Mr. Garnier: I thank the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) for the lucid way in which he presented the amendments. They are tabled by him and by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, together with, in some cases, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. One or two are also co-signed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), who, like those other two hon. Members, is a member of the Middle Way Group. Although I am not a member of that group, I am pleased that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has set out his case so clearly. It is one with which I am able largely to agree.
As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said a moment ago, the purpose of the amendments is to allow the use of a dog below ground in the circumstances of the exceptions to the general offence. Alternatively, amendments Nos. 61, 86, 96 and 100 forbid only the deliberate use of a dog below ground. Amendment No. 118 would permit the use of a dog below ground where that consisted of a man-made underground structure or space. The hon. Gentleman mentioned things such as railways tunnels and I presume that would also cover his example of the cellar, drains in ditches in fields and so forth and under bridges. The general effect of the amendment is to recognise that there are circumstances where it is not reasonable, practicable or in the interests of animal welfare for it not to be permissible to use a dog below ground.
I shall briefly deal with some of the points fit for discussion under the amendments. To set the scene, I shall quote paragraph 2.31 of the Burns report. It states:
I shall bring us back to mainland Europe and Scandinavia. The Burns report acknowledged that the widespread use of terriers was accepted in other European countries, including some countries in which other forms of hunting with dogs was banned. Burns cites Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Germany, stating that, in those countries,
Terrier work is increasingly used as a method of fox control not necessarily by hunts, but by gamekeepers, members of the National Working Terrier Federation and others. You were not here this morning, Mr. O'Hara, but I mentioned the telephone call that I received from Mr. Nodder, the representative of the gamekeepers' association. He was concerned that the Bill would catch out gamekeepers in their legitimate activity.
Among the reasons for the increased use of terriers are the decrease in the use of snares, the restrictions to shooting for safety reasons and legislation that makes gun ownership difficult. I represent the south-eastern quarter of Leicestershire. It is largely rural and there are three packs of foxhounds and two foot packs in the constituency of Harborough. Despite that, the increase in residential housing would make it unthinkable to use a high-powered rifle to shoot foxes in every circumstance. To do so would be mad.
The A6 runs from Market Harborough to Leicester. The Fernie hunt meets either side of the A6. If it were banned and foxes had to be controlled by the use of high-powered rifles, I imagine that travelling from Market Harborough to Leicester would become altogether less comfortable than at present. I had the joy and thrill of travelling on the mainline railway to Leicester and back today, and I have seen the Fernie at work from the railway, but I do not want to see gamekeepers with high-powered rifles doing the same job from there.
Following the Phelps report, hunting took a major step forward in allowing digging to take place only at the request of the landowner. We note that the Burns report acknowledges the requirement of farmers, landowners and gamekeepers that foxes be controlled, and also the unique and important role of terrier work and other forms of hunting with dogs. We note also that Burns acknowledges the complex nature of fox control, the welfare and practical limitations of other control methods and the possible adverse welfare effect on foxes in upland areas of banning hunting with dogs. That is not to gainsay the point made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire when he cited the evidence of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about abandoned or orphaned fox cubs.
I am concerned to note that, despite the assertion that there is no firm scientific evidence, the report should conclude:
That conclusion ignores and contradicts the evidence of the ``Vets for Hunting'' submission, which was supported by 208 vets, recent research by the Swedish Veterinary Institute, which was submitted to the inquiry by the Countryside Alliance and the comments of the Burns inquiries researcher, Mr. MacDonald. That gentleman stated
I am particularly disappointed at the Burns report's lack of attention to terrier work as a pest control activity in its own rightthat is, outside the ambit of fox huntingas practised by farmers, gamekeepers and other independent pest controllers, and the significant differences that occur in such a situation. I refer the Committee to the Burns inquiry's comments on terrier work, particularly as some of the concerns expressed do not apply outside of hunting. At paragraph 94 of the summary, Burns said
The other point that I wish to draw to the Committee's attention is more to do with the practical consequences of a ban, and particularly of the provisions of schedule 3 not benefiting from the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury.
Mrs. Golding: I have a problem with ``below'' in the Bill. It is obvious that underground is underground, but in legal terms below means below the normal level of the groundfor instance, as in a ditch. The top of a ditch is at the normal level of the ground. Is the bottom of the ditch below ground? It is not underground, but it is below the normal level. Has the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his legal experience, come across that problem before?
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