Hunting Bill

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Mr. Leigh: I know that many amendments are discussed and that there is often a tendency to keep one's head down and do one's correspondence in these Committees, but I urge hon. Members on both sides of the argument to look at the text of amendment No. 119. I am sure that if they do so, they will see that it is perfectly sensible and that hunting shall be permitted only—if it is a request of the landowner—

    ``to protect livestock, fish, fowl...gamebirds, crops'',

if the hunting is

    ``to manage the population of the quarry species''

and if

    ``hunting is an appropriate means of achieving such protection''.

Whatever their view on the Bill, I think that most sensible people would accept that that is an entirely sensible form of hunting.

We on the Opposition Benches must accept that the House has made a decision. It wants to abolish hunting as a sport and, under the rules of the Committee, we must accept that. However, I do not think that people who want to abolish hunting as a sport are trying to interfere with proper pest control or with the working life of gamekeepers. If that is true, I do not see why they should not be prepared to accept amendment No. 119.

I think that I know why such people are not prepared to accept the amendment. They think that it will drive a proverbial coach and horses through the Bill. They think that organised groups of hunters for sport would always be able to point to it as a defence. They think that such groups would say, ``I was here with the permission of the landowner''—that is fairly easy to obtain, and is usually obtained at present—or ``I was hunting on my horse.'' They would say, ``I was hunting on foot in order to protect livestock. Look, there is some livestock in that field over there, or three or four fields away. It is well known that hunting disperses and controls the fox population, so, yes, I was there to manage the population of quarry species. Yes, I believe honestly that it was the only appropriate means of achieving such protection.'' Those who support the Bill had the majority; they decided to abolish hunting as a sport.

6.15 pm

I go back to my original point. How can we protect countrymen and gamekeepers who are genuinely concerned with the protection of livestock and crops and the management of the species? How can we let them get on with their job? If the Parliamentary Secretary and Labour Members are not prepared to accept amendment No. 119, how do they think that we can achieve that? Are they suggesting that amendment No. 119 would make sense if, instead of saying

    ``(7) Hunting shall be permitted'',

it referred to hunting by one person instead of by organised groups? It would be interesting to know how they will achieve what is meant in the schedule.

Those who have tabled the amendment have done so in a serious way; they are not trying to find a loophole or ways of defeating the Bill. Let us assume that we want to allow gamekeepers to get on with their jobs and that in many circumstances it is necessary on occasion to use dogs. I think that we have established that. I know that there are exceptions for stalking and flushing out but we have probably established that in certain circumstances, whether by accident or design, dogs under the control of keepers will kill foxes, hares and rabbits. We would generally agree that, in those circumstances, gamekeepers or walkers should not be prosecuted.

If the Parliamentary Secretary is telling us that amendment No. 119 is not acceptable, will she give us some intimation now of the way in which she believes that she can enable and help gamekeepers to manage the countryside? That is a fair request. I hope that she will be able to meet it.

Jane Kennedy: I have enjoyed this debate hugely. It is my good fortune that it has fallen to me to respond to the most entertaining debates in the Committee, and this debate has been no exception.

I want to deal first with the concerns raised about the good burghers of Tristan da Cunha, raised by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex in what was, among many entertaining speeches, far and away one of the funniest and best humoured speeches that I have heard in a long time. I compliment the hon. Gentleman on it.

Mr. Garnier: May I pass to the hon. Lady a cutting from the publication from Tristan da Cunha, which she may find of interest?

Jane Kennedy: I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for that. However, I draw his attention, and that of the hon. member for Mid-Sussex, to clause 6, which says:

    ``This Act shall extend only to England and Wales.''

I am sorry so early in my reply to have to say that if they had read the first page more carefully, they would not necessarily have been so concerned about the treatment of Tristan da Cunha.

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Lady is being uncharacteristically unfair. She would know, had she been listening, that I specifically referred to the point raised by you, Mr. O'Hara, in relation to clause 6 and went on to deal with the political pressures that may be applied to Baroness Scotland.

The Chairman: Order. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had not been interrupted and diverted in his contribution, I would have made the point that I shall make now. While it may be legitimate to allude by way of analogy to what happens in Tristan da Cunha and to speculate on whether the Bill will one day be applied there, it is not legitimate to dilate on the implications of that.

