On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you announce in advance, Mr. Speaker, whether and when you will move the closure on this amendment? On the previous new clause some of my hon. Friends were put to considerable disadvantage. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) did not have a chance to speak on the clause and we did not have a chance to hear the complete speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). Indeed, many of my hon. Friends wished to speak. We did not have a chance to hear the Minister's reply. With the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker, the five minutes which you suggested was not long enough for all those contributions to be made. We are in some difficulty because my hon. Friends did not vote on the substantive matter. We did not vote because we were not in a position to hear the Government's attitude to the points that were made in favour of the clause.
Order. I am not prepared to allow an irregular debate on this matter. Anyone who has been a Member of the House as long as the hon. Gentleman knows quite well that Members approach Mr. Speaker to know whether he will accept the closure. In this instance I told the House that I would accept it in five minutes. I thought it only fair to those who had spoken in favour of the clause that they should have the chance to hear what the Minister had to say. If they did not want to do so, that is a matter for them. Perhaps we may now get on.
Before moving Amendment No. 4, in view of what went on in Committee perhaps it would be appropriate for me to establish the basis of the debate by means of a point of order. I speak on a point of order to explain to all hon. Members what happened in Committee on this amendment and why we are discussing it again. We had a full discussion on the amendment in Committee but we are now having a further discussion. Therefore, it is right that we should say this, on a point of order, to establish the basis on which we are having this debate.
I was going to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether my understanding of the position in which we find ourselves was correct, because we have already debated the words "assists at" upstairs, and are now debating them again. Perhaps I should continue with my point of order, or as part of my speech establish what happened in Committee.
I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 5 leave out 'or assists at'.
Perhaps I should begin by saying that there was some confusion in Committee when we discussed the same amendment. It arose because at the opening of our debate there the Minister said that she was willing to accept the amendment and the one before, which was to leave out "procures". The hon. Lady said:
I was going to announce to the Committee that I would be pleased to accept Amendments 3 and 4."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 8th July 1975; c. 149.]
Our amendment then was Amendment No. 4. The Committee agreed to Amendment No. 3 and we went on to debate Amendment No. 4. We had a Division, because my hon. Friend the Member for
Gloucesteshire, South (Mr. Cope) disagreed with the amendment, and the hon. Lady voted against it. Therefore, vote did not follow voice, and hence we are now debating the same amendment again.
There are precedents of vote not following voice. There was a famous person involved in 1970—as it happens, on a previous Bill to abolish hare coursing—when Mr. Speaker ruled that it was the practice of the House that a Member's vote must agree with his voice.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have spent the last two or three minutes considering what you told us a few minutes ago. The more I have thought about the matter, the more I have felt that it would be right for me to raise this point of order while you are still in the Chair rather than to wait for your deputy to take your place.
We are in the odd situation that we are having a debate on an amendment that has been correctly moved and we cannot know when the debate will end. It may be that only two or three hon. Members on the Opposition benches will speak and perhaps one or two Labour Members. Of course, we hope that our side will be allowed to answer any speeches from the Labour benches. We shall wait with ears hanging open to hear the Government's reply to the debate. Therefore, it must be relevant to the discussion which has just started that we should have some idea whether it is likely that you will accept a closure motion in a short time, otherwise we cannot—
I have already ruled. This is a purely hypothetical matter. It is one of the discretions left to the Chair by the House. The Chair may decide to accept the closure motion after five minutes or five hours. It is a matter for the Chair.
We obviously do not want to go over ground that we went over in Committee. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) had to curtail his classic speech in Committee, and would perhaps welcome an opportunity to expand it at some length, it might be unfair to the House if we went through the whole debate again. We had a reasonably full debate in Committee. Although it may seem that the leaving out or keeping in of two small words, such as "assists at", is of minor importance, it is a matter of considerable moment because the Bill is very short. The authors were no doubt at some pains to keep it short because they wish to see it go through the House in as short a time as possible. That was entirely up to them.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have given a little more thought to what Mr. Speaker ruled. I accept that ruling completely, but may I ask one further question? If there is to be acceptance in advance of a request for the closure, may we at least be assured that the Minister will be given sufficient time to make even the most cursory of answers to the debate?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are in the difficulty that the Government have decided to move the lifting of the four o'clock rule. If they had adopted the other device of giving us a timetable, we should have known how to moderate speeches so that we might be assured of a winding-up speech from our Front Bench and a reply by the Minister. It would be of great assistance, because all the forthcoming debates are important, if we could have an indication of what the Chair has in mind for the provisional allocation of time for the separate debates.
Both this debate and the debate which has recently been the subject of a closure motion deal with very much the same topic. We were talking about words, definitions and interpretations and how important it was that the courts should know exactly what the words in the Bill mean. We have had the benefit of most expert advice dealing with the interpretation of words from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton). We shall be discussing his report dealing with the preparation of legislation in a week's time. The opinion he gave was that some of the words in the Bill were in great need of interpretation. He felt that the courts would have difficulty in deciding exactly what the words meant.
This explains our emphasis in Committee upon the importance of the phrase "assists at". We would like to know why the Under-Secretary agreed at the beginning of our debate in Committee that these words were superfluous, together with the words "or procures" and then, when it came to the end of the debate, voted against the amendment.
We deserve an explanation about the Minister's change of mind. The hon. Lady had plenty of time before the debate to take the expert advice of her officials. Presumably it was their advice that these words were superfluous and should be omitted. We should know how it was that she came to vote against her own expression of judgment—whether there was an error or whether she had second thoughts or last-minute advice.
