Schedule 3 - Hunting with dogs: prohibition

Hunting Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 6th February 2001.

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Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 119, in page 20, line 19, at end insert—

`(7) Hunting shall be permitted where—

(a) it is conducted at the request of the landowner (within paragraph 22) in order to protect livestock, fish, fowl (including wild fowl), gamebirds, crops or grassland or trees, saplings or plants; or

(b) to manage the population of the quarry species in the interest of that species or other species of animals, birds or fish; and

(c) the person hunting the wild mammal reasonably believes that hunting is an appropriate means of achieving such protection or management having regard to all the circumstances (and including economic and conservation considerations) the welfare of the quarry species and other species of animals, bird or fish and the safety of other users of that or nearby land (including roads and other rights of way).'.—[Mr. Lidington.]

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 51, in page 20, line 22, leave out `stalking' and insert `hunting'.

No. 54, in page 20, line 28, leave out `out of cover'.

No. 55, in page 20, line 30, leave out `stalking or flushing out' and insert `hunting'.

No. 56, in page 20, line 32, after `livestock', insert `fish'.

No. 57, in page 20, line 32, leave out `or crops' and insert

`crops, grassland, plants or trees or to manage the population of the quarry species in the interests of that species or other species of animals, birds or fish.'.

No. 58, in page 20, line 34, leave out from `consumption' to `or' in line 35.

No. 59, in page 20, line 36, after `hunt', insert `or kill'.

No. 120, in page 21, line 8, at end insert—

`(8) No offence shall have been committed under paragraph 1 where the primary intention of the participants is that game birds are to be flushed to be shot and that either one, some or no species of mammals are to be shot if flushed.'.

No. 90, in page 21, line 28, leave out `searching for' and insert `hunting'.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:30 pm, 6th February 2001

It is a pleasure to welcome you back to the chair, Mr. O'Hara. Members of the Committee will be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who was speaking when this morning's proceedings were adjourned at 1 o'clock, must carry out duties in the Chamber this afternoon. In his introductory remarks on this group of amendments, he commented on the general exceptions to the offence in paragraph 1, which are proposed in amendments Nos. 119 and 57. He also commented on amendments Nos. 51, 55 and 59, which are more technical. I wish briefly to take the Committee through the other amendments, which form a wide-ranging group dealing with stalking and flushing out. It is important to try to present the various strands that are covered.

My hon. Friend made some reference to the phrase ``out of cover'', which amendment No. 54 would remove from the schedule. As he said, one reason for tabling the amendment was to explore the Government's definition of cover, because it is capable of many different interpretations. It is in the interests of certainty, in addition to the interests of those who might be affected by the Bill, that we try to resolve the matter and, if necessary, to amend the Bill to provide a tighter definition. There are also particular groups of people whose ability to control pests would be affected by the Bill. To my mind, there is considerable ambiguity as to whether their activities would be permitted by the exclusions in part II, or whether they would come under the offences described in part I. In particular, I want to refer to the position of Welsh gun packs.

As you will know, Mr. O'Hara, in many parts of Wales, foxes are hunted using dogs, but with followers on foot, rather than mounted on horses. The purpose of hunting with those packs is to trace the fox so that it can be shot. Often the hunting takes place in woodland areas, which are not only small copses or spinneys, but thick plantations of spruce trees covering many square miles. The pack of hounds might search for the fox and drive it through the woodland for some considerable time. The advice that I have received from those organisations connected with Welsh gun packs is that such a chase might take 40 or 50 minutes.

Having read the Bill carefully, I am genuinely uncertain whether the term ``flushing out'' would cover the circumstances that I have described. As I read the schedule, it would provide an exception for somebody who took one dog or a pair of dogs into a spinney to chase out a fox that would be shot by other huntsmen in the field on the other side of the copse. However, it is less clear whether the Government intend gun packs to be wholly exempted from the offence, as the Bill seems to allow.

If gun packs are to be exempted, that would be beneficial to many people in Wales in particular who depend on this method of controlling foxes, but it would be a major exemption, as the Bill's overall intention is to outlaw organised hunting with packs of hounds. If flushing out with a pack, as is now done in Wales, is to be outlawed, the Government must consider how foxes are to be controlled in thickly wooded upland areas. In such parts of the country, lamping—the method preferred by Lord Burns and his team—is not a practical alternative. If the hunting of dogs with gun packs is to be outlawed, what alternative methods will the Government recommend to farmers who need to keep foxes under control in parts of Wales?

I turn from amendment No. 54 to amendment No. 59 to say a few words about falconry. I found paragraph 7(3)(c) intriguing, because it clearly exempts falconry from the Bill and the criminal offences included in it. The purpose of amendment No. 59 is to enable the Committee to debate the matter briefly and to make it clear that the purpose of sub-paragraph (3)(c) is to provide an exception from criminal offences for the use of dogs as an aid to falconry.

The Government's proposed exemption for falconry is interesting, because the Bill seems to provide deliberately for wild mammals to be killed lawfully for sport. That raises an interesting question about the moral purpose behind the Bill. It is difficult to see the logic of, on the one hand, proscribing the hunting of a wild mammal with dogs, while, on the other, making a deliberate allowance for hunting a wild mammal with a hawk or falcon. I shall not detain the Committee with a detailed reflection on the relative cruelty to a quarry animal that is caught by a hawk or falcon as opposed to a hound.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 4:45 pm, 6th February 2001

My hon. Friend could safely say that being caught by a falcon would seriously compromise the welfare of the quarry.

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

My hon. Friend is right. Lord Burns' famous phrase that hunting seriously compromises the welfare of the quarry animal would logically apply as much to falconry as to hunting with hounds. Therefore, although the Bill includes an exemption that my hon. Friend and I might both welcome, it seems at odds with the animal welfare argument put forward by so many hon. Members on the opposite side of the argument.

I have not participated in falconry. Although I have watched a few displays, I have never taken part in the practice involving the pursuit of live quarry, and my comments are therefore based on information from those who are expert in the pastime. As I understand it, falconers frequently use dogs for different purposes. They use pointers to scent out gamebirds or mammals, and spaniels or terriers to flush the animal out of cover so that the falcon or hawk can swoop down to catch and kill it. If pointers are doing the job that they have been trained to do, they do not flush out game in the sense of physically pursuing it and driving it out of cover, but stand motionless and indicate to the falconer or his assistants where the quarry animal is lying up. Given those circumstances, is the use of pointers by falconers covered by the exemption, which deals with the use of dogs in flushing out and stalking, not in scenting game?

What happens if a dog with a falconer reaches the quarry ahead of a hawk or falcon? I am told that that is a far from unusual experience. Paragraph 7(3)(c) makes it clear that the exemption from a criminal offence applies if the mammal is being stalked or flushed out so that it can be hunted by a bird of prey. However, it is possible—and often a reasonable expectation—that a dog will pursue a mammal that it scents or sees and get there ahead of the bird, which may be circling in flight a considerable distance away while looking for prey over a large area. Is there any risk that people may face prosecution in such circumstances?

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

My hon. Friend is making good specific points, but could he help me on a more fundamental matter? I am sure that he agrees that if the Bill is not about morality and animal welfare, it has no business being considered by the Committee. Why, therefore, is it immoral for the dog that is doing the flushing out to get to the rabbit or hare first and kill it, but perfectly moral for a large raptor to pick it up and drop it from a great height? If I had to choose between those methods of having my welfare compromised, I would prefer a quick death in the jaws of a hound.

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

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is difficult to see the underlying logic of the exemptions. They make the sort of distinction to which my hon. Friend referred without applying any consistent moral or practical criteria about animal welfare, although those are key to the arguments that we have heard time and again from members of the Committee who most enthusiastically support a statutory ban on hunting.

Amendments Nos. 56 and 90 are designed to deal with the question of mink, to which the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) may wish to return. Amendment No. 56 would add the protection of fish stocks to the categories under which stalking or flushing out is permitted. No one is going to pretend that foxes are a problem in terms of conserving fish, but the National Gamekeepers Organisation made it clear in its letter to members of the Committee that tracking, stalking and flushing out wild mink with dogs is a routine and essential part of protecting fish stocks.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

That is entirely true, but the point is not singular; it applies to the control of all vermin.

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

My hon. Friend is right, and there are several reasons why this group of amendments is particularly important. For example, unless the schedule is amended so that there is much greater clarity, the Bill might not simply outlaw organised hunting with hounds—for which the House has voted—but seriously compromise the ability of gamekeepers, farmers and fishery managers to carry out their essential responsibilities in controlling various species of vermin.

Photo of Mrs Llin Golding Mrs Llin Golding Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

One of my local fishery managers estimates that he has lost £1,000-worth of fish to mink in two years. He also said that, on the whole, mink do not eat the fish; they simply bite them and leave them maimed on the riverbank. Their natural instinct is to kill.

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

The hon. Lady puts the point forcefully. This is a further hole in the Bill that the Government need to fill with sensible amendments.

In tabling amendment No. 90, which would allow the use of dogs to track down animals that have escaped from captivity, I had mink in mind. We have referred to the scandalous behaviour of animal rights extremists who have freed mink from cages and thereby allowed them to devastate local wild mammal populations. Although the Burns report states that hunting mink with dogs is not the only solution to mink control, it also makes it clear that that method is extremely useful in controlling large local populations of mink. Amendment No. 90 would bring about a real improvement to the Bill by establishing a safeguard. It would allow the use of dogs in respect of mink that have been freed from captivity and need to be caught and controlled quickly, so that other wild mammals can be protected. If we do not establish such an arrangement, there will be further damage to indigenous fauna.

