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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Derby University research report indicated that there was widespread concern among members of all faith groups about ignorance and indifference towards religion. People from visible minorities feel more vulnerable and there is much common ground with racial discrimination. Muslim organisations consistently reported a higher level of unfair treatment in education, employment and the media. They were key areas where people were more likely to suffer religious discrimination. The main concerns in education related to such matters as unfair treatment by pupils and, occasionally, teachers; the religious education curriculum; and collective worship. In employment, the main concerns were the attitudes and behaviour of managers and colleagues, including the key issue of harassment.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the Race Relations Act already bans discrimination against certain religions that come under the title of ethnic minorities, which includes Jewish people, Rastafarians, gypsies and Sikhs but does not include Muslims, Christians or any other religion? Surely that is ludicrous and could be changed by a simple amendment to the Race Relations Act. We would not then have to wait for another two years.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lord, the noble Lord makes a very good point. I agree with his interpretation of the legislation. However, we feel that it would be right to bring forward legislation in

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response to Article 13 of the EC employment directive. We think that that will probably deal with some of the issues about which the noble Lord and others are concerned. The important research that has been commissioned, and now received, will inform that process and others where we may seek to make improvements and strengthen the law.

Baroness Richardson of Calow: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Christian Churches as well have already been addressing this issue and that the Churches' Commission for Inter-faith Relations, of which I am Moderator, has prepared a report in consultation with the Churches' Commission for Racial Justice? The report will be published later this year and will help to raise certain other issues. It is not a simple matter to define religion, but there are attempts to do so in the report. We hope that that will be useful to the Government in preparing legislation.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we are aware of those moves and the Churches are to be congratulated on the important steps forward they have taken. They have played a constructive role. That reflects the Churches' acceptance of the multi-faith nature of our society. The importance of the research for us is that it will enable us to review the way in which we interface with faith communities. We believe that to be very important.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I speak as a member of Sub-Committee F of the European Union Committee, where the Government have not shown quite sufficient vigour. How much are the Government prepared to resist European directives that stop religious organisations maintaining the articles of their faith in the appointment of members of staff, the standards they demand and so on? Are they prepared to support the integrity of religious institutions against European directives?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it must be the case that the Government act fairly and properly in these matters. We listen to the representations that we receive from all sides. But I do think that Article 13 is very important and will bring a measure of relief to those faiths which believe that they suffer from religious discrimination. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree with that approach.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, does the Minister agree that respect for the views of others is essential in a multi-cultural society and that that is relevant to the debate we are to have on the Hunting Bill later today?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the profound answer to that has to be yes.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there have been a number of reports on this subject? I think in particular of the report of Professor Bob Hepple of Cambridge University and of the repeated reviews by the Commission for Racial

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Equality recommending the need to outlaw discrimination on religious grounds. All the reports come from very authoritative sources. Can the noble Lord indicate when it is likely that the Home Office will take some steps to amend the Race Relations Act to include religious discrimination?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is not for me to prejudge any legislative timetable. I am sure that the noble Lord accepts that that would be quite improper. However, as I said earlier, the two reports are important. They will inform our thinking and help us further to shape policy. No doubt the reports will be widely drawn on to improve practices within religious faiths and across the whole range of public policy.

Lord Elton: My Lords, can the noble Lord help me? I could not understand whether his answer to my noble friend Lord Pilkington was affirmative or negative. Will the Government take steps to ensure that European policy does not prevent religious foundations recruiting from people of their faith?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I thought that I suggested that we had to take account of a wide range of institutional views. No doubt that is an institutional view on which we shall need to reflect.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, in a genuine spirit of inquiry, but also as a lawyer, perhaps I may ask the Government whether they really believe that the already Byzantine complexity of employment law can be--how shall I put it--kept within bounds as regards the extremely sophisticated and subtle elements that are now being contemplated in this field.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the answer to that has to be yes. We obviously need to take very careful account of those matters.


Lord Carter: My Lords, before we move to the Second Reading of the Hunting Bill, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words about time. Today's debate on the Hunting Bill is not time limited. It is, as always, open to noble Lords to speak for as long as they think appropriate. However, as I always do, I have made a calculation. I thought that the House might be interested to hear the result. If each of the Front Bench spokesmen were voluntarily to limit their speeches to about 12 minutes, and if the Back-Bench speakers were voluntarily to limit themselves to about seven minutes, there is a chance that we will finish the debate at a reasonable time, and even perhaps on the same day that we started.

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Hunting Bill

3.7 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. The Bill that is currently before your Lordships would have the effect of banning most hunting with dogs. I hasten to stress that in asking you to give the Bill a Second Reading I am not asking your Lordships to support a ban on hunting. Nor am I asking you to endorse either of the other two options which we shall be putting before your Lordships to consider. I am inviting your Lordships to help us resolve a difficult issue.

Let me put on record straight away the fact that the Government are neutral on the question of hunting with dogs. We do not have an outcome which we wish to see and no whip has been imposed in either House for this Bill. Our aim has been to facilitate discussion so that the very contentious issue of hunting with dogs can be resolved once and for all.

In a moment I shall explain why the Bill has been brought forward, but perhaps I may first say something about the current foot and mouth disease crisis. I know that all noble Lords share the Government's sense of concern about what is happening in the countryside at the moment and we all sympathise with those who are suffering as a consequence of the spread of foot and mouth disease. My noble friend Lady Hayman has explained to your Lordships the steps that we are taking to control and eradicate the virus and we will continue to take all necessary steps to contain the outbreak. But I reject any suggestion that, because of the current foot and mouth disease crisis, we should not be proceeding with the Bill.

