I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 2, in page 19, line 28, after `mammal', insert `other than a rabbit'.
No. 3, in page 19, line 28, after `mammal', insert `other than a mink'.
No. 41, in page 19, line 28, after `mammal', insert
`other than one of a species designated in paragraph 2'.
No. 42, in page 19, line 28, at end insert—
`2.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order designate species of wild animal to which paragraph 1 does not apply.
(2) An order under this paragraph
(a) shall be made by statutory instrument, and
(b) shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by each House of Parliament.'.
As it is quite warm in the Room, gentlemen may remove their jackets if they so wish. For the comfort of the Committee, I am proposing to suspend the sitting for approximately 15 minutes at 4 o'clock or thereabouts because it appears that we have a long afternoon and early evening ahead of us.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I would like to continue with the point that I had begun to put to him before we adjourned. As I understand it, he was saying that there were alternative methods for culling vermin and foxes. I was drawing his attention to some remarks made last Wednesday by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) last Wednesday. My hon. Friend said:
Last weekend, I visited the members of one of the gun packs in the area above Oswestry. They kill 250 foxes a season and they are skilled people. They use shotguns with BB shot, but only 20 per cent. of the foxes that they kill are killed outright with the first shot; the rest have to pursued by hounds. Therefore, the evidence that I have given shows that lamping and shooting are certainly not less cruel than hunting.
I accept as bona fide the desire of the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) to dispose of foxes in the least cruel way. However, from the evidence of my hon. Friend, shooting is not necessarily less cruel than hunting with hounds.
I took the opportunity to read the speech of the hon. Member for North Shropshire. It completely ruined my lunch. On the Burns report recommendation that lamping could be the most effective method for disposing of foxes, he said:
Obviously, a marksman—I have yet to meet a marksman in the country, although I have lived there all my life—in broad daylight, with a rifle, in good weather conditions, would probably kill a fox outright.—[Official Report, 17 January 2001; Vol. 631, c. 429.]
He qualifies his statement, saying that weather conditions have to be good for shooting to be an effective method.
I do not just dismiss what the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is saying about the alternative methods. Clearly, shooting, poisoning and trapping are all fallible methods in particular circumstances. They are bound to be, and I will come to that directly.
I assume that my hon. Friend is arguing that there is a difference between lamping going wrong accidentally and inflicting pain, and the intentional and cruel infliction of pain for the purposes of entertainment.
I am coming to that. It is important, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary thinks in that way. Of course, the intention of any of the relevant activities is important and that is enshrined in the Bill.
A Labour party member told me at lunch time that he goes lamping and uses a .243 rifle, which is the sort that killed Kennedy. He questioned whether we really wanted people with such high-powered rifles going about the countryside so that foxes can be killed cleanly.
Apparently, my hon. Friend's acquaintance is already doing that, which somewhat dilutes her argument.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) led us into a discussion of alternative methods that I understood him to argue were unsatisfactory in various ways. It is true that alternatives to hunting with dogs are explicitly and implicitly allowed for by the Bill. The arguments against those methods centre on their efficiency. There are many different views on the topic. In my part of the world, a large rural area, there is no hunt, but there are foxes. They do not pose a serious problem and are kept under control by farmers. By and large, they are shot. I hear occasional complaints; not long ago, my secretary's cat was eaten, she maintains, by a fox. However, by and large, there is not a problem and shooting is obviously reasonably effective in the area.
Whatever the argument about the merits and demerits of different methods, alternatives exist. They do not involve the killing of animals for sport or pleasure. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has pointed out that they are methods of pest control. My previous argument was that the exceptions that would be inserted into the first line of a fundamental provision of the Bill, if the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) were accepted, would create a loophole. They would give many people who wanted to continue hunting with dogs for sport a plausible way of converting a pest control episode into a sporting event that could well end in the killing of a mammal that was not exempted by the amendments.
I respect the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and his defence and detailed knowledge of the gamekeepers and pest controllers in his constituency. However, the ban on hunting with dogs has been clearly on the cards since the Labour manifesto of 1997. I do not underestimate the ingenuity of farmers, gamekeepers and others in adapting their methods to take account of a ban. Because of the unsatisfactory way in which the Government have pursued their manifesto commitment, those people have had considerably more time to think about how to adapt than some of us might have wished.
The timing of what we are doing now, and may still have to do, may provide them with more time. Who knows what ingenious methods they will come up with—acceptable and, no doubt, unacceptable—for pursuing their chosen activities? Perhaps it is too fanciful to imagine that, in 50 years, we will be passing a Bill to prevent hunting with packs of cats, but they will find other methods, and I hope that those will be acceptable.
I acknowledge that we are here to discuss a banning option; that was accepted earlier. However, why is it acceptable under the Bill to kill a rodent, but not a mink or rabbit, with dogs?
I do not think that killing a fox, hare, rabbit or mink with dogs is an efficient or effective method of keeping down those populations. I pray in aid the intervention by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) on the hon. Member for North Shropshire, who agreed with him. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
Is not my hon. Friend's reference to healthy mature foxes terribly important? Is it not the truth that foxhunters, on the whole, kill elderly and infirm foxes? If those animals were shot, there would be indiscriminate culling, including that of healthy and young beasts. —[Official Report, 17 January 2001; Vol. 361, c. 429.]
I understand what he is saying; in a sense, it supports Opposition Members' comments on the weaknesses of some alternative methods of keeping. He is saying that foxhunting, which is the most important matter for some, although not for me, is not effective in controlling robust populations of foxes, and that in fact, it is not even intended to do so. All that it does is pick up a few elderly and infirm animals, allowing the rest of the population—if it is a nuisance—to grow. We cannot have it both ways; hunting is either effective in keeping down a pest—I do not believe a fox to be a pest all the time, although it is in some circumstances—or it is totally ineffective, because it catches only the ones with three legs.
The hon. Gentleman may be under the misapprehension that the sole purpose of foxhunting is to kill foxes. Foxhunting is carried out not just to kill foxes where necessary, but to disperse the fox population. A dispersed fox population is less damaging to farming than a concentrated one. Of course part of the purpose of foxhunting is to kill foxes, but it is not the sole purpose.
That is not how I understand the fox population to operate. The fox is a territorial animal and expands its activities to suit the territory available. If the territory becomes empty of foxes, others move in from elsewhere. Indeed, part of the argument made by pro-hunters has been that foxes are almost a self-balancing population and that foxhunting is marginal to that. With urban foxes, of course, it is a different matter.
I very much respect my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) for her consistency, particularly on the issue of mink. Time and again in Parliament, she has pointed out the dangers of over-large mink populations, yet she desires, by supporting the amendments, to make mink hunting an exception to the overall ban. I remember her saying in a previous debate that mink could run like a fox, swim like a fish and climb like a squirrel—
I am sorry; climb like a monkey. That is rather less elegant. She presents, therefore, a picture of a mammal, with which, as I said, I am not personally familiar in my part of the world, that is very difficult to hunt with dogs. If pursued by dogs, they are pursued along waterways. They are mainly hunted in spring and summer, when other creatures inhabiting the same territory are busy breeding and flourishing and will be disturbed by the hunt.
They are disturbed by the mink, too. The mink is a solitary animal and has a territory of about a mile or so.
The report ``Managing British Mammals'', which was produced at the behest of Burns, points out that the different countryside interests want mink control for different reasons. The farmers believe that it is a predator of poultry and the fisheries believe that is a predator of fish; no doubt it is. Those with forestry interests, however, believe that no controls are needed.
My hon. Friend referred to contract 5, produced by the university of York at Heslington, on the management of the mink population. That tells us that there has been only one study on the effectiveness of hunting with dogs as a means of controlling mink. However, the study ran for five years. It revealed that two-thirds of the mink located by the hounds managed to escape, because they hid away in secure refuges—in rocks or under trees—where the dogs could not get at them. That demonstrates again that hunting mink with dogs is an ineffective method of control.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend; I had not seen that before. I know that when mink hide in banks, the banks are dug out and stripped and tremendous damage is done to the riverside. It is not an effective method, and alternatives must be looked at.
Is my hon. Friend aware that research now shows that where otter numbers have recovered because of a ban on hunting with dogs, they have re-claimed their natural aquatic territory and have moved the mink out, and that therefore mink numbers have fallen? That ban has been much more effective than hunting with dogs.
I have to tell my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham that it was otter hunting that first interested me in this issue. As a boy in the Lake district, I was horrified by the activity and participated in non-violent protests against it. At the time, it was argued that if otters were protected from the hunt, the next step would be—and so on and so on. That was in 1968; a long time ago.
Mink tend to disappear when otters are present, but they do not disappear into thin air. They go on to fresh territories and do even more damage. Mink hunts report sightings of otters, in order that the otters can be protected. Hunts protect the environment as well as get rid of the mink.
I am in danger of getting into a circular argument. We are likely to have more otters if the hunt does not keep charging up and down their territory ostensibly looking for something else. Otters might be a more effective alternative control than anything else we have had so far.
I want to underline my hon. Friend's point, which was missed by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. The academic study that I referred to earlier referred to the concern that hunting with dogs in areas where otters and mink co-exist will disturb the otters and prevent them from re-colonising areas where they are scarce. We have not hunted otters since 1975, and it is presence of the dogs that will cause the otters to flee from their natural habitat.
Does my hon. Friend agree that our hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Lyme is right to say that mink do not disappear into thin air? Nevertheless, paragraph 5.97 on page 102 of the Burns report states:
Following an initial rapid increase in the population, there is now evidence that mink numbers have reduced substantially in the last ten years. This seems to have coincided with a resurgence in the otter population.
That seems to underline the point made by my hon. Friend.
Displaced mink will move away, but the countryside is not full of homeless mink selling copies of The Big Issue. Research shows that their breeding regime has changed because they have moved out of their natural habitat. As a consequence, their numbers have fallen. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme went to the Library, the staff would be able to give her information on that.
Two thousand mink were released from a fur farm in Onneley, and they tramped all over my constituency, damaging wildlife, cats, ducks and everything else around. The endangered species charity Tusk Force warned that 94 per cent. of water vole nesting sites would have disappeared by 2000 due to habitat degeneration and predators. There can be academic theories, but people who study endangered species day after day have entirely different findings. The water vole is certainly an endangered species.
The water vole may be an endangered species, and I have no doubt that the average mink would relish as many water voles as it could get hold of. I have no time for the people who let the mink loose from that farm and on to the countryside, as I imagine that no Labour Member does. It was an appalling and stupid act, from all points of view. Of course, one reason for it was the existence of the mink farm; the animals had to be there to be let out in the first place. That is another reason why we should ban mink farming.
I have been led astray—it is not unusual—but I shall return to the report by Dr. Macdonald's group from Oxford university, which was used, if not commissioned, by Burns. I tried to paraphrase from memory what it said about mink and could not, so I shall clarify the matter. The report gives reasons from the various interest groups for the control of mink by one means or another. Farmers say that they predate poultry and game managers say that they predate game. Foresters say that there is no reason to control mink, but fisheries managers say that they predate fish. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said, conservationists say that they predate the water vole and wild birds. Either the groups concerned cannot make up their minds why the animal is a pest, or together they present a picture of an omnivorous animal that is infinitely adaptable, which suggests the difficulty of hunting it with dogs.
The amendments would render much of paragraph 8 redundant, which may be a good thing. It may be what the hon. Member for Aylesbury wants to do. Paragraph 8 contains nothing that would prevent an offence of ostensibly pursuing a rodent, rabbit or mink as a cover for killing another animal that is included in the Bill. Paragraph 1 seems to go much further towards doing so. Admittedly, it would be hard to imagine deer being included in that argument, but smaller mammals certainly are. The hon. Gentleman seeks to drive a coach and horses through the Bill with this and later amendments. For instance, amendment No. 49 converts a defence against such an offence into a permission. The amendments would result in a substantial recreation of the Bill.
I cannot speculate about the motives of the hon. Member for Aylesbury, although I agree that some later amendments would contradict what the House has agreed. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and others of us genuinely feel—even in the spirit of a ban on hunting with dogs—that some of the mammals listed in the amendments could justifiably be hunted with dogs if, for the reasons already stated, we allowed rodents to be hunted with dogs?
I can see that there might be justifiable reasons for hunting them, pursuing them or putting them down, but I do not agree that it would be justifiable to hunt them with dogs for pleasure or sport and not simply for the control of pests.
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that regardless of whether it is immoral, it is all right to control such pests as long as the people doing it do not enjoy themselves? That is what many of us suspect. It seems that opposition to hunting is not about animal welfare but about the motives of those doing it.
They may well enjoy the pest control aspect—who knows?—but that is not their primary purpose. Their purpose is to get rid of a pest. It is human nature to enjoy being a good shot, or to practise it and get better; the primary purpose of pursuing a mammal for the pleasure of killing it leads us to legislate. The purpose of the Bill is to prevent the unnecessary cruelty that takes place when destroying animals. If it is necessary to destroy pests, we do it. I hope that it is done in the most efficient and least cruel manner. The amendments would create anomalies that might render the Bill impossible to implement. I hope that my hon. Friends will resist them.
I ask the hon. Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) whether she can help us. Yesterday, in exchanges with the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), there seemed to be some confusion about the status of Mr. Sirl of the League Against of Cruel Sports, who was described in the Western Daily Press as the west country operations executive. The hon. Member for West Ham suggested that simply because that league official was quoted in the newspaper and was described by the office that he holds did not necessarily represent the policy or views of the league itself. From 1983 to 1995, the hon. Member for Basildon was employed by the League Against Cruel Sports as its political and public relations officer.
I am sure that she was extremely good at it. She may want to speak later—she may want to intervene now—to explain whether Mr. Sirl's remarks as west country officer for the League Against Cruel Sports are his views only or the views also of the league? Is he acting off his own bat, or is he demonstrating his employer's policy to the newspaper's readers?
My second point, which concerns prosecutions, again relates to an intervention involving the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and the hon. Member for West Ham. The hon. Gentleman said—I might be paraphrasing—that the Crown Prosecution Service and the police will not mount silly, frivolous or strange prosecutions. However, as I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman, cases will be investigated and prosecuted by individuals and organisations other than the police and the CPS. As I understand it, nothing in the Bill will prevent private prosecution—although the Minister might tell me otherwise.
