I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing 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 3, leave out `took' and insert `was intended to take'.
No. 98, in page 21, line 3, leave out `entirely'.
No. 103, in page 21, line 7, after `which' insert `he reasonably believed that'.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) for tabling the amendments. I am sorry that I was unable to be present for the first part of the discussion at our previous sitting, but I have read Hansard with care.
I am sure that the Committee is familiar with the fact that the exceptions to the offence of hunting with dogs in paragraphs 7 to 11 include some conditions. This group of amendments refers to a condition in the exceptions on stalking and flushing out, recapturing and rescuing animals. In each case, it is the third condition to those activities, as set out in the schedule. The condition has two limbs. First, it is concerned with what happens to an animal once it has been found. Secondly, it requires that any dog used for stalking or seeking to recapture an escaped animal or search for a seriously injured animal is kept under close control.
Amendment No. 62 would remove the condition for the exception relating to stalking and flushing out. I ask the Committee to consider the consequences of doing so. The schedule allows a limited amount of stalking and flushing out for the clearly defined purposes set out in sub-paragraph (3), which we discussed last Thursday: to protect crops or livestock or in relation to food production. Therefore, it is logical that, once the quarry has been found or flushed out, it should be dispatched as quickly as possible. The condition requires that. Anything else would allow hunting to continue longer than necessary and would permit the quarry to be killed by the dog, which would run against the spirit of the schedule and the House's intention.
Amendments Nos. 66, 98 and 103 would remove the limb of the condition that requires any dogs involved in stalking or flushing out, recapturing or rescuing animals to be kept under close control. Amendment No. 64 would introduce qualifications to the condition in regard to stalking and flushing out. The Bill provides that any dog used in those activities is kept under sufficiently close control to ensure that, once the quarry is found, it is either shot dead as quickly as possible or recaptured, or that action is taken to relieve any suffering. That must be right. The objectives could be hampered if the dogs were not under control.
The use of a dog to stalk, recapture or rescue an animal without impeding those objectives presupposes both proximity to and control of the dog by the handler. For example, the limitation in the exception of the requirement to shoot dead the quarry necessitates that the dog is sufficiently under control and close by so as not to be able to kill or injure the quarry, particularly as there is no limit on the number of dogs that a person may have under his control.
I am happy to make it clear that under control does not necessarily mean on a lead. It may do so in the case of dogs who are not properly trained, but most dogs used for such work are likely to be trained and therefore would not have to be on a lead. However, they must be under control. The control may not be perfect, but it should enable flushing out and other objectives to be achieved without the dog seeking to injure or kill the animal. I accept that, in undertaking the activities to which the exceptions relate, the dog or dogs must be allowed some latitude, but the Bill ensures that the person responsible has them under reasonably tight control.
There has been much debate about how one stops a dog attacking and possibly killing the animal once it has been located. Members of the Committee will have noted that the Bill requires that ``reasonable steps'' are taken to ensure that that does not occur. Where a person has taken reasonable steps, but the dog nevertheless attacks the animal, may be a matter for concern, but no offence may have been committed. The key point is that the person who controls the animal takes reasonable steps, such as ensuring that the animal has been trained, to minimise the chance of that happening. This part of the schedule relies more than any other on the courts applying a degree of common sense.
Amendments Nos. 65, 97 and 117 would alter the sub-paragraphs relating to shooting an animal to the effect that it would not be a requirement to shoot dead the quarry in circumstances where a person believed that it would be unsafe to do so, or if the animal was ``otherwise killed instantly.'' The Bill states that the person invoking the defence is required only to take ``reasonable steps'' to ensure that the animal is shot dead. Clearly, in circumstances where it was unsafe to shoot, it would be unreasonable—and dangerous—to require a person to do so. Much will depend on the circumstances of each case, so I do not see the need to accept the amendments. The phrase ``reasonable steps'' requires reasonability, and we do not envisage that we shall require more than that. However, we do require people to take ``reasonable steps'' to ensure that the animal is shot dead.
A moment ago, the Under-Secretary referred to a dog picking up an animal although reasonable steps had been taken to discourage it from doing so. If a dog has an injured animal in its mouth, would it be unsafe to shoot because it would threaten the dog?
It would certainly be unsafe to try to shoot an injured animal out of a dog's mouth—that is common sense. Indeed, that would also be the case if the dog were in close proximity to the animal. Any person contemplating a prosecution or complaint would have to consider whether ``reasonable steps'' had been taken. I am happy to place it on record that, in exercising these parts of the schedule, we expect the courts, and others who may have to make decisions on whether an offence has been committed, to exercise reasonableness and common sense about the varied and almost unpredictable circumstances that might arise. We do not intend to catch people who, while honestly working towards the objectives set out in the Bill, are responsible for dogs which, for reasons that are unintended, unexpected and not reasonably foreseen, behave in a way that results in injury to the quarry animal. That may happen, but the court and those people who make decisions about prosecutions must bear in mind the need to apply common sense.
There is a level of control that an owner can exercise over a dog, but that is limited because dogs are by their nature sometimes unpredictable. However, that does not mean that dogs cannot be kept under control; they can be controlled, trained and, to some extent, dealt with in a predictable way.
I have been told that it is sometimes hard to shoot a wounded animal because it is impossible to locate. Currently, gamekeepers and huntsmen would tend to use a dog to dispatch the animal in that situation. Accepting the limitations of the Bill, does the Under-Secretary agree that in a spirit of reasonableness there may be circumstances where it would be in the interests of animal welfare to allow a huntsman to use a dog to finish off the mammal?
I am reluctant to go quite as far as the hon. Gentleman suggests. This part of the schedule is reasonably clear. The Bill says ``shot dead'', and that is how we would prefer an animal to be quickly dispatched—as I suspect would most others—which is probably the best approach. I see that the hon. Gentleman is nodding in agreement.
The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that the prosecution will be obliged to consider not only whether a conviction is likely, given the facts, but whether there is public interest in prosecuting the person involved. I would rather stick with the wording in the schedule than follow the hon. Gentleman down the route that he is trying to open up for me, but I reassure him that there are safeguards. A magistrates court would have to consider the person's intention. The person may not have intended that the animal should be finished off by the dogs when he began flushing out or stalking it, but it might be the safest approach in the circumstances. All those issues would have to be considered, so I shall stick with the wording in the schedule. When animals are dealt with in that way, and are to be killed, our intention is that they should be shot.
I was merely suggesting that a huntsman might genuinely think that it was in the interests of animal welfare to use a dog to finish off a wounded fox, but the schedule will prohibit that. Will the Minister consider an exemption, in clearly defined circumstances, if, say, the huntsman genuinely believed and could reasonably show that a fox would have had a more agonising death had he been unable to use a dog? For example, the fox may have crawled into a hole or gone somewhere and could not be finished off. I stress that I am not expecting the Minister to respond now, as we have covered the matter in our debate.
I would not want the dog to be encouraged to pursue a fox down a hole. That is contrary to the schedule and the policy of Deadline 2000, which has been endorsed by the House of Commons. Again, I am reluctant to follow the rest of the route proposed by the hon. Gentleman. The better approach is to consider the safeguards, which mean that there will be no prosecution if the person has behaved in an honest and straightforward way, and if he did not intend to breach the legislation and had intended to look after the welfare of animals. All that must be considered. The safeguards are there, and the wording of the schedule does not compromise them. I understand the hon. Gentleman's fears, but they are unnecessary. My remarks, as well as the policy of the Crown Prosecution Service, can be taken into account when deciding whether a prosecution is in the public interest and whether the person clearly intended to breach the legislation.
In the light of those remarks, I invite the hon. Member for Aylesbury to withdraw his amendment.
Before the hon. Member for Aylesbury considers whether he should withdraw the amendment, I should like to state that I did not seek to catch your eye, Mr. O'Hara, because I had not read the letter. The letter proves to be extraordinarily relevant to the amendments before us. On Thursday, I said that the Bill could ban deer stalking, but not even all my hon. Friends and colleagues on the Opposition Benches were convinced that I was right—nor, indeed, were certain country sports organisations. The Parliamentary Secretary duly discovered that I was right. If Committee members such as the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) have not read the letter, they should do so. In it, the Parliamentary Secretary states:
``I am advised that the effect of the Bill is that the stalking and flushing out of deer would be prohibited since the exception for stalking and flushing out in paragraph 7 covers only foxes, hares and rabbits.
I believe that it would not have been the intention of the House to prevent the stalking and flushing out of deer, and it is my impression that the majority of the members of the Committee are sympathetic to this position.''