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but he is doing me less than justice. I must point out that I spoke after the hon. Lady and before the vote was taken. I spoke against the amendment and I assumed that she was convinced by my speech. Certainly she had spoken one way, but after hearing my speech she had second thoughts and voted in the way I suggested that the whole of the Committee should vote. It is for the hon. Lady to explain, but I do not think my hon. Friend should imply that it was a bolt from the blue or a mistake.
I apologise to my hon. Friend. I have gone into the previous debate in some detail. While I had taken due note of the fact that his words had carried great weight, I am afraid that in the confusion of the moment today I omitted to mention this. A strong speech was made by my hon. Friend. Perhaps when the hon. Lady replies we shall learn whether it was my hon. Friend's words which made her change her mind, whether it was a mistake in the heat of the moment or whether she had last-minute advice from her officials.
I reinforce what my hon. Friend has said. The events in Committee were a great personal humiliation to me since I had moved this amendment, I thought, most persuasively. I thought that the hon. Lady was entirely in agreement with me. After the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope), she appears to have been completely swayed the other way, with the result that her vote did not follow her voice. That was true of at least one other Member on the Government side of the Committee.
This raises the point whether public notice ought to be taken in the Chamber that such a thing happened in Committee. "Erskine May" says in Chapter XXIV, dealing with the system of committees:
A member's vote in a standing committee must agree with his voice.
In the interests of proper debate in Committee and in this Chamber, I feel that this is a matter that should not be overlooked.
I put it to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we ought, perhaps, to ask Mr. Speaker to come back to the Chair and publicly admonish the hon. Lady. Much as we respect her and much as we recognise that there was a genuine change of view after the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South, the hon. Lady's action is surely a precedent that will bring our proceedings into confusion and contempt if no notice is taken of it. I know from the good spirit that prevailed in Committee that the hon. Lady will know that there is no personal—
It is not in our gift to filibuster. We were told that the debate would proceed until four o'clock and that the Government intended that the rule should be suspended. This was announced several days ago.
I do not see how there could be a criticism of Mr. Speaker. I am reminding my hon. Friend, because he has a lot to say and wants to say it as briefly as he can, in spite of the points of order raised by Labour members, that it looks now as though we are working to a timetable. If I should have used the word "timetable", I apologise and substitute that word.
This part of the debate is of an important technical nature. In Committee the hon. Lady said this about these words:
In the light of the precedent of the 1911 Act it is difficult to believe that the inclusion of 'or assists at' in the Bill would create any difficulties of interpretation for the courts, but the amendment brings out the fact that the inclusion of 'or assists at' adds nothing to the substance of the Bill. The principal offence is adequately covered.
Procuring someone else to undertake the coursing of hares by dogs or to assist in it is covered by the provisions of Section 35 of the Magistrates Courts Act 1952 which provides that a person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission by another of a summary offence shall be guilty of the like offence.
'Assists at' has the same source as 'procures', but it cannot be construed as synonymous with the principal offence. It only relates to the part played by people present in an
ancillary capacity, such as stewards or attendants.
The 1952 Act will clearly apply to any person aiding or abetting a principal offence and, to this extent, the inclusion of 'assists at' can be said to be superfluous. There is authority for the proposition that people whose presence is found to be an encouragement to an offence are guilty of aiding and abetting. This description is readily applied to some spectators, although it is not our intention to catch innocent passersby, but the inclusion of 'or assists at' will make it easier successfully to prosecute some spectators. The Bill will only apply to people who have knowingly taken part or offered encouragement.
It seems unnecessary to strengthen the provisions of the 1952 Act and once the 1911 precedent for 'causes, procures or assists at' has been altered by the omission of 'procures' as the Committee has already agreed, there seems to be no good reason to retain 'assists at'. There are still ample powers to proceed against any person with real complicity in an offence."—[Official Report, Standing Commtitee B, 8th July 1975; c. 170–171.]
That was the hon. Lady's opinion, which had been arrived at after consultation with her advisers and officials. We are now owed an explanation of what happened and what the hon. Lady's intentions are. If she opposes the amendment we would like to know why she changed her mind.
I hope that by speaking so early on this amendment I shall not be accused of anticipating the debate, but as there seemed to be a desire for me to speak I thought it best to do so at this stage.
The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) quoted what I said in Committee. Anyone reading that will see that my words were moderate and did not come down violently on one side or the other. I said that the inclusion of the words "or assists at" would make it easier successfully to prosecute spectators. That was the reason why they were put in the Bill in the first place. It is likely to make it easier to prosecute successfully some spectators whose presence might be sufficiently ambiguous in character to make it difficult to prosecute them as aiders and abetters.
When I indicated at the outset of the sitting that I was prepared to accept the amendments on "procures" and "assists", I assumed that that would find favour with the Committee. However, the mover of the amendments was unwilling to accept my acceptance. He proceeded to speak for nearly one and a quarter hours in moving the amendment, with which I had found favour on the assumption that the Committee would also find favour with it.
In the event I was proved wise in having moved the amendment. Not only has the hon. Lady changed her mind, but almost all the Government supporters in Committee voted with her against the amendment. In addition, there was disagreement amongst the Opposition in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) made such an eloquent speech that he may have been responsible for swaying the Committee and securing the rejection of the amendment. As there was that atmosphere and feeling in the Committee, I do not think that I can be taxed with having been wrong or unwise in developing my case, although I seem to have developed it so badly that it was swept away as a result of the brilliant eloquence of my hon. Friend. All the Government supporters were swayed in his direction, not in mine.