Amendment No. 58 would alter sub-paragraph (3)(b), which currently allows a person to stalk or flush out hares or rabbits to obtain meat for human or animal consumption only if the carcase is neither sold nor otherwise dealt with in the way of trade. In other words, sub-paragraph (3)(b) would allow me to use dogs to stalk and flush out hares or rabbits that are then shot, so that I and other members of the hunting party and their families can eat them for Sunday lunch. However, it expressly forbids me to supply the carcases to my local butcher for him to sell on to my neighbours. The reference to ``trade'' in sub-paragraph (3)(b) would apparently even stop somebody offering surplus game, such as a brace of rabbits, as a raffle prize at a country show.

I cannot understand why the schedule contains that limitation. Why is it wrong for somebody who has used dogs to help him to shoot a few rabbits to sell the carcases on to the local butcher or to trade them informally in the local area? I cannot see the sense of the provision. Amendment No. 58 would delete that limitation so that the exception should apply whenever the purpose of the stalking or flushing out was to obtain meat for animal or human consumption. The provision will clearly apply only to rabbits and hares. I have not detected, even from one of the fashionable television chefs, any appetite for dishes involving foxes. Therefore, I cannot see the objection to the change that I propose.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again. Am I reading the paragraph correctly? My reading is that if I were out with my dog and a gun and I happened to see a rabbit without the assistance of the dog and I shot it, I would be free to deal with it by way of trade, but if the dog saw it first and flushed it out, and, as a result of that, I shot it, I would not be free to do so.

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

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The Minister reassured us in earlier sittings that people going out with a dog did not have to worry, because it is the intention that matters. However, in the circumstances described by my hon. Friend, there is considerable ambiguity about whether one would be allowed to sell the rabbit or hare to one's local butcher. His point reinforces the absurdity of sub-paragraph (3)(c).

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

In view of the very good point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples), does my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) see, in the ambiguities that he has so cogently raised, the need for a new arrangement for game licensing and for butchers, so that they will know that, if they accept the game, they will not be an accessory? I do not know whether we need to consult ``Archbold'' on the matter, but there is clearly a conundrum, which my hon. Friend has exposed with lethal accuracy.

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

My hon. Friend is cogent, as always. We are all told that game is one of the healthiest forms of meat that we can eat.

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

It is also, as my hon. Friend says, delicious. Yet the provision would, in many circumstances, make it a criminal offence for people to sell the carcases of rabbits or hares or even to supply them to their butcher or dealer free of charge. That seems a grave mistake. Amendment No. 58 would put it right.

Amendment No. 120 provides protection against the unintended commission of an offence in the context of game shooting. Dogs are often used to flush out game on commercial shoots. During such shoots, it is inevitable that the dog will start hunting or searching for other wild mammals while the gamebirds are being flushed out. It would appear that, under the Bill, such activity would be a criminal offence. Amendment No. 120 would write into the Bill that no offence would be committed if the prime intention of the person or persons hunting was to flush out gamebirds.

Ministers may argue that such an amendment is not necessary and that we can rely on the Bill's drafting by parliamentary counsel. However, I repeat the scepticism that I have expressed before. Even the most talented, skilful and most learned of parliamentary draftsmen in the Home Office have been known to nod. There have been occasions when Ministers, in all good faith, have assured us that there was certainty in a piece of Home Office legislation, but when such legislation reached the judiciary, a different slant was placed on it.

Amendment No. 120 offers no threat to the central purpose of the Bill. I cannot see how it could be used to provide an excuse for people to dress up in red coats and ride on horses, chasing foxes or deer. It would make it clear to those who organise or take part in shoots of gamebirds that they have nothing to fear from the Bill and that they have an unambiguous defence if anyone tries to stir up trouble against them.

The group of amendments is wide-ranging. Part II exceptions, although certainly well intentioned, leave us with considerable ambiguity and uncertainty about the Bill's impact on the working and recreational lives of the many people in rural areas who do not take part in organised hunting. At the very least, we expect a thorough examination of the detailed points that the amendments address, and I hope that, for the first time, we might elicit from the Government a spirit of open-mindedness and readiness to address those points, which have been repeated many times.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury in some of the points that he has made so cogently. I want to speak to amendments Nos. 119, 57 and 120. A conundrum has cropped up, which is inevitable in such proposed legislation, regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with it. We are trying to make the Bill workable, and I look forward with bated breath and great interest to hearing what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say. I am sure that she will deal with the matter expeditiously.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Sorry.

Paragraph 7, as amended by amendment No. 49, would permit hunting if a landowner requested it in the interests of conservation, or particularly in the interests of management of the quarry population. Will the Parliamentary Secretary turn her brilliant mind to that this afternoon?

My point is again about the invidious position in which gamekeepers will find themselves. We have been through this issue, and I am sorry to have to raise it again, but we have not had a satisfactory answer. If the countryside is to be kept orderly, sensible and clean, under proper stewardship, and if conservation is to be managed, the quarry population will have to be managed. If hunting is banned, a significant number of foxes will remain to be dealt with. Throughout the debate, no one on the Government Benches has produced an argument--or even attempted to do so, because there is not one--to suggest that the Bill will improve the lot of the fox, mink or any other animal. Whichever way the hunted quarry is dealt with, it will be a great deal more disagreeable for the hunted animal than it was previously.

Gamekeepers--if they are allowed to continue to do the job without over-zealous policing by those whom I believe are laughingly called wildlife protection officers--will have to deal with the fox population. They will have to use dogs to flush out the fox. The word ``stalking'' is not a good word to use in that context; anyone who has tried to stalk a fox will have had a pretty lean time of it. We are talking essentially of dogs, or perhaps hounds, that have been decommissioned from hunting and have appeared as down-gunned, down-armoured foxhounds.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough 5:00 pm, 6th February 2001

I wonder whether the hounds that have been specially bred to hunt in a pack will be useful to the keepers. I am not making a debating point; I simply do not know the answer. Does my hon. Friend have any expertise on that?

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I have a lot of expertise, but I do not wish to stray, Mr. O'Hara, otherwise you will pull me up sharply. I do not know whether hon. Members saw in the newspaper that 47 Wye beagles were stolen from their kennels by anti-hunt people. One of the beagles was found in the west country yesterday. It had been castrated and the thieves had tried to remove the tattoo of the hunt--the hunt mark--from its ear. I imagine that all the other beagles had been put down, as they are not suitable to be transmogrified into pets and kept in the charming way in which Labour Members seem to believe they can. To answer my hon. Friend's question, it would be very difficult.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) referred this morning to gun packs. It will come as a dreadful shock to Labour Members to learn that gun packs consist of exactly the same hounds as other hunts, albeit possibly rather slower ones because of the demanding territory over which they hunt. They will draw for a fox, push up a fox and pursue him by his scent. Quite often, that awful thing happens, and he is killed by the hounds. I do not mean to inject the realities of nature into the debate, but that is what happens.

On other occasions, the fox will be forced into the open where it will suffer a cowardly death by shooting, which will be carried out by a Welsh farmer who rightly wants to keep the fox population down because of the damage that foxes do to lambs. Such hounds will kill foxes, so keepers, in the normal course of their duties, might be unable to shoot a fox that their dogs—perhaps a couple of lurchers and a terrier—have put up. The Parliamentary Secretary must deal with that point. It may not be safe to shoot the fox, which the Committee never considers.

I do not know whether you read my distinguished contributions to debate on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, Mr O'Hara. Many of them concerned the use of high-powered rifles on moors. It is all very well opening up the moors to every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to tramp across them, but one does not then want a keeper with a .275 rifle arbitrarily pumping off rounds at a fox when people wearing what I believe are called cagoules might be lurking on the moors. It would not be safe for them. Talk about the foxes' welfare being compromised; I would not fancy being a hiker on a moor in Yorkshire during the nesting season, especially if I was wearing a cagoule—[Interruption.] That is an absolutely marvellous idea.

In the interests of conservation of the quarry species, in addition to the conservation of the countryside, foxes must be dealt with. Contrary to the view expressed by the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence), who rabbited on about how her terrier can distinguish between a rabbit and a rat, when a keeper with two lurchers puts up a fox, the dogs will pursue it.

Incidentally, Mr. O'Hara, have you had the chance to read the exert from a Tristan da Cunha publication entitled ``Ratting Day 2000''? It states:

``The first Ratting Day in the year 2000 was a much looked forward to event. This is when the islanders split up into several teams''— this concerns conservation—

``named after the areas around the potato patches.''

I want the Parliamentary Secretary to concentrate because it may be that when we come to the law some smart-arsed lawyer will say that ``cover'' is not a potato patch—

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. The hon. Gentleman might find a more appropriate description.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is a smart alec. However, he rightly raised the issue of cover. It is not generally believed that potato patches are cover, but for Tristan da Cunha ratting week they are. I want Government Members to take on board the fact that Tristan da Cunha is a protected territory, which means that it falls under the sovereign law of this country. The Bill may affect ratting week in 2002.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. Entertaining though that anecdote was, I advise the hon. Gentleman that the legislation will not apply to Tristan da Cunha.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Nevertheless, ratting in Tristan da Cunha involves taking out trained dogs to hunt rats around the hillside and among the stones—that is the cover. Stones, hillside and potato patches are unlikely to be mentioned in some ghastly little provincial court in south-east England. We do not have stones or potato patches in the south-east; it is all woods. In Tristan da Cunha, the cover consists of stones, potato patches and fissures, where the rats hide.

