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9 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I rise to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) said in moving the amendment, and I also agree with the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

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I speak tonight not as the Member of Parliament for Aldershot, but as the son of a borderer, and the grandson of a Scottish border farmer. My family was one of those that did so much to create that beautiful border countryside that lies just north of the Carter bar and runs up to Edinburgh. They will clearly be affected if the ban were to be implemented by the Scottish Parliament, and the problems will be worse if the amendment, or one like it, is not accepted by the Government.

I spoke tonight to my uncle, Charlie Douglas, a former master of the Jed Forest hunt. He tells me that the hunt often crosses the border. However, it is not always possible to delineate where that lies, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed made clear and as I may have told the House before.

When the Ministry of Defence was seeking to establish precisely where the border ran over the Cheviot hills, officials had to call on another of my uncles. The Otterburn range extends right to that point, and my uncle, Garry Douglas, a tenant farmer on the Roxburgh estates, was responsible for farming the land right up on the border. That was sometime in the 1950s. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to a two-stranded wire fence, and that it is probably the only delineation of the location of the border.

There is therefore a real problem in defining the point at which people who are legitimately engaged in the lawful pursuit of hunting in Scotland become criminals in England. As the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed said, there are eight hunts in the area. Four are on the Scottish side. They meet regularly, very close to the border.

Why should people who hunt there have to change tens or hundreds of years of practice and move away from their traditional hunting grounds to go and hunt where they can be sure that they will not run the risk of becoming criminals in England? That could happen if their hounds chase after a fox which, not being clear of the geography and not having global positioning system equipment to guide it, runs off into England.

Unless the amendment is accepted, the Bill will restrict the rights of people in Scotland to pursue their lawful activity without incurring the risk of prosecution. The Bill will require them to rearrange their hunting so that there is no conceivable risk of straying anywhere over the border. That is an important consideration. Hunting is a very popular sport in that part of the world, which fits Lord Burns' description of those remote areas where hunting is so much part of the glue and fabric of rural and agricultural society. The Bill threatens that activity.

Hunting provides support for the local economy. It not only provides support for those who supply saddlery and farrier services but attracts foreign tourists who bring their foreign currency into the border area. That is also a help.

There is a real risk that we are in danger of legislating to make criminals of people who are perfectly entitled to pursue their lawful activity north of the border. I am astonished that the Government have not already addressed the issue. As I recall, on previous Bills brought before the House, such points have been specifically addressed.

Mr. Hogg: May I remind my hon. Friend that when we considered the private Member's Bill of the hon. Member

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for Worcester (Mr. Foster), we dealt with the position in Northern Ireland and the problem that arose with regard to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic?

Mr. Howarth: My right hon. and learned Friend is entirely right. The Government owe us an explanation as to why they have not recognised this difficulty, given that it has already been drawn to their attention on previous occasions. As with so much else that the Government do, they really do not care. They certainly do not care about the countryside. They will simply ram the legislation through. I expect that they will vote against the amendment, quite oblivious to the very real risks that would be run by those engaged in lawful hunting in Scotland if their hounds or the fox strayed across the border.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, will not tell us that we are talking about something theoretical that is unlikely to happen. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady indicates that she will not say that. That is encouraging.

Lest anyone believes that the police officers will not be interested in pursuing these matters to ensure that no criminal activity takes place, I have to say that plenty of hunt saboteurs will congregate in that part of the world. All the hunt saboteurs who will be out of a job in England and Wales if this illiberal and obscene measure goes through will gravitate up to Scotland to disrupt the lawful hunting that takes place there.

We all know how these people work. They will go out in droves to watch the hunting. They will presumably mark out the border or have extraordinarily detailed maps of where they think the border is. They will monitor the hunting that takes place, report to the police anybody who strays across the border and demand that the police prosecute. So the police will have that pressure placed on them. We know that they are unhappy with the measure in its totality in any case.

People in Scotland will find it extremely disturbing to have imported all these ghastly hunt saboteurs. I have never understood how people who call themselves hunt saboteurs could do other than fall foul of the law, for sabotage, I thought, was an unlawful activity in this country.

If I were the chief constable of the Lothian and Borders police force, I would be extremely concerned about all those people coming across the border if the Bill goes through. They would cause mayhem for the police, seeking, in particular, to find those who were hunting while straying across the border.

I feel very strongly about the personal dimension. I do not see why members of my family who fought for the freedom of these islands should be subjected to this outrageous attempt to criminalise them. If they pursue their perfectly legitimate activity in Scotland, they run the risk of being criminalised because of straying inadvertently across the border. My uncles did not fight in the second world war so that such a gross intrusion into their freedom could take place--[Interruption.] The Minister shakes her head. I can tell her that some of us do not just recite the briefings; some of us feel strongly about the matter--[Interruption.] It is not the Minister's position to tell me to sit down. We feel strongly about this important issue. The Minister has had time to address

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it, but she and her Government have constantly failed to do so. I congratulate my hon. Friends on tabling the amendment, which I shall support.

Mr. Hogg: I shall be brief. I support the amendments proposed by my hon. Friends. Of the two, amendment No. 77 is to be preferred but I shall accept amendment No. 76 if the Question is put on it.

The points are simple. Foxes do not respect frontiers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) has demonstrated from his family experience, foxes cross the boundary between England and Scotland--a fact that comes as no surprise to anyone who knows about foxhunting or any country activity.

Whatever the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) says, the plain truth is that we are diminishing the freedoms of Scots. No Scots hunt could sensibly hunt close to the border where it might cross the boundary. That is also true of gamekeepers--the example cited by the right hon. Gentleman--or of people who are using hounds or dogs for rabbiting. Such people will cross the border. Having done so in the course of hunting, people who started a lawful activity at 10 o'clock in the morning will suddenly find that they are engaged in unlawful activity at 11 o'clock. The only sensible conclusion that they could come to would be that they must withdraw from the frontier, so that there is no risk of crossing it. At that point, we are derogating from the freedoms of people in the United Kingdom--for no good reason.

For that reason, the Government ought to accept the amendment. They are in no position to say that they did not know about the matter or have had no opportunity to think about it. As I pointed out to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot, that precise difficulty was identified during proceedings on the private Member's Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), when we drew attention to such problems in relation to the border between the Province of Ulster and the Republic of Ireland.

Difficult definitional questions will arise if we do not accept the amendment. Let us assume that the gamekeeper, referred to by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, or my Scots hunt cross the border and that the person in charge of either the gamekeeper's dog or the hounds wants to recover the straying animals. At what point in that process of recovery does the huntsman or the gamekeeper cease to be a person hunting and become a person recovering the dog or the hound? Presumably, one has to address that principal motive. That person began by hunting and then crossed the border. Was he still hunting or was he trying to recover his hounds? That is a difficult question.

We do not want to encourage prosecution. We do not want to diminish the freedoms of Scotsmen. The only sensible course is to accept a provision such as amendment No. 76 or amendment No. 77. If the Government say that those provisions are not well formulated and that we should reconsider them, my response is that they have access to parliamentary counsel so that is the course they should adopt.

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