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Lord Grocott: My Lords, I am pleased to say that I agree wholeheartedly with many of the comments made by the shadow Leader of the House and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I repeat on the record and with feeling that I am passionately in favour of this House sitting at sensible hours. It does not aid the Government, the scrutiny of legislation or, as the noble Baroness mentioned, the unfailing goodwill and support of the people who serve us so faithfully in the House. We must bear in mind their interests as well.

I welcome warmly the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the Government have the right to have their legislation considered—I would expect no less from him. We should remind ourselves that this is a revising Chamber; it does not exercise a veto over government legislation, as I think we all agree. I am sure that all of it will be properly considered.

It is within the power of this House to find the remedy to our problems, which is relatively simple: to find a proper balance between work done on the Floor of the House and that carried out in Committee. We have not yet found that balance in working practices. Floor time is precious; it should be used for major debates and the consideration of major parts of government legislation. It is far more appropriate that detailed consideration take place in Committee.

If humanly possible, I avoid the ritual of abuse between the two Houses that can develop sometimes. It is not helpful from either side. Although the House of Commons timetables its legislation, I venture to suggest that, even should the Official Opposition came into government after the next election—I fervently hope that that will not happen—I would look forward

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to seeing them abolish the timetabling system. I would be extraordinarily surprised if they did that. Despite the timetabling in the House of Commons, it spends far more time considering legislation in detail precisely because it goes to a committee. If we did that here, we would consider legislation much more effectively, finish at a sensible time and have sensible Recesses.

I thank fervently the 47 Peers who were present at 4.15 this morning—eight from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches and a splendid 39 from the Labour Benches, to whom I express special thanks.

Sustainable Energy Bill

3.24 p.m.

Read a third time, and passed.

Hunting Bill

3.26 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Whitty.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Hunting wild mammals with dogs]:

Baroness Mallalieu moved Amendment No. 1:

    Page 1, line 4, after "he" insert "intentionally"

The noble Baroness said: Perhaps I might explain briefly the purpose of this amendment and the others that will follow during the Committee stage in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Carlile of Berriew, Lord Donoughue, Lord Mancroft and others, to which I have added my name.

As the Committee will know, the Minister in another place who was charged with grasping the nettle that the issue of hunting has become for the Government promised to consult widely, to take evidence from all sides and to produce a hunting Bill that would be,

    "based on principle and evidence".

The Prime Minister, too, gave that undertaking. On the basis that the issue would be dealt with fairly, the rural community co-operated to the full with the Minister.

The Minister used as a basis for his consultation exercise the report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, which the then Home Secretary, the right honourable Jack Straw, had ordered "to inform the debate". On 12th March 2001, after publishing his report, the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said:

    "Naturally, people ask whether we were implying that hunting is cruel . . . The short answer to that question is no. There was not sufficient verifiable evidence or data safely to reach views about cruelty".—[Official Report, 12/3/01; col. 533.]

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Significantly, the Burns report also raised the possibility of licensing, which was beyond its terms of remit. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, said during the later hearings at Portcullis House,

    "the bulk of the concerns the Burns Report raised about hunting might be addressed through licensing, a regulatory approach or by changing the rules of the hunts".

I know that each of the concerns that the noble Lord raised was dealt with and has specifically been remedied, in so far as it was possible, by the hunts themselves.

In September 2002, the Minister chaired three days of hearings in Portcullis House, with representatives from the Countryside Alliance, of which I am president, the then named Deadline 2000 and the Middle Way Group. Each of them questioned expert independent witnesses who gave evidence. I sat through every minute of those three days. At no point during the six-month consultation process, the evidence of which was helpfully placed by the Minister on the website, or during those hearings, was any evidence presented to justify an outright ban on any form of hunting.