The publication continues:

``The second group hunts around the patches in the area of their team name.''

The team names are Old Pieces, Twitty Patch, Second Watron, Coolers and Bills Hill. The teams cut off the tails of the captured mice, and the prizes are for the longest tails and the most tails—[Interruption.] I am sorry; I do not mean to offend the hon. Ladies on the Government Benches. The winner is judged by dividing the total number of tails caught by a group by the number of people in it, which gives the number of tails per man.

There is no doubt that conservation, tidying up the countryside and stewardship of the countryside involve the hunting of such animals with dogs. I want an absolute assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary—if she will be good enough to give it—that no keeper will be arraigned before a court because his dogs coursed a fox entirely in the normal and legitimate course of his duties. That is the first part of amendment No. 119. It should be accepted that, in the interests of conservation and the management of a quarry population, it is inevitable that foxes will be pursued from time to time.

The National Gamekeepers Organisation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury so powerfully noted, is confronted with a Bill that could make gamekeeping impossibly difficult, with dire consequences for the rural economy, conservation and keepers' job. I shall not annoy or irritate you, Mr O'Hara, by getting into the argument of how many jobs will be lost as a result of the Bill because that was discussed on Second Reading. However, you know that we contend that many jobs will be lost.

On falconry, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury made some good points about the moment at which a pointer, for example, comes up to point behind game in cover. The falconer will take the cover off the hawk's head and the hawk will then rise and stoop to the quarry species as it gets up. My hon. Friend asked what would happen if the pointer or other dogs ran in and chopped the quarry species on the ground. Will the handlers of those dogs have committed an offence? The Parliamentary Secretary must explain what would happen if some bossy person driving along in a car saw that and decided to instigate a private prosecution and take the matter to the High Court. Would the defence under the Bill be sufficient to throw the case out? The answer is that it would not. We must have the Parliamentary Secretary's assurance that gamekeepers, falconers and others will be protected in the normal course of their sport or profession.

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

A further and related problem concerning those who train pointers was brought to the attention of one of my hon. Friends at his constituency surgery last weekend. A lady who regularly trains pointers said that she could not do so if they cannot be exposed to the quarry that they are required to leave. In the process of that exercise, she could be subject to the same danger of prosecution.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

The right hon. Gentleman is completely right. If we had the time and if the Government would give to the Bill the time that such an important piece of legislation deserves, we could go on exploring such serious conundrums. The Parliamentary Secretary must not brush them under the carpet but should deal with them. How can the lady who trains pointers do so if she is unable to expose them to the quarry species that they must leave?

The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire maintains that a dog or a terrier can be trained to distinguish between a rabbit and a hare. That is so, but it takes a long time and some brutal and fierce discipline, as when young foxhounds are trained not to course or hunt deer. They are taught in such a way that they will never again hunt deer. One rarely sees foxhounds chase deer because they learnt that one lesson and will never forget it. The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point and it should be dealt with.

Amendment No. 54 refers to ``cover''. We are all seduced by what the Parliamentary Secretary says--

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Sorry. We all accept what the Parliamentary Secretary says and I hope that a court will accept that it was never the intention of Parliament to prosecute in such circumstances. However, the magistrates or judge may believe that that was the intention of Parliament and that the Bill is so unclear that they are obliged, because of the overall tenor and context of the legislation, to make a conviction.

What does ``cover'' mean? In Tristan da Cunha, it consists of potato patches, stones and rocks. In fell country, it consists of the high ground of the Cumberland fells. In Sussex, it consists of enormous oak woods, spinneys and small plantations. In the area around Gainsborough in high Lincolnshire where people are lucky to be represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), the cover is totally different. In Norfolk, it consists of acres of sugar beet. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) has mounted a stout defence in support of sugar beet farmers who have been put at such a gross disadvantage by this wicked Government.

What does the Parliamentary Secretary intend ``cover'' to mean? What will a magistrate who may know nothing about hunting and who may be a chemist--[Interruption.] We will not go into that, because the lady in question may not be an hon. Member for much longer and may return to being a magistrate. A magistrate may know nothing about hunting and the prosecutor may refer to ``out of cover''. To me, cover is wood or spinney. Cover means cover over the area where the hunted animal is lying.

If I am walking through the thousands of acres of sugar beet in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk and up springs Charlie the fox, my two lurchers will be off like lamplighters.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I have everything—at least, everything that hunts.

I may not have set out to hunt that fox. He may not have been in cover. He may have been lying on the sugar beet in the sun like the great, indolent, sleek beast he is, probably having just eaten someone's pheasant. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary has seen sugar beet—I am sure that she has—because there are great fields of it. It is a marvellous crop, and the only one that has kept East Anglia going in the past few years—we know what happened to pigs. The fox may be lying on sugar beet, which is not cover, and my dogs may flush him and perhaps roll him over and chop him. I did not go out hunting with my local pack of hounds to enjoy a lovely day in the open air and the company of friends who share the common bond of the thrill and love of the hunt, which has nothing to do with killing anything, but would I be guilty of having deliberately flushed the quarry species out of cover? I would be up in front of the beaks, who would say that I am guilty as charged of a serious offence.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

May I help my hon. Friend? Is it possible that the parliamentary draftsmen left the ``t'' off the word ``cover''?

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

The Bill's draftsmen and women did a jolly good job considering that the schedule was subcontracted to Deadline 2000, but perhaps it could be improved by accepting that amendment. My hon. and learned Friend makes a very good point. Covert would imply proper cover, such as fox cover, where hunts draw for a fox, as opposed to general cover, which means bush, brush and so on.

The point that I want the Parliament Secretary to deal with is a serious one. In Pembrokeshire, the gun packs have to push foxes out of dense forestry, which was so badly planted in vast blocks over the years by the baboons in the Forestry Commission that no one can control the vermin that live inside—to the huge disadvantage of those who live nearby and try to keep an orderly countryside. The Sussex woods, the Norfolk sugar beet fields, the lovely open country in Gainsborough, the wooded coppices of Stratford-on-Avon, the vale of Aylesbury and the Cottesmore country are all totally different.

How is ``cover'' to be defined in the High Court? I may have to hire my hon. and learned Friend, at the exorbitant and outrageous rates that he is well known for charging, to defend me in court because of an inaccurate and unclear decision taken by the Parliamentary Secretary, who I hope wishes me no great harm, at least not in this regard. Will she explain how she envisages that the word ``cover'' will be clear to the people who will have to pass judgment on the matter?

Amendment No. 120 would provide protection against the unintended commission of an offence in relation to game shooting, which is an entirely different matter. Let us imagine that I have just had a splendid Sunday lunch with an hon. Friend, his beautiful wife and his son George, and we go out into the fields with my lurchers, which fall on a fox and do their business in the effective and efficient manner for which they have never been trained, but do naturally. The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), as I have reminded the Committee before, represents the lurcher capital of the world—Lambourn—which has the greatest collection of the fastest hunting dogs in Europe.

In contrast to that, I can envisage a situation in which many rich people, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, are lined out on a shoot in Lincolnshire. They have arrived at their pegs and are standing in keen expectation, the horn sounds and the beaters go in at the far end of the wood that is being covered. In an orderly manner, they advance at no more than 40 paces to the minute—which, incidentally, is that of a guards battalion marching in slow time—and go slowly through the wood with their dogs. Those dogs are not hounds, but Labradors, terriers and so on—people bring all sorts of splendid dogs of various types. A fox will jump up—in a properly keepered place there will always be one or two foxes to the hunt—and off some of the less disciplined dogs will set, and perhaps bowl the fox over. That is the normal pursuit of a shoot. What will happen in such circumstances? Will there be an onus on people who are out on such occasions to have their dogs on leads? What will be their defence?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the subject of beaters and the possibility that they may be liable to prosecution. Such people are often pensioners—ordinary country people who earn £10 for a day's beating and a meal at the end of the day—and are in no position to cope with prosecution. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will address the failure to take account of their concerns.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I wholly agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He represents one of the most sporting parts of the country, where hunting and shooting go well together and there are many shoots in magnificent countryside. Many people choose to earn extra money by spending a lovely day in the countryside with wonderful company, where they have great fun and enjoy it every bit as much as the guns, if not more. Are they to be fined at the levels that the Minister mentioned this morning in his rather bullying speech? How are they to find that astonishing sum of money? Of what are they guilty? They did not set out to hunt the fox, but what is their defence?

All I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to do today is to deal seriously and effectively with the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury and I have raised, which require clarification, so that when the Bill leaves this place, it can be taken seriously. The definition of the word ``cover'' is important. I urge her to consider the characteristically helpful and brilliant suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough to amend the word ``cover'' to ``covert'', which is a clearer definition. Will she also say how, when one is out walking somewhere which clearly is not cover, even by the most demented judgment, that will be treated for the purpose of a criminal offence?

Several hon. Members rose—

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. I must advise the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) that an amendment to replace the word ``cover'' with ``covert'' would not be accepted by the Chair.

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

I know that the Committee is looking forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire speak on Welsh gun packs, which are a feature of his own constituency and a specific and important subject that is well dealt with in the Burns report, but I want first to clear out of the way some other aspects of the amendments. One of those is the food aspect relating to trading in carcases, which is dealt with in amendment No. 58.

