I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 122, in page 20, line 22, leave out `or rabbit' and insert
`rabbit, goat or other wild mammal'.
No. 53, in page 20, line 27, leave out `fox, hare or rabbit' and insert `wild mammal'.
No. 63, in page 20, line 42, leave out `fox, hare or rabbit' and insert `wild mammal'.
No. 88, in page 21, line 23, leave out `rabbit or hare' and insert `wild mammal'.
No. 91, in page 21, line 28, leave out `an animal' and insert `a wild mammal'.
No. 92, in page 21, line 36, leave out `animal' and insert `wild mammal'.
No. 93, in page 21, line 40, leave out `animal' and insert `wild mammal'.
No. 95, in page 21, line 46, leave out `an animal' and insert `a wild mammal'.
No. 101, in page 22, line 5, leave out `animal's' and insert `wild mammal's'.
No. 102, in page 22, line 8, leave out `animal' and insert `wild mammal'.
I welcome your return to the Chair, Mr. O'Hara. As I was explaining to the Committee in the 30 seconds or so before the end of the previous sitting, the amendments would change the exceptions to the general offence for which the Bill provides to cover any wild mammal, with the exception of the defence of hunting rodents. The Bill applies those exceptions only to the stalking or flushing out of foxes, hares and rabbits, the retrieval of a rabbit or a hare that has been shot, searching for an animal that has escaped or has been released, or rescuing an animal that was or might be injured.
Paragraph 7 provides exceptions for stalking and flushing out. Amendments Nos. 52 and 53, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), would change the exception for flushing out and stalking from a fox, hare or rabbit to any wild mammal. It seems to me, to my hon. Friend, to other hon. Friends, and perhaps to some Liberal Democrat Members, that there is no sense in animal welfare terms in restricting the species that can be flushed out or stalked. What reason could there be for distinguishing between those three creatures on the one hand and any other mammal on the other—for example, a mink or a deer? Why, therefore, does the Bill distinguish between them in terms of animal welfare or necessary pest control? Surely the arguments that apply to the categories for which allowance is already made could and should apply equally to other animals that we wish to bring within the terms of a broader and more all-encompassing exception.
It would be interesting to know whether Deadline 2000, which seems to be acquiring a certain regularity of mention in Committee, has any documentary evidence to show that a mink, for example, will suffer unnecessarily from flushing out or stalking actions, whereas the fox will not. It is difficult to know on what basis Deadline 2000 has reached what seems on the face of it—although I am happy to await further and better particulars—an arbitrary distinction.
As the Bill is drafted, the provisions on stalking and flushing would seriously hinder pest control. Land managers need to have at their disposal, and be able to exercise, the maximum possible means of control. That has been a recurrent theme in the Committee's discussions, as in previous Second Reading debates. Despite their best endeavours, Government Members have not been able to invoke support for their point of view on this aspect from any of the main representative organisations. That is because those organisations favour maximum flexibility for their members and recognise the Conservative Opposition as their robust ally in that quest.
Land managers need the maximum means of control. The Bill already recognises that stalking and flushing out are acceptable and necessary practices in species management, so it is not as though Government Members have an overriding intellectual or moral objection. We do not know for certain, but some of them may have such an objection, particularly Back Benchers, who hold a variety of extreme, bizarre, largely indefensible and frequently incoherent opinions on the subject. In fairness, we have not heard such comment from Ministers on the Government Front Bench—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ) is laughing. I shall be interested to hear whether she has any views on the subject and wishes to defend them. It is good of her to find time to be with us in Committee, in view of the fact—
I am making the important point—you will understand its importance, Mr. O'Hara—that the Government do not object in principle to stalking or flushing out. I am glad that they do not do so. It is essential that we do not have a navel-gazing or inward-looking discussion but recognise the opinions of those outside, many of whom share the view of the representative organisations and Her Majesty's official Opposition. I refer, for example, to Mr. Mark Harper, an especially assiduous and admirable prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for the Forest of Dean constituency, which I mention entirely coincidentally in developing the argument—
I am very grateful, Mr. O'Hara. Your natural kindliness, tinged with a desire occasionally to exercise your authority, is respected by Members on both sides of the Committee, not least by me.
The amendment would provide greater flexibility in flushing or stalking mink and deer towards guns. The Bill does not allow the flushing of deer from cover, only that of fox, hare and rabbits. That will restrict methods of culling deer in England and Wales.
Again on the subject of representative organisations, about which Labour hon. Members are understandably sensitive, seeing that those organisations agree with us and not with them, it is important to understand what they say. I shall be sparing in invoking them, because we want to make steady progress, but I cannot miss out the opinion of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation—and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) would not expect me to do so. That highly representative organisation is deeply versed in the countryside and has great experience of such matters. It should therefore be listened to, if not always with agreement by all members of the Committee, at any rate with the respect that it deserves. What does it say? It says:
``where the deer population—particularly muntjac and fallow—has increased excessively in areas of woodland which are impenetrable to humans, dogs are used steadily to move the deer towards waiting, static guns in order to be shot.''
That makes the BASC's position clear. Typically, as we know, terriers or spaniels are used for the purpose.
What, too, of the opinions of the British Deer Society? In its submission to the Burns inquiry, it noted:
``the use of dogs to flush deer from dense woodland is becoming increasingly common in all areas of the UK...there is certainly'', it emphasises,
``evidence to suggest that proper and effective control of deer in newly established and replanted forests can never been achieved humanely without using dogs to flush deer and find wounded deer. The consequence'', it goes on to say—and members of the Committee should heed this salutary advice—
``of ineffective control of deer in our expanding woodlands will be greatly increased damage to the tree crop.''
That ought to be of concern to those on the Government Benches who are—or who pose as—conservationists or environmentalists. I see that the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) is nodding at that point—[Interruption.] If he wishes to intervene, I shall be more than happy to give way to him. No—he is reading constituency correspondence. Let him carry on if that is what he prefers.
I stand corrected. I confess that I cannot be certain what he is reading, so I accept your admonition in the spirit in which it was administered, Mr. O'Hara. Suffice it to say that the hon. Gentleman was attempting to read something.
The consequence of ineffective deer control in our woodlands would be greatly increased damage to the tree crop. That should not be a matter of hilarity or of indifference to any member of the Committee. The BDS goes on to say:
``Deer will also maraud''
—it uses that word advisedly—
``onto nearby farmland.''
Conversely, the Bill allows the use of dogs to track injured animals, thereby allowing dogs to be used to locate deer that were not shot dead. Where is the distinction—I put this to the Committee seek its response—in welfare terms, between flushing out a deer towards a gun and tracking one that has been shot? Why is the one considered ethical and the other unethical? That is not clear to me.
The situation is worse than that. I have just received a letter from the Minister, which says:
``I think the Bill makes it clear that hunting does not necessarily involve killing.''
It goes on to say:
``in many cases the outcome of hunting undertaken for these purposes will not be the death of the quarry.''
If that is so, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are beginning to see some confusion over what flushing out with a dog entails? To an onlooker, there would be no difference in appearance between a dog flushing out a fox towards guns and a dog chasing a fox with the intention of killing it.
I do not see any meaningful distinction. To that extent, not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement. He made the point that the situation is worse than that which I described. I know that I tend to understate the case—it is an abiding failing of mine—and I am sorry if I did not make the point with the force and vigour that he is entitled to expect. Nevertheless, the advantage in that arrangement is that he makes me seem—as, of course, I am—very moderate.
It should also be pointed out that, arguably, hares do not rest in cover. Therefore, the Bill is inadequate in allowing them only to be flushed from cover. Several of my constituents who are members of one or other of the various hunts in my patch made that point in correspondence.
We have discussed ``Archbold'' a great deal, but I want to refer to the third edition of the ``Handbook of British Mammals'', which is edited by those well known and celebrated figures G.B. Corbet and S. Harris. Hon. Members will almost certainly have copies of the third edition, which was published in 1991. It emphasises:
``hares are most abundant in arable areas where cereal growing pre-dominates.''
How do the Government define cover? I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary would care to provide a definition—[Interruption.]
Order. We extensively debated the definition of cover and flushing when I last chaired the Committee. The burden of the amendment is the categorisation, but not the specification, of ``mammals'', which is the generic term, that may be flushed. The hon. Gentleman is in danger of returning to a previous debate.
I am very grateful to you, Mr. O'Hara. It is a particular pleasure to address this packed Standing Committee.
As you rightly specify, Mr. O'Hara, we are not here to discuss definitions of stalking or flushing. However, you will recall--you were in the Chair at the time--that we had a helpful exchange last week on the difference between referring to and dilating on something. I suggested during a point of order that it would be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, for my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) properly to develop his argument if he were unable to refer to relevant terms.
I am grateful, Mr. O'Hara. I do not want to discuss the definitions of flushing or stalking. Although your autonomy on the particulars is absolute, I was merely seeking your assent to the general proposition that, in order to explain why the exception should apply more broadly and incorporate both mink and deer, as I am suggesting, a modest and brief reference to the activities of flushing and stalking and their relevance to deer and mink is not only desirable but essential for comprehensibility. I am grateful for your helpful nod of the head.
Hares and rabbits are frequently flushed in the open, typically across arable fields, towards guns, but under the Bill that practice will become illegal and those who take part in it, not least beaters, will be liable to a fine of £5,000. Likewise, the exemption on flushing and stalking does not extend to mink. The Burns report noted that mink are predators—we have been consistently and informatively advised on that by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding). They attack poultry, gamebirds, fish, wild birds and wild animals. The Wildlife Trust has noted:
``There are very good conservation reasons for controlling mink.''
I have not discussed this subject with the Parliamentary Secretary; still less can it be said that I have dilated on it in her presence. However, I assume that she agrees with the proposition that there is a case—indeed, a compelling one—for controlling mink. Even members of the International Fund for Animal Welfare—those friends of the Labour party whom we know and regularly cite—have had something interesting to say on the subject. Their submission to the Burns inquiry noted that
``mink control may be required in specific areas''.
That really is progress. Notwithstanding its general ideological purity in respect of such matters, IFAW—the authentic representative of political correctness in the field of animal welfare—has acknowledged that the practicalities of the countryside might require mink control. Of course, I am making the point in an understated way.
Before being shot, mink are flushed from cover on moors by gamekeepers with dogs. What will happen if, during the stalking and flushing of foxes, hares or rabbits, another wild mammal—you rightly directed me to the subject of mammals, rather than the specific activities of flushing and stalking, Mr. O'Hara—is inadvertently disturbed? After all, it is a natural instinct for dogs to hunt animals, as has been pointed out in many previous debates. One need only watch a pet dog chasing squirrels in the park to see that fact clearly.
If the amendments were accepted, an innocent farmer going about the business of legitimate species management would be protected from prosecution on the ground of the natural reaction of his dog to, for example, a deer hiding in cover. It would be extraordinarily unfair and perverse to hold a farmer responsible for an activity that he could not reasonably be expected to prevent, particularly in circumstances where that activity is likely to take place.
With those brief—perhaps too brief—remarks—
I am receiving some encouragement from my hon. Friend. I can only imagine that he is itching to contribute to the debate. I know that he will take us through matters in proper detail and in his customarily sophisticated fashion.
Amendment No. 88 would allow dogs to be used to retrieve any wild mammal—not merely hares and rabbits—that has been shot. Paragraph 9, which provides for the retrieval of shot game, would be laughable if the matter were not so serious. Given that paragraph 11 provides for the use of dogs to search for any seriously injured animal, why does paragraph 9 refer to the retrieval of only a rabbit or a hare, and not a mink, a fox or a weasel? In such circumstances, we should surely be in favour of retrieving weasels whenever the opportunity arises. What is the reasoning on animal welfare grounds for that distinction?
I am very much in the dark on the point. I am genuinely awaiting, and thirsting, for enlightenment. If the Parliamentary Secretary can provide some rationale for what otherwise seems an arbitrary and intellectually indefensible distinction, I should be a happy man. If she can show that our fears are misplaced, that would be a good thing—but I think it unlikely.
Paragraph 9 provides that it is a defence for a person charged with hunting a wild mammal with a dog to prove that he was using the dog to retrieve a rabbit or a hare. Again, there is a problem. A requirement seems to be imposed on the person charged to prove one thing, but we would have thought, and English law would suggest, that the prosecuting authorities should be obliged to prove the other. That is disturbing.
Leaving that aside for a moment, I emphasise that for the defendant to have been accused of the offence, the dog must have retrieved the rabbit or hare while it was still alive. Paragraph 9 does not require—as paragraph 10, for example, does—that the animal be recaptured or shot dead in order for the offence to apply. The paragraph therefore implicitly allows for the rabbit or hare to be killed by the dog. The Government clearly recognise the role that dogs play in the retrieval of shot game, and are content for the dog to kill the animal if it is wounded rather than shot dead.
Two points arise from that interpretation of the paragraph. First, the welfare parameters that it sets make it acceptable for a dog to kill a rabbit or a hare in certain circumstances. Why, then, cannot that method of killing apply in other circumstances? Secondly, if it is acceptable for a rabbit or a hare to be killed by a dog, having been wounded by a gun, why cannot other mammals be retrieved and killed in that way? How will the Government justify to farmers and gamekeepers the fact that they may not allow their dog to retrieve a shot fox, weasel or mink, but must walk—or, as is more likely in the countryside, climb over—frequently difficult and hazardous terrain to collect and dispatch the animal themselves? That apparently rejects the straightforward, commonsensical and manageable option in pursuit of the difficult, not obviously sensible and much less desirable option, which will often be impracticable.
Amendments Nos. 91 to 93, 95, 101 and 102 would replace the term ``animal'' with ``wild mammal''. As drafted, the exception for recapturing or rescuing animals applies in respect of ``searching'' for animals. However, as the primary offence relates to hunting wild mammals, it makes sense for the exception to deploy the same terminology. All that we are requesting is symmetry between the Government's own description of the Bill and the terms that are used in the exceptions that currently apply and those which we would prefer to add. The amendments would narrow the definition of animals that may be searched for by dogs to be recaptured or rescued in the case of serious injury, restricting the practice to wild mammals. They underline the absurdity of the Bill's drafting, which takes a pick-and-mix approach to the circumstances in which dogs can be used, with no identifiable welfare justification.
So far, it has been interesting to note that members of the Committee have not felt inclined to dispute the terms of the amendments—albeit that we are in the immediate after-lunch period, and they may not have got going yet. I am of course happy to apply an exemption from that statement to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who is surely champing at the bit and will have much to offer. She is right to get excited about mink; she has every reason to do so, and is the greatest authority on the subject in our House. She need not think for a moment that I shall try to prevent her from addressing the Committee. Indeed, I am looking forward with eager anticipation, bated breath and beads of sweat on my brow to hear precisely what she has to say for our edification.
I imagine that other hon. Members will want to contribute to the debate, too. However, it is interesting that, so far, Government Back Benchers have not felt inclined to dispute our central case that the provisions are poorly drafted and that, intellectually, the distinctions do not hold water.
That is a welcome statement, Mr. O'Hara. I did not think that I was suggesting otherwise; although, perhaps, on the strength of precedent and the reality of the way in which these Committees have tended to operate, I could have been forgiven for doing so.
I have had only one strike, so I am not yet out. I do not wish to tempt fate. I do wish to hear the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and the contributions of other hon. Members, but we all want to know what the Government's justification is for their position. If they have none, will the Parliamentary Secretary—with the good grace that we have come to expect from her—acknowledge that we have a sound argument and agree that the Government should reconsider their position?
I return to the subject of mink. If a gamekeeper walks along with his dog, flushing out rabbits, it is fine; if he suddenly flushes out a mink, which darts up a tree and sits there looking down at him, under paragraph (1)(a) he will not be able to do anything about it. He might know that a family of water voles lives close by; they are a protected species, but are declining in number because of the mink's actions. However, he would not be able to shoot the mink.
The gamekeeper would also be caught under paragraph (3)(a), which says that, even if he were allowed to shoot the mink, which he is not, he could do so only
``for the purpose of protecting livestock, fowl (including wild fowl), game birds or crops''.
The water vole does not come under any of those species. Why should the gamekeeper be prohibited from shooting the mink to protect an endangered species?
