Hunting Bill

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Mr. Maples: The hon. Gentleman is misunderstanding the effect of the amendments. If amendment No. 2, for example, were accepted, paragraph 1 would state:

    A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal other than a rabbit with a dog.

Someone who in practice hunted an animal that was not covered by the exception would be committing an offence, so the amendment would not cause the doubt to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Pickthall: I agree that that is what the amendment is trying to achieve, but in practice it would enable someone who does not agree with the law to make the plausible excuse in court that they were hunting rabbit and did not intend to catch hare. In my district, hares and rabbits live side by side in large numbers. Someone might say that at the last moment their dog caught a hare: it went down a hole chasing mammal A, and unfortunately caught mammal B.

11.15 am

Mr. Leigh: I am trying to understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. He seems to be suggesting that people will use the amendment's proposal as a loophole and say that they were actually chasing rabbits. In the unlikely event that that is what they wanted, they could simply say, equipped with the Bill's part II exceptions and paragraph 8, which states:

    It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that—the conduct to which the charge relates consisted of hunting rodents

``I was hunting rodents.'' I do not see the difference.

Mr. Pickthall: The hon. Gentleman is quite right and we must look at that because it presents precisely the same sort of anomaly.

Mr. Leigh: Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the exception to which I referred on page 21—the hunting of rodents—is a weakness of the Bill and that he may want to return to the matter and take that exception out?

Mr. Pickthall: I confess that I shall again be looking carefully at that paragraph, but I am not suggesting that it should be taken out, because rodent control is important. However, it must not be used as a plausible excuse in the way that I described.

Mr. Garnier: Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury is entirely consistent with paragraph 8(1)(a)?

Mr. Pickthall: Amendment No. 1 covers the entire Bill, not simply paragraph 8. It covers every type of hunting. This debate so far has concentrated on gamekeeping and low or modest pest control.

Mrs. Golding: My hon. Friend has just said that he considers rodent control to be important. Is he saying that control of rabbits and mink is not important?

Mr. Pickthall: I do not think that I said that. I opened my remarks by saying that the control of rabbits in particular is desperately important. I have no direct experience of mink in my area, so I fight shy of saying anything definitive about that. I have read the literature, seen video footage and so on, but I have not experienced the matter for myself. I do not underestimate the problem of mink in some areas—particularly in connection with fisheries.

Mr. Garnier: May I read to the hon. Gentleman paragraph 1? It states:

    A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog.

Paragraph 8(1) says:

    It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that . . . the conduct to which the charge relates consisted of hunting rodents

and so on. I may be being obtuse, but is not amendment No. 1 tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury entirely consistent with that?

Mr. Pickthall: Paragraph 1 covers the entire Bill and creates an offence. Paragraph 8 says that proving that one is dealing with rodents is a defence, as are other activities under the exceptions in paragraph 7. The amendment would create an offence, then make a blanket exception to it. That is different from starting with the creation of the offence and subsequently allowing defences, as paragraph 8 reasonably does.

On mink, the hon. Member for Aylesbury quoted the comment in the Burns report that hunting mink is a temporary control in specific localities. That creates a mechanism for the renewal of the mink population to provide constant prey for hunting—a situation that might develop anyway, given the descriptions of fisheries by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and by Opposition Members. That is different from a hunt being used, in effect, to create a constant supply of mammals to destroy, as the amendments would allow.

I shall briefly comment on the point adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. She resurrected the argument that when this is all over, the League Against Cruel Sports, or another of the organisations that she mentioned, will start to campaign for the abolition of guns, fishing and so on. Of course, some people in those organisations will say that they want to do that. However, they would require a public and political consensus, which does not exist on this side of the Committee or in anything other than a tiny minority of Members of Parliament.

The speciousness of the argument rests on the fact that we would never legislate for anything on that basis. Whatever law is proposed, its opponents step forward and say, ``If you do that, you'll want to do this next week. You want to ban tobacco advertising—next year it'll be advertising booze, then make-up or chocolate, which is worse for you than cigarettes.'' I know that Oppositions use that argument, because I often did so when we were in opposition. It is irrational to attack a piece of legislation by saying that further, tougher legislation on other matters will be introduced subsequently. Such a piece of legislation exists in its own right to deal with a specific problem.

Mrs. Golding: The Government introduced legislation to control the use of guns, yet the Bill encourages the use of guns in the countryside. If one goes rabbiting, one has to take a gun.

Mr. Banks: The legislation concerned handguns.

Mrs. Golding: One is just as dead if one is shot by a handgun as by any other kind of gun. It is strange to control something with one piece of legislation, then introduce another piece of legislation that encourages it.

Mr. Pickthall: The legislation was intended to stop the use of handguns. During the passage of that Bill, it was said time and again, ``This is only the start. Next week it will be another type of gun.''

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): My hon. Friend may recall that, at that time, the Government took great care clearly to state that they had no intention whatever of interfering with the necessary use of guns in relation to countryside activities. Their purpose was to remove handguns from people who had no excuse for possessing them.

Mr. Pickthall: My right hon. Friend and I served on the Committee that considered that Bill, and I remember it well.

Throughout the debate, the argument has centred on alternatives to hunting with dogs. That is what we have been talking about, Opposition Members included. The basis of the argument is the efficacy of the type of hunting concerned. The opponents of the Bill say, ``Farmers can't shoot straight. They only half kill the fox''—or whatever animal it may be. The farmers in my area seem to be perfectly good shots.

Mr. Garnier: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to listen to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson)—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Banks, Mr.
Beith, Mr.
Bercow, Mr.
Cawsey, Mr.
Garnier, Mr.
Gibson, Dr.
Golding, Mrs.
Gummer, Mr.
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lawrence, Mrs.
Leigh, Mr.
Lepper, Mr.
Lidington, Mr.
Maples, Mr.
Michael, Mr.
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Öpik, Mr.
Organ, Mrs.
Pickthall, Mr.
Prentice, Ms. Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Rendel, Mr.
Shipley, Ms
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Angela
Soames, Mr.

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Prepared 25 January 2001