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My main point is that hunting is a sport, and it should be regarded as such in discussions. I believe that the Government's attempt to define it in terms of cruelty and utility is a cul-de-sac that is bound to get them into all kinds of difficulties. I agree with noble Lords to the extent that it is getting them into a series of difficulties.
On a previous occasion when we discussed hunting, I said that hunting should either be allowed or banned. That is the limit to which a government and Parliament should get involved. I said that I did not believe that a middle way, in which the Government stepped in and tried to regulate hunting in the interests of utility and lack of cruelty or whatever, was a satisfactory way in which to regulate a sport. At the time, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that he found my views bizarre. He is entitled to think that but there are great dangers when a government start to get involved in the detailed regulation of any sport. When sports need regulating, they should be self-regulating, as sports throughout the country are. There is an argument about boxing. If people believe that boxing should be bannedsome dothe answer is not for the Government to step in and regulate it; a decision has to be made about whether it should be allowed, as it is, or, if people want to ban it, it should be banned. I fear that once a precedent is established by which a government step in with a quango or whatever to regulate a sport, particularly an activity sport, that might spread to other sports that people believe are dangerous and in relation to which people should be regulated for their own good.
The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, attacked groups that had a political agenda. There is no point in getting into a slanging match about which side of the argument is political and which is not. Politics is about issues and beliefs, but it is also about interest groups. Whether one supports the Countryside Alliance, the RSPCA or any other group, to start slagging off one side as being political and claiming that one's own side is not political does not appear to be a productive way forward. For anyone to suggest that the Countryside Alliance is not political is disingenuous.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I understand the point made by the noble Lord. That was not the point to which I was replying. If people believe that a particular organisation is contravening its charitable status they should do what the noble Lord proposes; that is, make a complaint and then a ruling will be made. However, I do not believe that that is for noble Lords to rule upon.
The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, said that he thought that his Bill would provide a better result for wild animals generally. Having carefully considered it and compared it with the Act he seeks to amend, it is not clear to me that that is the case. This all seems to come down to a comparison between "undue suffering" and "unnecessary suffering". There may be something obvious here which I have not understood.
As usual, I enjoyed the speech of my noble friend Lord Carlile of Berriew. He gave an interesting description of the situation in mid-Wales. He said that this is a matter of balancing freedoms and rights and that whenever it comes to reducing people's freedoms or, indeed, removing them altogether, as Liberals we must be careful. I agree with him on that. It is a fundamental argument in relation to whether activities such as fox hunting should be allowed to continue. I do not want to debate this matter at great length today. However, it all comes down to the clash between the liberties of people and the welfare of animals. The interface between those two aspects of public policy, which is found in all kinds of areas and has been for the past 150 years or so, is interesting and fundamental.
I am not one who believes that animals have rights in that sense. That seems to be an extreme view. By definition, rights are to do with the political and social process of the interaction of people. By definition, other species cannot have the same rights as people. The question of where animal welfare clashes with those rights is interesting. That is a matter of judgment and debate. I look forward to debating that with my noble friend in future.
I return to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, concerning "undue suffering". My noble friend Lord Carlile said that he saw great advantages in the simplicity and clarification provided by the Bill. He spoke as an extremely distinguished lawyer. However, in my view the real advantage of the Bill to lawyers is the large number of expensive and long drawn-out court cases to which it will inevitably lead. The interpretation of "undue suffering" is one which will keep many lawyers busy and well paid for a long time. It seems to me that the inevitable consequence of the Bill will be a whole series of cases which will go through the appeal process and end up in the House of Lords.
Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. He might be interested to learn that in my 32 years as a barrister I have made far more money defending people against the outrages committed against them by so-called animal liberationists than I have ever made from anything to do with huntingby a multiplier of, perhaps, 150.