Moreover, in pursuing their campaigns and political agendas, individuals—legitimately and entirely within the law—might want to test and extend the legislation's boundaries as far as they can. The Bill will allow the courts to restrict the scope of the offence, but that should be the function of Parliament. In any event, case law could develop in the higher courts only on appeal from magistrates. That often happens after a conviction, when the dissatisfied but convicted defendant wishes to take the matter to appeal. For someone who has paid a hefty fine and had his dog taken away and possibly destroyed, it will be little consolation to learn months or even years later—perhaps from the divisional court, the House of Lords or even the European Court of Human Rights—that no offence was committed after all.
It might be instructive to remind the Committee of the words of the now unfortunately deceased Lord Reid in the case of Warner v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner. They are reported in the second volume of the all-England report for 1968, which the Under-Secretary doubtless keeps by this bedside. Lord Reid states:
I dissent emphatically from the view that Parliament can be supposed to have been of the opinion that it could be left to the discretion of the police not to prosecute, or that if there was a prosecution justice would only be served by a nominal penalty being imposed.
There is an identifiable problem. Despite the caution of the hon. Member for West Ham, individuals or organisations will want to push ahead with cases that are, as it were, on the margin, with a view to pursuing their campaigns and political agendas. There is very little that we can do to stop that.
A further point relates to paragraph 1 and the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, which I support. Under paragraphs 7 to 12, the Bill provides for exceptions; my hon. Friend's amendments merely add to them. I hope that all members of the Committee will understand that, as a lawyer, I find it difficult to cope with a Bill that accurately and precisely defines the offence in a negative sense only. One has committed an offence unless one proves otherwise, according to the terms of the schedule. That is the wrong way to draft a criminal law that could lead to a heavy fine of up to £5,000, confiscation of one's vehicle and confiscation—and possibly destruction—of one's dog. I want to draw the Committee's attention to the problems caused by the reversal of the burden of proof.
I am following the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument with care, but his suggestion that such an approach to the criminal law needs some expansion. Every criminal law that immediately comes to mind, from that on murder downwards, starts with a basic prohibition and a number of defences. Why does he think that the approach that we use throughout the rest of our criminal law should suddenly not be appropriate in this Bill?
The Minister, no doubt unwittingly, is over-simplifying his point. For example, the Theft Act 1968 makes it an offence dishonestly to deprive permanently another of his property, but it is for the prosecution to prove each of the elements of that. It is an offence to assault another or to cause them grievous bodily harm, but it is for the prosecution to prove each of the elements of that offence.
There are occasions when the defendant is entitled to raise an issue that the prosecution then has to disprove. I am thinking, for example, of self-defence. If I assault the Minister, the CPS or those representing it will have to prove all of the elements of the assault. I, as the defendant, may wish to raise a defence—that is to say, self-defence—but I do not have to prove anything. I have merely to raise the issue and the evidential burden is that of the prosecution to disprove that what I did was not an over-reaction, but something beyond the realms of self-defence.
Under this Bill, the defence is woefully vaguely described. The offence can be understood only when one looks at the exemptions. Although I am prepared to support wholeheartedly the corrective measures that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury has introduced in this group of amendments, it none the less leaves us with a difficult problem, and one of which the courts are not fond: the reversal of the burden of proof.
I hesitate to cross swords with the hon. and learned Gentleman on his memory of the law, which I suspect, at least on the Theft Act 1968, may not be as good as it ought to be. As I remember it, section 1 states that it is theft dishonestly to appropriate property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other. It then sets out definitions, making it clear that there are certain circumstances in which a defence may be made where the definition is not proved. In other words, it sets out the basic offence, followed by a number of possible defences. That is the correct and common form that parliamentary draftsmen have followed up to now. The hon. and learned Gentleman has not made his case that the wrong approach to the criminal law has been taken in this Bill with the clarity that I would expect.
We could have a long discussion about the Theft Act. The Minister will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but as I recall it—and I confess that I have not looked at it since the autumn, when I last tried a case of dishonesty—the offence and its ingredients are fully and adequately set out and it is the job of the prosecution to prove each of the required elements. The defendant can say nothing, but if the prosecution has not made out its case either at half time or later, the judge can discharge the case—or the jury can do so at full time. That is not an exact analogy with schedule 3, which contains the simple statement
A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog, and the exceptions, under which the burden is placed fully on the defendant to prove certain things. That is quite different from the position under the Theft Act or under normal criminal law.
In a spirit of friendliness, as members of the Committee are members of the profession, I shall make a point against myself. Some statutes place a burden on the defendant to prove something. I am thinking particularly of the law relating to terrorism, under which, if a suspect is caught with an explosive device or bomb machinery on his person, in his car or in his possession, he must provide an instant explanation of what it is for to avoid the doors of the jail closing on him. However, that is a wholly exceptional set of circumstances and way up the scale of criminal activity.
We are dealing under this Bill with a summary offence court. With all the expertise at his disposal, the Under-Secretary may be able to find other Bills drafted in exactly the same way which will attest to the point that I am making. Such information may be arriving over his left shoulder even as I speak. We shall hear what he says in his winding-up speech. The offensive nature of the problem is, unfortunately, not met by the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, but clearly to be found in the Bill. I want to persuade the Committee that the Bill is flawed in that regard.
As I said a moment ago, the Bill provides for a range of exceptions to the general offence, which is set out in paragraph 1, but those exceptions are restrictive. As we have already discussed, they reverse the burden of proof, putting the onus on the defendant to show that his actions were consistent with the defences provided in paragraphs 7 to 11, rather than on the prosecution to show that they were not. It is a general principle of English law that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, and that it is for the prosecution to provide proof of guilt so that the court is sure of it. The effect of the reversal of the burden of proof is that a person could be convicted of an offence even if there were reasonable doubt that his actions fell within one of the exceptions.
I am interested in the hon. and learned Gentleman's point and I am beginning to see what he is getting at. Paragraph 8 on page 21 says:
It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1...to prove that—
the conduct and so on. I am a little worried about the words ``to prove'' in all the provisions.
It is the point. The words ``to prove'' occur right through paragraphs 7 to 11 and will completely change the balance of power during a criminal prosecution.
The burden of proof is not generally so reversed under the criminal law unless there is a good reason to do so. There is no reason for it to be amended in this way. It is particularly unfair given that the definition of the primary offence is so uncertain and vague. The European Court of Justice states:
The reverse of the burden of proof is simply not lawful, unless there is a necessity that drives the imposition of it.
I do not believe that any such necessity has been demonstrated. The reversal of the burden of proof and the consequent requirement for the defendant to prove that his actions fell within the exceptions will act as a disincentive for proper pest control, which would not be so if specific categories of animal were wholly excluded from the offence in paragraph 1. That brings us back to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury.
Order. I draw the hon. and learned Member's attention to the fact that later amendments may cover the ground that he is now covering. I advise him that he is bordering on pre-empting later debates.
I am aware of that, Mrs. Roe. However, the points that I was making were entirely relevant to the arguments that were advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, because amendment No. 1 affects not only paragraph 1, but subsequent paragraphs of the schedule.
The amendment would import an exception into paragraph 1, which states:
A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal.
The exception is ``other than a rodent''. Exceptions in other amendments in the group include ``other than a rabbit'' and ``other than a mink''.
Although paragraph 1 would have to be proved by the prosecutor, the exceptions of ``other than a rodent'' and those in the other amendments would have to be proved by the prosecution, too. That is in complete contradistinction to the position under paragraphs 7 to 11. We cannot shut our eyes to later paragraphs when they are so closely linked—as they must be—to paragraph 1. I do not wish to try your patience, Mrs. Roe, but I hope that you will let me develop my argument a little further. If you wish to be less lenient than you have been so far, I shall of course respect your decision.
Amendment No. 1 would ensure that people are not deterred from proper action to control rodents. The Home Office itself recognised the need to control rodents in a letter to the Countryside Alliance dated 30 November 2000, which says that rats are a health hazard and a pest and that dogs are an effective means of keeping numbers down. It points out that the Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 places an obligation on local authorities and occupiers of land to take steps to secure, as far as is practicable, that land is kept free from rats and mice, and that, as those obligations are absolute, the Home Office does not believe that there should be any limitation in respect of rodent hunting. That argument was advanced by the hon. Member for West Lancashire. Paragraph 1 does not currently mention the exception of rodents, but paragraph 8(1)(a) does. I repeat the point that I made to the hon. Gentleman: given that paragraph 8(1)(a) is as it is, surely no harm and much good will be gained by adding ``other than a rodent'' to paragraph 1.
Amendment No. 2 would allow rabbits to be excluded from the offence of hunting a wild mammal with a dog. The Bill provides for several exemptions and exceptions in relation to the flushing out of rabbits and the retrieval of those that have been shot. I suggest that those provisions are ill drafted. For example, paragraph 9 states:
It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that the conduct to which the charge relates consisted of retrieving a rabbit or hare which had been shot.
Paragraph 9 is headed ``Retrieval of game'', yet, under the Game Act 1831, rabbits are not game. The paragraph thus contains an inconsistency of definition in relation to paragraph 1. That may be nit-picking, but we may as well get it right.
If a rabbit is shot and injured and crawls away into thick cover or underground, the exception would allow the use of a terrier to retrieve it or a hound to pursue it. Although that is acceptable in terms of animal welfare, because it would relieve the creature's suffering, it is inconsistent with the rest of the Bill. The amendment would remove that inconsistency by excluding rabbits from the scope of the general offence under paragraph 1.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has spoken knowledgably about mink hunting. Therefore, it seems incumbent on those of us who know less about mink hunting to listen to her carefully. The Bill should not act as a disincentive for the control of mink, which, in its current form, it would be. Reference has been made to the Burns inquiry, and may I refer the Committee to paragraph 43 on page 13 of its report? It states:
Mink can cause localised damage to poultry, gamebirds, fishing and wildlife interests.
Paragraph 5.105 of the report states:
Mink can be very troublesome in the case of ground-nesting seabirds, especially in Scotland and on small islands. Their activities, including surplus killing, have been linked to almost complete breeding failure amongst some colonies of terns and gulls, including some rare species.
Paragraph 5.106 of the report states:
Mink have been held to be responsible for a major decline in water vole numbers.
The hon. Lady brought those points out effectively.
Given the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, I return to my concerns about the reversal of the burden of proof, which is an unjust and unnecessary way of creating criminal law. Although the Government support the Bill, I invite them to provide the Committee with good reasons for such a reversal. I have already suggested that placing the onus of proof on the defendant could lead to his conviction despite there being reasonable doubt about his guilt. He would have to prove his innocence to the civil standard, which is uncontroversial, but if the tribunal thought that he was exactly as likely to be innocent as guilty, he would be convicted, which would be wholly unfair and unjust. It could be argued, of course, that that works the other way round: if he were acquitted, there might be reasonable doubt about his innocence. However, I submit that that is entirely as it should be.
It is germane to argue that the exceptions to paragraph 1, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury seeks to amend, are, in reality, an attempt to define what the actual offence constitutes. The conduct that constitutes the offence, which part II inadequately attempts to define, is not only of a wholly different character in each paragraph, but differs from the conduct about which supporters of schedule 3 have complained. Significantly, clause 3 states:
Schedule 3 (which makes it an offence to hunt with dogs in certain circumstances).
Clause 3 does not state, ``Schedule 3 (which makes it an offence to hunt with dogs with certain exceptions).'' To my mind, there is a real difference between ``certain circumstances'' and ``certain exceptions''. Clause 3 effectively states that schedule 3 exhaustively defines the scope of the offence—the ``certain circumstances.'' However, those certain circumstances, which partially define the core of the offence, must be the exceptions specified in part II.
Specific consideration should be given, in establishing the burden of proof, to the structure of the offence and whether the defendant was required either to negative an ingredient of the offence or to establish a special defence or exception. As drafted, the Bill requires the defendant to negative an ingredient of the offence. As I said to the Under-Secretary, that is usually for the prosecution to prove.
Defences under paragraphs 7 to 11, which bind on paragraph 1, go to the ingredients of the core elements of the primary offence, such as self-defence, honesty, mistake, accident, lack of intent, lack of specific intent due to drink, automatism and consent of the alleged victim—all of which must usually be disproved by the prosecution. It is exceptionally draconian to put the burden of proof on the defence when paragraphs 1, 20 and 21 are not exhaustive and provide for no mental element. There are sound reasons of liberty and animal welfare for not reversing the burden of proof. I have mentioned the disincentive with respect to animal welfare in relation to paragraphs 7 to 11, which are inextricably linked to paragraph 1—and would be even as amended by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that if, despite the obviously unjust and perverse character of the Bill, it is nevertheless compatible with the European convention on human rights, that does not say much for the latter?
No, it does not. That is a point that I would have made later. I note that the Home Secretary has issued a section 91 statement for the Bill. Interestingly, at the relevant time, there were three options. Nevertheless, the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice and of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as our Court of Criminal Appeal in the case of Regina v. Lambert or Regina v. Ali, show a scrupulous attitude towards ensuring that justice is done in cases where the prosecution duty is to prove—
On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. I spoke as I did to the hon. and learned Gentleman because I thought that he had finished. It is difficult to hear him. I know that he has many good points for us to hear, but if he addresses the court as he does the Committee, I hope that I am never one of his clients.
I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) that the hon. Gentleman could not afford me, and I never disagree with the Whip. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman finds it difficult to hear. I always thought that it was the duty of anyone speaking in the Chamber or in Committee to address the Chair. It is a very big Room; perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to move further along. [Interruption.] I am being diverted on to matters beyond the scope of the Bill, namely the quality of Labour Members' hearing. I am sorry for them, but no doubt if they are interested in the arguments they will listen more carefully. I have almost reached the end of my remarks, so perhaps there will be no need for the hon. Gentleman to listen further.
There are sound reasons of liberty and animal welfare for not reversing the burden of proof in the context that we have been discussing. All the activities that are named as exceptions are either acceptable or desirable. They include protecting livestock and crops, the production of food, falconry, rodent control, retrieving wounded game, recapturing escaped animals and rescuing wounded animals to relieve suffering. Those are to be encouraged, rather than discouraged by reversing the burden of proof, leading people to fear that they might be convicted of a crime even though innocent.
