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As I said, my noble friend the Chief Whip has also consulted extensively with as many of the interested parties as possible. I believe that the Motion will allow the House to proceed in the most straightforward way, and I hope that the House will accept it when it is moved tomorrow.
As promised, let me say a little more about the three options to be considered by your Lordships. I shall endeavour to do so as neutrally and as factually as possible. I believe that each of the three options has supporters in your Lordships' House and it is for the noble Lords concerned to make the case for those options.
Perhaps I may start with the option that is currently in the Bill; that is, the one that has been put forward by Deadline 2000. In many ways, it is the easiest one to describe since its purpose is simple. It seeks to ban the hunting of wild mammals with dogs and, if noble Lords will read paragraph 1 of the schedule, they will discover a provision to precisely that effect. However, the proponents of this option recognise that there are circumstances when it is necessary and desirable to hunt with dogs. The Bill thus provides for a number of exceptions; that is, circumstances in which it would remain legal to hunt with a dog, even if this option were to be passed into law. These cover those occasions when animals might be injured and the recovery of animals which may have escaped from captivity.
The scope of the exceptions probably attracted more discussion than anything else when they were debated in another place. As a consequence, amendments were made to the Bill. Accordingly, exceptions will now be made for rabbit hunting, rodent hunting and the stalking and flushing out of deer, so these activities will be able to continue.
Anyone who breaches the ban on hunting with dogs, if his activity is not covered by one of the exceptions, would commit an offence and be liable to fine of up to £5,000. This is broadly in line with related animal welfare legislation, although I should point out that most similar legislation provides for custodial penalties, so, in truth, these provisions are less severe than parallel legislation. The powers given to the police to enforce the ban on hunting are similarly based on those found in existing animal welfare legislation. The police have said that they do not believe that enforcing a ban would impose a significant additional burden on their resources.
Perhaps I may now turn to the option put forward by the Middle Way Group. It is based on the premise that hunting with dogs should be allowed to continue but that it should be a licensed activity. Anyone who wished to hunt would need to apply for a licence. Licences would be issued by a newly created non-departmental public body known as the hunting authority. The authority would consist of between seven and 11 members, some of whom would represent the main interests such as landowners, farmers and animal welfare representatives, although the majority will be selected precisely because they have no vested interest in the question. As well as issuing licences, the
The cost of the hunting authority would come from the income generated by licence fees. The intention is that it should be self-financing; that is, that in any year its income from licence fees should match its expenditure. The hunting authority would also be able to appoint inspectors to visit hunts. It would also be given the power to provide training courses and to set examinations for those who wish to apply for licences, although, as I understand it, the proponents of this option do not envisage that the authority would do that, at least initially.
Finally, perhaps I may deal with the option that has been put forward by the Countryside Alliance, which is based on the principle of self-regulation of hunting. The Independent Supervisory Authority on Hunting, known as ISAH, was set up at the very end of 1999. Its members are the chairmen of the various hunting associations, such as the Master of Foxhounds Association, the National Coursing Club and the Master of Deerhounds Association. ISAH oversees its member organisations' rules and codes of conduct and has the power to impose disciplinary sanctions on hunts and clubs. It also has the power to visit and inspect hunts. The cost of ISAH is borne by the member organisations.
Membership of ISAH or of an organisation affiliated to it is completely voluntary and anyone who wants to hunt outside its auspices is free to do so. That would continue to be the case under the option in Schedule 1. However, the schedule contains provisions to encourage as much hunting as possible to be undertaken within the ISAH regulatory umbrella.
The Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 both contain a number of offences relating to cruelty to animals. At present, both Acts contain specific exemption in relation to hunting, so that a person cannot be prosecuted under those provisions if his actions took place in the course of lawful hunting or coursing. This schedule would provide that in future the exemption would apply only to "supervised" hunting; that is, hunting undertaken under the ISAH regulatory umbrella. That way, the Countryside Alliance believes, there would be an incentive for everyone who goes hunting to come within the auspices of ISAH and to be bound by its code of practice.
I should make clear one point straight away. The Countryside Alliance does not accept that those who undertake properly organised hunting are committing an act of cruelty that would be liable to prosecution under the two Acts to which I have just referred. The Countryside Alliance is fearful of people bringing malicious legal actions. Therefore, it believes that people will want to enjoy the continued benefit of the
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, is it true that in recent weeks the Government have been actively seeking a compromise in order to avoid a total ban? If it is true, when will the Government make their position plain?
The Bill provides that it should take effect one year after Royal Assent. We intend that to be the case whichever of the options is chosen. We believe that this will give those concerned sufficient time to prepare for the new regime, whatever it may be. Obviously if the Middle Way Group option is chosen, certain transitional provisions will be needed to ensure that the hunting authority is up and running and issuing licences before it becomes unlawful to hunt without a licence.
The Bill extends to England and Wales only, as the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly are responsible for the question of hunting with dogs in their respective jurisdictions. Indeed, as your Lordships may be aware, there is currently a Bill before the Scottish Parliament on this very subject which is being piloted by the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie.
Hunting with dogs is a subject which excites considerable passions, and rightly so as it is an important issue. Nevertheless, I am confident that the tradition of your Lordships' House of civility and rational debate will mean that we can approach this Bill in a constructive fashion. We hope and believe that by offering a multi-option Bill the Government are helping this process.
The issue of hunting will not go away, but this Bill offers the chance to resolve it once and for all. All of the main interest groups came forward with an option for inclusion in the Bill, each of which would change the law to a greater or lesser extent. All of them recognise that the status quo can be improved upon. In that spirit, I invite your Lordships, wherever you may stand on this issue, to give the Bill a Second Reading. I commend the Bill to the House.