HL Deb 26 October 2004 vol 665 cc1216-39

(1) Hunting by an individual is registered if he is the subject of individual registration in respect of—

  1. (a) wild mammals of the species hunted, and
  2. (b) the area in which the hunting takes place.

(2) Hunting by an individual is also registered if—

  1. (a) he participates in hunting by a group,
  2. (b) at least one of the group is registered under a group registration in respect of—
    1. (i) wild mammals of the species hunted, and
    2. (ii) the area in which the hunting takes place, and
  3. (c) his participation in the hunting is recorded under arrangements made in pursuance of section (Automatic conditions of group registration)(5).

(3) Hunting by an individual is also registered if—

  1. (a) he participates in hunting by a number of individuals,
  2. (b) one of the individuals is the subject of individual registration in respect of—
    1. (i) wild mammals of the species hunted, and
    2. (ii) the area in which the hunting takes place, and
  3. (c) the condition of registration imposed by section (Automatic conditions of individual registration)(5) (maximum number of hunters) is complied with.

(4) In this Act— group registration" means registration under Part 1A pursuant to an application under section (Application on behalf of group), and individual registration" means registration under Part 1A pursuant to an application under section (Application by individual).

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2 [Exempt hunting]:

Lord Roberts of Conwy moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 8, after "order" insert ", or in Wales the National Assembly for Wales may,"

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 3, I should like to speak to the remainder of the amendments in this variegated group relating to Wales. They are mainly probing amendments at this stage. We shall all wish to study the impact of the stupendous vote that has just taken place. The success of the amendments that have just been voted on has an implication for some of the amendments in this group.

The thrust of the matter is that there really is no demand for this Bill in Wales, for the full spectrum of reasons—the full gamut—with which we are all familiar. All the letters that I have received have been against it; they come from hunting and non-hunting people, and from all parts of Wales—from Rhondda, Cynon Taf and Pembrokeshire in the south to Towyn, Llanrwst and Wrexham in the north. The counterpart—the need for hunting to continue—is also very strongly felt in Wales.

I did not speak on Second Reading because I had expressed my views on a previous occasion—on the second day of the Committee stage of the Bill last year. I shall certainly not repeat that speech in case the Government decide to withdraw the Bill at this stage too. But I described the unique importance of hunting with dogs, usually far more than two, and a ubiquitous scattering of terriers, in keeping down the fox population in an upland mountainous country with literally millions of sheep. The pest control motivation for hunting with dogs is very strong in Wales and is largely maintained by the farming community in its own interests and that of its flocks.

The temporary suspension of hunting during the foot and mouth crisis in 2001 led to an explosion in the fox population, and lamb losses soared. I had foxes camping on the lawn that summer in my home in the Conwy valley. So I have considerable sympathy with the arguments put forward by those who wish to disapply the Bill to Wales. My favoured amendment is Amendment No. 59 to Clause 17, which would simply exclude Wales from the extent of the Bill. Nevertheless, I recognise that the total exclusion of Wales may not be an acceptable proposition to the Government and their diehard supporters in the other place. In that event, my second preference would be for the implementation of the Bill to be governed by the National Assembly for Wales. It is to achieve that end that the bulk of the remaining amendments in this group is devoted.

The National Assembly would, one hopes, be more sensitive to the requirements of different areas and interests in Wales. It did, in fact, ask the First Minister, Mr Rhodri Morgan, to approach central government with a view to ensuring that any decision to ban hunting with dogs should be taken by the Assembly rather than by this Parliament. I am bound to say that that made good sense, as the Assembly already has devolved to it some powers related to agriculture and animal welfare.

In replying to a question from Mr Glyn Davies, a Conservative Member of the Assembly, on 12 October 2003, on the steps that the First Minister might have taken to ensure that any decision to ban hunting with dogs should be taken by the Assembly, the First Minister said: I wrote to Jack Straw, who was the Home Secretary at the time, asking him to take into account the request of the previous Assembly—if I recall correctly, this was in 2001—to allow us to make that decision. He replied that he could not see any way of allowing that, because many hunts near the Wales-England border hunt across that border. He therefore thought that it would be unacceptable".

It seems to me that cross-border issues of that sort are usually soluble. They occur in the context of many England and Wales Bills in which the Assembly has powers, so I am surprised that that was advanced as a substantial reason for denying the Assembly a role in the Bill's implementation.

The First Minister went on to say: There are other areas where, as you correctly identified, there is a different pattern of hunting foxes, with gun and foot packs. That is much more common among the 56 hunts in Wales. As far as I am aware, and I will write to you if I am wrong, the Bill, as it is presently constituted, allows for the continued use of dogs to flush out foxes for the purposes of pest control. If I am wrong about that, I will write to you".

The First Minister has not yet written to Mr Davies, and when he does I hope that he will refer to the two-dog limitation, which is totally absurd, unless it actually means two dogs per huntsman.

I should have liked to see a clause in this Bill similar to Section 214 in the Education Act 2002, giving the Assembly a role in implementing the Bill in Wales. But that has never been on offer, so we have no option but to try to excise Wales from the scope of the Bill altogether or, failing that, to prescribe a role for the National Assembly as in the amendments in this group. I do not propose to go into them in further detail at this stage, but other Members of the Committee are welcome to do so. I beg to move.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth

As my name is on this amendment, I support it and speak, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, did, about how important the issue is in Wales.

The rationale behind the amendments is that many Defra functions have now been devolved to Wales—many more of them relating to agriculture than was first envisaged. The latest transfer of powers relates to veterinary decisions, particularly over disease control. The situation with regard to foot and mouth was very unsatisfactory during the outbreak, because decisions were being taken in London when the situation in Wales was totally different. That change recognises the fact that there is a very different situation in the countryside in Wales.

One problem in Wales is that there is a huge proportion of monoculture conifer softwood down the central Cambrian mountains area. There are hundreds of thousands of acres of softwood. One might refer to those trees with a wry smile, as they were planted deliberately between 1947 and 1960 for pit props. In retrospect, we know that pit props were themselves to become virtually redundant. Therefore, there is a lot of woodland of very low value, which cannot compete with the woodland from the Baltic states, which have a higher quality of wood on the international market.

