Hunting Bill

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Mr. Banks: I shall bear in mind the hon. and learned Gentleman's observations on Christmas cards and the card produced by the House because that comes within the ambit of the Advisory Committee on Works of Art in the House of Commons, which I chair. It is a vexed question, as he knows.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is correct about my attitude to the killing of any wild mammal; I deplore it. However, on Second Reading I did not vote against the flushing of deer for the purpose of culling. The amendment that we have been promised on Report is necessary, because it would be nonsense to prevent the culling of deer when that is intended. The Bill seems to prevent that, so it is clearly faulty and needs to be amended.

Mr. Garnier: The Bill is faulty; the hon. Gentleman is correct. He referred to his duties as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Works of Art in the House of Commons and I remind him to remind me to give him the correspondence about an up-and-coming sculptor whom I want to draw to his attention.

I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to choose Christmas cards for the House of Commons with pictures of foxes on them. I do not understand why people send Christmas cards with non-religious themes, but they do. I would be amazed if the Bill or the amendments that we are discussing had any bearing on the hon. Gentleman's decision in that regard.

What concerns me is that the Minister imputed to the House an intention, or the absence of an intention, for which he can have no basis in fact. I am concerned that not only will the Committee be left in a position of some uncertainty, the House as a whole—which will have to deal with the Bill on Report—will not know the detail of our discussions. Someone will, no doubt, stand up and say, ``I dare say the intention of the Committee was as follows'', without having any basis of knowledge for that conclusion.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that if the Government found a way to make a change, it would allow them to make the point that they had listened carefully to those who understand the problems involved, and had sought to meet the real concerns expressed? If the Government stand fast and cannot help us in the way that the amendments suggest, the Committee will find it difficult to believe that they have listened in the way that they claim they want to listen.

Mr. Garnier: A number of points arising from my right hon. Friend's intervention have to do not only with listening but understanding.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): Is the hon. and learned Gentleman addressing the Committee?

Mr. Garnier: It is funny how rabbits pop up from time to time. If they wish to catch your eye Mr. O'Hara, no doubt they will do so.

The Chairman: Order. The points that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is making are entirely legitimate, but they are not always relevant to the amendments.

Mr. Garnier: I must confess that I was temporarily distracted by the Government Whip; that is unusual for me, but I shall ignore him. I was responding to my right hon. Friend's intervention when the hon. Gentleman talked about listening. In addressing you, Mr. O'Hara, I divided the issue into two parts. In order to be sure that the Government have been listening—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. With regard to remarks being made from a sedentary position, the hon. and learned Gentleman may not always be looking at me, but I am always conscious that his words are addressed to me.

Mr. Garnier: I believe that the Whip wants to make a speech. Perhaps he would like to resign from the Whips Office and join the ranks of the great orators of the House—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. Let us have one debate, one speaker. I call Mr. Garnier.

Mr. Banks: Give it some welly, Demosthenes.

Mr. Garnier: I prefer Cicero—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. We are all anxious to make progress, but the Committee's behaviour is not conducive to that.

Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to you for coming to my aid, Mr. O'Hara, as you can see that I am deeply in need of it. There is a man who feels so frustrated at not being able to speak for the past eight weeks, but who has been given the opportunity to do so at last—[Interruption.] I am doing my best to write the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) into the history books as the only Whip ever to be desperate to leave the Whips Office so that he could speak.

Mr. Hall: On a point of order, Mr.O'Hara. I do not want the hon. and learned Gentleman to mislead the Committee. Had he been here on Thursday, he would have heard me speak.

The Chairman: I do not think that that is a point of order.

Mr. Garnier: It is not even a point of accuracy, Mr. O'Hara.

Mr. Hall: Further to that point of order, Mr. O'Hara. The hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that what I have just said is inaccurate. If he checks Hansard, he will see that I spoke on Thursday.

The Chairman: That is not a matter for me. I appeal to the Committee to behave in a manner that is conducive to orderly and expeditious progress.

Mr. Garnier: As I was saying in reference to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), it is essential for the Government not only to listen but to understand the context of the Bill.

The Parliamentary Secretary's letter throws up a range of problems of which the Committee should be aware. It is dangerous for the Minister to impute an intention to the Committee that he has no way of divining. Equally, it is dangerous for the Committee to pass legislation that, on the Parliamentary Secretary's own admission—which is what the letter amounts to—is defective. It is not as though this is the first defect that we have come across. The attention of the hon. Member for West Ham was drawn to the aspects of the Bill that would catch little old ladies whose dogs chased rabbits.

Both the examples have come from the side of the Committee that is against the continuation of lawful hunting. I deeply regret the need to chide the Government for this late realisation and the need to make this announcement. For all that, I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for writing to us because it demonstrates more eloquently than I, or even the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, could that the Bill is so full of holes and mistakes that it should not be allowed, either amended or unamended, to become law, thereby allowing huge numbers of people to become criminals.

