Hunting Bill

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Mr. Garnier: I am listening with care to the hon. Gentleman's comments. Does he believe that there should be no such thing as necessary suffering?

Mr. Pickthall: No, I think that I said the opposite in my remarks about the pharmaceutical world and the need to experiment on animals. I hope that that need is minimised, if not eliminated, but the example suggests that animal suffering could be thought of as necessary.

The point is that hunting activity has already been judged to be unnecessary by the House and by the majority of the country's population. Therefore, one is left swimming around in endless arguments about what is more cruel or what causes more suffering. A large majority of the House believes that hunting with dogs causes suffering. It does not matter whether the period of suffering is short, or that it is proved to have lasted 10 or 20 minutes. Suffering is caused, and so to table an amendment that includes the word ``unnecessary'' is nonsense.

I simply do not accept the comments about hare coursing made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Having visited Altcar on many occasions, as a protester and a guest, I have seen what goes on there. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is about testing the ability of the dogs. Of course, that is the traditional purpose. I have no reason to doubt that points are scored according to which dog turns the hare most often or skilfully.

12.45 pm

Whether the hare is caught depends almost entirely on when the dogs are released. If the hares are not being killed in sufficient quantities, the dogs are let go a little earlier; if things are going well, the dogs are held for longer to give the hare a better chance. A few years ago, I went to a hare coursing event with my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), the late Member for Wigan, Roger Stott and other Members. We were there for almost three hours in the morning and not one hare was caught. The dogs caught 12 before we arrived and about another 12 over the rest of the day. None was caught while we were there because the handlers did not want us, as guests, to be upset by the sight. I was much more upset by the audience than by the dogs.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that most hares get away. That is true—the majority of hares probably escape—but there are plenty of other people with dogs waiting for them in surrounding fields and a hell of a lot more get caught in the outskirts. I apologise for wandering into the general debate. I did not intend to do so but I was tempted by the right hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Gentleman also compared the pleasure that people might get from hunting to the pleasure that people get from eating meat. However, people who eat meat do not kill animals for pleasure and pursue them to the abattoir. The animals are killed because people wish to eat them, which is an ordinary, natural process. To compare the killing of animals for food to the killing of animals for a thrill or entertainment is a false argument. I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman because he is highly articulate and intelligent. That argument has been around for a long time and has been battered enough.

Several Opposition Members said that hunting, and therefore the killing of an animal at its end, was totally natural. Is it natural to spend vast amounts on keeping specialist dogs that have been artificially bred to do the business and to do it slowly? If one pursued foxes with greyhounds, the foxes would not last very long, so slower dogs with greater stamina are bred specially for the purpose. That is not a natural process in the countryside and it is wrong-headed to pretend that it is. Putting our human intelligence into inventing a sport such as tennis is natural only in that the human brain thought it up. The human brain is part of nature, but it is capable of creating disturbing things as well as the energetic, helpful, thrilling and culturally wonderful activities that most sports are.

Mr. Soames: What the hon. Gentleman said is untrue. The breeding of hounds has evolved over centuries. For instance, hounds in the south-east are stronger and bigger because they go through thicker undergrowth. They are also bred to be paler in colour so that they can be seen in the woods, as opposed to hounds bred in Leicestershire or Nottinghamshire—where there is more open country—which need to be lighter in weight. There is nothing artificial about it. Breeds have evolved through the centuries, almost since Norman times.

Mr. Pickthall: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because his intervention makes my point exactly. He confuses evolution with what we might call forced or engineered evolution. It has, of course, taken generations to breed particular types of animal. One can even breed different coloured dogs for different parts of the country—he is better able than me to enlighten the Committee on such points—but that is not a natural process.

The Chairman: Order. With due respect, the hon. Gentleman is again breaking his own restrictive ordinance.

Mr. Pickthall: I am, and I apologise. My remarks were coming to an end until I rose to respond to that intervention.

The Parliamentary Secretary of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy): The hon. Member for Aylesbury has again instigated an interesting debate. We have enjoyed thoughtful and well argued contributions on a subject that, having heard some of the difficulties that we have had with definitions, is both practical and philosophical.

