HL Deb 15 November 2004 vol 666 cc1270-90

7.19 p.m.

Lord Grocott

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Hunting Bill, have consented to place their prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 47 [Subordinate legislation]:

Lord Mancroft moved the amendment:

Page 19, line 18, leave out from "instrument" to end of line 22 and insert—

"( ) An order of the Secretary of State under this Act may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament, other than an order under section 49 which shall not be subject to parliamentary proceedings."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of the other noble Lords whose names are attached to the amendment, I beg to move the amendment. Its effect is identical to Amendment No. 19, moved and agreed to by your Lordships at Report. It is being moved again at Third Reading because the original amendment contained an inaccurate line reference which would have made the amendment inconsistent with the clause's structure. Although the Clerks accept that your Lordships agreed to the amendment, and what it is intended to do, at Report, as a matter of procedure it must be formally moved again in order to correct the incorrect line reference in the amendment agreed at Report and thus be inserted in the correct place. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Whitty.)

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, I have so far taken no part at all in the debates on this Bill, but, before it leaves your Lordships' House, I wish to take up a few minutes of your time. I regard it as a disgraceful measure, a shocking interference with the personal liberties of people who have broken no law, on the strength—here I use the word of Mr Banks—of the passions of a few. I want to say as seriously as I can at this stage that I find the prospect of being ruled by the passions of anybody unappealing, and that is particularly so of those of Mr Banks. They seem monstrously unattractive.

I am sure that I will not get an answer from the Minister, but I also want to ask: what was the position of the Prime Minister on the Bill? He has given the impression throughout that it was nothing to do with him and that he wished to be dissociated from it as far as possible. But that position surely comes ill from a leader of a party and a Prime Minister. That seems a thoroughly cowardly position to have taken up and shows once again, if we needed further proof of it, his total disdain for what goes on in Parliament. I do not want to say more, but I hope that the Government will learn some lessons from this and that, while they remain in office, they will in future do their best to discourage their wilder followers from policies that simply divide the country, at a time when it is facing very important issues on which division is, or should be, the last thing we seek.

That is all I have to say, but I make very clear how absolutely disgusted and revolted I have been by this Bill. There was one word, emanating from the Benches behind the Minister, which appealed to me during its passage. That was when the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke of the "stench" that hung over government policy on the matter. I cannot endorse that word too warmly.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, as we are now close to a decision in this House, I think that it is right to turn away from the arguments with which we have been familiar during the Bill's passage to a word about the consequences of its passage—in particular, if it is carried, as it may be, through the use of the Parliament Act. It is not for me to discuss the legality of the 1949 Act, although I gather that that may be tested before long in the courts. But we laymen are entitled to say something, and I think it needs to be said tonight, about the impact of its use—if that is what happens—to force into law a Bill in the form of a ban rejected at one stage by Ministers and consistently rejected by this House.

The origins of the Parliament Act 1911 are famous. It was passed by a Liberal government determined to see that essential government business was passed. There is nothing in the 1949 Act that alters that context. That is light years away from the present position and many of us believe that the use of the Parliament Act on this Bill would be bizarre and, to all friends of individual liberty, completely unacceptable. The Lords is returning to the Commons a Bill broadly in line with and in the form which the Government themselves once favoured. I say "broadly" because I know that there are particular provisions which differ.

Normally, at this stage, we are all familiar with that. Such differences are discussed in the dying days of a Session between the two Houses. So far as I am aware, no such discussion is going on. Why? The majority in this Chamber is composed of noble Lords from all parts of the House, but there is no one with whom we can negotiate in the Commons. The Prime Minister's spokesmen, those powerful and shadowy creatures, have for days been dropping hints about compromise, and so have individual Ministers. But those are incoherent and useless, because the people who drop those hints have abdicated the power to do anything about it. They have handed over the power to the Back-Bench majority in the Commons.

As my noble friend pointed out, that Back-Bench majority is not concerned with the welfare of the fox but simply with hostility to those who hunt the fox. That hostility is based on what now seems to be impregnable ignorance of who are the people who hunt and how they set about it.

If this Bill passes through the use of the Parliament Act, it will have a different flavour, which will affect the way that it is enforced and received in the country. We are a law-abiding country, but all the way through our history our citizens have been able clearly to sniff out the difference between normal legislation and legislation that is unjust and passed in an unjust way, such as this Bill.

I sympathise with the position in which chief police officers will be placed if the Bill becomes law through the use of the Parliament Act. They will find, as they are finding, that the support on which they have relied implicitly in the countryside in the ordinary businesses of policing, so that they have not had to use all their resources themselves, will die away and be replaced by sourness the moment that the police move, as they will have to do, to enforce this law. That is a serious situation that is simply not grasped either by Ministers or their Back-Benchers. It is perhaps, even now, not too late to urge that some attention be given to that.

Those of us who live in the countryside and all those who signed the Hunting Declaration greatly appreciate what the police do to protect us from crime of all kinds and they have unflinching support from almost everyone. But very few people in the countryside accept that it is part of the duties of the police to pursue and punish people because they are simply following a traditional sport of their own choice.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, I wish to say a few words about the compromise, in particular. When this process started, those of us who oppose a ban believed that no action or very little action was needed on the control of hunting. I hope that Members of the Commons who take the trouble to read this debate will realise that the compromise has been almost all on one side. From time to time during the passage of the Bill in this House, the Minister has suggested that those opposed to the ban have not compromised at all or enough. It has been very difficult for us, because we do not know who to compromise with or what compromises are requested, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said, we have not even had an indication of what the Prime Minister believes is an appropriate compromise. But we have compromised.