Mr. O'Brien: I shall deal briefly with the points raised by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough.

The perspicacity of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed in spotting a defect in drafting is something which we can all respect, but he overdoes our appreciation of his qualities of perspicacity if he believes that the Bill is ``vastly wider in scope'' than was intended by the House. He does a disservice to its Members, who are capable of considering legislation and realising that while it may have some defects, the broader intentions of the policy can be seen. When those defects are pointed out, Members of the House are capable of deciding to remedy them.

The Government, too, have shown that they are prepared to do what the Committee is here to do. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough did himself no service by his curmudgeonly approach. He condemned the Government, first, for not listening and then for listening to the Committee. One might conclude that as a Minister one cannot have it either way. Then again, I note that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be sending me a Valentine's card tomorrow.

It is not my job to suggest that the Committee's objective is to pass legislation without it having been properly scrutinised. It is the job of members of the Committee, including the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, to scrutinise the Bill. It was wrong for him to suggest that somehow the Committee was passing legislation without giving it proper scrutiny. That is the Committee's objective and it is why we are all here.

The Government have been listening carefully. No one is suggesting that either the Home Office or parliamentary draftsmen are infallible in the way in which policy and drafting are developed. We are seeking to put forward good policy and good draftsmanship. The Bill is, broadly, well drafted, but that does not mean that it is infallible. When defects are pointed out, they can be sorted out. In this case, a defect that was not intended when the schedule was endorsed has been pointed out and will be sorted out in due course. A Bill that endorses the policy of the House should also make good law, and it has always been the Government's objective to ensure that the Bill constitutes good law in achieving the House's policy aims.

11.15 am

Mr. Beith: Is the Minister satisfied that it is entirely sufficient simply to include deer in the paragraph 7 exceptions? Is there not a danger of prosecution where someone does not shoot a deer instantly, but stalks it and waits for a clear prospect of killing it in the most humane way? In the light of such a danger, might not further amendment be required?

Mr. O'Brien: I shall certainly consider the right hon. Gentleman's point and examine whether it is indeed necessary to take account of the wider implications of an amendment that, as we have said, we are willing to consider. His point is a reasonable one, and I shall certainly give it some thought. It may well be that I can write to him stating whether it is necessary to table a further amendment to deal with the matter.

Mr. Lidington: The Minister's response has been characterised by a readiness to listen to the concerns expressed by various members of the Committee in this debate. However, although I acknowledge that he has given various assurances in good faith, those on this side of the argument are right to be somewhat cautious—particularly in the light of the Parliamentary Secretary's letter—about accepting that those assurances will in practice be reflected in the Bill's wording.

The Minister said that it is not necessary to amend the schedule to make it clear that a person is not obliged to shoot an animal and kill it immediately when to do so would be unsafe. He argued that such a defence would be included in the requirement that the conduct of the person in question must be unreasonable for an offence to have been committed. Under that requirement, the prosecution would have to show that it was unreasonable to argue that it was not safe to shoot, say, the hare or rabbit.

The Minister said that to accept the amendments would go too far towards admitting the principle that it was legitimate for a quarry to be pursued and killed by a dog, rather than dispatched by a gun. However, those on our side of the argument would say that a prime motive in tabling the amendments was our belief that there are circumstances in which it is in the interests of a quick kill—and therefore of animal welfare itself—that the dog be permitted to catch and kill the quarry animal. To wait an indeterminate time could lead to the various uncertainties associated with a hunter's identifying and then killing the quarry animal.

Much of this morning's debate has centred on the impact of the schedule on deer stalking. Many members of the Committee feel that the schedule's phrasing will not deliver the prohibitions in the circumscribed form that both Ministers assured us was the intention of the Committee of the whole House.

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for responding promptly, courteously and in detail to the points that were raised last Thursday. However, the content of her letter is extraordinary. It is near unbelievable that it has taken until now for the Government to become aware that one consequence of the Bill would be to outlaw deer hunting. One does not have to look far for an explanation of the Deer Act 1991—a layman's summary of it is on page 211 of the Burns report. Clearly, the Act concerns the conditions under which killing deer is unlawful. Therefore, a general prohibition on pursuing and hunting deer with dogs will override the terms and conditions of the Act. As one considers the revelation in the Parliamentary Secretary's letter, one is led to consider other unforeseen consequences of part II of the schedule.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to wild boar in last Thursday's debate. That was when the thought first struck me that perhaps—although I do not know—in order to control feral wild boar people may need to use dogs to track them down in their woodland habitat. There are wild boar living in Kent, Sussex and Dorset that can endanger both human beings and other species.

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Prepared 13 February 2001