Clause 6 - Extent

Hunting Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 23rd January 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The clause simply sets out the Bill's territorial extent. There was some debate on this matter on the Floor of the House, but it remains to be seen whether any Committee member wants to discuss it today. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I wish to make some brief points.

As Committee members are well aware, the Bill will apply only to England and Wales: for Scotland and Northern Ireland, responsibility for hunting with dogs has been devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly respectively. Should the Bill become law, do the Government plan to issue guidance on the different legal regimes that might apply either side of the border between England and Scotland? Such guidance would be particularly relevant to those living in the border areas.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Why not rebuild Hadrian's wall—no dog could leap that?

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

At the moment, several packs in the border regions hunt freely in both English and Scottish counties. Even if we assume that the Bill will become law and all who currently participate in organised hunts will obey it in the time scale permitted by Parliament, the question of the way in which different regimes in Scotland and England will affect the activities of individuals will remain. Not only will the Bill affect organised packs of hounds; it will apply explicitly to all hunting with dogs, whether by groups of people or individuals. Indeed, the Committee will want to explore in greater detail the Bill's possible impact on dog owners whose animals chase wild mammals when off the leash.

The Bill provides for the offence of hunting with dogs to be arrestable—the implication being that the police would be responsible for investigating complaints that an individual or group of people had been hunting with dogs. We could be considering an alleged offence in either England or Scotland, yet the individual concerned might not be aware at which point in his walk he had crossed the boundary. One can envisage a farm or estate straddling the border. Indeed, one can envisage a dog owner on one side of the border, and his dog on the other. Given those circumstances, it is fair to ask the Government how they will explain to people who, however much they dislike the Bill, intend to obey it if it becomes law, how the different legal regimes in England and Scotland will affect them.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

On the point about borders, the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) suggested that we should rebuild Hadrian's wall, which would be a dramatic and expensive solution. Nevertheless, we must address the serious legal issues associated with border incursions by hunts.

I want to discuss the issue of hunting in Wales, which has already been raised on the Floor of the House. The Welsh Assembly is not responsible for that, but many people think that it should be. I understand the Minister's position that Home Office issues are dealt with by Parliament, but it is a matter of regret for the Assembly.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

The hon. Gentleman says that many people are disappointed that that issue is not a function of the Assembly, but does he accept that many people, including many Assembly Members, feel that it should be an issue for Parliament? By the very nature of the devolution settlement it is a matter for Parliament.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

``Many'' does not imply a majority, and limited resources have prevented polling on the matter. I was putting on record what was debated extensively on the Floor of the House, so we do not need a repeat performance. As we progress the legislation, I hope that consideration will be given to ensuring that the Assembly is given the respect of being kept up to date with developments.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Liberal Democrat, Berwick-upon-Tweed

The cross-border issues that have been mentioned are relevant to my constituency. There are hunts on both sides of the border and hunt kennels are located extremely close to it. Furthermore, there are additional complications for individuals who are out with dogs in the border area.

The Bill is unclear on how the powers of arrest would be exercised, and perhaps the Minister could explain that. Legislation enacted in the previous Session significantly extended the ability of police officers from Scotland and England respectively to assist their colleagues in the neighbouring jurisdiction. Hon. Members who are paranoid about devolution should realise that that change altered a long-standing system. Throughout history, Scottish constabulary did not operate in England, and English constabulary did not operate in Scotland. For good practical reasons, new arrangements were devised and embodied in legislation, and they will have some bearing on the exercise of constables' powers in relation to offences that take place in England but are committed on the border. Will the Minister clarify how the police will be expected to operate in border areas?

My constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) are concerned about the Bill in relation to proposed legislation currently before a pre-legislative Committee of the Scottish Parliament. They are bound to have different outcomes. It seems that there is more prospect of the Scottish legislation being passed than of the Bill ever reaching the statute book.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

I remind Members that I must bring the debate on the clause to a close at 10.45.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly on the cross-border issue in relation to Wales. The matter is especially significant in Scotland because it has its own legal system. However, that has always been so, and I am sure that any problems can be dealt with under the devolution settlement.

The situation in Wales is different. We have a long, porous border, which applies in various economic and other aspects, and cross-border arrangements are very important. The area represents one legal jurisdiction in terms of criminal justice and of the application of the Bill. It is not a matter of rebuilding Offa's dyke or Watt's dyke—on which I am something of an expert—but of ensuring sensible arrangements in the one jurisdiction.

The National Assembly for Wales does have a voice and can express a view. When the Burns report was published, the first thing that I did was send a copy of it to my colleague Lorraine Barrett, the Assembly Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, who read it and let me have her views. The Assembly as a whole can debate such matters, which are not devolved, and give Ministers and Parliament their views.