That is a good point, and I look forward to the Parliamentary Secretary's answer.
I want to refer to amendment No. 122 and to goats, which are other wild mammals. The amendment echoes the general point about wild mammals, but makes a specific reference to goats. Its significance has been greatly sharpened by the letter that the Parliamentary Secretary helpfully distributed to me and other members of the Committee at the start of the sitting. She has confirmed the interpretation of the Bill that I had formed and put to her. The letter says:
``I think the Bill makes it clear that hunting does not necessarily involve killing.''
Indeed, she deploys the same argument that I deployed to her. She goes on:
``Two of the exceptions from the primary offence of hunting are for the purposes of recapturing animals and rescuing animals and it must be apparent that in many cases the outcome of hunting undertaken for these purposes will not be the death of the quarry.''
I tabled the amendment to find a way of protecting somebody who was properly and innocently tracking or stalking a wild goat for the purposes of wildlife conservation from the charge of hunting a wild mammal with a dog.
The amendment is not ideal because it brings into play other features of the exceptions in this part of the schedule, including the requirement to kill the animal when it has been flushed out. Further amendments would be required to use this route to achieve my objective. It has become clear during the proceedings of the Bill, as the Parliamentary Secretary has specifically confirmed, that a distinction is not drawn between hunting and tracking or stalking. Tracking or stalking is hunting, unless the circumstances are covered by one of the exceptions that I am trying to augment. That was appreciated neither by the public nor by hon. Members when they voted in earlier proceedings. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can advise me whether the deer legislation, which somehow exempts the stalking of deer from the general prohibition in the Bill, relates to that point.
Those wild mammals, including goats, which are not covered by deer legislation—there is a corpus of deer legislation—appear to be subject to a general prohibition. Somebody who uses a dog to locate, find, count, check on an animal or, for that matter, to stalk it for the purposes of shooting it with a rifle—which presumes that it is a species that that person is authorised to shoot—will be covered by the schedule because of the use of the dog. That became clear only when I examined both the Bill and the information kindly given to me by the Parliamentary Secretary. I suspect that that also became clear to Ministers and officials only during the course of proceedings. Nevertheless, we must sort it out or we shall prohibit activities ranging from wildlife conservation to stalking as a sport. Once again, the Bill threatens unintentionally to ban a range of activities.
One route would be to agree amendment No. 122 and subsequent amendments that would reduce the number of conditions that must apply. For example, an appointment has been advertised for a warden for the Cheviot wild goats that I mentioned earlier. There have been 200 applicants for the post, despite a salary of £10,000 to £12,000 a year. The appointment is in an extremely remote place and the warden must provide his own dog to locate and keep an eye on the goats. I have only seen the goats twice because their habits are so secretive; they move around the hills in the area close to the border.
Incidentally, one of the warden's duties is to prevent the goats straying across the border into Scotland. In some cases, crossing the border from my constituency involves moving south, which is confusing, but that is the way the border runs. There is a fence along much of the border, but the goats can get through it, which means that they will be in an area that the warden does not cover. How will the warden do his job? Of course, he will use a dog because it will assist in locating the goats. However, he might be subject to a malicious prosecution on the basis that he is hunting a wild mammal that is not in one of the exempted categories with a dog. That would place him in a difficult position, so we must carefully consider the question of wild goats.
I echoed the requirement to extend the exemption to wild mammals generally, which is something that appears in the other amendments in the group, because we do not know what will come up next. Several examples, such as stoats, weasels, ferrets and mink, have been quoted today, but the Committee may have overlooked a wild mammal that someone will have reason to stalk with a dog. Perhaps before the proceedings are over in this House or the other place, if the Bill ever gets there, we shall receive letters from someone whose legitimate activities involve them in stalking another wild mammal—whatever it might be—not with the intention of killing. Unless we make a list of all the wild mammals known to be resident in England and Wales, it would be better to express the exemption in general terms.
Those problems are quite serious and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some answers. The solution to some of the problems may be to create a general exemption for stalking or tracking that is not intended to bring about the killing of the mammal concerned. If that is not included, we will have to use amendments such as this. If it is included, the Government will have to tell us how they intend procedurally to go about the matter. Are they prepared to table an amendment later in our proceedings in Committee—on Tuesday for example? That might be difficult because of the way in which the schedule is structured. Will they table an amendment on Report? If we do not solve the problem, another large group of law-abiding people will be criminalized when that was not understood to be the intention of the Bill.
I am looking forward to the Parliamentary Secretary's speech in reply to the amendments because I am genuinely at a loss to understand why the Bill has been framed as it has. After all, one would expect this part of the Bill to be in tune with the earlier parts, and we all know that in paragraph 1 there is a clear prohibition:
``A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog.''
It does not say there that a person commits an offence if he hunts a hare, a fox or a rabbit with a dog. It uses the expression ``wild mammal''. In other words, it is very comprehensive. Presumably the framers of the Bill felt that to limit it to fox, hare or rabbit was not right. They were obviously worried that, for instance, mink hunts would continue. If they framed it so widely in paragraph 1, why in the exceptions in paragraph 7 do they limit it to fox, hare or rabbit? I do not see the logic of that, unless they are trying to have their cake and eat it. It would be unfair to have a prohibition in one sense, where the Bill refers to wild mammals in general, but limiting exceptions to fox, hare or rabbit. There must be some logic and the Parliamentary Secretary must deal with that.
The excellent points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) have created a powerful argument. Why do the framers of the schedule not recognise that it would be a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that he was stalking not only fox, hare or rabbit, but mink and deer? What is it about mink and deer? Apparently they are such special species that they are excluded from these exceptions. Is there some evidence that is available to Deadline 2000 that suggests that mink and deer, which are stalked and then shot, suffer more than foxes, hares or rabbits? Explanation there is none and we do not have a spokesman here for Deadline 2000. Will the Parliamentary Secretary please tell us the answer? I would have thought that anyone concerned with the control of mink and deer to manage the countryside—as they would have to be—would be extremely concerned about this part of the Bill and would hope that it could be amended.
I must confess that, owing to the nature of the countryside that I represent, I am not a great expert on deer or mink. As my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said—and as we know from our own common sense—we need not rely on the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the British Deer Society to tell us that deer sometimes take shelter in heavy woodland. We can work that out for ourselves. It is sometimes sensible to use dogs to move deer into more open countryside where they can be shot. They cannot be shot in woodland.
I presume that the Government will not accept the amendment because none of our amendments has been accepted so far. The Parliamentary Secretary is shrugging her shoulders. If the amendment is not accepted--I live in hope that on this occasion she will accept that it has some merit--those who try to control deer in that way will not be allowed to do so. I am at a complete loss as to why the provision is drafted in this way.
My hon. Friend is right to point out that, on the basis of common sense and personal observation of the countryside, one can testify that the activities to which he is alluding take place. One does not require reference to any representative organisation to prove the point. Does my hon. Friend accept that it is revealing that the BASC and BDS insist that they need maximum flexibility and discretion for the purposes of control? That point has not been successfully countered by Labour Members.
As I say, I live in hope. I know that hon. Members on the other side of the argument think that our arguments are not very strong, but on this occasion I hope that they will accept that we have a point. I can only assume that the matter was an oversight in the Bill.
Deer cause a lot of damage to trees. Presumably, those who want a balanced countryside realise that, sadly, deer must be humanely culled, so the exception makes no sense. If the Bill is not amended, will it be illegal to use dogs to trap an injured deer? That would be absurd. It would be inhumane to produce a Bill that prevents a wounded deer from being tracked and then dispatched humanely.
I am not a great expert on deer or mink, but I represent Lincolnshire, which is one of the foremost arable areas of the country. You will allow me, Mr. O'Hara, to make a brief reference to the fact that hares shelter in large fields. Many people in areas such as Lincolnshire and East Anglia are concerned that while their colleagues in more wooded countryside in the west of the country will be able to stalk a fox, hare or rabbit because they can be flushed out of cover, they will be unable to do so in Lincolnshire because there is far less cover and rabbits and hares do not shelter in cover. Apart from the stipulation that only certain mammals are covered by the exception, why is the question of cover also included?
My final point concerns paragraph 9 and amendment No. 88. Paragraph 9 states:
``It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that the conduct to which the charge relates consisted of retrieving a rabbit or hare which had been shot.''
Presumably, therefore, it will be acceptable for one's dog to retrieve the rabbit or hare and, in retrieving it, to kill it. Unlike paragraph 10, paragraph 9 does not require that the animal be recaptured or shot dead. Therefore, the paragraph implicitly allows for the rabbit or hare to be killed. The Government clearly recognise the role that dogs play in retrieving shot rabbits and hares.
Two points arise from that. First, given that the welfare parameters make it acceptable for a dog to kill a rabbit or hare in certain circumstances, why cannot that method of killing apply in other circumstances? Secondly, if it is acceptable for a rabbit or hare that has been wounded by a gun to be killed by a dog, why cannot other mammals be retrieved or killed in that way? What is the Government's justification for telling a farmer or gamekeeper that he cannot allow his dog to retrieve a shot fox, weasel or mink, and that he will instead have to walk or climb over difficult terrain to collect and dispatch the animal himself?
The schedule is shot through with inconsistency and makes no sense. There is no consistency in respect of different species of wild mammals. There is no consistency in terms of the treatment of mink and deer, and foxes and rabbits. Nor, as far as I can tell, is there consistency in respect of the retrieval and dispatching of animals. For those reasons, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that, on this occasion, we have a serious point.
Does my hon. Friend agree that paragraph 9 demonstrates an admission on the part of the Bill's drafters that shooting a wild animal could be a far crueller method of pest control than letting a dog kill it? The paragraph seems to acknowledge that the animal might have been shot and wounded, and that it is all right for a dog to chase it so that it can halt it or bring it back to, say, the gamekeeper, who can then kill it. In doing so, it is conceded that it would have been far more humane to allow the dog to kill it in the first place. It seems an extraordinary and arbitrary distinction to argue that the dog may chase the rabbit or hare so that someone can shoot it, and that the dog may chase it after it has been shot, but that the dog may not kill it in the meantime, given that the latter method might prove much more humane.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I genuinely hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can help me, because I am finding it very difficult to understand the thinking behind paragraph 9. As drafted, it makes no sense. It seems to state that a dog may retrieve a rabbit or hare and then kill it. If that is humane, why is it not humane for the dog to kill the rabbit or hare in the first place?
Order. I feel that I must rule on this matter. We have had this debate before in the context of whether it is more humane for a mammal to be hunted, or taken in the air by a hawk and dropped to the ground. This issue gives rise to a similar debate, but one that is not the subject of the amendment. We are not supposed to be discussing whether it is more or less humane for an animal to be dispatched in a particular way. After all, the Bill is concerned with hunting, and the amendment deals with the question of whether specified mammals or all mammals should be covered by the provision.
You are quite right, Mr. O'Hara, but this is an important debate. Amendment No. 88 is a good amendment, and I cannot foresee the arguments that the Parliamentary Secretary will use against it; I may be doing her a disservice by assuming that she will. The amendment would simply allow dogs to retrieve any wild mammal that has been shot, not just hares and rabbits. We do not even need to raise the subsidiary issue to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) referred. The Home Office Minister has already been very fair about the question of rabbits. I now hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be fair about this issue, and send the message that the Bill will not put at risk farmers in England and Wales whose dogs stalk wild mammals other than foxes, hares or rabbits in the course of normal countryside management.
I want to touch briefly on three points that were raised by several members of the Committee, and press the Minister on each.
The first concerns deer. The debate about hunting deer with hounds has centred on what happens on Exmoor and in the Quantocks, where organised packs of stag hounds pursue red deer as the quarry species. Burns focused on deer hunting in that context in his report and it has been considered in scientific studies by Bateson and others.
However, there are other species of deer in this country, which live in different habitats and are not pursued by organised packs of hounds. If my reading of the Bill is correct, any use of dogs to flush out those deer species in order to shoot them will be unlawful, with one exception. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, it would indeed be possible for somebody to use a dog to help to track down a wounded deer in order to put it out of its misery. However, the use of a dog to track down or to flush out a roe deer or muntjac from woodland in order subsequently to shoot it would be illegal because, unless the amendments are accepted, such activities will not fall within the various exceptions permitted under part II.
This is not merely a theoretical matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham referred to the views of two organisations that are involved in the management and conservation of deer stocks. I add to their professional expertise an anecdote from my part of the world. A few years ago, I visited a small nature reserve that was then in my constituency, and is now in the constituency of my hon. Friend—
I was not referring to St. James' Way, Bierton, but to a little nature reserve just outside Aston Clinton.
The reserve had been created to conserve several species of animals and plants, and was noted as the refuge of a particularly rare species of butterfly. One of the problems faced by the managers of the reserve was the presence of muntjac, which exist in large numbers in the Chiltern hills. They came into the woodland and devoured the shoots of young trees and plants that grew up to provide a habitat for the rare butterfly and for other insect species that were supposed to be conserved there. The managers said that muntjac were a real pest. I ventured to ask them what muntjac tasted like, and was hastily told that one was not supposed to ask that in public, but the flavour was extremely pleasant.How are the populations of woodland-dwelling deer species to be managed and controlled, where they are pests, if the use of dogs is forbidden?
With regard to my hon. Friend's reference to me, I apologise to the Committee for having misunderstood the Bill. I am trying my best to understand it, but I acknowledge that I make mistakes. My hon. Friend was right. Paragraph 11 states:
``It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that—
(a) the conduct to which the charge relates consisted of searching for an animal which the accused believed was or might be seriously injured''.
However, I still do not understand why paragraph 11 draws the distinction so widely in referring to ``an animal'', given that paragraph 7 is so narrowly drawn. Can my hon. Friend explain that?
My hon. Friend is right. His question raises two issues of detail. The first is the exclusion from paragraph 7 of species of wild mammals other than foxes, hares and rabbits, and some of the amendments address that issue. The second relates to the use of the term ``animal'' in paragraphs 10 and 11 of the schedule rather than the term ``wild mammal''. That is the point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham alluded, and I want to press the Parliamentary Secretary a little further. The draftsman may simply have nodded and what is meant is wild mammal, in which case no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to accept the amendments, so that we can be certain what the Bill means. But if the term ``animal'' is intended, the provision goes far wider than wild mammals, and presumably the draftsmen's intention was that people could use dogs to recapture or rescue not merely wild mammals but domestic mammals and animals other than mammals.
I can just about imagine circumstances in which such a power would be necessary. Near Chequers in my constituency there is an ostrich farm. I suppose that the term ``animals'' might have been put into the Bill to allow people to use dogs to recapture or rescue escaped or injured ostriches. But unless one seeks a far-fetched example of that nature, I cannot see why there is a difference between the terminology in paragraphs 10 and 11 and the term ``wild mammals'', which is used throughout the schedule, as well as in the short title and the key paragraph of the schedule, paragraph 1, which defines the offence.
The draftsmen had to use the term ``animal'', because it would be absurd if one could not use dogs to recapture an animal that had escaped from captivity or to rescue an animal that had been injured. However, surely my hon. Friend is right. If paragraph 1 refers only to wild mammals, why is it necessary? If a lion had escaped from a zoo, there is nothing in paragraph 1 that would stop someone using their dogs to chase the lion, is there? [Hon. Members: ``There is.''] There is? My hon. Friend will now help me.
My hon. Friend is slightly mistaken in his reading of paragraph 1. As I read it, it would indeed make it unlawful to use dogs to pursue an escaped lion or tiger, unless it was being done under the exception provided for in paragraph 10 or paragraph 11. Using dogs to pursue an escaped tiger or other animal could be covered by using the term wild mammal, so I genuinely do not understand the need for the different terms.
I was intrigued to know in what circumstances the hon. Gentleman would imagine that a dog would not be trying to retrieve or recapture a wild tiger or lion.
The right hon. Gentleman is correct. That illustrates again the absurdity of so many details in the Bill, which we are only gradually teasing out.