However, the view of the majority of members of the Committee is so far unclear.
Those who are critical of the Bill have suggested that it contains provisions for which the House did not in fact vote, but that suggestion has been dismissed on the basis that the Bill reflects Deadline 2000's proposals and covers its standpoint—a standpoint for which the House voted. We have produced a number of examples of activities that, in our view, hon. Members did not intend to ban, but our arguments have been dismissed. None the less, it is becoming clear that an entire major sport—one that is incredibly important to the economy of upland and forest areas, and which is based on flushing out—is not covered by the paragraphs to which the amendments relate. I therefore welcome the Government's assurance in that letter that they
``will be bringing forward Government amendments at Report Stage to add deer to the list of species to which the stalking and flushing out exception in paragraph 7 may apply.''
Of course, I do not yet know whether hon. Members who support Deadline 2000 would accept such amendments, or whether the vote would be whipped or free. That point needs clarification, but it underlines the fact that apparently slight items of drafting have a profound effect, and can extend the Bill's scope far beyond the matters on which hon. Members thought they were voting. They can extend the Bill beyond hunting to the normal professional activities of gamekeepers and countryside and wildlife wardens, and to sports other than those that the Bill set out to ban.
In the light of this experience, I hope that Ministers and hon. Members who strongly support an unamended schedule 3 will be more sympathetic to amendments such as those in this group. If one of them is not accepted, a person who, for example, kills a mammal in the most welfare-conscious and humane manner but does not shoot it, might be liable to prosecution.
We end this, the last day of our proceedings—which we might not have had, and for which we are grateful—in some difficulty. We have discovered that the Bill is vastly—yes, vastly—wider in scope than its promoters apparently intended, and that should sound an awful warning. I am convinced that further difficulties will come to light on Report, if not before, and that this Bill will abolish not just hunting, but an unspecified list of country sports.
The letter of 13 February to which the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred is of huge significance, and it is important to reinforce the points that he has made. Not so very long ago—in the previous sitting or the one before that—I said that the most often-passed law is the law of the unforeseen consequence, and this is yet another example of such a law.
The letter, which was copied to all Committee members but sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, opens a can of worms. I draw attention to its consequences, because it relates to something that should have been apparent not only at the Bill's gestation in the autumn, but to those who profess an interest in the subject of banning hunting.
A warning bell was rung by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), when he drew the Minister's attention to the difficulties over the issue of rabbits. Yet another class of animal has been brought within the Bill's ambit, but the Government were not aware of that until my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury moved his amendments at our last sitting.
I appreciate the Minister's mantra that the schedule belongs to Deadline 2000 and, to that extent, the Government can wash their hands of it and maintain their neutral stance. However, that only works so far, because the Government have at their disposal all the expertise—of Home Office lawyers and parliamentary counsel—that they might wish to get hold of. Yet, on the last day of proceedings in Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary points out, candidly and perfectly fairly, that there is a huge hole in the Bill.
I apologise, Mr. O'Hara, for my tardiness in arriving in Committee.
Let me correct the hon. and learned Gentleman: the Bill belongs to the House and to the Committee. I know its genesis and the process involved, as do we all, but he should not keep saying, as other Opposition Members have, that the Bill belongs to an outside organisation. It belongs to the House and in the end it is up to us to decide how we want to amend it. We may refer to people outside the House, but the Bill is ours and we should amend it to make it work.
I do not want to have an uninteresting, semantic discussion with the hon. Gentleman. Of course he is right: the Bill belongs to the House. Every Bill belongs to the House, but as a rule they are steered through the House by the Government—the party with the majority. This is a different sort of Bill, because it is, effectively, a private Member's Bill for which the Government, who control everything in this Palace, have provided time.
Had the hon. Gentleman introduced the schedule as his own private Member's Bill to ban hunting, I would not have launched at him the criticisms that I have launched at the Government for the drafting holes, because I could not expect him by himself, without Government assistance, to be able to produce a Bill that meets the normal requirements of criminal legislation. None the less, the hon. Members for Worcester (Mr. Foster) and for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), among others, have over the years introduced private Member's Bills dealing with hunting and, with the assistance of outside organisations, have done their best. Here we can do better than that. The entire resources of the Home Office have been made available to the Committee so that the Bill, which is in the ownership of the Committee, can go on the statute book in a sensible and enforceable way.
What concerns me is that, at the 59th minute of the 11th hour of this Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary, of whom I am hugely fond, writes me a billet-doux, the day before Valentine's day, saying:
``I am advised that the effect of the Bill is that the stalking and flushing out of deer would be prohibited since the exception for stalking and flushing out in paragraph 7 only covers foxes, hare and rabbits.''
It is not my Bill; it is not my job to get it into the correct shape, but it does not take a rocket scientist, let alone a Member of Parliament, to reach that conclusion. It is regrettable that the Committee has been disadvantaged by receiving this letter on 13 February as opposed, for example, to 26 October, in the seven or eight days immediately prior to Second Reading—or even during the period immediately following new year and before the Committee of the whole House discussed the three options.
The Parliamentary Secretary makes a well intentioned guess--but it is a guess--in the second paragraph, which states:
``I believe that it would not have been the intention of the House to prevent the stalking and flushing out of deer, and it is my impression that the majority of the members of the Committee are sympathetic to this position.''
I cannot speak for the hon. Member for West Ham, but I suspect that he finds any destruction of a wild mammal deeply reprehensible. I do not know whether he represents a majority in the House on that matter and I do not know how the Parliamentary Secretary knows of that majority—unless she has spoken to every hon. Member who voted for the Bill's Second Reading or for schedule 3 as its guts. I presume that the Minister is merely guessing that
``it would not have been the intention of the House to prevent the stalking and flushing out of deer''.
I suspect that the intention of the majority of those who support schedule 3 and certainly of those who support the banning of hunting is to ban all forms of activity involving humans and other animals--dogs or hounds--in the culling of wild mammals, particularly deer. Most of the correspondence that we receive on the subject probably concerns hares and deer because those animals have the greatest history of anthropomorphic literature. The number of Christmas cards that we receive showing deer and hares is rather greater than those showing foxes.
I shall bear in mind the hon. and learned Gentleman's observations on Christmas cards and the card produced by the House because that comes within the ambit of the Advisory Committee on Works of Art in the House of Commons, which I chair. It is a vexed question, as he knows.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is correct about my attitude to the killing of any wild mammal; I deplore it. However, on Second Reading I did not vote against the flushing of deer for the purpose of culling. The amendment that we have been promised on Report is necessary, because it would be nonsense to prevent the culling of deer when that is intended. The Bill seems to prevent that, so it is clearly faulty and needs to be amended.
The Bill is faulty; the hon. Gentleman is correct. He referred to his duties as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Works of Art in the House of Commons and I remind him to remind me to give him the correspondence about an up-and-coming sculptor whom I want to draw to his attention.
I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to choose Christmas cards for the House of Commons with pictures of foxes on them. I do not understand why people send Christmas cards with non-religious themes, but they do. I would be amazed if the Bill or the amendments that we are discussing had any bearing on the hon. Gentleman's decision in that regard.
What concerns me is that the Minister imputed to the House an intention, or the absence of an intention, for which he can have no basis in fact. I am concerned that not only will the Committee be left in a position of some uncertainty, the House as a whole—which will have to deal with the Bill on Report—will not know the detail of our discussions. Someone will, no doubt, stand up and say, ``I dare say the intention of the Committee was as follows'', without having any basis of knowledge for that conclusion.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that if the Government found a way to make a change, it would allow them to make the point that they had listened carefully to those who understand the problems involved, and had sought to meet the real concerns expressed? If the Government stand fast and cannot help us in the way that the amendments suggest, the Committee will find it difficult to believe that they have listened in the way that they claim they want to listen.
Order. The points that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is making are entirely legitimate, but they are not always relevant to the amendments.
I must confess that I was temporarily distracted by the Government Whip; that is unusual for me, but I shall ignore him. I was responding to my right hon. Friend's intervention when the hon. Gentleman talked about listening. In addressing you, Mr. O'Hara, I divided the issue into two parts. In order to be sure that the Government have been listening—[Interruption.]
Order. With regard to remarks being made from a sedentary position, the hon. and learned Gentleman may not always be looking at me, but I am always conscious that his words are addressed to me.
Mr. Garnier: I believe that the Whip wants to make a speech. Perhaps he would like to resign from the Whips Office and join the ranks of the great orators of the House—[Interruption.]
