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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, as regards Ireland not allowing fox hunting, has the noble Baroness never heard of the Galway Blazers or the Kilkenny Hounds? It is the greatest hunting country in the world.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I am so sorry. I give way to the noble Earl's greater knowledge on this.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, that does not detract from my other arguments. The Burns report concluded that,

Hunting is certainly not humane as it does not render the animal insensitive to pain as soon as possible.

I mentioned earlier that hunting is regarded by the hunting fraternity as a sport. For that reason alone I do not believe that we should hesitate to ban it. Killing an animal for pleasure is something I cannot condone.

Thirdly, hunts flout the rights of other country dwellers in relation to their property and their animals. Your Lordships may, like me, have received hundreds of letters about this Bill, the vast majority of them in my case in favour of a ban. Many of them gave eyewitness accounts of the lack of control of the hounds by the huntsman and/or complete lack of regard for the laws of trespass and damage by many riders. It is clear to me that for long periods of time the hounds are completely out of sight and out of control of the huntsman. Many of the letters from members of the public speak of the total arrogance and disregard for domestic livestock and pets, garden and field fences and permission to ride over the land or lack of it. If hunts have generated a mass of opposition from within the countryside itself, they only have themselves to blame.

Those who say that the opponents of hunting are all "townies" are totally wrong. This is not a betrayal of the countryside. The mass of letters I have received

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came mainly from country dwellers whose lives have been made a misery by inconsiderate and badly managed hunts. For this reason I do not believe that self-regulation will work.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said that Government Back-Benchers want the Bill as it has come to us in this House. Government Back-Benchers were elected in a majority by their electorate in full knowledge of their views. I am a democrat and I accept that their view should be implemented. I also happen to agree with it, and so does the RSPCA and many other animal welfare organisations.

We must have a complete ban. The Government have a mandate for it. I wish that they would just get on and do it and let us get on with discussing other more important matters in your Lordships' House.

4.37 p.m.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, in her impressive speech referred to the fact that some Members of Parliament represent Exmoor and had supported the continuation of hunting. The fact that my former constituency included a large part of Exmoor and the Quantocks has meant that for the past 30 years I have been much involved in the issues that we are discussing.

In the past, debates on this subject in another place and in your Lordships' House were marked, particularly in another place, by a good deal of ignorance and intolerance. I say with great respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that her reference to Ireland was a mind-blowing illustration of some misunderstandings that may exist in this area.

The attitude that I have taken on the issue over the years was much reinforced by a former leader of the noble Baroness's party, the noble Lord, Lord Steel. In a debate in another place he summed up the issue very clearly. He made it clear that to his mind it was illiberal to seek to ban fox hunting. I accept that in my former constituency two-thirds of the people polled were in favour of hunting although a considerable number used to write letters such as those the noble Baroness received to express their disagreement with hunting. In the debate I mentioned, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, made a clear distinction. He said that it was one thing to be in favour or against hunting but it was quite another to forbid other people from doing what they chose to do. I believe that that is absolutely right. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, also said that no true Liberal could possibly support a ban of that kind. The noble Baroness may wish to discuss that matter further with her noble friend Lord Steel.

Although ignorance and intolerance marked discussion on these matters over many years, one had hoped that at last the Government had embarked on a more sensible approach. I applauded the setting up of the committee under the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and the very conscientious way in which it addressed the issues. On behalf of the people of Exmoor, I should like to express my appreciation for the interest and the diligence shown by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, in trying to understand their problems.

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I had hoped that that message would be carried on in what became known as the Portcullis House process. The Minister, in his Statement of 21st March setting out the process that he would adopt, said:

    "I ask the House to trust me to deliver, and to join me in a process that is guaranteed to achieve an outcome as soon as possible. I look forward to engaging with colleagues on both sides of the House and in the other place".—[Official Report, Commons, 21/3/02; col. 458.]

One hoped that at last, in the fog of ignorance and intolerance on these issues, there would be a bit of common understanding and properly informed research.

The Government recognised that. I do not want to give too many of the quotations, but they believed at the time that the approach was right. It is really humiliating, because the Minister said that,

    "a complete ban amendment would destroy the architecture of the Bill . . . and be perceived as pursuing prejudice".

That was in the letter already quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, and sent by the Minister, Alun Michael, to John Prescott. Margaret Beckett, the Secretary of State, said:

    "No Bill on a simple ban has ever been thought to be workable. If cruelty is the main concern, I plead with colleagues neither to wreck the Bill, nor delay its timing".

That is precisely what happened. The Government surrendered in the face of their Back-Benchers. That was most humiliating. I cannot recall any occasion on which a Minister has abandoned his Bill and gone into the Lobby to vote in favour of the amendment that destroyed his own Bill. The Minister said in his press release that:

    "The future of hunting . . . should not be decided on personal taste".

I agree 100 per cent; one might say that it was an endorsement of the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Steel.

We have moved from a situation that appeared to have a certain basis of principle to one of no principles at all. The whole House was impressed by the speech of my noble friend Lord Hurd. Although they did not like the Bill, country people believed that this very difficult and controversial issue would be approached in a responsible manner. There was anger and strong feeling. Anyone who saw the marches and the rallies knows the background. That feeling has been made very much worse. What they thought would be serious and proper consideration has now been thrown out by the prejudice of a lot of Back-Benchers who come from a particular and rather narrow background. That is no secret. We know that the present make-up of the House of Commons is a problem, as we may not have the breadth of background of intake for it that we used to have. Country people see that group imposing its will without consideration for proper understanding and the research and study that has been done.