I want to move on to my final point. My first two points related to detail and terminology, but the third is central to the group of amendments and the entire Bill. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was correct to draw the Committee's attention to the importance of the Parliamentary Secretary's letter, which was copied this afternoon to all members of the Committee. If hunting, and therefore the scope of the offence, is to be defined more broadly than simply pursuing and killing a quarry, many of the fears that Opposition Members and the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme have expressed would be realised, and a Bill intended to outlaw organised packs of hounds would bring within the scope of its criminal offences the everyday activity of gamekeepers, farmers and others working in our rural areas.
I shall use one illustration to make that point. Reference was made earlier in the Committee to representations from the National Gamekeepers Organisation and its view that the use of dogs was essential for Mustelid species, especially stoats. All sides of the Committee accept that, if the Bill became law, it would be unlawful to use dogs to pursue and kill stoats or weasels. I may disagree with that, but the intention of the Bill is clear on that count. However, it has emerged during the debate that if a gamekeeper used a dog to pursue a stoat so that he could shoot it for the purposes of vermin control or to retrieve a stoat that had been shot, that would also be unlawful.
Once again we are discovering that despite assurances that Ministers have given us—in good faith, I am sure—at various stages of our debates, the words of the Bill mean that not only will organised packs of foxhounds, stag hounds and mink hounds—beagles—be affected by the Bill, but the use of dogs by gamekeepers and others for their essential business of vermin control and game management will be put at risk. The only way to avoid that is for the Government either to accept some of the amendments or, as the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said, to reflect further and table amendments to restructure part II of the schedule. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is prepared to do that.
There has been a great deal of discussion about something that I hope is not complicated. At first glance, the amendments appear to serve two different purposes. Like the hon. Member for Buckingham, I shall deal with the amendments in two batches, starting with amendments Nos. 52, 122, 53, 63 and 88.
The Bill allows a limited amount of hunting with dogs to take place in specific circumstances, and the exceptions are set out in part II of the schedule. Amendments No. 52, 122, 53 and 63 refer to the species to which the exceptions of stalking and flushing out apply. The schedule applies to fox, hare or rabbit, but the amendments would enable the exceptions to apply to any wild mammal.
As members of the Committee are aware, the Committee of the whole House supported Deadline 2000's policy to ban hunting with dogs, but that organisation—recognising that there may be occasions when it is necessary to flush out certain animals—has included in the schedule a number of exceptions to a ban on hunting with dogs. For example, there is an exception to allow the stalking of a fox for the purpose of protecting lambs and flushing out from cover of hares and rabbits to protect crops or for food. Widening the exception to include the stalking and flushing out of any wild mammal could greatly increase the extent of such activity that was allowed.
Among the species that could be stalked or flushed out would be deer, about which the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed asked. The Deer Act 1991 deals with the times at which deer can be killed or taken and prohibits the use of certain weapons and articles. This Bill prohibits the use of dogs to hunt deer in exactly the circumstances mentioned by the hon. Member for Aylesbury. I think that muntjac deer are covered by the Deer Act, but I have asked for clarification on that point, since they were introduced to the British Isles after the passage of that Act.
Will deer stalking—not deer hunting by stag or deer hounds—normally practised by a forest ranger with a dog which assists in locating the deer be prohibited following the enactment of the Bill?
I thought that I had answered that. The Deer Act would determine whether the use of the dog in those circumstances was lawful. There would be a defence and so long as the individual was conducting his affairs within the terms of the Deer Act, he would not be committing an offence. If that is wrong, I will come back to the right hon. Gentleman.
Is the Parliamentary Secretary saying that the preceding Act overrides the Bill and the general prohibition contained in it? The hon. Lady may be having difficulty understanding the note that has been passed to her. She has my sympathy because this is a difficult point. We have discovered something important this afternoon; that the traditional practice of deer stalking, using a dog to assist in locating the deer, could be prohibited by the Bill, unless the hon. Lady is right that, in some mysterious way, the Deer Act confers an exception. In that case, it ought to be referred to in the Bill. If she has had an opportunity to read the note, can she now tell me one way or another?
I cannot do that, but I will consider again the argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman. I may have got the matter wrong, and if so I will come back to the Committee as soon as I can with a definitive response.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the Deer Act deals with the times at which deer can be killed or taken and prohibits the use of certain weapons and articles in their pursuit. I do not have a copy of it immediately to hand, but I will look at the point that has been made and seek to clarify the situation.
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I am anxious to be helpful because I think that the Parliamentary Secretary is caught in a difficult legal area and is genuinely trying to help. I do not want to make her task more difficult. My worry is that she may have to come back to us on, say, Tuesday and tell us that the Bill has an effect far wider than she had previously thought. Were that to be the case, we would have to ask the Government to help us in seeking further time for consideration of this new and different aspect of the Bill. I am using this point of order to alert you, Mr. O'Hara, and the Parliamentary Secretary to that possibility, but we should not press her further at this stage on the point because, understandably, she wants to take advice.
We were talking about species that could be stalked or flushed out if the amendments were accepted. Members of the Committee might be aware that in certain parts of the country there are wild boar. They, too, would fall within the ambit of the exception if the amendments were accepted. The same argument applies to amendment No. 88, which would widen the exception in respect of retrieving game from rabbits and hares to all wild mammals that have been shot. It is quite difficult to imagine what that might encompass. Which wild mammals other than rabbits and hares fall into the category of game and are subject to shooting? The amendment's only potential practical effect would run counter to the policy agreed by the whole House, in that it would increase the amount of lawful hunting with dogs.
The exceptions to the ban on hunting with dogs have been tightly drawn. The amendments would widen them beyond the intention of the schedule as written by Deadline 2000.
What about the friendly neighbourhood mink? Under normal circumstances, gamekeepers are accompanied by dogs, but if they shoot a mink in such circumstances they will be liable to prosecution.
My hon. Friend has misunderstood, in that I have yet to draw my remarks to a conclusion. I hate to disappoint the Committee, but I have other points to make and they relate to my hon. Friend's intervention.
I invite the Committee to reflect on the amendments in the light of the decision of the Committee of the whole House. We should also consider whether a change that could allow much more hunting with dogs is in keeping with the wishes of the Committee of the whole House.
Members of the Committee who have examined carefully the remaining amendments—Nos. 91 to 93, 95, 101 and 102—might have been rather surprised, because at first sight they seem to narrow the scope of the exceptions. As the Bill is drafted, the exceptions for recapture and rescue apply to any animal. As one or two members of the Committee have pointed out, the amendments appear to refer only to wild mammals, and in doing so restrict the extent of the exceptions.
I hope that I can reassure those members of the Committee who are worried by what appears to be a sudden change of heart on the part of the hon. Member for Aylesbury that the amendments would in fact have no affect. The principal offence in paragraph 1 concerns hunting wild mammals with dogs, so the hunting of anything other than a wild mammal will remain unaffected. If a dog were used to recapture an animal such as an alligator that had escaped from a zoo, or an injured bird, no offence could possibly have been committed under this legislation, and the exception would not come into play. To put the matter starkly, the amendments serve no useful purpose.
``a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1''.
Such an offence can therefore relate only to a wild mammal, but the exemption relates to an animal. What is the reason for that distinction? I agree that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury appears to narrow the scope of the provision, but in fact it does not. The offence can relate only to the hunting of a wild mammal, but the exception refers to a wider category that presumably includes birds and reptiles.
It will be for members of the Committee to decide which of us is right.
Several questions were asked, which I shall try to answer. [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr. O'Hara.
In response to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, the Bill does not provide an exception for goats. A person who intentionally hunted goats would commit an offence, but a person who tends goats, and does not intend to hunt them, will not commit an offence.
As the Parliamentary Secretary said in her letter, hunting does not have to include killing. I am talking about wild goats. The person who tends them does not see them outside his window every morning and go out to distribute food to them, but goes to seek them on the hillside; in other words, to hunt them. I am worried that his occupation will become illegal, because he has to hunt the goats with a dog in order to count them and to consider their general condition.
Thank you, Mr. O'Hara.
The right hon. Gentleman is unnecessarily anxious about this definition. If the person is tending the goats—or husbanding them, to use an old phrase—he is not hunting them. That goes back to the intention of the individual. I hope that my explanation will satisfy other members of the Committee, if not the right hon. Gentleman. I am sorry if he is still unhappy with it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme asked why gamekeepers should be prevented from flushing out mink to protect water voles.
Again, that comes back to the question of intent. The schedule does not provide for flushing out mink, in accordance with the wishes of those in Deadline 2000 who drafted it. Members of the Committee must decide whether they support that.
That is not only the view of Deadline 2000, but of the Environment Agency, which has said that it does not packs of dogs on riverbanks owing to the damage that they do to the habitat and to other species.
I challenge my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) on that point. In fact, the Environment Agency has no policy on hunting mink. If he can prove otherwise, I shall be surprised.
I am sure that we are all grateful for the point that my hon. Friend has drawn to our attention.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough asked why paragraph 9 on the use of dogs for the retrieval of game is limited to rabbits and hares. Such retrieval does not necessarily involve the dog killing the shot game. In many cases, the purpose of retrieval is to bring the shot game back to the handler in a state fit for human consumption, so that it can be killed by the handler.
The hon. Member for Buckingham asked why shot mink or deer cannot be retrieved with dogs. The answer is that if the animals are seriously injured, they can be rescued using dogs under the provisions of paragraph 11.
This has been an interesting and heated debate, which has raised questions that I will undertake to answer only when I have received further advice.
I shall try one more time. The Parliamentary Secretary says that under paragraph 1, a person will commit an offence only if he hunts a wild mammal. Therefore, he will not be guilty of an offence if he hunts something other than a wild mammal; for example, a snake or bird. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon asked why, given those circumstances, paragraphs 10 and 11 are phrased in terms of recapturing animals. There is no need. Why are those paragraphs not framed in terms of a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that the activity consisted of searching for a wild mammal? That is a simple question that the Parliamentary Secretary must answer before she finishes her speech.
I felt that I had answered the question. However, my answer has clearly not satisfied the hon. Gentleman, but it will be for members of the Committee to decide whether it is sufficient.
We acknowledge and appreciate that the Parliamentary Secretary has striven to respond to the concerns expressed by Opposition Members. However, she will be aware, not least from the number and frequency of the interventions during her response, that there is still considerable disquiet among members of the Committee about the status of the schedule. I was especially concerned, as I suspect the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme will have been, by the Parliamentary Secretary's comments in relation to mink, which I did not find satisfactory or reassuring. Although, after a while, she tried to respond, she did not reassure the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and she did not reassure us.
I have an Environment Agency quote from 1997 stating that it does not have an official policy on mink hunting; my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole quoted a document dated 1996. Having said that, the agency does have a policy on the protection of water voles.
I am exceptionally grateful to the hon. Lady. All I can say in response to that helpful intervention is that the words ``check mate'' readily spring to mind. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, whose constituency I shall have the pleasure of visiting tomorrow, will take that to heart. He quoted a document from 1996 that I felt sure he had read from cover to cover. Indeed, he assured us that copies were available in the Library. However, I know that he will happily defer to the hon. Lady's reference from 1997. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is obviously sensitive on the point, so I shall indulge him.
Not at all. I hope that the hon. Gentleman enjoys his visit to my constituency, which he will find is a lovely part of the country.
The Environment Agency's statement that I used earlier in the debate—which has not previously been challenged—sets out its view that mink damage riverbanks, habitats and species. The agency has never said that it has a policy one way or the other. Policy is a matter for hon. Members; the agency has given us its advice, and I hope that we shall listen.
The hon. Gentleman is doing his best to climb out of the hole, and I applaud him for making the attempt. However, what he said does not gainsay the remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. The debate is becoming a particularly stimulating game of ping-pong.
Does what my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole says mean that the Environment Agency is against fishing because people walk up and down the riverbank?
Uncharacteristically, the hon. Lady seeks to divert me down a path that would not be virtuous. As you will know, Mr. O'Hara, I do not normally require much temptation, but I shall resist all blandishments on this occasion. Therefore, I shall not dilate; I know that you are as fond of that word as I am, Mr. O'Hara. Although I do not want to rehearse old arguments, I have two specific concerns.
I am happy to accept that I was the original user, although I certainly was not the author of the word. However, we have both enjoyed using it from time to time. I think that you used the noun ``dilation'', Mr. O'Hara, if memory serves me correctly.
There are two points. The first is that the Parliamentary Secretary has said that she cannot respond to the specifics this afternoon as, in a number of respects, she needs further and better particulars. We hoped that they might be forthcoming from the intellectual highbrows and bluestockings who advise us so conscientiously, but it appears that the material will not be available today. The position may be improving, however.
It may be helpful if I clarify the position. I do not believe that it was the intention of the House, in passing schedule 3, to outlaw deer stalking. If that is its effect, I undertake to look at the schedule again and to reconsider it.
The situation becomes curiouser and curiouser, but one should be magnanimous. I am grateful for that, because we are making progress. I specially appreciate what the Parliamentary Secretary has just said. It is a good job I stood up again. If I had not done so, we might not have managed to wangle that proffered concession from her.
However, my second concern remains, and it needs to be put on the record. It may have been an infelicitous turn of phrase from the Parliamentary Secretary—if it was, it can be excused, and we shall allow her to concede and move on—but a few moments ago, in response, I think, to an intervention from the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, she said that if the exception were to extend to mink in the way that a number of us have suggested, that would fall foul of the wishes of Deadline 2000, whose option was now the main purport of the passage of the Bill. I found that worrying, and I hope that a number of my hon. Friends found it disturbing, because we must not let such organisations become out of balance in this debate. Deadline 2000 is a reputable organisation—it is clearly wrong-headed, but it is entitled to its point of view—but it is just a lobby group that is arguing for a certain option.
We know that this matter has been dealt with differently from other legislation. We know that the House was given three options and chose one, which forms the basis of our deliberations in the Committee. However, there is a difference between the basis of our deliberations and their final form. Just because Deadline 2000 has a certain view about mink, that is not the be-all and end-all of the matter. With the greatest respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I have considerable respect for her, it is not good enough to dismiss amendments from either side of the Committee simply by saying ``Ah, that wouldn't be acceptable to Deadline 2000''.
I shall be frank about it. I am starting to get into my stride and to say what I really think. I could not give a tinker's cuss what Deadline 2000 thinks. I am not remotely bothered whether passing the amendments would satisfy Deadline 2000. We as a Standing Committee have a right to look at the option and to see whether, consistent with its retention, amendments can usefully be made to the Bill to remove anomalies, prevent injustice and ensure its practicality, not necessarily its desirability.
My hon. Friend's point is a good one. We all understand where the schedule came from, but the Bill is now a Government Bill. When Opposition Members raise technical points on the Bill, such as why the word ``animal'' is in it rather than the term ``wild mammal'', the Parliamentary Secretary says that it has nothing to do with her; it is all to do with Deadline 2000. I do not find that acceptable and I am surprised that she does.
Does my hon. Friend think that we should to try to find a way to examine Deadline 2000 on this question? I do not know whether it is possible to reconvene the Committee as a Special Standing Committee. If this is Deadline 2000's Bill, perhaps it should answer the questions rather than the Parliamentary Secretary. We need an opportunity to find out exactly where the Bill comes from, as those concerned are an umbrella group that paid the Labour party a substantial sum of money.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to rebut the statement of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon. Deadline 2000 does not support any political party and is a non-party political organisation. I invited Committee members to make up their own minds in the way that we have traditionally dealt with the subject as to whether they agree with the schedule as drafted.
We are grateful for that, I am sure, Mr. O'Hara. I simply wanted to make the point that whatever preferred option is in the lead, whether that of Deadline 2000 or the Countryside Alliance, we are in no way absolved of responsibility for maximising the benefits of the Bill and minimising its disbenefits. That would apply whatever option was chosen. Further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon, the thrust of the argument is simply stated. The Government cannot subcontract responsibility for what is now a Government Bill. It simply will not do for the Government to use Government time and to deploy their own Ministers, their own Whips, their own Back-Bench supporters--
I am sorry, Mr. O'Hara, because I erred. I am happy to concede that I erred and, again, to accept your admonition. I keep making the mistake--I hope that my hon. Friends and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will forgive me--that Government Back Benchers are in Committee to do the Government's bidding. I keep making that mistake and you are right to remind me that they have every right to say exactly what they wish. The only difficulty, and the reason why I keep forgetting that central constitutional fact, is that thus far--I am not saying that I have not made a mistake, but I am making my plea by way of mitigation--the only Government. Member who has been authentic and independent is the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. I made the mistake because Government Back Benchers have been subservient to date--[Interruption.]
