I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 19, line 28, leave out `commits an offence' and insert
`is liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.
With this we may take the following amendments: No. 7, in page 19, line 29, leave out `commits an offence' and insert
`is liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.
No. 8, in page 19, line 32, leave out `commits an offence' and insert
`is liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.
No. 9, in page 19, line 35, leave out `commits an offence' and insert
`is liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.
No. 10, in page 19, line 39, leave out `commit an offence' and insert
`are liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.
No. 11, in page 20, line 4, leave out paragraph 5 and insert—
`5.—(1) A person liable to a penalty by virtue of paragraph 1, 2, 3 or 4 is liable to a penalty of an amount to be determined by the Secretary of State which shall not exceed the prescribed amount.
(2) The prescribed amount shall not exceed the sum which for the time being is equivalent to a fine of level 5 on the standard scale.
(3) A person liable to a penalty must pay the amount determined by the Secretary of State under sub-paragraph (1) to the Secretary of State before the end of the prescribed period.
(4) In this paragraph ``prescribed'' means prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
(5) Regulations made by the Secretary of State under this paragraph—
(a) shall be made by statutory instrument, and
(b) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.
No. 16, page 20, line 20, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.
No. 17, in page 20, line 25, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.
No. 18, in page 21, line 10, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.
No. 19, in page 21, line 22, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.
No. 20, in page 21, line 26, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.
No. 21, in page 21, line 44, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.
No. 22, in page 22, line 14, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.
No. 23, in page 22, line 19, leave out `an offence' and insert `a penalty'.
No. 26, in page 23, line 10, leave out from `The' to `the' in line 11 and insert
`Secretary of State may apply to a magistrates court for an order providing for'.
No. 27, in page 23, line 12, leave out from `of' to end of line 13 and insert
`an act in respect of which a penalty has been imposed under paragraph 5.'.
No. 28, in page 23, line 33, leave out `convicted' and insert
`on whom the penalty has been imposed under paragraph 5'.
No. 29, in page 23, line 37, leave out from `The' to `from' in line 38 and insert
`Secretary of State may apply to a magistrates' court for an order prohibiting a person on whom a penalty has been imposed under paragraph 5 by virtue of paragraph 1, 3 or 4(2)'.
The purpose of this group of amendments is to replace the criminal penalties embodied in the schedule with a civil penalty. If members of the Committee will bear with me, I shall take them through the group to explain to which parts of the schedule each amendment relates.
Amendment No. 6, the lead amendment, deals with the primary offence of hunting with hounds, as defined at the beginning of the schedule. Amendment No. 7 decriminalises the offence of allowing land to be entered or used for the purpose of hunting with dogs. Amendment No. 8 relates to the offence of a dog owner allowing one of his dogs to be used for hunting. Amendment No. 9 deals with the offence of acting as an official at a hare coursing event or allowing land to be used for the purpose of a hare coursing event. Amendment No. 10 deals with offences by people who enter a dog for hare coursing, who allow a dog to be entered or who control or handle a dog during or for the purposes of hare coursing.
Amendment No. 11 suggests the way in which the civil penalty that I propose should operate. The level of the penalty should be set by regulations laid down in statutory instruments, and subject to the negative procedure. There is a case for affirmative procedure, but I believe that it is the normal practice of both Houses to deal with the level of penalties—whether civil penalties or fines—by means of the negative procedure. That is why I have tabled the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 16 to 23 are consequential on the first group of amendments that I have described. In summary, they remove references in part II to criminal offences and substitute references to civil penalties.
Amendments Nos. 26 to 29 amend part III. They require the Secretary of State to apply to a magistrates court for forfeiture of a dog—termed in paragraph 18 a ``hunting article''—and to obtain a ban on somebody who had been subject to a civil penalty on owning a dog. That relates to paragraph 19. I want to make three points in support of the amendments.
There is a matter of principle, on which I shall speak briefly. To make the act of hunting and associated acts criminal offences is a disproportionate response to the ill of which the advocates of a ban complain. I feel that particularly strongly because it is noticeable that schedule 3 says nothing about cruelty or animal welfare. Nor does it define, as under previous animal welfare legislation, activities that Parliament regards as cruel and that have become criminal offences under our law. We have instead a schedule that outlaws the activity of hunting with dogs, although hunting is nowhere defined in the Bill. The Government have simply said that the courts will interpret the statute in accordance with the normal meaning of ``hunting'', which is a circular argument that leaves people at risk of arrest, prosecution and conviction of offences that have nowhere been sufficiently tightly defined by Parliament.
Although we all know the adage that ignorance is no excuse for disobeying the law, there is a duty on those who make the law to ensure that Bills reaching the statute book are readily comprehensible to those whose lives are affected by them. People must know when they carry out an activity that they are trespassing against the criminal law, and therefore be able to weigh the consequences if they persist.
On the point of how one defines hunting, can my hon. Friend explain what will happen to someone who is walking their dog when it chases and kills a rabbit? Could they conceivably be prosecuted by the police and be given a criminal record? I know that that is unlikely, but is it conceivable under the provisions of the Bill?
I hope that we shall have the opportunity to explore my hon. Friend's point. My reading of the Bill is that that risk would indeed exist. Having read both the description of the offences in part I and the list of exceptions in part II, I have not seen language to provide an absolute defence against such a prosecution.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is not the dog that would be prosecuted, but the owner? Does he also accept that, according to the definition in the ``Oxford English Dictionary'', the word ``hunt'' is proactive? The synonyms are ``pursue'', ``seek'', ``chase'', ``track'', ``follow'' and ``go after'', and in those terms hunting is defined.
I do not want to stray too far down that path, because subsequent amendments deal with the matter directly, but my observation would be that the terms that the hon. Lady has cited are not precise at all. A dog that did chase, follow, seek or search out—to use another dictionary definition that I have read—would put its owner at risk of prosecution. The risk would be greater because we are not talking simply about an offence that a police officer must observe in order to consider bringing a charge. The Government propose to make the offence arrestable. A complaint could be made to the police that an individual had acted contrary to the law. The police would then have to investigate the allegation, seek evidence and weigh up whether the matter was worth referring to the Crown Prosecution Service, which would then have to take its view. The safeguards are not as straightforward as the hon. Lady wishes to believe, but, as I have said, we shall explore that further later in our proceedings.
As the matter has been raised, I should say that it is absolute nonsense to suggest that a dog that accidentally chases a squirrel or rabbit while being walked could be prosecuted. The Government intend that only people should be criminalised—we are not in the business of criminalising the intentions of dogs. What matters is the intention of the person, not the dog. The law will make it clear that no offence will have been committed if the person concerned did not intend to break it. However, if the hon. Gentleman intends to substitute a civil for a criminal offence, in doing so, he would lower the threshold of proof and greatly increase the likelihood that some consequence, albeit civil, would have to be faced. The threshold would then be balance of probability, rather than what is beyond reasonable doubt, which applies in criminal cases.
I am grateful to the Minister for stating the Government's intentions. We will be able to explore whether the language of the Bill matches them when we debate the relevant amendments.
I move on to the practical matters, the first of which concerns criminal records, that I was about to discuss before I gave way to a number of interventions. As I understand it—the Minister may be able to respond to this—under the terms of the Bill any criminal conviction will remain on the record of the person concerned for a number of years. Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, a conviction for which the punishment is a fine normally remains on the record for five years. Even those who suffer a lesser penalty than the maximum fine for which the schedule provides would have to carry that conviction on their record for a certain length of time. For example, a conditional discharge on conviction of hunting with dogs would still remain on the record of the person concerned for a full 12 months. Even an absolute discharge would remain on the record for six months.
I am following the hon. Gentleman's interesting lecture on the way in which the law works. Does he agree that, should Parliament decide that the provision will be the law of the land, it is entirely appropriate that such a conviction should remain on the record of those who knowingly and deliberately break that law? These are supposed to be law-abiding people. Do they intend not to obey the law?
One great evil that the Bill, if enacted, will bring about is that it will criminalise the activities of many thousands of people who regard themselves as—and who in fact are—law abiding. Indeed, in many communities such people are the active eyes and ears of the police service. Many serve as magistrates and give of their time by taking part in neighbourhood watch schemes and other crime prevention activities—a point that I shall discuss in greater detail.