The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) has taken the words out of my mouth. He spent an hour and a quarter trying to persuade the Committee of the validity of his amendment, but the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope) took three and a quarter columns in the Official Report of the Committee proceedings finding difficulties with the amendment, and doing so in a speech of some merit.
We are not discussing a world-shattering matter. As I indicated in Committee, these words slightly enlarge the offence created by the Bill so as to make it possible to catch some spectators more easily.
The arguments are fairly evenly balanced in support of the omission of the words in question. It can be argued that persons who are innocent bystanders should not be put at risk. However, it can be argued, in favour of the inclusion of these words, that anyone who stands around at an unlawful hare coursing and subsequently finds himself prosecuted has only himself to blame. He would be convicted only if the court were satisfied that he had assisted the coursing. As the Committee spent a great deal of time deliberating the matter, and we now have this amendment before us again, I have had a great deal of time in which to consider it. The Government's original intention was to include these words in the Bill. My decision is that we should include the words in the Bill as originally introduced and resist their deletion.
The hon. Lady is cool, collected and pleasant, as always. I wish that I had had the good fortune to have been a member of the Committee which discussed this matter.
We are in trouble, whether the hon. Lady says so or not. The hon. Lady said that we were not discussing a world-shattering matter. It is only world-shattering to someone who may be brought up before the courts, who may not know with what he is to be charged or what the fine will be. It is only world-shattering for the judges and magistrates who consider the matter.
At one stage the Lady did not know whether it was necessary to include the words "or assists at". She now tells us that she knows. Whom did she consult? Are there hon. Members present who are great experts in the use of the words "or assists at"? What is she on about? How does she know that this is not a world-shattering matter for those who may be charged under a law, the implications of which the House does not know?
The Government are besotted with power, forcing themselves to take decisions which they know perfectly well are taken for no other reason in the wide world than political aggrandisement and to ob-obtain votes for their marvellous ideas on how to run country districts, about which they know little. The hon. Lady, kind and gentle with the House as always, tells us that this is not a world-shattering matter. Is she in the same breath saying that it does not matter? Why does she not accept the amendment? Who has told her not to? Have the highest legal advisers to Her Majesty's Government been brought in, and have they told her to leave in "or assist at"? Did she get a wigging and a ticking off from her right hon. and learned Friends, the highest legal advisers?
I imagine them reading her speech and saying "We find that what you said was rubbish. We have discovered that you have agreed to something which is enormously important. We are sorry; you are charming and wise, with a wisdom beyond your age, but we think that you are an idiot. We think that you do not understand that there is a difference between including and leaving out 'or assist at'"—
I said earlier that I was not fortunate enough to be a member of the Committee, so I was not using the word as a quotation. I cannot remember my exact words. I think that I was using the word as a quotation of what might be said in future by a judge talking to a Minister. I shall do my utmost to incur your pleasure rather than displeasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by bringing my remarks to an end as quickly as possible.
I should be greatly assisted in doing that if some great and notable legal figure were present. I cannot see one on the Labour benches. If I could see a notable legal figure on the Labour benches who might have had the temerity to tell his Minister the facts of life about "or assist at" I would of course readily give way, sit down and ask the distinguished legal gentleman, who had perhaps advised the hon. Lady and who might advise me and the House, what to do about these enormously important words. I should be delighted to hear why the hon. Lady had such a wigging because she had the temerity in Committee to agree to leave out the words.
What a nonsense it all is. The further we get on Report—and we are now dealing with Amendment No. 4, in case you might think, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am attempting to discuss matters outside the amendment—the more ridiculous does the situation become.
We were sad not to have my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) with us in Committee. Had he been a member he would have known that we were frequently in the difficulty of needing high legal advice. Now that the Bill is back in the House that legal advice is perhaps even more necessary. Would my hon. Friend think it right formally to request the presence of the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General or the Lord Advocate to advise us on this difficult question?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his suggestion. I hesitate to follow his request for I know that the Government are in such case that were they to ask any of these distinguished legal advisers to be present they would probably make an even bigger mess of another Bill that they are studying before it is presented in the middle of next month. [Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) who promised not to intervene again—a promise that I am certain he much regrets. It would not be going wide of the amendment if I said to him that if he recants I shall understand and give way immediately. A man more likely to recant I do not know. If he recants I shall listen with great respect to any legal view he may have on "or assists at".
On the other hand, there may be other legal minds of great repute who could give advice. There are one or two legal minds on the Labour benches—no official ones but, after all, one never knows what may happen in the future. If one of those legal minds could advise us and the Minister at the same time of the reasons for including or leaving out "or assists at", he could so enhance his future position as to come into the enormous treasures of office sooner than he expects. If one of those legal minds would like to enter into the fray and tell us that the Minister; was right in Committee and wrong now, that legal gentleman would make clear that he disagrees with the senior and important Minister who told the hon. Lady she was talking nonsense. He might in that way enhance his repution and secure an appointment when the more senior Minister concerned gets his come-uppance, which is probably likely in the not too far distant future.
I ask the hon. Lady to think well before she hands to those who have to interpret her miserable Bill the problem of what to do about it, because she has left it in such a mess.