I am grateful to you for coming to my aid, Mr. O'Hara, as you can see that I am deeply in need of it. There is a man who feels so frustrated at not being able to speak for the past eight weeks, but who has been given the opportunity to do so at last—[Interruption.] I am doing my best to write the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) into the history books as the only Whip ever to be desperate to leave the Whips Office so that he could speak.
Further to that point of order, Mr. O'Hara. The hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that what I have just said is inaccurate. If he checks Hansard, he will see that I spoke on Thursday.
As I was saying in reference to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), it is essential for the Government not only to listen but to understand the context of the Bill.
The Parliamentary Secretary's letter throws up a range of problems of which the Committee should be aware. It is dangerous for the Minister to impute an intention to the Committee that he has no way of divining. Equally, it is dangerous for the Committee to pass legislation that, on the Parliamentary Secretary's own admission—which is what the letter amounts to—is defective. It is not as though this is the first defect that we have come across. The attention of the hon. Member for West Ham was drawn to the aspects of the Bill that would catch little old ladies whose dogs chased rabbits.
Both the examples have come from the side of the Committee that is against the continuation of lawful hunting. I deeply regret the need to chide the Government for this late realisation and the need to make this announcement. For all that, I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for writing to us because it demonstrates more eloquently than I, or even the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, could that the Bill is so full of holes and mistakes that it should not be allowed, either amended or unamended, to become law, thereby allowing huge numbers of people to become criminals.
I shall deal briefly with the points raised by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough.
The perspicacity of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed in spotting a defect in drafting is something which we can all respect, but he overdoes our appreciation of his qualities of perspicacity if he believes that the Bill is ``vastly wider in scope'' than was intended by the House. He does a disservice to its Members, who are capable of considering legislation and realising that while it may have some defects, the broader intentions of the policy can be seen. When those defects are pointed out, Members of the House are capable of deciding to remedy them.
The Government, too, have shown that they are prepared to do what the Committee is here to do. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough did himself no service by his curmudgeonly approach. He condemned the Government, first, for not listening and then for listening to the Committee. One might conclude that as a Minister one cannot have it either way. Then again, I note that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be sending me a Valentine's card tomorrow.
It is not my job to suggest that the Committee's objective is to pass legislation without it having been properly scrutinised. It is the job of members of the Committee, including the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, to scrutinise the Bill. It was wrong for him to suggest that somehow the Committee was passing legislation without giving it proper scrutiny. That is the Committee's objective and it is why we are all here.
The Government have been listening carefully. No one is suggesting that either the Home Office or parliamentary draftsmen are infallible in the way in which policy and drafting are developed. We are seeking to put forward good policy and good draftsmanship. The Bill is, broadly, well drafted, but that does not mean that it is infallible. When defects are pointed out, they can be sorted out. In this case, a defect that was not intended when the schedule was endorsed has been pointed out and will be sorted out in due course. A Bill that endorses the policy of the House should also make good law, and it has always been the Government's objective to ensure that the Bill constitutes good law in achieving the House's policy aims.
Is the Minister satisfied that it is entirely sufficient simply to include deer in the paragraph 7 exceptions? Is there not a danger of prosecution where someone does not shoot a deer instantly, but stalks it and waits for a clear prospect of killing it in the most humane way? In the light of such a danger, might not further amendment be required?
I shall certainly consider the right hon. Gentleman's point and examine whether it is indeed necessary to take account of the wider implications of an amendment that, as we have said, we are willing to consider. His point is a reasonable one, and I shall certainly give it some thought. It may well be that I can write to him stating whether it is necessary to table a further amendment to deal with the matter.
The Minister's response has been characterised by a readiness to listen to the concerns expressed by various members of the Committee in this debate. However, although I acknowledge that he has given various assurances in good faith, those on this side of the argument are right to be somewhat cautious—particularly in the light of the Parliamentary Secretary's letter—about accepting that those assurances will in practice be reflected in the Bill's wording.
The Minister said that it is not necessary to amend the schedule to make it clear that a person is not obliged to shoot an animal and kill it immediately when to do so would be unsafe. He argued that such a defence would be included in the requirement that the conduct of the person in question must be unreasonable for an offence to have been committed. Under that requirement, the prosecution would have to show that it was unreasonable to argue that it was not safe to shoot, say, the hare or rabbit.
The Minister said that to accept the amendments would go too far towards admitting the principle that it was legitimate for a quarry to be pursued and killed by a dog, rather than dispatched by a gun. However, those on our side of the argument would say that a prime motive in tabling the amendments was our belief that there are circumstances in which it is in the interests of a quick kill—and therefore of animal welfare itself—that the dog be permitted to catch and kill the quarry animal. To wait an indeterminate time could lead to the various uncertainties associated with a hunter's identifying and then killing the quarry animal.
Much of this morning's debate has centred on the impact of the schedule on deer stalking. Many members of the Committee feel that the schedule's phrasing will not deliver the prohibitions in the circumscribed form that both Ministers assured us was the intention of the Committee of the whole House.
I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for responding promptly, courteously and in detail to the points that were raised last Thursday. However, the content of her letter is extraordinary. It is near unbelievable that it has taken until now for the Government to become aware that one consequence of the Bill would be to outlaw deer hunting. One does not have to look far for an explanation of the Deer Act 1991—a layman's summary of it is on page 211 of the Burns report. Clearly, the Act concerns the conditions under which killing deer is unlawful. Therefore, a general prohibition on pursuing and hunting deer with dogs will override the terms and conditions of the Act. As one considers the revelation in the Parliamentary Secretary's letter, one is led to consider other unforeseen consequences of part II of the schedule.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to wild boar in last Thursday's debate. That was when the thought first struck me that perhaps—although I do not know—in order to control feral wild boar people may need to use dogs to track them down in their woodland habitat. There are wild boar living in Kent, Sussex and Dorset that can endanger both human beings and other species.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there are 400 wild boar in Britain? Only this month, one such animal that weighed more than 300 lbs and had very sharp tusks was shot on the border between Kent and Sussex. The animals are extremely dangerous to children on ponies and walkers, and the traditional method of hunting with dogs might be the only way in which to deal with them.
Indeed. We have not considered in detail the question of wild boar. The Parliamentary Secretary's letter and the text of the schedule make it clear that if it were necessary to control wild boar after the Bill became law, a change in primary legislation approved by both Houses of Parliament would be required to make lawful the use of dogs to stalk or flush them out.
I have thought long and hard about how I should respond to the Minister's remarks, and I am in a generous and peaceable frame of mind this morning. I have welcomed his reassurances on the matters addressed in detail by the amendments and on his approach, and that of the Parliamentary Secretary, to the interrelationship between the Deer Act 1991 and the Bill. Therefore, although I believe that the debate has shown why Opposition Members are right to be seriously concerned about the impact of the Bill on gamekeepers and others engaged in legitimate pest control and other rural activities, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
With this we may take the following amendments: No. 67, in page 21, line 3, leave out `entirely'.
No. 69, in page 21, line 7, after `which' insert `he reasonably believed that'.
No. 70, in page 21, line 8, at end insert
(c) which he had not been forbidden to use.'.
No. 71, in page 21, line 8, at end insert
(c) which was land available for public use.'.
No. 87, in page 21, line 19, after `he' insert `believed that he'.
No. 105, in page 21, line 20, at end insert
(c) onto which the quarry had escaped while being pursued in accordance with the conditions in this paragraph.'.
This group of amendments deals with the land on which stalking and flushing out are allowed. It addresses paragraph 7(7), which requires that, to be lawful, stalking and flushing out with dogs must take place either on land owned by the person carrying out the hunting or on land that he has been ``permitted'' to use by the person to whom it belongs. As we discussed briefly at a much earlier sitting, the idea of belonging is defined, for the purposes of the schedule, in paragraph 22 on page 24, which states:
``land belongs to a person if he—
(a) owns an interest in it,
(b) manages or controls it, or
(c) occupies it.''
To avoid any risk of my being misunderstood, I should say that I have not tabled the amendments with any idea of supporting the right of hunters or anybody else to trespass freely on other people's property. However, the exception in paragraph 7(7) is unnecessarily inflexible. It does not allow for the messy, informal realities of gamekeeping or rodent control, or for the fact that, in practice, permission is often assumed because it is dictated by custom and tradition; people are not accustomed to filling in forms and being governed by rule books.
Amendment No. 67 would leave out of sub-paragraph (7) ``entirely''. That would clearly be the most dramatic way in which to approach the problem.
