HL Deb 12 October 2004 vol 665 cc124-260

3.14 p.m.

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

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

For the convenience of debate, I shall also speak to the Motion to consider the suggested amendment commended to us by the House of Commons, which would delay the implementation of most parts of this Bill until July 2006. I shall move that Motion formally at the end of the proceedings. The Motion enables the House to consider and debate the House of Commons' suggestion but in no sense to decide on the substance of the amendment today; it is tabled for convenience so that we can deal with both matters in parallel through all subsequent stages of the Bill. I shall comment further on the significance of the amendment towards the end of my remarks.

The House will be pretty familiar with the content of this Bill. Indeed, it is exactly the same Bill as the one which the House of Commons sent to this House last year. I may be being presumptuous, but I rather fear that the House will also be only too familiar with the arguments surrounding this Bill—although I am sure that the House looks forward to hearing the 50—plus speakers who will reiterate those arguments today. But I begin with a few preliminary points from me.

Hunting has been a matter on which free votes have been given by all parties in both Houses—and that includes Ministers. For the record, I therefore have to state my own position, which is not necessarily the position of all my colleagues. Your Lordships already know that I, personally, have consistently voted for a ban on hunting with dogs. That remains my opinion, but I shall park it, as it is not my own position that is important today.

I am here simply to facilitate—and hopefully to some extent to guide—your Lordships' consideration of a Bill which has been sent to us for a second time on a free vote by the House of Commons. That vote represents the view of the overwhelming majority of the Members of the House of Commons and includes Members of all political parties. Indeed, this is a Bill the Principle of which has now been voted on—depending on how one does the arithmetic—at least seven times by the House of Commons, and every time with a very substantial majority. We could therefore, in consideration of this Bill, if this House maintains its past position, come to an issue that is beyond hunting and might bring us to a conflict between the two Houses. That has been much trailed in the media and by the comments of the various protagonists. But we are not at that point today, and we need not be at that point even at the end of our proceedings, provided that this House now takes due note of the oft-expressed opinions of the elected Chamber.

Opinions about hunting are widely diverse, both in this House and outside, but I owe it to the House to explain the role of the Government in this matter. Put briefly, the Government are meeting their manifesto commitment to enable Parliament to resolve this long-outstanding issue. The Labour Party in its last two manifestos, on which it was elected with an overwhelming majority, stated its intention to allow a free vote in Parliament to resolve the issue. Here we are nearly eight years later, and the issue remains unresolved. So much for those noble Lords who sometimes argue that we are attempting to rush this through.

The role of the Government has been to seek as much common ground as possible on both evidence and conclusions. In 2002, my right honourable friend Alun Michael invited evidence from all parties. Regrettably, most of the responses at the time gave an absolute position—some 8,000 for and 8,000 against, roughly speaking. Given that polarisation of views, we then went on, with the agreement of the main lobbying organisations in this area—the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, the Middle Way Group and the Countryside Alliance—to agree the key topics for further debate and on the experts to be invited. My right honourable friend held several hearings in Portcullis House to hear the evidence and to cross-examine the witnesses. The transcripts of the hearings are already in the public domain and in the Library of this House. However, the only conclusion that one can draw from them is that each of the participants emerged to claim that all the evidence supported the view that they held rather than that of the opposition, and no consensus emerged.

The Government, however, continued to seek a compromise. When my right honourable friend Alun Michael originally introduced a Bill in the House of Commons, it included provisions that would have banned hunting with dogs, but with the important exception where it demonstrably passed two tests: utility and least suffering. These were stiff tests, enforceable through a system of registration and tribunals; but they would have given the opportunity for some hunting to continue where it could be shown to be necessary for pest control in a particular area, in particular circumstances, and that it was the method of pest control that would in those circumstances cause the least suffering. That was a suggested way of striking the balance to deal with both animal welfare and land management considerations.

As the House knows, my right honourable friend's proposals failed to find support from either the contending pro and anti-hunting organisations or on either side in the House of Commons. The Bill's opponents, including those in this House, consistently claimed that the registration system itself would effectively have banned all hunting. In other words, they were not willing for their claim that hunting was necessary for pest control purposes to be put to the test. In contrast, the pro-ban organisations and the majority of MPs felt there was a risk that the Bill in that form would permit hunting when it was not justified, and that there were no circumstances—apart from those which still exist in Schedule 1 of the present Bill—in which hunting with dogs would cause less suffering than any of the available alternative methods of pest control. The House of Commons therefore voted for a ban as in this present Bill.

When that Bill came before your Lordships, the House appeared to take an entirely opposite view. A large number of the amendments tabled to the Bill purported to reinstate the registration system which the Government had originally proposed, but in practice the amendments made changes from the original scheme and, along with other amendments supported often by the same Members of your Lordships' House, would have rendered the Bill totally toothless. They would have made the main offence impossible to prove; they would have introduced a strong bias in favour of permitting hunting to continue and they would have completely removed all controls over hare-coursing events.

Other amendments likely to have been carried—had your Lordships managed to conclude their consideration of the Bill—included the removal of the outright ban on stag hunting and the redefinition of the test of utility to include purposes so imprecise that they would have covered hunting essentially for recreation; that is, they would have allowed the causing of suffering for fun. That would not have been acceptable to the House of Commons and meant that this House was taking a virtually opposite view to that of the elected Chamber.

Despite that I was rather disappointed when this House decided to adjourn the Committee stage late last year and not agree to additional time. I still fail to understand why the House could not have completed its consideration of this relatively short and straightforward Bill in the time available, or which we were prepared to make available. However, it was already clear—I do not think that there is much dispute about that—that this House would have returned a Bill to the Commons which would have imposed no effective controls over hunting. Since the House of Commons had already rejected the Government's original proposals for registered hunting and since the majority of MPs would strike the balance of consideration very differently from the way it was struck in this House, there was no prospect whatever of the Commons agreeing what was effectively the more extreme pro-hunting view expressed in this House's amendments. The message that your Lordships' debates sent to the Commons was therefore confrontational.

When there is a difference between the two Houses and attempts at compromise have failed, the elected House must prevail. That is not only the view of the Labour Party, of the Government and of the House of Commons but also, I venture to suggest, of the British public, of the constitution, of the Parliament Acts and, indeed, of the interests of democracy itself.

In these circumstances the Government have reintroduced this Bill in the current Session because that is clearly what the Members of the House of Commons voted for—70 per cent of Members taking part in the vote supported the so-called "Banks" amendment to ban fox hunting; that is, 55 per cent of the total number of MPs. Similar votes have been recorded again and again over the past few years.

There can, frankly, be no doubt about the will of the House of Commons on this matter and that that will reflects public opinion, including the majority in rural areas as well as in urban areas.

I come to some key procedural issues. What happens if the two Houses continue to disagree? Of course, this House is fully entitled to make any amendments that it considers improvements to this Bill. Indeed, the Government throughout have sought a situation where both Houses could agree. The Government and the House of Commons will need to reflect on any such amendments which this House returns to the other place. Whether the Government could make a recommendation on any such amendment depends entirely on what the totality of amendments that this House adopts amounts to. I remind your Lordships that since the Bill is subject to free voting there is absolutely no guarantee that any recommendation that the Government made would be carried in another place or, indeed, this place.

But—this is a big "but"—this House must recognise when proposing amendments in Committee that the House of Commons has now several times called for a ban; and that by a very substantial majority it preferred a ban to a registration system. During the debate in the House of Commons my right honourable friend Alun Michael called on this House to engage seriously with the Bill. I would like to reinforce that plea and to ask all Peers therefore to take proper note of the very clearly expressed views of the House of Commons.

Your Lordships need to reflect that we are now in the last chance saloon. The ball is in the court of those in this House who have supported hunting in its present form to offer a way forward or to accept the Bill as it now stands, if we are not to provoke the use of the Parliament Acts. Amendments that go outside that recognition will almost certainly lead to a deadlock between the Houses. Of course, a deadlock between the two Houses is not the end of the world. It does not in any sense mean that we enter a constitutional crisis, as some have alleged. Disagreements between the Houses that cannot be resolved are clearly covered by the Parliament Acts.

The Parliament Acts embody the vital constitutional principle that in our bicameral parliamentary system the will of the elected Chamber must, ultimately, prevail. This principle applies to all primary legislation with the sole exception of Bills to prolong the life of a Parliament. It is right that the House of Commons should exercise its power with discretion, just as it is right that this House should exercise its delaying and amending powers with discretion. In practice both Houses have normally acted with discretion. Either the Government and the House of Commons, or more usually this House, have backed off or compromised, which is why six Acts of Parliament only have been passed under the Parliament Acts procedure in the past 93 years. However, those Acts are there to ensure that the will of the House of Commons prevails in the rare instances when there is a confrontation.

The events of last year, including, as I have said, your Lordships' debates and amendments, made clear that the difference between the two Houses on the Hunting Bill is profound, or was profound, and that there are those in both Houses who, frankly, would like a confrontation. That is exactly the kind of situation for which the Parliament Acts were written and for which they provide—if no way can be found between the two Houses to agree on this Bill.

I reiterate that the Government's clear preference would have been for the two Houses to agree on this Bill. One area of agreement could, for example, concern the timing of the Bill's coming into force. The House of Commons has by resolution suggested that your Lordships should amend the Bill so that the provisions relating to hunting come into force on 31 July 2006. The provisions relating to hare coursing could come into force, as provided in the Bill as it stands, three months after Royal Assent. The suggested amendments relating to—

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Given the headmaster's lecture which he has given us in the past few minutes, can he explain the logic whereby the Government have been so fearful of these debates that they have not imposed a three-line Whip on their own side in this House for these debates?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am astounded by that question. Every time this matter has been discussed every party has opted for a free vote. It is one of those issues that Parliament has traditionally recognised as appropriate for a free vote. The accusation from the Liberal Benches of all places that we should not allow a free vote on this issue is truly bizarre and astounding and I do not think would receive much support in any quarter of this House.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Have the Parliament Acts ever been used on the occasion of a Bill that throughout was decided on a free vote in both Houses?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, in part, yes, but that is not the point. The Parliament Acts do not determine—and neither does any Act of Parliament or procedure of this House—whether votes have been whipped or not. There is, therefore, no constitutional difference between a vote that is Whipped and one that is not. The only moral difference, it seems to me, is that our opponents on this matter cannot argue that the only reason that the Bill is before us is because the House of Commons Labour Back-Benchers were Whipped by the Government into that position. We, therefore, have a stronger moral position, as well as the basic constitutional and logical position, for adopting this procedure.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord again, but does the strong moral stance taken by the Government also apply to the fact that they never allowed the Bill to go back from the Lords to the Commons, for the Commons to consider any amendments that the Lords made?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that is a complete travesty of what happened last time. As the House knows, we were prepared to go on when the Adjournment was moved. We offered the Opposition a number of alternative days for extra time. Frankly, the length of some speeches in Committee last time the House considered the Bill was completely disproportionate to it and the issues debated. For all those reasons, one can hardly blame the Government for the fact that the House ran out of time, although there was actually time available. Once again, the moral high ground rests entirely with the Government and those on our Benches. The House itself took that view.

The Earl of Onslow

Oh, come on.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Earl may mock, but the fact of the matter is that we offered extra time and it was refused. We offered extra time again and it was refused, and there was an attempt at something close to filibustering during the course of those events. That seems to provide the moral high ground for the Government; others may disagree. Nevertheless, we have a very strong position.

I shall go back to my earlier remarks. The issue has been around for nearly eight years. On the basis of two manifesto commitments, we are bringing it once again before the House.

Before I sit down, I must deal with some procedural issues that relate to the Motion. I shall try to keep to my script for the next two or three paragraphs, if your Lordships would not mind.

As the House knows, as well as discussing Second Reading, we are debating a Motion to consider the Commons suggested amendment. That takes us into territory governed by the proviso to Section 2(4) of the Parliament Act. There is one precedent—the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976—which we intend to follow as far as we can. That Act was in the end passed in the normal way, not under the Parliament Acts, and it is possible that the same will happen with this Bill. However, if the Bill is passed under the Parliament Acts, what will be certified for Royal Assent under the Acts is up to the Speaker of the House of Commons.

As shown on the Order Paper, after the Motions for Second Reading and commitment, I will formally move a Motion to consider the Commons suggested amendment. I hope that we all understand that the Motion does not commit the House to a position on the suggested amendment. Having it on the Order Paper simply enables us to debate the suggested amendment alongside the Bill. It also conforms with the provisions of the Parliament Act that any amendment suggested by the Commons "shall be considered" by this House. The Act does not require us to agree to the suggested amendment, and neither does the Motion. The procedure was used in 1976. The Clerks have advised us to repeat it, and the usual channels have agreed.

In 1976, after Second Reading, the Minister tabled amendments identical to those suggested by the Commons. Those were considered in Committee in the usual way, and in fact were agreed by this House. Again, the Clerks have strongly advised us to follow the same procedure. If the House gives the Bill a Second Reading tonight, I will table for Committee an amendment corresponding to the one suggested by the Commons. I hope that is as clear as the situation warrants.

I am under no illusion about the feelings of probably a majority of Members of this House about the Bill, or about previous expressions in the House. In one sense, I do not expect my speech to convert many people, and I expect to hear many of the arguments again. Hunting raises great emotions, and people on either side feel provoked by the other; no doubt some of that will occur during our debate. However, I ask your Lordships to set aside feelings of provocation, consider the Bill on its merits, and include in their assessment the views of the House of Commons in the light of the points that I have made—both in terms of the strength of the view that the House of Commons has conveyed to us, and of the constitutional position if we end up in deadlock. I commend the Bill to the House.

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

3.34 p.m.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, I must begin by reminding your Lordships of our family interests. We have a family farm in Suffolk and are family members of the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners' Association and the Countryside Alliance. In earlier years, I was a member of the Quorn hunt.

Today we have 50 Peers wishing to speak, including my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton in her maiden speech. I have worked with her for more than 15 years and much admire her commitment and commonsense approach on a variety of issues. Her contribution today is greatly anticipated.

For Peers on these Benches, this is a free-vote issue. But I should also say that a Conservative government would provide parliamentary time to consider reversal of the ban in the next Parliament, were it regrettably to be enacted in this one.

This Session—for the first time—this House will be able to debate all stages of a Hunting Bill. The Government must not misrepresent our previous discussions or claim that your Lordships blocked a Bill. The truth is that last year we had only two days in Committee—time that was clearly insufficient—before the Government themselves withdrew the Bill. This House did not reject the Bill. We began to amend it into a Bill to allow hunting under licence, but were not allowed to complete our work. The Government should acknowledge that fact.

That makes it all the more deplorable even to consider applying the Parliament Act to a Bill that has, so far, not had full Committee discussion in either House in either Session. That is no way to make good law; it is a guarantee of injustice. The Parliament Act should surely be used only in an emergency or in cases of genuine national urgency or importance. There is no such urgency here—indeed, if there were, how could we also be asked to consider an amendment that would postpone introduction of a ban on fox hunting for 18 months, which I note is after the last possible date for a general election? We will, of course, consider that amendment at a later stage, but it is hard not to view the handling of the Bill with deep cynicism. The Government cannot have it both ways—either they consider the need to ban hunting an urgent national emergency or they do not.

Since then the Government have delayed bringing the Bill before Parliament until the last possible moment. Ten months passed before it was laid before the other place, time-limited, with the whole process compacted into one day. The 17th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights during the 2002–03 Session drew the attention of each House to its view of the human rights implication of the absence of a compensation scheme. It was particularly concerned in relation to the deprivation of benefits from rights existing under contracts already entered into.

Undoubtedly, if a ban is rammed through, it will bring division within communities. What has happened to tolerance, which the Prime Minister claims to espouse? In 1998, he proclaimed, justice, freedom, tolerance … These are the values that drive and govern my political life". Again, in June 2000, he said that he wanted a "tolerant, integrated, inclusive society". How hollow those words sound now.

This ancient Parliament of two Houses, which has dealt with centuries of troubled questions, wars and affairs of state, is being abused. The Bill has little to do with animal welfare and all to do with bigotry and class prejudice. Tony Banks stated on BBC News 24 that, this is an important political issue, not an important animal welfare issue". The Hunting Bill is not about the welfare of foxes, but is rather an attempt to control the behaviour of man.

Tony Banks is not the only person to hold such views. Douglas Batchelor, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: I am sure you will agree that people hunt and shoot mostly because they enjoy it. Our case is quite simply that they should not enjoy it". On 16 September, the league expressed its pleasure that the Bill had been passed in another place. It confirmed that it will step up its efforts in further areas, including game shooting, which involves the shooting, in season, of pheasant and partridge reared for the purpose, and greyhound racing. Who can doubt that horse racing will come later?

The RSPCA's policy is that it is opposed to shooting for sport. On fishing, it stated: The RSPCA believes that current practices in angling involve the infliction of pain". I give your Lordships due warning that the passage of the Bill as it is will only encourage those who would disturb and even destroy the lives of others in the name of a dogmatic, illogical stance on animal welfare.

The Bill is a disgrace. It is worthy only of an autocracy. In large parts of the country, it will be impossible to police. The Minister, Alun Michael, acknowledged that after the proposal for regulation had been thrown out when he said that MPs, chose a Bill that is simple to explain rather than a Bill that is simple to enforce". The reintroduction of the Bill is, I believe, an illiberal act. The Government have totally ignored the experts and have sacrificed principle and evidence in favour of political expediency. They have turned their backs on the Burns report, which failed to find any justification for banning hunting. They have ignored their six-month consultation and the Portcullis House hearings, and they have rejected the evidence given by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management.

I urge your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading today. It is not that I in any way support a ban. But the Minister, Alun Michael, has urged us to consider, amend and improve it. From that, I conclude that he accepts that it is flawed. He hopes that we shall seek to change the Bill rather than reject it.

The Bill fails to define the terms required for court action. What is "cover"? Who commits the offence? What is hunting? What is the intention to hunt? Why should it be illegal to hunt a fox, a deer, a hare or a mink while the hunting of rabbits and rats is exempt? The list of questions is long and we shall pursue the details in Committee.

If the Government try to strong-arm through Parliament a "ban Bill" that they say they never wanted, they will show that they do not understand the countryside, country people or the economic effect of a ban on the countryside, that they are not willing to support sustainable wildlife management, that they are prepared to sow division and cause unnecessary strife, and that they have abandoned principles of tolerance, concern for minorities and civil liberties. A ban on hunting would override a minority and crush civil liberties.

This morning I read a wise article by Mr Tony Wright, MP, in which he asks why so many in his party have such an entrenched position and have taken such an intolerant stance on an issue so tangential to the great issues of the day. I do wonder.

We hear, too, talk from those briefing for the Prime Minister that, even at this late stage, he still wants a compromise. I welcome that; I hope it is true. But we need to find out whether it is true. The countryside and all who love liberty need to know whether it is true.

That is why I hope that this House will give the Bill a Second Reading and amend it in Committee by putting forward a middle way on the lines of the Government's own regulatory Bill and return it to another place. Then, in mid-November, the country will see that there are two ways forward on hunting: an unworkable way of conflict or a carefully thought-out way of compromise. It will see whether all the talk of compromise is genuine or whether it is not. It will be a moment that tells us a lot about this Government and about this Prime Minister. I hope that he will not let the English and Welsh countryside down.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer

My Lords, I believe that many of the speakers—perhaps all the speakers—this afternoon share one thing in common, and that is the hope that after the passage of this Bill we shall not have to spend yet further legislative time on the issue of hunting.

I do not believe that the future of hunting concerns the majority of people in this country deeply one way or the other, and I believe that that is also the case for many who live in the countryside. It is very important to put on the record that the issues about which most people in the countryside are concerned are affordable housing, low pay, whether the car will pass its MOT, how they will look after their elderly parents and how they will put their children through university. In fact, many of them feel deeply insulted at having been represented as caring only about hunting.

I accept that a minority in the countryside feel very deeply about hunting, and of course it is their right to do so, but by no means is that the case for all who live in the countryside. Where many of the minority who are concerned about hunting share a concern with your Lordships—and many people in the countryside who do not care about hunting one way or the other share the same concern—is in the belief that our democratic process should be able to recognise conflicting arguments and produce a fair and balanced outcome. So far on this issue, it has completely failed to do so over, as the Minister reminded us, seven years. In this case, it has failed to produce such an outcome between the defence of a minority to pursue their traditional recreation and the desire of parts of society to promote a more enlightened approach to animal welfare.

Defence of minorities' rights is fundamentally extremely important and it is one of the best reasons for the existence of this second Chamber. Personally, if I felt that banning things was reasonable, I would ban motor sport for encouraging speeding drivers; I would ban boxing for encouraging violence; and I would ban power boats in tranquil areas. I am sure that many noble Lords could think of their own hit list. But banning minority pursuits is not a valid response to disliking them.

With regard to animal welfare, the most conclusive evidence produced by the noble Lord, Lord Burns—I am extremely happy to see that he is on the speakers' list this afternoon—was with regard to deer. His report stated: Stalking … is in principle the better method of culling deer from an animal welfare perspective. In particular, it obviates the need to chase the deer". With regard to hare, the conclusion was: We are … satisfied that … coursing seriously compromises the welfare of the hare". The fact is that those who are deeply pro-hunting will not accept that evidence, and I believe that they are greatly at fault in wishing to keep hare coursing on the table as something that may reasonably be pursued. They will not accept a very tight limitation on what may be hunted. Similarly, nothing would induce the more extreme animal welfare groups to accept regulated, limited fox hunting as a reasonable way forward.

That impasse is the very reason that we have a political process: to reconcile different viewpoints. But in this case it has failed because the process has been hijacked, first by one side and then by another. There are faults on both sides. Originally there was a total unwillingness on the part of the hunting lobby even to consider regulation. Then the deeply anti-hunting MPs would not consider anything less than a total ban.

The Government briefly recaptured the plot and introduced a moderate, sensible Bill, which has again been hijacked. But I believe that we must take that hijacked Bill and try to turn it back into a sensible piece of legislation. I say that not because I believe in hunting but because, when the political process breaks down, as it has, it damages everyone's faith in the democratic process to find solutions. That damage is underlined by the disgraceful action of those who invaded the Commons Chamber and further underlined by those who threaten to break the law if a ban is introduced.

If noble Lords want to see another symptom of the total breakdown of the process they have only to read the note helpfully produced by the House of Lords Clerks on Hunting Bill procedure. The fact that we need such a note, supplemented by a further Public Bill Office brief, is a black and white symptom of political failure. Those notes mean that the Government, Members of this House and Members of the other place are in such a ridiculous position over this Bill that it should be seen as the political equivalent of an especially nasty game of Twister.

I am in no doubt that to use the Parliament Act in this instance would be a mark of tremendous failure of the other place, of this House and of Parliament as a whole. What is the answer? I believe that the answer is that both sides need to take a deep breath and give, what will seem to them, a lot.

Noble Lords who are pro hunting should stop defending hare coursing and rule it out. Noble Lords who are deeply pro hunting must concede that the public's tolerance for seeing either deer or hares hunted has disappeared. Noble Lords should accept that a regulated, licensed fox hunt is as much as it is reasonable to ask for. The other place should then accept that regulated fox hunting is a form of hunting that, while not to many people's taste, is nevertheless a defensible and sensible way forward.

3.51 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford

My Lords, this last week has seen the death of one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, Jacques Derrida, whose deconstructive method has shaped much of the way in which we think today. He used his theory of difference very powerfully to open up possibilities in human thought and life because he was highly committed to the democratic theory and process.

This debate today is not about the merits or demerits of hunting; it is about the merits or demerits of the Bill. If Parliament, as a whole, cannot find a way of enabling our people to live together with difference then we are failing in our democratic duty.

Just a few days ago, for charity I and eight other senior leaders in Essex spent a day as prisoners in Bullwood Hall Prison. It was a very sobering experience. Part of the day was spent experiencing prison education. We were kept in very strict order and we had to participate in a session on how we live with differences of opinion. Among a whole range of principles, we were taught the following principles, "You ought to be able to see the other point of view whether you agree with it or not. Every point of view may be right for the person holding it but not right enough to be imposed on others". I am sure that Ministers in the Home Office are quite content for that to be taught in our prisons and that Ministers in the Department for Education and Skills are happy for such matters to be taught in our schools and colleges. But if Parliament cannot practise that, what message are we giving out to the people?

One of the things that Bishops can do in this House is to bring our dioceses with us. Mine stretches from five east London boroughs all the way through to rural north Essex. I am in no doubt that there is a real difference among the people of the diocese of Chelmsford, as there is in the Christian Church, on the moral principles at stake. Many Christians and people in Essex believe that hunting is morally unacceptable. But Christians also believe that in matters of moral opinion consent is vital. One should not impose something on people against their consent unless there is an overriding reason for it.

I can tell the House that hunting is not a major topic for debate in the pubs of east London, but the temperature is rising in north Essex. The concern is not just about hunting, but about the fact that people in rural communities feel that they are or are not being heard. The issue is not a narrow one. As the noble Baroness says, there is quite a debate on the moral issue, even in rural areas. But rural communities feel that they are not being heard and not being understood, but that they are being overridden by legislation of this kind.

I was very encouraged by the comments made by the Prime Minister at the press conference after the Leeds Castle conference on Northern Ireland when he said that not only did he still favour the middle way but that that option was still available. I hope that the Government will support the Prime Minister in that view.

There are two other reasons why I believe that we need to be very cautious. I have always taken the view that banning things is a very bad way of legislating. I too have rather a long list of things that I believe are undesirable and socially corrupting. That list may include matters such as adultery, gambling and tobacco, but we have found ways of managing them without banning everything in sight. My tutor at the University of Cambridge wrote a very important book on prohibition in the United States—what a disastrous process of legislation that was. Are we really sure that a ban is the way to handle an issue like this?

Secondly, I take the view of the people of east London: this is not a high political priority. What will they think of us if we kick this football up and down the corridor and then use the Parliament Act? What will that say to our people about our competence as legislators? I hope that we can find another way forward.

3.56 p.m.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, when I first heard that we were to debate the Hunting Bill yet again I decided that I would not take part in the debate. I have told the House before why I oppose hunting live animals with dogs, and I have explained my view that drag hunting is a viable alternative. But on 15 September I changed my mind about speaking. That was the day that the Countryside Alliance march came to town.

I am lucky enough to share a room on the first floor of the palace, overlooking Westminster Abbey and part of the green. I watched the Countryside Alliance march assemble—a goodly number—and at first there was a good feeling about it. Then I watched in mounting horror as the bad boys took over. I am afraid that the Countryside Alliance stewards lost control. I watched the tension rise outside the other place and I watched the police stand for a long, long time as the missiles rained down on them. Finally, as their backs almost touched the parliamentary railings, the police responded to the provocation that they faced.

I believed then, and I believe now, that in the circumstances the police were extremely restrained. It was at that point that I decided to speak today, to speak about democracy and its retention and about the alternative views of people in the countryside—alternative alternative views from those of the Countryside Alliance.

My decision was strengthened when I saw on television and read in the newspapers that the excuse for the behaviour I had witnessed was that some of those on the march were "angry". Over the years, I have marched for matters in which I believe: against the war in Vietnam, in favour of the miners and their jobs, against racism in this country and for a woman's right to choose abortion. I have felt strongly and I have been angry about all those issues, but I have never taken missiles with me on marches to throw at the police, or at anyone else for that matter. Nor have I threatened deliberately to break the law if I did not win the argument.

Those who came with missiles on that day brought them and threw them deliberately. It also appears that some—the minority I accept—who were on that march regard it as okay to break a law which does not support their view. That way lies anarchy, and I do not believe that such anarchy can be allowed to flourish in a democracy; nor can bullying or intimidation. The will of the people in this country is shown through the ballot box, and long may it remain so. So to would-be law breakers I would say, "Please think again".

I turn now to the different views of fox hunting. This is not a town versus country issue; nor, for me, is it a question of prejudice and bigotry. I am from the countryside and of the countryside, and I can tell the House that many people who live in the rural areas in which I was brought up and have lived since—Lincolnshire, Suffolk and now rural Essex—have also been angry. Their anger came from the sight and sound of the hunt.

Sitting in my room in September and hearing again the sound of the hunting horn, I responded as I always have done over 60 years. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up and I felt again the chill that I first felt as a child on hearing that horn. I am not alone. Many people born and bred in the countryside feel the same way.

Sometimes such people are not in a position to speak out. Perhaps I can tell a brief story to illustrate that. My uncle was the head gardener on an estate in Lincolnshire over which the local hunt was allowed to ride. He always disliked it, believing it to be a cruel and needless sport. But he did not speak out, fearing that that could be a sackable offence.

On one occasion while the hunt was on the estate he entered a potting shed and found the exhausted hunted fox hiding there. He closed the door of the shed and denied knowledge of the fox to the huntsmen and women. Later he returned, fed and watered the fox and, on its recovery, let it go. My uncle's action was quietly applauded by those who knew what he had done. He and his friends were countrymen and women, and they could not abide fox hunting. There are thousands like them living in rural areas today.

Some newspapers in Lincolnshire have recently run opinion polls on the hunting ban. I have to say that I expected a huge majority against the ban, but I was pleasantly surprised. In Louth, those taking part in the poll voted to oppose the ban by one vote. In Horncastle the vote was a tie. And even in Market Rasen, steeped in the tradition of hunting foxes, 36 per cent of those voting supported the ban.

Those results are indicative of the differing views of those living in rural areas. They certainly show that the debate is not about townspeople versus those who live in the countryside; it is about whether or not, once and for all, a decision will be taken about this pastime for the sake of those living both in the town and in the country, thereby allowing us to discuss issues which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, outlined admirably, which are more important to the vast majority of those living in our rural areas.

4.3 p.m.

Lord Mancroft

My Lords, once again, to the boredom and amazement of all sensible people, we are debating hunting. As the deputy chairman of the now defunct British Field Sports Society and a board member of the Countryside Alliance, I have lived this debate for 17 long years.

I agree with every word that the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, has just said about law breaking. I deplored the behaviour that a minority of those in Parliament Square took part in during that debate. I and my colleagues on the board of the Countryside Alliance—in some ways the leaders, I suppose, of this community—can never agree with law breaking of any sort and in any circumstances.

I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree with me that such behaviour comes from both sides of the coin. I remember particularly the day that I received through the post an incendiary device from those who disagreed with my views in favour of hunting. I remember also the day that Special Branch told me about threats that my wife and four year-old daughter had received from people in the animal rights movement who had followed my wife's car on the school run and described in precise and minute detail exactly what they would do to my wife and daughter because I support hunting. So there are two sides of the coin. I think that the right reverend Prelate most strongly made the point that we have to find a sensible middle way to resolve these very difficult issues and not, as is currently happening, allow the extremes to take over.

The overwhelming weight of public opinion in this country wants this issue to go away. The only reason that it has not gone away is that 339 Members of another place will not let it. I suspect that the vast majority of people do not actually like hunting, probably because they do not understand it. But increasingly, because of the amount of debate there has been in this country, those same people do not think that it is appropriate to make it a criminal offence and do not think that fox hunters and others should be dragged before the courts in the same way that gay men once were. That would be disproportionate and absolutely ludicrous.

Today's debate is therefore not really about hunting, because we have debated hunting both inside and outside Parliament and the position is clear. The Government set up an inquiry under the noble Lord, Lord Burns—we are delighted to see him in his place—and that report concluded that there was no case to ban hunting on grounds of cruelty. It even went beyond its remit to suggest that some form of licensing would be the way through this impasse. The public consultation that the Government then held in the Portcullis House hearings came to the same conclusion.

The first of the three short points I should like to make is, therefore, that this Bill is not about hunting; it is now purely a political issue. If you doubt my word, the Minister himself confirmed it on the "Today" programme, where he admitted that the Bill was being introduced to allow the Prime Minister to placate his unruly Back- Benchers. My noble friend Lady Byford also told us Tony Banks's view on that.

So those who want to debate cruelty are taking part in the wrong debate. We are not debating cruelty; we are debating politics. But what is the issue at the heart of this? What is clear is that, as Tony Banks so helpfully told us on "The World at One" programme last November: It is not a matter of great significance in the great cosmos of events or indeed of great significance in animal welfare, but it has become totemic". In other words, it is a symbolic issue for one particular group of politicians.

Gerald Kaufman apparently wants to ban hunting for what he sees as some sort of revenge for the miners. I do not understand what the rural community has to do with mining. In fact, most people who hunt now are too young to have been around or active during the miners' strike. Why they are to blame for something they could not influence is quite beyond me. As my noble friend Lady Byford said, even the League Against Cruel Sports has stopped pretending that it has anything to do with the actual activity of hunting: it is about those who hunt. She quoted from a letter from Mr Douglas Batchelor of the League Against Cruel Sports. He went on to say: In much the same way as while paedophiles may feel that they enjoy abusing children and are therefore justified, a civilised society condemns their pleasures and regards them as socially unacceptable". Please do not think that Mr Batchelor, in this very balanced view, is alone in equating hunting with child abuse. In an article only two weeks ago in the Guardian, Gerald Kaufman described hunting people as, "racist, larcenous scum". He also accused us of anti-Semitism. For reasons that many of your Lordships will know, I personally find that deeply offensive and completely without foundation. I am incredibly ashamed that a British Jew should have made that sort of remark.

John Prescott, ever the one to find the right word at the right time, managed to rearrange his film-star looks long enough to describe the, contorted faces of the hunting protestors". Both Alun Michael and, in the past, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, have repeatedly referred to the "cruelty in hunting", although both know well that there is no evidence of cruelty. To repeat that mantra amounts to personal abuse of those of your Lordships who hunt now or have ever hunted.

Indeed, if that sort of language were used about any other minority—Muslims, gay people, black people or even Jews; God forbid, Jews—it would quite rightly result in criminal proceedings. But it is okay to abuse hunting people because we are, like Jews were in Nazi Germany, "not normal" and "undesirable" and the law is to be used to suppress us, not to protect us.

While Mr Kaufman was complaining about the protesters outside his party conference, the Countryside Alliance stand inside was vandalised every night and daubed with obscenities until the police removed it. Our staff, mostly young women, were abused and, in one case, spat upon. Anger on the streets is one thing and is to be deplored, but your Lordships will draw your own conclusions about the behaviour of delegates inside the hall at a party conference.

Of course, if there had been evidence of cruelty, the Government's original Bill would have banned hunting, but it did not because there is no evidence to justify a ban. That is why the Bill was a regulatory Bill.

My third point is about the process by which the Bill has arrived here today. It is not unreasonable in principle for governments to regulate. They do it all the time. In recent years, the Government have regulated the broadcasting industry. Some of your Lordships will remember that. But imagine that the Government decided, as they indeed did, to regulate that industry and introduced a Bill for that purpose. Imagine that, following a long and complex Standing Committee stage, when the Bill returned to the Floor of the House on Report, a couple of MPs, the flotsam and jetsam of the House of Commons—let us call them Gerald and Tony—took that Bill and turned it into the Prohibition of Broadcasting Bill, whereby all television and radio in the UK was banned.

Do you seriously imagine that the Government would have sat meekly by and let that happen? Can you imagine the Minister saying, "Look, I am awfully sorry chaps, but it is the will of the House of Commons. I know that we are the Government and can go to war whenever we like, but there is nothing we can do about it. TB may nominally be Prime Minister, but, you know, Gerald and Tony are running the show. We know that you think that they are a bit of a joke, but if they want to have it, they have got to have it"? It is absurd; it is ridiculous; but that is what happened.

It gets even worse. Having described the Bill that is now before this House in writing as wrecked, unworkable and unenforceable and perceived as pursuing prejudice rather than targeting cruelty, the wretched Minister is now actively promoting it. Anyone with a shred of honour or decency would by now have resigned in the face of such dismal failure.

The Government clearly made a mistake and now both the Minister and the Prime Minister blame us. On radio and in the other place, Alun Michael has, as we have heard, accused your Lordships of failing to engage and said that our amendments are not serious but dissimulative. We have to prove that we are behaving reasonably. I must say that that is pretty pompous. The first step on the road to disaster is when people believe their own publicity, as Mr Michael does. If he cares to look outside his Alice in Wonderland world, he will discover that no one else does. It is not this House that is on trial today; it is the Government.

No government in modern times have behaved in such a devious way in attempting to suppress debate, both in the other place and in your Lordships' House; no government in modern times have managed a controversial but fundamentally unimportant issue so incompetently; and no government in modern times have shown themselves to be so weak. When the Prime Minister was confronted by protesters at Trimdon, he complained that he was under huge pressure from Back-Benchers who are, to use his word, "fanatics" who, seem to see banning hunting as the only reason they were elected". When he was asked why he did not stand up to them, he simply said, Well, you see, it's very difficult". He is the Prime Minister. It is pathetic. He has to stand up to them.

We now find ourselves with a Bill that no one wants, except the loonies. Even the Prime Minister, the Leader of the House of Commons and the Minister appear reluctant to proceed. Yet we are looking for a way out. Apparently, the compromise that we tried and offered last year has been rejected, so we ought to try again.