In his usual way, my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) has succeeded yet again in focusing the attention of the House. I listened to him with great interest. I certainly second what my other hon. Friends said earlier, namely, that we regret that my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth was not with us in Standing Committee to bring the power of his oratory and conviction to bear at an earlier stage of this important debate.
After a great deal of thought and in spite of the oratory of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Cope), who, unhappily, is not with us at present, but who made a most impressive speech in Committee, I have come to the conclusion that I must support the amendment. There are two themes in my thoughts on the amendment. The first concerns precision and language. The Under-Secretary briefly told us in her intervention a few moments ago—perhaps we shall have the benefit of her views again on this matter, as it is as complicated as my hon. Friends have continually pointed out—that the phrase, "or assists at" will make it easier to catch spectators. If it will make it easier, we must assume that she is setting out a precise phrase.
Even if it concerns only some spectators, it is a serious matter for them. If they are to be hauled before the courts and accused of this hypothetical misdemeanour, they have a right to know where they stand. What lies behind the amendment is an attempt to point out that these words are wholly unacceptable because they are wholly imprecise.
The burden of the remarkable speech that we were privileged to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) took some time because of the interruptions and uncertainties caused by the absence of any legal advisers or Law Officers. The burden of his speech concerned imprecision. We should be delighted if he could confirm the position if he is lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at a later stage.
I was not a member of the Committee and I have not had time to read all the debates. Can my hon. Friend tell me why spectators should be caught at all? Will it now be an offence even to be a spectator? Can my hon. Friend advise me why the Committee did not throw this out completely?
My hon. Friend has referred to a most germane aspect of the argument and one to which I was coming. He has put his finger on the nub of the matter. Who are spectators? Why should spectators be hauled before the beak? I shall come to that matter later.
First, let me deal with the imprecision of language. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) was unfortunate enough to miss the debates in Committee I commend him to read the record of the proceedings.
Column 151 of the Committee Official Report for 8th July. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow quoted liberally from Fowler's "Modern English Usage". He discovered to the entire satisfaction of all Opposition Members in the Committee that the phrase "assist or assists at" was not Anglo-Saxon at all. If it is anything, according to Fowler, it is a Gallicism. It comes from the French verb "assister". There is, therefore, no certainty in Fowler's mind, to judge from what my hon. Friend said, about what it means in English.
Not only is it a Gallicism, but worse than that, it is a genteelism. I refer hon. Members to column 151 of Hansard. It would be wrong for me to go over the speech, but my hon. Friend adduced a long list of genteelisms. They are remarkable explanations of how our language has degenerated. A clear example of this degeneration happens to be the phrase "assists at". In Fowler's view we do not know what we are talking about when we say "assists at". From what my hon. and learned Friend has said, Fowler is an authority whom we disregard at our peril.
Since that time I have sought to confirm from any other sources whether there is any adequate certainty about the phrase. I should like to turn to the Oxford English Dictionary, which is neither so informative nor entertaining as Fowler. Nevertheless, I think the House should have some idea about how the phrase is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary. I turn to page 511 which deals with the word "assist" and the phrase "assists at". The following quotations occur:
1626 C. POTTER Father Paul's Hist. 1. 32 The Counsellors assembled to assist at a solemn Masse.
I am quoting these examples to illustrate how the thinking in the dictionary clearly advances:
1705 ADDISON Italy (1767) 29 The Duke of Lorrain used often to assist at their midnight devotions. 1765 WILKES Corr."—
this must mean in correspondence—
Yes. The quotation continues:
(1805) II. 163 Last Saturday I assisted at the great festival. 1837 J. H. NEWMAN…"—
I do not believe that anyone would deny the validity of his view on English—
I quote the words of Cornelius Mussus…who assisted at the Council of Trent. 1849 Macaulay Hist. Eng. I. 53. The congregation may be said to assist as spectators rather than as auditors. 1854 Thackeray Newcomes II. 103. The dinner at which we have just assisted. 18…Dickens Seven Poor Trav. 12 And assisted—in the French sense—at the performance of two waltzes.
At this point the Oxford English Dictionary and Fowler are beginning to talk in unison. How one assists at waltzes in the French sense is a fascinating basis of inquiry. However, I am sure it lies without the bounds of order, so I shall leave that matter.
1873…The sane and sober must simply 'assist', in the French sense, i.e. stand by and say nothing.
There is one other quotation which is worth while and germane:
1603 FLORIO Montaigne (1634) 392 Having all day long assisted to the ceremonies, and publike banket.
It is difficult to discover from the Oxford English Dictionary what is meant by this phrase except that at a certain stage it looks as though it is simply borrowed from the French. It is also made fairly clear that it indicates somebody standing by and doing nothing.
That is a most interesting point. I personally regret in view of his well known, deep, profound and firm interest in this matter the efforts he has made to galvanise his hon. Friends to come here on a Friday afternoon. Time and again he has played his part in bringing this miserable little Bill before the House, but we have had only one small intervention from him about a sentence long. We always enjoy listening to him and we are well aware of his sincerity in these matters. I hope that before the end of the day we shall know to what extent he is "assisting" at our debates.
May I suggest that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is "assisting" by sitting in the Chamber because he is a man of considerable distinction and fame in his own right? He is on the executive of his party. Therefore, his very presence suggests some form of assistance, although he is sitting dumb.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) has been giving various definitions in connection with banqueting and waltzing matters. Will they be related to the amendment? Is it in order for hon. Members opposite to invite my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) to participate in the debate?