We have agreed to registration; discipline; tests, which, empirically judged, are in my view very sound; and what many of us call "Michael-plus", a version of the original Alun Michael Bill, which we believe has been improved by our compromises. We trust that the other place will take into account that there are two parties in any compromise. They have had ours; we hope now that we shall have theirs.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, in many ways this Bill, to whose Third Reading and passage from this House we are now invited to consent, is much better than the one that came to us from the other place. It is obviously better than the banning Bill, but it is also better than the original Alun Michael Bill. It has been improved in three important ways: first, it proposes to treat all quarry species equally; secondly, the test for registration will include the management of wildlife; thirdly, time should be given for adequate and proper research into cruelty among the various different ways of controlling the quarry species.

It is poignant that our deliberations on this Hunting Bill have been taking place over a period of remembrance of those who gave their lives for this country. I do not want to become emotional about it in any way but I intrude one personal observation. I never knew my uncle Jack. He was killed within a few days of going to the front in the First World War. He did so in the process of trying to rescue a comrade who had been wounded. I have no doubt that when he left this country he took with him in his mind a vision of the places that he loved. He was a keen rider, a great horseman and came from a family with a long hunting tradition. His father had been master of the fox hounds for several seasons. I cannot tell what was in his mind, but I am sure that he was at heart against tyranny, as were the countless thousands of others whom we have been remembering in this country at various ceremonies up and down the land over these past few days— against tyranny and for freedom. By freedom they must have thought, as we think, of a tolerant society where the rule of law prevailed, where people could get on with what they wanted to do and the life that they wanted to live, so long as it did not trespass upon the lives of others, and where there was respect for the minority interests represented up and down the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on Report, referring to what he called the "pro-hunters", said that they had adopted the more confrontational rather than the less confrontational option. The confrontational option was the one that came up to this House from the other place, which introduced the total banning Bill. That was the confrontational option, from which, as my noble friend has said, there has been no departure and no attempt to compromise. The anti-hunters, if they get their way, will not make one scrap of difference to the life or happiness of a single fox, but they will perpetrate a grave assault on the liberties of the people. They will drive a stake into the heart of the country. They will divide the people of this country, and the people of this country will not forget.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington

My Lords, I am in complete agreement that this Bill should pass, and in the form in which your Lordships' House has amended it. However, I want to take a quick glance into the future. In doing so, I need only say that I am in wholehearted agreement with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd. But I want to look at a slightly different potential aspect of the future. I fear that at this stage the chances of the two Houses of Parliament reaching a compromise agreement on the terms of the Bill must be regarded as slim, perhaps very slim. In the event of no compromise being reached, unless the Commons otherwise orders, the automatic procedures of the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949 will take effect and the Bill will become the Hunting Act 2004 on Thursday.

It seems likely that the next stage will be for the Countryside Alliance to apply to the courts for leave to bring proceedings for judicial review. Although I do not know precisely what relief it will seek or on what grounds it will seek it, the general purpose of the application will clearly be to render the new Act ineffective. At that point I hope that those parliamentarians and others who seek a total ban on hunting will take a deep breath and remind themselves that in a constitutional democracy it is perhaps the most basic of all citizens' rights to be able to go to the courts to seek redress for grievances, whether real or imagined.

At that point I fear that we shall hear a great deal about unelected judges being asked to substitute their views for those of the elected House of Commons. Nothing could be further from the truth, and parliamentarians and others who claim to be democrats should know it. In this context, judges have only two tasks. First, they must uphold and enforce all laws which have a constitutional and legal foundation; in other words, laws which have a democratic foundation. Secondly, they must protect the public from being harrassed by laws which, notwithstanding the bona fides of those promulgating them, have no constitutional and legal foundation; in other words, laws which are undemocratic and perhaps dictatorial in character.

It is the duty of the judges, in undertaking those tasks, to ignore any argument based on contentions that the law under consideration is beneficial or otherwise. Their sole concern is with its legality. Long experience enables them to adopt that somewhat blinkered approach, which others might find difficult. What matters is that they adopt it in practice. It is because they are required to address an issue different from that which confronts both Houses of Parliament that the judges cannot be said to be usurping the functions of the representatives of the people, elected or unelected.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, before the Bill goes to another place, I shall add a few words on the process used and the possibility that the Bill will be made law under the Parliament Act.

We know that we all have different views about hunting. I agree with all that my noble friend Lord Hurd of Westwell said about the Parliament Act and about the difficulties that the police might have, once the Bill had been enacted. My objection is that the Bill has been subjected to a most grotesque and irregular parliamentary procedure. The Parliament Act is there for times when there is disagreement between the two Houses on a Bill of a substantial nature. As my noble friend said, this Bill is light years away from what was anticipated in 1911. The purpose was that, if there was disagreement between the two Houses, the Parliament Act could be used. There has been no disagreement between the two Houses.

