HL Deb 16 September 2003 vol 652 cc769-894

3.19 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

On the face of it, this is a simple, straightforward Bill. It has 17 clauses and three schedules and deals with only one subject. It provides for the prohibition of the hunting of all wild animals with dogs and all hare coursing events.

There are a few limited exceptions to the ban, but they relate only to stalking and flushing out in certain circumstances, terrier work in relation to protection of birds kept for shooting, falconry, ratting and rabbiting, the retrieval of shot hares, recapture or rescue and research. That encapsulates the Bill. It is a simple Bill, but we know that, regrettably, there are surrounding features that make it a bit of a contentious Bill.

Fox hunting is an issue that has raised high emotions on all sides for a considerable time. For as long as I can remember and, certainly, for the past decade, a majority of the people taking part in any reputable poll have wanted some form of restriction on fox hunting: they still do. For over a decade, Parliament has failed to resolve the issue. We still have not done so. Secondly, there has, in the past two elections, been a clear commitment in the Labour Party manifesto that the issue of hunting should be resolved by a free vote in another place. The Bill now before this House is the result of an overwhelming vote of the elected House, conducted on a free vote in all parties and with Members from all parties forming part of the majority.

Thirdly, it is clear that there remains a direct clash between the views of many in this House and those of Members of another place. The last Labour election manifesto referred explicitly and uniquely to the need, in the event of a disagreement between the Houses, to allow Parliament to resolve the matter. The issue of the use of the Parliament Act 1911 has therefore, as I understand it, led to many discussions in the bars and corridors of this House and elsewhere that would have taken place more logically at the end of the process of a Bill through the House, rather than at the beginning. I shall return to that matter.

Some would argue that there is another unique feature to the Bill, namely that the Bill that emerged from the Commons differs significantly from the one originally presented to the Commons by the Government. I understand that analysis, but that is hardly anywhere near being a unique feature. In any case, the Government's position, in line with the manifesto, has been to facilitate the views of the majority in a free vote in the Commons. The Bill must therefore be treated as a government Bill, and any contention to the opposite is not valid. The Bill should be dealt with in the normal way in this House. The Government will welcome constructive engagement on the Bill. We continue to hope for agreement between the Houses, but I must express a word of caution: underlying all of this, it must be obvious that your Lordships must take account of the views expressed very clearly by the elected House.

According to some of the whispers in the corridors and even on the "Today" programme, there may be a move by some in this House to revert to the original Bill or some variation of it. The Government continue to believe that that Bill had merit and could have been the best way of resolving the issue, but the House of Commons disagreed with that. Your Lordships should recall that the original Bill and—even more so—the version that emerged from the Commons Committee were vociferously opposed by most hunting organisations and many Members of this House. It would have banned stag hunting and hare-coursing events and imposed tight restrictions on all forms of hunting. It would have severely restricted hunting, and there would therefore still be deep conflict with those who believe that traditional hunting should largely continue. In any case—I say it again—the overwhelming majority of the elected House voted in favour of the alternative approach, which is now before your Lordships.

I also owe it to the House to explain two other matters. The first is the Government's position. We will, as ever, listen to arguments for amendments to the Bill in your Lordships' House, but our attitude to amendments must be that the Government's duty is to facilitate the will expressed in a free vote in the elected House. Radical or wrecking amendments will therefore not be supported from the Government Benches, although, of course, it will be, at all times, a free vote in this part of the House and, I believe, among other parties.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, the noble Lord has been very reasonable, although I have not agreed with a word that he has said. Does what he said mean that the Government now support a Bill with which they have publicly disagreed and are not basing their position on principle? Have they abandoned their principles here, as in many other areas, or are they still in favour of a principled, reasonable and sensible solution to what is. I accept, a difficult problem? Which is it?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I thought that I had explained the Government's position clearly. In line with our manifesto, we wish to facilitate the view of the elected House, which, at this stage in the process, is expressed in the Bill before the House and shows every sign of being pretty much the same at the end of the process. There is no dubiety about it: the Bill should be treated as if it were a government Bill. As I said, it is not unusual for an original government Bill to be changed somewhat as it goes through the Commons.

Another ticklish issue is the use of the Parliament Act. It has been argued that the use of the Act would not be appropriate to the Bill. It remains the Government's view that we should seek agreement between the Houses, and we do not want to get ahead of ourselves on the matter. However, the Government's position remains as it was when my right honourable friend Alun Michael said in another place in March last year: Should there be no way through, and should the new Bill be frustrated in its passage rather than scrutinised and improved, the Government could not properly stand in the way of application of the Parliament Act, which of course would be a matter for this House".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/02; col. 457.] By "this House", he meant the House of Commons. It would therefore be a matter for the House of Commons and the Speaker to determine whether the Parliament Act should be invoked in those circumstances rather than a matter for the Government. It is certainly not a matter for this House. There is no legal or constitutional reason why the Parliament Act should not be used. However, as I said, we should not get ahead of ourselves.

It behoves me to make clear my personal position. The free vote applies to Ministers as much as to anybody else, and I should indicate the way in which I intend to vote. I like to be consistent. I have always favoured a ban, and I have always voted for a ban, when given the opportunity. I will therefore vote to support the Bill. As a Minister, I will, of course, listen to your Lordships' arguments, and we will go through the normal procedure. However, in what I recognise is perhaps a vain attempt to limit the range of the discussions that we will have in the next few hours, it would be helpful if I identified the arguments that may be put forward that are unlikely to sway me or the House of Commons majority.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Minister said that, as a Minister, he would support the Bill and that, as an individual, he would support the Bill. Can he imagine any occasion on which, as a Minister, he would not support a government Bill?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, on this Bill, as on other government Bills, there is a free vote for Ministers as well as for every other Member of this House and of another place. On many occasions on which that has been the case, Ministers have voted in different directions, even on a government Bill or part of a government Bill. I fully expect that to be the case at various points in the passage of this Bill too.

First, I must say that there is one argument with which I fully agree and with which, I think, we all agree: this ought not to be seen as the most important issue facing the countryside or Parliament. It is unfortunate that it should, for the moment, dominate our consideration of countryside issues. I agree entirely with that view. However, Parliament has, hitherto, failed to resolve the issue, and it is a serious political issue. We must therefore deal with it now as expeditiously as we can manage.

Then there are the arguments on which, I must tell your Lordships, I would not be prepared to shift. I doubt that they would impress a majority in another place either. First—and least likely to impress us—are arguments about civil disobedience, especially from people who ought to know better. The threat of disruption and unenforceability is not one to which the Government or Parliament can or should succumb. I hope that that threat does not feature large in our debates.

More contentious are the arguments about cruelty. If anyone tells us that fox hunting cannot be cruel, we will not be at the starting point. There are legitimate arguments about relative cruelty and necessary suffering, and we will. no doubt, cover them in the debate. They were certainly reflected in the original Bill. But let us start from the position that unnecessarily chasing an animal across the countryside with dogs and then—on many occasions, at least—tearing it to pieces is cruel, or, at least, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, puts it, seriously prejudices the welfare of the fox.

Then there are arguments about enjoyment and employment. The fact that a significant number of people enjoy an activity or that a significant number of people are gainfully occupied as a result of it has never of itself been an argument for retaining it without restriction when the view of society is that the activity is cruel and no longer tolerable.

For more than 100 years, Parliament has legislated on various aspects of animal welfare, most of which has had implications for those employed or enjoying aspects of the activity. Not long ago, in the long history of this House and not far from here, a good number of the inhabitants of what is now the London Borough of Lambeth were engaged in bear-baiting. It is alleged that some of the then Members of your Lordships' House often used to nip across and enjoy the entertainment in Vauxhall Gardens. But we banned it. No doubt, there were those who expressed concern about the future—

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords—

Lord Whitty

Were you around at that time?

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, on the question of the banning of bear-baiting, is it not true that Macaulay said that the ban was more to do with the disapproval of Parliament than cruelty to animals? It had nothing to do with cruelty; it was to do with disagreement with people having any form of amusement.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, yes. But that is exactly the point. The view of Parliament at that time—as would not have been the case 100 years earlier—was that bear-baiting was unnecessarily cruel, despite the fact that it gave enjoyment and employment to people. At that time, no doubt there were arguments that people would lose their jobs and that the dogs which did the bear-baiting would be unlikely to be re-housed. There was possibly some concern about the future job prospects of those engaged in it and even some people who suggested that the bears enjoyed it. But we have moved on; society has moved on; and society's sensibilities have moved on. That is what is now happening with fox hunting.

There are arguments about civil liberties. I know that a number of Members of your Lordships' House feel deeply, otherwise they would not be defending fox hunting. But I find those arguments particularly unconvincing and, at times, distasteful. To argue that the high principles of the European Convention on Human Rights—drawn up in the aftermath of totalitarianism and war—were in any sense designed to protect groups of people inflicting unnecessary suffering on a frightened animal is ludicrous, as well as completely untenable in law.

On all these issues it will be difficult to sway me. There may be other arguments on which I have not touched. Undoubtedly, there will be further facts and concerns expressed in the next few hours. But I shall not easily be swayed in favour of changes to this Bill or changes to the Government approach. We shall listen to this Second Reading debate. We shall listen in Committee to amendments and, if carried, they will be duly considered in another place.

Ultimately, the responsibility of the Government, in line with our manifesto commitments, will be to facilitate the free and unwhipped will of the elected House. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Whitty.)

3.33 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I should remind the House of my family interests. Formerly, I was a member of the Quorn Hunt and my husband and I are members of the Countryside Alliance. From these Benches, it is a free vote, as it is from the Minister's Benches.

This Bill is a "buy-off". It is a cold, calculating attempt by the Government to mollify its Back-Benchers, and to give them something they want in the hope that they will, thereafter, accept a few things that they obviously do not want. The adverse effect on the countryside, on the life of rural areas and on personal freedom generally is considered fair exchange for the continued supremacy of New Labour. For some time now, independent pollsters, such as ICM on 23rd July, have been reporting that in the population at large the number of those in favour of a total ban has been steadily declining. In July, it was less than 40 per cent, which does not add up to what the noble Lord said.

Thus, it appears that the Government are not just placating their Back-Benchers; they are doing so in the face of public opinion. The Bill is not only a "buy-off", it is also a "sell-out". As it stands, it will result in greater numbers of foxes being killed. It will allow slaughter all year round. There will be no close season. Vixens may be carrying unborn cubs or may be lactating. The 362 MPs, including 36 Scottish Members, who voted for a complete ban have neither regard for, nor understanding of, the welfare of wildlife.

They surely gave no consideration to wildlife management. One certain outcome of such a ban, were it to be implemented, would be an increase in the level of cruelty involved in the killing of foxes. It is a great pity that government Ministers carry so little weight with their MPs. In a Defra press release on 11th September 2002, Alun Michael reiterated: The future of hunting with dogs should NOT be decided on personal taste but on evidence and principles of whether or not it is serving an effective purpose in managing wildlife and whether it is more or less cruel than the alternative methods currently available".

He was joined by Margaret Beckett in The Times on 30th June 2003, who wrote: This Bill, the one presented to Parliament in December 2002, as it stands is acknowledged by animal welfare organisations to be the strongest ever put forward…No Bill on a simple ban has ever been thought to be workable. If cruelty is the main concern, I plead with colleagues neither to wreck the Bill, nor delay its timing".

The Bill is the Government's attempt to give legal voice to those in another place who threw out all the options presented to them at the end of long, involved, tedious and costly process. There was discussion, consultation and debate, followed by more consultation and yet further debate. The Government wanted to find a compromise that did not result in an outright ban. They presented the options. There was a free vote. The proof of their failure is before us today.

Even then the Government had a choice. They could have dropped the Bill because it no longer reflected their proposals. Surely, that would have been logical and would have allowed them to come forward with well-revised proposals in the next Session. Instead, they chose to betray the countryside.

The Minister said: It is a simple Bill".

I think that it is a mean little Bill. It deals with offences, enforcement, general matters, exemptions and consequential amendments. But where is the section on compensation? There may be people who require compensation for the loss of livelihood; or compensation for the loss of value of horses or dogs bred over generations to be the best; or compensation for those for whom a sizeable proportion of their business will disappear—for example, those working in livery stables, private vets, farriers and blacksmiths, to name but a few.

The Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000 was followed in December 2001 by the Fur Farming (Compensation Scheme) (England) Order, which entitled 13 farmers who had been farming mink to compensation for the loss of their businesses. The reasons for banning mink farms were no more logical or scientifically based than those for banning hunting with dogs, yet those farmers were awarded compensation. Where is the parallel provision in this Bill? What will happen to the hunt servants who will be evicted from their homes?

Where is the section on slaughter? As we debated in a question earlier, there will have to be slaughter of dogs, possibly horses, and foxes, which would otherwise fall swift victim to hounds. Who will carry out this slaughter? Will the Government lay guidelines? Will it be the duty of kennel men to dispatch the dogs? Will it be left to private vets? Who will pay the charges?

The horses will still have to be fed. They will have little or no resale value, nothing to do and no purpose in life. It will be very difficult to re-home them all. Many are permanently stabled during the season and turned out to grass only in the summer. If there is no season, grazing will be required all year round. In some areas, suitable land is hard to find. The combination of costs and the difficulties of looking after those horses will result in the premature death of all too many of them.

Let us not forget the foxes. During the season, hounds kill around 2,000 per month. Predominantly the young and inexperienced, the old, the injured and the sick are killed. After a total ban, those young who do not die on our roads will survive to add to an exploding fox population. The old will live longer and move closer to easy food sources. The sick and injured will have to endure death from mange, cancer or starvation, whichever takes them. In the future, foxes will be snared, trapped and shot, including many of the fit, who would otherwise show hounds two clean pairs of heels. The old and the ill will probably stay close to their lairs, awaiting a painful and lingering death. Moreover, let us not forget that there will be no close season and thus no controls on the killing of pregnant vixen.

Those who oppose hunting seem to be one-sighted when dealing with this matter. They see the death of foxes, but not of dogs or horses. They see the colourful chase on horseback, but not the careful work that goes into maintaining the ground and hedges. They see the end of the pursuit, but not the development of suitable covers or the management of woodlands and spinneys.

Those who support hunting are frequently unpaid stewards of the countryside. In effect, they pay from their own pockets for the upkeep of the landscape. Will the Government allow instant access to stewardship funds for all those who, deprived of the right to hunt, will no longer need to take care of the natural features of the countryside? Such care will bring them no benefit.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I do not believe that this is a Bill about wildlife protection or about caring for the countryside. It is a political attempt to control human behaviour according to a narrow view of morality. The Bill will make it illegal to hunt a fox, a deer, a hare or a mink, but it specifically exempts the hunting of rats and rabbits. They, too, are warm-blooded, have four legs and damage the countryside.

The Bill would allow stalking or flushing out where wild mammals would cause serious damage to crops, livestock, game birds or other wild birds. Will the Minister tell us whether that will include the pursuit of foxes to protect poultry or lambs? Last year, 340,000 lambs were lost to foxes at a cost of some £13.6 million, which is a large sum. The number of hens, ducks and geese killed each year is unknown, but it is considerable and, in my opinion, will get worse as the popularity for free range fowl grows.

It is suggested that the Bill before noble Lords today may well be in contravention of human rights legislation. I am no legal expert, but my understanding is that if a lawful individual liberty is to be taken away, that decision must be based on decisive evidence that a major gain will be made; in this case, improved animal welfare.

The Burns report was the result of a lengthy, serious and informed study of the subject. I should like to record my thanks for the time and consideration the members of that committee gave to their remit. The report has often been quoted, but I should like to remind noble Lords of one particular conclusion: None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective. Both snaring and shooting have serious adverse welfare implications". That view has been backed by over 500 members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, who have stated in support that: Hunting with hounds is natural and the most humane way of controlling the populations of the four quarry species: fox, deer, hare and mink". Burns also commented on the problems of enforcement, a matter touched on by the Minister, by stating: Legislation implementing a ban might well pose some enforcement difficulties for the police. These matters should he considered by Parliament when examining the Bill". Chris Fox, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, reflected that concern by saying: A total ban on hunting with dogs will bring us into conflict with parts of the rural community and shake confidence in the police in these areas. We will be asked to enforce a difficult law that will take resources away from areas such as burglary, street crime and anti-social behaviour". This Bill is an attempt to legislate for something that is not supported by the majority of people. It is likely to result in an increased level of mortality for all the species covered, as well as for livestock and poultry. It will cause financial hardship for thousands of country dwellers and many more employed in urban businesses. Incidentally, it will worsen the problem of fallen stock. Since farm burial was banned in July this year, the problem has taken on a much greater significance.

I urge your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading. It is in Committee that we should revise the provisions and seek to restore it to its original form, which was supported by government Ministers and the Prime Minister.

I submit that this Bill is a nonsense. It is illiberal and detrimental to animal welfare. It is a wrong priority and a misuse of parliamentary time. Members of the public want action to improve our schools, hospitals, roads and transport systems, and to see a reduction in crime. These are the real issues of concern, not wasting time on a misguided war on the way of life in our countryside.

3.47 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, the moral arguments of this matter were fully explored in this House when we debated a similar Bill in March 2001. I do not believe that the moral climate has changed since that time. Noble Lords certainly covered every aspect then: the morality of hunting, the place of hunting in pest control, the right of minorities to follow their traditional activities, what constitutes cruelty and much else. Certainly many informative and excellent speeches were made, along with one or two repetitious contributions and some truly memorable ones.

In my remarks I shall concentrate on where we are now and how legislation might proceed. I know that this afternoon my noble friends will put forward powerful arguments on the moral issues.

One of the more powerful and memorable speeches of the last occasion was largely responsible for persuading a majority of your Lordships to reject the option of regulation by an independent body in favour of the option where hunting would be self-regulated. I regret that the House chose that option. By doing so, it may have closed the door on compromise and propelled the entire debate further in the direction of polarised argument rather than arriving at a workable solution.

I agree with the Minister that a clash with the other place does seem to be inevitable. If your Lordships' House seeks to amend the Bill now before us, it may be portrayed as a reactionary Chamber with out-of-date values. I believe that that charge would be totally unjust. This House will be continuing in its excellent tradition of removing the extremes that can do damage to legislation. An example of that in a different area would be its removal of the provisions to limit trial by jury.

I do not believe that there is either a perfectly right or a perfectly wrong answer to the hunting debate. Banning hunting has developed into a kind of shorthand for banning cruelty to animals, while defending the right to hunt has been stretched by the pro-hunting lobby to mean the defence of all in the countryside, its traditional values and landscape. Neither of those positions encapsulates the truth.

Since this House last held a full debate on the issue in March 2001, I do not believe that any of the main arguments have changed, but while those arguments have ranged back and forth, and while the Government have brought forward first one Bill and then another, the time and energy taken up by this one, narrow strand of countryside legislation has distracted attention away from real rural problems, of which I would put affordable housing at the top. Wildlife management has also suffered but its problems will not be solved by hunting. The damage caused to young woodland and crops by uncontrolled deer numbers continues, but the hunting of deer does nothing to control numbers nationally because it is concentrated in small localities and it would be inappropriate to extend it to other areas.

Dozens of people are killed every year in road accidents involving deer. The bodies of badgers, foxes and deer litter the verges of our country roads. The growth of the fox population is completely out of control, particularly in the cities. Foxes are riddled with mange. Hunting has done nothing to solve this problem.

The problem of badgers has been ignored. Badger populations suffer from tuberculosis, with all the knock-on effects that that involves for our farmers, particularly our dairy farmers. By contrast, hare populations are in decline, despite the claims of the hunting interests that hunting conserves them.

The years of debates that we have had on hunting have stultified any constructive thinking about wildlife and the conservation of our countryside. We must move on beyond that point. What the Commons have sent to this House is not in the interests of the countryside, animals or civil liberties.

One of the issues that we must constructively address in Committee and on which we must bring forward amendments is compensation, which could be limited perhaps to long-serving servants of hunts that stand to be abolished. Secondly, I do not agree with the Minister that enforceability is not an issue. It is one that the House must debate. Thirdly, the question of utility raises particularly important points. The cruelty of the various methods of pest control is an issue that cannot be dodged in the name of an ideology.

The Bill that the Government introduced into the other place in this Session of Parliament almost struck the right balance between which species should or should not be hunted with dogs and under what circumstances regulated hunting might be considered. Have the Government taken notice of the comments made by those with experience of deer herds—for example, the Quantock Deer Forum and the joint advisory committee for that area of outstanding natural beauty? Those bodies have stated that, prior to a ban on hunting alternative arrangements for deer management need to be in place". I am not aware that the Government have put any arrangements in place.

I turn, finally, to the process involved in this legislation. If we amend the Bill back to what I believe could be an improved version of the one introduced by the Government in another place, the other place could of course—it seems most unlikely—choose to accept it and end a process that the public, at least, have realised is long past its sell by date and must be resolved. However, should the other place continue to insist on its version and the Bill falls, the Government will then have a choice. They can introduce the Bill that left the other place during this Session and use the Parliament Act, but they can only use the Parliament Act on the Bill in that form; or they could choose to introduce in the next Session of Parliament a Bill such as the one they introduced in this Session. The Parliament Act would not apply to it because it would be a different Bill.

I am therefore surprised by the statement made by the Minister, Alun Michael, on the "Today" programme this morning when he claimed that it was for the Commons to decide whether or not to use the Parliament Act. It is in fact a government decision because it depends on what kind of Bill they choose to introduce if this one falls. Personally, I hope that they will be brave enough to recognise that the long-term interests of the countryside are best served with the kind of solution that they tried to introduce earlier this year. I hope that your Lordships' House will further pursue that solution.

3.54 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford

My Lords, this is a sad day. It is sad because we are again spending an inordinate amount of time on a matter that should never have come before Parliament; sad because we are considering a Bill which, in its present form, is ignorant, obstinate and destructive; sad because it could have been otherwise. Granted the insistence of some that Parliament should consider this matter, it was a cause for real gratitude that the rural affairs Minister in another place undertook such a thorough and painstaking inquiry, with many visits to different parts of the country, with many, many hours spent in listening and debating informally, with the Portcullis House hearings and, above all, with the wise decision to focus on the concepts of cruelty and utility. The rural affairs Minister met the rural Bishops and we were grateful for that.

Very many people believed that there was room for a sensible solution which would take seriously the Burns report and the expert opinion of the veterinary profession; which would recognise the anger and frustration felt by some people at the arrogance and malpractice of a very few unregulated hunts; which would set out a sensible, manageable, enforceable regime of regulated hunting—the middle way. Hopes were raised in the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of country people that jobs would be safeguarded—the jobs of huntsmen, kennelmen, farriers, blacksmiths, innkeepers and many others indirectly dependent on hunting—and that the social life of rural communities, which revolves round the hunt, would be able to continue, adding so much to the vitality and happiness of rural communities which have been battered and threatened in various ways in recent years.

The 260 or so letters that I have received in the past few weeks about hunting—every single one an individual, personal expression of concern; every single one making heart-felt points—whether from young or old, hunting people or non-hunting people, country people or town people, from every walk of life, very many of them farmers—and every single one of them in favour of the continuation of hunting—are some indication of the depth of feeling which exists over this matter.

They reflect the hopes that were raised by the thorough inquiry process and the promised emphasis on cruelty—not proven—and utility, which is very important for a wide range of reasons. They make very clear the anger, bitterness and frustration at the Government's capitulation in the other place.

The Bill as originally drawn up was far from perfect, but it was amendable. The Bill as we have it before us now is unprincipled, irrational and self-contradictory. It claims to be concerned with animal welfare. Indeed, that is the justification in the explanatory memorandum for the admitted conflict between the provisions of the Bill and the European Convention on Human Rights. Yet it has been shown very clearly indeed by expert scientific and veterinary evidence that hunting with dogs is less cruel than other forms of pest control or even in the way in which most animals in the wild die from illness, malnutrition, wounding by shooting or as a result of injury.

Dr Lewis Thomas of Vets for Hunting has stated: Any legislation which bans or seriously restricts hunting of the four quarry species cannot be regarded as having the welfare of wild animals as its primary objective. Indeed, such legislation will cause unnecessary suffering". So these proposals are liable to the very serious charge of infringing human rights and the animal welfare defence is completely unsustainable. Other noble and learned Lords will no doubt pursue the legal arguments.

The important and valuable criterion of utility, which the rural affairs Minister himself acknowledged in April 2002 might well include social and cultural factors, economic and environmental concerns as well as the pest control function, has been allowed to sink without trace. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford. said a good deal about that with which I wholeheartedly agree.

The continuation of hunting is of great usefulness—utility—in terms of all these issues. The Government's contempt for this truth is deeply deplorable and inexcusable, not least because of the Minister's earlier recognition of the importance of this wide range of considerations.

One of the things that have been said about the debate is that the same points will be made again and again by many speakers. Let me now say something that no other noble Lord will say. As I was on my way to the House today, walking demurely along the Embankment in my dog collar, I was accosted by a wild-eyed man, who grabbed me by the lapel and said, "Are you on your way to Parliament?". How could he have known? Does it show that clearly? "Do you know", he said, "why people fight each other? Why do politicians always disagree with one another?" I had no time to gather my thoughts. He said, "It's schizophrenia". Before I had any chance to respond, he gave me the answer to the problem. I think it was something like this: you had to go to Giza and contemplate the Sphinx in order to cure this condition. I suddenly wondered whether there was some generous benefactor who would provide free air tickets to Cairo for those misguided Members of the other place who believe they are pursuing the interests of animal welfare and yet want to ban hunting.

Apart from that admittedly speculative Egyptian strategy, what can we do and what should we do in your Lordships' House? I believe that we must do our best to bring the Bill back to the form in which it originally appeared and then add significantly to the safeguards of hunting in a properly regulated form which are required for a serious recognition of the part it plays in rural life. That would be a right and principled way forward for your Lordships' House, and I urge noble Lords to follow it. The Bill as it stands is totally unacceptable, but I believe that the middle way is still possible.

4.1 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the Bill briefly to us. I must first declare a particular interest in it. I am president of the Countryside Alliance, I hunt regularly, and if the Bill were to reach the statute book in this form, then I, my husband, my children, my neighbours and many of my friends would be made criminals. So would literally thousands of others, including doctors, nurses, vets, farmers, magistrates, children, housewives and policemen. In fact, the people whom the Bill seeks to criminalise are a selection of the most law-abiding, responsible and decent citizens in this country. The Government have let them down.

We were promised a Government Bill based on principle and evidence. Although I argued strongly with some important aspects of Mr Alun Michael's original Bill, it had the potential, in its basic structure, to establish a regulation and licensing system which, with improvement, could have resulted in fair and lasting legislation. That Bill was destroyed in the House of Commons. All the evidence collected by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, all the evidence collected by Alun Michael, has been tossed aside. Prejudice, not principle, and bigotry, not evidence, have been allowed to prevail.

The Bill is a bad one and the Government know it. Writing to the Deputy Prime Minister on 14th May this year, prior to the debate in another place, Mr Michael said this: Some MPs want to say they are voting for a complete ban on hunting focusing on foxes. They think this is simple and ask why we should complicate matters. But the apparently complete ban is not as simple as it seems. If they go for such an amendment at Report it would be a wrecking amendment". Well, they did, and it was. It is hard for me to understand how the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is now required to act as an advocate for that wrecked Bill. Principle and evidence are apparently dispensable, as are promises.

This Bill is a bad one. The police say it is unworkable and unenforceable. It has been criticised by the Justices' Association. No less than 63 per cent of rural vets say it will actually increase animal suffering. All the major farming bodies—those who are most directly affected—give it a massive thumbs down, as do the people of this country as a whole. There is no Labour Party manifesto commitment to a ban. There was none at the last general election. A clear majority of the ordinary people of this country now favour the continuation of hunting under regulation.

To those who genuinely care about trying to reduce animal suffering—which includes, as I accept, people on both sides of this debate—I beg them to look at the independent evidence before they support the Bill in this form. The most recent independent research on shooting foxes published in June of this year, after Alun Michael had completed his hearing of evidence, shows, alarmingly, that for every fox shot dead with a shotgun, at least the same number are wounded and many are never found. If hunting went, snaring and shooting would increase enormously. Prolonged suffering, and for more animals, would be the direct result.

Do not take it from me—please look at the submissions of the Exmoor National Park Authority to Alun Michael in June of last year. Look at the veterinary record for April of this year. This is recent, cutting-edge research, and it is independent. That contains the most recent evidence on red deer shooting, which indicates a wounding rate in excess of 14 per cent for red deer shot with a rifle. Look, if you will, at the gloomy forecast of the Exmoor Deer Management Group for the future of those west country herds of red deer, currently the finest in Britain, in the event of a ban. If you can find the time, look at the contrast between the healthy deer of the hunted areas of Exmoor and compare them with the sick deer which are found on the sanctuary—so-called—of the League Against Cruel Sports, near Dulverton.

In the West Country, where I have the privilege to spend part of my time, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, found that hunting, where it takes place, has the support of two thirds of the general population, who are not all hunters by any means. The general population wants it to continue.

The electorate in every area where deer hunting takes place has returned an MP who shares the view that it should continue, and they are not all Conservatives. One MP who took a different view was rejected at the ballot box on this issue, as she accepts. The democratic choice of the people who actually live in areas where deer hunting takes place is overwhelmingly that it should continue. What more can they do than cast their votes as they have?

However well intentioned a ban on hare hunting and coursing may be, in reality a ban would have serious unintended consequences for the hare. Illegal hare coursing, which is a real scourge for farmers in some areas, would inevitably increase. It is virtually unpoliceable, even at present. The only strategy left for a farmer with this serious problem who currently encourages hares and their habitat is to shoot every one which moves, and many of them will.

Look, please, before you vote to support this Bill, at the independent study by the University of Kent, which was published in Nature in May of this year. Any perceived gain to the hare or the fox or the deer would be wiped out by conservation benefits lost following a ban. Alun Michael was absolutely right: this is not simple.

If the intention of Members of Parliament is to reduce animal suffering by banning cruelty to wild animals, the Bill which was introduced in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, would do more than anything proposed in this legislation.

I am sorry to say that, to some, all of this does not matter one jot because they are prepared to sacrifice not just animals but people—their homes, their jobs, their way of life, their communities, especially in places such as Exmoor, which I love—for the sake of some transient peace from a section of the parliamentary Labour Party. If that is allowed to happen, the lasting sense of injustice and resentment in those communities will dog the Government who were responsible, not just for a Parliament or two but for a generation.

The issue raised by the Bill is no longer the relatively minor one of hunting, which directly affects only a fraction of our population. It is now something which matters to us all—namely, the future of liberty and democracy itself. Democracy is the will of the people, not just Members of another place. Less than half the Members of the House of Commons gave this Bill a Third Reading.

We have a Government with a massive Commons majority which they can use in office either for the good of the nation or as an instrument of abuse of a minority. To use that majority to override proper debate, to dismiss the evidence, to impose repressive, criminal legislation without just cause is, I believe, an abuse of democracy. Surely true democracy does not mean that the views of the elected majority must always prevail, right or wrong. True democracy ensures fair and proper treatment of minorities and avoids misuse of a dominant position. Its hallmarks are fairness, tolerance and broadmindedness, which are impossible to find in this vindictive little Bill.

I hope that in the very limited time that we have in this Session to consider a Bill that has spent seven months in the other place, we shall do our best without delay or any attempt at obstruction to do what the Government promise: namely, to produce a Bill based on principle and evidence. I hope that we can return to the Commons a fair and sensible regulation system based on Mr Michael's structure, which complies with the Human Rights Act 1998, as I do not believe this Bill does.

Criminal legislation in the form of the Bill before us today would be a stain on the statute book. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, of the words that appeared in the manifesto. Far from enabling Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue, bad legislation reflects badly on the Government who allow it to happen. The Bill is unjust, and many of us in this House on all sides, and many thousands more in the country., would not rest until that injustice was corrected. I hope that we do not have to do that.

4.11 p.m.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I do not propose to try to cover the whole field. I should like to focus on the fact, which has already been referred to, that the Bill is in a form that has been opposed by current Ministers in the strongest terms.

The Government introduced a Bill on the regulation of hunting, following months of consultations and formal hearings with Britain's best wildlife experts. At no point during those consultations or during the earlier Burns inquiry was any evidence presented to justify an outright ban. As my noble friend Lady Mallalieu said, all that scientific evidence has been abandoned in a capitulation to zealotry and class prejudice.

The Bill has many defects that render it in my view quite unacceptable in its present form. First, above all, it will not reduce cruelty or animal suffering. Recent scientific evidence demonstrates clearly that shooting, the frequently offered alternative to hunting with dogs, leaves a large percentage of foxes wounded and suffering a slow death. Trapping and poisoning are worse in causing suffering. I personally deplore cruelty to animals; I have never hunted; and I have a Bill before this House—the Committee stage will come early next month—that would prohibit undue suffering for all animals. It is not concerned only with this obsession with foxes. The Bill before us today will not reduce animal suffering but will probably increase it, which is a central point.

The Bill will restrict individual freedom unacceptably. I wonder whether our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches are happy with that, given their party's great historic commitment to individual liberty. It will deprive thousands of hard-working and lave-abiding countrymen of their livelihoods and many of their homes. I wonder whether my Labour colleagues are happy with that. My Labour Party viewed unemployment as a social wrong, and we should not support anything that increases it. I did not join it to create unemployment.

The Bill will cause the killing of 17,000 extra hounds. I was astonished at my noble friend Lord Whitty's response at Question Time. Because 2,000 to 3,000 dogs have to be put down, does that mean that it is all right to put down an extra 17,000? Where is the logic or moral principle in that?

The Bill also creates thousands of criminals out of law-abiding citizens. Our stretched rural police forces should be used to protect law-abiding citizens from criminals, not to create criminals out of law-abiding citizens. The Bill may also be a breach of human rights—that will be tested.

The fatal faults of the Bill were best expressed by the Minister responsible, Alun Michael. In a letter to John Prescott, he said: A complete ban"— that is, this Bill— would…undermine the strong simple framework of enforcement that is set out in this Bill"— that is, the Government's regulatory Bill— and be perceived as pursuing prejudice rather than targeting cruelty". I say Amen to that. In December, he was more specific in his rejection of the present ban proposal, saying that, the effect of a blanket ban would be to require the use of a method that is more cruel—that is a method more likely to cause suffering". I say Amen to that, too.