I urge the Committee to treat the amendments as exceptions with a difference. At least they are exceptions that the prosecution would need to establish to get the case off the ground, in contrast to the exceptions to be found in later paragraphs, in which the burden of proof is placed firmly and unfairly on the accused.
The hon. Member for West Ham might like to know that I have finished speaking.
The arguments about reversing the burden of proof are interesting, Mrs. Roe, but I will take your strictures to heart, because I understand that there will be further opportunities to discuss those matters. I want to make just one point.
I understand that those who are promoting the Bill are primarily concerned about the hunting of foxes and hares for sport. They recognise the need for pest control, but their argument is that hunting foxes and hares with dogs is an ineffective and inefficient method of pest control. They argue that those who hunt are not primarily concerned with pest control, but with the enjoyment of a sport. The hon. Member for West Ham agrees. They also argue that because those people engage in a sport that causes unnecessary—or any—suffering, that sport should be banned.
To be fair to Labour Members, they recognise the need for pest control. The arguments to which we have been listening today are germane to that issue. Those who wish to ban hunting are still happy to recognise that in certain circumstances where people are engaged not in a sport but in genuine game control, the use of dogs—or hounds—may be necessary. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has just walked into the Room, so I must be careful to use the correct language. Apparently, there is complete unanimity that it is acceptable to use dogs in the control and pursuit of rats. Nobody pursues rats for sport. Dogs are considered necessary to deal with them.
Some people actually go ratting, and consider that to be a sport. I do not wish to get involved in an argument across the Room, or anywhere else, about what constitutes a pest, or whether a certain animal needs controlling, but people oppose the argument that hunting is justified on the ground that the fox is a pest because, logically, it will not bear examination. If those who hunt foxes genuinely consider them a pest, why are they introduced into some areas? Why is there is a close season on an animal that is considered a pest? It is nonsense to say that a creature is a pest if there is a close season on it. One does not have a close season on the laying down of mousetraps; one pursues mice in all seasons. That being so, it is logically inconsistent to argue that by hunting, one is eradicating a pest.
We do not have close seasons for the protection of the fox as a species, but for the protection of crops. In the countryside—especially in the area that I represent in Lincolnshire—farmers do not want people to move across their land beyond the late spring. I suspect that that is why the season closes in March. The hon. Member for West Ham must accept from a representative of a rural area that the close seasons in hunting were not devised by people who said to themselves, ``This is great sport, but we don't want to kill too many foxes. We'll stop hunting in March and give them a chance to regroup, so that we can hunt them again in November.''
That is an interesting point, which certainly has not been voiced in the House before. The last time that I asked a Conservative Member why there was a close season for foxhunting, the reason given was that it coincided with the fox's breeding cycle. Frankly, the last thing that the hunts want is the complete elimination of the fox.
We have a close season because it coincides with the breeding season. The reason for a close season with hunting is that farmers—huntsmen rely entirely on the good will of farmers, particularly in arable areas—do not want hunt horses trampling over their crops in early summer. I could continue this argument but it is not germane to the amendments. We can return to that point later.
The hon. Gentleman must recognise the force of the argument at least to this extent: for some of us, hunting is not about total extermination, but control.
I do not want to go too far down this line but one of the arguments in favour of hunting is that once it is abolished, any disincentive that farmers may have to exterminate the fox population on their land is removed. In that sense, the hon. Member for West Ham may have a point; I have to accept that. I have not been afraid to make the point that one reason why we have such a healthy fox population is that farmers recognise the value of the hunt. It may be a social value, but the hunt is of value to local society in other ways. When it is known that the hunt is coming, farmers deliberately leave some foxes on the land. I fully accept that. It is almost in the interest of the fox that the hunt is around. However, these are rather circular arguments.
If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that foxhunting is a form of pest control rather than a sport, will he explain why foxes had to be imported into the Isle of Wight by the hunt for them to be hunted?
I am not familiar with the Isle of Wight and do not represent it. No doubt it was possible in the past, and against all the rules of the huntmasters, that there were some wrong practices. Even now, foxes may be deliberately moved around for sport. That may happen, but it is against the rules. When I was last shooting in my own constituency, the local farmer said that he had seen four foxes the previous Saturday, but that since the hunt would be coming on 23 February he would leave them there.
The hon. Member for West Ham probably thinks that that is a shocking remark and that the farmer should have gone out straight away and shot them because they were causing depredations to his gamebirds. The farmer, however, left them on the land. I am afraid that those who oppose hunting must accept that, in the real world, farmers, for whatever reason, try to keep a genuine balance in the countryside. One incentive for them to do so is the existence of sport.
I apologise for missing what I am sure was a splendid beginning to my hon. Friend's speech. Does he accept that it has always been true that, wherever there are hunts, foxes are to be found? The conservation side of hunting is, for those who hunt, important. I do not think that the hon. Member for West Ham finds that shocking. As long as there are hunts and hunting, where hunts put in hounds to find a fox they will generally find one.
My hon. Friend made an important point about the conservation element as a part of the whole countryside. When otter hunting stopped, there was an immediate decline in the number of otters. I am pleased to say that their number has now built up once more. While I am not suggesting that otter hunting should start again, it is a fact that when it went on there were always otters. They play an important role in the countryside. Anyone who thinks that the countryside will be the same as it is now after foxhunting is finished is gravely deluding himself.
I am grateful for that intervention. One reason why I support the continued existence of foxhunting is that I believe that in a hard, and perhaps bad, world, it provides an incentive for farmers, landowners and others to preserve a healthy and balanced fox population. Our countryside has been shaped and is so beautiful for the same reason. The copses and woodlands that we see are not planted by landowners and farmers because they care about the environment, although they do. Their primary impulse is to preserve cover for game. Although many people oppose shooting and hunting for perfectly good reasons, they must accept that the abolition of such traditional practices may upset the balance of the countryside and remove the incentives for farmers, gamekeepers and others to preserve wildlife.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that people probably have different reasons for going foxhunting, but that there are unquestionably examples where the primary purpose is pest control, such as in uplands Wales and mid-Wales, as Lord Burns said in his inquiry? People accept that fox numbers need to be controlled, so the question is not whether we kill foxes, but how. We should tackle the same question with reference to other mammals covered by the amendment.
Order. I remind the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) that he is speaking to amendments relating to rodents, rabbits and mink, but we seem to be straying back into the foxhunting argument.
I agree and apologise, Mrs. Roe. I was led astray on a false scent laid by the hon. Member for West Ham. I shall now return to the point. I was trying to say earlier that everyone accepts that some sort of pest control is necessary—especially for rats—using perhaps dogs or hounds. Why is that not accepted for rabbits?
I am longing to be led astray by the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley), so perhaps I can help my hon. Friend reply to her. Altcar is in the constituency of the hon. Member for West Lancashire, who will know, whether he approves or not, that there will always be a vigorous and healthy population of hares where coursing takes place. That is the case all over the country. Where there is official participatory sport in any quarry species, there will always be a healthy supply of the quarry. If there were not, the Waterloo cup could not take place at Altcar. There are keepers there whose job it is to maintain a healthy hare population. At Altcar, I imagine that they also keep down the fox population.
I have served for a long time with the hon. Member for Stourbridge on the Select Committee on Social Security, and it is a great pleasure to be led astray by her. It has not happened before, but it is very pleasurable. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) has replied to her.
I will try for the third time to get back to the central argument. We all accept that we need to use dogs for the control of rats, so why not use them for rabbits? The argument against it seems to be that adduced by the hon. Member for West Lancashire—that we seek to create a loophole in the law. If we allow people to flush out rabbits with their dogs, and then for the dogs to give chase and dispatch the rabbits, that will provide a loophole in the Bill. It will enable people to have an excuse. They can be out walking and if the local police see them out with their dog, they can always say that they are looking for rabbits.
I believe that that argument is overstated. I do not believe for a moment that those who are promoting the Bill are concerned with a single farmer or gamekeeper out with a single dog on his land on a rainy winter afternoon, trying to control local pests. They are concerned with organised hunts, in which people are partaking for sport. I do not believe that the provision would be a tremendous loophole and that hundreds or thousands of people around the country would deliberately try to frustrate the Bill, by setting out on a Saturday afternoon and saying ``I want to use my dog to engage in a sport now. I know that in the Bill there is a little loophole about rabbits. I can always claim that as an excuse.'' The members of the Cottesmore will not go out undercover and, when they are caught on a Saturday afternoon with 20 people on horses, say ``We were chasing after a rabbit, Mr. Policeman''.
As I subscribe to the Cottesmore hunt, I would be the first to defend it. If the Bill is passed into law, it is highly unlikely that any responsible members of the Cottesmore hunt will carry on doing what they have been doing perfectly lawfully up to now.
On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. I have been sitting here quietly doing my best to listen to the debate. I do not want to mention what was said before, but the hon. and learned Gentleman is extremely difficult to hear. The point has been made by hon. Members behind me and I am sure that members of the public are also finding it difficult.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has heard what has been said and will do his best to raise his voice, so that not only members of the Committee but others will be able to hear him.
I would not want to be accused of shouting at you, Mrs. Roe. It would be too impolite.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) thought that he had bowled my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough middle stump by asking why the Isle of Wight hunt had imported foxes on to the island. The Isle of Wight hunt was founded in 1845, which is quite a long time ago. Whatever the standards may have been in 1845, they do not concern modern, organised hunts.
I explained that what the hon. Gentleman said was currently against the rules.
As I have said, I do not understand the point that Labour Members are making. They seem to accept that rabbits are a pest. They are; everybody knows that. The hon. Member for West Lancashire even claimed that they ruined his garden, and he is clearly worried about it. The measure will not be a massive loophole.
Again we are indebted to Mrs. Wood, who has been referred to on a couple of occasions by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex. I am not sure that the Committee has adequately discussed the point that she makes in the middle of her letter. In the Wild Mammals (Hunting With Dogs) Bill, a private Member's Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), now Mayor of London, the rabbit—a pest species, albeit a mammal—was aligned with rodents. The Bill, which was introduced in Parliament last year, stated:
A person does not commit an offence under section 1(1) if he hunts rabbits or rodents.
That exception was made by the hon. Member for Brent, East when he introduced his Bill last year. Why did he frame his Bill in that way last year? I am sure that he received drafting help, presumably from a reputable and serious organisation that intended his Bill to become law, or hoped that it would. Why did he specifically exempt rabbits? The Under-Secretary has, in a generally impartial way, sought to give advice to his draftsmen. Why has he gone down a different route from his hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East? Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury can help me on this point.
I am afraid that I can give my hon. Friend no explanation for the difference between the two Bills, but what makes the contrast even more curious is the fact that the hon. Member for Brent, East was undoubtedly assisted in preparing his Bill by some of the organisations that have been campaigning for the abolition of hunting with hounds. It is a matter of public record that the particular option that we are now discussing in schedule 3 to this Bill was drafted by the Government together with the umbrella group Deadline 2000, which I presume includes within its ranks the same organisations—and probably some of the same individuals—who were assisting the hon. Member for Brent, East. I, like my hon. Friend, find this difference between the two Bills difficult to explain and even perplexing.
This is a serious matter and I urge the Under-Secretary to look into it. Nobody is accusing the hon. Member for Brent, East of being soft on this issue. He is not an undercover agent for the Countryside Alliance. I will not say that he is fully lined up with the extreme faction, because it would be discourteous of me to describe him in those terms, but he is not a softy on such matters. It is a pity that he is not serving on this Committee. I hope that an hon. Member who supports the Bill will intervene, because there must be an answer on this point.
He is not leaping to his feet because he does not know the answer. We know that he will not help the Mayor of London because they are involved in a bitter dispute over pigeons. We have seen a recent photograph of a pigeon standing on his head, which improved his looks no end.
No one is yet prepared to give me an answer. This important matter goes to the heart of the Bill. It drives home the message with which I was trying to deal on Tuesday; that the problem with the Bill, if it ever becomes law, will not be with the large, organised hunts, which will end. That is sad for all sorts of reasons that we do not need to go into now. The problem with implementing the Bill will come when gamekeepers, individuals and working farmers genuinely engaged in controlling rats, rabbits and other species harmful to their game or farms become involved.
Does my hon. Friend think that the hon. Member for Brent, East, now Mayor of London, took more seriously the needs of these groups within the population? In those circumstances, would it not be appropriate for the Government to think again? It would be a pity if it looked as though the hon. Member for Brent, East was more concerned about such people than the Government. This might be an opportunity for them to say that that is not so.
Many of us are warming to the Mayor because in the past couple of years he has been trying to turn over a new leaf, become more moderate and listen to his natural opponents. He is more moderate, mainstream and middle-way than the Under-Secretary. The Under-Secretary needs to justify himself. Why has he drafted a Bill that is more extreme than that of his colleague, the hon. Member for Brent, East, who apparently was so extreme that he had to be excluded from becoming a Labour candidate last year? These are interesting points that need further discussion.
I remind my hon. Friend that the hon. Member for West Ham now has other interests. He is not interested in foxhunting or hunting with dogs; he is about to become the president of the society for the protection of the jellied eel. His entire line of interest has moved in a different direction.
My hon. Friend has made an extremely good point. What have rabbits done for the Under-Secretary or the Government in the past three years to achieve this privileged status? It seems extraordinary that they were exempted in the Bill of the hon. Member for Brent, East. Perhaps I am wrong, but I think that the hon. Member for West Ham, who is now taking a rather different view, was a sponsor of that Bill. That helps to illustrate the many anomalies in this Bill.
There are two issues that proponents of the Bill seem not to be dealing with, but they must deal with them. First, if one wants to improve animal welfare by stopping people exercising a freedom that they have enjoyed for a very long time, one must show that the gains will be substantial, significant and clear. If those in favour of a ban can demonstrate a serious benefit to animal welfare, there is a case for discarding personal liberties. Otherwise, there is no case.
Secondly, the Bill is full of anomalies that, I suspect, have nothing to do with animal welfare. They are included to dress it up in the light of the tremendous campaign to abolish foxhunting, hare coursing and hare hunting. In taking apart that dressing, we find serious problems relating to rabbits, rodents and mink. I do not know why the hon. Member for West Ham has become the friend of mink, or whether his Bill dealt with them. He said that mink are good only for coats for the bourgeoisie, and pointed to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex. My hon. Friend would be insulted to learn that an expert on the English class system such as the hon. Member for West Ham thinks that he is a member of the bourgeoisie. Bourgeoisie is not only a foreign word but a French word, and we must be careful about using it over here. By freeing mink from the threat of the control to which rats will be subject, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman was trying to increase their numbers, lower their value and therefore make mink coats available at a more reasonable price to a wider section of the population.