When the first Bill was passing through another place, it was changed at the last moment due to the actions of some Back-Benchers. It was changed from being a regulating Bill to being a banning Bill. In Committee in your Lordships' House, it was changed back to being a regulating Bill. Thereafter, the Government stopped any further discussion of the Bill. The Government said that there was to be no more Committee, no Report and no "Bill do now pass" Motion. The Government said that the Commons would not be able to consider any of the amendments that your Lordships might have made but did not. So, that Bill stopped.

In this Session, the Government introduced a similar Bill. It had to be directly similar, in order for it to be passed using the Parliament Act. All stages of that Bill took place in one day in another place. Then, it came to your Lordships' House. We are told that, despite all our discussions and all the amendments that have been made, which show how much error there was in the original Bill, none of our amendments is likely to be accepted or considered—they may be, but we are told that it is unlikely—by another place. We are told that the Bill will be processed under the Parliament Act. That is a gross infringement of the parliamentary process.

The purpose of Parliament is to allow for disagreement. That disagreement should go backwards and forwards between the two Houses until there is agreement. In the event of there being no agreement, either the Bill will fall or the Parliament Act can be used. This is an abuse of parliamentary procedure because the Bill will not have been discussed in another place after being in your Lordships' House. That is terrible.

With all his great charm, the noble Lord. Lord Whitty, said that he was a "facilitator"—that was the word that he used. He was nothing of the sort. He was the Minister responsible for a government Bill. It so happens that his Back-Benchers in another place hijacked the Bill and twisted it into something that the Government did not want. Nevertheless, it was a government Bill.

We all understood the noble Lord's difficulties. If he had accepted the amendments, which would have translated the present Bill into the Bill that the Government originally introduced, he would have infuriated all the Labour Back-Benchers in the House of Commons. If, on the other hand, he had said that he would accept the Bill as it was, he would have been supporting something that was not the Government's intention in the first place. The noble Lord was in a dilemma. We understood and sympathised, and some of us smiled a little at it. The noble Lord acquitted himself well over that matter.

It would be a monstrous use of the Parliament Act to use it for this Bill. It will split the countryside apart. It is a terrible thing that the Government and Parliament—the House of Commons—are determined to bludgeon the interests of the countryside into the ground just because of a few Back-Benchers. There may be quite a lot of such BackBenchers, but, as one noble Lord said—I think that it was my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater—those Back-Benchers have no responsibility for dealing with the aftermath, unlike Cabinet Ministers.

If the Bill is passed by your Lordships' House—it will be—I must record the fact that I think that it has been passed through a monstrous misuse of the processes of Parliament.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, I compliment the House for producing this compromise Bill. From our side's point of view, it is not ideal, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, gave examples of that. In particular, the tests of "least cruelty" will be difficult to prove or pass.

This side—by "this side", I mean the representatives of a majority of all sides, one of the other commendable aspects of the process—has accepted much that it does not like, in the cause of compromise. As has been said, the other side, which tends to be one party's side, has not yielded an inch. This House has demonstrated within itself what is normally the parliamentary process between the two Houses and between all sides and has sought an acceptable compromise.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that he wants a compromise, and I believe him. To the Prime Minister I say that this is the compromise that he should adopt. This is the compromise that he should promote to his Commons Back-Benchers.

If any government started off wanting to deal with the issue of hunting in the context of animal welfare and wildlife management, they would, after due consultation, conclude with a Bill along these lines—as, to some extent, Alun Michael did. The Bill is based on a registration structure and on principle and evidence, as he said, although these were abandoned in the Commons hijack. We have borne in mind crucial considerations of wildlife management, which are central but were absent from the so-called compromises that were put before us last Thursday.

Assuming that the Bill is passed tonight, we await the reaction of the House of Commons. Many of us cannot predict what our position will be then, until we see what, if anything, returns. If a genuine attempt at real compromise—not a ban dressed up as a deceitful compromise—is returned, perhaps limiting some hunting but preserving the key structure of registration and the basic principles, including wildlife management and evidence-based decisions, we should consider it carefully. The question of the time of commencement is separate. It will depend on what is proposed; it will depend on what is to commence.

I urge the Prime Minister and the House of Commons that it is not, even at this late stage, too late to introduce legislation that is acceptable, if not perfect, from the point of view of any side. But if, on the contrary, they insist on a crude ban, which is enforced by the Parliament Act—abused and misused in my view—that will do nothing for animal welfare and will divide our society unnecessarily, that would be irresponsible. To accept this Bill, as improved by this House, would be a responsible approach. Therefore, I commend the Bill.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, this House has had its chance to send back a Bill that addresses compromise: it has had the Committee and Report stages. I speak for myself obviously and not for others on these Benches, but from where I stand I can see very little that is a compromise. In fact, I can see nothing at all from the Bill that was sent here.

Hare coursing was reintroduced into the Bill. The Bill was widened. When this House knew, I believe, that regulated foxhunting was an approach that would be possibly acceptable, it insisted on widening the Bill to include all forms of hunting again. Therefore, we cannot say that we are sending back a Bill with which it is possible that the Commons will agree. It will see no compromise. I know that noble Lords on all sides have expressed the view that we are sending back a better Bill that indeed includes a compromise, but that is simply not the case. We are under an illusion if we think that.