Alun Michael's statements against the Bill are correct and irrefutable. Does my noble friend Lord Whitty agree with his Minister? Would he tell us tonight, at the close of the debate, whether he agrees with his Minister on those conclusive arguments against the Bill?

As a strong supporter of the Government, the politics of the Bill concern and utterly bewilder me. What on earth is the advantage to the Government, the country, the countryside or animal welfare in proposing this? Polls suggest that more than 50 per cent oppose this crude ban. More important is how few of those who supported the ban placed it in the top 20 of their policy priorities. It is political nonsense. The issues that matter—the serious problems of the country such as the National Health Service, education, crime and transport—are all seriously acute problems for the countryside. We should be doing something about them for the countryside.

I joined the Labour Party exactly 50 years ago this month. I have served in four Labour administrations, and it defies belief that so much time and energy is being devoted to this marginal issue. The issue matters to a few who hate hunting and to a few who strongly support it or pursue it. Why on earth are we devoting time to this marginal issue and to this ill founded legislation, which is based on prejudice and aimed against our rural communities?

Faced by this legislative bigotry, which offers no benefits to animal welfare, what should we in this House do? We should certainly not simply throw it out as it truly deserves, as that might give zealots elsewhere the basis to impose the Parliament Act. We should, as my noble friend Lord Whitty at one point indicated, proceed to constructive scrutiny and amendments to improve the Bill. We should aim to conclude with a Bill based on four robust criteria, which Alun Michael, the Minister, proposed at the Second Reading of his original Bill. It should be based on right principles, tested against evidence to make good law, it should be enforceable and should stand the test of time.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, given that I am going to speak later, but could he say how he would approach the Bill as presented by Alun Michael and whether he would fully agree with banning stag hunting and hare coursing?

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I have reservations about that Bill, as many colleagues do. Were it to appear again, we would look to ways to improve it, as we do with all legislation. However, I wholly support the basic criteria that Alun Michael has set out. I hope that colleagues on all sides of the House will attempt to improve the Bill. I look forward to my noble friend the Minister tonight telling us whether he supports the criteria set out by his Minister.

4.19 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, I have never hunted in my life, but I have spent time, many years, among those who do so and in parts of this country where hunting is not just the eccentric luxury of a few but is one part of the social and economic structure of the countryside. I know that that point is hard to grasp for those who do not experience it. However, it makes a nonsense of the comparison which I am sorry that the Minister advanced again today—the comparison between fox hunting which is part of the structure, and old sports such as bear baiting and cockfighting which never were. As we all know, the structure of the countryside is now fragile. We have debated the reasons for that over and over again. The Government and Parliament should surely be trying to rebuild and strengthen that structure and not deal it an extra blow, this time of our own devising.

I should like to look at one particular aspect of this, as one who for 25 years represented part of Oxfordshire and was for five years at the Home Office and gained there some understanding of the policing of our country. Crime, and therefore the work of the police, is considerably concentrated on towns and cities. I take as an example my own police area, the one in which I live. Thames Valley Police inevitably, rightly, focuses on the conurbations of Slough, Reading, Oxford and others. That is where most of the men and the effort go. As your Lordships know, however, there is plenty of crime also in the scattered countryside. There is plenty of fear of crime; perhaps we feel particularly vulnerable to well organised burglary. We know that the police are stretched. They do not have the men or the money to cover the ground adequately.

In the countryside, in particular, the police rely on the co-operation—the friendship—of the citizen in villages and market towns. The Bill would make the main leisure pursuit of many of those citizens a criminal offence. The Bill would give the police the task of enforcing a law which those individuals would regard as unjust and plain wrong. I ask the Minister not to underestimate the passionate resentment of a minority. Ministers always find themselves opposed—it goes with the job. Wise Ministers try to avoid being hated, albeit by a small minority. That is the country into which these Ministers and this Bill are going.

We do not know how the hunting world would react to a ban, and nor do the police. I do not myself believe that established hunts would meet and hunt as they do now were a ban to be enacted. However, we cannot be sure what individuals will do. Some will certainly test to the utmost any loopholes in the Bill, and they are certainly entitled to do so. I can imagine, as one shrewd farmer said to me the other day, individuals meeting defiantly in a pub on a Friday evening and putting together an impromptu illegal hunt for a Saturday morning. More likely perhaps, and more widespread perhaps, I can imagine that individuals, feeling passionately, as many would, that this measure was unjust and oppressive, would find a means of civil disobedience which may be totally unrelated to hunting and would willingly pay the penalty set out by law as their protest against a perceived injustice. When such individuals came before the courts as alleged criminals, I am sure there would be a huge and vocal sympathy on their side.

We do not know, but all those are clearly possibilities. It is no good the Minister shaking his head and saying that they must not be taken into account. All those possibilities would pit the police against those who are now their strongest supporters. All of them would run the risk of disrupting the alliances—the co-operative arrangements—on which the police rely. All of them would distract the police in rural areas from the pursuit of real crime.

It was with those thoughts in minds that, on 18th August, I took a delegation to see our chief constable, Mr Peter Neyroud, at his headquarters in Kidlington. We made those points to him and he fully understood them. It is not for chief constables of police to tell Parliament what the law should be, but it is for them to tell the Home Secretary, the Government and the rest of us what the consequences of a law might be for the policing of England. Following the meeting which I mentioned, our chief constable did just that, as did other chief officers., as my noble friend Lady Byford has already said. Our chief constable said: It is going to be extremely difficult for the police to enforce a ban and it will create some distinct tensions. It is going to generate more work for the police of the sort that rural communities are not going to value. Apart from the few who feel strongly against hunting, most people will regard it as a diversion from proper policing and those who want to hunt will feel victimised. It's an absolute no-win situation for the police". Are we so confident of the success of the fight against crime, are we so confident of the position in which the police are placed today, that we are going to add what they believe to be a "no-win situation" to their existing difficulties?

I should like to append my final comments to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, on the fundamental issue here. Some 400,000 people marched on London mainly because of this matter. I should like to pick out just one of them. because I think that it goes to the heart of this question. He is a neighbour of about my age in our village. He spent much of his life as a gamekeeper. He is long retired but he is not idle. In the winter he follows the Heythrop hunt—first on a bicycle, and now in his own small car. He helps the hunt with local information about the condition of the land and the whereabouts of foxes.

The Bill would not just ban the main pleasure of my neighbour's old age; it would tell him that the way he has spent all those winter days has been cruel and wrong. Yet this is a wise man who knows as much about cruelty and kindness as any of us, and knows much more than any civil servant or lawyer about fields and woods and the animals and human beings who frequent them. Who are we to pass this verdict on him and on his life? My neighbour and his friends have written to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House, and they received a perfectly correct and bureaucratic reply—a reply, I must say, from another world.

This Bill in its present form is presumptuous and illiberal. It passes the bounds which should constrain all of us, which should constrain politicians and lawyers in seeking to direct the life of the individual citizen. I believe that it is the duty of this House to haul the Bill back within that sensible and necessary boundary.

4.28 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I rise to support a complete ban on hunting. For me it is a conscience issue, and I trust that those who do not agree with me will respect that, as I do their different views. I would say to some earlier speakers in your Lordships' House today that to call those of us who support this Bill unprincipled, bigoted, vindictive, illiberal, zealots and class prejudiced is nonsense, unhelpful and gets in the way of cogent argument. I do not intend to reciprocate in kind. They are our principles. They are strongly and genuinely held. They may be different from yours, but it is because they are held so strongly that I have the courage today to stand up in a minority, I believe, in your Lordships' House and explain why I reach my conclusions. I hope that I will be listened to in that spirit of tolerance.

I reach my position through a conjunction of three particular aspects of the matter. First, I believe hunting with dogs to be cruel. According to my personal moral code, human beings should avoid cruelty to animals wherever possible and should not cause suffering, especially not in the name of sport. Secondly. I believe hunting with dogs to be predominantly a sport and not vermin control. Thirdly, I believe that the sport of hunting often impinges on the rights and freedoms of other country dwellers and their property and livestock in a way which is quite unacceptable.

Let me consider these one by one. First, the issue of cruelty. Clearly in some parts of the country at some times of year there is a need to reduce the number of foxes to protect farmed animals. I do not deny that and believe that it is justified if it can be done with the minimum of cruelty. There is probably no way of killing a mammal with a well developed nervous system and senses which is totally free from fear or pain. However, flawed though they are, there are other ways which, done properly, can be less cruel. Gassing is rather indiscriminate, so careful trapping or shooting is preferable but must be done by good marksmen to avoid wounded animals dying in pain. A fox that is hunted suffers enormous fear for prolonged periods of time which, for a higher animal, is extremely cruel, to say nothing of the few minutes it takes for the hounds to tear it apart. My reading of the Burns report is that there is proven cruelty of a significant level here. Professor Donald Broom, Professor of Animal Welfare at Cambridge University, having examined all the available evidence, has concluded that, careful shooting or trapping…will result in a lower net extent of poor welfare than hunting with dogs". Anyone who chased and killed a cat or a domestic dog in the same way as a hunt chases and kills a fox would be convicted for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. The same protection should be given to a fox. It is a natural hunter but it is not naturally hunted in this country, not since wolves and bears ceased to roam our countryside anyway. It is part of our ecosystem. I believe that there is a case for a close season for shooting during the breeding season to protect the fox. What it boils clown to is that cruelty is cruelty, and regulated cruelty is no better.

Secondly, hunting is a sport and not vermin control. If that were not the case, why would hunts breed foxes, as they do? Any pest control should pass three tests: necessity, effectiveness and humaneness. Hunting with dogs passes none of those tests. I myself used to keep chickens in the middle of an area with plenty of foxes. They ran freely in a run surrounded by high wire and they were safely closed in their hutch at night. I never lost a single chicken to a fox. Some of the letters I have received have talked about the exaggeration of the need to control foxes. For example, one eyewitness wrote that a fox was blamed for killing a lamb which actually died at birth and was then half eaten away by ravens. In another case a farmer called out the hunt because the remains of a sheep were found in one of his fields. On investigation the so-called remains turned out to be years old.

In May 2002 an investigation by the League Against Cruel Sports revealed that even in upland areas such as Cumbria that are perceived to have a greater need for fox control, sheep carcasses were being dumped on hunting land adjacent to artificial earths to encourage foxes to live in suitable places with a view to hunting them.

Neither is hunting effective in controlling the fox population. Those countries such as Ireland that do not allow hunting with hounds are no more overrun with foxes than we are. The Burns report concluded—

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, as regards Ireland not allowing fox hunting, has the noble Baroness never heard of the Galway Blazers or the Kilkenny Hounds? It is the greatest hunting country in the world.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I am so sorry. I give way to the noble Earl's greater knowledge on this.

Noble Lords


Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, that does not detract from my other arguments. The Burns report concluded that, the overall contribution of traditional fox-hunting, within the overall control techniques involving dogs, is almost certainly insignificant in terms of the management of the fox population as a whole". Hunting is certainly not humane as it does not render the animal insensitive to pain as soon as possible.

I mentioned earlier that hunting is regarded by the hunting fraternity as a sport. For that reason alone I do not believe that we should hesitate to ban it. Killing an animal for pleasure is something I cannot condone.

Thirdly, hunts flout the rights of other country dwellers in relation to their property and their animals. Your Lordships may, like me, have received hundreds of letters about this Bill, the vast majority of them in my case in favour of a ban. Many of them gave eyewitness accounts of the lack of control of the hounds by the huntsman and/or complete lack of regard for the laws of trespass and damage by many riders. It is clear to me that for long periods of time the hounds are completely out of sight and out of control of the huntsman. Many of the letters from members of the public speak of the total arrogance and disregard for domestic livestock and pets, garden and field fences and permission to ride over the land or lack of it. If hunts have generated a mass of opposition from within the countryside itself, they only have themselves to blame.

Those who say that the opponents of hunting are all "townies" are totally wrong. This is not a betrayal of the countryside. The mass of letters I have received came mainly from country dwellers whose lives have been made a misery by inconsiderate and badly managed hunts. For this reason I do not believe that self-regulation will work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said that Government Back-Benchers want the Bill as it has come to us in this House. Government Back-Benchers were elected in a majority by their electorate in full knowledge of their views. I am a democrat and I accept that their view should be implemented. I also happen to agree with it, and so does the RSPCA and many other animal welfare organisations.

We must have a complete ban. The Government have a mandate for it. I wish that they would just get on and do it and let us get on with discussing other more important matters in your Lordships' House.

4.37 p.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, in her impressive speech referred to the fact that some Members of Parliament represent Exmoor and had supported the continuation of hunting. The fact that my former constituency included a large part of Exmoor and the Quantocks has meant that for the past 30 years I have been much involved in the issues that we are discussing.

In the past, debates on this subject in another place and in your Lordships' House were marked, particularly in another place, by a good deal of ignorance and intolerance. I say with great respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that her reference to Ireland was a mind-blowing illustration of some misunderstandings that may exist in this area.

The attitude that I have taken on the issue over the years was much reinforced by a former leader of the noble Baroness's party, the noble Lord, Lord Steel. In a debate in another place he summed up the issue very clearly. He made it clear that to his mind it was illiberal to seek to ban fox hunting. I accept that in my former constituency two-thirds of the people polled were in favour of hunting although a considerable number used to write letters such as those the noble Baroness received to express their disagreement with hunting. In the debate I mentioned, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, made a clear distinction. He said that it was one thing to be in favour or against hunting but it was quite another to forbid other people from doing what they chose to do. I believe that that is absolutely right. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, also said that no true Liberal could possibly support a ban of that kind. The noble Baroness may wish to discuss that matter further with her noble friend Lord Steel.

Although ignorance and intolerance marked discussion on these matters over many years, one had hoped that at last the Government had embarked on a more sensible approach. I applauded the setting up of the committee under the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the very conscientious way in which it addressed the issues. On behalf of the people of Exmoor, I should like to express my appreciation for the interest and the diligence shown by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in trying to understand their problems.

I had hoped that that message would be carried on in what became known as the Portcullis House process. The Minister, in his Statement of 21st March setting out the process that he would adopt, said: I ask the House to trust me to deliver, and to join me in a process that is guaranteed to achieve an outcome as soon as possible. I look forward to engaging with colleagues on both sides of the House and in the other place".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/02; col. 458.] One hoped that at last, in the fog of ignorance and intolerance on these issues, there would be a bit of common understanding and properly informed research.

The Government recognised that. I do not want to give too many of the quotations, but they believed at the time that the approach was right. It is really humiliating, because the Minister said that, a complete ban amendment would destroy the architecture of the Bill…and be perceived as pursuing prejudice". That was in the letter already quoted by the noble Lord, Lord IDonoughue, and sent by the Minister, Alun Michael, to John Prescott. Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State, said: No Bill on a simple ban has ever been thought to be workable. If cruelty is the main concern, I plead with colleagues neither to wreck the Bill, nor delay its timing". That is precisely what happened. The Government surrendered in the face of their Back-Benchers. That was most humiliating. I cannot recall any occasion on which a Minister has abandoned his Bill and gone into the Lobby to vote in favour of the amendment that destroyed his own Bill. The Minister said in his press release that: The future of hunting…should not be decided on personal taste". I agree 100 per cent; one might say that it was an endorsement of the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Steel.

We have moved from a situation that appeared to have a certain basis of principle to one of no principles at all. The whole House was impressed by the speech of my noble friend Lord Hurd. Although they did not like the Bill, country people believed that this very difficult and controversial issue would be approached in a responsible manner. There was anger and strong feeling. Anyone who saw the marches and the rallies knows the background. That feeling has been made very much worse. What they thought would be serious and proper consideration has now been thrown out by the prejudice of a lot of Back-Benchers who come from a particular and rather narrow background. That is no secret. We know that the present make-up of the House of Commons is a problem, as we may not have the breadth of background of intake for it that we used to have. Country people see that group imposing its will without consideration for proper understanding and the research and study that has been done.

That is the worst possible climate in which now to proceed. I share the fears of my noble friend Lord Hurd. I do not support illegal actions, but the Minister recognised the problem, as he launched the issue of civil disobedience. It is pretty shaming for him, at a Second Reading, to stand up and recognise that the Bill that he is introducing will very possibly lead to civil disobedience. Any responsible government would turn round and say, "Hadn't we better look at that again? Have we got it quite right?".

I want to talk about deer hunting, which in some ways is the most difficult issue. I have represented parts of Exmoor for 30 years. In the statements of Ministers, it was said that there was incontrovertible evidence that deer hunting should be banned. The Minister has now been challenged to produce that incontrovertible evidence. First, he relied on Professor Batesort, who quickly issued a statement saying that anyone who thought his findings incontrovertible was, in scientific terms, illiterate.

Then the Minister turned to stalking, and claimed that the Burns report had said that stalking was less cruel. His letter to me stated that, the nature of deer—their size and their browsing habits in particular—is such that it is always possible for a competent marksman to stalk an animal and kill it quickly while causing it minimal suffering". I hope that no one will suggest that Exmoor is anything like Scotland, which is quite a different problem, but that is indeed perfectly possible for a competent marksman. However, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, wisely added: A great deal depends, however, on the skill and care taken by the stalker…there is no reliable information on wounding rates, even in Scotland where stalking is carried out extensively. In the event of a ban on hunting, there is a risk that a greater number of deer than at present would be shot by less skilful shooters, in which case wounding rates would increase". A letter from the National Trust stalker from the Holnicote estate—the National Trust estate where stag hunting was banned—stated that there was no doubt that by 2001, within four years, the total ban on stag hunting had increased the number of sick and injured deer on the estate, and that the problem had gone on long enough. We are about to embark on the same approach over a very much wider area.

There is no incontrovertible evidence to support the claim. However, there is incontrovertible evidence that, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, every responsible organisation on Exmoor—the Exmoor National Park, the Exmoor Society, the Deer Management Group and so on—has said that it is absolutely essential that there be an alternative deer management strategy before deer hunting is banned. The Exmoor Society is not involved in hunting, but is a conservation body committed to the preservation of Exmoor in all its forms. The simple line that it has sent to the Minister is: It is simply not a valid option to do nothing except to make it illegal to hunt red deer on horseback with dogs. Failure to do so will be an irresponsible act of folly". Ministers have so far failed to come up with any alternative deer management strategy. In the considered view of every organisation that knows Exmoor and the Quantocks, if that is not done, the future of the deer herd is at risk. It is essential before we proceed down this line that an alternative strategy is produced, or that a proper, licensed and regulated system of deer hunting should be allowed to continue.

4.47 p.m.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie

My Lords, I preface my remarks by apologising to the Minister for not being in my place during his speech. Unfortunately, I was detained in traffic and I apologise for any discourtesy.

As has been reported, Alun Michael, the Minister in another place with responsibility for framing the Bill, stated that a ban on hunting was not easy. From experience, I echo that remark. During that consideration in another place, reference was made to the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, and I have to say that some of it was rather ill-informed. I hope to some extent to set the record straight, as I believe that that will be helpful to our considerations. In doing so, I also place on record that I am proud to have been the sponsor of that legislation in the Scottish Parliament, which was given two full years of consideration in that legislature.

After years of misinformation from the Countryside Alliance and other hunt supporters who seem to me, from speaking to them, to enjoy using packs of dogs to chase, terrify, attack and ultimately kill foxes, that brutal practice was made illegal in Scotland when that Act came into force in August last year. We have heard that those opposing my then Bill claimed that a ban would result in the slaughter of hundreds of dogs and horses, and have a devastating effect on employment and the rural economy of Scotland, in particular in the Border region. In fact, none of that has happened, and their rhetoric and scare-mongering has been exposed as just that.

What is reality, though, is that the Act in Scotland bans the deliberate chasing and killing of foxes and mink with packs of hounds, as well as hare coursing and fox baiting. As an aside, I should say that I find it astonishing that anyone, as my noble friend Lady Mallalieu did, should defend hare coursing and say that the alternative of having no legal hare coursing would be even worse. The answer surely is that there should be no recourse to illegal activity in whatever form.

Not for the first time in hunting legislation, Scotland has led the field in that regard. Deer and stag hunting with dogs was outlawed in that country more than 50 years ago. The Bill would provide further safeguards for England and Wales and effect a leap-frogging process, which we will increasingly see in various areas of legislation following, or as a consequence of, devolution.

It is clear that the Act has divided the hunting fraternity in Scotland. There are those who accept that traditional hunting is at an end and that has led to the Dumfriesshire Hunt disbanding. Others, such as the Berwickshire Hunt, acquired a pack of bloodhounds and a new drag hunt has been established in Fife. Both sports follow artificial scents with some success and to the evident enjoyment of their followers.

There are those who claim that it is simply business as usual, in a forlorn hope that the ban will be overturned through the courts. That is an important point.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that there is hunting in the Borders at present and that that is followed by the shooting with guns of foxes?

Lord Watson of Invergowrie

Yes, my Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. That is indeed the case. That is what the legislation provides for and that is how it was framed. It does not provide for the fox to be torn to pieces at the end of the hunt in the way that used to happen prior to the legislation.

There are those who claim that it is business as usual in Scotland, as the noble Lord has perhaps demonstrated. Court challenges, which are within the court system in Scotland at the moment, claim that individual human rights have been violated. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, states in the Bill that he has been advised that it does not contravene the European Convention on Human Rights. That has been challenged in one or two of the contributions that we have heard. In the Scottish courts, a judgment has been made that states that there is no contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights in the Scottish legislation, which, in that sense, is similar to the Bill that we are considering today.

In a recent case brought by the Countryside Alliance and others, Lord Nimmo Smith ruled that its arguments were "incompetent" and "of doubtful relevancy". The Act did not interfere with the private lives of petitioners; there were no infringements of the European Convention on Human Rights relating to the control of possessions; and the Act did not discriminate against those bringing the case.

The business-as-usual brigade in Scotland are being orchestrated to some extent by their political masters in London. As today's debate has shown, they want to convey the impression south of the Border that it is impossible to legislate effectively against hunting with dogs, with a view to influencing the outcome of our debate. Such a strategy will not succeed because the overwhelming view expressed in another place must eventually prevail.

It was always expected that when the ban came into force in Scotland, individual members of the mounted packs would test the Act and that has proven to be the case. In doing so, those individuals are sailing rather close to the wind. Two masters of foxhounds have already been charged and now face prosecution for offences relating to "the deliberate hunting of a fox with hounds". Another case is with the procurator fiscal. I do not welcome that, because I do not want to see lawbreaking in any form. I was rather surprised by the contributions of my noble friends Lady Mallalieu and Lord Donoughue, who said that the legislation would criminalise people. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu said that it would criminalise even her family. They will be criminalised only if, after the Bill becomes law, they choose to break that law. No law creates criminals. Criminals are entirely of their own making. That has to borne in mind. The prosecutions that are under way in Scotland give the lie to suggestions that the Act there has no bite or that one simply cannot, in any legislature, legislate against hunting with dogs.

The misinformation campaign being conducted by the pro-hunt fraternity to discredit the Act in Scotland is being aided and abetted by certain newspapers. Those newspapers are in Scotland, but I see that some members of what we might just about term the "Fleet Street press" have entered that mindset as well. A good example of Scottish newspapers' involvement was provided by the Sunday Times last September. It claimed that a hunt in the Scottish Borders allowed hounds to chase foxes over six miles and quoted a member of the hunt as saying that of 30 foxes killed, five had been finished off by hounds". The journalist also claimed that the guns were miles away from the scene, or "specks in the distance". When a formal complaint was made to Lothian and Borders police by the Edinburgh-based animal protection organisation, Advocates For Animals, the police, to their credit, quickly and thoroughly investigated the matter. A senior officer later stated in a letter that, during the whole day, not a single fox was seen, let alone chased or killed, by the hounds". In addition, the police stated that the journalist had, embellished, to a very large extent, what actually took place". When pressed, the journalist, admitted that the message he was trying to convey in his article was that the new legislation did not appear to be changing any aspect of country life". My advice, therefore, would be to take with a huge pinch of salt any bold assertions attributed to those opposed to the Bill.

The line being spun by the Countryside Alliance and others in Scotland is that they are concerned that more foxes are being killed since the Act came into force. It is quite touching, though scarcely credible, that they have suddenly become the fox's friend. It was never the intention of the legislation to prevent the killing of foxes. Its intention was to prevent foxes being torn to pieces by hounds. The intention has always been that foxes can be flushed into the open and shot. I accept the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord King, about the accuracy of gun-owners. However, if they are as wayward as he suggested, I would question whether they should have a licence in the first place. I accept that it is not a precise science and that there will be mixed results, but surely that was always the case. It was never possible to have a clean kill with a gun in all cases.

Before the ban in Scotland, 18,000 foxes out of a population of approximately 24,000 were killed annually, the majority of them on the roads. That is still the case. Fewer than 500 were killed by the then 11 mounted packs with hounds. The proportion being shot has barely changed. As for wounding, no animal welfare organisations, as far as I am aware, have reported an increase of calls from the public about the widespread discovery of wounded foxes. Should a fox be shot and wounded, the Act allows a dog to be used to locate the animal—I stress the word "locate"—so that, if necessary, its suffering can be ended quickly.

Opponents of the Bill do not have a monopoly on the use of the word "principle". I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in that respect. Disagreeing with a person's stance does not mean that he is not principled in holding it.

I cannot accept the opinion of those who say that the Bill has not been given ample consideration. It spent seven months in Committee in another place, involving the most minute scrutiny of its detail. Following that scrutiny, the Bill was the subject of a free vote, which is not a common occurrence in that place. The freely-arrived-at view of the elected Members was then clear. We should think long and hard about the consequences of rejecting the Bill in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that noble Lords who have called for it to be amended are interested primarily in stripping it of its ability to restrict meaningfully the activities of those who hunt foxes with hounds or course hares. Others want to reinstate the so-called middle way, which was soundly rejected in another place.

I urge your Lordships' House to follow neither road, but to vote in favour of the Bill as it stands. Times and attitudes change and we should be seen to reflect that in the manner in which we go about our business.

Scotland has ended the barbaric and indefensible practice of using dogs to chase, attack and kill wild mammals. It has demonstrated to the world that it is a modern nation that sets and holds very dear, high standards of human behaviour towards animals. Equally, that can certainly be said to be the case for England and Wales. It is therefore gratifying to see that this Bill will go further than its Scottish counterpart and, for that reason, it has my full support.

4.59 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, if I may say so with respect, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, was not only long and quick but it was unrealistic, as I shall show later.

I was MP for Huntingdonshire for 34 years and I hunted there regularly until I was 70 years old. Perhaps that is one reason that I am still all right at the age of 95!

The worst thing about abolishing the hunting of foxes is that it would cause immense cruelty to foxes if we did so. They must be killed because they cause so much pain and destruction. They kill sheep, poultry and game. They also attack small children. Recently I saw in the newspaper that a girl of four was attacked by a fox while she was asleep upstairs in her bedroom. The fox bit her on her arm and she screamed.

When hunted, foxes are never wounded but they die very quickly. Being light-weight myself, I had no difficulty keeping up with hounds. In the last few years that I hunted, I got into the habit of counting the number of seconds between the hounds closing in and the death of the fox. I never counted more than four seconds.

In the cubbing season, old foxes and fox cubs are killed easily and quickly by hounds. Because foxes become so numerous when not hunted and because they are so aggressive and cause so much misery, if not hunted, they would have to be killed in other ways. There are only four other ways of doing so: shooting, poisoning, snaring and trapping.

Snaring and poisoning are illegal but effective, very cruel and difficult to detect, but I have seen it happen. I live in the depths of the country and have twice, by chance, come across foxes in a snare—not dead but suffering terribly. Poisoning is illegal and one does not know how or why it is done, but it is done. It is notorious among those who live in the countryside. Trapping is lawful but ineffective. Very rarely can foxes be enticed into a trap. Therefore, that does not work.

Therefore, we are left with shooting, and that is only partly effective, as has been mentioned. One noble Lord said that only about 50 per cent of the foxes that people try to shoot are killed. The rest go away wounded. I understand from a vet that a large proportion of foxes which are wounded go away and die slowly and painfully from gangrene. That is one result that would follow from the abolition of hunting. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who did not know that, would bear it in mind.

Therefore, it is in the foxes' interest that hunting should not be abolished. I hope that your Lordships, having given the Bill a Second Reading, will restore it to the more sane provisions that the Government originally put before another place.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I am very much opposed to the Bill in its present form, although I would support proposals for a middle way, as indicated, I believe, by a number of speakers today. It seems to me that the result of the Bill in its present form could eventually be, although not the intended result, the death of the species so far as concerns the fox. I shall come to my reasons for saying that in a moment. It could be the death of the species, save perhaps for specimens kept in a zoo behind bars or those which these days are becoming mainly urban. We hear more and more about urban foxes and we are beginning to appreciate the problems that they may cause in the future.

However, the fox in the wild is a fine animal. It is a hunting animal and a hunted animal. I imagine that one of the worst things that happened to foxes was myxomatosis among the rabbits, because that deprived the foxes of much of their natural food. It would be a shame if their number were reduced in the way that I have suggested could happen.

My position is somewhat different from that of those who support hunting generally because I live in an area of vast forestry plantations of softwoods produced by the Forestry Commission in a hilly, mountainous area, and the foxes love the forests. They can hide there and know that it is very difficult for a human being to enter the forests, save where roads have been put through. But, of course, dogs can do so.

I no longer farm but, when I last spoke in a debate on this subject, I explained that I subscribed—and still do—to the Plynlimon Pack, which hunts with dogs and shoots with guns. There are a number of such gun packs in the country and many of them are in Wales. Some are in Cumberland and in other mountainous areas, and what they do is very important.

I ask noble Lords to imagine the situation in an area such as mine. There is a great deal of hill area and forestry, and there are any number of foxes—probably far more per square mile than in areas of England and other parts of the country which are flatter and farmed more normally. But in an area such as mine, sheep farming is the basis of the farming community and the flocks are scattered. However, it is terribly difficult to find a fox attacking a flock. Perhaps I may give an example from my own experience in farming.

I remember going to my farm at about eight o'clock one morning. It was a dewy morning and in a 10-acre field I found, to my horror, no fewer than 18 lambs with their throats cut by a fox—all attacked in exactly the same way. I had been told about the losses that I had suffered on the farm, but this was the first time that I had witnessed for myself—first-hand, with no one else present—what had happened.

Foxes do such things at night or very early in the morning, but it is terribly difficult ever to catch one in the act. I know that people who have worked on my farm have lost their ducklings and hens, and so on, to foxes, but one hardly ever sees it. One sees only the result.

If the Bill were passed in its present form, how on earth would one keep down the number of foxes in an area such as mine? One cannot hunt foxes without dogs; one cannot shoot them without dogs; and one cannot get at them without dogs to drive them out of the forested areas. It seems to me that the other place did not even address that problem, as though the Members were completely unaware of it. They should know better because there are Members for South Wales there, and there are certainly packs in South Wales that over the years have been greatly supported by miners, and so on. Some of those packs still exist.

I believe that, if the Bill passed into law, the following situation would arise. In an area such as mine, people might come to the conclusion that it was better to get rid of foxes altogether. One can never shoot them one by one, and it is very difficult to authorise shooting by rifle in an expansive area such as mine because one never knows where the bullet will end up. In order to shoot with shotguns, the foxes must be driven towards the guns, as they are by the hounds, otherwise one cannot get at them at all.

I have never hunted, but as a guest I went a couple of times to see what they were at, first with Plynlimon and secondly on my own farm. I was amazed at how accurate the shooters were with shotguns; they were crack shots. But let us imagine what would happen if they were not allowed to have dogs to hunt. This must be a problem not only in my own area but in other vast areas of the country where the problems are totally different from that of normal farmland. It seems to me that the pressure would be, "Let's get rid of all the foxes. We shall never be able to control them without dogs. Let us have something, poison or whatever, to get rid of them all". I think it was Lembit Opik who was asked in my constituency, "What happens with foxes in your native Estonia?" "Oh", he said, "we don't hunt them there. We hunt not only bears but wolves, and the hears and wolves hunt the foxes".

As I said, the fox is a hunting animal. It kills any other prey that lies before it and will continue to do so. If it cannot get at rabbits and small vermin it will go for lambs, but only if in a precarious position, unless it is what we call a rogue fox. But it will go for other small mammals. It is a hunted animal. It is far better for it to remain as a species, hunted in a manner regulated by an Act of Parliament, than to be driven, as I believe it eventually will be, to oblivion if the Bill is passed in this form.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, nothing that anyone has said, or, indeed, will say in this debate will change any speaker's mind. Most of the interests which I have always declared in the past when debating this vexed subject are now null and void, thanks entirely to the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, and his ill-conceived Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill.

If the Government were to carry out an opinion poll on the subject, I think they would be staggered that most people would not know what they were being asked about. Those that did simply would not care. Hunting with hounds is not on anyone's agenda except, obviously, those many thousands who are actively involved in and, perhaps more importantly, whose livelihoods depend on hunting with hounds, and for that matter, all other country sports.

As other noble Lords have mentioned, it must not be forgotten that this Bill has nothing whatever to do with animal welfare. The double standards concerning animal welfare in this Bill are hypocritical to say the least. The vast majority of the apathetic electorate care about health, education and crime. They cannot believe that a Government can waste such an enormous amount of time debating foxes, especially bearing in mind that the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated that he is, resolutely in favour of a society of tolerance without prejudice or discrimination". There has been a certain amount of talk about this Bill being part of the Government's manifesto. We know very well from resourced figures that only 2 per cent of the population ever read a manifesto. I remind noble Lords that the Government's manifesto was to, enable parliament to reach a conclusion and not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, to bludgeon through a ban.

If countryside dwellers started to dictate to urban dwellers, the riots would be uncontrollable and I have to say I am always concerned when one reads of the Prime Minister's and his Government's commitment that shooting and angling are safe. It must not be forgotten that the devolved assemblies can overrule that pledge without any trouble whatever.