The hon. Gentleman wants to portray those who hunt as freedom fighters, but he is wrong to say that the Bill will criminalise their activities. It will criminalise them only if they pursue them after it is enacted. At the moment, they are lawful and will become unlawful only if the Bill reaches the statute book. He ought to get his terminology absolutely correct.
The hon. Gentleman is dancing on the head of the pin. To ``criminalise'' something is, to my mind, to make it criminal. The Bill makes criminal a recreational activity that has been lawfully enjoyed by thousands of citizens for many years.
Anyone who is convicted of an offence under the Bill will have a criminal record that will be declarable if they apply for a job, insurance policy or credit. There will be other implications—some countries do not admit as visitors foreign citizens who have any type of criminal conviction. Under British law, there are occupations and professions where, for reasons of child protection, we rightly insist that the normal provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act do not apply. Are we going to say that someone who is convicted of hunting with dogs should have to declare—perhaps for the rest of their life if they are in teaching or social work, for example—that they have a criminal conviction? That illustrates the disproportionate nature of the Bill.
The implications of the Bill for the police service are one reason why I tabled this group of amendments. The introduction of a new set of criminal penalties is likely to impose significant additional burdens on the service, which is why we should consider replacing the criminal penalty with a civil penalty. When the matter was raised with the Minister in the Committee of the whole House last week, he was careful to confine his remarks to the expenditure of resources. He stated that the view of the Association of Chief Police Officers, as it was communicated to Home Office officials
is that, by and large, the expenditure of resources on dealing with hunts and protests against hunts now is probably very similar to any costs that the police are likely to face if a ban is imposed.—[Official Report, 17 January 2001; Vol. 361, c. 367.]
That view is reflected in the Government's regulatory impact assessment on page 11 at paragraph 4.21. However, within 24 hours of the Minister's comments, ACPO released a statement setting out the arguments that members of its public order sub-committee put to the Home Office before the introduction of the Bill. That document made it clear that its reservations went a good deal further than those that the Minister was prepared to acknowledge during last Wednesday's debate. The paper stated:
for practical policing reasons, there was strong support— that is, among members of ACPO—
for the option of having hunting with dogs controlled and regulated by an independent licensing body which— this is the key phrase—
did not involve the police.
The police expressed great concern to Ministers about the potential impact on police resources of a complete ban on hunting.
During our discussions last week, I pointed out that my survey of police forces throughout the country—to which fewer than half responded—revealed that the bill for monitoring hunting is £542 million. Is the Opposition spokesman suggesting that if hunting is banned in this Parliament, the cost of policing all these law-abiding citizens—who are the eyes and ears of the police in the shires—will be more than that? Will there be mass demonstrations and, if so, will he endorse them?
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point that ACPO is saying that a complete ban will impose significant additional burdens. The hon. Gentleman said that about half the police forces responded to his survey. I suspect that ACPO would be able to draw satisfactorily on responses from all the police forces in England and Wales, which would be more prepared to speak their minds to ACPO than to any politician.
May I help the hon. Gentleman? In opposition and in government, I spoke frequently to individual chief police officers and to ACPO. One matter that arose time and again was the cost of policing the conflict that results from hunting. ACPO, like other police bodies, has been careful to try to stay out of the political argument and to maintain order. That is probably why it was misled into thinking that the Middle Way Group represents a middle way, not another means of promoting the continuation of hunting. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to draw ACPO into a political debate, given that it has taken such care in that respect over the years.
The right hon. Gentleman is trying hard. However, he cannot simply wipe away the fact that we have a statement from ACPO—which it released after Parliament had taken its decision in principle last week—making clear its reservations.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that an important distinction should be drawn between reservations and evidence? To return to the earlier discussion of cross-border issues, evidence from Scotland shows that since deer hunting with hounds was banned in 1959, there has been no significant problem with policing costs. Why? It is because the activity no longer exists.
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that recidivist hunters will cause a residual problem, does he nevertheless accept that the question of the application of the law is completely different from that of whether, in principle, we should recognise the views of the House in deciding that it wishes to make this an illegal and criminal activity?
The hon. Gentleman still cannot escape from my central argument that these views have been expressed by senior police officers. Even before the release of the paper to which I am referring, the assistant chief constable of South Yorkshire, Mr. Hollis, who I believe is the chairman of ACPO's public order sub-committee, said on television on the day of our debate last Wednesday that he believed that a ban would involve significant extra burdens for the police, although he said, as the police have rightly and consistently said, that they would see it as their duty to cope with and implement whatever law Parliament gave them to enforce.
Is not one potential problem that is being overlooked the fact that the Bill is feeding the appetite of the animal rights lobby, which, having been successful with their often violent demonstrations against foxhunting ,will now turn their attention to shooting and fishing? We have seen the demonstrations outside Huntingdon Life Sciences. These people will become more active and the police will have far greater problems policing demonstrations against shooting and fishing, which millions of people do, than against the 300-odd hunts that they have had to worry about so far.
My hon. Friend is right. I have appeared, as he may have done, on platforms in recent weeks with representatives of some of the animal rights groups. I remember a televised debate that involved a senior representative of the Hunt Saboteurs Association and a senior member of the House who is on the other side of the argument—as he is not a member of the Committee, it would not be right for me to name him without his knowledge. Both made it clear that they regard hunting as the primary target, not least because they believe that the time is ripe, while they have a significant parliamentary majority in support of a statutory ban, but that, once the gain had been achieved it would be pocketed and they would then move on to the next target.
May I bring my hon. Friend back to the core question of cost? It costs millions and millions of pounds to police football matches. I happen to loathe football, but I do not want to ban it. I respect and understand the need for a substantial police presence to keep the lunatics apart and stop them beating one another to a pulp. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is not the point? It is that the pursuit of liberty by individual minorities taking part in and enjoying their sport or whatever it may be, wherever it is in the land, deserves and requires the whole-hearted and rigorous protection of the police, if the Queen's peace is to be maintained.
I believe, as does my hon. Friend, that when a minority of people—or, for that matter, one individual—are doing something lawful and are being impeded or harassed in that activity by people who wish to stop them doing it, it is the job of the police and the law to ensure that that minority, or that individual, can go about their lawful business. That was, after all, the principle which, to be fair to the Government, the Home Secretary was stalwart in defending in respect of Huntingdon Life Sciences last week.
I refer to the letter that the hon. Gentleman received from the ACPO sub-committee, which claims that the middle way with the regulatory authority would be the preferred solution for ACPO. That creates a criminal offence of hunting with dogs without a licence, so there is still a criminal activity to police. In addition, there are still the on-cost resources for policing the peaceful protests that are bound to take place if hunting is not banned and for maintaining road closure orders for those regulated hunts. Therefore, ACPO has missed the point completely about the Middle Way Group. It will occasion extra police costs on top of what is already spent on policing.
Unlike the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) rightly sees that the interests of those advocating a ban lie in attacking and undermining the arguments presented by ACPO.
The hon. Member for Worcester is correct. The level of offence is similar in schedules 2 and 3. Is the hon. Member for Aylesbury also aware that it is clear from the ACPO statement that the police, who take a neutral line, had resisted making that statement before the debate on Wednesday because they did not want to be accused of political bias? However, they felt obliged to point out that there is
strong support for the option of having hunting with dogs controlled and regulated by an independent licensing body.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree, therefore, that the position of the police is extremely clear and was not the result of lobbying by the Middle Way Group or anyone else? They looked at the three options and decided which they regarded would be the most workable legislation.
The hon. Gentleman has put his arguments well. He will know that during last Wednesday's debate I expressed reservations about some of the details of the so-called middle-way proposals. The police are probably right in saying that the implications for police resources would be significantly less were the hon. Gentleman's proposal to be adopted, than if the view of the majority of the House last week that a complete ban should be enacted were to prevail.
Will the hon. Gentleman examine the logic of his own argument? He appears to be saying that the police expect these law-abiding hunters to behave like football hooligans in the event that the Bill as it stands becomes law. That appears to be the expectation of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). Does the hon. Gentleman agree? That seems to be the logic of his position.