People who hunt care deeply about wildlife, its management and the countryside, but so do those who do not hunt. Too often, we have heard the statements made. Indeed, I would have supported regulated foxhunting. But pro-hunters cannot claim for themselves ownership of all issues concerned with the care of the countryside. They are as deeply felt by those who do not hunt.

I regret that we spent no time in Committee or at Report truly debating what would happen as regards species management in the event of a ban. I spent all of about two minutes in an exchange with the Minister at Report on the future of the red deer herd on Exmoor should a ban came into effect. That is to be regretted because when we debate legislation we should look at the results of any possibilities. Much has been made of what would happen in terms of law enforcement, and so on, if there was a ban, but very little has been said about what would happen to the different species if a ban was introduced. I know how deeply everyone genuinely feels about this issue, but I am sorry to say that we cannot stand or sit here today and feel proud of what we are sending back to the other place as a basis for a compromise.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, it is important that one should, I am afraid, rebut the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, because we have improved the original Alun Michael Bill. First, we should be proud of it. Secondly, we should also be clear on exactly what we have done. Currently, the Bill has an identical registration system to the original Bill; it has an identical test of "least suffering"; and it has identical requirements for the tribunal.

Two important changes were made by this House. The first was the addition of the added criterion of "wildlife management". But that was publicly promised by Alun Michael at the commencement of the consultation period. It is not your Lordships' idea; it was the Minister's original idea. That is an important point to make. We have not made the test any easier by adding "wildlife management": it was the Government's original intention and they should own up to that.

Our second change is that we have added all forms of legal hunting to be passed by the registrar. That is fair and principled. Some will pass the test; some will not. That is a perfectly clear position. We have not made it any easier for any of those forms of hunting. All we have said is that they must pass the same test as everything else.

The changes that have been made are better. They have improved the Bill. We are open and honest about them. I hope that the Government can also be honest about their role in the Bill as it goes forward.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Eden referred to Remembrance Day. For those of us who took part in that wonderful occasion, as it is every year, perhaps what strikes everyone most is that it brings people together. There is an extraordinary feeling of union and support on those occasions.

It is tragic that immediately after that we are discussing a measure which, if it is to be changed back to the form in which it came to this House, will he as divisive a measure as one can imagine. One only has to listen to the speeches of your Lordships on these Benches and all parts of the House to know how strongly many noble Lords feel about this measure and the damage that it can do.

Anyone who was next door will know that we lived with this issue for about 30 years. We knew the pressures, challenges and arguments that there were about it. I respected the views—one respected one's constituents' views—of those people who were not of the same view as oneself. One knew what a difficult issue it would be and how it would need to be handled with extreme sensitivity. It would need understanding and a bit of give and take on both sides to find any way forward.

If this goes the way that many of us fear, it could go down in history as a sort of text book case for future colleges of public administration of how not to run a government and how not to conduct legislation. I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. In one sense, he has had to sit there and no one quite knows whether he is a government Minister, a facilitator, an agent for the Commons, or whatever is his role. I have never seen a government Minister put in such an embarrassing position. Obviously, he has no answer to the challenge, "But this is not the Bill that you and your colleagues wanted to bring in and yet you are conducting the business as you are".

I suppose the ultimate humiliation, which really brought it home, was when the Minister warned this House, as my noble friend mentioned, that the amendment that we were considering at the time would be the most confrontational that we could pursue. He strongly urged the House not to support it. Who did not agree with him? Well, the roll call of honour—if I may put it that way— started with the Lord Chancellor and two other senior Members of his Front Bench. What will the people who may, ultimately, be affected by the Bill think when the history is written of the whole conduct of the Bill? They will not really need to read the history because they are aware of the shambles that it has been.

People—undoubtedly people in the hunting field—feel absolutely betrayed by the way that this has been conducted. We have heard those echoing words of "principle" and "evidence". They were not invented by these Benches or by other people who support or would allow hunting to continue, but by the Government who agreed and established that that would be the approach.

Jack Straw very sensibly set up the Burns inquiry and his committee. A number of people co-operated with that. A great number of people took a lot of time to give evidence, thinking that it was a serious attempt to consider these issues. But they found, ultimately, that in spite of careful, measured, serious and substantial consideration of these issues, it was all chucked clean out of the window. I had not thought that anyone would remember a speech of mine a week or so after it was made, so I was most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, for remembering that it was I who said that a bunch of Back-Benchers who will take no responsibility for the consequences of what they are doing are indulging themselves, leaving others to pick up the pieces.

8 p.m.

Here we have the Government, who of all governments I have admired and envied somewhat for their ability to control things—they are the control freaks of all time; it is their hallmark—completely losing control of this issue. They have let the genie out of the bottle and are now saying rather plaintively, "This is not what Tony wants. He would like a compromise". They are doing absolutely nothing to exercise the power of government to stop what they know will be disastrous.

I want to say a word about Exmoor, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, referred. I represented part of Exmoor and I weep for what may happen there. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, very fully recognised the special situation and problem of Exmoor. Alun Michael claimed to recognise that the issues surrounding stag hunting on Exmoor were ones of considerable complexity and difficulty. The extraordinarily complicated relationship and interaction between farmers, deer and the hunt gives us the finest thriving herd of red deer in the country, or certainly in England. That has come about through the concentration of interests that care for them.

