An inevitable clash unfolded in the House of Lords on Tuesday over the Hunting Bill, with many as 60 peers down to speak. Pro and anti members took turns to convince the House of their opinions in a session which lasted well past 11pm.
One of the more provocative points to come out of the evening was Lord Whitty explaining that if the Commons and the Lords continued to disagree about the wording of the Bill, the Commons would decide whether to use the Parliament Act to force through a ban, effectively meaning the Government would have no scruples about forcing its preferred legislation through.
Baroness Byford spoke forcefully against the Government’s motives: “This Bill is a ‘buy-off’. It is a cold, calculating attempt by the Government to mollify its backbenchers, and to give them something they want in the hope that they will, thereafter, accept a few things that they obviously do not want.
“The adverse effect on the countryside, on the life of rural areas and on personal freedom generally is considered fair exchange for the continued supremacy of New Labour.”
The Lord Bishop of Hereford added: “My Lords, this is a sad day. It is sad because we are again spending an inordinate amount of time on a matter that should never have come before Parliament; sad because we are considering a Bill which, in its present form, is ignorant, obstinate and destructive; sad because it could have been otherwise.”
The debate continued with anti-hunting peers arguing that modifiying the Bill as it arrived from the Commons would go against the majority of people who think that hunting is cruel, and urged members to vote for a minimum of changes to the legislation as it stands.
Lord Jopling, speaking as one who spent over 30 years in the Commons told the House that he had never seen a Bill so kicked into the ‘long grass’ as this, and said the only conclusion he could come to is that the Government has been playing games with it, and that it cannot be serious about finding a solution.
Following the debate, which did not conclude in a vote, Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive of the League Against Crual Sports said: “We are pleased to note Lord Whitty making the Government’s position very clear. He effectively told their Lordships that, while reasonable amendments would be considered, there was little point simply trying to turn the clock back or to try to prevent the resolution of this contentious issue.
“A total ban on hunting is now inevitable. Hunting will be illegal in 18 months.”
The Countryside Alliance was philosophical: “There was nothing surprising in last night’s debate,” said a spokesman. “It was good to see massive support for a workable solution, and a strong move to see the Bill back in its original form.
“What we are seeing now is a game of political chicken between the Commons and the Lords, and if the Government decide to invoke the Parliament Act, they are going to make themselves look extremely dictatorial and this will only serve to hurt them more.”