I shall be brief. I invite the hon. Gentleman to point to hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who voted for schedule 3 on the Floor of the House. They have been excluded from the Committee, which is not the case on the Government Benches.
The answer is simple and the right hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is fair to answer and I can do so in one sentence. None of them expressed a desire to serve on the Standing Committee. The right hon. Gentleman may doubt that, but I know, beyond doubt, that it is true. With respect and at the risk of being trite, that has well and truly shot the right hon. Gentleman's fox.
The Government cannot subcontract responsibility for their own Bill. We have a responsibility to try to improve it. The point to which I wanted to refer, but was prevented from doing so by the flurry of interventions by Labour Members, was that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. Not for the first time—and not, I suspect, for the last—my hon. Friend and I were thinking about the same point at the same time. I wanted to say that there is a certain absurdity about the Government insisting on confirmation of the position in the Bill as unamended when we still have much to learn. There are all sorts of unanswered questions, but the Parliamentary Secretary is essentially saying to us, notwithstanding that, ``Wouldn't it be a good idea to withdraw the amendments and for the clauses to stand unamended?'' I do not agree.
Absolutely. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I intended to do precisely that. Because it will give me a convenient end point for my remarks, I take this opportunity to assure him that, in the light of the unsatisfactory response that we have had so far, and the obvious lacunae in the Bill that the debate has demonstrated, my hon. Friends and I have no intention of withdrawing the amendment. It will almost certainly therefore be necessary for the amendments to be pressed to votes.
First, I pay tribute to the Parliamentary Secretary. Having taken advice, she gave the Committee a clear response—of the kind that I have sought on a number of issues—that, in her view, when the House voted to ban hunting with dogs, it did not intend to ban deer stalking as traditionally practised. Her view up to now has been that the Bill does not have that effect, but she has said that she is prepared to look at that possibility again. That was very clear and welcome. I have become more convinced during our proceedings, and in looking at the amendments as a way out, that the Bill does have such an effect. Obviously we must all take advice on that.
We are up against a deadline—fortunately we have an extra day for debate on Tuesday—but it would be helpful if we knew in time to table amendments if necessary. The amendments would have to be starred and we would depend on your discretion, Mr. O'Hara, as to whether they could be selected for debate on Tuesday. They could be Government amendments, tabled to meet any difficulty, or those tabled by hon. Members who want to make their own suggestions or who feel that the Government's proposals either do not make the case or go too far. The Committee could have a lot to deal with on Tuesday on this serious issue. Many hon. Members on the other side of the argument would not carry with them all those who agree with them on the main issues determined in the Committee of the Whole House if they had to go back to them to say that, to their surprise, the Bill abolishes a completely different sport, to which other considerations apply.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that when the terms of programme resolution No. 3 were first devised not long ago—but prior to this disputatious exchange—the Government could not have known what a hornets' nest would be opened up? Does he therefore agree that we might need as much as another half day or full day fully to debate and resolve matters?
I said as much on a point of order. It is not simply a matter of the time required for debate, but the time between the days of debate in which amendments may be tabled and interested groups consulted on them. That is very serious. In all my time in the House I have never had much interest in delaying tactics. I have occasionally used them for specific purposes—which I will not recount on this occasion—but I certainly have not done so during the course of our proceedings on this Bill. Every speech that I have made has been directed towards something that I felt was a problem—and this matter falls into that category. I reiterate my appreciation of the Parliamentary Secretary's clarity on what she feels is right in these circumstances. If I am right and her optimism proves unjustified, I hope that we can find a way of doing that properly.
On the goats issue, I am not satisfied with what the Parliamentary Secretary said, although I appreciate that it was said in good faith. As a matter of legal definition, the concept of husbandry of wild animals is difficult to sustain—and that was the phrase that she used. In all its uses, from the King James Bible onwards, the concept of husbandry relates to domesticated or farmed, not wild animals. She introduced her own concept of tending, which is also a little hard to square with the reality of life with animals that we usually see only at a distance and whose wild state and limited contact with man we are trying to maintain.
In trying to protect some groups of unusual wild animals, the objective is to ensure that there is little contact with humankind. In some areas of the country, goats have become so used to visiting the Forestry Commission car park and eating the contents of waste bins that they are almost domesticated, like some of the bears in Canada—although that does not stop the Canadian bears being dangerous.
In my constituency, we have the only herd of Chillingham cattle—wild cattle—in the United Kingdom. Although people go to see them, the object is not to make them in any way domesticated or the subject of normal husbandry. The management procedures used are designed to ensure that the cattle can survive in the wild. Therefore, we have a definitional problem that may require further attention.
I referred the Committee to the matter earlier. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not hear it. I am surprised that he did not read the interesting piece that appeared in The Times on 2 February, which described how hundreds of people have applied for the job of counting wild goats. I recommend the job to him. As I told the Committee, the salary is £10,000 a year and the applicant must provide his own dog and live in a remote part of Northumberland. I think that he would find it a challenging and rewarding role. Clearly he would have to give up his duties as a Member of the House and accept the Chiltern Hundreds, but one day he could come back to us and draw on his experience in future debates on these matters. However, I digress. There are people who have such management responsibilities.
To take another example, Forestry Commission rangers organise the stalking of wild deer as part of the process of keeping the numbers to a certain level. Stalking is a major money earner in the areas where it is practised. Quite a few of those who take part in it have traditionally come from other countries, particularly Germany. They pay a lot of money to the hotels in the areas concerned and substantial money even to take part in the activity, but the stalking is controlled by the deer legislation to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred. The stalkers continue the management process, but, in doing so, they contribute to the local economy.
I am not satisfied with the Parliamentary Secretary's assurance. I believe that Home Office officials could try harder to ensure that a malicious prosecution is never brought in this or a similar area.
In an intervention, I asked about what appears to be an anomaly in paragraphs 10 and 11, where the wording used to describe the offence and the exception is inconsistent. When we have raised such questions, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister have consistently told us that the schedule comes from Deadline 2000 and that they do not know the answer. The Parliamentary Secretary says that there were three schedules to the Bill. That is true. I should have expected her and her colleague to be able to explain that for which the House voted, because the Bill has attached to it the names of the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, indeed, the Minister serving on the Committee. It is a Government Bill.
In all the Standing Committees on which I have served, both in opposition and in government, I have never heard Ministers say before the Committee that they do not understand and cannot explain fairly the Bill's fundamental points. This Bill has been in Committee for three weeks; there has been plenty of time for Ministers to consult Deadline 2000. We cannot consult it or ask it questions. It is simply not good enough on raising legitimate points about anomalies to be met with Ministers washing their hands of the matter, saying, ``I don't know: it's not my Bill, and I don't understand it, so you'll have to ask someone else.'' This is a Government Bill, and Ministers should do their homework so that they are able to explain it.
A significant development has just occurred, about which my hon. Friend will be as concerned as I am. Not only have we had stonewalling, hand-wringing and a display of impotence by the Government in reaction to our criticisms, but the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall)—he who should be silent—has complained bitterly about the state of affairs and stormed out of the Room in protest.
I was puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's saying that he and his colleagues were unable to consult Deadline 2000. I draw his attention to the fact that before the debates on the Floor of the House, Labour Members met representatives of the Countryside Alliance to discuss the Bill and other rural issues. Why does he feel barred from contacting Deadline 2000?
I do not feel barred; I could contact Deadline 2000 if I wanted to, but I should not have to. This is a Government Bill, which is the responsibility of two Ministers who should be able to explain it. I do not know whether they understand it—apparently they do not, because otherwise they would answer our questions. On several occasions, they have said that they are not sure of the answer but will give it some thought and respond in due course to the Committee or to the Member concerned. That is a reasonable, because Ministers cannot be expected to understand every detail. However, it is not reasonable—or acceptable—to say, ``This is not my Bill: it came from somewhere else and I am not even going to bother to try to explain it to the Committee.'' That is what we are facing. If the Committee is to sit for an extra day on Tuesday—
I found it fairly straightforward to talk both to the Countryside Alliance and to the constituent organisations that make up Deadline 2000. With regard to the amendments, the point is not about consulting Deadline 2000, but about the way in which we conduct our debates. The Committee is required to make responsible decisions to improve the Bill and Ministers have the key responsibility of introducing measures to clarify the parts that are ineffective. It is a question not of having to go outside the Committee for dialogue, but of Ministers bringing the relevant information to our debates so that we can make the Bill work.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed knows, during the lunchtime break I told him that in some ways I was sympathetic to his suggestion that we should include goats in the paragraph rather than goats and/or other mammals. However, in the light of the debate I have reversed that opinion.
The letter from the Parliamentary Secretary makes it clear that hunting does not necessarily include killing. I accept that. Sometimes a hunt may be unable to track down the animal that it is hunting. However, the actions of the goatherd must necessarily include not killing. It would be odd for a goatherd to go out with a dog to find the goats with the intention of killing them. There is therefore a clear distinction between hunting with a dog, in which there is at least the possibility of a kill, and the work of a goatherd.
I am sorry to have to make this point, but I am sure that Labour Members who have been in opposition know that a good Opposition Member sometimes has to be like a Labrador that gets its teeth into something and does not let go. That is how one gets good legislation, and that is what we are trying to achieve as effectively as we can. It is perfectly in order for me to ask such questions of the Parliamentary Secretary. I apologise for being like the cat that brings indoors an unpleasant mess, but I want her to respond to two simple points, because that is her job.
The British Deer Society, which is a responsible body, said that the use of dogs to flush deer from dense woodland is becoming increasingly common in all areas of the UK, and that there is evidence that proper and effective control of deer in newly established, replanted forests can never be achieved humanely without using dogs to flush them out. Will the Parliamentary Secretary please respond to that point, because she has not dealt with it so far? Will she please also respond to the question that we have continually asked, but which she has completely failed to answer: why are paragraphs 10 and 11 framed in terms of animals, given that paragraph 1 mentions only wild mammals? That is tautology. The Bill, which is not well written, is the Parliamentary Secretary's responsibility. Will she please explain those paragraphs?
I have already explained that it is for members of the Committee to make their own judgments on that matter. I have made it clear that we are looking carefully at the arguments that have been advanced in this debate.
This has been an illuminating debate, but in some ways a very dispiriting one. My hon. Friends and I have expressed criticisms, one or two of which the Parliamentary Secretary has tried to answer or rebut. By her own admission, there are a number of others that she has been unable to deal with today. She is seeking further and better particulars, and hopes to be able to deal with those criticisms satisfactorily at some future, and thus far unspecified, date—presumably, next Tuesday. Frankly, despite her best endeavours, that really is not good enough.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough emphasised, our responsibility is to maximise the Bill's benefits and minimise its defects. The question of whether it is a good Bill or, at least, a less bad Bill, is of the essence. As far as some are concerned, that is not the issue in respect of the amendments. They are not remotely bothered whether the amendments are valid or not. They probably have not studied them, do not understand them and have no opinion on them. Their sole concerns are adherence to a timetable and minimising their personal discomfort. I know that they have a job to do as well, but their personal discomfort and the maximisation of their convenience are of no interest to me—[Interruption.] As far as the hon. Member for Weaver Vale is concerned—
I got it right—I clearly said, ``Weaver Vale''. If the hon. Member for Pendle has a problem with his hearing, that is his misfortune, not mine.
The hon. Member for Weaver Vale would do well to understand that we have certain grievances, and that, in so far as we want to support our amendments, we will do so. Frankly, the more often we make our points and the less happy he becomes, probably the better we are doing our job—[Interruption.] There is nothing to stop the hon. Gentleman continually chuntering his disapproval, but if he does so, the arguments will take longer to advance, more debate will be required and we shall demonstrate ever more persistence. He should grasp the simple fact that by shutting up we will advance more speedily to a conclusion that would be to his greater enlightenment. If he thinks that the way in which to conclude the debate and ensure satisfactory dispatch of business is to utter rude remarks from a sedentary position to me and my hon. Friends, he is making a serious mistake. He would do better to desist.
We support the amendments. We believe that they are valid and we are disappointed with the Government's unsatisfactory response. This is constitutional vandalism that displays disdain for the rights of the Committee and, indeed, for the integrity of the House. In the absence of proper responses from the Government, we must of course press our amendment to a vote.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 17.
I must advise the Committee that there was a further meeting of the Programming Sub-Committee before this sitting and a second programme motion was proposed.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
(1) the last two entries in the Table which forms part of the Order of the Committee of 18th January shall not have effect;
(2) proceedings on the Bill shall be concluded at Ten o'clock on Tuesday 13th February (unless concluded earlier).—[Jane Kennedy.]
On a point of order, as members of the Committee might be aware, I missed that Division. I realise that we were probably getting a move on. I have been sitting outside working all the time. When the Division was called, I moved towards the Door, which was locked. I do not know how many seconds elapsed, but I had a word with the constabulary outside, who are my witnesses. I do not like to miss a Division and I would like to know how long it was between the Division being called and the Door being locked.
Order. I cannot give the answer in minutes or seconds, but it was as long as it took the two Whips to nod to me that it was satisfactory to them to close the Doors.
Most members of the Committee did not have the delight of attending the Programming Sub-Committee proceedings earlier. It might be for the convenience of all hon. Members if I state that the proposal is that we should sit, as provided for in the resolution passed by the House early this afternoon, next Tuesday at the normal hours, both morning and afternoon, and that the afternoon sitting should conclude at 10 o'clock unless the business has been concluded before that time.
I am glad that the Government have come forward with a further day's debate. The debate that we have just concluded demonstrates beyond any doubt the need for that additional day. It also demonstrates very clearly the impracticality and craziness of a system under which the Government of the day impose an arbitrary deadline for the conclusion of a Standing Committee's proceedings before it has even met. Only during our debates on certain groups of amendments have we begun to tease out the meaning of the details of the Bill and the Government's readiness, or lack of it, to reconsider the drafting in the light of what we have discovered and the representations that have been made. What we have discovered about deer stalking, for example, and the uncertainty about the issue, is a telling illustration of that principle.
I understand and agree with my hon. Friend. Does he agree that there would be at least a certain rationale behind the Government's insistence on one extra day, however undesirable that rationale might be, if it was their firm intention to secure passage of the Bill, for the sake of argument, by the end of the March? My hon. Friend will understand that I choose that date at random. Given that Ministers have no such intention, and indeed have the contrary intention, does that not render inexplicable and indefensible their insistence on circumscribing the terms of the debate?
Unless a further business statement is made in the House before the conclusion of our sittings this week, or possibly early next week, it would not be possible to have Report and Third Reading until, at the earliest, the week beginning 26 February. That would mean, in turn, that consideration of the Bill in another place could not begin until, at the earliest, the first full week in March. Other members of the Committee have said that the Government are effectively washing their hands of the Bill and believe that it will not become law this side of a general election. Therefore, we are engaged this afternoon in an exercise that owes more to the Government's desire to spin themselves a favourable headline than to any matter of substance.
No. I said at the beginning of my remarks that I welcomed the Government's decision to allow an additional day, and I shall advise my right hon. and hon. Friends not to oppose that motion. I do not intend to oppose it myself.
My fundamental objection is to the principle of arbitrary programming, rather than, as had previously been the case—
On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. Is it not the case that the issue of programme motions and the date by which Committees make their decisions has been decided by the House as a whole?
I am grateful, Mr. O'Hara. As the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth will know, the point that I am making is in answer to the earlier intervention of the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall). My objection is to the arbitrary programming of Standing Committee proceedings instead of, as was previously the custom, the Committee being allowed to commence its proceedings and then, through informal agreements between the usual channels, being allowed adequate time to debate the main points of each clause. That does not always work out in practice and there is a risk that we end up with filibustering and time-wasting. However, in the round it is the best way in which to deal with proposed legislation in Standing Committees—above all when we are dealing with a Bill such as this, which divides, on honourable and principled grounds, hon. Members of every political party represented in a Committee in which decisions are determined by free votes.