But now I see a different situation developing. There is no question about the fact that if you are a farmer on Exmoor and a herd of red deer decides to descend on your land, they are a pest. I had farmers coming to my constituency surgeries to complain about herds of red deer destroying their crops. It takes the particular relationship that exists among the people of Exmoor to allow them to tolerate the deer. With the co-operation of the hunt the deer are moved on so that the animals do not concentrate too much on any one particular farm. All that will go. With it will go farmers' tolerance. They cannot see their livelihoods destroyed, and I fear greatly for the future.

With his far greater experience, and obviously as a former Home Secretary, my noble friend Lord Hurd speaks with authority, but I refer only to my own constituency experience. I mention also the relationship between the local police and the country people on Exmoor. What will this legislation do to those human relationships that have formed such a strong bond over the years?

In the end it is a tragedy, and a most frustrating one. I say that because there seems to be no spokesman for what we may be faced with in this House. So far as I can see, no one is prepared to stand up and discuss in proper debate the argument for a ban. The noble Lord. Lord Whitty, has to sit there and try to explain what he believes people were thinking about, but that is wholly frustrating.

I accept that in earlier stages we heard speeches from people who explained why they did not like hunting. Perhaps an unpleasant experience had upset them when they were young. However, we now have a mechanism to deal with this difficult area. Many of the unpleasant and unfortunate complaints of the past could now be addressed. They are precisely the sort of issues that the registrar would he expected to deal with. If hunts did not conduct themselves in a proper way, your Lordships' compromise proposals provide a system that would he able to deal with them. While I have made it clear that I am not in favour of a system of registration, I agree that in the circumstances, and if that is the will, it must be accepted. It would mark a great step forward for those concerned about possible cruelty in hunting.

As others have said, I hope that even at this late stage wiser counsels will prevail in another place. Because of the way the measure has been handled: because of the obvious inadequacies, confusions and statements made by Government Ministers themselves that the proposal is unworkable; and because of the confused and chaotic background, the sort of problems we may face if it goes through—most of all if it is imposed by a Parliament Act—cause me to worry very much for the country.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, I wish to make a short contribution. I thank goodness that this is a matter of conscience and one that throughout its stages has been the subject of free votes—although I am not sure what will happen this evening. I would say to my noble friend that we do not know what the compromise is. What is the compromise in this situation? We know that the House of Commons will bring forward amendments to the Bill and no doubt some of those amendments will be passed. Only then will we have a clue about where we are going with the legislation. We do not really know the rules of the game at the moment.

It was interesting to note that the top predators of the fox were the bear and the wolf. Bears and wolves no longer exist, but foxes and badgers do. There are very good reasons for that. As others have said, the Bill has become a Bill for registered hunting; one to allow licensed hunting. I believe that those who are opposed to this solution and choose to send back to us a banning Bill are sadly ignorant of many of the issues. Registration would be subject to tests of least suffering, as was said in the Burns findings and at the Portcullis House hearings which resulted in the first Alun Michael Bill.

In my view, the Bill does not address adequately the situation in the uplands, and I know that a contribution is to be made on that with which I agree. The situation regarding wildlife is absolutely central. Hunting forms part of the overall pattern of countryside conservation, it is not the exclusive factor in conservation, but without it many places where wildlife can thrive in the countryside will diminish or vanish.

The three-year delay we voted for on Report would enable the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to undertake research on aspects of least suffering, and I believe that the Bill as now constructed is a compromise based on licensing and objective tests. Let us not forget: those objective tests could outlaw unacceptable forms of hunting. That is built into it.

The Bill has been constructively amended back to the original Alun Michael Bill of December 2003, with some additions. Indeed, it is the Bill that went to the House of Commons, where it was amended and eventually turned into a banning Bill. I believe that the Prime Minister wants a compromise—and this is it.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, as your Lordships will know, I am a supporter of registered hunting. I also believe, as do a number of other Members of your Lordships' House who come from the north of England and from Wales, that the issue in the uplands is rather different from elsewhere. In the former, hunting is the only realistic way of dealing with foxes, whereas elsewhere it is merely the most desirable and best way of doing so.

I and a number of other noble Lords have raised this topic on several occasions. It had been our intention to table a further amendment for consideration today. However, despite having drafted it with the Clerks, I was surprised and disappointed when it was ruled inadmissible. In the circumstances, therefore, I hope your Lordships will allow me the indulgence of reading out to the House the amendment that we would have put down in order that it may take its place in the record of today's proceedings.

It has the heading "Hunting on foot in the uplands" and was to be added to Schedule 1. It reads:

"(1) Unless the registration scheme established by section 2 and Part 2 is in force, hunting a wild mammal with a dog is exempt hunting if—

  1. (a) the wild mammal being hunted is a fox;
  2. (b) the person or people pursuing the wild mammal do so only on foot;
  3. (c) the hunting takes place in an upland area of England or Wales;
  4. and
  5. (d) that form of hunting has been carried on in that manner in that locality during the last 10 years.

(2) For the purpose of this paragraph, an 'upland area' is land designated as a Less Favoured Area in accordance with Council Directive 75/276/EEC, as amended by Council Directive 84/169EEC and Commission Decision 91/25/EC.