The police reservations about a complete ban seem from the ACPO document to centre on two points, one of which is resources. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have said, in statements by the Minister to the House and in their impact assessment, that they would expect the costs of policing hunts today and of policing a ban, if it were to be enacted, to balance out. The Government therefore expect significant expenditure as a consequence of a ban. If the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) is correct, we are talking about upwards of £500,000 during an average year simply to meet what the Government are admitting to in the impact assessment.
Does not the ACPO document go some way to support the hon. Member for Lewes when it says:
police experience of dealing with protest at hunts leaves us with no doubt as to the passion related to this issue, on both sides, and the practical difficulties involved in policing such events?
The police say that there is a considerable problem at the moment, even within that context.
The document of the hon. Member for Lewes underestimates the cost significantly. It says that there is no need to police hunt meetings in Lancashire. That is absolute rubbish—they police the Waterloo cup heavily and they do not like doing it.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned coursing. One of the problems of implementing the law that is already besetting the police relates to coursing. They find it difficult to respond to unlicensed coursing—the sort that takes place in many of the eastern counties of England. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the men who engage in that activity are often linked to organised crime and in some cases may be armed—certainly they are not shy of violence. Local people feel intimidated about interrupting such unlawful coursing events. The police, because of the many other pressures that they have on their time and resources, cannot always respond quickly or in sufficient strength to deal with the problems. That is one illustration of how the police, in the context of illegal hunting, have to make difficult decisions on how to balance finite resources with their duty to enforce the law.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about illegal coursing, but it is legal in some forms. It would be simpler for the police if the whole practice were banned completely. The issue is complex now because coursing is legal in some forms, but illegal in others.
I do not accept that at all. If a coursing event or hunt is legal, the police know that they do not have to go along and arrest the organisers. The balancing act that the police have to perform is not between legal and illegal coursing, but between reports of illegal coursing and offences of burglary, robbery and criminal disorder, with which they have to deal, especially in rural areas. I was delighted to hear the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, endorsing an ACPO document, saying that strong views were recorded at the potential impact of a ban on police resources. ACPO states:
Forces policing rural areas are already under enormous pressure to deal with crimes such as burglary, vehicle crime and drugs related offences. Without additional resources, hard decisions will have to be made on policing priorities and how thinly stretched resources are deployed.
The impact on resources of a complete ban on hunting with dogs is a matter of concern to the police service. The other matter causing the police significant disquiet is the impact that a ban would have on their relationship with the communities which they serve and whose support and partnership they need if they are to do their job well and effectively. That is especially important because of the stress that the Government have placed—rightly—on the partnership between the police, other voluntary and statutory agencies and the public.
The centrepiece of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was that in each part of the country there should be a crime reduction plan, drawn up by the basic command unit—superintendent or chief inspector—and the local authority, which, in most cases, would be the district council, or the borough council in a metropolitan area. That plan to contain and reduce crime was to be drawn up in consultation with local people. The Home Secretary and his ministerial team have stressed that proposal almost from the day that they took up their present offices. Clearly, such a plan requires a spirit of partnership, co-operation, mutual trust and confidence between the police and the communities that they serve. ACPO states:
concern was expressed at the potential impact of a total ban on relationships between the police and the community in rural areas. The concerns of such communities at increasing crime in the countryside has been widely reported. The question of policing priorities would become subject to renewed debate if a total ban was imposed.
It goes on to say:
under crime and disorder legislation, police and local communities are working in close partnership to identify and tackle issues of concern to local people.
Then, in a diplomatically worded sentence, ACPO says:
The extent to which hunting with dogs will feature in this process is, at this stage, unclear.
Therefore, schedule 3 contains a proposal that will place a severe strain on police resources and will threaten the relationship of trust between the police and the communities that they serve, especially in rural areas—a relationship that the Government see as central to any successful policy to prevent or reduce crime. For those reasons, the Government should think again about their decision to impose new criminal offences on those who hunt with dogs.
I shall continue, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
The Government say in the explanatory notes to the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which was introduced only last week, that arrangements could be made to enable the police to rely on penalties rather than on a full-scale criminal process to safeguard scarce police resources. Referring to the new proposals to give officers discretion to impose financial penalties for anti-social offences, the explanatory notes state:
the need to focus police and court resources elsewhere means that much minor offending of this kind escapes sanction or consequence under current arrangements. ... These provisions seek to provide a further means for the police to deal with low level, but disruptive, criminal behaviour.
In other words, what might have been dealt with through the full panoply of criminal law should be treated otherwise because of the resource implications for the police and the courts of going through the normal criminal justice procedure.
No, I want to bring my remarks to a close, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
I do not claim that a set of amendments drafted by the Opposition rather than by the Government, who have the resources of parliamentary draftsmen, will necessarily be technically perfect, but this group has given us the opportunity to raise some serious concerns about the impact on police resources and on the relationship between the police and the public of the criminal offences that the Government propose to introduce.
I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate in due course he will be able to explain at what stage the Government knew about ACPO's concerns and their response to the disquiet that it has expressed.
I am grateful to you for calling me to speak on this group of amendments, Mrs. Roe. I was perplexed to hear some of the comments and explanations of the hon. Member for Aylesbury, because many of his reservations, although valid, were based on a premise that an act that is legal but is about to become illegal will continue to be practised. In the context of maintaining good police-community relations, one of the most important messages that needs to go from the police to the local community is, ``The relationship is healthy if you do not knowingly commit crimes.'' All the hon. Gentleman's forewarnings appear to be based on a premise that, even when the Bill becomes law, those who are involved in hunting will continue to be involved: they will knowingly break the law.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the recreational pastimes of people in rural communities and I have tried to apply his principle to those of city dwellers. Some young people on inner-city estates are involved in ``TWOCing'', a recreational pastime that consists of taking without consent people's cars or entering their houses and removing their goods. If we want to establish police-community partnerships to reduce crime, it will not help to stop describing crime as such. It is far more effective to say, ``If you knowingly commit a crime, you should expect it to be treated as a crime.'' We need more than a bit of a penalty. I and other hon. Members should not be able tell our constituents, ``You might have a mitigating case to make if you join neighbourhood watch. In fact, if you are an active member of your community, you can get away with whatever you like.''
We have missed the fundamental point, which is that the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Aylesbury seek to confuse. The current provisions clearly define a crime as a crime, not a negotiable offence. If we shift our ground, we will in many ways invite the committing of those crimes in perpetuity. We will be saying to those communities, ``Although the Bill has been enacted, it has been downgraded and there is no serious sanction. So go ahead and do what you like, it will not affect your career. Although such offences will be policed, you can commit them because they will not appear on your record.'' The message that this Committee and the whole House should send instead to those supposedly law-abiding people is that this activity will be a crime and henceforth they ought not to commit it.
I apologise for being a little late this morning, Mrs. Roe, but I had other duties to attend to. May I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his recent engagement and wish him great happiness?
On the point that the hon. Gentleman made a moment ago, paragraphs 1 and 21—which have been retained following consideration by the Committee of the whole House—make no use of an expression such as ``knowingly or with knowledge'', or of anything relating to mens rea. How does he react to that absence, which flies in the face of his—to some—perfectly commonsense remarks?
We are in danger of returning to matters that were considered on Second Reading. The Middle Way Group made its case on balancing animal welfare with civil liberties and I do not intend to reintroduce that debate today. A clear majority voted in favour of the schedule and we must assess the amendments in that light, tempting though it might be to rehearse old arguments. To that extent, I pay tribute to the hon. Members for Worcester, for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey). Were it not for their initiative in advancing this debate in the past three or four years, we would not be discussing these amendments. I also apologise to the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole for my sharp words last week, which were uttered in a moment of pique.
That has ruined my weekend.
The debate is about schedule 3, not schedules 1 or 2. In a spirit of constructiveness, I shall confine my remarks to schedule 3 without continually repeating that I disagree with it.