I want to put a few points to Ministers and ask them to use the opportunity presented by next Tuesday's sitting to bring to the Committee a considered response on some important points of detail. This morning, we discussed the trading of rabbit and hare carcases and I am grateful to the Government for agreeing to reconsider.
The interrelationship between the Deer Act 1991 and the Bill is important. In common with the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, I was genuinely grateful for the Parliamentary Secretary's open-mindedness and readiness to reflect on the matter and to return to the Committee next Tuesday with a fuller explanation of that interrelationship.I hope that the Government will table an amendment on rabbits and consider whether rabbit control, as with rodent control, should be an exception.
I also hope that the Government will make a statement to the Committee on the interrelationship between the Bill and the legislation that is likely to be proposed by the Scottish Parliament. In constituencies such as that of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, practical issues concerning enforcement of the Bill will be profoundly affected by what is decided by the Scottish Parliament. We discussed the matter at one of our earliest sittings and the presumption was that Scotland would vote for a complete ban similar to that in the Bill. That has now changed and a statement is necessary because important questions arise concerning enforcement.
Finally, I want to reiterate some points made by other hon. Members. I understand the position in which Ministers find themselves with such Bills. Previous Standing Committees have raised similar questions on how Ministers should conduct themselves. I have told the Parliamentary Secretary and the Under-Secretary that I appreciate the way in which they have dealt with points made by opponents of the Bill and their amendments in a detached way despite the strong personal views they may hold in their capacity as Members of Parliament.
Nevertheless, I have considerable sympathy with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon. The Parliamentary Secretary has stressed throughout our proceedings that it is not the responsibility of Ministers to second-guess the decision of the House, but to ensure that we have good law. Some of the detailed questions that have been put to Ministers during our proceedings have been central to whether a particular aspect of schedule 3 will make good law. For those reasons, I hope that Ministers will take time during the next few days to discuss with the authors of schedule 3 the details that have been properly raised and to provide fuller answers.
There are two interpretations of why the Government have proposed the extra day: one is cynical and probably correct; the other is charitable and probably naive. The cynic in me says that the proposal is connected to managing perceptions in the other place. Given that we have only got through half the amendments, the impression could be created that the Bill was rushed through Committee. However, the Government will get their way, so I might as well put a charitable interpretation on it, even if that is a little na—ve. My charitable interpretation of the extra day is that there are things that the Government want to do with the Bill.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that areas of the Bill could be improved. Those were not her exact words, but that is what she thought. Therefore, by delaying consideration of the amendments, we are delaying the point at which the Government could improve the Bill. If the Parliamentary Secretary or the Under-Secretary were to indicate those areas, my hon. Friends and I would be prepared to move speedily towards them.
There are four clear days between now and next Tuesday. During that time, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary, the Under-Secretary and their officials will make it their business to discuss the anomalies in the drafting with Deadline 2000, so we do not repeat the farce of Ministers washing their hands of their own Bill. They and their civil servants have plenty of time—and God knows there are enough of them—to consult with Deadline 2000. They should examine future amendments, consider them in relation to anomalies in the drafting and be prepared to answer the points. I hope that that will happen on Tuesday, but if it does not the cynic in me will once again have been proved right, in which case the extra day will be about managing perceptions, not improving legislation.
I shall speak briefly because I want to give the Parliamentary Secretary a chance to reply before the guillotine falls.
I am genuinely interested to know how the new system works. When the Government and the Whips Office deal with a Bill, is there a genuine attempt to work out how long it is, how complex it is and how many amendments are being tabled? How did they come up with the view that 8 February was the right day to finish? What happens if all the amendments have not been dealt with? We are at an early stage of these proceedings and I do not know how matters have been dealt with in other Bills. However, I understand that the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which has just started, is making slow progress and is unlikely, under its present timetable, to deal with all the amendments in Standing Committee before the guillotine falls.
Will this Bill set a precedent? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon, I am trying not to take a cynical view. Are the Government saying, ``We have had a reasonable debate, but this is an important Bill. Serious issues have been raised on both sides and we have only got through a few amendments. Therefore, we shall have another day''? If that were the answer, we would welcome it. Alternatively, are the Government treating this Bill differently from other Bills? In other Bills, despite all the amendments having not been dealt with, the guillotine still falls. They say, ``That is up to the Opposition. We allowed until 8 February. The Opposition have wasted time; we want to get this business through.'' I am genuinely interested whether we are setting a precedent. In future, if all the amendments to a Bill have not been dealt with by the deadline, will the Government allow extra days? I suspect that they will not.
It could be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon suggested, that the Government are worried about the Bill's reception in the other place. They may be worried that people in the other place will draw attention to the fact that only certain amendments have been considered. An even more cynical interpretation, which I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will want to blow out of the water in her reply, is that the Bill is being treated differently from any other Bill in the Government's legislative programme.
Far be it from me to stand in the way of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary blowing the hon. Gentleman out of the water. For the record, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that Conservative Members were in fact offered two days of further time for the Bill and said that they only required one?
I am not a member of the usual channels, and have never been invited. I wonder why? Some of my friends who are members of the usual channels may shake their heads.
We went over this ground in the Programming Sub-Committee. I told the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) that I was prepared to consider the possibility of extending Standing Committee time and asked how much time he would like for the following week. I did not offer him one day or two. I can say for the record that if he had asked for two days, I would have given him two days.
I was offered one day. I know, Mr. O'Hara, that you do not wish to get involved in this sort of activity, but there is obviously a disagreement between the hon. Gentleman and myself. What this proves is that the current system is not working and unfortunately it is the Government's fault.
I feel like a little rabbit with two rather fierce creatures running around me who might eat me at any moment. I am grateful for those distinguished interventions, which prove to me—someone who was not invited to be a member of that Sub-Committee—how nice it would be to have a transcript; or, perhaps, we could all be part of this discussion. However, that does not affect the point that I was making.
I am sure that the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, was trying to make a devastating intervention, but he has intimated something serious and his hon. Friends should be worried. Is he now saying that, despite everything that has happened on other Bills—where the Government have ruthlessly ensured that the deadline falls and that the Bill goes straight back to the House, even if there are amendments tabled that have not been fully considered—uniquely, with this Bill, they prepared to offered one, two, three or four days? How determined are the Government to make progress on this Bill? I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will not respond to this point.
We all know what is going on. The Government are very happy for the Opposition to have one, two, three or four days. They are not worried if this Bill does not progress. All the big campaigners such as the hon. Members for Pendle, for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) should be complaining not about us, but about their own Government, who, apparently, and contrary to their own programmers, are prepared to be so dilatory that the Bill is delayed.
When I was a Member of Parliament in 1987 and just before I was elected in 1983, the then Governments called the general election in June and many of the Bills that they had introduced in November were chopped. This Government have been quite clever. They had a very narrow legislative programme and put through a few fairly uncontroversial Bills very quickly. They will put those to the other place so that they will be able to become law or go to the Queen for Royal Assent by the beginning of April.
And so am I. The Government have the votes. If they were serious about the Bill, they could push it through, but they are not. What is going on? I suspect that they are very happy for the Bill to get to the Lords at such a late date that there is no way in which their Lordships can process it by the early part of April. Therefore, it will not become law.
Labour Members should be worried about what is happening in Scotland, where the Scottish Parliament is apparently now favouring the licensing of hunting. If I wanted to abolish hunting, I would be worried about what was going on in the high recesses of the Home Office at the moment. I would be worried that my own Ministers were paying lip service to progressing the Bill, while by the back door they were trying to bring in licensing of hunting.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Labour party does not want the Bill to make progress at present, but I think that it is for a different reason. I suspect that Labour believes, quite rightly, that it will make an extremely good issue during the general election and that it will gain many votes if there is still uncertainty about whether hunting will be banned or not. That is why the Government are hoping to keep the matter open until after the election.
I find the contributions that we have heard during the past few minutes intensely irritating. It is clear that Conservative Members do not know what they are doing. They should not refer only to Scotland, but should consider what happened in Wales yesterday when a Conservative Member said, ``We don't want to hear both sides on hunting. We only want to hear the side that justifies our view.''
Opponents of hunting on the Conservative Benches have struggled to stay in order during the past few sittings and have just about managed that, but they have wasted an inordinate amount of time with the cynical ploy of being able to say, ``We haven't had enough time.'' Now that the offer of extra time has been provided and the opportunity of even more than what is in the programme resolution was available had they bothered to ask for it, they are clearly seeking to avoid debate on the whole Bill and being cynical in their approach. I remind them, as they are being so unpleasant, that there is a free vote on the matter. Are they tempting us to vote against the resolution so that we can finish today?
I hoped that we could have dealt with the motion formally, but hon. Members are trying to interpret our reason for introducing the revised programme resolution to which the House agreed earlier today. The answer is simple; at various points during our proceedings, Opposition Members have suggested that they wanted more time in Committee to consider the Bill. We are now attempting to provide that. I hoped that, for once, Opposition Members would have accepted with good grace and gratitude our genuine efforts to accommodate them and would allow us to get on with the important business of scrutinising the Bill.
The resolution simply proposes that we begin our sittings at the usual time and conclude our business at 10 o'clock. With good will on both sides, we may even conclude earlier than that. My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale undertook to use his best endeavours to achieve that, but there is little evidence of any co-operation to achieve that objective.
The programme resolution before us and the earlier one were agreed without Division or amendment in the Programming Sub-Committee. All the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury in his opening speech could have been made in the Programming Sub-Committee had he chosen to do so.
I simply want to put on the record our response to the Parliamentary Secretary's comment about which she would not allow me to intervene. I am aware that, for reasons that I regret, the Programming Sub-Committee's proceedings are not open to the public, nor is any record taken of those proceedings. For that reason, it was right for me to explain my point of view this afternoon. My comments will be recorded so that any Member of the House can take note of what I said.
Did my hon. Friend, either privately or in the Programming Sub-Committee, receive any indication from the Government that they intend to table any amendments for next Tuesday?
From memory, that subject was not raised. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale can confirm that my recollection is correct and that the subject was not discussed at our earlier meeting. One of the purposes of my comments at the start of this short debate was to ask the Government to listen to representations and to table amendments, or at least to indicate in detail how they might seek to amend the Bill later.
The Committee divided: Ayes 16, Noes 2.
My enthusiasm for continuing may not be shared by the Committee. I propose that we now have a half-hour break.
Amendment made: No. 58, in page 20, line 34, leave out from `consumption' to `or' in line 35.—[Mr. Lidington.]
With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 61, in page 20, line 38, after third `the' insert `deliberate'.
No. 76, in page 20, line 40, leave out `third' and insert `second'.
No. 77, in page 21, line 13, leave out
`conditions in this paragraph were' and insert
`condition in this paragraph was'.
No. 78, in page 21, line 14, leave out paragraph (2).
No. 86, in page 21, line 14, after third `the', insert `deliberate'.
No. 118, in page 21, line 15, after `ground', insert
`other than in a man-made underground structure or space'.
No. 125, in page 21, line 15, after `ground' insert
`other than in a cave or pothole'.
No. 79, in page 21, line 16, leave out `second'.
No. 80, in page 21, line 32, leave out paragraph (2).
No. 96, in page 21, line 32, after third `the', insert `deliberate'.
No. 81, in page 21, line 34, leave out `second' and insert `first'.
No. 82, in page 21, line 40, leave out `third' and insert `second'.
No. 83, in page 22, line 2, leave out paragraph (2).
No. 100, in page 22, line 2, after third `the', insert `deliberate'.
No. 84, in page 22, line 4, leave out `second' and insert `first'.
No. 85, in page 22, line 6, leave out `third' and insert `second'.
Amendment No. 60 is also in the name of the hon. Member for Aylesbury. We have just voted to have more time to discuss the Bill, which is great. We can come back on Tuesday—[HON. MEMBERS: ``Yippee.''] I would have said, ``Yippee'', but I was not sure how it would appear in Hansard.
There is no point in further debate unless people listen and we can make a difference. Throughout our proceedings, I have become concerned that members of the Committee are adopting rather entrenched positions and, as a result, our debates might fall on deaf ears. The amendments deal with terrier work and given that that is a rather emotive subject, I hope that hon. Members will subjugate their feelings to their values and do the right thing in listening to the arguments, some of which they may not have heard before.
The amendments are not intended as a criticism of the Ministers, who have done as good a job as anyone in following the policy positions of Deadline 2000. In trying to formulate those positions in legislation, it is difficult to find a solution that involves prohibition rather than regulation, owing to the many contradictions that are thrown up. The amendments try to resolve some of those contradictions.
Amendments Nos. 60, 78, 80 and 83 would allow the use of dogs below ground in the circumstances of the exceptions to the general offence. Amendments Nos. 61, 86, 96 and 100 offer the alternative route of forbidding only the deliberate use of a dog below ground. Amendment No. 118 would permit the use of dog below ground where it consisted of a man-made structure or space. One might call amendment No. 125 the cave amendment, because it would create an exemption for caves and potholes. It alludes to comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed at an earlier stage of our proceedings.
The general effect of the amendments is to recognise that there are circumstances in which it is not reasonable, practicable or in the interests of animal welfare to ban the use of dogs underground.
As ever, I return to the Burns report, which is pretty much the bible of the Committee. The report is equivocal with regard to terrier work, but it does not necessarily say that it is in the interests of animal welfare to ban the use of dogs underground. Paragraph 6.51 of the report, on page 117, contains important information about what Lord Burns discovered about terrier work. It states that
``it seems reasonable to assume that a situation in which the fox is prevented from escaping by the terrier will have adverse welfare implications. As to the latter, the role of the terrier is to hold the fox at bay by barking at it. As Macdonald et al point out, there is no firm evidence about the frequency with which fights occur or on the severity of the injuries. We are aware that terrierwork is better regulated than it used to be and we accept that some of the reports of fights and injuries pre-date those changes. It seems clear, nevertheless, that fights do sometimes occur during digging-out or bolting and we have no doubt that this is more frequent in unofficial terrierwork than in that linked with registered packs.''
Paragraph 6.52 is also important. It states:
``Although there is no firm scientific evidence, we are satisfied that the activity of digging out and shooting a fox involves a serious compromise of its welfare, bearing in mind the often protracted nature of the process and the fact that the fox is prevented from escaping.''
Paragraph 9.20, on page 149, states:
``Digging-out and bolting foxes is a complex issue because of the perceived needs in different parts of England and Wales. In the absence of a ban, serious consideration could be given as to whether this practice should be allowed to continue and, if so, under what conditions. Possible options would be to ban it altogether; confine it to those areas where it is considered necessary as a means of controlling fox numbers or in the interests of animal welfare; make the practice subject to the general legislation on cruelty by removing the present exemptions for hunting; or improve monitoring by the hunts and by any independent monitors.''
I read those passages out because the fact that Burns did not unequivocally recommend the need to ban terrier work in the interests of animal welfare is central to my point and underpins the amendments. Burns is clearly concerned about the suffering that terrier work might cause—including to the terrier itself—but he also emphasises that there is more than one way to address such concerns.
Furthermore, especially in paragraph 9.20, Burns makes the point that it could on occasion be in the interests of animal welfare to allow terrier work to continue. I am aware that terrier work creates strong feelings. There is an underlying assumption that it is unnecessarily cruel and unnecessarily compromises animal welfare, but from what I have read in the Burns report and other analysis, that is not the case. If terrier work is properly regulated, in certain circumstances it can promote our objective that animal welfare should be taken seriously.
Terrier work is increasingly used in some areas. To forbid the use of a dog below ground as part of the exceptions to the general offence is illogical in practical terms and in terms of the cause of animal welfare. I do not need to repeat the points that have already been made in the Committee, but right hon. and hon. Members will recall that, on at least one occasion, extraordinary contradictions have emerged from our discussions on the consequences of the use of a dog underground being banned.
Currently all the exceptions relating to stalking, flushing out, rodent control, recapturing animals and rescuing animals do not allow the use of a dog below ground, but it cannot be justified on animal welfare grounds. The Bill recognises the propriety of hunting to protect livestock, fowl, gamebirds and so on. An essential element of hunting with dogs now is the ability to use some method to control or apprehend such animals underground. If the exceptions are designed to promote animal welfare, as I believe they are, the hunt for the wild animal must be as efficient as possible. That brings me to my second core point.
