Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind all hon. Members that good temper and moderation are the hallmarks of parliamentary debate.

Alun Michael: It is entirely proper to listen to an organisation that exists to prevent cruelty to animals and I remind the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) that it said that it could live with the Bill that the Government have brought forward.

I shall briefly restate the underlying principles of the Bill, which new clause 13 will strengthen. The underlying purpose of the Bill is to ban all cruelty associated with hunting with dogs. The well-established definition of cruelty is "causing of unnecessary suffering". The Bill is based on the principle that unnecessary suffering must be prevented but that necessary pest control must be permitted for the well-

30 Jun 2003 : Column 65

being of the countryside and, indeed, of all of us. No one, on either side of the House, could seriously disagree with those principles.

Where hon. Members disagree so widely is on their view—

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): As the right hon. Gentleman has returned to pest control and as, in the Standing Committee debates—although not later—he referred to the moral questions involved, will he explain the moral difference between a gamekeeper using terriers and a farmer using terriers?

Alun Michael: The right hon. Gentleman will understand that we are addressing issues associated with hunting. That is what the Bill deals with and that is what the House has sought to deal with year after year after year after year. I have tried to meet the requirements of the House by bringing forward a Bill that sets out clear principles that relate to the activity of hunting. It was because of the disagreements—

Mr. Garnier: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The long title of the Bill states


It is not a debating point but inaccurate reporting of what the Bill is about for the Minister to say in answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) that we are only talking about the subject that Ministers would like to talk about. Is it in order, Madam Deputy Speaker, for a Minister to misunderstand the nature of the Bill that he is supposed to be taking through the House and for him entirely to misunderstand the question and, therefore, seek to avoid it?

Madam Deputy Speaker: In answering that point of order, I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that we are currently discussing new clause 13, which does relate to that subject.

Alun Michael: It is also true that the Bill is about hunting with dogs and that is the issue that I am trying to address, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The tests that have been set out look at, first, whether any purpose of the proposed activity with dogs is necessary for pest control and, secondly, whether the use of dogs will cause significantly less suffering than the alternative methods of pest control. The tests are sequential; both must be passed for the activity to continue. That is how the tests ensure that all unnecessary suffering associated with hunting with dogs will be prevented.

Mark Tami: When I intervened earlier, the Minister made a statement regarding the dating of a letter. I can confirm that the letter was dated 27 June.

Alun Michael: I can confirm to my hon. Friend that I understand, as recently as this weekend, that the organisation can live with the Bill as it has been brought forward, with the amendments in Committee.

Of course, there is a choice for hon. Members between two new clauses—between, in effect, what it is easy to term as a so-called complete ban and a complete ban on

30 Jun 2003 : Column 66

cruelty that is effective and will work and be enforceable. That is, I suggest, all that there is in the difference between Labour Members.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. May I press him, once more, on the question that he has not answered? It is the duty of a Minister to explain Government thinking to the House when a Bill and a new clause are being proposed. My right hon. and hon. Friends say, "If a gamekeeper, why not a farmer?" I, of course, put it the other way: "If we ban it for farming, why not for gamekeeping?" There must be a difference. The Minister cannot say that it is between hunting and shooting because terriers are dogs, not guns. Will he please tell us the difference?

Alun Michael: The evidence was that there was a need for terrier work to be undertaken for the protection of birds, and that there was a danger that a Bill dealing with hunting might unintentionally interfere with that activity. There is a clear distinction in our manifesto commitments on hunting and shooting. That is why I made it clear, in accepting the amendment in Committee, that, provided there was a code of conduct to deal with any possible inconsistencies, I would bring forward an amendment or an amendment would be tabled in another place. That undertaking, given in Committee, was the basis on which I accepted the amendment on hunting and will be adhered to.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): I have a courteous intervention. The other day, I was contacted by a small farmer in my constituency who has a terrier and carries out his own pest control. He is not actually a qualified gamekeeper but he does exactly what such a person would do. On that reasoning, would he qualify as a gamekeeper for these purposes?

Alun Michael: My understanding is that he would not, because we made a specific commitment on the sport of shooting and the position of gamekeepers—the question that was asked.

Mr. Gummer: Could the right hon. Gentleman return to the point and explain why it is moral to use terriers when one goes shooting but not when one goes hunting? Why is it moral and acceptable to allow that use by gamekeepers, whom rich people can employ, but not by farmers who do it themselves?

Alun Michael: It is interesting that the right hon. Gentleman seeks to make an egalitarian argument. The point is not about differences of morality but about differences of practice and what it is necessary to do, and thus about the differences of evidence. I made clear in Committee the basis on which I accepted the amendment. Members will have to look at the amendment, when it is tabled, and the code of conduct allied to it, to deal with an issue that is outside that of hunting with dogs. That is what the Bill and the

30 Jun 2003 : Column 67

amendments that I am trying to deal with are about, although I realise that Opposition Members want to take us on to other tracks.

Mr. Paice: Will the Minister give way?

Alun Michael: I will, but then I must make some progress.

Mr. Paice: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He says that because the question is about shooting it is not related to the Bill, but if he plans to amend the Bill, it clearly is related to the Bill. Will he explain a little more about the detail of the amendment that he proposes to put before the House of Lords? Will he make clear who will fall under the heading "gamekeeper"? What sort of registration and qualifications will be needed? Will such people have to be full-time or part-time? Could it be a retired person? Who will actually be able to use terriers under his proposed amendment?

Alun Michael: I might be open to criticism if I spent time dealing with an amendment that will come before the House on a future occasion. If the hon. Gentleman wants to investigate the evidence and the distinctions, I refer him to chapter 5 of the Burns report. As I have indicated, everything that we have done refers back to the Burns report and to the evidence that I have been given during the period that I have been considering these issues.

Mr. Gray: Will the Minister give way?

Alun Michael: This must really be the last time. I must make progress.

Mr. Gray: I am sorry to tax the right hon. Gentleman on a procedural point. If he brings forward amendments in the other place and if, at some subsequent stage, the Bill is subject to the Parliament Act, is it his understanding that those amendments passed in the other place would also be subject to the Parliament Act at the same time?

Alun Michael rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We are currently discussing new clause 13.

Alun Michael: May I make it clear that the provisions in part 2 mean that there should be evidence either that the activity does not serve a useful pest control purpose, which is broadly the case for banning hare hunting, or that the use of dogs would not result in significantly less suffering than the use of alternative methods? That is the case in deer hunting where it is clear that stalking and shooting by a trained marksman will always cause less suffering than hunting with dogs. In other cases, such as ratting, it is equally clear that the use of dogs will always be likely to cause less suffering than alternative methods, such as snaring or poisoning.

30 Jun 2003 : Column 68


Next Section

IndexHome Page