Standing Committee B
Tuesday 23 January 2001
[Mrs Marion Roe in the Chair]
The Chairman: Before we resume proceedings, I should remind Committee members that there is a financial resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the Room. I should also remind Committee members that adequate notice of amendments should be given. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I begin by welcoming you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. In the course of our deliberations, you will doubtless give wise rulings and ensure that we stay in order. I should also say that we missed the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) during last week's sitting, and welcome news of his child's full recovery.
Clause 5 simply provides that the short title will be the Hunting Act 2001, and I shall be intrigued to discover whether any Committee member can find good cause to debate that point.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): The Minister may be relieved to know that I do not intend to debate the clause at length. I join him in welcoming you to the Chair, Mrs. Roe. I thank him, and in particular the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), for helping me out during my son's illness last week. Their efforts were much appreciated.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. O'Brien: The clause simply sets out the Bill's territorial extent. There was some debate on this matter on the Floor of the House, but it remains to be seen whether any Committee member wants to discuss it today. I commend the clause to the Committee.
Mr. Lidington: I wish to make some brief points.
As Committee members are well aware, the Bill will apply only to England and Wales: for Scotland and Northern Ireland, responsibility for hunting with dogs has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly respectively. Should the Bill become law, do the Government plan to issue guidance on the different legal regimes that might apply either side of the border between England and Scotland? Such guidance would be particularly relevant to those living in the border areas.
Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): Why not rebuild Hadrian's wallno dog could leap that?
Mr. Lidington: At the moment, several packs in the border regions hunt freely in both English and Scottish counties. Even if we assume that the Bill will become law and all who currently participate in organised hunts will obey it in the time scale permitted by Parliament, the question of the way in which different regimes in Scotland and England will affect the activities of individuals will remain. Not only will the Bill affect organised packs of hounds; it will apply explicitly to all hunting with dogs, whether by groups of people or individuals. Indeed, the Committee will want to explore in greater detail the Bill's possible impact on dog owners whose animals chase wild mammals when off the leash.
The Bill provides for the offence of hunting with dogs to be arrestablethe implication being that the police would be responsible for investigating complaints that an individual or group of people had been hunting with dogs. We could be considering an alleged offence in either England or Scotland, yet the individual concerned might not be aware at which point in his walk he had crossed the boundary. One can envisage a farm or estate straddling the border. Indeed, one can envisage a dog owner on one side of the border, and his dog on the other. Given those circumstances, it is fair to ask the Government how they will explain to people who, however much they dislike the Bill, intend to obey it if it becomes law, how the different legal regimes in England and Scotland will affect them.
Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): On the point about borders, the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) suggested that we should rebuild Hadrian's wall, which would be a dramatic and expensive solution. Nevertheless, we must address the serious legal issues associated with border incursions by hunts.
I want to discuss the issue of hunting in Wales, which has already been raised on the Floor of the House. The Welsh Assembly is not responsible for that, but many people think that it should be. I understand the Minister's position that Home Office issues are dealt with by Parliament, but it is a matter of regret for the Assembly.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): The hon. Gentleman says that many people are disappointed that that issue is not a function of the Assembly, but does he accept that many people, including many Assembly Members, feel that it should be an issue for Parliament? By the very nature of the devolution settlement it is a matter for Parliament.
Mr. Öpik: ``Many'' does not imply a majority, and limited resources have prevented polling on the matter. I was putting on record what was debated extensively on the Floor of the House, so we do not need a repeat performance. As we progress the legislation, I hope that consideration will be given to ensuring that the Assembly is given the respect of being kept up to date with developments.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): The cross-border issues that have been mentioned are relevant to my constituency. There are hunts on both sides of the border and hunt kennels are located extremely close to it. Furthermore, there are additional complications for individuals who are out with dogs in the border area.
The Bill is unclear on how the powers of arrest would be exercised, and perhaps the Minister could explain that. Legislation enacted in the previous Session significantly extended the ability of police officers from Scotland and England respectively to assist their colleagues in the neighbouring jurisdiction. Hon. Members who are paranoid about devolution should realise that that change altered a long-standing system. Throughout history, Scottish constabulary did not operate in England, and English constabulary did not operate in Scotland. For good practical reasons, new arrangements were devised and embodied in legislation, and they will have some bearing on the exercise of constables' powers in relation to offences that take place in England but are committed on the border. Will the Minister clarify how the police will be expected to operate in border areas?
My constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) are concerned about the Bill in relation to proposed legislation currently before a pre-legislative Committee of the Scottish Parliament. They are bound to have different outcomes. It seems that there is more prospect of the Scottish legislation being passed than of the Bill ever reaching the statute book.
The Chairman: I remind Members that I must bring the debate on the clause to a close at 10.45.
Mr. Michael: I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly on the cross-border issue in relation to Wales. The matter is especially significant in Scotland because it has its own legal system. However, that has always been so, and I am sure that any problems can be dealt with under the devolution settlement.
The situation in Wales is different. We have a long, porous border, which applies in various economic and other aspects, and cross-border arrangements are very important. The area represents one legal jurisdiction in terms of criminal justice and of the application of the Bill. It is not a matter of rebuilding Offa's dyke or Watt's dykeon which I am something of an expertbut of ensuring sensible arrangements in the one jurisdiction.
The National Assembly for Wales does have a voice and can express a view. When the Burns report was published, the first thing that I did was send a copy of it to my colleague Lorraine Barrett, the Assembly Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, who read it and let me have her views. The Assembly as a whole can debate such matters, which are not devolved, and give Ministers and Parliament their views.
Many Assembly Members and members of the public in Wales simply want to see the matter resolved. I must say to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) that they do not want a compromise based on the middle way. Many people are not happy that a shady deal was stitched up between the Liberal Democrat party and the Welsh nationalist party during the votes in the House the other week. The devolution settlement is clear, and the hon. Gentleman may as well accept the fact that his colleagues have admitted that.
The issue must be settled. We should listen to the voices of Members of the Welsh Assembly as significant members of the political community in Wales. I place on the record that my local Assembly Member has urged me to support the ban on hunting and to get the Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I suppose that the Government are fairly relaxed about the matter because they think that it is inevitable that the Scottish Parliament will vote to abolish hunting as well. However, that may not happen. It would certainly be chaotic if the two jurisdictions had completely different laws on hunting. That would arise in one part of the United Kingdomon the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Irelandif the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to abolish hunting. In those circumstances, it would be extremely difficult for the police to cope. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury made clear, hunts range over a wide area; they will start in one jurisdiction and finish in another. Let us suppose that the Scottish Parliament decided to frame a law differently.