Hunting Bill

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Mr. Gummer: I want the Minister to recognise that many of the amendments tabled by Opposition Members deal with a problem that we find to be widespread—that people who have no connection with hunting fear that the Bill will affect their normal activities. Dogs chase rabbits; that is one of the things that they do. It is an example of a naturally occurring activity that takes place between animals. The essence of hunting is that one purposely takes a dog in order to do that in an organised fashion. It is can be difficult to distinguish between that activity and doing it by accident, and many people fear the implications of that.

The Minister took exception to my saying—I thought politely—that he is credible on urban matters. I believe that to be true. But why does he not want to try to set people's minds at rest? That would not lead to any diminution in the effect of the Bill in terms of hunting, but it would significantly diminish its impact on people who do not hunt and do not wish to be caught up in these changes to the law.

It would surely be sensible for the Minister to say, ``Of course, if people are worried about this there is no reason why we should not try to be as helpful as possible.'' Having a list of dogs seems to be a perfectly reasonable way of making people feel that the Government are trying to do their best, given the circumstances, to ensure that people who do not need to be involved are not involved. Now that we have passed the stage of tough, hammer-and-tongs arguments about the principle of the Bill, can the Government not be accommodating?

My constituents are seriously worried about the matter. The Government may say that that is unnecessary, but people's perceptions are important, and it would be helpful if the Government could find it in their heart to make the changes that we propose. I say that in no party political terms, because changing the Bill as we suggest would make it more acceptable to many people who do not like it. The Government could then say to people, ``We happen to take this view on hunting, which is not your view. Nevertheless, we have gone to the trouble of accepting a series of amendments to ensure that the Bill doesn't interfere with the normal life of most people in the countryside.''

If the Government were able to do that, they would have a much more credible basis on which to appeal to people in the countryside. It would make life more difficult for me, because I would have to revise a number of the speeches that I have made or am about to make in my constituency and elsewhere. I am prepared to allow the Government to do better as a result because my constituents would not then feel that the Bill is more onerous that it need be.

6 pm

In an area where some people have strong concerns about civil liberties, our legislation should not be too onerous. Those living in the countryside ought to be able to say, ``Don't agree with them, but they've done their best.'' That should be the aim of the Committee. So far, we are disappointed that the Under-Secretary, although he has been generous in explaining a number of issues, has not yet been able to say, ``On balance, I understand that it is not important enough to press this point if people fear it.'' If we had a bit more of that, it would embarrass us more and embarrass him less.

I suppose that I ought to encourage him not to give way on anything, particularly if he has, as he said, a large rural area in his constituency. People there would support him even more than he suggests they do now if, on all possible occasions, he were to say ``Right. Let us make it simpler and worry people less.'' Let us show that we have only one thing in mind—the banning of hunting. On all these other things we should do our best to make people feel that we recognise and care about them and that Parliament is listening to them.

Mr. Öpik: I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. I agree in general with what he said. Having established that we are discussing the principle of banning hunting with hounds, at this stage it would be prudent to take on board those amendments that clearly delineate the extent to which other unintended consequences are allowed to result. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be sympathetic to some of the genuine and sincerely proposed amendments designed to achieve that.

Mr. O'Brien: Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, is he suggesting that this list, which does not, of course, include terriers, is within the terms of the will of the House, as expressed in its recent vote? I find that difficult to believe.

Mr. Öpik: At the risk of embarrassing the Under-Secretary—and therefore the whole Government—I was about to agree with him. Because I subjugate my feelings to my values, I shall continue to do so, despite his intervention.

As I said before, it is necessary to have a serious and rational conversation about terrier work. It is an equivocal debate—it is not absolutely clear cut. Members know where I stand on that, but provisionally, on the basis of the evidence—though I feel that it should be regulated—we should come back to that point at a later stage in our proceedings. I do not suggest that terriers should be included at this point, because that was not the intention of the hon. Member for Aylesbury when he tabled the amendments.

I think that I understand the intent behind this amendment, but it provides a great big loophole that could undermine the purpose of the schedule. I do not agree with the schedule, as the Committee knows, but given that we are meant to be analysing the proposals, it is difficult to see how the restriction to a few breeds would not create new breeds of dog, contradicting the attempted prohibition. How does the hon. Member for Aylesbury respond to the Under-Secretary's issue on this? Can he assure the Committee that this is not a wrecking amendment that would bypass the legislation as a whole? I ask that for the practical reason that, if the Bill as amended in this way were to become law and it turned out to invalidate the legislation, I do not doubt that we would find ourselves having the same discussion in a few years' time.

Mr. Lidington: My response to the concluding point made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is similar to that which I gave to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South. Taking account of the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and I made, if Parliament wishes to pursue the policy of a total ban, amendment No.5, which limits the offence to dogs that are bred for hunting, would be an easier way to accomplish that than amendment No. 4, which proposes naming the breeds that should be covered by the offence. I do not want to labour the point, but there are problems with the schedule. An amendment of that nature could go some way towards reassuring people, in the way that my right hon. Friend described, who feel that legislation intended to operate against organised hunting will have a wider impact on the lives of people in rural communities. However, for the purposes of today's debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Mike Hall.]

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes past Six o'clock till Tuesday 30 January at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Banks, Mr.
Beith, Mr.
Bercow, Mr.
Cawsey, Mr.
Garnier, Mr.
Golding, Mrs.
Gummer, Mr.
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lawrence, Mrs.
Leigh, Mr.
Lepper, Mr.
Lidington, Mr.
Maples, 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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