(3) The Secretary of State may make regulations to set conditions (including provision for a registrar and registration scheme) for the hunting defined as exempt hunting by this paragraph".

That is the amendment which was intended, first, to ensure that the integrity of a registration scheme in general was upheld; and, secondly, to ensure that, in the event of a ban, this form of exempt hunting would not become a free for all but would itself be subject to a registration scheme and could exist as a microcosm of the larger one that the House would like to see in place.

From here on, who knows what will happen. I am grateful to your Lordships for allowing me to put that on the record.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, I have not taken part in the debates on the Bill until now but sometimes a piece of legislation or a government measure becomes something more than the material upon which it appears to be based. Sometimes a government or those in authority take action which becomes symbolic, something around which people gather. There are certain things about the process and what is happening now that make me fear that something is developing with regard to the Bill which we have begun to see in other places too.

We have observed an election on the other side of the Atlantic in America, our closest ally. In my perception, at least, it was the most divided election that I have observed there—not only in respect of the votes but in respect of the attitudes and the approaches in the country itself; passions appear to have been aroused. This had a positive outcome in terms of participation—the rate of voting was way up on what it has been since the 1960s—but the depth of division was greater too, and that is much less positive.

Part of the reason for this is that, in political life in general, thinking about, reflecting on and discussing issues has begun to become less important than passion and emotion. Coming from the part of the world that I come from, I am the last person who would wish to remove all passion from political debate, but where it takes over from thinking, reflection and sound judgment is another matter.

It seems to me that part of the explication of developments in the United States is that beliefs, convictions, policies, principles and rational argument have begun to become less important in influencing the way people vote than passion and belief held without reflective thought as a base for it. This is an important part of us as human beings, but it is a dangerous development. Led to its extreme it creates deep division and fundamentalism in approach.

In this country we would have to descend a very long way before we would find ourselves prey to religious fundamentalism. But it is not impossible that deep passions and emotions could be unleashed which would divide our country in other ways. Divisions between town and country, between those who hold to certain traditions and those who take pride in tossing them to the side, can become very deep as well.

It seems to me that our Government would be well advised, as they conduct this process and take an approach, not to permit things to happen which will deepen division. The division which is developing not in this House, particularly, between Government and Opposition Benches, but between this House and the other place may become reflective of deep division in the country as a whole. I hope and trust that our Government will recognise that, and take action to hold our country together rather than see it come apart.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I think the Minister and the Government should take note of the fact that some 13 noble Lords have decided to speak at this late stage of the Bill's proceedings. Many of them had already taken part, but one or two new people were moved to speak.

We have been asked all the way through for a compromise. The House, in going through the detail of the Bill, has come to a form of compromise. What we have not had from the Government, in any form and at any stage is any indication of what they would consider a compromise. That is truly remarkable; it may be the first time ever that we have been dealing with a Government Bill on which the Government have failed to give any direction or offer any compromise. That is where we are today.

I shall not repeat what noble Lords have said; each of their contributions has been very precious, in my view. However, I should like to pick out two contributions in particular, from my noble friends Lord King and Lord Hurd. My noble friend Lord Hurd, with his very great experience, said, quite rightly, that it is totally unacceptable that the Parliament Act should be used on this Bill. My noble friend Lord King referred to the fact that the Government said that the Bill should be based on evidence and on principle. They went to the trouble of having the Burns report and the Portcullis hearings, which have now been swept aside as not being important at all.

We have been asked to consider how the Commons will deal with this compromise Bill. We know not; the Minister should at least tell us that tonight. Before we move that the Bill do now pass, we should know whether there will be a debate in another place or whether that will be guillotined and the Parliament Act will be used without a word of discussion on the Bill. Even if the Minister cannot give us much more, we are due that.

Changes have been made to the Bill, as the Minister knows. But Members around the House have decided that these improve the regulatory Bill which is before us. The whole issue of animal welfare is hugely important, and the inclusion of wildlife management is something for which the Minister was looking.

I should like to raise three issues. The rural affairs Minister, Alun Michael, said originally, quite rightly, that 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". His words are all on the record. He said on the "Today" programme on 28 September that it was for the Lords to consider, to amend and to send something back constructively. I think your Lordships have done just that. I am sure that the Minister will not agree, but we cannot be accused of not doing that.

Alun Michael went on to say that he hoped that the House of Lords would engage with the Bill and seek to improve and amend it. We have done that. He said in the Commons: I will approach their amendments with an open mind and consider whether they are serious ones".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/9/94; col. 1326.], He said that if they were serious amendments, they would look at them seriously.

Does the Minister think that there is a hope of that happening, or will this be shoved under the carpet and rushed through?

There is much more that I could say but at this stage it is not for me to do so. I hope that I have reinforced what noble Lords have said. I hope that I have shown that the Minister who is dealing with the Bill in another place clearly stated that he wanted us to consider the Bill, complete it and let it pass to another House. We have done that. It is a compromise Bill. We are all waiting to hear from the Minister what the Government's compromise is.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I remind the House that I moved that the Bill, as decided in the House, do now pass, meaning that it would then be for the Commons to consider your Lordships' deliberations. It is true that this is a rather unusual situation in a number of respects. There has been a free vote in both Houses by all parties and, to some extent, that has meant that my role is that of facilitator. I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, and others for their commiserations about my position but actually I do not feel any great pity is needed for me. I am in fact carrying out an election manifesto promise made in two sequential elections that we would allow this issue to be resolved on the basis of a free vote in House of Commons.