Like the hon. Member for Aylesbury, I am at a loss to understand why the Bill is prejudiced against the country gamedealer's small business and why a rabbit flushed out and shot cannot be traded. It is as if the Government were telling people to get lurchers and terriers and catch their own rabbits, because they will not be able to get them at the market any more. The gamedealer will not accept any rabbits in case they have been flushed out and shot rather than shot without the assistance of a dog. If there is any doubt or any possibility that the rabbit could be traced back to someone who habitually uses a dog, the butcher and the gamekeeper will be very careful about taking rabbits at all. I am very fond of rabbit pie, and hope that some Labour Members are too. We shall have more difficulty getting one in future.

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

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that point is even more relevant when one considers the suggestion of the Food Standards Agency to people who supply game or on whose land game is hunted that the concept of traceability, with which we are familiar in the context of farmed animals, should be extended to game animals as well?

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

Again, it will only increase the pressure on the country business. We all know how difficult many country businesses find it to survive, with the numerous other pressures on them, which I shall not go into. Under the Bill, they are to be excluded entirely from trade in rabbits and hares that are shot after having been flushed out. I do not understand that. The Parliamentary Secretary must recognise that that was not part of Deadline 2000's original purpose and should be excluded from the Bill.

I want to read a letter that I received from a Mr. Clarke of Sunderland. He wrote:

``Would you please read this letter out to Committee members. I am writing to ask for an amendment to the Hunting Bill which would give me and thousands like me a chance to continue catching rabbits with our dogs. Speaking for myself I own two lurchers which I catch rabbits with. I keep the rabbits to eat or feed my dogs. I don't kill what I cannot eat and I do not hunt foxes. If this Bill is passed I will not have anything to catch as rats and rodents are not on the menu.''

That is reassuring. Mr. Clarke is one of many who are concerned about the Bill, but there are others who, unlike him, do not eat all the rabbits they catch. They will trade them. They will supply them, reputably, to the market stall in the Grainger market in Newcastle, for example, where one can buy rabbits readily, or to a small country dealer, so that they can be bought by those who enjoy the delicacy of a rabbit pie or a jugged hare. That is one issue that the Government must address.

Secondly, I want to support some of the comments that have been made about game shooting. At every turn the gamekeeper's task is complicated by the Bill in ways that are not central to the purpose of banning foxhunting. I know some gamekeepers who are not all that keen on foxhunting, because they think that it does not kill enough foxes. In some areas, too many foxes survive for the good of the other species that it is the gamekeepers' job to look after. Gamekeepers' interests are related but different. If the Bill is passed in anything like its present form, their everyday work will be made much more difficult, in ways that I described in earlier debates on amendments.

The Government have a responsibility to look at the Bill from the point of view of those who are not carrying out the activity that it is intended to stop. It is the Home Office's job to ensure that legislation does not sweep into its orbit people whom it was never intended to affect. I do not see the evidence that officials in the Home Office have been told by Ministers to comb through the schedule and make sure that it does not do that. Had they done so, I would have expected some of the amendments to have the Minister's name appended to them.

It is quite a common practice for the Government to discover that an amendment is coincident with something that they would favour. I find that strange, because I remember a private Member's Bill to which the Government tabled 250 amendments in Committee on matters even more technical than those before us. The Government must act to preserve the work and rights of gamekeepers.

I want to draw the Parliamentary Secretary's attention to another matter that arises from our previous debate, but is brought into focus and would be helped by some of the amendments in this group. We have a choice: either we accept some of the amendments or we accept at face value the Minister's words in the previous debate. I know that he is now busy with the Church of England debate in the Chamber. He said that the Bill contains a distinction between hunting and tracking. I have looked through it several times since this morning; I find no distinction in it between hunting and tracking, except in certain specific ways. Flushing out is provided for, as long as the rabbit or hare is to be shot as soon as it is flushed out. Some tracking appears to be provided for in search of an injured animal—a case that I raised this morning—but only if the animal is not hiding in a cave or a quarry. If it is hiding in a cave, it is underground.

I take the example of the goat warden and his duties. Unless he has the protection provided by some of the amendments, the goat warden in the Cheviots, using his dog in search of an injured animal, will be at risk of prosecution if the goat is hiding in a cave. There are caves in the Cheviots that, by definition, are underground, and therefore affected.

Another example that has been quoted under this group of amendments is that a kind of flushing or tracking is allowed in association with falconry and other use of raptors or birds of prey. However, they are all specific; there is no general exemption for tracking. One is at risk of prosecution if one pursues an animal with a dog with any intention other than to shoot it instantaneously when the dog flushes it out. If one's purpose is different, such as checking the condition of a herd of wild animals, checking to see whether there is an injured animal among them or controlling the overall number of animals in an area, one is at risk of prosecution.

Unless the Parliamentary Secretary can point me to a paragraph in the Bill that makes the amendments unnecessary, she must find another way of explaining what the Minister meant when he said that there was a distinction between hunting and tracking and that I was talking about tracking.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 5:30 pm, 6th February 2001

The right hon. Gentleman quoted Mr. Clarke from Sunderland, who had written to him. He will agree that there are thousands of Mr. Clarkes all over Britain, particularly in the north and possibly in Wales, who will be caught in such a trap. It may be interesting for the right hon. Gentleman to know that the Northumberland and Durham Lurcher Club is sending a coach-full of its own supporters to the countryside march on 18 March. That is from just one place near his constituency.

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

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that some of my constituents and others from Northumberland are chartering a ship to come down to the march. The issue has aroused a great deal of passion.

Again, a category of people who, as I understand it, were not intended to be the subject of restriction by the Bill—many of them live in constituencies represented by Labour Members—would be restricted, and they are extremely worried about it. This is an unusually disparate group of amendments, but several of them would help to reassure those people. Unless the Parliamentary Secretary can give some other form of reassurance or put some substance to the distinction between tracking and hunting to which I referred, we shall have to accept some of them.

Photo of Mrs Llin Golding Mrs Llin Golding Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

I return to the subject of mink and I do not intend to leave it, because it is a serious problem. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, who has just left the Room, said that the Bill will not benefit mink, but it will. No one will be allowed to eradicate them, and that will cause serious problems.

I received an article about the problems associated with mink in the Hebrides, and it illustrates the ravages that mink can cause if they are left to flourish. About 30 years ago, four mink were released into the wild, and now thousands swim between the islands and devastate the wildlife. They ravage colonies of black wing, dunlin, snipe, redshank and many ground-nesting birds. They massacre the chickens and ducks that belong to the crofters, and as a result many crofters no longer keep fowl.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. As the Bill does not apply to Scotland, I trust that the analogy will be put in the context of England and Wales.

Photo of Mrs Llin Golding Mrs Llin Golding Labour, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Of course, Mr. O'Hara.

A group has proposed a mink eradication scheme for the Hebrides. The plan is to saturate the islands with cages in such a way that the mink would be shifted north. The estimated cost of the scheme, which would eradicate mink from a fairly wide but none the less contained area, is £10 million. To eradicate mink in England and Wales through the same method would be even more costly, if not impossible. The group's founder said:

``We hope the Government will recognise that it will be well beyond the capabilities of an organisation like us to fund a project of this size.''

Indeed it would, but the founder has little hope of obtaining any help from the Government. A letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), states:

``In the 1960s Agriculture Departments carried out an eradication scheme by means of an extensive trapping campaign. The campaign ceased in 1970 when it was accepted that feral mink had become too well established and widespread for eradication to be possible. A further campaign would be very costly'',

so such action was neither revived nor considered.

The problem is that the only people who are prepared to do anything about the problem at a reasonable cost are mink huntsmen. If they are prevented from hunting mink, there will be an enormous expansion of the mink population to the detriment of our wildlife. There is a huge campaign to bring back the water vole, but welfare organisations recognise that the animal that does the most damage to the water vole is the mink.

If amendment No. 119 were accepted, it would do much to help the wildlife of this country. It is a serious matter to leave mink to run free to multiply and damage the wildlife of England and Wales, as well as Scotland. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary ought to take the matter seriously and accept the amendment.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

One of the most common aspects of laws that pass through the Houses of Parliament is the unforeseen consequence. This part of the schedule is another example of legislation speeding its way through the process. I shall leave aside most of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, but shall speak, in particular, to amendment No. 58, dealing with gamedealers.

I am guessing that the possible reason behind the Bill, as currently drafted, is to prevent gamedealers from urging the public to hunt to order. One knows of crime syndicates that have high-value cars stolen to order. Earth-moving and road-making equipment is also stolen to order and is either dismantled and exported to Africa, eastern Europe and other less developed parts of the world or simply sold in the United Kingdom. Such activities are clearly designed to encourage people to steal.

The offence of handling stolen goods carries with it a far more severe penalty than mere theft, presumably because public policy requires that those who encourage others to steal should be dealt with in such a way as to inhibit such action. I imagine that the reason why Deadline 2000 drafted the Bill in this way, with the assistance of the Home Office, was to inhibit those who want to deal in the carcases of hare or rabbit from inviting others to fill their shop windows for them.