If we consider the provisions in the context of rats, the anomaly becomes clear. Rats are of course a pest; under statute law, farmers and others are obliged to control them. If they appear on a property, the local authority can be asked to help control them. Given that, under the Bill, a dog will be permitted to catch and kill a rat on one's own property, why will a criminal offence have been committed if it chases it into a neighbour's field or garden and kills it there? The Bill is obsessed, moreover, with dogs underground and singles them out. It is clear that, just as rabbits have done something nice for the Government, dogs underground have done something nasty. Why is it immoral, cruel or contrary to the interests of animal welfare to kill a rat underground if it is perfectly all right to kill it above ground? That is an extraordinary anomaly.
Has my hon. Friend noted that here there is a further inherent class problem? Those with very little land will be able to chase the rat much less far than those with a lot of land. It is unacceptable for the party of equality to put forward this manifestly unfair proposal. It will give the Duke of Buccleuch a great deal more space than me, and I object to that.
That might be another basis on which we can invoke the European convention on human rights, but it occurs me that if one found a rat on one's balcony in Belgravia, one could not chase it far. Perhaps the duke will have to choose in which of his properties he is able to exercise that freedom.
The most common way of killing rats is to poison them. I am not an expert on the subject, but surely a rat dies more quickly if it is chomped by a dog than it does if it eats poison. Although setting traps is perceived to be less cruel, it is perfectly obvious that it is more cruel. Yet completely artificial restrictions—from which other animals that are pests, such as rabbits and mink, are excluded—are placed on using a dog to kill rats. The extent of that anomaly was highlighted by the well-educated discussion that took place this morning.
The amendments are designed to deal with further, and worse, anomalies in the exceptions. For example, under paragraph 7, it is acceptable for someone to use their dog to flush out a fox, hare or rabbit—although not a mink or a rat—if they are going to shoot it, but if the dog gets there first and kills it, that is a criminal offence. I cannot see the morality of that.
It is likely that the Bill will lead more people to want guns. A rabbit or a hare can be shot with a shotgun, but surely a rifle is necessary to shoot a fox cleanly. When a rifle is fired, the ammunition carries for a mile or two, which could be extremely dangerous near a residential area. The Bill will encourage a more dangerous practice that adds nothing to animal welfare.
One of the most extraordinary aspects of the Bill is that it allows a person to shoot an animal for food as long as they do not sell it. Why is it moral to shoot a rabbit, having used a dog to find it, if one is going to eat it oneself, but immoral if one is going to sell it to a neighbour so that he can eat it? That demonstrates the muddle-headedness at the heart of the Bill.
Perhaps the most extraordinary paragraph is the one that says that it is permissible to use a dog to flush out a fox, hare or rabbit for the purpose of enabling a bird of prey to hunt it. A bird of prey would have to be pretty big to pick up a fox, but not so big to pick up a rabbit or a hare—as they frequently do. I cannot imagine a more nasty death, if I were a rabbit or a hare, than being picked up by a great big raptor, hauled up for 200 ft, then dropped on a rock. Yet apparently that is not only all right, but merits a specific exemption in the Bill. The raptor lobby clearly has some weight.
The anomaly is staring us in the face. The exemption is intended to protect game birds, but the creatures that do the most damage to game in Scotland are raptors such as hawks and buzzards. The Bill will lead to gamebirds being damaged in an extremely cruel way, yet it is supposed to protect them and to improve the welfare of animals.
My hon. Friend has not yet explained how the raptors, rabbits and rats will know about all this. The rat needs to know that it cannot be chased if it can get off the land quickly enough, and the raptor needs to know that it is not breaking the law by catching rabbits. To propose that we put into law what wild animals can legally do to one another is ridiculous and interferes in the natural and normal process of life; unless, that is, we know how to communicate with them.
Not only rats, rabbits and foxes, but everyone who walks in the countryside with a dog or whose dog has a propensity for chasing rats or rabbits in the garden will need a copy of the Bill. Perhaps the Government plan to have it translated into the kind of language that foxes and rabbits can understand. The whole thing is an extraordinary anomaly.
The hon. Gentleman said that it would be an offence to sell an animal on for food. At present, a farmer can slaughter a farm animal for his or her own consumption, but if that animal is destined for other people, it must be slaughtered in an abattoir. Is that an anomaly or not?
I should be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman will propose a schedule to the Bill showing us how we will shepherd game birds and rabbits into abattoirs so that they can be killed in accordance with an EC regulation. That is not the distinction. The distinction, presumably, is to try to restrict the occasions on which that can be done, but it has nothing to do with morality. If the Bill is not about morality, it is about nothing at all. It is simply about the interference in personal freedom by people who do not like what other people do. The Bill must be about morality; otherwise there is no justification for it. These anomalies demonstrate that there is no morality behind the distinctions made in the Bill.
I want to give some other examples. At present, the Government are changing the law to protect Huntingdon Life Sciences from the demonstrations that are going on outside—rightly, because we impose obligations on the pharmaceutical industry to test drugs on animals. What an extraordinary contradiction that is. The Government are introducing a Bill to make something illegal on animal welfare grounds, and at the same time they are reinforcing the law in an area where cruelty to animals clearly is taking place. It may be necessary cruelty, but it is still cruelty.
I said on Second Reading that much had been made of ritual methods of animal slaughter by certain religious groups. I shall not mention them, because I got into a little trouble with one of them for mentioning it in isolation before, but there are several. To many of us, these methods of slaughter seem particularly cruel and unnecessary. Ministers who have had responsibility for such Bills in the past—one Labour and two Conservative, of whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) was one—said that they had considered the issue and decided that the sensibilities of those religious minorities outweighed other considerations.
Thousands of animals are slaughtered each year by having their throats cut when they are alive and being allowed to bleed to death, and yet we are doing nothing about that. They are much more sentient animals than the mink and the rabbits, to which the Bill gives a great deal of protection. Where is the morality in this? Where is the principle? Where is the focus on improving animal welfare? I do not believe that they are there.
We have talked about fishing and shooting, and there has been quite a lot of argument as to whether the Bill will lead on to those sports. The RSPCA has come to the conclusion that fishing is cruel and the League Against Cruel Sports has said that shooting is next on its agenda. Labour Members may say that that is not so, but I shall try hard on Report to table a new clause that forces them to vote on it, so that they have to vote against making shooting and fishing illegal; that will be on the record for the future.
It is almost impossible to argue that it is cruel for a hound to kill a fox— which it does extremely quickly—but that it is all right to put a metal hook in a fish, which it may swallow and get down into its gut, and then, when the fish is hauled up on the bank, to knock it on the head with a stone. What has put me off fishing is the process of killing the fish, which is particularly unpleasant. Anybody who has been shooting will know that even the best shot only wounds birds, which then end up fluttering away until they are probably eaten by a fox, which there may or may not be more of after the Bill is passed.
Perhaps my hon. Friend never misses, but I have been on shoots where people have missed and the birds flutter away into woods and die an extremely unpleasant death. If we are talking about improving animal welfare, let us focus on that, but that is not what the Bill is about. If the Bill's supporters were people who did not eat meat, wore plastic shoes and would not kill insects, I could understand that. They would then be at liberty to say that we should not kill animals for any reason at all; whether it was for pest control, sport or food, we should not do it. But people are at different points on the scale of how strongly they hold those principles, and the Bill demonstrates the anomalies.
You may or may not know, Mrs. Roe, that there is a Buddhist sect in India called the Jaines. Its members do not believe in killing animals, to the extent that they wear a cloth mask over their mouths and noses to stop them by accident breathing in an insect. That seems to me an extreme but logical position, and it is apparently a widespread practice in India. India brings me to somebody who has not been mentioned today, Mr. Hinduja. I think that there is an explanation for him.
We should not make light of Jainism. I am a great admirer of Jainism—I have two Janes in my office. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that it is a religion with millions of followers; they are vegetarian and they do not believe in violence. Indeed, members of the Digambera sect spend all their lives naked. If we can agree on nothing else, we can agree that the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex should not become interested in Jainism. We should respect that religion, which is extensive and follows good practices. While we try to get our minds round the thought of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex becoming a member of the Jaine sect, I remind the Committee that it believes that one should limit one's wealth and content oneself with one's own wife, which would rule out many Conservative Members.
I eagerly await what my hon. Friend has to say about the Hinduja brothers—as, I am sure, do all members of the Committee. Before my hon. Friend turns to that subject, he may recall that the hon. Member for West Ham was challenged on Second Reading on the difference in cruelty between hunting and fishing. What followed was a shrug, a froth at the mouth and the coruscating and intellectually formidable reply, ``Well, you've got to draw the line somewhere.'' That remark was incredibly persuasive.
I think that the pigeons are being treated cruelly. I do not know whether you, Mrs. Roe, saw yesterday's edition of the Evening Standard, but the hon. Gentleman was presumably seeking to demonstrate his love of animals by letting a couple of pigeons sit on his head. He certainly did not look very happy; perhaps he was anticipating what they might do next.
I intend no disrespect to the Jaines; I was trying to say that people have carried a principle to a logical but extreme position. I can understand that, just as I can understand hon. Members objecting to the killing of animals. However, unless we are prepared to be consistent, why are some animals singled out and not others? The Bill must be about morality or it is about nothing. Why is it moral to kill the rat in one's own garden but not the rat in one's neighbour's garden? Why is it moral to allow a rabbit to be flushed out so that a raptor can pick it up and drop it onto a rock from 200 ft, but not allow a dog to kill it?
The Jaines in India led me to the Hindujas and what I might call the Hinduja syndrome, which might explain the anomalies in the Bill—or even the need for it. If, instead of wanting to endow the faith zone in the dome, the Hindujas had been great fans of tiger hunting on elephants or whatever else they do in India—they might have introduced my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex to that sport—they may have endowed a hunting zone in the dome. The telephone call would probably have gone to the same Minister, presumably with the same price tag.
One cannot help speculating that it is all to do with the £1 million. One can get this Government to ban things for £1 million. Bernie Ecclestone cleverly got his £1 million back, but one can get them to ban tobacco advertising for £1 million. The International Fund for Animal Welfare gave the Labour party £1 million. We have got to the heart of the matter; someone has a commitment about foxhunting. I wonder whether Mr. Hinduja, in endowing the faith zone, encouraged the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)—in his social climbing—to take up foxhunting, among other upper-class habits. I wonder whether similar telephone calls were made.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that no one has so far offered me £1 million to support the ban on hunting. I do support such a ban, but if he cares to offer me £1 million to change my mind, one never knows.
The amendments address anomalies in the Bill. I am trying to seek an explanation for them. The explanation can be found in the Hinduja syndrome; it is all to do with £1 million and a telephone call. That is what I believe has encouraged the Government. As a result of that donation, they are committed to banning foxhunting. They have attempted to dress the Bill up as an animal welfare measure by drawing in all these other things and trying to widen the net beyond foxes. Had the donation not been made, I wonder whether we would have found ourselves in this position.
Surely my hon. Friend ought not to be as limited as he has been. It is not just a question of £1 million for proposing the Bill before the election. There is also the hope that, if the Bill is thrown out by the House of Lords, another £1 million might ensure that it comes back after the election.
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely interesting point. There may have to be several instalments of this contribution. Hon. Members must address this serious point. The Labour party took £1 million from an organisation to introduce this Bill and it has done so. It must demonstrate that there is no connection between those two things because, on the face of it, it looks exactly like the Bill to ban tobacco advertising; immoral, if not corrupt.
Order. May I ask Members to calm down a little? I cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying and I cannot hear the interventions either. I know that we have good humour in the Committee and I am all for that, but let us get back to the subject matter so that we may all hear what is being said on both sides of the argument.
On the money that was given to the Labour party, I believe that the hon. Member for Stratford-upon-Avon is referring to the political animal lobby. Is he aware that that same organisation gave substantial donations to the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats as well?
I am not aware of that and I am extremely surprised, since it is quite clear that the £1 million price tag is being picked up today; it has never been picked up before.
It is embarrassing, not irrelevant. I would have thought that part of the Hinduja-Hartlepool syndrome was that if one proposes controversial policies, it must be absolutely clear that their background is objective. In this case, that is not clear. There is an interest at stake here with a very significant price tag attached.
Is this business about the Hindujas more relevant to what we are discussing than the fact that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal was censured by the Select Committee on Members Interests in 1993 for accepting a benefit in kind—a pond on his own land—and not declaring it?
Order. For the second time, I must ask that Members address the amendments that are before us. I have given plenty of scope to air some things in a humorous way, but I must now ask the Committee to debate the amendments.
I will do exactly that, but I must say that, in the face of an apparent huge conflict of interest, if the best that the Government can do is to come up with something that happened seven years ago—
There is a nasty smell about the background to this Bill, as there was a nasty smell about the events of yesterday and those involving Formula 1 and the tobacco advertising ban. It is up to the Minister to address this issue and to show that the Bill arises from objective considerations and is about animal welfare. The exceptions in it seem to show that it is not really about animal welfare at all.
The speech of the hon. Member for West Lancashire gave that away. He dwelt for some time on how people might use the exceptions in the Bill to enjoy themselves. What concerned him was not the dog killing the rat, but that somebody might enjoy being with the dog while it killed the rat. Many of us believe that that is what the Bill is about. If Labour Members were honest, the Bill would ban foxhunting, beagling and hare coursing, and nothing else. That is what it is designed to do. That would be much simpler, and would not give rise to any of the anomalies or problems of legal interpretation that I am talking about. It would be honest, because then it would be clear that that is what Labour Members want to do.
Labour Members want to stop hunting and hare coursing. That would be an honest motive for the Bill. At least we would then know what we were arguing about. The Bill has been dressed up with a lot of extraneous considerations, exemptions and offences that are nothing to do with the true motive to try to make it look like a piece of animal welfare legislation. However, the assertion that it is anything to do with animal welfare at all has been undermined by the totally arbitrary distinctions that it makes between what is a crime and what is not, what is moral and what is not.