What harm does the Minister believe that country sports do to the nation? Those who participate in them do not require a vast police presence like at football matches. I believe that this Bill is a breach of civil liberties on an unprecedented scale. Also, I think it is worth stressing that passing this Bill is harmful to urban as well as rural Britain. It symbolises meanness, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice. It is unwanted, unwelcome, and, according to the police and judiciary, unenforceable.

Other countries throughout the world are far more tolerant, and fox hunting thrives particularly in places like the United States of America. My North American blood riles when I think what the so-called mother country is trying to embark upon. Hunting exists in six other European Union countries and six other Commonwealth countries.

I do not think for one moment that the noble Lord, Lord Watson, can begin to realise the utter misery that his Bill has caused rural Scotland. Certainly, there has been no rejoicing in the streets. Similarly, his Bill had nothing to do with animal welfare and, as statistics have shown, far more foxes have been killed this past season since his Bill became law. One must not forget that the Rural Affairs Committee of that pretendy-wee parliament in Edinburgh strongly advised MSPs not to vote for it. Only yesterday the Scotsman ran a headline, Hunting ban taking its toll on Scottish jockeys". I speak from bitter, bitter experience. His Bill has broken up family units, farms, friendships (not least of all marriages) and I just hope that he is justifiably proud of the misery he has caused to both humans and foxes.

What good will this Bill do for the history of mankind, let alone for animal welfare? What will it achieve? Man has hunted since creation and animals have done the same. Foxes, it must not be forgotten, hunt to kill for the sheer enjoyment of a kill, and I believe that this Bill will haunt and hunt the Labour Party forever. The ridiculous use of the word "utility" will be blazoned across the Government's epitaph. Every single national newspaper since the countryside march has criticised the Government for their misguided list of priorities. If Her Majesty's Government have any sense at all I believe that they should drop this Bill. They know that they will earn the respect of the nation for at least listening to public opinion.

On Saturday night I was deeply moved listening to the "Last Night of The Proms", particularly to "Land of Hope and Glory". If the Government are intent on continuing to undermine those who live in and love the countryside, there will be no hope and certainly no glory, not least of all for the wretched fox.

5.18 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, like so many Members of this House, I find the Bill difficult to understand in what is intended for the benefit of hunted animals in particular, and wildlife in the countryside in general. Apart from other things, it contains a number of anomalous situations, and I point out two. For example, it is permissible to use one dog below ground to protect game birds who are to be shot—in other words, a form of hunting. Presumably, the wild animal referred to is the fox, which is to be flushed out by this one dog. That is not allowed if the wild mammal is the fox and the prey is another species of mammal such as lambs. As the National Farmers Union points out, an estimated 2 per cent of the lamb flock is taken annually by foxes. That amounts to 340,000 lambs per year at a significant cost of £13.6 million. One should ask a marginal farmer in the Lake District or on the Pennines whether this is a significant drain on his income. I am sure one would receive a very forthright answer.

However, one might ask why digging out is permitted for the benefit of one form of hunting and yet denied for another form of hunting. Another anomaly is the permitted use of dogs to flush out wild mammals for the purposes of falconry—another form of hunting. Those who have seen the fear generated in a mammal that is about to be attacked by a bird of prey realise that it is a fearful situation for that animal.

I am particularly glad to see that the Bill contains one area with which I would agree; that is the use of dogs if hunting is to be pursued for research and observation. That is a very important undertaking. The welfare of quarry animals is little known. It is a point that was made in the Burns report. I declare that I was a member of that committee. The more information that we have about the physiology and the welfare of quarry animals the better we can understand the whole issue of welfare in hunted animals. At least it would avoid the application of anthropomorphism that has dominated misquotation and misinterpretation of the results laid out in the Burns report. I would hope of course that any requirement for this research would follow the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

If hunting is to be abolished, the question naturally arises of how foxes will be controlled. We have heard from several noble Lords that foxes require to be controlled, that they are predators and can attack wildlife and also domestic livestock. The Burns report examined alternative methods of control, such as shooting, snaring, cage traps and so on.

Individuals with an extensive knowledge and experience of damaged animals, including foxes—the 500 or so veterinarians of Vets for Hunting—clearly state from their knowledge of mammals that animals dealt with by other than hunting can lead to very serious welfare considerations. Wounded animals may linger with gangrene and other damage to them for days on end in great distress, often dying of starvation because they are too wounded to seek food. Seldom are hunted foxes presented for treatment at a veterinary surgery because the death of the fox is the usual result of the hunt.

The paper from Vets for Hunting, which I am sure many noble Lords have received, also includes an interesting article by a Dr Addison, which is a contribution to the assessment of physiological stress and welfare of hunted animals in general. Without going into any great detail, it appears that the frontal lobes of the brain are the neural centres for the psychological trauma of pursuit. The development of these is greatly reduced as one moves down from Homo sapiens—human—through mammals and into other animals. It may well be that, if this research is pursued, the interpretation of stress and compromised welfare of the hunted animal may require very serious re-evaluation.

In a previous debate on hunting your Lordships were in favour of the "middle way". Mention was made of ISAH—the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting—which has made major strides in getting agreement among the hunts of this country to eliminate or control certain practices that were considered to be objectionable. ISAH has drawn attention to the fact that hunting, apart from controlling predators and being a sport, which one must acknowledge it is, also embraces the concept of stewardship of the countryside. To act as a steward for the countryside could well be a criterion on which to judge the granting of a licence. In that respect the present Bill is disappointing as it does not offer any encouragement for hunts to consider this meaningful stewardship attitude. Yet Alun Michael stated in September 2002: The future of hunting with dogs should not be decided on personal taste, but on evidence on the principles of whether or not it is serving an effective purpose in managing wildlife and whether it is more or less cruel than the alternative methods currently available".

The Bill offers nothing for the effective management of wildlife; nothing for the willing unpaid stewardship of the countryside offered by hunting; and nothing to indicate the alternative methods of control that are better than the present hunting.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Fyfe of Fairfield

My Lords, I disagree with almost everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, apart from one thing. He said that almost everyone had more or less adopted entrenched positions and was extremely unlikely to change their minds as a consequence of this debate or perhaps following debates in this House. However, he struck a chord with me when he made some partly disparaging remark about the Scottish Parliament.

The subject has been debated thoroughly over the years. I suspect, as I have said, that all who are engaged in the matter are unlikely to change their minds as a result of these deliberations.

I have never hunted. I am not a huntsman. I have never participated in hunting activities and I have no intention of so doing. But I can claim to have some practical knowledge of hunting. I was chairman of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, the co-operative group which banned hunting from its land almost 20 years ago. There is not the slightest shred of evidence to demonstrate that foxes have proliferated, in any sense of the word, as a consequence of that ban on CWS land.

I happen to live in Leicestershire, which is in the heart of fox hunting country. Living in Leicestershire as chairman of the CWS, which banned fox hunting, has frankly been quite uncomfortable at times. Social invitations have declined. Eyes are averted. I was regarded by some of my acquaintances as a reckless revolutionary because I supported the ban on hunting. But I do not seek sympathy. It does not trouble me.

I tell the brief tale of two people: one who lived for the chase and delighted in the kill—and to be fair he was quite candid on that—and one who maintained that the purpose of the hunt is to control. It beggars belief that someone can rise enthusiastically in the morning, mount a horse and justify it to himself by saying, "I am going out on this horse to control". But, in a roundabout, strange kind of way, I can understand the person who says, "I am out for the chase and the kill". I remain at least on nodding terms with the second person to whom I refer, because he is an honest man. He has been quite straightforward about what he believes in.

In recent weeks, most, if not all of us will have been bombarded by correspondence from pro and anti-hunt campaigners. One of the most amusing was from the lady who said, "I know that you are against hunting, but why do you worry, because we do not kill any anyway?" I could not quite follow that logic, but the fact is that they do kill and they kill in the most hideous and barbaric fashion. I have had the misfortune to witness a kill with children present. Try to explain to a child that slaughtering an animal under appalling circumstances is ever acceptable human behaviour.

Reference has been made to possible hardship as a consequence of a ban. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to that in her opening address. I believe that that has been exaggerated, but as, I hope, a fair-minded person, I also recognise that it could cause some hardship. I have a suggestion. Could not fox hunting enthusiasts establish a fox hunting relief fund to alleviate financial distress that may be caused to people in endangered rural communities? Perhaps those of your Lordships who are better off than average might feel in their hearts able to support that proposed fox hunting fund so that others could benefit from it. There seems no enthusiasm from some sides of the House for that suggestion.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, is the noble Lord saying that the Co-operative Society will donate its large sums of money to that venture?

Lord Fyfe of Fairfield

No, my Lords, I certainly am not, as the co-operative movement banned fox hunting 20 years ago arid took great care at the time to provide alternative sources of employment for people whose livelihood might have been in danger.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, as someone who used to hunt over land in Leicestershire owned by the Co-op, it was interesting to know that all the employees of the Co-op on that farm were vitriolically against the decision imposed on them by an urban office in London. They disapproved of that thoroughly; I have that on first-hand evidence.

Lord Fyfe of Fairfield

My Lords, I doubt that. For a start, the headquarters of the Co-operative Wholesale Society are based not in London but in Manchester.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, in Manchester then.

Lord Fyfe of Fairfield

My Lords, there may well have been opposition; I am not at all surprised at that; but I should think that the compassionate way in which the matter was dealt with by people in Manchester and other areas disposed of that feeling pretty quickly.

A ban on fox hunting has been a manifesto commitment. It has been supported overwhelmingly in the other House—the democratic Chamber. In a few years' time, we shall be astonished when we recall that fox hunting was allowed to continue into the 21st century. We class ourselves as members of a civilised society. By demeaning dumb animals, ultimately, we demean ourselves.

5.33 p.m.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I approach the Bill with the view that it is intolerant, prejudiced and illiberal and goes against the evidence and the facts. But I approach the debate with three separate thoughts: two major irritations and one suggestion. Before I embark on those, I must declare an interest in that I have a farm which is hunted over—I think only occasionally and, as far as I can see, almost always unsuccessfully, but that is another matter. I do not hunt and I have never owned a horse in my life.

I begin with my first irritation. I ask myself: why are we debating this Bill; why is it still before Parliament? Considering how it has been handled, I can believe only that the Government are playing games over it. As a retired business manager in another place, I can come only to the conclusion that the Government are not really very serious about the Bill at all. Months ago, it must have been decided that the Bill was for the long grass in this Session. Incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, who is no longer in his place, said that the Bill was in Committee for seven months; in fact, it was in Committee from 7th January to 27th February, which is six or seven weeks. But the real question is: why did the business managers leave four months from the end of February till the end of June before they proceeded with the Bill on Report in another place?

In 33 years in the other place, I cannot remember a Bill for which there was such a huge gap between Committee and Report. Even here, when the Bill has reached your Lordships' House, we are now having Second Reading. We return after the next break at the beginning of October but, when I read the Whip, I see that the business for the first two weeks when we return in October contains no sign of Committee on the Bill. If the Government are serious about wanting the Bill, I find it impossible to understand why they are handling it in that way.

Unless the Government change the programme, there seems no way that we shall have Committee before the week beginning 20th October. If the Government want to avoid holding a State Opening of Parliament after this side of December, the amount of time that they have given for consideration of the Bill is absurd. As I said, I can think only that they are letting it tick along with a view to losing it and then blaming your Lordships' House for their having lost as a result of their total incompetence in managing the Bill's proceedings.

They may be thinking that it will be all right to let it tick along because they can then use the Parliament Act. I must say in passing that I listened to Mr Alun Michael on the early morning programme this morning. When he was asked whether the Parliament Act would be used, he said, "Oh, that is for the House of Commons and Parliament". Of course, it is nothing of the sort. The Government control the Order Paper; it is for the Government to decide whether they include on the Order Paper in another place the use of the Parliament Act. That is nothing to do with the Members; the Government and only the Government initiate that.

My second irritation is broader. That concerns the Government's whole attitude to the countryside. In my life, I have never known a Government who demonstrated so clearly their contempt for the countryside and for country people. Previous Labour Governments never took up that posture. When I remember people such as Tom Williams, Fred Peart and Cledwyn Hughes, they were always seen as friends of the countryside and did not take up the posture adopted by Ministers now.

That is no longer the case. I listened with horror on Sunday morning to the early religious programme, I think it was, on which Mrs Beckett was interviewed taking part in the Cancun conference. I thought that I was listening to a Minister for overseas development, rather than one concerned with British agriculture and the British countryside. She made no reference whatever to the hugely lower prices that farmers are receiving now than they were a few years ago or to the widespread lack of profit in the countryside.

So I come to my suggestion. I am much alarmed by what a ban on hunting means in our mountainous areas. I follow very much what my old friend—if I may call him so—the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said. In mountainous areas, hunting is the only way to control foxes. My noble friend Lord Inglewood has asked me to associate him with my remarks. In the Lake District, which I had the honour of representing in another place for 33 years, and in parts of Wales, foot packs do essential work in preventing sheep farming being made impossible when foxes get out of control. Hunting there is carried out on foot. There are no horses, or people in top hats—they seem to be the principal reason that many in the Labour Party are so antagonistic towards fox hunting. Foot hunting is done much more informally. It is essential that we build into the Bill an exemption for foot packs, which play such an important role.

I have evidence to demonstrate the importance of foot packs. Mr Ralph Beaumont, who lives near Machynlleth, kindly sent me an article from the November 1941 edition of Picture Post. It describes the case of Harry Roberts, who was called up to the Army at the beginning of World War Two. In 1941, at the request of the Ministry of Agriculture, he had to be released for six months to resume hunting with the Plas Machynlleth hounds, as foxes were threatening food production in that part of Wales at the beginning of the war. The article says that, previously, hounds usually killed foxes out of sight of huntsmen or anyone else. Nobody, therefore, should seek to oppose foot packs on the grounds that they are supported by bloodthirsty followers who lust after seeing foxes killed—that is total nonsense.

I can do no better to demonstrate evidence of the importance of foot packs than to quote from Hansard the Answer to a Question on 16th October 1941 concerning Mr Roberts's release from the Army: The soldier in question was released from the Army for a period of six months as a result of strong recommendations by the Ministry of Agriculture. In support of the application it was stated that these hounds were maintained for the sole purpose of protecting sheep and poultry from foxes, and that since his enlistment farmers had suffered severe losses. The Ministry are satisfied that in this mountainous district the only effective method of keeping down the foxes is to hunt them on foot with hounds".—[Official Report, Commons, 16/10/41; col. 1522.] That is clear proof that, if you ban hunting in those mountainous areas, you will get a profusion of foxes, and sheep farming will be made wholly impossible.

I hope that the Government will look sympathetically at an amendment to exempt mountain foot packs from the Bill. Such a provision could be added to the schedule. As we debate the Bill I hope that we can discuss that proposition. I hope that it will gain the House's approval.

5.44 p.m.

Lord McNally

My Lords, it is already clear that there are strongly held views on all sides. Noble Lords will have noticed that, even on these Benches—often so united—there are nuances to be observed. I look forward in particular to my noble friend Lord Livsey, in about five hours' time, drawing our arguments together and deploying them as a coherent whole.

I share with the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, a complaint regarding the language used about supporters of the Bill. Many real friends of mine will speak against the Bill. Indeed, on the speakers' list, I am sandwiched between the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Bragg, whom I very much consider friends. I respect their points of view.

I would rather be elsewhere today—I shall explain where in a moment. I am here partly out of a sense of duty to delegations from the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports and my own party, whose party conference decision is in support of the Bill. Many of those delegates are young, sincere, idealistic people, on behalf of whom I felt that I had to speak today.

I appreciate the approach of the noble Baronesses, Lady Byford and Lady Miller. I was less enthusiastic about the speech made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, who was singularly uncharitable in his view of opponents. I am not surprised that his postbag is 100 per cent against the Bill. Given that he has such a closed mind, I suspect that proponents would not think it worth writing to him about it. One thing is certain: in his view there is no evidence of schizophrenia.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned the problem of urban foxes, which relates to where I was today. I have been dragged to this debate from Brent East, where I was canvassing. There are probably more urban foxes than Tories in Brent East. By Friday, we will probably see that other popular blood sport in the Conservative Party, "hunt the leader"

Noble Lords


Lord McNally

You lot should be worried as well.

I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Fyfe of Fairfield and Lord Palmer, that speeches will not change attitudes. Only one speech today would have made me change my mind: the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. If, in 35 years' time, I can be as coherent and articulate as he is, it might even tempt me to take up the hunt.

We will not change many minds. It is therefore worth remembering when we bandy about ideas of democracy that, in our system, the firmest and clearest test of democracy is Members of Parliament being willing to put themselves up for election. That is what gives the other place its strength and authority. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is right in saying that the Government have wriggled and squirmed on the issue and produced part of the problem.

The other part of the problem is the catch-22 position of those opposed to the Bill. Of course we will spend more and more time on the issue if 50-odd opponents put their names down to speak in debates and to vote down Bills in this House.

However, those of us who believe that hunting is cruel have a right to take our case to Parliament. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, mentioned, previously people have taken bear-baiting, cock-fighting and dog-fighting to Parliament. In response to those who warn of extra-parliamentary action if another view prevails, I ask what message does that send to animal rights activists who want to act in extra-parliamentary ways? The law is the law, and a civilised society has a right to prevent cruelty to animals.

I recognise that many in the hunting fraternity care greatly for animals. I would welcome support for drag hunting. I was very interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said on the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is wrong; I love to see the drama, the colour and the theatre of the hunt. However, I do not accept the linkage between the sport—the riding, dressing up and so forth—and pursuing animals in a cruel way.

The other evening, I was explaining to an American guest the role of this House as an advisory and revisory Chamber. I do not object to any majority in this House pushing, to the very limits of its power, those capabilities to advise and revise—although I could think of better things to pursue to the very end.

We have the machinery, however, to resolve the deadlock. The Government have a majority in the other place and a mandate in successive manifestos, and the Parliament Act is there to resolve such deadlock. If the Government are not willing to use the Act—and in this case, the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is right—they should tell their own supporters and the electorate at large that that is the case and that they are abandoning attempts to ban hunting. Anything else is dishonest.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is quite wrong. She and her family will be made criminals only when they break the law. As a parliamentarian, I believe that all of us should urge the same standards, whether on animal rights activists or those who believe in hunting. We must accept that it is within this Parliament that these decisions are made. In the end, it is the elected House whose views should prevail.

5.51 p.m.

Lord Bragg

My Lords, like many of your Lordships, I have spoken on this subject before in a debate in which, in my opinion, those of us opposed to the ban on hunting carried every single argument. Since that debate, it appears from a national poll that a majority of people in the country now believe, as many of us in this House believe, that hunting should not be banned. Since that debate, the countryside march showed the strength of feeling and opposition that could be mustered and, since then, the pro-hunting arguments seem, if anything, stronger. In the declarations of interest department, I do not hunt and, like the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, I do not own a horse.

It has still not been proved in any way at all convincingly to a reasonable examination of the case that the kill at the end of a hunt is any more cruel than shooting, snaring or poisoning the fox. As a matter of interest, Sir David Attenborough said a few years ago: I don't suppose it matters much to the fox how it dies". There is no verifiable evidence that marks out the hunt as uniquely cruel and therefore, for that reason alone, deserving to be banned. Nor has the knock-on case been answered since the last debate. For if we ban hunting foxes we will inevitably and logically move on to ban catching fish and shooting birds. We must then ban other country pursuits, and also, perhaps, the ritual religious preparation of meat, which some believe to be cruel. Why should that stop? What is the boundary? Would we go on to ban what some think of as the cruel caging of small birds, the cruel domestication of dogs and cats or the cruel over-training of race horses? Your Lordships may think that that is a mad logic but it could lead to absurd and wholly unforeseen consequences if hunting is banned against all argument and against all public majority opposition. If the force of argument is simply ignored, we are at the mercy of the merely politically correct of transitory fashion.

In that sense, hunting is holding the line. It is a line which must be held despite the many other arguments that can be marshalled against the anti-hunt lobby; the well-rehearsed and well-founded arguments from those who see hunting as an integral part of our country and our life in the country—which it is; the justifiable fears for the local economy and the general ecology—especially in the mountainous areas, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling; the arguments which see hunting as an important strand in local communities; and, above all perhaps, the fantasy that the fox is a cuddly and harmless little furry animal—the recent attack by a fox on a child in a house in north London just the other week rather undermines that mythical Disneyfication of a cunning predator. Apart from all that, the central and final argument I wish to propose to your Lordships today is far away from the caricature of pink-clad aristos in the heavy shires, and is rooted here, in the urban, equine-free Palace of Westminster.

One aspect of our democracy is that we respect the rights of the majority. It is a small miracle in the whole history of mankind that here, and in a very few other places, a majority of votes can lead to peaceful change of power. Another—I would say equal aspect of a democracy—is that we defend the rights of minorities. That is not so easy especially when, as seems to be the case here, a minority has the majority of public opinion against it but the majority of elected opinion in the other place—elected some time ago—against it. Unless we are prepared to tolerate what we do not like, any notion of liberty is a chimera.

Of course, there have to be rules. I suggest that the principal rule is that the activities of the minority do not endanger human life and do not harm other people. Hunting does neither of these. Minorities should obey the laws of the land—those who hunt do that. Minorities should not infringe on the rights of others. Those who hunt do not do that. Hunting outrages some people—but so do many other things. Indeed, when your Lordships look at some of our newspapers you could conclude that the British are in a permanent state of outrage about one thing or another, but that does not lead us to ban these "outrages" right, left and centre, regardless of logic and sound minority opinion.

One man's outrage is another man's right to have a richer life, provided that nobody is harmed and the law is not broken. There are other positive matters that I do not have time to talk about today—matters of tradition, sport, skill and enjoyment, none of which are light matters or dismissable. But what has emerged most strongly to me in the course of this debate, inside and outside Westminster, is the question of liberty. When we look at what is now permitted—in the name of minority rights in the sexual field, for example—the rights being demanded by those who are pro-hunting seem very modest.

Banning that which harms no one and brings much pleasure to parts of our society is a dangerous course of action. People feel the injustice of it. They look around and compare what they do with what others do and think, "Why should we be singled out in this way?" Sometimes a cliché gets to the heart of the matter. That is why they become clichés and why they are valuable. I believe that we are talking about blind prejudice. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who wish to ban hunting but sincerity has limited value. One can be sincere about the most questionable matters and causes. Social prejudice is a hangover from another age and no longer valid, but it is blind. The arguments to ban hunting are blind to reason, blind to the consequences that will follow and blind to the damage done to a society when a minority which has done no harm and no wrong is judged on wholly unsound and untenable evidence and condemned for following a pursuit which it has every right to follow. Like many of your Lordships, I strongly oppose the banning of hunting.

5.58 p.m.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I have no interest to declare on this occasion. I do not hunt, and confine my sporting activities to the riverbank. I hope that the Government have no plans to ban fishing. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who is not in his place, I do live in the Scottish Borders, where hunting was outlawed by the Scottish Parliament from August last year, by the passing of the noble Lord's Bill. He is entitled to his own opinion about the effects of that Bill, but I cannot say that I agreed with much of what he said.

I cannot say that the noble Lord is a popular hero where I come from. Many people in the Borders are connected with fox hunting in one way or another—most obviously in the livery stables, the blacksmiths and in looking after hounds. The Scottish Parliament, despite three different propositions for compensation schemes, said that there would be no compensation for those who lost their jobs or their businesses as a result of the ban. Yet those people saw compensation granted to mink farmers when this Government banned mink farming. No doubt the Government have a line to take on these matters, but those affected said that that was unfair.

There is no doubt that the passing of the Scottish legislation has added to the burdens carried by the police. As noble Lords can imagine, feelings run high when a minority is hit in the midriff. That is the feeling in areas in which the law is now enforced. We could say that Borderers are law-abiding folk—generally speaking, they are—but, looking at last week's sheriff's court page, I can say that there is crime in that part of the world that must be dealt with by the police. The police have enough on their plate without the Bill. In the Scottish elections last year, the First Minister pledged more money to counter increasing Scottish crime rates.

The House should take note of what the Chief Constable of Suffolk said: Parliament's vote for an outright ban on hunting fills many of my fellow officers with dread. Not because police are pro-hunting—the service is…neutral—but because of the practical implications of enforcing such a ban". My noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell was right: the police need law-abiding people in the countryside to help them in their job.

From the Scottish experience, I observe that there is still a demand for fox control using hounds. Many farmers have noticed a rise in the number of attacks on lambs and other livestock since the ban started. As noble Lords know, hunting goes on, and the foxes are shot at the end of the chase. In addition, there is a problem of fox welfare: some observers have said that unskilled shots are causing unnecessary suffering. I assure the House that the Scottish legislation has dealt a blow to an integral part of Scottish border life. It is regarded by most Borderers as an example of the overweening power of the townies from the Central belt, who use their political muscle to crush hunt supporters in our area.

I shall not enter into the debate on cruelty promoted by supporters of the Bill. Others with more knowledge than I can address that. However, I have much sympathy with the views of Dr Lewis Thomas and his fellow vets who say: The search and dispatch function is the most important welfare argument in favour of hunting…No other method of culling performs this unique function and were hunting be banned in England and Wales, the welfare implications for all hunted species, in the absence of natural predators, would be profound". He goes on: Hunting is thus uniquely selective in maintaining the health and vigour of the quarry species". There was a Question earlier today about the consequences of a ban for the many dogs affected. I imagine that that aspect of welfare never entered the head of Mr Banks, when he moved his successful amendment.

I have a suggestion. The Government must heed the advice in today's Daily Telegraph from the leaders of major organisations representing land use and agriculture in England and Wales. They must resolve the hunting issue on the basis of evidence and principle, rather than personal taste. A workable system that is enforceable and likely to last must be found. I trust that, at the appropriate moment, your Lordships will not pass the Bill as it stands. The Government must think long and hard about a workable solution rather than, in due course, resorting to the Parliament Act for a measure that has been debated and voted on in a free vote. I can assure the sponsors of the Bill that, underneath it all, there is a deep-seated anger in the countryside that will not be easily assuaged. I hope and pray that people's vengeance will be sorted out through the ballot box, rather than through the courts.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, I intend, in a few moments, to talk about six species of nature or human activity that are threatened by the Bill. However, in order to do so, I should set out the basis of what I intend to say.

The basis is an intensively researched consensus that fox control is necessary but must be done humanely and with utility. The original Bill provided, at least, a textual basis for achieving those ends. It was amenable to amendment, and it was, after all, the Government's starting-point on the issue in this Session. What we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, this afternoon was extraordinary. It amounted to saying, "We introduced a Bill that we believed in as a basis for legislation and amendment. We have now thrown it away, and we are going to start on a basis that we don't really agree with, but it's what we're lumbered with". The House should not have to consider such legislation.

I speak as one who believes in regulation. Nobody has yet mentioned a letter that many of your Lordships have received, dated, I think, 12th September, from Sir Ronald Waterhouse, who wrote on behalf of the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting. Voluntary regulation has been carried out for some time, and Sir Ronald provides evidence that regulation can and does work. The House should take that into account.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hooson, as I usually do. Between us, we represented the rural county of Montgomeryshire in mid-Wales for 31 years. For the reasons that my noble friend gave, hunting, properly regulated, creates a proper balance between the farmer and the fox. If we want to retain that balance, we must not go down the road of a ban. The balance would be shifted, not in favour of the farmer, but against the fox.

I listened with interest to my noble friend Lady Walmsley. I am sure that many Members will share my admiration for her doughty performances on our Front Bench. She is always prepared to argue the case against the Government, and she has never seemed reluctant to overturn decisions that have been made by the other place. On this occasion, she makes an ad rem argument, which seems to be inconsistent with her usual course.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Fyfe of Fairfield, is not still in his place. He spoke about the high principles of the CWS, of which he used to be chairman. I had the advantage of reading in detail the contracts that led to the sale by CWS of its food manufacturing group to the Hobson Group, some years ago. Those contracts were not notable for their insistence on animal welfare. The CWS does not let its principles interfere with its interests where money is concerned, although it may do, where publicity is concerned.

I turn to my first endangered species. They have all been mentioned already. The first is the fox. I live in rural Montgomeryshire, and I shall put the position in a sentence. If they get the chance, the farmers will get rid of all the foxes. If they cannot hunt the foxes—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, that there is no shame in enjoying the hunt—there will be no reason to have them any more. Why have on the farm something that, in one night, will kill, as my noble friend Lord Hooson told us, 18 newborn lambs? They will shoot them, trap them or poison them. In my experience, not only are farmers, on the whole, fairly bad shots, but one would be hard pushed to find many who could put their hand on their heart and say that the barrels of their guns were still straight and properly maintained.

The second endangered species is the hound, and there is a Welsh dimension to that. Whether it is the Plynlimon foxhounds, of which my noble friend Lord Hooson spoke, or the Plas Machynlleth foxhounds or any other foot packs, they are paid for by small subscriptions from ordinary farmers who do not ride horses—like me, the only horses that they have are rocked on by their grandchildren and are made of wood. Such people subscribe to the packs because foxes are pests that need to be proportionately controlled, which is what is achieved at present.

The third endangered species is the horses—the hunters. I have been to hundreds of agricultural shows. Occasionally, I have regretted it, although they are usually enjoyable. The horses are usually owned not by Members of your Lordships' House or by belted earls and baronets but by local shopkeepers and business people who, instead of buying a BMW or a Jaguar, choose to buy a horse, which they can use to hunt, for their pleasure and to contribute something to the local agricultural community. There will not be many of them after a ban.

The fourth endangered species is the industry that deals with fallen animals. Eighty-five per cent of fallen animals are taken by the hunt. What will happen to those arrangements?

I turn now to an endangered species which causes me great concern: it is a principle. It is the principle that the process of legislation should command the broad consensus of responsible citizens, though not necessarily agreement. Many of us disagreed with the poll tax, but we had a consensus that the Government were entitled to introduce it—right or wrong. But this is not such legislation. There is no consensus for this type of legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is right. Such legislation will criminalise decent, law-abiding people. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, spoke with disdain about the possibility that people could indulge in criminal acts and civil disobedience. For heaven's sake, what was the Labour movement built on but civil disobedience and mild criminal activity? I hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, or one of his ancestors in spirit, saying, "Votes for women. How can they demonstrate for votes for women and commit criminal damage in that cause? It is a crime". And I hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and those who follow his line of reasoning saying of certain sovereign governments overseas, "Of course they are entitled to enforce the wearing of veils by women in all circumstances, because they are the lawful government". I am afraid that that argument does not wash. It is a residual constitutional right of all citizens to disobey the government, even to the point of criminality, if the government stray beyond the permissible range of legislation. It is a right enshrined in political philosophy and in jurisprudence.

I turn now to my sixth and final endangered species, which is the policing of enforceable laws by consent. I have spoken to chief constables and other police officers about these proposals. I believe that there is not a chief constable in the land who is truly happy with the prospect facing them. The first Saturday that the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, gets on her horse, with her husband and children, are the police in her area going to put the horses in the custody suite at the local police station? Are they really going to prosecute the noble Baroness and her extremely distinguished husband for criminal offences for which they can be fined on level 5? Are we really going to ask police officers—many of whom disagree profoundly with this legislation—to take part in that kind of policing? It is simply unimaginable.

Many of our fundamentals are threatened by this legislation. I have one final point. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, threatened us with the Parliament Act. Do not be afraid of the Parliament Act. The Government will not use it: it has not been used in relation to a matter of conscience of this kind, or remotely comparable with it, certainly in living memory. I believe that the Government have enough residual principle not to use it in this instance either. It is an argument based on the use of a big stick, but it is a pretty rotten stick.

6.13 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who has given us heart that we shall not be defeated yet. The Bill is the product of seven long months of debate and committee work. It has been around for five or six years and is nothing new to us. Sadly, I am no longer a fox hunting man. My riding abilities are long forgotten, but I believe passionately in the right of others to hunt with hounds, whether it be for foxes, deer, mink or hare.

There remain a number of questions which still need to be answered. Despite certification by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the Bill may be in contravention of human rights. Can the Bill be the subject of the Parliament Act? I shall not add to what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. In reality, is the Bill practical and enforceable? In the view of a number of eminent lawyers, the 1949 Act is not a proper Act. As has already been said, it is a conscience Act and it is therefore inappropriate to use it to force primary legislation on to the statute book.

Readers of Field magazine were undoubtedly amazed, shocked and alarmed by the front cover, which showed a very young boy on his pony, with the banner headline, "Will Labour make him a criminal"? Presumably, he was hunting. The caption inside said, "See you in borstal". A ban on hunting would make this youngster part of rural crime. Is that really what Mr Michael wants?

Surely, whatever one's personal view on hunting, there are more important matters to which the Government should give their attention; matters such as extradition, local government, anti-social behaviour and criminal justice, just to name a few. The Bill is thoroughly vindictive and threatening. It threatens the liberty of law-abiding individuals without justification. As has already been said, a number of prominent police officers have expressed the view that they have neither the manpower nor the financial resources to enforce such a ban.

Clause 8(3) authorises the search and seizure of any, vehicle, animal or other thing", which a constable reasonably believes may be used as evidence in criminal proceedings for an offence under the Bill. Does that mean that I must remove my hunting whip or my hunting horn from my car or be in danger of being arrested? I may be incorrect, but as I understand the Bill, field trials are to be exempt from the proposed ban. They are defined as a competition in which dogs flush out or retrieve animals that have been shot: the dogs are assessed on their usefulness with shooting. It is precisely a competitive event with very little, if any, relevance to pest control or conservation.

By comparison, hare coursing has been banned from the beginning, although it is also a competitive event in which dogs are assessed on their skill at hunting hares. Contrary to the belief of many people, the coursed hares are wild and are running on their home ground. Why does the Bill exempt field trials in which hares may be caught and killed, but not permit the competitive sport of coursing, which includes the prestigious Waterloo Cup?

I must also express my concern for the ordinary dog walker. Having been involved in the running of a local racecourse for many years, I know how many local residents derive much pleasure in exercising dogs under control. but which are off the lead or leash. There is a great deal of wildlife, ranging from nesting birds to foxes and deer, but if a dog chases and catches a wild mammal, as defined by the Bill, the dog would be liable to seizure and could be put down. Additionally, the owner could be fined up to £5,000.

