Hunting Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Gummer: Is my hon. Friend aware that there are 400 wild boar in Britain? Only this month, one such animal that weighed more than 300 lbs and had very sharp tusks was shot on the border between Kent and Sussex. The animals are extremely dangerous to children on ponies and walkers, and the traditional method of hunting with dogs might be the only way in which to deal with them.

The Chairman: Order. The right hon. Gentleman cleverly brought the end of his intervention into order, but we should confine references to wild boar to allusion.

Mr. Lidington: Indeed. We have not considered in detail the question of wild boar. The Parliamentary Secretary's letter and the text of the schedule make it clear that if it were necessary to control wild boar after the Bill became law, a change in primary legislation approved by both Houses of Parliament would be required to make lawful the use of dogs to stalk or flush them out.

I have thought long and hard about how I should respond to the Minister's remarks, and I am in a generous and peaceable frame of mind this morning. I have welcomed his reassurances on the matters addressed in detail by the amendments and on his approach, and that of the Parliamentary Secretary, to the interrelationship between the Deer Act 1991 and the Bill. Therefore, although I believe that the debate has shown why Opposition Members are right to be seriously concerned about the impact of the Bill on gamekeepers and others engaged in legitimate pest control and other rural activities, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Lidington: I beg to move amendment No. 68, in page 21, line 3, leave out `took' and insert `was intended to take'.

The Chairman: With this we may take the following amendments: No. 67, in page 21, line 3, leave out `entirely'.

No. 69, in page 21, line 7, after `which' insert `he reasonably believed that'.

No. 70, in page 21, line 8, at end insert

    `, or

    (c) which he had not been forbidden to use.'.

No. 71, in page 21, line 8, at end insert

    `, or

    (c) which was land available for public use.'.

No. 87, in page 21, line 19, after `he' insert `believed that he'.

No. 105, in page 21, line 20, at end insert

    (c) onto which the quarry had escaped while being pursued in accordance with the conditions in this paragraph.'.

Mr. Lidington: This group of amendments deals with the land on which stalking and flushing out are allowed. It addresses paragraph 7(7), which requires that, to be lawful, stalking and flushing out with dogs must take place either on land owned by the person carrying out the hunting or on land that he has been ``permitted'' to use by the person to whom it belongs. As we discussed briefly at a much earlier sitting, the idea of belonging is defined, for the purposes of the schedule, in paragraph 22 on page 24, which states:

    ``land belongs to a person if he—

    (a) owns an interest in it,

    (b) manages or controls it, or

    (c) occupies it.''

To avoid any risk of my being misunderstood, I should say that I have not tabled the amendments with any idea of supporting the right of hunters or anybody else to trespass freely on other people's property. However, the exception in paragraph 7(7) is unnecessarily inflexible. It does not allow for the messy, informal realities of gamekeeping or rodent control, or for the fact that, in practice, permission is often assumed because it is dictated by custom and tradition; people are not accustomed to filling in forms and being governed by rule books.

Amendment No. 67 would leave out of sub-paragraph (7) ``entirely''. That would clearly be the most dramatic way in which to approach the problem.

Mr. Garnier: I may have misunderstood my hon. Friend and it may be entirely my fault. When he says that the amendment would leave out the sub-paragraph entirely, he means that it would leave out the word ``entirely''.

Mr. Lidington: That is right. The amendment would leave out the word ``entirely'' in the first line of sub-paragraph (7). That would allow somebody to carry out activities that are expressly permitted under part II on land that belonged to the person or on which they had permission to carry out those activities. However, the strictness implied by the word ``entirely'' would not be included.

Amendment No. 68 would approach the problem differently. It would allow stalking and flushing out on land that belonged to the person doing the stalking or flushing out, or on land on which he reasonably intended it to take place. It and other amendments in the group would cover a gamekeeper or a farmer who is legitimately taking advantage of the exceptions in sub-paragraph (7): he has his dogs and is using them to flush out a hare, a rabbit or a fox, but the animal goes on to land neighbouring that on which the hunter has permission to work or owns. He would clearly intend in such circumstances to keep within the law and within the limitations imposed by the wording of the exceptions in part II, and the amendment would protect him against the risk of prosecution if his dogs were to stray across a property boundary in pursuit of a quarry animal.