That woodland provides a reservoir for foxes; there are hundreds of thousands of foxes in that unnatural monoculture. There are also, to compound the problem, massive numbers of sheep. There are more sheep in Wales than there are in the whole of Scotland, which is quite something when one thinks about it. The stocking densities are higher in Wales than they are in New Zealand—and sheep farming in those two countries can be compared because of the similarity in numbers of sheep. The fox is unfortunately the main predator on lambs, and there are very substantial losses of lambs from the predation of foxes. Much evidence on that matter was given in the Burns inquiry and in the Portcullis House hearings. Local evidence will prove crucial with regard to licensing and registration.

There are 49 hound packs in Wales and another seven or eight that cross the border and hunt in both countries. Indeed, the number of amendments in the group is large to cover the differences between Wales and England in terms of foxes, and they give powers to the National Assembly. For example, Amendment No. 3 would allow the National Assembly to vary a class of hunting. Amendment No. 12 would amend Amendment No. 11, which refers to registration. It ensures that the Bill is specific to England, because Wales needs special attention in this respect. The same applies to Amendment No. 14.

Amendment No. 15 ensures that the National Assembly for Wales can appoint a registrar for Wales. That means that someone who is knowledgeable and truly independent and who knows the situation of foxes and hunts in Wales can assist from a completely objective point of view.

Amendment No. 54 concerns the time when the Act comes into force. The point behind that amendment is that we want a separate decision from the National Assembly for Wales, which may need to be different. That power is found in Amendment No. 55. Amendment No. 59 would take Wales out of the Bill, and action would be decided by the National Assembly for Wales. Under Amendment No. 86, appeals would be provided for in Wales and the tribunal would sit in Wales, so disputes could be heard and settlements made locally.

So there are specific amendments to recognise the differences in Wales concerning the Bill. From what I said earlier, it is clear that, especially concerning registration, it is necessary that all those differences are taken into account. There is a democratic body to do so, and those decisions should be devolved to it.

Lord Crickhowell

It is a pleasure to follow my former Member of Parliament in Powys, who speaks with particular knowledge of the conditions that exist in that county and in mid-Wales as a whole. He spoke about the cultivation of monoculture softwoods in Wales combined with intensive sheep farming. 1 live in a valley where that is especially true: the valley is heavily forested—not entirely, I am glad to say, with conifers for pit props, because it is now being felled and replanted. Luckily, there are markets for that softwood in the paper mills and chipboard mills in Wales. The noble Lord is absolutely right about the conditions that exist there. There is a huge number of sheep on the hills, where the foxes are free to breed and roam in the forestry. Those sheep are therefore particularly vulnerable. So the noble Lord is right to suggest that there is strong feeling among the farming community in that area and other parts of Wales about the Bill.

I add that I have received representations from my former constituents in Pembrokeshire, many of whose jobs are threatened by the Bill. In fact, it was in Pembrokeshire that I learned painfully the lesson that it is hard to shoot a fox. In my early days as a Member of Parliament there, we used to have a snipe and woodcock shoot in the weeks after Christmas. Around St David's, where the hunt does not go, we used to try to shoot foxes. I fear that we wounded foxes more often than we killed them. To kill a fox with a shotgun, at any rate, is extremely difficult.

Like my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy, I support Amendment No. 59, to exclude Wales, but we are engaged in the business of compromise. Therefore, like my noble friend, I feel that we must drop that proposal and go along the line of registration. I have mixed feelings about the idea that the Assembly should deal with the matter. Of course, the Assembly could bring local knowledge, but there are problems on the borders. I live close to the border, where neither the hunts nor the foxes will observe the national frontiers. We do not want considerable differences between decisions taken by the authorities in each country. However, I suppose that my greater fear is that if we go down that road, we may again prejudice the compromise that we are all attempting to achieve. I will refrain from a final judgment on that issue until we develop the argument and see whether any form of compromise appears possible.

6.15 p.m.

As this is the first occasion on which I have spoken during proceedings on the Bill—I did not speak at Second Reading—I want to make one other point. We are continually told, especially by some newspapers and certainly by a considerable number of Members in another place, that hunting is an occupation of the toffs. We are told that people dress up in red coats, and so on. Well, you will not find many red coats among the packs in Wales, and certainly few toffs.

I illustrate that point with one rather sad example. The son of some very close friends of ours, some near neighbours, was tragically killed at the age of about 19 in a car crash. There was a memorial service in the Roman Catholic church at Abergavenny. It is a very large church. That young man was widely known throughout the county, largely because he had hunted since he was a small boy. I do not think that I have ever seen a gathering that so widely represented the community. The church was packed; it was overflowing. There were not many toffs there. There were miners from the eastern valleys of Monmouthshire; there were farmers; and there were all sorts of people from in and around Abergavenny. It brought home to me, if it had not already been brought home to me through numerous other examples, that hunting is something that brings the community together in a remarkable way.

I make one other remark about the campaigns that have been fought on the issue in recent weeks and months. Again, we are told that those who were most vigorous in the demonstrations, those who occasionally go a little too far, are all old Etonians or those of a similar kind. I must tell the Committee that that is not true. I fear that a considerable number of them are Welsh former miners, trained by Arthur Scargill in the act of demonstrating vigorously. In Parliament Square, I have seen some of my fellow Welshmen waving the red dragon above their heads as they attacked the gates of Parliament itself.

I make that point only to reinforce the argument that we are not dealing here with some snobbish pursuit of an elite. In Wales, certainly, we are dealing with an occupation, a sport, a social and agricultural necessity, that embraces a huge range of people. It certainly embraces all those who live in the countryside, or a very large number of them, but, as anyone who knows anything about hunts in south Wales will know, it embraces a large number of miners, steelworkers and others of that character as well. They feel almost more strongly about the matter than anyone else.

So I conclude my remarks on the amendments by saying that we should not think that this is a matter of dealing with social issues and trying to put down the so-called toffs. We are dealing with something far more important. In Wales, we are dealing with the whole of the community.

Lord Carlile of Berriew

It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell. I respectfully disagree with him in one respect. I have total confidence that if compromises are being looked for, Wales can find a compromise to beat them all. The reputation of Welsh fudge at every possible level one could imagine is rightly maintained. Indeed, I suspect that in Wales—I think that I hear the late Lord Geraint in my ear at a moment like this, although he might not put it like this, because he cut his teeth in negotiation and compromise as one of the creators of the Farmers' Union of Wales—we can manage impenetrable subtlety and enduring intellectual integrity with an ease that would baffle the English.

