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The Earl of Longford: I have twice attempted to speak. I suppose that I will be allowed to do so eventually. I want to offer a solution to the grave problem which afflicts this House and this nation on this subject. I favour drag hunting. I was brought up to look upon hunting as a noble activity. I still think that it is a noble activity where human beings are concerned. My father was a master of hounds; I was blooded as a boy. Later on, my father commanded yeomanry; he had six hunters.
I was brought up in an atmosphere of hunting and I sympathise to the full with those who see hunting as a part of life. Nevertheless, as time has gone on, I have begun to think about animal rights. We never heard about animal rights when I was a boy; when I was
I therefore favour drag hunting. If anyone should say to me that drag hunting is not relevant because it is not banned, I would answer that it soon will be. If a ban is carried today, drag hunting will follow next. I am in favour of drag hunting.
Lord Carter: It may help if I inform the Committee that I have advised my noble friend that if he wishes to table an amendment to deal with drag hunting he will be able to do so when we recommit the Bill. Today we are discussing the three options. I explained to my noble friend that the House adopted, by a substantial majority, the Motion in favour of the procedure today to choose between the three options. When we have chosen an option and we recommit the Bill, it will be perfectly in order for my noble friend to table an amendment to deal with drag hunting.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: As the Committee knows, the whole Bill is to be dealt with on a free vote in our party, as in others, and therefore my remarks are personal and based on my long-standing support for hunting, which is well documented in another place.
Perhaps I may first say a word about the amendments and the grouping. The three options are very different and for each of them there are quite different considerations. Our soundings have suggested that it would be preferable to discuss them separately and decide on them separately so that we do not mix up the different considerations. Therefore, for the moment, I shall address my remarks primarily to Amendment No. 1 and to Amendment No. 4 and the schedule which goes with it.
As to the confusion about voting, the Committee believes that both the Chief Whip and my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, who was chairing the Committee at the time, were trying to do their best; no one accuses them in any way of anything else. However, we now know where we stand.
With regard to the two subsequent options, I made clear a fortnight ago my preference for option two--for supervision, as it is called in the amendment--rather than direct state regulation. However, both options are complex and merit further discussion. I should have preferred the Committee to be faced with the decision between the three options after we had had the opportunity to discuss the details of those options, rather than plunging in straight away. However, the House decided otherwise.
I emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said: it is the option that the Committee approves last in the sequence of voting that will remain in the Bill for further discussion. The other two options, whichever they are, will not be subject to the recommittal to which the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, referred.
Perhaps I may make a point about the position of the Minister and the Government. It seemed to me that the Minister was trying, as it were, to wash his hands of responsibility for the provisions of the Bill and the different amendments before us, and thereby preparing to side-step questions about the effects of the Bill. However, the Bill and the amendments have been put before Parliament by Ministers. The name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is on the front of this Bill and the name of the Home Secretary was on the front of the original Bill, with all three options contained within them.
Secondly, the Bill is being discussed in government time under a procedural Motion devised by the Government. Most importantly, the Government have a responsibility to guide this House to ensure that we pass good, workable, enforceable laws. We frequently hear Ministers in both Houses attempt to persuade Parliament by stating that such-and-such a provision is unworkable, unenforceable or undesirable from the Government's point of view. I confess to having done the same myself when I was a Minister.
Therefore, I hope that Ministers will do their best to answer points made by noble Lords on all three options in the course of these debates. Ministers are not simply facilitators; they must face up to their responsibilities to Parliament and the country. They must advise the Committee on all the information and advice available to them on the practical effects and considerations involved and on the legal drafting, while leaving the decision as to how to vote to each individual Peer.
I find it distasteful, to say the least, to be discussing this amendment today, when the countryside is plunged into such dreadful agony. It is very difficult to see what our countryside will be like when the present cataclysms are over. Some suggest that farming as we have known it cannot recover--at any rate in some parts of the country--or that farming will be substantially different from the way we have known it. It is said that even when the agony passes, a long, dark shadow will remain and that as yet unknown and immeasurable effects will stretch into the future.
It was not surprising that hunting was the first activity to stop entirely once the foot and mouth epidemic started, for it is intimately bound up with farming. However, the Government were determined to go ahead with the Bill. They wanted to push ahead with it even when it seemed certain that the election was to be held on 3rd May and that it had no chance of becoming law. Over the weekend there seemed to be a slight doubt about the election date because of the foot and mouth crisis. One might suppose that the timing of our discussions on the Bill would be rethought for the same reason. If the election is to be held on 3rd May, the Bill is going nowhere. If the election is not to be held on 3rd May, then there is plenty of time to discuss it and we do not need to press ahead in the present difficult circumstances. However, the Bill is listed on the Order Paper, so discuss it we must.
The Bill as it stands seems to lack clarity of purpose and definition. It never defines hunting--a serious omission given that that is what it is attempting to ban. Paragraph 24 of the schedule says something of what is included in the term "hunting", but it is not exclusive. Part II of the schedule sets out a variety of activities, which were mentioned by the Minister when he moved the amendment, which will not be offences, although they, too, are defined in a rather vague way.
Both this clause and the schedule attempt to impose a legal ban on all dogs, not only hounds, chasing certain other mammals. The provision does not solely relate to hunting and pink coats and horses. It would criminalise someone whose single dog chases a hare or follows the scent of a fox, mink or deer. Anyone who has walked dogs in the countryside can see the problems at once. It is natural for a dog to follow up scents that it comes across in the course of a walk, and even more natural for two dogs to do so because they encourage one another. I find it difficult to understand how one is to know, if one's dog first hits off a scent, whether it is the scent of a rabbit, a hare or some other forbidden mammal; it is perfectly legal to be in charge of a dog that is chasing a rabbit, a rat or other mammals. It seems that only dogs whose exercise is entirely confined to dragging their owners round parks on the end of a leash in the middle of a city can be sure of not getting their owners into trouble. The provision in the clause and in the schedule, if it were to be properly respected, would condemn all dogs to wear muzzles out of doors.
Nor is it easy to see how this provision is to be enforced by the police against an individual dog owner or dog walker. I suspect that only mounted police would be effective--which might be an interesting exchange for hunting--and they would need the permission of the landowner or occupier except where there were bridle paths as well as footpaths and they were open, which at the moment they are not.
I dislike legislation which is completely unenforceable in practice. It restricts those who are law-abiding, while allowing freedom to those who are prepared to disregard the law. If people are encouraged to disregard one law, they and everyone else come to have less respect for other laws. The progressive effect of that can already be seen in certain parts of our law. It is illustrated in the current government advertising campaign to encourage people to report benefit fraud.
People say that, on principle, the killing involved in hunting is wrong. I understand that, particularly when the proposition is put forward by vegetarians who avoid using leather. But if it is the killing that offends, why does not the Bill state that? An amendment could read: "Page 2, line 6, leave out 'hunts' and insert 'kills'". The first part of the schedule would then read: "A person commits an offence if he kills a wild mammal with a dog". Such an amendment might need slightly more elaborate drafting but that would be the idea.
The Earl of Longford: It is not just a matter of the killing; it is the particular way in which the fox is killed. It is pulled to pieces by hounds.
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