That is right. The amendment would leave out the word ``entirely'' in the first line of sub-paragraph (7). That would allow somebody to carry out activities that are expressly permitted under part II on land that belonged to the person or on which they had permission to carry out those activities. However, the strictness implied by the word ``entirely'' would not be included.
Amendment No. 68 would approach the problem differently. It would allow stalking and flushing out on land that belonged to the person doing the stalking or flushing out, or on land on which he reasonably intended it to take place. It and other amendments in the group would cover a gamekeeper or a farmer who is legitimately taking advantage of the exceptions in sub-paragraph (7): he has his dogs and is using them to flush out a hare, a rabbit or a fox, but the animal goes on to land neighbouring that on which the hunter has permission to work or owns. He would clearly intend in such circumstances to keep within the law and within the limitations imposed by the wording of the exceptions in part II, and the amendment would protect him against the risk of prosecution if his dogs were to stray across a property boundary in pursuit of a quarry animal.
Amendment No. 69 has a similar basis. It would allow stalking or flushing out where the hunter reasonably believed that he had been permitted to use the land in question. There is a helpful analogy in the Deer Act 1991. Section 1(1) makes it an offence to enter land to search for or pursue deer without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land. Section 1(2) makes it an offence if someone
``takes, kills or injures, or attempt to take, kill or injure, any deer''
``searches for or pursues any deer with the intention of taking, killing or injuring it'' on any land without the permission of the owner or the occupier of that land. Therefore, the 1991 Act creates criminal offences that involve hunting without the landowner's permission, although section 1(3) provides a statutory defence to those two criminal offences. It provides explicitly for an exception from both offences defined in subsections (1) and (2)
``by reason of anything done in the belief that—
(a) he would have the consent of the owner or occupier of the land if the owner or occupier knew of his doing it and the circumstances of it''.
Therefore, in framing the Deer Act, Parliament took the view that it would be unreasonable for a person to be prosecuted and to suffer criminal penalties if he honestly believed that he was keeping within the law and within the rules and regulations established by Parliament to govern his hunting. That principle should apply to the Bill too.
Has my hon. Friend noticed that the advantage of that section of the 1991 Act is that it ensures that the source of a prosecution—not the prosecutor—is somebody who feels that his land has been used in a way of which he disapproves? If the Bill is not changed, a person who did not give explicit permission but was happy for the activity to take place on his land would not be involved, while somebody who wanted for other reasons to prosecute could lay information which the police might find impossible not to accept because, under the Bill, such a prosecution could be successful. The amendment has considerable value.
My right hon. Friend makes a telling point. Throughout our debates on the details of the Bill, he and I have been concerned about the risk of malicious prosecutions brought by people whose animal rights agenda goes far further than that expressly provided for in the Bill. I am tempted to respond to his intervention with a lengthy diversion on the laying of information, but I shall refrain. That was the subject of my doctoral thesis, but it is probably better that I do not trespass further on your patience, Mr. O'Hara.
My right hon. Friend's core point is that it is a reality of rural life that a landowner's permission to hunt, stalk or flush out animals on his land is often given informally and arises from long-standing tolerance of country practices. It is unnecessarily bureaucratic and inflexible to expect such use of someone else's land to require the completion and preservation of detailed documentation to show that permission was sought and granted and the circumstances of that.
Amendment No. 87 refers to paragraph 8. It would allow the use of dogs for rodent control when someone reasonably believes that he has the relevant permission. It would apply the principles that I described in relation to paragraph 7(7) to the exception in paragraph 8 covering rodent control.
Amendment No. 70 tackles the same problem from a slightly different angle and would add to the general exceptions an exception in respect of land
``which he''-- the person hunting--
``had not been forbidden to use.''
That goes rather wider than the earlier amendment, which would put the stress on the reasonable belief of the person hunting that he enjoyed permission. It is a different approach to the issue.
Amendment No. 71 would add to the exceptions
``land available for public use'' and amendment No. 105 would add land
``onto which the quarry had escaped while being pursued''.
I suggest that amendment No. 105 is the minimum necessary addition to the exceptions in order to provide the protection of everyday legitimate activities of gamekeepers and others to which several of us on the Opposition Benches have referred again and again during our proceedings.
My great fear is that, as we have discovered with deer stalking, the Bill will have consequences that go much further than a prohibition on organised hunting with packs of hounds. I hope that the Government will reflect carefully on my argument that the drafting of the exceptions is inflexible and consider whether they can accept at least some of my amendments.
I intend to be brief, because my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury has made the argument elegantly. However, I want to put it in the context of the beginning of paragraph 7, which places the burden firmly on the defendant to prove that the conditions set out in the paragraph are met. Sub-paragraph (7) covers the fourth condition:
``that the stalking or flushing out took place entirely on land--
(a) which belonged . . . to the person doing the stalking or flushing out, or
(b) which he had been permitted to use for that purpose by someone to whom the land belonged''.
Sub-paragraph (7)(a) and (b) refers to paragraph 22 for the three definitions of an interest in land, which are relevant to our discussion.
The Committee discussed the concept of permission last week when the Minister gave us his understanding of it. I was not entirely satisfied and I wonder whether he has had further thoughts during the intervening period either to reinforce his interpretation last week or to move a little away from that position. I should be interested to hear one way or the other. I am prepared to hear him say that his first thoughts were the best and that he stands by them, but I should be interested to hear his current view. The amendments would add a degree of practicality to the Bill. Its overall purpose is to ban hunting but to permit certain other activities, so long as they are approved. It would be a better Bill with the amendments.
I shall give an example of border country between one farm and another. In shooting country there is often not just a hedge, but a wood dividing one farm or one piece of land from another. That is exactly the sort of territory that is inhabited by rabbits, rodents and other mammals, and exactly the sort of cover--without the ``t''--into which wounded animals will go for sanctuary if they have been injured by a dog or shot. It would be humane and in the interests of animal welfare to agree the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. Otherwise, a wounded animal, which should be stalked or flushed so that it may be humanely dispatched, will be confined in its misery to a piece of land just the wrong side of a land boundary. I am sure that that is not what the promoters of the Bill want and it is certainly not what the Government, in the guise of the Home Office or the Lord Chancellor's Department, want. Will the Minister consider carefully whether the amendments make good animal welfare sense, quite apart from common sense, and apply my hon. Friend's arguments to real life?
I do not know whether Labour Members have had the experiences that I have had, and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed may have had, of going out with gamekeepers, for example, to see what they do and to do some of the work that they do. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for West Ham says that he prefers going out with girls. I like to think that the majority of Members of the House, and indeed of the Committee, prefer going out with people of the opposite sex, but it is not compulsory. I warn the hon. Gentleman that the profession of gamekeeping is not restricted to men; plenty of women do it. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman takes either the Shooting Times or The Field, but if he did, he would have seen in a recent issue a young woman receiving an award for her gamekeeping work. I am sure that he would have much enjoyed going out with her, although perhaps not going out gamekeeping with her. However, there may be someone called Mrs. Banks who—
I was hoping that my hon. and learned Friend would restrain himself, because if we get into the matter of hermaphrodite gamekeepers we will be led astray to the point of wondering whether anybody would wish to go out with a hermaphrodite gamekeeper.
Let me conclude on the serious aspect of my small contribution to this commonsensical group of amendments. The Minister may prefer one amendment to another, but I hope that the germ of the idea that they contain has taken root in his mind. I know that, once it has taken root, it will be his pleasure, if not his duty, to persuade other members of the Committee to agree with him. In doing so, perhaps he will come to the conclusion that the principles behind my hon. Friend's amendments are worthy of a second look.
I support the amendments, save for one. I am not happy about a general need to prohibit people from acting in a certain way on land, as one of the amendments suggests. However, I am concerned about the structure and presentation of this part of the Bill, for many of the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury and others.
First, I am sure that in many country areas the situation is much as it is in mine. I have a small amount of land that is surrounded by the farmland of two other people, one of whom would be happy for any of the activities mentioned in the Bill to take place on his land. The other has a more ambivalent view, if I may use your word, Mr. O'Hara. In the former case, I would not need permission, as it is assumed, both by the landowner and by me, that we can each behave as we would expect the other to behave on his own land. I do not think that I have had such a discussion with him, but we know each other well enough to accept that that is the situation.