I return to my central point. I do not hunt, I do not shoot and I do not fish. I have done all three, but I do not expect that I shall ever do any of them again. In fact, I did not enjoy shooting and fishing; I did not enjoy killing animals. It rather disgusted me and I did not want to do it again. However, many of my constituents like to do those things, and I do not see why they should not. [Interruption.]
Here we go again. It is people's motivation that worries Labour Members. The Bill has nothing to do with the welfare of the fox. Labour Members want to stop those people doing what they want. Many of us have habits that are unpopular and that place us in the minority, but the rights of minorities must be protected. If those rights are to be overridden by legislation, there must be an overwhelmingly moral case for doing so. The moral case must be that animal welfare is improved, and the legislation must have improving animal welfare as its objective. I submit to the Committee that the legislation is palpably not about animal welfare. The anomalies in the Bill give the lie to any claim that the principle of animal welfare underlies it.
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon should not try to engender more self-righteous indignation than he can conveniently contain. He trotted out what he seemed to think was an insightful argument. It was really a string of sound bites, which added up to little or nothing. However, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aylesbury, who tabled some amendments that have allowed us to debate the extent of the basic offences contained in the schedule.
I want to deal with a number of the issues raised by hon. Members, including the giving of permission by landlords, the banning of hunting underground and what might be called silly prosecutions, which were raised by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough. I shall also deal with the question of whether it is better to exclude certain areas, or to create defences—the burden of proof issue. I shall refer also to mink, which we can discuss more broadly. I shall deal with the encouragement of people to carry rifles and to shoot, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire. Finally, the hon. Member for Gainsborough asked me to comment on the conflict between the Bill presented by my hon. Friend—I suppose that he used to be my hon. Friend—the Member for Brent, East, and the Bill which is now before the House.
First, to make a general comment, the Government's objective is to place, in a neutral way, the three schedules before the House. The three have now been debated and reduced to one. The Government will reintroduce the two schedules that have been removed when the Bill goes to the other place. It is not for me to defend a schedule that was put forward by Deadline 2000 and that sets out their policy. It is for me to show that this law is workable and deliverable, and that the House ought to be able to pass it. The Government have that responsibility.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will happily give way in a moment. Some of the moral arguments are important to the debate. As our vote is free to some extent, hon. Members should listen to the debate and come to their own view. Various issues have been raised on each of the clauses, and I should deal with some of them to show that we are passing workable legislation.
Surely it is part of the Government's job to ensure that the Bill is not only workable, but that its effects are confined to those whose activities the House has decided to end. It should not have effects, unintended or otherwise, on people who are not engaged in those activities.
Yes. The right hon. Gentleman has a point, and we want to be careful about that. Whenever we make legislation, we need to be careful to contain unintended consequences, so far as we can. It is the Committee's job to think carefully about the way in which the schedule is drafted to ensure that it delivers what we all want. We have two roles. The first is to ask whether it is right to deliver the legislation, and the second is to consider whether it will achieve what the House of Commons as a whole intends.
Amendments Nos. 1, 2 and 3 would allow unrestricted hunting with dogs of rodents, rabbits and mink respectively. As I said, Deadline 2000 set out the policy and suggested paragraph 8 of the schedule, which relates specifically to the circumstances in which rodent hunting is permissible, while paragraphs 7 and 9 refer specifically to rabbits. I understand that, in the case of rabbits, Deadline 2000 is anxious to remove the concept of the chase. No particular provision is made for mink, again reflecting Deadline 2000's policy.
Let me deal with some of the drafting issues. An important point was raised about having the permission of a landlord. It is clear that we will create an overall offence that will be subject to a defence. If people can show that they have complied with the terms of that defence, including that they have the permission of the owners of the property, they will not be affected by the provisions on rodent control in paragraph 8. There was concern that a person may hunt a rodent with a dog on his land, or land on which he has permission to hunt, but that the dog might cross a boundary and hunt on land for which no permission has been given. That is a legitimate issue for us to debate.
Intention to hunt is required to be shown. If people show that they intended to hunt only in a certain area and crossed a boundary, it would be questionable whether they intended to hunt in that other area. If it could be clearly shown that people had no intention to hunt on other people's land without permission, it would be difficult to show that they had the full intent required for the full terms of the criminal offence. That is an arguable point, but we may have to consider it with great care.
Mr. Maples rose—
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will continue for a moment. I am happy to say that I will ensure that the wording of this part of the schedule is clear enough. There should be clarity about the requirement for an intention. At all stages—if it is the will of the House—we will seek to prosecute only people who hunt, not their dogs. If it is clear that the person concerned does not intend to hunt on another's land, intent cannot be proved. Therefore, it would be difficult to establish that an offence had been committed. That said, it is always the responsibility of a person walking a dog to keep it under control. It is also the responsibility of those who seek to hunt to know where the relevant boundaries lie.
The hon. Gentleman said that proof of an intention not to hunt on another's land would constitute a defence. Why must the burden of proof fall on the defendant? Why should not the prosecution be required to prove intent?
The prosecution will always have to prove not only that the offence was committed, but that there was intent. Under paragraph 1, an offence will be committed if a person
hunts a wild mammal with a dog.
It is implicit in the paragraph that the person must intend to hunt. The hon. and learned Gentleman is therefore wrong to say that the prosecution will not need to demonstrate an intention to hunt. The prosecution must demonstrate that intent in the normal way—beyond reasonable doubt.
I want to consider the hon. and learned Gentleman's point in relation to a slightly different issue. We are talking about a person who intends to hunt within a certain boundary, and the question was raised as to what will happen if that boundary is crossed. On the face of it, it would seem that the person concerned did not intend to hunt beyond that boundary, so the prosecution could not prove intention beyond reasonable doubt. It would be clear that he intended to hunt, but only in a particular area. If he could demonstrate that, he would have a good way of ensuring that he would not be prosecuted.
I can further reassure the hon. and learned Gentleman in respect of the argument about silly prosecutions. The Crown Prosecution Service would undertake a prosecution only if there were likelihood of a conviction, and only if there were a public interest in securing one. It would seem difficult to justify the public interest in prosecuting someone who unintentionally crossed a boundary. We should remember that it does not matter what the dog did—we are prosecuting people, not dogs. All that matters is what the person did, and the prosecution must prove intent beyond reasonable doubt.
The Minister has raised two points. First, the prosecution will have to prove that an offence took place under the terms of paragraph 1, but why should it not also be obliged to fulfil those terms in respect of hunting on another's land? Secondly, why should the burden of proof fall on the defendant? Those points have yet to be fully answered.
The prosecution is obliged to prove an intention to hunt. The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked whether the Bill should refer to an offence plus defences, or whether the offence itself should be constrained. That is a technical issue to which we shall return, but it may have a practical effect on the way in which boundaries affect a prosecution. That is a technical issue to which we shall return, but it may have a practical effect on the way in which the boundaries issue affects a prosecution.
It is always the prosecution's job to prove its case. If it were clear that a person had no intention of hunting in a particular area, it would be unlikely that the CPS would pursue a prosecution or that a conviction would be the likely result. The hon. and learned Gentleman could say, ``All right, it is not likely that any of that would happen, but we should pass a law that would prevent it happening.'' My response would be that our law must be as clear as possible. A lawyer can always examine a particular form of words and draft various arguments to show how it might be applied; that is what lawyers are paid for. None the less, it is our responsibility to make clear law that can be interpreted effectively by the courts.
The Bill's drafting clearly sets out Parliament's intention, and a magistrate or judge will see that when they examine it. Clearly, Parliament's intention is not to prosecute someone whose dog accidentally crosses a boundary, so such a prosecution would be unlikely. Having said that, I am happy to examine the Bill and to discuss it with parliamentary draftsmen to ensure that my understanding is correct, because a valid point has been raised.
The Minister has dealt with one point, and we shall await further developments. Whether he has satisfied the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is another matter. The second point that he addressed concerned frivolous prosecutions. He said that the CPS will not prosecute, but I must be sure that there will be no frivolous private prosecutions. Will the responsible Ministers issue a nolle prosequi if they are of the opinion that a frivolous prosecution is being taken out by a private organisation or individual?
If the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, I want to deal with these issues in a logical order. I shall come on to what he would describe as frivolous prosecutions, but others would describe as campaign group prosecutions. However, I should give way to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves to the next subject, I must say that I am glad that he will re-examine the possible effect of a dog crossing a boundary. His interpretation of the issue is optimistic, but we welcome his re-examination of it. However, why is the boundary issue part of Parliament's intention? Indeed, is it part of Parliament's intention?
The purpose of the Bill is to stop organised foxhunts, deer hunts and hare coursing. It is not intended to deal with neighbour disputes concerning someone who, while dealing with rats in his outhouse, allowed his dog to stray into next door's garden. There are civil remedies for such cases. Why must we get bogged down in that matter? Why must the legislation restrict rodent operations that use dogs? The proper place to deal with someone who recklessly allows his dogs to go on someone else's property is the civil court.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that trespass can be dealt with in the civil court. We are simply seeking to deliver the will of the House to ban certain types of hunting, which is the Government's role in this Committee. Given that the House has voted for the Bill, it is for hon. Members to decide whether they want to include or exclude other animals.
My job is to ensure that we deliver workable legislation, as the House intended. The House said that a criminal offence should be created for a person who hunts a wild mammal with a dog. However, in the case of rodent control, there may be a defence if that person can prove, on the balance of probabilities, that permission was given to hunt rodents on that land. That was the will of the House, and it is my job to ensure that the Bill is workable. That is why I have addressed it in this way. Whether the right hon. Gentleman wants to allow the hunting of rodents is entirely a matter for him, as it is for other hon. Members.
A responsibility is placed on the Government. The Under-Secretary cannot wash his hands of this like Pontius Pilate and say, ``It is up to Deadline 2000 to write the Bill for me.'' That will not work. As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has said, the House wants to abolish organised hunts of foxes, hares and mink; that is fair enough. However, the Under-Secretary has to accept that the 650 Members of the House of Commons are not fully seized of the points that we have been discussing. He must know that and there is an obligation on the Committee to try to look at the serious points that have been made about the detail of pest control of rats and rabbits. I hope that the Under-Secretary will not shuffle all this off into one corner and say, ``It is up to Deadline 2000. They drafted the Bill.'' That is not right. He has to make the Bill into a good law.
I accept that it is the Government's responsibility to do what we can to ensure that this is a good, deliverable and workable law. That is what we intend to do. Nor do I seek to pretend that we are not concerned about the way in which it will operate. We want whatever the House has decided to be made into a law that the police, courts and other responsible authorities can enforce. I was merely making the point that I have given a commitment to the House to present the Bill in as neutral a way as I can. That is what I seek to do. There are genuine moral issues involved that have been discussed during this debate; it is right that they should be.
I need to deal with the issues that have been presented to me about whether the Bill will become workable law.
Will the Under-Secretary explain what is meant by
land belongs to a person if he owns an interest in it?
If someone is paying council tax and it is council land, does that mean he has an interest in it?
I do not know whether I can respond to that as there are various different ways of owning land. There is legal ownership and equitable ownership. For example, a husband and wife might own a house both in freehold and in equity. Up to four people—but no more—can own the legal interest in a piece of land. Therefore, if there are more than four persons with a legal interest—including companies—the land is normally owned in equity. That is an interest in land.
There are other interests in land, such as leases. Essentially, we are not talking about merely having a right of way, but about having the right to occupy or to go onto and remain on land, and to be able to give others permission to be on it. This is not a new area of law; it is well established. The objective here is to recognise that there is both a legal interest and an equitable right to land and that where those rights exist, an interest in land may be available. A person with an interest in land may give permission for someone else to come onto it or may exercise certain rights on it themselves.
My hon. Friend still looks confused, so I give way to her.
I thought I was getting it, but I am still confused. The schedule says that land belongs to a person if he
owns an interest in it
Can someone own an interest in council land? Does someone own an interest in a main road in his council tax area?
A person may own an interest in council land if he rents a council house. A tenancy is an interest. Public land is usually owned either by the person who has a legal right to the property—property law usually extends legal rights to half way across a road—or by the council. It may be that the council owns a road. A landlord may own a road and give permission for others to use it. More than one person can own an interest in land, so there may be a legal interest whereby someone owns land, but leases it to someone else. The person to whom it is leased has a legal interest and may sublet it or have what is called a life interest in it. Various different legal interests enable people to give permission for others to hunt on their land. Those are the circumstances to which the provisions will apply.
The Bill does not create a new concept in law. Although I suspect that it will be difficult for non-lawyers readily to understand the concept of a legal interest in land, it should be straightforward for a judge, a court or lawyer. It simply means that someone who has an interest in a piece of land and can give permission as to its use. I hope that at least to some extent I have dealt with my hon. Friend's point.
I warn my hon. Friend, if she persists in this, that I used to teach land law. I could expand on it at great length, but she probably would not wish me to do that. It is a complicated subject that requires several hour-long lectures. However, we can probably skip the detail.
I now move on to the provision about hunting with dogs underground. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was concerned about hunting in cellars. Underground means below ground; it means with ground above. A cellar has a floor not ground above, therefore a cellar is below ground level but not underground. Hunting underground means digging a hole and then putting a terrier down it to dig out the fox.
To deal with a point made by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon, the primary reason why there is concern about hunting underground relates to the effect on the dogs: putting them down into a tunnel to kill might put them in considerable danger—
Yes. They could be put in danger if they were chased down into a tunnel after a rat and the tunnel collapsed on them. The hon. Gentleman expresses concern about the rats. I can understand why. No doubt he is familiar with quite a lot of them. However, Deadline 2000 believes that there is a policy issue relating to the welfare of dogs that may be sent underground and the possibility that the tunnel may collapse on them.
The Minister's answer on cellars, which we can return to in relation to a later amendment, is not conclusive. I have an example of a place where I have seen rats. The house has been demolished, but the cellar is still there and that is where the rats are. The cellar is no longer underneath a building, so it is underground in the terms of the Bill. There are also all the other underground places where rats tend to nest, such as drains, culverts and cundies.