I shall comment briefly on the middle way and government involvement in this matter. I have made my views clear about the degree to which government should be involved in regulating sport, whether that is directly, through a quango, or through recognition of other bodies. I am not clear exactly what is proposed in the Bill. The noble Lord has presented a piece of paper which states one thing but tells the House that all sorts of amendments will be proposed in Committee which will make it quite different. I had the impression that he wants to drag it away from the middle way position more towards the status quo and what in terms of options for fox hunting has been described as self-regulation. I am not clear about that. I believe that that position is unsatisfactory at this stage of the Bill. However, if the Bill gets a Second Reading, we shall listen with interest in Committee to what is said by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue.
The politics and reality of the situation is that a government Bill is passing through the House of Commons. Whether noble Lords believe it was satisfactory when it was introduced or that any subsequent amendments are a good idea, before long the Bill will come to your Lordships' House. It seems to me that that will be the time for the real debates and arguments about whether such practices should be allowed to continue.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, I find myself in slight difficulty over the last comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. Whether or not the hunting Bill comes to this House, the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, addresses specifically the question of the protection of wildlife in our countryside and avoiding unnecessary cruelty to it. I do not see it in the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I shall return to that point.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, for introducing the Bill and recognising that in its present form it is perhaps not totally acceptable. The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform voiced its concerns and the noble Lord has today indicated his willingness to table suitable amendments to rectify the matter in Committee.
Before the noble Lord gave his speech, I noted that that I supported his Bill in principle. However, I knocked out "principle" and changed it to "I welcome the Bill" as he went on to explain the amendments he proposes. I welcome the Bill because it tackles the whole question of deliberate cruelty.
The Bill would remove the list of limited exemptions in the current 1996 Act and replace them with a general offence to "intentionally"the important wordcause "undue suffering". That is similar to the existing law covering domestic animals.
The Countryside Alliance in its briefing recognises that UK animal welfare legislation is piecemeal. It believes that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, will go a long way towards clarifying the law in relation to wild animals and protecting them from intentional and unnecessary suffering. Indeed, as other noble Lords have said, the CLA specifically raises the two issues. As such it is neither a pro-hunting nor an anti-hunting Bill; it is an animal welfare Bill that simply aims to afford wild animals a similar level of protection to that enjoyed by domestic and farmed animals.
The Hunting Bill is based solely on a desire to heavily regulate one activityhunting with dogs. It does nothing to improve the lot of wild mammals generally. I think that, with one slight concern, that has been very much reflected around the Chamber today.
The NFU in its briefing reminds us that when the previous Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, was debated in March 2001, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, expressed concern about the possibility of vexatious prosecutions of normal pest-control activities if the exemptions in the 1996 Act were repealed. The NFU believes that the onus on the prosecution to prove intent should reduce such a risk; no doubt we shall have greater debate in Committee on that issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, explained to us the kind of proposals that he wishes to bring forward in his amendments. We obviously do not have their written details, but we look forward to those so that we can debate the matter properly in due course.
Inevitably, today's discussions have also covered many concerns about the Hunting Bill. It is impossible to separate the two. My noble friend Lord Astor of Hever explained the reservations held by many in the shooting fraternity. They are perhaps concerned that the noble Lord's Bill might lead to additional
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his very moving speech said that hunting was a matter of conscience. That is also so on our Benches. Therefore, I find myself responding to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, with the backing of my own party. I support it anyway. My views on hunting will obviously be expressed from a personal point of view. It seems an odd clarification to make in a debate dealing with a different Bill, but I hope that my words express my belief. I should declare my family interest. We have a family farm. I also used to hunt, although I sadly do not ride any more. That should also be placed on the record.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, recognised that the Bill is trying to give greater support and to reduce the actual risk of animal cruelty, as it exists at the moment. He, too, picked up on a matter that I wanted to point out. The Bill is good because of its simple approach. It will bring uniformity to the legislation when it becomes an Act.