Let us suppose that it is said that a man, because of his position and distinction, is assisting at a function. Let us suppose that the local high sheriff and an ordinary person with no status whatsoever are watching a coursing match. If it is said that one is assisting but not the other, one of them will be guilty of the offence but not the other.
My hon. Friend has gone into the question of definition of the phrase "assists at". I do not know whether he is acquainted with the phrase "stand by". I was for a short time a very inefficient soldier. My recollection is that all my time in the Army was spent standing up, standing down, standing to, or standing by. When I was told to "stand by", I was not sure what it meant. Does my hon. Friend think that somebody who was "standing by" would come within the scope of the provision which the Under-Secretary of State is trying to put in the criminal law?
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman continues his speech, I remind the House that it would be helpful for the progress of business if interventions were kept as short as possible.
May I reply, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow, whose experience in the Army equates strangely with mine. I always associated the phrase "stand by" with getting up in the middle of the night and shivering for a long time to no pur- pose. Whether "stand by" and "assists at" mean the same, I am not sure. That was why I deployed at some length the extract from the Oxford English Dictionary. It might well be construed from what is printed in the Bill that they mean the same.
I pass from the matter of the imprecision of the phrase to the results, misunderstandings and muddles which are almost certain to ensue if prosecutions are to be conducted on the basis of anything like the wording of the Bill. If the hon. Member for Walton were sitting behind a hedge and were spotted in suspicious circumstances near greyhounds, would he be "assisting at"?
Let us picture the scene conjured up by the phraseology of this extraordinary Bill. Out in open country in perhaps East Anglia are a number of people walking about with greyhounds on leashes, with perhaps somebody on a horse and a number of people without horses or greyhounds standing about or walking about; some eager arm of the law lurking in a country lane espies the scene from afar. What is he to do? Who is "assisting" and who is not? I think that we have established that illegal coursing is bound to continue should the Bill reach the statute book. Nothing that the Under-Secretary of State has said seeks to persuade us otherwise.
Let us suppose that the hon. Member for Walton heavily disguises himself, as he is wont to do, in order to see what is happening, goes to the meeting in East Anglia, and is arrested for assisting because the very presence of his power and the dignity of his personality made him someone who must have been assisting—otherwise why would he have been there; is not that a likely possibility, although we all know that he is violently opposed to the sport?
I wonder what disguise the hon. Member for Walton would be using, or for what purpose and whether he would be on the side of the police. I do not know whether that was what was in my hon. Friend's mind. Perhaps it was, in which case the hon. Gentleman would disguise himself as a policeman. Plainly the peril in which anybody stands in such circumstances, either dressed as himself or as some other entity, is considerable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), to whom we owe a great deal, has satisfactorily defined the officers and people who have a part to play in regular coursing. Irregular or illegal coursing is the same basic activity and there is no reason to suppose that these same people will not play a role. Let us suppose that a policeman says to a man on a horse, "What are you doing on that horse?", and the man says, "I am going from A to B because I have to exercise the horse". Is the man to be taken in for "assisting"?
Let us suppose that the horse had been lent to him. What about the girl who straps the horse? What about the farrier who shoes the horse? All these people are involved in some degree or are "assisting". We have heard a great deal about slippers. Let us assume that a man with two greyhounds on a leash says, when spoken to by a policeman, "The hares are in my sugar beet and so I am here to get rid of the hares". What would be wrong with that?
There are even more equivocal ex-examples of people "assisting" or not "assisting" illegal hare coursing. People may be standing about in a hedgerow. A number of us have—surprise, surprise—taken the trouble to go to coursing meeting to learn what happens. It is
extraordinary that its opponents should have overlooked this elementary qualification to speak, but there it is. We know that a large number of people are required to guide the hares into the general area of the coursing ground. When I was coursing in Huntingdonshire, a number of people who were not stoppers or beaters were standing about in the hedgerows. I met a constituent who is a barman—a very good barman—and he had gone to watch the coursing because he was interested. Sometimes he stands at a stop and sometimes he just stands and watches. What is his crime and how is it to be defined? How is he assisting at this performance?
|Division No. 363.]||AYES||[4.00 p.m.|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Gould, Bryan||Noble, Mike|
|Atkinson, Norman||Graham, Ted||Orbach, Maurice|
|Bates, All||Grant, John (Islington C)||Ovenden, John|
|Bean, R. E.||Grocott, Bruce||Owen, Dr David|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Parker, John|
|Booth, Albert||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Hatton, Frank||Peart, Rt Hon Fred|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Perry, Ernest|
|Cant, R. B.||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Cartwright, John||Heffer, Eric S.||Prescott, John|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Hunt, John||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Radice, Giles|
|Cohen, Stanley||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Cryer, Bob||Judd, Frank||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Kerr, Russell||Rooker, J. W.|
|Dalyell, Tam||Lamborn, Harry||Sandelson, Neville|
|Davidson, Arthur||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lee, John||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lipton, Marcus||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Loyden, Eddie||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Eadie, Alex||Luard, Evan||Silverman, Julius|
|Edge, Geoff||McCartney, Hugh||Skinner, Dennis|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||McNamara, Kevin||Spearing, Nigel|
|English, Michael||Marks, Kenneth||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Ennals, David||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Mikardo, Ian||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)|
|Flannery, Martin||Molloy, William||Tomlinson, John|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Tuck, Raphael|
|Freeson, Reginald||Newens, Stanley||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Walker, Terry (Kingswood)||Whitehead, Phillip||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Ward, Michael||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Watkinson, John||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Weitzman, David||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)||Miss Margaret Jackson and|
|Wellbeloved, James||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)||Mr. Thomas Cox|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Jasper More and|
|Mr. Michael Mates|
Now that the House, rightly or wrongly, has decided to continue this debate, it is my duty to return to the categories of person who may be seen in the future as attending a hypothetical illegal coursing meeting and to what extent they are assisting at such a proceeding. But before I do so it is right to recall that it is not so long ago that my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) pointed out to the Minister the deep difficulty into which we were plunged in Standing Committee because we had no adequate senior legal advice about what this phrase meant
Since none of us is blind, it must be clear that the House is now filled with senior Ministers, including the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. They all seem to have time to spare to come to the House this afternoon to vote on the Hare Coursing Bill. Some newspaper people seem to regard our state of affairs in this country as ruinous.