The unforeseen consequence of this provision is that hundreds and hundreds of entirely legitimate gamedealers who have been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex and for Aylesbury, will be criminalised. Had Deadline 2000 given the matter more than a moment's thought, it would have considered the proposal in amendment No. 58, so that the words

``without first being sold or otherwise dealt with in the way of trade''

would not have been included in the Bill. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Government have allowed the Bill to reach Committee in this state. Paragraph 7(3)(b) suggests a lack of the forethought that all Governments should have when piloting what is essentially a private Member's Bill through the House in Government time with the assistance of Government officials.

The position is made marginally worse when one considers paragraph 7 in the context of paragraph 11, which deals with rescuing animals. Paragraph 7(a) deals with

``stalking a fox, hare or rabbit''.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury pointed out, no one whom we know of eats a fox, but many people, including me, eat hare and rabbit. I suspect that paragraph 7(a) refers only to fox, hare and rabbit—rather than, say, to roe deer or any other form of deer—because it is unthinkable to those who organised Deadline 2000 that anyone should want to eat deer meat.

However, what will happen when someone in Devon or Somerset—Scotland is out of bounds as far as this Bill is concerned, so we cannot concern ourselves with killing deer north of the border—discovers a deer that might be seriously injured? Let us say that, according to the definition in paragraph 7, he stalks it with a collection of dogs or hounds, flushes it out and kills it.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex 5:45 pm, 6th February 2001

He could not stalk it if he could not see it, which is one problem with the definition. One can spy a stag on the landscape and one can stalk it. According to the circumstances that were outlined so well by my hon. and learned Friend, the deer would have been flushed out but it would not have been stalked, because to be stalked it must first be seen.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

I take my hon. Friend's point. Both he and I enjoy deer stalking in Scotland, which involves spying a red deer, stalking it and then going after it with a rifle. However, having spied the deer one sometimes loses sight of it, which is the essence of my point.

Having brought to its end a beast that might be seriously injured, one would presumably be prohibited from doing anything other than burning the carcase or eating it oneself. A deer carcase that has been gralloched and stripped of its head can weigh about 14 to 20 stone, depending on where it has been feeding. Highland deer, for example, will probably weigh less than English park deer. I know from personal experience that red deer in Thetford chase, in south-west Norfolk, can weigh well in excess of 20 stone. Some have a dead weight of as much 25 or 26 stone, even after stripping out. That is an awful lot of meat; good, healthy meat that ought to be available to the public. The only way to get hold of it is through gamedealers, butchers and retail outlets.

If amendment No. 58 is not accepted and the provision in its present form is married up to paragraph 11 and enacted, the unforeseen consequence that I have outlined will form part of criminal law. Quite apart from constituting economic madness, that strikes me as extremely silly, illogical and unnecessary. This Government, if they have a will, have the opportunity and the motive to bring the Bill back into some form of order.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Will my hon. and learned Friend point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that there was a big debate in the 1980s about the vast increase in deer poaching? Having got that sorted out—for example, it is not worthwhile for a publican to sell venison that has come from a disreputable source—we would put a spanner in the works by encouraging illegal dealing in deer carcases.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

The more one studies the Bill, the more one sees that it is riddled with deficiencies. My hon. Friend has just pointed out a further problem that Deadbeat 2000 failed to consider. The Committee, even if it does nothing else, should draw the Government's attention to the problems that will arise if the Bill is enacted. It would be wonderful if we could rubber-stamp the Bill and say, ``Passed. This is good meat. It can move on to the next stage of the legislative process.'' However, we are discussing amendment No. 58 only; there are the other amendments in the group tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. We are finding many unforeseen consequences that should have been dealt with before the Bill was printed.

Finally, I want to rescue my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex. In an earlier contribution, which he delivered with characteristic bravura, he referred to me as a certain type of lawyer. Of course, Mr. O'Hara, I shall not repeat the words that he used because I do not wish to give the libel further currency. However, I congratulate him on drawing to our attention the publication from Tristan da Cunha. It denotes a small island community, which is perhaps similar to many of the small rural communities in distant parts of this country, going about what they believe to be a perfectly normal and legitimate activity. If—I do not know whether this is the case—Tristan da Cunha, which I believe to be a subsidiary of St. Helena, has its own Parliament, and the Hunting Bill, which its residents would probably refer to as the hunting ordinance, came before it, they would roar with laughter at the ignorance of people who thought it sensible to enact the Bill in that jurisdiction.

You, Mr. O'Hara, have correctly pointed out that, under clause 6, the Hunting Bill extends to England and Wales only. However, Baroness Scotland is Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for overseas territory. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Under-Secretary, being within England and Wales, are susceptible to the provisions of the Bill if it is enacted. Therefore, she may well be under political pressure to ensure that Her Majesty's overseas territories, which are administered politically under her jurisdiction, are subject to the same laws as England and Wales. I shall leave it there because that point will suffice.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

My hon. and learned Friend makes an extremely good point. The islanders of Tristan da Cunha have a ratting week because the rats must be killed or they will damage the crops. It is not an ordinary, everyday pursuit; it is essential to the well-being of the crops and the islanders' cultivation.

I ask my hon. and learned Friend, as a lawyer of a very good type, to deal with this issue; ferrets are put down holes—this is an important point, Mr. O'Hara—to chase rabbits out, where they are netted and shot. It is a wonderful sport and essential to keeping good order in the countryside. The ferrets often fight the rabbits and kill them underground. The Bill does not restrict ferret work. Where is the consistency between that and the proposed ban on terrier work? I do not understand it.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

Where is the consistency between the entire Bill and animal welfare? We have made such points before but although our arguments are accurately aimed, they seem to land on deaf ears.

I hope that I have not taken away from the arguments put by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury about the other amendments in the group. It is a terrible pity that we must deal with such a Bill. It is full of inconsistencies and drafting defects. The Parliamentary Secretary will have to rescue it; if not today, then between now and the election. It is a mess.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

I suggest that amendment No. 119 is in the spirit of the animal welfare goals promoted by Deadline 2000. It also goes a long way to resolving a number of the inconsistencies in schedule 3. The Burns report underpins what I wish to say about the amendment. The report states at paragraph 6.13 on page 109:

``It follows that the welfare of animals which are hunted should be compared with the welfare which, on a realistic assessment, would be likely to result from the legal methods used by farmers and others to manage the population of these animals in the event of a ban on hunting.''

The other relevant point is to be found on page 119 of the report. The following is crucial, because the Burns report was regarded as the authoritative starting point for the entire debate. He said:

``None of the legal methods of fox control is without difficulty from an animal welfare perspective. Both snaring and shooting can have serious adverse welfare implications...Our tentative conclusion is that lamping using rifles, if carried out properly and in appropriate circumstances, has fewer adverse welfare implications than hunting, including digging-out. However, in areas where lamping is not feasible or safe, there would be a greater use of other methods. We are less confident that the use of shotguns, particularly in daylight, is preferable to hunting from a welfare perspective. We consider that the use of snaring is a particular cause for concern.''

Finally, paragraph 6.61 states:

``In the event of a ban on hunting, it is possible that the welfare of foxes in upland areas could be affected adversely, unless dogs could be used, at least to flush foxes from cover.''

There we have it. Burns does not state in those quotes—and I assure the Committee that he does not do so anywhere else in the report—that it is necessarily more cruel to dispatch foxes with dogs than the legal alternatives that would otherwise be used. At the very least, I would like to think that hon. Members on both sides of the argument accepted that Burns does not say that it is proven that banning the hunting of foxes with dogs would necessarily improve the welfare of the fox. It is in that context that I wish to illustrate a contradiction in the schedule. I need therefore to describe how hill packs operate—hill packs being the predominant method of fox control in uplands mid-Wales and north Conwyshire.

I shall quote from a book entitled ``Fox Hunting: Beyond the Propaganda'', which was published in 1997 by Wildlife Network. The book did much to stimulate the creation of the Middle Way Group. The book describes the activity of hunting in the hill pack fashion. I refer to it because I want to show that amendment No. 119 tackles the inconsistency of allowing the killing of foxes to continue but hunting with dogs not to be one of the legal methods of doing so. I quote from page 16 in the book:

``A Game Conservancy Trust study of fox control in three regions—mid-Wales, East Midlands and West Norfolk—has found that the proportion of foxes killed by hunts, as opposed to other means, varies from 10% to 70%. It tends to be greatest in hill country, and indeed work by Macdonald and Johnson suggests that in those areas fox-hunting may help to control the level of predation of lambs, not least because hunts attempt to target specific foxes. The foot packs of Wales, the West Country, the Pennines and the Lake District are among those which respond to farmers' lambing calls. If a farmer discovers that he has lost lambs to a fox, he will alert the huntsman, who will bring the hounds and attempt to track down and kill the guilty fox. There is no sport involved here: the hunt is acting as an unpaid rent-o-kill. The David Davies Foxhounds respond to over 30 calls during the lambing period, and in a season the hunt kills some 200 foxes. Hunts in the uplands can justly claim to have a pest-control function, but one might add that if farmers wish to kill foxes and reduce their population dramatically there are more efficient ways of doing it''.

The book then mentions gun packs.

It is perfectly clear from the book—we can argue about whether hon. Members agree with it—that the author, Charlie Pye-Smith, is convinced, as I am, that the hill farmers of Montgomeryshire are unquestionably not enjoying the pursuit of foxes simply as a social activity, but are doing so—and killing foxes with dogs—because they believe that it is the most efficient means of pest control. The problem with the schedule as it currently stands is that it would ban that activity and would require individuals to find an alternative method of killing foxes instead of hunting with dogs.