Jane Kennedy: Thank you, Mr. O'Hara. I shall return to the amendments.

Almost all the amendments, including amendments Nos. 119, 51, 54 to 59 and 120—plus others that the Committee may consider later—refer to one of the exceptions to the primary offence of hunting with dogs; stalking and flushing out. Amendment No. 90, which I shall deal with later, refers to the exception relating to recapturing animals.

Under paragraph 7 of the schedule, it is a defence for a person charged with hunting with dogs to prove that his or her conduct related to the stalking and flushing from cover of a fox. Let me deal with the matter of whether a ``t'' has been omitted form the word ``cover''. Clearly, it has not. Cover is to be interpreted in accordance with its natural meaning, which is anything in which, or under which, the quarry can hide or take refuge. The use of that word allows flexibility in the Bill. There is no intention for it to refer to ``covert''.

We are talking about stalking and flushing, provided that four conditions are met, which are set out in paragraph 7. Broadly, the conditions require the activity of stalking to be undertaken only for specific purposes, in specific ways and with the permission of the landowner when the land does not belong to the person doing the stalking. I shall return to those points, but first, I want to make some general points. The amendments would change paragraph 7 of the schedule to the extent that in some cases, the stalking and flushing out exception would cease to exist.

Amendment No. 119 would permit hunting of any kind, when certain fairly loose conditions are met. I suspect that if the amendment were passed, hunting would continue pretty much as it does now. Clearly, that is entirely against the spirit of the schedule, although I accept the spirit in which the hon. Member for Gainsborough advanced his arguments. I accept his intentions and appreciate the valuable debate that we are having.

Amendments Nos. 51 and 54 would allow the hunting of a wild mammal, rather than restricting the exception to stalking and flushing out. Amendment No. 90, which would replace the words ``searching for'' with ``hunting'' would have a similar effect with regard to the exception relating to recapturing animals. I regret the absence of the hon. Member for Buckingham, but I appreciate that he has other duties to attend to. He asked about stalking and suggested that it could be applied only to deer. The hon. Gentleman's understanding is not correct. Stalking is an ordinary English word, used in accordance with its normal meaning and can be applied to a wide variety of mammals.

Amendments Nos. 55 to 59 relate specifically to the first of the four conditions that have to be made to qualify under the exception. That condition concerns circumstances when stalking and flushing out is allowed. Amendments Nos. 56 and 57 extend the purposes for which the activity may be undertaken, to include protecting fish, grassland, plants, trees or to manage the quarry species.

Some telling points have been made by many members of the Committee. Amendment No. 58 would extend the exception for stalking and flushing out for the purpose of obtaining meat for human or animal consumption to include for the purposes of dealing in such trade. As presently drafted, it is not a defence to stalk and flush out if the purpose is to trade in the meat so obtained. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, the Bill reflects the policy of Deadline 2000. It does not want to encourage that kind of activity for commercial purposes. It is of course for the Committee to decide whether it agrees with Deadline 2000 about that.

The arguments that were advanced gave me pause for thought, so I invite the hon. and learned Member for Harborough to withdraw the amendment to give us the opportunity to consider more carefully the issues that were raised and perhaps to return to the matter at a later stage.

Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary. Can she tell me when that later stage might be?

Jane Kennedy: I am not able to give that detail at the moment. I shall reconsider amendment No. 58 with my colleagues and address the issues that it raises.

Amendment No. 59 relates to the exception that deals with falconry. As drafted, the Bill imposes a ban on hunting with dogs, but permits falconry to continue. Paragraph 7(3)(c) allows dogs to be used to flush out a mammal for the purpose of enabling a bird of prey to hunt the mammal. Like the hon. Member for Aylesbury, I have never seen birds of prey thus used, although I have seen them take part in demonstrations, and very beautiful they are too.

Hunting includes killing, and the addition of the word ``kill'', as the amendment proposes, is superfluous. The Bill permits falconry to continue, and the hon. Members for Aylesbury and for Mid-Sussex both commented on that. The hon. Member for Aylesbury referred to the role of pointers, which he described as being to stand more or less motionless to inform the falconer of the location of the quarry. In those circumstances, no hunting with dogs, per se, is taking place, so the activity is not covered by the Bill. I hope that that reassures him.

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