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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Hunting Bill

Hunting Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 6 February 2001


[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Hunting Bill

Schedule 3

Hunting with dogs: prohibition

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 119, in page 20, line 19, at end insert—

    `(7) Hunting shall be permitted where—

    (a) it is conducted at the request of the landowner (within paragraph 22) in order to protect livestock, fish, fowl (including wild fowl), gamebirds, crops or grassland or trees, saplings or plants; or

    (b) to manage the population of the quarry species in the interest of that species or other species of animals, birds or fish; and

    (c) the person hunting the wild mammal reasonably believes that hunting is an appropriate means of achieving such protection or management having regard to all the circumstances (and including economic and conservation considerations) the welfare of the quarry species and other species of animals, bird or fish and the safety of other users of that or nearby land (including roads and other rights of way).'.—[Mr. Lidington.]

The Chairman: With this we may take the following amendments: No. 51, in page 20, line 22, leave out `stalking' and insert `hunting'.

No. 54, in page 20, line 28, leave out `out of cover'.

No. 55, in page 20, line 30, leave out `stalking or flushing out' and insert `hunting'.

No. 56, in page 20, line 32, after `livestock', insert `fish'.

No. 57, in page 20, line 32, leave out `or crops' and insert

    `crops, grassland, plants or trees or to manage the population of the quarry species in the interests of that species or other species of animals, birds or fish.'.

No. 58, in page 20, line 34, leave out from `consumption' to `or' in line 35.

No. 59, in page 20, line 36, after `hunt', insert `or kill'.

No. 120, in page 21, line 8, at end insert—

    `(8) No offence shall have been committed under paragraph 1 where the primary intention of the participants is that game birds are to be flushed to be shot and that either one, some or no species of mammals are to be shot if flushed.'.

No. 90, in page 21, line 28, leave out `searching for' and insert `hunting'.

4.30 pm

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): It is a pleasure to welcome you back to the chair, Mr. O'Hara. Members of the Committee will be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who was speaking when this morning's proceedings were adjourned at 1 o'clock, must carry out duties in the Chamber this afternoon. In his introductory remarks on this group of amendments, he commented on the general exceptions to the offence in paragraph 1, which are proposed in amendments Nos. 119 and 57. He also commented on amendments Nos. 51, 55 and 59, which are more technical. I wish briefly to take the Committee through the other amendments, which form a wide-ranging group dealing with stalking and flushing out. It is important to try to present the various strands that are covered.

My hon. Friend made some reference to the phrase ``out of cover'', which amendment No. 54 would remove from the schedule. As he said, one reason for tabling the amendment was to explore the Government's definition of cover, because it is capable of many different interpretations. It is in the interests of certainty, in addition to the interests of those who might be affected by the Bill, that we try to resolve the matter and, if necessary, to amend the Bill to provide a tighter definition. There are also particular groups of people whose ability to control pests would be affected by the Bill. To my mind, there is considerable ambiguity as to whether their activities would be permitted by the exclusions in part II, or whether they would come under the offences described in part I. In particular, I want to refer to the position of Welsh gun packs.

As you will know, Mr. O'Hara, in many parts of Wales, foxes are hunted using dogs, but with followers on foot, rather than mounted on horses. The purpose of hunting with those packs is to trace the fox so that it can be shot. Often the hunting takes place in woodland areas, which are not only small copses or spinneys, but thick plantations of spruce trees covering many square miles. The pack of hounds might search for the fox and drive it through the woodland for some considerable time. The advice that I have received from those organisations connected with Welsh gun packs is that such a chase might take 40 or 50 minutes.

Having read the Bill carefully, I am genuinely uncertain whether the term ``flushing out'' would cover the circumstances that I have described. As I read the schedule, it would provide an exception for somebody who took one dog or a pair of dogs into a spinney to chase out a fox that would be shot by other huntsmen in the field on the other side of the copse. However, it is less clear whether the Government intend gun packs to be wholly exempted from the offence, as the Bill seems to allow.