Noble Lords


Lord Whitty

My Lords, we have said both, because if a free vote in both Houses goes different ways then ultimately the will of the House of Commons prevails.

The situation is also unusual because the two Houses are in absolutely polarised positions. They started from those positions and, regrettably, they have ended up in them. It is also unusual because deep passions have been evoked and I therefore understand why noble Lords are making somewhat exaggerated speeches at this stage in the debate.

Noble Lords


Lord Whitty

My Lords, I will return to that. However, we are in the normal situation in other respects. We are often in this position in the ping-pong stages of a Bill where there have been deep disagreements and the House decides to send back to the House of Commons something that it knows the House of Commons has rejected. I do not know, on a free vote, what the House of Commons will do with this Bill. I do not know whether another form of compromise will be proposed in the House of Commons, and if it is, whether it will succeed. However, whatever else people have said this evening, the one thread running through the speeches has been that the House of Commons should again consider the position of the House of Lords. Indeed, that is what the House of Commons will he doing tomorrow.

Having said that, I am not sure whether the speeches today have helped that position. Once again, this House, instead of nodding through a Bill on Third Reading, has issued a challenge to the House of Commons rather than facilitating the House of Commons considering seriously the issue again. Anyone approaching this matter with any neutral state of mind would say that some of the appeals to high constitutional principles, the name calling, the threats of judicial intervention, the comparison of this with human rights issues and the sacrifices made in great wars were somewhat over the top.

Lord Cavendish of Furness


Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord may feel that that is rubbish, but I suspect the vast majority of the British people think that many of the contributions this evening and throughout the debate in this House have been seriously over the top. I put it no higher than that. The point that I am making here and the point to which several noble Lords alluded is that, at various stages, there has been the possibility of a less confrontational position being adopted by your Lordships. I accept that the majority of this House feels that the position taken down below was highly confrontational. However, in those situations one tries to move closer to develop an argument in an area that might still potentially be a middle ground.

However, what has happened time and again is that this House has, on every occasion, chosen not to go down the road of potential olive branch or at least discussion, in which some Members of the House of Commons might have been interested, but has chosen the opposite. With the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, all noble Lords have taken that a bit further today and made speeches that are threatening to the House of Commons. They indicated that the House of Commons is acting with impropriety, that the Government are acting with impropriety and that this issue is bound to be a confrontational one.

I hope that Members of the House of Commons do not read too many of your Lordships' speeches today, but actually deal with the Bill, that I hope your Lordships are about to pass, in the normal way. But if they do not, we will be in a situation where the House of Lords has, to some extent, brought this upon itself.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, is it not without precedent that a Bill should be considered to go under the Parliament Act, when its processes were not considered in the original Bill and, when it was reintroduced, all stages were taken in another place in one day? Was that an act of Government?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it was an act of the House of Commons upon which it is not normal in this House to comment. But the other part of the noble Earl's assertions is totally wrong—his reference to the last time that such a Bill was before us and the manner in which the Government dealt with it then are, I believe, inaccurate. But even if the noble Earl were right, we are now in a position where the House has agreed to go through all of its procedures and we have reached the stage at which to move that the Bill do now pass.

The normal hope of this House would be, given that the majority of the House support the Bill in its present form, that the House of Commons give serious consideration to it. I would hope for the same and I merely draw to the attention of the House that it is not just the majority in the House of Commons which has adopted a confrontational view on this Bill. It is the pro-hunters here—and I use that term, although the noble Lord, Lord Eden, objected to it—and outside who have adopted a highly confrontational approach. At the end of the day that is bound to affect people's judgments and the way in which people consider the proposals that are now before them.

Even at the Report stage of the Bill, when noble Lords had before them a set of coherent compromise positions in the name of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller or Chilthorne Domer, once again noble Lords chose the more extreme position to send back to the House. That is the position that we are in. I would hope that the House of Commons is now prepared to consider those matters. What comes back from the House of Commons will be a matter for it. The issue of the Parliament Act does not arise until the House of Commons has considered the Bill in its present form. It will do so in the normal way, as with other legislation, except that it will be on a free vote, as it is this House.

The principle of the—

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way at this stage. He has purported to be in a neutral position. When the other place considers the amendments that have been passed here, is any Minister going to give any lead at all? Is, for example, the Prime Minister going to give any indication of what he believes should happen, since all the whispers that have emerged from No. 10 have been that he wants a compromise? What compromise does he want?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the position of the Prime Minister is well known. He supported the original Alun Michael Bill; he supported a number of improvements that were made in the Commons to that Bill, virtually all of which have been rejected by this House and noble Lords have gone back to a position which is well short of the Alun Michael Bill—and the Prime Minister has indicated that he would like a compromise to emerge. But the compromise requires that this House compromises and on every occasion it has not compromised; it has taken the less compromising position. That has to be taken into account when the Bill returns to the Commons. The Prime Minister has also indicated that he will accept the will of the House of Commons, because that is what was set out in the election manifestos—whatever the result in the House of Commons.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords—

