Hunting Bill

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Mr. Leigh: The draftsmen had to use the term ``animal'', because it would be absurd if one could not use dogs to recapture an animal that had escaped from captivity or to rescue an animal that had been injured. However, surely my hon. Friend is right. If paragraph 1 refers only to wild mammals, why is it necessary? If a lion had escaped from a zoo, there is nothing in paragraph 1 that would stop someone using their dogs to chase the lion, is there? [Hon. Members: ``There is.''] There is? My hon. Friend will now help me.

The Chairman: Order. Any interventions should be through the Chair.

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend is slightly mistaken in his reading of paragraph 1. As I read it, it would indeed make it unlawful to use dogs to pursue an escaped lion or tiger, unless it was being done under the exception provided for in paragraph 10 or paragraph 11. Using dogs to pursue an escaped tiger or other animal could be covered by using the term wild mammal, so I genuinely do not understand the need for the different terms.

The Parliamentary Secretary of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy): I was intrigued to know in what circumstances the hon. Gentleman would imagine that a dog would not be trying to retrieve or recapture a wild tiger or lion.

Mr. Lidington: I am ready to respond, and happy to give the Parliamentary Secretary some ideas.

Mr. Beith: If the lion or tiger had gone into a cave or other underground place, it would be an offence to use a dog to seek it out.

Mr. Lidington: The right hon. Gentleman is correct. That illustrates again the absurdity of so many details in the Bill, which we are only gradually teasing out.

I want to move on to my final point. My first two points related to detail and terminology, but the third is central to the group of amendments and the entire Bill. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was correct to draw the Committee's attention to the importance of the Parliamentary Secretary's letter, which was copied this afternoon to all members of the Committee. If hunting, and therefore the scope of the offence, is to be defined more broadly than simply pursuing and killing a quarry, many of the fears that Opposition Members and the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme have expressed would be realised, and a Bill intended to outlaw organised packs of hounds would bring within the scope of its criminal offences the everyday activity of gamekeepers, farmers and others working in our rural areas.

I shall use one illustration to make that point. Reference was made earlier in the Committee to representations from the National Gamekeepers Organisation and its view that the use of dogs was essential for Mustelid species, especially stoats. All sides of the Committee accept that, if the Bill became law, it would be unlawful to use dogs to pursue and kill stoats or weasels. I may disagree with that, but the intention of the Bill is clear on that count. However, it has emerged during the debate that if a gamekeeper used a dog to pursue a stoat so that he could shoot it for the purposes of vermin control or to retrieve a stoat that had been shot, that would also be unlawful.

Once again we are discovering that despite assurances that Ministers have given us—in good faith, I am sure—at various stages of our debates, the words of the Bill mean that not only will organised packs of foxhounds, stag hounds and mink hounds—beagles—be affected by the Bill, but the use of dogs by gamekeepers and others for their essential business of vermin control and game management will be put at risk. The only way to avoid that is for the Government either to accept some of the amendments or, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, to reflect further and table amendments to restructure part II of the schedule. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is prepared to do that.

Jane Kennedy: There has been a great deal of discussion about something that I hope is not complicated. At first glance, the amendments appear to serve two different purposes. Like the hon. Member for Buckingham, I shall deal with the amendments in two batches, starting with amendments Nos. 52, 122, 53, 63 and 88.

The Bill allows a limited amount of hunting with dogs to take place in specific circumstances, and the exceptions are set out in part II of the schedule. Amendments No. 52, 122, 53 and 63 refer to the species to which the exceptions of stalking and flushing out apply. The schedule applies to fox, hare or rabbit, but the amendments would enable the exceptions to apply to any wild mammal.

As members of the Committee are aware, the Committee of the whole House supported Deadline 2000's policy to ban hunting with dogs, but that organisation—recognising that there may be occasions when it is necessary to flush out certain animals—has included in the schedule a number of exceptions to a ban on hunting with dogs. For example, there is an exception to allow the stalking of a fox for the purpose of protecting lambs and flushing out from cover of hares and rabbits to protect crops or for food. Widening the exception to include the stalking and flushing out of any wild mammal could greatly increase the extent of such activity that was allowed.