On penalties, the schedule involves a grey area—who would be committing a criminal offence and who would not. It could have the unintended consequence of criminalising people whose dogs, when taken for walks, repeatedly chase after and perhaps kill mammals. It is hard to see how the Bill would exempt people who know that their dog has a propensity to do that. I am told that Clive Anderson's dog has such a propensity—do we want to make a criminal out of Clive Anderson? [Interruption.] Some would say yes.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. We had many debates in the Middle Way Group about what should be done in those circumstances. In my view, the independent licensing authority proposed in the schedule should have to require people whose dogs repeatedly chase and kill mammals to apply for a licence. Although dog owners whose dogs tend regularly to kill mammals may regard that proposal as an imposition, it is a price worth paying to create consistent and enforceable legislation. The hon. Member for Worcester has clearly grasped the nature of the dilemma in schedule 3.
The hon. Gentleman missed the point that I made earlier. The Middle Way Group has failed to recognise that we are talking about the owner of the dog or the person controlling the dog, not the dog itself. We cannot criminalise the dog.
That is right. If the independent authority proposed an examination, the licence holder, not the dog, would sit it.
The debate highlights the fact that this issue must be tackled in schedule 3. Otherwise, test cases will eventually be brought to establish what is acceptable and unacceptable. Even more seriously, under the schedule a loophole could develop that would enable hunting to continue and its proponents would not want that to happen.
The point of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) was that as it is the dog owner who must have an intention, the matter is dealt with under the common law. Many times in Committee, on all types of criminal offence, we have heard hon. Members mention intentionality. It is not a new issue—the courts deal with it every day and they are used to dealing with it.
On that point, the view of parliamentary counsel, who is enormously experienced in such matters, is that a clear mens rea is required, which is explicit on the face of the Bill. To insert words such as ``intention'' or ``being aware'' might complicate the matter. Parliamentary counsel is clear that the drafting creates an unambiguous requirement to prove intent.
The Minister implies that there is not a problem. I understand his argument, but I am not convinced by it. Supposing that he is correct, my concern, in the context of what schedule 3 is designed to achieve, would be that if one must prove intent, it could create a loophole that allows hunting to continue. The onus of proof of intent would be so great that few people would realistically be prosecuted. People could say, for example, ``I was walking my dog with 14 mates, all of whom have dogs. We did not intend them to go hunting, yet they all ran off and killed a fox.'' I am concerned that that could undermine the purpose of schedule 3, which is a total ban on hunting with dogs.
So that the hon. Gentleman knows the Government's position, anyone seeking to prosecute for a breach of criminal law such as this is required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that intent existed. It is for those who prosecute to prove that intent, as is the case with all criminal offences. The requirement to prove intent is the foundation of our criminal law, not a new addition to it.
I have made my point for the record and we shall see what happens if the Bill becomes law.
On penalties, the hon. Member for Worcester correctly pointed out that the Middle Way Group and Deadline 2000 proposals have a great deal in common in terms of clauses and severity of penalties. For schedule 3 to achieve its purpose, it probably needs the type of penalties that are included in the Bill. If the penalties for breaking the law are trivial, they will be ignored. My concern is that something that is within the law at present will become a harshly penalised criminal offence. Nevertheless, the House voted for schedule 3, so, to ensure the complete cessation of hunting with dogs, it is inevitable that individuals who choose not to desist will be criminalised—whether I am comfortable with that is irrelevant. Indeed, there is no reason for the Committee to reopen the debate about whether it is reasonable to criminalise such individuals, because the options were comprehensively debated on the Floor of the House.
I would not be inclined to go along with the easing of criminal penalties, because schedule 3 must include a tough sanction if it is to ban hunting with dogs. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) is right to say that schedule 3 must criminalise people who continue to hunt with dogs after it has been banned. The Middle Way Group can campaign outside this Committee to try to persuade the House to think again, but at present there is little case for changing the severity of those offences in the Bill.
Lastly, there are issues of definition. Despite what the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire says about the ``Oxford English Dictionary'', the present definition of hunting needs some clarification. Perhaps I will be allowed to make a brief contribution on that on clause stand part.
I want briefly to take us back to what I thought the hon. Member for Aylesbury chiefly called in evidence for his amendments—the ACPO document. It is a curious document. It certainly says as its top line that the chief constables would prefer someone else to do the work rather than have to deal with the consequences of penalties themselves. It would have been a surprise for us all if a report from ACPO had said ``We've got plenty of spare policemen and they've got nothing to do. Can you create a few more crimes for us to tackle, because we're getting bored?'' No one can remember it ever saying anything like that.
Nevertheless, the document is curious and does not bear a great deal of textual analysis. It says, first, that there is growing concern about crime in rural areas. I would not dispute that. Then the sentence at the end of the second bullet point says:
The question of policing priorities would become subject to renewed debate if a total ban was imposed.
Of course it would and what is wrong with that? What is wrong with policing priorities being reviewed constantly, as they are? That is what police authorities and chief police officers are for. Of course priorities would have to be reviewed, in the same way as they are reviewed whenever a new law is passed or new penalties are created to cover new offences, whether it is smuggling cigarettes or anything else. It comes into the agenda: the police have to take care of it and the Government have to provide them with the resources to cope with that extra responsibility.
In the document, ACPO tries to turn both ways. Tim Hollis, of the public order sub-committee, rightly says at the end—and all this is unexceptional stuff—that
It is for Parliament to determine what legislation meets the needs of the country at the present time.
Exactly right, and that is what we are in the process of doing. He goes on to say:
We were grateful to be involved in consultation with the Home Office and for the opportunity to outline our concerns on the potential impact on local policing of the three options under consideration.
His last sentence is:
It goes without saying that the police will do their best to meet the demands of any new legislation, but inevitably hard decisions will have to be made on priorities.
Therefore, while the chief police officers may be clear that they do not want any extra work—which of us ever volunteers for extra—they are also saying that Parliament is going through a perfectly legitimate process: it is responding to the needs and demands of the majority of the people.
In reply to me, the hon. Member for Aylesbury rightly mentioned illegal coursing. I did not quite follow the argument--I shall read it when I see it in Hansard--but he seemed to be saying that it could be called in aid for making the penalty less than is specified in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole answered that perfectly.
That is all right—any time. In my area of West Lancashire we are plagued by illegal coursers. It is a vast, empty area with scattered hamlets and isolated farms and the Waterloo cup takes place in the middle of it. That is a splendid event and every year it brings people—mostly drunks—from all over the country to watch it. It is a spectator not a participant sport, by the way—if sport is the right word.
All year, illegal coursers come from Greater Manchester and Merseyside in white vans. The dogs are in the back. They let them out to kill the hares, which they leave. It is most disturbing for anyone who likes the countryside or animals to see those beautiful large animals when they have been slaughtered by dogs. One could almost understand it if these people took the hares away to eat them, but they are not interested in doing that.
Even if we had 100 per cent. more police officers, such activity could only be policed with public co-operation. Those who live in the farms and villages—Altcar, Downholland, Haskayne—have to be prepared to alert the police. They are the eyes and ears of the police, as the hon. Member for Aylesbury said. Why should they do so? What is the logic of that when at Altcar hundreds of hares are slaughtered, not only at the Waterloo cup, but in regular hare coursing throughout the season? There is no closed season for hares, so that could be at any time. They say to themselves, ``Hundreds of hares are being killed there. Why should I go out of my way and possibly get into trouble to try to stop an illegal courser, who is only illegal because he happens to live in Oldham or somewhere and not in Altcar?''
The argument about illegal coursing, which is a nasty activity, is another in favour of keeping the penalties as they are and outlawing an activity that is legal at present. In some ways that is one of the most powerful arguments associated with the Bill. Hare coursing, which is a spectator sport, is even more foul than the other forms of hunting that we hope to ban.
May I return to the important remark made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury, which merits a response. The hon. Member for Nottingham, South has already responded and I should like to build on that.
I was concerned by the remarks of the hon. Member for Aylesbury. First, he described those who hunt at present as fully law-abiding citizens, pillars of society, the eyes and ears of the police, bastions of neighbourhood watch and so on. From my knowledge of those who hunt in my constituency, as many do, they are often people who would be described as pillars of society—justices of the peace and so forth. I do not dissent from his definition, but I fail to understand why he suggests that were hunting to become a criminal offence, those pillars of society—the people whom one is supposed to respect and who are the eyes and ears of the police—would immediately break the law and carry on hunting to such a degree that they would incur even more police expenditure than is spent policing hunts at present. That is entirely illogical. Is he saying that such people are only law abiding while the law is on their side and would become law breakers when it is not? The only safe position for Members of Parliament is that people should respect the law.