I always enjoy the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Hardy of Wathalthough we have a Labrador and would claim that that is an even better dog than his. He raised some very important points. I should particularly like to pick up on one point regarding the CROW Bill. He and I and many other noble Lords in the Chamber today went to great lengths to try to persuade the Government to include in that Bill a ban on a right to roam at night. We tried consistently to do so on the grounds of safety for the people who would be wandering. One of the problems is that lamping to control foxes is a regular feature across some hillsides. If one does not have a ban at night, one runs a great risk that people may be shot.
Unfortunately, at the time we could not persuade the Government of that and so the Act was passed with that point, about which we were so vehement, being totally ignored. My only hope is that it will never happen and that someone will not be shot. But it is a risk that we recognised then and here we are still debating it now.
My noble friend Lord Peel expressed his concerns on the Government's approach to the Hunting Bill. It is a personal view, but I share those concerns very strongly. I do not believe that it deals with the whole question of animal cruelty, to which this Bill has regard. I, too, am very disturbed that all the work that went into the Burns report is being overturned, ignored and bypassed.
My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke, who chairs and leads the Middle Way Group in putting forward suggestions for the Hunting Bill, recognises the importance of the Burns report. He specifically touched on three issues that I would like to pick up. First, there is the question of the shooting of foxes. It is not a good alternative, in particular as the proposed Hunting Bill will ban the digging-out of foxes, so that
My noble friend and others referred to the political correctness of some of the animal welfare groups. I do not mind when people do not agree with me and have different viewsthat is what democracy is about. What I find difficult is when people purport to represent animal welfare but have no scientific ground on which to base their argument. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals simply does not want hunting to continue. It does not tackle the whole question of cruelty to and suffering of wild mammals.
Lastly, I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Astor support the Bill and speak about how the Hunting Bill is progressing in another place. He has great personal expertise and understanding of how hunting works, so I was grateful for his contribution. He also raised an issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hardy, to which I should like to refer: the question of fallen stock. As my noble friend said, come 1st April, one will not be allowed to bury fallen stock as previously. My noble friend asked what will happen to it. I read a piece in the newspaper only a few days ago saying that it would be dumped by the roadside or left there in dustbins to be collected. That is surely not right. I hope that the Minister will mention that in his response.
We support the Bill. There is much good in what the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, proposes. We appreciate that all its provisions have not been spelled out, so we must accept his intention to table suitable amendments in Committee. It has great merit. It is simple. It opens up the provision to cover all wild mammals. Like other noble Lords, I support the Bill and look forward to working with the noble Lord in Committee.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, in some respects this has been an extraordinary debate. As a result, I should probably declare an interest: I am the Minister who will have to introduce the Hunting Bill to the House in whatever form it ends up. We do not yet know what will be the final version of that Bill and it is not before the House today. One could have been fooled by some of the debate focusing on that Bill, but it is the Bill of my noble friend Lord Donoughue that is before us. I correct the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I am not responding to the debate; I am giving the Government's view on my noble friend's Bill. I hope that we can focus on the Bill on its merits, rather than diverting to parallel matters.
The Bill has merits. I have concerns about it, but it clearly has merits. One of its apparent merits is that of simplicity. However, although the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said in passing during the course of an otherwise eloquent and evocative speechnot that I
The essence of current lawwhich reflects earlier lawis that it makes it an offence for a person to mutilate, kick, beat, nail or otherwise impale, stab, burn, stone, crush, crown, drag or asphyxiate any wild animal with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering. Several different things are implied in that definition. My noble friend attempts to simplify the provision by stating in the Bill:
Each of those areas presents us with some difficulty. It is not entirely clear to me on first reading whether "undue" suffering is a weakening or a strengthening of the provision in the previous Bill and current legislation, "unnecessary". It is a relative term. In so far as it is relative, I am not sure that it is the equivalent of the Bill that I am not supposed to mention, which uses the concept of "least suffering". Undue suffering, therefore, would not be the least suffering needed to attain the outcome. The definition is ambiguous and problematic.