Burns recognises that a ban on hunting, in that sense, could adversely affect the welfare of foxes in uplands areas. Amendment No. 119 would permit those who live in the upland areas to continue with that specific method—and I suppose other methods, too—to ensure that they can carry on controlling the fox population as they have done for centuries.

One can argue that the method is cruel and that we should ban it for that reason. However, there is at least one other method that Deadline 2000 claims is extremely cruel: the use of gun packs. There was some discussion of whether gun packs should be a target for a future ban. We were assured by the hon. Member for West Ham that claims that gun packs were under any threat were the result of a now-defunct policy from long ago. That is not the case. We have evidence that suggests that, as recently as May 1997, the League Against Cruel Sports was still explicitly opposed to gun packs. I quote from a letter written by John Bryant on 28 May 1997, referring to a report that the league submitted to the Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which says:

``The report makes it clear that the notion that gun packs merely use dogs to flush foxes out into the open where they can be humanely shot, is false, and that such hunts involve great cruelty''.

He goes on to say that he hopes that gun packs will be banned, adding:

``If we fail, and only end up with a ban on mounted traditional hunting, I can assure you that we shall thereafter concentrate heavily on exposing the operations of gun packs and fox destruction clubs to prove that they inflict unnecessary suffering on death upon foxes.''

In the context of what we are discussing, there can be only two conclusions. The first is that once hunting with dogs has been banned, LACS will move on to promote a ban on those other methods as well. That is beyond the remit of our present discussions, so I simply seek the Parliamentary Secretary's view on whether the Government would be sympathetic to a proposal to ban gun packs at a later stage if the schedule as drafted agreed.

The second conclusion is that it would be a contradiction if we were to receive an assurance from those who support the schedule that they do not intend to move on to banning gun packs. It is clear from the words of LACS that it regards the activity as cruel. LACS does not explicitly say that it regards it as equally cruel to killing a fox with a dog, but that would be a moot point, given the strength of the language used in the letter.

We find ourselves with a contradiction. The schedule would abolish hunting with dogs—we should bear in mind that Burns did not unequivocally say that that was crueler than other methods—which would mean the continuation of a system that so affronts LACS that it is committed to abolishing it. The formulation on gun packs shows, in principle at least, that those who want a ban are willing to listen. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) and I had many exchanges during debates on the so-called Foster Bill, and it was a credit to him that he included an exemption. I hope that he did so based on the merits of the arguments made.

Photo of Michael Foster Michael Foster Labour, Worcester 6:00 pm, 6th February 2001

To clarify the position, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the exemption for flushing out was included in my Bill before it was even debated on Second Reading? It was not related to our debate in Committee, but was a result of my consulation with, among others, Welsh gun packs and fox destruction societies.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

I am perfectly happy to give the hon. Gentleman the credit for consulting on the matter, and I have no doubt that he did so. In an election year, one tends to maximise the opportunities to remind one's constituency that one was active in certain matters—even if only for congratulations.

The hon. Gentleman listened to the arguments on gun packs and accepted that there was a case for exemption from a ban. I hope that the logic of what he did, coupled with the comments in the Burns report about other methods and the words of the League Against Cruel Sports, will encourage him and others to think again about whether they want to enforce a blanket ban across the United Kingdom. Perhaps instead they would consider amendment No. 119, which would allow hunting by the method to be used in circumstances known to all parties involved, including the landowner.

If the hon. Gentleman went to the people who convinced him to make the modification on gun packs, I am willing to bet that he would find that they were reasonable and did not celebrate or display considerable blood lust on the killing of a fox. Nevertheless, they would feel that the most effective way in which to tackle the predation of their stock was hunting with dogs. I would even be happy to give him the names and addresses of people who may not entirely agree with the details provided by the Middle Way Group, but who would still be willing to share their views with him. They might convince him in a rational way that changes such as amendment No. 119 would bring the Bill into line with that he regarded necessary in his proposal a few years ago.

Amendment No. 119 makes sense in the same way in which—I hope—the proposals of the Middle Way Group make sense, at least to some members of the public and some Members. It would go a long way towards achieving what the Middle Way Group was trying to achieve, which related to the fact that, obviously, the welfare of any animal killed as a result of human activity is compromised. With regulations and controls, we could improve animal welfare without unreasonably restricting civil liberties.

Although amendment No. 119 is not as involved and complete as the 64 paragraphs of schedule 2, which was proposed by the Middle Way Group, in principle it begins to rebalance its two crucial elements: animal welfare considerations and civil liberties. It is a relatively simple amendment and does not include all the safeguards of the Middle Way Group proposals. However, I would like to think that its inclusion, plus, perhaps, further amendments on Report, would create a schedule that would begin to be workable and to allow local communities and landowners to decide for themselves what they are willing to tolerate.

I hope that hon. Members will seriously consider the points that I have made. If they abolish hill packs, they will risk compromising the welfare of foxes to a greater degree than previously. I quote Lord Burns again. On page 118, paragraph 6.56, he says:

``We received a good deal of evidence arguing that it was not easy to shoot foxes and that a fair number were wounded. We suspect that this is correct, given that foxes are relatively small animals.''

In other words, there is evidence in the Burns report that there would be wounding if the killing of foxes by dogs were replaced by shooting. Let us remember that attempting to kill a fox by dogs is an all-or-nothing business; the fox either escapes or it does not. There is a danger, especially with shotguns, that the fox will die a much more agonising death.

I would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary answered two questions. First, will she explain why it is ideologically consistent to accept the very reasonable concerns that the hon. Member for Worcester took on board when he exempted gun packs from abolition, but not to exempt—at least in some circumstances—killing a fox with dogs, such as in the hill packs in Montgomeryshire, in fell packs and so on? Secondly, does she believe that animal welfare is necessarily improved by not accepting amendment No. 119, thereby maintaining the schedule as it stands? I should like to hear why she feels, from the evidence of Burns and on the basis of other evidence that she may have, that we will improve the welfare of the fox by banning the hunting of foxes by dogs—even with the limitations of amendment No. 119. That is not a trick question, but it is one to which the many people involved in this debate, and those who read Hansard, would like to hear the answer.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I know that many amendments are discussed and that there is often a tendency to keep one's head down and do one's correspondence in these Committees, but I urge hon. Members on both sides of the argument to look at the text of amendment No. 119. I am sure that if they do so, they will see that it is perfectly sensible and that hunting shall be permitted only—if it is a request of the landowner—

``to protect livestock, fish, fowl...gamebirds, crops'', if the hunting is

``to manage the population of the quarry species'' and if

``hunting is an appropriate means of achieving such protection''.

Whatever their view on the Bill, I think that most sensible people would accept that that is an entirely sensible form of hunting.

We on the Opposition Benches must accept that the House has made a decision. It wants to abolish hunting as a sport and, under the rules of the Committee, we must accept that. However, I do not think that people who want to abolish hunting as a sport are trying to interfere with proper pest control or with the working life of gamekeepers. If that is true, I do not see why they should not be prepared to accept amendment No. 119.

I think that I know why such people are not prepared to accept the amendment. They think that it will drive a proverbial coach and horses through the Bill. They think that organised groups of hunters for sport would always be able to point to it as a defence. They think that such groups would say, ``I was here with the permission of the landowner''—that is fairly easy to obtain, and is usually obtained at present—or ``I was hunting on my horse.'' They would say, ``I was hunting on foot in order to protect livestock. Look, there is some livestock in that field over there, or three or four fields away. It is well known that hunting disperses and controls the fox population, so, yes, I was there to manage the population of quarry species. Yes, I believe honestly that it was the only appropriate means of achieving such protection.'' Those who support the Bill had the majority; they decided to abolish hunting as a sport.

I go back to my original point. How can we protect countrymen and gamekeepers who are genuinely concerned with the protection of livestock and crops and the management of the species? How can we let them get on with their job? If the Parliamentary Secretary and Labour Members are not prepared to accept amendment No. 119, how do they think that we can achieve that? Are they suggesting that amendment No. 119 would make sense if, instead of saying

``(7) Hunting shall be permitted'', it referred to hunting by one person instead of by organised groups? It would be interesting to know how they will achieve what is meant in the schedule.

Those who have tabled the amendment have done so in a serious way; they are not trying to find a loophole or ways of defeating the Bill. Let us assume that we want to allow gamekeepers to get on with their jobs and that in many circumstances it is necessary on occasion to use dogs. I think that we have established that. I know that there are exceptions for stalking and flushing out but we have probably established that in certain circumstances, whether by accident or design, dogs under the control of keepers will kill foxes, hares and rabbits. We would generally agree that, in those circumstances, gamekeepers or walkers should not be prosecuted.

If the Parliamentary Secretary is telling us that amendment No. 119 is not acceptable, will she give us some intimation now of the way in which she believes that she can enable and help gamekeepers to manage the countryside? That is a fair request. I hope that she will be able to meet it.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department 6:15 pm, 6th February 2001

I have enjoyed this debate hugely. It is my good fortune that it has fallen to me to respond to the most entertaining debates in the Committee, and this debate has been no exception.

I want to deal first with the concerns raised about the good burghers of Tristan da Cunha, raised by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex in what was, among many entertaining speeches, far and away one of the funniest and best humoured speeches that I have heard in a long time. I compliment the hon. Gentleman on it.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

May I pass to the hon. Lady a cutting from the publication from Tristan da Cunha, which she may find of interest?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for that. However, I draw his attention, and that of the hon. member for Mid-Sussex, to clause 6, which says:

``This Act shall extend only to England and Wales.''

