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Lord Rogan: My Lords, I wish to thank all noble Lords who contributed to the debate. As I have said repeatedly, 50:50 is not a new issue. The removal of the discrimination in our police service is one of tremendous importance to the people of Northern Ireland and the future of policing. We in the Ulster Unionist Party have been consistent on the issue.

I listened carefully to the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Privy Seal, and on this occasion I do not wish to test the opinion of the House. However, I hope to return to the matter on Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned until after Starred Questions.

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

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 1.54 to 3 p.m.]

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Game Licences

Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will abolish game licences.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, licences for taking and dealing in game are intended to discourage poaching, to encourage compliance with close seasons for the conservation of quarry species, and to protect food safety. Representations indicate that food retailers, among others, would welcome changes. We are sympathetic to that. However, we need to reflect carefully on the way forward, taking into account the wider implications of any decision to reform the current arrangements.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I declare an interest as one of the 8 per cent of holders of shotgun licences who has bought a game licence. As the Government know perfectly well—the Minister gave me a Written Answer two weeks ago—these licences cost more to collect than they produce. They collect an infinitesimally small amount—a quarter of a million pounds. Nobody is prosecuted for not having a game licence. Surely, unenforced laws are bad laws. Are the Government not keen, in these marginal circumstances, to lift the burden of this and other similarly nonsensical licences lurking in Whitehall? Will they not do something about it? We need action not words.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, 49,000 people have taken out a game licence. The regime has implications for conservation, the preservation of quality of the retail trade, and gun laws, with which it interfaces, so it would be complex to change it. In principle, I agree with the noble Lord. If the price of a game licence had kept pace with inflation, it would be about 2,000 rather than 6.

Further to the noble Lord's last remark, I hope that he does not blame this Government or their immediate predecessors. The blame rests entirely with the Liberal Democrats, as it was the late Lord Grey and the late Lord Palmerston who introduced the provisions.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, I declare an interest as having paid 2 at Christmas for a game licence to allow me to participate in taking game for two weeks. I am interested to hear the Minister say that he regards licensing as a deterrent to poaching. Has he heard that the Durham police force will no longer take up poaching cases? How does that fit with the Government's promise to be tough on crime?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it ill behoves a Minister to comment on the operational priorities of any chief constable. Nevertheless, I am sure that the Durham police force is concentrating on other rural crime issues. The contribution of game licences to the prevention of

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poaching may not be as great as it was when they cost substantially more, and when poaching was one of the biggest crimes in the countryside.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, given the reasons the Minister gave in his first Answer and the changes that may be brought about if the Hunting Bill is passed, is his department reviewing the question of tagging deer carcasses? They are subject to particular problems and would benefit very much from tagging. When the House discussed the matter previously, some of the impediments were technological. They have been overcome in the nine years since the House last discussed this in depth.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the regime covering the taking and marketing of deer could benefit from better traceability measures, including tagging. I understand that not all the technological and operational impediments have been overcome, but, when that happens, the Government will regard such measures as desirable.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, if the Government are not prepared to withdraw the licence to kill game, will they take steps to ensure that a larger proportion of those killing game have such licences, if they feel it necessary? If not, why not support my noble friend Lord Marlesford?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the implication of what I have said on behalf of the Government is that this is a complex area. If it were just a question of licensing the taking of game, and considering the implications for the discouragement of poaching, it would be easy to remove the regime. But there are also implications for conservation and the regulations on the use of game for food. If we removed the licensing regime, those complexities would need to be addressed and would possibly be replaced.

Drivers and Mobile Phones

3.5 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they propose to take following the publication by Direct Line of evidence of the dangers of using mobile phones while driving.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have noted the findings of the Direct Line research published last March. The Department for Transport issued a consultation document on 20th August last year seeking views on a proposal to prohibit the use of hand-held mobile phones when driving. The consultation period closed on 25th November. More than 1,000 responses have been received and these are now being considered. An announcement on the results of consultation will be made as soon as possible.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and the prospect of some action by the

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Government. Is he aware that the Direct Line reports states that the use of hand-held mobile telephones is far more dangerous than driving at the alcohol limit? When drivers exceed the alcohol limit they incur penalties.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am aware of it. That is why my response on our knowledge of the Direct Line report was so neutral, and why I said only that we noted it. What the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, says is true, but it would be wrong to conclude that it is less damaging or illegal to drive while under the influence of drink or drugs. That is a message not just for Christmas but throughout the year. It must be reinforced on all possible occasions.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that health and safety legislation imposes on employers a duty to provide a safe working environment for their employees. But is it not the case that many firms not only fail to offer advice to their employees about using mobile phones when driving but that they regard the car as an extension of the office and encourage staff to make calls while on the move? Should it not be a priority to discourage that practice?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as one who previously employed salesmen to whom we issued mobile phones—hands-free sets, I hasten to add—I acknowledge the force of what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, says. This is one of the issues that must be considered in the consultation process in which we have been involved and in the conclusions we draw from it.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the subject was raised in this House as long ago as 1997 when the Government's response was that it was for the police to decide whether the distraction materially reduced a driver's care and attention? Is that still the situation? Some telephone conversations can be very distracting.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, more recently, the police have advised us that they have adequate powers, under regulation 104 of the Construction and Use Regulations 1986, to prosecute anyone who is not in control of a vehicle. That could result in a prosecution for careless or dangerous driving. Things have moved on since then; not least, the enormous increase in the number of mobile phones in this country. We have undertaken consultation because of increasing pressure of that kind.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Mayor of London is encouraging payment for congestion charges by using text messages on mobile telephones? Does he think that this is a contribution to road safety?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I know no more about the matter than I have read in the press.

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The report that I read said that the Mayor had accompanied his encouragement with the opinion that text messages should not be made while driving.

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