That is the worst possible climate in which now to proceed. I share the fears of my noble friend Lord Hurd. I do not support illegal actions, but the Minister recognised the problem, as he launched the issue of civil disobedience. It is pretty shaming for him, at a Second Reading, to stand up and recognise that the Bill that he

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is introducing will very possibly lead to civil disobedience. Any responsible government would turn round and say, "Hadn't we better look at that again? Have we got it quite right?".

I want to talk about deer hunting, which in some ways is the most difficult issue. I have represented parts of Exmoor for 30 years. In the statements of Ministers, it was said that there was incontrovertible evidence that deer hunting should be banned. The Minister has now been challenged to produce that incontrovertible evidence. First, he relied on Professor Bateson, who quickly issued a statement saying that anyone who thought his findings incontrovertible was, in scientific terms, illiterate.

Then the Minister turned to stalking, and claimed that the Burns report had said that stalking was less cruel. His letter to me stated that,

    "the nature of deer—their size and their browsing habits in particular—is such that it is always possible for a competent marksman to stalk an animal and kill it quickly while causing it minimal suffering".

I hope that no one will suggest that Exmoor is anything like Scotland, which is quite a different problem, but that is indeed perfectly possible for a competent marksman. However, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, wisely added:

    "A great deal depends, however, on the skill and care taken by the stalker . . . there is no reliable information on wounding rates, even in Scotland where stalking is carried out extensively. In the event of a ban on hunting, there is a risk that a greater number of deer than at present would be shot by less skilful shooters, in which case wounding rates would increase".

A letter from the National Trust stalker from the Holnicote estate—the National Trust estate where stag hunting was banned—stated that there was no doubt that by 2001, within four years, the total ban on stag hunting had increased the number of sick and injured deer on the estate, and that the problem had gone on long enough. We are about to embark on the same approach over a very much wider area.

There is no incontrovertible evidence to support the claim. However, there is incontrovertible evidence that, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, every responsible organisation on Exmoor—the Exmoor National Park, the Exmoor Society, the Deer Management Group and so on—has said that it is absolutely essential that there be an alternative deer management strategy before deer hunting is banned. The Exmoor Society is not involved in hunting, but is a conservation body committed to the preservation of Exmoor in all its forms. The simple line that it has sent to the Minister is:

    "It is simply not a valid option to do nothing except to make it illegal to hunt red deer on horseback with dogs. Failure to do so will be an irresponsible act of folly".

Ministers have so far failed to come up with any alternative deer management strategy. In the considered view of every organisation that knows Exmoor and the Quantocks, if that is not done, the future of the deer herd is at risk. It is essential before we proceed down this line that an alternative strategy is produced, or that a proper, licensed and regulated system of deer hunting should be allowed to continue.

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4.47 p.m.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie: My Lords, I preface my remarks by apologising to the Minister for not being in my place during his speech. Unfortunately, I was detained in traffic and I apologise for any discourtesy.

As has been reported, Alun Michael, the Minister in another place with responsibility for framing the Bill, stated that a ban on hunting was not easy. From experience, I echo that remark. During that consideration in another place, reference was made to the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002, and I have to say that some of it was rather ill-informed. I hope to some extent to set the record straight, as I believe that that will be helpful to our considerations. In doing so, I also place on record that I am proud to have been the sponsor of that legislation in the Scottish Parliament, which was given two full years of consideration in that legislature.

After years of misinformation from the Countryside Alliance and other hunt supporters who seem to me, from speaking to them, to enjoy using packs of dogs to chase, terrify, attack and ultimately kill foxes, that brutal practice was made illegal in Scotland when that Act came into force in August last year. We have heard that those opposing my then Bill claimed that a ban would result in the slaughter of hundreds of dogs and horses, and have a devastating effect on employment and the rural economy of Scotland, in particular in the Border region. In fact, none of that has happened, and their rhetoric and scare-mongering has been exposed as just that.

What is reality, though, is that the Act in Scotland bans the deliberate chasing and killing of foxes and mink with packs of hounds, as well as hare coursing and fox baiting. As an aside, I should say that I find it astonishing that anyone, as my noble friend Lady Mallalieu did, should defend hare coursing and say that the alternative of having no legal hare coursing would be even worse. The answer surely is that there should be no recourse to illegal activity in whatever form.

Not for the first time in hunting legislation, Scotland has led the field in that regard. Deer and stag hunting with dogs was outlawed in that country more than 50 years ago. The Bill would provide further safeguards for England and Wales and effect a leap-frogging process, which we will increasingly see in various areas of legislation following, or as a consequence of, devolution.

It is clear that the Act has divided the hunting fraternity in Scotland. There are those who accept that traditional hunting is at an end and that has led to the Dumfriesshire Hunt disbanding. Others, such as the Berwickshire Hunt, acquired a pack of bloodhounds and a new drag hunt has been established in Fife. Both sports follow artificial scents with some success and to the evident enjoyment of their followers.

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There are those who claim that it is simply business as usual, in a forlorn hope that the ban will be overturned through the courts. That is an important point.

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