The effect of the amendment would be that hunting with dogs would constitute an offence only where unnecessary suffering was caused to the mammal being hunted. If I understood the hon. Member for Aylesbury correctly, he claimed that all the offences in the Protection of Animals Act 1911 are qualified by the term ``unnecessary suffering''. It is not correct to say that all the offences are so qualified. For example, many of those mentioned by other Committee members, such as procuring or assisting at the fighting or baiting of an animal, are absolute offences. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 makes it an offence to damage, destroy or obstruct a badger sett or to cause a dog to enter a badger sett. There is no mention of cruelty or intention to cause suffering.

The amendment does not help us to resolve that difficult issue. There are many different views. Some believe that hunting with dogs, by its nature, inflicts suffering on the quarry, while others argue that no unnecessary suffering is caused, because any method of pest control is ultimately to the detriment of the pest that is to be controlled. Other arguments are advanced to defend the motives of those riding to hounds. Each side chooses to interpret the scientific evidence—and the Burns report—differently, so as to support its own point of view. Each is entitled to do that.

If we were to agree the amendment, we should not resolve the question of whether hunting with dogs causes unnecessary suffering. Rather, we should hand the courts an incredibly tricky, difficult, controversial problem. This is an issue that Parliament should decide, rather than placing it in the hands of the courts. The exchanges between the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex and my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham illustrated my point. I fairly frequently agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, and on this occasion I entirely agree with him; this is a question of judgment. The House of Commons has made a judgment on this issue and, on that basis, I hope that the hon. Member for Aylesbury will withdraw the amendment.

The Chairman: I call Mr. Lidington.

Mr. Lidington: Mr. Lidington—I am sorry, I mean Mr. O'Hara. The danger of being a politician is that one risks talking to oneself because one can be sure of an appreciative audience.

As the Parliamentary Secretary said, it has been a thoughtful and constructive debate. All Committee members have presented their arguments in a balanced and moderate manner although, as the hon. Member for West Ham reminded us, the matter arouses real passion on both sides of the fence.

To respond briefly to the points made by the hon. Member for West Lancashire, I think that he will find that the phrase ``unnecessary suffering'' has a respectable pedigree in previous animal welfare legislation; it is found in the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and, more recently, in the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996. If he reads my remarks in Hansard, he will find that I did not claim that every offence defined in the 1911 legislation was subject to the qualification that it had to cause unnecessary suffering. I referred to the general qualification in the 1996 legislation, which lists specific actions that are unlawful if they are done with the intention of causing unnecessary suffering.

Most of the offences listed in section 1 of the 1911 Act carry the sort of qualification that I am seeking to introduce into the Bill through amendment No. 43. Under section 1(1)(a),

    ``If any person shall . . . beat, kick, ill-treat''

or otherwise harm an animal, that action becomes a criminal offence only if it is done cruelly. Section 1(1)(b) refers to causing ``unnecessary suffering'', and a later section refers to an action being carried out

    ``without due care and humanity''.

Therefore, I do not believe that the courts would have any difficulty in interpreting my amendment in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

As the Minister said, at the end of a long debate, the issue boils down to a matter of judgment for each individual. I now want the Committee to make that judgment in a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 17.

Division No. 3]

Beith, Mr. A. J.
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Lidington, Mr. David
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Soames, Mr. Nicholas

Banks, Mr. Tony
Foster, Mr. Michael
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gordon, Mrs. Eileen
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lawrence, Mrs. Jackie
Lepper, Mr. David
Michael, Mr. Alun
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Organ, Mrs. Diana
Pickthall, Mr. Colin
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Smith, Angela

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to One o'clock till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)
Banks, Mr.
Beith, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Michael J.
Garnier, Mr.
Gibson, Dr.
Golding, Mrs.
Gordon, Mrs.
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lawrence, Mrs.
Leigh, Mr.
Lepper, Mr.
Lidington, Mr.
Michael, Mr.
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Organ, Mrs.
Pickthall, Mr.
Prentice, Ms Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Angela
Soames, Mr.

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