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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 consideredI 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 electionI fervently hope that that will not happenI would look forward
I thank fervently the 47 Peers who were present at 4.15 this morningeight from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Benches and a splendid 39 from the Labour Benches, to whom I express special thanks.
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,
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:
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.
The Bill originally presented by the Govt, as your Lordships will know, established a regulatory regimea 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 outrightthat 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 huntingwhich 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.
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 amendmentsindeed, most of themwill restore word for word those of the original Bill. In some respects, there are changesand where there are changes, they will be clearly identified so that your Lordships can understand what they are and why they are suggested.
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:
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 vicinitymost of us know that there are foxes in every park in this cityand 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 personthe huntsmanwith 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.
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:
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