The Parliament Act is reserved for the most important and urgent issues in the Government's programme. But the Prime Minister, the Minister, the Leader of the House of Commons and even Tony Banks, not to mention the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, have all made clear that this is not an important issue. It is not even part of the Government's programme. It is not a manifesto commitment and was never mentioned in the Queen's Speech. So it is not important; it is not urgent, because it can be delayed for 18 months. The Prime Minister does not like it. Most of your Lordships do not like it. How do we deal with it?

I, for one, do not seek confrontation with the other place. However bad the Bill is, we should not reject it. I am prepared, along with any noble Lord who will help me, to try to find a solution. Although it is a mammoth task, I should like to try to complete what we set out to do last year, before we were so rudely interrupted. We should work to turn this Bill back into the Government's own regulatory Bill as closely as we can, and at the same time insert the fewest possible amendments to ensure that the Bill adheres as closely as possible to the principles based on evidence that the Government promised at the outset.

The alternative is unthinkable. The world will see—you have only to look at the international press to realise that it is watching closely, with increasing amazement and not a little horror—a democratically elected government behaving like a fascist dictatorship. Never before have a British government sought to use the criminal law to restrict the way of life of a minority in their midst for no reason other than bigotry.

I have heard some Labour MPs say that a hunting ban is for them a matter of trust. Trust was the central theme of the Prime Minister's speech at Brighton, because it has clearly become a problem for him. When he was elected in 1997, he promised to govern for all the people and to build, a society of tolerance, without prejudice or discrimination". In 1997, the British people trusted him to do that, which is why they voted for him. The rural community trusted Alun Michael when he promised a Bill based on principle and evidence, not on personal taste. Now is the time for the Prime Minister and the Government to earn that trust. Hunting is not an important issue, but trust is and the whole world is watching.

4.16 p.m.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, I have owned a horse for most of my adult life. I have enjoyed riding in the beauty of the Ettrick Valley. I have enjoyed following the Border Common Ridings, which are the largest mounted events anywhere the United Kingdom. But, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, I have never hunted. I have never hunted for the simple reason that, like most people in this country, it does not appeal to me. But, as others, such as my noble friend and the right reverend Prelate, have more eloquently said, we cannot just go around banning things because they do not appeal to us.

I enjoy fishing and I am well aware, as was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that many people regard fishing as a cruel sport. But I tell you something: I do not think that any government will ever provide time for or threaten to use the Parliament Act over a Bill to ban fishing, simply because angling is the most popular participatory sport in the country. Unfortunately, what we are faced we are here is not an issue of principle but an easily expendable minority who enjoy a particular sport that most of us do not want anything to do with. I find that deeply regrettable.

I have also had experience of shooting foxes and, more important, of failing to shoot foxes. I am well aware that there are far more cruel methods of controlling the vermin that is the fox than hunting, where the fox either escapes or is put to death. The fact is that the fox has to be controlled in the countryside. It is a menace to lambs, pheasants and even to domestic cats. Unfortunately, many people in this country take their image of the fox from Basil Brush on the television and think that it is some kind of cuddly animal that is being unfortunately persecuted.

I had the honour to represent for many years a constituency that contained three hunts. Therefore, although I have never hunted, I took the trouble at least to follow the hunt, to see what went on, to visit the kennels and to understand the amount of employment that will be lost—not just primary but secondary employment—if hunting is banned. I do not know whether other noble Lords have also witnessed, for example, the Common Ridings in the town of Lauder and seen the enthusiasm with which the entire population of the town greets the hounds as they follow through the High Street following the Common Riding. There can be no doubt that the great majority of people would be greatly saddened if hunting were simply to disappear from the land.

Others have referred to speeches by people such as Tony Banks. I was shocked in particular by the speech made by John Prescott at the Labour Party conference. It was a class-ridden speech that seemed to me to have nothing to do with the wish to ban fox hunting. He wanted to abolish toffs. This may not be the right forum in which to say this, but it seems to me that a Bill to abolish toffs at least has some intellectual rationale that a Bill to abolish fox hunting totally lacks.

It reminded me of an episode many years ago, when as a young MP I took a Labour Minister around a council housing estate in my constituency, where there had been severe problems following the estate's construction. He told me afterwards, "David, I was astonished to see so many riding hats in the lobbies of the houses and on top of the wardrobes in the children's bedrooms". I said, "The problem with you is that you come from a political culture that does not understand life in the countryside". Many seem to think that the working class exists only in urban areas; they exist throughout the countryside also, and they have their own pursuits.

I do not for a minute suggest that all opinion in rural areas is in favour of hunting; of course it is not—others have made that point. But people understand the interconnection between the existence of the hunts and other aspects of the rural way of life. To suggest that we simply jettison something that has inspired so many artists and provided so much employment for centuries in this country seems absolutely extraordinary. I accept that there are many genuine people, including Members of the House of Commons, who feel that somehow this is a Bill against cruelty. As others have said, and as I said earlier, of course it is not. But I accept that their views are genuine.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for whom I have great regard, was on dangerous ground when he talked about occupying the moral high ground. Having spent 32 years in the other place, I know full well that inevitably and rightly the House of Commons is broadly composed of a majority of urban representatives. A tiny minority represent constituencies where hunting takes place. What is being mobilised is a majority who have no knowledge of the subject that they are discussing. Is that to be used to wipe out something that has been part of the way of life in the countryside for such a long time?

I believe that this Bill has been conceived in prejudice and born in ignorance. It is a highly illiberal measure, and, for that reason, we are right to continue to resist it.

4.22 p.m.

Lord Burns

My Lords, since completing the report on hunting with dogs in the summer of 2000, with an inquiry that I had the great privilege to chair, I have restricted my comments on this contentious issue to only two occasions. The first was during the debate in this House in 2001; the second was in giving evidence to Alun Michael's committee in September 2002. Since then, I have kept out of the debate because I have little to add to what was said in the report and my experience has become increasingly out of date. However, I thought that today's debate was an occasion on which I should make some points about what I regard as the substance of the issue. I should also like to make some observations about the process that has been and remains under way.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said that the debate was not about cruelty, but I do not think that we can avoid returning to the issue to remind noble Lords of the evidence on welfare. We must keep in mind two aspects of the impact of hunting on animal welfare. The first is the clear adverse welfare effects on the hunted animal of the chase and possible kill. The second is how hunting compares with alternative methods of controlling population numbers.

Taking account of both aspects, there is insufficient verifiable evidence to reach views about cruelty, one way or the other, and our committee came to that conclusion. Indeed, the committee pointed to areas where there was scope for more research to clarify some of the areas of doubt. It remains a slight puzzle that people continue to take a very strident position on the issue of cruelty, given what I regard as the lack of available evidence.

The first problem is that there is no direct measure of pain for a hunted animal; we must make do with indirect measures. Scientists have made some progress in measuring the effect on deer of being hunted, although even in that case there was scope for different interpretations of the data. There is no equivalent evidence to progress the analysis of the impact on the welfare of hunted foxes. We carried out studies and an examination of post-mortems of hunted animals. We were able to conclude that there were significant adverse welfare effects in the final stages of the hunt, but we could not be more precise. I continue to argue that the reason that that is not decisive of the argument as a whole is that we must compare the adverse welfare effects of hunting with the adverse welfare effects of other methods of controlling numbers.

The fact is that farmers and gamekeepers will kill foxes whatever the outcome of the debate. They are simply not persuaded by the "live and let live" approach. Whether that is rational may be debateable in some circumstances, but it became clear to me and other members of the committee that that is the reality. It is unlikely that an end to hunting will reduce the number of foxes and deer that are killed; at issue is the way in which they are killed. The committee did not have sufficient evidence to reach a clear conclusion on whether hunting involves significantly worse welfare effects than other legal methods of control.

My view remains that hunting with dogs falls short of what we would like to think of in other contexts as "humane killing" but the sad fact is that so do many of the other methods likely to be used. That is especially true for fox hunting. The committee was able to say that lamping comes quite close to humane killing when it can be practised in the right circumstances, but it is not available everywhere. Snaring has particular problems and clearly fails the test of humane killing. Although shooting with shotguns might be humane under some circumstances, it also has the capacity to wound and injure without killing. The problem of alternatives is even more severe in upland areas, where lamping is not possible and dense forestry provides a great deal of protection for foxes. So the balance of the welfare case for a ban on hunting foxes with dogs remains very complex. Without further evidence, I find it very difficult to see how anyone comes to a clear view on the issue.

This is not the time to deal with deer hunting and coursing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has already mentioned, the welfare arguments against deer hunting are probably more certain because a skilled stalker of deer probably has a distinct edge over hunting from a welfare point of view. But we also pointed out in our report that there are other complications in deer management. The welfare arguments against coursing are probably the clearest of all, as population control plays no part. But I have a residual worry that a ban on coursing would not eliminate the activity but would merely result in diversion into other forms of coursing.

Those are a range of reasons why I concluded that it was difficult to reach a very clear view on the issue of welfare, and that to use that argument in a very strong position, one way or the other, continues to fall some way short of the sort of evidence needed to make substantial political interventions. I can see why many people intuitively are concerned about the welfare aspects of hunting. We know that lots of people are upset by the ritual of hunting; they do not like the idea of it at all. But they must answer the challenge of the welfare problems involved in control of populations of foxes and deer by other means. I will not be convinced by the argument that there is no reason to control those populations—that they will control themselves—until farmers and gamekeepers are also persuaded of it. Indeed, I suggest that most people who live in the suburbs of London would say that there is not much evidence of foxes controlling their own numbers.

At the same time, those opposed to a ban on hunting should recognise and accept that hunting for most participants is a recreational activity and that there are associated welfare problems. It will not necessarily be the case that the balance of the argument will forever remain unknowable or complex. Over time it may be possible to make progress on obtaining more evidence on the matter.

I shall use the remainder of my remarks to comment on the process being used to resolve the issue. I must confess that, when I embarked on the inquiry into hunting, I hoped that the process might be able to narrow some of the areas of debate and to throw some light on the issues of greatest dispute. During the investigation, I was left in no doubt about the strength of feeling on both sides of the issue. We have seen it already here today. All that I would say is that the people with whom I dealt conducted themselves correctly throughout. I thought that the response to our report was encouraging, and I hoped that it might be possible to find a way forward that would recognise some of the uncertainties surrounding the impact on animal welfare and would command a wide measure of agreement, even if it did not persuade everyone.

Unfortunately, during the debate in 2001, this House made a major tactical error, I am afraid to say, by voting in favour of self-regulation, rather than licensing, from the three options that were put before us. It was evident then that the option of self-regulation would not move us towards a consensus. Support for that option badly misfired. More importantly, the momentum towards an agreed way forward that I saw in some quarters was lost as a result.

Armed with our report and a manifesto commitment to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue, Alun Michael started a process to try to reach a degree of agreement. It was a noble effort, and, following that, he put forward legislation. The problem is that the House of Commons rejected it and substituted a straightforward ban.

Although I fully understand the frustration of those who favour a ban and feel that the issue has been debated long enough—even my own involvement seems an age ago—I find it difficult to accept the use of the Parliament Act in circumstances in which there is no clear scientific support for the animal welfare implications of a ban. I fear that it can only be divisive in the country at large, as well as being inconsistent with the use of that procedure. For me, it would be an enormously disappointing end to the attempt to find some common ground on the issue. I struggle enormously to see how it passes Alun Michael's test that the legislation should be soundly based and should stand the test of time.

If there is a desire on the part of the Government and of this House to reform hunting in a way that is gradual and avoids the divisiveness that would be created by a simple ban, there may still be a way forward, through a combination of licensed hunting and further reform of animal welfare legislation. I hope that, during our debates, it may be possible to examine that further, as several noble Lords have already said.

I am in no doubt that, if one had some combination of licensing and change in animal welfare legislation that was generic, rather than being targeted specifically at some activities, certain categories of hunting would be eliminated over time. I suspect that we would see fewer hunts, and I suspect that the day-to-day behaviour of those engaged in hunting would change. There would be less intrusiveness among those who do not want to be part of it. I also suspect that the interest in hunting would decline. For many of the people whom I met during my travels, the threat of a ban and the perceived attack on the countryside have played a bigger part in maintaining support for hunting than any desire that they had to participate in the activity. That has been one of the paradoxes of the debate.

I hope that it is not too late for a determined attempt to find a way forward on the issue that is evidence-based; gives the courts a clearer role; reflects the realities of farming; has a chance of commanding support on both sides of the debate; and, above all, will stand the test of time.

4.33 p.m.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, at Second Reading and in Committee on the Hunting Bill in March 2001, I informed the House that I had never hunted, fished or been to a shoot in my life. That is still the case.

I argued against a ban on fox hunting primarily because I was not persuaded that the alternative methods of controlling the fox population—shooting, snaring, trapping, poisoning, gassing and, perhaps, smoking out—were less cruel. I also felt that Parliament's energies should be directed towards issues that were far more important to the people whom I have represented for the whole of my adult life: employment and employment standards, health, education and pensions. Those are matters that directly contribute to the quality of life of all in our nation. I also passionately believe in addressing the plight of the world's impoverished people and working out the further action needed to remove the misery that they suffer. Those are the issues to which our undivided attention should be directed. That is not to say that those issues have been neglected in the past seven years. The evidence clearly demonstrates that they have not. However, as has been acknowledged, a great deal more must be done.

Another area of concern to me has been the argument on both sides of the debate—sometimes openly expressed and sometimes felt but not so openly expressed—that hunting is a class issue and that it is a sport practised by the gentry and the upper classes for more than 300 years, with those in support of hunting believing that it is their right to continue it without interference, and those wishing to ban hunting believing that they are striking a blow for the working class. Those are not arguments that I have found convincing, one way or the other.

Another feature that has concerned me has been the inconsistency among many who claim that they wish to ban hunting because they believe that it is cruel. When asked about fishing, they remain silent. Anglers play a fish, sometimes for hours, land it, exhausted and beaten, remove the hook from its mouth and throw it back into the water for it to experience the same fate the next day or the next week. Is that not cruelty of equal proportion? Could it be that banning fishing is next on the agenda of many of those who wish to ban hunting? Could it be that there is a justifiable fear that any attempt to ban fishing in this country would reap a whirlwind that would make last month's demonstration in Parliament Square look like a Sunday school tea party, given that fishing is the most participated-in sport in Britain?

In Committee on the Hunting Bill, I said: Should this House vote overwhelmingly for self-regulation, the polarisation of views will work to the advantage of those in the other place who have voted by a very large majority to ban hunting. They will claim, quite correctly, that this unelected House is displaying an intransigence beyond its authority. It will turn into a battle of strength on the constitutional position as much as on hunting itself. On the other hand, if this House demonstrates its magnanimity, acknowledges the authority of the other place and is prepared to compromise, our opponents will be disarmed and our supporters in the other place, the foremost of whom is my right honourable friend Jack Straw, will be reinforced in their support for the prime objective, of which we must not lose sight; namely, to retain hunting. Failure to follow the course that I propose may very well result in the coming to pass of the very thing we fear most: a ban on hunting".—[Official Report, 26/3/01; col. 61.] Regrettably, your Lordships' House was not persuaded by my argument. No magnanimity was displayed, and hunting under licence with statutory regulation was defeated. Support for self-regulation was carried. I note that, over the weekend, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Opposition, recommended a system of licensed hunting. Is that not a classic case of bolting the stable door after the horse—should I say, the fox—has bolted?

The outcome that I feared in 2001 has come to pass. A fully fledged Bill to ban hunting outright is now with us. As I predicted, the issue is now more about the constitution and our parliamentary democracy than about hunting. Whether we like it or not, we have moved on, and we cannot escape that. We cannot sidestep the challenge before us.

Is this country to be governed by parliamentary democracy or by an unruly demonstration leading to the breaking of the law by mob behaviour? The entitlement to peaceful demonstration is a right that we must cherish in our parliamentary democracy, but not illegal behaviour that threatens that very democracy. Although my feelings about hunting have not changed, the circumstances in which it has to be viewed certainly have. Priorities have to be addressed.

My concern for the preservation of parliamentary democracy is far greater than it is for the preservation of hunting. Indeed, the greatest priority for all of us is the preservation of our parliamentary democracy. It is a parliamentary democracy that acknowledges that the other place, the elected House, must have the final say. It must have its way eventually. I shall do all in my power to defy any attempt to undermine our parliamentary system which, I believe, has always benefited, and still continues to benefit, our people in the most humane and effective way.

Of course our parliamentary democracy is not without fault but, as Winston Churchill once said, no system has yet been found that is better. It was as a result of our parliamentary democracy that slavery came to an end in this country. It was through our parliamentary democracy that child labour used in mines and mills was put an end to in this country. And it was our parliamentary democracy that put an end to capital punishment in this country.

I am driven to remind noble Lords opposite of how the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, their leader at the time, acted when it was perceived that our parliamentary democracy was under threat by the miners' strike and the poll tax demonstrations, and how the law breakers were dealt with on those occasions. Although, as I have already indicated, I have sympathy with those who wish to retain hunting, I had greater sympathy with the miners' fight against pit closures and the tens of thousands of jobs that were eventually lost. And I had greater sympathy for the fight against the poll tax injustice. But I did not support the breaking of the law then and I do not support it now. The law must be applied fully to all law breakers, whatever section of our society they come from and whatever they represent.

It is intolerable for Ministers of an elected government to be prevented from carrying out their duties. For them to be prevented from leaving their homes and not being able to go to whichever part of the country their duty takes them cannot and must not be tolerated. We must not be prepared to accept the establishment of no-go areas, even if the support of the police is required to prevent that. We cannot allow the mass mob to prevent the activity of parliamentary democracy from operating.

So long as the people of this country have elected the Members in the other place—Members who will place their stewardship before the British people at the next general election—we in this House must respect and acknowledge that they have the final say. We are not elected. Our role has its limitation and it is now time to say, "enough is enough".

My hope is that your Lordship's House will take that view. However, I feel that my hope is forlorn. Unfortunately, I believe that the majority of noble Lords opposite will fight tooth and nail to retain hunting, despite the expressed view of the other place. Therefore, although we shall have a free vote, the majority of this House will continue to defy the expressed wish of the elected House. So, the dice are clearly cast. This House will vote contrary to the other place. The elected House will invoke the Parliament Act—a measure that they are entitled and justified in taking and one that I support in order to overcome much of the bigotry displayed in this House.

So, the outcome has already been determined, as sure as night follows day. I shall not participate any further in what is starting to turn into a charade or a comic opera, either by speaking or voting on this issue again. I urge noble Lords and noble friends who share my view to do the same.

4.44 p.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, for those of us who do not entirely share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on this matter, his conclusion has given great encouragement. I agree with him on one matter. As a Minister of the Crown who was personally attacked during the course of his duties, I am certainly totally opposed to physical violence of any sort being directed against Ministers carrying out their duties.

Without being unkind to the noble Lord, I think that he wrote most of that speech before he had the opportunity of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Burns, which the House has now much appreciated, and the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, and I were in another place for about 30 years. Perhaps we are able to judge on such an issue. I can outbid the noble Lord because I had two packs of stag hounds and three packs of fox hounds. I think that he only bid three packs of fox hounds for his constituency.

I have lived with this issue for 30 years. I knew that there were many people in my constituency who were opposed to fox hunting; who did not like it; who did not like stag hunting. There were others who were deeply committed to it and strongly believed in it. The text that I employed was the text of the sermon given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford—"my subject today is tolerance". That is what I had to employ and I had to recognise that regarding such issues of strong feeling it was necessary to show tolerance on both sides.

Perhaps I might add that I quoted the noble Lord, Lord Steel, the last time we debated the matter in your Lordships' House. I remembered his speech and I am glad to say that he is a man of principle. He is still there. He used exactly the same phrase, that before us today we have a highly illiberal measure. He made clear 20 years ago that he did not hunt; he did not particularly approve of it or like it; but he would defend to the death the right of people who did make that choice to be able to exercise that choice and their own will.

The area in which this debate has been so valuable is that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, after that six months of commitment to his report—the most detailed and carefully studied report on this matter—has broken his silence almost for the first time to express what the whole House will understand is his enormous disappointment that all that work that he and his colleagues put in, the careful consideration of all the issues and an attempt to find a sensible way forward, has all been thrown aside. That has been done by people who do not believe in what they are putting forward—unless they are liars, and I would not dream of addressing Ministers in another place in that way. They made absolutely clear on previous occasions that what is before us now was, in their words, "unworkable" and "unenforceable". They put forward their own proposals. They were defeated by an ambush from the Back Benches and they abandoned the field of battle.

It is against that background that this House has a duty to reflect. This is a revising Chamber. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity, that we could become just a cipher because people in another place have embarked on this activity with so little care and consideration for the background, for the views of Ministers and for the decision of government.

Having read the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, I read again the Statement made by Alun Michael to the House of Commons on 3 December 2002. He said that he would make proposals to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on hunting with dogs—conclusions based on "evidence and principle", not prejudice on either side. He said that the basis of principle and evidence provided, "a golden thread" through the whole process, and provided the authority for the proposals themselves. The Prime Minister came out and said that he supported Alun Michael and the proposals that he had made.

Suddenly, we find the whole matter turned upside down by that amendment. The country is now embarked on a most difficult and dangerous course. I say "dangerous" because there is very real feeling in the country. We talk about the countryside but, as we have said, many people in rural areas do not necessarily support hunting, while many people in urban areas do. Certainly, in my own constituency many people used to come out from the town of Bridgwater and follow the hunt or support it in various ways.

We have been around this course many times. In my experience, there is an anger in the present situation that I regard as extremely dangerous. The Government have got only themselves to blame for the strength of that anger because people believe that they have been double-crossed on this issue. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, came to Exmoor. With his colleagues, he spent a lot of time trying to understand the issues and problems of stag hunting, which he has addressed again in his speech today. There are very real issues.

In terms of cruelty, anyone who has seen a stag or fox with half its jaw shot away, living out a ghastly existence for the next week or two—or however long it may survive—might consider the issue that shooting would be preferable to hunting. In that situation, cruelty is a very difficult assessment. It is a personal judgment.

I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who has just spoken, regards fox hunting as cruel. On the one hand, many people in my constituency did. On the other hand, I do not. I know many people who I much admire—including one or two fox-hunting vicars—in my constituency, who were the most decent of people, but, in terms of fox hunting, did not happen to see it as a cruel sport: that is, the killing of a fox is a necessary activity. The noble Lord and his committee, who are the only people to have studied this in the depth that they have, are unable to say that this is a more cruel activity than any other way of controlling the fox.

So we proceed. Perhaps I may say to the Minister—for whom I have personal regard—that the situation is not helped by insulting not perhaps the intelligence but the memory of all Members of this House by his representation of what happened when the Bill came here from the House of Commons. We were all here. We know perfectly well because we have a parliamentary answer: the Commons spent 81 hours debating this Bill in Committee; we spent 10 hours—two days. In a fit of pique, the Government disappeared. The House adjourned. It was said, "Well if you want to go on all night, you can go on all night". I understand that there was some pressure for the House to try not to sit all night: people thought that ten o'clock was a reasonable time to rise. The Government never returned to the Bill.

There are those who try to say that the Lords deliberately blocked the Bill and that it was filibustered out. There are one or two Members here who have been in another place. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Golding, that I have been on a Standing Committee when her husband spoke for two-and-a-half hours, although it may have been a lot longer. Under any fair examination, if that is to be called a filibuster, "you ain't seen nothing yet". But that is not the idea. We need to have serious debate on these issues.

Otherwise, if the Government refuse to allow this House to debate the issue, if they try to abuse the processes of the Parliament Act, if they backtrack on the understandings that they have given to so many people considering the Burns report and Alun Michael's compromise proposals, and if they abandon all that in the face of a backbench revolt and deliberately betray a number of promises that were made to a lot of people that this would be handled in a proper, fair and principled way, the anger that currently exists—although I would not endorse violent action, there is no doubt that it is there—may make the Government hit real trouble over this and they will have only themselves to blame.

4.54 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I have to declare an interest on many counts today. I live in the countryside and I have had many letters from people who cannot understand why the Government are picking on people living there and interfering with their way of life. I also speak today as a small tenant farmer. I farm 200 acres and have a small riding centre.

I am appalled at the increase in rural crime. Only yesterday, before leaving my home in Yorkshire, a break-in was reported to me of the shed where the quad bike is housed at the farm. A metal bar had prised the lock. Luckily for me, the quad bike was not there. But that is typical of what happens all the time. On one occasion, a farmer had his quad bike driven off while he stood talking to someone in the next-door field. My tack at the trekking centre has been stolen twice. We now have a double metal door, security lights and a burglar alarm, which we had even before the first theft.

As it is, we do not have enough police in rural areas. The thought of making law-abiding, country people into criminals for the sake of hunting and making the police enemies of the very people who can help them fight rural crime is a very serious aspect of the whole saga. I ask the Minister: what do the police think of this Hunting Bill?

Hunting has been a well disciplined pursuit. There are rules to be followed. One is sent home if one misbehaves. I hope that the Government have the sense to think again. Police resources in rural areas are already overstretched. Whatever the Government say, the likelihood is that the Bill will become impossible to police. At the moment, they have problems stopping illegal poaching and coursing.

Some people think that all people who hunt have a blood lust. That is pure fantasy. People go hunting for many reasons; for example, to watch the skill of the hounds and the fox, and the excitement of the chase when the fox has gone away. I have always felt that when the fox has gone to ground and has given a good hunt, he should be left and not dug out. I should like to see that written into the regulations. There should be a compromise, and this should be included.

Probably, the most important issue is the removal of an individual's liberty to go hunting and the consequent criminalisation of the act of hunting. That is a very serious step, which should sound grave warning bells as to what the Government may do next; for instance—it has been said—slowly banning shooting and fishing.

The threat of widespread civil disobedience should not be underestimated. I can assure your Lordships that the strength of feeling in the countryside is something to take note of. In Britain, we have a very serious problem of alcohol abuse and binge drinking. Take away such sports as hunting, the danger of alcohol abuse could increase. I cannot think that the Government want that sort of thing to happen.

I have a secretary from County Durham who enjoys going hunting. She gets up at 5 a.m. to prepare her horse. At the end of the day, she has to clean and feed him. Hunting involves all sorts of people. Many depend on it for their livelihood. I can assure your Lordships that it is not just a sport for the well off.

When the countryside was faced with the terrible problem of foot and mouth disease, it made many people realise how carefully the disposal of fallen stock has to be undertaken. The hunts help with fallen stock. Can I ask the Minister what progress has been made on the scheme to help farmers with this problem? I declare an interest as I own sheep.

Many noble Lords will have received letters from people across the country. I shall quote from one sent from Leyburn in North Yorkshire: If hunting were to be banned, it would in my view be a tragedy of itself, but it would be as nothing when compared with the fact that this country, so dearly loved by so many of us, should have become a place where such illiberalism is possible". Many people are waiting and watching your Lordships' House to see if a compromise can be made and whether the Government will respect the wishes of the minority who live and work in the countryside.

5.1 p.m.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, I declare an interest, first, as president of the Countryside Alliance, and as chairman of the Labour supporters group, Leave Country Sports Alone. I am also bound to say that I hunt whenever I can with whatever pack of hounds I can find. I hope that I am usually moderate in the views I express in your Lordships' House, but on this occasion, notwithstanding the exhortations of the right reverend Prelate, I find it very difficult to be moderate. I say that because it seems to me that the representation of this Bill, in this form, is a serious misuse of power.

The Minister, my noble friend Lord Whitty, has said that we should judge the Bill on its merits, but he devoted not one word this afternoon to pointing out any of those merits, and I suggest that that is because the Bill is rotten and that everyone connected with it knows it to be so. I do not know how many noble Lords have read the Bill in detail, but it is a nonsense, even on its face. It makes it a criminal offence to hunt mice with dogs, but you are allowed to hunt rats with dogs. It is a criminal offence to hunt hares with dogs, but you are allowed to hunt rabbits with dogs. Perhaps those are silly little details, but we are now being presented with a Bill which has never been properly scrutinised in another place. It was pushed through all its stages in one day and is being introduced in this House at the eleventh hour during the spillover period. I understand that we are to have three consecutive days in Committee, not something that normally happens with a Bill in this House.

As other noble Lords have said, people in the countryside feel that they have been betrayed because a promise was made to them on behalf of the Government by Mr Alun Michael, the Minister, when he said in the words that the House has already heard that this matter would be decided on the basis of principle and evidence, not personal taste. For someone whose personal inclination tended towards a ban, after Mr Michael had seen the results of the inquiry held by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and after he had conducted his own extensive inquiries, he produced a regulatory Bill. We know from his own words in a letter to John Prescott that that Bill was "wrecked", and in the words of Mrs. Margaret Beckett, his senior Minister, was "unworkable". Yet that is the Bill which is being brought to this House at the eleventh hour of this Session. Moreover, we are being told, in effect, that if we do not return it substantially in this form, we will face the use of the Parliament Acts.

Taking the Minister at his word, let us look at the merits of the Bill—just in outline so far as they affect the people who will be directly concerned. It has been condemned by the police as virtually unpoliceable. It has been condemned by magistrates, who are going to have to deal with this nonsense. I say that because when we come to look at it line by line, much of it is nonsense. It has been condemned by churchmen, by lawyers and by the Labour-dominated Joint Committee on Human Rights of this House, which has said that it does not even comply with the Human Rights Act introduced by this Government. But for me what is most significant of all is that, bearing in mind what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, just a few moments ago, it has been condemned by the vast majority of rural veterinary surgeons who say that its effect will be to increase animal suffering through increased wounding and the use of snares. Yet the Bill is still to be forced through Parliament, as a government measure, in government time, by a government Minister.

I have already heard in the debate, and I suspect I shall hear again from later speakers, words to the effect that the will of the elected House must prevail. Since when has it been a principle of parliamentary democracy that the individual prejudice, and sometimes ignorance, of an elected representative must prevail over the evidence? That is not parliamentary democracy, but an abuse of power. Nor is it good government to allow something of this sort to happen. It is government which is out of control.

A significant minority in this country, the rural communities which, perhaps inconveniently for some, still thrive the length and breadth of what is predominantly an urban and suburban nation, took Mr Alun Michael at his word. They took him on trust when he made that promise to them concerning how this issue would be dealt with. As others have said, they feel that they have been badly betrayed.

What is happening in Parliament with this Bill is also a betrayal of the words which appear on the back of my Labour Party membership card, which speaks of living together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect". I totally accept what was said by my noble friend Lady Gibson about there being people in the countryside who feel strongly that they dislike hunting. In my own village down in Exmoor, when the local district council conducted an anonymous survey, 238 people said that they supported hunting while 14 disagreed. Those 14 people are of course entitled to their views, but what is so pernicious about this piece of legislation is that in the past we could disagree even among friends who held different views. We could argue and try to convince others of our point of view. What is now developing is a divisiveness and unpleasantness which is leading, I am afraid, to increased dislike, hatred and disunity within communities which before may have disagreed, but at least tolerated one another's different ways of life.

I have to tell the House that I never known such anger in the countryside, not even at the height of the foot and mouth crisis. When you break promises which people have relied upon, and when you override the evidence, the sense of injustice generated destroys respect for the whole parliamentary process. It leaves people with nowhere to go within the law. I echo what other noble Lords have said: I have no time for people who use violence or who seek to break the law in any way. But this is not just about people mistrusting politicians. As a result of the way this matter has been handled, it is now far more serious.

Over the past few weeks, several Ministers, including the Prime Minister, have been heard to say that they had "no idea" of the strength of feeling on this issue. If the Bill were to reach the statute book in this form, I fear that respect for Parliament, both for its ability to protect the freedom of minorities and respect for the due process of law, will break down in a number of parts of the country. I do not believe that I am exaggerating. From what I have seen, there are literally hundreds of thousands of people who feel that strongly about this issue.

The stench of this Bill, if it becomes law, will pollute the programme and the record of this Government far beyond this Session and will have serious and far-reaching consequences. It takes real political incompetence to get to where we are on an issue like this.

So what is your Lordships' House to do? The Prime Minister says that he still wants a compromise—and so, I believe, do we in this House. A nation divided is in no-one's interest. A banning Bill will not resolve the issue; it will instead create a running sore and require further legislation in, I would guess, a remarkably short time.

As others have already said, I hope that this House will work constructively, in the proper time—which I understand we are going to be given this time—so that we can return a Bill to the House of Commons this Session based on the framework that Alun Michael felt was right; a regulatory Bill in accordance with the evidence of his hearings and that of the noble Lord, Lord Burns; a Bill which applies to all forms of hunting—if they fail the tests, they will not get a licence; if they pass them, they should. I hope that when that measure returns to the Commons we will see a corresponding desire to find a compromise in another place.

The House of Commons has supported a delay. I pause there to say that any suggestion that this is an animal welfare Bill goes out of the window when it is proposed to delay its implementation—and therefore presumably delay the stopping of cruelty—until after the next general election has taken place. The Commons has suggested a delay. Whether that is right is something we will consider in due course. For my own part, I very much want to hear, in the course of the Committee stage, the way in which the Minister approaches the matter and whether he, too, does so in the spirit of compromise that the Prime Minister has suggested.

If a rotten Bill reaches the statute book despite our best efforts and those of the courts, I do not exaggerate—and I do not say this to hold anyone in terrorem but simply because I believe it to be right—there will be an explosion, delay or no delay. Injustice is not lightly forgiven or forgotten. In the past few weeks I have seen ordinary men, women and, increasingly, many youngsters facing armed police and police in riot gear—not only here in Parliament Square but also in Brighton—who had been deployed to protect members of my own party from the anger of the people of the countryside of Britain. I find that incredibly sad. I am afraid that we have not begun to see the consequences of what will happen if the Government continue to allow hatred of people to dictate legislation.

It need not be like this. I hope that we shall have an outbreak of sanity—or else we shall have some real madness.

5.13 p.m.

Baroness Morris of Bolton

My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to address your Lordships' House in this my maiden speech. I thank my noble friend Lady Byford for her kind words. The warmth and generosity of welcome from all sides of the House has been exceptional and I am beginning to feel very much at home.

Although I must confess that for many years I had imagined that my political career would be played out in another place, those ambitions, however, were frustrated, in particular, by two constituencies: Kensington and Chelsea, where they thought I came from The Boltons; and Oldham Central and Royton, where I came second to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. We fought a robust but amicable campaign and I look forward to picking up the argument where we left off. But it is a great honour to join this House and to take my place among such distinguished company.

I should like to express my gratitude to the staff of the House for their unfailing patience, guidance and kindness, especially on the day of my introduction when my mother was seriously ill. She had insisted, with characteristic selflessness, that I went ahead with the arrangements. It was not easy, although it did have its lighter moments. On the evening before my introduction, when I was sitting with my mother in the Royal Bolton Hospital, a nurse took me to one side and said, "Mrs Morris, your mother's become very confused. She thinks you're going to London tomorrow to become a Baroness". It was a difficult day and I shall forever be grateful to the officers, staff and Members of your Lordships' House for your help and concern. I give special thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, for more than living up to the name of "supporter".

I had thought that I would make my maiden speech on something allied to education, health or diversity, in some obscure debate tucked away on a Friday when your Lordships' House was less full. So why hunting? In my capacity as vice-chairman of the Conservative Party with responsibility for candidates, I have probably spent most waking hours of the past three years battling to break down barriers; fighting for fairness and for a society where people are valued for who they are, not what they are or what they do.

And so lying at the core of the debate is a subject dear to my heart—and here I totally agree with my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater—that is, tolerance. It is about tolerating an activity that some may not like—because once you become intolerant of one thing it is so very easy to become intolerant of another.

I hunted as a teenager but broke my back at 17 in a riding accident, so the closest I have come to hunting in recent years was catching my sons' escaped ferrets and wearing this red jacket. But those few seasons hunting with the Holcombe taught me a great deal: that hunting is not only a country sport but a way of life that weaves itself through the fabric of a community; that it draws its followers from all walks of life. If you hunt, as I did, around the urban conurbations of Bolton, Bury, Chorley and Wigan, you certainly do not meet many toffs.

I learnt about courage, courtesy and camaraderie. Good things for a teenager to learn. I observed the magic of hounds working together as a pack in a way which makes them wholly unsuited to become pets. And I discovered an apparent paradox: that those who hunt and shoot and fish, and who are thought cruel by some, are among the greatest animal lovers.

There are times, though, when I wish I had not been imbued with such an obligation to animal welfare. I might, for instance, be more punctual if I did not waste several minutes every day helping spiders escape before I have a bath. Many is the evening in early spring when I return home drenched after getting out of my car in the pouring rain to rescue lovesick toads which, as they amble across the road to spawn in the reservoir above my home, are in danger of being squashed by careless drivers.

Yet I recognise that no one side of this debate has a monopoly on love and care for animals. Of course many of your Lordships have real moral reservations about hunting. But in a civilised, tolerant, liberal society there is always a balance to be maintained; a balance between what is morally distasteful for some, yet is tolerated, and that which is so morally intolerable to many that it is proscribed by statute.