I wish to make three points. The first is that the character of hunting in Wales is singular, as the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said. I have received a very large number of letters on the Bill from people in Powys—mostly, as it happens, from former constituents of my noble friend Lord Livsey rather than my own former constituents. They all point out the singular character of hunting in Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, said, it is the activity not of "toffs" but of farmers and their friends. Hunting has a very singular rationale in Wales. Under a registration scheme it would combine an economic purpose, which is very important—namely, that of avoiding the deaths of large numbers of valuable young lambs that suffer a very cruel death at the hands particularly of a certain minority of dog foxes—with the welfare principle which I and the other members of the gang of four wish to insert in the Bill. I am making up for lost time tonight as I am also a member of the gang of three, as one of the signatories to this amendment. Therefore, my first point is about the character of hunting in Wales: it is very much a singular type of hunting.

My second point is about the views of the public in Wales. I know of no public opinion survey that contradicts in the slightest what I am about to say. The predominant number of the population of rural Wales is still engaged in, or is in some way connected with, farming. I am not sure what the relevant figure is now in Powys but in Montgomeryshire, at one time known as north Powys, there used to be 4,000 farmers in my living memory. So there are many thousands of farmers and the whole population, bar a few, is dependent upon that major industry of agriculture. The view of the population of the rural areas of Wales, not only in Powys, is virtually unanimous—as unanimous as one could ever find in political life—in opposing this Bill. Furthermore, the opposition is based not just on the merits of the case but is felt with a passion that exists in my experience only in politics in Wales. It is an opposition founded upon a sense of rank injustice that the Government—it is seen as the Government and not the House of Commons—seek to impose a ban on something which has utility and which is in the interests of animal welfare taken in the round, particularly if it is subject to registration. No one is really opposed to registration.

However, the more important point perhaps is the following. There are, of course, urban areas in Wales. There are highly industrialised urban areas in the south and some urban areas in the north, particularly in the north-east. Wales has large strips of coast which are to a great extent inhabited by a very mixed population, many of them people who have come from England to enjoy their retirement on the Welsh coast. I can confidently say that in so far as there is opposition in English urban areas to hunting, such opposition is very much less in Wales. On the whole the urban Welsh support hunting, particularly hunting subject to registration. The balance of the urban population of Wales regards what the Government are seeking to do as unjust. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, can blame the House of Commons as much as he wants, but the population in Wales will not accept that it is the House of Commons that has in some way ignored the compromise sought possibly by himself and certainly by the Prime Minister: it will be seen as the Government imposing this upon them.

The third point I want to make is about devolution. Devolution in Wales is still a very imperfect creature, as was recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, in the commission report that he chaired, and as I think is recognised by almost all Members of the National Assembly for Wales. One of the reasons why devolution in Wales is an imperfect creature is because although in agriculture, for example, functions are very much devolved to Wales, not all of them are devolved. The classic example that I always think of concerns hugs on canals. The canals themselves are subject to control by a Westminster government department, but control of the bugs is devolved. That kind of confusion is not terribly helpful to good government in Wales and it makes it all the more difficult for people in Wales to get their heads round the fact that most Welsh government is run by the Assembly in Cardiff.

However, devolution is maturing quite well. On the whole support for the devolved functions of the National Assembly is increasing slowly but I think surely. What is absolutely certain is that devolution is here to stay. We have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Crickhowell. I believe they both recognise that devolution is part of Wales' future and will continue to be so. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, cited the Assembly member, Glyn Davies, who happens to be the nearest thing I have to a next-door-neighbour. Glyn Davies, who is a very articulate member of the Welsh Assembly, recognises that devolution is part of the permanent political settlement for Wales. If devolution is to mean anything very convincing to the people of Wales—I am trying to avoid making the comparison with Scotland because that is over simplistic—surely the National Assembly for Wales should be able to determine matters of this kind. If it ends up taking a different view from that of England, so what? As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, I am sure that we can resolve the border issues. I think that I can cite Scotland in this regard as it had to resolve border issues and although that has caused difficulties it has led to neither revolution nor mayhem. My third point is that the maturing process of devolution justifies the amendment to which I have put my name and the devolution of decision-making on hunting to Wales.

We are not talking about something dramatically different in Wales; we are talking about the registration body in Wales looking at the rather different Welsh conditions. We are talking about the registration body considering the very high number of foxes with regard to the ecology referred to by my noble friend Lord Livsey. We are looking for what seems to me to be a reasonable settlement of the issue.

Lord Moran

This amendment has been put forward by three very distinguished representatives of Wales whom we are lucky to have in our House. I am only sorry that the late Lady White, who used to speak up so passionately for Wales when I first came to the House, is no longer alive because I can imagine what she would have said tonight.

In his admirable speech on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, spoke of the importance of hunting in his former constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire. Like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I have always failed to understand how, having decided to devolve some important responsibilities to Wales, some matters of deep concern to Wales' rural population have not been devolved. This was brought home to me tremendously during the foot and mouth crisis when the whole of the government policy was run, not at all efficiently, from London although it affected people deeply in Wales, and all the decisions were taken by people far away who knew nothing of the local problems. Now we have hunting which is quite different in Wales from what it is in most parts of England. Here again policy is decided in London.

As has been said, there is very strong support for hunting in Wales. The other day my wife and I had to go to our local graziers' meeting, which is something I always enjoy as the meeting is very outspoken. Nearly all the members who attend are working hill farmers. When the meeting broke up I was pushed into a corner and told in no uncertain terms what the members thought about the possibility of a hunting ban. I will not repeat all the things that they said about the House of Commons and the Prime Minister, but they felt very deeply about it.

Where I live in Radnorshire is wild and rocky country that suits foxes to a T. Hunting is really the only way to control them in the countryside, and they need to be controlled. It would have been far more sensible had Wales been allowed to make up its own mind on such issues, particularly on hunting. Conditions are very different, and it would be much more sensible for policy to be made by those who live in Wales and understand them. Reality being that they are not allowed to decide on the matter, I agree with what was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts—that the National Assembly be allowed to control implementation of the Bill. I am therefore very glad to support the amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm

It would be appropriate if a Scot gave some support to the Welsh in the debate. They certainly deserve it; they have put their case very strongly. As one who has been around Westminster far too long, I think that the Government's manipulation of the procedure in the House of Commons and here is a disgrace. Under the guise of having a free vote, they think that they can get away with anything, whether it is a guillotine or no time for discussion at Second Reading, in Committee, on Report or at Third Reading in another place, where it was all rushed through in a day merely to suit the Government's wish. It is no use the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, saying that the vote is free, that the matter is up to the Commons and all that. The Government organise everything; they have led the way into the trap and muddle in which we find ourselves.