There were, however, three major points of consensus among the experts on all sides during those hearings. The first was that the populations of quarry species would continue to be controlled whether or not hunting was banned. Secondly, the animal welfare experts on all sides agreed with the findings of the Burns report that suffering would occur from alternative control methods and that those often unaccountable methods would necessarily increase in the event of a ban. Thirdly, it was agreed that all species should be given parity of treatment.

In the Queen's Speech last November, the Government promised that,

    "A Bill will be introduced to enable Parliament"—

I stress that the word was "Parliament"—

    "to reach a conclusion",

on this issue.—[Official Report, 13/11/03; col.3]

The Bill originally presented by the Govt, as your Lordships will know, established a regulatory regime—a registrar who would deal with licensing applications and grant them according to specific criteria. It created three categories of hunting, despite the consensus that had been indicated at Portcullis House: the first related to hunting to be banned outright—that is, deer hunting and coursing. I stress that that was despite evidence to the contrary. Secondly, there was to be exempt hunting, which included ratting, rabbiting and flushing-out for shooting; thirdly, came all other forms of hunting—which had to be registered. In order to be registered, hunting had to pass two tests: first, of utility and, secondly, of least suffering. In some important respects, the Bill did not match the evidence and in some respects the tests that were to be applied were drawn in such a way as to exclude a fair consideration of the application by the registrar.

However, that said, those defects could have been remedied by careful examination and amendment of the Bill as it passed through Parliament. The essential

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structure provided by that Bill—a regulatory system for hunting and a framework against which the registrar could consider applications—was, I believe, sensible and with relatively few amendments could have been made into one which was workable, which would have been seen to be fair on all reasonable sides and would, I believe, have had the respect and support of the rural communities to which it would apply.

The public as a whole could have had confidence that hunting was being properly conducted according to recognised and approved codes of practice and that any breach would result in deregulation and the loss of the ability to hunt in future. Moreover, because registrations were required to be renewed, the registrar would have been able to keep under review changing circumstances in different areas and developments in alternative methods in research and in scientific progress.

As the Committee knows, that Bill was seriously undermined in its Standing Committee stages in another place and in July this year, in Mr Michael's own words, it was "wrecked" at Report stage when the provision was turned into a total ban. All references to the hunting register and the tribunal system in that original Bill were stripped from the Bill in a subsequent Standing Committee hearing, and the Bill that we now have received a Third Reading in another place, supported by fewer than half the 659 Members of Parliament.

The purpose of my amendments is to restore to the Bill a fair and workable registration system as envisaged by the Government and, indeed, as promised by them. Many of the amendments—indeed, most of them—will restore word for word those of the original Bill. In some respects, there are changes—and where there are changes, they will be clearly identified so that your Lordships can understand what they are and why they are suggested.

The role of this House must surely be both to seek to improve a Bill and, in this case, to try to ensure that the Government's promise of a fair Bill that is based on the evidence can be kept.

Amendment No. 1 seeks to insert the word "intentionally" into the first line of the Bill, so that it would read,

    "A person commits an offence if he intentionally hunts a wild mammal with a dog".

That is a short but important addition to the original Bill. I believe that it is necessary and that the Committee should accept it. Perhaps I may briefly explain why.

Rather extraordinarily, there is no satisfactory definition of "hunting" in the Bill that has been sent to us. The interpretation provisions in Part 3, Clause 11(2) state:

    "For the purposes of this Act a reference to a person hunting a wild mammal with a dog includes, in particular, any case where—

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

    (b) one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit (whether or not by him and whether or not under his control or direction)".

21 Oct 2003 : Column 1509

The definition is not exhaustive; it lacks clarity and there is no indication whatsoever either there or elsewhere in the Bill of what participation may be required to render the accused guilty of what is to become a criminal offence. The amendment provides a clear requirement for the prosecution before conviction to prove specific intent on the part of the person who is accused.

My concerns about the inadequacy of the definition were shared even by supporters of a ban on the Standing Committee in another place. During a debate on this topic, Mr Rob Marris, a lawyer who worked closely with the Minister, urged him to consider the interpretation of that clause very carefully, saying:

    "I do not think that hunting is sufficiently well defined at present".