I—and no doubt everyone in the Room—condemn those who undertake criminal activity to disrupt hunts. Equally, I hope that the hon. Member for Aylesbury and the Conservative party would condemn anyone who hunted if Parliament introduced a law to ban it. He cannot condone law breaking and I hope that if the Bill becomes law he will say, ``Well, chaps, we did our best for you, but the law is the law and I now ask you to stop hunting.''
First, I inadvertently talked about the Conservative party. Obviously, my various honourable and right honourable Friends have their own views on the subject and there is a free vote throughout the proceedings of the Bill.
Secondly, I have said publicly on more than one occasion that the law should be obeyed once it has been enacted by Parliament. It would be improper for me to take a different attitude.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I accept that there is a free vote, and in mentioning the Conservative party I was conscious that—as I pointed out last week to some amusement—three strands, if not four, of Liberal Democrat opinion are represented on this Committee. Indeed, several strands of Labour party opinion are also represented. For example, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) is clearly in favour of hunting's continuation. As far as I know, none of the Conservatives who voted in favour of a ban has been included on this Committee, although the hon. Member for Aylesbury will correct me if I am wrong. It seems that only those Conservatives who supported schedules 1 and 2 alone have been selected, which is a pity. I would have liked the hon. Members for Cheadle (Mr. Day) and for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), for example, to have participated in this Committee.
If the hon. Member for Aylesbury is accurate in representing those who currently hunt as law-abiding people, and if he and his colleagues are advocating that such people should always respect the law, I cannot understand why he argues that a ban on hunting will put ``a severe strain'' on police resources. From where will the severe strain come? Will it come from those who call for the abolition of hunting? Will they carry on parading through fields, taking up police time for no apparent reason? I think not, because they will have won. The implication of the hon. Gentleman's comment is that those who currently hunt will continue to do so, but given that he says that he would condemn such action, I see no reason why police resources should be stretched—even to the Home Secretary's current estimate.
I have mentioned the huge levels of current expenditure. According to my figures, a minority of police forces spent more than half a billion pounds—£542,000—per annum on policing hunts. I cannot see how that figure can do other than go down, given that those concerned will respect the law and no illegal activities will take place.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I want to clarify what he just said. Is current expenditure half a million pounds or half a billion pounds?
Half a million pounds—£542,000. I quoted that figure in last week's debate on the Floor of the House, although I am afraid that I do not have the Hansard reference to hand. I apologise for any confusion.
I do not accept that a ban on hunting would place an increased burden on police resources. However, it is true that if hunting were treated like a parking offence, rather than criminalised, people would be encouraged to continue and further police resources would be required. To that extent, the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Aylesbury would in fact increase requirements on the police.
In arguing that the impact on the police should be a determining factor in measuring our actions as legislators, the hon. Member for Aylesbury is deploying a rather odd logic. If the Conservatives are prepared to go down that particularly dangerous road, perhaps they will withdraw their call for many more prisons in which to place asylum seekers, along with other of their measures that would involve imprisoning many more people. Perhaps they will now say that cannabis should be legalised, given that police resources are tied up in dealing with its sale and use. Does the hon. Member for Aylesbury—if not his colleagues—intend to use a free vote to argue that the law of the land should be determined by the number of police required to enforce it? If so, that is a dangerous and somewhat ridiculous position to adopt.
The logic—in using that word, I am being generous—of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Aylesbury in no way holds water. There is a legitimate debate to be had about the level of criminal penalty that should be applied to those, if any, who continue to hunt and thereby break the law. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has not advanced that debate this morning.
I am delighted to make a contribution to the Committee this morning.
While listening to hon. Members trying to defend the schedule or speak to the amendments, I was struck by the fact that it is difficult to find consistency in the arguments of those who want hunting to remain unchanged. Like many hon. Members, I have seen newspaper articles and media reports and received correspondence telling me that if the Bill reaches the statute book and there is a complete ban on hunting with dogs, the knock-on effect will be that all the dogs will be shot. I said in Committee on the Floor of the House that there is no need for that. Indeed, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has offered to ensure that that is not the case. Nevertheless, if it is so, why are we discussing the fact that hunts will continue illegally when a ban is in place?
Those who seek to support hunting cannot have it both ways. Either the dogs will go, in which case there will be no hunting and no impact on the police, or the reverse will be true. Those who support the Countryside Alliance seem to want to have their cake and eat it—something that my mother always told me I could never do—and should not be able to do so. The pro-hunt side will have to decide what it wants, so that we can then have an informed debate.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the hunt-owned animals that do not perform in the manner required of them are put down quite early in their careers or killed off as puppies? They are certainly put down at the end of their careers.
My hon. Friend is right. During the cubbing season, dogs that show no inclination to hunt are destroyed, and those that can no longer keep up with the hunt are destroyed. However, that is a slightly different debate. I shall not go down that road, suffice it to say that the best future for hunting dogs will be through a ban and the offer from the RSPCA and other dog organisations. As somebody who is interested in animal welfare, that is one more reason why I support a full ban.
I wanted to speak about the implications, one way or the other, for the police. For four years, before I was fortunate enough to be elected to the House, I chaired Humberside police authority. For those who do not know Humberside, it has one large city—Hull—some large towns, such as Grimsby and Scunthorpe, and a large rural area on each side of the Humber. Policing various events was one issue with which the police authority, including the chief constable and officers, had to deal.
In Hull, there is Hull football club, Hull rugby league club and Hull Kingston Rovers. These days, rugby league teams tend to have much smarter, more American names; I think that Hull Sharks is one, but as I do not follow the sport, I am not sure. Grimsby has a football team, which I am proud to support, and Scunthorpe has a football team--Scunthorpe United. Of course the police provide services. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex said in an intervention that he did not like football, but he accepted that there was a role for the police in keeping football hooligans apart, and I agree with him.
On top of that, we had hunts. On the north bank, we had the Holderness hunt, and the Brocklesby hunt—which is based in the constituency of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) but goes into the Humberside area from time to time. That had a policing implication too, with which Humberside had to deal. However, there was always one telling difference: the police re-charged the football and rugby clubs in full for their policing, so the impact on police resources was a big round zero; policing for hunts was provided free of charge. I do not know whether that free service is linked to the fact that, as the hon. Member for Aylesbury said, magistrates, JPs and so on were involved in hunting—but the fact remains. That always struck me as something of an anomaly.
The predominant reason for police presence at hunts is to control those who wish to disturb the hunt. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that at many meets no hunt saboteurs are present, and therefore no policemen are required?
I agree that that is sometimes so; similarly, police presence is unnecessary at some football matches. However, my point is that when police presence is required at hunts, it is provided free, yet when it is required at football and rugby matches, it is charged for. That is an anomaly.
That is a false analogy. If my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, who announced earlier that he hates football, were to form an anti-football saboteurs association which invaded football matches, it would be unfair to charge the football ground for his predatory activities.
Much of the trouble at football matches is caused by people who claim to love football and are attending the match. Hunting is different. The problem is not that rival supporters of hunts beat each other up, but that people who have nothing to do with the hunt come from outside to ruin its sport. Why should the hunt pay for that?
I am not sure that the wild mammal would agree that nobody gets beaten up.
The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex may hate football, but if he went to a football ground there would be no violence because there would be no room for anyone else. He said that the police have to be present to keep two rival factions of hooligans apart. Hunts also attract two factions—whether we like it or not—which is why they require a police presence.
Hunting imposes another kind of burden on the police. When I spoke in the Committee of the whole House, I asked about the civil liberties of people in rural areas who neither welcome nor want a hunt in their area, but have to put up with it. I cited the example of such a hunt in Woodham Walter in Essex and quoted press comments about the libertarian aspect. The hunt also involved a policing aspect, which I did not mention because it was not relevant to my point. However, I shall do so now.
