[Continuation from column 548]

Hunting Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 8:45 pm on 15th February 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

On resuming—

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

I shall take away some abiding impressions from this Committee—for example, I shall never think of water voles or lurchers in quite the same way again—and two important ones. The first is that there are some people serving on this Committee, very few, and I do not include myself among them, who really know what they are talking about. When my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire and the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme talk about the countryside, and the issues that they know about and understand, one realises how misconceived are some of the subsidiary provisions of the Bill. The second is that, leaving aside the issue of fox hunting, clause 3 shows how irrational are some of the subsidiary provisions of the Bill.

Hon. Members who voted for the Bill thought that they were voting to ban organised hunting, not voting for a moral distinction between a rat, a mink and a rabbit, which is what the Bill creates. It is nonsense to do that. I do not know what it is that allows a moral distinction to be created between which kind of animal can be killed by a dog, and which kind of animal can be flushed out by a dog, to be shot. Under this paragraph as it stands, it is all right for a dog to kill a rat, or rodent—which includes a few other species as well—but not to kill a rabbit. It is all right for a dog to flush out a rabbit, which is then shot, or as we have said before, in the case of a small animal, to allow a bird of prey to pick it up and drop it. In the case of mink—which for some reason has attracted the attentions of the Government, or Deadline 2000, or whoever is responsible for this nonsense—we are not allowed to flush them out and shoot them. Where are the moral distinctions?

The Bill attempts to draw distinctions between the kind of animals that can be killed in different ways, and the different methods that can be used to kill particular animals. There is no logic, no morality to those distinctions. That brings me back to the people who know what they are talking about in this debate. One realises that the balance of nature in the countryside has been managed for hundreds of years by people who live in the countryside, and who understand it. It may be that standards about cruelty to animals change over time. All, except one, of the Labour Members on this Committee recognise that our only responsibility is to make sure that unnecessary cruelty to animals does not occur. I wholly agree with that. If we begin to interfere in the management of the countryside, and the delicate balance of nature that occurs there, we cannot know where it will end.

Mink are not a natural species to this country, they escaped from captivity in the 1950s and have now overrun the place and are destroying water voles. When we begin to interfere, we do not know what the consequences will be. We have seen this in two other areas recently, where we became sentimental about badgers, so we made them a protected species. Badgers are now rampant over the countryside, they do enormous damage to fields and banks and hedgerows. They cause danger, as fields can collapse under tractors or people riding horses. They also probably spread tuberculosis. Now the time has come to control them again. Perhaps we should have left management of badgers to the people who understood the countryside, who never would have eliminated badgers as a species, but would have kept them at manageable proportions.

We have seen the same with the protection of birds of prey, to the point now where birds of prey have overrun large areas of Scottish moorland and are doing immense damage to the young grouse population on those hillsides. Grouse-shooting is a big industry in Scotland that attracts wealthy people paying enormous sums of money. We should be careful when we interfere in the balance of nature and the management of the countryside. Let us ban hunting, if that is what the House wants to do. I do not want that and shall fight it all the way, but I understand the issues. However, why all the subsidiaries? Why is a mink treated differently from a rat or a rabbit?

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex seems to have had the same briefing note as me, as I was going to say much of what he said. Rabbits and mink are quite clearly pests. They need to be controlled and need various methods of controlling them. Killing them with dogs is one of those methods. It is difficult to shoot a mink, which is a small animal. The most efficient way of killing a mink is with a dog. Why are we not prepared to allow that to be done to rabbits? Rabbits are a pest; they eat crops and multiply at enormous numbers. Every farmer has tried to control the rabbits on their land, and yet we are prohibiting them from using one of the methods of control that they have hitherto used. Farmers say that they want all those methods available to them.