If hunting were to disappear tomorrow or in 2006, I would not be affected personally; my life would carry on pretty much as normal. But for many life would alter out of all recognition, and I fear that an otherwise lawful minority—a minority for whom hunting has become the passionate touchstone for their freedom—might be tempted to test and to flout the decision of Parliament.

The American statesman, Adlai Stevenson, defined a free society as one, where it is safe to be unpopular". If we are to protect the unpopular and avoid the potential confrontation and criminalisation of the activities of so many of our fellow citizens—fellow citizens who have until now been notable in their respect for the rule of law—I urge your Lordships to reconsider and amend the Bill and to give full thought to a compromise that would answer the questions of hunting's critics and be a proper solution to all who value freedom and tolerance.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

My Lords, I know that you will allow me to take a few moments to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, on her excellent maiden speech. We can all look forward to many valuable contributions by the noble Baroness to the debates of this House.

I have to admit that I am biased in the noble Baroness's favour for two reasons in particular. One is that I spent most of my childhood in Burnley, Lancashire. Therefore, it is a pleasure for a Burnley Claret to see a Bolton Wanderer making such a fine contribution to this House in her first speech. The other reason for my bias is that she has admired legal connections—of the conjugal kind, in her case—and that would certainly bias me in her favour.

I have looked at the noble Baroness's achievements. They are many: she has a versatile intellect and has devoted a great deal to the public service in education, health, geopolitical considerations and other spheres. One of them, as she has already told us, relates to Conservative candidates. The improvement of Conservative candidates is not an oxymoron, as it may appear to some, but a very noble cause. Indeed, political parties have a great duty to choose good candidates from as diverse a background as possible.

I had heard of the noble Baroness's misfortune in Kensington and Chelsea, but perhaps the prescient among us see her claiming in the future that she was, at least, the stalking horse for Malcolm Rifkind. We look forward to many contributions from the noble Baroness in the future.

As a fledgling Member of another place in 1983, I was asked to attend a meeting in a village hall in rural Montgomeryshire. I agreed to go. I was told the subject was hunting, and expected an audience of approximately a dozen. In fact, there were approximately 700 and a dozen there. There were perhaps a dozen toffs there, I suspect among the poorest in the audience that night. The others were, to a man and woman, people in rural mid-Wales who took part then and still take part in various forms of hunting. Hardly any of them had ever put on a red coat, hardly any of them had ever mounted a horse. Almost every one of them paid a subscription to their pack, and every one of them had a good reason. The good reason was because although they were prepared happily to tolerate most foxes in the countryside—and there are a great many in rural Montgomeryshire—they were not prepared to tolerate those foxes that are pests and kill, in a most brutal way, the young lambs, often starting with eating their eyes out.

It was brought home to me at that meeting, above all other events that I have been to connected with hunting—and I have never hunted—that this issue is not about toffs and cruelty but about rights and the countryside. It is about practices which have been carried out for generations. It is not about uncontrolled cruelty. Those who hunt in rural Wales, where I live, are perfectly prepared to have controls, whether in the form of registration, licensing or whatever. They are not prepared to have a Government acting arbitrarily as the arbiters of their conscience and as the taste-archs of what they do.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister made a fine speech. He claimed that the territory he was covering was that of the Labour Party, but actually his speech could have been made by the leader of any political party in this country. It could have been made by Mr Bush, it could have been made by Mr Kerry, it could even have been made by Mr Chirac. It talked about a vision—a vision of fairness, of justice and of democracy. As I listened to that speech, I could not detect anything that remotely justified that vision as including the interference in the legitimately exercised consciences of the public carrying out an activity under appropriate legal control.

It is my view that what we heard this afternoon—and we have heard many excellent speeches, particularly from my noble friend Lady Miller and from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford—was absolutely right. Those were the templates by which we should judge these debates. Did the Minister give us such a template? With great respect to him, I say no. He said that he wanted us to compromise, but it was not much of a compromise, was it? It was a compromise of the "Heads I win, tails you lose" kind, as far as I could see. He and the Government are saying that of course we can compromise, as long as we agree with the will of the House of Commons in this—bicameral, incidentally—Parliament.

As one who, unlike the Minister, has served in both Chambers of this Parliament, I say to him, like the noble Lord, Lord King, and my noble friend Lord Steel, that this is not the sort of issue on which it is expected that the elected Chamber will overrule the bicameral Parliament. It is not the House of Commons overruling the Lords; it is the House of Commons potentially overruling the will of Parliament. That is quite different, in my view. The Minister seems amused by that. It seems to me an entirely legitimate point.

Of course the Parliament Act can be used, and I would expect it to be used. The Parliament Act can be used if it is essential to ensure social justice. The Parliament Act can be used if it is essential to ensure the safety of the country. The Parliament Act can be used if it is essential to ensure the security of our country's economy. The Parliament Act can be used if it is essential to ensure the maintenance of the law. But this does not fall into any of those categories. This is part of the pernicious slope which could lead us to a country in which it is okay to eat salt-free muesli while listening to nearby windmills but not much else. The Government should beware of going down that pernicious slope.

Like my noble friend Lord Steel, as a Liberal with a capital L, I regard this as a fundamentally illiberal Bill. Of course I am willing to debate it after Second Reading. Let us try and change it, but what I have heard does not leave me with much hope.

I shall not rehearse the arguments which I and many others have given on other occasions about why hunting should not be banned, except by choosing one topic. Where I live in rural Montgomeryshire, I can look out of my windows and often see a fox. My wife and I can walk up the hill to a particular gate where we can look across a wonderful valley and almost always see a fox at certain times of the year and at certain times of evening as the twilight is drawing in.

The farmers do not want to get rid of the foxes; they only want to get rid of the most dangerous foxes. That is what hunting actually achieves, and it is very important. They need not be ashamed of the fact that when they go out with their footpacks they enjoy the walk and the hunting. Many people enjoy activities which others criticise—that is part of a tolerant society. But if there is a ban on hunting, we will no longer be able to look out of our windows and see foxes. We shall not be able to walk up that hill and see foxes because the farmers will get rid of the foxes. As my noble friend Lord Steel, who plainly is not a particularly good shot, has illustrated, they will get rid of them in cruel and ineffective ways that are far more horrifying than anything that happens even in not particularly well controlled hunting.

The fact that we have talked about this subject for eight years—I feel I have been talking about it for 20 years—in the two Houses of this place does not mean that we have to put it to bed. There is a genuine controversy. What is Parliament for if it is not to debate these controversies? But for this Government to impose their will on us in the way proposed by the Minister is unacceptable and we should be prepared to fight it in our own parliamentary way.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I too enjoyed the admirable maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. She is clearly a great addition to our House.

Everyone outside Westminster finds it extraordinary that we should be spending time on this issue when there are so many serious problems that demand our attention. As Kate Hoey has said, the Bill is the product of ignorance and prejudice. Margaret Beckett has said: No Bill on a simple ban has ever been thought to be workable". Personally, I cannot see how it can be enforced. And one Chief Constable has said: The police have neither the money nor the resources to hound illegal fox-hunters". Other senior policemen have pointed out that a ban will bring the police into conflict with some of the rural community.

Alan Milburn has said repeatedly that the Bill is about cruelty, but anyone who lives in the country knows that hunting is the least cruel method of fox control, with a swift kill or a clean escape. Poisoning, snaring and shooting leave many animals to die in agony.

Feeling against the ban is intense in the countryside. I doubt if country people will acquiesce meekly in this unwarranted interference with their liberties. The limit has been reached. I have received letters from sober, law-abiding people in Wales which say: "I will continue to hunt and if it means that I go to prison, then I will". It is dreadful that a small band of fanatics and others actuated by class envy should have brought us to this pass.

What should we do now? I agree that we should be constructive. We should accept that regulation, hitherto carried out very sensibly on a voluntary basis by the independent authority under Sir Ronald Waterhouse, should be made statutory and compulsory. To this end, we need to amend the Bill.

However, despite the eloquent and persuasive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, we should not struggle against our better judgment to bring the draft nearer the proposals that were made earlier by Alun Michael. They were neither even-handed nor satisfactory. Mr Michael said that his proposals, would allow the hunting of foxes and mink in exceptional circumstances— I repeat, in exceptional circumstances— for pest control and when alternative methods can be shown to cause significantly more suffering". I argued against his proposals in Committee on 28 October last year, at columns 231–32. Appeasement seldom works. Mr Trimble tried it and we now have Mr Paisley. The Conservative Party tried it with Europe and it now has UKIP. It is hopeless to rely on the goodwill of Alun Michael, who has continually shifted his ground, or on the Prime Minister, who, despite saying that the voice of rural people should be heard and their concerns not forgotten, has permitted this deplorable Bill to be sent to us.

I urge those who are considering amendments to cease trying to exhume Alun Michael's proposal and to plan instead to turn the present Bill into a sensible one, bringing in statutory regulation, but in a fair and reasonable way. We should insist that it be up to the authorities to prove that cruelty takes place. It is unacceptable that the basis of the Bill should be that hunting is illegal unless the tests of cruelty and utility are passed.

We should also drop the use of the word and concept of "utility", which opens the door to the banning of shooting and fishing, which are the clear and declared objectives of the animal welfare organisations. We should get rid of the rigged definitions in the Bill and replace them with fair, reasonable words. We should delete the provision for animal welfare groups to have a right to make representations to the registrar, with their costs being paid by the taxpayer, while no such right is granted or reimbursement paid to hunts.

I trust that, in any event, animal rights groups of the type that, after a long and vicious campaign of intimidation, have just dug up the corpse of a lady of 82 who bred guinea pigs for use in medical research, will not be allowed to make representations at our expense. In essence, this House should revise the Bill to make it one which we believe is reasonable and right and perhaps pursue a solution on the lines proposed by my noble friend Lord Burns.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Alli

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, on her maiden speech. I look forward to seeing more of her in the House in the days and years to come.

I hesitate to re-enter this debate. I suspect that we have all become over-familiar with the arguments for and against a ban on fox hunting. Just for the record, I do not hunt; I have never been hunting; and I have no desire to go hunting. As many noble Lords may know, I am a relative newcomer to this debate. I have tried to argue for extending the principle of tolerance, for which I have argued many times in this House, to this issue. At its simplest, the Bill is about freedom—the freedom to do and enjoy doing what other people disapprove of without incurring the force of the criminal law.

Before I move on to the broader issues of freedom, I shall deal, head on, like the noble Lord, Lord Burns, with the issue of cruelty. I said in my previous speech on hunting in this House that I have never been convinced that a fish caught on a hook does not feel pain; that battery farming is proper; or that the transportation of livestock on the scale that takes place today is fully necessary. Equally, I would not be convinced that the fox does not feel pain when a dog rips it apart; and I will never be convinced that much of animal testing is necessary.

However, this debate is about much more than that. It is more complicated. If one accepts, as one must, that the fox population needs to be controlled, the issue is not whether the fox is killed, but the method of control. I see very little difference between a fox being chased by a warden and subsequently shot and a fox being chased by a pack of men or women on horses and subsequently killed. If a difference exists, it is in the dignity afforded to the fox in its slaughter. At its simplest, this debate is about the freedom of the individual versus the dignity afforded to the fox in its inevitable death. If a choice has to be made, hard though it is, freedom must be paramount.

Nevertheless, I never fully understood why this House chose to play politics with the system of licensing. That seemed to provide a test as to the necessity of a cull and, that test having been passed, to allow hunting to continue. I again agree with the noble Lord, Lord Burns, that the choice to reject licensing may yet prove to have been a fatal error. I hope that it will not.

There seems to have been much activity in recent weeks, with the shadow Leader of the House holding out olive branches, but it may be a case of shutting that stable door once the horse has bolted.

Having now upset many of my noble friends on this side of the House and colleagues in another place, perhaps I may take the opportunity to offer a few words of advice to the hunting lobby in this place on how to win friends and influence people in the Labour movement: a kind of five-point plan. One, respect the legitimate right of the Labour Members elected in the other place to govern. They are not loonies; they are elected. Two, do not make this issue a test of who governs, for you shall surely lose. Three, practise what you preach, particularly about tolerance and justice. Four, do not make this an issue about the right of this House to override the other, elected, Chamber. Five, do not pretend that the other place does not have the right to use the Parliament Act, for there is nothing more certain to make them use it than that.

So, to coin a phrase, if you remember anything from this speech, remember these 10 words: in the end, the other place will have their way. Your Lordships should think hard and think well. If we were able to find a middle ground, I would be pleased, but time is running out. I hope for freedom's sake that it has not run out.

5.40 p.m.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest, in that I do not hunt and have never in my life owned a horse. I want also to begin by saying to my noble friend Lady Morris that the contest for Kensington and Chelsea between herself and Malcolm Rifkind must have been extremely close. I say that because, as I have been saying for years, the best maiden speech that I ever heard in another place was by Malcolm Rifkind—and now the best maiden speech that I have heard in this house in rather more than seven years is the one that she made today. I congratulate her on that.

Coming as the seventeenth speaker in this debate and the sixteenth speaker speaking, in principle, against the Bill, I must say that I am opposed to it, and regard it as illogical and vindictive. Anyone who heard the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, cannot go on pretending that the Bill comes before us as an animal welfare Bill.

I shall make three points. First, I was totally appalled by the antics of those brainless bumpkins who invaded the House of Commons a short time ago. Having savoured the applause of some of their friends at home, I hope that they will pause to reflect on two matters. They should consider what damage has been done to their cause, when their behaviour has switched off the support of the very many people who do not hunt but are hunt supporters. I hope, too, that they will consider how much wider damage their kind of behaviour does, in undermining the whole concept of the rule of law and parliamentary democracy. I have been seriously concerned about the way in which the Bill has caused so many people living in the countryside who ought to know better to behave as those people did—and as others evidently did in Parliament Square and other places. It does no good whatever to their cause or to the things that we who believe in Parliament and the rule of law believe in.

My second point is one on which I have spoken before. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, to an extent in referring to the serious implications for hill farming which will result from fox hunting being abandoned in hill areas. For 33 years in another place I represented a large part of the Lake District, and I am totally convinced of the importance of hunting to hill farming. It is carried out on foot, so there are no toffs in top hats for people to get excited about. There is no other way in which effectively to control the serious ravages caused among lambs by foxes, if fox numbers are not controlled.

Both in this place and another place I have drawn attention to the clear evidence for that, by giving chapter and verse concerning a situation that arose in World War II, when a huntsman in West Wales had to be released from the Army to cull fox numbers in that part of the world as the burgeoning fox population was threatening food production in that area. That was the subject of an article in Picture Post during the war. I have explained that before to your Lordships' House, and I shall not go over it again.

I hope that we can consider, in the next week or two, the possibility of moving an amendment to the Bill to exempt the foot packs which are so important for hill farming. I know that there are supporters of an amendment of that sort in all quarters of the House, and we should think seriously about the possibility of moving such an amendment.

My third and last point is, I fear, an aggressive one. I believe that the Government have treated your Lordships' House disgracefully in the handling of this legislation over the past two years. I speak as a former government business manager, who had the experience of trying my best to manipulate the business to the government's best advantage. But what this Government have done in their timetabling and handling of this Bill is totally disgraceful. They have deliberately organised the timetable, two years running, to prevent your Lordships from having sufficient time or, more importantly, a comparable opportunity to that of Members in another place, to debate the Bill.

I remind your Lordships of the facts. The previous Bill had its Second Reading on 16 December 2002. The Committee concluded its work on 27 February last year, after 82 hours of deliberation, including the recommittal. That was the Committee stage. What happened after that gives the whole game away: the Government let the Bill lie for four months before taking it to Report again in another place. They did that perfectly clearly—one can see exactly what they were about. Having spent 97 and a half hours in total in dealing with the Bill in another place, they sent it to your Lordships' House at the very last moment, and then last autumn it ran out of time.

We have heard the Minister this afternoon repeat the scandalous statement that the Lords blocked the Bill and proved to be totally unhelpful in handling the Bill. The spin doctors in Downing Street and elsewhere have perpetuated the story that your Lordships blocked the Bill, when your Lordships did nothing of the sort. This House had only 21 hours of discussion on the Bill, and it is a preposterous lie for the Government to pretend that your Lordships blocked it. The Government refused to give sufficient time. As I understand it, they promised extra days which, if they had been taken up, would have meant that your Lordships' House would still have had considerably fewer than half the number of hours in which to consider the Bill than the other place took to deal with it.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I was present in the House, as was the noble Lord, on that fatal day when speeches of inordinate length were deployed on amendments which clearly showed that there was an intention not to reach any conclusion on the Bill. When the Liberal Chief Whip moved that the House adjourn, most of the Members opposite, if not all, supported the Motion. Most of the noble Lords on this side of the Chamber, but not all, voted against that Motion. That night the Minister said that he had offered negotiations to determine how much, and when and how, other time should be found. Whatever interpretation is put upon that, it cannot be said that the Government stopped progress on that Bill.

Lord Jopling

My Lords, I shall speak for rather longer than I had intended but I must respond to that. First, I believe that the noble Lord was not in his place when my noble friend Lord King, talking about the allegation of a filibuster—as the noble Lord has just made—repeated the immortal words, "You ain't seen anything yet" when he recalled some of the speeches in another place. The noble Baroness, Lady Golding, is grinning and nodding as we all remember the filibusters of infinite length made in another place by that lovely man, John Golding, but enough of that.

Secondly, I repeat what I said; namely, that as I understood it, the amount of time that the Government offered last year, which, if it had been taken up and had been added to the 21 hours already spent, would have come to less than half the time which the Commons had previously taken on the matter. That is a disgraceful way of treating this House, particularly when the Bill had been held up in order to have it arrive in your Lordships' House when there was practically no time left in the Session. That four-month gap gives the whole game away: whereby the Government's business managers deliberately sought to shunt the Lords into a corner and therefore half gag them.

This year they have clearly played exactly the same highly cynical game in the handling of this Bill by not introducing it until 15 September, when the Second Reading took place in another place. As I say, I regard that as a gross breach of parliamentary procedure and practice. It is especially a gross breach of the spirit of the Parliament Act itself. I cannot believe that those who drafted and agreed the two Parliament Acts ever considered that they would be enforced when this House had been granted such a short time to discuss these matters compared with the time that the Commons had taken up. I believe that if, in authorising the use of the Parliament Act, the Speaker has any discretion in this matter—I suspect that he does not have any such discretion—we should urge him to refuse to certify this miserable and vindictive Bill.

5.53 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, I support hunting and oppose this Bill as I believe that hunting is a part of our national tradition expressed in literature, in poetry, in painting and in music through popular songs. My own favourite quotation in relation to hunting derives from a ballad, "Tam O'Lin": O, there was horsing horsing horsing in haste And cracking of whips out over the Lea". If, as I believe, hunting is a part of our national tradition, we should not forget that tradition is to a nation what a soul is to an individual. We should tamper with that only if there is an overwhelming case for doing so. Having read some of the literature—for example, the Burns report—it is perfectly evident that there is no overwhelming case for banning hunting.

I hope that this House will improve the Bill in the course of our discussion of it now and in Committee so that we can persuade Members of another place to think seriously, intelligently and deeply about a national tradition which they seem—in many cases unthinkingly—to be anxious to destroy. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote one more line of poetry, this time from Matthew Arnold's, Thyrsis, which states: Look, adown the dusky hillside. A troop of Oxford hunters going home, As in old days, jovial and talking, rode". I hope that, "jovial and talking", people in England, Wales and Scotland will continue to be able to ride thus, as in the old days.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I also want to make a very few remarks, probably more concerned with democracy than directly with hunting, and they relate to the suggested amendment which we are also debating, although very few have mentioned it.

People can think of democracy in two ways at least—as the right of people, and, some would say, especially a minority of people, to demonstrate, to speak out, or shout out, to protest against laws or proposed laws that they think wrong. You can see this happening also in states which are not run on democratic lines as well as in truly democratic states.

Then there is the way democracy works in fully democratic states by—after listening to arguments, shouted, spoken, written—voting.

The amendment suggested in another place has a particular democratic function. Because it will have the consequence that a general election will come between the passing of the Bill and a key part of its implementation, those who object to the proposed law can vote out the government who have executed it. The amendment gives an opportunity to use the democratic process rather than behave as if it did not exist.

People who invade the House of Commons are behaving as if the democratic process did not exist, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, suggested. People who do not accept the result of a vote are ignoring democracy. And people who reject the opportunity to vote on an issue are repudiating democracy.

This House is one of the institutions of our democracy. Would it not be unconscionable for it to reject an amendment which asserts a democratic process so unequivocally? More, would it not verge on the ludicrous?

One final question I have is that we are urged to value sport in this matter. We should cherish sport. Apart from being fun, sport is a true companion of democracy. It has rules which players agree to abide by. The nature of sport is that not everyone can win and that defeat according to the rules must be accepted. We add, in our word "sporting" the idea of willingly accepting the challenge of a contest with rules and of accepting defeat with a good grace. Should not those who value sport put their case to the ballot box, play by the rules and see whether victory or defeat is legitimately theirs?

5.59 p.m.

Lord Plumb

My Lords, as the twentieth speaker in this debate I am sure many would agree that it is a debate that perhaps should not be taking place. In her great speech the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, spoke of the serious misjudgment of power. Those are problems that we face at the moment as so many mixed messages come from Members of Parliament, who have contributed to the extreme confusion by making claims that cannot be substantiated.

We have heard it all in recent days and weeks: that campaigners for the protection of hunting with dogs are just a braying mob of upper-class snobs; that hunting is rooted in class prejudice; that fox hunting is not a big issue in the countryside and not an issue about which the Government are passionate; and that the Members of Parliament know better than those who have studied the subject. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Burns, about his report. It was wonderful today to be able to hear first-hand from him his opinion and that of his committee.

Take the 570 members of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, farmers themselves, shepherds in the countryside, gamekeepers, and many who really understand what the countryside is about. The sporting or recreational element of hunting is irrelevant to the welfare issue, according to those who believe that the fox population can better be controlled by shooting with a rifle. Still it appears that many Members of Parliament know best.

On welfare, it is interesting to note—it has been reported in many newspapers and magazines—that the RSPCA knows how to rehouse or rehome 20,000 fox hounds. I have had a bit of experience of trying to control fox hounds—not in a hunting field, but by walking young hounds before they are mature. I know the difficulty of controlling them, even at that stage. Those of us who call ourselves countrymen—I declare my interest as a farmer and steward of the land, not as a hunter as I have never hunted, except with a gun—cannot accept so many of the arguments for those claims being evidential and justifiable.

I once found a fox dying a week after I knew that I had shot it. I do not think that I have ever shot a fox since. It was suffering from lead poisoning. We are all entitled to our opinion, but let that opinion be based on facts. It is most encouraging that we have heard so much in the debate about the importance of tolerance. I support entirely all those who have suggested tolerance in the sense of making allowances and finding a solution to the problem.

Some of the statements are enough to make the people in the countryside very angry. To call supporters of fox hunting upper-class snobs is an insult to the thousands of followers who follow the hounds every week of the season, many of whom in my part of the world—north Warwickshire—are working-class people. They are miners and factory workers. Our new master of the hunt that concerns me—the Atherstone hunt—is a plumber, a one-man band. He is assisted, as co-master of the hunt, by a lady farmer who milks her own cows 14 times a week, yet still finds time for hunting.

The chairman of the hunt is a doctor, a GP. He is one of four doctors who hunt with the Atherstone pack on a regular basis. The best supporter of our hunt over many years was a dustman. It put a plaque outside his council house very recently, where he died during the past year. He left his meagre belongings to the hunt, and there is enough money there to pay a horse walker for the next five years. Those are the sort of people who, in that part of the world, follow the hunt and are keen supporters. They are aggrieved, angry and bewildered at the possibility that their hunt is likely to go. In addition to that, the Atherstone hunt offers a fallen stock service and its premises were recently modified to comply with department regulations.

It is said that fox hunting is not a big issue in the countryside, which shows appalling ignorance of the truth. In all my years of involvement in the countryside, farming and such areas of rural life—it goes back a long time—I have never seen country people feel as aggrieved as they do at the moment. It is not only about hunting. Many Members of Parliament have made them believe that there is a blind hatred of country pursuits, starting with hunting and threatening to affect shooting and fishing. Many people coarse fishing on my land ask me on a weekly basis, "Is our sport next?". They are worried and want assurances on the matter. At the same time, people at this stage have the right to roam in many parts of the countryside.

If the rifle or shotgun were to become the primary means of controlling fox and deer—until it were banned—how many animals could be condemned to that slow, agonising death that I witnessed many years ago? However good a shot one is, it is extremely difficult to shoot and kill a moving fox in the middle of a field of ewes and lambs. I speak from experience. That point was made in the submission given to us by the National Farmers Union, the CLA, the National Sheep Association and many others that are concerned. Your Lordships will have read of the two boys who have recently been shot, mistaken for a fox as they were out with a shooting party lamping for foxes at night. Imagine, if we get rid of hunting, what may follow if the shooting of foxes by tamping at night increases.

In my experience, people do not hunt because they enjoy cruelty. We have a fine record of animal welfare in Britain and cruelty is as abhorrent to hunters as it is to anyone else—which is why we should be debating more of the issues of concern to us at the moment. They can be found in the report on the mammals Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, or in the recently published draft Animal Welfare Bill. Those issues could highlight the importance of animal welfare, but instead we have the false accusations that hunting is cruel and needs to be banned.

I hope that, even at this late stage, sense will prevail—that we can find the tolerance to make the necessary adjustments for an acceptable Bill, so that the freedom of individuals can continue in the countryside. I hope that we can stop this oppressive, unnecessary, ill founded and damaging proposed legislation.

6.9 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I do not intend to go into the arguments again because there is no doubt that in his report and in his speech the noble Lord, Lord Burns, clearly demonstrated that cruelty is not the issue. According to Tony Banks, who used to be quite amusing, it is now totemic. That is a word that I had never heard before and I am not sure what it means. Nevertheless, we have a consensus of opinion in this House, typified and led by the council, and we should follow it. We should not try to be too detailed.

I think that we should take the government Bill that was offered to us and which we rejected. I was not one of those who rejected it. We should now say that we made a mistake and we should go back to that Bill substantially as it was worked out in an effort to solve this problem. Good work was done on it by Alun Michael and others, and I think that we should back it.

Do not let us get led astray by amendments that we think are desirable. Let us return to the main Bill that the Government offered us. If one or two improvements are made, that is all right, but we should not interfere with the structure of the original Bill. That is what we should do and we should discipline ourselves to do so. If we do that, there is some chance that the Commons will relent.

6.11 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, Members of this House will be delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has contributed to the debate. He was a distinguished chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into Hunting with Dogs in England and Wales, and I had the honour to serve on that committee with him. He brings great authority to this debate and much wisdom, and I want to emphasise some of the points that he brought out in his speech.

One of the prevailing reasons advanced by many people to ban hunting with dogs is that it is cruel to do so, and the Burns report is quoted as supporting that view. The phrase "seriously compromises the welfare" of the hunted animal is quoted by a whole series of bodies, including, for example, the RSPCA. That quotation refers specifically to the kill of a fox by hounds above ground, and it is linked to the observation that, insensibility and death will normally follow within a matter of seconds once the fox is caught". The Burns report did not conclude that hunting is cruel; nor was the committee asked to do so, and the Portcullis House hearings did not reach that conclusion.

The noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his report pointed out that there is an absence of firm scientific evidence relating to the physiological changes experienced by a fox during the chase. Some evidence has been obtained when captive foxes are chased by dogs, but that is an entirely different matter from the chase of a fox in the wild which knows its own territory.

It is well known that hunting with dogs does not always result in the death of a fox or quarry. In fact, the majority of hunted animals escape. That raises the question whether the hunt causes irreparable muscle damage to the escaped fox or deer—a condition known as myopathy, which is similar to capture myopathy seen in antelopes in Africa when they are hunted in order to translocate them. It has been suggested that that occurs in hunted deer, but there is no firm evidence for it. One would expect the sighting of deer carcases in areas such as the south-west of England but none is found and there is certainly no evidence for the condition in an escaped fox.

In considering hunting as cruel, reference has been made to prior practices such as dog fighting, bear baiting and cock fighting, all of which, as we know, are banned. Fox hunting is likened to those, but I submit that there is no comparison whatever as all the former rely on captive animals which are trained to fight each other amid a cheering crowd of onlookers. Severe damage is produced to the combatants—the dogs, bulls or cocks—and one usually dies at the end of the tournament. Hunting is far from that.

Burns comments on the alternatives, which of course must be considered as fox control will be required, especially in areas of sheep farming and particularly on marginal farms in the Lake District, for example. The alternatives are snaring, trapping, poisoning or shooting. There are certainly very strong objections, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, to the first three. Whereas shooting by an expert marksman is effective, that is not always the case. Foxes are wounded and can survive for hours, days or weeks. The noble Baroness mentioned that foxes are brought to rural veterinary surgeons in a state of injury. As a young rural veterinary surgeon many years ago, I experienced that and can state that it is a horrible sight.

Burns indicated that lamping, when carried out properly, is the most humane way of killing a fox. However, as my noble friend Lord Plumb indicated, even that can go wrong at times and people can die in the process. Lamping is not applicable to terrain such as the Lake District or the upland areas of Wales, where vehicular traffic is not possible.

What, then, could be the way forward? There must be an acceptable, equitable solution which preserves the heritage and the livelihood of the thousands of individuals connected with hunting. I believe that there is a way forward. It has been suggested by ISAH, the Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, which was established in 2000. I declare an interest in that I was a member of an ad hoc committee of one of its committees.

To my mind, the solution has three central pillars: humanity; utility; and, importantly, stewardship of the countryside. ISAH has made excellent progress in reaching agreement across the hunting community on those pillars through internal monitoring, self-assessment and external review. I believe that the ISAH approach, either by self-regulation or a licensing system based on the practices and procedures that ISAH has brought forward, could be an effective base for the way ahead. It could provide a basis for legislation which would be equitable to those who live in and enjoy the countryside.

6.19 p.m.

Lord Brennan

My Lords, it was a pleasure for me to hear the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, who is an old family friend. Her virtues, goodness and oratory will benefit the House in the years to come.

There should be a debating principle in this Chamber that states, "Everything has been said on this subject but not yet by me". I propose to take a different tack.

There comes a time in the life of a Parliament—rarely, one hopes—when the passion felt by those in this place about a topic is inversely disproportionate to the interest shown in it by the world outside. I shall use a neutral word: disconnection. On this issue that disconnection figures in three ways. First, it cannot plausibly be said that hunting and the banning of hunting is a legislative priority; secondly, it cannot plausibly be argued that these circumstances justify the use of the Parliament Act procedure; and thirdly, it cannot possibly be conceded that we in this Parliament are incapable of reaching a reasonable compromise when there is a determined difference.

Those are three areas of disconnection. The first is whether this is a priority. I understand that the polling rating of 1 per cent is given to hunting as a priority by the people of this nation. Secondly, in the week when the issue of pensions, which goes to the very heart of the life of all the people of this country, is to be debated, we are to dedicate three days, as well as today—making four days—to the discussion of this Bill. Ordinary folk will find that very difficult to understand. I raise that general question about priorities from these Benches.

In the manifesto of 1997 and again in that of 2001, the Labour Party sought to remedy a grave injustice. Every year in our country 700 working men and women are killed in the course of their work or their daily lives by the result of criminal levels of negligence. In 1997, representing as we do the working people of this country, we undertook to introduce an offence of corporate manslaughter, not out of vindictiveness and not because of a punitive reaction, but to ensure a safer working and travelling world. What has happened in the past seven years? Does anyone on these Benches seriously suggest to me that this Bill is more important than that manifesto commitment? What will the people outside think? This is not a priority.

The second area of disconnection is the use of the Parliament Act. I have the greatest regard for my noble friend the Minister, but I must disagree with him. The Parliament Act does not come into play because of the profundity of the differences between opposing parties in this and the other Chamber. There will always be such differences and such profound differences. It comes into play because of the profound nature of an issue which demands the use of the Parliament Act to satisfy the will of the nation, not the elected majority in the other place.

The Act was used four times between 1911 and 1991, including the amending Act of 1949. In the past six years it has been the subject of four different pieces of legislation brought forward by the Government—one whipped, the European Parliamentary Elections Act; one a free vote, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act; one withdrawn, the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill; and now this one. Surely, it is time for us to consider the constitutional principle that enables the other place to use this Act to overcome the will of this Chamber. Surely, we must discuss that. How can we employ such major constitutional legislation in such an unplanned, unthought-out way? It may be appropriate in some cases, but not in many. Why? Because to over-use it will undermine the requirement of Parliament to seek to reach agreement.

For me this is a major constitutional question. If it is to be said that on a free vote—not on a government Bill—the majority of the other place must prevail, my question is, by what criteria does that majority cast its vote to create a majority? Is it based on evidence? Is it based on reason? Is it based on a desire to express objectively—not personally in terms of one's own prejudices—the feelings of the community? If I am a Member of Parliament casting my free vote one way or the other, have I done my duty to the country—not just to my party—on an issue such as this?

I will take much persuading to accept that the Parliament Act can be used in circumstances such as this where the evidence from the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the proposals from the Government—in essence a middle way—suggest that there is a way other than the Parliament Act. I am talking about democracy, not party political interest.

There may come a time when we are in opposition and those opposite may form a government. What will we say then about a free use of the Parliament Act? If it were ever used, we would object to it as anti-democratic, unless it were used properly. I question whether we really connect to the nation in seeking to consider its use in this instance. I hope that we shall not.

The third area of disconnection is perhaps the most important of all democratically. When we are impassioned in our differences, we have a responsibility as a legislature to overcome the impasse, to find a way round it and to make a compromise. By so doing, we avoid legislative log jams, we avoid dissent in the community and we seek reasonable compromise. I do not consider that a reasonable compromise on this Bill would cause disrespect or injustice to the manifesto commitment if the compromise preserves peace in the community and is accepted as reasonable, even though both sides may still disagree with the way in which it has been introduced. That is most important.

There is no moral obloquy to be associated with compromise; it is the very stuff of legislation and parliamentary debate. This topic is not an exception; it should not be an exception. We must reach a reasonable compromise. If we do not, we face a disconnection from the public because of the way in which we view our priorities; we face a disconnection because of the way in which we work too easily with our constitutional tools, such as the Parliament Act; and, above all, we disconnect because the public will feel that if the legislature cannot reach a reasonable compromise, what example do we set for them?

6.29 p.m.

Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar

My Lords, I strongly agree with virtually everything that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, has said. I too should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Morris on her splendid maiden speech.

I have reached the advanced age of 78 without ever having hunted and without ever having much wanted to do so. But if this foolish, mean, divisive and vindictive little Bill goes through, I shall seriously have to consider taking it up.

After the authoritative comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, I shall say nothing more about cruelty—it seems to me that they have closed the case—except that, like the noble Lord, Lord Steel, I have never hunted but I have shot foxes. I have absolutely no doubt at all that that is far more cruel.

Furthermore, if the Bill was about cruelty, it would certainly include angling and, above all, it would include the food chain. The amount of cruelty to animals in the food chain is infinitely greater than anything to do with any form of wildlife and so-called blood sports.

But if it is not about cruelty, what is it about? I think that the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, in his Guardian column a few weeks ago, told us what it was about when he wrote: I make no secret of my belief that a civilised society should not allow an amusement which has as its object—or at least its known consequence—the death of an animal". He was saying frankly that the pleasure, sport and occupation of some other people does not appeal to him and therefore he wants to criminalise it. A notably illiberal and dictatorial attitude. It is surprising that such a good historian did not realise that he was proving the justice of the historian Macaulay's famous jibe about the puritans, that the puritans hated bear baiting not because it gave pain to the bear but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.

The second thing the Bill is about is, as the Labour MP Kate Hoey has said, "intolerance and prejudice". The Liberal Democrat MP for Montgomeryshire wrote the other day that a Labour MP had told him: This Bill is about the miners". Another one said that he did not like "toffs in red jackets".

The idea of joining the class war with fox hunting is pathetic as well as nasty, as was very well demonstrated by no less an authority on both subjects than Friedrich Engels. As your Lordships know, Engels was the great collaborator of Karl Marx and had much to do with the writing of the communist manifesto. He was also a very keen fox hunter. He used to ride every Saturday with the Cheshire hounds and he always wore a smart red coat like a toff.

Perhaps I may quote one of his letters to Karl Marx which comes from Francis Wheen's excellent biography of Marx. He wrote: On Saturday I went out foxhunting—seven hours in the saddle. That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish exhilaration for several days; it's the greatest physical pleasure I know … one fox killed (I was in AT THE DEATH) … And now a happy New Year to all your family and the year of strife 1858". I think that shows that, at least in some ways, old communism was much more sensible than new Labour.

On the question of legitimacy and legality, the Bill is not based on evidence. What is more, it is a Bill with which even the Government do not agree. After an exhaustive study we know they set up a compromise. That was upset. Then, in a most humiliating way, although one Minister said that the Bill was "wrecked", the Government have proceeded to enact the wreckage. That is an extraordinary way for a government to behave. What is more, they are not doing it because of democracy.