If hunting is banned, it is estimated that some 68,000 horses and many hounds—as we heard at Question Time today—would be at risk of being disposed of. As vice-president of the International League for the Protection of Horses, I am aware that this league, which does so much for the welfare of horses, could be under great pressure. It is clear from talking to various field officers that in no way would we be able to cope with the many horses which would be put into our hands. To put it bluntly, we would be able to pick up only the pieces, such as welfare cases. The disposal of the horses will be a major problem.

The Burns report has been widely accepted as a valid and truly authoritative report commissioned by the Government. Why did such a report not receive more acceptance generally? Why have the Government been so against some of the findings? Is it because they do not meet with their intentions? Since the Burns report there have been several inquiries and reports into the effect of a ban on hunting. One report stated that hunting benefits the rural economy to the tune of £242 million per year.

The economic effect of a ban would he felt by some 14,000 people in full-time employment and 36,000 in part-time employment. They include huntsmen, grooms, terriermen and knackermen, as has been mentioned. Other tradesmen who will he sorely affected by a ban are farriers and saddlers. My local saddler told me that he estimates that, on a turnover of £1 million, he will lose 30 per cent of his trade. The result is that he will probably have to close down his business.

Another matter that has not been mentioned so far is the future of point-to-points. They are organised by hunts and are very much part of the hunting infrastructure. Horses that start their career in the hunting field go on to hurdling and steeplechasing. This is a major part of the racing industry, which may well disappear if hunting were to cease.

Another aspect of the rural infrastructure is the collection and disposal of fallen stock—a necessary task that will not be undertaken if hunting ceases. In the future, farmers will have to pay for the removal of fallen stock. From 1st May next year, the burial of carcasses will be banned. At a cost of between £200 and £300 for the disposal of a horse, a great number of animals could well be abandoned in the countryside to meet their own end.

The end of hunting in England and Wales as we know it will see a revolution, the outcome of which is unpredictable. One thing for certain is that countryside people in no way will take the ban lying down. They will oppose it in every way they can to defend their freedoms.

The Government need to resolve this issue and to show real understanding and leadership of the countryside, otherwise the consequences will he truly devastating. If the Bill were to become law, our "green and pleasant land" would suffer irreparable damage. The rural economy would be bankrupted simply to placate a number of Government Back-Bench Members of Parliament who largely misunderstand rural affairs and are now hell-bent on destroying our heritage and our way of life. I strongly oppose the Bill.

6.23 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough

My Lords, in the previous debates held on this subject in your Lordships' House, the moral arguments on both sides have been eloquently presented, including in a number of contributions from these Benches. I have re-read those debates in preparation for this week and find myself in substantial agreement with the line taken by the then Bishop of Bath and Wells, the right reverend Jim Thompson. He readily acknowledged that Christians were as divided on this issue as the rest of our society, but believed that a moral case could be made for the continuation of hunting. I remind noble Lords of his conclusion: On an issue where opposing views, to which great thought has been given, are held with such passion, and in a society where there is such uncertainty, can it really be right at this time to introduce legislation to ban altogether something that is so much in question and so much part of the rural way of life?".—[Official Report, 12/3/01; col. 539.] I wish to reiterate that view and, even though the arguments have been well rehearsed, to explain why as a Christian I believe it is right in our present circumstance, and that it is wrong to suggest that only one side can claim the high moral ground. This is not a debate between morality and pragmatism, but between firmly held moral convictions on both sides. Any legislation must take that into account.

Like the former Bishop of Bath and Wells and a number of noble Lords, I was brought up in the West Country. My early familiarity with Exmoor and the Quantock Hills has given me a lifelong affection for and interest in our native deer, most notably that noble animal, the red deer. I am sure that, along with a number of your Lordships, I enjoy eating it and my doctor says that venison is good for me because it is low in cholesterol.

My childhood also gave me experience of the Quantock stag hounds, an understanding of the contribution of the hunt to the conservation of this noble animal and of the improvement to the herd through the process of culling the weaker and older beasts. I have long understood it to be the case that when hunting was suspended on Exmoor and the Quantocks, both the quality and the strength of the herd rapidly declined.

Over two years ago both the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the former Bishop of Bath and Wells reminded your Lordships that there is also what Ted Hughes called the "strange agreement" between the farmers and the deer, to which reference has already been made in the debate. It hinders inexpert attempts to cull the deer because the hunt exists. The sight of a stag dying of gangrene, probably brought on by a misaimed bullet, still haunts me some 40 years after I stumbled across it as a teenager. The noble Lord, Lord King, has drawn on his vast experience to speak on these matters in relation to Exmoor and the Quantocks, so I shall not repeat the evidence he cited, but I share his understanding and support entirely his argument for the need for effective management.

I remain a countryman at heart and, like many of my colleagues, I have served in dioceses which have an urban title but encompass considerable rural areas; at present, in the good hunting counties of Northampton and Rutland. We are therefore acutely aware of how divisive this issue can be and of the strength of feeling in our rural communities.

I freely acknowledge that this issue raises difficult moral questions. It has provoked one of the largest postbags I have received, almost entirely in favour of hunting, and I do not think that was because my views were previously known. I respect those who feel that the killing of animals is wrong in any circumstance, although I personally, along with the majority, take a different view. I know that many believe hunting to be inherently cruel and tell us that it is unlike other methods of control. They feel that it deliberately inflicts suffering on animals for non-essential purposes and is intrinsically objectionable because it does so in the name of sport. Others, myself included, from equally firm convictions—including many from Christian convictions—fully recognise that the welfare of the animal kingdom is our responsibility, but argue that we do not know where the balance of suffering lies and that well-ordered hunting contributes both to control and to conservation by culling the weaker members of the species. We believe it to be neither immoral nor inhumane, and are convinced that it should not be made criminal.

In spite of these differences, I believe that it is important to recognise how much we hold in common across this debate. We agree on an understanding of our humanity which places it within the context of the whole of the created order; we have a shared concern for our environment, a deep respect for the animal kingdom and a desire to eliminate unnecessary suffering. For those of many faiths, that is undergirded with the conviction that the world is God's creation and therefore to be doubly respected.

Indeed, our understanding of the natural world also recognises that there is what could be called a hierarchy of preying—spelt not with an a" in this case, but with an "e"—which has been disrupted by the dying-out of certain species. As a result, some of the natural processes which ensure the limitation of a particular species and the survival of the fittest are removed and the balance of nature disturbed.

We therefore have to provide artificial means of controlling and improving the quality of parts of the animal kingdom. To the taking of animal life for food, we have to add the reasons for the control of pests by the limitation of their number and the improvement of the species by the culling of the weak and the diseased. In so doing, we are seeking to act as the predator who takes out the weakest of the flock.

It is of course at this point that divisions between us begin to appear; between those who believe that hunting is as humane and efficient a way of doing that, and those who do not. The arguments, as we have already been reminded, about what is or is not humane are finely balanced. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, argued that in previous debates in your Lordships' House. As the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Habgood, who is in his place, said: the case against hunting as a cruel practice is not proven. We do not know where the balance of suffering lies and we certainly do not know enough to base socially divisive legislation on what must necessarily be conjecture".—[Official Report, 12/3/01: col. 610.]

It nevertheless remains a matter of dispute whether, as I believe, hunting with dogs is at least as humane as other methods of culling wild animals. I hope, however, that we can agree that properly conducted hunting fulfils two other requirements of any effective method of control. It effectively conserves the species by taking out the weak and the injured—the fittest often escape and survive; and it has the effective support of those who are potentially "victims" of the animals which are hunted—the farmers whose crops may be devastated by grazing deer; the shepherd and the poultry keeper whose flocks may be decimated by the rogue fox.

I have great sympathy with the arguments adumbrated by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg. In a liberal democracy it is surely right that where there is such genuine disagreement about an issue—perhaps, particularly, an issue about the morality of which we are divided—we should continue to give people the freedom to make up their own minds and legislate only if we are clear that the health of our society is threatened. I do not believe that to be so and I do not believe that the case is proven that the Bill is for the general benefit of society.

I hope therefore, with many others, that the Government will listen to the voices of those who argue that the reintroduction of a Bill enshrining the middle way is the right course, following the careful work which Alun Michael and others carried out before the original Bill was introduced into another place and was then mangled there. To persist with the Bill in this form can only be divisive and illiberal.

6.32 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there is not much more that can be said about the Bill—or hunting—which is new or which has not been said before. But, if the Government will continue with a deeply divisive Bill, rather like a water wheel churning round and round, such debates are bound to be the case.

I have never hunted. I was given a pony when I was about eight; the animal decided to throw me off, and I was winded. It was the most dreadful experience that I had ever had in my life. I thought I was dying. I thereafter concluded that horses are dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle.

I have in that respect, therefore, no interest to declare. The only interest that I have is one on a much wider basis—that we should ensure that people are entitled to enjoy whatever sport they like. To make people criminals all of a sudden for carrying out that which has been done for hundreds of years seems to be without logic or justice.

As to cruelty, I limit my observations to the fact that nature is cruel. Fox hunting is no more cruel than many other aspects of nature. Anyone who has seen a Jack Russell set about a hedgehog, of all things, will know that nature is pretty raw.

Hunting is entirely natural to wild animals. They do it all the time. They do it to live. And none is better at doing it than the fox. What might be a devastating experience for a human being is natural to the animal. One cannot transport the mind of a human into the mind of an animal. It does not work. They are different. In most wild animals the determination to live is at the expense of another animal.

In hunting, killing is instantaneous. Were hunting to be banned, as has been often said today, wounded and sick animals would be left to die a prolonged and lingering death, possibly for years. The fact is that animals have to be killed, either to preserve their species or to preserve other species. This applies as much to foxes as it does to rats, mice and stoats. Fox hunting is a quicker and sharper death than shooting. It has the added advantage—and no one seems to remember this—that the fox might get away.

Many will take a different view—I understand their reasons—but what worries me about the Bill is that the Government are deliberately continuing to pursue a policy which they know divides people against people and destroys the heritage of the countryside. At a time when there are so many problems besetting the Government, as my noble friend Lady Byford said—Iraq, Europe, hospitals, railways and education—it is nothing less than incredible that the Government should consider it prudent to spend hours of parliamentary time in destroying and alienating the countryside.

The Government are drawn from a party of largely urban MPs. There is nothing wrong with that, but they do not possess some superior moral knowledge of what is right or wrong for the countryside. I have told the noble Lord, Lord Whiny, before—I respectfully venture to tell him again—that the Government have shown that they do not understand the countryside and do not care about it.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling that that was not always the case. Tom Williams, Fred Peart and Cledwyn Hughes were all friends of farmers. Indeed, I admit to this extent—which I am hesitant to do—that some 25 years ago it was always said that agriculture did better under a Labour government than it did under a Conservative government. But not now. Over the past six or seven years we have witnessed the prosperity of the countryside collapse. We have seen businesses and people ruined. The Government now say, "And now we will stop them enjoying their sport". People will be made redundant; horses will be destroyed; saddlers will find their businesses ruined; blacksmiths will find their businesses affected; point-to-points will be closed, as the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, said; and, on top of that, 20,000 hounds will be destroyed. Why? All because we do not want to kill a fox.

Is not the real reason—I hate to put it as starkly as this—that this is a class issue; that people think those who go fox hunting are the rich? One enthusiast against hunting put it in that charmingly moderate way, which is so endearing to others, when he said, "Those toffee-nosed bastards deserve all that is coming to them". Not much about the fox there. A friend of mine had some correspondence with the RSPCA. The official who replied said that the society did not think dogs were cruel. What they objected to were the people who followed hounds. Not much about the fox there either.

I fear that that is what lies behind the Bill. That is why it is both discriminatory and divisive. And that is why it is so shaming that the Government should not only be a party to this divisiveness but should actually lead it. I find it appalling that the Government should put their muscle behind a Bill which sets man against man and which creates and adds to division. It is the Government's job to heal wounds, not to create or to exacerbate them.

The professionals most involved in animal welfare are the vets. It is not insignificant that more than 500 of them have stated that a ban on hunting would be detrimental to animal health because, in the absence of hunting, animals who are old, sick and ill will continue to live and go free.

But who are the people who go hunting? They are not only the rich. They are people who come from all walks of life. Some own and love horses, but not all of them ride. Some go in cars; some go on foot. The common factor among them is that they enjoy a day out in the countryside. They do not go hunting to see a fox killed. They go for the pleasure of a day out; for the fun of friendship; for the excitement of a gallop; for the thrill of jumping a hedge or a ditch; for the determination to hang on like grim death and not fall off; for the exhilaration of succeeding; and for the contentment of having the cobwebs and the anxieties of life momentarily blown out of their minds. Those people talk, they laugh, they take exercise, they enjoy the fullness and the beauty of the countryside, and they often end the day exhausted—in other words, they love a day out in the countryside.

I sometimes think that if some of those who roam the streets of the cities with nothing better to do than carry out crimes had a day out hunting they would be fitter and far too exhausted to carry out their nefarious pleasures. In fact, it would do them good to have a day out hunting and it would do society good. In fact, I only wonder why the Government do not promote hunting instead of destroying it. But no, the Government say, "We want to stop this and we will see that those who do it will become criminals". The real reason is that they are so out of kilter with the left wing of the Labour Party that they have decided to throw it a hone to give it something to chew over and keep it quiet. The countryside and this great country sport are to be the sacrificial lamb.

The Prime Minister recently made a speech to the United States Congress. It greatly impressed the United States, as it did many other people in the free world. The Prime Minister has great personality and that envied ability to put over fundamental thoughts in an easy and understandable way. In his speech, he said: We are fighting for the inalienable right of human kind…to be free. Free to be you, so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others". Quite rightly, he was given a standing ovation. Why does he not apply the same dictum to this Bill? Since when has hunting impaired the freedom of others?

6.41 p.m.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, around 350 supporters of hunting with dogs have urged me to oppose a ban on this activity. They use three main arguments: first, that a ban ignores the wishes of the rural community; secondly, that it would remove what is described as a fundamental freedom; and thirdly, that this House should make what is described as "good law". I wish to respond.

First, the largest number of Members of Parliament representing rural areas were elected on an election promise to provide Parliament with a free vote on whether hunting with hounds should be banned by legislation. That was in 1997. Those Labour MPs—because it is Labour MPs who overwhelmingly represent rural areas—were re-elected in 2001 on a pledge by the Government to provide Parliament with time to come to a conclusion on this matter.

Alongside these real measures of rural opinion, subsequent opinion polls show a majority in both country and town in favour of a ban on hunting with dogs. Since I am enjoined to respect the wishes of the rural community, let me give voice to that part of the rural community which has had no mention, as far as I know, in this debate. I refer to agricultural and allied workers. They are part of that rural community—much more so, may I say, than those who treat the countryside as a second home. I am told by Peter Allenson, national secretary of the Rural, Agricultural & Allied Workers group of the Transport & General Workers' Union: Agricultural and rural workers accept that the killing of animals is a necessity in the rural way of life. However, we have worked tirelessly to ensure that that is always done in a humane and proper way, and our members take a professional pride in ensuring that this is done. We do not believe that there is any justifiable reason why hunting with dogs should continue".

Lest it be thought this is a sudden new policy, I cite Barry Leathwood, a former secretary of the agricultural workers' union. He says that agricultural workers, have been at the forefront of farm animal welfare campaigns for decades; it must therefore be no surprise that they strongly oppose the gratuitous cruelty that is the reality of hunting with hounds".

Secondly, there is a cry of freedom, which I regard as wholly bogus. It was doubtless heard, in this House and elsewhere, when bear-baiting, cock-fighting and bare knuckle boxing were made illegal. It is my view that there is no such thing as absolute freedom in a society. It would amount to anarchy if we were all free to do whatever we wanted. I might also observe that many of those who now cry freedom were among those bitterly opposed to the freedom of ordinary people to enjoy the countryside and what they claim to be their right to roam.

Thirdly, I am not sure that I know what is meant by "good law". It presumably depends on who is making the judgment. However, I know that in our democracy, the elected House has the right to have its way, not least on the back of election manifesto undertakings. I have been here long enough to understand that this unelected House is a revising Chamber, not a wrecking Chamber. If this unelected House, at its will, could veto legislation from the Commons, what, then, is the point of general elections? I regard the invitation from those who have written to me to reject the Bill as profoundly undemocratic and a rejection of our parliamentary democracy. I do not believe it is remotely acceptable that deliberate and wilful cruelty to wild animals should be any part of our way of life.

I also have concerns about the effect on those people who get pleasure from taking part in these practices, not least the effect it may have on vulnerable children and young people. I hope it is a shared belief that there is too much casual, everyday cruelty in our world without dressing up this version of it as "sport" and "country pursuits".

Many of those who have written to me—and it has also been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon—claim that more important matters than hunting demand Parliament's attention. I simply observe that 60 noble Lords have their names down to speak in this debate against the 43 who did so when this House debated a motion on Iraq on 18th March.

I welcome the Bill.

6.47 p.m.

Lord Kimball

My Lords, I speak as vice-president of the Countryside Alliance and chairman of the Cottesmore Hounds. Since my misspent youth at Cambridge, where I was Master for three years of the drag hounds, IL have hunted both the Fitzwilliam and the Cottesmore hounds. When, getting into the House of Commons, I could not give the hounds my undivided attention, I found myself field master to no less than five different huntsmen.

It was almost a year ago today that over 500,000 people marched through London and the Prime Minister said: We govern for the whole of the country, and must take note of opinions that were democratically expressed". A ban on all forms of hunting would do nothing for the welfare of the quarry species. It would have serious economic, agricultural and cultural consequences for the rural community, already in crisis, and would represent an intolerant and anti-democratic measure, based not on fact but on a prejudicial dislike of an activity carried on by a significant minority of ordinary, law-abiding people.

We have over the last few years had the independent supervisory authority for hunting. This now needs statutory hacking as suggested by the Middle Way Group. I was so pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, mentioned what Sir Ronald Waterhouse has achieved. He has already reviewed the conduct of all hunts; he has reviewed the discipline of all hunts; and he has arranged for all hunts to be inspected annually.

The attacks on hunting with hounds in one form or another have been going on since 1928. In 1947, we had the Scott-Henderson inquiry, and in 2001, the Burns inquiry.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, did not find that hunting was cruel. He said: Naturally, people ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel. The short answer…is 'no'". He went on to say that there was not sufficient reliable evidence to come to a decision about cruelty. My noble friend Lord Soulsby was also on that committee with the noble Lord, Lord Burns.

A hunting Bill should allow for all currently legal forms of hunting with hounds to be eligible for registration. There should be a presumption that licences are obtainable. To create a fair and workable system of registration, the original Bill needs to be amended significantly. The Bill should be based on a proper and consistent application of evidence that, in turn, will promote wildlife management and safeguard animal welfare.

We now have a system whereby we must include in a Bill the wording that the Bill is in line with the human rights convention. When the Bill is finally produced, will we have that same arrangement in it? We have already had a human rights lawyer advising us that this Bill falls foul of the convention in seven different ways. It would be pointless to continue with the Bill unless that particular point had been clarified.

I remind the noble Lords of what was said in this House in the Queen's Speech last November: A Bill will be introduced to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on hunting with dogs".—[Official Report, 13/11/02; col. 3.] All the evidence points to the fact that hunting under licence is the way to a fair and equitable solution.

6.51 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, the heart of this debate is the clash between liberty and cruelty. It should have nothing to do with whether one likes the people who hunt or disapproves of them treating hunting as a sport. Part of the confusion is that the fox has been sentimentalised, or "Disneyfied". as the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, called it.

Mr Fox has always been one of the great characters in children's books and fables. Yet far from being the cuddly toy in the nursery, Mr Fox is a natural born killer, a mass murderer, a predator that not merely kills to eat but kills for pleasure, which terrorises for pleasure, sending chickens and geese into a frenzy and petrifying sheep and lambs as it gratuitously decapitates the latter. Those who assert that foxes are not much of a menace these days—which is of course disputed—should remember that they are also relentless predators on a host of wildlife, some of it endangered.

Thus if Mr Fox is to be endowed with human feelings and personality, so too should his countless victims. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, touched on that matter. The abolitionists will say, "You can't blame the fox because it's a natural killer". Fair enough, but then do not pretend that it has feelings comparable to human feelings when being hunted down. One cannot have it both ways.

One thing I do accept is that the manner of killing is crucial, albeit more in terms of our cultural and moral health than out of regard for the stony-hearted fox. If the means of death is sadistic, one can reasonably conclude that it is coarsening for its practitioners and for the society that is indifferent to it.

On all those matters I waited for the Burns report for guidance, as I am sure that many of your Lordships did. His committee was clear that hunting is the only method of killing a fox with a cast-iron outcome: 100 per cent alive when the fox escapes, or 100 per cent dead when the fox is caught. Further—and this was a surprise to me—the kill is almost instantaneous, by a matter of a few seconds. By vivid contrast, as many of your Lordships have said, shooting, trapping, gassing or poisoning leads in many cases to a long, lingering and cruel death and/or maiming.

My last thought is that if one endows the fox with human instincts and feelings that in reality it neither has nor deserves, which would you—transmogrified into a fox—prefer: to be hunted by hounds with a sporting chance of escaping unscathed, or to be shot, trapped, gassed or poisoned unawares, but with the prospect of an agonisingly slow death or permanent maiming? The question answers itself. That, I suggest, is at the heart of the real choice today.

The liberty factor has loomed larger with me the more I have contemplated the issue. Liberty is multifaceted, indivisible and priceless. It depends on tolerant restraint. It would be bizarre to me if, in an age of increasing awareness of real human rights, we succumbed to a moral majoritarianism—if it is that—on the issue, which undermines the very context in which their own freedom is enjoyed by that majority. Since the abolitionists have signally failed to discharge the onus on them of proving the relative cruelty of hunting, it follows that it would be absolutely wrong and woundingly intolerant to criminalise this age-old country pursuit. Far more is at stake in this debate than the future of hunting.

6.56 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, I believe this to be a sad day, even for those who like myself do not hunt. To most people outside, it must seem stupefyingly irrelevant that we are spending time considering this deplorable Bill instead of addressing the way in which we are getting bogged down in the mess in Iraq or seeking to sort out the increasingly urgent domestic issues that worry all of us, such as the lack of cleanliness in our hospitals, inadequately controlled immigration, all-pervading crime, the state of our railways and the Tube, the problems of Northern Ireland, the threat to the very independence of our country, and much else.

Many of us said what we thought about hunting in the debate on 12th March 2001. I did myself. We know all too well that for many Members in the other place, it is primarily a manifestation of class envy and dislike of toffs dressed up and on horseback. They are obsessed by the image of a few smart packs. They are indifferent to the fact that with most hunts, certainly in Wales, where I live, the reality is quite different. However, despite devolution, the Welsh Assembly is not allowed to decide for Wales on this issue; I cannot think why not. All that is massively financed by people, often foreigners, who dislike all country sports. If the Bill goes through, it will certainly be followed by well financed pressure to ban shooting and fishing. As a fisherman, I am gravely concerned about that.

Much is made of the issue of cruelty. Peter Hain is reported to have said on Sunday that the Commons has made it overwhelmingly clear that it wanted a ban on the cruelty to animals. However, a ban on hunting would result in not less but more cruelty to foxes. Anyone living in the country knows that foxes have to be controlled. A hunt ends in the swift killing of a fox or its escape unscathed. The alternatives—poisoning, gassing, trapping or shooting—involve much more cruelty, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, pointed out.

The numbers of letters that we have all received show how bitter and distraught so many country people are. Surely it is wrong to pick on a minority who do no harm to others. There are many sports and activities that I dislike, but I do not see merit in trying to ban them. Banning hunting in England and Wales would have many lamentable results. Many hardworking men and women would be thrown out of work and many horses would probably have to be destroyed. I received a letter from a 16 year-old girl in Wales, who said: As the huntsmen will have lost their jobs they will not be able to afford to take each hound to the vet and have it humanely put to sleep…Instead it will have to be taken care of by themselves. This will be the hardest thing asked of them. How can they he expected to kill twenty to forty of their own hounds when they have bred, named, trained, got out of bed before dawn every morning to feed them is beyond me".

There will also be adverse effects on conservation and wildlife, particularly in the removal of small coverts and patches of gorse and thorn. I do not think that the proposals put forward by the Government and rejected by the other place did, or do, offer a reasonable alternative. Certainly there should be regulation. There has been regulation under the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, under the chairmanship of Sir Ronald Waterhouse. Supervision must now be made compulsory. However, Mr Michael's proposals went much further. As he said on Report in the other place, the amended Bill would, only allow the hunting of foxes and mink in exceptional circumstances".—[Official Report,Commons, 30/6/03: col. 56.] Hunting as we know it would have been brought to an end. I see little merit in our attempting to revive his proposals, which in any case would only be thrown out again by the other place. However, if we rewrite the Bill on sensible lines, stressing regulation, that may be a different matter.

Above all, I think it dreadful that this Parliament, actuated in large part by envy and hatred, should seek to put an end to hunting, which has for years past been an integral part of the life of the countryside and of our rural heritage and means so much to country people of all sorts and conditions. Parliament must, I believe, recognise what is reasonable for it to do and not try to exceed its proper authority. To continue to push people around and order them about, making ever more of them angry and frustrated, is not good sense. We must learn to leave people alone if they are not doing harm to others. We rightly treat murderers, rapists and thieves as criminals; we have no business to make hunting people criminals.

My inclination was to urge that we should reject this Bill and that this was one of the rare occasions when we should decline to give a Bill a Second Reading. However, I have respect for the views of those most involved that it would be better to amend the Bill. The amendments will need to be drastic to make it sensible and it will not be easy. Practically everyone who has spoken agrees that the Bill is awful. Consequently, in order to amend it to make it a satisfactory Bill, it may need to be effectively rewritten. However, it must be done.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, I should think that the remark just made by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, that we must learn to leave people alone, will be very much echoed from all sides of the House. It was very much in contrast to the preceding speech of the noble Lord, Lord Corbett—who I see is no longer in his place—who seems to show all the blind prejudice against hunting that is typical of those who know nothing about hunting and very little about the countryside.

I have never hunted. My wife hunted with the Eglinton and with the Southdown and Eridge, where we have lived for many years. I have a short personal reminiscence. Two or three years ago, she and I, with our family, went to the Boxing Day meet in Lewes High Street, in Sussex, opposite the White Hart Hotel—which is known for the fact that it was there that Tom Paine wrote the many pamphlets which helped to stir up the French revolution. It was an extremely happy occasion on which antis and pros mixed with each other. Right in front of us were two children on their ponies—in ratcatchers, their ponies beautifully groomed—and in front of them their father, also on his horse and in ratcatchers. The anti next to me suddenly pushed his way forward and shouted at them, "Your father is a child abuser to let you go hunting". Their joy and excitement changed very quickly to fear. One of the ponies shied.

I thought to myself, what an extraordinary remark. Those kids were there primarily to enjoy the pleasure of a gallop on their pony, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers said; that is the real reason why they were there. They were excited. They wanted to follow hounds, but they were probably never going to see a fox. What they were going to do was, in the company of others, go over fences and hedges that were a bit more difficult than perhaps they would normally have done, which would challenge them and where there might be a bit of danger too. That is one reason why putting drag hunting in place of fox hunting does not work. Drag hunting is all pre-ordained and predestined, and inevitably there is no danger or excitement in it—which is why the children were there.

Although highly unlikely, those children might have seen a fox killed. As many others have said in this debate—most recently the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury—if a fox is killed, it is a matter of only seconds. Moreover, foxes have to be killed. They are at the top of their animal tree. No other single mammal is ever going to kill a fox. If they are not killed, there will be far too many of them. Living on the edge of the South Downs, I know exactly what they can do to young lambs. There is a chicken coop only 100 yards from my house that has been constantly emptied by a fox. Every time there is a hole in the netting, the fox gets in and kills every hen in the coop, perhaps to eat just one of them. They are natural killers.

On that basis, I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who with all his usual intelligence tried to introduce on Second Reading a Bill which I guess is very different from the Bill for which he would have voted had he been in the other place a few months ago. On the question of cruelty, I do not think that it is in any sense proven that the cruelty of the killing of a fox by hounds is so heinous that it in any way justifies the wholesale stopping of hunting. I just do not believe that that is the case. It is much more quick and certain than shooting, gas, snares or poison. It is nothing like as cruel as, for example, putting a wild animal in a cage in a zoo, where it is very likely that the animal will in due course go mad; or playing for 10 or 15 minutes with a fish with a hook in its mouth and then putting the fish back into the river in order that the same thing may happen to it the following weekend.

The other point on which I seriously disagree with the noble Lord is his apparent view that the fact that this legislation is unenforceable is not an acceptable argument for going against it. That seems to me exactly the sort of thing that the American administration might have said at the end of the First World War when they introduced prohibition. Although a lot of people said that it was good arid important to stop people drinking, the prohibition was totally unenforceable. It certainly led to new riches for the Mafia. A few years later, however, it had to be abolished because it was unenforceable. Surely governments should think about whether laws are enforceable.

The chairman of our local hunt association went to talk to Chief Inspector Mike Flynn—formerly with the Sussex Police, two or three years ago, but now at the Home Office—and he said that, quite frankly, the legislation is unenforceable. Sussex Police are very relaxed about it all at the moment because they do not expect hunting ever to be banned.

Unfortunately, my wife and I have recently experienced two small burglaries. Our neighbours have also suffered two burglaries. We have told the police—who show proper concern and worry but absolutely no sign of catching the burglars. If I was to ring up the police and say, "I have just seen two people walking across the grass fields in front of my house with three dogs—two of them terriers—and I think that they may be going into the wood above us to try to catch a fox", I know what the police would do. They would laugh in my face. Perhaps they would be too polite and not actually laugh, but they would certainly do nothing about it. However, Clause 3(1)—under the heading "Hunting: assistance"—states: A person commits an offence if he knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used in the course of the commission of an offence under section 1", which makes it an offence to hunt a wild animal with a dog. So as I read the Bill, if I do not ring up the police and say, "These people are walking on my land and this is possibly in their minds", I would be committing an offence. It is hard to imagine anything quite as silly as that in government legislation.

The kindest thing we can do in this House is to get the noble Lord, Lord Whitty—we all have great respect for the noble Lord—out of the fix he clearly is in. I have no doubt that if he had been in the other place when Alun Michael's Bill first came forward, he would have voted for it. Now he has the difficulty of trying to persuade us to accept a Bill that I do not believe for a second the majority of the Labour Government believe in. The kindest thing to do, therefore, is to let the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, off the hook by changing the Bill back to something very close to what it was when it entered the Commons in order to make certain that hunting can go forward but in a regulated, clear and well defined manner.

7.10 p.m.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, what are the benefits of passing the Hunting Bill? First, we end the uncivilised practice of killing mammals for sport, and killing them in a way that most rational people would deem to be cruel. In respect of foxes, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in his report, using understatement of the most cultured kind, suggests that the kill at fox hunting, probably falls short of the standards we would expect for humane killing".

I am persuaded that that is a distinguished Treasury mandarin's way of saying that hunting is cruel. I am also conscious, as is Burns, that hounds are also imperilled by this sport. An example is the avoidable straying of hounds on to live railway lines when their minders, as so often, fail to follow the chase. But, of course, none of this need happen. We in the Chamber today have an opportunity once and for all to expunge this blot on the landscape of Wales and England's green and pleasant land. Hunting must be banned and replaced with drag hunting.

But what are the other benefits of freeing the countryside from the public nuisance of fox hunting and its associated hunt havoc? First, children happily playing in schoolyards and on village greens will no longer have to witness foxes being torn to shreds in front of their very eyes by hounds once again out of control—the responsibility of adults who should know better. Indeed, can it be right to parade such images of manmade violence in front of our children? Gone will be the trespass on to private property by hounds in pursuit of the fox, with the attendant hounding of farm animals and domestic pets. Is that not hooliganism by any other name which all of us would be quick to condemn in any other circumstances? Gone will be the indifference, sometimes the rudeness, and, yes, sometimes even the intimidation shown by huntsmen to distressed householders fearing the worst for life, limb and property when hounds trespass and maraud. Gone will be the over-running of railway lines imperilling passengers in trains and the dogs on the rails.

Gone will be the stopping up of narrow country lanes by the hunt and its car-borne supporters, interfering with an Englishman's right to move freely about his own country to reach his home, church or place of work. Gone will be the necessity of those seeking to exercise their lawful human rights having to appeal to the police to defend those rights. Wasting police time is a consequence of the hunt and its wayward practices. We shall all be better off when hunting is banned because police time will be freed to catch the kind of criminals who, for instance, broke into Norfolk farmer Tony Martin's house.

To conclude this point, let me make it quite plain that I expect neither difficulty in implementing the new ban nor a lack of compliance with it by the hunt. After all, for decades the hunting community has always told us that it is comprised of the most law-abiding members of the community. I believe them. Let the ban commence.

Our opponents sometimes charge us with wasting valuable parliamentary time in proposing such legislation. I agree that parliamentary time has been wasted on this issue as our opponents seek to frustrate the democratic will of the Commons, which has voted consistently and convincingly to bring in the ban. Time, indeed, could be better spent on, for instance, the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, on which some of our opponents are professed experts! But the remedy is this: let the proper procedures of the two Houses of Parliament take their course and if a ban is agreed, let our opponents acknowledge it as the law of the land and desist from wasting further parliamentary time. I, for one, wish to uphold the traditions of this House which, having advised the Commons, should submit to its democratic mandate.

One further benefit which ensues from the creation of the ban is that the Countryside Alliance might be encouraged to turn its energies to those more pressing challenges that confront rural Britain today. Hitherto, the alliance has shown itself obsessed with hunting, which is the sport of few and the bane of many, at the expense of tackling high priority issues such as jobs, transport and housing. It is time our opponents got their priorities sorted out.