Why are we drawing those distinctions? It makes no moral sense. I suggest to the Minister that it makes no practical sense, and to pre-empt his customary excuse, which is to say that that is nothing to do with him but concerns Deadline 2000, let me say that the Minister and his Department will be responsible for the administration of the Bill. If the Bill produces a complete nonsense in the countryside, with ridiculous prosecutions, or elimination of the population of water voles, or rabbits running riot, it will be the Minister and his Department who will have to answer for that and do something about it. It is in the interests of the Minister, his Department, the country, and particularly of the countryside to address the issues now, and not simply to resist every amendment that the Opposition comes up with.

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

There are many articles these days about saving the water vole. I have one here that says:

``Look out for water voles and report sightings to your local Trust and lobby your MP to press for improved wildlife legislation.''

Ha, ha, ha.

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

My knowledge of the water vole has been expanded by another dimension by the hon. Lady's intervention. My notes say that the water vole has declined by an estimated 88 per cent. of its total population over the past 10 to 12 years, presumably almost entirely due to mink. At one time, after they had first escaped from captivity, it was Government policy to eradicate mink, not just to control them. Mink are a pest, they are not native, and we have survived for hundreds of years until the 1950s without mink. Yet now they are getting the protected status that is not even due to the little fluffy bunnies about which everyone anthropomorphises. It is still Government policy to eliminate them in certain areas of Scotland.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

My hon. Friend has been a Treasury Minister and therefore has had an overview of most other Government Departments. Does he not anticipate, as a direct consequence of the legislation, an unholy row developing between the Home Office and the Ministry of Agriculture?

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

It would be interesting to be privy to some of the discussions that are going on. However, I hope that the two Ministers who are dealing with the Bill have started to understand that there are some difficulties with it, and that it goes way beyond the abolition of organised hunting. We all know what we mean by organised hunting—it is a few dogs with several people following them. However, the Bill goes much further than that. It bans the activities of one dog, for instance, hunting rabbits and, as I have said, draws distinctions that seem to make no sense. The Bill will land us in trouble. It will land the Government in difficulties when it comes to administering it and it will land the countryside and farmers in trouble over how they control animals that, under any definition, are clearly pests. It draws arbitrary distinctions between methods of killing categories of animals.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

The hon. Gentleman correctly describes the target for prohibition. He would of course agree that there are many times when a number of individuals with a number of dogs would merely be carrying out pest control. That highlights the complexities caused by the Bill because of its totally inflexible approach to prohibition.

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

As I say, I hope that the Ministers will take this on board. If they will not make concessions here, I hope that they will think about the matter again. The real question that we must ask about all legislation is whether we are creating unintended consequences. Will we regret doing this? Every Government should ask themselves weekly, ``What are we doing that is wrong and will create more problem than it solves?''. Governments do not get everything right. The Ministers should look at some of the consequences of the Bill and not simply hide behind Deadline 2000.

I understand that the Government and the House want a ban on what I would call organised hunting, but I do not believe that hon. Members who voted for this Bill or those who support it outside the House realise that it creates a system in which it is legal for a dog to hunt and kill a rat, but not a rabbit. It is legal to flush out a rabbit with a dog and shoot it, but not a mink. Those are serious anomalies that will create tremendous problems for the management of the wildlife and countryside and the control of pests. They are justified on neither practical nor moral grounds. If the Bill does not have a moral dimension and if there is not an overwhelming moral reason for stopping people doing what they want to do, it has no place on our statute book.

Labour Members and many outside this place believe that there is an overwhelming moral reason for banning organised hunting, but they have not thought about these subsidiary issues. The more one examines the Bill, the more one realises that not only are the anomalies not justified on either practical or moral grounds, but they are laying up considerable problems for pest control and countryside management in the future.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire

I am sorry to say by way of preface that I believe this to be have been largely, although not entirely, a wasted day. It was hoped that, by adding an extra day's proceedings, we could examine the most pressing and newest amendments. That has not happened. We have proceeded in exactly the same fashion: the same arguments and the same issues have been repeated over and over again. That is not a criticism of your chairmanship, Mr. O'Hara, or that of your Co-Chairman. We are discussing the schedule as a whole. The amendments lead us through the schedule and it is difficult for hon. Members to keep them exactly in order. It is also difficult to chair our proceedings. Nevertheless, it should have been possible to get through new matters; that clearly will not now happen. We have got through one new set of amendments and we are not quite at the end of that yet.

