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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Hunting Bill

Hunting Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 30 January 2001


[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Hunting Bill

10.30 am

Schedule 3

Hunting with dogs: prohibition

Mr. David Lidington

(Aylesbury): I beg to move amendment No. 43, in page 19, line 28, at end insert

``so as to cause unnecessary suffering to the wild mammal''.

I tabled the amendment to tease out an explanation of why the offences framed in schedule 3 differed significantly from offences defined in other animal welfare legislation. Supporters of a ban on hunting with hounds always ground their arguments on the assertion that banning hunting would enhance animal welfare and lessen cruelty to wild mammals. However, nowhere in the Bill is there an explicit reference to cruelty. The schedule contains no list of actions that are defined as cruel. Nor is there any reference to the motivation of the person who is hunting; there is no requirement that he must act in a cruel manner for a criminal offence to be committed. Why is that? It puts the Bill at odds with previous legislation designed to improve animal welfare.

Section 1 of the landmark Protection of Animals Act 1911 sets out a series of actions that became criminal offences, if—and only if—they caused ``unnecessary suffering'' or were carried out

    ``without due care and humanity''.

However, although previous animal welfare legislation contains reference to cruelty in respect of the actions to be prohibited and the motivation of the person to be accused of the crime, none exists in this Bill.

The same principle extends to other animal welfare legislation. The Protection of Animals Act 1934 dealt with public exhibitions, contests and performances concerning animals. The Protection of Animals (Cruelty to Dogs) Act 1933 and the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act 1954 also illustrated the principle. That last piece of legislation is worth drawing to the Committee's attention because it gave the courts the power to disqualify a person from owning an animal on the ground that he had acted with cruelty towards animals and had been convicted of such an offence. The Bill gives the courts the power to disqualify a convicted person from owning a dog for a period specified by the court; it may even encourage the imposition of a life ban on ownership, despite the Bill containing no reference to cruelty in the motivation or actions of the person convicted.

I could quote other legislation, but the only other example to which I would draw the Committee's attention is the most recent, the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. That imposed penalties on anyone who

    ``mutilates, kicks, beats, nails or otherwise impales, stabs, burns, stones, crushes, drowns, drags or asphyxiates any wild mammal''—

I stress this last phrase—

    ``with intent to inflict unnecessary suffering''.

Most members of the Committee, whatever side of the argument they take on hunting, would agree that such conduct is cruel. That list makes the point. The 1996 Act required proof not only that the conduct had taken place, but that the perpetrator had intended to inflict unnecessary suffering.

The absence of any reference to cruelty in the schedule's definition of offences suggests that either the Government or Deadline 2000, the authors of the schedule, do not have much confidence in their ability to prove beyond reasonable doubt in court that hunting per se is cruel.

It is possible that, during a hunt, unnecessary suffering might be caused to an animal but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) would be the first to say, the organisers of responsible hunts will strive to the utmost to prevent such suffering.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): Will the hon. Gentleman explain what he believes to be necessary suffering, in the context of hunting?

Mr. Lidington: I will come to that shortly. I do not want to dodge the hon. Gentleman's question. However, to answer it properly, we need to consider the evidence in the Burns report and elsewhere about the experience of particular animal species during a hunt. That is the heart of the argument on animal welfare. I would be happy to give way to him during that part of my remarks. I contend that hunting does not normally involve unnecessary cruelty, as described by past animal welfare legislation. My reading of the Burns report suggests that that was its conclusion as well.

One of the striking things about the Burns report is how little scientific research there has been on the experience of hunted animals, particularly animal welfare during foxhunting.

My contention has always been that the onus of proof lies on those who wish to limit human freedom. They believe that they have an overwhelming case, but they must prove it with reference to evidence. From reading Burns, one realises that the evidence is lacking.

Far too little research has been done to justify such legislation.

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): Will the hon. Gentleman elaborate on that with reference to Professor Patrick Bateson's work on stags and deer hunting? That is world-class research. If Bateson had been able to acquire other grants, he would have studied other quarried species as well. The resources needed to investigate all quarry are not always available, in contrast to the position with, for example, biomedical research.

Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman must make his case to the relevant Ministers for additional expenditure on such research. I agree that those of us on this side of the argument must take Professor Bateson's report seriously. However, other scientific reports into stag hunting have reached different conclusions from those of Professor Bateson. In fact, the most recent report that Professors Bateson and Harris conducted for the Burns inquiry came to slightly different conclusions from Professor Bateson's original work.

Dr. Gibson: Will the hon. Gentleman quote that evidence in light of the Burns report, which brought the antagonists together and agreed a joint statement that the last 20 minutes of stag hunting were indeed cruel?

Mr. Lidington: I shall come to that point

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I salute the scientific expertise of the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson). We should bear it in mind that—as those of us who were on what I may colloquially call the Foster Bill Committee two years ago would know—Professor Bateson was involved in two reports. The first led to the banning of stag hunting on National Trust properties, but the later report considerably shaded off its conclusions. I respectfully suggest to my hon. Friend that one should not use the name Bateson as though it pointed only in one scientific direction.

Mr. Lidington: My hon. and learned Friend makes a very reasonable point.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): We do not have to remain in thrall to scientists. Logic also plays a part. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that logic would dictate that being ripped to pieces cannot be fun?

Mr. Lidington: Logic would certainly dictate that. However, evidence shows that that is not what happens. The hon. Gentleman is confusing what happens to the corpse of an animal that has been killed with the way in which the animal experiences death. We are discussing which of the various modes of killing wild animals we think is preferable on the grounds of animal welfare.

Dr. Gibson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lidington: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have given way a fair number of times, and I shall be happy to do so again later. However, I want to make progress.

It is acknowledged by both sides of the hunting debate that there are serious welfare implications in terms of every method of animal control. Paragraph 6.59 of the Burns report states:

    ``both snaring and shooting can have serious adverse welfare implications''

for the quarry animals.

Those who advocate a ban on hunting on animal welfare grounds offer three main criticisms: the animal suffers during the chase; the mode of death involves cruelty to the animal, which I think was the point made by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks); and the question of terrier work.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): The hon. Gentleman drew attention to paragraph 6.59 of the Burns report. I have just looked it up and the paragraph that follows states:

    ``Our tentative conclusion is that lamping using rifles, if carried out properly and in appropriate circumstances, has fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting, including digging-out.''

Would he care to comment on paragraph 6.60?

Mr. Lidington: Yes, indeed. The hon. Gentleman overlooks the view, which was accepted by Burns, of organisations representing farmers, landowners and other rural organisations. They consider that lamping—even if one accepts the hon. Gentleman's contention without qualification—is not a suitable method of control in every part of this country, particularly in upland areas, but also in areas where human beings may be inclined to roam across open ground, exercising their newly won rights.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): The habit of not quoting the next sentence from the Burns report seems to be spreading alarmingly among Labour Members. The next sentence to the one just quoted by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) says,

    ``However, in areas where lamping is not feasible or safe, there would be a greater use of other methods.''

10.45 am

Mr. Lidington: The right hon. Gentleman puts the point well. In the sentence from the Burns report that was quoted by the hon. Member for Pendle, Lord Burns said that lamping was preferable, provided that it was carried out in a safe and expert manner. An argument of those of us who oppose a hunting ban is that the likely consequence of such a ban would be to increase cruelty towards animals because there would be more inexpert marksmen shooting animals, more woundings, and greater resort to snaring and trapping, all of which carry implications for animal welfare.

I move on to the question of the chase and the three species that Burns commented on. I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I do not mention mink, as that was discussed at length last week. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) may wish to talk about that later.


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