It can make no sense in animal welfare terms for a wounded animal to continue to suffer if it can be located underground with the use of dogs. We have already established that it is all right to apprehend such an animal as long as it is on the surface, or presumably in a building above ground level. However, that almost arbitrary exemption means that if the animal chooses to shelter underground, a dog cannot be used in the way that it could be on the surface. The Bill does not take account of that practical reality. The amendment recognises that, in such situations, it would be more logical to permit the use of dogs underground. The Middle Way Group would like to see that regulated in practice without introducing rafts of the schedule 2 proposals. We thought that we could best make our points by addressing the simpler amendments in the group.
Dogs often search for mammals underground and inspect foxholes. That is their nature. In our view a person should not necessarily be criminalised if, for reasons beyond his control, the dog follows its natural instinct to search for animals underground. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole told us earlier that his dog was attacked by a rat underground—
I do not laugh, especially with animal welfare considerations in mind. The owner of the pet seems to be the only member of the Committee laughing. He said that the dog had run underground and had been attacked by a rat.
It would be very unfortunate if a gentleman like the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole, for whom I have great respect, were to be criminalised simply because his dog followed its natural instincts. Perhaps the dog was playing a game of hide and seek with the hon. Gentleman. Why any pet should wish to hide from as lovable an owner, I do not know. [Interruption.] The Parliamentary Secretary should not be the only hon. Member who is flattered from the Opposition Benches. It seems a little unfair.
I thank the hon. and gracious Gentleman for giving way. Rats go in streams and rivers. The Bill does not say ``underground''; it says ``below ground''. Rivers are below ground and on top of the ground. What does that mean?
My hon. Friend makes a good point.
In all seriousness, the example relating to the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole underlines the serious concern that all that would stand between his prosecution and his acquittal would be his ability to prove that he did not intentionally allow his dog to go underground and attack the rat.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and others have underlined, we believe that that is an extremely difficult thing to do. In the light of the amendments that were not carried, it seems that there is no insurance policy for individuals such as the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole that would significantly increase their chances of evading a criminal conviction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme made an important point. The phrase ``below ground'' is too imprecise to be used as a basis for criminal liability. As she said, what is ``below ground''? A culvert, a woodpile or a dip in the ground could theoretically be argued to be such, as could an old railway tunnel, a pipe or a river. We do not have a sufficiently clear definition at this stage to be able to answer that. Not only that; plenty of above-ground structures are just as constricting as those below ground.
To give another example, if one goes ratting on the first floor of a building, presumably that would be legitimate because it is not a below-ground structure, but if the dog tears off down the steps into the cellar, does that mean that the person who is ratting is committing a criminal offence? We have discussed the matter at some length. Hon. Members will recall those debates, but this is the point at which we might want to deal with it by way of amendment.
The Committee will remember that we ended up in a rather strange debate where the Minister attempted to define what that meant. He implied that one needed to have soil above one's head to be underground. Does that mean that, in a cellar that extends under my garden, I have to draw a line along the ground and affix a lead so that the dog can go only as far as that line? If the rat runs under the extent of my garden and the dog chases it, will I be breaking the law? That sounds a fatuous point, but a judge's responsibility is to apply the law, not to judge its sense. There is insensibility in that part of the Bill, which could cause difficulty.
There is another obvious question. If a dog were to chase a rat underground, would it be acceptable to dig a hole vertically above the rat and to drop a dog into it on the grounds that the soil is not above the rat's head? Those points need to be dealt with. Will the Parliamentary Secretary assure us on the matter? As it stands and given the extent of the previous debates on that point, I remain concerned that merely hoping that legal precedent will resolve the issue is a dangerous way to proceed, not least because we will make criminals out of people acting with good intent, whom a judge simply cannot acquit because, technically, it would be absolutely clear to the judge that, regardless of the intent, the individual had laid themselves open to a criminal prosecution.
Furthermore, the Bill as it stands is illogical because it allows ferrets to be used below ground, but not dogs. Rodent control, for example, is often carried out by ferrets, yet the Bill prohibits only the use of terriers underground. There can be no reason for that contradiction, except perhaps a genuinely innocent oversight by the supporters of the Bill. Again, that issue could be resolved. I would not want to second-guess the intent of Deadline 2000. Between now and Tuesday, the Minister may have to consult the supporters of the Bill to understand what the position is. As it stands, there is no philosophical consistency in allowing the use of ferrets, but not terriers.
The restriction on using terriers underground for rodent control also runs counter to the Home Office's stated recognition of the need to control rodents. I refer hon. Members to a letter from the Minister to the Countryside Alliance on 30 November 2000. It said that
``rats are a health hazard and a pest and that dogs are an effective means of keeping numbers down. The Prevention of Damage by Pests Act 1949 places obligation on both local authorities and occupiers of land to take steps to secure as far as is practicable that land is kept free from rats and mice. These obligations are absolute. Therefore we do not think there should be any limitation in respect of rodent hunting.''
That runs counter to the arrangement through which terriers—a heavily used resource in rodent control—will be banned. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary could explain what appears to be a contradiction. If left untouched, the provision would seem to go against her guidance to others who have inquired about the issue.
There are also some practical considerations. The National Working Terrier Federation is a professional body that attempts to regulate the use of terriers through a self-disciplining code, to which individual terrier men and women sign up and adhere. The federation states:
``The role of the terrier is to locate the quarry below ground and to bark at it continuously, either causing it to leave the earth, or alternatively to indicate where in the earth the quarry is located, in order that it can be dug to and dispatched. Terriers are also used to locate and flush quarry above ground and in dense cover.''
In other words, the federation claims that a terrier can be trained not to attack a fox underground. Indeed, it can control and highlight the position of the fox through non-violent means.
It is here that matters become equivocal. Burns expressed some concerns. In fairness, plenty of evidence was submitted to sustain both pro and anti-terrier work positions. I have talked to the likes of Barry Wade, who is one of the more prominent terrier men, and huntsmen such as David Jones, who has done much to inform my understanding of the issue. My suspicion is that a middle ground—I use the phrase advisedly, but it does seem appropriate—probably exists. Some terrier men have managed to train their terriers to operate in a professional way. If one thinks about the matter, it will be clear that no one who owns an effective terrier will want it to get torn up in underground fights. One would expect ageing terriers to show signs of damage from such incidents. Indeed, some terriers do, but others that are 10, 11 or 12-years-old do not. My tentative conclusion, therefore, is that some terriers can indeed be trained not to attack adult foxes.
I should be interested and grateful to hear the views of other members of the Committee, particularly of those who support a ban. As I have said, my conclusion is evidential and not based on a priori grounds or a fundamental principle, but are we justified in banning an activity for which there is only equivocal evidence? Moreover, there is fairly strong evidence that, in the right hands, a terrier can be trained not to attack an adult fox underground.
The National Gamekeepers Organisation stated:
``Gamekeepers use terriers to locate and/or bolt foxes, and sometimes mink, from underground. Terriers are normally used in conjunction with nets, guns and/or other dogs.''
Crucially, it continues:
``Terriers are the only legal means of dealing with foxes that have taken refuge underground.''
Therefore, it is not just the National Working Terrier Federation that feels that way. Given the consistency of the position taken by individual organisations that deal with terrier work, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reflect on those points and to justify why she and the Government believe that it is reasonable to ban terrier work. Does she believe that there are no contradictions? Alternatively, does she agree that there are indeed contradictions—many of which concern fox control and the welfare of the fox itself—but that she can live with them?
The National Farmers Union states:
``This restriction''— the ban—
``would seriously compromise effective fox control. Although the explanatory notes to the Bill suggest that a person would not be guilty of an offence `if his dog has other ideas and acts outside the scope of the exception', any value in the stalking and flushing out exception would be rendered useless by a fox going to ground.''
In this set of concerns and contradictions, the contradiction that I am highlighting is that those activities will be severely restricted and, in some cases, prohibited if underground dog work is not permitted. Without going through the entire argument again, I simply cite our long debate on what happens if a dog persistently goes underground because of his natural instinct, even if the owner does not encourage it to do so. In addition, many people, certainly in places such as upland mid-Wales, believe that terrier work is a vital ingredient in the control of foxes. I believe that there is a case to answer. How would the Parliamentary Secretary describe what seems to be a circle of activities that are permitted within the Bill, one element of which is prohibited—the terrier work?
An even more serious concern is that the welfare of foxes might be compromised if dogs cannot be used underground. Professor Macdonald, who was commissioned by the Burns inquiry to look into population management and control of quarry species, said:
``Even if a rifle is used to kill adult foxes at the earth, there is a case to be made on welfare grounds that terriers should be used subsequently to ensure that cubs are not left without parental care.''
That is a slightly gruesome aspect and perhaps one of the most emotive elements. If one killed a vixen that had cubs, the cubs could easily starve to death underground. I think that most of us would agree that that would be a horrible way to go. Terriers are often used to dispatch the orphaned offspring quickly and efficiently. A terrier will more comfortably attack cubs because they are very small; they are not adult size.
The matter was raised with the Scottish Society for the Protection of Animals, which gave oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Rural Affairs Committee in connection with Lord Watson's Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Bill on 21 November 2000. Richard Lochhead MSP asked:
``Do you think that sending terriers underground is more cruel than leaving cubs to starve to death?''
``If terriers were sent underground only to kill cubs there would be no cruelty to the cubs and the terriers would not suffer any damage.''
It was a clear exchange between an interrogator in the Scottish Parliament, who asked a neutral question, and the chief executive of what is perhaps the main animal welfare organisation in Scotland, who, with conditions, said that there were some circumstances in which the use of terriers would be justified on animal welfare grounds. Furthermore, two days later—I imagine for absolute clarity on the point—the SSPCA issued a statement, which is available to all members of the Committee on request. I shall simply read the crucial two paragraphs from it. They say:
``The Scottish SPCA is opposed to the use of terriers underground. However, the Society accepts that, under current conditions, dependent cubs are at risk when a vixen is shot in springtime. The prospect of cubs starving to death below ground is unacceptable in welfare terms.
For this reason and in the absence of a close season, the Society was reluctantly obliged to concede the use of terriers to despatch cubs. Even this carries a risk to the terrier encountering a vixen attempting to protect her cubs.''
That is not a ringing endorsement of terrier work and is as equivocal as Lord Burns, but it shows that the SSPCA has come to the reluctant conclusion that, in some circumstances, it would be tolerable to use terriers, in this case in the interests of animal welfare. I shall read one other important extract:
``The Society accepts that gamekeepers and farmers do not wish to cause animals unnecessary suffering. The traditional practices such as terrier work are vulnerable to abuse by individuals who wish to see fights between foxes and dogs.''
That is a further equivocation about the issue. I do not want to dredge up the details of the Middle Way Group schedule, but that is precisely why we felt that it was necessary to have a strict regulatory framework for the use of terriers. It is regrettable, given the spirit of this debate, that we are not in a position to reintroduce all of that policy in order to right that wrong. Our amendments go as far as the SSPCA in trying to resolve those issues.
It is important to recognise that what I am discussing does not contradict the spirit of schedule 3 as it stands now. A phrase that is often quoted—I have seen it in the papers again in the past two days—is that we cannot license cruelty. We can debate that, but we can license an activity and that is what we are discussing. It could not be called licensing—there is no regulation to go with it—but the schedule allows the use of falconry, guns and so forth for the control of rats and a number of other activities that inflict suffering on animals. There is no reason in principle why terrier work should necessarily be singled out as an activity that needs to be banned. As such, taking into consideration animal welfare and accepting that there is a balance of evidence on terrier work, some hon. Members may be influenced to think again about the way in which the Bill is laid out on that issue. A balance has to be struck and, leaving aside the civil liberties issues that were discussed on the Floor of the House, animal welfare should be seriously considered.
I look forward to hearing what other hon. Members have to say, but I hope that the arguments that I have advanced, whether one agrees with them or not, are at least internally consistent. If one accepts the assumptions of the SSPCA, terrier men and others, there is no open-and-shut case for banning terrier work. Perhaps some form of regulation would be preferable.
I shall direct my final question to the Parliamentary Secretary. Given the case that I have put forward and on the basis of what others on both sides say, I should be interested to know if she were willing to reflect on whether the Bill goes too far on terrier work and whether the amendments, including the cave amendment, perhaps make it a little more balanced, sensible and workable, but also more fair. As it stands, given the difficulties with the slightly inflexible approach to dogs underground, I am concerned that the schedule will serve neither the interests of animal welfare, nor the interests of pest control.
I thank the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) for the lucid way in which he presented the amendments. They are tabled by him and by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, together with, in some cases, the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. One or two are also co-signed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), who, like those other two hon. Members, is a member of the Middle Way Group. Although I am not a member of that group, I am pleased that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has set out his case so clearly. It is one with which I am able largely to agree.
As the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire said a moment ago, the purpose of the amendments is to allow the use of a dog below ground in the circumstances of the exceptions to the general offence. Alternatively, amendments Nos. 61, 86, 96 and 100 forbid only the deliberate use of a dog below ground. Amendment No. 118 would permit the use of a dog below ground where that consisted of a man-made underground structure or space. The hon. Gentleman mentioned things such as railways tunnels and I presume that would also cover his example of the cellar, drains in ditches in fields and so forth and under bridges. The general effect of the amendment is to recognise that there are circumstances where it is not reasonable, practicable or in the interests of animal welfare for it not to be permissible to use a dog below ground.
I shall briefly deal with some of the points fit for discussion under the amendments. To set the scene, I shall quote paragraph 2.31 of the Burns report. It states:
``Terrierwork is the most widespread. It is practised by some individual farmers and gamekeepers as a means of pest control, and by individual or `gangs' of terriermen, as a sport, or in response to a request for help in pest control. The National Working Terrier Federation (NWTF) consists of 26 clubs and has about 3,000-4,000 individual members. It has drawn up regulations and a code of conduct. However, much terrierwork is carried out by non-members. There is no accurate estimate of the numbers of foxes killed with the use of terriers outside registered hunting.''
We have talked about the organised fox hunts, with which those of us on the Opposition Benches might be most familiar. Most of my constituents are interested in terrier work in that context. It is worth noting that terrier work is not peculiar to our islands. [Hon. Members: ``Tristan de Cunha.''] Perhaps I should mention Tristan de Cunha, which we had fun with on Tuesday. How time flies when one is enjoying oneself. I am merely sad that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is not here to tell us about his trips. Perhaps he has gone to Tristan de Cunha to further interest in rat-catching.
I shall bring us back to mainland Europe and Scandinavia. The Burns report acknowledged that the widespread use of terriers was accepted in other European countries, including some countries in which other forms of hunting with dogs was banned. Burns cites Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Germany, stating that, in those countries,
``Hunting in various forms is widespread and highly regulated'', and that,
``There is a substantial amount of welfare legislation''.
The report goes on to acknowledge that
``Underground terrierwork is very widespread''.
I do not think that that is a controversial statement.
Terrier work is increasingly used as a method of fox control not necessarily by hunts, but by gamekeepers, members of the National Working Terrier Federation and others. You were not here this morning, Mr. O'Hara, but I mentioned the telephone call that I received from Mr. Nodder, the representative of the gamekeepers' association. He was concerned that the Bill would catch out gamekeepers in their legitimate activity.
Among the reasons for the increased use of terriers are the decrease in the use of snares, the restrictions to shooting for safety reasons and legislation that makes gun ownership difficult. I represent the south-eastern quarter of Leicestershire. It is largely rural and there are three packs of foxhounds and two foot packs in the constituency of Harborough. Despite that, the increase in residential housing would make it unthinkable to use a high-powered rifle to shoot foxes in every circumstance. To do so would be mad.
The A6 runs from Market Harborough to Leicester. The Fernie hunt meets either side of the A6. If it were banned and foxes had to be controlled by the use of high-powered rifles, I imagine that travelling from Market Harborough to Leicester would become altogether less comfortable than at present. I had the joy and thrill of travelling on the mainline railway to Leicester and back today, and I have seen the Fernie at work from the railway, but I do not want to see gamekeepers with high-powered rifles doing the same job from there.