Exactly. My hon. Friend has taken the words out of my mouth. I was going to say that if the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection can spare time in this crisis of our country to vote on Friday afternoon for the Hare Coursing Bill, why not the Home Secretary or the Lord Advocate or one of the other Law Officers?
May I correct my hon. Friend? Going through the Lobby was the Attorney-General. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman can come here and cast his vote, would not my hon. Friend agree that he could come here and explain to us, clearly and probably briefly and acceptably, what is meant by the phrase which we are struggling to define?
Better still, the Attorney-General is in the House. The very least that we have a right to expect is that he should help us in this matter. This is probably the most tricky point that we shall have to face throughout these proceedings. Perhaps the Minister could give us her view on this point. Since her right hon. and learned Friend cannot be far away, if she could send a PPS or someone speeding after him, it might be possible to get his assistance. Would she be prepared to do any such thing?
That is the most extraordinary doctrine that I have heard from the Dispatch Box in 15 years in this place. If the hon. Lady would do us the favour of reading the amendment, she would see that we are seeking to remove these words from the Bill because we cannot understand what they mean. The longer we go on explaining why they are so imprecise, the clearer it should be to Labour Members that there is something wrong with them. We want the Attorney-General here to explain what he thinks they mean.
Indeed. My hon. Friend has made an important point. The Minister's remarks could be interpreted as a reflection on the Chair. That is, of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a matter for you and not for me, although it would be entirely understandable to many of us if you called the House to order on just that point.
It is because of the lack of understanding by the Minister of these words in Committee that we are brought to this pretty pass. We have to spend a late afternoon on Friday debating these matters when, if she had made clear in the first place the meaning of these words, we would not have to go through this palaver.
My hon. Friend puts the matter succinctly. That is what is in all our minds. However, if the Minister is not prepared to send out after the Attorney-General, we must do the best we can without his advice. That is where we were before the Division.
I do not want to take up the time of the House any longer than is strictly necessary to deploy the case. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not much."] However, if it is difficult, because of the noise from Labour Members, for my hon. Friends to hear me, I shall have to repeat what I am saying.
When I found it necessary to observe that on a Friday afternoon when the nation is in a state of crisis half the Cabinet were down here voting on the Hare Coursing Bill, I was trying to describe the different categories of people who might be engaged in the hypothetical activity of illegal hare coursing, which everybody, including by implication the Minister, admits is bound to occur if the Bill is put on the statute book, and who are likely to get into trouble. I was asking which of them would be assisting or assisting at a hare coursing meeting, illegal and hypothetical.
I got as far as recounting my own experiences during last season's coursing when I went to a meeting in Huntingdon. I said that it was a very cold day. This is by no means unusual, as anyone with the benefit of some experience of coursing will confirm. There was a time when I spent at least two hours standing in the bitter cold doing my best to learn about the fairness or otherwise of coursing and how it was regulated.
I felt it necessary to retire from the scene to a small tent which had been thoughtfully provided by the amiable and jolly crowd of people engaged that day at the meeting. If some Labour Members could only meet some of these people, I wonder what they would think. A nicer band of people one could not wish to be with.
In the tent they had taken the sensible precaution of providing suitable beverages to assist people like myself who by that time had been standing for a considerable period and were very cold. I spent some time talking to them and drinking my beverage. I wonder to what extent they were assisting at the hare coursing. Suppose, which is perfectly likely, that at the illegal coursing meetings which will certainly continue after the Bill is enacted people provide refreshments of this kind, which are necessary in those climatic conditions. Are they to be hauled up and prosecuted for assisting at hare coursing?
The hon. Gentleman is convinced that they should be because he thinks that a man having a drink in a hedge on a Saturday afternoon is automatically guilty of some criminal offence. That is the kind of attitude about which we are concerned. Government supporters have their prejudiced minds made up. They understand nothing about the small minority of decent people who will be made to suffer as a result of the Bill. That is what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are here to do but some of us are not prepared to put up with that and that is why we want these matters deeply and properly debated.
I hope that I have said enough to convince the House—I can always begin again if something is not clear—that there is real merit in the amendment. I may have been uncertain about it in Committee, mostly perhaps because of the oratory of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South who, unhappily, has not been able to stay with us, but on this occasion, having listened carefully to what has been said, I have no doubt that we should support the amendment.
