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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who has spoken to his Amendment No. 2, I shall frame my remarks in the context of what he has just said and shall speak also to Amendment No. 23 standing in my name and in the names of a number of other noble Lords. Once more, I want to speak about fell hunting and especially fell hunting in Cumbria, which is the only topic about which I have any worthwhile knowledge and on which I can make a sensible contribution to the debate. I do not apologise for doing that. I hope that what I have said on previous occasions can be taken as read, and I very much hope that I am not becoming a bore.
Whatever else the Bill as amended in Committee might do, it would achieve what I and those whose names are attached to Amendment No. 23 would like to see achieved in respect of fell hunting. Indeed, as I think I have mentioned on previous occasions, I positively welcome registration and have always done so.
I and those who are actively involved in fell hunting are, on the whole, at one in supporting the idea of registered hunting. We believe that it is the best and most appropriate outcome to the current political controversy. The problem that faces us is that, while it may be the best outcome, it is, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has frequently advised the House, not the only possible one. Amendment No. 23 has been drafted with that eventuality in mind.
I want to point out that, as this Parliament has no formal conciliation process, which exists in other Parliaments, it is all very well for the Government to say that we in this House must seek compromises with the other place but we have absolutely no mechanism for engaging with them to do that. After all, who is one's interlocutor in the current circumstances and what is the forum within which the points can be raised? So far as I can see, under our existing arrangements, the only possibility for doing that is if and when we reach ping- pong. But, in reality, that
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may well be too late a stage simply because the various sides to the controversy will have dug themselves deeply into entrenched positions. As a general proposition, I think that this House and the other place need to think about how to deal with the particular and rather unusual circumstances in which we now find ourselves. It seems to me that the balance between the parties is not merely out of kilter but positively unfair.
Amendment No. 23 has evolved from the one to which I spoke but did not move in Committee. As I said, it has been drafted in order to try to take forward a process of compromise. The other place might reject the changes made to the Bill here, and so this amendment has been tabled, or taken out, in much the same way as one takes out fire insurance on one's house. One does not insure one's house because one knows that it will burn down; one does so in case circumstances arise when it does catch fire. The amendment is also very much intended to lie with the structure of the Bill as amended and to deal with some of the criticisms levelled at its predecessor in Committee.
I point out in particular that, after careful consideration, the amendment has deliberately been drafted to deal with fell hunting alone. I emphasise that that is not because I wish any ill on any other forms of hunting; it is simply because the case that I am making to the House is that, whatever the merits of the arguments for hunting in general, in the case of fell hunting there is no realistic and responsible alternative to hunting foxes in the high fells with hounds.
I know that it has been said by some that the fell hunters do not want to "go it alone". They do not. They stand shoulder to shoulder with all other forms of hunting and will continue to do so. But, equally, they do not want that form of hunting to die, nor for that matter do those who are the beneficiaries of the service that they provide want it to disappear. We must recognise that if and so long as controlling foxes must be done with hounds, the hunts will be needed in order to respond to the sheep farmers' requirements. Nevertheless, it may well be that the detail of the way in which they operate will, perforce, have to change and that they will have to adapt to circumstances as they change.
There are some who will say that the amendment has been drafted too tightly. To those critics I say: produce your own form of words, drawn more widely, if you want. I do not believe there is any magic in the words that I have adopted. I have absolutely no intrinsic pride in them. If people wish to poach them or amend them, or do anything else with them, that is fine by me. I dare say that many fell hunting supporters will embrace such additions, but in return I say to those critics, "Do not damn us because we may not go as far as you would like. It is up to you to widen the scope of whatever exemptions you may like to see". It is not my self-appointed task to do that now.
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As I have mentioned on previous occasions, I do not believe that there is any realistic alternative to hunting foxes in the high fells other than with hounds. I draw this point to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in particular, as he has frequently pointed out to us that there is a free vote on this for the Government. Nevertheless, the Government are responsible for dealing with the implications of the consequences of what may follow from any change in the law as it now stands. That is true not only in the area, for example, of law and order, but also in the case of the implications for sheep farmingan area much closer to the responsibilities of the noble Lord.
