Hunting Bill

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Jane Kennedy: I hoped that we could have dealt with the motion formally, but hon. Members are trying to interpret our reason for introducing the revised programme resolution to which the House agreed earlier today. The answer is simple; at various points during our proceedings, Opposition Members have suggested that they wanted more time in Committee to consider the Bill. We are now attempting to provide that. I hoped that, for once, Opposition Members would have accepted with good grace and gratitude our genuine efforts to accommodate them and would allow us to get on with the important business of scrutinising the Bill.

The resolution simply proposes that we begin our sittings at the usual time and conclude our business at 10 o'clock. With good will on both sides, we may even conclude earlier than that. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale undertook to use his best endeavours to achieve that, but there is little evidence of any co-operation to achieve that objective.

The programme resolution before us and the earlier one were agreed without Division or amendment in the Programming Sub-Committee. All the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury in his opening speech could have been made in the Programming Sub-Committee had he chosen to do so.

Mr. Lidington: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Jane Kennedy: No, I will not give way.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough referred to the Whips circling him like dangerous animals. I remind him that when dealing with the usual channels, he should remember the words of Wednesday from the ``Addams Family''; ``Be afraid, be very afraid.''

Mr. Lidington: I simply want to put on the record our response to the Parliamentary Secretary's comment about which she would not allow me to intervene. I am aware that, for reasons that I regret, the Programming Sub-Committee's proceedings are not open to the public, nor is any record taken of those proceedings. For that reason, it was right for me to explain my point of view this afternoon. My comments will be recorded so that any Member of the House can take note of what I said.

Mr. Maples: Did my hon. Friend, either privately or in the Programming Sub-Committee, receive any indication from the Government that they intend to table any amendments for next Tuesday?

Mr. Lidington: From memory, that subject was not raised. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale can confirm that my recollection is correct and that the subject was not discussed at our earlier meeting. One of the purposes of my comments at the start of this short debate was to ask the Government to listen to representations and to table amendments, or at least to indicate in detail how they might seek to amend the Bill later.

4.45 pm

Question put:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 16, Noes 2.

Division No. 10]

Banks, Mr. Tony
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Foster, Mr. Michael
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Golding, Mrs. Llin
Gordon, Mrs. Eileen
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lepper, Mr. David
Michael, Mr. Alun
—pik, Mr. Lembit
Pickthall, Mr. Colin
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Smith, Angela

Maples, Mr. John
Prentice, Bridget



    (1) the last two entries in the Table which forms part of the Order of the Committee of 18th January shall not have effect;

    (2) proceedings on the Bill shall be concluded at Ten o'clock on Tuesday 13th February unless concluded earlier).

Mr. Leigh: On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. The Labour party has given up trade union practices, but could I now ask you, brother, for the break that you promised us earlier?

The Chairman: My enthusiasm for continuing may not be shared by the Committee. I propose that we now have a half-hour break.

4.47 pm

Sitting suspended.

5.17 pm

On resuming—

Amendment made: No. 58, in page 20, line 34, leave out from `consumption' to `or' in line 35.—[Mr. Lidington.]

Mr. Öpik: I beg to move amendment No. 60, in page 20, line 38, leave out sub-paragraph (4).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 61, in page 20, line 38, after third `the' insert `deliberate'.

No. 76, in page 20, line 40, leave out `third' and insert `second'.

No. 77, in page 21, line 13, leave out

    `conditions in this paragraph were'

and insert

    `condition in this paragraph was'.

No. 78, in page 21, line 14, leave out paragraph (2).

No. 86, in page 21, line 14, after third `the', insert `deliberate'.

No. 118, in page 21, line 15, after `ground', insert

    `other than in a man-made underground structure or space'.

No. 125, in page 21, line 15, after `ground' insert

    `other than in a cave or pothole'.

No. 79, in page 21, line 16, leave out `second'.

No. 80, in page 21, line 32, leave out paragraph (2).

No. 96, in page 21, line 32, after third `the', insert `deliberate'.

No. 81, in page 21, line 34, leave out `second' and insert `first'.

No. 82, in page 21, line 40, leave out `third' and insert `second'.

No. 83, in page 22, line 2, leave out paragraph (2).

No. 100, in page 22, line 2, after third `the', insert `deliberate'.

No. 84, in page 22, line 4, leave out `second' and insert `first'.

No. 85, in page 22, line 6, leave out `third' and insert `second'.

Mr. Öpik: Amendment No. 60 is also in the name of the hon. Member for Aylesbury. We have just voted to have more time to discuss the Bill, which is great. We can come back on Tuesday—[HON. MEMBERS: ``Yippee.''] I would have said, ``Yippee'', but I was not sure how it would appear in Hansard.

There is no point in further debate unless people listen and we can make a difference. Throughout our proceedings, I have become concerned that members of the Committee are adopting rather entrenched positions and, as a result, our debates might fall on deaf ears. The amendments deal with terrier work and given that that is a rather emotive subject, I hope that hon. Members will subjugate their feelings to their values and do the right thing in listening to the arguments, some of which they may not have heard before.