I assisted at the Second Reading by voting, and I have assisted in the proceedings today by voting. Apart from one intervention earlier on I have sat quietly on this bench, but I feel that there are still a number of queries about the Bill that need answering.
One of the main queries arises in relation to the amendment. I have studied the Committee proceedings when the amendment was put before the Committee. I note that the right hon. Lady said at the beginning that she was going to accept the amendment, presumably recognising what it stood for, but then, as we have learned, she decided to vote the other way and now she is leading her hon. Friends in opposition to it.
I owe some responsibility to my constituents who, by a considerable majority, have expressed their views in favour of hare coursing. As many hon. Members know, I sit not for a country constituency but for one which has a large element of industry in it, and in particular coal mining. My slender majority in the 1970 election was increased because of my support for field sports.
Members of the mining fraternity in my constituency of Bosworth in Leicestershire came to me on a number of occasions and asked for my views about field sports. I admit that the first time it happened I was somewhat concerned because I thought that I was going to give an answer that would not meet with their approval. For a split second, on the first occasion I hesitated whether to prevaricate a little, but then I thought that honesty was the best policy and I said that I was firmly in favour of field sports. The first man who asked me the question grasped me by the hand and said, "You have my vote", and off he went. I swear that that is the truth, and that was to happen on other occasions.
I should not dispute what the hon. Gentleman has said, but what I find a little odd is that I have not found that to be so in my constituency, which is on the other side of the A5. There has been no more staunch supporter of the Bill in this House than myself, and during the last election I increased my majority.
I do not want to swop majorities or experiences in this respect with the hon. Gentleman. We all respect the sincerity with which he pursues his point of view in this matter. One may disagree with him, but he has been consistent throughout and one must respect that. We welcome him back on the Front Bench, though I know that he has been in and out of the Chamber during our proceedings.
In the election to which I referred the swing in my constituency was the second largest in the country. I do not owe it to my support for field sports, but the circumstances that I have described are true, and on the two or three occasions that the Bill has come up for consideration during the past five years or so the representations that I have received from my constituents have been in favour of hare coursing. Apart from my own feelings in this matter, which are strong. I must respect those views.
Because I respect my constituents views, and because of the publicity given to the debate today and to previous debates, I must be able to answer questions that are put to me. There are some questions that remain unanswered after many hours of debate in Committee and after the debate on the last group of amendments. I tried to take part in that debate because there were some important points of definition that I wished to make clear.
I am now confronted with an amendment which seeks to delete the words "or assists at". My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Hastings) has gone back into the history of language and the derivation of this expression "assist", and it would be wrong for me to cover the same ground. I say only that the example he gave of the words "assist at" to show the French origin was rather apt. One French expression which always amuses me is assister au marriage, because one wonders about the help that might be given. I shall not say any more about that or I might get rather involved, but it means only "to be present at". Is that the meaning in this case?
Perhaps we ought to speak French more frequently. I do not want to be diverted from the case that I am making. We have dealt with this at length and you, Mr. Speaker, may feel a little concerned if I take up time unnecessarily.
I come to what the hon. Lady said about spectators. She said—and I think she was repeating what she said in Committee—that this phrase made it easier to prosecute spectators. This is where we get the shades of meaning. She repeated her view in an intervention, saying "This phrase will allow us to catch more spectators more easily".
The hon. Lady then said "We do not want to catch the innocent passer-by or spectator." I was not sure whether she was using her own words or quoting a legal authority when she said that the man who stands around has only himself to blame, but that on the other hand the court would have to show that that person had assised in some way. We have returned to the question of "assists at".
I am shocked to hear this definition. Does it mean that if a farm-worker who is engaged in his employment in a field holds open a gate for a car to pass through, he can be charged with assisting at and possibly partaking in the performance? If so, it is utterly intolerable.
I was about to deal with this matter. There must be further guidance on it, and I am sure that by leave of the House the Minister could speak again on it. My constituents would then be able to say "There are two choices. Either we shall be helping at the meeting or we shall be present at it as spectators, innocent or otherwise." The question is what they are able to be at, if anything.
Like most hon. Members, I received an invitation to attend a coursing meeting, but through lack of time I could not go. However, I am fairly well aware of some of the phrases used. Let us suppose that, for example, a slipper is assisting at and that, if he has an assistant, the assistant is assisting the slipper. If the phrase means "to help to be an assistant in some way", that man would be guilty if prosecuted and he would be subject to these fines.
At this stage I do not know whether it is permissible for two of my mining constituents to take their whippets out on a Saturday afternoon and release them after a hare, because those dogs would be in competition with each other. One miner might say to the other "I bet that my dog can catch that hare". Are they allowed to do that without the passing of money? Had I spoken to the last group of amendments, I hope that I would have received an answer which distinguished a match from a competition. If one miner says "I bet you a fiver that my dog can beat yours" and money passes, what advice should I give them? They will be taking part and it must be made clear whether what they are doing constitutes a competition within the meaning of the Bill.
I revert to the question of "assists at". What happens if another person is brought into the exercise? For example, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said, a farm worker on a tractor might see the chase pass by and join in because it looks good fun. He has, therefore, intentionally joined in. Is he assisting at the competition between two dogs, which we do not know is a competition? Without going outside the rules of order, I hope that the hon. Lady will enlighten me on this matter.
The question arises of the type of dog used. If persons are not allowed to assist at a greyhound meeting, can they assist at a whippet meeting, a Saluki competition or a lurcher competition?