I had not understood it to be the object of the Bill and I do not know what the House thought it was doing when it banned the use of dogs in such spaces. Nor do I remember any speeches on the subject. Once again the Minister is in danger of allowing the importation into the Bill of a prohibition that has difficult implications for pest control and was not in hon. Members' minds when they voted for the ban.
I do not accept that it necessarily has profound implications for pest control. Nothing in the Bill prevents the poisoning or other killing of rodents. That is not its objective and it does not do that. The provision deals with hunting with dogs underground. The concern is that dogs should not be put in unnecessary danger by being sent underground to hunt. Therefore, as I understand it from Deadline 2000, there is a welfare concern about the dogs.
There is a policy issue here concerning moral values and it is for hon. Members to decide how they wish to deal with it. I am simply setting out, for the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and other members of the Committee, the impact of the provision and the policy reason for it. No doubt Deadline 2000 can brief the Committee further, if that is necessary, but it is for hon. Members to decide whether they agree with that policy position. However, Deadline 2000 wants to prevent underground hunting of that kind.
I want to question the Minister on a point of principle. He keeps referring to Deadline 2000, which is presumably a lobby group that supports a ban on hunting and various other activities covered by the Bill, but this is a Government Bill. It has the names of the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary himself on it. The Under-Secretary cannot say, ``I do not understand where this policy comes from. It came from Deadline 2000.'' He and his colleagues are proposing the Bill. It should be fully understood, and the fact that it is not convinces me—
Clearly it is not, because the Under-Secretary keeps saying that he understands that the reason for the provision is that Deadline 2000 wants it and that it has something to do with the welfare of the dogs. I am fascinated by the idea of a dog being savaged by rats in a hole under the ground, which is what he seems to be saying.
I understand that the rabbit and the mink may be different, but in the case of rodents, why does the Under-Secretary not simply accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, and then the paragraph and this discussion would be unnecessary? If he cannot accept it, can he say in what circumstances he envisages the hunting of a rat by a dog being a criminal offence, which would not be a criminal offence if the amendment were accepted? In other words, what does the clause make a criminal offence that would not be a criminal offence if rodents were exempted from the Bill?
The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon has raised a series of issues. Let me first set out for him, as I have done on several occasions, the Government's policy in relation to the Bill. Our policy is neutrally to introduce a Bill that will enable right hon. and hon. Members to make a decision about the future of hunting with dogs. We set out that ambition out from the start. Throughout our discussions on the Bill, I have made it clear that, so far as I can, I will maintain a neutral position on the moral values.
The Conservative Government, of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member, introduced legislation on Sunday trading that we debated in a neutral way. The present Government seek to be similarly neutral on this Bill. However, that means that we have had to include three schedules to the Bill. They were devised by the interest groups—the Countryside Alliance, the Middle Way Group and Deadline 2000—so the Government did not primarily frame the policy issues. The policy issues set out in the schedule that the House finally decided to approve were framed by Deadline 2000. The Government seek neutrally to facilitate the will of Parliament in introducing the legislation. Therefore, it is not for the Government to decide whether we will advocate each issue. However, we should say whether we can defend a provision as good or workable law, and I will seek to do so. That is in accordance with the will of the House, as we understand it. I am in a position not to advocate or promote the schedule, but to defend the idea that it can be good law.
I would like to return to the Minister's points about why it would be reasonable to prevent the killing of a rodent underground by a dog. I heard him clearly say that it was to protect the dog from danger. Am I therefore to deduce that the provision is not related to any consideration of how the rodent would be killed underground by a dog, but that it is entirely related to a consideration of the dog and its welfare?
To some extent, I shall have to defer to Deadline 2000 on the matter, as it may have a different view, but that is my understanding of the provision.
I want to make two brief points. First, for people who have campaigned on the subject and taken part in the many debates in the House, terrier work and digging out with dogs have been integral issues. In some cases when dogs have been sent underground, the RSCPA has prosecuted on cruelty to those dogs. I have made the point before, but not in this debate, that for people interested in animal welfare, there is an issue about all the animals involved, not only the quarry.
Secondly, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon asked whether it was necessary to protect the dog against a rat. I know that it is slightly anecdotal, but I ought to point out to the Committee that my own dog, a springer spaniel, once went after a rat, and the rat bit him and attached itself to its nose. We then had to chase it round the garden trying to get the rat off. It sounds funny—it is, on reflection—but it was an unpleasant experience for the dog, which we had to take to the vet for treatment.
In reality, those who advocate animal welfare issues on the subject have always spoken about the need to look after all the animals, not only the quarry, and that is why the provision should be included in the schedule. Hon. Members will have read the Bill when they voted for the schedule, and they chose the right one.
The policy aim is to prevent injury to the dog and to deal with issues such as the digging out of the fox, which many view as a very unpleasant activity. There is a concern to prevent that happening because of the disruption that it causes to the countryside.
I will not pursue that now. The implication of what the hon. Gentleman is saying is that the Bill makes the assumption that the dog is in greater danger in the underground rodent-catching environment than it would be on the surface. I assume that the spaniel of the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) was not underground at the time.
It was? That is interesting. Let me check this and come back to it later. We would probably benefit from debating the assumptions that underlie this part of the Bill when we discuss the matter later. I will simply put on record now that I have a concern about the assumptions that underlie the prohibition of killing a rodent underground.
It is entirely up to the hon. Gentleman whether he has those concerns; we will debate the matter in due course. The key point that I want to make in relation to the policy is that if the amendment were not made, any relevant hunting would have to satisfy the conditions in paragraphs 8(2) and 8(3), reflecting Deadline 2000's policy. If the amendment were made, there would be no restrictions on rodent hunting, which could then take place. It is up to Members as to what view they take on that, but it is clearly the intention of Deadline 2000, whose schedule was accepted by the House of Commons, that that should be the policy. Therefore, I would recommend not accepting the amendments.
The Minister continually separates himself from the policies of Deadline 2000. On an earlier occasion, he mentioned that either he or his Department had the sensitive advice of parliamentary counsel or that the Bill was drafted by parliamentary draftsmen. Is he saying that parliamentary counsel drafted schedule 3, or did Deadline 2000 draft it? Did parliamentary counsel draft the Bill itself; that is to say, clauses 1 to 6?
I can make that clear—I hope. Parliamentary counsel approved the Bill as a whole and did a lot of the drafting. The policy issues raised by the Middle Way Group, for example, were set out in general terms as, no doubt, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire could confirm. The measure was not set out in the terms of a draft, and parliamentary counsel drafted the schedule for the group.
In relation to schedule 3, there was of course a draft already in existence from the organisations that support Deadline 2000—primarily the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). Parliamentary counsel went through the Bill carefully. There were a couple of policy issues that the Government wished to amend—we will come to those later—in relation to the issue of a fine or imprisonment, for example. It is the Government's view that in terms of proportionality, a fine was acceptable. We then put that Bill before the House with the approval of Deadline 2000. There was not necessarily agreement on every single policy point: we had to take a view on a couple.
As far as the Bill is concerned, it is all approved and, in so far as we can argue it, it is drafted by parliamentary counsel. Parliamentary counsel has accepted the Bill as good law. Parliamentary counsel made any changes that had to be made to the Bill colloquially called the Foster Bill.
I shall now deal with silly prosecutions, a point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. I have already said that in order to prosecute, the CPS requires a likelihood of success and a public interest in prosecuting. That does not provide a guarantee, but it does safeguard against absurd or silly prosecutions.
By the CPS. All that we can do, however, is draft good laws and give as good guidance to the CPS as reasonably possible. It is then for the CPS to use its good judgment. Given that we are dealing with human beings, no one can guarantee that an absurd or silly prosecution will never be made. We cannot guarantee that about any law. We can only provide a reasonable level of safeguard. I suggest that we have that level of safeguard for state prosecutions.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough was concerned about campaigning groups seeking private prosecutions. Under most criminal law, people are able to bring private prosecutions. In many areas of criminal law, interest groups seek further to foster a particular area of policy. However, we do not see many campaign groups funding large-scale prosecutions, which are often expensive, in order to do what the hon. and learned Gentleman is worried about, which is to bring marginal cases to widen the scope of prohibition. That does not happen often. I do not say that it would not be a problem, but it is not a major problem now and there is no reason why it should become one. It is possible that it might happen, but I suggest that it is unlikely. That is an important distinction.
The Minister says that the CPS would not prosecute unless it had a better than 50 per cent. chance of success, and that it does not bring frivolous prosecutions. I understand that those qualifications are not in statute; they are policy decisions which can be altered at any time by the fiat of the Home Secretary or whoever runs the CPS. We are dealing with two problems. First, some of the offences are borderline cases, and it will be extremely difficult to see on which side people might be. Secondly, the burden of proof has essentially been reversed.
Would the Minister accept an amendment to remove the problem of frivolous prosecutions, requiring that a prosecution had to have the fiat, or the authority, of the Attorney General—although that may be too high up the food chain? We could then be confident that frivolous prosecutions would not be brought by people at a local level. If that were done by a chief constable or a reasonably senior member of the Government, I would take some comfort. At the moment, however, the Bill does not contain such a restriction; it is simply a policy decision of the CPS.
I find that a remarkable intervention. The Conservative party has passed many laws that have relied on the CPS doing the job for which we pay it, which is to make sensible and reasonable judgments. The CPS has done that for many years in a way that has earned the trust and support of Governments for whom the hon. Gentleman has served, just as it commands the support of the present Government. We pay and support the CPS to make precisely those sorts of judgments. The idea that this issue, above all others, should be removed from the CPS because we cannot trust it to deal with it is unacceptable. It is a denigration of the quality of the work of the CPS. I suspect that, on due reflection, the Opposition, too, would find it unacceptable.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the real problem for the majority of Members of Parliament in their interactions with the CPS is the other way round? Many of our constituents come to us because an offence has been committed against them and they are deeply hurt and affronted at the fact that the prosecution is not going ahead. Not once have I been required to approach the CPS for an explanation of why it has proceeded with a prosecution. All my experiences have been of asking it why it has not proceeded with them. To suggest that the CPS would be responsible for reckless or frivolous prosecutions on this issue and no other would be a monstrous distortion of the way in which it works.
My hon. Friend makes the point well. There is a clear and good safeguard in the guidance to the CPS. The prospect of conviction is not simply more than 50 per cent., as was suggested by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon, because there is a realistic likelihood of a prosecution succeeding. The threshold is high. My hon. Friend is right to say that our constituents are often concerned at the failure of a prosecution and at the decision not to prosecute.
With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon, I am not terribly fussed about the CPS, which I think will conduct itself in a professional and sensible way. I am concerned about maverick prosecutions brought by private individuals. If the International Fund for Animal Welfare is prepared to give £1 million to a political party—it is perfectly entitled to do so—why may it not also spend large sums advancing its agenda through the courts?
The hon. Member for Basildon has been a representative of the League Against Cruel Sports. It or bodies like it will fund private prosecutions if they think that there is a scintilla of a chance of advancing their agenda by doing so. I do not suggest that the Minister thinks that that is a good idea, but he does not control IFAW or LACS. I am concerned that there should be some form of braking system or protection to prevent maverick groups or individuals from using the courts for their political purposes. Although that is not in the Bill and it need not be, I need some assurance from the Minister that the law officers will keep a close eye on such cases and issue nolle prosequi if they think that the cases are silly.
If campaign groups of any sort start making frivolous prosecutions and wasting their money, they will soon not have much money to spend on anything. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there is a protection on frivolous prosecutions, as the CPS can take over a prosecution that has been conducted in a way that is not in the public interest. It can then decide to discontinue it. We can rely on the levels of safeguard in the system in relation to not only this law, but all criminal law. I cannot provide him a guarantee on his concern, but what may be theoretically possible is none the less unlikely. We are passing good law; a safeguard is built in due to the fact that his concerns are unlikely to come to pass.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was concerned that people would be prevented from chasing rats with their dogs, even though that complies with the provisions, because they fear a silly prosecution. That deals not with the issue of whether a prosecution will take place, but whether someone fears that it will. In my experience, people do not normally fear silly prosecutions. An individual may be likely to display some caution about the way in which he or she decides to hunt, but it may not be a bad thing for people to be cautious about making the decision to hunt rodents with their dogs. It may ensure that they are more careful about the boundaries than they would otherwise be and that they are less likely to prosecute or trespass. A certain public interest may be served in making people think carefully about what they do, so it is justifiable for Parliament to say that it may not be a bad thing if people were a little cautious,
People who hunt rats, or ratters, if one may call them that—the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex will correct me if I am using the wrong term and referring to dogs, not individuals—need to know about the law that covers them, as does anybody else in respect of anything that they do. They are also obliged, in this activity as in any other, to employ a fair degree of caution to ensure that they do not transgress the will of Parliament and the law of the land.
I turn to the reversal of the burden of proof. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough said that that is a great infringement of our liberties and a terrible development. In fact, the statute book provides many examples of the reversal of the burden of proof, as he calls it, or setting out an offence with a series of defences, as I would call it. A particularly relevant example is the Protection of Badgers Act, which establishes a clear offence coupled with a series of defences that may be pleaded. No doubt the hon. and learned Member for Harborough would have wanted to support that piece of legislation, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon would have been anxious to do so.
Not only were such laws passed by the previous Government, whom he supported, but, in some cases, the subject matter of those laws was similar to that of the Bill. All such laws employ a method of dealing with a criminal offence and the defences to it; that is common in our criminal system. It is no more surprising, strange, unusual or liberty-threatening to deal with the matter in this way than in any other.
I am grateful to the Minister for bringing the Protection of Badgers Act to my attention. I invited him to provide examples, and he has done so. I do not know when the Act was passed, nor whether I was in the House at the time. I imagine that it was under a Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), not of Baroness Thatcher. In any case, it predated the incorporation into domestic law of the European convention on human rights, which gives my argument added force.
The Act was indeed post-1992; the hon. and learned Gentleman voted for it.
The hon. and learned Gentleman made an excellent speech in the Palace at a meeting for pressure groups involved in the European convention on human rights. He said that far from being an Everest in terms of legal change, the ECHR was one of our ``rounded English hillocks''. I thought that that was a wonderful description and noted it down immediately. He is worried that the ECHR will overturn laws such as this. However, the Bill does not deviate from normal legal drafting procedures in terms either of the doctrine of the margin of appreciation or of Strasbourg court precedent. It considers the way in which the law operates on individuals in terms of protecting their basic rights, as set out in the ECHR, and I have heard no evidence of any Strasbourg court decision that would prevent legislation such as the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, or the Bill, from becoming law.
