Hunting Bill

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The Chairman: Order. Discussion of the meaning of the word ``knowingly'' will take place in the subsequent debate.

Mr. Leigh: If the amendments are not accepted, somebody who permits a drag hunt to take place on his land might be caught by the provision. A drag hunt will be perfectly legal after the Bill is passed, but those involved in a drag hunt might inadvertently, or on purpose, take part in some kind of hunting activity.

Similarly, what is meant by the word ``permit''? Would the landowner have to give active or express permission, or would a mere failure render him liable? In various cases, the provisions are not clearly defined. It is not surprising that the National Farmers Union is extremely worried, as it sees that its members could be caught by the provision. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury said, land tenure in the countryside is extremely complicated. What might happen if someone had a nominal or indirect interest? What might happen to someone who was the landlord but whose farm was tenanted? An individual might own the freehold, but the farm might be leased to a third party. Would the tenant be prosecuted? Would the landowner be prosecuted? It is incumbent on the Minister to clarify those complex matters when he winds up the debate.

Landowners will be responsible, presumably, for taking steps to ensure that anyone who is lawfully on their land does not hunt. Does that mean that farmers and landowners will have the responsibility for policing the Act? Is that fair? Is that not a wholly unreasonable burden to place on them? Unsurprisingly, therefore, the National Farmers Union and Country Landowners Association are extremely worried about these provisions. The NFU describes their effect on its members thus:

    ``an extension of the law that would attract much resentment amongst those persons.''

The CLA points out:

    ``Paragraph 22, as it stands, means that any person who owns an interest in land, manages or controls the land, or occupies it, will be taken to own land, and thus be potentially criminally liable under paragraph 2.''

I hope that when the Minister replies he will explain to the Committee why the paragraphs under discussion are necessary. After all, the current criminal law would cover the kind of case that we are discussing. Under the criminal law as outlined in ``Archbold'', it would be fairly easy for the prosecution to prove that a landowner was aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring an illegal hunt that was taking place on someone's land.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman has his ``Archbold'' in front of him, but mine is downstairs. Will he confirm that, in relation to aiding and abetting, ``Archbold'' deals with indictable matters, whereas those under discussion are merely summary? Aiding and abetting would therefore not apply.

Mr. Leigh: That is true. ``Archbold'' is concerned with indictable offences. However, the Minister must clarify why the traditional interpretation of ``Archbold'' in relation to indictable offences is not satisfactory in relation to summary offences. What is it about the summary offences under discussion that requires a special provision? If I am wrong, can the Minister point to Acts of Parliament where summary offences have been created and the framers of the legislation have taken the view that special offences must be created and that they cannot rely on the traditional interpretation of criminal law? There is no reason to do so. Common sense tells us that the criminal law is absolutely clear in relation to summary or indictable offences. If one aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of the offence, one is guilty of that primary offence.

Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman is in danger of going round in circles. Does he accept that aiding and abetting applies only to indictable matters? He seems to be saying, contrary to what he appeared to say two minutes ago, that it also applies to summary matters. As he has ``Archbold'' in front of him, will he confirm my understanding that aiding and abetting applies only to indictable matters and not summary ones? If that is correct, his argument does not stand up at all.

Mr. Leigh: We should adjourn this particular argument, because I am working from notes, rather than having an edition of ``Archbold'' in front of me. In terms of offences under the Theft Act 1968, or other criminal matters that are tried summarily, when the case comes to court, the magistrate can rely on the passage to which I referred to deal with people who procure the offence. Otherwise—this is an interesting legal argument, and I may be completely wrong on the matter—it is incumbent on the Minister to explain why, in creating this offence, it is necessary to have such a provision. We may be discussing a summary offence, but the provision is not necessary in relation to other summary offences. Is the Minister telling me that in creating summary offences, legislation must always include such a provision? If I am wrong, I will accept it, but I do not believe that I am.

Mr. O'Brien: Theft is an either-way offence. It can be indictable and can be dealt with in relation to aiding and abetting provisions. The Bill creates summary offences. I ask the hon. Gentleman to clarify the point if I am wrong—I am basing my remarks on recollection and advice—but my understanding is that such matters are entirely summary, and aiding and abetting does not apply. He raised the issue of theft, to which aiding and abetting can apply, but that is not the matter that we are discussing.