When the hunt went through Woodham Walter, Essex police were in Howe Green, which was the wrong location. The police confirmed that they had been informed that the hunt was due in Howe Green and that officers had been sent to monitor any possible disturbances. Inspector Andy Loveridge said:
The officers were waiting and when no-one turned up they made enquiries and were told no they are not meeting here, they are meeting in Woodham Walter.
Whatever one's views on policing priorities, it is clearly a waste of the police's time and resources to be present where there is no hunt because it has moved without informing them. If hunts shift around on an ad hoc basis, such waste will continue.
As a matter of interest, a helpful document provided by the hon. Member for Lewes states that Essex spends £117,625 a year on policing—clearly not very effectively.
I find the hon. Gentleman's remarks confusing. Does he accept that hunts do not need to be policed unless they are threatened with disruption? Hunts do not disrupt themselves. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said, hunt supporters do not invade other hunts to disturb their activities. It is hunt saboteurs—those who violently disapprove of hunting—who require the police to be present to protect the hunt's lawful activities under current law. The police are there to separate the aggressive saboteurs from those who wish to take part in those lawful activities. Is not that so?
I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. There would be no need to police football matches if football supporters did not fall out with each other. There would be no need to police anywhere if people did not break the law. The only certainty is that if hunting were not legal, most people would obey the law and the police could then move on to what I think everyone in the Committee would agree were greater priorities.
Mr. Öpik rose—
The hon. Gentleman's only friend here.
We tried to tackle the problem of inconvenience to the police in schedule 2 by requiring every hunt to declare where it was going and by making it an offence not to do so. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be easier to police an environment where hunts are regulated and when it is known where they are going? Any offence committed would be seen immediately. Inspectors could help the rural police to cover the entire area for which they are responsible.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not persuaded by the middle way that he advances. Licensing a hunt in order that it may be held at a particular place, time or whatever would be better than the current system. A hunt may be advertised, but then shifted at the last minute, leading to hunt havoc somewhere else, with no police support. I agree that such licensing would be an improvement on the present position. However, for reasons that I shall come to, I believe that banning hunting entirely would move the matter on a step further.
For the first time, I have been slightly persuaded by the middle way. Before the hon. Gentleman gets too excited, I must tell him that I will not be going the whole hog. Thanks to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, I have realised that the proposal is a back-door method of introducing dog licensing. As a supporter of the RSPCA on this issue, that is perhaps the one key point to consider. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has been campaigning for many months, but he missed that good campaigning trick before the vote in the Chamber last week. I do not agree that his proposal is as persuasive as a full ban.
We have heard much about the document from ACPO and the hope of the hon. Member for Lidington that all chief police officers had an input, as opposed to the relatively few involved in the sub-committee. From my experience as chairman of a police authority, that may be a hope rather than a reality. I would not say this if the chief constable during my time on the police authority had not retired, but he very much supported banning hunting with dogs.
I have just been informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester that I have been referring to the constituency of the hon. Member for Aylesbury by the hon. Gentleman's name. I apologise, but I am sure that Hansard will put it right.
My chief constable believed that hunting with dogs should be banned and that such a ban would lead to a decrease in the use of police and resources. I should be interested to know whether the list of the hon. Member for Lewes includes the cost of policing hunts in Humberside. I do not have the figures, but I understand that not all police authorities have replied to requests.
The Humberside police authority has replied, and the figure quoted was £16,000. More than half the authorities said that they did not police hunts or keep separate records.
I am grateful for those two helpful interventions. First, the hundreds of thousands of pounds that we know is being spent on policing hunts is well below the true figure and, secondly, as I know from experience, £16,000 is nowhere near the true cost in Humberside. I guess that much of the figure is the opportunity cost. In other words, police officers are at hunts when they could have been doing something else. It is my guess—I am trying to defend my chief constable—that the £16,000 may simply be the additional cost. Let us hope that, if and when the Bill becomes law, police officers will be able to carry out other duties.
Whether ACPO supports a middle way may not be unrelated to the fact that the Home Secretary believes that that approach is right; we all like to keep in with the boss. Of course I am supporting the ban because that is what my boss wants. I am sure that the issue will have been discussed in ACPO and that some of its members have a different view. The question is whether, if there is a ban, the £500,000 that the police are currently spending would still need to be spent on civil disobedience related to hunting. Again we return to my original point that it depends whether people continue to hunt, keep dogs and so on. It is difficult to know precisely whether they will; we are trying to apply foresight to the implications when we all know that the only exact science is hindsight. However, there are some comparisons that can help us form a view of how the matter might be handled in future.
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the money already being spent on defending legal and legitimate hunting from saboteurs as if that money will not need to be spent in future and could be used if necessary to deal with any illegal hunting. He leaves out of that account the fact that some of those who have hitherto attacked hunts will undoubtedly turn their attention to the next country sport that they wish to see abolished. Whether that is fishing, shooting or anything else, sabotage tactics will be applied by some of those who are committed to the activity and police resources will have to be switched accordingly.
I do not seek an argument with the right hon. Gentleman, who is a fellow tenor in the parliamentary choir. I have realised that, with the hon. Member for Aylesbury, the Committee has three tenors—perhaps we should make a CD.
The right hon. Gentleman is applying foresight in the event of a ban, as are we all. That is difficult; I would not share his certainty. He is saying that whatever law we pass—whether about hunting with dogs, animal welfare or anything else—will have an impact on the work of the police and create other challenges. Everyone must agree with him, because that happens all the time, but I was not saying that police expenditure on hunts would not have to be spent elsewhere.
I shall now try to explain what I think might happen, and why the Committee should reject the amendments. What certainty is there on which all members of Committee agree? It is that the present legal activity of hunting with dogs places a burden on the police. Nobody will argue with that. For whatever reason, it costs hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there has also been the need to police Countryside Alliance marches? Has he any estimates of how much such so-called peaceful protest cost? Does he agree that, with closed circuit television at football matches, far fewer policemen are needed because they can see what is happening in the surrounding areas? I know that at Norwich City—
I agree with my hon. Friend up to a point. He makes the serious point that policing costs for professional sports such as football and rugby, which, admittedly, are stadium sports, have been reduced through the use of new technologies. There is a cost to a Countryside Alliance march, as there is to any demonstration, but that is a cost of democracy. We have all been on marches which, if of sufficient size, had a police presence. People who arrange marches take some responsibility for organising an event that will divert the police from other duties. In a democracy, with free speech, people should have the right to march and make their point as vociferously as they feel appropriate.
To return to the point that I was making before I took that intervention, what do we know about policing costs and hunting? We know that the currently legal activity of hunting with dogs has a cost. It has a cost in cash terms to police authorities, which is many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and it affects police resources, because policemen are at hunts when they could be elsewhere. There is also my earlier example of policing hunts that move around on an ad hoc basis. All those costs are inarguable.
If the right hon. Gentleman is making the case that where there are few hunts there is minimal police activity and no disruption, he is walking down the road towards a full ban, which is the only certain way to reduce costs.
We know that hunting events—we are discussing not only foxhunting, but hare coursing and hare, deer and mink hunting—attract disruption. That is an uncontroversial point that no member of the Committee would dispute. There may be a part of the country where hunting is limited and does not impact on the police, but that does not detract from the argument that across Britain many hundreds of thousands of pounds—we also know that that figure is an underestimate—are subtracted from police resources as a result of hunting with dogs. That will continue unless hunting is banned.
That is a totally specious argument. It is as useful as saying that because police must devote time to catching burglars, the citizen should be prohibited from owning a house. Hunting is currently lawful: those people who disrupt hunts cause the requirement for the police. The expense is to prevent illegal activity by hunt saboteurs. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has already made that point; either the hon. Gentleman is deaf or he cannot understand a simple point.
Oh, it is Mr. Nasty again. I served on the Standing Committee considering the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, where I felt that the better the points we made, the nastier and more personal the right hon. Gentleman became. I am pleased to see that that characteristic has not changed, because it is a useful barometer of our progress.
No doubt I played a role in that. If there is a specious argument kicking around the Room, it is that made by those who say on one hand, ``If hunting with dogs is banned, we shall shoot all the dogs,'' but on the other, ``There will be tremendous implications for the police, because we shall hunt illegally.'' Although not all Opposition members of the Committee adhere to such an argument, many do.