I support my Welsh colleagues on the amendment. My old constituency of Dumfries is very similar to parts of Wales, in having deep and steep river valleys in which the only way to hunt foxes was on foot. In my lifetime, we have had three foot packs, one of which was very good until devolution. Welsh Members of the Committee rightly want to give the devolved Assembly the power to make the decision. I hope that they get a better decision out of it than we got from the Scottish Parliament, which all too quickly banned fox hunting and has been singularly unhelpful to the countryside generally. It is essential to have hill packs in Scotland, as it is in Wales. The valleys are too steep for horses, and one has to go on foot to find the earth on the hillsides. They have to be carefully managed in terms of hill lambing each spring. It is vital that we do not have a superfluous number of foxes, which do so much damage to the hill lambs in April and May.

We want to give all possible power to the Welsh Assembly on the matter, because I suspect that it has much greater knowledge of fox hunting on foot than the Scottish Parliament does. We have already lost the eight Scottish foxhound packs, although they are being revived as gun packs. There has been a loss to the countryside. Farming has been hit hard by the removal of the fallen stock option in relation to the hunt kennels. The Government have certainly not taken that sufficiently into consideration.

We Scots have seen how important it is to have packs of hounds, and how sad it is that we have lost them through devolution and a Parliament that does not understand the countryside. I hope that the Welsh Members of the Committee are more successful than the Scots.

Lord Elis-Thomas

I will not follow the noble Lord in casting any aspersions at the Scottish Parliament, as it looked after me rather well at the opening ceremony very recently. However, it is a pleasure to concur with the remarks in relation to foot packs and the nature of the countryside. I had not intended to speak at great length on the amendment, but I want to support it. In doing so, I obviously declare an interest as Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales, at least for the next three years.

I want to try to impress on the Government that the issue is one on which they can pursue the much-heralded compromise that we heard about earlier. I detect nothing constitutionally out of order about Amendment No. 3 or the consequential amendments. However, I was bemused to see that the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy—we have shared a valley for many years—had suddenly become a separatist. I assume that he is only a constitutional separatist for the purposes of the Bill; I shall stop there. The rest of the amendments are consequential on the proposal to give the Assembly order-making powers in lieu of those of the Secretary of State within the Bill.

One of my duties in the National Assembly is to sign the orders proposed by government Ministers and made by the Assembly because, under the relevant Act, they are signed by the Presiding Officer. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has regular dealings with agricultural and countryside ministerial colleagues in Wales; Alun Michael himself was once a Minister of ours, but I should not stray down that avenue either. My point is that the issue is a good example of where an order-making power—it could vary the way in which registration would function in Wales—could work effectively. It could take account of all the views conveyed by other Members of the Committee. I live in the middle of Snowdonia, and have those views conveyed to me forcefully every weekend. We feel it important that we should not only represent those viewpoints, but look for a tidy constitutional way to deal with them. The amendments on a registration system in Wales set up by resolution of the National Assembly on a piece of subordinate legislation seem the clear and obvious way of doing that.

The matter is not for the House of Commons, but one on which we would expect a view from the Minister. It is very much on the same wavelength as all the other devolution that has taken place on animal welfare and agriculture, as has been pointed out. The Government could make a gesture this evening, and at least indicate that the subject might be returned to during the Bill's passage through this House—even that something might be considered appropriate to be introduced in whatever form when the Bill returns to the House of Commons. That would reflect precisely the form of devolution that we have, in terms of its principle and practicalities. It is not the form that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, hopes to bring to us, but it is the form that we have, whereby primary legislation designed for England and Wales is then adapted by order, with the National Assembly standing in place of the Secretary of State.

I commend Members of the Committee on producing the amendment, and earnestly hope that the Government can see that it is a fine example of the compromise that they seek.

Lord Willoughby de Broke

In rising briefly, perhaps I can declare my interest as a non-Welshman in this debate among the Welsh. I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Roberts for two reasons. First, I have spent time hunting in Wales, both on foot and mounted. I have also spent summer holidays in Wales riding there. I know very well all the reasons for this amendment and why it should be a separate matter. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said. He has put the case for why the Welsh case is separate extremely well and I shall not go over it again.

Among those reasons are the number of sheep in Wales and the amount of money involved. We are always being told by those who seek reassurance from the inquiry of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, that only 2 per cent or 3 per cent of lambs are killed by foxes. However, if 2 per cent of the approximately 3 million ewes and 4 million lambs in Wales were killed by foxes, it would amount, at £50 per lamb, to a cost of about £5 million to the Welsh rural economy. I think that that should be taken into account. It is not a point that can be put on one side and forgotten. It is a lot of money to Welsh sheep farmers. I agree with everything that noble Lords have said on that.

The fact that this amendment had to be tabled shows how utterly inadequate the Bill was when it came from the other place. It was railroaded through the other place. It did not have a Committee stage; it was deemed to have had a Committee stage, rather like Alice in Wonderland. So none of these points were examined there. Surely that is what we are here for. That goes to the heart of the weakness that we have to accept the Bill whole or reject it whole if we are not to be threatened with the Parliament Act. It seems utterly absurd that the whole problem for Welsh farming and the depredations of foxes on lambs and on farming should simply be dismissed with no discussion at all. It is so astonishing.

I hope that this amendment at least will find favour with the Committee, the Government and the other place. Surely it is a matter of natural justice. I strongly support the amendments in this group and what has been said about them. If there is a vote, I shall certainly join noble Lords in the Lobby.

Lord Kimball

For 16 years I was chairman of the British Field Sports Society, which preceded the Countryside Alliance, and for many years I used to have to go down to Wales. It was an eye opener to me, having been brought up in Leicestershire, to see what hunting was like in Wales. We went right down into the valleys on the edge of the Banwen miners' country.

On another occasion, I was asked to go to Abergavenny. The Monmouthshire hounds went out on a Saturday. Everyone went out mounted, hoping to enjoy themselves, catch a few foxes and have a lot of fun. The next day, they went out as a gun pack. That was an eye opener to me. The cover was surrounded by people with their guns. The same hounds were put in and they flushed the foxes out. And, as always happens on these occasions, there was a fox that was not totally dead. The hounds pursued it and marked it to ground.