No change was made; and I echo the words of my friend Mr Marris.

Without a requirement that there be a specific intention on the part of the accused, this Bill will create a nightmare for the police and the courts and a field-day for the lawyers. It would presumably be necessary for the courts to develop a definition which relied upon degrees of risk and foresight which, in the context of the activity of hunting, would be extremely difficult. Would someone, for example, who released their dog in a public park, knowing that there were foxes in the vicinity—most of us know that there are foxes in every park in this city—and knowing that that dog had a propensity to give chase, fall foul of this legislation? On the face of it, it seems that he would. At present, there is no requirement on the part of the prosecution to prove a specific intent to hunt, let alone to cause any suffering or to kill.

So, if, for example, an individual acting and believing he was acting in the best interests of an animal by seeking to relieve unnecessary suffering acted in the following way, he might well be considered criminal. Let us take as an example a motorist who hits a fox or a deer and then uses the dog in his car to try to find the injured animal speedily in adjacent woodland or undergrowth. He would appear to be committing an offence under this Bill unless he actually owned the land or first went and found out who was the owner and got his permission; or went first to the police and got their authority. So much for relieving animal suffering as quickly as possible.

Legislation which creates a new criminal offence, as this legislation does, must surely make it clear to everyone when, how and by whom an offence is committed. What is totally unclear from the Bill sent to us by the House of Commons is who essentially is to be criminalised. On a standard day's hunting with a pack of hounds, they are under the control of one person—the huntsman—with possibly one or two assistants acting as whippers-in. The mounted field is there, following and watching the hounds. In addition to the mounted field, there will in many cases be a very large number of people following in cars, on motorbikes, bicycles, on foot or on quadbikes.

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On 4th February 2003, during the Committee stage in another place, Mr Michael said:

    "Hunt followers who merely observe the progress of the hunters or follow at some distance without themselves engaging in the pursuit of a wild mammal being hunted are not hunting and are not covered by the offence".

That presumably means that followers, whether they are on horses, in cars, on foot or on all those types of bike, who merely watch and follow, will not face prosecution. I should like to hear the Minister confirm that that is so. I have a particular interest in that last Saturday, when I would have said that I went out hunting, despite my best efforts I was not within a quarter of a mile of any hounds doing any hunting for the whole of the day after the meet. Would I have been a criminal?

The Bill contains no definition of participation in hunting, following a hunt or even being a spectator at a hunt. However, the Bill as it stands makes certain circumstances an offence, which cannot possibly have been intended. Some people may take part in a drag hunt so beloved of supporters of a ban. The hounds set out a drag line but then, without any intention on the part of those in control, "go live" when hounds start to follow the scent of a wild mammal. That is not something that is unheard of: it happens frequently. As the Bill is currently drafted, such people would appear to be committing a criminal offence.

Is an offence committed when hounds go out and no fox, deer or hare is found? A blank day is not uncommon. It might be said that the huntsman was attempting to hunt, but that raises questions that are more suited to the Bar finals examination about whether any offence is committed by attempting to do the impossible, even though no mammal will ever have been found let alone chased or killed.

Is it an offence when, as happens so often, hounds follow the scent in the wrong direction, not chasing the wild animal but in fact running away from it? I hope that some of those questions will be answered by the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, that is grouped with this one. I have opted for simplicity. Amendment No. 1 simply inserts the single word "intentionally" and I hope that the Minister will feel that he can accept it. I am encouraged to hope that he will do so in the light of what Mr Alun Michael said in Committee in another place on 4th February 2003. He said:

    "The intentions or actions of the hunter determine what is going on. Hunting has an ordinary English meaning . . . Without that intent, a person is not hunting and is not covered by the offence in clause 1".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee F, 4/02/03; col.735.]

If that is still the Government's view, let us make it plain in the Bill. I beg to move.

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