The ban will have other beneficial consequences for followers of the hunt. First, it will encourage them to institute proper measures for picking up and disposing of fallen carcasses on a sound economic basis. The ban will also obviate the absurd and contradictory practice of building artificial earths to breed foxes to hunt. The disgusting practice of leaving the carcasses of dead sheep near to such earths exposes the rotten contradictions of this rebarbative sport which pollutes the very countryside that we are told our opponents claim to hold so dear.

Indeed, that brings me to the vexed question of the stewardship of the countryside and the maintenance and improvement of its environment. We are threatened by the hunt lobby that the ban will result in the churlish abandonment of their responsibilities to mind the land, even though they are richly rewarded by government and European grants to nurse the countryside. It is quite insupportable for them in a fit of pique to say that they will neglect those responsibilities and mess up their own backyards.

When, further, I am told that a fox hunting ban will destroy community life and lead to lives of lonely desperation in the countryside, I am dumbfounded. It is an unhealthy and bizarre culture that blames the poor old fox for the destruction of our countryside, its customs and its communities.

One final lament—the fear that jobs will be lost in the countryside as a result of the ban. Burns estimates that as few as 700 jobs are directly related to fox hunting, as against the 9,000 jobs lost each year due to the contraction of the agricultural industry. Burns hazards further that within a decade those jobs will be easily absorbed. My prediction is that many of those jobs will not be lost and the remainder absorbed quickly. The tourism and leisure industries, especially those linked to equine activities, are due for exponential expansion over the coming years. In addition, the switch to drag hunting, which is already happening in Scotland, will help retain jobs currently associated with fox hunting. The future is rosy if only those with rose-tinted spectacles would doff their glasses to see the changing world about them.

Nowhere in Britain is life changing so fast as in the countryside. Many in rural Britain are indeed showing the entrepreneurial spirit to reshape its economic, cultural and social landscape, dispensing with outmoded practices such as fox hunting and adopting a fresh outlook on life and work in the countryside. These new bloods recognise that the agricultural industry barely sustains 2 per cent of jobs in rural Britain today. They see that we must look elsewhere for new jobs and industries, but I have to say that, whenever the countryside is discussed in this House, 98 per cent of the speeches concentrate on agriculture at the expense of the countryside's other new and vital industries and the real challenges facing rural Britain today.

I would like to thank all those who wrote to me such heartfelt letters on both sides of the argument. I have studied each letter in turn.

We all, in this House and beyond, should now bend our energies to help rural Britain reshape itself into a land that we can all cherish, whether as visitors, tourists, commuters, workers, householders or landowners. In doing so, we must promulgate the wise philosophy that guides all humane and sensible change—that to stay the same, we must learn to change. The historic liberation of the fox from gratuitous cruelty enshrined in the Bill will, I believe, propel us on to that common path of jobs and prosperity, and instil in us all an abiding respect for the natural world about us.

7.21 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, got a kick out of making that speech, because it certainly did not do a thing for me.

Someone recently said to me that if foxes looked like rats we would not be having this argument. Be that as it may, when the subject of a hunting Bill first came up in this House, I was given valuable advice by the late, much-loved but tough Lord Cocks, who was Chief Whip in the then Mr Callaghan's Labour government. "You can do no better," he said, "than to copy the Minister of Agriculture, Mr Tom Williams, who spoke on behalf of Mr Attlee's Labour government in favour of hunting when that subject was debated at that time in the House of Commons".

I did exactly what Lord Cocks suggested. In fact, I read Tom Williams's speech to your Lordships as, in my opinion, his arguments could not be bettered. At the end, I asked what had happened in the intervening years to cause the present Labour Government to totally change their tune. Of course I did not get a reply, I suppose because there was not one. Under the circumstances, I really feel sorry for the Minister, who has to reply this evening to the knowledgeable speeches that we have all been listening to, with one or two exceptions.

I wonder whether I could persuade the Minister to talk about hounds instead of dogs. In the context of today's business, it grates on me every time I hear "hunting with dogs". They are hounds. I also want to say that to produce the argument about bear baiting is simply pathetic. It also grates on me when I repeatedly hear hunting equated with cruelty. Dr D.R. Wise, the distinguished Cambridge veterinary surgeon defines cruelty as the deliberate infliction of unnecessary suffering.

Starting from that definition, Dr Wise notes that mainstream neurobiological thinking supports the view that animals can indeed suffer, but in a manner limited by their restricted conceptual repertoire, which will not allow them to contemplate past woes in the abstract, worry about the future or understand the meaning of death. Following in the footsteps of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I point out that throughout the Bill the Government ignore the fact that animal and human brains differ greatly, and that animal fear is not equivalent to human fear. A hunted animal will be instinctively programmed to run from a threat, but it will not appreciate that it has been uniquely targeted or that its life is threatened.

The Government claim to be legislating in a principled manner. Why then have they prejudged the issue with respect to deer hunting and coursing? Why has hunting been singled out for such treatment when other culling methods and non-quarry wildlife species have been ignored? How can the uncontrolled destruction and associated suffering of wildlife caused by cats be deemed more acceptable than the vastly lesser, highly targeted and accountable deaths occasioned by hounds? Does Ann Widdecombe, whom in most ways I greatly admire, ever pause to dwell on the agony incurred by her darling cats, which may play the dance of death with all the birds and mice that, unfortunately for them, cross their path?

The Bill is negative in every respect and has nothing whatever to recommend it. It will not reduce cruelty to foxes but merely ensure that the only natural way of controlling the fox population, and indeed the deer and hare population, is made illegal. More wild animals will die slowly and in pain from the effects of trapping, poisoning and poor marksmanship than ever suffer in the hunting field.

The Bill will make potential criminals of hundreds of thousands of ordinary law-abiding people who understand the quarry that they hunt and conserve. It will place thousands of rural jobs at risk, at the very time when sources of rural employment are needed more than ever before. As my noble friend Lord Hurd said, it may place chief constables and their staff in an impossible position, diverting scarce resources away from fighting crime to attempt to police the unpoliceable.

The world is in a dreadful state, yet here we are discussing the possible death of hunting. What an indictment of this Government.

7.26 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I want to make two points very briefly. One is general, the other particular. The general point is this: it has become clear over the months and years during which the issue of hunting has been debated that it has become, and perhaps always was, a moral issue seen as having wide, indeed universal, implications, for man's relation with other animals and his freedom to pursue his chosen way of life without infringing the liberty of others. As is the way with moral issues, there are irreconcilably opposed views, passionately held, neither of which can be proved correct.

Like most other noble Lords, I have been involved over the past years in matters of public policy concerned with irreconcilable moral values. We all understand how difficult that is. However, regardless of the subject matter, it has become clear to me over the years that regulation is almost always to be preferred to prohibition. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, when he suggests that it is possible—indeed necessary—for good legislation that there be, if not agreement between people of opposing views, nevertheless a kind of consensus about what will work and do as legislation.

I therefore very much hope that, even at this rather dismal stage of our proceedings, there may be some way in which we can go back to the concept of the middle way, with regulation rather than any prohibition or unregulated hunting. As has been said, a good deal of work has been done in the direction of regulation by my friend Sir Ronald Waterhouse.

There could be a regulatory system within which hunts must apply for a licence—how easy or difficult it may be for them to get licences would have to be decided—with mechanisms of monitoring and inspection in place, and the power to revoke a licence should the conditions of granting it be infringed. Liberty would be preserved, with the reassurance that no outrage would be permitted. In such a system, the criteria for granting or revoking a licence should be clearly set out and widely publicised. That would ensure that merely disliking a habit or way of life was not being used as a reason for criminalising it.

That was my first and general point. My second one is particular and pragmatic, and I shall repeat it despite the fierce words of the Minister. Among all the evidence that has been received and studied by your Lordships, the most telling is that from police forces, many of which have said that they possess neither the resources nor the physical ability to prevent hunting with dogs should people decide to continue it, whatever the law. So strong is the feeling among those who oppose the ban that there will be many who would prefer to incur the risk of criminal prosecution rather than abandon their chosen way of life and recreation. My point is that the risk would be very small. The police and the law could be made fools of and that cannot be the outcome that Parliament wants to bring about.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, despite the gentle hint from the Minister, I want to touch briefly on the problems of enforcing a ban. As the Bill is currently drafted, the primary offence of hunting is sketchily defined. It is not clear who is liable for prosecution. Is it the huntsman, who may be up to half a mile from the hounds, the whipper-in, the masters, the followers or the hunt chairman? How will the guilty person be identified if all hunting people copy hunt saboteurs and wear balaclavas?

Will prosecutors be able to assimilate sufficient evidence to secure conviction? Barristers have argued that the standard "It wasn't me" or wasn't hunting" defence remains as strong as for any other offence, and the countryside will clam up if locals are prosecuted.

The matter will be further complicated by drag hunting, which the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, would like to see. A conviction surely cannot be secured if the accused testify that they intended to hunt the line of a drag, but the hounds smelt a real fox and killed it.

Equally, what happens if dogs are used to hunt rabbits, which are exempted, as my noble friend Lady Byford said, and they switch to pursuing a hare? Would that constitute an offence? How will the police prove intent? Indeed, how many enforcement officers could distinguish between a hunted rabbit and a hare?

Rural crime is increasing and a hunting ban raises serious issues for police resources. The House has been told how a ban fills many police officers with dread, because of the practical implications of enforcing it. Would it be practical to stop and arrest people on horseback and seize the hounds and horses that they used to commit the offence? No police force has the resources to do that, nor would it be able to accommodate horses or a pack of hounds to the required welfare standards until the case came to trial.

The alternative approach of reporting offenders for summons is also impractical. It will be impossible to ask 30 or more people on horseback to wait for officers to report them for summons and deal with all the evidence that must be gathered during an interview. Della Cannings, Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, recently said: There would have to be a growth in police resources, and I'm not sure that council taxpayers would be prepared to pay the extra money required to meet it". I sympathise with my noble friend Lord Renton of Mount Harry over his two burglaries, yet if hunting were banned and the police were to try to enforce the law, how would a member of the public feel if there were no response to a 999 call for a burglary or assault, because all available resources were employed to stop hunting?

The enormities of policing a ban become apparent when one considers that there are more than 300 packs of registered hounds in England and Wales, regularly involving 100,000 people, plus an estimated 200,000 individuals who work lurchers and terriers. That will create an enormous surveillance task for the police. As most rural areas are remote, the chances of hunting being reported are slim, and the chances of any officers reaching those areas even slimmer, especially on a Saturday, when a football match is on.

For legislation to be successful, it must have the consent of those whose behaviour it seeks to govern. A large and significant minority in this country believes that hunting is morally acceptable; that it is an efficient method of species management; and that it derives benefits for the rural environment. The members of that minority will regard the legislation as oppressive and do everything in their power to discredit it by showing that it is unworkable and unenforceable. They will flout it, deliberately and publicly, and make matters as bureaucratically difficult for the police and prosecuting authorities as they possibly can.

Each hound might be owned by a different person, giving varying permissions about its use; everyone involved could dress identically and carry a horn; horses and jackets might be swapped between riders during the course of the day; land-use permissions could be noted and respected between those prepared to allow drag hunting or exercise only, and those prepared to defy the legislation.

Police forces in counties with a strong hunting tradition could find their already-strained resources stretched to breaking point. Community relations would be broken, with the police bearing much of the mistrust and ill feeling. Farmers invite the hunt over their land because it is part of their life. The police will be seen to be stopping it.

There appears to be a growing will to revolt. Thousands have already signed The Hunting Declaration, stating their intention to continue to hunt in defiance of the law. Tens of thousands more, many of whom have never hunted, have said that they will take part in protest hunts.

Deep anger is felt by much of middle England towards the Government for allowing themselves to be cornered by Back-Benchers on this issue. In the event of a ban, they will find themselves opposed by well organised, entrenched minorities, battling to save their way of life. They should not underestimate the strength of rural solidarity.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Grabiner

My Lords, I should begin by declaring a non-interest. I have never hunted in my life. Indeed, I have racked my brains and I have no recollection of ever having sat on a horse.

Like other noble Lords, I find it surprising that we spend so much time in this House and in another place debating this subject. One may perhaps be forgiven for thinking that there are other, more pressing issues that are more deserving of valuable parliamentary time.

I can be brief, because everything that I intended to say has already been said very eloquently, if I may respectfully say so, in particular by my noble friends Lady Mallalieu and Lord Bragg, the noble Lords, Lord Hurd and Lord Carlile, and other noble Lords. As I understand it, my noble friend Lady Mallalieu and her family spend their weekends in the season hunting. She has apparently enjoyed that experience all her life. The point I wish to make, and the principal reason why I decided to speak in the debate, is that my noble friend's pastime has, since time immemorial, been entirely lawful. The effect of the Bill would not be to render that activity simply unlawful: it will constitute a criminal offence punishable by a fine.

Leaving aside the fact that, these days, we rightly look for ways of decriminalising behaviour where appropriate, I find it difficult to stomach the proposition that the lifelong behaviour of my noble friend should be regarded as so repugnant to our moral values as to be declared to be criminally unlawful. Our debate is about private liberty and there is no justification at this time for extending the criminal law into that sphere of activity.

I accept that it may be right and proper for previously lawful behaviour to be criminalised, provided there is a genuine consensus in society that such behaviour has become morally unacceptable by the standards of the day. That is presumably a reason for cock-fighting and bear-baiting being criminalised. It is also the reason that in 1991 this House, in its judicial role, declared that rape within marriage was a criminal offence, despite the fact that, in the middle of the 17th century, Sir Matthew Hale had expressed a different view on the subject.

In the case of hunting, there is no consensus. There is a polarisation of views within our society. even if that is not fully reflected in the voting in another place. A number of references have been made to the importance of bowing down to another place. The implication from a number of observations made by some noble Lords is to the effect that this House is not part of our parliamentary structure.

I should add that, like other noble Lords, I have received a huge postbag on this subject over the past several weeks—literally hundreds of letters. For what it is worth, I have received one single letter in support of the Bill. In its present form, I believe that this is a grubby and illiberal Bill.

7.41 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, it is hard to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, but I shall do my best. I shall not speak in defence of hunting this evening but in defence of the principle that, on the whole, people should be free to act as they think fit so long as there is no overwhelming public interest to the contrary. In my view, governments should steer clear of legislating on matters which are largely a matter of private taste or personal moral judgment.

Personally, I have never hunted; I have never fished; I have never shot at anything. In the unlikely event of my acquiring a large country estate, I might try to prevent anyone hunting over it. But that would be me exercising my moral judgment over the use of my own acres, rather than forced obedience to government thought police.

There are some circumstances under which a ban on hunting can be justified. We are all aware of national and international bans on the hunting of endangered species, such as is the case with whaling. But the population of rural foxes shows no sign of decline and that of urban foxes is rising dramatically. Interestingly, it seems that hares are more numerous in places where coursing is practised than where there is no coursing.

So where is the public interest—the peace and tranquillity of the realm for which prayers are said every working day in your Lordships' House—to be found to justify the Bill? If one turns to the legal treatment of other matters on which public opinion is divided on moral and ethical grounds, then the contrast with the ill-judged effort to ban hunting is very striking.

There can be little doubt that, in the minds of all but the most extreme animal liberationists, abortion is a matter of greater moral weight than hunting. At the same time, whether or not doctors should he permitted to perform abortions is clearly a proper matter for action by government in their prime role as the defender of the life and well-being of the citizen. Many people in this country had, and still have, strong moral and religious objections to legalised abortion. Yet current law does not prohibit abortion but creates a legal definition of the circumstances in which it may take place.

Does it make sense for the Government to ban hunting, while the law—correctly, in my opinion—enables women to obtain abortions? And what about the Government's present intention to widen the circumstances in which people can drink and gamble? Surely drunkenness and gaming are at least as morally repugnant as hunting and do far more damage to individuals and families alike. So why is the one to be forbidden and the others to be encouraged?

I repeat that I am not here to defend hunting but to defend the principle that the opinion of some—even of a majority, if indeed it still is a majority—that hunting is immoral is no reason to ban it. I do not have the polemical gifts that Milton displayed in the Areopagitica, but I share his views on the damage done by puritanical legislation and his plea for tolerance. I am very happy to be in the company of the noble Baroness. Lady Warnock, my noble friend Lord Carlile, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, the noble Lord. Lord Bragg, and my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, to name but a few of those who have touched on this aspect of the subject. I shall support a Bill for the regulation of hunting, but I shall never support a Bill to ban it.

7.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who served us well in Surrey county over a number of years. One of the delights of my life as Bishop of Guildford was the year I spent as president of the County Agricultural Society, which meant that I presided over the county show. For me, it was a year of learning about some of the issues that confront us in rural life today. It is one reason that I am speaking today.

I make no apology for the fact that this will be a long debate. We should not be ashamed of that. This is an important moral issue that divides our society, and Parliament is here to discuss and debate the concerns of the people. Therefore, let us not flagellate ourselves for giving a length of time to a matter which is of real concern to many people. The moral issue is clearly not only central—how we relate to the animal world, to the ecological systems that surround it and to life itself—it is complex, and the issue before us is unresolved.

What does one do when one has an unresolved moral issue? We on these Benches are all too aware that at present in the Church of England we face a number of unresolved moral dilemmas. What one does not do is close down the debate. An Act which seeks to give one opinion primacy in law is closing down the debate. In an open and civilised society, the task of Parliament is to resist the temptation to close down the debate; rather, it is to provide the environment and atmosphere in which we might persist with it.

Therefore, I believe that it is unwise to legislate in this environment. I do not consider that we in this House helped ourselves when, on the previous occasion, we did not take the opportunity to seek a stronger form of regulatory culture. We might have helped the process of finding a way forward in this matter had we done so.

Sadly, the issue has become a campaigning one, with sectional interests on both sides easily stereotyped: the long-haired Lefties, who are for animal rights; the bucolic aristocracy, who are for hunting. Parliament gets drawn into a lobbying debate, and that is a very dangerous position for us, as part of the legislative process.

I want to make a further moral point about law in a free society. I want to pick up the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in relation to civil disobedience. I hope that in his summing-up he will also make the point that law-making should always seek to be with the consent of the communities to which it applies. It is dangerous for Parliament to try to impose on unwilling communities laws that they do not understand, based on a morality that they do not accept, and with language around the issue, such as calling things "cruel", which they do not accept. We should not impose such languages upon them. Is it not our duty in Parliament as a whole and our fundamental moral responsibility to preserve the liberties of the people? Is that not what we are here for?

Frankly, I am not interested in opinion polls around the issue: whether 59 per cent of people are in favour or against is irrelevant. Minority opinions have a right to look to Parliament to have themselves defended in an open, democratic and civilised society. That is not only a pragmatic point; in my view, it is a moral point about our duty as legislators.

How are we to deal with these matters? I suggest gently that we have to find a way of returning to licensing and regulation. which introduces the issues of transparency and accountability and the possibility that those who are involved in hunting can continue to adapt their practices in the light of the changing cultures and circumstances of life. Is not that a wiser way forward? Should not we, in this House, without being railroaded around issues about whether or not we have been elected, stand firm and insist that Parliament does its duty properly and constitutionally?

7.50 p.m.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I address your Lordships tonight in the firm belief that we are discussing one of the greatest threats to personal liberty that this country has ever witnessed. I know that many other people in this country share that very firm but simplistic view.

I declare an interest to the extent that my wife and 12 year-old daughter hunt. I do not and never have, but as I have said in other speeches in your Lordships' House, as I have become more embroiled in the hunting debate, I have become more and more impressed by hunting as a means of controlling foxes and of providing the community with a wonderful community spirit and sport.

What struck me, and. clearly, members of the press judging by what I have read, is that as the debate on hunting with hounds has escalated, the evidence against it as a cruel and unnecessary activity has become weaker to a point where now those who want to implement such a ban are struggling to substantiate such claims. Now, their only argument is that there is a majority in the House of Commons. Frankly, having listened to some of the speeches in the House of Commons, that makes me want to fight even more strongly to protect something which I regard as an integral part of the British countryside. I remember very well when Robin Hanbury-Tenison, the last director of what was the British Field Sports Society, said, The longer the debate on hunting continues and the facts become increasingly clear to the people of this country, the greater support it will receive". Certain noble Lords have said tonight that we all have entrenched positions and that speeches will not have an effect. I am quite certain that mine will not but clearly something that has been said has had an effect. Perhaps we should give credit to the Countryside Alliance. In the speeches made to date, those who have mentioned the alliance have done so in not particularly complimentary terms. I take the opportunity to express my great regard for the way that it has managed the hunting debate and persuaded people that there is another argument to it. It is more complex than people thought, but clearly, judging by the change in opinion in this country, it has done hunting a great service.

Despite that and the fact that three independent inquiries have failed to come up with evidence to condemn hunting, including that commissioned by this Government—the report under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Burns—the Government continue to press on with legislation which, frankly, is an affront to the whole process of democracy. It strikes me as incomprehensible that in a society such as ours there is not sufficient tolerance to allow such an activity to continue, which means so much to so many even if they are in a minority.

As I have said, I do not hunt, but many people I know from around my home in the north of England, who are from all walks of life, simply live For their hunting. I do not exaggerate; they live for it. It is the most important thing in their lives. I refer to respectable people, who respect the law. I find it quite astonishing and, as my noble friend Lord Hurd said in his exceptional speech, would deplore the prospect of the Bill driving a wedge between law-abiding citizens and the police. As has been mentioned, but is important, the fact that 400,000 people took the time and had the courage to march in London is a testament to the anger and betrayal they felt.

When the Government first embarked on their attempt to resolve this issue, the original Bill appeared to incorporate tolerance combined with facts, with one notable exception: it excluded deer hunting and hare coursing on the grounds that there was already sufficient evidence of cruelty to preclude them from the process of regulation. However, subsequently. when challenged to produce such evidence, the Government have failed to do so. Indeed, Professor Bateson—my noble friend Lord King touched on this—to whose evidence the Government resorted to introduce the ban on stag hunting, went on to say that anyone who used his evidence to reach such conclusions would be regarded as scientifically illiterate. If that is the case, I ask the Minister to tell the House in winding-up what was the evidence that the Government had to prevent stag hunting from being part of the original Bill. I can assume only that there must have been evidence other than that produced by Professor Bateson.

The two tests which hunts would have had to have passed in order to receive a licence to continue—namely, "utility" and "least suffering"—as I understand it, were based on the report of the Burns inquiry. However, the original definition of utility—this is very important—included not simply the requirement for a hunt to demonstrate its role as a means of controlling a pest but also those essential elements of the social, cultural, economic and environmental aspects of hunting to which the Burns inquiry attached so much importance and on which so much time was spent.

It seems, therefore, quite extraordinary that the Government allowed the term "utility" to be redefined in Committee to a level to which only pest control would qualify as a means of acceptability. So by doing that—the Minister, Alun Michael, voted for the amendments against his own Bill—the Government shunned the Burns inquiry and ignored so much of the evidence that had been so painstakingly presented at the Minister's request at the three-day Portcullis House hearings.

It became abundantly clear that, despite promises of fair play, the Minister had every intention of selling hunting short by allowing his Bill to become a ban in everything but name as virtually no hunt would have been able to qualify for registration. I believe there is a myth that the original government Bill, the one which was not hijacked by Messrs Banks and Kaufman, was a Bill that this House could have lived with. I do not think that it was. I think hunting was sold down the river by the Government and the Minister.

Furthermore, so far as concerns the test of least suffering, further amendments in Committee resulted in hunts having to prove significantly less suffering—that is very different—which is an almost impossible task. So, in effect, an automatic bias against the Bill was introduced.

I hope we have no crocodile tears from Ministers when they say that they are sorry that the original Bill was hijacked. I do not believe for one moment that that original Bill would have supported in any way the basic principles to which the Minister adhered when he first embarked upon this mission.

We had the evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Burns, which was presented at Portcullis House, and the arguments from scientists, from vets and from Exmoor. Noble Lords who have not read the presentation from the National Park Committee on Exmoor, should do so. It adds another extremely interesting dimension to the argument. Most importantly, we had the pleas from those whose livelihoods depend on hunting and those to whom the whole process means so much. All that demands that we reconsider the whole issue in a thoroughly comprehensive way.

We must not allow sentimentality, coupled with that basic error of allowing the human thought process to be confused with natural animal instincts and behaviour to compromise or cloud our deliberations. Furthermore, we must seek consistency and practicality and, above all, avoid bad law. As my noble friend Lady Trumpington said, why should rats be treated differently from foxes? Why should cats hunt mammals and birds but hounds not foxes? Why should we be allowed to chase a rabbit but not a hare?

The management of the countryside, in whatever capacity, is not a simple matter. It is not a question of either/or. Methods and customs have developed over centuries through trial and error. What is right in one set of circumstances may be different in another. We should respect that. Your Lordships should uphold the principle of democracy, not base their arguments, as too many others have, on class warfare and battles of the past. We must reconstruct a Bill that allows all forms of hunting to continue, subject to a well-defined and enforceable code.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Earl, Lord Peel, in two respects. I agree with two things he said. First, the consideration of the Bill in this House should pay attention to the interests of democracy. I shall explain in a moment why I believe that this Bill does exactly that.

The second service he gave to the House was to make it clear that for the pro-hunting fraternity there would be no Bill from the Government limiting hunting—whether or not under licence—which would be acceptable to your Lordships' House. That is in marked distinction to what the noble Baroness, speaking from the Front Bench for the Opposition, said at the beginning of the debate. It bears a great deal of relation to reality. The fact is that there is no Bill that your Lordships as a whole would accept, but this Bill has come to us from the other place and is the one which we must consider.

I want to look first at whether the Government are right to bring the Bill before Parliament. Secondly, I want to examine whether this is an appropriate moment for Parliament to be considering the issue. Thirdly, I want to ask what should happen if the two Houses fail to agree.

Taking the first issue first, this debate is unavoidable. The party currently in power has been elected twice since 1997, on both occasions winning very large margins in the House of Commons. My noble friend Lord Corbett referred earlier to the 1997 election manifesto. The 2002 election manifesto stated: The House of Commons elected in 1997 made clear its wish to ban fox-hunting. The House of Lords took a different view (and reform has been blocked). Such issues are rightly a matter for a free vote and we will give the new House of Commons an early opportunity to express its view. We will then enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue". That is what we are being asked to do with the Bill today, because the Bill is the fulfilment to the letter of that election manifesto commitment.

That takes us to my second question: are there not any more important issues for us to debate? Here I detect an uncanny resemblance to arguments used in this House and in another place when animal cruelty issues were being debated in the 19th century. In 1825, for example, a Mr Gordon opposed a Bill to outlaw bear baiting, on the grounds that it was, petty legislation, when questions of so much more importance were before the House". The abolition of bull baiting was opposed because, the sport… cultivates the qualities of a certain species of dogs, which affords as much pleasure to their owners as greyhounds do to others". I shall go no further down that road, however, because I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, that there is no direct parallel between the animal cruelty barbarities of the 19th century and present day hunting. However, there is an immense wealth of evidence that deliberate cruelty is inflicted in the name of sport by certain hunts.

I am sure I am not the only Member of your Lordships' House who has had a mass of letters from people asking us to support the Bill and giving evidence of some terrible things that have happened. I give an example from a lady who writes from the Isle of Wight, referring to the Isle of Wight Hunt: Worst of the illegal activities I witnessed was terrier men digging out a live fox and throwing it to the hounds, who tore it apart. This was in Combley Wood, near Havenstreet, where I also saw a fox being released from a sack taken from a Hunt van, just before the hounds arrived on the scene. I found a badger set near Brook in the West Wight whose entrances were blocked with large quantities of earth stamped down heavily by men's boots, and reported it to the police who were following the Hunt. I witnessed a number of instances of the Hunt trespassing on private property. The worst case was when several hounds strayed into the RSPCA's animal shelter… and had to be locked up". The description goes on and on.

The third issue I wish to touch on concerns the role of this House—

Viscount Astor

My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that issue, he has a particular interest in football. Indeed, he has an interest in the behaviour of fans. We all know occasionally that football fans behave in a way they should not. That is no reason to ban football.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

No, my Lords, but it is a reason why I was prepared to sit through the only all-night sitting at which I have been in this House to pass the Act dealing with football hooliganism in order to curb the activities of those hooligans. If by getting this Bill through we shall get rid of the hooligans in hunting, that will be time well spent.

The third issue I wish to touch on concerns the role of this House in considering this legislation and our relations with the other place. I shall defend to the death our right to consider this Bill in detail and, if a majority agrees, to send it back amended to the other place. That is what we do in this House, and we do it well. We do not, however, have the authority to block this Bill or to deny the other place the final word on the content of the Bill.

My understanding of the constitutional position is exactly as expressed by Gerald Kaufman: Let us be clear about what will happen after the Bill leaves the House"— that is, the House of Commons— tonight. According to any interpretation whatever of the Salisbury convention, the other place"— that is, your Lordships' House— must accept a Government Bill that has been passed by the House of Commons; it must accept any Bill that has been passed by a majority of the House of Commons; and, under the Salisbury convention, it must accept the fulfilment of a manifesto commitment. On each of those criteria—by the doctrine of leading Conservative, the Marquess of Salisbury—it would be out of the question for another place to block the Bill…It is now for the whole of Parliament to respect the will of the people, as in a manifesto commitment, and for this Bill to become law and to be implemented as soon as possible".—[Official Report, Commons, 9/7/03; cols. 1331–32.] On the question of implementation, I hope that when the noble Viscount responds to the debate at the end of the evening, he will make it clear that the Conservative Party is under no circumstances prepared to condone the sort of law-breaking of which certain Peers have warned us in the debate.

My noble friend Lord Corbett rightly made the point that a majority of rural constituencies have been represented by Labour MPs since 1997. Those are presumably the people whom the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater—whom I am delighted to see in his place—described in a somewhat infelicitous phrase as "MPs of narrow background".

He could perhaps have reminded your Lordships that among those voting for a total ban on 30th June were six senior Conservative MPs, presumably MPs riot of narrow background. They included John Taylor, Roger Gale, David Atkinson, Sir Teddy Taylor and—most eloquent of all—Ann Widdecombe. She spoke for many of the hundreds of people who have written to me begging me to support the Bill, when she said in that debate: if the Bill comes to fruition, we shall be living in a more civilised and kinder society than the one in which we live now. I would be the first to accept that it is necessary to kill foxes, and the first to accept that an argument of necessity can be made for killing; other species. However, at the beginning of the 21st century, the fact that people should want to make a sport and gain pleasure out of it absolutely beggars belief"—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/03; col. 103] I agree with her.

8.10 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, it is bad luck on the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, to be sandwiched between two Earls. I find his reference to the all-night sitting on the Bill on football hooligans interesting. I also took part in that debate because I thought that that Bill was another piece of illiberal and petty legislation. had not the blindest effect on football hooligans; it is just another piece in the armoury of our present illiberal lords and masters.

I have an interest to declare: I have hunted. Finally, when I fell off and broke too many bones, I gave up. I have enjoyed it enormously. I shall even produce a marginally risqué story. There is a piece of country in Saddington Vale which is straight off pub table tats, with its cut and laid hedges and its beautiful Leicestershire turf. The hounds were going along looking as though they had been painted by Stubbs or Gainsborough and this gel said to me: "It is better than an orgasm and it lasts a hell of a lot longer".

That is what hunting does to you: it has nothing to do with killing foxes; it is to do with pure adrenaline and excitement. Landing from a big drop fence on the landing side when you are not sure what you are going to do, and at which in cold blood you would never have dreamt of looking—that is the thrill about it. That is why it has inspired so much British art. In fact, it has inspired the only true school of British painting: Wootton, Stubbs, Seymour, Gainsborough, Lionel Edwards and Munnings, to name but a few.

It is also interesting that the Government have been shown an especially strong opinion that the Bill goes against the Human Rights Act 1998. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, read that opinion and passed it before his legal advisers to ensure that he was right and it was wrong before he signed the Bill off as being compatible with the ECHR conditions. If it is not, it would be totally outrageous to use the Parliament Act.

I hasten to add that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has got the Salisbury convention completely wrong. It was signed and agreed when this House had a massive majority of hereditary Peers who have now gone and the conditions are now completely different. This House is perfectly entitled to send back legislation and say to the Government of the day, "You have the Parliament Act; that is what it is there for. If that is what you want to do, use it". This House has the right to do that.

My next remark is for the benefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who announced that hunting was illegal in Ireland. In the only European country to ban fox hunting, it was brought about by a tobacco-detesting vegetarian called Adolf Hitler. If he had not worn jack boots, he would have been a perfect member of certain political parties that we know in this House. He loved eating raw swedes, hated tobacco and banned foxhunting. It is very interesting that such odd bedfellows are made.

It is also interesting that the Bishops' Bench has been solidly as one in this debate. It is unique for the Church of England to agree on practically everything. I believe that the last time the Anglican Bishops in your Lordships' House were solid on an issue was on a Bill to abolish capital punishment for writing your name on London Bridge. The whole Bishops' Bench voted against the Bill. Every single Bishop has said that this is a moral issue and that we have a right to human liberty.

Must we really make girl grooms lose their jobs so that Gerald Kaufman can feel a glow of satisfaction and allow Tony Banks his token worship? I use the words "token worship", because he said that the Bill was a matter of tokenism and not about cruelty. Is it right that farriers will be impoverished to make Gerald Kaufman feel a glow of self-satisfaction and to allow Tony Banks his token worship? Will hunt servants lose their houses to make Gerald Kaufman feel a glow of self-satisfaction and to allow Tony Banks his token worship? That is what Her Majesty's present advisers have come to. It is a pretty rotten state.

We could easily have lived with, and we would have been wise to live with, properly regulated hunting. But this is an attack on the liberties of people for something that does no harm to humankind whatever and does a lot to preserve the countryside. It is interesting to note that, 20 years ago, the Porchester report said that the welfare of deer on Exmoor depended on the continuation of stag hunting. Ten years after stag hunting finished on Exmoor in 1800 there were no stags. They were then reintroduced for the Devon and Somerset stag hunts to hunt, and they have thrived and prospered ever since.

We are trying to do something that will be illiberal, will harm animal welfare and will probably contravene the Human Rights Act. Well done the Government.