In the latter case, if I wished to take advantage of this part of the Bill, I would ask, and I would expect to receive either permission or refusal. Country relationships are not as clear as the Bill suggests, nor should they become so. I prefer the attitude expressed in the Deer Act 1991, which seems to have been framed by someone with a clear understanding of country relationships. It is not the House's intention or purpose to try to change the way in which country people relate one to another, but land that is not easily accessible, or the ownership of which is in doubt, gives rise to certain difficulties.
There has been a particular problem with travellers on some land in my constituency, the root cause of which is that the owner lives abroad and appears unable to answer letters, telephone calls or any other form of communication. In such circumstances, it is not sensible to argue that an animal must not be put out of its distress because the owner of the land has not given express permission. What is true of that land is unfortunately true of land of little value in many parts of the country. In cases where ownership of land is disputed or not known, or where it is in the hands of public authorities, it is not easy to gain permission rapidly. It would be sensible for the Bill to incorporate a phrase that could cover circumstances that even Deadline 2000 agrees constitute exceptions.
If those exceptions are indeed important, it is also important to ensure that they work. Changes are therefore necessary, and like my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, I do not much mind how we make them, although I prefer the approach taken in the Deer Act 1991. Above all, we must tackle the issue of dealing with animals humanely. I know that there is a prejudice on this Committee and elsewhere against rats; people are apparently less concerned about the rat than other of God's creatures. I hesitate to express too much concern about them, but I do think that the killing of any animal should be carried out as humanely and quickly as possible. It is not helpful to establish a system that would restrain someone from killing an injured animal simply because of considerations about ownership of the land on which it has strayed.
As I have said, the difficulty with the Bill is that it seeks, as it must, to restrain the normal activities of animals. I realise that the restraint will be placed on the human being rather than the animal but, in effect, the human being should become the surrogate for the animal. It is important to remember that animals do not understand the concept of boundaries and naturally stray over them, so we ought to ensure that the Bill is not so heavy-handed that it makes it impossible to deal with the very exceptions that even Deadline 2000 has acknowledged.
The same is true of land where obtaining permission is almost impossible. The land that I referred to earlier is in close proximity to a home and garden. Those are the circumstances in which the exceptions would be most likely to be used. What is the owner of the neighbouring land to do if the owner refuses to answer a letter? In that case, permission has not been refused, there has never been a complaint and there have never been circumstances in which one should say that the owner is unlikely to give permission. However, under this wording the owner of the neighbouring property would be unlawful in acting without the express permission of the neighbouring landowner. If such permission were implied, it would have to be to a degree that would be difficult to achieve.
The Under-Secretary has suggested that people ought to be sure that permission has been granted. He also suggested that my colleagues and I ought to be surer than others. That is perfectly reasonable for people whose public position might make that necessary, but we are discussing people who are merely trying to live their lives normally. It is difficult to accept that Parliament should put those people in the position of feeling that they are in breach of the law. Even if nobody prosecutes them, it is not a position that ordinary people want to be in. That is why it would be helpful if he accepted the amendments or discovered a mechanism that is better.
The humane point is vital for the peace of mind of the landowner. As I stated in my intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, I like the alternative suggested by the Deer Act. If we receive an answer of the sort that has been given before, we shall put the weight of prosecution on somebody who feels that his ownership and views have been transgressed. If not, we open ourselves up to those who want to use the schedule as a means of seeking prosecution. I hope that the Under Secretary will apply his mind to that point.
I generally accept the Under-Secretary's argument that it will take something serious to get people in court, but in this area the proposal could get us into difficulty. Let us say that I am member—this will be difficult to imagine—of the Animal Liberation Front. Therefore, I am opposed to all exceptions and am totally uninterested in any activity that treats animals as less than human. Indeed, I prefer hunting humans to hunting animals. I target somebody whom I have angst about—I live close to one establishment of Huntingdon Life Sciences, so I have immediate experience of this—and give notice to the police that that person has engaged in certain activities without the landowner's permission. The police get on to the owner and say, ``Have you given permission to Mr. Smith to use your land for this purpose?'' The owner, being a truthful person, says, ``I do not mind Mr. Smith doing it, but I have not given him permission.'' What do the police do? Clearly, it is something that could be proven in court to be true. It would be hard for the police not act in those circumstances. That is not what the Bill means, nor is it the intention of the House of Commons. We should try to guard against vexatious prosecutions, which are likely to occur in this area.
The Minister has had to deal with difficult issues in the past few weeks, and he has done so extraordinarily well. There is a common view that blackmail should not be used as a means of achieving ends in a democratic society, but yesterday's activities show that significant numbers of people are willing to take very direct action.
The idea that we are producing a chimera—something that is unlikely to happen—is not true. We are dealing in an area where there is a huge strength of feeling among those for whom animals are clearly the most important thing in life. I hope that the Minister will accept that it would be better to go down the tried and trusted way of the Deer Act. As far as I know, in the nine or 10 years since that Act was passed, there have been no complaints that its wording has led to an inability to carry out its purposes. In those circumstances, it seems much simpler to adopt the successful approach, rather than to invent a new one.
I return to the question of humaneness. I am concerned that in earlier debates, including the debate that I could not attend because I was in the United States, the Committee has sometimes lost sight of what we are told is the purpose of the Bill. Those who promote it espouse the humane treatment of animals, which is why they feel so strongly about it. The Opposition do not believe that the Bill advances the humane treatment of animals. We are all committed to humane treatment, which is why some of us took an active part in the debate about badgers. Humane treatment of animals ought to be in our minds at all times in our debates on the Bill. We must take seriously the admonition of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury about the schedule and the matter of a wounded animal. Is this the sort of legislation that the House or the Committee wants to pass into law?
The humane treatment of animals should be at the top of the list, but this bit of the Bill does not achieve it. We need a different mechanism so that a decent countryman going about his duties can trespass on another's land, without specific permission, to ensure that a wounded animal will die. He must not be made to draw back saying, ``If I do that, I shall be acting illegally.''
I know that some people will say that nobody would prosecute the man in the circumstances, but if there were an attempt to prosecute him, he could put his case and he would be let off. What will we be doing to people if, in such circumstances, they feel that they have to choose between illegal acts and inhumanity? We should be united in our determination to ensure that we do not put beyond the law people whose activities deserve approval rather than condemnation.
I hope that the Minister will not answer our points by saying that it would be unlikely that anybody would go to court in those circumstances, or that if they did, they would have a perfectly good argument and would be let off. I am not sure that that is entirely true, but even if it were, our job is to ensure that we make criminals only of those who deserve it. We need to ensure that law-abiding people who behave properly do not have to think about whether they are breaking a law that appears to be footling and unnecessary. Let us make sure that our legislation is never seen as that, even though it may be based on a wrong principle. We are discussing a Bill, the principle of which I deeply dislike. However, in accepting that we are trying to make it work, we must not do so in a footling, irrelevant or heavy-handed way.
The right hon. Gentleman is reading my mind on the possibility of a police officer or an RSPCA inspector using a dog to locate a wounded animal, or one that has escaped from a zoo. They could face prosecution by allowing the dog to go on to neighbouring land without obtaining permission in pursuit of a wild and possibly dangerous, animal, when they are merely trying to protect the animal or the public. Clearly, the Government will have to sort that out when they recognise the problem.
I want to speak briefly to amendment No. 105, the agreement to which, as the hon. Member for Aylesbury said, is the least that we can ask for. We are seeking protection for someone who is lawfully going about his business of pest control and whose dog strays on to neighbouring land in pursuit of the quarry. That is such a likely circumstance that I cannot understand why no provision was made for it by those who drafted the Bill. They must surely recognise that they now need to do so.
It is not the Bill's purpose to replace trespass legislation; we already have legislation on that subject. It is not for this Bill to decide in what circumstances someone may go on to another's land; that is a whole other area of law. There is proper redress for improper trespass, which could be brought to bear in some of the circumstances that I have just described. We do not require the Bill to make a criminal offence of the basic activity in which an individual is engaged when his dog crosses the boundary line. In ratting, for example, it is extremely likely that a pursued rat will be scrabbling about at the bottom of a hedge and will disappear on to neighbouring land. It will be rather difficult for the person who is in charge of the dog to be sure that the dog is on the right side of the line as the rat tries to make its escape.
I do not know how many members of the Committee heard the radio programme this morning about the substantial increase in the number of rats in this country, which is probably the result of milder winters. That increase is particularly large in the countryside. We are accustomed to thinking of rats in cities, but the rat population is large in the countryside. As has been pointed out in previous debates, landowners have a legal responsibility to deal with rat infestations, which regularly spill over on to neighbours' properties. The basis of their legal obligation is that their rats go on to other people's property, so it is ludicrous beyond belief to imagine that someone should be prosecuted because his dog, in pursuit of a rat, strayed over the boundary.
