Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Boardman: We are debating Amendments Nos. 4 and 8 but I wonder whether it is necessary to separate them. Are they not both aimed at the same purpose? Could they not both live comfortably in the Bill in order to achieve the objectives which all Members of the Committee seek?

Baroness Nicol: Did the noble Lord, Lord Monson, wish to comment on Amendment No. 8 before we reach a decision?

Lord Monson: I have no objection to Amendment No. 8. My only worry is whether it covers the drowning of mice and rats. If the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, speaking on behalf of the Home Office, could assure me that Clause 2(e) is not ambiguous—and I suggested that it was—but protects householders, whether rural or urban, in such circumstances, I should be delighted to withdraw my amendment and support Amendment No. 8. Perhaps the Minister would like to comment.

Lord Renton: I speak for myself and do not expect everyone to agree with me. I believe that Amendment No. 4 by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is the preferable of the two amendments.

Baroness Blatch: I am not sure that I can throw any more light on the subject. My own view is that there is no cause for worry; and the Government were satisfied that nothing in the Bill would prevent the continuation of normal humane methods of killing such creatures. However, I have to say that a sufficient element of doubt has been introduced into the debate as the discussion has progressed. My noble friend quite rightly pointed out that a definitive interpretation of what the clauses mean will be a matter for the courts. No one here can properly pre-empt how the provision would work in practice. For those reasons, I believe that the more

31 Oct 1995 : Column 1413

clarification, the better. We remain neutral over the Bill. It is for the promoter to decide whether the amendments are acceptable.

Lord Skelmersdale: Before my noble friend sits down, I realise that this is the Committee stage and I have not taken part in the Bill so far. However, both amendments incorporate the concept of "reasonable". Amendment No. 4 says "reasonably swift" and Amendment No. 8 states "with reasonable expedition". Surely that is a subjective concept. Is it not possible that one magistrates' court would interpret "reasonably" rather differently from another? Would it not, therefore, be better to omit the words "reasonable" and "reasonably" altogether?

Lord Monson: Perhaps I may intervene again. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for his support and also to the noble Lord, Lord Boardman, who seems to have suggested an excellent compromise. It was to have both belt and braces. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, also hinted that that might be a better way of going about matters.

My only worry is whether it would impede the swift passage of the Bill. If another place found that one or other amendment was not to its liking, of course, we would not dream of insisting upon it. I await the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, on that point, because we do not wish to impede the passage of the Bill during this Session. If asking for acceptance of my amendment were to do so, I should happily withdraw it. Perhaps she would like to give her opinion on it.

Baroness Nicol: I find it difficult to do so. After hearing the debate, my first reaction is that there is a certain amount of overlap in the two amendments. I do not see why we need both and if I have to choose between them it seems to me that Amendment No. 4 by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, is more likely to succeed in another place than Amendment No. 8.

At this stage I am prepared to accept Amendment No. 4 and perhaps when we come to the final debate on Amendment No. 8 we will see how the Committee feels about accepting it also. If I have to choose between the two, I feel that I must choose the first and I am happy to accept it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 1, line 17, leave out ("unavoidable").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 5. Concern has been expressed by the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners' Association and many noble Lords at Second Reading that the defence provided in Clause 2(c) may be too narrow as it stands. As drafted, it states that:

    "A person shall not be guilty of an offence ... by reason of ... the unavoidable killing or injuring of any wild mammal as an incidental result of any lawful action".

The problem is the concept of avoidability. As the noble Baroness conceded in her Second Reading speech, there may be many situations where farming activities, while

31 Oct 1995 : Column 1414

being lawful, are avoidable. An example would be if a landowner were asked not to burn heather on the grounds that it might cruelly burn wild mammals in it. If the landowner, rightly appreciating that heather burning is an essential part of the process of regenerating moorland and conserving wildlife, nevertheless proceeds with his burning, his action is not unavoidable. It is possible to conceive of a prosecution in those circumstances. Plainly that would not be acceptable. By removing the too harsh test of avoidability, the defence would be of more use in normal farming situations. I believe that the amendment substantially improves the Bill and I very much hope that the noble Baroness will once again be able to accept it.

Baroness Nicol: Yes, it is a sensible amendment and I am happy to accept it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 1, line 21, leave out ("or trap") and insert ("trap or dog").