8.17 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I very much regret that this "grubby and illiberal" Bill—to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner—should be placed before the House at this time, when there are so many pressing policies and matters to be attended to. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, this House will not wreck the Bill; the Bill that the Government wanted was wrecked by a rampaging House of Commons and a gutless Government who gave way to it. They have now introduced a Bill that they did not intend to have. The Minister's accusation, therefore, falls very flat.

The Bill is not really about cruelty to animals. If it were, it would be much more widely drawn to include all blood sports, including angling, and other cruel treatment. Ritual slaughter, kosher and halal, for example, would be included in a cruelty to animals Bill. The Bill is spiteful, cowardly and aimed at a particular section of the community whom the promoters of the legislation hate, but who are not numerous or influential enough to be perceived as a threat to the Government and new Labour.

It is odd that there was a deafening silence from the animal rights lobby and supporters of the Bill when some 9 million cattle were unnecessarily slaughtered, in many cases with unwarranted cruelty, during the foot and mouth disease crisis. I repeat, 9 million. I suppose that, if the Bill is defeated and fox hunting continues, about 25,000 foxes will be destroyed a year—foxes that are pests. That is against 9 million useful animals slaughtered unnecessarily without a word of protest from the animal lovers.

Those foxes will probably be killed more humanely than were the cattle. That was animal genocide, perpetrated by the Government, allegedly to deal with foot and mouth disease, although the alternative of large-scale vaccination was available. Furthermore, the banning of hunting is unlikely to be of much help to foxes, as we have heard already this afternoon. The most likely outcome is that there will be mass killing and the eventual extermination of the species in the countryside. No doubt the same fate will overtake those foxes that escape to the urban environment—after they have eaten a few cats and other pests or even attacked small children.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, told us that Hitler was an animal lover and banned fox hunting. The result has already been described: foxes are hardly ever seen in Germany today. They have been virtually exterminated.

With regard to the Bill's passage through the House, I hope that noble Lords will not be intimidated by the claim by Members of another place and, indeed, people in this House who ought to know better, that this House has no right to frustrate the will of the elected House of Commons. That will no longer wash. The Commons had the opportunity radically to reform this House—and turned it down. It was not this House that turned it down, but the House of Commons. That House preferred to opt for virtually the status quo. This House is the only second Chamber that we have. It has now been reformed and because of that it is more respectable—some of us warned the House of Commons that that would happen—more respected and has a strengthened mandate.

This House has been using that strengthened mandate in all sorts of ways, and I hope it will do so in the case of this Bill. The House therefore has a duty to examine, scrutinise and, if necessary, amend the Bill. In so doing, we should pay particular attention to the civil liberties aspects and the precedent that the Bill would set for other activities. Civil liberty and individual freedom are under constant threat from an increasing authoritarianism by government—of both political parties. It is a paradox that the House of Lords is more caring of those civil liberties and individual freedoms than the elected House, which increasingly legislates to limit those democratic rights. In any event, as we have already heard, the other place has the last word. The Government could use the Parliament Act to override any amendment. However, if they do so, they will hear the responsibility for any consequences that follow.

Direct action has been mentioned. I was surprised to hear some on this side of the House condemn direct action. Damn it, the Labour Party would not exist but for direct action. This country would be a completely different place without direct action by the working-class martyrs and the trade union movement. If there is to be direct action, there are very good precedents for it.

Finally, I oppose the Bill—

Lord Whitty

My Lords, my noble ex-friend is trying to provoke me. This is the third time that my words on civil disobedience have been mentioned. I do not reject the right of people to use their conscience and engage in civil disobedience. What I said in my opening speech was that it would be wrong for our democracy for decisions by the legislature to be guided by a threat of civil disobedience. That is entirely different from condemning all civil disobedience.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, that is complete rubbish—

Noble Lords


Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I must say to the Minister—my previous noble friend—that I was not just getting at him. I was surprised to hear some of the sentiments expressed on the Labour side with regard to direct action. The Labour movement has, through direct action, made an enormous difference, for the good of the country.

I have gone over my seven minutes because of the Minister. I finish by saying that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, in order that its provisions can he seriously and rigorously examined.

8.25 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am proud, this evening, to be the fourth voice of Exmoor, after notable speeches by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough. I am also proud to be British and proud of our defence of democracy, but I take no pride in the application of bullying majorities. The true test of democracy, as speaker after speaker has said, is how the majority treats minority views.

Within our rural population, there is growing despair about the circumstances affecting its culture, its values and its hopes for the future. There is pent-up frustration at the failure of Parliament to recognise and respect its views. At the core of that disbelief is the decision by the responsible Minister to abandon advice presented by the most recent studies on hunting. Like so many of your Lordships, I suggest that there is no incontrovertible evidence that enables decisions to be made wisely. What replaces wisdom is emotion, for the subject brings out passionately held views. Both sides lift the temperature of debate beyond the boiling point of reason.

Like my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell. who made a most eloquent speech, I fear the consequences for our society, if a ban on hunting is imposed. I cannot produce evidence for the likelihood of civil disobedience nor for the problems of policing the ban or action by others in support of the ban, but I am sure that they will be severe and will, possibly, cut to the very governance of our country. The uncertainty that surrounds this major decision is compounded by a deafening silence on what compensating and replacement arrangements—at what cost and when—will be introduced.

Life in the wilds of Exmoor, close to where I live, does not stop. The life or death of many of the beasts now hunted will not wait. It seems that there is a great reluctance to give any form of definition of how our wonderful red deer herd, which has hinds 20 per cent bigger than those controlled by stalking in the highlands, and our foxes, which, although no bigger than others, still present real danger to the income of sheep farmers, are to be controlled without hunting. I retain a deep fear that controlling the red deer exclusively by shooting will lead to a decline in quality, as trophy hunters gather to take the best stags. Animal welfare organisations will not be able to provide the response needed to deal with wounded or injured deer.

I recognise that many parts of our country have been affected throughout the ages by the dreadful economic impacts of shifts in trade or supply. But the impact on the rural communities that would be initiated by a hunting ban would a pure form of direct, government-imposed unemployment, probably without redundancy. Were it to happen in areas not constrained by planning and development restrictions, as national parks are, or in areas that had existing diversity of employment or had not seen such a rapid decline in the number of people employed in agriculture, it might be a lesser evil.

I am profoundly concerned about the impact of any ban on the wider economy of Exmoor.

This is already one of the poorest areas of England, where the average working household income is below £17,500. We have seen dramatic shifts in the balance of population as the young cannot find employment nearby. Retirees and second-home owners are too ready to snap up local housing, which is now well above the affordable limit for young people wishing to stay. Schools, post offices and pubs are closing. This vortex of despair, exacerbated by the impact of foot and mouth disease and fears for the loss of seasonal and full-time income provided by hunting, is creating a heady brew of reaction.

Regrettably, the economic benefit of hunting to tourism has never been assessed. But the impact on tourism within rural areas in the shoulder periods of winter when other visitor numbers drop must be a real benefit to the economies of local tourism and its supporting services.

Of course, it is a privilege to live within a national park or in our countryside, but the attraction of the countryside within a national park is for all people to enjoy. We, who live there, have to tolerate the variety of interests which need the freedom of the rural environment. Motorcycle rallies and four wheelers of every size join the thousands of people who simply want to watch, walk or ride around the country. Toleration and respect for diverse interests is always under threat from protectionist and activist alike.

But this country has a future as well as a history. The future should be based on respect for the need to find appropriate measures to enable all our people, crammed into an increasingly congested island, to live with one another's differences. Although many people living in the South West have experienced or still experience the pleasure of chasing across beautiful country, there is another even larger population that enjoys the social life, which is enriched by the need to raise funds to support the employment and costs of hunting.

On Exmoor alone, there are usually six point-to-points attended by some 20,000 people, hunter trials, sponsored cross-country rides, gymkhanas and country shows, puppy shows, skittle leagues, dances, whist drives—the list and variety is endless. But it provides the very backbone and framework of social exchange for the communities of Exmoor. Many people would experience a profound sense of loss and increasing isolation were this range of activities to cease.

Hunting on Exmoor is like Premier Division football in Liverpool or Manchester. It gives social cohesion to the whole area. To ban it would be to tear the heart out of the community; it would be a fundamental attack on individual liberty and freedom of choice. In my humble opinion, this Bill combines vicious class prejudice with wilful and sentimental ignorance about country life. It would have the effect of making life much worse for foxes. One of the hallmarks of a sophisticated democracy is the protection of minorities. Hunting people are a minority. To destroy their sport and their whole way of life would be the act of an elected dictatorship.

Who was it who, as recently as last July, said: We are fighting for the inalienable right of human kind…to be free. Free to be you, so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others. That's what we are fighting for. And that's a battle worth fighting."? Yes, your Lordships are right: it was none less than the Prime Minister in his speech to Congress, and well worth a standing ovation.

8.33 p.m.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I have said this before, but I want to say it again: I do not live in the town. I have always lived in the countryside and I am very proud of living there. However, I do not recognise at all the countryside described from some of the Benches opposite. In my village, hunting is rarely, if ever, discussed. It certainly is not the Saturday night topic at the Elephant and Castle or the Spinners. People may talk about Manchester United or Blackburn Rovers or even my own team, Bolton Wanderers. I am sorry to say that they may be talking about Wigan rather than Warrington, which always dismays me. But hunting? No.

Perhaps I may give a practical example. Recently we had three ducks taken by a fox. That was our fault because they were not locked up; we shall ensure that they are in future. But if we were to wait for that fox to be killed by a hunt, we would be waiting for ever. To be honest, that fox would draw its old age pension first. I just want to put the record straight. In many areas of the country hunting is not a topic for discussion or a part of country life. Rural transport, education, schools and the closure of post offices are what the people of the village talk about when they are not discussing football or rugby league.

Since I came here, I have always been one of those who advocated the reform of this House. I am very fond of all noble Lords and I have been made welcome ever since I arrived. But during this debate I have been surprised by some of the extreme views expressed about people who support a ban on hunting. I am so sorry that the Bishops' Benches are empty, because I was really disgusted by the comment of one right reverend Prelate that there might be a mental deficiency among some of my noble friends because of our views. As regards other Peers, I can always forgive them. To say that we are all supporters of Adolf Hitler because we happen to take a different view—

Baroness Byford

My noble friend did not say that.

Lord Hoyle

I am sorry, but that is what he said and the noble Earl is a member of the noble Baroness's party, not mine, thank goodness.

Surely we can disagree and still remain friends. While I may disagree with what has been said from the Benches opposite, I know that those views are held with conviction. Equally, however, I believe that the views of the majority in this country are the same as mine. They are held with conviction and they must be allowed. I have received letters asking me to oppose the Bill, but I have also been asked to support it. Some of those letters have described instances of damage caused by hunts and the arrogant way people are treated when they complain about the hunt riding over land which it has been forbidden to cross, or when domestic pets are chased. So there is a difference of opinion on this matter.

Much has been said by both sides about Burns, although more by those on the side of the hunting fraternity. But Burns also pointed out that hunting seriously compromises the welfare of the animal being hunted. It is there in black and white. That is why I believe that bringing to an end hunting with hounds is long overdue. The arguments about civil liberties are the same as those that were used in support of bear baiting, cock fighting and dog fighting when they went. There is nothing new in them; they have been used before.

It has been said in the debate that we should spend our time discussing other matters, as though we do not do so. Of course we discuss issues such as the NHS, crime, defence and education. While we may not discuss them as often as the other place, we do consider them in great detail. I would suggest that it is not enough to discuss them; action must be taken, and I believe that the Government I support are doing just that. Of course in the House of Lords we tend to discuss agriculture rather more because many landowners sit in this place.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I wonder if the noble Lord would give way. I resent slightly his last comment. Many noble Lords in this House speak in agriculture debates, in particular when they touch on the environment and rural affairs. I speak in debates on housing and many other matters. The noble Lord points a finger across at my colleagues, who unfortunately are not all in their places at the moment, and accuses them of being the reason why agriculture is raised. I suggest to the noble Lord that agriculture has been going through some very difficult times—more difficult times since his Government took over 1997 than before. It is not surprising that we discuss those matters.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I am rather surprised by the intervention of the noble Baroness. I am not being critical. I am merely pointing out—and, whatever the noble Baroness may say, it is true—that there are an awful lot of landowners in the House who are interested in the debate. The noble Baroness knows that, like her, I am interested in agriculture, but I very often discuss larger issues than the problems facing the countryside.

I make the same point on defence. Chiefs of staff, brigadiers and air marshals provide a wealth of knowledge in this House on defence matters. That is a good reason for debating defence issues. I heard many first-class speeches on Iraq from noble Lords with defence connections. That is another issue that has been discussed in the House.

I should say to noble Lords on the Benches opposite that another issue that is discussed, given the age of the House, is of course other people's sex. That is regularly discussed here.

It has been said that the hunting of deer and, particularly, the hunting of foxes needs to he retained as a matter of pest control. Approximately 25,000 foxes are killed per year. Hunting accounts for about 2 per cent or, put at the top end of the scale, to he generous, 6 per cent. What happens to the other 94 per cent? How do they die? Many die because they are shot, trapped or are involved in road accidents. Certainly it can hardly be said that hunting is a form of pest control when it accounts for only 2.5 per cent of deaths.

It has been said that hunting is needed on Exmoor to cull red deer. About 1,000 deer die each year on Exmoor, but only 15 per cent die because of the activity of hounds. What happens to the other 85 per cent? I hope the legislation will improve the way in which they are killed. But that is a fact. How can you call that "control of deer''? It is not.

Why do we not debate the fact that people enjoy hunting because they regard it as a sport? I can understand that. That is a real reason. Please do not claim that hunting is a form of pest control when the figures are not matched by the rhetoric from the Benches opposite.

It has been said that if the Bill is passed there are people who will become criminals because they will defy the law. They need not become criminals. The choice will he theirs. They will only become criminals if they defy the law, but the passing of the Bill into an Act will not make them criminals as such.

It has been said from all Benches that the uncertainty must end. We gave a manifesto promise that we would give enough time for this issue to be brought to a conclusion. I believe that that will occur. Ultimately, the democratic House will speak: it will make up its mind. It will receive the Bill back from this House with whatever amendments we decide on, and then it will make up its mind. That is the right procedure because, ultimately, no one in this House has to face an election. We made the promise in 1997. We had more Members representing rural areas then than any other party. Those people stood again and were re-elected, and they again said, "We must ban hunting with hounds". They have faced the electorate. Whatever the merits of this House—and we have a right to amend legislation—we do not have to face the electorate.

The other House will speak and the uncertainty will come to an end. When it does, I hope that it will be in favour of a ban to bring to an end now the cruelty that should have been brought to an end in the 18th century.

8.44 p.m.

Lord Nickson

My Lords, we are in very dangerous waters—that has been emphasised again and again in this debate. Two and a half years ago we had the last Second Reading of a hunting Bill. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Whiny, will not he too upset with me—I am not trying to provoke him—if I recall remarks that I made in that debate. I quoted remarks made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I would like your Lordships to dwell on these two sentences.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, said: It is deeply necessary not to confuse what we may disapprove of with what must be criminalised". I repeat: It is deeply necessary not to confuse what we may disapprove of with what must be criminalised".—[Official Report, 11/4/00; col. 92.] I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will recall saying it is one of the great constitutional…balances of our system—to respect and protect the interests of minorities against a populist majority".—[Official Report, 24/7/00; col. 124.] They were not talking about fox hunting; they were talking about buggery. One was in the context of the sexual offences legislation in 2000, and the other in the context of local government amendment legislation, also in 2000. But I do not think the principles have changed particularly.

When the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, opened his speech, he said he was consistent and, indeed, he has been consistent in his attitude to the Hunting Bill. But I suggest to him in the most gentle and polite way that there are principles which can apply in other directions.

I must declare non-interests. I have never hunted; I am no longer a director of the Countryside Alliance, and I live in Scotland. If I did hunt, I would have the great misfortune to have to operate under the legislation of the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie. I was sorry to hear he was proud of it; the noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, said that Ministers may expect to be opposed—they should not seek to be hated. I can only say that this perfectly dreadful Bill in Scotland has caused great distress in the countryside there.

I oppose this Bill on three counts—first, on the grounds of cruelty; secondly, because it is a distinctly illiberal measure; and thirdly, because it is a dangerous misuse of the criminal law.

I do not hunt, but I fish, I stalk in the Highlands and I shoot. I encourage and authorise others to kill foxes by whatever legal means possible. I try to kill foxes myself, and I am not particularly good at it. When foxes are shot, whether lamping, snaring or other methods are involved, there must be considerable suffering. Even expert, trained marksmen would say that four out of five foxes may be all right but the others are not. Those foxes go away to die slowly, in great agony. The great merit of hunting, as I see it, is that the fox is either dead, quickly, or alive.

Secondly, the countryside sees itself as unloved, misunderstood and uncared for by a Government who are much more interested in urban issues. I am sure it is correct that a majority of the rural constituencies are represented by Labour Members, but I can only say that very many people in the countryside do not feel they are being adequately looked after and believe their liberty and livelihood to be under threat.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I believe there is a real threat in the use of the criminal law. This goes far beyond the countryside, beyond the ranks of the country sports. I believe that the law-making process itself is at stake. For if a nation's people come to lose respect for the law-making process, if they hold the law-makers in contempt, and if it becomes extremely difficult and unlikely that it will be easy to enforce that law, those people will no longer feel the need to obey the law. That can become a very dangerous habit indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd of Westwell, was right to draw attention to that great threat.

There are people—I may not be among them—who believe that the Government showed insensitivity, intransigence and, perhaps, inflexibility, in the approach to constitutional reform in this House in various ways in the past few years. My belief is that, if that process had been approached differently, some form of consensus over a longer period could have been achieved. Some agreement could have been made on all those controversial issues on which we have got ourselves into a considerable muddle.

There could have been a middle way, and I believe that there is still a middle way in relation to this Hunting Bill. If the Government are wise, they will accept that there must be very significant changes to the Bill that is presented to us. Were that Bill to go back from this House to another place and be totally rejected, I would urge the Government to think very hard indeed before they sought to invoke the Parliament Act to force through the Bill as it stands at present.

8.51 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

My Lords, this is the first time that I have spoken in this House on hunting, and I do so now fully realising that many noble Lords know much more about the subject than I do. I intervene because I am appalled by the Bill. Without having given the matter my full attention, I had assumed that the Government's registration proposal was a sensible compromise between those who wanted to ban hunting with dogs and those who wanted it to continue as before. Now that the House of Commons has decided that it wants a total ban, it is time for the defenders of liberty to speak out.

I also now understand that the system proposed in the original Bill was not the even-handed compromise that I had assumed. Tony Banks's amendment brings all hunting to an end, but the Bill's registration system would have had much the same effect because it required applicants for a hunting licence to prove something that could not be proved—that hunting causes significantly less pain, suffering or distress than any alternative method. The task facing us is not only to restore the original structure of the Bill but to revise the registration system so that the onus is shifted on to opponents of hunting to show that there are more humane methods of pest control.

I oppose a ban because I do not believe that the case has remotely been made. Those who want a ban say that individual liberty must give way because its exercise imposes unnecessary cruelty on foxes. Unfortunately, we cannot line up a sample of foxes and ask them by which method they would prefer to be killed. If we could, there might be much lively disagreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, tried to do that job in chapter 6 of his authoritative report. The report admits that hunting. seriously compromises the welfare of the fox". That is an unremarkable statement in view of the circumstances. However, it goes on to state that other methods can also have, "serious adverse welfare implications". The noble Lord never goes beyond that hedging conclusion, for the obvious reason that we cannot measure the suffering caused by different methods of culling.

Those who argue that we have scientific evidence about such matters are perpetuating a wicked deception on the public, but the public basically agrees with that sensible conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. Asked by pollsters which method they thought inflicted more cruelty, 25 per cent suggested hunting foxes with dogs, 27 per cent said killing them by other means such as snaring, shooting and trapping, while 44 per cent thought that both were equally cruel.

Foxes are hunted by people. If we are to argue the case, as the anti-hunters do, on grounds of pleasure and pain, we need to go beyond animal welfare to human welfare, balancing the distress that the existence of hunting causes some people against the pleasure that hunting and its existence gives others.

What is the size of the population of those who feel passionately about this subject? I think that that is where we ought to start. The number of those who are intensely distressed by hunting is certainly quite small. According to a recent poll, only 2 per cent of those asked put abolition of hunting at the top of their political priorities. That makes 500,000 of those who voted at the most recent election. On the other hand, last September, more than 400,000 people turned up at the Countryside Alliance pro-hunting demonstration in London. So there is not much difference in the balance of strong feelings on this subject.

Abolitionists argue that the pleasure people get from hunting is purely sadistic, and, therefore, their interests do not deserve much consideration against those to whom it causes great pain. However, that is an assertion for which there is no evidence. The hunters rarely see foxes being killed, much less torn to pieces. The pleasure from hunting seems to lie in the hunt itself and the social life associated with it, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, pointed out earlier.

What about the population at large? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, to the extent that their views should certainly be taken into account. So what is the evidence? The evidence is that support for a complete ban has been decreasing. According to a Daily Telegraph poll conducted last September, 47.9 per cent believe that hunting should be allowed to continue as now or under licence, while 49.9 per cent want to ban it. An ICM poll in July of this year showed that 57 per cent believed that the Government should allow hunting to continue. So the balance in our utilitarian calculus is still as near zero as makes no difference.

I embark on these tedious calculations only because the case for banning hunting with dogs rests entirely on such pleasure and pain arguments. I have not even tried to estimate the adverse effect of a ban on the welfare of those humans and animals—horses and dogs—whose occupations are bound up with hunting. That would make a formidable addition to my side of the argument. However, for the purposes of this argument, I do not need to do that. I only have to show that utilitarian logic does not produce a positive balance in favour of banning. In the nature of things, I doubt whether it ever will, unless a much more painless way of controlling pests is discovered.

If the need for pest control is accepted, if no one method of exercising it is obviously more cruel than another, if the passions are equally balanced, if the electorate are equally indifferent—if, in short, there is no compelling public interest argument for banning hunting—then liberty should surely be allowed the last word.

I do not accept the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that the will of the House of Commons should prevail in all circumstances. That is a perversion of democracy. If the House of Commons decide to do something wicked or abuse human rights, then, regardless of whether it is a manifesto commitment, the will of the House of Commons certainly should not prevail.

A ban on hunting would be a gross interference with individual liberty. It is a proud tradition in our country that liberty should be curtailed only with great and sufficient cause. I contend that no such cause has been adduced to curtail the liberty of those who want to hunt with dogs to continue to do so. That is why our House will need to amend this Bill. We cannot stop the House of Commons getting their own way, but it is our duty to ask them to think again.

8.58 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, it is my pleasure again to take part in this debate. I begin by thanking a number of people to whom I shall refer later. I want particularly to thank the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA for their steadfast support for those such as myself who have more than once been obliquely referred to as blindly prejudiced, blinkered and so on. I start from the premise that it is cruel and wrong to hunt to the death another animal. I accept all the arguments we have heard about nature and the law of the countryside, but that is not what we are discussing in this Bill. We are discussing whether to allow—in the name of sport or pleasure or leisure—the training of one animal, the hound, to hunt to the death another animal, the fox. However you dress it up, I think that that is wrong. Those who do not share my view think that that is right. For a very long time their view has held sway. I am no stranger to being in a minority in this House; I had almost 18 years of that. However, the electorate, the public, changed their mind and the value of this House in the eyes of some people changed too.

I want to deal with the situation that has been painted, that somehow or other in the areas in which hunts operate they form the bedrock and the core of a social and cultural life which, if not idyllic, is something which we ought to envy. Sitting here I listen to that point time after time. I have received many letters on the matter. I was astounded when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford said that he had received 260 letters and not one of them was in favour of a ban. There is an explanation there somewhere which I do not have time to go into. I received 100 letters, the majority of which urged me to support a ban. I have them with me. I did not solicit any of the letters.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the League Against Cruel Sports, which he has already thanked for the assistance it has given, provided its supporters with a list of people in this House to write to, which included only those such as himself who had previously supported a ban or who had previously abstained? If the noble Lord compares the letters he received with others in the same category, I believe he will see that they are copies.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, that is news to me. Someone has just whispered that that is not true. The matter will be investigated later. In the interests of individual liberty I wish to quote from a letter from Ms Stretch of Oaktree Close, Wareham. Ms Stretch writes: I was one of a group who spent a considerable amount of time last year collecting signatures for the 'Banner for a Ban' anti hunt campaign. We collected well over 8,000 signed forms asking the Government to enact a Total Hunt Ban. Countrywide over a million people signed this petition". I wish to place that on the record. I am puzzled by the way in which some people are so adamant about what statistics mean. I come from mining stock. I know what mining community life is and I know that it was destroyed. It was destroyed by policies over 15 years. The communities that I come from had to live with that, and they did, and they got over it. The communities that apparently are at risk from the Bill will do the same if a ban is introduced. They will adjust to the change.

I want to bring to the attention of the House some hunts that have not been mentioned tonight but which my correspondents inform me have caused great distress to their individual liberty. I refer to hunts in the Isle of Wight and in the Lake District, Weardale and Tees Valley Beagles, Essex and Suffolk Foxhounds, Cotley Harriers, Quantock Hills, Budleigh Salterton, Shropshire, New Forest Hounds, North Shropshire Hunt, Beaufort Hunt, Wynstay Hunt, East Devon Hunt, Totnes, Plymouth, Mudbury Harriers, West Green and Newport South Wales. All of those have caused great distress to the people who live round about them. They have interfered with people's individual liberty—which, apparently, is a core issue—by not controlling their dogs. The details are well known. The issues are not as clear cut as some people on the other side say.

I want to say a word about my colleagues in the Commons. When many of them fought the 1997 election they stood on a platform that, among other issues, included their opposition to fox hunting, and they were elected. The great shock to many Conservative Peers was that they were elected for rural areas. Between 1997 and 2001, they took part, stood up and were counted and put their jobs on the line, and overwhelmingly they were elected again in 2001. What does that say about the people in their areas, who knew their views, and knew that they could damage them but did not? They returned them instead.

The issue is obviously very important to many people here—far more important than it is to me. I conclude my seven minutes by simply saying that I believe that setting one animal against another to destroy it in such a way is wrong. I think that the Government are courageous in proceeding with the Bill, and I will certainly support it tonight and in future.

9.6 p.m.

Lord Northbrook

My Lords, I would like to make one comment straightaway to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton: if those MPs elected for rural areas vote for a ban, they are unlikely to be elected again.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

Just you wait.

Lord Northbrook

My Lords, I declare an interest as a landowner and member of the Countryside Alliance. The Bill has been transformed into a completely illiberal measure without any proper justification except for pure prejudice. As the writer Roger Scruton put it clearly in an article in the Spectator earlier this year: A new absolutism threatens our ancient liberties and customs". He compares the UK to some Muslim fundamentalist countries where law is used to create religious and moral conformity. He says that the other place contains many people who see nothing wrong in using law to create a new moral code. On one hand, they are prepared to relax the laws for and extend the rights of some minorities. They lower the age of consent for gay sex, plan to extend the concept of partnerships beyond marriage, and are authorising leniency in certain drug use. Yet they are banning the activities of this minority, which has committed no offence under the law. Is there not an inconsistency here? Is not the hunting minority being unnecessarily discriminated against?

The Burns report covered the civil liberty aspects, looking at them under a European law perspective. It examined how a ban would be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Chapter 10 of the Burns report states, on page 160: Legislation to ban hunting might be open to challenge under Article 1 Protocol 1 (property rights) and…Article 8 (respect for private life)…Key questions would be whether the undoubted interference with property, and possibly with private life, was justified under Convention principles". The Explanatory Notes do not mention Article 8 at all. Chapter 10 continues: A relevant issue would be the form of the Bill: one which required proof of unnecessary suffering, or some similar test, would be less open to argument than one which banned hunting per se", such as that which we have.

Article 1 of Protocol 1 states: Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law". It goes on to state that in certain circumstances the state can override the above when it needs to enforce law in the public interest.

According to the Burns report, both the pro-hunting and anti-hunting lobbies agree that Article 1, Protocol 1, is triggered in the sense that a ban on hunting, although it does not deprive someone of the use of the land or the animals involved, constitutes a control on their use or an interference with the substance of ownership. The issue then turns on whether a fair balance is struck between the interference with the fundamental rights of individuals and the general public interest. In my view, there is no doubt that there is not a fair balance and that human rights are being severely interfered with.

The second relevant article, Article 8, contains the two following paragraphs. First: Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and correspondence". Secondly, There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others". The Burns report states that there is a key issue in each paragraph of Article 8: first, whether hunting with dogs can be regarded as coming within the concept of "private life" and, if so, whether interference is justified on the grounds set out in Article 8.2. I strongly believe that hunting is an activity which is strongly identified with the ethos of the private and family life of a local community. It also takes place to a major extent on private land. Thus, the ban without doubt would be an interference with Article 8.1 rights.

As the human right in Article 8.1 is, in my view, being breached, the key test is whether under Article 8.2 the interference has a legitimate basis. I strongly believe that the Government would not be successful just by arguing that hunting is immoral: they would need to have objective evidence that hunting involves unnecessary suffering, including by reference to that involved in other methods. I would also argue that a ban would fail the proportionality test contained in Article 8.2. This means that a ban on hunting is not justified due to its far greater effect on rural communities and people's lives and livelihoods in proportion to the lack of scientific evidence on the unnecessary suffering of the animal.

So, in summary, I would say that it is far wiser for the Government to have a sensible licensing Bill than to risk a legal challenge to a ban on European law grounds, together with the problems of enforcing bad legislation—which could even result in civil disobedience. I am sure that we can rely on the Prime Minister's good sense to achieve such a solution.

9.13 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I have enjoyed parts of the debate. I enjoyed hearing the points when they were first made but after hearing them repeated three times, one becomes a little weary. I see the Minister smiling and agreeing with me.

A certain amount of logic has been spoken and there has been a fair amount of heat. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, who is no longer in his seat, was a little brave to describe those who hunt as "hooligans" when the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, sits behind him.

The debate boils down to two questions. First, is hunting with hounds cruel? What has clearly been demonstrated by my noble friend Lord Hooson and others is that if you want to control foxes, you must use hounds, terriers or whatever—you may call them dogs.

I believe it has clearly been shown that hunting is no more cruel than shooting or any other means of control. In fact, from the speeches that have been made, it appears to be clear that the hunting and killing of the fox—or its escape—during a hunt is probably less cruel than shooting. I know from personal experience that one can wound animals and not kill them outright. Therefore, I believe that the cruelty issue has been put aside. From the evidence presented here and from the many investigations that have been carried out, there is no question in my mind but that the hunting and killing of foxes with hounds is no more cruel than the other methods of control.

The second point, which has been made with great sincerity by a number of people, including my noble friend with whom I disagreed, although I consider that she expressed it extremely well, related to the morality of people who enjoy hunting. I believe that this point has also been answered by a number of speakers. The enjoyment of people who hunt is not in the death of the fox; it is in the excitement, the danger and the general feeling of good will engendered by hunting.

Therefore, if the House produces acceptable amendments which change the Bill into an improved version of the Government's apparent wish. I hope that the Minister, who has listened patiently—I am not sure whether he has done so patiently but, in many cases, he has listened—will be supportive of that. I hope that he will push such a version among his colleagues, and perhaps we might obtain an agreed solution instead of having the kind of row that we are experiencing at present.

9.17 p.m.

The Earl of Liverpool

My Lords, I enjoyed listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and I find myself in agreement with almost everything that he said. I apologise if I am guilty of being somewhat repetitive, and I hope that I shall not cause him offence in that.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, this is the first time that I have spoken on this subject in your Lordships' House. I should explain that I do not hunt, having given up following an accident when I was 16 years old. One reason that I feel compelled to speak now is that I, like so many other noble Lords, am appalled and bemused that this issue has been allowed to take up so much precious parliamentary time when there are so many other important issues that we could, and should, be addressing.

We are supposed to be a tolerant society but, in my view, the Bill goes beyond all reasonable bounds of tolerance. It will make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding individuals who have been doing what has been done for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

It is man's destiny to manage his environment and the wildlife within it. That is a given. Foxes are vermin. That is also a given. I believe that hunting is the most efficient way of managing this particular species as it maintains some sort of reasonable balance. Those who consider that foxes will be better off if and when this legislation is passed are, I believe, deluding themselves.

If foxes had the vote, they would not vote for this Bill. It will be open season for them if the Bill is passed, and they will be persecuted far more than they are at present. If the police had the vote, they would not vote for this piece of legislation. As my noble friend Lord Hurd said earlier, they would not do so because they would see it as completely unmanageable and a serious misuse of police time. If the public had the vote, apparently 59 per cent would vote to keep hunting. That, of course, is an even greater number than those who voted against the euro in the Swedish referendum. I believe that the figure there was 56 per cent, which was reported in the press as being a decisive majority.

According to a newspaper article that I read yesterday, even magistrates are dreading the passing of the Bill. Apparently, if the article is correct, some 25 per cent of all magistrates living in countryside areas are seeking to resign because they do not want to find themselves being forced to criminalise perfectly law-abiding members of their community.

So who would vote for this Bill as it now stands, apart from a majority in another place? The only people I can think of are the lawyers, who will be queuing up at the court of human rights in the Hague and who stand to make lots of money as they attempt—in all probability they will succeed—in getting this legislation overturned. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, true democracy is achieved through the will of the people, not just those in another place. Like many others in this country, I hate the creep of a nanny state into all walks of life. This Bill, born of bigotry, is certainly a fine example of that.

The economy in the countryside is like a finely interwoven fabric. If hunting is banned, thousands of people will lose their livelihoods in areas where getting on your bike is not an option. In any event, the fox, deer and hare population have to be controlled if we are to operate efficient farms in this country. So for the life of me I cannot see arguments for an all out ban. Neither can the many hundreds of people who have written to me. I have had hundreds of letters, one of which was in favour of a ban. But the others, probably 200, were against a ban.

As I have said, it seems to me that almost everyone, including foxes, would be the losers. So I shall certainly join with other noble Lords in seeking to amend the Bill, as the noble Lord. Lord Mackie, suggested, so that it resembles the Bill first presented in another place. As other noble Lords have said, we can speculate on what the Government will do then but I do not think the electorate will easily forgive another place if they use the Parliament Act on this piece of legislation.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I accused the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, of calling hunters hooligans. It was not him; it was the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester.