The other amendments in the group offer a variety of ways of addressing that and closely related problems. I do not want to go to the stake for any particular version, especially as mine is the most modest of all the amendments. If the Government cannot accept my amendment, they will not have come to terms with something for which they have shown some sympathy. Ministers have indicated that, owing to the need for pest control, and the control of rats in particular, parts of the Bill should be reconsidered—for example, in relation to underground spaces and cellars. The aspect addressed by the amendments is another one that they should reconsider.
It seems curiously obsessive to import principles of trespass law into the Bill. I am glad that the hon. Member for Aylesbury and others have drawn attention to the fact that the Deer Act specifically envisaged the problem and made appropriate provision for it. We must surely do that in the Bill, and I have suggested a modest way of doing so. A number of other ways are on the amendment paper. If the Minister cannot pick and mix from that selection, perhaps he can table an amendment himself.
I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed have said. Anybody listening to them, on whatever side of the hunting argument, must realise that they have made eminently reasonable points in a moderate way. It is hard to see—although no doubt in a moment we shall—how anybody could resist them. We do not expect all the amendments to be agreed and no doubt the drafting could be improved, but one has only to look at the Bill to realise that the amendments could only improve it and make it less heavy handed, while still enabling it to fulfil its objectives, as we all accept it should.
What harm would it do if the words ``took place'' and ``entirely'' were left out of sub-paragraph (7)? It would then read:
``The fourth condition is that the stalking or flushing out'' was intended to take place on land. What is wrong with that? Criminal law is concerned with two things. First, it is concerned with the outcome, which can be bad for society. However, nobody is seriously suggesting that ordinary pest control operations are bad for society. Secondly, it is concerned with the alleged criminal's mind. The Government could accept the amendments and simply say that the person would not be prosecuted if his action was ``intended to take place''; I do not see the harm in that.
A similar argument can be made for sub-paragraph (7)(b). The words in the Bill are:
``which he had been permitted to use''.
It is proposed to simply add the phrase ``which he reasonably believed''. We are not talking about an earth-shattering and important activity in the sum of human endeavour. We are simply talking about a bloke out on the land trying to do his job or to carry out pest control. What possible harm could it do to insert the phrase ``which he reasonably believed''?
My hon. Friend is right that hunting is not one of the great activities of mankind but, given the considerable increase in rats, to which the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred, and the responsibility of landowners to deal with that, it is none the less an important activity that has a direct effect on people's health and safety, particularly when the land on which it is done is close to other dwellings.
Yes. What objection can there be to continuing an activity that the Bill recognises as a desirable objective: ratting and pest control?
I have spoken warmly about the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury has tabled but, unusually, there is one that I am not so sure about.
Amendment No. 70 would insert the phrase
(c) which he had not been forbidden to use.''.
When my hon. Friend sums up the debate, he will doubtless explain the purpose of the phrase. I do not like it very much—
My right hon. Friend has similar objections. Those of us who live in the countryside and represent rural constituencies know that people from the city visit the countryside at night and engage in extremely unpleasant activities such as hare coursing, but how can one expressly forbid their entering one's land, given that one has no idea who they are?
My hon. Friend should bear in mind the distinction between civil law and criminal law. We are making criminal law; more importantly, we are creating an aspect of criminal law that will require the defendant to prove—admittedly, to civil standards—that he falls within one of the conditions. The example of poachers is already dealt with under criminal law, and although I realise that, sadly, night coursing is a problem in Lincolnshire, it is already a criminal act. Night coursers do not course in the accepted sense of the sport; they steal landowners' game, which is a criminal offence. There is a huge distinction, therefore, in principle and concept between the activities that we are discussing.
That is fair enough. I do not possess the legal skills of my hon. and learned Friend, who puts his argument well. I remain rather confused as to why the ordinary laws of trespass—which deal with poaching and other offences, and which we in the countryside have known and understood for many years—are not sufficient for the activity. The Minister can doubtless explain that important point.
I accept that my objections to amendment No. 70 might not amount to much, and I should point out that the other amendments are perfectly sensible. If amendment No. 87 were accepted, paragraph (3)(b) would refer to hunting taking place on land
``which he believed that he had been permitted to use''.
Given that the criminal law is designed to deal with criminal intent, the amendment would constitute a good safeguard for civil liberties. Amendment No. 105, which would insert the phrase
``onto which the quarry had escaped'', is eminently sensible. Amendment No. 71, which deals with public land, is a good one and I shall return to it. It would be absurd if one could not engage in pest control of quarry that strays on to public land. I may be wrong, and the Minister will doubtless advance some cogent arguments, but the amendments appear eminently sensible. If he has any objections to them, perhaps he could explain them in a moment.
The open countryside in constituencies such as mine and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal is not suburbia. As he said, not everything in the countryside is done with express permission. People do not argue vigorously about tiny parcels of land. We often read of disputes between neighbours about hedges that are grown too high, or roots, plants and trees that overhang adjoining properties. Such matters are very important to millions of our fellow countrymen, and it is probably true that the overwhelming majority of people live in suburbia or urban areas. However, the countryside is a much looser place. Landowners are indeed worried about people who trespass on their land for no particular reason, and one can only assume that the Bill is designed to protect them. However, landowners are not worried about a neighbour, farmer or gamekeeper wandering on to their land to control pests without their express permission. If a hunt is allowed only on land owned either by the person who is doing the flushing out or by someone who has given express permission, one must assume that pest control will be seriously compromised.
I make no apology for returning again and again to the issue of pest control. Although I do not like the House's decision, I accept that hon. Members have made up their minds about organised hunting. However, now we are concerned with effective pest control. I hope that the Under-Secretary will not say, ``Deadline 2000 has drafted this because the House has made up its mind.'' The House has not decided whether we should leave in words such as ``entirely'' or ``he honestly believed that''. It is incumbent on him to tell us why he disagrees with the amendments and thinks that pest control will not be seriously comprised.
The Bill will compromise the control of foxes and rabbits on footpaths, country roads and rights of way. When a dog flushes out a rabbit or fox, how is it to know that it has wandered on to a footpath? The dog will not be prosecuted, but its owner could be. Should the dog immediately stop chasing its quarry if it gets to common land, a neighbours land, a footpath or a country road? The Bill is absurd, ludicrous and ridiculous, and that must be explained because we need to allow for serious practicalities on the ground.
The Bill smacks of hypocrisy and double standards. The Government have enormously extended the scope for ordinary people to roam over vast swathes of private land, but if the Bill is not amended gamekeepers and ordinary country dwellers will not be allowed to do their proper country jobs. I love country walking and sympathise with people who want to roam the countryside. The Government have given them that right, but say that a country dweller or gamekeeper who deviates slightly from their land or land over which they have been given express permission to pursue game is liable to criminal prosecution, to a £5,000 fine, to the destruction of their dog and perhaps to the loss of their means of earning a living. I hope that the Under-Secretary, who has sadly left the Room but no doubt has good reason to do so, will return in a moment. Nevertheless, careful notes can be made of my remarks. Indeed, I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary making notes because I am making a good point that must be answered.
Land ownership is clear in suburban and urban areas where land boundaries are obvious. It is different in the open countryside where there may not be a wall or fence to denote a change of ownership. Indeed, there may be a meandering stream, a boundary line in the middle of a field or nothing at all. It is ludicrous to convict someone of a criminal offence for a small deviation across a theoretical border in open countryside. Furthermore, legal ownership may change but the terrain may not. We are discussing not a back garden, but perhaps hundreds of acres of open fell and moor where there may be no boundary lines. How can it be a criminal offence to deviate? Would it not be better to say that a person would be committing a criminal offence if someone knows that he is deviating, trespassing or carrying out an activity that a neighbouring landowner would not want to take place? I do not understand the point of view of those who drafted the provisions on legal ownership.
Stalking and flushing out should be allowed on public and common land because it is unfair to allow some people the right to use that land but not others, and there could be a serious side effect on land adjoining common land. Rabbits and foxes do not care about legal ownership and will be able to foray on to adjoining land, cause considerable damage and then return to their earths in common land. They have no idea where they are. There is no point the Minister saying, ``Oh well, there won't be prosecutions. Don't worry, the Crown Prosecution will never prosecute.'' If a gamekeeper's livestock, crop or game is affected by foxes living on common land, he will be unable to deal with the problem.
