A cross-party group of peers officially announced today their plans to return the Hunting Bill to its original form during the Committee Stage debate on the Hunting Bill next week.
Lord Donoughue (Labour), Lord Livsey (Liberal Democrat), Lord Mancroft (Conservative) and Jim Barrington, an advisor from the Middle Way Group, stated that the Hunting Bill is no longer a matter of party politics and presented a united front.
The group said that they plan to return the bill to its previous form, as originally introduced by Alun Michael in 2002, during the three consecutive days next week tabled for discussion in the Lords.
Lord Donoughue said that their reasons were simply that the current Bill will not diminish cruelty to animals, but instead increase it.
The only departure from the original Bill will be an extra clause adding new obligations on wildlife management, in accordance with the EU Habitats Directive and other international commitments to which the Government is signed up.
“We will return the original Bill, or what is as close as humanly possible to the original Bill, to the Commons and then it is up to the Government. In my experience Prime Ministers can do quite extraordinary things, if they want to,” Lord Donoughue said.
“We cannot predict what will happen, but we will consider our work done when we have managed to amend the Bill as we see fit. However, I would like to point out that were this situation not so serious for the countryside and everybody who lives there, and their livelihoods, it would be farcical.”
Lord Mancroft spoke out about the unprecedented way in which this legislation is being forged: “The Parliament Act has been used four times in past 50 years, which means that the Commons and the Lords almost never disagree. This is because the means of resolving the differences between the two houses is compromise. This is how our political system works, and has done for centuries. To change this for a Bill which most people consider to concern a fringe issue is very surprising.”
Last year, the Hunting Bill sat in the Commons for 14 weeks for no reason before it passed to the Lords, ensuring that Peers had very limited time to debate it. The Government seems determined to leave the issue to the last minute again. The report stage has not yet been officially confirmed, and the Committee stage in the Lords has had to be squeezed into three consecutive days.
This year, however, the peers are prepared. And they, as a cross-party group, know what they want.
“If the Government does not give us a report stage to complete our work, I think the public will be extremely angry,” said Lord Mancroft.
And if the Parliament Act is invoked, and a ban is in place by Boxing Day?
“Then the Government will have to deal with the fact that this is not robust legislation, and that people in the countryside are not going to take the destruction of their ways of life lying down. But that is not a matter for us. We are doing our bit. After that, we have to wait and see what happens,” Lord Donoughue concluded.