Hunting Bill

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Jane Kennedy: I should try to refocus the Committee's attention on paragraph 7. The hon. Gentleman is right about the definition at the back of the Bill, but paragraph 7 contains a series of defences to the offence and certain exceptions. We are beginning to debate the exceptions to the offence and we are making heavy weather of a straightforward matter. I appreciate the way in which the points are being made; they are not frivolous. I shall consider them carefully and write to all members of the Committee. I am confident that I can satisfy them on this point, but I shall do my best to address the issues.

Mr. Leigh: I want to go back to the example raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, in which an over-excited dog chases after the fox and kills it, despite the owner's best intentions. The Parliamentary Secretary seems to think that the owner will be in the clear in those circumstances. As I understand what she is saying, clearly it was not his intention from the outset that the dog should chase after the fox and kill it. However, the owner must prove all these things. He must prove paragraph 7(1)(a)—that he was stalking—as well as sub-paragraphs (2)(a), (2)(b), (3)(a), (3)(b) and (3)(c). That is quite a heavy onus on him, is it not?

Jane Kennedy: The prosecution would have to prove the offence. The defendant would be able to make a cogent defence that could be accepted by the court if it were made under the exceptions in the schedule.

If the person set off with the intention of flushing out mammals and pretended to be flushing out gamebirds as a cover for that activity, he or she would be guilty of an offence. We return to the intention of the individual who is using dogs. However, a person whose intention is to flush out gamebirds for the purpose of shooting them does not commit an offence. Members of the Committee will have gathered from my remarks that I see no need for the amendments to be included in the Bill.

The hon. Members for Aylesbury and for Montgomeryshire asked about Welsh gun packs. The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked if we intend to outlaw them, and the straight answer is no; gun packs can fall within the exceptions. He also asked if we would resist any further moves should the Bill be enacted. I hope to reassure him that we would neither encourage nor support any further moves beyond the scope of the Bill as it is drafted.

6.45 pm

As I have said, the effect of this group of amendments would be to rewrite the exception covering stalking and flushing so that far more hunting would be allowed, which would be contrary to the decision of the Committee of the whole House. Nevertheless, given the arguments that have been advanced, especially around amendment No. 58, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the amendments, allowing us to consider them further and perhaps return to the issues later.

Mr. Lidington: I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for her reply. I appreciate her remarks concerning amendment No. 58 and the Government's readiness to at least reflect upon the points that have been made by Opposition Members concerning the apparent lunacy of the schedule as it is currently drafted. I am grateful for the hint of a possible future concession on the ban on selling or trading the carcases of hares or rabbits that have been shot by somebody who used dogs to flush them out. I am also grateful for the firm assurance that she gave in respect of Welsh gun packs.

Mr. Öpik: I also wish to thank the Parliamentary Secretary, who gave an important reassurance that will be greeted with due gratitude by the hill packs of mid-Wales. However, she did not answer my other question, which was why she feels that not passing amendment No. 119 would necessarily improve the welfare of the fox.

Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman makes a cogent point. Despite the courteous manner in which the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with the points raised by Opposition Members, I remain dissatisfied with her response in a number of important respects. As many members of the Committee have pointed out, we are dealing with a wide-ranging group of amendments, all of which deal with stalking, flushing out and exceptions to the primary offence provided for in paragraph 1.

When the Parliamentary Secretary discussed the definition of hunting, I was not persuaded that she had answered the powerful point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. Government spokesmen have assured the Committee that the definition of hunting would be the normal use of that term. However, if one examines dictionary definitions or considers the implicit meaning of the exceptions to the primary offence in the Bill, one sees that hunting means not only pursuing an animal in order to kill it, but searching for and seeking out that animal. Other phrases could also be used.

As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, the schedule makes explicit an exception for recapturing escaped animals and hunting wounded animals. I, too, felt that the Parliamentary Secretary was importing what she would like the Bill to mean, rather than persuading us that it already contains the definition that the amendments would include.

I also felt that the Parliamentary Secretary's answer did not deal adequately with the definition of ``cover'', which was discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex in particular. There is still considerable uncertainty and ambiguity about the extent to which the exceptions in part II of the schedule would provide a genuine guarantee for gamekeepers and others that, in going about their everyday work of pest control, they were not committing a criminal offence.

At the heart of this afternoon's differences between members of the Committee are the general exceptions for which amendment No. 119, in particular, would provide. The central point of the Parliamentary Secretary's reassurance to Opposition members of the Committee was that our fears were misplaced; that the Bill provides for beaters and others who participate in shoots of gamebirds the security and peace of mind that we have sought through the amendment. However, if the Government believe that we need to look after the interests of gamekeepers and others, why not make matters explicit and send to them a message of reassurance by including amendment No. 120?

In the end, we come back to amendment No. 119, on which there is a clear difference of principle among members of the Committee. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said that no one has explained in what way the Bill will benefit animal welfare if the amendment is rejected. We contend that the amendment would enhance animal welfare and the cause of conservation and biodiversity.

Mr. Öpik: When introducing a prohibition, one needs to be very confident that it will achieve the desired result. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury rightly said, my concern is that no one who has opposed the amendment has conclusively demonstrated that doing so will improve the welfare of the fox. That crucial element has not been directly addressed.

Mr. Lidington: I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman.

I look forward to the Government's future proposals in respect of amendment No. 58 and the trade in rabbit and hare carcases. However, I do not believe that the Parliamentary Secretary's welcome words on that subject should cause us to shy away from testing the Committee's opinion on amendment No. 119. Nor, according to my understanding of parliamentary procedure, would a Division on this group of amendments in any way prevent the Government from coming forward with alternative proposals to amendment No. 58. For those reasons, I intend to press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 15.

Division No. 7]

Beith, Mr. A. J.
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Lidington, Mr. David
Maples, Mr. John
Öpik, Mr. Lembit
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Soames, Mr. Nicholas

Banks, Mr. Tony
Foster, Mr. Michael
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lepper, Mr. David
Michael, Mr. Alun
Organ, Mrs. Diana
Pickthall, Mr. Colin
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Rendel, Mr. David
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Smith, Angela

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes to Seven o'clock till Thursday 8 February at fifteen minutes past Ten o'clock.

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

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Prepared 6 February 2001