The provisions dealing with codes present a problem. The Delegated Powers Committee regards the Bill as granting some degree of status to codes promulgated by existing authorities. My noble friend Lord Donoughue said that the codes should be seen in the same way as the Highway Code. The Highway Code is produced by the Government and can be cited in court, although it is not directly enforceable. The Delegated Powers Committee felt that it would be difficult to delegate such a power to a voluntary body, which is why it used the term "inappropriate".
It would also be difficult for the Government. We would have to judge whether existing codes were appropriate, which could lead to all sorts of arguments. As I understand it, my noble friend's Bill provides that, where no code exists, the Government must create one to be enforced. That would engage the Government in various areas in which they are happily uninvolved. To that limited extent, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that we would probably not want to be involved in the promulgation of detailed codes in that area. Therefore, the issue must
The organisations may not relish the prospect of their codes being second-guessed by the Government either. Therefore, other tensions could arise. The Bill would result in DEFRA-approved codes that could be cited in court. That would place a new responsibility on the Government and create a new range of potential cases for the courts. It is unclear how far those measures would improve the protection of wildlife as against the current voluntary codes and general provisions of the existing Act.
The Delegated Powers Committee raised another quasi-legal problem, which my noble friend Lord Donoughue said he would deal with. The Bill would give the Secretary of State powers to set up tribunals. Normally, such a provision would be included in the Bill and would grant the power, not to the Secretary of State, but to the Lord Chancellor. With due respect to the subsequent debate, although it is just possible to envisage a maligned Secretary of State at some time in the distant future, it is obviously beyond our imagination to conceive of a maligned Lord Chancellor. Therefore, we would need to reflect convention in that respect.
The principle in the Bill of providing a coherent and simpler approach to the protection of wild mammals is a desirable objective. It would be fruitful for this House to discuss the matter in subsequent stages. However, the Bill in its present form does not avoid ambiguity, conflict and argument. I suspect that in this area it is impossible entirely to avoid those problems. I suspect that we shall see that when we debate the other Bill progressing in another place. But it is a valiant attempt. I would be happy to make further comment in Committee. I confine myself today to those remarks and allow my noble friend Lord Donoughue to respond to the debate.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank everyone who contributed to this excellent debate. It produced widespread support, certainly in principle, for my proposals. I recognise that we are running late on a Friday.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, for his support and welcome of my proposed amendments. I look forward to working with him with positive assistance in Committee. My concern is to meet the concerns of he and his colleagues. Like others, I welcome the impressive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, which was a pleasure to hear. He represents the long, honourable libertarian tradition of his liberal party, which, sadly, has been deserted by some urban guerrillas in his party with less distinguished political records than he.
As always, my noble friend Lord Hardy spoke from deep knowledge and experience of the area. He made a challenging point about his terriers. We might settle that with a meeting, as they are gentlemen and mine is a lady, so that they may produce even greater perfection in the future.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, offered generous support from the Opposition Benches. They made some telling points, especially in emphasising the element of consistency in the Bill and the need to clarify the existing legislation. I was especially pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, welcomed the Bill. I believe that the amendments will satisfy her, and I look forward to working with her in Committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made some interesting points. I am not clever enough to have understood everything, but he made some interesting arguments against the Hunting Bill. I am content to allow our courts to judge basic issues. The noble Lord is wrong to say that there will be a clogging-up; it is not an unusual process, and the precedent has been established.
My noble friend the Minister displayed his customary knowledge and understanding, with no sign of malignity. I welcome his view of the Bill's merits, and I have confidence in the courage with which he will face the passage of the Hunting Bill through this House. The Minister said that he had difficulties with the definitions in my Bill, so I invite him to discuss that with me before the Committee stage. I assure him that I am willing to listen even to the Government. Most of the points that the Minister made, which were understandably written by officials before I made my speech, will be met by my amendments. I should like to sit with the Minister and confirm that.
In practice, the Secretary of State would not be deeply involved in proposing codes for the sports. Most of the sports have codes, and, as I said, I propose to collate them. If they do not exist, the role of the Secretary of State would be to encourage the relevant bodies to produce them.