I am sorry so early in my reply to have to say that if they had read the first page more carefully, they would not necessarily have been so concerned about the treatment of Tristan da Cunha.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

The hon. Lady is being uncharacteristically unfair. She would know, had she been listening, that I specifically referred to the point raised by you, Mr. O'Hara, in relation to clause 6 and went on to deal with the political pressures that may be applied to Baroness Scotland.

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had not been interrupted and diverted in his contribution, I would have made the point that I shall make now. While it may be legitimate to allude by way of analogy to what happens in Tristan da Cunha and to speculate on whether the Bill will one day be applied there, it is not legitimate to dilate on the implications of that.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

Thank you, Mr. O'Hara. I shall return to the amendments.

Almost all the amendments, including amendments Nos. 119, 51, 54 to 59 and 120—plus others that the Committee may consider later—refer to one of the exceptions to the primary offence of hunting with dogs; stalking and flushing out. Amendment No. 90, which I shall deal with later, refers to the exception relating to recapturing animals.

Under paragraph 7 of the schedule, it is a defence for a person charged with hunting with dogs to prove that his or her conduct related to the stalking and flushing from cover of a fox. Let me deal with the matter of whether a ``t'' has been omitted form the word ``cover''. Clearly, it has not. Cover is to be interpreted in accordance with its natural meaning, which is anything in which, or under which, the quarry can hide or take refuge. The use of that word allows flexibility in the Bill. There is no intention for it to refer to ``covert''.

We are talking about stalking and flushing, provided that four conditions are met, which are set out in paragraph 7. Broadly, the conditions require the activity of stalking to be undertaken only for specific purposes, in specific ways and with the permission of the landowner when the land does not belong to the person doing the stalking. I shall return to those points, but first, I want to make some general points. The amendments would change paragraph 7 of the schedule to the extent that in some cases, the stalking and flushing out exception would cease to exist.

Amendment No. 119 would permit hunting of any kind, when certain fairly loose conditions are met. I suspect that if the amendment were passed, hunting would continue pretty much as it does now. Clearly, that is entirely against the spirit of the schedule, although I accept the spirit in which the hon. Member for Gainsborough advanced his arguments. I accept his intentions and appreciate the valuable debate that we are having.

Amendments Nos. 51 and 54 would allow the hunting of a wild mammal, rather than restricting the exception to stalking and flushing out. Amendment No. 90, which would replace the words ``searching for'' with ``hunting'' would have a similar effect with regard to the exception relating to recapturing animals. I regret the absence of the hon. Member for Buckingham, but I appreciate that he has other duties to attend to. He asked about stalking and suggested that it could be applied only to deer. The hon. Gentleman's understanding is not correct. Stalking is an ordinary English word, used in accordance with its normal meaning and can be applied to a wide variety of mammals.

Amendments Nos. 55 to 59 relate specifically to the first of the four conditions that have to be made to qualify under the exception. That condition concerns circumstances when stalking and flushing out is allowed. Amendments Nos. 56 and 57 extend the purposes for which the activity may be undertaken, to include protecting fish, grassland, plants, trees or to manage the quarry species.

Some telling points have been made by many members of the Committee. Amendment No. 58 would extend the exception for stalking and flushing out for the purpose of obtaining meat for human or animal consumption to include for the purposes of dealing in such trade. As presently drafted, it is not a defence to stalk and flush out if the purpose is to trade in the meat so obtained. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said, the Bill reflects the policy of Deadline 2000. It does not want to encourage that kind of activity for commercial purposes. It is of course for the Committee to decide whether it agrees with Deadline 2000 about that.

The arguments that were advanced gave me pause for thought, so I invite the hon. and learned Member for Harborough to withdraw the amendment to give us the opportunity to consider more carefully the issues that were raised and perhaps to return to the matter at a later stage.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary. Can she tell me when that later stage might be?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I am not able to give that detail at the moment. I shall reconsider amendment No. 58 with my colleagues and address the issues that it raises.

Amendment No. 59 relates to the exception that deals with falconry. As drafted, the Bill imposes a ban on hunting with dogs, but permits falconry to continue. Paragraph 7(3)(c) allows dogs to be used to flush out a mammal for the purpose of enabling a bird of prey to hunt the mammal. Like the hon. Member for Aylesbury, I have never seen birds of prey thus used, although I have seen them take part in demonstrations, and very beautiful they are too.

Hunting includes killing, and the addition of the word ``kill'', as the amendment proposes, is superfluous. The Bill permits falconry to continue, and the hon. Members for Aylesbury and for Mid-Sussex both commented on that. The hon. Member for Aylesbury referred to the role of pointers, which he described as being to stand more or less motionless to inform the falconer of the location of the quarry. In those circumstances, no hunting with dogs, per se, is taking place, so the activity is not covered by the Bill. I hope that that reassures him.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

I accept that the League Against Cruel Sports and Deadline 2000 are entitled to maintain a position whereby they are opposed to such activities. However, given that we have often been told that the reason for the Bill is that it is wrong to derive pleasure from killing animals for fun, surely it is contradictory for it to allow falconry, but not killing a fox with dogs. I say that not because I think that it is stupid to permit falconry, but because I am worried about that inconsistency.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

The hon. Gentleman may hold that view. The matter was considered in the Committee of the whole House, and this Committee must also take a view in the light of the arguments that have been advanced.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

Of course the Committee must take a view, but the Parliamentary Secretary is one of the Ministers in charge of the Bill, which is signed by many other Ministers, including some of her very senior colleagues. The paragraph draws a distinction between flushing out a hare or a rabbit, in that it is all right if it is grabbed by a raptor, taken to a great height and dropped, but not all right if a dog gets there first, bites its neck and kills it. I fail to see a moral distinction between those two actions, and it is incumbent on the Parliamentary Secretary to explain it.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I do not accept that responsibility. It is for the House and the Committee to make such moral judgments.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

The Parliamentary Secretary suggested that a pointer is not engaged in hunting within the terms of the Bill, yet paragraph 21 of the schedule states:

``A reference to a person hunting a wild mammal with a dog includes, in particular,''— whatever that may mean—

``any case where—

(a) a person engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal.''

Surely the handler of the pointer is engaged in the pursuit of a wild mammal, so the hopeful definition of hunting that she gave a moment ago does not fit with the schedule.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department 6:30 pm, 6th February 2001

We are discussing the exceptions to hunting and the question of stalking as defined in paragraph 7. We are also discussing the intent of individuals who undertake the activity. If their intention is to hunt the prey with dogs and to catch and kill the prey with the dogs, they will be committing an offence under the Bill. However, if they are using the dogs to flush out or stalk prey for the purpose of shooting the prey, no offence will have been committed. Clearly, the hon. and learned Gentleman is not satisfied with that.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

I am not and I am not sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, for all her best intentions, has got her head round the matter.

Paragraph 1 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with a dog. We are discussing falconry and, as I understand it from our discussions, the pursuit of a wild mammal by a falcon or with the use of a falcon requires a wild mammal--the quarry species--to be pointed to by a dog. The dog handler then directs the falcon to the game that has been flushed out and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, the falcon grabs it and takes it to a great height where it kills it by dropping it or ripping its throat.

The Parliamentary Secretary may be doing her best, but it is not good enough to say that what is being done when the handler sets the pointer to work to flush out the mammal, so that it can be caught by the raptor, is anything other than a person engaging in the pursuit of a wild mammal within the definition in paragraph 21—and an offence will have been committed under paragraph 1.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

Perhaps I can move on to discuss some of the other issues that are part of the same argument that the hon. and learned Gentleman is making. I may sound confused, but I do not believe that I am.

Under the Bill, it is the intention of the individual, not the dog, that is important, and it is an offence intentionally to hunt a wild mammal with a dog. We are arguing about the definition of ``hunt''. The general prohibition is subject to exceptions, such as the one that we are discussing. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex referred to gamekeepers and he and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to beaters who are out when shooting is taking place. In both circumstances, so long as the activities of the gamekeepers or beaters fall within such conditions, no offence will have been committed.

On the question of how pointers are used, it is my understanding--I have a vague recollection of how they are trained--that if a dog were to interfere in the sport in the way suggested, its training would not have been adequate. Retriever dogs that catch and kill prey cannot be properly used as retrievers, because their purpose is to flush game or retrieve it, not to kill it. Any prosecution would have to be able to demonstrate that the intent was to hunt with the dogs.

I hope that I have been able to make my position on that point clearer.

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

The Parliamentary Secretary's comments are timely. She said earlier that hunting involves killing. I would need to be directed to the clause that states that. The schedule excepts a number of activities that involve killing, such as flushing and shooting instantly, along with others that do not, such as seeking out a wounded animal. The Bill clearly regards both types of activity as hunting, in that an exception has to be made for them. The conclusion that I therefore draw is that, for the purposes of the Bill, tracking an animal is considered hunting unless it fits one of the defined exceptions. Can the Parliamentary Secretary point out where in the Bill it is stated that hunting is not hunting unless it involves killing?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

Perhaps I have not entirely understood the right hon. Gentleman, but my earlier comments seem entirely consistent with the terms of the Bill.

