Friday, January 28, 2005

Hunting foxes through the House of Lords

I was going to write something on Brash and his attacks on welfare - but everyone else has and I don't want to give him any more of the oxygen of publicity.

So I thought I'd comment on the UK fox-hunting lobby's attempt to defeat the soon to be implemented ban on their sport through court action.

To start at the beginning:
  • In 1910, the Liberal government of HH Asquith was being thwarted in their attempts to introduce a number of measures, including Irish Home Rule and various taxes, by the veto power of the Tory dominated House of Lords (acting as a parliamentary chamber rather than a court).
  • The Liberals made the blocking power of the HoL an election issue. Following their re-election, they introduced what became the 1911 Parliament Act. Unsurprisingly, the Lords tried to block this - they finally passed the bill under threat of King George V creating a large number of Liberal peers to overturn the Tory majority. Interestingly, George V had been unwilling to do this prior to the 1910 election - it seems that in England 95 years ago, the King did not feel bound to always act on the advice of ministers.
  • The 1911 Parliament Act required that non-money bills could only be delayed for two years (and three parliamentary sessions) by the HoL. (Money bills could only be delayed by one month). In addition, a parliament could not pass a law to prolong itself without Lords approval.
  • The Labour government of Clement Attlee wished to reduce this to one year and two sessions. They introduced the 1949 Parliament Act to enact this. This Act was also opposed in the HoL and was passed under the provisions of the 1911 Act.
  • The Blair government was committed to a ban on fox-hunting at both the 1997 and 2001 elections. An Act to effect such a ban has been passed by the House of Commons but voted down in the HoL. The requisite time having elapsed, it has now been passed into law under the Parliament Act and is due to be implemented next month.

The fox-hunters are now taking action in the High Court, asserting that the 1949 Parliament Act was itself invalidly passed. Their justification for this is somewhat tenuous: they argue that the 1911 Act, in preventing a Parliament from prologing itself, also prevented the Act itself from being amended without consent of the HoL. Because Parliament did not entrench the ban on prolongation from repeal by the HoC alone, they made the ban ineffective against a Commons determined to repeal the ban and then prolong itself - the argument is that they would not reasonably do this and hence intended to make the entire 1911 Act entrenched from single-chamber amendment.

I doubt this will hold water, frankly. The case will no doubt move rapidly to the Appeal Court and House of Lords - in view of the emotions stirred up I assume that leave to appeal will be allowed. The fox-hunters also plan an appeal on Human Rights grounds - the exact nature of this will be interesting.

Reference: Wikipedia on Parliament Act
House of Commons Research Note on Parliament Act
George Dangerfield - The Strange Death of Liberal England

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