I know that the new rules are different, but, 20 years ago, the rules were perfectly clear. If you marked a fox to ground, you put the terriers in and bolted it, but you had to keep the hounds a long way off and give it a bit of a start. On this occasion, however, the huntsman formed up and said, "You realise, don't you, that lambing starts in a week's time and we have to kill these foxes?". That was the whole attitude of Wales: you have to keep the foxes down.

I believe that we should support the amendment, which allows the Welsh to make their own arrangements for dealing with the particular problem of foxes.

Viscount Bledisloe

I should like to make one lawyer's point. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred to the fact that it was suggested that the objection to his proposal was the difficulty of packs that hunt across the border. I would suggest to him that, at least in relation to registration, that really is not an objection at all. This Bill applies to England and Wales and a registered group will be excused under the amendment that has just been passed. Such groups will be registered whether they are registered in England or Wales. So they will not suddenly start committing an offence as they cross the border. All that will be needed is a reasonable arrangement between the two registrars that each of them deals with the hunt that is predominantly in England or in Wales. There is only one registration, but it seems to me that that registration will be totally valid for them when they cross the border.

So I hope that the noble Lord will not be daunted in his cause, at least in relation to a Welsh registrar and a Welsh registration system, by the point about cross-border hunting—which seems to be no objection to a separate registration system.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford

I hope that enough has been said by now by noble Lords who have preceded me to persuade the Minister to consider Wales as a special case and, moreover, that this is precisely the sort of area where the devolved powers of the Welsh Assembly should be called into use. I have not contributed to any hunting debate before now. I have never hunted and have no interest in hunting. However, I have to say that it is something that is deeply embedded in the countryside around my home in north-east Wales.

I have risen to my feet because the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, referred to north-east Wales. The area where I was brought up was mining, steelmaking and entirely urban, but I never detected any hostility to those in the countryside around who chose to go hunting.

One of the things that I would like to say to the Committee is how deeply embedded in history is the Watkin Williams-Wynn hunt that surrounds the town of Wrexham, where I live. I recall—it is nothing to do with studies into hunting— that, in about 1735, the Sir Watkin of that day imprisoned a Methodist minister who dared to preach outside the gates of his establishment in Ruabon. The following week, there was a reaction by a Methodist minister coming to the area in order to preach against him. He prayed to God that God would strike down that devil Sir Watkin. On that very day, Sir Watkin was killed. His neck was broken in a hunting accident in Acton.

So the Watkin Williams-Wynn hunt has been going a very long time. It is from them that I receive the correspondence, as most of your Lordships have, in connection with this matter.

I also recall that, towards the end of the 18th century, a local author, William Apperley—who wrote under the name of Nimrod many hunting yarns—told the story of the vicar of Gresford, where I live, who was so enthused by hunting that he allowed his parish clerk to give the sermon while he gathered with the local gentry at the back of the church in order to discuss how hunting had gone in the previous week. It is part of the community. The letters that I receive are from people whose livelihood depends on hunting and the existence of the hunts that surround the various urban areas in northeast Wales.

I believe that this is an issue that the National Assembly should be charged with looking at and regulating as it sees fit. If we are different from England, so be it. Scotland is different, anyway. Whether that is good or bad, I do not know; but I certainly think that the fabric of the Welsh countryside should he in the hands of the National Assembly for Wales.

Earl Peel

I should like to say just a few words in support of the amendment, not out of any particular sympathy—or, indeed, deep affection—for the Welsh, though I have many friends who live there. However, I wish to address this matter purely from a practical point of view. My question for the Minister is: if the Welsh are not to employ fox hunting as a means of controlling foxes, what are they going to do? The same applies to the Lake District, regarding which there is an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. Such areas have relied on fox hunting, not only as a means of social cohesion, but as a practical way of controlling foxes.

I have an interesting quote from the National Farmers Union of Wales, dated January 2002, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, probably more than anyone in your Lordships' House, will know the difficulties that Welsh farmers and, indeed, all upland farmers, face. The quote states: The ban on fox hunting over the last year (due to the foot and mouth epidemic) has led to an explosion in the fox population to unprecedented levels. In some cases, farmers who lost six or seven lambs to foxes normally, have seen the numbers they lose jump to between 35 and 40". I do not think that many small farmers, whether they are in Wales, Dartmoor or the Lake District, can afford to sustain those levels of losses. If they are not going to employ fox hounds and the fell packs to control the foxes, how will they do so? We all know that lamping is a perfectly acceptable way of controlling foxes in certain areas. But there have to be tracks on which vehicles can cross. Much of the countryside that we are discussing in Wales is impregnable for vehicles. Such a means of control would not be feasible. When the Minister replies to my noble friend's amendment, will he explain to the Committee how foxes can be controlled in Wales if a ban on fox hunting came into force?

Lord Palmer

The contribution from the noble Earl, Lord Peel, has summarised how incredibly complex the system of fox hunting is. Like the noble Lord, Lord Monro, I live in Scotland. I wish to echo his words, because we have both suffered from the awful effects of that "pretendy wee parliament" in Edinburgh. It does not begin to understand the countryside and the saddest thing of all is that it does not care about it. The reason that I support these amendments is that I hope that the Welsh will not fall into the same dreadful trap that us poor Scots have had to fall into.

Baroness Byford

I thank my noble friend for bringing this group of amendments to the Committee. I do not often go to Wales, but for the past three years I have been able to holiday in the Brecon area—and would have this year, if the holiday had not been cancelled at the last moment. Like my noble friend Lord Kimball, I am used to the fairly low-lying area of Leicestershire. If I was being critical, I should say that I live on the slightly hillier side of Leicestershire. But in no way does that compare with the terrain that has been referred to by so many noble Lords today. It is that terrain that makes this group of amendments so important.

When the Minister responds I hope that he will provide facts and figures as to how he envisages the ban operating if it is imposed by another place. Noble Lords have referred to the loss of sheep. In my misspent youth I was a poultry farmer and if we did not get our chickens and hens in before dark we were likely to lose many of them. That situation applies to a controlled area. Where there are areas of hill, forest or rock, it is impossible to gain access to control foxes. The gun packs there have done a tremendous job of trying to protect many of those sheep farmers in Wales.