The noble Lord rather quaintly claimed to be on the high moral ground this evening. If he is on any ground at all, which I rather doubt, it certainly is not high moral ground because we all know that the Government are proceeding with the Bill in order to appease their Back-Benchers. The Prime Minister has made himself so deservedly unpopular by his misconduct over Iraq that he is now trying to make it all right by misconducting himself over this Bill. That is not, I think, a very happy position.

Although the Minister claimed to be acting democratically, of course he is not doing anything of the sort. Democracy is not the unfettered rule of a majority. A random majority of Labour MPs and a few more from other parties do not embody or represent democracy. They merely represent the tyranny of a capricious majority. Democracy means, among other things, having respect for the views and interests of a minority and governing in the interests of the whole. It would be difficult to find anything further from that ideal than this Bill.

Nor by any stretch of imagination is there any justification for using the Parliament Acts. Admittedly there was one Conservative wrongful use of the Parliament Acts. I refer of course to the War Crimes Act. I quote what I said in the other House on that occasion, merely to show that I am not taking a party view on this point. I said: Formally the government are within their rights to employ the Parliament Acts. But in reality what they are doing is an abuse of those Acts … the Parliament Acts were designed to prevent a minority party in the House of Commons from using its majority in another place to frustrate the will of the elected government. Of course that is far from being the case on this occasion. This is not a party matter and no democratic principle arises … there is no excuse whatever for using the Parliament Acts". What was true then is infinitely more true of this miserable little Bill. If the Bill goes through in its present form and the Parliament Act is used, it will have no legitimacy of any sort. It will not gain consent and it will not deserve it. It will be a disgraceful matter.

6.37 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I should like to intervene to make two short points, one about the ethical basis of this provision and one about the method in which it is being applied.

The ethical basis for this Bill seems to make no distinction between our treatment of the animals for whom we are personally responsible on a one-to-one basis, so to speak, and animals of the wild, which is very different. Of course we have a duty to our pets, to our horses and to anything for whom we are responsible and for the animals we eat, to see that they are treated kindly and humanely, which of course in the latter case they are not.

When dealing with wild animals, surely the ethical emphasis should be on the preservation of the species and on the preservation of biodiversity. The best thing we can do to an animal that we meet in any normal way is to treat it kindly. No one is suggesting that we treat animals in the wild kindly, nor indeed when, on this side of the argument, we hunt them will we treat them kindly. No one is pretending that they enjoy that.

However, what is surely arguable, and I would argue it if I had greater length of time, is that the whole method of fox control and dealing with the countryside, which has been part of our country life for years, is dedicated to the preservation of foxes as a species and of seeing that they are held in balance with the other species in the countryside. And not only in the countryside because, as your Lordships know, the suburbs are overrun with foxes at the moment. I am not suggesting that we should start a hunt in Clapham, but it would not be very successful if we did because there are far too many foxes to hunt. The ethical basis of the Bill and the ethical consideration of how you treat animals in the wild is wildly misconceived.

My second point is not a new one, but the Bill applies a particularly vicious surgeon's knife to a part of our national life. I always feel that a surgeon is a person of last resort: necessary at times, and must be endured from time to time, but never to be tried unless the physician's way, the gentle way, has been tried first.

In this Bill, the physician's way has not been tried at all. All sorts of compromises have been discussed widely inside and outside this Chamber about how we could license fox hunting, see how the system works and deal with it as such. That has been rejected by the Government and by the people who have been campaigning for the Bill. It is a wrong and vicious application of the surgeon's knife where it has not been proved necessary. I therefore conclude that we must oppose this attempt at violent surgery based on a seriously flawed ethical analysis.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, as one of a minority in this House who supports the Bill, especially the provisions that relate to the banning of hare coursing, I am gratified that at least two elements have emerged from the debate on which there seems to be a broad consensus. The first is the universal condemnation of the thuggery that we saw in Parliament Square on 15 September by a minority of the supporters of the Countryside Alliance and its fringe groups. The fact that every speaker has condemned what happened and the incursion into the Chamber of the House of Commons on that day is welcome.

I am also pleased that there is an understanding that, if we can, we must come to some sort of accommodation with the other place, so that the use of the Parliament Acts can be avoided. I will come to that point in a moment, because the way in which I would avoid the use of the Parliament Acts may not be to the liking of all your Lordships.

Before I come to that, I should like to counter one or two of the points that have been made. I am especially pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, is in his place, because there were two things that he said in his very powerful speech earlier on which some comment is needed.

He described the Bill as one that "no one wants except the loonies"—I wrote his words down. He has a difficulty with that viewpoint, because every survey of public opinion conducted by Market and Opinion Research International during the past seven years has produced enormous majorities in favour of bans on hunting. In the case of deer hunting, 82 per cent want a ban; in the case of hare hunting and coursing, the figure is 77 per cent; and in the case of fox hunting, it is 69 per cent. I am not saying that we should be governed by opinion poll, but it is not true to say that only the loonies want to see hunting banned.

He also said that it was not in the Labour manifesto. That is not true either, I am afraid. The 2001 manifesto could not have been clearer. It said: 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. If the issue continues to be blocked we will look at how the disagreement can be resolved". Nothing that we are doing today and nothing done in the other place on 15 September is contrary to the 2001 manifesto. Of course this House is entitled to consider the Bill and to propose amendments to it. I very much hope that, unlike what happened a year ago, we will be giving proper consideration to amendments put forward.

Lord Steel of Aikwood

My Lords, would the noble Lord be kind enough to repeat the last line of that quotation from the manifesto, which I think was the most important one?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

Indeed, my Lords. The last line states: If the issue continues to be blocked we will look at how the disagreement can be resolved". As I said, nothing that we are doing today goes against the spirit of that. But if it is not possible to reach an agreement with the other place, as several speakers in this debate have made clear, the last word must remain there. If my noble friends and noble Lords who want hunting to continue are unable to persuade a majority in the House of Commons to support the amendments passed in this House, the will of the elected Chamber must prevail.

There are two reasons why that must be so. First, any objective reading of the Salisbury convention requires that. The Bill has been passed by the House of Commons with overwhelming majorities. As we have seen, it was also the subject of an unambiguous manifesto commitment. The fact that the Bill was amended in the other place does not weaken that point. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Whitty said in his opening speech, the fact that it was amended on free votes strengthens it. It is even more an expression of the will of the House of Commons than if the original government Bill had been narrowly carried on a whipped vote.

The second reason why this House should accept that the last word lies with the Commons concerns timing. We are almost certainly in the last year of this Parliament. Well before the Bill's commencement date of June 2006, assuming that the second resolution is eventually carried in this House, there will have been a general election. The British people will thus be given the opportunity to decide whether they wish the Bill to be put into effect.

In her helpful opening speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, made the point that a Conservative government would seek to give Parliament the opportunity to reverse a ban. It is helpful that the British people will know that when they come to cast their votes.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, what I said was that an incoming Conservative government would give time for the new Parliament to decide. I do not think that I said what the noble Lord has just inferred.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I am so sorry if I misrepresented the noble Baroness, but that is certainly what I intended to say: that they would give time. That is fine. That means that, to put it at its most blunt, if voters want to remove the Members of Parliament who have voted for a ban—that includes some Conservative Members and Liberal Democrats as well as most Labour Members—they can do so.

Some Members in the other House appear to relish that possibility. Let us take what Sir Patrick Cormack said: I want it to be a general election issue because I want the voters in my constituency and every rural constituency in particular … to have the chance to vote for a party that is pledged to repeal the measure before it has come into effect".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/9/04; col. 1403.] He is perfectly entitled to say that and he is presenting a fair choice to his voters. But if democracy is to mean anything, the converse must apply as well. If a majority of Members of Parliament is returned in that election who support the ban, Parliament as a whole, and this House in particular, must respect that decision.

It is fair to ask your Lordships: is there any general election result which pro-hunting Members would accept? What would happen if even more Members of Parliament were elected who were committed to a ban than are in the present House of Commons? In those circumstances, are they really saying that the majority view in this unelected House should prevail? I suggest that that is a very dangerous doctrine and one that enemies of our continued existence would welcome. Fortunately, the Parliament Act would provide a safety valve in those circumstances, but I very much hope that it will not be necessary for it to be used.

Before I sit down, I should like to make one other point, which relates to the comment that the police would never enforce a ban if it were to come into effect. From the conversations that I have had with senior police officers, that is absolute nonsense. The overwhelming majority of police officers recognise that it is Parliament's right to make laws and their duty to enforce them.

In the case of the provisions relating to hare coursing, the ban cannot come too soon. Last Tuesday I had the honour of handing out long service and good conduct medals to officers in the Lincolnshire constabulary. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Gibson is in her place, as she spoke about Lincolnshire earlier today. The chief constable of the Lincolnshire force, Tony Lake, told me that illegal coursing was an immense problem for his force. Those taking part come on to farmers' land without permission, damage it, and intimidate and threaten the farmers if they object. They then move on and do the same elsewhere in the area. With the law as it stands, the only offence that they could be charged with is trespass, and usually the farmers are too frightened to complain. The chief constable has authorised me to tell noble Lords that he would welcome the speediest possible implementation of that section of the Bill dealing with hare coursing.

Finally, what about the argument that it is the duty of Parliament to protect minorities? For the very first time in my life, I shall quote to noble Lords what Ann Widdecombe said on the subject in the other place. She said that, being in a minority is not an absolute defence for anything. If we regard what that minority does as sufficiently cruel, it does not matter whether it is a majority or a minority—it is a fit subject for legislation".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/9/04; col. 1339.1] On that subject I agree with her, and that is why I hope that noble Lords will eventually agree to the Bill.

6.51 p.m.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, all the arguments for and against hunting have been put forward ad nauseam; like most noble Lords, I do not propose particularly to add to them today. I myself have never hunted. I have always thought that sitting on a horse was unbelievably alarming, especially when the animal started to move. But I love to see others riding. It is a good physical and emotional discipline, and it is part of the ethos of the countryside.

Whatever one's views on hunting may be, in my view the Government have failed badly on two counts. The first is that it is not the Government's business to interfere in people's recreation. We all have different views on what we like and dislike doing. It is not for this Government or any other government to dictate that a particular form of recreation or sport should cease and that henceforth anyone participating in it will be guilty of a criminal offence. That is simply not the job of government. Apart from anything else, it is wildly divisive.

Government should try to encourage harmony and not discord between people. They should try to encourage respect and understanding between people. But the terrible fact—is here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu—that, under this Government, antagonism and aggression between person and person have grown. The Government's attitude towards the countryside is a prime example of how that friction has festered and been exacerbated.

The situation was put very graphically the other day in a cartoon by Garland in the Daily Telegraph which showed the Prime Minister outside No. 10 saying: And where there were peaceful country pursuits, we will bring batons, fines and prison sentences". It would be laughable if it were not absolutely true. It is wrong to hunt a fox, which after all has to be controlled, but it is perfectly justifiable to destroy horses and put down some 20,000 hounds in order to achieve that end. I find the logic of that completely incomprehensible.

If the Bill were to become law it would, for example, ban mink hounds, too. I do not know whether noble Lords know a lot about mink hounds. I did not know much until the other day, when some people asked to hunt mink in the river at home. Mink are horrible things; they eat everything in sight, including ducklings, coots, water hens, blackbirds, and are responsible for the virtual annihilation of the water vole. That is what happens when you let caged animals out into the wild, as animal rights protestors did some 30 years ago, under the guise of being kind. How do you control mink if you cannot hunt them? You cannot shoot them, as they swim in rivers like submarines with only their periscopes up. I ask the Minister the following question, of which I have given him notice: if you cannot hunt mink, how does he propose that they should be controlled?

Anyhow, the mink hounds came. There were just a happy bunch of people, among them a scrap metal merchant, an electrician, a lorry driver and a Labour trade union officer. They just wanted a day out in the country, even wading through lakes and rivers, getting soaking wet and filthy dirty. They loved it. There were no toffs on horses there. But, then, along came the saboteurs, dressed all in black with balaclavas over their heads—designed to frighten and for anonymity. They came equipped with knives, coshes and whips. They brought up reinforcements in an ex-police transit van and there was virtually a riot. The fact that they were trespassing, fighting and deliberately causing mayhem was, of course, to them irrelevant—except that it was the purpose. I gather that some came to Norfolk from Manchester, Northampton and Birmingham, just for a fight. There were no animal—or human—welfare considerations there. The language was such that I suggest it might have made even your Lordships wince.

The saboteurs found a retired keeper, over 70, and knocked him to the floor. His son, also a keeper, quite correctly came to his rescue, as any self-respecting son would do when his father was under attack. He took a swing at the chief perpetrator, and, as is so often the case nowadays in the administration of our wonderful British justice system, was promptly arrested. One understands the difficulties that the police face in this kind of situation, and they were superb in the way in which they sought to control the position. But to control that kind of riot—for that is what it was—takes a lot of police.

To add more spice to the saga, the antis, saboteurs, or whatever you like to call them, have an Internet website, on which they state that they have gone to a place owned by Earl Ferrers, who lived there. They were wrong on both counts: I do not own it, nor do I live there. but that does not matter. They then produced on the website a well known picture of one of my predecessors, the 4th Lord Ferrers, who happened to find himself hanged at Tyburn for murder in the 18th century. Under the captivating heading of "String the bastard up", they said that the 4th Lord Ferrers was executed in this way, and added, "Is it good enough for his descendant?" I do love my friends. Of course, one can regard these things as good clean fun, up to a point, but in the hands of lawyers they would be tantamount to inciting hatred, inciting violence and inciting a breach of the peace. So much for not having ever hunted. That is merely an example of what happens now but which would have never happened 10 years ago. It is what happens when the Government give the green light to uncontrolled and uncontrollable change.

If the Bill goes through, how will it be enforced? The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said that it would be. It may be; but if a hunt takes place, will the police turn up in force? And is that the best use of police resources? Having turned up, what will the police do? If all the horses and hounds suddenly shoot off at a gallop, the police will just be left standing there, unless they bring in the mounted police—that idea sends the imagination into overdrive at the prospect of all the police horses chasing after the hounds and falling at the first fence because they had never been taught to jump.

The second reason why I believe that the Government have failed is that the real shame of the Bill is how the Government have traduced the parliamentary process. The Government produced a Bill to regulate hunting; that is what they wanted. At the last moment in another place a Back-Bench amendment was passed to make the Bill ban hunting. The Government, trying to fend off trouble from their left wing, then changed their stance to say that they wanted to ban hunting, too.

The Bill never went through your Lordships' House. An amendment was passed by your Lordships to return the Bill to the state in which it was when the Government introduced it. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said earlier, the Government then drew stumps. They stopped the parliamentary process. There was no more Committee stage, no Report stage and no Third Reading. The other place was denied the opportunity even to consider your Lordships' views, whatever they might have been, which is, after all, what the parliamentary process requires. The Government just stopped it all. Let nobody say that it was the House of Lords that stopped the Bill going through: it was the Government.

As if that were not enough, the Government then introduced a Bill in the previous Session at the last possible moment allowed for the provisions of the Parliament Act. They pushed through all the stages of the Bill in one day in another place and then sent it to your Lordships with only a few parliamentary days left, leaving it to compete with other, more important legislation. The Government are saying to your Lordships, "If you do not agree with this, we will Parliament Act it". What a funny kind of democracy that is. What a shocking way to treat Parliament and the people. What a shocking way to treat people who happen to hold a view contrary to that held by the Government.

I wonder how the Government have the arrogance to threaten to invoke the Parliament Act in a case in which the Bill never went through the proper parliamentary process in the first place and in which those processes were deliberately frustrated. There was no disagreement between your Lordships and the other place. The other place was never allowed to discuss your Lordships' views.

The Bill, whatever people may think of its contents, has been subjected by the Government to a most grotesque parliamentary procedure. The Government have tried to bang a Bill through Parliament that Parliament does not want, with no respect for the feelings or the processes of Parliament. It will result in the removal of a colourful and recreational slice of the countryside; dedicated, hard-working people will be thrown out of work; and more foxes will die a more unpleasant death. It is no wonder that people despair of and distrust politics and politicians. I just hope that your Lordships will give the Bill the proper and unfettered consideration that it deserves.

7.2 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I wish that I could enjoy the privilege that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has of being able to delve into his family war chest and come up with a perfect example on every occasion on every Bill.

The first purpose of the House is to preserve liberty in this land—its first, second and third purposes. There seems to be a danger in present times of an overmighty—some might say, "a juggernaut"—state controlling and curtailing more and more. There is a danger that the artificial majorities in the other place, heavily whipped, can lose their fairness and perspective. In that respect, I agree wholeheartedly with what the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, had to say.

Last year, we produced over 12,500 pages of new law. Since the Labour Government came to power, we have created over 600 new criminal offences. If this Bill goes through, we will have another 20 or 30 to add to it. That is dangerous. The Government are so seized of their own righteousness, whether for example one is talking about Iraq or suspicion of juries, and sometimes it is our duty to say, "No. Stop. Think again. Reverse". Of course, we accept the supremacy of the Commons; that is obvious. It is in our bones. However, some of the things that I have heard said today, including what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, about the Parliament Act 1911, are not in concordance with history.

I looked up the Second Reading of the Parliament Bill. On 23 May, 1911, Viscount Morley of Blackburn, moving the Motion for Second Reading, made it perfectly clear that the Bill was a response to the rejection of the 1909 Budget of the Liberal Party. In his speech, he referred to the sort of issues for which the Parliament Act, as it became, would be relevant: War, defence, treaties, finance, the whole control of executive government, the displacement of Governments, the power of changing Ministries and the power of forcing a Dissolution, all those vast powers which cover all the most important departments in the whole sphere of government".—[Official Report, 23/5/1911: col. 703.] Those are the matters for which the Parliament Bill was enacted.

What do we have here? We have a Bill that no longer respects the original Bill, replacing licensing with outright prohibition. We have a Bill that no longer respects the clear evidence concerning cruelty produced by the Burns commission, which the Government set up. That evidence has been endorsed by all the authoritative professional bodies since. I refer particularly to the Veterinary Association of Wildlife Management. We have a Bill that is not normally or conventionally a government Bill; it is to he considered and voted upon on a free vote basis. This Bill would not be appropriate for the use of the sledgehammer of the Parliament Act even if it were a real government Bill. Not even the Prime Minister of the day has any views on the Bill. He is so detached from it that he did not vote on the procedures in the other place.

For all that, if I felt that hunting foxes with hounds was significantly cruel, that would, for me, trump liberty. As the Burns report made clear, however, that is simply not the case. Some 560 vets, all qualified at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, made that clear in a leaflet that many will have received. It says: hunting by hounds is the natural and most humane way of controlling the population of all four quarry species". We heard about shooting. What we have not heard about is the fact that two people have been shot dead this year in the course of so-called spotlamping. The Burns report did not go into the issue of what proportion of foxes shot are merely wounded and limp away to die an agonising death. I cannot blame them; the statistics for that must be extremely hard to obtain. It is clear that shooting foxes is extremely difficult.

We have heard nothing about the fact that hunting with hounds at least gives the fox a sporting chance of life. Four out of five foxes that are hunted escape entirely. At the end of the hunt, one thing is certain beyond peradventure, and we do not need experience or research to show it: the fox is 100 per cent alive or 100 per cent dead. No other way of dealing lawfully with the culling of foxes has that unique virtue—not shooting, not trapping and certainly not snaring.

It is important to the great British public to know that the death is very quick. The Burns report said that it took place "within a matter of seconds". All the rather ghastly business of the hounds tearing the fox to pieces follows death. A dead fox will not worry about what follows.

A good deal of sentimentality is betrayed by some of those who cling so fiercely to the wish to criminalise the ancient sport. What do they do about the chickens that they eat, the veal that they enjoy or the turkeys that they have at Christmas? What is the difference between the plight of animals reared intentionally for death for our pleasure on the plate and the plight of a fox in its natural environment, up against natural predators in a hunt in which it will end up either 100 per cent alive or 100 per cent dead? There is much sentimentality.

Besides the 14,000 to 15,000 foxes hunted to death a year, many thousands more are shot, trapped and snared. Do not think that killing foxes is all neat shooting by "lamping", using a bullet. A high proportion of shooting is by shotgun, which is classic for wounding and not killing. The statistics for west Norfolk in the Burns report show that more foxes are killed there by shotguns than by lamping.

For all of those reasons the issue of liberty rides clearly above the so-called issue of cruelty. I hear opponents of hunting saying that huntsmen should not enjoy it. Enjoy what? I really think that some of the fiercest critics of hunting believe that huntsmen and women have a bloodlust—that they go out for that day's riding to be in at the kill only so that they can see the rather nasty and, I believe, awful business of the hounds ripping the poor fox apart. But that is sentimental, as I have experienced

We all know the truth. People go out to hunt for the exercise, the companionship, the countryside, the chase, the chat, the drink, for 101 things, but certainly not to see the fox killed. Very few are there to see it, so I am told, because I have never hunted.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, give that powerful statement made by the noble Lord, why is he not proposing that fox hunting should be replaced by drag hunting?

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, drag hunting does not kill a single fox.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, it is good sport.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, yes, I accept that it is good sport, but it is not as good a sport as fox hunting, which has a purpose to it. There will be over half a million foxes by June in this country. They are breeding and increasing in numbers in a way that requires culling. The issue is: is hunting with hounds cruel? Hunting is not cruel. Should one drive away the liberties of those who hunt because they enjoy the hunt? That would be to enter the territory of a society of which I want no part.

One of the ironies about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and his reference to Gerald Kaufman is that the day that Herman Goering presented to Hitler's cabinet on 3 July 1934 his plan for abolishing hunting with hounds was the same day that Hitler was able to report to the same cabinet meeting that his men had slaughtered those conspirators who were engaged in the "night of the long knives". That is just a little historical side-swipe, because a desire to eliminate hunting does not always reside in the purest of breasts.

So I end by saying that the liberty of people who hunt is not transient or trifling. I emphasise that I do not hunt, shoot or fish, but I do know that in country districts hunting is woven into the weft and warp of many people's lives. It is not a trivial matter. It cannot be replaced by badminton in the church hall. It is a profound liberty with which we are tinkering and it is not a liberty that, on the basis of the evidence, we have any right to take away. We have no right to use the Parliament Act to drive this shoddy and incompetent measure through this or any other House.

7.13 p.m.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, I am very pleased that this Bill is before us today and I hope that it will become law before the end of this parliamentary session. I note that I am the twenty-ninth speaker in this debate and the fourth to speak in support of the Bill. So I am a minority in your Lordships' House tonight, but I do not believe that I am in a minority with the people of this country who agree with banning hunting with hounds.

I declare an interest in that I am vice-president of the Labour Animal Welfare Society and joint secretary of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. There are many people in this country who are very pleased that the Government have decided to act in such a positive manner in ensuring that the commitment made by the Labour Party in several general election campaigns will now be fulfilled.

I support the Bill because I am opposed to cruelty to animals. I believe that hunting with hounds is cruel. Stag hunting, deer hunting, mink hunting, fox hunting with hounds and hare coursing in the name of sport are, I believe, cruel. I should make the point, given the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, that I gave up eating meat because I opposed the cruelty of factory farming and battery chickens raised in that manner. I felt that I could not protest against that and continue to eat the products of it. So I can truly say that no animal has been reared in cruelty for me to eat.

I am clear in my view that a ban on hunting will be good news for animal welfare. I had a look at the Countryside Alliance website recently and was not surprised to find it was inviting its supporters to contact Peers in the county where they live. I have received four such letters from supporters of hunting with hounds—two from Powys, one from London and one from Herefordshire. I do not know how successful a campaign that can be if I was being targeted, because I have received only four. However, a new Peer on our Benches told me today that she has received a hundred, so I am not sure how successful that targeting is. Countryside Alliance gives advice to its supporters on letter writing to the House of Lords. It gives hints such as: Short handwritten letters are best … signatures and addresses must be legible … please use the appropriate selection of the points below as a guide, or of course feel free to use others of your own". It concerns me that the Countryside Alliance thinks that Members of your Lordships' House are so gullible and so likely to be deceived by the half truths. For example, Countryside Alliance supporters were told to say that the Bill before us today, is neither principled nor based on evidence". Perhaps what they mean is that they disagree with the principles and dispute the evidence. That point of view is legitimate. I disagree with it, but I fully support the right of anyone to hold it. It is also clear to me that MPs firmly adhere to the principle that hunting with hounds is cruel. Regardless of whether the Countryside Alliance likes the principles of the Bill, or agrees with the evidence, it is simply false to present the Bill as being unprincipled or not being backed by evidence.

Countryside Alliance supporters are told to tell Peers that my right honourable friend Alun Michael has described the Bill as "unworkable" and "unenforceable". It is crystal clear from the Commons debate that that is not his view. I also note that the Association of Chief Police Officers does not think that the Bill is unenforceable. I have seen the speech that its spokesman, Alistair McWhirter, gave last year to the Standing Conference on Country Sports. He told his audience: Whatever legislation Parliament passes will be enforced by the police. Those who are currently proposing civil disobedience need to fully understand that we will take action". Countryside Alliance supporters are told to tell us that only 1 per cent of people believe that hunting should be "a political priority". I looked again at the NOP poll on the Countryside Alliance website. The question asked related to the Government's "most important" priority. As a long-standing supporter of a ban on fox hunting, I do not believe that it is the Government's "most important" priority and I am quite sure that that is the view of my noble friends who are speaking in this debate tonight. Probably most people would agree that banning hunting is not the most important priority of the Government.

I will just mention one more thing. According to the Countryside Alliance "most" of the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA—I assume that "most" of the two organisations must mean both of them, have claimed their campaign to ban, fishing, would begin, should hunting be banned". I know for a fact that neither of those organisations has such a plan, which has been mentioned in a number of earlier speeches.

I have been a member of the Labour Party for 38 years. In all that time, I have never known of one debate, one resolution to conference or any moves whatever to have fishing banned. It has never been raised in the Labour Party. So I am surprised that anyone would suggest that that could be the case. While I am very happy for the Countryside Alliance to tell its supporters whom to write to and what to say, I would prefer that information given to members of the public by a major campaigning organisation was even half way accurate.

Perhaps I may make one final point. Britain is a parliamentary democracy. It is a scandal that the Countryside Alliance has been organising events and signing people up to break the hunting ban if it becomes law. It is also scandalous that a professional huntsman should dump dead carcasses in Brighton during the Labour Party conference. It was remarkable that the Countryside Alliance felt the need forcefully to remind its supporters that that was a bad thing to do.

Britain is a parliamentary democracy. For all my adult life I have campaigned within the law to end the cruelty of fox hunting. Now, finally, that the ban is almost here, everyone must show the same regard for the law, especially if one is in the privileged position of being able to take part in making the laws of this country. We cannot pick and choose the laws we obey and those we do not obey. That puts us on the road to anarchy.

I agree with my honourable friend Tony Banks MP, who said, the delivery of a hunting ban will represent a triumph for the majority of people who believe that hunting with dogs is unacceptable in the 21st century. Their peaceful campaigning and belief in working within the democratic process will have been rewarded". The elected House has made its view clear on the matter of hunting with hounds. I agree with that view. I look forward to taking part in this Bill as it proceeds through your Lordships' House. I look forward even more to this Bill receiving Royal Assent by the end of this parliamentary Session.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Eden of Winton

My Lords, we are now half way through the list of speakers. I must ask noble Lords who stoically are still in their places if they will show some forbearance if they hear again some of the views that have already been expressed in the earlier part of the debate. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, I am strongly opposed to the Bill. It is the product of prejudice, ignorance and hatred. It has nothing to do with animal welfare. It flies in the face of the evidence and the facts. It will endanger conservation and biodiversity and could precipitate unwanted changes to our much-loved landscape.

The Bill smacks of totalitarianism. By jumping in with their jackboots, the Government are bringing deep resentment, anger and bitterness into the very heart of our rural communities. They will be depriving people of their liberty and of their livelihood. For centuries, hunting and hunting people have been a part of the fabric of our nation—celebrated in art, poetry, literature and song. Generations of hunting people have fought in war to defend the tradition, the values and the freedom that hunting represents.

Hunting is a natural pursuit. For a wild animal to be hunted is natural. Hunting people know and love their country. They understand wildlife and respect the species that they hunt. They are now being abused, vilified and persecuted. If this Bill becomes law, it really is the irony of all ironies that "rent-a-mob" is likely to become the uninvited ally of our police forces. Much better than this Bill would be the statutory regulation of all hunts enshrining a strictly enforced code of conduct with sanctions.

This Bill should be voted out of existence. But, reluctantly, I am prepared to be guided by other noble Lords if they think that a licensing system along the lines previously introduced could be made to work. However, if the Government persist on their present course and force the Bill as it stands on to the statute book, they should be made to face the consequences of their decision by bringing the Act into effect without any delay. In other words, Clause 15 of the Bill should stand part.

I hear what the Prime Minister is reported to have said recently. Frankly—I regret to say this—I do not trust him. I despise government Ministers for what they are doing and for the way they have been doing it. This Bill is politics at its cheapest and most degrading.

Coming on top of their treatment of this House; of their constitutional outrages; of their attempt to strong-arm universities; of their attack on our pensions; and not to mention the dodgy dossier on Iraq, the Government's handling of the issues raised by this Bill has been typically shameful and autocratic. It has been marked by deviousness, deceit and downright dishonesty. Come to think of it, those last words would make a fitting epitaph for Tony Blair's Government.

7.27 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, as on earlier occasions, I have pleasure in declaring a total absence of interest in that neither I nor any member of my family hunt foxes. I would guess that the same applies to the great majority of people who oppose this squalid Bill. "Squalid" is a strong word: how can it be justified? First, the Bill is profoundly illiberal, as a number of noble Lords have said—notably, the noble Lords, Lord Steel and Lord Carlile. It is also profoundly authoritarian, which is not quite synonymous. It is significant that it goes wholly against the trend in recent years of relaxing or abolishing laws which restrict or ban certain forms of sexual behaviour, notwithstanding that a large number of people in this country find such behaviour distasteful.

In this case, the illiberal essence of the Bill is compounded by both hypocrisy and cynicism. For example, it is asserted that hunting must he banned because humans must never be allowed to derive pleasure from killing animals or seeing them killed. Yet, at the very same time, the electorate are assured that shooting and fishing will be allowed to continue untouched. Simply because it is cynically calculated that abolishing shooting and fishing—logical and consistent that such abolition would be if one believes that it is wrong to enjoy killing—would cost the governing party too many votes in a general election.

Alternatively, hunting is singled out on the grounds that cruelty to animals can never be permitted. Clearly those who take this line cannot literally mean a total ban on any cruelty since that would necessitate compulsory veganism, as both the noble Lords, Lord Gilmour and Lord Phillips of Sudbury, have obliquely hinted, plus a ban on keeping pets in urban areas, and so forth. So they must mean relative cruelty.

However, they are terrified of putting the definition of relative cruelty to the test. They bitterly oppose the excellent Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue—we look forward very much to hearing from the noble Lord shortly—for fear that carefully evaluated, scientific evidence measuring relative degrees of cruelty would almost certainly dash their preconceptions and reveal that hunting with dogs is the least cruel, realistic and practical way, as opposed to unrealistic theoretical ways of culling foxes.

Let us revert to the matter of cynicism. It is a sad fact that a substantial minority of our urban and suburban population seems to believe that steaks, lamb chops and hamburgers grow on trees, or at least that the meat they see on their plates every single evening of the year has nothing whatever to do with the spilling of blood and guts on a massive scale. A smaller minority, it is hoped, even believes that in the absence of fox hunting, foxes would die peacefully, tucked up in their beds with a nice warm cup of cocoa by their side. One would imagine that legislators would feel it their duty to persuade teachers and others gently to educate this urban and suburban minority in the facts of life and in the facts of death. Instead, too many seem to find it easier to pander to ignorance—some of it excusable and some wilful—and to an infantile anthropomorphism that has almost nothing to do with the genuine welfare of animals.

In the end, we are not discussing whether, for example, VAT rates should be altered or speed limits on our motorways should be raised or lowered by five miles an hour—the sort of issue over which people may disagree in a civilised way. Instead we are discussing a measure which will abolish people's age-old liberties, and in many cases their livelihoods as well, for no objectively valid reason. Is it any wonder that so many people in Britain, and not only in rural Britain, feel so outraged?

7.32 p.m.

Lord Donoughue

My Lords, if it is an interest, I should declare that I was a Minister of farming under this Government, and that I have never hunted and have no intention or wish to do so. However, I believe that this is a very sad day for the traditional parts of the countryside, as well being a sad day for this Labour Government. Our Government are introducing legislation which is intolerant, illiberal, mean-spirited and spiteful to those in the rural minority, criminalising many of them.

It is socially divisive and bad for animal welfare management, as is clear from the impressive briefings provided by the National Farmers Union, country vets, country landowners and other countryside experts. This Bill is a hindrance rather than a help to good animal welfare management. Ultimately it will be unworkable and unenforceable, as the Secretary of State admitted. The police cannot monitor this; rather it will be monitored by hunt saboteurs, leading to violence and disorder in our countryside. Technically, the Bill is ludicrous and inconsistent. It has already been pointed out that you can hunt rats but not mice, rabbits but not hares, and there is a multitude of other defects.

It is particularly painful to me that Labour, a party I have been a member of for over 50 years, is to propose a measure which will destroy the livelihoods of thousands of working men and women in the countryside and will destroy tens of thousands of hounds and horses. I should say as an aside that, since they are honest people, I hope that my noble friends and colleagues who support this measure will go to witness those mass killings, as they have a role in them.

I will not attempt to repeat the arguments on animal welfare, cruelty, suffering and so forth, which we have gone over many times. I shall not revisit the scientific evidence and other evidence that a ban will actually lead to more suffering in many cases, as a result of foxes dying slowly and painfully from poison, snares, traps or being wounded by shooting. I shall not do so because what has struck me in previous debates is that supporters of the ban, especially on my side of the House, are not interested in the evidence. In the previous debates they have refused to engage in the arguments made and the evidence presented. I can also say in passing that they oppose the Bill I have before the House at the moment which seeks to ban deliberate cruelty to wild animals.

Why is that? We know that it is because this Bill is not about animal cruelty or suffering. It is about the people who hunt. It is a reflection—fortunately only a minor and passing reflection—of the old Labour flaw, the class war: the chips-on-the-shoulder brigade who I have fought within the party for many decades, and who nearly destroyed our party during the 1980s.

Mr Banks admitted with what I thought was commendable honesty that this Bill is not about animal welfare, it is all about politics. It is about the politics of prejudice. To me, the most astonishing aspect of the Bill is the broad politics of it. I understand, although I deplore, the politics of the current situation: capitulation to a majority of urban zealots in another place. I admit, certainly, that only a small minority in the country supports hunting. It is not a big political issue. However, a poll showed that only a very small minority, under 2 per cent, said that this ban should be a Labour Government priority. I can see no wide political benefit to the Government whatever. The vast majority of the public does not care a hoot either way, although people are bewildered about why this Government, faced with huge problems of social welfare, transport and so forth, should waste parliamentary time and energy on such a small but definitely divisive measure.

It is not a manifesto commitment, as some are tempted to say. The commitment made was that Parliament should resolve the issue, and this does not meet that commitment. The manifesto did not say that it should be resolved by a one-party majority in one of the two Houses of our bicameral system. What is clear is that this ban will not win many votes for my party, but I forecast that it will mobilise many hitherto passive country people to campaign against the Government in marginal rural constituencies. I can see no political benefits, and certainly there are no animal welfare benefits.

In that regrettable situation, what should we do in this House? First, as has been done so excellently today, we should restate the arguments on why the Bill is bad. Noble Lords will have noticed that the majority of speeches have done that and, in doing so, they have of course only repeated what was said at the time by the Minister, Alun Michael, and Margaret Beckett when they resisted this Bill as an amendment. It is a bad and destructive Bill.

In Committee and on Report I shall be happy if we can restore the Government's original licensing Bill based upon clear principles and the evidence, the Bill which Alun Michael promised us but then reneged on. This would offer the Prime Minister the compromise he has often claimed to seek; it is a compromise designed by his own government and by the department of my noble friend the Minister.

In my view, there should be very few additional amendments—I anticipate they will involve only a dozen words or so—and they should be made only if they are justifiable on the grounds of improving the Bill in terms of animal welfare and wildlife management—for instance, by placing all hunting under the Bill, which anyone who has worries about hunting would wish to do.

As to the 18 months' delay, I, too, will listen to what the Minister has to say. However, it is interesting that the Minister's department, Defra, in its explanation for supporting the delay, suggests that it would help in mitigating the human rights issue. That is interesting. It has conceded at last that that is a genuine issue.

The Government have threatened to use—and in my view abuse—the sledgehammer of the Parliament Act on an issue for which it was never intended. I thought my noble friend Lord Brennan was brilliant in his dissection and destruction of the Government's case on this. I speak as one who has read every word of every speech on the two Parliament Acts and I can assure the House there was never the least suggestion that those Acts were intended to be used in these circumstances.