Mr. Leigh: I am prepared to accept the Minister's answer—he has the benefit of civil service advice—and if I am wrong, I am wrong. I am glad that the point has been clarified, as it is important. Is the Minister telling me that in creating any kind of purely summary offence, such a provision is necessary?

Mr. O'Brien: I can reply at greater length in due course rather than in an intervention. The schedule, as suggested by Deadline 2000, includes the offence. The hon. Gentleman is making an argument, which I do not think has any validity, against the provisions of the schedule. It is for Deadline 2000 and for the House to decide whether the provision is included. However, it is reasonable for me to suggest to the hon. Gentleman that his argument is complete nonsense.

Mr. Leigh: It is difficult to debate with the Minister, because, every time one starts knocking on the door, he says, ``It's not my schedule anyway, it was drawn up by Deadline 2000.'' Unfortunately, Deadline 2000 is not sitting on the Government Front Bench replying to points made in this debate, so that is not an adequate response from the Minister. He is unique in the Committee in having the benefit of professional advice, and he must explain why the provision is necessary. I may be wrong in the way that I have described it, but I have tried to shed some light on the problem.

In creating a summary offence, there must be provisions in the Bill such as the one proposed. One cannot rely on traditional concepts of aiding and procuring, because they apply only to indictable offences. If the Minister is making that case, I shall withdraw my argument. I shall be happy that I have made my point and that he has explained to me that the provision is necessary because it is a summary offence and, if it were not in the Bill, those who aid or procure would not be caught by it.

5 pm

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I feel as though I have stumbled into an Open University course on law. I hope that there may be a qualification for those of who have stuck to it.

My point refers to something said by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). The NFU has indeed said that an extension of the law, such as that he has described, would attract much resentment from its members.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I hear what the NFU is saying. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify that for me? Would the NFU feel that it was right to create a provision, in the way proposed in amendment No. 34, whereby a landlord who owns and tenants land by lease might be able to tell a tenant to allow foxhunting on that land? The tenant might feel obliged to comply and then become criminally liable, whereas the landlord might not. Is that fair? Does the NFU feels that its members would like such an outcome?

Mr. Öpik: The point relates directly to the issue that I wish to raise. As the Minister said, if the Bill becomes law, it will have the propensity that he described to create great friction in the countryside. It is plausible that exactly the circumstances suggested by the Minister will occur, since individuals may choose to challenge the law banning hunting with dogs as laid out in Schedule 3.

I was intending to put to the Minister a similar example of someone feeling great peer pressure when he or she observes colleagues going across the land more or less in the full knowledge that they are in breach of the law. To what extent can they be protected without having to fall back on the inevitable court cases in order to set precedents and define at what level one is regarded as permitting hunting? At what point is it regarded as reasonable for the individual to claim that the pressure was so great that they had to respond? We have been debating legal technicalities under this group of amendments, but I am interested in examining the issue from the point of view of natural justice.

I am concerned that many people who could be liable for prosecution will not have the resources at their disposal to secure proper legal representation. A tenant farmer or landowner may plead guilty because they cannot afford to take on the likely enormous legal resources of those who wish to push for prosecution. One scenario is that those who have been keen to promote a ban on hunting with dogs will act as a kind of police force, especially in the first years of a ban, collecting evidence to ensure that any breaches are taken to court. There may be enormous inequality between the prosecution and the defendant, who could be a tenant farmer of the kind described.

On a related but separate issue, the Minister said with regard to one aspect of the amendments that we must think about the balance of probability and that, in his judgment, the likelihood of prosecution would be extremely low and therefore it may not be reasonable to change the Bill on that basis. I presume that he could foresee it being acceptable defence for an individual to say that he knew that his friend's dogs had the capacity to chase a mammal which is prohibited from being chased and killed. That would presumably subscribe to the criterion of reasonable doubt.

If that is the case, I foresee a difficulty. Given that one must always prove intent and reasonable expectation that the law was about to be breached, many landowners could simply say, ``I genuinely believed that my colleagues were going out to hunt rodents. As you can see, my lord, that is exactly how it began, but it ended up being''—

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