Hunting Bill

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Alun Michael: It is quite interesting that when one gets to definitions—the English language offers continual fascination and variety. Pinning things down in terms that make sense both colloquially in everyday English and in the law is one of the great challenges that parliamentarians face.

Amendments Nos. 294 and 95 effectively restrict the definition of the person hunting to such an extent that individuals would be able to avoid deregistration or prosecution, even though they might be actively hunting and in active breach of the provisions of the Bill. For example, a person in a group hunt might be hunting, but because the dogs are not under his direct control or direction, as would be required under subsection (2)(b) if it were to be amended as proposed, that would not be considered to be hunting. If that person were not hunting, he would by definition be protected from the consequences of any breaches. That would be unacceptable, and I cannot support the amendment in that light.

Several hon. Members have referred to followers or people who might be undertaking related activities, and to the question of whether or not they are hunting. Subsection (4)(b) makes it clear that a person is hunting a wild mammal with dogs even if the dogs

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used in the pursuit of the wild mammal are not under his direct control. It will be for the benefit of people who might be affected by the Bill if that point is put beyond doubt in the Bill. As followers lack the necessary intention to pursue or catch the wild mammal, they will not be hunting and so will be outside the scope of the clause. Active participants in the hunt will be caught, whether or not they were in control of the dogs.

The terms of amendment No. 294 raise issues that we largely covered in respect of amendment No. 359. A person is understood to be hunting a wild mammal in the ordinary English meaning of those words, but the clause makes it clear that a person is hunting when he engages in the pursuit of a wild mammal and dogs are engaged in that pursuit. That is not an exhaustive definition of hunting, although it should cover most cases. It does not limit the ordinary English meaning of the word ''hunting'', which requires an intentional pursuit—a point that I have made almost to the point of boring the Committee, although it is an important point. The activity cannot be done accidentally. What matters is the person's intention, not the dogs'.

Subsection (2) refers to ''a person hunting''. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire spoke mistakenly of a person being at risk because the Jack Russell terrier or even Fifi follows its instinct and chases wild mammals while out on a walk. That person would not be hunting. The ordinary meaning of the word ''pursuit'' incorporates the aspect of intention. The question is not that of defining the word specially or separately in relation to the Bill. It might help if I offer the definition given by the shorter Oxford dictionary. The word ''hunt'' is interpreted as:

    ''to pursue wild animals or game''.

The word ''pursue'' is defined as:

    ''follow with intent to overtake and capture or harm; hunt; chase''.

Pursuit is defined as:

    ''the action of pursuing with intent to overtake and catch or harm; an instance of this; a chase''.

The element of intention is not something that I am importing into the definition of hunting: it is in the common sense definition of the word and contained in common usage.

I must also resist amendment No. 360. The clause defines the activity of hunting a wild mammal. The word ''hunting'' should be interpreted, as I have already made clear, as having its ordinary English meaning, which is to pursue a wild mammal with the intention of catching it. However, I considered it useful to offer clarification—not substitution—in the Bill. Subsection (2) does that and makes it clear that a person is hunting when he or she

    ''engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal, and . . . one or more dogs are engaged in that pursuit''.

As I have stated in this debate and in previous debates on other clauses, hunting is, by its nature, an intentional activity. A person cannot hunt by accident. Amendment No. 360, by adding the words

    ''with the intention of killing or wounding it''

to the definition of hunting, would allow suffering to be inflicted on wild mammals simply for fun. It would

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allow a person to use dogs to pursue a wild animal to capture and release it so that he could pursue it again, as long as he did not intend to kill or wound it. That could never serve any useful purpose—and would therefore fail the utility principle—and would obviously cause unacceptable suffering to the wild mammals being toyed with. Such an activity would therefore be unacceptable on the grounds of inflicting suffering and being cruel.

Concern has been expressed by, for example, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation that the Bill as drafted would prevent certain legitimate activities that do not constitute pest control or do not involve the capture or killing of quarry. Such activities include the tracking of deer for population censuses, managing a herd, or gathering information about the behaviour of wild mammals for scientific research. As I made clear earlier, I believe that the Bill is clear on that point, but I am considering the issue and taking legal advice, so, if necessary, I will table an appropriate amendment at a later stage of the Bill to permit dogs to be used for such purposes when there is no suggestion of any harm being caused in any way to the wild mammals concerned.

Amendment No. 354 was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. I am now clearer about what he is trying to achieve through the amendment that I was before the debate. However, it is not clear how the new paragraph that the amendment would insert would fit with paragraphs (a) and (b). At present, hunting with dogs is defined to include cases in which:

    ''(a) a person engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal, and

    (b) one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit''.

The insertion of the words

    ''( ) a person employs one or more dogs to attack or kill a wild mammal''

at the end of that definition would appear to be an alternative to the requirements in (a) and (b) of a pursuit with dogs, but, as drafted, that would not be the actual effect of the amendment.

Hunting a wild mammal with dogs by definition involves the pursuit of a quarry, so I am not convinced that my hon. Friend's amendment falls under the definition of hunting. His amendment seems to address a mischief outside the scope of the Bill, which does not attempt to cover all cases in which dogs are used to inflict harm on wild mammals, but only those in which dogs are used to hunt wild mammals. That is the purpose of the Bill.

For example, setting a dog on a wild mammal held captive in a cage would not involve any element of pursuit or hunting, and so would not be covered by the Bill as drafted. It would, however, be an offence under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. I seek to persuade my hon. Friend that there is no unintended lacuna in the Bill. The matter that he seeks to address, if I have understood him correctly, is dealt with under other legislation, namely, the 1911 Act. The Bill seeks to deal

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specifically and precisely with cruelty associated with hunting with dogs.

Rob Marris: I understood my right hon. Friend the Minister to say—perhaps I misheard him—that hunting necessarily involved pursuit. If so, why does the Bill have the word ''pursuit'' in subsection (2)(a) and (b)? It is redundant.

Alun Michael: I think that it is included for the sake of clarity. One issue that concerns people in relation to hunting is the direct activity—the kill and the injury to animals. However, they are also concerned about the pursuit. I am not a lawyer like my hon. Friend, nor do I claim the exalted abilities of a parliamentary draftsman, so I shall have to consider his point in detail. The point is that pursuit is a matter of concern, but is an essential element of hunting. That is what the Bill is all about, and I hope that that will be sufficient to persuade my hon. Friend. I am happy to return to the point if he so wishes.

Mr. Gray: This has been a useful and interesting debate for one reason if for no other. We have tussled away at the question of intent at some length. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West tried to assist us with the two different types of legal intent. The important point is that the Minister has made it plain that the offence is to intend to hunt—not the hunting itself. He used definitions from the Oxford English dictionary in support of that. The corollary of that is that if one did not intend to hunt—if one were unintentionally hunting—one would not be guilty of an offence. An innocent individual such as myself whose dog happens to chase a fox, even though I did not wish it to, would not be guilty because I was not intending to hunt. I take some comfort from that. Equally, people could state in their defence that they did not intend their hounds to kill a fox. It is important that the Minister has made that point about intent.

5 pm

Alun Michael: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not want to return to previous debates because we have made the point on several occasions. However, I want to make clear on the record that I have not talked about intentional hunting. I have made it clear that intent is an essential element in the term ''hunt'' or ''hunting''. I note that the hon. Gentleman again suggested that I was talking about intentional hunting. My point is that intention is an integral and necessary element of the definition of hunting.

Mr. Gray: That is a legitimate clarification. In other words, if I can demonstrate that I did not intend to hunt, I would not be hunting. That is fair enough, but it is throwing words around.

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