Hon. Members must accept that, in order to control pests, there will be more snares and traps, which are a greater risk to domestic animals than to wild animals, as pets are less wary of them. Therefore, I am not sure what will be achieved from an animal welfare point of view. The banning of hunting on public land will have an adverse effect on wild mammals and domestic animals, because more will be trapped, snared and poisoned. The arguments continue and it is incumbent on the Minister to explain his intentions and why the Bill was drafted as it was.
No one should be guilty of criminal behaviour if he reasonably believed that he had permission to carry out the act constituting the alleged offence. The Bill makes no allowance for genuine mistakes about the extent of a landowner's consent for a completely irreprehensible activity, which does social good--that is, pest control.
The law of trespass is not a powerful weapon, but it is well understood in the countryside. As I understand it, someone who wanders on to someone else's land is not guilty of criminal behaviour, but the landowner may ask him to leave and to desist from the activities in which he is engaged. That is a perfectly good English compromise. If someone is walking in the countryside and deviates on to a farmer's land—even if he knows that there is no footpath across that land—he is not committing a criminal offence. The farmer may ask him to leave and that is an entirely sensible compromise which is not too burdensome on the general public but meets the needs of landowners and others to protect their land if necessary--for example, if the walker is causing a problem. I do not know why it is necessary to include a requirement for permission to enter land.
The Minister is in receipt of better legal advice than I, but I understand that no human activity would be a crime only if it is committed by a trespasser. Even the offence of burglary requires the prosecution to prove that the person has entered private property and committed theft. Burglary is uniquely different. The Minister is good at saying, ``This is not a unique provision. There is this Act and that Act'', and we have heard about the Deer Act. However, I am not sure that such a stipulation is not unique—nor do I know why it has been made, because the activity complained of is not like burglary. Theft is bad, wherever it is committed. Burglary is even worse if it is committed by entering a private dwelling. However, pest control is not theft but an activity that society wants to be carried out.
The question of animal welfare is interesting. The requirement that flushing out takes place entirely on permitted land is too restrictive. Those who want to promote Deadline 2000 are worried about animal welfare. Let us forget about landowners for a moment. Those who framed the Bill are presumably not primarily concerned with them; I suspect that many of them have a pretty dubious opinion of landowners. They are concerned about animal welfare. How can anybody argue with the proposition that it makes no difference in animal welfare terms whether the flushing out is on one piece of land or another? It makes no difference to the animal. I should have thought that the provision was sufficient, in animal welfare terms, if the defendant was using land that he had not been forbidden to use. We have had that debate and no doubt the Minister can return to it.
Similarly, it makes no sense in animal welfare terms to restrict the rodent exception to a limited area of land, as paragraph 8(3) does. What objection can there be to continuing a pursuit, which the Bill recognises as a desirable objective, if the quarry escapes from one piece of land to another?
To sum up, we are trying to make the Bill work. We recognise that the countryside is an open place where express permission is not always given for desirable activities. We are trying to impose the standards and practices of the city on the open countryside. We are putting a severe burden not on organised hunts or landowners, but on—
My hon. Friend may or may not realise that, in practice, the Bill may put a burden on organised hunts. I think particularly of the Welsh gun packs. I do not know whether he knows, but Forest Enterprise owns quite a lot of land, particularly in north Wales. Foxes breed and live in the wooded areas of its land, and go on to neighbouring land to predate on flocks. Forest Enterprise pays the Welsh gun packs about £8,000 a year to carry out hunting activities in order that it is not sued for compensation by neighbouring farmers, but those farmers often do not give express permission either for Forest Enterprise to set the hunt or for the hunt to go on their land. That is a sensible and acceptable part of the rural economy in that part of the country. The Minister may be able to deal with the matter, but for all its good intentions, the paragraph unamended will cause adverse consequences of which even my hon. Friend has not thought.
That is a good point. It is sad that the Committee does not contain more hon. Members who understand more about the way in which the Welsh gun packs work. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has come in at just the right moment. How wonderful! I was saying that it is a pity that the Committee does not contain more people who understand how hunts are organised and how permissions are given. I have never risen high in the hunting firmament because I am a hopeless horseman and generally useless at the sport, although I have occasionally attempted it rather badly. Organised hunts now take enormous care to have good relationships with the local farming community. They have their general land and permission is given.
I may be wrong but I do not believe that, a week before the hunt, the master of the hunt responsible for relationships with local farmers and landowners can or does work out where the hunt will go. Therefore, no express permission for hunting can be given in the terms of the Bill; it is a far more general permission. However, I have obviously got it wrong and I would be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend told me.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend has obviously got it wrong, but my understanding is that the field master of the day will, in advance of the day of the hunt, ring up the farmer and the landowner and say, ``We are hunting in your direction next Wednesday'' or next Tuesday or whenever it is. ``Please may we come across your land?'' or ``Would it be all right if we came across your land?'' There would be huge surprise if the farmer said, ``No, you can't'', because hunting takes place in a country where it is accepted. However, good manners, if not legal permission, require that notice be given of the intention to hunt, not least because the farmer can put animals inside who might otherwise be disturbed by the hounds. There is give and take; that everyday understanding of what goes on in the countryside is absent from the Bill.
That is the point that I am trying to make; there is an understanding. Occasionally, the hunt deviates from its normal line, as one cannot predict where the fox will go. I agree that the hunt takes enormous care. It knows where it is going on a certain day and roughly the countryside that it will hunt over, but if an honest mistake is made, there is no question of criminal prosecutions or the constabulary being brought in. Everybody recognises that we are dealing with wild animals and with an activity that we cannot control.
Therefore, as I understand it—my hon. and learned Friend knows far more about it than me—if the amendments were passed, the Bill would be far more in accord with normal practice in the countryside. A landowner is concerned not with somebody involved in a useful pursuit who genuinely makes a mistake but who had intended to do something as described by the amendments and was following a quarry. The amendments are simply concerned with somebody who is deliberately trespassing on land and engaging in an activity that does not benefit land management.
I am sure that the Under-Secretary will say that we need the amendments, because otherwise there will be great loopholes through which people will drive a coach and horses. We will wait and see what arguments he adduces, but I suspect that he will not be able to say that. The evil that supporters of the Bill see in other parts of the Bill is the activity of hunting; the evil in relation to the amendments concerns those who hunt illegally over somebody else's land and know that they are doing it.
That is why the amendments have been framed as they are. They are eminently sensible and I hope that the Under-Secretary will be prepared, on this one occasion, to be positive about them and to intimate that he will come back to them on Report.
Two strange things seem to be happening during this debate, which I want to comment on briefly. The first is that the exceptions in the Bill are clearly laid out in several parts and are for different purposes. There is an exception for stalking and flushing out, which is mainly for sporting purposes and to protect gamebirds from being attacked by foxes. There is a separate exception for rodent control. There is a different purpose, in that one is trying to keep down pests, which has nothing to do with sport. There are also exceptions for retrieving game, recapturing lost animals and rescuing animals. Clearly, those latter exceptions have a much more animal welfare-type purpose. Many of the arguments have been based on animal welfare—which has nothing to do with the stalking and flushing out exception—to which most of the amendments refer. Similarly, what has been said about being able to chase wounded animals on other people's land has nothing to do with the amendments, which relate to the provisions dealing with stalking and flushing out; a sporting purpose.
Much of what Conservative Members have said is pretty irrelevant. We are talking about where stalking and flushing out should be possible. Stalking and flushing out are for sporting purposes mainly, or for the protection of livestock or game. Therefore, the arguments for restricting the land on which that can be done have to be very strong. I have some sympathy for the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, who talked specifically about the purpose of keeping down rodents. There are much stronger arguments for opening out the land for which that sort of exception should be allowed than stalking and flushing out, which are for sporting purposes.
The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, have read the Bill, where the purposes for which stalking is allowed are specified. The schedule states:
``The first condition is that the stalking or flushing out was undertaken . . . for the purpose of protecting livestock, fowl (including wild fowl), game birds or crops''.
I do not need to read out the whole Bill, as it is clear what stalking is for and how it works. That is one reason why the arguments of Opposition Members have been rather mistaken. They have not addressed the part of the Bill to which the amendments refer.
It is rather strange that Conservative Members have been arguing for a considerable reduction in property rights. It is unusual for them to do that. A moment ago, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) said that because property rights under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 were diminished—I fully accept that property rights were deliberately diminished by Parliament—further diminution of property rights must automatically be the way to go. I do not accept that because Parliament diminished property rights regarding where people could walk, such rights should be further diminished as to where they can stalk and flush out with dogs.
