The House of Lords voted to throw out proposals for a complete ban on hunting with dogs last night in an act of defiance towards MPs who want to outlaw fox hunting.
Peers "disembowled" a bill banning hunting which had been sent to them by the House of Commons and reinstated clauses which would lead to the registering of hunts.
Earlier this year, MPs overwhelmingly rejected the Government's proposals to license hunts and, instead, backed a complete ban on hunting with dogs. But a cross-party coalition of peers united to try to prevent an overall ban coming into force in a series of votes which diluted the Commons' Bill.
Their move will almost certainly mean ministers employ the Parliament Act, a little used parliamentary device, to force the Bill on to the statute books.
In the Lords, Baroness Mallalieu, a Labour peer who supports hunting, argued that the Commons' proposals would "create a nightmare for the courts and a field day for the lawyers". The Labour peer was one of many who argued that ordinary dog owners could be criminalised if their dog chased a rabbit by the current proposals. Baroness Mallalieu argued that "someone who has released their dog in a public park could fall foul of this legislation." She backed an amendment to the Bill which would only make it a criminal offence to hunt with dogs if a person intended to do it.
Lord Crickhowell, a Tory peer, said he was worried what would happen if his daughter's dog chased rabbits. "It's a charming whippet," he said. "[But] when it sees a squirrel or a hare in the bracken, [the dog] becomes almost uncontrollable. I suspect the ordinary dog owner for exercising their dog may find themselves committing a criminal offence."
Lord Eden of Winton, a Tory, said he had suffered "a similar situation" when his dogs caught several rabbits suffering from myxomatosis.
Lord Hooson, a Liberal Democrat peer, spoke in favour of an amendment to the Bill to make hunting with dogs an offence if hunting was intentional. "Nobody should be convicted of an offence in this country unless it is absolutely proven that he or she has an intention with crossing that act of Parliament," he said.
Peers later voted to bring in registration of hunts, in a series of votes which will put them on a collision course with the House of Commons.
Lord Graham of Edmonton, a Labour peer and former government whip, argued in favour of retaining the Commons' Bill banning hunting.
He said hunt supporters wanted to "disembowel" the Bill received from MPs. "I have wanted all my life to see a piece of legislation with these words in it," he said.
Ministers made it clear they did not support peers' attempts to change the Bill.
Lord Whitty, the junior environment minister, said he did not want to accept the amendments being tabled by peers.
He said: "The idea that we have an alternative before us of the original Bill promoted by the Government as against the Bill presented by the Commons is not actually the truth. Because of that background and because of the decisions of the House of Commons and the attitude that this House has hitherto taken, and the amendments which are before us, which are, in effect, attempting to substitute an alternative view, I am not going to recommend to the House we accept any amendments ... at all."
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