No doubt the Government are hoping to get this problem over and done with, right or wrong. However, I warn my noble friend the Minister that that is a delusion. The Bill will not bring the problem to an end. I can reassure him in the friendliest way that this issue will go on.

I noted that my noble friend the Minister, repeating what the Prime Minister said, actually referred to compromise. We who oppose the Bill and propose to amend it in the way the Government designed, are indeed offering a compromise; it is the banners who are dogmatically resisting one. It is deplorable that the Government—who have the responsibility for running the country—have capitulated to that intransigence. I urge the Government to take this last chance of making a compromise which will not divide our country as this Bill surely will.

7.43 p.m.

Earl Peel

My Lords, I do not propose to say much about hunting as such. One issue on which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is that this subject has been thoroughly worked over to such a degree that I suggest to your Lordships that not much more can be said about it.

As to declaring any interests, I do not hunt—although my wife does—but in view of some of the comments made in the Chamber today perhaps I ought to declare an interest as a toff. I am not sure what the definition of a toff is, but I suspect that all hereditary Peers will come into that category. If that is the case, I plead guilty. But one word of warning: toffs are perfectly capable of having feelings; perfectly capable of having sentiments; and perfectly capable of having a great love and respect for the countryside and the animals that live therein.

It is clear that as the debate has dragged on most people appear to be wholeheartedly sick of the subject. Those who have gone to the trouble to learn more about it appear to have developed a more sympathetic and tolerant view towards hunting than otherwise might be the case. I regard this as being positively constructive. Certainly the overwhelming amount of comments in the press subscribe to this view, although perhaps for more libertarian reasons than for any great love of sport itself. But liberty is an important issue—it is an absolutely vital and essential part of our constitution—and the Government ignore what has been written in the press in a way that is extremely worrying and dangerous.

But for the many people who do hunt or who are involved with it and regard it as a priceless piece of our natural heritage, the sword of Damocles continues to hang over them. I am not exaggerating when I say that they feel bitterly rejected and let down by a government who purport to uphold the views of minorities within the democratic process and by a Minister who promised to deal with the issue on the basis of "evidence and principle and not personal taste". These words have been used many times in your Lordships' House today, but that was the basis on which the Minister said he would conduct the Bill in both Houses and he has ignored it.

The Government appear to have lost control of the Bill. They have allowed it to be taken over by those who are driven by a tribal bloodlust based on a level of class hatred and prejudice that most people in this country have long since forgotten. That has been combined with a gross misconception of cruelty, an issue which was conclusively dealt with in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. I sometimes wonder whether those people who oppose hunting in the way they do have actually gone to the bother of reading the noble Lord's report.

If they do not accept my interpretation of events, I thought it was indeed both refreshing—and, at the same time, utterly depressing—to see that the chairman of the House of Commons Education Committee, Barry Sheerman, confirmed recently what I suspect most people have thought for a long time: that a hunting Bill is the Labour Party's revenge for the way that the government of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, treated the miners. As other noble Lords have said already, that is no way to govern this country.

I find it quite inconceivable how anyone can draw a distinction between the countryside and the miners given that the conflict with the miners was based entirely on economic reasons. If the Conservative government at the time had not dealt with the issue, this Government would have had to deal with it—and they would have been faced with exactly the same problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, had to deal with when she was Prime Minister.

As to those who continue to play the barbarity and cruelty cards, I can only assume, as I have already inferred, that they have not bothered to read the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns.

In her quite outstanding maiden speech, my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton made a point which struck home with me. It is bizarre that those who support hunting with hounds are so often those most exposed to the handling of animals. I cannot subscribe to the accusations that they are inherently callous and cruel; I know far too many of them and their respect for animals is there to be seen. Furthermore, it is often those who are the furthest removed from animals who are the loudest in their condemnation of hunting and who, I suspect, make the fundamental mistake of superimposing the human mind and its emotions into that of a wild animal. That is a highly dangerous and misleading process.

However, ultimately, the conclusions of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his committee of inquiry should be allowed to dictate the final outcome of this laborious debate. After all, that is precisely why it was commissioned by the Government. At least I assume that is the reason it was commissioned by the Government; there are times when I wonder whether that really was the case.

It is worth reminding ourselves what the noble Lord said on the question of hunting. People asked him whether hunting is cruel; "The short answer to that is `no'". We have heard it many times before.

Given all the evidence, given all the facts, given all the promises of fair play by the Government, to allow this wretched Bill to be forced on to the statute book would be nothing short of the worst example of political expediency. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ferrers when he asks whether it is any wonder that people take a cynical view now of politics and politicians.

But judging by some of the recent comments made by government Ministers, it is difficult to establish where the Government really stand on the hunting issue and on field sports in general. I declare an interest here, because I shoot and fish. First, we hear Alun Michael and the Prime Minister urging compromise and inviting your Lordships to come up with a way forward. Virtually simultaneously, we hear the Deputy Prime Minister telling us how disgraceful it is that country people still tolerate killing for pleasure, as he so misguidedly put it. One can deduce from this only that he wishes to see the end of shooting and fishing as well as hunting, which of course flies in the face of the commitment given by Alun Michael.

I take this opportunity of asking the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, if, when he winds up, he will be good enough to express to the House exactly what the Government's position is on shooting and fishing. Many of your Lordships would be very interested to know where the Government stand on these important issues.

I should like to say a few words about the Bill, regardless of the principle of whether hunting should continue. As drafted, the Bill is a thoroughly ill thought-through, impractical piece of legislation which, if forced on to the statute book, would not only impact on shooting, contrary to what the Government have said, but create huge problems for the public and, as other noble Lords have said, for the police. My chief constable in North Yorkshire is extremely worried about the Bill. She says she has other concerns and does not have the resources to deal with the problem if people hunt illegally.

I do not propose to go into detail now, but I really cannot believe that it is the Government's intention to put forward a Bill which would make it an offence to flush a wild mammal unless the person in question intended to shoot it or kill it, or that terriers can be used to control foxes to protect game birds, important though that is, but not to protect livestock or other species of rare bird. Why are rats and rabbits exempt, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said? Surely consistency must apply throughout the way we treat mammals. Why not cats? The way they deal with small mammals and, indeed, birds is not a pretty sight, but somehow they are being ignored.

The Government always reject claims about the division between town and country but, quite frankly, when anomalies such as this appear on the face of a Bill, it is little wonder that country people scratch their heads and say, "Which planet do these people come from?".

If this House is to carry out its responsibilities by amending and revising bad law and to rise to the challenge made by the Minister by coming forward with a sensible compromise, as laid out by my noble friend Lord Mancroft, then I can see no alternative but to make far-reaching changes to this ill-thought-through nonsense that is in front of us and try and go back to the original Bill that Mr Alun Michael introduced into the House of Commons, which presumably is the Bill that he wants.

It seems to me wholly sensible and fair for your Lordships to seek to reconstruct this Bill. The regulatory approach, as first presented by the Minister, is, I believe, the one that we should seek to redress.

I am bound to say that I still find it difficult to comprehend why the Government failed to take the opportunity of getting themselves off the hook by rejecting the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, which would have exposed hunting to the same test of cruelty—that of causing unnecessary suffering—covering other wild animals in the 1911 Act. It seems to me a highly sensible way forward. I can only suspect that those intent on stopping hunting were of the opinion that it would not have been found guilty, which, of course, comes as no surprise to those of us who have observed hunting at close quarters.

Parliament Act or no Parliament Act, the Bill flies against all the evidence that the Government have spent so much time compiling and will be a bitter blow to those who seek to preserve the principles of civil liberty and fair play. The Bill has not been subjected to proper scrutiny in the other place. It is therefore incumbent on your Lordships, as a revising Chamber, to look at it piece by piece and try and come forward with a compromise and a Bill that will actually work in practice.

7.54 p.m.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld

My Lords, I have not previously contributed to debates on hunting with dogs or, for that matter, any issue relating to rural affairs. If the noble Earl, Lord Peel, can admit to being a toff, I must admit to being a townsman, and very much a townsman at that. All my adult life has been spent working and living in cities—Aberdeen, Glasgow and London. But I made a break from this pattern when I joined your Lordships' House because at that time I purchased a house in the Herefordshire village of Dilwyn, and it turned out to be one of my better decisions. I will come back to that in a moment.

When I served in another place as the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, I learned something that added up to being a valuable experience. During a general election campaign, a young man approached me in the street and said, "Are you Norman Hogg, the Labour man?" I replied that I was and he asked, "Where do you stand on field sports?". I was a rather brash young Labour candidate, not given to listening too closely to what people were saying. I ought to have picked up the fact that when he said "field sports", he was a field sportsman. But I launched into explaining the Labour Party policy; I was extremely good at reciting the manifesto, which had been written by the General Secretary—a certain Larry Whitty. I proceeded to tell the young man exactly where we stood on field sports. He looked at me, all crestfallen and disappointed, and said, "Och well, Mr Hogg, I'll vote for you anyway". Such is the loyalty to the Labour Party in west central Scotland.

That experience reached home to me immediately. I realised that I was entirely urban in my experience and that my campaigning in the new town of Cumbernauld was entirely urban. The historic coal town of Kilsyth, with its mining community, was entirely urban. I was frankly not aware that my constituents in the villages and the countryside that made up my constituency as well as the two towns were engaged in field sports.

I acted on that experience when I went to live in Herefordshire, because I knew to listen and learn from people who had very different lifestyles, experiences, interests and pursuits from those with which I was familiar. I gained a respect for country people which I have not lost, although I must be wholly honest and say that I would not join them in field sports. I have, as it were, banned such sports for me, but I would not seek to tell country folk how to behave. This activity has been lawful for centuries. It is part of rural life and culture.

The Labour Government, which I have no difficulty in supporting in their foreign, economic and social policies, have my total support and loyalty. They have brought our people to unprecedented prosperity and our social services have been supported financially as never before. Their failing is not in their undoubted success as an Administration but in their tendency to rely on prohibitive legislation in preference to persuasion when persuasion would be more appropriate.

When they first came into office, one wag at the BBC said that the new Government had "hit the ground banning". That observation was cruel but had an element of truth in it. I confess that I am not much of a banner. New Labour I may be, but I like to think that I retain the liberal left-winger's optimism that people in the main are good and want to behave well. Country people are good and they do behave well.

The Bill is divisive. It divides town from country. It is insensitive to the wishes of people whose way of life is already under threat from a myriad of other forces. I regret that the Government see this matter as such an urgent priority.

To use the Parliament Act was, I always understood, a reserve power for use in great matters of immense importance and necessary for the well-being of the state. That the matter of hunting with dogs should be thought of as such a case in point is profoundly disillusioning.

I oppose the Bill and urge my colleagues on the Government Front Bench to seek a compromise that will unify rather than divide.

8 p.m.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

My Lords, the countryside is not a topic of which I have much specific experience. Industry and commerce are more my field. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld, I have never before spoken in a hunting debate in your Lordships' House.

However, I have a house in the country, not so far from that of the noble Lord, Lord Hogg, near Ludlow in south Shropshire. It has given me an insight into the way in which many country people in Shropshire feel at least sidelined, but more specifically ignored, by the Government. The Bill is an important example of that attitude.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford said earlier that the temperature is rising in north Essex. It is rising in south Shropshire too and it is on behalf of the people of south Shropshire that I speak this evening.

As to hunting, I do not ride; I have never hunted; and I have no intention of doing so. I understand that it is common ground among all the parties beyond perhaps a handful of extremists that foxes have to be controlled. No one suggests that the fox is an endangered species so the issue is how is the control to be exercised.

If the Government seek to ban fox hunting on animal welfare grounds, I understand the argument, although there appear to be no less powerful arguments that other methods of control are just as cruel, as many other noble Lords have explained.

However, I am surprised that, if animal welfare is so important to the Government, they have focused their efforts on such a narrow objective, where animal welfare considerations will be of value to so few animals. Here I touch on the issue of sentimentality that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. According to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, a few thousand foxes are killed each year by hunting. By contrast, I understand that 46,000 cattle, 326,000 sheep and 271,000 pigs are killed each week in Britain. By further contrast, I read in the press frequently of intensive rearing programmes—factory farming—which appear to cause considerable suffering to millions of animals. I know that regulations have been introduced to ameliorate those practices in the United Kingdom, but what of overseas countries, where so much of our food comes from? If the Government are so concerned about animal welfare, why do they not first stop imports of food from countries whose animal welfare standards in no way match ours?

So the Government have not so far made a convincing case for banning hunting on either utilitarian or animal welfare grounds. I hope that your Lordships' House will be able to find and propose a regulated solution which will command the support of the vast majority of our uncommitted fellow citizens, on whose list of future concerns this issue is far from high. They expect no less of us.

If, despite that, the Government still intend to proceed with an unamended Bill, I cannot see the value of the proposed 18-month delay in implementation. If we have to accept that animals are suffering, their suffering should be brought to an end as soon as possible. The proposed amendment is therefore pure sophistry and the Government know it.

In the remainder of my remarks, I shall focus on two other aspects of this matter: first, the events in Parliament Square on Wednesday 15 September. I am afraid I take a contrary view to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen. I emerged from our debates in this House on the Armed Forces Pensions Bill to return to my office in Millbank House across the road. I came across a friend from Shropshire who, with bandaged head and bloodied shirt and jacket, was being helped into a police van. He was in the second row of the crowd and, when pushed from behind, a young woman in front of him fell over. He bent down to help her up and each time he straightened up, the police hit him, until he decided that it was safer to lie on the ground. He later needed a dozen stitches in his head.

It was his view that, excluding a handful of rabble rousers, who clearly saw the demonstration as an opportunity to stir up some trouble, the vast majority of the demonstrators were law-abiding and orderly, albeit vocal, people. I understand that the Countryside Alliance forewarned the police of the possibility of up to 20,000 protesters turning up at the demonstration and the police should, therefore, have prepared accordingly. The scenes that followed hardly showed the police in a favourable light. Many of the cracked heads and bleeding faces shown on television and in newspapers belonged to law-abiding, older people who were there as peaceful protesters. The police appeared to be ill equipped and ill tempered. Those who deliberately attacked the police got what they deserved. However, what about the innocent bystanders who were badly hurt as they were caught up in the mêlée?

People from rural communities identify themselves more and more as a minority group. The 400,000 people who turned up at the countryside march in September 2002 are testament to the degree to which people from the countryside identify themselves as such and seek recognition of their broad rural concerns.

The Minister may not like it, but country people in south Shropshire are asking what the Government's reaction would have been to the police's actions and the events in Parliament Square on 15 September if it had been a trades union or ethnic minority demonstration rather than one by people in Barbour and tweed jackets from the countryside.

All those events clearly show the strong feelings on the one side of the argument and presumably, given the threatened use of the Parliament Act, the Government feel equally strongly in the opposite direction. According to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, the Government now appear to be arguing that the Bill requires urgency because it has become part of the Government's agenda to resolve the issue; hence the need to pass this controversial Bill through the House of Commons in one day on 15 September.

I do not propose to rehearse the arguments against the use of the Parliament Act. Many noble Lords with far more experience of constitutional history than I possess have done so better than I ever could. But I have one point. Is it not extraordinary that, given the importance and significance now attached to this Bill, the Prime Minister did not attend and vote in any of the eight Divisions on 15 September? Somewhere between finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and curing AIDS in Africa, could he not have popped into Parliament for a brief moment to show his support for what his Government now presumably see as a critical piece of legislation? Indeed, his colleague, the Home Secretary, voted only twice in those eight Divisions.

We are accustomed to hear Ministers in both Houses deploring the decline in public interest in, and belief in the relevance of, our parliamentary processes. It is simple—the people are taking a lead from the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary wish to be cavalier in their behaviour, so be it. But it is unfair—unfair on the Minister who has to answer this debate tonight, unfair to the hardworking Members of both Houses and, above all, unfair to the Parliament that we all serve.

8.8 p.m.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, I make no apologies for going into slightly more detail on certain matters which other noble Lords have already mentioned. Perhaps it is appropriate that I should draw your Lordships' attention to my current experience of foxes—which is with the one that beds down at the bottom of our garden in the country.

It will not surprise noble Lords to learn that hounds do not like being bitten by foxes, so they use a method which despatches their quarry efficiently and quickly. Rather than catching the fox by the tail or hind quarters, they wait until they are fully abreast of the fox so that they may seize it by the neck or thorax in order to kill it very quickly and safely. Those who say that the fox is torn limb from limb are quite often correct; but the fox is dead, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, has already said. Because the fox is dealt with quickly and certainly, the actual cause of death is to be considered quite academic.

There is very good scientific evidence now, which was not available at the time to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, when he was conducting his inquiries, to demonstrate that wild animals do not have the mental capacity to perceive the human concepts of fear and death. Someone may say, "Well, why do foxes run away from hounds'?". That is not fear as we know it but an innate flight and fight reflex that is entirely conditioned by experience. Because they have never been killed, they always expect to get away. Those foxes that are killed are, usually, old and infirm. It has been determined that in Scotland, where hunting with hounds is already banned, twice as many foxes are killed than previously despatched—and they include old, young, infirm, healthy foxes and suckling vixens. Some would be injured by an inaccurate shot and could linger in pain for some weeks before eventually succumbing to their injuries. Is that humane? Others, weak, sick and injured, would not be found by hounds, as currently happens, and might have a lingering death. Hunting leaves no wounded survivors.

At present, about one third of the 43 police forces in England and Wales actively police hunts, and it costs them an average of more than £500,000 per year. If this Bill is passed, all but two forces will need to devote already stretched resources to policing it and relations between police officers and rural communities would, without doubt, be damaged. But the police are doing only what Parliament has thrust upon them.

It is a certainty that there will be some—maybe many—who will flout what they perceive to be a very unjust law. How will police forces stop and arrest huntsmen and women on horseback on private land? How do they intend to seize their horses and hounds, and how will they accommodate them until the case comes to trial? Do they have expertise in looking after horses and hounds'? Do they realise that hounds are not domestic animals? There are some who say that hounds can go into private dwellings as pets when this Bill comes into force as an Act—but they do not understand hounds at all. I wonder how police will differentiate between a drag hunt and a fox hunt, and what will happen if drag hounds pick up the scent of a fox and chase it? Police already have great difficulty in curbing the current activities of illegal coursers. How are they expected to cope with a hunt?

I am led to believe that Alun Michael, in another place, has said that he wants anti-hunting groups to enforce the law and to bring private prosecutions. It is no good thinking, therefore, that the police can turn a blind eye. Once hunting has been banned, these "antis" will increasingly turn their attention to shooting, where the consequences of confrontation between the two sides could be horrific. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, has mentioned lamping: two people have recently lost their lives as the result of lamping gone wrong. That cannot be a good way forward.

I received a letter last week in which was enclosed a copy of a speech made by Tom Williams, the Labour Minister of Agriculture, in a debate in the other place in 1949. He said: Whether the purpose is to maintain a balanced wildlife, or to exterminate undesirable species of pests, life has to be taken and all the evidence available to me shows that humanitarian interests are better served by an organised effort, under the control of responsible, experienced people who are all animal lovers themselves. Certainly there is, in that, very much less chance of cruelty than by indiscriminate trapping or snaring or, indeed, inexpert shooting. I have seen traps which have caught animals, which have then escaped, leaving a leg behind, and it has been beyond my understanding how much suffering that must have entailed. I also know about snaring which means a slow, choking death. I know something about shooting which cripples and does not kill and certainly produces a much higher rate of prolonged suffering than does the instantaneous kill of the hunt". The Minister concluded his speech with some sound advice to politicians. He said: In my view, the prohibitions in this Bill have no economic foundations and the humanitarian aspects are greatly exaggerated, if not wholly misconceived. Since this Party has been given the power to govern the nation, I believe we have a record of achievement in which we ought to be proud and I hope that, at this moment, we are not going to forfeit the goodwill we have so rightly earned, to go down in history as a Party anxious to abolish the pleasures of others". That could have been said today: it is certainly as relevant now as it was then.

Chris Fox of ACPO has said, 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". Is that what decent members of the community want when this Bill is enacted? Do they realise the wider implications, including cost aspects, of this Bill? I very much doubt it.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, on previous occasions when I have talked to your Lordships' House about hunting I have begun by explaining that I want to confine my remarks to fell hunting in the Lake District. The same is true on this occasion. I would like to reiterate but not to repeat everything I have said before. Indeed, I see no point in making any more general remarks about hunting this evening as it strikes me that enough has already been said. However, I must explain that I farm in the Lake District and I subscribe and occasionally follow the Melbreak Hounds and the Blencathra Hounds. I must emphasise that they operate entirely on foot in the mountains.

I was born in Cumbria, I live in Cumbria and have twice been elected to represent Cumbria in the European Parliament. In my view there is "nowt wrong with fell hunting". It seems to me that it should be up to individuals to decide what to do in their own time, on their own land, subject to proper safeguards. One of the things that has come out of the ongoing debate on hunting over the past few years is that the safeguards need re-examination.

I would also like to emphasise that the arguments in respect of fell hunting are not the same as those that apply to low ground hunting, as my noble friend Lord Jopling commented earlier. I would be sympathetic to any amendment that he might feel like putting forward.

Having said that, I would now like to turn to some of the parliamentary and constitutional aspects and to deal with some of the points so elegantly touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan. I am extremely glad that he spoke as he did because I fear that I, like some other contributors to this evening's debate, may be perceived by the outside world as being a "toff", which I suppose I am—I was born that way—and, as a result, my comments may be disregarded. However, the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said somewhat similar things I hope will mean that they command the serious attention which I believe they deserve.

It may be because much of my political career has been spent on the Continent but I have long been a supporter of the concept of entrenched rights which are the basis of domestic and international human rights legislation. Of course, they circumscribe the sovereignty of Parliament and they stipulate that parliamentary sovereignty should not and must not impose a majority's or a government's whim or fancy. Legislation must be justified by an objective assessment of the merits of the case supporting it. Having heard the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and my noble friend Lord Soulsby this evening, it seems to me that the intellectual case for an outright ban on hunting on animal welfare grounds lies shattered in pieces on the floor.

So, what next? In particular, what about the Parliament Act? I do not hold myself out as a great historian or constitutional lawyer, but I have always understood that the purpose of the Parliament Act 1911 was to enable the Liberal government to get their budget through Parliament. Given that the Government have granted a free vote on this issue, I cannot see that there is any government policy that has to be passed through Parliament. It may be argued that the Government's policy is that Parliament should form a conclusive view on this matter. However, it seems to me pretty clear that the conclusion to be drawn from Parliament's debates is that it is unable to reach a common conclusion on this matter and therefore that the two Houses quite simply do not agree.

It always strikes me as curious that in many instances when the Parliament Act has been used in the past—I think as much of the activities of my own party as of the party opposite—it seems to generate particularly poor laws. Nevertheless if the Parliament Act is called into play, the one thing of which I am sure for certain is that it will be perceived by those affected as being a constitutional dodge and not a legitimate and constitutionally proper step, and to be outwith the conventions.

One of the characteristics of the country in which we live is that it is not a theocracy. We live in a secular state; I speak as a practising, albeit completely inadequate, Anglican. The characteristic of the kind of state in which we live is that it respects the different religious and other views of its citizens, so long as they do not harm or injure anyone else. Anyone can be liberal or tolerant about what he or she personally approves of. The true liberal is someone who tolerates what he personally cannot condone and despises in others; it is not easy, I know. But this legislation attempts to impose a series of values and/ or norms of behaviour of one section of society on another that does not share them. It is immaterial whether they are a majority or a minority; what is material is that no valid objective case for compulsion has been made.

Contemporary Britain is becoming increasingly a diverse and eclectic society, which is in many ways a very exciting development. Of course, it is not without its problems. For example, I understand that the London Borough of Haringey is probably the most cosmopolitan community on earth. For the varying groups to live together amicably, cheek by jowl, we—all of us collectively and each of us individually—have to be tolerant about different customs, mores and beliefs. Otherwise, it will all go wrong. As soon as one part of Britain starts to impose its values on others merely on the basis that it does not like what those others do, the process of social disintegration gets under way and one thing leads to another. Next time, someone quite different will probably be affected.

We have heard a lot this evening about the possible threat of a ban on hunting to shooting and fishing. I do not think that necessarily the problem is that at all. If I were in other minority groups in society, I would think that what we saw here was a precedent for the majority leaning on the minority. Any attack of such a kind on a minority group in our society is an attack on all minority groups. The underlying principle is a seamless one. I shall go back to Cumbrian fell hunters, who are by any definition a minority. A ban on fell hunting would of course directly hit the upland farming community hard, among which there are not all that many people. It will engender a deep sense of injustice, resentment and anger among them. It is also an attack on every minority, be it in Haringey or anywhere else, because it shows that Parliament is prepared to legislate on the basis of subjective fancy, not objective reason. That is a very un-British and dangerous prospect.

The principle is not only bad for the citizen. It is bad for Parliament to be branded a Parliament that loves injustice. The well-being of this country as a whole relies on all our citizens accepting the decisions of Parliament, even when they disagree with or are hurt by them. That cannot survive legislation based on caprice, as is in the offing with the Bill.

It is not too late. We are where we are, probably as much a result of the law of unintended consequences as anything else. Like me, the Prime Minister says that he wants a compromise. I have voted that way in the past; I have said that that was my view in the past; it is my view now, and I am prepared to work for it. The point about being Prime Minister is that, if one wants to secure a compromise on a topic, one can flick one's fingers and get it done. After all, if the Prime Minister could manage to secure support for the Iraq war in the other place, he can obtain support for a compromise on hunting—it is as simple as that.

What is going to happen? It is not beyond the wit of man that a compromise can be worked out that is acceptable to most protagonists in this debate. However, it depends on the good will of the Government to help to take that process forward. I want to know whether the Government will wash their hands of all this and pray in aid the doctrine of a free vote, as a kind of fig leaf while they engender injustice. After all, doing nothing is as much a positive statement in the present circumstances as doing something.

I believe that the answer to the problem now lies in the hands of the Government, senior Ministers and their business managers. Having heard the evidence of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and my noble friend Lord Soulsby, the intellectual basis of the case for banning hunting on animal welfare grounds no longer exists.

I am sure that the whole House now wants to know what will happen next. Are the Government going to take a positive, proactive step to try to secure the development of an acceptable form of words which will be a middle way or, like the Levite, are they going to pass by on the other side?

8.25 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno

My Lords, as a very new Member of this House, I have not before taken part in a discussion on this subject. As a new Member, I sometimes wonder whether we are acting as though we are totally isolated and remote from the world around us that has so many greater problems than the one that we are discussing today. However, the decision that we take here on this issue could well be seen to condone a world where there is more violence or we could be seen to take a step back from that violent society. In that way, it can be an opportunity.

We see violence on the news every day. For example, we saw tremendous carnage in a school near Moscow with 300 people—largely children—killed. Over the past few days, we have again seen carnage involving totally innocent people on the Israeli/Egyptian border. Killing is becoming acceptable. We heard of a totally innocent 14 year-old girl in Nottingham who was shot down because violence is acceptable. We heard of the beheading and dreadful barbaric activities in Iraq. Violence is accepted.

I suggest to your Lordships that we must take a step away from accepting and condoning violence. The culture of killing is becoming acceptable, and that shows our civilisation and society in a very bad and threatening light. There was a time when a murder or something similar would be on the front page of all the newspapers. Now, sometimes such an incident is given just a small paragraph on an inside page and is lost among other news items. The tide of horror is becoming acceptable and society is becoming insensitive. I suggest that today we can at least take one step with this Bill. As many people have said, the Bill is far from perfect and needs many amendments.

The arguments that we have heard today are all in some way incomplete. On both sides are honourable and good, honest people and I respect them. But today we must take a step that makes the most of this opportunity. I hope that in Committee amendments will be put forward and, as has already been suggested, that we shall see an acceptable way forward. But this measure in itself, away from the culture of killing, is one that I shall support.

Over the years, arguments have been put forward against other forms of "entertainment", as we called them in those days. I should have liked to hear this House discussing bear baiting, cock fighting or even bull fighting. Those were acceptable forms of entertainment but they belonged to a medieval age. I suggest that the tradition of hunting for entertainment or sport belongs there too. The principle of killing is not acceptable. This is our opportunity to say that it is time to take another step, and we can do it.

Finally—I shall be very brief—I hope that each side will put an end to demonising the other and an end to the hostility, anger and hatred. Society is by far the worse because of it. We could look at all the problems facing the countryside. In my part of Wales they are much greater than fox hunting. The whole economy is in turmoil. Over the past few years, so many diseases have hit us. We could become a real alliance for the countryside. The protagonists on both sides could discuss together. Let us do that in a rational way. I hope that we shall be able to move forward to a Bill that is acceptable, even though it may not be wholeheartedly welcomed by everyone. I would like to see us step away from the culture of killing.

Lord Thomas of Swynnerton

My Lords, is the noble Lord sure that the word "medieval" is a synonym for "evil"? I believe that many people would say that medieval Europe or medieval England had a sense of commonality and justice that we would do well to echo.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, the purpose of this speech, assuredly, is not to attack the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister, who is not the first Prime Minister who, in an awkward situation, has resorted to the Parliament Acts. If I had known that that action would be used as a precedent for this resort, I would not have divided the House on the War Crimes Bill. But it was not a precedent, because the War Crimes Bill was concerned with war crimes. I walked into the Lobby with my noble friend Lord Denham for the Government, and I was against the Government. Why is it not a precedent? Having listened to the speeches in this House, it seems to me that the broad sense of the House is that we have common cause that the Bill has nothing whatever to do with hunting.

The invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is to enter what he called the last chance saloon on the Hunting Bill—it is a Bill motivated by extraneous considerations which have nothing to do with hunting. He threatened a no-win situation as we enter the last chance saloon under the Parliament Acts.

The measured assessment of my noble friend Lady Byford is wholly supported. The wise advice of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, the search for tolerance and the search for compromise of my noble friend Lord Mancroft, are the only acceptable manner in which to approach this pretty desperate situation.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has advised that the Bill is defective and is incapable of being compatible and, therefore, is incapable of enforcement. The only reasonable approach for any government is to amend the Bill with straightforward amendments, to introduce licensed hunting, in consultation with another place, to seek compromise, as is understood to be the wish not only of the Minister, but also of the Prime Minister.

My own view as to what are these extraneous considerations is wholly irrelevant. What is relevant is that there are by common consent extraneous considerations for the motivation of this Bill, whatever they may be. The view has been expressed that it is motivation against those who hunt, or perhaps a Left-wing Labour squeeze. It is totally irrelevant what it is. The fact is that there is this extraneous motivation.

My only equine interest is in Pegasus as an emblem of my Inn. The purpose of this speech is to support the lawful interests of a very substantial minority, and I speak for freedom of such interests. I speak for those who hunt, who follow the hunt, who support the hunt. I speak for the dependent skills and livelihoods. I speak for the rural economy; to protect a lawful activity from extinction; to protect horses and hounds from wanton slaughter; to conserve rare wild birds and vulnerable livestock.

I admit that I shoot game. I have an interest there. All is put at risk by scheduled provisions to this Bill. That is why I speak. Not only that; this Bill slights every one of those interests without justification.

The nation is divided. There is a turmoil of protest. What are the functions of this House in such a situation? It is perfectly plain. It is the acknowledged constitutional function of this House in situations such as this where the nation is divided to seek consensus with another place. That is our duty. It is no use putting us in the last chance saloon. That is not the way it is done. That is not the way it is ever done; it is not the way it is ever intended to be done; and it should never be done now or ever again.

The consensus sought on licensed hunting is open to consultation, which the Minister indicated in his Third Reading speech that he was prepared to entertain. There is plenty of scope for compromise. Jean Corston, the right honourable Member for Bristol East, who chairs the Joint Committee on Human Rights—she is a lifelong opponent of hunting and abstained on Third Reading of this Bill—said at Third Reading in another place that the question of a total ban should be decided by the due democratic process of a general election.

The Bill is defective. Three months' notice of a total ban under Clause 15 is insufficient for those who have contracts relating to hunting to make alternative arrangements. According to the advice of Jean Corston's Joint Committee, it engages Article 1 of Protocol 1 of the convention. There is no time to outline her reasons; they are reported at columns 1371–73 of the Official Report. The Joint Committee is not just a bunch of lawyers, where some disagree with others. The advice of the Joint Committee was within its strict remit on independent expert opinion, devoid of any preconception or any political motivation. The right honourable lady also said that the Bill remains defective unless amended by the suggested amendment to Clause 15 in order to secure compatibility.

But a mere moratorium, a stay of execution on a total ban until 2006, conflicts with the concept of an amendment for licensed hunting as a compromise and is wholly unacceptable. It does not deal with the substance, and if such a proposal is made it should be firmly rejected. If this Bill were enacted as it stands without that amendment, on implementation it would be challenged and would attract the jurisdiction not only of our own courts but of the European Court of Human Rights, and it could not be enforced. There is another viable argument in law; given the time, I shall not refer to it.

There are problems arising under the 1949 Act on which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, may address noble Lords. But I take the view, as I think the noble and learned Lord knows, that on the assumption that it was an abuse of the 1911 Act, one is dealing with an abuse of an Act of Parliament by Parliament. That is without the jurisdiction of our courts—we have no constitutional court. I very much doubt whether that is a runner, but that argument will inevitably be raised on any attempt to enforce the Bill. Is it not the irenic hope that this ghost of the Quintine prophecy, this last chance saloon may be laid, and that the Government accept the obligation of every government in this country to protect substantial minorities that are acting lawfully and not to exterminate them?

8.44 p.m.

Lord Harrison

My Lords, I support the full ban on fox hunting. It is a cruel sport. It impoverishes the human spirit, serves as a poor example to children and encourages the hunt havoc that prevents thousands of our citizens enjoying the peace, tranquillity and privacy of their own home. The exercise by the hunt of a latter-day droit de seigneur to trespass over other people's property must be ended. Country folk in my county—Cheshire—are tired of their domestic pets being attacked in their back garden and of their young children being frightened by the onrush of hounds down Cheshire country lanes.

Hunting is cruel. To the 500 vets from Vets for Hunting who assert that foxes suffer only at the close of the hunt I am bound to say that I do not know why any animal should suffer any form of destruction or any short-lived distress in the name of a sport. It is, to boot, a man-made sport. It was created by man for his pleasure and enjoyment. How can we justify even one ounce of animal pain being suffered for a hundredweight of human pleasure? In reality, the suffering of the fox is often prolonged and profound.

Is fox hunting a country sport or a method of fox control? If it is adjudged a sport, it is repugnant that our fellow human beings take pleasure in the pursuit and killing of an animal whose only crime seems to be that it is indeed an animal. If fox hunting is deemed to be a form of pest control, how can we explain why, during the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the fox population failed to expand in the absence of the hunt? What is the evidence that fox hunting controls the fox population? Most animal experts agree that species numbers are governed by other factors, including the availability of food, territory and breeding. If hunting is a method of pest control, why are old, sick and lame foxes targeted? They are the least likely to plunder the chicken run. Why does the hunt permit the breeding of young foxes in earths conveniently sited in hunt territories? That is pest control for man's pleasure, not for the benefit of farmers or farm animals.

There are some, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, who believe that pest control and enjoyment go hand in hand. In a recent Chester Chronicle, the right reverend Prelate warned that people might get a certain amount of pleasure from fox hunting, as long as that did not become the predominant argument for it. To that example of moral ambiguity, the right reverend Prelate adds the suggestion of, extending fox hunting to urban areas where I live, because I had six chickens before a fox ate one". Thus, we may say of the right reverend Prelate that he counts his chickens before they are dispatched.

It is asserted that the hunt is a more humane way of dispatching foxes than lamping. Why, until now, have hunters remained silent about the alleged cruelty of shooting, seemingly content that foxes should suffer a lingering death from glancing wounds? Given that hunting, as pest control, dispatches only one in six foxes, what is to be done about the alleged inhumanity of shooting? Is it proposed to ban lamping and quintuple the number of hunts? Of course not. It is clear that shooting the fox remains the preferred and only method of general dispatch. The training of marksmen should be correspondingly increased.

What is the justification for killing hounds, once they have outlived their useful life—useful to the hunt, that is? Many have lived but half of a hound's natural life. Hunters suggest that, in the wake of a ban, not only will hounds be ruthlessly shot but farmers will indulge in an orgy of illegal slaughter. Where is their evidence? Will the hunt, when converted to drag hunting, really be so vindictive as to neglect fallen stock, thereby polluting the very countryside that they love and cherish? Will country landowners, piqued by the proposed ban, really withdraw land from use by the Army exercising before service overseas? Is the hunting down of Al'Qaeda a lesser priority than hunting down the fox? Does not the pitiless dumping of horse and dog carcasses, as happened at the recent Labour Party conference, fly in the face of the claim that fox hunters respect the dog and the horse as man's best friends?