Foot and mouth disease and hunting with dogs are two totally separate issues and it is quite wrong of those who oppose any change to the law on hunting to seek to exploit the current difficulties our livestock industry is facing to further their campaign against this legislation.

It has been suggested that now is not the right time to consider this legislation. Let me make two observations about that. First, as I have already said, every appropriate step is being taken to control and contain foot and mouth disease. The existing powers that are available to us are sufficient, so it is not as if by discussing hunting with dogs we are preventing Parliament from considering emergency legislation that might be needed to deal with the situation. Secondly, the Bill that is before the House will not come into force until one year after Royal Assent, by which time all of us hope fervently that the current foot and mouth disease crisis will be long in the past.

Hunting is an important subject and one that is of deep concern. The amount of press attention that it warrants is testament to that, as is the fact that well over 100,000 people have written to the Home Office on the subject since the last general election. Another indication is that, since 1979, Private Members' Bills on the subject of hunting and coursing have been

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introduced in another place at the rate of more than one a year. I mention those Bills deliberately because they illustrate an important point.

The contentious nature of the subject is such that no Private Member's or Private Peer's Bill is likely to succeed. Those Bills generally did not fail because the majority of parliamentarians were opposed to them but simply because they could not command sufficient parliamentary time. Only a government Bill could provide the opportunity for this difficult issue to be resolved. That is why we have brought forward this Bill. It will enable Parliament to express its view and, we hope, to put this issue to bed.

In order to aid that process and to ensure that all of us have had access to all the facts surrounding hunting, before we brought forward this Bill we established a committee of inquiry chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Burns. The remit of the committee was not to consider whether hunting with dogs should be permitted--that is a matter for Parliament--but to try to establish exactly how and what hunting takes place.

There is one thing that unites all those involved in the hunting debate, whatever their views on hunting, and that is their admiration for the report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and his team--which, of course, includes another Member of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior. Members of another place were unstinting in their praise of what was invariably referred to as the Burns report. I am happy to add my tribute to the members of the inquiry team and to those who assisted them.

Perhaps I may now turn to the content of the Bill. In accordance with the Government's desire to facilitate debate, we decided to offer a multi-option Bill. This is a procedural device that worked well when it was employed by the previous government as a means of dealing with the difficult issue of Sunday trading. Indeed, it is an indication of how successful it was in resolving that issue once and for all that it is not generally remembered just how contentious Sunday trading once was. It was the issue which led to one of only two government defeats at Second Reading in another place in the past 75 years.

In 1993, the then government brought forward a Bill that was to become the Sunday Trading Act 1994. It contained three options from which Parliament was able to choose. I think it is fair to say that even those who favoured an option other than the one which Parliament ultimately chose have accepted that decision. It is our hope that a similar attitude will prevail in regard to hunting.

We invited three key interest groups each to suggest an option for inclusion in the Bill. The three interest groups were Deadline 2000, which is also known as the Campaign for the Protection of Hunted Animals, and is a consortium made up of the League Against Cruel Sports, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the RSPCA; the Middle Way Group, which is a cross-party group of MPs; and the Countryside Alliance, a body which I am sure is well known to many noble Lords and which seeks to represent the interests of the countryside.

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All three organisations responded positively and came forward with an option for inclusion in the Bill, and I am most grateful to them for that. The Bill was in fact drafted by parliamentary counsel to ensure that it properly gave effect to the desired policies and was also workable. The Bill, as it was introduced in another place, contained all three options. The three options are mutually exclusive and at Committee stage Members of another place made their choice between them. The result was decisive, as even those who disagreed with it were obliged to admit. By a vote of 387 to 174, the other place backed the Deadline 2000 option and it was that option that was subject to detailed scrutiny and, indeed, amendment.

I wish to say a little more about what is contained in each of the options; but, first, let me say something about procedure. It is the Government's wish to ensure that this House is given an opportunity to have a clean vote on the three options, as was given to another place. In order to achieve this, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton has tabled a Motion to be taken at the start of business tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I explain what the outcome would be if the House were to agree to tomorrow's Motion.

If the House agrees to the Motion, there will then follow a Committee stage, probably on 26th March, which will last for a single day and at the end of which there will be three votes, one on each option. We have consulted closely with the House authorities to ensure that the amendments can be drafted in such a way as to prevent either of the latter votes being pre-empted by an earlier decision. There is therefore a guarantee that, on all three options, there will be a vote.

The first vote will be a vote on the Deadline 2000 option; that is, the ban on hunting with dogs. As a result of that vote, the ban will either stay in the Bill or be deleted from it. The second vote will be a vote on the Countryside Alliance option; that is, self-regulation. If self-regulation is agreed to, it will go into the Bill and, if the ban has survived the first vote, it would at that stage be replaced by self-regulation. The third vote will take place regardless of the outcome of the first two votes. It will be a vote on the Middle Way Group option; that is, hunting under licence. If it is agreed to, then hunting under licence will go into the Bill in place of whichever of the other two options was, at that point, in the Bill. At the end of the whole process, the Bill will be reprinted and recommitted to a Committee of the whole House so that the chosen option can be considered in detail and noble Lords can table amendments to it.

This procedure has been worked out with the help and advice of the House authorities, to whom we should all be extremely grateful. My noble friend the Chief Whip--

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