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Lord Moran: I made clear my objections to this Bill on Second Reading and I was glad to give my strongest support to the concept of registration in the votes in our first day of this Committee. However, Amendment No. 28 is the first about which I have some doubts. I share the objection of my noble friend Lord Palmer to the word "utility".
My main concern is as a fisherman. As was made clear by the Countryside Alliance in its brief for Second Reading, the test of utility was narrowly drawn in the Bill. In Committee, that test was narrowed specially to cover pest control. The word "utility" has come to mean pest control. However, both coarse and game fishing have no utility on that basis. The widespread introduction of catch-and-release on conservation grounds, which is to be welcomed, means that there is even less utility in fishing.
Fishermen worry that, if the concept of utility is seen not simply as something that has been put forward by the Government but as something that is approved of by the House, it will give an additional handle to the League Against Cruel Sports and the other organisations that may be concerned with banning fishing in due course.
I am chairman of a committee known as the Moran committee, which comprises all the main fishery and angling organisations in England and Wales. At a meeting last week, I mentioned my concerns and found that they were shared by all the members of the committee. It would be good if we could get away from the concept of utility.
In Amendment No. 28, the definitions in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the things to which the registration should contribute are excellent, but the title of the new clause worries meit is "Tests for registration: utility and least suffering". If those responsible for the amendment could take out the words "utility and least suffering", which are not needed, I would be happier.
I have never understood why the Countryside Alliance and those who support it were happy about the concept of utility when it has come to mean pest control. Inevitably, it will discriminate against the big lowland hunts. On Report in another place, Alun Michael said that the Bill, as then amended, would,
Before the next stage, those who tabled the amendment should consider the dangers of opening the door to a move against fishing and, I suppose, shooting. I am surprised that those in the Countryside Alliance responsible for shooting and fishing have not raised that point. Perhaps they have or perhaps they have been asleep. It is important that the fishing and shooting fraternity are at one with Members of the Committee on this issue. Therefore, if the word "utility" could be eliminated from now on, I, for one, would be extremely grateful.
Baroness Mallalieu: As I have added my name to the amendment, perhaps I may refer Members of the Committee to what it does in relation to the process which Alun Michael started and to the Bill which he introduced into the House. From some of the remarks made by my noble friend the Minister before we adjourned, I anticipate that it will be suggested that, in some way, this is a dramatic change.
I turn briefly to what it was that we started out to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has already said, when Alun Michael announced his consultation process in a letter to interested parties in April 2002, he gave some indication of the two key principles which he intended to address in the Bill; that is, the prevention of cruelty and the concept of utility. I do not understand utility to be a term of art. I simply understand it to mean that it serves a useful purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has already read out part of that letter. Perhaps I may read the rest. Alun Michael wrote:
I think that I have an advantage over most noble Lords in having a copy of the original government Bill which has been annotated to show the amendments that are being made by the proposal made in the amendment now before the Committee. Perhaps I may just indicate what the changes are to Alun Michael's original Bill. Far from totally changing what is to be done, I hope that what we are doing is to go back to those principles which the Minister said at the outset he would introduce legislation to meet.
In subsection (1)(a)(ii), we have added the words "or wild birds", the original protection having been given simply to game birds. That seems to be a sensible amendment to the provision which can be regarded only as an improvement.
In sub-paragraph (v), to the words "growing timber", we have added "or regenerating woodland". Again, that is a plain and common-sense improvement to the Bill and could not possibly be said dramatically to alter it.
If it is said, as I expect it may, that this amendment seeks to run a coach and horses through what Alun Michael produced as the government Bill at the outset, I respond by saying: go back to what he announced to the public, what he wrote to those who communicated with him, and what he produced at the outset. What we have done is to take his initial proposals and seek to clarify and strengthen them. Surely that is the role of this Committee.
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