The amendments are not intended as a criticism of the Ministers, who have done as good a job as anyone in following the policy positions of Deadline 2000. In trying to formulate those positions in legislation, it is difficult to find a solution that involves prohibition rather than regulation, owing to the many contradictions that are thrown up. The amendments try to resolve some of those contradictions.

Amendments Nos. 60, 78, 80 and 83 would allow the use of dogs below ground in the circumstances of the exceptions to the general offence. Amendments Nos. 61, 86, 96 and 100 offer the alternative route of forbidding only the deliberate use of a dog below ground. Amendment No. 118 would permit the use of dog below ground where it consisted of a man-made structure or space. One might call amendment No. 125 the cave amendment, because it would create an exemption for caves and potholes. It alludes to comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed at an earlier stage of our proceedings.

The general effect of the amendments is to recognise that there are circumstances in which it is not reasonable, practicable or in the interests of animal welfare to ban the use of dogs underground.

As ever, I return to the Burns report, which is pretty much the bible of the Committee. The report is equivocal with regard to terrier work, but it does not necessarily say that it is in the interests of animal welfare to ban the use of dogs underground. Paragraph 6.51 of the report, on page 117, contains important information about what Lord Burns discovered about terrier work. It states that

    ``it seems reasonable to assume that a situation in which the fox is prevented from escaping by the terrier will have adverse welfare implications. As to the latter, the role of the terrier is to hold the fox at bay by barking at it. As Macdonald et al point out, there is no firm evidence about the frequency with which fights occur or on the severity of the injuries. We are aware that terrierwork is better regulated than it used to be and we accept that some of the reports of fights and injuries pre-date those changes. It seems clear, nevertheless, that fights do sometimes occur during digging-out or bolting and we have no doubt that this is more frequent in unofficial terrierwork than in that linked with registered packs.''

Paragraph 6.52 is also important. It states:

    ``Although there is no firm scientific evidence, we are satisfied that the activity of digging out and shooting a fox involves a serious compromise of its welfare, bearing in mind the often protracted nature of the process and the fact that the fox is prevented from escaping.''

Paragraph 9.20, on page 149, states:

    ``Digging-out and bolting foxes is a complex issue because of the perceived needs in different parts of England and Wales. In the absence of a ban, serious consideration could be given as to whether this practice should be allowed to continue and, if so, under what conditions. Possible options would be to ban it altogether; confine it to those areas where it is considered necessary as a means of controlling fox numbers or in the interests of animal welfare; make the practice subject to the general legislation on cruelty by removing the present exemptions for hunting; or improve monitoring by the hunts and by any independent monitors.''

I read those passages out because the fact that Burns did not unequivocally recommend the need to ban terrier work in the interests of animal welfare is central to my point and underpins the amendments. Burns is clearly concerned about the suffering that terrier work might cause—including to the terrier itself—but he also emphasises that there is more than one way to address such concerns.

Furthermore, especially in paragraph 9.20, Burns makes the point that it could on occasion be in the interests of animal welfare to allow terrier work to continue. I am aware that terrier work creates strong feelings. There is an underlying assumption that it is unnecessarily cruel and unnecessarily compromises animal welfare, but from what I have read in the Burns report and other analysis, that is not the case. If terrier work is properly regulated, in certain circumstances it can promote our objective that animal welfare should be taken seriously.

Terrier work is increasingly used in some areas. To forbid the use of a dog below ground as part of the exceptions to the general offence is illogical in practical terms and in terms of the cause of animal welfare. I do not need to repeat the points that have already been made in the Committee, but right hon. and hon. Members will recall that, on at least one occasion, extraordinary contradictions have emerged from our discussions on the consequences of the use of a dog underground being banned.

Currently all the exceptions relating to stalking, flushing out, rodent control, recapturing animals and rescuing animals do not allow the use of a dog below ground, but it cannot be justified on animal welfare grounds. The Bill recognises the propriety of hunting to protect livestock, fowl, gamebirds and so on. An essential element of hunting with dogs now is the ability to use some method to control or apprehend such animals underground. If the exceptions are designed to promote animal welfare, as I believe they are, the hunt for the wild animal must be as efficient as possible. That brings me to my second core point.

It can make no sense in animal welfare terms for a wounded animal to continue to suffer if it can be located underground with the use of dogs. We have already established that it is all right to apprehend such an animal as long as it is on the surface, or presumably in a building above ground level. However, that almost arbitrary exemption means that if the animal chooses to shelter underground, a dog cannot be used in the way that it could be on the surface. The Bill does not take account of that practical reality. The amendment recognises that, in such situations, it would be more logical to permit the use of dogs underground. The Middle Way Group would like to see that regulated in practice without introducing rafts of the schedule 2 proposals. We thought that we could best make our points by addressing the simpler amendments in the group.

Dogs often search for mammals underground and inspect foxholes. That is their nature. In our view a person should not necessarily be criminalised if, for reasons beyond his control, the dog follows its natural instinct to search for animals underground. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole told us earlier that his dog was attacked by a rat underground—

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