I applaud the suggestion to delay by 18 months the implementation of the Bill. This will help in the homing of hounds and those people in tied accommodation who may be heartlessly evicted. But too gloomy a view is taken of future employment opportunities in the countryside. The 800 jobs lost on a one-off basis will be easily offset by a buoyant economy created by this Chancellor and by the sustainable jobs associated with the growing niche area of equine and equestrian-related employment.

We are told that the Government should be directing their energies to issues more important than banning fox hunting. But the strong economy, record investment in public services, control of inflation, low interest rates and low unemployment suggest that the Government are fully focused on the big issues. But a wise government do not neglect other issues of concern to their citizens, of which fox hunting is one—an important one—as evidenced by the strength of feeling exhibited on all sides in this issue.

Equally fallacious is the application of the West Lothian question to this debate; namely, that only those who live in the countryside know what is best for rural Britain, that the townies should absent themselves from debating and voting on rural issues and, presumably, vice versa. That is folly. In my experience some of the best contributions from fellow politicians supporting an integrated society have come from those who bring a fresh but intelligent eye to issues hitherto not in their immediate purview.

One other red herring is that banning fox hunting is a manifestation of class prejudice and envy. That is evidently not so, since the first ban that is to be implemented will be on hare coursing—a working class sport. Fox hunting is a cruel sport, not a tape measure of class. Anyone who has read Anthony Trollope's comic but sympathetic Hunting Sketches will have gained an astute insight into the camaraderie shared by those who follow the hunt. But the fox is the excuse, not the instance, for that valued comradeship. Adopting the drag hunt will retain that camaraderie and exclude the blot on the landscape of hunting as a cruel sport.

Change is always difficult. Indeed, perhaps fostering humane and intelligent change is at the heart of the best politics. Tonight's debate should and must mark another step on that path of change which enshrines respect for animals within a civilised and civilising society.

8.54 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, very regrettably, the way in which this matter has been handled by the Government has poisoned their entire rural agenda and threatens to have consequences that spread far beyond the obvious impacts on rural livelihoods and the country way of life. To appreciate why that should be the case, one has to see the situation in the wider context.

The farming industry—I declare an interest because my wife is a farmer—and the wider rural economy, of which farming remains at the core, has been through eight miserable years. The BSE crisis was followed by a collapse of farm incomes, which in turn was compounded by the foot and mouth disaster. Morale touched rock bottom, and so did confidence among country people in the Government's intentions for farming and the countryside, which seemed at best indifferent and at worst downright hostile.

But, under the banner of the "sustainable farming and food strategy", the first steps along the road to recovery were just being taken and partnerships with the key rural stakeholders and, above all, partnership with the Government were beginning to develop, albeit with great uncertainty.

Then, suddenly, there was a calculated and vindictive attack on such a precious aspect of country life, which was not on the basis of any compelling scientific evidence or after thorough and detailed consideration of all the issues or in respect to overwhelming demand from the electorate or as a matter of pressing national priority, but as a cynical exercise in buying off the Government's own left wing in the run up to a general election. That, so despairingly and depressingly, is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Partnerships have to be built on trust. How can rural communities possibly be expected to trust a bunch of Ministers who have gone back on a commitment to regulate rather than to ban for such squalid motives? If the Government really do decide to force through a ban, they will generate bitterness and resentment for years to come.

In our rural community in Devon, which is not very far from where the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, hunts, the dispute has always been predominantly about whether or not hunting is cruel. People on both sides of the debate who live in the countryside know that the nakedly aggressive class hatred which ignorant politicians and journalists are spitting out is misplaced and completely misunderstands the true nature of rural communities. It is also dangerous and it is getting worse: every hate-ridden urbanised outburst will fuel more anger and more resentment in the countryside until the predicted civil war becomes a reality.

That is what Mr Blair has unleashed. What he and his Ministers have consistently failed to understand is that there are deeply emotive feelings in rural areas about the way that the countryside has been treated by this Government. The open conflict caused by the shameless politicising over hunting has now provided an outlet for seven years of pent-up anger and resentment. Mix that with the venomous class hatred on the other side and one has potentially explosive chemistry.

That battle is now in danger of going way beyond the issue of hunting into some very disturbing, uncharted territory; a point so well expressed by my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater and my rural friend Lady Mallalieu. That is why it is so vital that this spiteful, ill-judged, potentially damaging and, in so many respects, unworkable Bill in its present form, should be returned from whence it came—back down the corridor, but in an acceptable and usable form.

8.58 p.m.

Baroness Golding

My Lords, I have only ever hunted with a fly, a nymph, the occasional dognobbler and the odd worm. So noble Lords will see that I am approaching this Bill today from a somewhat different angle—from the angle of a fisherman. I must say to my noble friend Lady Gale that it is no good supporting angling if there are fewer and fewer fish to fish. There most certainly will be if this Bill goes through and bans mink hunting.

The Minister for Rural Affairs, Alun Michael, made a statement on hunting in which he said that his Bill would be based on two principles; namely, are we preventing cruelty and are we recognising what farmers and others need to do to eradicate vermin or to protect their livestock and crops or the biodiversity of an area? The Bill is based on neither of those principles. It is based on ill informed prejudice.

The Minister, Alun Michael, went on to say that there was a need, to set up an independent process to consider on a case-by-case basis whether particular activities involving dogs meet the two tests".—[Official Report, Commons, 3/12/02; col. 756.] In other words, evidence and common sense were to be used. I see none of those things in the Bill.

I remind your Lordships that the Government have signed up to the European Convention on Biological Diversity, which commits them to control and eradicate those alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or native species. This Bill, by its very narrowness, ignores that important commitment.

Why do I say that? The answer is mink, the scourge of the riverbank. The threat to our native wildlife caused by the American mink is widely acknowledged. The mink devastates our ground-nesting birds and—very important to me—our fish and has also played a large part in the virtual eradication of our native water vole.

The mink is an alien species. Yet, in October 2003, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, in answer to a question from me, said that no money has been set aside to eradicate mink once hunting is banned. That is hardly a commitment to the European convention, given that it has been estimated that up to 50,000 mink could be at large in our countryside.

The Minister for Rural Affairs has called for evidence. The evidence for the need to use dogs in the hunting of mink exists. In Iceland, the government rely on dogs as their primary weapon to locate mink, which are then dispatched by shooting. About 6,500 mink are culled every year in Iceland, at an average annual cost of £150,000. The nature department of the Icelandic Government has all the evidence to show that mink hounds are essential for the control of mink. It understands only too well that many mink are trap-shy. This Government—my Government—should listen to their scientific evidence and allow hunts to be registered.

If evidence is needed nearer home, then perhaps the Government should look at the Scottish Hebridean Mink Project, a £1.65 million mink eradication scheme which is attempting to rid Harris, Uist and Benbecula of mink. The project is operating over five years with the equivalent of a minimum of 11 full-time posts. The project was started in December 2001, but its August 2004 bulletin states that only 453 mink had been caught using traps. It is not a very large number, given that the lowest estimate of mink present on those islands is 4,000.

The Minister may know that the Game Conservancy Trust issued a report on an experiment that took place between 2 and 18 October 2002 on the viability of using trained mink hounds in this mink eradication programme. In its report it said that the handlers demonstrated great knowledge and impressive control of their hounds, and that the hounds showed no interest in fresh otter signs, fresh feral ferret signs, sheep, active rabbits or ground-nesting birds. The hounds worked quietly and spoke only when they detected fresh mink signs. Speaking was a prelude to marking a mink den. The handlers demonstrated that they could call the hounds off and quickly and efficiently call them well away from the marks. The result was that the executive recommended that, Plans should be immediately drawn up for the integration of dogs into the existing trapping programme in the Western Isles". If the Minister wants scientific evidence, it exists and knocks on the head the so-called case for banning mink hunting.

Scientific evidence also exists with regard to fox hunting with hounds. The Middle Way Group, which I co-chair, set up a study to look at the effect of shooting on the welfare of foxes if the use of dogs was banned. The study found that rather than the quick, efficient and clean kill of the shoot, there was a far higher wounding rate than was at first thought, often leading to a slow and painful death for the fox, with no hounds to seek out a sick or injured animal. It cannot be the case that all shooting is good and all hunting is bad. Both the Middle Way option and the Wild Mammals (Protection) (Amendment) Bill of my noble friend Lord Donoughue demonstrate how regulation and licensing can be an acceptable means of managing the countryside.

This unworkable Bill, based on well financed prejudice and which does nothing for animal welfare, should never be allowed to become law. We must find a better way.

9.6 p.m.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, it has been well said that this vindictive, unscrutinised and inappropriate Bill is unworthy of our great British tradition of fair play and the tolerance of other people's views. Since no one else has quoted them, particularly appropriate tonight are the words of the great French philosopher, Frederic Bastiat, who in 1830 said: It is not true that the function of law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our will, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents or our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of those rights by any other person". He recognised that democracy is not just about the enforcement of the majority view, it is also about the protection of minority rights. Manifestly, this ill considered Bill violates those natural rights.

Should they steamroller through this inappropriate legislation, the Government will be creating a new criminal offence at the end of this season for a pastime that has been part of the British heritage for 500 years or more. A liberal society does not and should not make a crime out of behaviour that merely causes disapproval. Democracy is a frail plant that many consider to be the least worst system. However, it has given us in this country relative social harmony and, with it, the economic stability that lies at the base of our success as a nation.

Democracy essentially means government by consent and the law-abiding British citizen gives consent, even against his own interests, if he believes that overall the law has been administered fairly. That is not the case with this Bill to date, and the manner in which it has been dealt with by the Government should be a cause for the gravest concern to all who value parliamentary democracy.

It is indeed a slippery slope to begin to ban a minority sport just because we do not like it. Even football is a minority sport, and hunting stirs just the same ardour, social cohesion and affection in rural areas as football does elsewhere. I live in Northumberland, one of the remotest parts of the country, and I speak from first-hand experience, having taken part in those activities. Parliament should legislate to deal with activities that cause harm and are against the public interest, not activities which certain people dislike for their own subjective reasons. As has been said, this Bill strikes at the heart of our tolerant society.

By now, most people's minds are made up. Either they do not want to be convinced by the arguments, or they have been. So I should like to thank those who to date have had the moral courage to change their mind. I mention in particular Richard Course, one-time director of the League Against Cruel Sports who, after a number of years spent studying the subject, had the intellectual integrity to admit that a ban on hunting was no way to help the fox. I should also like to thank the veterinary profession, which again has been mentioned by other speakers. Hundreds of vets have given very clear evidence that, in their view, hunting is the most appropriate and least cruel method of controlling foxes.

Many noble Lords on the Opposition Benches have been sufficiently fair-minded to listen to the arguments. They have recognised that this is a freedom and liberty issue and have consequently voted in favour of the continuation of this ancient and natural sport. They, too, recognise that much of the opposition to hunting is nothing more than social resentment masquerading as animal welfare.

The Bill will ruin the lives and livelihoods, without compensation, of many thousands of people. It will bring to an end a way of life that many do not understand or do not want to understand, a way of life that damages no other human being and which has given us the best and healthiest fox population in Europe.

Obviously many of those who are against hunting are sincere in their views—although I believe them to be mistaken—but I hope that they are embarrassed by the company they keep with extreme animal rights activists, and will search their hearts and question whether they really have the moral right to interfere in this case. Consequently, I hope that they will help the House to throw out the Bill as it stands, a Bill that wholly and unnecessarily infringes the liberties and rights of individuals in what, up to now, has been called a free country.

I share the hope with many others that in Committee amendments will be made to bring back the sensible compromise—the middle way—that the Government promoted when they introduced the Bill in the first place and that a number of us supported in earlier debates. I hope, too, that this country's great tradition of tolerance and sensible compromise for the wider public good will remain, as it always has been, at the heart of our legislation so that, in turn, democracy remains government by consent.

9.11 p.m.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, coming in at number 44 on the list—or "in the charts" as they used to say on Radio Luxembourg when I used to listen to it a long time ago—I am very aware that I am only the seventh speaker to support the Minister and the Bill. In doing so, I am confident that I am speaking for a clear majority of opinion within my party, although very clearly not within my party in your Lordships' House.

The debate has covered two different issues: the question of hunting and the constitutional propriety of what is going on. I was wondering on which subject to speak. However, in the first part of his speech—before he started his party political broadcast—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, who is not in his place at the moment, said very much what I would have said if I had been talking about hunting, so I shall say no more about that.

Let me give an illustration of where I am coming from on this issue. A little less than a year ago my wife and I were out walking on a track called the Moor Bottom near where we live. It is on the edge of the moor, as you may well imagine—a moor which, the Minister will be pleased to learn, has just been opened up under his CROW Act, to great local acclaim. As we were approaching the crest of a hill we heard a great deal of commotion coming from the other side—a great deal of barking and shouting and someone blowing a horn. It was quite clear that some kind of hunt was taking place and, when we got there, we discovered a pack of beagles flushing out hares.

While we were watching, the dogs found one hare, which seemed to get away; and then they found another one, which they killed. There were two or three men in jackets running around the very tussocky, rough moor looking rather ridiculous. Another couple of walkers came up to me and said, "What are you lot going to do about this?". I took it that what he meant by "you lot" was your Lordships' House. I said, "I do not think we'll be doing very much about it, but what's wrong?". I asked him for his views. He said, "They are creating a lot of noise; they are disturbing the peace; they are upsetting our Sunday afternoon walk; and they are making"—well, the word he used to describe them is not a word that I would use in your Lordships' House, but it begins with "p".

I said, "Well, what's wrong with that? Why haven't they got a right to make fools of themselves, to look ridiculous and to make a noise if that is what they want to do? It is not really causing a huge problem, is it?". He then got a bit angry with me and his wife looked me in the face and said, "Yes, but do you agree with what they have just done to that hare?". That seems to go to the heart of what is being talked about in terms of tolerance.

Views on this matter have been very polarised. I feel no hatred or anger towards people on either side of the argument, but I feel anger towards both sides when they pursue their points of view in ways which undermine the whole democratic process. That has been happening on both sides of the argument and it should be deplored. The issue should be looked at quite separately because, as somebody once said, "Causes cannot be blamed for the people who adopt them".

I do not think that this is an absolute matter; I think it is a matter of relative judgment of what society thinks is reasonable and acceptable at a given point in history. We all have to make that judgment, and my judgment is that the hunting of mammals with dogs at this stage in our civilisation's development ought not to be allowed. I am told by my noble friends Lord Steel of Aikwood and Lord Carlile of Berriew that this view is illiberal, and I take that extremely seriously. This is a very difficult issue for those of us who consider ourselves to be liberal, because of the conflicts.

The classic John Stuart Mill test is whether an activity causes significant harm to other people. It is my judgment that despite some of the nuisance that hunting causes, it does not, and that can be controlled. However, I do not think that that test applies here because we are not talking about the relationship between people—it is not man's humanity or inhumanity to man, but his humanity or inhumanity to other animals. That is the judgment we have to make. That is why the classic liberal test is rather different.

It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said, that we do not know how much suffering takes place in any of these activities. Our knowledge of how other mammals—even those very close to us—see the world and how their brains and senses work, is rudimentary. It is guesswork, really. We can tell that some animals feel pain; we are not sure whether fish feel pain. Sooner or later, we will know this a great deal better. With advances in brain science, computer science, IT, and so on, we will get to the stage of being able virtually to see the world as other animals see it. When that happens, it may cause a huge change in the way in which these matters are considered. But at present we do not know and we have to make judgments on the basis of what we observe.

I took on board a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said about the use of the Parliament Act in this matter. If the Government—or the House of Commons as a proxy for the Government—have to use the Parliament Act in this respect it will be an admission of huge government incompetence. They have had seven years in which to sort this out. The fact that we are discussing it at the fag end of a Session, a few months before a likely general election, is an indictment of the management of the whole issue.

However, this can be over-stated. The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, writes at length in the Guardian about these matters and about your Lordships' House. I wish that he would share his thoughts here with us in the House sometimes. He suggested that the battle over hunting is on a par with the great battles that took place nearly 100 years ago over Lloyd George's "People's Budget" and over the House of Lords blocking a great deal of the Liberal government's legislation, which led to the passing of the first Parliament Act in 1911. The House of Lords was not at that time simply blocking the Commons but was usurping the powers of the Commons over finance, which had existed for a very long time, and was trying to block the Budget. To suggest that those historic battles are comparable with the Hunting Bill is ludicrous. It is rather like comparing great Shakespearian tragedies such as "Macbeth" and "Hamlet" with the local pantomime. I agree with those Members of your Lordships' House who have suggested that the public generally will see this whole process as a pantomime. It will do absolutely no good for this House, it will do absolutely no good for Parliament generally and it will do absolutely no good for the view that people have of politicians.

There are occasions when this House has to stand firm. I do not agree with the Minister's view that where there is a difference of view between the two Houses, the view of the House of Commons must prevail, or at least not without a great struggle. The noble Lord, Lord Brennan, set out many of the issues on which we should stand firm, particularly issues involving the integrity of our democratic process and the rights of individuals as against the state and as part of the legal system. When we are talking about individual rights and our democracy as a whole, this House has a huge role to play in stopping majoritarian, short-term, populist views in the House of Commons taking precedence. However, to suggest that this is one of those issues is wrong. The fact that we are going to spend six days on the matter is something that I regret, but we have to perform the task that is in front of us and I shall vote for the Bill.

9.21 p.m.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, being secretary of the House of Lords Yacht Club, I thought I should advise your Lordships that we have a duty to fight to the bitter end. Your Lordships will know well that the bitter end is the end of a rope that is in board and when the outside bit is a bit worn, one turns it round and uses it in another way.

I shall try in this moment to turn this whole matter around. It seems as though we have a kind of PPP—a public/private partnership—of some form or other which consists of priorities, prejudices and politics. I think back to that great man, Aneurin Bevan, who said—

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I know what he said.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, I shall say it later. He said that the language of priority is effectively socialism. He went on to say that the Tory Party was so venomous that it was more vile than venomous animals.

Lord Whitty

Vermin, my Lords.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, I was coming to vermin. I asked the Minister a little while ago in a Written Question if he could define "vermin". He was kind enough to write back to say that there is no such word in law as "vermin" and that I must refer to the Oxford English Dictionary. That I did, at some length. Vermin is defined there as "noxious or objectionable" animals or "noxious, vile, objectionable" or obstinate people.

One should look back in history and ask what vermin is because we seem to be talking about vermin or pests. Vermin is defined in that wonderful book as all kinds of things. Its references start way back with the cardinals saying that the Protestants were vermin. Then it is applied to musicians and bands and that kind of thing. Finally, it moves on to refer to, duskish, vile vermin of Highland Picts and Scots". It also mentions the poacher, the landlord, the tenant, even the Royal Family and, of course, as Aneurin Bevan said, the Tory Party.

So I shall speak on behalf of the vermin and ask the Minister if he could, as a prelude to the new Bill, define "vermin", because it has different definitions in different countries. I understand that vermin are humans, birds, mammals—humans are mammals too—which, in general, are inedible and prey on things that man finds valuable: his food, his dwelling place or whatever.

Therefore, with regard to priorities, as Aneurin Bevan said, the Bill that is before the House now is not one. Prejudice comes with it, but we can all be prejudiced. I would prefer in my discourse on vermin to go back quite a long time—possibly 2,000 years. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford will remember that Our Lord Jesus Christ called Herod Antipas a fox, or "the fox", I think. In the Bible and beyond, there are mentions of foxes and grapes. One of the first of Aesop's fables relates to the fox and the grapes. I know that story well—that is where prejudice comes in. The fox one day was out in a vineyard, as unfortunately he has recently been in my own small vineyard in France, but he found that as they were higher up, he could not reach the grapes. So he pretended that he did not want them and said, "They are all sour". That is where the phrase "sour grapes" comes from. It was picked up by La Fontaine and many other people, right the way through to Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit.

The fox is institutional; he is one of the oldest characters in the world, and I admire him. More than that, he is the most widespread and successful carnivore that the world has ever seen, moving through the coldest weather to the desert, right the way through. He is a survivor. If we are debating as to whether we oppose the fox or not, I am totally in favour of the fox. I regard him as quite a remarkable character. Among the language that we use is the term "fox paw", which is to make a faux pas—which of course the Government have made time and time again on this matter.

The fox himself is an interesting character and creature. He is a survivor. When there was a point some time ago when we ran out of foxes in England, partly because farmers found that they had been preying too much upon crops, we had to import them from France—and this may well happen again. At the moment we have roughly 500,000 foxes in the United Kingdom, but that is before the winter comes, when normally the figure is 300,000. There are 30,000 in urban areas. I would regard them as real vermin in urban areas, and suggest to the Minister that the priority should be to get rid of foxes in urban areas above all else.

I must move on and come to the other vermin for which I have great respect. The fox is vulpes vulpes; the other is meles meles. This is a character that is protected in this country, where there are 42,000 places where they live. They have roughly 270,000 in their gang, plus 172,000 children. In the international world, that animal is known as the blaireau—or the blairs. I must be careful as last time I got a reprimand from the Government Chief Whip for speaking French. They are very sociable creatures, live in holes under ground, are very friendly but can be quite aggressive. But they are, in some areas, regarded as vermin.

My other favourite is sus scrola—the wild boar. The website of the department of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, describes the wild boar as being pretty dangerous. If you come near one, you should put your dog on the lead and back away. If a dog gets anywhere near a wild boar, he goes for it, and the wild boar goes running off into the distance.

We all believe in the protection of animals and we all genuinely love animals, and most of us do not like to see animals killed, whether it be the orca coming out of the sea to grab a seal on a BBC television programme, or lions killing. I would like to call myself a countryman. I have explained before that I am a peasant farmer in France, and I have great pleasure in the battle we have with vermin—with the wild boar that come in at night, and may eat two tonnes of grapes. That is 2,000 bottles, which is quite a lot to go off in one evening. But in this country we no longer have the smaller communities on agricultural land that we used to have, and we have people who know not what it is they are talking about.

At one level, to use a collective noun, we have a parliament of rooks, cawing away and pretending that they are speaking for the people, when the Labour Party received only 40 per cent of the votes in the last election. More than that, they received votes from only 24 per cent of the electorate, because very few people voted. As for the Hunting Bill, I analysed every single voting pattern of everyone involved, and it turned out that they had only 18 per cent support from the electorate. That is not really democracy. Even in some of the beat-up parts of Africa, people can claim with pride that they have more than 18 per cent of the vote.

I turn to the people of the hills and vales. Members of the Liberal Party speak with forked tongues. Twenty-one of them voted to ban hunting and 12 voted to keep it—but from listening to them today it is clear that they are all in a complete mess.

We are not necessarily talking about the protection of the fox—he can protect himself. People say that he is rabid, but there has been no incidence of rabies, except for one bat in the United Kingdom. There was only one incident of rabies among humans in the whole of Europe last year, although there were 3,640 among animals.

We all love animals and respect God's creatures but somehow we have made the mistake of forgetting that this debate today is about the destruction of customary rights and freedoms. I intended to give a Latin quotation but my short-term memory is gone. However, effectively it says that it is the duty of the senator to protect the freedom of the individual. If you consider another analogy comprising a collective noun, we are a parliament of owls—please could we be wise?

9.30 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Lymington

My Lords, it seems to be common ground that foxes are predators that have to be culled; the only question is how. On the evidence it seems to me that, subject to a degree of regulation, hunting with hounds is the most efficient and humane method available.

The terms of the Bill put forward by the Government in the 2002–03 Session were designed to achieve just that. Therefore, my plea—it is an unusual plea coming from me—is that we support the Government by putting similar terms into the present Bill before we send it back to the other place.

However, that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the use and abuse of the Parliament Acts in the present and, indeed, future contexts which can be foreseen. As has been said, the background to the Parliament Act 1911 was that in 1910 this House rejected the so-called "People's Budget" brought forward by the then Liberal government. It persisted in that opposition notwithstanding the fact that the government won two general elections which were dominated by that issue. In a word, this House was bringing the government of the country to a standstill, which was wholly unacceptable on any possible basis. Under a threat that King George V had agreed to create sufficient new Liberal Peers to overcome any opposition to the then government's financial policies, this House agreed to the 1911 Act. I had at one time thought that the threat was to move in a company of the Guards, but I believe that to be untrue. However, there was a list of potential Peers to achieve that result.

The essential features of the 1911 Act are that money Bills passed by the Commons can become law within one month of being sent to this House, whether or not we consent, and that other public Bills can become law if this House fails to consent in three successive Sessions.

Parliament has unlimited jurisdiction and can enact anything whatever in the way of the law that it sees fit. It is important that we realise what Parliament is. Parliament consists of two Houses of Parliament and Her Majesty. An Act of Parliament properly so called can be enacted only with the consent of both Houses. If a Bill is enacted to which this House has not consented, it is not in truth an Act of Parliament at all; it is an Act of the House of Commons.

The House of Commons acting alone does not have unlimited jurisdiction; that is the major distinction between an Act of Parliament and what I prefer to refer to—because I think that it is more accurate—as an Act of the House of Commons. Acts of the House of Commons are just as much delegated or secondary legislation as statutory instruments, and like statutory instruments they are invalid if made without jurisdiction. That much really should not be in dispute at all. In seeking to justify the enactment of the present Bill as an Act of the House of Commons after two rather than three Sessions, the Government point to the Parliament Act of 1949, which purports to amend the 1911 Act by reducing the maximum period of delay from three Sessions to two. But unlike the 1911 Act—this is the vital point—the 1949 Act was not an Act of Parliament in the true sense of the word; it was an Act of the House of Commons. That raises the question at once, "Where do we find the jurisdiction for such an Act to amend the 1911 Act?". It cannot be an inherent jurisdiction. We have to look elsewhere. The Government, and indeed the 1949 Act itself, say, "The authority for that comes from the 1911 Act".

That is a somewhat startling proposition, to a lawyer at any rate. As a general rule, no one acting under a delegated power is entitled himself to amend or extend that power. He has a limited jurisdiction, and there is no way in which he can increase it. There are exceptions. For example, an Act of Parliament will, on occasion, expressly authorise a Minister to make minor amendments to it in the light of changed circumstances. That authority is known to all of us—although not, I think, to the general public—as a Henry VIII clause. The important thing is that they are always very tightly drawn indeed, and are normally restricted to minor changes of circumstance that could not be argued as being of importance, that make the operation of the Act more sensible, and that can be left to the Minister.

It is also theoretically possible for the terms of an Act of Parliament to be such as to lead to the inference that a delegated authority must have been intended to give power to amend the primary authority. I confess that I have never heard of such a thing; it certainly would require very extraordinary circumstances. When we look at the circumstances in which the 1911 Act was passed, any such inference of implied authority for the Commons to amend the primary Act itself is improbable to the point of absurdity. I say that because, as the preamble to the 1911 Act shows, it was intended as an armistice agreement, pending further negotiations leading to what might be described as a peace treaty. It was obviously contemplated that there be an entirely different and—some would say, although I am not sure that I agree—more democratic House involved. As we all know, the armistice has continued, and we are very far from the peace treaty at the moment.

If in 1911 the House of Commons was given by Parliament as a whole the powers of amendment now claimed by the Government to repose in the 1949 Act, there would have been no need for further negotiation. The House of Commons could in 1912 have passed and still could to this day pass a further Act amending the 1911 Act, with the result that—as is at the moment the case with money Bills, which have to be passed in one month of their coming to this House—all Bills from the Commons could be passed in one month, whether or not this House agreed. I want to stress that, as it is vital to us all.

In that scenario, no one could have disputed the cry that the late Lord Shawcross raised in 1945, 1946 or whenever it was, "We are the masters now". However, I do not believe that it was ever the intention of those who passed the 1911 Act. For my part, I do not think that the 1949 Act can be justified on any legal basis. In other words, it is an interesting piece of literature, but it just does not have the effect of altering the 1911 Act.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, considering the judicial process and the legal entanglements, is the noble and learned Lord seriously suggesting that, in political terms, under the 1911 or 1949 Acts the House of Commons has no right to invoke the Parliament Act?

Lord Donaldson of Lymington

My Lords, let me make it clear that I am not a politician; I am a lawyer. I am not suggesting that the House of Commons does not have the power to invoke the Parliament Act. It can do so provided that it waits for another Session because then it will be operating under the 1911 Act, which was an Act of both Houses of Parliament and Her Majesty. But obviously I cannot decide this matter one way or the other. I am not going to try to persuade the House that it is right, and certainly I would not dream of trying to persuade the other place that it is right. The only ones who can decide this matter are the courts, and I trust that it will be taken through the courts in due course in order that they may decide it.

Over the months, I have been talking to various people—largely servants of both Houses of Parliament—and the message that I have received is, "Oh well, the courts will never interfere". I do not think that that is true. There is of course a strong disinclination by the courts to become involved in the activities of Parliament because of the separation of powers. But that has never applied to secondary legislation. A Minister acts under delegated powers and the courts say, "Well, he has the power to do it, although we may not agree with him". That was a standard refrain from those of us who worked in the administrative court. It was not for us to say whether we agreed with him or whether or not it was a good idea. The only question was: has he any jurisdiction to do it? If he did not have any jurisdiction to do it, we always quashed the decision of the Minister, and there is no reason why a decision of the other place should be in a different category.

A strong reason for the courts to act in this case is that, if they stand aside, later the situation will arise in which someone is prosecuted—a huntsman or whoever—under the Hunting Act. Then, the person who is prosecuted will, if he has any sense, plead not guilty and submit that it is not an offence known to the law. Then where will the courts go? They will be bound to deal with the matter on appeal—if necessary, as far as your Lordships' House, not in its legislative capacity but in its quite separate judicial capacity. If we ever reach that stage, it will be a matter of sufficient importance for this House in its judicial capacity to take cognisance of it and reach a decision. However, that is for another day.

It is right that I should raise this matter, and it is right that warning should be given that it is by no means certain that the other place can do what it thinks it wants to do.

9.43 p.m.

The Earl of Liverpool

My Lords, it is a privilege for me to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. He has given us a most fascinating reading, as he sees it, of the 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts and other legal issues which could arise from this Bill. We are indebted to the noble and learned Lord and I believe that everything that he said will bear close reading in Hansard.

I do not hunt but I have an interest to declare. I believe passionately in trying to preserve something which I always thought was a cornerstone and, indeed, the very essence of the British way of life. I can sum it up in four words: fairness, freedom, tolerance and broadmindedness. We abandon those qualities at our peril, and it is because I see nothing but bigotry in the Bill before us tonight that, even at this late hour and as the forty-seventh speaker on the list, I feel moved to speak. The Government have repeatedly said that, The future of hunting with dogs should not be decided on personal taste, but on the evidence and on the principles of whether or not it serves an effective purpose in managing wildlife and whether it is more or less cruel than the alternative methods currently available". As most noble Lords will now know, that is a quote from Alun Michael, Minister for Rural Affairs, on 11 September 2002. We are fortunate to have heard the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Burns and Lord Soulsby, today, which it seems to me stated incontrovertibly that on that basis a form of licensed or regulated hunting should be allowed to continue.

This issue has been grinding on in our Parliament for seven years and much more besides, as my noble friend Lord King reminds me. The Bill before us completely ignores the painstaking evidence that has been gathered over the seven years. I refer to the Burns report and the Portcullis talks. At intervals, the Prime Minister performs acrobatic feats, the envy of many a circus ringmaster. The mood music apparently coming from Downing Street even now is, "I did not really want this Bill and I would much prefer to see regulated hunting". Can this be the same Prime Minister who, anxious to reconnect with the left of his party, or old Labour, approved the introduction of the Bill before the House today and fast-tracked it through another place in one day—to be precise, in nine hours and eight minutes?

Talking of time spent debating hunting in both Houses of Parliament, I have become increasingly concerned about what I and many others regard as a real travesty. That is the amount of time squandered on this issue of civil liberties when there are so many other more important issues that we should address. I undertook some research, with the assistance of our very helpful Library staff. I found out that since November 1997 the hunting issue has consumed a total of 202 hours in Standing Committee or on the Floor of another place—53 hours of which were on the Floor of another place—and 46 hours on the Floor of your Lordships' House.

I then checked on the cost to the taxpayers of running this mother of Parliaments and I found that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who is not in his place, had helpfully given that information in a Written Answer on 8 July 2004. I shall not burden your Lordships with all the details, but suffice it to say that the Commons costs about £260 million a year to run and your Lordships' House £57 million a year. That is very good value, as my noble friend Lord Peel has just reminded me.

I then researched the number of hours that each House sat. In a given year, I obtained the figure for 2002–03, which is about average, of 1,287 hours for the Commons and 1,262 for your Lordships' House. If one divides the hours that the Houses sat by the total cost of running the Houses one arrives at a figure of £202,000 a sitting hour in another place, and £45,000 a sitting hour in this House.

Taking the hours spent by each House on debating this issue, one comes up with a figure of £10.7 million for the Commons and £2.1 million for the Lords. My rather laboured point is: are we surprised that our hard-pressed taxpayers have a somewhat jaundiced view of the amount of time that we have spent on this matter? A total of £13 million of parliamentary time seems to me to be a travesty. Not one fox's life will be saved by the passing of this Bill. In fact the reverse will be the case.

I should like to take your Lordships into the whole question of how we will deal with the fox problem if we abandon hunting. The practice of lamping will increase, as will other forms of culling. We have seen in the press that one boy was shot dead and another was very seriously wounded two months ago when they were caught in the field of fire when people were apparently out lamping for foxes. Deaths and injuries of this sort will increase dramatically if the Bill passes.

Is that an acceptable by-product of this legislation? I think not. The only course open to us now is to set about amending the Bill back to regulated hunting. Like other noble Lords, I am hoping for the best and fearing the worst. Nevertheless, we shall approach this task with vigour.

9.51 p.m.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I must thank the noble Earl because he has demonstrated that this Bill has been discussed at great length. That contradicts many of his colleagues who have told us that it has been steamrollered through the House. So I am very grateful indeed for the explanation he has given us.

I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, is not in his place. I certainly would not like to cross swords with the noble and learned Lord. All I would say in relation to what he said about the Parliament Act is that he has expressed these views before in the House. It is unfortunate that the person who thought he was wrong the last time he expressed them is no longer with us. He was beloved on all sides of the House and was no less a figure than Lord Williams of Mostyn, who was then the Attorney-General. He said he was sorry he had to disagree with the noble and learned Lord because he had been a pupil, but he had on that occasion to disagree with him. I just want to put on the record that the Attorney-General said that.

Perhaps I may come to the debate. It is a strange debate because whatever is said on both sides of the House those who want to oppose the Bill still seem to think that somehow this is a clash between those who live in urban areas and those who live in rural areas. I want to put on record right away, and I have done so before, that I have always lived in the countryside. It is not only in the urban areas that a majority are against hunting; it is also the case in the rural areas.

The other thing I want to say is that in my village people do not spend Saturday nights discussing how their quality of life will be affected by hunting. They might discuss what has happened to Bolton Wanderers or Blackburn Rovers or Preston North End. In Warrington, I must admit we do engage in blood sports, but it is called rugby league and we play it in the summer. I want to put that into the record.

I want to come on to another point. Much has been said about pest control and what will happen to the fox and the deer population if it does not continue. I want to say again what I have said before, that more foxes are killed on the roads than are killed by hunts. Only about 6 per cent of foxes are killed by hunts and 15 per cent of deer are killed by hunts.

I am looking around for my noble friend Lady Golding. Unfortunately she has left. I was going to say to her that only 2.2 to 7 per cent of mink are killed by hunts. More are killed by trapping. Indeed, it is clear that the contribution made by mink hunts in the control of the mink population nationally is insignificant. Those are not my words; those are the words in the Burns report. Again I want to put that on record. What I want to say to noble Lords who are arguing that hunting is the most humane form of control is that I hope that they will now join me, now that they are expressing great doubts about shooting and snaring, in trying to ensure that we get rid of snaring and fully control the way that deer, foxes and so on are controlled.

On the libertarian argument, there is not much doubt that most people regard hunting as cruel—I referred to the polls. I find it most remarkable that people are arguing for freedom to inflict cruelty on animals.

Baroness Mallalieu

My Lords, having heard what the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said earlier, where is the noble Lord's evidence on which he bases his allegation of cruelty?

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I will give the noble Baroness my evidence. In his report, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said that the welfare of the animal being chased was affected. Most people would agree with me. A fox may be chased for six or seven miles before being killed or, in the case of a deer—I know that the noble Baroness goes deer hunting—chased all day. The noble Baroness tries to pretend that cruelty is not involved with an exhausted animal at the end of that time. Her view would not suffice for the majority of the population, who view the matter away from being part of the vested interest of hunting, if I may say so.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord and am sorry to interrupt him immediately for a second time. The noble Lord gave that response to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, but what, then, is his chosen method of culling foxes? Which method is humane and without cruelty?

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, 94 per cent of foxes meet their death in another way. The Burns report said that the method of shooting—lamping—is probably the most humane method of carrying that forward.