On one of my holidays the cottage that we stayed in was supposed to be the highest cottage in the Brecon Beacons—at some 1,200 feet. I was lucky on that occasion, because we had a clear week there and one felt that one was so near to the stars that one could touch them. There was nothing else around us except stars and a profusion of sheep. I have also been to Wales on official visits, and for the farmers that I have spoken to over the years, concern to protect their flocks was key to the success of their long term profitability. So this is an immensely important issue.

Some noble Lords have referred to the question of what would happen to fallen stock if the Government pushed ahead with a ban. I hope that when the Minister replies he will refer to that, because it is important for Wales, where there may be fewer options for farmers than in England. As my noble friend Lord Peel rightly asked, if a ban is to be imposed, how will those foxes in such difficult areas be controlled? My noble friend and all noble Lords who have spoken should not apologise for having raised this issue, because it is important to Wales. I will always fight the corner for UK farmers and English farmers in particular, but in this case Welsh farmers are that much more threatened than their English counterparts.

Lord Whitty

There has been widespread support for at least the principle of the amendments in the group, including support from some fairly unlikely devolutionists. I must take account of that. However, some of the remarks ignored the obvious effect of the vote we have just taken. We are now talking about a Bill that includes a system of registration. A system of registration would allow the tribunal to look at some of the particular characteristics of Wales, whoever it was run by.

The problem with the amendment as it stands is that under the Government of Wales Act hunting is a reserved matter. There are no powers for the Assembly in that Act. To reopen that issue would threaten to reopen the matter of the whole devolution settlement. I appreciate that some of your Lordships might be in favour of that, but it is a much bigger issue than the matter that we are dealing with today. It is true that members of the Assembly, Ministers and others in Wales provided evidence to Alun Michael in the period before the original Bill was brought before the House of Commons. Their views were taken into account and there was no separate proposition for Wales in the original Bill: nor was it considered necessary in Committee in the House of Commons. Of course, some administrative arrangements could be made under the unified system, with a tribunal meeting in Wales, which would make it convenient for those who had issues relating to specific terrain or problems of pest control and so on within Wales. Within a registered system it would not be necessary to devolve powers to take account at least of some of Wales' special characteristics.

Having said that, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, indicated that this was a probing amendment at this stage and I hope that he will not take it any further this evening.

Earl Peel

Perhaps the Minister could explain to the Committee how, if a ban was implemented, he would expect the Welsh Assembly to control foxes, given the circumstances that noble Lords have explained.

Lord Whitty

I suspect that, in the light of the decision made by the Committee, that matter is strictly out of order.

7 p.m.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

That remains an interesting question which is at the heart of the debate. I thank the Minister for his brief reply, but I also thank all noble Lords who have participated in this enlightening debate. We have covered a substantial group of amendments with varied notions behind them. But there were certain points on which all speakers agreed. The first was that made by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, regarding the singular nature of hunting in the countryside in Wales. It is something with which we have all been brought up and which we all enjoy. It is certainly not, as my noble friend Lord Crickhowell said, a pastime for the snobbish and so on. Many people in Wales who wear red ties also wear red coats, especially when one goes in the direction of the Banwen hunt.

So we are certainly all agreed on that point. We are all agreed also about the importance of hunting to agriculture. I am grateful to my noble friends who mentioned the very real lamb losses that have been and are incurred in Wales because of foxes. My noble friend Lord Peel was absolutely right to say that during the foot and mouth epidemic, lamb losses leapt from a fairly low average to something of the order of 35 to 40.

Although there are many ways, as we all know, of reducing the fox population, in the terrain of Wales—in the uplands and the mountainous regions—there is really nothing for it but to hunt the fox population with dogs. That has been borne out to me on a variety of occasions. A farmer at Betws-y-Coed, at the far end of our valley, was plagued by a fox that killed more than 30 of his lambs, which was a loss that he, as a small farmer, could not endure. He tried everything—lamping, shooting and so on—but nothing could dislodge that fox apart from, in the end, the call on the Aber Hunt, and, of course, the dogs were effective.

The whole subject of devolution has also been raised. In my opening speech, I referred to a reply that was given by Mr Rhodri Morgan in the National Assembly for Wales. Anyone who listened to that reply would know that Mr Morgan was clearly not particularly interested in this Hunting Bill, because he did not know that it prohibited hunting with more than two dogs. His reply made me wonder why he was not so interested in hunting. Perhaps it is a measure of the unpopularity of the Bill that no profound cry has been heard from the National Assembly for the right to implement it. Certainly, it is very unpopular in Wales and none of those who spoke in this debate indicated anything other than total opposition to the ban.

I thank again those who have participated and I end where I began; that is, by recognising the fact that the overwhelming vote in favour of registration earlier today will certainly have an impact on the view that we take of the various amendments in this group. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?

Earl Peel

As Schedule 1 is attached to Clause 2, it would be right and proper to draw to your Lordships' attention the anomalies that exist in Schedule 1. I do not know to what extent your Lordships have had the opportunity to examine it in close detail but, quite frankly, as it stands, it deems this legislation to be virtually unworkable.

There are clearly two issues here: the issue of hunting and whether we should be allowed to continue; and the practical implication of the legislation. It is the latter which I would like to draw to your Lordships' attention.

The Government made a firm commitment, which the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, confirmed at Second Reading, that it was not their intention to impinge in any way on shooting or fishing. However, I would suggest that Schedule 1 impinges quite considerably on shooting. I acknowledge that I have tabled a number of amendments that will deal with these specific points later on, but it is worth looking at Schedule 1 as it stands. As I have said, it is an unworkable piece of legislation.

As I understand it, if a beater on a pheasant shoot had more than two dogs, he would be committing an offence. One would have to ask whether 20 beaters with one dog each were committing an offence. I welcome the anomaly that gamekeepers would be allowed to use a dog underground to control foxes for game birds, but why on earth would farmers not be able to do the same in order to protect livestock?

Furthermore, it would be illegal to put a dog underground to control a fox in order to protect birds which are not being preserved for shooting. Therefore, if the warden of a nature reserve on which there is golden plover, curlew or whatever finds foxes creating difficulties—as undoubtedly they do—he would not be able to control them by that method. The provision is riddled with anomalies and, frankly, I deem this legislation unworkable.