On the need to police hunts and protests, does my hon. Friend agree that hare coursing would be excluded? To my knowledge, the only arrests ever made at Altcar Downholland involved coursing supporters, who were usually drunk, always abusive and sometimes violent. A few years ago in my constituency, the coursing fraternity stabbed to death a young man in the Scarisbrick Arms. The event has to be policed because of the violence of those who support it. The demonstrators are kept hundreds of yards away, on a public road. They shout and make a lot of noise, but as far as I am aware, they have never behaved violently or committed any offence.
Wherever crimes are committed, it is the police's job to deal with them, and we should condemn crime regardless of which side of the argument commits it. When Robert Mead of the Maldon and Burnham Standard wrote his article on the Woodham Walter hunt—which, I remind members of the Committee, was supposed to take place at Howe Green—I doubt whether he realised that it would be discussed in Parliament three times. According to the article, the hunt refused to talk to the villagers, even though they made it clear that they did not want a hunt in their village. It subsequently emerged that the police had not been informed that the hunt was in fact to take place in a different village. In discussing the hunt's aftermath, the article states:
A 51-year-old woman has been reported for dangerous driving after an incident at the hunt. A man from Southend, who was not involved with the hunt, also later reported that he was assaulted by a huntsman.
Unfortunately, there are those on both sides of the argument who let their emotions get out of control. As a result, the police have to get involved and many hundreds of thousands of pounds of police resources are spent each year on policing hunts.
My hon. Friend will have heard that policing hunts in Essex costs some £117,000. Is he arguing that, if hunting were banned, the money could be spent on better resources for police throughout Essex? That would certainly benefit my constituents.
What is absolutely certain is that money allocated to any police authority will be spent on dealing with crime and civil disobedience wherever it appears. Inevitably, if the hundreds of thousands of pounds that are being spent are saved, they will be spent elsewhere.
I want to conclude my remarks—[Interruption.] I am a populist at heart. I want to conclude by discussing the difference between what we now know and what may happen as a result. There is no question but that hunting with dogs places a burden on the police—no one will argue against that. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire said, the fact that an event is sometimes legal and sometimes illegal also creates problems for the police. How can the police be expected to know whether the event to which they are called is legal or illegal? Either they do not bother to turn up because it might prove entirely legal, or they put resources into policing it, only to discover that it is bona fide. That is the central flaw in the middle-way argument. Allowing hunting through licence only will prove more confusing and expensive for the police than a straightforward ban.
The hon. Gentleman will remember that the police are fairly sympathetic to the Middle Way Group's proposed system of inspectors, in part because the inspectors—although they would have nothing to do with the police, and assuming that they were doing their job well—would be able to tip off the police about particular offences and breaches of licence.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but I refer him to that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire. The assumption is that, through licensing, when activity is reported in place X, it will be easy, quick and efficient for the police to have access to the database, make a rapid decision and then deal with it. Given the pressures on the police, that is not likely to happen. Licensing may make matters even worse than they are now.
There is also a tendency, of which my hon. Friend will be aware, for the pursued animal to wander a considerable distance from where the activity was scheduled. The police would then have to assess whether this was the hunt that was to take place in, say, Crowle, that has now moved to Tibberton, or whether it was illegal activity in Tibberton that needed to be dealt with.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester is right. In my speech to the Committee of the Whole House I pointed out that one cannot license the activities of a pack of dogs. That is not possible—they will follow their live quarry. We all know of many events where hunts have trespassed because they are following animals that are following another wild animal. That is why they sometimes end up on railway tracks and roads.
Does my hon. Friend agree that whatever the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said, the middle way would not deal with issues such as that quoted to me by a clergyman living in my constituency. He has lived in several rural areas throughout the United Kingdom. He writes of an instance where
a misbehaving horse kicked a hole in my parked car. When I went out to remonstrate, the rider gave me a mouthful of abuse and rode off saying ``Sue me, if you can find out who I am.''.
He goes on to point out that these were not locals whose jobs, it is alleged, will be threatened. They were mainly people from Manchester who like to pretend to be from the country.
My hon. Friend makes a telling point that I am sure members of the Committee will bear in mind. Let me complete this little contribution. What do we know? That hunting with dogs puts an enormous burden on the police and that licensing could make that more complex.
Hunting with dogs is, of course, banned in certain parts of the United Kingdom. One has not been able to hunt deer with dogs in Scotland since 1959. We must ask how much money the police in Scotland are spending as a result of that ban. The answer is a round figure—a large, single figure. It is zero. Nye Bevan said in the House that we do not have to look into a crystal when we can read the book. In this case, we read that the burden on the police is hunting with dogs. That would be worse with licensing. It would go with a ban and that is why we should reject the amendments.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole. I mean that as a compliment. His speaking style is similar to that of a former colleague, Mr. Michael Brown, who was also represented Brigg. He had a marvellous and charming ability to fill inordinate lengths of time. It is a great skill, for which my lawyer's training does not equip me. I shall try to be brief. [Interruption.] That was not meant to be a joke.
This is a famous Committee Room. We are sitting beneath a painting of the five Members fleeing. So often, debates in this Room have been about freedom and how much Parliament can impose its will on people. We are talking now about creating a new criminal offence. It is recognised that the criminal law, policing and every other aspect of the matter that we are discussing depend on consent. There is a great deal of consent in society for the criminal law that has built up over many centuries. Criminal law bans activities that society in general views with repugnance or distaste—usually, acts that involve dishonesty, violence against people or the misuse of drugs.
The Bill deals with a completely different matter. In the past, Governments who tried to criminalise an activity that was hitherto lawful and practised by large numbers of people often found the law extremely difficult to enforce. Criminal law itself was sometimes brought into disrepute as a result. The most famous example is the American Government's attempt to introduce prohibition in the 1920s, which caused them enormous problems and simply did not work. Although the Bill is of a different order of magnitude, it still means that 250,000 people are taking part in an activity that will be criminal.
Labour Members seem to be arguing that such people are not being criminalised because all they have to do is obey the law. However, there is no doubt that an activity that people have carried out until the present day is being criminalised. A criminal penalty is an extremely serious matter. I doubt that anyone in the Room—whether on the Benches, in the Public Gallery or anywhere else—has a criminal record. It is an extremely unpleasant thing to have around one's neck. It debars one from all sorts of jobs and positions and remains in force for five years under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
There appears to be a degree of confusion about what will happen as a result of the Bill. Some Labour Members take the view that there is no need to make a fuss: people will stop hunting, the problem will stop dead and there will be a nil policing cost. However, it is not as simple as that. In my view, the big lowland hunts—such as the Brocklesbury, which the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole mentioned, the Burton in my constituency and several in Leicestershire—will go. That is an expensive sport requiring a great deal of commitment and involving large businesses, which typically cost £50,000 to £100,000 a year to run—it will simply not be possible to sustain them. The people who participate are pillars of society. Those hunts will go and the hounds will have to be put down. Probably all that will remain is one drag hunt in every county.
To that extent, the argument advanced by Labour Members is right. There will not be enormous policing costs as a result of existing hunts going underground, with men—no longer dressed in scarlet coats, but perhaps in Barbours—on their large, expensive hunters following hounds across the open countryside of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire. That is not going to happen.
However, life is not as simple as that. Considerable policing costs may arise in hill and more marginal areas. There have already been reports that people in Cumbria feel that Parliament is imposing too many burdens on them—the right to roam and now this Bill. Many people in such areas who are closely tied to the countryside through their livelihoods will feel compelled to pursue hunting in some form. That could be extremely difficult to police. As we have heard, illegal coursing—which is especially prevalent in the northern part of Lincolnshire that I represent and in Humberside—continues to be a problem.
Throughout the countryside, enormous difficulties will result from this activity being pushed underground. It will not be the sport that it was in the past. It will involve two sorts of people. There will be those from the cities who believe that they have a right to conduct their sport, which involves some sort of illegal coursing. We can all deprecate that as an unpleasant activity. Such people are often naturally violent and take pleasure in being cruel to animals. None of us would have any difficulty in rendering such activities illegal. However, we all know that it is virtually impossible for the police to control them.