We are asking for something far more conservative than what we are being attacked for by the hon. Gentleman. We want the status quo to be maintained. Property rights are preserved through the civil law of trespass; the blessing of the criminal law is not needed to enforce it.
I accept that civil law on trespass exists, but the amendments would change property rights in a way that is not at all conservative. If all the amendments were accepted, it would be a defence to stalking on other people's land for someone to say that a small part of the stalking had taken place on land that he believed he had not been expressly forbidden to use. Someone need only walk out of his front door with his dog, assuming that he owned the land, to say that a small part of the stalking operation had taken place on land that he knew he had not been forbidden to use, let alone that he believed that to be so. Such an exception would be extraordinarily wide. If the amendments were accepted, a person could go stalking absolutely anywhere.
To follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman's argument, presumably he also believes that the broader exception provided for in the Deer Act 1991 is much too wide in scope and should be narrowed on the lines of the schedules to this Bill.
My knowledge of that Act is not sufficient to answer that question. I am sure that the Under-Secretary knows a lot more about it than I do, so he may be able to help the hon. Member for Aylesbury. The amendment would mean that stalking and flushing out could take place on anybody's land. The only way to stop that happening would be if a landowner in the highlands knew that the land next door was owned by a consortium that had sold out the stalking rights—
Indeed. If a landowner in any part of England and Wales, where the Bill will apply, knew that the next-door land was owned by a consortium and that the rights to stalk and flush out might be sold to someone, he would have to find all the potential clients and forbid each one of them to stalk and flush out on the land. That is impossible. If the amendments were accepted, anybody could stalk and flush out anywhere in the country. That is the absurdity of the amendments.
The hon. Gentleman was traducing me when he said that I had argued that because Parliament had passed rights of way legislation, it could go on diminishing property rights. I was complaining about the hypocrisy of those who have framed the Bill. They have said that the public can roam over ever-increasing parts of private land, but more and more onerous burdens have been put on gamekeepers under the Bill. He deliberately ignored my point regarding my doubts about amendment No. 70, which would insert the words
``which he had not been forbidden to use.''.
If we were to withdraw that amendment, would the hon. Gentleman be happy with the others, which do not go as far as the one that he is deliberately picking on?
I am happy to acknowledge that the hon. Member for Gainsborough expressed concerns about amendment No. 70. He is right to reject it, and I apologise if I implied that he had not done so. At least one other Conservative Member has agreed with him, and I hope that others will do so as well. However, the hon. Member for Gainsborough was intervened on by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, and he seemed to accept the arguments that were made in that intervention. I was sorry about that, as his hon. and learned Friend's arguments were feeble compared with his own objections to the amendment.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough said that it was hypocritical to refuse to allow further amendments to land and property rights. I do not believe that it is necessarily hypocritical to draw a line as to how far to extend or diminish property rights. We always have to make a balanced judgment. The House felt that property rights should be diminished to the extent that people should be allowed the right to roam. That was the correct decision, although the hon. Member for Gainsborough may not agree. I believe that it is perfectly fair to decide that property rights should not be further diminished to allow hunting or stalking on land in the way suggested in the amendment.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough was correct to say that amendment No. 70 should go, and he then asked whether I would be happy if just that amendment were dropped. The answer, of course, is that I would not, for reasons that I have already explained. One would still be able to say in one's defence that one was stalking over someone else's land because a small part of the entire operation took place on land that one believed it was permissible to use. It would be a sufficient defence merely to set out to stalk from one's own home. As I said, in practice, one could stalk anywhere one liked and get away with it; even in places where one had been told one should not stalk.
Several good points have been made in this debate, some of which I want to consider at length because they require further thought. A couple of the issues raised by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal bear particularly serious consideration, and I shall return to them in a moment. However, I should first make it clear that I do rely on the safeguards that exist in relation to any prosecution; proof beyond reasonable doubt that an offence has been committed, a public interest in the prosecution and a reasonable likelihood of conviction. All those safeguards remain in place, and I do not wish to rehearse them.
As I said, some good points have been made, but they do not directly relate to any of the amendments. Nor do the amendments themselves take us much further, and I shall explain why. Historically, the Conservative party has been the party of landed interest and has fought to defend the interests of wealthy landowners. To reverse the point made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough, even in this Parliament we have witnessed that principle in action, as the Opposition have attempted to prevent us from granting the right to roam across millions of acres of heathland. However, the right of those who own land to decide whether they want hunting to take place on it is, to quote the hon. Member for Aylesbury, ``unnecessarily inflexible''. In other words, it is not a principle to which the Conservative party adheres.
As members of the Committee will by now doubtless appreciate, the Bill provides that stalking and flushing out with dogs should remain lawful only if certain conditions are met. The fourth of those conditions is that stalking or flushing out must take place on land belonging to the person carrying out that activity, or that the person concerned has been permitted to use the land for that purpose by the landowner. That seems entirely reasonable. It is surely right that hunting should take place only with the permission of the landowner. Indeed, concern about trespass, of which much has been said—particularly by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough—is referred to in the Burns report. In chapter 9.8, Lord Burns clearly states:
``There are too many cases of trespass, disruption and disturbance. These are most common where hunts operate too close to residential areas and interfere with the movement of traffic on roads. We do not want to exaggerate these problems but they can cause distress to the individuals and families involved.''
It might be argued that, whether or not there is a ban, attention should be drawn to
``requiring permission to be obtained in writing on a regular basis from farmers and landowners; penalising trespass, or repeated trespass, over land where permission has not been given; and improving means of seeking and obtaining redress.''
Landowners and others are concerned because the legislation on trespass does not provide good protection. Remedies include compensation if damage has occurred or an injunction if someone persistently crosses their land, but that will not deal adequately with people who hunt on the land only once or twice and do not establish sufficient repetition of the act to enable an injunction to be obtained or people who have not caused damage to the property that is sufficiently substantial to provide a case for compensation. The law covering trespass is not an adequate safeguard; that is the view of Deadline 2000, endorsed by the House of Commons.
Let me deal with amendment No. 68. Under the Bill, the stalking or flushing out must take place on land on which the hunter has permission to be. The amendment would provide that the condition would be met and the stalking or flushing out would be legal if it were intended to take place on land where the hunter had permission to be. That may be designed to cover the position when the hunter inadvertently strays on to land where he does not have permission to be.
I offer two observations. First, if I go rambling in the countryside, it is my responsibility to ensure that at all times I am on land where I have a right to be. I do not understand why the same principle should not apply to any hunting that is allowed to continue, not least because hunting is a much more intrusive activity than rambling.
Am I right in saying that if I ramble along a footpath on someone's land but then decide deliberately to go off the footpath, I am not committing a criminal offence?
That would depend what the hon. Gentleman is doing in the process, but he is probably committing civil trespass, not a criminal offence. The remedy open to the landowner would be limited; precisely the point that Conservative Members made when we discussed the right to roam proposals. They said then that protection for landowners was inadequate, but now that we are discussing hunting, protection and safeguards are not required for landowners.
In a moment, perhaps.
Anyone who is found to have been stalking or flushing out on land where he did not have permission to be would doubtless claim that he had inadvertently strayed on to the land and the purpose of the condition would be lost.
Amendments Nos. 69 and 87 are similar to amendment No. 68. We know from a leaked e-mail that their purpose is to introduce increased ambiguity into the Bill. We are always pleased to be joined by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and if he could join us in Committee, he would be able to explain his intention to introduce as much ambiguity as possible into the Bill. However, the Government's objective is to ensure that we have good law that is not ambiguous and does blur the force of the provisions. We need clarity, so rather than a stalker or flusher-out having been permitted by a landowner, he would have to satisfy the condition to be safe from prosecution.
I have said that I shall give way to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough in due course and I shall do so when I am ready. I welcome the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex to the Committee. I understand that it was his birthday yesterday and we congratulate him. We are pleased that he has recovered from the exertions of the night before to join us. I note that he requires copious drinks of water, so I conclude that he had a good evening, which he well deserved.
The Under-Secretary should be aware that I give up drinking from the end of the shooting season until Easter, without even the exception of my birthday. Like the Queen, I have two birthdays, one being after the end of my drinking abstinence.
May I ask the Under-Secretary to define a stalker and a flusher-out? Hunters do not stalk. The meaning of stalking and what is being stalked is utterly unclear in the Bill.
It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.