I doubt that deerhounds would hunt hares. New Clause 9 would have been invaluable in this respect because it sought to define what a dog was. I ask the hon. Lady to intervene again—I hope that her Whips will not make it impossible for her to do so—so that I shall be in a better position to understand this problem. If she does not reply, my constituents will risk not insubstantial fines—for example, £200—for watching on a Saturday afternoon what turns out to be, in their ignorance, an illegal entertainment. I assume that once a person has been fined £200, he will be unlikely to be so foolish again. Nevertheless there is the risk of the far greater fine, which is still a substantial sum for anyone nowadays.
I make those points and ask those questions in serious vein at the first opportunity I have had to intervene in this debate, and I hope that the hon. Lady will give helpful answers.
May I have leave to speak again?
First, I take up the question raised by the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) about two farmers out in a field with their dogs. Clause 1 prohibits
the coursing of a hare by two or more dogs in a competition
where the basic object is to compare the relative coursing abilities of the dogs, but, as I said both on Second Reading and in Committee, that will not interfere with the right of a farmer to set his dog or dogs after a hare to catch and kill it for control purposes. Nor will it create a criminal offence if two people are taking a country walk with their dogs and the dogs put up and pursue a hare. What we are concerned to do is to prohibit competitive coursing as it is now organised.
To revert to the amendment itself, I remind the House that we have a precedent here. That precedent is the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which made it an offence
to cause, procure, or assist at the fighting or baiting of any animal".
As the hon. Gentleman spoke for an hour and a quarter in Committee on this matter, perhaps I could continue now. As I said in Committee, in the light of the precedent of the 1911 Act, it is difficult to believe that the inclusion of these words would create difficulties of interpretation for the courts. Moreover, apart from the precedent to which I have just referred, to "assist" in the coursing of hares by dogs is covered by the provisions of Section 35 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952, which provides that a person who
aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission by another of a summary offence shall be guilty of the like offence".
Therefore, "assists at" cannot be construed as synonymous with the principal offence. It relates only to the part played by people present in an ancillary capacity, such as stewards or attendants. It will apply only to people who knowingly take part or offer encouragement.
|Division No. 364.]||AYES||[4.38 p.m.|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Ennals, David||Lipton, Marcus|
|Atkinson, Norman||Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Bates, Alf||Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||McNamara, Kevin|
|Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W)||Marks, Kenneth|
|Booth, Albert||Flannery, Martin||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert|
|Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Mikardo, Ian|
|Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green)||Freeson, Reginald||Mitchell, R. C (Soton, Itchen)|
|Cant, R. B.||Gould, Bryan||Molloy, William|
|Cartwright, John||Graham, Ted||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||Grant, John (Islington C)||Newens, Stanley|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Grocott, Bruce||Noble, Mike|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Orbach, Maurice|
|Cohen, Stanley||Hatton, Frank||Ovenden, John|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Hayman, Mrs Helene||Owen, Dr David|
|Cryer, Bob||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Parker, John|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Heffer, Eric S.||Perry, Ernest|
|Davidson, Arthur||Hunt, John||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Deakins, Eric||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Radice, Giles|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Jeger, Mrs Lena||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Eadie, Alex||Kerr, Russell||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Edge, Geoff||Lamborn, Harry||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Sandelson, Neville|
|English, Michael||Lee, John||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Thorne, Stan (Preston South)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Tomlinson, John||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Silverman, Julius||Tuck, Raphael||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Skinner, Dennis||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)||Wilson, Rt Hon H. (Huyton)|
|Spearing, Nigel||Ward, Michael||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Spriggs, Leslie||Watkinson, John|
|Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Weitzman, David||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)||Wellbeloved, James||Mr. Arnold Shaw and|
|Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)||Whitehead, Phillip||Mr. Thomas Cox.|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Michael Mates and|
|Mr. Jasper More.|
This has been a remarkable day. It seems that all 95 hon. Members were missing their important constituency meetings. They have missed the opportunity to address their constituents. It seems that they decided to stay in London for the purpose of pursuing this shoddy little measure to try to push it through, using the procedures of the House. They have decided to spend the evening in London in the House. I am sure that they would like to have the debate continued.
I invite them to join in the debate on whether we should continue. It has been a most remarkable scene. We have found that the Government cannot even keep more than 95 of their supporters in the House. Although I am personally in favour of the motion now before the House, I do not think that the occasion should pass without remarking that this rather sordid little manoeuvre on the part of the Government has effectively been defeated by their failure to get their supporters to turn up to support a closure motion.
I wonder whether we may be told where the strongest proponent of this measure has been this afternoon. It may be that he has been through the Division Lobby, but I have not seen him. I am referring, of course, to the Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman has always been the strongest proponent of this measure. Where is he?
It should be added that it has been monstrous that the Secretary of State for the Home Department has not been present during any of today's proceedings. If the Bill has his support at least he should have shown his face during today's debate. The Bill has been mismanaged. It is a bad Bill. It has been ill-handled and we wish it no luck from now on.
I cannot let this occasion pass without saying that the Government spend their time, and quite rightly, saying how important is our economic situation, yet we stay here until nearly five o'clock to discuss a Bill which has no constitutional importance. We have had no assistance from the Under-Secretary of State. If the hon. Lady looks at an encyclopaedia, she will find that her definition of "assistance" is not capable of interpretation in the courts. I believe that the House has wasted a considerable amount of time discussing this Bill.