I accept that the schedule may contain issues that could be raised under the ECHR. If I were a practising lawyer, like the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, I could probably spend many happy hours working up arguments to bring a case, frivolous or otherwise, under the ECHR on this matter. However, as he pointed out, that does not mean that the ECHR will provide some sort of Everest over which any Bill must climb. It is one of our ``rounded English hillocks''. It provides basic standards and does not prevent the enforcement of reasonable, proportionate and good law. The aim of the House and of the Committee is to ensure that the schedule is proportionate and good law. I know of no reason to doubt that. Indeed, the Government have certified that the schedule will comply with the ECHR.
I am glad that there are so many interested students of the ECHR. It is, of course, possible to trip on a hillock. Another point is that the margin of appreciation probably no longer applies now that the ECHR has domesticated the convention to be justiciable in our English courts.
The ECHR is indeed now justiciable in our courts and our judges may take a view on it, but they too would be subject to appeal even up to the Strasbourg court if the Strasbourg conventions and precedents were contravened. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be as aware of that as I am.
I move on to the issues raised about mink. I do not want to go into them in too much detail, but simply to set out what I understand to be the basic policy position of Deadline 2000 in relation to mink. It takes the view that while mink are indeed vicious and in many ways pests that damage the environment, it is right to prevent them being hunted with dogs, even though trapping might be expensive, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme.
The view of Deadline 2000 is that substantial damage to the river bank is caused by the hunting of mink, putting at risk the otters that we are seeking to encourage. I have been looking with interest at the evidence to the Burns inquiry of Mr. Desmond Hobson, who represented the Masters of Minkhounds Association. He made it clear that up to 150 people were able to hunt at any one time. Quoting from the text of evidence given to the Burns inquiry, Dr Victoria Edwards said to Mr. Hobson:
You cite quite a lot of followers and I think your own submission cites up to 150 people supporting the mink hounds. This sounds like an awful lot of people running up and down the river bed when most of us recognise that it is fairly fragile and likely to be damaged by humans. Mr. Hobson answered that the Masters of Minkhounds Association had tried to prevent damage, adding that the rules of the association were that the bank should be restored to its normal condition. Deadline 2000 has taken that as a suggestion that the association accepts that damage occurs. It has therefore put forward the view that the damage to the river bank and otter habitats caused by the hunting of mink with dogs is environmentally damaging and ought not to take place.
I am sure that if we looked at the many hundreds of people who follow foxhunting, not all of them will be on horseback, riding across the countryside. Many are viewers and do not chase the fox. I know that people do not go to chase mink. Mink tend to be in or near water and the hunt often follows them into the stream and upstream. There are, occasionally, problems with river banks, but one would also have problems with traps. Somebody has to go to a hidden and secluded part of the river bank to place the trap. He or she then has to bait the trap and examine it every day. The river bank would be disturbed not only on the day of the hunt, but every day if there were traps all the way up the river. To suggest that that would be better than one or two sweeps of a river bank by a hunt is absolute nonsense.
My hon. Friend can express her view, and members of the Committee will consider it. As I understand it, Deadline 2000 is of the view that hunting mink with dogs is environmentally damaging, especially to the habitat of otters. I am simply relaying that organisation's view to the Committee. Members of the Committee must take their own view on that.
One danger in this Committee is of people talking about matters about which they know absolutely nothing. I have no idea what Deadline 2000 is, but let me tell the Minister that it is talking nonsense. Mink hunting causes no damage to otter habitat. No master of mink hounds would knowingly take a pack of mink hounds anywhere near an otter's holt. The number of people on the river bank at any one time is very few—perhaps the huntsmen, or the masters, or one or two followers. The idea that that causes mass damage is fatuous nonsense. It is a jumped-up reason for trying to ban mink hunting.All hunts probably cause damage, and all hunts see to it that all such damage is made good within 24 or 48 hours. If huntsmen break a fence, people will be back there the following morning, or even on the same day, to repair it.
I accept that members of the Committee may not have heard of Deadline 2000, but I hope that all of us have heard of the Environment Agency. Back in 1996, it stated:
Mink hunting is an ineffective method of control and there is concern that it causes indiscriminate disturbance to river habitats, especially significant where otters are beginning to recolonise. The Environment Agency wishes to discourage mink hunting where otters and other wildlife may be disturbed.
In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, when there are otters on a river bank, the mink disperse and move away. There is no need for mink hunting where there are otters. There is no need for the packs to go there. We do not know why, but that is what happens. When otters recolonise a river, the mink suddenly move up river and disappear. Those who hunt mink know where the otters are and where the mink are, because they are countrymen and specialise in such things. I agree that there is no need for mink hunting where there are otters, because where there are otters the mink move away.
No doubt again hon. Members will be interested in the points made by my hon. Friend. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole said, mink hunting causes considerable disturbance if practised on rivers that also harbour otters. I suppose that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme would reply that mink hunting would not be practised along such rivers. Again, hon. Members will have to take their own view on that. I have outlined the argument. I have been asked why the provision has been included in the Bill, and I am simply stating the reasons with which I have been supplied.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said that the Bill would encourage shooting. Obviously, some foxes that would previously have been hunted may well be shot rather than hunted with dogs. Therefore, more shooting may take place. The Prime Minister has given assurances to all who shoot and all who fish that, so long as he is in No. 10 Downing street, they will be protected. That is clear and is Government policy. The Prime Minister has said that he will hold to that view, which I strongly support also.
I do not deny that; it is absolutely right. The problem is, however, that if one has permission to go rabbiting, one has to take a gun. At the moment, it is usual to take just a ferret and a terrier to go rabbiting. In future, one will also have to carry a gun. It seems far more dangerous for more and more people to be wandering around the countryside with guns than to allow a dog to run after a rabbit.
No doubt hon. Members will wish to take that into account. Is the concern that there is a distinction between those who hunt with dogs for entertainment and those who may accidentally hurt an animal while shooting? There is a moral distinction there. If that moral distinction weighs against being cruel for the sake of entertainment, it is right to ban such activity. There may well be a risk that more people will go shooting and hon. Members will have to balance that risk. Some will conclude that it is right to ban what they feel to be morally objectionable, even though there may be a consequence. It is right that my hon. Friend should set that out clearly.
This is very much a question of weighing the matter in the balance. The law is about setting the moral baseline of society, and that differs from time to time. It may well move in one way, then another and then back again over a period of time. As a Parliament, we have to decide at any one time where that moral baseline should be and set it in law. That is what we seek to discuss in this Bill and it is right that we weigh all the consequences of setting that moral baseline in one way rather than in another.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough asked about the difference between the Livingstone Bill, as it has been called colloquially, and the Bill that is currently before us. The content of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East is entirely a matter for him. No doubt he had discussions with various groups and took a view as to how they would set out that Bill. We discussed with Deadline 2000 what it wanted to put in the Bill and it provided us with the policy options that were before the House and on which the House voted. It is possible that Deadline 2000 has changed its mind on this matter. Again, that is a matter for it to justify, not me. The law as set out in the schedule appears to the parliamentary counsel and to the Government, on the face of it, to be workable. The policy options are for hon. Members.
That is a very disappointing reply, and I have patiently waited a long time for it. I thought that the reply would be rather fuller and that the Minister would not just say that it was all up to Deadline 2000. Were there discussions, for instance, with civil servants, who may have pointed out that some of the points were in the other Bill? Surely Deadline 2000 was also behind the Livingstone Bill. This is an important point and we cannot just flick it away. We want to know what is going on. Could the Minister give us some of the background?
The hon. Gentleman asks a perfectly reasonable question. I undertake to write to Deadline 2000 and find out, in writing, whether it advised my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East on the drafting of his Bill, and if so why its view has changed. It was a legitimate question, and my officials will have noted my undertaking.
I shall deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex. It is right that we should not seek to mislead the Committee, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not do so. He said that while otters were being hunted, there were always many otters, but that when hunting otters was abolished, the number of otters declined. That may well true, but the hon. Gentleman was trying to make out that the two facts were linked. Unfortunately, his point is as tenuous as that made by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon about animal rights groups and the Labour Government. It may be a coincidence, but it is not necessarily a link.
The Burns report is clear about why it is believed otters reduced in numbers. It was not because hunting had ceased, any more than the Bill is the result of people making donations to the Labour party. It seems that numbers of otters reduced after 1955 because organochloride insecticides were being used in sheep dip and seed dressings. It was a coincidence, but not a consequence. The link between hunting and otters is not proven; indeed, it is contradicted by the Burns report at paragraph 5.107.
The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex is putting forward a wider argument, saying that sometimes hunters seek not only to remove pests, but to conserve. In some cases, that is a valid argument; not only do hunts chase and seek to kill foxes because they are pests, they also seek to conserve the pests because they are quarry. The truth for the hon. Gentleman appears to be that hunting is about entertainment rather than pest control. Perhaps he would disagree.
I should like to respond to that point. First, as I have said before, the deeply disappointing thing to me is the Minister's astonishing ignorance. He knows nothing at all about hunting; absolutely nothing. There is undoubtedly a link. It is perfectly true that environmental pollution had a serious effect on the otter population. I should have mentioned that, and the Minister was right to draw it to the Committee's attention. It is also true that where there was otter hunting, there were always otters. However, the banning of otter hunting did nothing to conserve the otter population. By far the greatest factor in preserving the otter population was the improvement of the water, and organisations such as the Otter Trust have done a great deal to repopulate the rivers.
On the question of the quarried species and its conservation, the point that I was making is not that it is entertainment or sport. It is well known that I hunt. It is not entertainment, like going to the theatre. But the Minister does not know anything about it. He does not know that all hunts try to conserve fox populations, because otherwise there would be nothing to hunt. That is sensible and prudent; all hunting is about conservation. An important part of the ethos of foxhunting is that the good management of covers and fox populations is essential if the sport of hunting is to be allowed.
The hon. Gentleman seems to think that I contradicted him, but I was seeking to set out precisely the point that I thought that he was making; he has merely confirmed that I was right.
I think that we are coming at the point from totally different directions. Nevertheless, I beg the Minister to understand that the work done by hunts in terms of conservation is valuable and important. Should the Bill ever pass into law, which I hope it will not, there will be side effects.
The more I think about our debate, the more I think that it is necessary for us to have a proper and rational discussion about terrier work, as there are two sides to the debate. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that if we have a sensible conversation on the subject, even if we do not necessarily agree, we can clarify some of the issues to which the Minister sought to respond, and some of those that were rightly raised in the Chamber.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The point that I wanted to make to the Minister was that the Government, in their desire to pass this law, will alter the face of hunting country. There will not be the same attention to hedges, fields and covers and to the balanced stewardship of the countryside. Also, it was through otter hunts that we first became aware of the reduction in otter numbers. Otter hunting ceased voluntarily before any law was passed.
The hon. Gentleman makes several good points; basically, those that I suggested that he was making. He informs us that where there was otter hunting, there were otters. I hope that there were, or the hunters would have been wasting their time. He says that I do not know much about hunting. I have certainly not hunted, but I have talked to many hunters, visited kennels in my constituency, read the Burns report and considered the issues as much as I can. The arguments on both sides deserve a great deal of respect, and the Government have introduced this Bill to allow people to debate them.
Amendments Nos. 41 and 42 would give the Secretary of State an order-making power to remove whole species of animals from the controls on hunting. The amendments are unnecessary. Paragraph 13 shows that the Secretary of State has power to make an order, subject to the affirmative procedure, to alter defences and to change the circumstances in which it is permissible to hunt with dogs. If there is a problem with a specific species and it becomes necessary to hunt it with dogs to control it, the facility to permit that will already exist. Therefore, I see no need to advise the Committee to accept the amendment, and I invite the hon. Member for Aylesbury to withdraw it.
I say at the start that I genuinely appreciate the dispassionate way in which the Minister, whom I know has strong personal feelings on the matter, has entered the debate and engaged with all the arguments. I must also register my concern that, at times during the debate, the Government have sounded as though they were acting as the sub-contractor for Deadline 2000.
All of us who have opposed the Bill and supported various amendments to it accept that the remit of the Committee is to consider the Bill in the light of the decision taken in principle by the Committee of the whole House. Nevertheless, that puts us under no obligation whatever to regard the text drafted by Deadline 2000 as having some pristine, perfect quality with which we dare not tamper. Our duty as a Committee, if the Committee stage is to mean anything at all, is surely to assess, consider and debate that schedule to the Bill drafted by Deadline 2000 in the light of the evidence found in the Burns report and elsewhere, in the light of the representations made to us by people and organisations outside this place and in the light, ultimately, of our own judgment.
We have had a long debate, so I shall deal briefly with the main points to which the Minister alluded. I will deal first with the question of permission to go on land. We will have opportunities to discuss this in greater detail in future groups of amendments, so I will not dwell on it at length, but I was not persuaded by the Minister's explanation. I concede that in the light of the Pepper v. Hart judgment, the courts could draw upon the words that he has used to the Committee if this Bill became law as an aid to their interpretation of the statute. I am far from persuaded, however, that the language of the schedule is as free of ambiguity as the Minister apparently believes.
He talked about the case of somebody whose dog went onto neighbouring property as ``arguable''. There are questions still outstanding that we might explore in future debates. For example, what should be expected of someone whose dog is hunting a rodent within that person's own property but which then goes onto an adjacent property? How can it be shown that it was not intended for the dog to breach the terms of the exception in the schedule? Does the owner have to show, for example, that he was trying to put the dog on a leash at a certain distance from the boundary between the two properties? There is still uncertainty and ambiguity over that question.
We then move on to the question of dogs killing rodents underground. I agree with the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire that we will need to explore this issue in greater detail in later amendments. However, the Burns report concluded in paragraphs 6.82 and 6.84 that the welfare of terriers was in danger of being compromised; not because a tunnel might fall in upon them, but because they might get into a fight with a fox. Although the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole told us an anecdote from his own experience, that should not lead us to conclude that legislation to prohibit owners from allowing their dogs to corner rats should be allowed onto the statute book. I am also not persuaded that the arguments put forward so eloquently by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed have been countered by any of the speeches that we have heard from the other side of the Committee.