Labour Members say that when the activity is made illegal throughout the countryside—when there is no Waterloo cup and coursing is, ipso facto, a criminal offence—it will be much easier to police it. I do not believe that. The police have a problem policing illegal coursing not because it is legal in some respects and illegal in others, but because of the nature of the countryside. The times of the day when such activities are carried out and the enormous spaces involved are important factors. Those are the problems with policing large rural areas and they are different from the problems encountered in policing cities.
That is the issue that lies behind the paper from ACPO, which has been referred to so often. It has been phrased diplomatically. The police are naturally incredibly sensitive about not being seen to take sides, especially on party politics. On this issue, they are desperate not to take sides. We can all admire how they have tried to police difficult situations in hunts, when passions have run extremely high. We sense a cry about the difficulties involved from senior police officers who are attempting to police rural areas, where car crime, burglary and other problems are on the increase. They are worried about how to police hunts and the implication for police resources, about which we should be worried.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed made a good point. We must accept that many genuine people have strong views about animal welfare and feel passionately that hunting is wrong. They will achieve their way, and the big hunts will go. Those people will not be able to turn their attention to illegal coursing. They will be unable to find it or see it, but it will exist. They will not turn their attention to the farmer in Cumbria who is plagued by what he considers to be vermin and who uses his dogs in a way that will run foul of the Bill. I agree that the problem is not with the little old lady walking her dog along the downs at Eastbourne and the dog decides to chase a rabbit. The chief constable of Sussex will not prosecute her, but there is a problem with farmers in the more marginal areas who may use their dogs to hunt. They will not be part of an organised hunt, but they may believe that it is a lawful and legitimate activity. It may not be lawful under this Bill, but they will believe it to be so.
May not another foreseeable, but perhaps unappreciated, consequence of the ban be that, to control and disperse the foxes that will take their flocks, hill farmers will resort to unlawful poisoning? That will have far greater animal welfare disbenefits that any amount of hunting—lawful or unlawful.
I do not want to go too far down that path, but we have pointed that out time and again in hunting debates. This is not primarily an animal welfare issue because farmers view foxes and hares as vermin and will try to control them in other ways. What we have said continually is that any sort of vermin control seriously compromises the welfare of foxes.
Essentially, this is not an animal welfare matter. Indeed, it will be grievously deleterious to animal welfare. Will my hon. Friend note the powerful and cogent representations made by the National Gamekeepers Organisation about the invidious position in which its members will find themselves when they control pests, should the Bill be enacted?
Yes. One must understand the view of the countryman. Frankly, people who dislike hunting think that it consists of a group of toffs dressed up in silly uniforms going out in the country to stand in a circle and watch a fox or hare be torn apart. That was originally the public's view, but one advantage of these debates is that their view is maturing. The majority of the public who live in cities do not like hunting, but they are increasingly concerned about the civil liberties aspects of the debate. Although they do not like the idea of hunting, they realise that there other opinions and they are increasingly uneasy about criminalising a large rural minority.
Many people who are against hunting do not realise that we are not discussing a small group of people who occasionally leave the city to pay a great deal of money for the sport of riding on an expensive hunter. We are discussing a large group of people who live and work in the countryside and who view hunting as a necessary and legitimate activity to disperse and control vermin. Criminalising those people would be a serious step.
What is the alternative? I accept that Parliament has decided that it wants to proceed with the Bill, but we could examine the ideas proposed my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. Labour Members have argued that if one makes hunting a civil rather than criminal offence, people would not take notice, which is a view that I do not accept. If hunting were a civil offence, one could not maintain large hunts such as those in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, because it would not be economically viable. If the police could impose large fines for hunting, which is an obvious activity that is easily policed, it would become impossible.
In the past, Governments have often resorted to fines when they have not liked, for example, a religious minority. Persecuting a religious minority was obviously an appalling thing to do, but, nevertheless, it happened. In previous centuries, Governments said, ``We shall not criminalise these people directly. Instead, we shall impose civil fines on them, if they do not turn up to the right local church. They will not commit a criminal offence, because we realise that some of them feel strongly about this. We shall fine them for not turning up.'' Fines have been used—quite wrongly—by previous Governments to control activities that were difficult to police because they were carried out by large minorities. I caution the Committee not to dismiss my hon. Friend's argument, because fines would be effective.
We must consider what the Bill is about. If we were discussing a Bill that banned people with—I hate to use the phrase ``mens rea''—mischief in their minds, who went out to cause suffering to animals, we would all accept that that should be a criminal offence, but the Bill is not framed like that. In an earlier intervention, the Minister said that it would be easy to police because there must be criminal intent, but one must examine the face of the Bill. Schedule 3(1) states:
A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog.
As argued in an earlier intervention, first, there is no requirement for unnecessary suffering to be caused. Secondly, there is no requirement to show intention to cause unnecessary suffering. Thirdly, there is no requirement to show that the hunting was deliberate. In that sense, it is difficult to prove, difficult to police and therefore wrong to make it a criminal offence.
I draw my hon. Friend's attention to paragraph 21, which defines what hunting a wild mammal means.The schedule contains a definition that refers to hunting a wild mammal where
a person engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal.
Not only does that phrase appear to be insufficiently defined, but it is prefaced in paragraph 21 by the words:
A reference to a person hunting a wild mammal with a dog includes, in particular, any case where-- he is engaging or participating in the pursuit. Therefore, paragraph 21(a) is used to illustrate a general principle, but that general principle remains vague in the Bill.
My hon. Friend is right. The more one looks at that paragraph, the more one realises that it is opaque and may be difficult for the courts to interpret.
Large numbers of people may be brought into magistrates courts. There was talk earlier of the exception of flushing--using dogs to flush out game. We must remember that we are talking about a rural situation—the big hunts have gone because hunting on that scale is easy to prove--that is difficult to control and where the population is widely dispersed. All sorts of farmers and game keepers who engage in rural activities and use dogs in various ways will now be dragged into magistrates courts. Although they have clerks to advise them, magistrates courts do not claim to be the High Court. They will try to interpret what my hon. Friend and I consider to be a difficult statutory point.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the position is made worse by paragraphs 7 to 12, in which the burden of proof is placed firmly on the defendant to get himself out of this vague criminal offence?
I hope that we can return to that. Many of us who are concerned about civil liberties are worried about the reversal of the burden of proof. We are dealing with a subject that people find difficult to accept in their own minds. I know that Parliament has a certain view. It believes that hunting with dogs is wrong, but many people who live in country areas may have some difficulty with that. Now, that the burden of proof is being reversed. The traditional offences that Parliament has criminalised are fairly clear. If a person breaks into someone's home and takes things, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that he committed that offence, but he is innocent until proved guilty. For hunting, an activity that is far more difficult to control and police—and, indeed, to understand—which we know huge numbers of people do not accept in the first place, the burden of proof is reversed.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the definition is reasonable as long as one does not find oneself in court dealing with endless test cases? More to the point, although he may be right, we need a more specific definition if we are to make prohibition enforceable and workable. This definition may be as far as we can go, so there is a limit to the extent to which the law can be helped by definition. We may end up simply having endless court cases as people keep bringing test cases to court.
I may have insufficient skill to understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. We are in a Committee, where we are seriously trying to create good law. Surely it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Parliament can create enforceable and understandable legislation that does not go against its traditional view that the state must prove its case. It is not for the individual to prove his innocence; it is for the state to prove its case. If Parliament is concerned not with legitimate countrymen carrying out legitimate vermin control but with people who use it as a sport--I understand that that is its position--surely it can frame legislation in such a way that it bans an activity that is a sport, but does not put the countryman, the gamekeeper or my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex in the dock in the local magistrates court, where he could get a criminal conviction.
I apologise. I expressed myself badly. In simple terms, I was trying to say that we felt that that definition was probably workable in a regulatory environment. Now I am concerned that that might not be a sufficiently well defined definition of a ban.
The hon. Gentleman is a fair person, who thinks deeply about this subject. He has clearly made an honest attempt to find a middle way, if I dare use that phrase--I know that it is not accepted as a middle way. If he thought that, in its original form, the Bill could work, but he now has doubts about that--
That is worrying.
I am concerned about the imposition of a criminal offence.
It being One o'clock, the Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.