Hunting Bill

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Mr. Garnier: I beg to move amendment No. 45, in page 20, line 9, after second `the', insert `express'.

The Chairman: With this we may take amendment No. 46, in page 20, line 9, leave out `or connivance'.

Mr. Garnier: The two amendments relate to paragraph 6 of the schedule, headed ``Bodies corporate''. It may be useful to read the sub-paragraph to get the context of the amendments. Sub-paragraph (1) says:

    ``This paragraph applies where an offence under paragraph 2, 3 or 4 is committed by a body corporate.

Sub-paragraph (2) says:

    ``If the offence is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of an officer of the body corporate he shall be guilty of the offence (as well as the body corporate).

Then sub-paragraph (3) says:

    ``In sub-paragraph (2) `officer' includes—

    (a) a director, manager or secretary,

    (b) a person purporting to act as a director, manager or secretary, and

    (c) a member of a body corporate the affairs of which are managed by its members.''

12 noon

Page 7 of the Burns report, which is headed ``Summary and Conclusions'', gives an explanation of the way in which hunts organise themselves. Paragraph 5, which relates to chapter 2 of the report, says:

    ``There are about 200 registered packs of hounds (mainly foxhounds but also some harriers) in England and Wales which hunt foxes, plus a number of unregistered packs in Wales. Most packs have mounted followers but a number, including the Fell packs in Cumbria and the footpacks in Wales, are followed on foot only. The Welsh gunpacks use dogs to flush foxes to waiting guns.''

The report goes on to say in paragraph 6:

    ``The registered packs are estimated to kill some 21,000-25,000 foxes a year.''

Paragraph 7 says:

    ``There are three registered staghound packs in the Devon and Somerset area.''

Paragraph 8 says:

    ``There are about a hundred registered packs of hounds (beagles, bassets and harriers) which hunt hares.''

Over the page, paragraph 9 says:

    ``There are some 24 registered hare coursing clubs, which kill about 250 hares a year in total and a small number of other unregistered clubs. But there is a good deal of illegal hunting/coursing in some areas.''

Paragraph 10 says:

    ``The 20 minkhound packs kill somewhere between 400-1,400 mink a season. The number is thought to be considerably smaller than that killed by trapping and shooting.''

We can see from the beginning of the Burns report that there are a number of organised and registered packs. They may or may not be organised into corporate entities, but they are certainly organised. In later chapters of the report there are references to what goes on in the United States, Canada, Australia and some of the countries of mainland Europe, where there are also organised or registered packs, mounted or on foot—but mostly mounted—which are engaged in hunting wild mammals with dogs, to use the expression used by the Bill. The bodies corporate to which paragraph 6 of the schedule refer are not wholly unknown in the activities of hunting.

I am not an expert on the management of hunts, but, as I understand it, some hunts are literally corporate bodies; they are limited companies. Some, on the other hand will be under private ownership and owned by an individual who, for a fee or a subscription, allows others to follow his or her hounds.

Mr. Soames: I think that I am right in saying that the pack that operates in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough—the Brocklesby hounds—is owned entirely by Lord Yarborough. He owns the hounds and a committee organises the hunting. The same is true of the Belvoir hunt, where the hounds are owned not by the hunt, but by the Duke of Rutland. They are called the Duke of Rutland's hounds. It is a complex matter, which is not easily dealt with under the schedule.

Mr. Garnier: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I am aware of the Brocklesby hunt, and I live next door to the Belvoir country. Not only are the Belvoir hounds called the Duke of Rutland's hounds, but they belong to him. The same may be true of the Beaufort, in that the hounds and the land on which their kennels are located belong to the Duke of Beaufort.

There are several ways of organising and managing registered hunts. We have mentioned three that we believe to be in private ownership. Other Leicestershire hunts such as the Cottesmore and the Fernie are owned not by an individual, but by an unincorporated association in the form of a board of trustees or a committee, which manages the hunt's affairs on behalf of its members. It employs the hunt staff and owns the hounds and horses that are used by the hunt staff. That kind of legal organisation is clearly distinct from a corporate body such as a limited company or a hunt that is in private ownership.