The noble Lord said: By now Members of the Committee will be aware of my concern that it should be made clear that the Bill is no longer designed to attack legitimate country sports. I know that that is the noble Baroness's intention, but I was concerned on Second Reading that, in the examples she gave as to why the Bill was needed, she mentioned that the RSPCA had found mutilated foxes that,

    "had been set upon by dogs".—[Official Report, 19/10/95; col. 863.]

That suggested that there was something in the Bill which would prohibit such activities. Lawyers have said that it was possible that any use of a dog or hound to control wild mammals could be prosecuted if it was held that the animal was crushed in a dog's jaws. To make it clear beyond doubt that the Bill is not to be used in that way, the amendment specifically exempts the lawful use of a dog for the purpose of killing or taking any wild mammal. The lawful use of snares or traps is already exempt for the same reasons.

I believe that the noble Baroness might welcome the opportunity to clarify her position as the promoter of the Bill in this House by saying that it is neither her intention nor the purpose of the Bill to make any part of the legitimate practice of country sports unlawful. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that it is a sensible amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Nicol: There was considerable discussion on the point. Although I found it difficult to believe that anyone could suggest that inviting your dog to crush an animal meant that you had crushed it, nevertheless, it seemed to me that people were worried about the matter. I understand that none of the organisations concerned is opposed to the amendment, and I am happy to accept it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

31 Oct 1995 : Column 1415

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Interpretation]:

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 25, after ("any") insert ("wild").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is necessary in order to bring Clause 3 within the terms of the Long Title. The Long Title refers to "wild mammals", not merely to "mammals". Also the amendment would remove a doubt as to whether the Bill applied to a domestic animal which had either gone wild or was born in the wild. Such animals could then become "wild mammals" and be protected by the Bill. Therefore I believe that the amendment should be made. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Nicol: Again we had considerable discussion on this addition to the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, succeeded in convincing us all that it was necessary. I therefore accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Mancroft moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 1, line 26, at end insert—
("( )For the avoidance of doubt, "beats" does not include an attempt to kill a wild mammal with reasonable expedition.").

The noble Lord said: So as not to risk testing the patience of the Committee and the noble Baroness, I shall not go over the ground again. But I feel it is important to make one or two points. The purpose of this amendment is very simple. It seeks to make this area of the Bill as clear as possible. We were originally concerned about it when the Bill came to this Chamber from the other place. Two different sets (if that is the word; no doubt I shall be corrected) of leading counsel gave the opinion that the specific word "beats" was a dangerous area and needed clarification.

The reason that we could not reach a conclusion at the meetings held before Committee stage was that, after we discussed the amendments to come before us, we returned to counsel to ask their opinion. Even taking into account those amendments, they flagged up for us as firmly as they could that this is the great area of contention. That is why I press this point.

Noble Lords will understand—as we have all in our time paid the odd lawyer's bill—that there is very little point in taking very expensive and detailed legal advice, not once but on two or three different occasions, and then ignoring that advice. This is the strongest piece of advice that we received in relation to this Bill.

I shall not ask the Committee's pardon for making again another point that I made previously. It is that this is the area in which our enemies (I do not say "opponents" in this case), the enemies of country sports, are keenest to preserve intact. That raises even greater concerns.

31 Oct 1995 : Column 1416

The year before last, for nine months I watched a very close friend of mine dragged through the courts by animal rights people on an entirely spurious private prosecution under a former piece of legislation that came before this Chamber and in which I was involved; namely, animal welfare legislation. We had been given assurances by the promoters in this Chamber and in another place that this would never happen and that the Bill would not be used against legitimate country sports. That very close friend, a Master of Hounds, spent 18 months waiting to see whether he would go to prison. When the case came to the Crown Court he was told that the prosecution should never have been brought. That was the fifth, or possibly the sixth, case to be brought under that legislation. Therefore this is the area about which we are most concerned.

I consulted widely with my noble friends and with other friends outside this place who are concerned about this matter. It is in this area that we need to be most resolute. Therefore, without going over the arguments, I ask the noble Baroness to look favourably upon this amendment. It may be one dot too many to the "i" on that side of the fence; but from this side of the fence it is the dot to the final "i" that we would like in order to ensure that we are 100 per cent. comfortable with this Bill. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page