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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend and all Members of the House are aware that normally such matters are decided by the feeling of the House. I understand from the advice that I have been given that the amendment can be taken at any time. I also understand from the tone of the comments around the House that noble Lords would prefer to proceed as the speakers' list is laid out.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I am sorry, but I must make the strongest protest. I was told before I came into the Chamber that my amendment would be called next. I am now told that I shall have to wait until two o'clock in the morning. Is that the situation? I want to move an amendment in favour of drag hunting, which everyone agrees with.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I have a horrible feeling that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is right. A Motion has been put down and he has tabled an amendment to that Motion. The normal form is that the amendment is taken immediately after the Motion is put.
Lord Strathclyde: That the Leader of the House has taken, my Lords. The election is almost upon us. The House will recognise that although it is the normal convention for the mover of an amendment to speak
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the first thing I should say from the Dispatch Box is that everything concerning the Bill is for me and for my noble friends a free vote. Therefore, everything else that I say today is a personal view. However, before I come to the merits or demerits of the Bill, I wish to say a few words about mechanics.
At this time of the year, the Bill will not complete its passage if the general election is to be on 3rd May, as we have been led to believe by the media, inspired and encouraged no doubt by the Government's spin doctors. No Bill starting here now will have time to complete its passage if the intervals laid down in our procedures are followed, even if discussion is minimal, and regardless of whatever decision the House takes about the Bill.
I make this point partly because the Prime Minister, among others, has said on several occasions that the Private Member's Bill introduced by the honourable Member, Mr Foster, was killed by this House. That was not the fact; it never came to us. It may be that the Prime Minister made a mistake the first time he said it--after all, he has important things on his mind--but each time he repeated it, the untruth became apparently more deliberate on the part of those who briefed him or, perhaps, in this case, failed to brief him.
The Bill cannot complete its normal scrutiny in the time available before a 3rd May election. Other Bills, including another Home Office Bill, were introduced earlier and can complete their normal passage, but this one will fall. That will be the Government's choice, not the result of any action by this House.
However, the Bill requires careful scrutiny. The Minister said that the Government are offering your Lordships the three options. Only one--the option currently set out in the Bill--was discussed in detail in another place; that was subject to a guillotine Motion and was not discussed as a whole. What is more, the other place decided on the three options before discussing them in detail. In other circles it would be seen as more logical to discuss the available options in some detail before deciding between them. I shall not pursue the point now, but I hope that the noble and learned Lord who is to reply will confirm that the Government will not use the Parliament Act in relation to this measure. The noble and learned Lord is not in his place. No doubt he will be shortly, and that question and any others will be relayed to him.
As I am advancing my own opinion on the substance of the Bill, I shall be brief; I shall not try to be comprehensive in my remarks so as to allow the maximum time for other speakers. I begin with a proposition which I hope will command general agreement in this House; namely, that we should distinguish between what we may disapprove of and what should be made criminal. That point was expressed in more or less those terms by the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General in another context.
I have never made a secret of the fact that I approve of hunting. I respect the views of those who do not, but they should be very reluctant to criminalise so many of our fellow citizens. In particular, we should not criminalise an activity in ignorance of the facts.
It is because of the necessity to examine the facts that we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burns, to my noble friend Lord Soulsby and to their colleagues for their report on the practical aspects of hunting. As came out in the report, in this case the proposal is not simply to end particular pastimes but to stamp out a way of life. Some activities can take over people's whole lives, and hunting is one. That is part of the reason for the strength of opposition to the Bill. Therefore, we consider the matter carefully.
The proposition in the Bill as it stands is that hunting as defined is so cruel that the majority should criminalise a minority of our fellow citizens. I want to make two points about cruelty. First, I know many hunting people, and they are not cruel. I lived in Berkeley, the home of the Berkeley Hounds. I represented the area in another place. I also represented Badminton, and in the case of both hunts a large slice of the country over which the hunts take place, and the area of the Wick and District Beagles. I am not a hunting man, but I am a supporter of all three hunts. Over the years, I have known many of those involved.
When I took my seat in another place, there were two legendary huntsmen, Brian Gupwell and Tim Langley. The huntsman of the Beagles was for many years a milk roundsman. Every kind of person takes part in hunting in one form or another. When I was first a member of the government of my noble friend Lady Thatcher, I used to say: "Two Whips live in Berkeley. Patrick Martin is one and I am the other. We do a similar job--keeping the pack together, looking out for trouble and looking after our flock". But I also knew the late Duke of Beaufort, who was one of my constituents. I was, like everyone else, appalled when so-called animal rights activists tried to dig up his grave when his widow was living in the house adjacent to the churchyard. Whatever our views, such excesses--like the current threats that we read about to Members of another place--are abominable.
As I say, I know many of the masters, the members and those who follow the hunt, whether on horseback, on foot, by car, by bicycle or in any other way. They are not cruel people. They are countrymen and countrywomen. They live and work with animals from early morning till late at night every day--with horses, dogs and livestock and every kind of wild animal and bird. Many are farmers. They live with, and understand, nature. The farmers among them are presently under appalling pressure--marooned on their farms, anxiously watching their stock every morning and wondering how to get their children to school without risk. Many spend their whole lives with animals--that is, when they are not filling in the everlasting forms and doing their best to keep up with the latest scientific and technical advice. They know animals; they know nature; and they are not cruel people.
We need to examine some of the practical aspects. The Bill as drafted would criminalise someone whose single dog--it is not "dogs" in the plural, as the Minister suggested in his introductory remarks--chases a fox, but not someone whose dog chases a rat; someone whose dog chases a hare, but not someone whose dog chases a rabbit. I realise how some of these extraordinary provisions have come about and how they come before us. Nevertheless, they highlight the problems of enforcement. I do not mean the problems of enforcement against the formal, well managed, traditional hunts that we know today. They would have to stop and, mostly, kill their hounds, or send them abroad. I believe that that would be a cruel waste of literally hundreds of years of careful breeding and training--for the best hounds have pedigrees far longer in terms of generations than any Members of your Lordships' House. I am talking about enforcement against ordinary dog owners, or, for that matter, those who try to hunt in secret.
Those who can afford it will no doubt try to hunt in Ireland or somewhere else. I should point out that there is a convenient travel guide to get one started in Appendix 9 of the Burns report. In any case, whatever happens to the main question, everyone recognises the need these days to reassure the public that hunting is properly conducted. Hunting has itself set up the new Independent Supervisory Authority for Hunting, to which the Minister referred, and its work has started. One of the alternative schemes would put that on a statutory footing.
The second alternative scheme in the other schedule that is to be introduced would bring in a licensing system with a government licensing body, as explained by the Minister. For myself, I prefer the first of these alternatives. I believe that self-regulation, like self-discipline, is the most effective kind. It is the least bureaucratic and is likely to have the most support.
We have a long day before us. I have already gone slightly beyond the time limit suggested by the Chief Whip, but I have not taken as long as the Minister, who took a further five minutes. I do not want to misuse my position. If the election is to be on 3rd May, this Bill is nothing more than a Labour Party stunt: it cannot succeed. Alternatively, if the election is not to be on 3rd May--of course, only the Government know--I believe that the Bill as it stands is not justified in welfare terms. It will do no good for the fox or the other quarry; it will destroy a legitimate activity and way of life of an already-suffering group of our fellow citizens. In party terms, it is a free vote, but I trust that noble Lords from all sides of the House will not support the flawed and offensive Bill now before us.
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