I want to turn to my other point, which is the danger that this House is getting itself into in relation to an elected House. I am very pleased that there is a new spirit—which could have been shown 12 months ago—to try to reach some kind of compromise. But, at the end of the day, the views of the elected House must be paramount.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, the noble Lord said that he was pleased that around the House tonight there is a wish to find some kind of recourse—a middle way, or whatever. I have to say to him that when we debated the matter last time, that will was there, but the Government withdrew the Bill.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, that is not true. The closure was not moved by the Government; I think that it was moved by the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and quite a number of us voted against it, because we wanted the discussion to continue. The noble Baroness cannot deny that a lot of time-wasting was going on. We could continue that debate, but it was certainly not closed by noble Lords on this side, because we voted against it.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, as the noble Lord is persistent in coming back to me on the matter, it was very clear that night that we were not going to complete the Bill. So the question arose: do we continue and still not complete? The ruling from the House at that time was that we should finish at about ten o'clock. It was all but ten o'clock; I am happy to look it up in Hansard to clarify it, but it was very close to ten o'clock. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is agreeing and I am sure that I am right. The question then was whether to continue and consider two or three more amendments, but loads of other amendments could not be completed. After that, the issue was that the Government were unwilling to give government time to complete the Bill.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, extra time was offered.

Baroness Byford

My Lords, it was not.

Lord Hoyle

Oh yes, my Lords, it was. But noble Lords decided that they did not want to continue. We could continue this argument.

Lord Denham

My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way for just one moment, the extra time was offered either on a Friday or in Grand Committee, both of which are kept for non-controversial business.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, it is up to the House, is it not? Noble Lords are in danger of coming into conflict with the elected House, if they reject what it said. It would be unacceptable to the public that an unelected House should take precedence over the wishes of an elected House. Let us not forget that we are very near a general election. Members in the other place who vote to continue the ban on hunting will have to face the electorate; surely that is democracy in action.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way once more?

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I am sure that the House wants to get on. I have given way four or five times.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I am sure, but he has not given way to me. Does the noble Lord not agree that, if the Parliament Act is used, the other place must accept and consider the views of the Upper Chamber? It has never had the opportunity to do that because the Government drew stumps and therefore never allowed the House of Commons to consider the views of this House.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I am afraid that the noble Earl watched a different game of cricket from the one that I watched at the time of the last debate. Of course the other place would have to consider this House's views. Let us not forget that at least 10 times since 1995 the House of Commons has expressed a majority view in favour of banning hunting. It is a discussion that has been going on for 34 years, almost as long as the debate on bear baiting, which went on for 35 years. If the House of Commons decides not to accept the views of this House, its view should be paramount, and the decision will be taken at the general election.

I am very fond of many people in this House, but I wish to repeat that very often on such issues this House shows itself to be completely out of touch with the views generally expressed in the nation as a whole. This has brought the reform of a House in which there must be some elected element far nearer than it was before the debate was begun.

10.3 p.m.

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, I hesitated before adding my name to an already long list of speakers in this debate because I knew that noble Lords on all sides of the House would be putting forward good arguments against the Bill far more eloquently and clearly than I can. However, I decided that I should add my voice to those who believe that it is of crucial importance to do our utmost to try to persuade the Government to think again on the issue.

It will not be easy for the Government to put the genie back in the bottle. What was intended as a short-term political fix to buy the loyalty of the Government's increasingly rebellious Back-Benchers ahead of a general election has developed into a serious, wasteful, divisive and tragic diversion from other matters much more central and pressing in the lives of most people in this country. It threatens to divide communities, quite unnecessarily, by having brought to national prominence an issue that does not warrant it compared with issues to which Parliament should properly be giving its attention.

I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton on her excellent maiden speech. I look forward to her future contributions, which, I am sure, will be equally sensible and well informed. I have enjoyed the contributions made to the debate by many noble Lords today, including those made by noble Lords whose views I do not share. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, told a charming story about her uncle's kindness to a fox, which enabled it to escape from the hunt. I thought how sad it will be and what a dismal land this will become, if the noble Baroness has her way. In future, there will be no opportunities for fox lovers to rescue the fox from the hunt.

As your Lordships are aware, senior police officers have expressed concern about the enforceability of a hunting ban. Good law works and can be enforced because people are ready and willing to comply with it. The spontaneous demonstration against the Bill that took place in Parliament Square on 15 September showed how strongly many country people felt about it. Although the vast majority of the demonstrators were law-abiding people, the sheer weight of numbers present made it an extremely difficult situation for the police. I fear that a miscarriage of justice, in the form of the bringing of unreasonably serious charges against innocent participants, will serve only to make the police's task even more difficult in future demonstrations, of which there will, inevitably, be many, given the outrage and betrayal felt by so many people.

The stated reasons for giving further parliamentary time to the issue now do not ring true, coming from a Government who claim to be in favour of devolving power and of the empowerment of the individual. The Minister may say that your Lordships' House is bound to accept the will of the people, expressed through the view of its democratically elected representatives in another place. Rather, it is the duty of this House to prevent the Government imposing such authoritarian, centralist and oppressive measures on our rural communities, whose members know that only they truly understand the importance of hunting and all its ancillary activities to their way of life.

It has often been explained to me that the use of the Parliament Act to bring a measure to the statute book may be justified if, inter alia, the measure concerned has been included in the Government's manifesto commitments and is a matter of major national importance. I do not agree that the words in the 2001 manifesto amount to a clear commitment to ban hunting. As Oliver Heald rightly pointed out in another place, there are several good reasons why the use of the Parliament Act would, in this case, be a clear departure from constitutional convention, especially on an issue that the vast majority of the public consider that the Government should not be concentrating on. It is an area in which, many think, the Government have no right to interfere.

It is clear to everybody that it is not democratic to decide the future of hunting in England and Wales with the votes of Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies, for reasons that I need not repeat. In the past five weeks, I have been in France, Japan and the United States. My impression from talking to people in those three countries is that we make this country look ridiculous in foreign eyes by bringing this issue to the centre of our national debate.

The future of hunting should be decided locally, in the areas where it is practised. I am certainly not advocating that it should be decided by the new regional authorities that have been introduced by stealth and are accountable to nobody. Perhaps, the hunting issue could be given to county councils to decide. Counties are the units to which most people feel affinity and give people their geographical identity. Their own identity and relevance have been progressively weakened by recent legislation, but it would be a truly democratic and devolutionist act to pass the matter to county councils to decide, perhaps by local referenda. It would do much to strengthen the framework of local government, as an added benefit.

Mr Alun Michael, interviewed on television on 16 September, the morning after the day on which the Bill was debated in another place, said that Countryside Alliance members should consider the other side and look at the evidence about cruelty and hunting. But, as has been said by many this evening, the Government said that they accepted the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, which found that none of the alternative legal methods of controlling foxes were without adverse welfare implications. The noble Lord did not find hunting to be cruel and said in your Lordships' House, both on a previous occasion and today, that there was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty. Mr Alun Michael himself said on 16 December 2002 that the Government's compromise Bill would, make good law, that is enforceable and that will stand the test of time".—[Official Report, Commons, 16/12/02; col. 571.] Against that background, for the Government to accede to the use of the Parliament Act would be a constitutional travesty. Quite apart from the question of the validity of the 1949 Act to which your Lordships' House's consent was clearly necessary, but not obtained, the Government seem intent upon a further constitutional fudge through their amendment seeking to delay the coming into force of the Bill until after the general election. It seems indefensible for the Government to agree, on the one hand, that hunting may continue for nearly another two years, and, on the other hand, to argue that this is a matter of such great importance to the nation that it would be appropriate to use the Parliament Act to force the Bill through.

If the Government unwisely decide to apply the provisions of the Parliament Act, it would seem that at last the validity of the 1949 Act may be tested in the courts. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, has explained clearly to your Lordships tonight that the 1949 Act was not properly passed. Although I have long believed that to be the case, I have also believed that the further restrictions on the powers of this House deriving from that so-called Act might well be acceptable today to noble Lords on all sides of the House, and that if the 1949 Act were to be put to the House for ratification it should perhaps be passed. However, the Government's weakness in surrendering to their own Back-Benchers over this issue, and their gross abuse of parliamentary procedure, as explained so clearly by my noble friends Lord Jopling, Lord Ferrers, and others, encourages me to think that if the 1949 Act is indeed found to be invalid, it would be necessary for your Lordships' House to retain the powers vested in it as they stood after the passage of the 1911 Act at least until Members of the House of Commons representing Scottish constituencies are restricted from voting on devolved matters.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, regarding the question of Scottish Members of Parliament voting in the other place, can the noble Lord advise us what the result would have been on a free vote if Scottish MPs had not participated? Is the noble Lord also suggesting that Peers from Scotland should not participate in any vote in this House?

Viscount Trenchard

My Lords, the noble Lord made an interesting second point. Regarding his first point, I can tell the noble Lord that if Scottish MPs had not voted on this issue, fewer MPs would have voted for the Bill than otherwise.

The late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead was greatly respected on all sides of this House and in the country at large. It has been reported that he advised the Prime Minister not to ban fox hunting: that it would be the most illiberal thing he could do. I earnestly hope that even at this eleventh hour the Prime Minister will recognise that fact and will turn back from the disastrous course on which he has allowed Parliament to embark.

It is appalling that the Government have, by a mixture of weakness, dishonesty and deceit, brought us to this pass. In those circumstances, I hope that your Lordships' House will return a Bill to another place which lives up to the Government's original intention to find a middle way to seek a conclusion based on evidence and principle. If the House is able to do that, it will surely have properly discharged its constitutional role.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I was a member of the all-party delegation that went to see the Chief Whip last time. It is simply not true for the noble Lords, Lord Whitty and Lord Hoyle, to say that we were offered more government time to consider the Bill in Committee. We also—

Lord Hoyle

I did not. I said, "You were offered more time".

Lord Palmer

My Lords, time and time can be debated at great length, but we were not offered more time to spend on the Bill in Committee. We also sent a letter which was published in the Guardian stating this in reply to a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester.

It really is a complete and utter disgrace that we have spent the last seven hours—there is probably another hour to go—debating hunting yet again, despite the many superb speeches, some of which I sincerely hope will be alerted to the attention of the Prime Minister. I believe historians will regard this with disbelief. How I wish that we had all heeded the advice of the Daily Star, which had an editorial stating, "Let's have a Bill to ban banning".

It is interesting to note that if all the 15 elected Peers and all the Conservative Peers taking part tonight had not spoken there would still be a large majority against this Bill. I agree with many noble Lords that it is quite extraordinary that the findings of the Burns report have been completely ignored. Nothing that has been said tonight, however fluently or eloquently, is likely to change any of your Lordships' minds.

Despite the new intake I suspect that if and when we come to vote at a later stage the figures will be almost identical to what they were last time. Everyone agrees, whichever side they are on—I do hope that the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, is noticing that I am wearing my Co-op tie with pride—that there are far more important issues to be debated.

The reason that we are wasting so much time, as other noble Lords have mentioned, is apparently to appease the Government Back-Benchers. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, who made a superb speech. Since when do the Back-Benchers decree the laws of this country in a public Bill?

Many people have asked me if the Prime Minister has taken leave of his senses. I do my best to defend his reputation, but when he is quoted as saying, I supported the compromise proposals that were put forward; it is now for the other House to consider the Hunting Bill", that is exactly what we did last time. The arguments for both sides have been so well rehearsed, and with great regularity, that it has almost become a farce.

I live in Scotland, not far from the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, and I have first-hand knowledge of what a hunting ban has achieved. It has certainly done nothing whatever for the fox. I do not think for one moment that the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, 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 since his Bill became law and, far worse, many have been wounded and left to die.

One must not forget that the Rural Affairs Committee of that pretendy-wee Parliament in Edinburgh strongly advised MSPs to vote against his Bill. I speak from bitter, bitter experience. His Bill has broken up family units, farms, friendships and, not least of all, marriages. I just hope that he is justifiably proud of the misery he has caused to both humans and, indeed, to foxes.

What good will the Bill do for this country, 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. I believe that this Bill will haunt and hunt the Labour Party for ever.

If countryside dwellers started to dictate to urban dwellers, the riots would be uncontrollable. 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 do country sports do to the nation? Those who participate in them do not require a vast police presence, as at football matches. I believe that the Bill is a breach of civil liberties on an unprecedented scale. I also think that it is worth stressing that passing this Bill is harmful to urban as well as rural Britain. It symbolises meanness, ignorance, intolerance, bigotry and prejudice. It is unwanted, unwelcome and, according to the police and judiciary, unenforceable.

Let us for a moment assume that the Bill does receive Royal Assent. The police will have to try to enforce it. We have all heard of the ridiculous idea of cameras on every tree and in every hedgerow. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has pointed out how the mounted police will get left behind. So imagine the cost of helicopters, multiplied by all the different packs of hounds. Imagine two hours per helicopter flying per hunt at a cost of £1,000 per time, multiplied by 350 hunts twice a week for, say, 24 weeks in the hunting season. That would amount to nearly £17 million for policing foxhounds alone.

Imagine the number of police waiting to capture horses and hounds. Imagine the extra expense of building kennels at police stations, let alone building stables and finding the appropriate staff. This scenario may appear farcical, but it will inevitably be a reality. Surely this is madness.

Lord Davies of Coity

My Lords, I understand the costs that the noble Lord is describing. However, they will apply only if those to whom he is referring are prepared to break the law.

Lord Palmer

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, says. It is a worrying factor that, particularly in the more rural parts of Britain, there will unfortunately be people who will break the law. That cannot, I am afraid, be ruled out.

I was going to say that if those sums were properly channelled into health and education, that would be a better use of money.

Other countries throughout the world are far more tolerant, and fox hunting thrives in the United States of America, in six other European Union countries and a further six Commonwealth countries.

Many noble Lords have made reference to the Parliament Act 1949, and many useful points have been made, most notably by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, and my noble and learned friend Lord Donaldson. However, if this Bill is really so important to the well-being of the nation, why then did the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Home Secretary and a further six members of the Cabinet fail to vote? It is yet another farcical and shameful situation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has also referred.

To use the Parliament Act where people's livelihoods are affected seems contrary to the best intentions of the Labour Party. I believe that the Government should drop this Bill. They know they will earn the respect of the nation for at least listening to public opinion, and yes, they do know that in reality this Bill would be completely unworkable. There is not one legitimate reason for this Bill to become law, and the Government know it. I believe that they must show the nation who governs the country. To the country as a whole, hunting is simply not an issue.

Never before has a minority been so unjustly persecuted. The Prime Minister could so easily put his hand on his heart and say Parliament has decided, and by a majority of 46, as it was last time. That is, of course, the whole truth of this sordid affair. Here is a let out for the Prime Minister, and one which I hope he seizes.

10.25 p.m.

Lord Naseby

My Lords, I have never hunted and I have not spoken previously in any of the debates, although I have voted at every available opportunity. My heart suggests that I should vote against the Second Reading, but my head as someone who has served in Parliament for over 30 years suggests that I should try to find a compromise.

Maybe the Government will listen to the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, this afternoon, and to the noble Lords, Lord Burns and Lord Carlile of Berriew. I agree with them all, although none is from my party. So this is hardly a party political matter. Maybe Labour Members of Parliament and Ministers will remember that they are the ones who championed evidence-based government. Maybe they will think about the countryside and what this Bill in its present form will mean to the countryside. Maybe they will think and reflect on the nature of our society, and the issue of tolerance. Maybe they will remember that the fox is vermin, and that foxes themselves are very cruel animals which have to be controlled. Maybe Members of Parliament will be big enough to put aside the envy element which seems to come forward so often. To my mind that is a sort of inverted racism of the worst possible kind.

I hope that that will happen, and it is my intention, along with other noble Lords around the Chamber, to try to amend the Bill to what the Government originally wanted. If we succeed, it will be for individual Members of Parliament in the other place to use their free vote to decide whether they want to invoke the Parliament Act.

I live in Bedfordshire, and I represented a part of Northamptonshire when I was in the other place. Those are two counties covering four hunts. There are six Members of Parliament in Northamptonshire and five in Bedfordshire. The honourable Members for Northamptonshire are Tony Clarke for Northampton South, Sally Keeble for Northampton North, Phil Sawford for Kettering, Paul Stinchcombe for Wellingborough, Tim Boswell for Daventry and Phil Hope for Corby. For Bedfordshire, the honourable Members are Patrick Hall for Bedford, Kelvin Hopkins for Luton North, Margaret Moran for Luton South, Jonathan Sayeed for Mid Bedfordshire and Alistair Burt for North East Bedfordshire.

Each of those Members representing their constituencies are the people to whom all those who have written to me over the past few days and previously, as constituents in either Bedfordshire or Northamptonshire, should have written to give their views. In turn, I ask Members of Parliament to read the debate that has taken place in your Lordships' House today. They should read the whole debate, from the Minister's opening speech to the wind-up, which I hope will take place not too long from now. I ask them to reflect on it.

However, it is not just about the merits of the Bill. While Members of Parliament have the power to use the Parliament Act, they are politicians and they must think about how to use this most powerful instrument, and how it might be used by others in the future. As the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, rightly said, it is a very strong weapon. I was brought up in the hard school of the London Borough of Islington, where I had the privilege of being the leader of the council. I remember learning a few tricks of the trade from the previous Labour leader, which I have never forgotten. It is a brave Labour Party that uses willy-nilly an Act like the Parliament Act for an issue that is not one of prime importance to this country. Others may be tempted in the future to use it again.

In their heart of hearts they know that it was not pure coincidence that this Bill arrived late in two Sessions of this House. They are not fools; they know jolly well why it has arrived late. It has arrived late so that the issue cannot properly be debated in your Lordships' House. It was done this way because the present Leader of the House in another place knows how to operate just within the law. He certainly used to operate outside the law, so he is quite an astute operator.

Your Lordships have been very tolerant today. I conclude by saying that, in my judgment, our society faces so many real challenges today—not least from external terrorism. This Bill, if enacted in its present form, will cause heartbreak, anger, resistance and civil disobedience because the people of the countryside feel totally betrayed. The Bill should be amended to regulate hunting. Dare I say it, if the fox had a voice, I suspect that he would not want the present Bill either.

10.32 p.m.

Lord McKenzie of Luton

My Lords, I hesitate to rise, albeit briefly, at this late hour, particularly as I should declare that I am not an expert on animal welfare or on matters of the countryside. Further, I have not previously been engaged in any substantive debate on the issue of hunting; I have never seen a hunt nor, to the best of my recollection, a dead fox or deer. Indeed, until a few moments ago, I could not have offered a definitive definition of the term "vermin". In this regard I am probably typical of the majority of people in the country.

But there is a Bill before us and, like all noble Lords, I am required to take a view. I was intrigued by the view offered by the noble Lord—he is no longer in his place—who said that the matter should be left to county councils. As a continuing member of Luton Borough Council, a unitary authority, I have a picture in my mind of it taking a different view to Bedfordshire County Council and sending the mayor along to the borough boundary to repel the oncoming hounds. I hope we do not go in that direction.

My starting point, by instinct, would be to support a ban on hunting because it seems to me to be innately cruel. But one of my reasons for speaking today was to make myself study the data and evidence and to try to reach an informed conclusion with which to test that instinct. Like other noble Lords, I have reviewed the representations I have received from organisations and individuals and read the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns.

I am not sure whether my starting position is derived from prejudice—I am not aware that it is—but, from that position, my journey through the data has not been altogether comfortable. As evidenced by many contributions of noble Lords today, the issue of whether to ban or not to ban is now caught up in matters such as the role of this House in relation to the other place, the rule of law and the protection of minorities in the face of a majority view. I should like to take the debate back to what I understand the substantive issue to be: should we support a ban on hunting as set down in the Bill?

The case for some management of the species we are considering—fox, deer, hare, mink—on some bases seems to be generally accepted, although the extent of it might be in dispute. "Management" appears to be a somewhat euphemistic expression to include the fact that it will involve their being killed.

In trying to determine where the morality rests in this, we must recognise that management of the species is, in part, for the benefit of us human beings, not least to better protect poultry and livestock for our consumption. If society accepts, as it does, the need for this management—for some killing—then how should it proceed? What boundaries, if any, are we entitled to set for this activity? The tests of necessity, effectiveness and humaneness seem entirely appropriate. Much of the debate has focused, rightly, on the test of humaneness or animal welfare.

As the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, makes clear, and as he explained with great clarity earlier, if we accept the need for killing on some basis, we can seek to judge these matters only against best practice of the alternative bases. I took his report to be clear that over a number of situations, the alternatives were to be preferred—lamping for foxes, where practical, and shooting for deer. But I acknowledge that there are some situations in which the alternative could not be said to be better. That is a gap which I find troublesome.

If I understand the report, it also made it clear that hunting with dogs is not a significant or necessary contribution to the management of these animals. Indeed, it could be argued that hunting can have a perverse effect in some situations where the species are positively encouraged to an area to facilitate better hunting.

Part of the dilemma is that hunting is seen as a recreation, a sport. If there are circumstances in which it can be argued that hunting with dogs is the most effective and humane method of management, albeit with an acknowledged degree of suffering for the prey, should we prevent it because individuals participate for enjoyment? To ban for this reason alone seems to raise enormous issues. Who is to say that they only enjoy the chase, not the kill? Can we really look into the minds of those who are prepared to shoot rather than hunt with dogs?

We might deprecate certain attitudes to acceptable methods of animal management, but it is difficult to set these matters as the touchstone on whether or not to ban. A ban as proposed brings with it a host of other considerations. While it is a challenge, the research indicates that the adverse economic, management and conservation of habitat and wildlife issues can be overcome in a reasonable manner. The positive consequences would be welcomed. But the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, concludes that the social and cultural consequences are more diverse, cannot be fully or truly replicated by drag hunting or other means, and could be significant in some areas.

So where does this leave me? If faced with the stark choice of the Bill to ban before us or the status quo, I go with the Bill. On the balance of the arguments, I go with the Bill, not least because we should acknowledge the precedence of the other House. However, my baptism on hunting has caused me to understand that the issues are more complex than my starting point. I hope, therefore, that our deliberations will lead to an outcome which addresses more of the concerns of those who would be adversely affected and seeks to ensure that in all circumstances, the management of the species in question would be carried out on the most humane basis possible.

10.38 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, at what elsewhere would be regarded as the advanced age of 77, I can look back on a life that has largely been made up of two strands. They are, in order of their importance, politics—or, rather, the machinery of politics—and fox hunting. In each of these I have played a minor but nevertheless longstanding role. I was joint Master of the Oakley Hunt, an unfashionable but very pleasant pack of hounds in the midlands for four years, and chairman of its Hunt Committee for 16. Some of your Lordships may remember that I was a Whip in this House for two weeks short of 30 years. In the past month, both these strands have been brought down crashing about my ears.

I date back to the time, not so very long ago, when a shake of the hand in the Stock Exchange made a legal document superfluous, and when one of the principal duties of the political usual channels was to ensure that matters were arranged fairly on either side.

Those who are rash enough to defend a controversial issue nowadays are accused of being "shrill", particularly if the issue is hunting. The right honourable Mr Alun Michael used the expression at least once at the recent Second Reading debate in another place. Although we have not yet heard it here, I have no doubt that it will be applied outside this House to the majority of speeches that have been made today.

I do not think one would normally refer to my noble friends Lord Jopling, Lord King of Bridgwater and Lord Ferrers as "speaking in a high-pitched and piercing voice"—the Oxford English Dictionary definition of the word—and certainly not the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. Not many years ago, I wrote a novel with a fox-hunting background and I was accused by a dissident publisher as writing shrilly. I felt rather flattered by it. I felt it did seem to presuppose a certain amount of skill.

But it is not a question of winning an argument. The argument in favour of hunting has been won overwhelmingly and convincingly over and over again. But you can search the volumes of Hansard right through without finding a single speech, certainly not from a Minister, even attempting to give reasons and convincingly enough proof as to the cruelty—I say this with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison—enough to justify this ban. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, certainly has not done it today. Indeed, I cannot remember him ever having done so in your Lordships' House. But if Her Majesty's Government are going to uproot the whole lifestyle of a minority consisting of tens of thousands of people, they do at least owe it to them to explain why.

Her Majesty's Government have promised the animal rights lobby that they will enable the will of another place to be fulfilled over hunting, but they have also given an absolute guarantee that neither shooting nor fishing will be banned in any way.

In my own speech at the Second Reading of this Bill last time round, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, if he could answer the following question: 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?"—[Official Report, 16/9/03; col. 880.] The noble Lord gave his reply in a letter dated 15 October 2003. He stated: Our own position is perfectly clear. The Government has a manifesto commitment to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on hunting. This reflects longstanding and widespread concern about unnecessary suffering associated with hunting with dogs which has been debated year after year in Parliament without a conclusion being reached … The fact is that on a free vote the House of Commons decided by a substantial majority that only a complete ban would guarantee an end to the cruelty associated with hunting with dogs". In other words, hunting is cruel because the House of Commons says it is. The letter continues: We also have an unequivocal manifesto commitment in relation to shooting and fishing. We have no intention whatsoever of placing restrictions on the sports of angling and shooting. We are strongly supportive of both activities, which do not give rise to the same widespread concerns about animal welfare as does hunting with dogs". In other words, shooting and fishing are not cruel because the Government say they are not. Yes, but we still do not know what criteria there are that allow these two propositions to coexist and Her Majesty's Government cannot give an answer to that question because they do not know the answer. And they do not know the answer to that question because there is no answer to give.

But above all, Her Majesty's Government cannot hide behind the authority of the House of Commons. First, because this Bill is nothing but a bargaining counter produced by them to buy off their Back-Benchers and, secondly, because it is they, Her Majesty's Government, who have stage managed the whole thing from beginning to end. The Second Reading in another place, the date of which is so crucial to the future use of the Parliament Act, at the first possible moment in December 2002; the famous, or rather infamous, four months between the 77 hours spent in Standing Committee and the Report stage; the five hours and nine minutes taken by the second Standing Committee to turn the Bill on its head; the arrival of the Bill in this House just too late to have a Second Reading before the conference recess; the two Weeks' delay after that recess in having the Second Reading; the refusal of a third Committee day, followed by the ominous silence until the end of the Session; and, finally, the threat of using the Parliament Act, in circumstances that could never have been intended at the time that that Act was passed.

And the most damaging thing of all is that, to achieve all this, the Government have galloped roughshod over every political convention in both Houses that they found standing in their way. Conventions are not just the quaint old survivals from an archaic age, as some people would have us believe they are; they could, at some time in the future, be last ditch defences on the way to the loss of parliamentary democracy.

With reference to the Parliament Act, I find it inconceivable that any Speaker of another place could bring himself to sign a certificate under subsection (2) of Section 2 of the Parliament Act, having regard to subsection (3) of that section, dealing with conditions under which the Lords shall be deemed to have rejected a Bill. And, in any case, I hope and believe that one legal process or another will soon restore hunting. But I very much fear that the return of mutual trust in the administration of politics will take a far longer time to achieve.

10.46 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as a consultant to the Co-operative Group. I want to look the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, straight in the eye. He felt he was making a point when he said that he was speaking at number 20 in the list; well, I am speaking at number 50. I recall that when we discussed the House of Lords Bill I spoke at 183rd out of 192 on a second all-night Sitting. We have all come to this debate in the knowledge that, as the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, said, everything has been said but not by everybody—and I do not intend to follow him down that line.

I am delighted to follow my great friend over many years, the noble Lord, Lord Denham. I thought for a moment that the House was filling up to hear me, but it was to hear him. As always, he acquitted himself very well.

I am not prepared to go over yet again the arguments that I have deployed on this matter. My attitude on the whole issue is quite simple: I believe that training dogs to hunt and kill wild animals is wrong. Basically, that is my stance. It is either right or wrong, and I believe that it is wrong. I respect the views of those people opposite, who in the main, along with some on this side, believe that it is right. That is a difference of opinion.

My contribution is along these lines: it does not do any good for relationships on this or any other issue, when I have to sit and hear thrown at me by various Members adjectives such as "scandalous", "disgraceful", "driven by bloodlust", "spiteful", "divisive", "dogmatic", "deplorable", "bigotry", "dishonesty", "deceit", "sordid" or "betrayal". If we had wanted to, we could have used similar adjectives, in contempt, but that is not my style.

I have come along tonight to stand up for the point that I have made, as I always have done; but I thought that I should also speak on behalf of the people who live in the countryside. When we hear noble Lords opposite speaking about the countryside, they seem to suggest that there is a tight enclave, in which everyone living in this place called "the countryside" has a similar point of view. Not wholly, of course—and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, shakes his head. There are people who live in the town who support hunting and people who live in the countryside who are opposed to it. But the voice of those people should be heard. One letter that I received said: My telephone line was 'cut' on the day of the hunt—as documented by BT. Hounds and two huntsmen then trespassed on my land. A few days after, a dead fox was left by the side of my pond in view of my kitchen window. I have been spat at, with a large globule of sputum landing on my chest and being rubbed off by another hunter using his crop, very scaring for me and which I logged with the police. I have been threatened—'We will get you' and been told my tyres will be let down. They have also tried to wrench the keys out of my ignition". Another letter states: I would like to convey to you how hunting affects me personally. I live in the countryside and run a successful woodworking business with my husband. When I first spoke out against hunting, a vixen was hung by barbed wire from a post on a footpath I use daily, it was done to intimidate me, it had the reverse effect. The photograph of the vixen and the reasons for this 'gruesome act' appeared on the front page of our local paper. The horrific plight of the dead fox left many people upset and distressed, the reaction from the public was one of disgust and condemnation of the person who carried out this terrible act". A further letter states: The first instance is of a local farming family who regularly receive letters from the North Shropshire Hunt informing them that they should expect to find the Hunt using their land on a forthcoming date. On every occasion my friends reply telling the Hunt that they are not welcome and should not enter their property. There is never any acknowledgement and on one occasion I have actually seen the riders congregating in the entrance to their farmyard despite having been asked not to. This has left the family feeling that they need to spend their time monitoring their land to ensure there is no encroachment. My second example is of a family who were not even aware that the North Shropshire Hunt would be operating in their area until the arrival of the hounds and riders on their property. The attitude of hunt officials when asked to leave and not to return was that they would go where they liked. There was no apology and, despite a letter from the family's solicitor seeking assurance that there would be no further trespass on their land, I believe no such assurance has been received". A further letter states: Several years ago—

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will give way. I respect all his views but he is taking one side of the argument. Perhaps he might like to describe one or two views from people who have been hunting for many years and whose children have been pulled off their ponies by people from the League Against Cruel Sports and saboteurs when the children were coming back from hunts. There are two sides to this argument.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, of course there are two sides. I am giving one of them. I am giving the view of people who live in the countryside and who have been damaged by the activities of hunts.

The Earl of Shrewsbury

My Lords, the people I mentioned also lived in the countryside and they were damaged by the actions of saboteurs.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the opportunity to make that point was open to the noble Earl and anyone else who cared to make it. The point I am making is that there is silence from those on the other side of the argument when it comes to the behaviour of the hunts. I continue. A further letter states: Several years ago, the Wynstay were out cub hunting. They unearthed a four month old fox cub using terriers, held it down while they broke its lower jaw, and then threw it to hounds some ten yards away. They disembowelled it, and the hunt staff then cut off its testicles and threw them to the hounds, then cut off its brush as a memento. Most of this was seen and heard and backed up by photographic evidence, X-rays and a veterinary report". The final letter that I wish to place on record states: The actions of those who participate are abhorrent. From my own recollection I can recall an incident with the East Devon Hunt on Woodbury Common"— I was delighted because I was a Royal Marine in 1943 and did my training at Lympstone. We used Woodbury Common so I know the area— near Exeter in the late 1970s when a vixen was marked to earth at the rear of a private garden. Almost immediately terriers were inserted and a dig-out ensued. When I, as an opponent of such action tried to intervene I was attacked with a shovel and it was only by the grace of God that the blade of the shovel, at full swing, missed my legs as it would have shattered the bone. In the event I was clubbed to the ground before the police arrived and the dig-out was halted as the landowner had given no permission for it to take place. On leaving the garden the hunt terrierman vowed to return later so two companions and I remained for several hours at the earth until the vixen emerged and trotted off into the dusk. The sheer viciousness of the attack and the arrogance of the hunt in believing they could act in this way on somebody else's property without invitation". The House must trust me. These are letters that I have received. There are names and addresses. A letter that is relevant to the point that I have just made comes from a very good friend, Barry Leathwood, who is a trade union official. He writes: Over thirty percent of full-time farm workers still live in tied cottages (houses owned by their employer) which makes it difficult for them to individually express their views publicly, particularly if their employer/landowner has a different view. Indeed I have spoken to many of our members and some who are not members about the pressure that has been put on them to attend marches and rallies organised by the Countryside Alliance. Sometimes it has come as a direct instruction to attend, more often it is an expectation expressed as, 'we've organised the coach for the rally and I'll be providing some beer for the trip, so see you on Sunday'. To resist such pressure is to risk being out of a job and home or at the very least a difficult time at work". Of course there are intimidation, threats and violence, and if any noble Lord wishes me to show them the letters, I shall be very happy to do it. They are a small selection.

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, if those accounts are true, I trust that every noble Lord would deplore them. They are obviously quite unacceptable. My understanding is that the Government proposed a licensing system precisely because hunts that behaved in that way would not be able to continue. I am not sure whether the noble Lord is proposing that we want stricter control of hunting to ensure that such events do not happen. They are not actually an argument to say that, under a licensing system that the Government proposed and that has considerable merit, hunting should not be allowed to continue.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, when the issue of a licence—the middle way—was before the House, I voted against that, because I fail to see how a licence to carry on the barbarous activities that hunts have carried on is any better than the present situation. So far as I am concerned, the people who stood steadfast to wanting to hunt then changed their mind and supported the third way because, in their view, there was very little difference.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I absolutely believe the examples given by the noble Lord. They are shameful and disgraceful, but surely we can have a truce in this House and in this debate and say that there are examples of disgraceful conduct on both sides, and that they should be given no truck. I have had a letter similar to those that he read out, and I am sending copies to the master of the foxhounds of the hunt concerned. However, we should rise above those exceptional events. They are not typical of the mass of oppositionists or hunters. With great respect to the noble Lord, for the purposes of clarification of the debate we had better concentrate on the norm rather than those awful exceptions.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I take the point, but I differ from the noble Lord in believing that what I have read out is more widespread than he believes. Of course the actions are those of individuals, but there are hints in the letters about threats and violence and so on. The organisations that I am pleased to be served by in this respect have files from all over the country.

I am very conscious of the time. So far as I am concerned, my colleagues in the other place have been maligned dreadfully in this debate. They have been called all sorts of things, such as Back-Bench thugs. They do not deserve that. They are elected Members of Parliament. They not only stood up in 1997, but stand up still. More "rural seats" are represented by Labour Members of Parliament than those of any other party. In 2001, their views were very well known.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I want to ask only one very short question that goes to the heart of what has been said by the noble Lord, for whom I have great respect. Let us put aside the issue of violence on either side for a moment. He is saying that it is a question of opinion for the other place. He said that. Is it right or is it wrong? Are we to accept the opinion of the other place, wholly unsupported by any reasoned argument?

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, of course the situation, as it plays out, will not be like that. I think it is very arrogant for Members of this House to believe that their views should prevail over the views expressed in another place. But that will not be the position because, whatever the views in this House or the other place, the real vote will take place at the next general election. My point was that, unlike everyone in this House tonight, when my colleagues face their electorate, their jobs will be on the line. No one elected any of us. They are at the whim of the electorate and they will have to stand—

Noble Lords


Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, have I made a funny point? So far as I am concerned, I have had my say. I continue to say, and always will say, that hunting with dogs is wrong. If there is any way that I can stop that—by legislation, if that is what it takes—that is what I shall do.

11.1 p.m.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

My Lords, for the first time in my career in the House of Lords, I think noble Lords will be pleased to see me on my feet because I am the last speaker in the debate before the winding-up speeches. I declare some interests. I am chairman of St Martin's Magazines, which publishes Hunting magazine and Country Illustrated, and I also hunt with the Warwickshire Hunt.

I have another tangential interest to declare in view of the interest expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, in the origins of the 1911 Act. It was my grandfather who led the revolt in the House of Lords against the implementation of the Act. He disagreed with the advice of his own party and led the revolt of the last-ditchers. So far as I know, he did not lose the Whip for doing that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was surely right to say in her excellent speech that the one-day debate in the other place was an abuse of process. I think that the general feeling in this House is that that was the case. The Bill was given no Committee stage to allow any kind of debate on a clause-by-clause basis but, in true Alice-in-Wonderland style, it was simply deemed to have had a Committee stage. In a similar style, it was also deemed to have been reported as having come from the Committee, which did not occur, with no amendments. The Second Reading was limited to five hours and the Third Reading to half an hour.