However, one point is more important than all others; the inconsistency in our dealings with mammals. Why is it that rabbits and rats can be hunted with more than two dogs, yet mice, stoats or weasels cannot? That strikes me as completely inconsistent. Unless the Government can come forward with a moral and scientific justification for these strange differentials, I question whether the schedule has any relevance.

Lord Eden of Winton

I agree with the noble Earl that time would be saved if the Minister could answer one or two of the points that have been made. I have a worry about Schedule 1. It describes exempt hunting being where two dogs are used in flushing a wild mammal out of cover provided that it is shot dead by a competent person. That is one of the conditions. Do the proponents of a hunting ban really want dogs to be used to flush an animal out of cover, provided that a competent marksman stands ready to shoot it dead? That seems an absolute absurdity.

If that is what the Minister regards as exempt hunting, it is way beyond anything I can imagine in terms of animal cruelty. I therefore hope that he will take this opportunity to give an explanation.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

We have a difficulty because amendments have been tabled to Schedule 1, and it is very difficult to reply on the provisions of that schedule in advance of those amendments. In a way, it would be more practical to consider the Question whether the clause shall stand part following the Committee's deliberations on those amendments.

Viscount Astor

In that case, I shall ask the Minister a slightly different question, which relates specifically to Clause 2(2). That subsection states: The Secretary of State may … amend Schedule 1 so as to vary a class of exempt hunting". I do not want to go into the detail of Schedule 1 but, following what was said by my noble friend, can the Minister tell us under what principles the Government are including those mammals in Schedule 1? Indeed, if the Government want the power to vary the measure, how do they consider that they will do that? What are they looking at? Are they to vary the types of animals that are included or, under Clause 2, can they vary the terms on which those animals may or may not be hunted? It would be helpful if the Minister could answer the questions of principle that relate to Clause 2 rather than those relating to any individual parts, to which the noble Baroness referred, when we consider the amendments to Schedule 1.

Lord King of Bridgwater

I rise briefly to support the Motion that Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill. I am suffering a certain amount of shock, as, I am sure, is the Minister, for whom I have a growing sense of sympathy due to the position in which he finds himself. He gave clear advice to the House and then found that his noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor had voted against him, as did a number of his ministerial colleagues, in what was, in my brief experience of this House, a fairly overwhelming vote in favour of the setting up of registered hunting.

I am concerned about Clause 2 because of the continual problem of registration, regulation, licensing, or whichever word one chooses, and the complexities that it brings with it. I am an unashamed admirer of, and would prefer to see, self-regulation, for the reasons that I gave a little earlier. There is no question that one success that those who are opposed to cruelty and hunting can claim is that hunting is now in the spotlight and that the hunting community is determined to see that its activities are conducted in an acceptable and fair way.

From the debates at Second Reading and earlier today, it is clear that a number of Members who are opposed to hunting, and who have expressed their views clearly, have had unpleasant experiences. Having heard a description of those experiences, no noble Lord will have had any difficulty in recognising them to be quite unacceptable and matters on which, in the current climate and the foreseeable future, the Masters of Foxhounds Association and others will have no hesitation in taking drastic action. That is a success.

Lord Hoyle

I think that the noble Lord will agree that it was disgraceful to invade the Chamber of the House of Commons. Can he explain to me what action has been taken against those people by any master of foxhounds?

Lord King of Bridgwater

As the noble Lord will know, that is a matter for the police. Of course, the invasion was wrong. I do not think that we want to overdramatise it. Although they should certainly not have been there and it was wrong that they were there, I do not think that those involved in the Chamber did any damage. I believe that they assisted the Deputy Serjeant at Arms to his feet when he fell over, and they behaved in an otherwise courteous way. However, the invasion was unacceptable, and the noble Lord and I, who have served in another place, would be the first to defend the sanctity of the House of Commons and its Chamber. I hope that the noble Lord is not suggesting that that is a reason to ban hunting, as I do not think that that argument would stand. However, he has had unpleasant experiences.

Lord Hoyle

The noble Lord—

Lord King of Bridgwater

May I continue—

Lord Hoyle

The noble Lord does not understand the point that I was making.

Lord King of Bridgwater

The noble Lord made his personal view absolutely clear. He thinks that hunting is cruel and he does not accept cruelty. Of course, he has not studied the matter with anything like the depth that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his commission have done. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, made clear that his commission did not find that hunting was cruel and they made that clear in their report. The noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, has his personal view, which he is perfectly entitled to have. But he is seeking—

Lord Hoyle

The noble Lord—

Lord King of Bridgwater

I am sorry; I shall not give way. With great respect to the noble Lord, this is not a conversation—

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I understand that the noble Lord, Lord King of Bridgwater, does not wish to give way at this point. It is Committee, and my noble friend can intervene later. I repeat my warning that we are debating at length whether a clause shall stand part of the Bill, but we shall come to that clause later. The Committee may like to know that the whole debate may be repeated then, and it may not wish that to happen.

Lord King of Bridgwater

In the interests of the Committee and of time, the noble Lord will excuse me if I do not engage in a running interchange. I know that his views are different from mine. I am simply making a valid point, and I hope that he will allow me the freedom to make it. He has a personal view about cruelty. It is not a view that I share. From the vote, it will be clear to him that it is not a view that the vast majority in the Committee shares. Against that background, I am obviously disappointed that the noble Lord feels that he should seek to impose his view, as have those in another place. They not only disagree with the other view but they are compelling other people not to pursue what they think is right.

The reason that I rose to speak is that the new clause proposed in Amendment No. 2 is the start of the process of debate on various amendments relating to registered hunting. That is the new clause that we shall add to the Bill if the Committee decides to vote for it.

The reason that I was disappointed with the comments of the Minister is that we in this Chamber have another duty. Having said that I think that it is the least worst alternative to my preferred option—I am compromising on that and am prepared to say that we should go for registration—if we put it in place, we have a duty to ensure that it is workable.

Having inherited a Bill which the Ministers responsible for it themselves say is not workable, the biggest crime that we could commit would be to introduce a registration system that was not workable. That is why I attach such importance to the amendments which are not before us at present and which, in the interests of the noble Baroness, I shall not discuss. But the principle of registration, establishing the new clause and ensuring that we debate the further issues and make it workable are very important.