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I will give way in a moment. We are in a free-vote situation. Every Minister has a free vote. Every Member of both Houses has a free vote. At the end of the day, if agreement cannot be reached, then the Parliament Act comes into play. But we are not yet at that stage. We are at the stage where this House wishes for its version—which it chooses to call a compromise—to go back to the House of Commons, where it should be considered in the normal way.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. At 11 o'clock this morning the Prime Minister's official spokesman said that the Prime Minister was still firmly committed to trying to seek a compromise. In what way is the Prime Minister making that attempt to seek a compromise?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not comment on radio programmes. What happens in the House of Commons will be a matter for the House of Commons.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, it was not a radio programme; it was an official comment made by the Prime Minister's official spokesman which happens to have been relayed to the nation on a radio programme. But the comment was that of his official spokesman. Will the Minister please answer the question?

Lord Whitty

No, my Lords; I will not answer the question posed in that way. A number of rumours have emanated from I know not where—some of them from Downing Street, some from the House of Commons, some from this House, some from the Countryside Alliance and some from nefarious media influences. Clearly there is a discussion on whether any other compromise is available. That will undoubtedly be discussed in the House of Commons tomorrow. It would be wrong of this House to try to anticipate what will be discussed in the House of Commons. That is not the normal procedure. We normally send our Bills back and ask the House of Commons to consider them. That is what should happen today.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. My noble friend Lady Byford asked whether the Government will be tabling any amendments tomorrow. Because of the pressure of our timetable—the Bill will be considered tomorrow—I imagine that amendments will be tabled tonight. Can the Minister tell us what form those amendments may take?

Lord Whitty

No, my Lords. I have had no indication of the form in which any amendments may be tabled by the Government, by Back-Benchers, by opposition parties or by anyone else in the House of Commons. We have not yet passed the Bill back to the House of Commons for them to table amendments to it. We are very shortly, I hope, to pursue the Motion that this Bill do now pass. After that, then any Member of the House of Commons, particularly on a free vote, can table amendments. We are not yet at a position where we would expect them to table amendments.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, the Minister is replying on behalf of the Government. In his reply to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, he seemed to equate the Prime Minister as just another one of the lookers-on in this matter—he was equivalent to the Countryside Alliance and various other people. He is the Prime Minister of this country. Is the Minister saying that we are not supposed to believe an official briefing from No. 10 Downing Street? The Prime Minister's official spokesman says that the Prime Minister is going to do something. The Minister is a Minister of the Government. The implication is that the Government will table amendments. It is a free vote, so they may or may not get support for those amendments. Alternatively, is the Minister saying that the Government will not table any amendments at all?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord can draw no such inference. And I did not equate the Prime Minister to those other influences. I equated the half-baked report that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, gave of what—

Noble Lords


Lord Whitty

Well, my Lords, there has been a lot—

Noble Lords


Lord Whitty

No, my Lords, I am not prepared to withdraw.

Noble Lords


Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, first of all, with great respect to the Minister, for whom the House has great respect and admiration, he should calm down and deal with—

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I have sat through several—

Noble Lords


Lord Carlile of Berriew

May I finish, my Lords?

Noble Lords


Lord Whitty

Thank you, my Lords. I have sat through many of these debates in which I, the Government and those who supported the original Bill have been subject to a lot of abuse, a lot of harassment and a lot of misleading and occasionally entirely objectionable statements. If the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, finds objectionable what I have rather mildly said was a "half-baked" report, then I will withdraw it.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has just said. But would he tell us what he says the Prime Minister's official spokesman said at 11 o'clock this morning if it is not what I told the House the Prime Minister's official spokesman said at 11 o'clock this morning? My version has been described as "half baked". Let us have the full pie.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I do not know; I was not present. The noble Lord was not present. In any case, we do know, and I am perfectly prepared to accept, that the Prime Minister has been reported as looking for a compromise. We know that the Prime Minister would prefer a compromise. He is also committed to a free vote within the House of Commons. That is what will happen after this Bill is passed back to the House of Commons for consideration tomorrow.

It is not worth my or the House's time speculating what amendments, if any, will be put down to that Bill tomorrow, or what view the House of Commons will take of those amendments, should they be so put. Clearly, a number of people have looked for compromise. I consider that at times I have looked for compromise, as have others. I consider that this House has not gone sufficiently down the road of compromise to persuade many people within the House of Commons, but that is a matter for them. It is not a matter for me; it is not, ultimately, a matter for the Prime Minister as he has to accept whatever view the House of Commons takes. What this House needs to do now is to stop making accusations, to pass this Bill, send it back to the House of Commons and see how that House deals with it. We ought now to proceed with the Motion that the Bill do now pass.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he answer the question that my noble friend Lord King put; namely, if there is to be a compromise, do the Government intend to put down any amendments? The noble Lord is a Minister and he must know whether his department is going to put down any amendments.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I have nothing to add to what I have said. Indeed, at Third Reading in this House there is very rarely any indication of what amendments the Government will put down in the House of Commons. It would be very unusual for anybody to disclose the Government's hand before this House had voted to pass the Bill back to the House of Commons. What the noble Earl is asking me to do would be almost, although not entirely, unprecedented. It is certainly not the normal procedure. I have put the Motion, but I will put it again. I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.