If we are considering the killing of rodents underground in terms of animal welfare, I find it peculiar that Deadline 2000, the author of this schedule, clearly regards the killing of a rodent underground by a dog as inimical to animal welfare but the killing of an animal underground by a ferret as something that should continue to be permitted. If this Bill should pass onto the statute book, I wonder whether it would be a good time to buy shares in ferret-breeding companies. One reaction of many gamekeepers and farmers might be to employ ferrets for tasks previously done by terriers.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 deal with rabbits and rodents. We have not had any satisfactory explanation during this debate of the exclusion of rabbits from the exception that is provided in part II in respect of rodent control. When we come to rodents, I have no persuasive argument as to why the detailed, complex and ambiguous terms of the exception provided for in part II are somehow preferable to the general exception provided for in my amendment. The only argument that I felt carried force, and which I understood and respected, was that of the hon. Member for West Lancashire. He said that if the amendment were carried, people would be allowed to continue hunting and foxes and stags because they could claim that they were riding to hunt rats.
If we are to have the confidence in the prosecuting authorities that the Minister and every other Labour Member who has spoken assures us that we ought to have, it is farcical to imagine that people will seek to evade the law in that way. However, a general exception of the sort that I propose would provide certainty to gamekeepers, farmers and others. They are not the targets of the majority who voted in the Chamber last week for a ban on hunting with hounds, but they would be at risk of prosecution if the schedule were to proceed unamended. I therefore intend to press the amendment to a Division.
Question put, That amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 15.
The amendments would define more tightly the word ``dog'' in paragraph 1 of schedule 3. Amendment No. 4 would limit the offence of hunting with dogs to animals bred especially for such hunting. Amendment No. 5 offers a different approach; it names three breeds to be covered by the offence—foxhounds, stag hounds and beagles.
I start from the premise that the purpose of the campaign against hunting with hounds and the motivation of the majority of the members of the Committee of the whole House who voted in favour of option 3 last Wednesday was to seek an end to organised hunting with hounds of foxes, deer and mink. I do not believe that the majority of people who took part in that debate and in the following Division wanted to outlaw people's ability to pursue other animals with their dogs. Nor do I believe that that majority wants to put at risk of criminal action those who own a breed of dog that, although not specially bred for hunting, nevertheless chases an animal—be it a deer, fox or mink—the hunting of which will be a criminal offence under the Bill.
I am trying to tease from the Government why the schedule makes a general reference to dogs, rather than a specific reference to those breeds of hound that are the apparent target of people who have campaigned for a ban for many years. I am also trying to offer an alternative way to accomplish the objectives for which the House has voted, without risking criminalising those whom, in my view, the House did not intend to affect.
The Bill's purpose is to end hunting with dogs. All hunting that is covered by the Bill is conducted using recognised breeds that are bred specifically for their hunting skills. Those breeds are distinct and identifiable, but all dogs will hunt of their own accord. However, it is stag hounds, foxhounds, beagles and certain other breeds that are almost exclusively to be found in hunt kennels. They are pack animals and are bred to behave in that way. Specifying the breeds of dog that the ban will cover would help to prevent absurdities—to which reference has already been made in previous debates—that might otherwise occur when trying to enforce the Bill, should it become law.
If one considers how implausible it is that those who participate in hunting should seek to use breeds other than hounds, it is clear that the fear that the amendment would blast a great hole in the Bill is misplaced. I doubt that even the most enthusiastic follower of foxhunts would set about breeding a pack of corgis to pursue a quarry through the countryside. We are unlikely to see packs of borzois or salukis in pursuit of foxes and hares.Campaigners' objectives could be attained by a more precisely defined offence of the sort that I propose.
The point is that the schedule as drafted is ambiguous and uncertain in respect of those whom it will cover. We know that it will affect organised hunting, but I contend that there is a risk that, if not amended, the schedule could affect perfectly innocent people. There is a danger that the Bill will put at risk the farmer or landowner who exercises his dog and uses it to pursue vermin on his land. To some extent, we explored that issue in our previous debate, and I shall try not to go over ground covered then. However, in tabling these amendments my motivation was in part the same as that which prompted me to table the previous group. As it stands, the offence in paragraph 1 will apply to a single dog of any breed. I have not been persuaded by the Under-Secretary's argument that there is a clear requirement in the Bill to prove intent. He has argued that there is, but that has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction in the original draft of the schedule.
The Bill lacks a requirement to show a specific intent to hunt. Somebody who takes his dog out, perhaps to catch rats on a farm, and finds that his dog chases a hare and kills it, could, presumably, be guilty of a criminal offence. That could happen, even if the farmer concerned was unaware that there were hares in that field. The dog owner would be liable to prosecution if he knew there was a risk that a hare was in that field but the court considered that he was indifferent or reckless as to the animals that his dog might hunt and kill.
Again, there is uncertainty in my mind as to the point at which liability rests with the individual dog owner. What precautions must that dog owner take to provide an adequate defence? Must he show that he was ignorant that there were animals, the pursuit of which would be an offence, on the land in question? Is it enough for him to say, ``I knew that there might be, but I do not go out with the intention of hunting, so I am in the clear, because no criminal offence has been committed''?
Of course, the dog owner is not required to show anything. The prosecution is required to show intent, as is always the case in criminal law.
Yes, but the problem is—we shall explore this further in a later group of amendments—that the Bill provides for the offence of hunting, not particular activities that are defined as cruel. That issue is explored in detail in a later group of amendments, which I shall want to discuss, but that is one problem with the point that the Under-Secretary raised.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one advantage of the amendments would be that people who live in the countryside would be less concerned by the issue? This is not only a matter of trying to tidy things up in a way that, to the Under-Secretary, may be otiose. The amendments respond to my constituents' fears that this may involve them. If they are out with a dog that is not of this description, they cannot be involved, which would be a happier result for them.
My right hon. Friend puts the point well. He and I seek to accept, with regret, the decision reached by the Committee of the whole House. We say that it is possible for the promoters of the Bill, who include the Government and pressure groups, to secure their avowed objective of outlawing organised hunting with hounds, without the inherent ambiguity and uncertainty in the original draft of the schedule.
Mr. Alan Simpson: I am trying carefully to follow the hon. Gentleman's arguments, but I am uneasy about whether the amendments add, rather than remove, confusion. That the act of hunting with a dog is an offence is a clear and straightforward feature of the clause. However, the two amendments would introduce further ambiguities to the Bill. Hunting animals with a dog that was not one of the named breeds, which almost equates to the notion of friendly fire, would be better than hunting with a named breed. Wild animals that met their maker could console themselves with the notion that it was not a named breed that killed them. Would it not also invite those who want to get around the law to create new breeds specifically for hunting, knowing that they could get away with it because they would not be named breeds? Would amendment No. 4 not also enable someone to say, ``I know that this breed of dog has traditionally been used for hunting, but my dog is reformed. I have bred him to fetch papers and slippers, and he has promised me that he will chase only slippers.''? The amendments run the risk of adding enormous confusion to a Bill that offers genuine clarity.
The hon. Gentleman, who knows that I do not share his views on the alleged clarity of the Bill, is mistaken on two counts. First, he is wrong to assume that, if amendments such as these were accepted, a widespread plot would be hatched to circumvent the Bill's basic intention. My view is similar to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. If a ban on hunting passes into law, within a relatively short time organised hunts will disband. Once the packs of hounds have been disbanded, those who are rich enough to do so will hunt in the Irish Republic or France, so the problem that the hon. Gentleman fears will not arise.
Secondly, amendment No. 4 would deal with the hon. Gentleman's worry. I do not claim that amendment No. 5, which names three existing breeds, is technically perfect. He may be right to imply that, were one to go down that path, it would be necessary to update the list from time to time, probably through statutory instrument. However, amendment No. 5 is different, in that it would limit the offence not to three existing breeds but to a breed especially bred for hunting. It would therefore provide a catch-all description that would stop organised hunting with packs of hounds. It would prevent slight alteration of the genetic makeup of a pack in order to get around the ban on a particular breed. Moreover, a breed of hound bred specifically for hunting quarry would still be covered by the ban for the reasons that I have given.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, such an amendment would provide reassurance for many people in rural areas who, regardless of their views on hunting—they will disagree strongly with the principle of the Bill, but let us leave that to one side—fear not only that the Bill as drafted will criminalise hunting, but that it will put at risk a great many other activities involving dogs, particularly pest control, in the day-to-day life of the countryside.
Although I accept that chihuahuas, pekinese and poodles are unlikely to chase foxes, and that that is a mischief we need not ban, such a ban will inconvenience no one and pose no threat to civil liberty.
It is clear that most breeds have the potential to hunt wild mammals. Restricting the offence to the use of specified breeds would fail to recognise that fact, and go against the spirit of the House's vote. The amendments give rise to a series of ambiguities in terms of how to deal with various breeds of dog that may be mongrelised versions of the types that the amendments specify or used for purposes for which they were not primarily bred. Restricting the offence to those types of dogs would create a significant loophole and would simply be bad law.
Several members of the Committee are worried about the implications of a hunting ban for someone whose dog chases rabbits or squirrels when taken for a walk in a park. Again, I make it clear that it is the actions of the person that matter, not those of the dog. If the person did not intend the dog to hunt, no offence will have been committed.
I want the Minister to recognise that many of the amendments tabled by Opposition Members deal with a problem that we find to be widespread—that people who have no connection with hunting fear that the Bill will affect their normal activities. Dogs chase rabbits; that is one of the things that they do. It is an example of a naturally occurring activity that takes place between animals. The essence of hunting is that one purposely takes a dog in order to do that in an organised fashion. It is can be difficult to distinguish between that activity and doing it by accident, and many people fear the implications of that.
The Minister took exception to my saying—I thought politely—that he is credible on urban matters. I believe that to be true. But why does he not want to try to set people's minds at rest? That would not lead to any diminution in the effect of the Bill in terms of hunting, but it would significantly diminish its impact on people who do not hunt and do not wish to be caught up in these changes to the law.
It would surely be sensible for the Minister to say, ``Of course, if people are worried about this there is no reason why we should not try to be as helpful as possible.'' Having a list of dogs seems to be a perfectly reasonable way of making people feel that the Government are trying to do their best, given the circumstances, to ensure that people who do not need to be involved are not involved. Now that we have passed the stage of tough, hammer-and-tongs arguments about the principle of the Bill, can the Government not be accommodating?
My constituents are seriously worried about the matter. The Government may say that that is unnecessary, but people's perceptions are important, and it would be helpful if the Government could find it in their heart to make the changes that we propose. I say that in no party political terms, because changing the Bill as we suggest would make it more acceptable to many people who do not like it. The Government could then say to people, ``We happen to take this view on hunting, which is not your view. Nevertheless, we have gone to the trouble of accepting a series of amendments to ensure that the Bill doesn't interfere with the normal life of most people in the countryside.''
If the Government were able to do that, they would have a much more credible basis on which to appeal to people in the countryside. It would make life more difficult for me, because I would have to revise a number of the speeches that I have made or am about to make in my constituency and elsewhere. I am prepared to allow the Government to do better as a result because my constituents would not then feel that the Bill is more onerous that it need be.
In an area where some people have strong concerns about civil liberties, our legislation should not be too onerous. Those living in the countryside ought to be able to say, ``Don't agree with them, but they've done their best.'' That should be the aim of the Committee. So far, we are disappointed that the Under-Secretary, although he has been generous in explaining a number of issues, has not yet been able to say, ``On balance, I understand that it is not important enough to press this point if people fear it.'' If we had a bit more of that, it would embarrass us more and embarrass him less.
I suppose that I ought to encourage him not to give way on anything, particularly if he has, as he said, a large rural area in his constituency. People there would support him even more than he suggests they do now if, on all possible occasions, he were to say ``Right. Let us make it simpler and worry people less.'' Let us show that we have only one thing in mind—the banning of hunting. On all these other things we should do our best to make people feel that we recognise and care about them and that Parliament is listening to them.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. I agree in general with what he said. Having established that we are discussing the principle of banning hunting with hounds, at this stage it would be prudent to take on board those amendments that clearly delineate the extent to which other unintended consequences are allowed to result. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be sympathetic to some of the genuine and sincerely proposed amendments designed to achieve that.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, is he suggesting that this list, which does not, of course, include terriers, is within the terms of the will of the House, as expressed in its recent vote? I find that difficult to believe.
At the risk of embarrassing the Under-Secretary—and therefore the whole Government—I was about to agree with him. Because I subjugate my feelings to my values, I shall continue to do so, despite his intervention.
As I said before, it is necessary to have a serious and rational conversation about terrier work. It is an equivocal debate—it is not absolutely clear cut. Members know where I stand on that, but provisionally, on the basis of the evidence—though I feel that it should be regulated—we should come back to that point at a later stage in our proceedings. I do not suggest that terriers should be included at this point, because that was not the intention of the hon. Member for Aylesbury when he tabled the amendments.
I think that I understand the intent behind this amendment, but it provides a great big loophole that could undermine the purpose of the schedule. I do not agree with the schedule, as the Committee knows, but given that we are meant to be analysing the proposals, it is difficult to see how the restriction to a few breeds would not create new breeds of dog, contradicting the attempted prohibition. How does the hon. Member for Aylesbury respond to the Under-Secretary's issue on this? Can he assure the Committee that this is not a wrecking amendment that would bypass the legislation as a whole? I ask that for the practical reason that, if the Bill as amended in this way were to become law and it turned out to invalidate the legislation, I do not doubt that we would find ourselves having the same discussion in a few years' time.
My response to the concluding point made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is similar to that which I gave to the hon. Member for Nottingham, South. Taking account of the points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and I made, if Parliament wishes to pursue the policy of a total ban, amendment No.5, which limits the offence to dogs that are bred for hunting, would be an easier way to accomplish that than amendment No. 4, which proposes naming the breeds that should be covered by the offence. I do not want to labour the point, but there are problems with the schedule. An amendment of that nature could go some way towards reassuring people, in the way that my right hon. Friend described, who feel that legislation intended to operate against organised hunting will have a wider impact on the lives of people in rural communities. However, for the purposes of today's debate, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Mike Hall.]
Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes past Six o'clock till Tuesday 30 January at half-past Ten o'clock.