If gun packs are to be exempted, that would be beneficial to many people in Wales in particular who depend on this method of controlling foxes, but it would be a major exemption, as the Bill's overall intention is to outlaw organised hunting with packs of hounds. If flushing out with a pack, as is now done in Wales, is to be outlawed, the Government must consider how foxes are to be controlled in thickly wooded upland areas. In such parts of the country, lamping—the method preferred by Lord Burns and his team—is not a practical alternative. If the hunting of dogs with gun packs is to be outlawed, what alternative methods will the Government recommend to farmers who need to keep foxes under control in parts of Wales?

I turn from amendment No. 54 to amendment No. 59 to say a few words about falconry. I found paragraph 7(3)(c) intriguing, because it clearly exempts falconry from the Bill and the criminal offences included in it. The purpose of amendment No. 59 is to enable the Committee to debate the matter briefly and to make it clear that the purpose of sub-paragraph (3)(c) is to provide an exception from criminal offences for the use of dogs as an aid to falconry.

The Government's proposed exemption for falconry is interesting, because the Bill seems to provide deliberately for wild mammals to be killed lawfully for sport. That raises an interesting question about the moral purpose behind the Bill. It is difficult to see the logic of, on the one hand, proscribing the hunting of a wild mammal with dogs, while, on the other, making a deliberate allowance for hunting a wild mammal with a hawk or falcon. I shall not detain the Committee with a detailed reflection on the relative cruelty to a quarry animal that is caught by a hawk or falcon as opposed to a hound.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): My hon. Friend could safely say that being caught by a falcon would seriously compromise the welfare of the quarry.

4.45 pm

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend is right. Lord Burns' famous phrase that hunting seriously compromises the welfare of the quarry animal would logically apply as much to falconry as to hunting with hounds. Therefore, although the Bill includes an exemption that my hon. Friend and I might both welcome, it seems at odds with the animal welfare argument put forward by so many hon. Members on the opposite side of the argument.

I have not participated in falconry. Although I have watched a few displays, I have never taken part in the practice involving the pursuit of live quarry, and my comments are therefore based on information from those who are expert in the pastime. As I understand it, falconers frequently use dogs for different purposes. They use pointers to scent out gamebirds or mammals, and spaniels or terriers to flush the animal out of cover so that the falcon or hawk can swoop down to catch and kill it. If pointers are doing the job that they have been trained to do, they do not flush out game in the sense of physically pursuing it and driving it out of cover, but stand motionless and indicate to the falconer or his assistants where the quarry animal is lying up. Given those circumstances, is the use of pointers by falconers covered by the exemption, which deals with the use of dogs in flushing out and stalking, not in scenting game?

What happens if a dog with a falconer reaches the quarry ahead of a hawk or falcon? I am told that that is a far from unusual experience. Paragraph 7(3)(c) makes it clear that the exemption from a criminal offence applies if the mammal is being stalked or flushed out so that it can be hunted by a bird of prey. However, it is possible—and often a reasonable expectation—that a dog will pursue a mammal that it scents or sees and get there ahead of the bird, which may be circling in flight a considerable distance away while looking for prey over a large area. Is there any risk that people may face prosecution in such circumstances?

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): My hon. Friend is making good specific points, but could he help me on a more fundamental matter? I am sure that he agrees that if the Bill is not about morality and animal welfare, it has no business being considered by the Committee. Why, therefore, is it immoral for the dog that is doing the flushing out to get to the rabbit or hare first and kill it, but perfectly moral for a large raptor to pick it up and drop it from a great height? If I had to choose between those methods of having my welfare compromised, I would prefer a quick death in the jaws of a hound.

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is difficult to see the underlying logic of the exemptions. They make the sort of distinction to which my hon. Friend referred without applying any consistent moral or practical criteria about animal welfare, although those are key to the arguments that we have heard time and again from members of the Committee who most enthusiastically support a statutory ban on hunting.

Amendments Nos. 56 and 90 are designed to deal with the question of mink, to which the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) may wish to return. Amendment No. 56 would add the protection of fish stocks to the categories under which stalking or flushing out is permitted. No one is going to pretend that foxes are a problem in terms of conserving fish, but the National Gamekeepers Organisation made it clear in its letter to members of the Committee that tracking, stalking and flushing out wild mink with dogs is a routine and essential part of protecting fish stocks.


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