9.22 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, like the noble Earl who has just spoken, and the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, I, too, have not spoken before in a hunting debate. However, I have always voted with my noble friend Lady Mallalieu against a ban on hunting. It is late at night and we will not change any views, so I shall try to be brief.

When we used to have capital punishment in this country, especially before it became mechanised and made efficient, people who were facing death used to pay a little purse to the hangman because they wanted to die a clean death. They would pay him to use the sword to make a clean cut and not cause suffering while they were dying. Of course, to kill someone is cruel but there are ways which are less cruel and ways which are more cruel.

Like many others, I have never hunted or ridden a horse. I probably would not recognise a fox if I saw one in the street. Fox hunting has never bothered me and I do not know why I should ban something on civil libertarian grounds which has never bothered me. I do lots of things which I am sure would cause distress if people knew about them and they may want to ban them.

Baroness Thornton

Surely not!

Lord Desai

You don't know me!

Therefore, I feel that at least on a personal utility calculus I have no reason to support a ban on hunting. I cannot judge, but other people tell me that there will be various effects on the rural economy, and so forth. I have always thought in all contexts, not just this one, that employment arguments are spurious. As an economist I believe that if people cannot do one thing, they will do something else. After all, that is what happened with coalminers, steel workers and many others. The countryside will adjust. But that is not the issue. The question at issue is: even if there is no effect, is this action worth taking?

I have already given the argument on at least my own calculus. As we are becoming tolerant in many other dimensions, such as sexual mores or in becoming multi-cultural. why is it that suddenly this issue has assumed such importance in the minds of people?

Obviously, there is the argument of majority rule, but majoritarianism is a peculiar argument. Of course the majority can always have its way. There is no doubt about that. Indeed, it may be that this majority will have its way. However, how do we take into account the fact that this Bill will cause distress to a minority, especially if that minority insists, as it has every right, on exercising civil disobedience and floods the prisons of this country, which is what I advise it to do? Let everyone be arrested and we will see what happens to the prison system in this country.

The majoritarian argument is false for the following reason. When I was young, I was a majoritarian. I had great confidence that I belonged, with the masses, to the majority of the population; and therefore whatever the majority wanted was right. Then we suffered 18 years of Conservative rule and found that we were not in a majority at all. There was another majority out there. When one is on the wrong side of majority rule, one realises that life is tough. The answer is not, as my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton seemed to argue, "Well, it's our turn now, so tough luck". The argument is, "No, we suffered during that time. Because we realise that that is not the way to conduct affairs, let us try to be more reasonable".

There is also, however, a defect in the constitution. I have argued about it for many years; not in the context of fox hunting, but on the reform of your Lordships' House. It is that the Westminster constitution has a unicameral majoritarian bias: the House of Commons can always do whatever it chooses to do. Very often, or a lot in this case, the House of Commons does what the Government in power ask it to do, if the party in power has a sufficient majority.

If this House had been reformed, as for a long time I argued that it should have been, and made into an elected Chamber, we could legitimately have said to the other place, "You are not the only representatives of the people. There are other views". There are other majorities, other ways of representation. Sadly, we have not fulfilled that manifesto commitment. But there are manifesto commitments and manifesto commitments. I have been long enough in the Labour Party to know that if a Labour government fulfilled every manifesto commitment, the annual conference would be deserted: there would be nothing to complain about. So, I do not put great faith in manifesto commitments.

Lastly, I turn to animal cruelty. I cannot judge what a fox feels; I cannot anthropomorphise a fox's feelings. But I want to say one thing: out in the streets today there are Animal Liberation Front people who are literally terrorising people who conduct experiments on animals. I believe very strongly in my calculus that human welfare ranks above animal welfare. If people do not like that, they do not. Experimenting with animals to improve human health is a fundamentally good thing. If we concede the animal cruelty argument now, God help the people of the Huntingdon Life Sciences laboratories and every scientist who conducts animal experiments and, in consequence, all those people who hope that experiments on animals will ultimately benefit their health.

9.29 p.m.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, I wonder why it is that every time that I speak in your Lordships' House I speak immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Desai. Almost every time, he says that he is speaking on a subject about which he has never spoken before but is in agreement with third parties. I shall try to say something different.

I see before me the greatest natural schism that we have had since the early days of religion. Schism, or scisme, effectively means disunion, disharmony or mutual hostility—that word that has more meanings, pronunciations and spellings in the Oxford English Dictionary than any other word. It was once hijacked by the Church in the treaty of Constance when the great divide took place. Now we have the division between St Hubert, the patron saint of hunting, whose day is 3rd November, and St Francis, the patron saint of animals, who only a few years ago, in 1979, was made by Pope Paul the patron saint of the ecologists.

I will speak tonight, as I did a year or so ago, not on behalf of the pro- or anti-hunting lobby. I shall not try to heal divisions, but I shall try to speak on behalf of mammals as a whole. I begin by reminding your Lordships that within rural areas of the United Kingdom there are only 6 million human mammals—only 10 per cent of the population. When we consider that that is the smallest proportion of people living in rural areas of almost any developed nation we must think again: have we lost touch with the rural areas?

We know that the fox population, vulpes vulpes, has increased fairly rapidly since I spoke last March, partly due to clement weather, partly due to the town ecologists, who have been helping the urban fox, who has increased in numbers from about 20,000 to 50,000. As your Lordships will know, the fox population swells dramatically in May when the cubs are out. My favourite was the Belgravia fox on the Duke of Westminster's estate, who now, I fear to say, suffers from mange. He was fit and healthy last year; his cubs are at large and have managed, as leasehold enfranchisement takes place, to go downstairs and eat more and more from the rubbish bins.

Is the urban fox a threat? I do not know. Is the rural fox a threat? The urban fox has had problems in Bristol, which it heavily occupied, because of disease. The biggest enemies of the fox are disease and the motor car, not hunting. For those of us who love the country and have been brought up in it, one of the finest sights in the world is to see a really fit, beautifully trimmed fox in the early morning or evening. You feel nothing but admiration for that animal. More has been written about it in fables and poems than any other animal in history. It is said that the more the fox is cursed, the better he fares. Perhaps that is true of those who fight the Bill: the more they are cursed, the better they fare.

But the fox is only one mammal whose welfare may be compromised. Let us turn to the horse. In the days when I chaired one of the Government's bodies for sport and recreation, we always used to say that there were 400,000 horses in the United Kingdom. There are now 970,000 horses in the United Kingdom—a vast population. That is based on Swedish and other research. Because few are registered, DEFRA, for example, can account for only 270,000 horses. We must consider the inter-relationship between different horse activities. There are only 900—nearly 1,000—working horses. They are in the military or the police. We may talk of 83,000 horses involved with hunting, but we should not forget the pony clubs and the relationships that follow down the line, which may well involve as many as 200,000 horses.

An urban fox lives for seven years; a rural fox for four years; a horse may live for 15 to 17 years. What happens to those horses? They have been growing in numbers. The exports from the United Kingdom abroad are only 6,000, but the death toll is around 34,000 a year. Six thousand go to hunt kennels to feed hounds; 18,000 go to the knacker's yard; and another 10,000 go God knows where.

One fear is that, if we abolish hunting altogether, there may be considerable deaths among horses and movement abroad of live horses, which various bodies are trying to prevent at present, especially when we consider EU legislation that requires live horses, for quarantine and other purposes, to spend up to 12 hours in a horsebox, without water and goodness knows what. Considerable cruelty could apply if we moved down that route.

In the United Kingdom there are 6.2 million dogs, of which around 20,000 are hounds, 150,000 are related to coursing and 50,000 are terriers. However, many more dogs are involved in rural sports and activities. The individual may, in his own right, take his dog out for a walk or a run, and it is common practice for the animal to hunt or chase. I do not know how many dogs live in rural areas. I have been brought up to believe that there are only two types of dog: hounds and terriers. The hound sniffs and follows, and the terrier, whether it be a Shih Tzu or a Lhasa Apso, has a remarkable habit of occasionally deciding to roll in the excrement of a badger or fox and then to pollute the home.

We all love animals of one form or another. But, given that the welfare of many more mammals other than the fox many be compromised, I ask the Minister whether he is certain that the welfare of the horse, hound and other dogs will not be compromised by the extension of the Bill at this time. We all know that there is a division on the issue. I would just as happily sit on the Benches opposite if I could find a way to solve that divide. We are on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. We believe and respect his personal views, and we respect and understand the difficulty that he faces. As I said previously, Tiberius outfoxed the Senate. Please will the noble Lord outfox his own Government?

9.36 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the Bill is illiberal, as has been said in many quarters of the House. It is also immoral because it seeks to outlaw people's way of life, traditions and liberty, and, in many cases, to abolish their livelihoods, for reasons that are, to a considerable extent, malicious or frivolous.

Let us remember that attacks on tradition and liberty affect not only those directly involved but millions of others who value such qualities, even though they may never have hunted or even followed a hunt. Attacks on the freedom of one group are, to a considerable extent, attacks on the freedom of us all. I am sure that the noble Lords, Lord Phillips of Sudbury and Lord Desai, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford agree with that proposition, judging by their speeches.

I have used the strong words "malicious" and "frivolous", so let me justify them. First, it is malicious to use the criminal law to target those whose imagined character and lifestyle you disapprove of, whether or not they bear any relation to those individuals' actual character and lifestyle. It is also malicious—and hypocritical, to boot—to ban hunting on the grounds that people must not be allowed to kill for pleasure, while cynically assuring the electorate that shooting has the wholehearted support of the Government and the Labour Party, even though shooting is all about killing for pleasure—far more so than hunting. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, reminded us, many animals are wounded during and after a shoot; it is never the case with hunting.

Is it not frivolous for educated people, trained to analyse and evaluate—one can perhaps forgive less educated people—to seek to criminalise a longstanding, hitherto legal activity, not on the basis of hard scientific evidence but out of self-indulgent and often anthropomorphic emotionalism? That is all the more so since scientific calculations have now, within the past year or so, been underpinned by the Scottish experience, which reveals that, on balance, there is far more suffering among foxes, now that they can no longer legally be killed by a pack.

Of course, not everyone can be an expert on guns and shooting, but educated people must surely be aware that the alleged marksmanship depicted in Hollywood westerns, when the target is always dispatched cleanly and instantaneously without a drop of blood, is entirely bogus. Alas, shooting a moving target in real life is a much more messy and uncertain business. Traditional hunting really is the least cruel practical method of culling foxes. As the country vets have declared: We do not pretend that hunting is necessarily the most efficient method of control but it is irrefutably the most humane". I accept that some supporters of this Bill concede that point. They do not claim that the kill is particularly cruel, but they nevertheless support the Bill on the grounds that the chase is. That argument is certainly worthy of respect, unlike some others. However, it has now been categorically refuted by vets and experts in zoology and clinical pathology in the past 10 months—since the subject was last debated. Certainly, their findings tend to match one's empirical observations. Hares driven by beaters and dogs towards a line of guns always look terrified, whether they actually are or not. However, if a fox is being pursued, it generally appears unhurried and unworried.

Despite the conclusions, we are told to do away with carefully reasoned scientific argument and say, "The public wants a ban and the public must have its way". That is a most interesting proposition. I remember a public opinion poll published in a reputable broadsheet about 40 years ago, when the notion of decriminalising private homosexual activity between consenting adult males was being canvassed. The poll showed a small majority in the south of England in favour, but 68 per cent of people in the North were against, as were no less than 89 per cent of people in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom as a whole wanted such behaviour to remain criminal. Nevertheless—quite rightly, in my view—the government eventually pressed ahead and liberalised the law, although it took a bit longer in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Those who demand a ban on beagling, should the public wish it, should logically demand a ban on buggery should the public wish it, coupled no doubt with the reintroduction of capital punishment. I doubt that those who pray in aid public opinion on the issue of hunting are prepared to be so logical and consistent.

In any case, as the honourable member for Montgomeryshire, Mr Lembit Opik, pointed out in the other place on 16th December last year, it is the Commons Chamber that is out of kilter with public opinion. The public have started listening to the arguments, unlike many MPs, unfortunately. Now, between 57 per cent and 59 per cent of the public oppose a hunting ban. The riposte to those new statistics seems to be, "Fickle public opinion is neither here nor there. Moreover, we don't decide such matters by plebiscite in this country. The House of Commons is the true voice of the people and it is for the House of Commons to decide". However, even if one takes the view that the majority has the right to ride roughshod over the rights of a minority—and that is a big "if"—to what extent is the House of Commons the true voice of the people at the present time?

In this country, we have constituency boundaries that are grossly unfair to the main opposition party at the moment, to the extent that, if each of the main parties attracted 40 per cent of the popular vole, Labour would still, I am told, have an 80-seat lead. It has not always been like that; there have been periods in the past when the Labour Party has been similarly disadvantaged, albeit to a lesser extent. However, that is the situation today. Then, we have the fact that MPs from Scotland, still over-represented in another place, can vote on hunting in England and Wales but it cannot happen the other way round.

Finally, we have the first past the post system. The consensus is that it is the lesser of two evils because it prevents governments being held to ransom by tiny—often extremist—parties, as happens in many other countries of which one could think. Nobody can seriously claim, however, that the results accurately reflect the precise balance of public opinion, even on polling day. On occasion, the difference between the popular vote and the number of seats gained is wildly out of line; in other words, fairness is sacrificed to effectiveness.

My point is that, of course, the Government and their Back-Benchers have the technical right, in a narrow, constitutional sense, to use their disproportionate majority to ride roughshod over their opponents not only in Parliament but in the country, if they so choose. They need give no quarter and brook no compromise. However, they might ask themselves whether, in the circumstances, they have any moral right to deprive a minority of its liberties for no sound reason.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as chairman of St Martin's Magazines, publishers of Country Illustrated and Hunting Magazine, and also as a member of the Warwickshire Hunt. I was relieved that it was not in the list of hunting villains with which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, earlier regaled us.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, for reminding the House that hunting is a sport. It is a sport like shooting, stalking or fishing. The Government must explain why fox hunting, stag hunting and hare coursing have been singled out as sacrificial victims, while shooting, fishing and stalking have been ignored. Is it because hunting unquestionably causes more animal welfare problems because it causes more suffering than shooting or fishing? If so, where is the evidence? There is no evidence for that. Is it because people enjoy hunting? Is it therefore, in some way, morally repugnant? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough dealt with that point very well. People enjoy shooting, fishing and stalking, never mind ferreting or ratting.

The Government have stated that they do not intend to legislate on shooting or fishing, so what is so unique about hunting that it makes a large number of Labour Back-Benchers foam at the mouth? Why must hunting alone pass the spurious test of utility? What if that test were applied to shooting and, even more, to fishing, particularly the coarse fishing so beloved of some of the fish kissers in the other place? Are trench such an obvious danger to life and limb that we need no pass a utility test in order to fish them?

The separation of sport from pest control is virtually impossible in many field sports. The animals involved neither understand nor care about motive; they care only about what is done to them. The honourable Member for West Ham, Tony Banks, was right—perhaps uncharacteristically so—when he said that the debate on fox hunting was, a situation in which passions and subjectivity rule the day".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/03; col. 91.] He said that the issue was "totemic" to Labour Back-Benchers. That makes the whole business absurd and makes the claim made by the Minister, Alun Michael, that any Bill would be based on evidence and principle look shamingly cynical.

What we have now, as many noble Lords have said—I make no apology for repeating it—is a Bill based on prejudice, not principle. Any evidence that is contrary to the beliefs of the other place has been ignored in the scramble to institute a ban. The Burns committee might as well have saved itself six months' work. The hearings that we had last year in Portcullis House were a waste of time.

Sydney Smith once said: I never read a book before reviewing it; it prejudices a man so". Similarly, the other place has never considered the evidence, in case it interfered with the lip-smacking drive to a total ban. It is that drive that produced the Bill that we are now discussing. It is a sorry piece of work. The Minister's attempts to produce a Bill that was even remotely based on utility and least suffering were hijacked on Report and ended in a humiliating climbdown, when he was forced to withdraw his Bill.

Unsurprisingly, the Bill that has resulted is rubbish. The scientific evidence produced by the Middle Way Group in a study of the control of foxes by shooting has been ignored. That study showed that shooting had serious animal welfare implications. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who tried to imply that such considerations did not apply in Scotland, where hunting has, allegedly, been banned. It has not been banned; there is a different way of doing it. According to this scientific study, which is now undergoing peer review, shooting incontrovertibly leaves many animals wounded. That can hardly be described as an advance in animal welfare legislation. The other place also ignored the recent study by the University of Kent, published in Nature magazine in May, which concluded that field sports make a significant contribution to conservation and biodiversity.

The Bill is riddled with inconsistencies. First, the Minister has admitted that snaring causes more suffering than the use of dogs, but snaring remains in the Bill. Why? Secondly, hunting rabbits is allowed, but hunting hares is not. Killing rats with dogs is allowed, but killing foxes with dogs is not. Why? I am sure that the Minister has no problem spotting the difference between a hare and a rabbit at 100 yards. But what about dogs? Are they quite as discerning? Has he got plans to introduce a Defra rabbit recognition scheme for visually impaired dogs? Perhaps he will tell us about that at some stage. Thirdly, and bizarrely, the Bill will allow the use of dogs to protect birds kept for the sole purpose of being shot, but will ban the use of dogs for the protection of lambs and rare birds.

Where do we go from here? Like my noble friend Lord Peel and the noble Lord, Lord Moran. I am rather uneasy about returning to the Bill that was originally sent to the House of Commons before the Standing Committee in the other place got at it. The definition of "utility" was very tightly drawn: if it is to make any sense it must include economic, environmental and social issues, as well as pest control.

The test of "least suffering" was equally defective. The only scientific study to date was that which I referred to earlier, carried out by Dr Nick Fox on behalf of the Middle Way Group, which showed that control of foxes by shooting has its own welfare problems. In the absence of other studies, it seems unreasonable to require hunts to prove "least suffering". It should be up to those who wish to ban hunting to prove their case by fact and science, not simply by personal taste, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, rightly pointing out.

In that context, I was disappointed by the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Corbett and Lord Harrison, who, unfortunately, are not in their places. I thought that they were going to produce something new and different; it is 18 months since the last debate in this House. I thought that they were going to produce facts, which would show that hunting was definitely cruel. But, no. They have come up with the same old insults, the same tired old clichés about hunting being cruel, being a blot on the landscape, and so forth. Unless noble Lords are to suggest that the fox should become a protected species, they must produce more evidence before tens of thousands of men, women and children are criminalised.

Was I the only person to find the introductory remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, slightly aggressive in tone, or perhaps prescriptive? He told us that we were not allowed to discuss this and that we were not allowed to amend that. Yet, in the next breath, he said that we should engage fully with the Bill. Perhaps he can explain how he expects us to do that when there are so many restrictions on what we are and are not allowed to do.

Subject to amendments to what I call the Alun Michael Bill, I join the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, in preferring the Middle Way option; that is, hunting should be regulated by a licensing authority and linked to the Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, which amends the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. I shall not go into detail now, but I believe that that would be workable and acceptable to the vast majority of people who want a solution to this problem without occupying Parliament for any more valuable time. After all, that Middle Way solution was supported in this House in March 1992 by a majority of 306 votes. I therefore hope that it will find favour with noble Lords when it reaches Committee stage.

Fifty one weeks ago, half a million people marched through London to Parliament Square to ensure that their voices were heard. Their voice has been ignored by another place. They now look to us to protect them. I am very encouraged by the speeches today and I believe that we shall not let them down.

9.55 p.m.

Baroness Golding

My Lords, I too begin by declaring an interest as co-chairman of the Middle Way Group, which has done so much to try to produce a workable Bill that we could all agree with and which would do much for animal welfare.

Wildlife protection must extend beyond the issue of hunting with dogs. That is why members of the Middle Way Group consider that the regulation of hunting, alongside my noble friend Lord Donoughue's Wild Mammals (Protection) (Amendment) Bill, is the way forward. There is no animal welfare benefit in the Bill before the House tonight. The Middle Way Group has estimated that around £30 million has been spent over recent years by the three main campaigning groups that wish to ban hunting with dogs. What a waste of money that could have been better spent on really protecting animals.

By what logic do those who wish to ban hunting say that a fox shot at and injured may then be chased by only two dogs for the purpose of relieving its suffering, presumably by killing it? Surely anyone with any knowledge would understand that a trained pack of dogs would catch a wounded animal more quickly and put it out of its misery. I believe that that is a case of prejudice over common sense, which underlines much of what this Bill is all about.

The Bill is most certainly not based on the results of the report produced in October 2001 for Defra by its European wildlife division entitled the Review of non-native species legislation and guidance or, indeed, on the Convention on Biological Diversity which arose from the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio in 1992 and to which the British Government are signatories. Why do I say that? The reason is that the convention requires, as far as possible. and as appropriate, to prevent the introduction of, and to control and eradicate, those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or native species". I shall pass over Muntjac deer, which have invaded woodlands throughout central England, and Sika deer, which have hybridised with our native red deer, and turn to my least favourite non-native species, the American mink. I want to speak for the mink hunters, for this is not a Bill only about fox hunting, to which many noble Lords have referred while ignoring the effect on other forms of hunting.

One of the main reasons given by the anti mink hunters is that mink hunting is inefficient. Let us compare the Border Counties mink hounds which hunt near me. At the beginning of the hunting season this year, that hunt killed 26 mink in 15 days. By contrast, the Scottish islands have a £1.65 million project for eradicating mink using only traps. Nine trappers, two foremen and a scientific director using 2,024 traps over 35,450 trap nights caught just 124 mink, at a reported cost of £400,000.

Defra's own report states that to meet its commitment to the United Nations convention, adequate funds and commitment must be in place continuously over the timescale required to achieve the eradication of. these alien species". Given the Scottish experience, if the Minister can tell us how much the Government have set aside to eradicate mink once mink hunting is banned, I should be very interested to hear the amount.

There will be consequences on the management of our countryside if this Bill is passed. The Government have signed up to the convention to protect our native wildlife. This Government—my Government, I am proud to say—should be working with the hunting community to protect all our wildlife. I hope that this Bill will be amended to take on that most important task.

10 p.m.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, one of the problems of speaking late in a long debate such as this is that one cannot listen to every speech. Much has been said about cruelty to foxes and danger to animals, but I do not think that anyone has mentioned the fact that hunting can be dangerous to those who take part. There have been a number of fatalities over the years in the hunting field. In the age in which we live, I am surprised that the diligent zealots ill the Health and Safety Executive did not close it down years ago. That would have saved all the time we have spent debating this subject.

Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I, too, live on the edge of Exmoor. I fully endorse what they have said. They have much greater knowledge of this subject than I, but I am used to hunts being around where I live. A few years ago I was enjoying my garden when, out of the blue, a deer leapt over my front gate, followed in short order by what I can only describe as a waterfall of hounds. It was a most unnerving and alarming experience. They raced in front of me, across the lawn and down some steps and negotiated—I do not know how—a double fence, the outer one of which was covered in barbed wire, apparently without any undue damage, and they all raced off across the field and disappeared.

I must admit to being rather shell-shocked by the experience. But, distasteful though I found it, I nevertheless still recognise and strongly support the right of people in my neighbourhood to do what they and their families have done for years. They have done it better than anyone else, and that has been greatly to the benefit and well-being of animals and birds, both wild and domestic. As the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said, hunting is the glue that cements the community in which I live, although I do not take any part in it and never have done.

What will happen if the Bill is enacted in the form in which it stands and hunting is banned? Like many other noble Lords, I have received hundreds of letters. One in particular came from an 80 year-old, who lives no more than 10 or 12 miles from me, and related what may be a pointer to what might happen. It concerned what happened during the war when hunting in his locality ceased and the neighbouring hunts were overstretched and could not reach across to his locality. The fox population increased and farmers had to do something to control it. In those areas where there were organised shoots, the gamekeepers shot or snared the foxes and they disappeared. Elsewhere, foxes ran riot, killing lambs and poultry, until they caught mange, which in turn infected the sheep dogs and so on, causing, as the gentleman said in his letter, untold ecological damage. Is that what we want for our countryside—more foxes being killed or dying in ways that are crueller than happens at the moment?

What worries me most about the Bill is its rank intolerance. I do not hold myself up as any paragon of moral virtue, but if the line that I have taken had been taken up more widely in another place, it would have saved us from all the time and bother we have had over the issue of hunting.

The Government have made a grave error in giving in to the bully boy tactics in another place, because it has opened the door to further action of this kind—action that the late lamented Lord Hailsham described as "elective dictatorship". That is the way we are going. What the Bill as drafted proposes is unworthy of this country. It will greatly damage our reputation as one of the most tolerant nations in the world.

10.5 p.m.

Lord Laird

My Lords, I welcome this Hunting Bill as a huge step forward for animal welfare and I urge your Lordships to support it wholeheartedly. In one way, it is an enormous shame that we are debating this Bill, because it has one big flaw—it does not cover Northern Ireland.

The campaign to ban hunting is not an attack against rural people or against class. It is a question of morality. It is fundamentally wrong for human beings to chase and kill wild animals for enjoyment. Human beings are aware of differences between right and wrong, unlike natural predators. We in Northern Ireland insist that guns must be taken out of politics because we do not want to live in a society where the strongest get their way through threats and violence. Precisely the same argument should apply to our dealings with the animal kingdom.

Domestic animals have been protected from cruelty for around 90 years, but still today we are allowed to chase and kill wildlife for fun. If you chased a domestic cat round a field with a pack of dogs and watched as it rips the cat apart, you would rightly be prosecuted for cruelty. Other cruel sports such as cock fighting, bear baiting and badger baiting have long since been made illegal. It is time for hunting with hounds to join those cruel sports and be banned.

Even the hunters accept that there is suffering involved. That is why they seek to justify hunting by claiming that it is pest control. Pest control is not a true justification. Several scientific studies have shown that this is not the case. The scientific journal Nature published research last year which showed that during the time when hunting was banned during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, there was no significant increase in the fox population. In other words, the fox population was stable whether or not hunting took place. Farmers I speak to would rather deal with a problem fox by lamping than chasing round after a fox, often damaging property and trespassing in the process.

If the Northern Ireland Assembly is resumed, I look forward to the campaign of the League Against Cruel Sports to ban fox hunting in Northern Ireland. It has already launched its campaign against hare coursing in Northern Ireland. For all these reasons, this Bill should be supported by your Lordships, and the cruel sports of fox, are, deer and mink hunting and hare coursing should be banned.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, before the noble Lord winds up, perhaps he could explain why, if he feel so strongly about the subject, he was unable to be here except for the last 10 minutes, and did not show the usual courtesy of hearing any of the opening speeches.

Lord Laird

My Lords, perhaps I could point out that while I am grateful for the noble Viscount's intervention, I have been here for the best part of an hour and I propose to be here for the rest of the debate.

Noble Lords


Lord Laird

My Lords, how many other noble Lords have been here for that length of time?

Viscount Astor

My Lords, if the noble Lord looks at the list of speakers, he will see that it clearly says that it is discourteous for a noble Lord not to be here for the opening speeches if he is going to speak in the debate.

Lord Laird

My Lords, that may be so, in which case I apologise, but I was attending to other business.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

They must be desperate.

Lord Laird

Yes, my Lords, they must be very desperate. It is the mark of the hunting fraternity. I realise that it is unlikely—

A noble Lord

My Lords, the noble Lord has been discourteous.

Lord Laird

My Lords, perhaps it is discourteous to interrupt continually from the Bench.

I realise that it is unlikely that the Bill will pass through this House in anything like the form it is in today. That is why the Government must stick to their promises and reintroduce the Bill in the next Session. We now have a chance to be part of a huge leap forward for animal welfare in England and Wales, and I hope that your Lordships will take that chance to make history and that the provisions will soon be extended to Northern Ireland.

10.10 p.m.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as a member of the board of the Countryside Alliance, as a former Master of Hounds and a regular and passionate fox hunter—until my nerve finally gives out.

The purpose of the Bill is not to fulfil the Labour Party manifesto but, as we know, to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue, which is rather different. That commitment followed the publication of the Burns report, which did not conclude that hunting was cruel. Mr Alun Michael, the Minister appointed to deal with the issue, then embarked on a six-month consultation process involving the general public and the three main interested groups. Only 14 of the public submissions of evidence supported a ban. That process culminated in the three days of public hearings at Portcullis House. That was an extraordinary exercise in open democracy and, although little consensus was achieved, there was no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a case for banning hunting had been made.

Three areas of agreement were reached, however. First, it was agreed that all four quarry species need to be controlled, and will continue to be, whether or not there is hunting; that all methods of control inevitably cause a degree of suffering, which it is impossible to measure; and that all animals should, in principle, be treated the same way.

That was the basis on which the Minister drafted his Bill. The significant difference between that and earlier Bills is that it did not ban hunting but provided for a system of registration and regulation. Not only the Minister but the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and a number of others who had previously voted for a ban put their names to the Bill as sponsors. The evidence on which the Bill was drafted simply did not, and does not, justify a ban.

As my noble friend Lord Peel said earlier, the Bill was far from perfect. The definition of "utility" excluded both conservation and wildlife management, both of which were included in the consultation process. The definition of "least suffering" required the registrar to measure suffering in a way that the experts at Portcullis House had unanimously agreed was impossible. In addition, applicants for registration faced the reverse burden of proof test. Therefore, the key tests were loaded against hunting for political reasons.

Again, for political reasons, decisions about deer hunting and coursing were not to be trusted to the registrar, but were prejudged and banned in the Bill, contrary to the principles that emerged from the hearings. The tribunal process by which failed applicants could appeal was rigged in the most extraordinary way, perhaps unique in English law. The tribunal, having taken evidence, but before reaching its conclusion, was to take account of evidence from animal welfare groups prescribed by the Secretary of State and paid for from the public purse. Those groups were the very same ones that had been campaigning for years against the very activity they were now to be paid to sit in judgment on.

Putting aside those rather childish and obvious flaws, the architecture of the Bill and the system that it envisaged could, with a little amendment and a degree of good will, have produced a solution to this intractable political problem. It is important to remember that this is a political problem. This is not an animal welfare Bill, but an attempt to resolve a political problem—although it is not a problem in your Lordships' House or in the country as a whole, where polls now show that 90 per cent of voters do not give a hoot about hunting. Contrary to what the Minister told us in his opening speech, the polls also show that a significant majority now opposes a ban.

The only place where this problem exists is on the Back Benches of the government party in the House of Commons. That is why we are here today, wasting valuable parliamentary time. That is why, as the Session draws to a close, we shall have to spend day after day going through a Bill that nobody wants, at the expense of other important Bills and issues facing our country. That having been said, we could have done it, as your Lordships always do.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. As everyone now knows, during its Report stage in another place, the Government lost control of their Bill. Despite the best efforts and pleading of the Minister, who extraordinarily left the Chamber of the House of Commons for over an hour during the debate to negotiate with his opponents, and of the Secretary of State who spent the entire evening sidling round the Back Benches, in full view, trying to cobble a deal together, the Bill they introduced was hijacked and wrecked.

On 14th May, in a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Michael wrote: a complete ban amendment would destroy the architecture of the Bill, undermine the strong, simple framework of enforcement that is set out in the Bill and be perceived as pursuing prejudice rather than targeting cruelty". You bet. That is what we are looking at this evening. In moving his wrecking amendment, Mr Tony Banks told the other place: this matter is now highly political and, in many regards, has become totemic".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/03; col. 91.] That is the Bill before us tonight—nominally the Government's, but now wrecked, delayed, unworkable and "pursuing prejudice", to use the Minister's words: Mr Banks' "totemic" Bill.

I suggest that all is not lost. I and my many friends in the hunting community would indeed like to see this issue resolved, as the Government pledged. We are prepared to accept a system of registration and regulation, along the lines that the Government originally proposed. We would be content with an outcome based on principles, as long as those principles genuinely stem from the evidence that has been presented, and the system is fairly constructed, which means without built-in bias, or presumptions that can be perceived as pursuing prejudice.

In his opening remarks this afternoon, the Minister said that the Government would not be easily swayed by our amendments and that the Bill now represented the Government's approach. That is a slightly different view from that which the Minister for Rural Affairs wrote in his letter dated 11th September, only five days ago. He wrote: I believe the Bill that I originally brought before the House of Commons would have been effective in preventing all cruelty associated with hunting with dogs while enabling essential pest control to continue. It would also have been simple to enforce. However, MPs were not content with the fact that it could have allowed some hunting to continue, albeit only where it was shown that alternative methods of pest control were more cruel…In effect they chose a Bill that is simple to explain rather than a Bill that is simple to enforce".

He went on: There is a lot of speculation about what will happen when the revised Bill gets to the Lords for consideration. I hope very much that the Lords will react constructively, and look to improve the Bill. rather than just obstructing it".

We are prepared to work with the Government to produce such a Bill, with your Lordships' assistance of course, based on the Bill that the Government originally introduced. However, we need the Government's active and constructive co-operation if we are to achieve that. This Bill entered the House of Commons 10 months ago, in December, and was subjected to almost 100 hours of debate. It is not very helpful that the Bill arrives in this House in the dying weeks of the Session, when the timetable is under pressure, and when, before we have even seen the Bill once, let alone twice, we are already threatened with the Parliament Act, before we have tried to improve a Bill described by its sponsor as "wrecked".

We are lucky to enjoy government by consent and policing by consent in this country, precisely because Parliament has taken the trouble to enact just law. But with the weight of evidence that the Burns report and the Government's consultation process produced, it is clear that a ban on hunting would be completely unjustified and would be a severe and unprecedented restriction of the liberties of a significant minority of demonstrably law-abiding citizens. Several thousand people have now made it clear that they are deeply distressed and appalled at the prospect of this, but that they neither can nor will accept such an unjust law. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Kimball told us earlier, it is highly probable that, despite the certificate on the face of the Bill, as currently drafted it is in breach of Article 1 First Protocol, Article 6 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. My understanding is that the Joint Select Committee will consider that in due course. We look forward to its report.

