Previous SectionIndexHome Page

6 pm

In between are the cases that are now at issue, where the evidence presented by Burns is less clear-cut, so the Bill as drafted will provide a strictly impartial and independent registrar and tribunal to apply the two tests on a case-by-case basis. The registrar and the tribunal will apply the same standards—the tests set out in clause 10—to all cases, having regard to the individual circumstances. That is a very brief outline of how the Bill works. It is based on principle and the application of evidence, and it will work. It will, for example, provide clarity and simplicity of enforcement because all that the police will need to ask a hunter is, "Are you registered?"

I shall contrast the amendments from the Conservatives and the middle way group with our proposals. The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) would remove the prohibitions on the registration of deer hunting and hare hunting. He will no doubt tell us that the proponents of those activities should have the opportunity to put their case to the registrar and tribunal, but he proposes in another groups of amendments to delete clause 10, so removing the tests of utility and least suffering from the Bill. I can detect no principled approach in that.

In fact, I shall advise the House to support the hon. Gentleman's amendments to delete clauses 6 and 7, in favour of my new clause 13, which would consolidate and replace their provisions, but the principle on which I stand is that it is right for Parliament to conclude that deer hunting and hare hunting could not pass the two tests and that therefore it would be wrong to enable proposals for those types of hunting to go to the tribunal. It would be misleading to applicants to suppose that they might be granted registration, and it would be a misuse of the registrar and the tribunal to require them to consider applications that could never be granted.

I shall similarly advise the House to support amendment No. 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), to delete clause 9, which prohibits the registration of hunting involving the use of dogs under ground. However, he would replace that clause with a feeble new clause—new clause 6—which would permit the use of dogs under ground and enable the Secretary of State to prescribe a code of practice, but which makes no provision for people to have to comply with that code.

New clause 13 would retain the prohibitions on the registration of deer hunting and hare hunting and the use of dogs underground that were agreed by the Standing Committee and consolidate them into one clear clause, but it would go beyond consolidation in relation to cub hunting. The Standing Committee regarded the practice of autumn or cub hunting as abhorrent and unnecessary, and I gave an undertaking that I would take away the Committee's concerns and introduce a suitable amendment—it is in new clause 13.

I now turn to new clause 13(4), which makes it clear that hunting foxes, mink and other species may only be registered under part 2 when the two tests of least suffering and utility are satisfied. That makes it clear that such hunting will be permitted only where it is necessary for pest control purposes and where it causes the least suffering. New clause 13 therefore both adds a

30 Jun 2003 : Column 69

useful new measure to deal with the unnecessary suffering caused during autumn or cub hunting and clarifies the Bill's structure.

Clause 11, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), seeks what is described as an absolute ban on fox hunting by precluding its registration. I appreciate that some of my hon. Friends believe that fox hunting with dogs is always so cruel that it can never be justified. I must respect that belief, but I say to my hon. Friends that it goes beyond the available evidence. Yes, a lot of fox hunting is unnecessary and, if it serves a useful pest control purpose, that purpose can be achieved by other means that cause less suffering, but that is not necessarily true of all fox hunting. Burns made it clear that there may be situations where using dogs may cause significantly less suffering than other methods.

Mr. Kaufman: The Minister says that some of his hon. Friends believe that fox hunting is cruel in all circumstances. I would draw his attention to the fact that among those hon. Friends is the Prime Minister, who said on 17 January 2001:

Of course, that is in conformity with the Labour party election manifesto, which did not say that we would put the control of fox hunting in the hands of a registrar and a tribunal; it said that we would carry out the wish of the House to ban fox hunting.