11.30 am

Amendment No. 69 has a similar basis. It would allow stalking or flushing out where the hunter reasonably believed that he had been permitted to use the land in question. There is a helpful analogy in the Deer Act 1991. Section 1(1) makes it an offence to enter land to search for or pursue deer without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land. Section 1(2) makes it an offence if someone

    ``takes, kills or injures, or attempt to take, kill or injure, any deer''

    ``searches for or pursues any deer with the intention of taking, killing or injuring it''

on any land without the permission of the owner or the occupier of that land. Therefore, the 1991 Act creates criminal offences that involve hunting without the landowner's permission, although section 1(3) provides a statutory defence to those two criminal offences. It provides explicitly for an exception from both offences defined in subsections (1) and (2)

    ``by reason of anything done in the belief that—

    (a) he would have the consent of the owner or occupier of the land if the owner or occupier knew of his doing it and the circumstances of it''.

Therefore, in framing the Deer Act, Parliament took the view that it would be unreasonable for a person to be prosecuted and to suffer criminal penalties if he honestly believed that he was keeping within the law and within the rules and regulations established by Parliament to govern his hunting. That principle should apply to the Bill too.

Mr. Gummer: Has my hon. Friend noticed that the advantage of that section of the 1991 Act is that it ensures that the source of a prosecution—not the prosecutor—is somebody who feels that his land has been used in a way of which he disapproves? If the Bill is not changed, a person who did not give explicit permission but was happy for the activity to take place on his land would not be involved, while somebody who wanted for other reasons to prosecute could lay information which the police might find impossible not to accept because, under the Bill, such a prosecution could be successful. The amendment has considerable value.

Mr. Lidington: My right hon. Friend makes a telling point. Throughout our debates on the details of the Bill, he and I have been concerned about the risk of malicious prosecutions brought by people whose animal rights agenda goes far further than that expressly provided for in the Bill. I am tempted to respond to his intervention with a lengthy diversion on the laying of information, but I shall refrain. That was the subject of my doctoral thesis, but it is probably better that I do not trespass further on your patience, Mr. O'Hara.

My right hon. Friend's core point is that it is a reality of rural life that a landowner's permission to hunt, stalk or flush out animals on his land is often given informally and arises from long-standing tolerance of country practices. It is unnecessarily bureaucratic and inflexible to expect such use of someone else's land to require the completion and preservation of detailed documentation to show that permission was sought and granted and the circumstances of that.

Amendment No. 87 refers to paragraph 8. It would allow the use of dogs for rodent control when someone reasonably believes that he has the relevant permission. It would apply the principles that I described in relation to paragraph 7(7) to the exception in paragraph 8 covering rodent control.

Amendment No. 70 tackles the same problem from a slightly different angle and would add to the general exceptions an exception in respect of land

    ``which he''--

the person hunting--

    ``had not been forbidden to use.''

That goes rather wider than the earlier amendment, which would put the stress on the reasonable belief of the person hunting that he enjoyed permission. It is a different approach to the issue.

Amendment No. 71 would add to the exceptions

    ``land available for public use''

and amendment No. 105 would add land

    ``onto which the quarry had escaped while being pursued''.

I suggest that amendment No. 105 is the minimum necessary addition to the exceptions in order to provide the protection of everyday legitimate activities of gamekeepers and others to which several of us on the Opposition Benches have referred again and again during our proceedings.

My great fear is that, as we have discovered with deer stalking, the Bill will have consequences that go much further than a prohibition on organised hunting with packs of hounds. I hope that the Government will reflect carefully on my argument that the drafting of the exceptions is inflexible and consider whether they can accept at least some of my amendments.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 13 February 2001