day when he said that we were proposing to revert to the Bill to which Mr Michael was referring; that is, his original Bill. He then said that there were some minor changes in it; in fact, those changes are fairly major. These amendments are, of course, not the original Alun Michael Bill either. As my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe pointed out, they attempt to restore the position to the state of the Bill as it came out of Committee in another place, taking in amendments made or committed to in that Committee stage; in other words, precisely the position that the House of Commons had reached before it voted for a ban.
In relation to the Bill that emerged from Committee in this House, these amendments would move significantly closer to where the Commons were at that point by restoring, as noble Lords have said and have opposed, the complete ban on deer hunting. My noble friend pointed out that if it were not for procedural difficulties he would also wish to restore the complete ban on hare hunting.
These amendments would also restore the general ban, with qualifications, introduced in Committee on terrier work. They would remove the widening of the utility test and restrict it to the Bill's original intention in relation to pest control. They would remove the dilution of the least suffering test. They would restore a sensible balance on the tribunal system and would get away from the pick and mix approach of the Gang of Four and reflect all the changes which were made or committed to in Commons Committee. That would result in a situation that was much closer to the Alun Michael Bill.
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. Does he not agree with me that this is a slightly different sort of pick and mix? The difference with this particular pick and mix is that the tests are as they came out of Standing Committee. I refer to the comment of one of the Minister's officials talking to one of our people, "Whatever made you think that those tests were meant to be passed?". Is not the reality that it was impossible for the Bill which came out of Standing Committee to be passed? The Minister knew that at that time and that is why it is in fact a virtual ban. Is not that the truth?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not believe that to be true. I believe that it is a fairly heavy restriction on hunting in many areas, but where hunting can pass the pest control and the least suffering tests, it would still have been allowed under that Bill. I am simply referring to the procedural position. If my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe's amendments were accepted we would be to all intents and purposes at the position that applied immediately before the vote on the ban in
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another place. That is purely factual. One can draw different conclusions from the substance of the matter but that is the position.
If this House decided to change the stance that it took in Committee, it would be making substantial changes, but those substantial changes would be in line with the claim that this was a reversion to the Alun Michael Bill. Therefore, it could be argued that these amendments give a rational, sensible and coherent chance for the House of Commons to think again. I advise noble Lords that that is a legitimate role for this House. It is, of course, one that this House has frequently adopted. However, in terms of its potential for success I have to remind the House where we are and to some extent how we got there. The House of Commons has decisively and overwhelmingly voted against any kind of registration system.
The Government's commitmentreflecting what we have said in two manifestosis to resolve this issue on the basis of a free vote of the House of Commons. My role now therefore is to encourage the House to assess what is likely to be acceptable to the majority in the House of Commons. This House is not negotiating with the Government but with the majority of the House of Commons, as I have said on many occasions.
My advice to noble Lords at an earlier stage was that it would have been more sensible to take the format of the Bill received from the House of Commons and to discuss amendments on that basis. That advice was ignored. In Committee noble Lords decided to substitute a different format for the Bill. We are where we are and that is now the Bill before us post Committee. It is that Bill which these amendments have to address. However, it is not the format of the Bill that we received from the House of Commons, and the House of Commons may well conclude that the House, whether or not it adopts these amendments, has rather departed from its role as a revising Chamber and effectively presented the House of Commons with a direct alternative.
In the original Alun Michael Bill the Government had previously proposed a system that would have allowed registration on the basis of evidence to a registrar and tribunal. If that were the will of the House of Commons, clearly the Government would be able to implement that Bill. At the moment, however, it is not the judgment of a majority of Members of the House of Commons. It is not the preference of government Ministers that is at stake here but whether the proposals which come from us will make the House of Commons change its mind. I believe that it has now voted seven times for a system which rejects registration. The House must bear that in mind. That is the position we are at.
A few issues were raised during the course of the debate to which I should like to refer. It was claimed that we have rejected from the original purpose of the Bill the question of the utility test including wildlife management. The fact is that wildlife management was never part of the original Bill. Most purposes of wildlife management relate to the broad issues of pest control. It was clarified in Committee but the intention of the original Bill was always that the utility test should relate to pest control.
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A number of noble Lords have referred in different ways to Exmoor. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, that one example cannot make the whole case. I do not wish the situation on Exmoor to determine the result for the whole of the country, particularly as other forms of deer management exist in other parts of the country that do not comprise hunting with dogs. Nevertheless I have throughout this debate and on earlier occasions recognised that a special situation exists on Exmoor. The noble Baroness asked whether there were powers to deal with that. Some such powers do exist. The national park has some powers in that respect, at least in relation to the areas covered by SSSIs. The national park, therefore, is in a strong position in that regard.
In addition, the Government are about to appoint a deer liaison officer covering the south-west region, which will include Exmoor. Co-operation between the national park, the government office and the private sector within Exmoor will constitute an important way of establishing new systems for managing the red deer population on Exmoor at an appropriate level. Of course, we cannot do so without the co-operation of the landowners and other operators within Exmoor. The park does not have the authoritynor do the Governmentto force that on those who undertake deer management. Nevertheless, we have powers of both direct action and persuasion to do so. The Government recognise that, should the Bill that we received from the Commons or, indeed, the amendments of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe be carried into law, the situation in Exmoor would have to be addressed in a specific way that excluded the use of hunting with hounds, but nevertheless recognised the special problems of the deer population within Exmoor.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, and the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, challenged the House not to reverse a position taken only two weeks ago. That is the advice of those who have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. Clearly, if it is sensible to change one's mind, one will change one's mind. Frankly, it is much less of a change of mind than noble Lords are asking the House of Commons to make either with the amendments or the current position. Therefore, whether one should change one's mind in a fortnight ought not to be the key issue.
The Government remain centrally committed to implement the will of the democratic Chamber. At this stage, I do not think that the House of Commons will accept the amendments, as the Houses are taking very different positions. But that is merely my judgment and, as my noble friend Lord Carter said, this is all a matter of judgment. What must be clear is that, if the House does not shift to the amendments, the chances of the other House taking a different position are much less. Nevertheless, the chances of even the amendments being accepted in the House of Commons must be pretty low. I would mislead the House were I to say anything different.
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Your Lordships have to accept a degree of blame for that. As my noble friend Lord Carter also said, at every stage in the past two Parliaments when the issue has been before you, you have adopted the more and not the less confrontational point. Your Lordships have come some way from the original point, but at every stage have taken the more confrontational option. That has not helped opinion in either the lower House or the country. Some of the noises outside the House have not helped the position either. The intimidation, harassment and threats of civil disobedience have undoubtedly hardened opinion in the other place as well as in the country.
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