None the less, in spite of that approach of "first the verdict, then the trial", the right honourable Alun Michael, the Minister responsible for the Bill, has invariably popped up time after time to blame this House for not, as he put it, "engaging" in the Bill. That is a curious use of the verb "engage". It crops up again and again in the Minister's remarks. For example, on 15 September in the debate in the other place, he said: I consistently made the point that it was the job of the House of Lords, as a revising Chamber, to engage with the Bill that was sent to it by this place, to suggest amendments, and to send it back. It is a matter of great regret that it failed to do that".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/9/04; col. 1324.] But, as your Lordships know very well, that is a complete distortion of the truth. As my noble friend Lord King made absolutely clear, we did engage with the Bill during the two days that we were given in Committee. It is not this House that has failed to engage with the Bill but the other place. Now, yet again, we are urged by the Minister to engage with a Bill which has been put through all its stages in the other place in just a few hours without even a nod to a Committee stage.

That is why I have some difficulty with the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. Surely we are entitled to examine such a Bill, which has not yet been properly debated anywhere else. There has not been a Committee stage or any detailed discussion of any clause in the Bill.

Therefore, I want to confine my few remarks to suggesting some areas of concern in the Bill with which the other place might engage. First, under the provision relating to "exempt hunting" in paragraph 3 of Schedule 1, the hunting of rats is exempt, subject to two simple conditions. Defra has a most helpful website with a question and answer section. That website has this to say: Rats are a health hazard and a pest and dogs are an effective and relatively humane way of keeping numbers down. On the basis of the evidence available it is considered that the use of dogs to control the rat population is an appropriate method which does not cause unnecessary suffering". The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said that this was a small matter. I do not really agree with her. I believe that this is central to the whole debate on hunting. After all, if for "rats" one reads "foxes" throughout, the case for a ban on fox hunting is holed completely beneath the waterline. Dear old Ratty has a highly developed nervous system and intelligence. He would say, like Shylock, "If you prick us do we not bleed? If you poison us do we not die?" It is bad luck on Ratty. The Government have decided that being hunted by dogs does not cause him unnecessary suffering, but mysteriously it causes unnecessary suffering to Basil Brush.

Likewise, it is bad luck on Peter Rabbit and the Flopsy Bunnies. Defra is rock solid on rabbits, noble Lords will be pleased to hear. Again, I quote from the website: Rabbits are a pest in most parts of the country and hunting is a relatively humane way of controlling them". As far as I know, neither the right honourable Alun Michael, nor the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, or any of the other protagonists of a ban, have engaged with the idea of making foxes a protected species. So what is wrong with altering that quote to say: Foxes are a pest in most parts of the country and hunting is a relatively humane way of controlling them"? The noble Lord, Lord Alli, in his excellent speech, was absolutely right. The Minister must explain why it is relatively humane to hunt Peter Rabbit with dogs, but not Basil Brush. Boom, boom! It does seem odd, does it not, that the methods that they consider to be impractical or inhumane for controlling rats—from the same website, shooting, trapping, snaring and poisoning according to Defra—are all right for controlling foxes.

The mention of shooting brings me to our old friend the crack marksman—that William Tell of fox shooting law—who will unerringly dispatch a fox at 100 paces. It seems to me that that myth was comprehensively exploded during the foot and mouth epidemic when it became quite clear that the crack marksman could not hit a cow in broad daylight, let alone a fox at night. It has also sadly and tragically been finally demolished by the events last year during which three people were hit by local authority lampers using high velocity rifles at night to kill foxes. One of those unfortunate people died and two others were very seriously wounded.

That body count does not seem to have impinged at all on the consciences of those people who wish to ban hunting. Defra's website seems to discount it as what might be called collateral damage, explaining it as, a tragic accident which does not negate the value of shooting foxes". It goes on to state the blindingly obvious: the importance of having sufficient expertise to hunt in this way … for example not shooting at eyes in the dark unless you are absolutely sure of the target". The only way in which one can be absolutely sure is by walking over to the intended target and asking the eyes in the dark, "Are you a fox?—in which case hang on while I shoot you", and if it is something else, such as a cat or a dog or a badger or a rambler perhaps one just does not shoot.

I am sure that we shall do as we have been asked yet again by the right honourable Alun Michael, to engage with the Bill, but it takes two to tango. I hope that the other place will also engage with the Bill when we amend the Bill on the lines discussed this evening. The Government's proposal to delay implementation of their proposed ban on hunting should simply be seen for what it is: an expedient for their own internal purposes and nothing else. A bad Bill is a bad Bill and an 18-month delay cannot make it a good Bill.

11.9 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

My Lords, I have the difficult task of trying to sum up a debate that covered a great deal of countryside, many issues and a great deal of legislation. Our party has a free vote on this issue in Committee and indeed on Report and at Third Reading. I make that quite clear.

The time spent on this Hunting Bill frankly, squandering parliamentary time. The humane treatment of animals is very important. I think we would all agree with that. It was sometimes overloaded, particularly in the other place, when we had many more letters about animals than we did about the problems of humans.

Many people have indicated that many other issues are more important. I shall draw your Lordships' attention to one that has not been mentioned. Why are we not tonight, for example, prioritising, debating and legislating in relation to the 54 farmers and farm workers who committed suicide in the past 12 months? That is a very important issue. Eleven were my own countrymen in Wales. Isolation and problems in rural areas still bear down on inhabitants who need help and support to meet huge social and financial problems. Indeed, there are devastating effects on the social cohesion of the countryside. The state of the human condition in rural areas is a nobler cause by far than this Bill, yet I have hardly heard that mentioned in this debate tonight.

The Bill itself is a banning Bill. We have been debating at some length the principles involved—those of cruelty—and the whole idea of banning. Many cogent points have been made. The issue of the Commons' suggested amendment—the 18 months' delay for fox hunting and the three-month pause for hare coursing to cease—has been mentioned in passing. These are clearly very important issues. If my memory serves me correctly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, mentioned that in his speech in relation to the Parliament Act and others did too.

It is impossible to quote at great length from speeches. I am sure that Ministers and the Official Opposition spokesperson, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will mention some of tonight's speeches. I found—and I respect the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, greatly—the noble Lord to be dismissive from the start and his prescription was that the House of Commons and the Government will prevail and that that is the end of the story. That is the message I got from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I do not think that does him justice. I think that many speeches tonight were seeking a compromise, and that surely is the way ahead.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, talked about bigotry and prejudice in relation to Tony Banks in the other place, the activities of the League Against Cruel Sports and referred to the fact that the introduction of this Bill is an illiberal act. I would certainly agree with that.

The Government really have to think through what is required in terms of the compromise. I know that the situation in the House of Commons, having been there for some considerable time, and indeed having seen debates on and off over the past 20 years, is that feelings are very strong on both sides of this issue.

The issues I have just menti[...] were summarised excellently in the speech of my noble friend Lady Miller, who asked for no more legislative time on hunting—quite right, too. She drew attention, quite rightly, to the other issues in the countryside—the problems of housing and low pay and difficulties with caring. The banning of a minority interest really is not a high priority for those who live in the countryside. Those other issues are much more important.

Indeed, I could quote from many other speeches that were made. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, spoke of threats to his family, which I find unacceptable. Others, such as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, have given us the other side of the argument. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, say that the Countryside Alliance never agrees to lawbreaking, and rightly so, whatever the type of lawbreaking.

The noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, made an excellent contribution, remarking that the Bill was conceived in ignorance. He explained his own experiences of frontline contact with those involved. He was followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who said that the Bill was a betrayal of civil liberties principles. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, made an excellent maiden speech, on which I congratulate her wholeheartedly. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, explained how he had once been expecting a meeting of 12 people in mid-Wales but found 700. That experience has been extremely helpful in his campaigning on the issue over the past 20 years or so. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, spoke of the utility of being a Trojan horse regarding fishing, for example. The noble Lord, Lord Alli, talked about civil liberties. The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, talked about the problems of hill packs, a very important issue in Wales.

Without doubt, one of the most outstanding speeches was by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan—I do not know how he does it without a single note. He made a superb speech and boiled matters down to some very important principles. He asked why we were not legislating for corporate manslaughter—indeed, why not, when 700 people were dying? He is absolutely right in saying that the Parliament Act should come into play only on a profound issue affecting all UK citizens. He illustrated that by referring to the four times since the introduction of the 1911 Act that the issue has been addressed properly in Parliament. I agree with his point that on a constitutional issue we must seek to reach agreement. Indeed, what criteria do we have in taking such decisions? There are impassioned differences between different sides of the argument, but the only solution is to find a compromise. I am sure that that is sound common sense that ought to be listened to extremely carefully.

There were very many other speeches but I was very intrigued by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Gilmour, who told us that Engels hunted foxes. Indeed, the right-hand man of one of the great Welsh heroes, Dic Penderyn, who was martyred at Merthyr Tydfil, was a hunter. Strong socialists, communists and opponents of hunting celebrate Dic Penderyn every year in Merthyr Tydfil for his contribution to freedom—and quite rightly, too—but his main right-hand man hunted in the district.

Undoubtedly, there are many sides to the Bill, but they are extremely controversial. Such a Bill needs to receive the consent of the people. I found very interesting the comment by the Guardian, on 2 July 2003, that the Bill was profoundly unjust, oppressive and illiberal. For the Guardian to say that on an issue of civil liberties is extremely significant. Some people have said that there is no divide between town and country on the issue: I do not agree. That appears to be the case from time to time. To those who have said that the Labour Party has more seats in rural areas than any other party, I suggest that that may not be the case following the next general election.

What can I say to the Banwen Miners hunt in my former constituency? The House of Commons is taking away its right to hunt. Members of the hunt were members of the NUM, which I see is, sadly, about to be amalgamated with the T&G. That begs the question "What is the T&G's policy on hunting?", but I will not go into that.

Noble Lords

The RMT.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

Sorry. I have rightly been corrected.

My former constituency, Brecon and Radnorshire, has a higher density of sheep than New Zealand, for example. There are nine hunts operating in it, which is roughly the number of hunts in the whole of Scotland. To my knowledge, 2,000 foxes a year have been killed as a result of hunting over the past 30 years or so, and the fox population has sustained itself. There are just as many foxes every year.

One of the things that I have found curious, as a former farm manager and farmer, is that other issues relating to fox hunting have not been properly addressed. My experience is that hunting moves foxes around the countryside. There may be vain efforts by hunts to kill them, but nuisance foxes are often only chased to three or four parishes away. That is a curious situation, but it is the truth. It is a problem that is assisted by the activities of hunts.

I am coming to the end of what I want to say, but I want to raise the thuggery issue, with regard to what happened in Parliament Square on 15 September. In the morning, I went to see representatives of one or two hunts who were there. I found that there was a very small number of what I would describe as agents provocateurs—I observed them—going around trying to stir up trouble. I heard them say, "Let's storm the building". That was at about eleven o'clock in the morning. I was happy to see that they were being ignored by the vast majority of the people there. Looking at them, I did not think that they had been near a hunt in their life. I did not see that reported. Those people were there for a purpose—to besmirch the name of the people who were trying to demonstrate peacefully. That should be taken into account.

There is no doubt that police forces will have great difficulty enforcing the law, if it comes into being. I can give one example of the difficulties that police forces will face. The Dyfed-Powys police force has only 1,500 officers. During the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, they tried to put half a million carcases onto an Army site in my former constituency. There were not sufficient police officers to do that. The whole thing was flawed geologically. The water ran off into two river basins, and the whole thing was stopped in its tracks after a fortnight. The problem was that the chief police officer had to bring in policemen from five forces, including some from as far away as Walsall. The people of Trecastle saw their first black policemen, whom they served generously with tea and cakes. There are huge problems of that kind. The area that I am talking about—Powys—represents a quarter of Wales. It has 1,500 police officers and nine hunts in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency alone. There are huge problems there. I think that the Government will not be able to enforce policing and the police will be unable to do that effectively.

Finally, there is the principle of the civil liberty of farmers to protect their livestock versus the banning of hunting by many urban dwellers who have no livestock to protect who would deny the right of country dwellers to stop foxes killing lambs and poultry. There must surely be a compromise between those differing views. The criminalisation of producers of animals who seek merely to protect their own livestock is an extraordinary situation. The solution is the licensing of hunting by registration, with strict criteria applied. Clearly, undue suffering is not acceptable and we have heard the view of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, that it is extremely difficult to define. The answer is to be found in the first Bill presented by Alun Michael and the conclusion of more than a year of thorough consultation and investigation. I believe that that lead should still be followed.

11.26 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, first, perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton on her excellent maiden speech. No doubt she will be relieved to hear that we do not take eight hours over the Second Reading of every Bill.

We have before us a Bill to ban hunting. It is a Bill that Alun Michael, the Minister in another place has described as "unworkable" and "unenforceable". On 14 May 2003, before the introduction of his previous Bill licensing hunting, he wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister: A complete ban 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". He was right then. I agreed with him; and this House also agreed with him.

Three important points about the Bill and how it has proceeded are worth noting. First, a complete banning Bill was never properly debated by another place. It considered in Committee, in 27 sittings over 75 hours of debate, Alun Michael's proposed licensed hunting Bill, not the banning Bill. The Bill that arrived in this House late in our Session last October had been totally changed. It was the product of a late-night ambush, five minutes before the end of the debate on Report, orchestrated by Tony Banks and his friends.

Secondly, as my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, demonstrated, the Bill as sent to this House last year was not given adequate time. The brief two days that we had in Committee last October demonstrated to this House that the Bill, as drafted, is, as Alun Michael said, unworkable and unenforceable. The Committee stage in this House was adjourned on a Motion proposed by the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, at five to 11 at night, as it was clear that the Committee stage could not finish that evening. The Government had offered only two days in Committee, which was clearly never going to be enough. Therefore, the responsibility for the fact that the passage of the Bill was not completed was no one else's but the Government's.

Thirdly, the Bill before us today has again had little parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed the Motion tabled by the Government in another place, debated in a couple of hours, read: At the conclusion of the proceedings on Second Reading … the Bill shall be treated as having been committed to a Committee of the whole House and as having been reported from the Committee without amendment". In other words, it did not have a Committee stage or proper scrutiny in another place. Why did the Government wait over 10 months to reintroduce the Bill? What are they afraid of? Could the Minister answer that this evening?

I believe that this House must act responsibly in its role as a revising Chamber. I believe that we shall again demonstrate in Committee the flaws in the Bill. We have heard that from the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, on this side of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, opposite, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, on the Cross Benches, and my noble friends Lord Ferrers, Lord Eden and Lord Peel.

When the Minister opened the debate, he said that in Committee he would introduce an amendment giving an 18-month delay. Can he explain how we are expected to come to a view in Committee on the merits of the 18-month delay when we have finally not determined what should be in the Bill? I shall be interested to hear his explanation of that problem. Surely, should it not be delayed until Third Reading. Perhaps he can tell us why.

There are two issues that affect this Bill. The first is its compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998. In its 17th report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded: we draw to the attention of each House our view of the human rights implications of the absence from the Bill of any compensation scheme, particularly in relation to the deprivation of the benefit of vested rights under contracts already entered into". In the debate on 15 September, Jean Corston, Labour chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said: The Joint Committee on Human Rights therefore concluded that the Government had not publicly advanced such a clear policy of banning hunting that people should automatically lose the legitimate expectation that their contracts would be effective and enforceable".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/9/04; col. 1372.] According to the committee report—according to Jean Corston, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights—the Bill is not compatible with the Act. So will the Minister tell us on what basis he can claim that the Bill is compatible with the Act? Will he be able to explain why he has put that on the face of the Bill when all the evidence from another place says that it is not?

The second issue is the Parliament Act. Many noble Lords are concerned about the use of that Act, including the noble Lord, Lord Brennan, opposite, my noble friends Lord Denham, Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Inglewood, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile.

I looked carefully at the debate in another place. Barry Sheerman, a senior Labour MP, said: we said in the 1997 manifesto that we would provide an opportunity for a vote in Parliament. I do not think that there was anything about using the Parliament Act if we could not get the House of Lords to agree. This is hardly the issue on which to use the Parliament Act".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/9/04; col. 1275.] He continued, at col. 1291: this issue is nowhere near important enough to justify invoking that Act". The Parliament Act was never designed to determine an issue of conscience on a free vote. To use it is probably legally wrong and is certainly morally indefensible. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, in his extraordinarily interesting contribution, clearly believes that the 1911 Act could be used but that the 1949 Act could not. But he also believes that the issue will probably have to be settled in the courts. We shall wait to explore that in Committee.

I have always made my position clear. I support hunting. I attended all three days of the hearings at Portcullis House. I have spoken in every debate that we have had on hunting. But a few facts are worth repeating. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, said today that no sufficient viable evidence exists to enable one to reach a view about cruelty. As my noble friend Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior—a distinguished vet who served on the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns—said, the report never stated that hunting was cruel. If it had stated that hunting was cruel, I would have to consider very carefully whether I wanted to continue to hunt; but it did not.

However, it is clear that foxes would be no better off if hunting was banned. A hunting ban would logically lead to the demise of shooting and fishing. The pressure is already there. Jackie Ballard, chief executive of the RSPCA recently said: Game shooting is horrid and nasty … the RSPCA will get around to try to end this". It is opposed to shooting for sport. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that the RSPCA believes that current practices in angling involve the infliction of pain, and it opposes fishing. So I am afraid that his sport is also under threat.

Let us consider who is out there pushing for a ban. Not a single group representing the countryside has ever supported a ban. What is more, neither did Alun Michael, the Minister, until last year when he was ambushed and was forced to support it rather reluctantly. I have always advocated the middle way; an all-party proposal for the continuation of hunting, but licensed and regulated. I believe that it is not too late for a compromise to be reached. Mistakes have been made on both sides. We were originally offered licensed hunting by the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, before the previous general election. This House rejected that proposal. That was a mistake.

Noble Lords


Viscount Astor

Yes, my Lords; it was a mistake. I have clearly said that before, and I will say it again. However, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, I am prepared to consider whether I should change my views on hunting. Unfortunately, the noble Lord has never changed his views. But never mind; as we know, he and I will never agree.

If the Government were consistent about animal welfare, they would look first at the worst aspects of factory farming and the export of live animals for slaughter on the Continent.

I turn to the moral issues. There is no moral case to be made against hunting. Eleven Bishops—the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Chelmsford, Hereford, Oxford, Portsmouth, St Albans, Wakefield, Bath and Wells, Bristol, Guildford, Lincoln and Chester—have all spoken and voted in favour of hunting. The right reverend Prelates, in our previous debates, have put the moral questions, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford has provided many of the answers today. We are grateful for that. Other faiths, both those represented inside the House and those outside it, have not sought to condemn hunting.

Two other issues are important and have been raised today. The first is drag hunting as an alternative. The Masters of Draghounds and Bloodhounds Association totally refutes that drag hunting is a viable alternative to fox hunting. As the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, said, it would be under threat. If a fox suddenly jumped out of a bush and the hounds following the drag suddenly decided it was more exciting to chase the fox instead, they would be breaking the law. No drag hunt could take the risk, because the odds are that that would happen at some point.

More importantly, many farmers would not allow drag hunts over their land. Why should they? They would get nothing back, as there would be no control of foxes in return. Why should they have those people hunting over their land?

The second issue is the so-called re-homing of hounds—a rather horrid expression. As my noble friend Lord Plumb pointed out, hounds are pack animals which are used to living together as a group. They are neither house trained nor biddable. The vets have clearly stated that release into general ownership would be contrary to their welfare. Many will, sadly, have to be put down if a hunting ban is imposed.

I turn to a subject that is perhaps more controversial than even fox hunting, something new which has appeared since our previous debate. We face the prospect of civil disobedience. It arises when decent law-abiding people feel that their rights are being eroded and they are being threatened with an unjust law. Even a society that is just can produce unjust laws. Civil disobedience may be a legitimate political activity in those circumstances. To quote Edmund Burke, When the law ceases to respect the people, the people cease to respect the law". It is important to remember, however, that civil disobedience must be non-violent. Everyone has the right to break the law, but they must also be prepared to accept full responsibility for their actions—"the consequences", as the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, said. Casting my memory back a few years, is that not what a young man called Peter Hain did when he disrupted the South African cricket tours? Can this be the same man who is now the Leader of the House of Commons? Surely not.

It is no longer fanciful to suggest that in the run-up to a general election the Government will face a nation torn by an ugly and unnecessary divide between town and country. If that happens, the Government will be to blame. Does the Prime Minister—who is so prepared to go to war to save the freedoms of others—really want to restrict the freedoms of his own citizens? Does he really want to confront the electorate next May being seen as the leader of a divided nation?

In another place, in answer to the question, If the Bill came back as a measure for regulated hunting, would he support it", Alun Michael, the Minister, replied: If the House of Lords sends back amendments that make sense and help to create good legislation I will look at them".—[Official Report, Commons, 15/9/04; col. 1325.] So there is an alternative to a ban.

As the noble Lords, Lord Alli and Lord Phillips, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Miller and Lady Masham, said, the issues before us today are of tolerance and understanding of others, even if you do not agree with them. It is the balance between civil liberties and individual freedom within sensible and reasonable legislation.

The Prime Minister is on the record saying that he would like a compromise. Most noble Lords who have spoken today also want that, and I believe that this House should send one back to another place. It should be a compromise of licensed hunting, the same proposal as was put forward by the Government's own Minister. Licensed hunting is one that is backed by principle and by evidence. This House should give the Government a choice, one that has to be made before the next election. Does the Prime Minister want a compromise or will he cave in to prejudice, allow a ban and govern a bitter and divided country? He will govern a country full of wounded foxes, dead hounds, empty livery yards and unemployed blacksmiths, with the law-abiding feeling criminalised and the police losing respect. The countryside will be full of anger, and that will be the result of a ban.

11.40 p.m.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as they say, this has been an interesting debate. It has varied in tone and quality from the well informed and the passionate to the rather pompous and predictable, but it was nevertheless wide-ranging. At times, I have to say that it felt slightly out of touch with the rest of the world, and although I did not agree with the vast bulk of what was said by my noble friend Lord Brennan, I think that the element of disconnection is a problem of the debates in this House.

Of course the debate was enlivened and brightened up by the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, in her maiden speech. She made a very welcome and witty speech—if I may use that term—and we look forward to her further contributions. I am told that she was responsible for improving the quality of Conservative candidates, which is clearly a seriously uphill task. No doubt she enjoys a challenge, and I am sure that we shall give her plenty of those in this House.

I thought that I had tried to introduce the debate in a reasonable way by explaining to noble Lords where we are, how we got here, and what is now the procedural and constitutional position. I have been criticised For that but, like my noble friend Lord Graham, I was slightly shaken by some of the utterly intemperate language which has been used in the course of the debate, mainly but not entirely on the Opposition Benches. We were accused of betrayal and of being autocratic. We were accused of inverted racism, of fascism and of wearing jackboots. That is untrue, as noble Lords who would care to examine my attire will note. We were accused of behaving like the Nazis towards the Jews. That kind of vocabulary is not helpful towards reaching a sensible conclusion on these issues.

We were accused of tribal bloodlust, as well as of the old canard of the class war. I note that people get concerned about the class war only at the point where they think they might be losing it, but this is not about class or tribal matters. It does not matter to those who advocate bans or restrictions on hunting whether it is a toff or a tinker who does the hunting. The fact that, in their rather patronising way, some of our opponents bring out the fact that ordinary working-class people and even, God help us, trade unionists go hunting is not only deeply patronising, but also irrelevant. It is just as wrong to say that hunting must be right because the working class does it as it is to say that it must be wrong because the toffs do it. I hope that, as we go through the subsequent stages, we do not have any more of that rubbish.

We were also accused of serious abuses of parliamentary procedure, and I shall have to deal with those matters. Some of the accusations were a hit illogical. On the one hand, it has been pointed out how much time the House of Commons spent on this Bill compared with us, and on the other hand we have been told that the House of Commons has been bounced into a position by an ambush. We have been accused of saying that we have abandoned the field, that we have been ambushed by our Back-Benchers. The other way of looking at it is to say that we respect the overwhelming view of the democratically elected House. That is the normal way in which laws are made in this and every other democracy. It is Members of this House who are trying to buck that essential element of our democratic system.

As to the procedure and the time that we have had for it—I am sorry, but I shall have to go into this—the last time round we offered additional time to the Official Opposition and those who purported to speak for the pro-hunting organisations both on the night when, as the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, put it, we pulled stumps, and well before that when we offered the possibility of a Grand Committee for the equivalent of the time that the Commons spent in Committee. We also offered two Fridays, which is quite normal for government business and other business—particularly unwhipped business—at the end of a Session. There are plenty of precedents for that which go back many decades, most of which occurred under a Tory government. So anyone who suggests that we did not offer more time is completely distorting history.

However, we are where we are. People have different interpretations of what happened then. It is absolutely clear that the Government were prepared to go on and were prepared to give more time, and that it was this House that decided not to proceed.

One of the reasons it decided not to proceed is that opponents of the Bill made a misjudgment. They made a mistake when we discussed first the rather wishy-washy middle way—which was by no stretch of the imagination anywhere near the same as the original Alun Michael Bill—because even that rather limited restriction on hunting proposed by the Middle Way Group was originally rejected by this House. I think the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, now recognises that as a serious tactical mistake.

They also made a very serious tactical and strategic mistake the last time round when they failed to engage with this Bill. There were rather inordinately long speeches, even if they did not amount to the level of filibuster which the noble Lord, Lord King, remembers my late friend John Golding pursuing in the House. Nevertheless, compared with other activities and the per clause time that we spend on Bills, they were fairly long speeches; we all have to accept that. So the House got it wrong.

We are now in a situation where the House of Commons has taken the view several times, by an overwhelming majority, that there should be a ban. The fact that this House has got it wrong so many times during the process of the Bill means that we are running out of time for a compromise. I am not saying—and I did not say it in my opening remarks—that that is absolutely the case. It depends now on how the House behaves.

In terms of the time that we now have, we are of course in a much more consensual position. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—who I am pleased to see is in his place—say that the time that has now been allotted to this Bill was at the Opposition's suggestion. I am happy to accept that it was their suggestion. We now have a time that is agreed, so perhaps we can use that time to have a sensible, non-vituperative debate on whether there remain some options and amendments which can he made to the Bill by this House.

The position taken by the House of Commons for a complete ban is a fairly strong one; as I have said, it is one it has reiterated several times. It is also one which, to a large extent, reflects opinion in the country; there is not an enormous amount of difference between opinion in rural areas and opinion in urban areas. Therefore the House of Commons is not taking an essentially undemocratic position.

Nevertheless, it may be that the Bill can be improved, and it may be that one of the ways in which it can be improved is to delay the full implementation of the Bill in the way the Motion provides. As I was interrupted during the discussion of that issue during my opening remarks, perhaps I should say that substantively the delay would allow for some of the second order issues to be dealt with—in other words, there would be time for hunts to adjust their processes. In some cases—not all, I agree—they could find other activities, such as drag hunting, in which they might be able to employ at least a significant proportion of those employed in the industry; there could be some humane dispersal or disposal of the dogs; and the relatively few people involved within the industry could look for alternative work.

It would also have the huge democratic advantage, as my noble friend Lady Whitaker pointed out, for those who really think that this is an undemocratic move by the Government and the House of Commons which will not receive the support of the British people, that there will be a general election before the full implementation of the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, helpfully pointed out, an incoming Conservative government, should one be voted in—which of course I devoutly hope and believe will not be—due in part to the electorate's revulsion at this Bill, will then have time to rescind it and democracy will have been seen to have worked. So in no way are the Government open to the charge of acting undemocratically.

I was accused by the noble Lord, Lord Denham, and others—

Lord King of Bridgwater

My Lords, is not the fallacy of that argument the fact that everybody recognises that this issue affects the rights of the minority? Can the Minister explain how a general election result, which is determined by the majority, will help to protect the rights of the minority?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the argument is that the Government have acted unreasonably and undemocratically. That accusation affects everyone. If that argument really resonates in the country, then people will cast their votes accordingly. I do not believe that it does, however. I believe that the vast majority of people believe that what the House of Commons is proposing, or something very like it, is necessary.

I have to tackle the substance of the Bill to some extent. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, accused me of not tackling the substance; if he checks the record, he will see that I have given my views—

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I asked the Minister a specific question and would be grateful if he could answer it. Will we be considering the 18-month period in Committee? Surely that would be premature as we will not know the final form of the Bill until later in the proceedings?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Government will be putting down a number of amendments for the Committee stage—as no doubt noble Lords will—which will include this amendment, provided that the Motion on the Order Paper immediately after the debate is carried. It will be up to noble Lords what other amendments they carry, how they treat that amendment in the light of other amendments being carried, and at what point that amendment is taken. So the noble Viscount is ahead of himself on this matter. Provided that we agree tonight, we will put down that amendment for consideration in Committee or, if necessary, beyond.

I have to say a few words about the substance of the matter because I have been dealing largely with procedural issues. The issue here in the perception of the majority of the House of Commons and a large number of people in the country is one of cruelty. It is an issue of relative cruelty as to whether fox hunting is more or less cruel in relation to necessary pest control or other necessary activities and in relation to many other activities involving animals which also reflect some degree of cruelty, including the production of food. However, this issue has been on the political agenda for many years. Perhaps uniquely, the public expect it to be resolved.

As far as the pest control argument is concerned—the necessity argument in the original Bill—significantly less than 10 per cent of all foxes are culled by hunting. In some parts of the country, the figure is even lower than that. One can argue about the relative cruelty of methods such as shooting and snaring, but they are none the less the predominant methods of controlling fox hunting and even stag hunting. Therefore, dealing with another 2 or 3 per cent in that way does not present a new and unique problem for the countryside and could be sustained.

To most people, including the majority of Members of the House of Commons, the unique feature of fox hunting in particular—the same applies to deer hunting, I guess—is the final act of tearing apart the quarry. It does not always occur; not every member of the hunt will see it—in many cases the majority of them will not see it. But it is seen and often portrayed by both sides of the argument as the essential element of cruelty to which people object or which people defend.

I can recognise that people enjoy the hunt. I can recognise that they love galloping across the countryside, taking dangerous jumps and going across other people's land—all the features of a hunt, and the social aspects which go with that. They could simulate all that, even including the hounds and the tracking, without the final act of tearing apart the quarry.

However, if people define not only the activity of fox hunting and their enjoyment of it, but also somehow their way of life, by the absence or presence of that last element of fox hunting, I am afraid that I do not have much respect for that. If that is the issue between us, the majority of people in this country regard that as unnecessary cruelty. That in a sense is the essence of the disagreement between the different sides of this House.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. He has been frank in saying that the nub of the issue is the business of tearing the animal apart at the end of the hunt, but if the animal is dead before that happens, how then can he claim cruelty? The evidence of the Burns report, of 560 vets and of everyone of any expertise and professionalism is that the fox is killed "within a matter of seconds" and that the tearing apart, which I find rather awful, is irrelevant in terms of cruelty because the animal is dead.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, if the animal is dead before the dogs get it, it has been hounded to death. In some cases, it will die quickly; in other cases, it will not. Leaving aside my personal view or the view of the vast majority Members of another place, that is the essence of the objection to fox hunting. If people move away from accepting that that is the essence of it, we have a different argument.

I believe that the hunts could transform themselves into similar activities which gave equal enjoyment to the vast majority of people who currently engage in fox hunting. It will take time and it will take an adjustment in psychology, but to say that that way of controlling pests, which is a very limited part of the totality of pest control in any case, is necessary is wrong. To say that it is essential to the social life of the countryside is wrong. To say that it is essential to the economic life of the countryside is clearly wrong.

There are different ways of dealing with that even if this House and the other House agreed that we should restrict hunting. The original proposition was a Bill based on regulation. I repeat that the reaction of this House and those organisations purporting to support the hunting community was one of outrage to the Bill which Alun Michael produced.

Noble Lords have asked who is behaving reasonably. The Government have behaved reasonably; the Government produced a compromise. The majority of speakers in this House today think that a majority of the House of Commons behaved unreasonably by rejecting it, but let us remember that all sides of the argument rejected that original Bill. That is why the Government was left in a position where, if there was no support for the compromise of a regulation Bill, they had to choose one or other approach—either the status quo or go along with the majority of the House of Commons with a ban. That is indeed what happened.

A number of speakers today have said, "Oh, yes, we'll go for regulation". Some of those same speakers were hostile to regulation—others were more Delphic in their view—but the noble Lord, Lord Moran, probably spoke today for the predominant view of the opponents of the Bill in this House; namely, that even the regulation Bill is not acceptable to those who support hunting.

We may have moved on. If we have, I am grateful. I am grateful that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, has changed his mind, but we will see as we move through this process whether that is reflected in a full vote of this House.

Earl Peel

My Lords, political expediency is part of life. The fact is that we have moved on but, as noble Lords have said, there has been absolutely no give and take from the other side whatever and that is what compromise is all about.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there was not a compromise on the agenda on the previous occasion, except to await the Government's proposals, which were rejected by many of the noble Earl's colleagues. We can be in a different situation if we treat the issue sensibly, but it would be foolish, as I warned the House in my opening remarks, if somehow the subsequent stages of the Bill ignored the very strong view of the House of Commons that a total ban, or something like it, is necessary. That is a fact of life—and political expediency has to recognise that fact of life whatever starting point we have come from to this debate. That is why we have to ask what the alternative might be to finding an agreement between the two Houses, because at the moment agreement between the Houses looks a little remote.

The alternative is, of course, the use of the Parliament Act. I must reject the views of those who say that the Parliament Act is not appropriate. Nowhere in either Parliament Act is there a definition of what kind of legislation the Parliament Act shall apply to. Frankly, I find unpersuasive the arcane arguments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. Indeed, that is putting it politely—but perhaps a court of law will find differently. Sometimes a court of law ends up in cloud cuckoo land, but from a normal, commonsense point of view, the 1949 Act is clearly as much an Act of Parliament as any other Act. Basically, I would say that the noble and learned Lord's argument was nonsense—as, I believe, my late noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn pointed out in rather more elegant form, the last time we discussed this issue.

The Parliament Act could apply; whether it does apply, and whether the Speaker is even in a position to consider whether it applies, depends on the behaviour of this House. We have three days in Committee the week after next, when I expect all sorts of amendments to appear. A lot of them will, frankly, not be acceptable to the House of Commons, and noble Lords will know that from the start. Others may not be unacceptable, and the Government will have to take a view on them and reflect on them. However, if we can get away from some of the passion and name-calling of this debate, we are in a position where we could move to a sensible Committee stage in this House. We shall see how we go.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, and many others, referred to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. What the noble Viscount said was a bit of a travesty of what the committee said—it did not say that the Bill was contrary to the Human Rights Act. The chair, Jean Corston, confirmed that in her speech last month. However, the committee did draw attention to the absence of any compensation scheme in relation to deprivation of benefit of vested rights under contracts. Nothing in the Bill deprives people of their possession; it merely imposes control on the uses to which dogs and man may be put. In those circumstances, in the light of general European and British law, there is in our view no obligation to compensate. On the particular point, the Government consider that there cannot be a right to compensation for an unperformed or unenforceable contract. None the less, it is also true, as my right honourable friend the Member for Bristol East, the chair of the committee, made clear in the debate last month, that the issue of whether compensation is appropriate or not would be met by the amendment before us, in terms of the delay in the application of the main parts of the Bill. On that basis, I had no hesitation in signing the statement of compatibility to which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, referred.

On the enforceability of this Bill, or of a regulatory Bill, it is not true that the police have said that they cannot enforce such a Bill. They are quite clear that it is their job to enforce the law, and ACPO has indicated that it believes that the levels of resources needed for the police to enforce the new law would not be significantly different from those needed now to deal with anti-hunt protesters, for example.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and others, raised the issue of shooting and fishing. I can only repeat that the commitment on fox hunting was given in our manifesto and that the commitment on shooting and fishing was given in our manifesto. The Government stand by their commitment not to place restrictions on the sports of shooting and fishing. That remains the Government's position and will remain the Government's position. I hope that that is clear enough.

The noble Lord, Lord Denham, and my noble friend Lady Golding were concerned with mink farming, and my noble friend Lord Hoyle in part replied to that. However, it is important to recognise that the control of mink through hunting is not very effective, and that therefore the menace of mink—which I fully acknowledge—would be unlikely to be resolved if hunting for mink were to continue as an exception to this Bill. No doubt we can debate that in Committee if necessary but that is the objective position.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord—as I asked him this specifically—whether, if mink cannot be hunted, how he proposes that they should be controlled?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there are other methods of control but none of them is very effective; that is the problem with mink. Hunting is not very effective and snaring and shooting are very difficult. Hunting does not contribute very substantially to the control of mink, which I fully recognise is a problem in the countryside.

I believe that I have probably said enough this evening, as have other noble Lords, if I may say so. We have had an informative debate. I repeat that I hope that we can go into Committee in a constructive mode. I believe that the area for further improvement, or amendment of the Bill, is limited if we are seeking agreement with the other House. It remains, and will remain, the Government's preference that there is agreement in the House. If not, however, the possibility of using the Parliament Acts inevitably arises. It is right that I should point that out to this House once again. That will be the context in which we shall move into Committee and subsequent stages of the Bill. I beg to move.

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

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons suggested amendment be now considered.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at seven minutes past midnight.

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