Schedule 3 - Hunting with dogs: prohibition

Part of Hunting Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 25th January 2001.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Liberal Democrat, Berwick-upon-Tweed 11:00 am, 25th January 2001

I heard that example raised and, when I got back to my office, I found a copy of the same letter waiting on my desk. The hon. Gentleman was quicker then me to read his mail that day.

Certainly in my constituency, many small businesses are involved in activities such as pest control. It is a long-established practice; the mole catcher is a well known feature of the countryside. In other areas of pest control, small businesses employ people to control pests. They do not deserve to have to live under the constant fear of prosecution from badly drafted law or legislation which, if unamended, will impinge on their legitimate activities, to which dogs are central. We must remember that such people work with animals all the time and that their best friend and constant working companion is one or more dogs, whose breed and characteristics are crucial to the work.

Many of those activities have been supported and encouraged by Governments over the years. I remember when the Government supported rabbit clearance societies in order to deal with the constant problem of rabbits in the countryside. That assistance is no longer available. Nobody will ever exterminate rabbits from the countryside or would want to do so, but the countryside cannot sustain the rabbit population that arises if there is no control. The rabbit population must be controlled, and dogs are one means of achieving that.

Squirrels have been introduced into the proceedings slightly irrelevantly. I do not know of anybody who would attempt to hunt squirrels with dogs. Not many dogs have the squirrel's tree-climbing capacity. My constituency, alas, has become one of the battlegrounds between the red and the grey squirrels. In my early days as a Member of Parliament, I never saw a grey squirrel in my constituency—only red ones. I now see both, but I point out to the hon. Member for West Ham that I have never seen the two species in the same tree at the same time. We are seeking to address the problem by selective feeding devices, using feeders that the red squirrel can use but the grey squirrel cannot. That is one delicate issue of countryside management. The Bill probably has relatively little bearing on it, as dogs are not used, but it illustrates the difficulty and delicacy of such work, and to that extent it is relevant to consideration of the use of dogs.

I welcome the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Aylesbury because they would provide a broader exemption. Without them, the Bill—I do not believe that it will be enacted—would cast a shadow and pose a threat to many people engaged in legitimate work in the countryside.