Many Assembly Members and members of the public in Wales simply want to see the matter resolved. I must say to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) that they do not want a compromise based on the middle way. Many people are not happy that a shady deal was stitched up between the Liberal Democrat party and the Welsh nationalist party during the votes in the House the other week. The devolution settlement is clear, and the hon. Gentleman may as well accept the fact that his colleagues have admitted that.

The issue must be settled. We should listen to the voices of Members of the Welsh Assembly as significant members of the political community in Wales. I place on the record that my local Assembly Member has urged me to support the ban on hunting and to get the Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I suppose that the Government are fairly relaxed about the matter because they think that it is inevitable that the Scottish Parliament will vote to abolish hunting as well. However, that may not happen. It would certainly be chaotic if the two jurisdictions had completely different laws on hunting. That would arise in one part of the United Kingdom—on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland—if the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to abolish hunting. In those circumstances, it would be extremely difficult for the police to cope. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury made clear, hunts range over a wide area; they will start in one jurisdiction and finish in another. Let us suppose that the Scottish Parliament decided to frame a law differently.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Labour, West Ham

That is an interesting point, but the whole point of devolution is that different policies can operate in different parts of the United Kingdom. There are already policy differences with regard to hunting. For example, in Scotland it is not possible to hunt deer with dogs.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Of course we accept that once a devolved Parliament has been established there are likely to be different laws in different jurisdictions. However, we are talking about another matter entirely. I am not sure how much deer hunting there is in the border region. [Hon. Members: ``None.''] Exactly. The borders are a long way from east London, so it is difficult to get an accurate perspective of what is going on in such northern regions. Undoubtedly, foxhunting ranges over that region, so could create a problem. Before the Minister becomes too sanguine, he should take up the time allotted to him under the programme resolution to explain the Government's position.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I shall write to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the issue—

It being fifteen minutes after the commencement of proceedings on the clause, The Chairman put the Question necessary under the terms of the programme resolution to complete the business.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 10:45 am, 23rd January 2001

On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. I must place it on record that the programme resolution is absurd. We had only 15 minutes to discuss clauses 5 and 6. [Interruption.] I spoke for only about a minute and a half, which is ludicrous. Why not allow at least half an hour? Is that too long to talk about important matters of jurisdiction and the law? We are labouring under a farcical timetable.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

The Committee agreed the programme resolution.

We now come to schedules 1 and 2, which were incorporated in clauses 1 and 2. The clauses were negatived in the Committee of the whole House, which took a clear decision after full debate. It is for this Committee to respect that decision and to proceed to the close scrutiny of schedule 3. I shall therefore put the questions forthwith on schedules 1 and 2.

Schedules 1 and 2 disagreed to.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. The statement that you made before putting the question concerned a matter that I suggest could be considered by the Chairmen's Panel and raised with Mr. Speaker. I understand the reasoning behind your statement and your decision that the questions should be put forthwith. However, that stands somewhat strangely when set alongside the fact that, at its first sitting last week, the Committee decided to allocate 15 minutes specifically to discuss those two schedules on the basis of a recommendation from the Programming Sub-Committee. What is the relationship between the decisions taken by that Sub-Committee, which are then ratified by the full Committee, and the discretion of Chairmen of Standing Committees as to the order of business? There seems to be a point of principle—or perhaps a precedent has been set, which needs to be explored.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Liberal Democrat, Berwick-upon-Tweed

Further to that point of order, Mrs. Roe. We are in a rather unusual position. I understand that the Government have suggested that when the Bill proceeds to another place, they will, in effect, restore certain provisions covered by schedules 1 and 2 in order that a parallel choice can be made from the three options. The Government are to follow that unfamiliar, but entirely understandable, practice to assist the progress of the Bill. However, it means that we shall send the Bill from this place without having had the detailed discussion of amendments to the schedules that would normally precede consideration in another place. If the process were in reverse, we would expect such discussion to have taken place elsewhere. We would have been looking with interest at the Official Report of the detailed debates. It could be suggested to the Chairmen's Panel that the decision to adopt such a procedure invites a different way of dealing with these matters in Committee than the one that we are obliged to accept today.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Conservative, Broxbourne

I have noted the points raised by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. No doubt other hon. Members will raise the matter with my colleagues on the Chairmen's Panel. I assure the Committee that Mr. O'Hara and I have considered the matter with great care. It is our responsibility, as Chairmen, to have regard for decisions already taken in the House and to ensure that the Committee makes progress on the Bill. Schedule 3 Hunting with Dogs: Prohibition