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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I am very grateful. Does the Minister recall the extensive debates that we shared in Committee, and the strong views that were expressed to him by the National Gamekeepers Organisation, during consultation in Portcullis House, on the importance of the use of terriers in the conduct of its members' work? In the light of new clause 13, has he considered further those discussions and the very powerful evidence put to him by the NGO as to why it is essential to allow its members to use terriers in the conduct of their work?
Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman will recall the assurances that I gave to him and to my hon. Friends in Committee. Those assurances still stand, and indeed, we promised that we would look at this issue because there is a manifesto undertaking not to interfere with the sport of shooting. We will examine and deal with those concerns, and amendments will be tabled in another place in order to fulfil that undertaking. I certainly recall the hours that the hon. Gentleman and I spent in Committeethe longest Committee stage that any Bill on hunting has been given.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The Minister mentioned the banning of mink hunting, but alluded to the need for some control on the ground of pest control. Exactly what will those methods be? Will they involve trapping and shooting, or will he advocate other methods?
Alun Michael: Various methods are already used for dealing with mink, including a variety of forms of trapping, and those options are available. The only situation in which mink hunting would be allowed under the Billin other words, in terms of hunting with dogsis where it could be shown that those various methods were more cruel and involved more suffering than the particular option for which an applicant came forward. I make this point strongly: the Bill will allow the hunting of foxes or mink only for pest control, and only when it can be shown that alternative methods
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I am grateful to the Minister. Nevertheless, under the terms of new clause 13(2)(a) and (b), hunting with dogs will be banned completely from 1 August to 1 November. What data can he offer the House to show that the methods that will replace hunting with dogs will not increase the suffering of the hunted animal?
Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman, who was a member of the Committee, will recall the discussions that we had on this and a variety of other issues. Many Members of this House hold the strong view that cubbing is one of the most unacceptable of practices. I accepted the sense of an amendment moved by one of my hon. Friends, which is consolidated in this provision to ensure that that activity cannot take place. During the period in question, there is a consequent effect on activities other than direct cubbing. However, this appears to be the best available instrument for dealing with an issue that Members of this House made it very clear they wanted to deal with, and it is the right way to approach this issue.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): If the Minister wants to achieve what he said at the beginning of his speech and eradicate cruelty once and for all, does he agree that the only way to achieve that is to pass new clause 11, or does he believe that registration will be so impossible to achieve by any hunt that hunting will be banned by that means, thus ending the cruelty about which he speaks?
Alun Michael: If the hon. Gentleman had studied the Bill, as amended in Committee, he would know that it was strengthened considerably and that the hurdles are very high. It is open to people to show first, that the activity is necessary, and secondly, that the alternatives in the circumstances for which the application is made would be more cruel. I am not going to get involved in the decisions that will be for the registrar and the tribunal to take. However, John Bryant, of Protect Our Wild Animals, estimated that the number of foxes killed by pest control under the Bill's requirements might be in the order of 100 in comparison with about 80,000 now. The point to remember is that, whatever that number may be, the animals would otherwise be killed by a more cruel method. That is the point of the Bill and the analysis on which it depends.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I supported the original Bill because I wanted the twin principles of utility and cruelty brought into play. Will the Minister say more about new clause 13? He should know that in Wales one third of the fox cull is by terrier work, and that about 40 per cent. of the cull occurs during the period in which he wants to ban fox hunting with hounds. Clearly, the principle of utility is not being played in new clause 13. What additional facts and evidence does the Minister have to show that killing
Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that many problems are dealt with by using dogs to flush out the foxes and then shooting them, rather than by the requirements of the Bill. Various options exist. For example, lamping is available in a variety of circumstances. What the Bill provides is a series of stringent conditions that have to be satisfied in order for any activity that can be registered to take place. That is fair, reasonable and extremely tough and challenging for those who wish to make their case. That is the structure of the Bill.
Mr. Gray : I fear that the Minister may have inadvertently misled the House a moment ago. He suggested that using dogs to flush foxes to waiting guns would still be allowed under the Bill. Does he agree that that is incorrect?
The Bill will also provide effective tools for stopping illegal hare coursingsomething that is already illegal, but which existing law has proved unable to tackle. That is an important pointsomething that is currently illegal continues to take place. One of the most important points that I want to make to the House is that we need to pass legislation that is not just an aspiration, but actually works and prevents activities that are recognised as cruelor cause unnecessary sufferingfrom taking place. The Bill will prove effective in dealing with illegal hare coursing and the other activities that it is intended to control.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I represent a constituency that has suffered from the scourge of illegal coursing for many years, but can the Minister tell us where the extra police officers to act against illegal coursing under the Bill will come from, when they are not there to act against illegal coursing at present?
Alun Michael: When the hon. Gentleman discusses the matter with the police in his constituency he will find out that part of the problem is that the police do not have the tools to do the job. They have to prove trespass[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the finances available to the police in rural areas have increased as a result of the Government's actions. When I was a Home Office Minister, I commissioned the research that led to the additional moneys becoming availableand that is quite apart from the general increase in finances available to the police. Presently, if the police find a group of people involved in illegal hare coursing, what can they do? They have to collect evidence of trespass. They can challenge people, who can respond by saying that they have permission. People can be intimidated. I am sure that, if the hon. Gentleman is having that problem in his constituency, he knows how difficult it is to police that activity.
With this Bill, the police will have the power immediately to say, "Are you registered for that activity? If you are not or if you are undertaking hare coursing, you are done." There will be the capacity to impose a level five fine, to confiscate animals and to confiscate equipment. It will be extremely effective in dealing with the current mischief of illegal hare coursing.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): When we started out on the hearings in Portcullis House, the right hon. Gentleman assured all those present that the Bill would be drafted on the basis of cruelty and utility tests and on the basis of proper scientific knowledge. Can he therefore now give us a clear answer? What is the scientific basis for banning autumn hunting? If he cannot give us that basis, we will have to conclude that he is merely pandering to the wishes of those behind him, which is what we have suspected all along.