I assume that paragraph 6 is designed to prevent individuals from carrying out their hunting activities through the guise of a corporate entity. Although it is possible to prosecute and fine an individual for hunting contrary to paragraph 1, if that individual has no money and cannot afford the £5,000 fine, the prosecutor can none the less—at the same time or as an alternative—prosecute a corporate entity and ensure that the fine is levied upon it.

I do not need to rehearse my concern about policy of the Bill and its genesis; we have all made our positions clear on that. However, I should like to test whether the construction of paragraph 6 is clear, fair and just. The amendments would improve the clarity of sub-paragraph (2) by tightening up the commission of offences by bodies corporate, so that an officer of a body corporate would be guilty of an offence only if he had given express consent to that offence.

The amendments would ensure that the law was just and enforceable. At the moment, the Bill is unclear in terms of definition. It is not acceptable under English law to have poorly defined offences; they must be clearly defined and a person must be capable of knowing if he is committing an offence. The terminology in paragraph 6 is wholly inadequate to satisfy the requirements of the law and of natural justice, because it is not clear what constitutes consent. Would implied consent be sufficient, or would consent be assumed from silence? Thomas More was convicted in the Great Hall of this building on the basis that his silence implied acceptance of the charge, but he did not think that he was guilty of anything. I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, who is a noted Tudor historian, for further elucidation of that point.

Mr. Leigh: Strictly speaking, my hon. and learned Friend is wrong. Thomas More was not convicted on the ground of silence; he was arraigned on five offences and got off on four thanks to his skilled defence. He was found guilty of the fifth on the basis of a conversation in the Tower with Richard Rich. I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury—who, as has been pointed out, is a noted Tudor historian—for confirmation, but I believe that my hon. and learned Friend's claim is incorrect.

Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for two reasons; for correcting me and for stopping me in mid-flow. Once I get started on the subject of dodgy Lord Chancellors, I find it difficult to stop, so I shall keep Sir Thomas out of our discussions. The Parliamentary Secretary doubtless has the history of all Lord Chancellors at her pretty little fingertips—[Interruption.] I apologise for becoming over-enthusiastic and I withdraw that sexist remark. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, who would doubtless love me to return to the subject of paragraph 6(2), will accept the sincerity of my apology.

We are suggesting that there should be a requirement for express consent. When we discussed the previous group of amendments, I tested the Minister on the question of connivance. In asking whether a passive spectator of a hunt would be guilty of conniving, I was anticipating discussions in relation to amendment No. 46. What does connivance mean in this context? I accept that it is a perfectly ordinary, English dictionary word, but all manner of such words make their way into legislation and form the basis of arguments that take cases from the High Court through the Court of Appeal to the House of Lords. To avoid such cases, the word would need to be defined adequately in legislation. Sadly, we would otherwise have to establish in a given case whether it had been translated into an offence.

Connivance could mean winking at the act or turning a blind eye. It could also be interpreted as meaning an act of omission. Could one be construed as conniving simply by failing to check, or by failing to put in place safeguards to monitor, activities on land in corporate ownership?

Mr. Bercow: My hon. and learned Friend is raising the worrying prospect of what might be called inadvertent connivance. Is there such a thing?

Mr. Garnier: The short answer is that I do not know. The Bill does not help me to find the answer.

Mr. O'Brien: The Bill does in fact provide some help in that regard. Paragraph 6(1) states:

    ``This paragraph applies where an offence under paragraph 2, 3 or 4 is committed by a body corporate.''

On looking at those paragraphs, the hon. and learned Gentleman will see that, for an offence to be committed, the person in question must do so ``knowingly''. The word ``knowingly'' therefore also applies to offences committed under paragraph 6.

Mr. Garnier: It might be easier if the Bill were consistent in its language throughout. If paragraphs 1 to 4 apply to offences committed by a body corporate or a relevant officer of such a body, why not use the language of those paragraphs in paragraph 6(2) to get the point across? ``Connivance'' is a word that brings with it confusion.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: The Committee will know that I am not a lawyer, but I take ``connivance'' to mean tacit permission. A few days ago, we had a long discussion on the legal meaning of ``knowingly''. The hon. Member for Gainsborough referred us to ``Archbold'', so perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Harborough could refer us to its definition of ``connivance'' to help non-lawyers such as myself.

12.15 pm

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