Among the species that could be stalked or flushed out would be deer, about which the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed asked. The Deer Act 1991 deals with the times at which deer can be killed or taken and prohibits the use of certain weapons and articles. This Bill prohibits the use of dogs to hunt deer in exactly the circumstances mentioned by the hon. Member for Aylesbury. I think that muntjac deer are covered by the Deer Act, but I have asked for clarification on that point, since they were introduced to the British Isles after the passage of that Act.

Mr. Beith: Will deer stalking—not deer hunting by stag or deer hounds—normally practised by a forest ranger with a dog which assists in locating the deer be prohibited following the enactment of the Bill?

Jane Kennedy: I thought that I had answered that. The Deer Act would determine whether the use of the dog in those circumstances was lawful. There would be a defence and so long as the individual was conducting his affairs within the terms of the Deer Act, he would not be committing an offence. If that is wrong, I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Beith: Is the Parliamentary Secretary saying that the preceding Act overrides the Bill and the general prohibition contained in it? The hon. Lady may be having difficulty understanding the note that has been passed to her. She has my sympathy because this is a difficult point. We have discovered something important this afternoon; that the traditional practice of deer stalking, using a dog to assist in locating the deer, could be prohibited by the Bill, unless the hon. Lady is right that, in some mysterious way, the Deer Act confers an exception. In that case, it ought to be referred to in the Bill. If she has had an opportunity to read the note, can she now tell me one way or another?

Jane Kennedy: I cannot do that, but I will consider again the argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman. I may have got the matter wrong, and if so I will come back to the Committee as soon as I can with a definitive response.

Mr. Leigh: Will the Parliamentary Secretary explain the purpose of the Deer Act 1991? How will it protect the traditional sport mentioned by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed?

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman knows that the Deer Act deals with the times at which deer can be killed or taken and prohibits the use of certain weapons and articles in their pursuit. I do not have a copy of it immediately to hand, but I will look at the point that has been made and seek to clarify the situation.

Mr. Bercow: I recognise that the Parliamentary Secretary is awaiting further and better particulars. That is reasonable, but can she tell us at this stage what weapons or articles she has in mind?

Jane Kennedy: No, I cannot. That is why I am awaiting further and better particulars.

The Chairman: If I may rescue the Parliamentary Secretary, this comes under the definition of dilation on the details of the Deer Act 1991; we are debating the Hunting Bill.

Mr. Beith: On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I am anxious to be helpful because I think that the Parliamentary Secretary is caught in a difficult legal area and is genuinely trying to help. I do not want to make her task more difficult. My worry is that she may have to come back to us on, say, Tuesday and tell us that the Bill has an effect far wider than she had previously thought. Were that to be the case, we would have to ask the Government to help us in seeking further time for consideration of this new and different aspect of the Bill. I am using this point of order to alert you, Mr. O'Hara, and the Parliamentary Secretary to that possibility, but we should not press her further at this stage on the point because, understandably, she wants to take advice.

The Chairman: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that point of order. The terms of reference of this Committee are the Hunting Bill.

3.30 pm

Jane Kennedy: We were talking about species that could be stalked or flushed out if the amendments were accepted. Members of the Committee might be aware that in certain parts of the country there are wild boar. They, too, would fall within the ambit of the exception if the amendments were accepted. The same argument applies to amendment No. 88, which would widen the exception in respect of retrieving game from rabbits and hares to all wild mammals that have been shot. It is quite difficult to imagine what that might encompass. Which wild mammals other than rabbits and hares fall into the category of game and are subject to shooting? The amendment's only potential practical effect would run counter to the policy agreed by the whole House, in that it would increase the amount of lawful hunting with dogs.

The exceptions to the ban on hunting with dogs have been tightly drawn. The amendments would widen them beyond the intention of the schedule as written by Deadline 2000.

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Prepared 8 February 2001