In opening the debate the Minister dismissed those concerns rather flippantly with remarks about Eastern Europe and the right to pursue animals. I do not think that is the way to look at the European convention; and I do not think that the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Prime Minister would think that it was either. The Prime Minister's political triumph is that he has persuaded the British people that new Labour is a responsible party of government. This Bill is now a test of that. Responsible governments do not allow rogue elements in their ranks to hijack legislation for their own ends and to inflict their prejudices on one part of our community in breach of the European convention, backed by threats of a constitutional sledgehammer, when a sensible solution is within sight and people are prepared to work for it.

In his speech to the United States Congress in July, the Prime Minister said: We are fighting for the inalienable right of human kind…to be free. Free to be you so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others. And that's a battle worth fighting". I would not begin to compare the issues faced in the Middle East with those we are debating tonight, but the "freedom to be you" takes many different forms and is always, as the Prime Minister said, a battle worth fighting. This Bill impacts on that freedom here, at home in the British countryside. We should not take that lightly, but work together, rejecting threats and bullying, to find a sensible resolution. Those of us in the hunting community are prepared to do that if the Government will work with us. The alternative is unthinkable.

10.21 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I must start by making it clear that for once I do not speak for my party. The Green Party, I regret to say, like the majority of Members of another place, and like the noble Lord, Lord Laird, for instance in this place, but unlike, I am delighted to say, the Bench of Bishops, have got their moral theology in a twist.

There is a fundamental distinction we must make in our treatment of animals between those which are domesticated or farmed, and for whom we have therefore accepted a personal responsibility, and those which are wild and which we therefore meet species to species. In dealing with those that are domesticated or farmed we have a duty to see that they are treated as well as possible and spared unnecessary suffering, as I have tried to do in your Lordships' House, as your Lordships know. On the other hand, with those animals that are wild our duty lies in our handling of the biodiversity of the planet. We are responsible not for Basil Brush but for the fox population of this country as a whole.

Our primary duty is to see that the fox population is held in balance with that of its prey, competitors and predators. That control is needed we can see from the growth of the fox population. Many of your Lordships live in the country but I suspect that few of your Lordships have seen foxes copulating. Last year in Clapham I saw two foxes copulating in broad daylight on my garden wall. It was a bad place for them to do it but they succeeded.

I am not suggesting the foundation of a Clapham hunt but it is as part of a very complex traditional control system that fox hunting has its place. I do not pretend for one instant that fox hunting is a major or efficient way of controlling foxes—I know more about fox hunting than that—it is merely a valuable part of what, to use a useful cliché, one can call the rich tapestry of life and death in the countryside. It is for that reason that I vehemently oppose its abolition.

I hope that I have earned a reputation in your Lordships' House for short speeches. It is not a reputation I intend to jeopardise today, but there is one particular point arising from the voluminous correspondence we have all received which I should like to mention. I am very dubious, in spite of having carried the whip for two packs of beagles in my youth, about the need for hunting hares, and, incidentally, far from convinced about stag hunting, although I am open to persuasion on that. However, an exceptional case has been brought to my attention in one of the letters that I have received about basset hounds.

I shall quote from that letter, which was from Mr John Cordingley of Oxfordshire. He wrote: I am a follower of a pack of Basset Hounds…which hunt hares in mid and north Oxfordshire and adjacent country. As a sport the pleasure is entirely in admiring the working of the pack as a team in following a scent over varying terrain for considerable time during which the scent will disappear and be refound; often several times. The sound of a pack of Bassets 'speaking' is quite thrilling. The utility of the event is that the Hunt effectively culls old, decrepit and weak hares, as they are for the most part the only ones that the hounds actually catch (and kill no less humanely than by shooting). On many days, after several hunting episodes, no hare is caught at all. Hunting maintains a balanced population of healthy hares at a level. which causes minimal damage to crops". I find that letter and case to be quirky, touching, convincing, and above all sensible.

The subject arouses a great deal of passion. It is time that what was applied to it was common sense.

10.26 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, as the 58th speaker in a cast of 60, I want to emphasise only three points and to ask one question.

Having been a devotee of fox hunting all my life, if the anti-hunting lobby were, first, to take the trouble to find out exactly what does happen out hunting and then, if it still so wished, to say that even that was not acceptable in these modern times, I might not agree with it but I would respect its right to say so. What I am not prepared to accept is to be condemned for things that we do not do out hunting, that we never have done out hunting and that, if anyone tried to do them, the perpetrators would be sent home and never allowed to come out with our hounds again.

Secondly, what the Government are intent on destroying is not just a few days in the open country for the privileged few, but a whole culture, bringing massive groups of people, truly class-free, together as friends over hundreds of square miles in a way that is simply unmatched in any other activity. Its loss would be catastrophic to the already shaky, town versus country confrontation and divide.

Thirdly, it is no good Her Majesty's Government trying to shelter behind the size and breadth of the majority in another place on this issue. It is they who have set the scene, provided the parliamentary time, drafted the Bill and amendments, and given encouragement all along the line. Like all governments, theirs is the responsibility not always to pander to the majority but, on occasion, for ensuring that a minority is not unjustly penalised by sheer force of numbers on the other side.

Finally, I come to my question. I have been lucky enough to have been able to hunt, shoot and fish for most of my life, and I would defend each of those occupations with total confidence. But they stand or fall together. Her Majesty's Government have declared that, although they support this Bill, they will never allow either shooting or fishing to he banned and, indeed, the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister has given his personal guarantee to that effect.

I would therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, if he will at last answer this one question which Her Majesty's Government have been asked, and vainly asked, over and again: what are the precise criteria that make killing with a shotgun or with a rod and line acceptable, and even admirable, where killing with a pack of hounds is not? It really is vital for his sake that he give the answer to that question now because, if he cannot, once the Bill reaches the statute book, the animal lobby, which has set no such limit to its ambitions, will put exactly the same question, but the other way round. "Now that 'hunting with dogs' has been declared by law to be so objectionable that it has had to be made a criminal offence, what is it about shooting and fishing that makes them still acceptable?"

If the Minister's right honourable friends in another place are unable to give a wholly convincing answer to that question, neither they nor the right honourable gentleman, the Prime Minister, will be able to honour their pledge.

10.31 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, I have the privilege of summing up for my party, which is a very difficult task, as my noble friend Lord McNally pointed out, particularly as I have 24 pages of notes. I am sure that noble Lords will be glad to hear that am not going to read them all out, but I will take a lead from some of them.

The issue before us is one of general principle and of conscience. Members are free to express their own opinions. We will have a free vote in Committee and we appreciate the differences of opinion as they are expressed on these Benches. In previous votes, the majority of my party has championed liberty on this issue. On the previous occasion, it did so by 25 to five. The champions of liberty in the debate today were my noble friends Lady Miller, Lord Hooson and Lord Carlile, the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Hereford and the Bishop Peterborough, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and the noble Lords, Lord Donoughue—

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I hate to interrupt the noble Lord, but is it not also true that his party's conference is in favour of the Bill?

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

Yes, my Lords, I accept what the noble Lord has said, but I have also made it clear that, in parliamentary terms, we have an independent view. That occurs in the House of Commons as well as in this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Bragg, made a very forceful speech, as did my noble friends Lord Phillips, Lord Mackie and Lady Thomas, the noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord Stoddart of Swindon, and the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, made a particularly interesting speech, as did many others.

I respect those who oppose hunting on principle, if it is on principle and not out of prejudice. I include in that category my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lord McNally, the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Hoyle himself, in spite of his intervention, and others. I do not know whether he lives in his former constituency, but I still see quite a lot of it and I am sure that there are precious few livestock there.

Attempting to sum up the debate is very difficult. None the less, we have before us a Bill which introduces a ban on hunting. It replaces a Government Bill that allowed hunting to proceed through licensing and regulation. The truth is that Ministers in another place caved in to the extreme pressure of amendments to ban hunting. Editorials in the Guardian and the Independent put a reasoned case as to why such an outcome was fundamentally flawed. They concluded that the Bill is now unjust, oppressive and profoundly illiberal, which is a point with which I particularly agree. I can express my own view as my party grants me the freedom of speech to do so.

Unfortunately, the Bill underlines the divide between urban and country dwellers. It alienates country people from the democratic process through the misuse of parliamentary democracy to criminalise the legitimate protection of farm livestock and wildlife from the predation of the fox. The rearing of livestock is a labour of love, although little about that has been said today. I assure noble Lords that one month of lambing of any reasonable size of ewe flock will result in physical and mental exhaustion. Lambing often takes place at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m.—a little later than this House is sitting tonight—and the ewes represent years of detailed breeding and selection. The output of lambs can be ruined in seconds by the predations of the fox and, indeed, five, 10 or 20 headless lambs in a field can bear witness to that. In my own case, with a 250-ewe flock, in my worst year 39 lambs were lost. That works out at approximately 5 per cent of the lamb output, worth more than £1,000.

We all know that foxes kill. My former constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, which I represented for 11 years in Parliament, was hunted by nine hunts. Those hunts accounted for approximately 2,000 foxes per annum, and that has been the case consistently for the past 30 years. From a utility point of view, I believe that those hunts have kept foxes under control and, indeed, in balance. Foxes are pests to livestock farmers and the fox population is stable.

As my noble friend Lord Hooson and the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, pointed out earlier, one of the main problems has been the impact of blanket conifer forestry planted since World War II. That has imposed an unnatural environment and created a reservoir for the fox population in the uplands. I submit that in those areas only the activities of the foot gun packs have successfully controlled foxes over the years. If we have the opportunity to amend the Bill, I, as an individual, would certainly support the types of amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and referred to by my noble friend Lord Hooson.

The middle way has been referred to in this debate, together with the proposal to license hunting. Those mirror very much proposals in the previous Bill, which was lost in the House of Commons. We must remember that the principles incorporated in the middle way include: first, an independent hunting authority which licenses hunting; secondly, a legally binding code of practice; thirdly, penalties to underwrite that practice; fourthly, a proposal to cover all methods of fox control and not only hunting; and. finally, independent inspectors—I ask noble Lords to note that those are not the police—to enforce the licence conditions. Those principles are supported, for example, by four directors of the League Against Cruel Sports and by two out of three vets in the countryside. The proposals are practical and fair and, indeed, are supported by many people. Many of the principles were incorporated in the original Bill.

There is no doubt that with the loss of lambs, in particular, the Bill poses a vexed question in the countryside. Some speeches made reference to the communities where hunting occurs and, in particular, to the upland areas, where there are no other real means of controlling foxes. There is no doubt that in those places it will be a devastating blow if hunting is banned because the only way to get foxes out of blanket forestry, for example, is by using packs of dogs. I am afraid that that is a fact and those foxes must be controlled. The economic loss there has been considerable.

The options contained within hunting are: hunting with hounds; dogs with gun packs; lamping with dogs; driving foxes from a thicket or woods to shoot them; the foot packs associated with gun packs; and combining fox shoots on foot with gun dogs and terriers to flush out the foxes. As I see it, none of those can be practically achieved in the Bill as it stands before us tonight because the proposed legislation refers to the use of only two dogs at a time. The practicalities of that do not bear close examination. We must have effective fox control, and we cannot get that without the use of dogs. That, I am afraid, is a fact.

Other matters, for example, deer hunting, have been mentioned. I do not claim to be an expert on that but I listen to those people on Exmoor who know more than I do about it and I am prepared to listen very carefully indeed to those arguments to see whether they can be sustained. From the speeches made here tonight it is quite clear that there are very passionate views in favour of the management of the deer population on Exmoor. The fact that that is supported by the national park needs to be listened to very carefully.

The question of mink hunting, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, is particularly important. Mink are not native to this country and, indeed, cause terrible damage. There is no doubt that they are responsible for the water vole practically disappearing from our countryside. Certainly, the moorhen has practically disappeared also as a result of the predation of mink. There is no doubt that mink should be eliminated because of all the damage they do, not least attacking the fish population and depriving otters, for example, of natural food. Many issues of that kind need to be considered.

There is a fundamental difference between the Bill before us tonight and the Bill that was here previously. The previous Bill was permissive through licensing and regulation. This Bill criminalises those who propose to hunt and, indeed, bans hunting. That is a fundamental situation which confronts the House tonight, and more so the other place. As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and others, that criminalisation means that the police will be unable to enforce such legislation. That must be had legislation. Not only that, it divides country people from the police where co-operation has been very close indeed. I refer to the police authority with which I am most familiar, the Dyfed Powys police authority, which has the best detection rate in the whole of the United Kingdom—nearly 60 per cent. That has been achieved by the consent of the local population, which has assisted the police by close co-operation. That precious cooperation can be destroyed by legislation of this kind by dividing country people from their police force.

There is no doubt that the libertarian principles espoused here tonight by many speakers—I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Donoghue, speak of his Bill, which will shortly be debated; I believe there is a lot of mileage in that—are clearly those of the right to protect farm livestock and the right to a leisure activity which keeps wild species in balance. The introduction of indefensible sanctions will criminalise country dwellers and result in their imprisonment.

I conclude by quoting from the editorial of the Guardian on 2nd July 2003, which stated: The majority should hesitate before it rides roughshod over the minority. The peacefully expressed fears of many in the countryside, who see things differently and feel their way of life is under threat from people whom they think do not understand them, have made a persuasive case for a less absolutist approach. This was the spirit that underpinned Mr Michael's bill and it will be both legitimate and desirable if the Lords reinstate clauses in a similar (but not in a more permissive) spirit. Thanks to Mr Michael's mishandling, the irreconcilables have won a procedural battle this week. But they have not yet won the broader argument".

10.45 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, it is over 18 months since this House last had a substantive debate on hunting. The issues before us have changed very little. We are once again debating animal welfare, conservation in the countryside, civil liberties and the meaning of tolerance in a free society.

However, the Government's attitude towards them has changed dramatically. Last year they preached tolerance, proposed compromise and promised to listen; today, they support an outright ban on hunting. The listening began last September with three days of evidence taken at Portcullis House. The result was a government Bill to establish a regulatory framework for hunting; a sensible compromise supported by many on all sides, and certainly by a majority in this House.

Ministers then defended their proposals in Committee, which lasted 75 hours over 27 sittings. Indeed, they carried on defending them right through to the very end of the Report stage in another place. Yet, faced with an ambush sprung five minutes before the end of that debate, the Minister, Alun Michael, dramatically withdrew his proposals, leaving the Floor clear for a Back-Bench amendment to ban hunting. Promises of compromise, consultation and tolerance turned to dust in minutes as the Government traded votes for their National Health Service reforms with a ban on hunting.

As explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, and by my noble friends Lord King of Bridgwater and Lord Mancroft, the move was a humiliating defeat for the Minister. As he had told the Deputy Prime Minister on 14th May, a complete ban amendment would destroy the architecture of the Bill, undermine the strong, simple framework of enforcement that is set out in [it]…and be perceived as pursuing prejudice, rather than targeting cruelty, which is totally banned by the Bill as it stands".

I believe that the Bill before us is not only a triumph of prejudice over common sense, but a defeat for proper parliamentary process.

Let me turn to some of the issues raised in today's debate and start with animal welfare. The Burns report, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, did not state, as the Minister suggested, that hunting is cruel. This extensive inquiry neither condemned hunting as cruel nor recommended a total ban. Instead, it pointed out that a ban would not save a single fox, as other methods would be used to keep the fox population under control. All methods of fox control have welfare implications, as anyone who has tried to shoot a fox or seen an animal caught in a snare will know.

It is worth repeating that as a result of the Burns report and further debate in this House, a consensus was reached that a licensing system would address animal welfare issues. It received overwhelming support in this House when we last debated and voted on the issue in March last year.

Secondly, there is the moral debate that surrounds hunting. In the past five years we have heard from no fewer than seven right reverend Prelates from the Bishops' Benches. All have spoken in support of hunting—none against. Today we have heard three powerful and compelling speeches from the Bishops' Benches—from the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Hereford, the Bishop of Peterborough and the Bishop of Guildford—all against a ban.

The right reverend Prelates have consistently and convincingly argued that anthropomorphic attitudes towards the psychology of animals misleadingly suggests that they experience life exactly as we do—an argument that rejects the diversity of creation. Nor should we forget those faiths that are less well represented in this House. There is little support for a ban from them. Indeed, Jews and Muslims are now under pressure, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, to ban ritual slaughter, from the very same pressure groups that would outlaw hunting. Yet ritual slaughter is central to their religious beliefs and is a process that has not been found to be cruel by Defra. As the noble Lord, Lord Grabiner, said, there is no general consensus that hunting is morally unacceptable.

The third aspect of the debate centres around conservation. The Government accept that shooting and fishing play a valuable role in conserving the countryside, but they now appear to totally reject the conservation role played by hunting. Those involved in field sports more than most spend precious time, and their own money, conserving our rural heritage. We all benefit from the richness and diversity of our countryside. That is man-made, tended by those who live in and care for it. To quote from the Burns report, Hunting has clearly played a very significant role in the past formation of the rural landscape and in the creation and management of areas of nature conservation".

This House is a revising Chamber and I hope that your Lordships will do just that. I should like to see the Bill amended so that the principles of licensed hunting as originally proposed by the Government are returned to the Bill. That would present the Government with an opportunity to take back control of their own Bill.

I accept that another place might not agree. In such a situation, should the Government reintroduce a banning Bill and attempt to invoke the Parliament Act? The Parliament Act was designed to enable Governments to push through their legislation. But a banning Bill is not the Government's legislation. It is the work of Back-Bench MPs with no commitment to tolerance or compromise.

Just consider the views of two MPs who tabled the banning amendment on Report. Mr Tony Banks once famously told the Independent: I am now convinced that in years to come we will regard eating animal flesh in the same light as we now regard cannibalism".

For Mr Gerald Kaufman, the ban was not about hunting, but about revenge and class war. He said that Conservative Members of another place had no right to defend hunting because: During the last period of eight years, [they] deliberately destroyed 215,000 jobs in the coal industry, together with hundreds of thousands more jobs in the coal communities".—[Official Report, Commons, 9/7/03; Col. 1311.] That had nothing to do with hunting and the fox; it was about revenge. Incidentally, they were supported in the lobby by 36 Scottish MPs who could not resist voting on the Bill, even though it affects only England and Wales.

The Parliament Act is for driving through government Bills, but this is not a government Bill, no matter what the Minister says. There are strong legal and moral reasons why the Government should not use the Act to bulldoze this legislation through. Parliament should uphold the rights of minorities, not ride roughshod over them. Democracies become elective dictatorships when they ride roughshod over the rights of minorities. Democracy requires respect for the rights, beliefs and traditions of the minority.

Nor should we ignore the consequences of a ban. First, there would be protracted legal battles about whether a ban breached common law, the Human Rights Act 1998 or both. Laws passed by Parliament, as recent Home Secretaries from both parties have discovered, are often thrown out by the judiciary. A case is currently waiting to be heard in Scotland on this very issue.

Secondly, there is a real risk of civil disobedience and social unrest in the countryside. Many would see a ban as an unjust law. Professor Ronald Dworkin's standard moral position on civil disobedience in a recent article gives us a clear perspective: In a democracy each citizen has a general moral duty to obey all the laws. He owes that duty to his fellow citizens, who obey laws that they do not like, to his benefit. But this general duty cannot be an absolute duty, because even a society that is in principle just may produce unjust laws and policies, and a man has duties, other than his duties to the state. If he decides that he must break the law, however, then he must submit to the judgement and punishment that the state imposes, in recognition of the fact that his duty to his fellow citizens was overwhelmed but not extinguished by his…moral obligations". Civil disobedience would be a major challenge for the courts.

In a recent judgement in the Court of Appeal the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hoffmann, commented on Dworkin's summary as follows: It will of course be different if the law itself is unjust. The injustice of the law will carry over into its enforcement".

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, summed up those issues in his speech. Civil disobedience would be a major challenge for the police. As my noble friend Lord Hurd said, they would face a no-win situation. It is worth repeating the words of Alastair McWhirter, Chief Constable of Suffolk and the Association of Chief Police Officers' rural policing spokesman, who said: Parliament's vote for an outright ban on hunting with dogs fills many of my fellow officers with dread. Not because the police are pro-hunting—the service is determinedly neutral—but because of the practical implications of enforcing such a ban". The League Against Cruel Sports would resume its dangerous and violent activities.

When we last debated hunting, I made a plea to the Government that they had an opportunity to take the conflict out of the countryside—to do away with attitudes such as those of the Deputy Prime Minister, who once said: Every time I see the Countryside Alliance's contorted faces, I redouble my determination to abolish fox hunting".

As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said, the Labour Party promised that Parliament would have the opportunity to settle the matter once and for all; it did not promise a banning Bill. The Minister promised that he would achieve that goal in a fair, balanced and scientific way that would stand the test of time. He tried, but failed, defeated by a cabal of his own BackBenchers, whom one might call the "class war vegetarians".

If we returned the Bill, with a workable—I stress the word "workable"—licensing system, to another place, the Government might still have an opportunity to reclaim their Bill. We know that the Minister is against hunting; so are his ministerial colleagues in another place. It is sad that they all seem to despise our rural and farming communities, and that they appear so unwilling to listen. But now they have a chance for a change to do something right, to disprove their critics and to promote a Bill that can balance civil liberty and individual freedom with sensible and reasonable legislation. If the Minister does not do that, we will.

I shall conclude with the words quoted by my noble friends Lord Ferrers, Lord Arran and Lord Mancroft: We are fighting for the inalienable right of humankind…to be free. Free to be you so long as being you does not impair the freedom of others. That's what we are fighting for. And that's a battle worth fighting".

Those are the words of the noble Lord's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to Congress this summer. I am sorry that he does not agree with them, but I hope that the rest of your Lordships' House will remember those words as the Bill proceeds through this House.

10.56 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that was an interesting speech. It reflected—

Lord Jopling

My Lords, I am most obliged to the Minister for giving way. On a matter of procedure, he will have noticed that the speakers' list states that it is discourteous for Members not to be here for the winding-up speeches, and that any Members who are unable to stay until the end of the debate should remove their names from the list. I have noticed that five Members who spoke are not present now. I shall not name them. Does the Minister agree that it would be helpful if the Clerk would be kind enough to see who those Members are, and to send them a note saying that they ought to have been here tonight?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am not certain that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, is correct in asking the Clerk to do that. I can assure the noble Lord that that is the role of the Government Whip with regard to the Government Benches, and I am quite sure that those on the Opposition Benches who have noted any absences will do likewise.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, with the greatest possible respect to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, by my recollection there are six such Members. They include the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, who made a very powerful speech—most of us disagree strongly with what he said—and I remind noble Lords that he did not stay for the winding-up speech last time we debated this vexed subject.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I think that the point will be taken by Members of your Lordships' House.

The nature of the winding-up speech from the Opposition Benches reflected both the apex and the bathos of the debate. On the one hand, tile noble Viscount engaged in high-flown rhetoric about human rights, and, on the other, he engaged very clearly in reverse class conflict.

This is a difficult situation for the House arid, in many respects, the Government. Neither sweeping generalisations about the constitutional position nor petty remarks about the motivation of others are particularly appropriate. Many good points have been made—although not many that have not been heard before. At this time of night, I do not intend to reply to all of them, but will try to refer to specific points in correspondence. I will now make some general points.

I regret that I have to make this point almost every time we discuss the countryside, and certainly every time we discuss hunting. Those who oppose the position of many of us on the Labour Benches and others in other parties on fox hunting are wrong to accuse us of being against the countryside or ignoring or disparaging the countryside. It is especially wrong for those who claim on behalf of the pro-hunters to speak for the countryside. There are plenty of people in the countryside who oppose, want to restrict or ban hunting.

There has been some argument about opinion polls. I have spent a fair part of my life putting the best gloss on bad opinion polls, but I do not intend to engage in discussion on particular opinion polls tonight. However, it is significant that, at every stage of this argument, when there has been a breakdown between urban and rural dwellers in opinion polls. the difference has been 2 per cent or 3 per cent either way. There is no huge difference between the views of country people and those who live in towns or suburbs on this issue. There is conflict in both communities. It is very important that we recognise that.

We should also recognise the stage we have now reached with this Bill and how we got here. This was a live issue for many years before this Government came to power on a manifesto to allow Parliament to vote on a ban on fox hunting. We introduced a Bill in the last parliament. That Bill did not complete its passage through Parliament and this House. We had a Second Reading, and this House voted overwhelmingly for what was called independent supervision but was in effect close to the status quo.

The vast majority of people who took an interest in this debate in that House voted at that stage not to do anything about fox hunting, despite the fact that the vast majority of public opinion wanted something done about it—although maybe not this particular Bill or any other Bill. I have checked the list, and about 50 people have spoken in this debate, excluding the Front Benches, rather fewer than 10 of whom were more or less on the side of this Bill, some of whom were not in the House in 2001. Of the remainder of the speakers, 30 out of 40 noble Lords who spoke against this Bill voted for the status quo the last time legislation was before this House in 2001. That is the situation in this House that the House of Commons has had to take into account.

Admittedly, when we debated the general Motions in 2002, there had been a vast conversion—at the time I said that some conversions are more convincing than others and that some of those conversions were rather like Charlemagne's conversion of the Saxons—people recognised the way the wind was blowing and therefore made a token vote. That has also been evident from some contributions tonight. People speaking in favour of the middle way and of reversion to the original Bill that was put before the House frequently went further. There were greater restrictions than even the Middle Way Group proposed, and significant additional points were made over and above the position in the government Bill at the beginning of its Commons stage.

People called for a middle way, but what that meant was pretty vague the last time your Lordships voted on this issue. It is important to recognise that that was not what the Government proposed to the House of Commons. The government proposals were much closer to a situation in which tribunals and registration would very much limit the scope of hunting within England and Wales. In other words, the Bill presented to the House of Commons would not have received support from many who spoke today. Let us not kid ourselves about that. Had the Government, instead of allowing a free vote, used the normal whipping system and put forward the Bill originally presented to the House of Commons by Alun Michael, most of the people who have spoken in this House today would not have supported it in any way. Many of their pronouncements and the pronouncements of some of the hunting organisations make it clear that they opposed that Bill almost as vociferously as they oppose a complete ban. So, let us not have any kidology about that.

What has happened in the House of Commons? We have heard various pejorative phrases.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, I thought that the Government's original intention was to try to build a consensus on the matter. The Minister has just said to anyone who has moved their position or sought to move towards the Government's position, "I don't believe you. You weren't going to agree to everything that we required and, therefore, I dismiss you". Is that the best approach?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am going on what was said today and what was said when the government Bill was introduced at the beginning of the procedure in the Commons. Some people switched their view in the second vote in this House in 2002. The Government also shifted their view by producing the legislation that they did. They did not go as far as the Middle Way Group, but, nevertheless, they shifted position.

What happened in the House of Commons? Various pejorative phrases have been used to describe proceedings in the House of Commons. "Giving in to the bully boys" was probably the most extreme; "mishandling", in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, was possibly the gentlest. We have been told that the Government were bounced", "rolled over", "ambushed". What has actually happened is that the Government have accepted a free vote of the House of Commons—the elected House—and have done so in line with what was in the manifestos for two elections in which the Government won an overwhelming majority.

Democracy is about such procedures. We have not acted hastily; we have not acted without taking into account the views of others. Ultimately, the elected House did not accept the compromise that the Government proposed and, certainly, would not have accepted the kind of compromise that has been talked about in this House today.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, does the Minister accept that another place did not have an opportunity to vote on the compromise proposed by the Government? Mr Michael withdrew his amendment, and there was no vote on it.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that is a misleading statement. What actually happened is that, on Report, the Commons accepted another amendment, which Mr Michael voted against, that would have rendered much of what the Government proposed redundant. That is why the Government withdrew at that stage. The House had already made its determination clear. It was not a question of the Government running away from gunfire; Ministers had already voted against an amendment that significantly adjusted the Government's overall approach.

There are important issues of principle involved. Some of the principle is clouded in some uncertainty about the facts. I accept that. The issue of cruelty is central to the debate. We have indicated that by "cruelty" we mean unnecessary suffering. We have said that fox hunting was not regulated or controlled in previous generations because it was regarded as an essential element of pest control in the countryside. Many noble Lords have reiterated that today. However, even the report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Burns—I agree that he did not say that we should go for a ban—shows that about 6 per cent of fox deaths are achieved through fox hunting. Fox hunting has some marginal pest control benefits, greater in some parts of the country than in others—that was recognised in the original government Bill—but, in overall terms, pest control is a very small part of the motivation for hunting.

The real point about hunting is that it gives enjoyment and engagement to some people in the rural community. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, perhaps, put it a hit extremely when he said that it was better than an orgasm. I am not sure that there is any objective research on such matters.

A noble Lord

Watch out.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, it lasted a lot longer; that was the point. If anyone says withdraw, that is a very bad taste joke.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the regrettable thing is that that is part of the problem.

A noble Lord

What is?

Lord Whitty

The noble Earl's partial withdrawal, my Lords. Enjoyment in the countryside—whether riding, following hounds, or whatever—ought not to he dependent on the distress and suffering of an animal. Distress and suffering of an animal may he justified if it is for food production or for pest control, but, in my contention, it is not justifiable simply on the basis of enjoyment. In any sense that has been suggested in this House. we are not attacking the rights of a minority. There is no right for a minority or a majority to engage in cruelty to animals without justification.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that most people who go hunting go out for the pleasure of the hunt and for the pleasure of the day out, not just to see a fox killed?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that is my point. We do not need to reach the heights of pleasure described by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, by having to chase a small animal. A gallop, a run, a drive in the countryside, or maybe drag-hunting or a paper chase, and so forth, will give as much pleasure to the majority of those people as will fox hunting. However, a minority of people need the quarrying and the kill. In today's society it is not appropriate to accept that we should allow that degree of cruelty to an animal.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, but I must get this right. His right honourable friend Mr Michael is wrong. The Bill is not based on evidence in principle; it is based on personal prejudice. Is that what the noble Lord is telling us?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord ought to listen to what I say. Cruelty is justifiable only if the alternative is worse cruelty or there is no alternative in achieving the utilitarian objective. That is what the original Bill was based on; utility as against relative cruelty. That was the balance which Alun Michael sought to achieve within his Bill.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, on this point, for the sake of argument, let us assume that we agree with the Minister on fox hunting. Why does he not then say, "Our principles are consistent. We are going to stop shooting and we are going to stop fishing."? Those questions have been asked and the Government have particularly ducked them and given undertakings that they will not be—

A noble Lord

What is the difference?

The Earl of Onslow

What is the difference?

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

When did you last eat a fox?

Lord Whitty

My Lords. as so often, the noble Earl is contradictory within two seconds. He says that the Government have ducked those questions and then says what we have said. We said that we will not do that. I reiterate and underline again that we will not be legislating against fishing or shooting. There are two reasons for that. First, a significant amount of shooting and fishing is either for conservation or for food. Secondly, we have to take account of general public opinion.

In the latest poll, however people think about how we should deal with the issue of hunting, 80 per cent of people believe hunting to be cruel, and there is not much difference between the opinions in the countryside and those in urban areas. It may not he 80 per cent of the Conservative Party in the House of Lords, but they hardly represent public opinion, so shaking heads on the Opposition Front Bench is unlikely to do much good. That is the fact of the matter.

Clearly, civilisation moves, although not necessarily in a straight line. At present, the sensibilities of society are overwhelmingly against unnecessarily causing suffering to wild animals. The word, "unnecessarily" means that a judgment needs to be made against other forms of pest control. "Unnecessarily" means that there should be effective methods of pest control, along with other means of achieving the management of wild animals. If they do not exist, clearly we can return to using fox hunting, as the original Bill would have allowed.

Those arguments have been debated in the House of Commons. That House has spent many hours in Committee and on Report discussing these issues and it has reached a conclusion. It is a conclusion with which the majority of the speakers in this debate, and probably the majority of the Members of the House of Lords, do not agree. This is not the end of the process. The House of Lords is able to make suggestions to the Government for amending the Bill and to propose amendments that might receive favour in the House of Commons. Alternatively, noble Lords may take a wrecking approach to the Bill which, in effect, would delete its main principles.

The Government continue to hope—it may be hope against hope—that some agreement can be reached between the two Houses. It is difficult to see how that will be done, but I suggest that your Lordships' House conducts the Committee stage of the Bill on the basis of constructive amendments being proposed to the main thrust of the provisions. The Commons will then consider diligently whether it can accept those amendments. The situation beyond that is clearly a matter for the House of Commons rather than the proceedings here, but I advise Members of this House very strongly not to use the Committee and subsequent stages of the Bill to destroy or delay it, because that would simply precipitate a situation where the House of Commons would undoubtedly take the view that that was an act of sabotage.

Were noble Lords to make constructive amendments, the House of Commons would need to consider them and see whether some further compromise was available. It is important, however, to recognise the overwhelming majority with which the position of the House of Commons was carried. At the close of the debate the noble Lord, Lord Denham, remarked that it was no use the Government hiding behind the size of their majority in the House of Commons. Ultimately, however, the existence of a majority and the size of that majority in the House of Commons determines most of our legislation. If at this stage we want to convince the House of Commons to do something different, we need to propose constructive amendments to the Bill.

With a few exceptions, I have to say that most of the contributions to this debate have indicated that noble Lords do not accept the framework of the Bill as it has come from the House of Commons. Many did not accept the framework of the original Bill. If we go down either of those roads, there will be conflict between the two Houses. I would regret that, Alun Michael would regret that and the Prime Minister would regret it, but nevertheless that would be the position which the House of Commons would have to consider. Therefore, this House should think seriously about how it behaves in Committee and beyond. For the moment, however, I hope that the Bill will receive its Second Reading.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I wish to make a genuine attempt to clarify what he has said. I have understood him to say that there needs to be some control on the number of foxes. I would be grateful if he could clarify whether the Government's position is that hunting with hounds is a more cruel method of controlling the number of foxes than shooting, trapping, gassing or poisoning. Is that the position?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that is the position taken by the Government and by a majority of Members of the House of Commons. The Government are now facilitating it. It is also true to say that one cannot justify hunting with hounds as the main method of pest control because the facts do not support that argument.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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