Following the Phelps report, hunting took a major step forward in allowing digging to take place only at the request of the landowner. We note that the Burns report acknowledges the requirement of farmers, landowners and gamekeepers that foxes be controlled, and also the unique and important role of terrier work and other forms of hunting with dogs. We note also that Burns acknowledges the complex nature of fox control, the welfare and practical limitations of other control methods and the possible adverse welfare effect on foxes in upland areas of banning hunting with dogs. That is not to gainsay the point made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire when he cited the evidence of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals about abandoned or orphaned fox cubs.
I am concerned to note that, despite the assertion that there is no firm scientific evidence, the report should conclude:
``we are satisfied that the activity of digging out and shooting a fox involves a serious compromise of its welfare''.
The expression ``compromise of welfare'' has found its way into modern jargon; it is almost akin to the expression ``being economic with the actualite''. People have forgotten what it meant.
That conclusion ignores and contradicts the evidence of the ``Vets for Hunting'' submission, which was supported by 208 vets, recent research by the Swedish Veterinary Institute, which was submitted to the inquiry by the Countryside Alliance and the comments of the Burns inquiries researcher, Mr. MacDonald. That gentleman stated
``even if a rifle is used to kill adult foxes at the earth, there is a case to be made on welfare grounds that terriers should be used subsequently to ensure that cubs are not left without parental care.''
At paragraph 6.52, Burns reported:
``Although there is no firm scientific evidence, we are satisfied that the activity of digging out and shooting a fox involves a serious compromise of its welfare, bearing in mind the often protracted nature of the process and the fact that the fox is prevented from escaping.''
I do not want to speak again about compromise to welfare. Death is fatal. A fatality is obviously deeply compromising to the welfare of the animal or mammal that is killed. However, it is fair to express our concern at the reliance placed upon anecdotal and unsubstantiated claims of terrier injuries, the apparent disregard of the infrequency or nature of any such injuries and of the veterinary survey of terrier injuries submitted to the inquiry by the Countryside Alliance.
I am particularly disappointed at the Burns report's lack of attention to terrier work as a pest control activity in its own right—that is, outside the ambit of fox hunting—as practised by farmers, gamekeepers and other independent pest controllers, and the significant differences that occur in such a situation. I refer the Committee to the Burns inquiry's comments on terrier work, particularly as some of the concerns expressed do not apply outside of hunting. At paragraph 94 of the summary, Burns said
``There is concern about terrierwork. It is felt that a fox, once it has gone to ground, should not be dug out. There are also reports of injuries caused in fights between terriers and foxes underground. On the other hand, it is argued that terrierwork is important in controlling fox numbers, especially in upland sheep-rearing and game management areas.''
Paragraph 95 of the summary states:
``Digging-out and bolting foxes is a complex issue because of the perceived needs in different parts of England and Wales. In the absence of a ban, serious consideration could be given as to whether this practice should be allowed to continue and, if so, under what conditions. Possible options would be to ban it altogether; confine it to those areas where it is considered necessary as a means of controlling fox numbers or in the interests of animal welfare; make the practice subject to the general legislation on cruelty by removing the present exemptions for hunting; or improve monitoring by the hunts and by any independent monitors.''
The report's comments on licensing and regulation in other countries are worthy of study. Other members of the Committee may have had the chance to remind themselves of them. The report comments on the strengthening of supervision of all forms of hunting. Those who, like me, are deeply saddened by the passage of the Bill would welcome any opportunity to participate in rational discussion on the matter. I am a little disappointed that the report does not give full credit to the hunting associations for their own efforts in implementing and extending voluntary self-regulation.
The other point that I wish to draw to the Committee's attention is more to do with the practical consequences of a ban, and particularly of the provisions of schedule 3 not benefiting from the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury.
I have a problem with ``below'' in the Bill. It is obvious that underground is underground, but in legal terms below means below the normal level of the ground—for instance, as in a ditch. The top of a ditch is at the normal level of the ground. Is the bottom of the ditch below ground? It is not underground, but it is below the normal level. Has the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his legal experience, come across that problem before?
I have come across that neither in my legal experience nor in my hunting or other sporting experience. Clearly there will be some ground that is above ground but below other ground. From time to time, when the hon. Lady is paddling in that brook that she so wonderfully told us about on Tuesday, she will be both above and below ground. New Labour, of which I am sure the hon. Lady is not a member, frequently suffers from that problem—it does not know whether it is above or below, beside or in front, but it is certainly confused. We, too, are confused, as a consequence of the drafting of the Bill. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention, not least because it gave me time for a sip of water.
I wish to make two practical points that the Committee should bear in mind. In its submission to the Burns inquiry, the National Working Terrier Federation stated:
``The role of the terrier is to locate the quarry below ground''—
Burns, too, uses the phrase ``below ground''—
``and to bark at it continuously, either causing it to leave the earth, or alternatively to indicate where in the earth the quarry is located, in order that it can be dug to and dispatched. Terriers are also used to locate and flush quarry above ground and in dense cover.''
Terriers can be put to an accepted and perfectly reasonable use; it does not necessarily involve unnecessary suffering either to the terrier or to the quarry.
The National Gamekeepers Organisation explains:
``Gamekeepers use terriers to locate and/or bolt foxes, and sometimes mink''— another subject on which the hon. Lady has been so helpful—
``from underground. Terriers are normally used in conjunction with nets, guns and/or other dogs. Terriers are the only legal means of dealing with foxes that have taken refuge underground. The Bill (Schedule 3.) would ban this. The ability to kill foxes at their underground earths is very important because, as in all wildlife culling, locating the animal is the initial difficulty. Moorland gamekeepers in particular rely on terrier work at earths because locating, let alone shooting or trapping, a fox on the open moor is extremely difficult.''
I do not need to tell the Committee that using a rifle to shoot a speeding fox is extremely difficult and that it can lead to foxes being injured rather than killed.
I shall finish on this point: many people own terriers as pets—I cannot remember whether the pet dog of the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole is a terrier, but that does not matter—be they Jack Russell, Norwich, Norfolk, border or hunt terriers.
Even fox terriers—but I was not thinking of that breed for the moment. That is slightly bigger than the type of terrier I had in mind.
When an owner goes for a walk along the south downs or the Hampshire downs, or in any part of the country where there are large rabbit warrens, a pet terrier owned by what I would call a ``non-hunting person'' will, as a matter of natural behaviour, run off and go underground. It might dig its way into a badger sett, a fox earth or a rabbit hole, which is extremely distressing to the owner because it might get stuck or meet up with some animal which is not too welcoming. None the less, such innocent pet owners will be caught out by the Bill and the schedule unless the use of the word ``deliberate'' is imported into it, which I do not think the Government intend. If they do intend that, they perhaps ought to think about the matter rather more carefully.
A make the plea on behalf of not just gamekeepers or legitimate, organised, registered hunts but the ordinary citizens of this country who happen to own as pets the sort of dogs that like, as a matter of nature, to search underground for animals to whose scent they are attracted. In that spirit, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell the Committee that the Government will take the Bill away, put it through the mangle and come out with something better.
My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire made a very thoughtful speech about terrier work, which is an emotive issue. Terrier work makes some want to ban foxhunting, perhaps because they do not understand why it is used or because some of their knowledge of it is based on what happened before hunts regulated it more carefully. That in itself is cause for thought for those of us who do not believe in a ban on hunting but could be persuaded, particularly if it satisfied some fears, of a case for more external regulation of terrier work. It is a very important area and one that we ought to think about carefully.
Because of the extraordinary and absurd provision that the dog cannot be used below ground, amendments Nos. 118 and 125 are designed to deal with the difficulty of a gamekeeper, or even of an ordinary citizen, who uses a dog to deal with a pest control problem. The provision destroys all other exemptions—a list ranging from pest control to lions which have escaped from zoos—as every one of them is qualified by the ``not below ground'' limitation. The trouble is that it is places below ground to which animals go in precisely such circumstances. That is why it is important that we sort out the definition.
Where does a rat bolt to if a dog is chasing it? It finds somewhere sheltered and secure. It may find a cellar—and I have already given the example of the cellar of the demolished house as a place to which a rat has access. It may find a minedrift or a mineshaft. My constituency is riddled with old mineshafts and minedrifts, some dating back over hundreds of years. The rats know where they are, and they will shelter in them.
Amendment No. 125 deals with caves and potholes. Where is the goat that we discussed earlier likely to shelter? In a cave—we have caves in the Cheviots. A cave is below ground; there is ground above one's head when one stands in a cave. The goat may find its way into a pothole. Those are definitional problems; they are not the fundamental issues of the Bill. However, if we do not get them right, then yet again people could be liable for prosecution when going about legitimate and normal activities. I will happily give way to my hon. Friend, who I know is anxious to be helpful with this sort of thing.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that amendment No. 118 is too broad in its language, in that it might allow people to construct setts or holes for foxes underground, into which they would then seek to drive the foxes, and then use terriers to get them out again? There is a danger that man-made constructions might not be of the size that he imagines.
I had thought of that possibility, but there are other provisions in the conditions that are required that would save us from that danger. For example, a supposedly escaped animal cannot have been allowed to escape so that it may be chased. I have forgotten the number of the paragraph that deals with that, but that is one of the conditions that must be satisfied. My hon. Friend makes a point that should be attended to by those whom I am asking to examine the drafting of the Bill. It is not my intention to achieve with the amendment what my hon. Friend suggests may be its effect. I want to ensure that the places where animals might take refuge in circumstances under which one is, for good reason, allowed to hunt them, are included in the provisions that are designed to allow people to carry on their normal work. Such small matters of definition, which appear minor, could create significant problems, and there is no reason why officials cannot help to get them right.
First, I shall deal with amendments Nos. 60, 78, 80 and 83 and those that are consequential on them—Nos. 76, 77, 79, 81, 82, 84 and 85.
The effect of the amendments is simple to describe. The overriding purpose of the schedule is to ban hunting with dogs. However, it contains a number of exceptions covering circumstances where it would still be appropriate to permit hunting with dogs. Each of those exceptions comes with a number of conditions that have to be met in order for the hunting to be lawful. Those conditions are necessarily tightly drawn, as otherwise the exceptions would turn into large loopholes.
In the stalking and flushing out exception in paragraph 7, the rodent control exception in paragraph 8, the recapturing animals exception in paragraph 10 and the rescuing animals exception in paragraph 11, one key condition is that dogs are not used below ground. The amendments would remove that condition in each case.
The purpose of the condition is to outlaw terrier work that involves sending a terrier into a fox earth or underground tunnel in order to locate or flush out a fox. I invite the Committee to consider that some of the greatest cruelty takes place when terriers are sent below ground in that way. It is a practice that members of the Committee may feel should be banned.
As my hon. Friend the Minister explained at a previous sitting, hon. Members may be concerned about what happens both to the quarry being pursued underground and to the dog. Members of the Committee will want to take into account what the Burns committee said on the issue. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who has left the Room again temporarily, has already quoted from the Burns report, as have other hon. Members. For emphasis, I shall quote more of it.
In paragraph 6.84, the report states that the committee received
``evidence of injuries to terriers during terrierwork.''
There is no disputing that, and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has described it. The effect on those hunted by terriers is dealt with in paragraphs 9.17 to 9.20 of the report, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said. It is clear that the committee had serious concerns about terrier work.
I turn to amendments Nos. 61, 86, 96 and 100. They would provide that the condition was met and hunting would be lawful if there was no deliberate use of dogs below ground. The amendments are unnecessary. In some ways, our earlier discussions about whether hunting can be unintentional are echoed. I remind the Committee that hunting cannot. In the same way, the person in charge of the dog must intend the dog to go below ground in order to fall foul of the condition. If a dog took it on itself to go below ground without intent on the part of its handler, that would not constitute use of a dog below ground. I remind the Committee that that condition applied only to those who are hunting and wish to rely on the exception. Individuals who are not hunting are not committing an offence and therefore have no need to rely on the exception. A person who is taking his dog for a walk in the park need not worry if the dog decides to go down a rabbit hole. That person may worry about how to get the dog out again, but not about whether they were committing an offence under the Bill.
I hope that I will have explained that question by the end of my comments. I hope that my later comments will help hon. Members.
Last but certainly not least, I turn to amendments Nos. 118 and 125, which relate to the rodent control exception in paragraph 8. They reflect previous discussions that we have had in Committee about the use of rats in cellars. As the Committee knows—although some members of the Committee do not acknowledge that—the Government have a responsibility, which they take seriously, to ensure that the Bill is workable and properly reflects the policy that the Committee has decided. As part of that responsibility I always consider carefully, as does my hon. Friend the Minister, questions raised in Committee and whether the drafting of the Bill reflects those points.
I have sought the views of parliamentary counsel on the question of the use of rats in cellars. Parliamentary counsel is of the view that a court could interpret the Bill as drafted in such a way as to prohibit the use of dogs to hunt for rodents in cellars. That is undesirable, and does not reflect the intention of the House, nor, I suspect, of the Committee, although that will be for the Committee to decide. Accordingly, we intend to amend the Bill to put beyond doubt that it should be lawful to hunt for rodents with dogs in cellars and other buildings below ground. We will introduce a Government amendment on Report. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Berwick-Upon-Tweed and others for raising the issue.
The right hon. Gentleman was absent when we accepted an amendment in Committee a few moments ago. However, I respectfully suggest to him that amendment No. 118 is technically deficient. I hope that, on the firm understanding that there will be a Government amendment on Report to achieve the same purpose, he may see fit not to press the amendment.
I am afraid that I am less sympathetic to amendment No. 125, which would allow rodent hunting in caves and potholes. The Committee may accept that there is a need for dogs to hunt rats for the purpose of pest control. It may also accept that a case cannot be made for prohibiting their use in cellars for that purpose. That is for the Committee to decide. In the minds of members of the Committee, there may be an exception to the issue of dogs going under ground that is not related to being below ground per se. Hon. Members may consider that there is a loss of control over a dog that goes down a hole or tunnel such as a fox earth that is inaccessible to the handler.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire referred to a letter from the Home Office to the Countryside Alliance. I will put that letter in context. It was written in response to a letter from the Countryside Alliance, in which it was suggested that, in the context of the schedule 1 option, certain statutory exceptions should apply to hunting rodents for the purposes of pest control. As pointed out in the Home Office letter—which was from officials, not Ministers—rats are not only a health hazard, but a pest. Accordingly, the suggested restriction was thought to be inappropriate.
The conditions relating to rodent hunting in the context of this schedule are entirely different. When the dog is under ground and inaccessible to the handler, the problem is that the handler does not know what is happening. There is a danger that the dog may encounter a mammal other than a rodent—such as a fox—with welfare implications for both mammal and dog.
Welfare considerations are at the heart of worries about the use of terriers. Terriers have a tendency, however well trained—and in my experience of terriers they would need an extremely good handler to train them in the manner that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire described—to dig deeper and get stuck. Clearly, that has welfare implications for the dog. Those difficulties do not arise when the dog is above ground, nor when dogs are sent into cellars, but clearly do so in caves and in potholes, which may be extremely confined spaces.
If the opportunity arises, members of the Committee will need to decide whether they wish to support those amendments, and the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire and for Aylesbury will have to decide whether they wish to press them to a Division.
I listened carefully to the Parliamentary Secretary, and wanted to hear her points. In trying to make up my mind about such matters, I have often worried about terrier work and questioned its necessity. I strongly support hunting, but those who do so could have made the issue of terrier work a concession to those who oppose hunting. My feeling was that terrier work was a bit unsporting. While above ground, a fox that is pursued by hounds, which are helped by huntsmen, has a fair chance of getting away. To use terriers when a fox had gone to earth was, I believed, a bit unfair. Now, however, I feel that I was wrong to view the use of terriers simply in sporting terms. It should be considered in the context of practical pest control.
None of us—I believe—likes the idea of terrier work. Those who oppose hunting, no doubt acknowledge that although terrier work is traditional and many people support it, few would go to the stake over it. There is something unpleasant about sending a dog under ground after a wild animal. However, having had a chance to look at all the evidence that has been provided, I now believe that, sadly, it probably is necessary.