The crucial point is that the Bill will not introduce a restriction on the use of dogs for flushing gamebirds to guns, for example. The principal offence in paragraph 1 refers to hunting a wild mammal with a dog, and it is from that offence that all others in the schedule flow. On the shooting of gamebirds, I should point out that birds are not mammals, so they are not covered by the provision.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I will try to make the point that I believe that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was going to make. The Parliamentary Secretary is doing a magnificent job in trying to square a very difficult circle. With regard to the beating line that I described, I am not worried about dogs running in. Dogs run in all the time, particularly ill-trained ones. Indeed, I have owned one or two ill-trained dogs myself, and they will jump on the bird instead of pushing up. They should not do it, but such things happen. However, I am talking about something quite different.

The sight of a fox can prove too much even for a well-trained dog. Sometimes the dog will be off like a lamplighter, and will kill the fox if it can get near it. The fox is a wonderful animal that is fleet of foot and almost always gets away, but it can be killed. In such circumstances, there is certainly no intention to kill the fox, but there nevertheless remains a real uncertainty for keepers and others. They could be prosecuted for an event that is entirely outwith their experience, and for which there is no real definition or watertight defence. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to appreciate that such people are under great pressure from all sides. The Food Standards Agency, for example, is worrying about whether pheasants get muddied when they land on the ground. Such concerns are absurd, but—

Photo of Edward O'Hara Edward O'Hara Labour, Knowsley South

Order. This intervention is straying beyond the terms of the amendment.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

The hon. Gentleman makes his point; I understand that he is sincere, but I believe that he is wrong. If a dog that is used to flush birds inadvertently flushes a mammal—a fox, for example—no offence will have been committed, whether or not the mammal is shot. As we have said, the test is the intention of the person, not what the dog may or may not do.

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

Interesting though the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex was, it was not the one that I was going to make. I appreciate that I am putting the Parliamentary Secretary under some pressure, and I accept that she might need to write to me on this matter, although we may have finished considering the matter by the time she is able to do so.

Unless the hon. Lady's definition of hunting is imported into the Bill, any deliberate tracking of a mammal with a dog, unless provided for in the listed exceptions, is hunting and is banned. Therefore, all sorts of tracking of animals by dogs for the purposes of wildlife management, conservation or counting a herd are precluded, even though there is no intention to kill at the end. The Parliamentary Secretary has, in good faith, imported into the definition of hunting the idea that the intention must be to kill. However, the list of exceptions, which includes one where there is clearly no intention to kill—seeking a wounded animal—suggests otherwise. I hope that a much more careful examination can be made of this point.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I undertake to examine carefully what the right hon. Gentleman has said and to think long and hard about it. I have listened carefully to the points made in the debate, but I genuinely believe that he has got it wrong. However, I shall consider what he has said and I undertake to write to him if I can clarify the matter further by doing so.

Photo of John Maples John Maples Conservative, Stratford-on-Avon

This comes down to the definition of hunting in paragraph 21, which says:

``hunting a wild mammal with a dog includes, in particular, any case where—

(a) a person engages or participates in the pursuit''— it seems to me that in all cases we are talking about that—

``and

(b) one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit (whether or not by him and whether or not under his control or direction).

The Parliamentary Secretary perhaps needs the cavalry to come to the rescue, and I am happy to take a response later, but that seems to me to be a wide definition that lets in the accidental circumstances that have been referred to. Perhaps we need a tighter definition that includes the words ``an intention to kill''.

On Second Reading, we were talking about activities where the result of the chase was the death of the quarry, but the definition goes much wider than that. If it were confined to what the Parliamentary Secretary seems to be implying it is intended to say—that a hunt is something that results in the death of the quarry—many of our objections would fall by the wayside. Perhaps a Government amendment along those lines would solve the problems.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I should try to refocus the Committee's attention on paragraph 7. The hon. Gentleman is right about the definition at the back of the Bill, but paragraph 7 contains a series of defences to the offence and certain exceptions. We are beginning to debate the exceptions to the offence and we are making heavy weather of a straightforward matter. I appreciate the way in which the points are being made; they are not frivolous. I shall consider them carefully and write to all members of the Committee. I am confident that I can satisfy them on this point, but I shall do my best to address the issues.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I want to go back to the example raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, in which an over-excited dog chases after the fox and kills it, despite the owner's best intentions. The Parliamentary Secretary seems to think that the owner will be in the clear in those circumstances. As I understand what she is saying, clearly it was not his intention from the outset that the dog should chase after the fox and kill it. However, the owner must prove all these things. He must prove paragraph 7(1)(a)—that he was stalking—as well as sub-paragraphs (2)(a), (2)(b), (3)(a), (3)(b) and (3)(c). That is quite a heavy onus on him, is it not?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

The prosecution would have to prove the offence. The defendant would be able to make a cogent defence that could be accepted by the court if it were made under the exceptions in the schedule.

If the person set off with the intention of flushing out mammals and pretended to be flushing out gamebirds as a cover for that activity, he or she would be guilty of an offence. We return to the intention of the individual who is using dogs. However, a person whose intention is to flush out gamebirds for the purpose of shooting them does not commit an offence. Members of the Committee will have gathered from my remarks that I see no need for the amendments to be included in the Bill.

The hon. Members for Aylesbury and for Montgomeryshire asked about Welsh gun packs. The hon. Member for Aylesbury asked if we intend to outlaw them, and the straight answer is no; gun packs can fall within the exceptions. He also asked if we would resist any further moves should the Bill be enacted. I hope to reassure him that we would neither encourage nor support any further moves beyond the scope of the Bill as it is drafted.

As I have said, the effect of this group of amendments would be to rewrite the exception covering stalking and flushing so that far more hunting would be allowed, which would be contrary to the decision of the Committee of the whole House. Nevertheless, given the arguments that have been advanced, especially around amendment No. 58, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the amendments, allowing us to consider them further and perhaps return to the issues later.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 6:45 pm, 6th February 2001

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for her reply. I appreciate her remarks concerning amendment No. 58 and the Government's readiness to at least reflect upon the points that have been made by Opposition Members concerning the apparent lunacy of the schedule as it is currently drafted. I am grateful for the hint of a possible future concession on the ban on selling or trading the carcases of hares or rabbits that have been shot by somebody who used dogs to flush them out. I am also grateful for the firm assurance that she gave in respect of Welsh gun packs.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

I also wish to thank the Parliamentary Secretary, who gave an important reassurance that will be greeted with due gratitude by the hill packs of mid-Wales. However, she did not answer my other question, which was why she feels that not passing amendment No. 119 would necessarily improve the welfare of the fox.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a cogent point. Despite the courteous manner in which the Parliamentary Secretary dealt with the points raised by Opposition Members, I remain dissatisfied with her response in a number of important respects. As many members of the Committee have pointed out, we are dealing with a wide-ranging group of amendments, all of which deal with stalking, flushing out and exceptions to the primary offence provided for in paragraph 1.

When the Parliamentary Secretary discussed the definition of hunting, I was not persuaded that she had answered the powerful point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. Government spokesmen have assured the Committee that the definition of hunting would be the normal use of that term. However, if one examines dictionary definitions or considers the implicit meaning of the exceptions to the primary offence in the Bill, one sees that hunting means not only pursuing an animal in order to kill it, but searching for and seeking out that animal. Other phrases could also be used.

As the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, the schedule makes explicit an exception for recapturing escaped animals and hunting wounded animals. I, too, felt that the Parliamentary Secretary was importing what she would like the Bill to mean, rather than persuading us that it already contains the definition that the amendments would include.

I also felt that the Parliamentary Secretary's answer did not deal adequately with the definition of ``cover'', which was discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex in particular. There is still considerable uncertainty and ambiguity about the extent to which the exceptions in part II of the schedule would provide a genuine guarantee for gamekeepers and others that, in going about their everyday work of pest control, they were not committing a criminal offence.

At the heart of this afternoon's differences between members of the Committee are the general exceptions for which amendment No. 119, in particular, would provide. The central point of the Parliamentary Secretary's reassurance to Opposition members of the Committee was that our fears were misplaced; that the Bill provides for beaters and others who participate in shoots of gamebirds the security and peace of mind that we have sought through the amendment. However, if the Government believe that we need to look after the interests of gamekeepers and others, why not make matters explicit and send to them a message of reassurance by including amendment No. 120?

In the end, we come back to amendment No. 119, on which there is a clear difference of principle among members of the Committee. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said that no one has explained in what way the Bill will benefit animal welfare if the amendment is rejected. We contend that the amendment would enhance animal welfare and the cause of conservation and biodiversity.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

When introducing a prohibition, one needs to be very confident that it will achieve the desired result. As the hon. Member for Aylesbury rightly said, my concern is that no one who has opposed the amendment has conclusively demonstrated that doing so will improve the welfare of the fox. That crucial element has not been directly addressed.

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

I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman.

I look forward to the Government's future proposals in respect of amendment No. 58 and the trade in rabbit and hare carcases. However, I do not believe that the Parliamentary Secretary's welcome words on that subject should cause us to shy away from testing the Committee's opinion on amendment No. 119. Nor, according to my understanding of parliamentary procedure, would a Division on this group of amendments in any way prevent the Government from coming forward with alternative proposals to amendment No. 58. For those reasons, I intend to press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 15.

Division number 7 Adults Abused in Childhood — Schedule 3 - Hunting with dogs: prohibition

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 15 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Mike Hall.]

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes to Seven o'clock till Thursday 8 February at fifteen minutes past Ten o'clock.