Alun Michael: I point out to my right hon. Friend that, after the failure of previous Bills, I was asked to undertake a new process and to introduce a Bill to enable Parliament to resolve this issue and, in doing so, to fulfil a manifesto commitment from the last election. I also point out to him that I have voted for what can be described as a complete ban on fox hunting when such a proposal has come before the House previously, but I have concluded, having looked at all the evidence, that we need to target cruelty, rather than activity. We need to ban cruelty, rather than what activity people undertake or what clothes they wear. I have been consistent with that aim in introducing a Bill that completely bans cruelty in relation to fox hunting. I am certain that, in supporting the approach that I have taken, that is what the Prime Minister has in mind too.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for being exceptionally generous in giving way in all directions. Can he clarify something? He set out very clearly that the Bill divides species into three categories—those for which hunting with dogs is always cruel, those for which it is never cruel and those for which it needs to be subject to registration. If we were to add one or two species to the first category, why would that action produce the need for consequential legislation?

Alun Michael: Because the Bill is structured to deal with all cruelty and to focus on cruelty. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recall that I said a moment ago that Burns made it clear—I underline these words—that there may be situations where using dogs may cause significantly less suffering than other methods. So I reached the conclusion that I could not, in good

30 Jun 2003 : Column 70

conscience—this goes back to the golden thread that remains in the legislation—accept the idea of a complete ban on fox hunting, which is what is set out in new clause 11, as some people would be prevented from using the method of control that causes the least suffering. That may apply to a small number of cases, but the point is that it would be inconsistent to allow that. I ask my hon. Friends—in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer)—whether that is what they really want. Would that really be in the interests of animal welfare?

I have explained how the Bill, as it is now constructed, would ban all cruelty. The two tests ensure that the activity must be necessary and that hunting with dogs is only possible when it would cause significantly less suffering than alternative methods. There is no sleight of hand. The tests are strict. They will prevent the things that my hon. Friends and I rightly object to: the wilful, prolonged ceremonial pursuit and the inhumane slaughter of foxes for fun. That is very precise.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Will the Minister give way?

Alun Michael: I gave an indication that I needed to make a little progress.

On new clause 14, tabled by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), the considerations that I have just discussed also apply in relation to the proposal to ban the registration of mink hunting. Banning mink hunting looks like a simple solution, but looks are deceptive. There is no certain evidence that hunting mink with dogs will always fail the two tests, and banning hunting, rather than the cruelty caused by hunting, may result in unnecessary suffering. Once again, that is not something that, in good conscience, I can recommend to the House, so I hope that I have again made clear the points of principle that apply to the new clauses.

I must also tell the House that, if it were to agree to my new clause 13, there will be nothing to prevent the Bill being agreed to on Third Reading and being sent to the other place tonight. The sooner that the Bill moves forward, the sooner the controls on hunting with dogs that it introduces can come into force. In contrast, if the House were to decide to accept new clauses 11 and 14, it would result in the Bill being unacceptable without further amendment. That is not a subterfuge. As I have indicated already, it is a simple matter of practicality.

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I have signed new clauses 11 and 14, but I agree with my right hon. Friend that the most important point is to ban cruelty and to ensure that, when culling is necessary, the least cruel method is used. If he is telling me that passing new clauses 11 and 14 will hinder the banning of cruelty, I am perfectly prepared to accept his assurances that new clause 13, which I have also supported, will do what we on the Labour Benches want.

Alun Michael: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.

Let me spell out the reasons for recommittal. Consequential technical amendments would have to be made to make a Bill to which new clauses 11 and 14 had

30 Jun 2003 : Column 71

been added into workable legislation. For example, amendments would be needed to bring the new clauses into force one month after Royal Assent, which would be necessary for the proper working of the Bill. Amendment No. 100 in my name makes the necessary provision in relation to new clause 13.

Secondly, the Government could not agree to the establishment of the registrar and the hunting tribunal if their only task might be to consider applications for the hunting of wild boar if that ever happens. That would be an unjustifiable waste of taxpayers' money. If new clauses 11 and 14 were added to the Bill, it would therefore be necessary to recommit the Bill to strip out references to the registration and tribunal system. That would require detailed amendments to every part of the Bill.

Next Section

IndexHome Page