For fell farmers, foxes have to be controlled and their populations managed. That has been said before frequently and was said early in the debate this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. I do not believe that there is any serious dispute about that. In my view there are only five realistic ways of doing that. They are snaring, poisoning, gassing, hunting and shooting. Snaring is illegal. Poisoning is almost certainly illegal as well, and in any event is likely to kill rare and protected creaturesfor example, golden eagles, and peregrines, not to mention domestic dogsso we can rule that out. Gassing will not work because in the high fells foxes do not have burrows; they lie up in the rocks and the gas dissipates between the bouldersit is as simple as that.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I think I am right in saying that poisoning is not illegal in certain circumstances and, therefore, poisoning could be used in some circumstances with the results that he has in mind. Someone will correct me if I am wrong.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, when I checked in Halsbury's Statutes last night I was fairly convinced that snaring was illegal. As regards poisoning, I deliberately said "is almost certainly illegal". I can envisage circumstances in which, as I understand the law, it would be permitted, but the chances are that if peregrines or golden eagles are about, it would kill them and so would become illegal. The responsible approach would be to rule that out. That is the point that I am trying to make.
That leaves us with hunting and shooting. On previous occasions I have said that I simply do not believe that it is possible to achieve proper management exclusively by shooting because of the nature of the terrain that determines how to set about managing a fox population. To use a contemporary metaphor, waging a war in Afghanistan is different from waging a war in Iraq. The circumstances that apply to tactics in the Iraqi desert are different from those that are relevant in the Tora Bora mountains. The same principle applies here.
It is also important to make clear to the House the implications of increased shooting, especially with rifles, on access land. On previous occasions I have
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drawn this point to the attention of the House. I have also on a previous occasion mentioned a GP friend of mine in the Lake District who, a couple of years ago, returned to his car after making a call to discover a .22 bullet had gone through the windscreen.
I must declare an interest in that I have recently had the honour to be appointed president of the Cumbria Tourist Board. Cumbria, and in particular the Lake District, is the United Kingdom's premier national park. It has approximately 18 million visitor nights per year. The vast majority of those visitors come for the landscape and to walk in it. Tourism is the most important sector of Cumbria's economy, which, for reasons that may have nothing to do with tourism, is in serious decline.
"Figures from the Office of National Statistics demonstrate how these events, policy changes and trends have taken their toll on Cumbria. The economy of Cumbria has been in decline for more than 15 years. During the 1990s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head in Cumbria declined rapidly from a relatively healthy level enjoyed throughout the 1980s, when it had stood both above the European average and some 20 per cent above the national average.
By the end of the century it had fallen 20 per cent below the national figure. This staggering deterioration was not a reflection of a downturn in the national or North West economies. The Cumbrian decline was in stark contrast to Cheshire, for example, where gross domestic product per head rose from below to above average and to a position of 5th nationally.
When the performance of Cumbria is compared with all sub-regions of the European Community, including those states recently added to enlarge the European Union, it becomes clear that Cumbria is the only County in the UK in decline. Even more significantly it is one of just a handful of sub-regions across Europe that are actually in decline".
There is only one high spot in the economy of Cumbria at present and that is tourism. Next week when I speak to commercial members of the Cumbria Tourist Board, how can I plausibly explain how Parliament has just decided to jeopardise that industry by significantly expanding the incidence of rifle shooting to shoot hundreds and hundreds of foxes a year across the park? The risks speak for themselves.
That is inconsistent with what the Government have said recently to Allerdale Borough Council and a delegation led by Councillor Musgrove, when both No. 10 Downing Street and Patricia Hewitt recognised the scale and reality of the problem and were committed to doing something to help. The situation is directly at variance with what the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, said earlier when talking about the Government's attempt to try to reduce the poverty gap between the north and the south of England. In such economic circumstances, one should not hit the one thing that is doing well.
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