My central point is that, because of the will of the House, the Bill will—presumably—become law. Putting all other considerations aside, one must assume that the House has decided to ban organised hunts. What the House has not done, and obviously does not want to do, is to effect sensible pest control by sensible country people, such as gamekeepers and others, who are trying to control a very large fox population. When one reads all the submissions from people who use the countryside, not as a playground for their own sport but as a working place, the evidence is overwhelming.
For example, gamekeepers kill about 75,000 foxes a year in pest control. That is a lot. Hunts, on the other hand, account for 10,000 or 20,000 a year—I cannot remember which. Apparently, 46 per cent. of gamekeepers use terriers to control and kill those 75,000 foxes a year. That suggests that about 37,500 foxes are killed each year with the help of terriers to flush them out or to hold them at bay in their earths.
Presumably, gamekeepers will now have to find other ways of killing those foxes, and they will have to do so efficiently, humanely and quickly. If shooting is suggested, that will mean that another 37,500 bullets flying around the countryside and an enormous increase in woundings. I cannot believe that that would be good for either animal welfare or safety in the countryside. We must lay aside the view of hunting as a sport; we must accept that that will be abolished. The Committee must take a practical, almost hard-hearted, view of what occurs in the countryside, which is not pleasant. None of us likes the idea of 75,000 foxes being killed each year; none of us likes the idea of 37,500 of them being killed each year with the use of dogs, perhaps underground, but that is the practical reality.
Let us consider some of the evidence. The Central Committee of Fell Packs told the Burns inquiry:
``The use of terriers is essential. A fell Huntsman has 2 or 4 coupled terriers constantly with him. One is used at a time. The purpose is to find the fox, generally to encourage it to bolt (i.e. leave the hole or borran, or, at least, locate it so that it can be dug to. The terrier has a bleeper attached to a collar. A hand-held receiver enables the huntsman to pin-point the position and depth of the terrier.''
The National Working Terrier Federation said:
``The role of the terrier is to locate the quarry below ground and to bark at it continuously, either causing it to leave the earth, or alternatively to indicate where in the earth the quarry is located, in order that it can be dug to and dispatched. Terriers are also used to locate and flush quarry above ground and in dense cover.''
The National Gamekeepers Organisation tells us:
``Gamekeepers use terriers to locate and/or bolt foxes, and sometimes mink, from underground. Terriers are normally used in conjunction with nets, guns and/or other dogs. Terriers are the only legal''— a point it underlines—
``means of dealing with foxes that have taken refuge underground. The Bill . . . would ban this. The ability to kill foxes at their underground earths is very important because, as in all wildlife culling, locating the animal is the initial difficulty. Moorland gamekeepers in particular rely on terrier work at earths because locating, let alone shooting or trapping, a fox on the open moor is extremely difficult.''
The National Farmers Union tells us:
``This restriction would seriously compromise effective fox control. Although the explanatory notes to the Bill suggest that a person would not be guilty of an offence `if his dog has other ideas and acts outside the scope of the exception', any value in the stalking and flushing out exception would be rendered useless by a fox going to ground.''
Those people are not sportsmen, the people whom those who want to ban hunting have primarily in their sights; they are gamekeepers, working farmers, and people working in difficult upland areas.
Terrier work is not particularly pleasant; we all read reports of fights underground, although Burns dealt with that point, and said at paragraph 6.51:
``there is no firm evidence about the frequency with which fights occur or the severity of injuries . . . terrier work is better regulated than it used to be and . . . some of the reports of fights and injuries pre-date those changes.''
Although we may not like the thought of pest control—it is not a particularly romantic activity—it is just something that unfortunately, in the real world in the country, must go on. If we are to reject the amendments, and because of our romantic distaste for terrier work to ban it, we must ask how essential pest control will be carried out. Most people are carrying it out not as a sport but as part of their working life.
We have had a useful debate on the amendments, which was their purpose. I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for clarifying the true nature of the Countryside Alliance exchange. How I deplore the despicable antics of those who are sympathetic to the Countryside Alliance who have the nerve and cheek to take advantage of my good nature, which leads me naÖvely to trust what is said to me. I shall be more wary in future, and I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for that guidance. Realising that irony does not translate too well in Hansard, I stress that I am only joking; although not about the hon. Lady.
The Parliamentary Secretary made an interesting point about her understanding of the issue that was championed primarily by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed concerning man-made structures, cellars and so forth. It is encouraging that she has committed herself to returning to that matter on Report. That is common sense, and I encourage her to give thought not just to cellars but to pipes and other places where rats may hide. I do not expect her to find a formulation here and now, but I am sure that the Ministers and officials, in consultation with Deadline 2000, will deliver a good result. I praise her willingness to do that.
That solves half of the problem; the other half of it concerns the activity itself. There we continue to differ. The hill packs of Montgomeryshire and elsewhere regard terrier work as an important element of their fox control work. As the hon. Member for Gainsborough said, there is an animal welfare consideration that cuts both ways, and Burns pointed that out too. Burns suggested that one possibility would be to acknowledge the need for the control method in limited areas. I am not sure that we should use geographical variation, because all kinds of arguments will proceed and the debate is not closed.
There are tentative differences in the area. The Parliamentary Secretary differs from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which also regards terrier work as a regrettable need. The SSPCA and the Burns report pretty much come out at the same place on the issue. Burns was not commissioned to make a political judgment, so only the SSPCA says that although it does not like terrier work, there may be a case for allowing its limited use because of the welfare issues that I have highlighted.
The position is equivocal, and the Parliamentary Secretary has clearly come to the conclusion that the animal welfare case is insufficiently compelling to allow the use of terriers. Although Burns had serious concern about terrier work, many of us have serious concern about other activities that will be permitted, such as angling, which serves no purpose other than to cause enjoyment from the capture and implicit torture of animals. In falconry, an animal is lifted 80ft into the air and dropped to the ground. I feel for those animals, because I have tried that myself, and it hurts—a lot.
I remind the Parliamentary Secretary about the question of the burden of proof. We have debated amendments in that regard, but the Bill was not changed, so there is a heavy burden of proof to prove one's innocence. Therefore, when Winkie and Rufus run around in the south-west of England, the burden of proof is on the manager or the officer of the League Against Cruel Sports to show that he genuinely could not have thought that those animals were running underground. That is pretty difficult.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole, who is unfortunately not present, may be faced with a choice. Knowing that his animal has a tendency to run under ground and get into a spat with other animals, and fearing that hunting may not necessarily mean the killing of an animal, he could be liable for criminal prosecution. Short of going round stopping up every hole in his garden, he must think hard about how to manage his pet outside. We have heard that some dogs have been trained to ride skateboards. Perhaps that will be sufficient distraction from going down holes. Short of such a dramatic change in an animal's natural behaviour, people such as the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole may fall foul of the Bill for the reasons that I describe.
If the hon. Member for Pendle, whom I envisage living in a cave with his goats somewhere in the Cheviots, had a dog—which would be necessary to apply for the job—and if that dog became bored because there was nothing on the telly and attacked a single rat, he might technically be in breach of the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed highlighted, other issues exist that would not be addressed simply by consideration of man-made structures—[Interruption.]
Do not be too hard on them, Mr. O'Hara. I seem to have prompted debate at long last, which was the intention of the Middle Way Group. If hon. Members are reconsidering their position, that is to be welcomed.
My final point is about welfare implications. To be honest, and to face the facts, Deadline 2000 has come to one conclusion with regard to terrier work, while the Middle Way Group and others have taken a different view. Although there are many legal problems, which I have highlighted, it is not a question of principle. It is a question of judgment about whether the welfare implications of banning terrier work are so positive that the negative welfare implications are outbalanced. Is having cubs starving to death less of an evil than use of a terrier? No doubt the debate will continue, but this is Deadline 2000's Bill. Although I have a different view, I can understand why the Parliamentary Secretary came to hers.
Given that the Parliamentary Secretary has made a commitment to revisiting the question of man-made structures, cellars and other related subterranean environments, and given that the sponsors of the Bill have a clear view on the matter, I do not wish to press the amendment to a vote. I want to reconsider, with my colleagues in the Middle Way Group, where we want to take the debate on terrier work. Clearly, there will be an opportunity to revisit the matter on Report.
I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for listening to my argument. If we act in a constructive and co-operative way and listen to each other, we can significantly improve the Bill and make it workable. We fear that the Bill will need quite a lot of amendments of the type suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary to make it workable and just. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment No. 62, in page 20, line 40, leave out sub-paragraph (5).
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 65, in page 20, line 43, after `dead' insert
`except where the person charged believed that it would be unsafe to do so'.
No. 117, in page 20, line 43, after `dead', insert `or otherwise killed instantly'.
No. 66, in page 20, line 43, leave out from `dead' to end of line 46.
No. 64, in page 20, line 45, leave out `under sufficiently close' and insert
`as far as practicable under'.
No. 97, in page 21, line 36, after `dead', insert
`except where the person charged believed that it would be unsafe to do so'.
No. 98, in page 21, line 36, leave out from `dead' to end of line 39.
No. 103, in page 22, line 9, leave out from `suffering' to end of line 12.
The amendments deal with the current requirements in the Bill for a stalked, flushed or recaptured mammal to be shot, and with those provisions in the schedule for the person who does the stalking, flushing, recapturing or rescuing to take reasonable steps to ensure that the mammal would be shot dead as soon as possible.
The amendments fall into three categories. Amendments Nos. 62 and 117 would omit from the schedule the requirement that a mammal that is being stalked, flushed or has escaped should be shot dead or—to paraphrase the schedule—that the person doing the hunting makes an attempt to shoot the mammal dead as soon as possible.
I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that it is often quicker for an animal to be killed by dogs after it has been flushed out or stalked than to be dispatched by a shotgun or rifle. The use of dogs might, in some circumstances, enable a kill to be completed without the risk of that animal being wounded. One can think of various examples of such circumstances. An animal might be tracked down through a wooded area or an area covered in thick bracken where it proved to be a difficult target for the man with the gun, even when he got the animal in his sights. It might take two or more shots to dispatch the animal, and the animal might be left wounded and able to get away from the hunter's view so that it lingered on in pain for a long time afterwards.
That is an example of a circumstance in which the use of dogs would hasten the death of the animal. It is not a question of whether the animal dies; the animal is to be killed and the only question is by what method it should be dispatched. In such a circumstance, when there is thick cover or woodland, the balance of the argument on animal welfare grounds may come down in favour of using dogs rather than a gun, especially if the person with the gun is not a trained marksman and the animal is a fast-moving beast.
There are other circumstances in which the requirement to shoot to kill and to do so as quickly as possible may be the less attractive option. Amendments Nos. 65 and 97 are designed to deal with the possibility that it might be unsafe for the person doing the hunting to shoot at the animal once it has been tracked down. The amendments would retain the obligation to shoot the animal as quickly as possible, but provide a let-out when the hunter believed that it would be unsafe for him to shoot.
The obvious example of that is when someone is tracking an animal through woodland or open countryside where other people are present; exercising their right to roam, perhaps. The person with the gun must either shoot and risk inadvertently injuring another human being, or run the risk of breaching his obligation to dispatch the animal with a gun as quickly as possible. I find it difficult to understand the objection to amendments Nos. 65 and 97, because they would keep the general obligation to shoot the animal as quickly as possible but would provide for an exception to that rule in particular circumstances in which shooting would be unsafe.
The remaining amendments, Nos. 66, 64, 98 and 103, all deal with the requirement to keep a dog under sufficiently close control to ensure that it does not obstruct the objective of the shooting dead of an animal. The amendments would substitute for that requirement in the schedule as drafted a requirement for the dog owner or handler to keep his dog under control so far as is practicable.
Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary can assure the Committee that the idea of practicality is implicit in the wording of the schedule as drafted. However, it is not explicit. As I understand the current phrasing of the Bill, it proposes that the obligation should be unconditional. The obligation will be on the dog owner or handler to keep his dog under sufficiently close control to ensure that the dog does not obstruct shooting, even when it is not practicable for the owner or handler to do so. Again the Bill seems ambiguous, and I tabled the amendments to probe the exact meaning of the Bill's present text and to suggest to the Government a way in which they can deal with some of the difficulties that seem to arise under the current drafting.
Amendment No. 117 is in the same territory as and has a similar purpose to that of other amendments in the group. I envisage circumstances in which a dog flushes out, grabs, takes in its mouth and effectively retrieves a hare, but the hare is not dead but injured. If the dog puts the hare down, the hare will run away pretty rapidly, but in an injured state; perhaps so injured that it dies a lingering and painful death.
In such circumstances, if the keeper or pest control person takes the gun and shoots, he is liable to shoot his own dog. To use the phrase in Burns, at that point the dog's welfare would be seriously compromised. That is clearly not the intention. What would any sensible keeper do in such circumstances? He would grab the hare and kill it with a sharp blow to the neck, and it would be killed instantly. It would be ridiculous to aim the gun in such circumstances.
We must acknowledge that other methods of killing the animal instantly might be appropriate. Another possibility, which many keepers would prefer, would be to be able to net flushed-out animals—again, so that they can be killed quickly and instantly—rather than shooting in relatively close circumstances.
We should bear in mind that the need to keep close control of the dog suggests working much more closely in circumstances in which people and dogs are together than might otherwise be the case. People must not let their dogs go very far from them, as they are under an obligation to keep their dogs under close control. Again, that means that using the gun in such circumstances might pose a danger to other people who are around or to the dogs. In various circumstances, using other instant and effective ways of dispatching the animal involved should be permitted and would be safer and better than shooting, and safer and better for animal welfare than for the dog to be allowed to let the animal go in a wounded condition to perhaps suffer miserably and painfully.
I welcome some of the other attempts to improve the drafting of the Bill. Better drafting will enable people to carry out their duties and responsibilities with proper regard for animal welfare, and to do so better than they would under the Bill as it is presently drafted.
It is only when we debate such issues that we see the true absurdity of so much of the Bill. Those who support it have realised that they must have exceptions under part II. I do not know who is behind that, but surely they must have had some idea of the practical effect of such a provision in the countryside. Obviously, those who drafted the Bill accepted that they had to make provision for an exception under which a fox or a hare could be flushed out. As the Bill makes clear, we must protect livestock and crops, and obtain meat to be used for human or animal consumption. Everyone accepts that.
I am talking not about organised hunts, but about ordinary gamekeepers and farmers, who are allowed to stalk the fox, the hare or the rabbit. We have a ludicrous situation in which Parliament, in all its wisdom, is laying down in graphic detail exactly how an animal that approaches an individual should be despatched. Let us accept for a moment that we are dealing with the countryside, wild animals and our own animals. They are not human beings; we cannot just order them to do something. It is ludicrous that the Government should allow in the Bill the third condition under paragraph 7(5) of the schedule, which my hon. Friends in their wisdom want to delete.
The third condition is
``that reasonable steps were taken for the purpose of ensuring that as soon as possible after being found or flushed out the fox, hare or rabbit would be shot dead, and...in particular, that any dog used in the stalking or flushing out was kept under sufficiently close control''.
What is going on? Why is such a condition in the Bill? How can we possibly ask farmers, gamekeepers and those employed in pest control, who kill tens of thousands of pests and wild animals each year in difficult circumstances, not to do their job as they know best? They are not doing it for pleasure. They do not want to kill the animals. They realise that those wild animals are an essential part of the countryside, but that they have to be controlled and that there must be a balance. We will have to say to gamekeepers that it is not good enough just to clout the hare over the head to despatch it. They will have to carry their guns around and aim at the hare as it is running away or in circumstances in which the dog has the hare half out of its mouth and keeps dropping it on the ground. Such a situation is completely ludicrous.
Do we not have enough humility in this place not to interfere with people who are undertaking a difficult, skilled job that is not well paid? They are not in the business of causing cruelty to animals. Does the Committee believe that gamekeepers or farmers want to make animals suffer? Of course, they do not. They just want to do their job as quickly as possible. To force them to be constrained by the condition under paragraph 7(5) is absurd. When those Committee members concerned have achieved their objective of banning organised hunting, I hope that they will realise that our gamekeepers should not be put in such a ridiculous position.
Further consideration adjourned—[Mr. Mike Hall.]
Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Seven o'clock till Tuesday 13 February at half-past Ten o'clock.