Lord Jopling

I shall speak briefly. I have a great deal of sympathy for the remarks expressed by my noble friend Lord Astor a short time ago. I am uneasy about Clause 2(2). The noble Baroness will be glad to hear that I shall not go into the detail of Schedule 1, but that schedule is a very extended piece of literature.

It seems to me that if the Bill were to go through with Clause 2 in its present form, giving the Secretary of State the power to amend by order any class of exempt hunting in Schedule 1, a coach and horses could be driven through the Bill by the very simple parliamentary device of laying an order. It does not say here, although I imagine that it is stated somewhere in the Bill, whether it is an affirmative or negative order, and those are very different matters. I should have much preferred the Bill to say that the Secretary of State may by order amend Schedule I so as to extend, rather than vary, a class of exempt hunting.

We may go through the whole parliamentary process of this House and another place by making amendments to the Bill. It must go through the process of primary legislation, but the Bill could be changed completely by the device of laying a statutory instrument. I think that that is very dangerous and perhaps we should think about that between now and Report.

Lord Whitty

My reply will be slightly strange because issues have been raised on a schedule on which we have subsequent amendments and, with one or two honourable exceptions, on more general points in a debate on clause stand part. I do not believe that that is an appropriate use of a debate on clause stand part.

The key issue which relates to the clause stand part debate was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, and referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. Almost all the other remarks were either general or related to something that will arise under Schedule 1. I shall deal first with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, raised.

Viscount Astor

You are muddling me up with my cousin. I am the Viscount. It is an easy mistake to make. My cousin is the nice one.

Lord Whitty

It is only my second mistake—maybe I have made more. I apologise to the noble Viscount and to his cousin.

The second part of the clause includes a provision allowing the Secretary of State, by order, to vary an exemption as provided in Schedule 1. That is a much more limited power than the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, feared. It does not permit new exemptions to be added, or ones that are there to be subtracted. But it enables the detailed conditions set out in Schedule 1, relating to those different mammals or operations, to be varied in the light principally of changes in best practice for securing animal welfare outcomes. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, those changes would be subject to affirmative rather than to negative resolution.

To be honest, I believe that was the only point on Clause 2 as it stands, which is a clause that was in the original Bill. As it introduces Schedule 1, it applies equally well to a registration system and to a ban. I do not believe that any other points were made on the clause to which I need reply.

Baroness Byford

Before the noble Lord sits down, I apologise to the House for the fact that I am struggling with my voice at the moment. My noble friends have raised two important issues. I believe the Minister said that the clause varies a class of exempt hunting and that that would relate to a matter of animal welfare. If that is so, would it not be more sensible if it said that? At the moment it certainly does not say that.

On the second point, raised by my noble friend Lord Jopling, the Minister knows well that I am not keen on statutory instruments and orders coming through, although it would be an affirmative one, because at that stage there would be very little that the House could do to alter it, whereas in Committee we can make alterations. Perhaps the Minister would quickly comment on that.

Lord Whitty

If the noble Baroness wishes to table an amendment at a later stage no doubt we can reflect on that. On being able to change the conditions that relate to animals or activities specified in Schedule 1, that would be by affirmative order and would probably be introduced on the basis of changes in experience and best practice in animal welfare circumstances, but there could be other reasons.

The point I am making is that this clause is primarily to introduce Schedule 1 and it is equally applicable to a system of registration. Therefore, I would hope that any attempt to remove the clause, which would destroy many of the purposes of exemptions to registration or exemptions to a ban subject to registration, would fall. I am not sure if the other points were, in reality, points to be made in a clause stand part debate. I hope that that will not be repeated at later stages of the Bill.

Viscount Astor

I am grateful to the Minister for his response. He said that there is a limited power of variation. In the mean time, I have looked at the Bill, but I cannot find where that comes in. It is not in Clause 1. Can the Minister tell me where it comes in? He said the power was limited in the way that it affected exempt hunting and exempt animals. I cannot find it in the Bill. I am sure that the Minister and his advisers will be able to tell me quickly where it is.

Lord Whitty

It is in the clause to which he objects. The clause states: may by order amend … so as to vary a class". It does not say "add" or "exclude" a class specified. It says that it can vary the definition and the conditions attached to the exemption.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Hunting: assistance]:

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

Viscount Astor

I have a brief question for the Minister. It relates to coursing, but not, ofcourse, to hare coursing as referred to in Clause 5, which deals with coursing events. Those of us who live near the downs in Oxfordshire suffer from illegal coursing. It happens every weekend and it happens in one of my fields on the edge of the downs. Almost every weekend groups of people—often more than a dozen—participate in coursing there. We have one extremely helpful policeman with a Land Rover who occasionally comes along and chases them but, not unreasonably, he is somewhat nervous of getting out of his vehicle and dealing with them because there are more of them than us.

When I read this clause I suddenly realised that it says, knowingly permits land which belongs to him to be entered or used". I do not want those people there, but I am rather concerned that I knowingly permit them because I have no way of stopping them. Can the Minister tell me whether that is an adequate defence?

Lord Whitty

Any action taken under threat of force can be taken as an offence. The point of the clause is to make it an offence to permit illegal hunting, or if coursing were back in, subject to a subsequent amendment that we shall reach shortly, it would be an offence to allow people knowingly to operate on your land. Anything that is done under duress, of course, is covered by the criminal law in any case.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Hunting: defence]:

Lord Donoughue moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 18, after "was" insert—

  1. "(a) registered, or
  2. (b) "

On Question, amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Carlile of Berriew

I want to raise a very short but important point. Clause 4 sets out a defence of a person charged with an offence under Clause 1. It is what is called in my profession and by the judiciary a reverse onus provision. It requires the person charged to prove on the balance of probabilities that he believed that the hunting was now register exempt and to prove that that belief was reasonable.

It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that the Government either have taken into account or will take into account the very recent decision of your Lordships' House in the case of DPP v Sheldrake, which was reported in recent days. It may be that a reverse onus provision of that kind may be found not to be compatible with the European Convention and may require some amendment.

Lord Whitty

The noble Lord will recognise that this is a standard safeguard to ensure that people who have no intention of doing something illegal are not found guilty of doing so if they reasonably believe that it is legal. I am not aware of any implication from the case that he cites. Clearly, I shall take the matter away and see if there are any implications. If there are, it will have fairly widespread implications in other statutes.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

This may be an appropriate moment to move that the House be resumed. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.30 p.m.

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

House resumed.