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

Would the hon. Gentleman at least acknowledge that had we not had today's sitting, members of the Committee would not have heard the announcement from the Parliamentary Secretary that deerstalking is banned by the Bill? We would not have heard her assurance that the Government intend to move amendments to this part of the Bill and the Minister could not have responded to my query about whether those amendments would achieve the objective of getting deerstalking out of the Bill again.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire 8:59 pm, 15th February 2001

We could have received a letter expressing my hon. Friend's intentions about that. Certainly the interchange between the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister would not have been possible had today not happened. I said that today was not entirely wasted. Some important issues have been raised. Unfortunately, they have been raised many, many times in slightly different language and at enormous length by several hon. Members.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

I was in the process of saying—I will change the wording to suit the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed—that today has not been wisely or sensibly used for the most part. We have had time wasted as well by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

I want to come directly to the issue of rabbits, which is the subject of one of these amendments. I want to invoke ``the Banks line'' on this, if I may call it that. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham said earlier in our proceedings that there were difficulties—moral difficulties, difficulties in comparing different species of mammals and so forth—but that, at some point, one has to draw a line. He was keen to tell us what his line was. Perhaps the line that we would each draw would be different.

I carry no brief for rabbits. In the two parts of the world that I know best, Lancashire and Cumbria, they are a considerable pest and a nuisance. They wiped out my garden twice. I can tell the hon. and learned Member for Harborough that on one of those occasions they came from the railway embankment, but as it is extremely steep, I cannot imagine anyone chasing them down there with dogs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme has said all there is to say about mink, and has said it many times. I have no personal knowledge of mink. There are none in my area that I know of, and I have not come across them as a pest, but I hear what she says.

The nub of the matter is that we are wrestling with is what is and what is not a pest. Every mammal is a pest at certain times and in certain places if there are too many of them. For all I know, if mink were eradicated the water vole might become a pest. If there were billions of water vole crawling all over Newcastle-under-Lyme, my hon. Friend would no doubt want them wiped out. All animals have to be controlled or culled if they cause economic damage to farmland, or if they present possible health dangers, as with badgers. Badgers are not included in this Bill, but a very serious and awkward debate about badgers and TB has been taking place in the countryside for some time. We must decide when and where a mammal becomes a pest, and take action to deal with that problem.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire 9:28 pm, 15th February 2001

I beg to differ with the hon. Gentleman. The debate is not about whether these animals are pests, but about the methods used to kill them. Why does he find it acceptable that rodents may be killed by dogs but not rabbits or mink?

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire

That is precisely the burden of my argument. I do not wish to be rude, but it is disingenuous to say that the debate is not about when animals are pests. The substance of most of the comments that have been made on these amendments is that mink are pests, and, as the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex said, that rabbits are pests, and that that justifies a particular method of destroying such animals. If we have decided when a mammal is a pest, and where—because it will be a pest in one area and not in another—we must also decide what is the most humane way of dealing with it. I think that that was what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire was getting at, and I agree with him.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said that we must have moral reasons so that our arguments hold together and are consistent. If we try to decide what the most humane method of dealing with these animals is, we get embroiled in arguments about cruelty. Cruelty has two facets. There is the cruelty involved in killing the animal. I am far from anthropomorphic in my view of animals--I did not even like reading stories to my children about talking animals. I do not have a clue about what goes on in an animal's mind. Is the killing unnecessarily brutal, cruel or painful? There is also the cruelty and intention of the human act in disposing of an animal in a certain way. Is it for fun? I do not believe that huntsman who get dogs to kill an animal are not involved in cruelty, whether consciously or subconsciously. Many question revolve around that. Can that be avoided? What should we do about it? Should the Bill allow an animal to be killed with dogs or should it be killed by another means if it has to be disposed of?

The line drawn by my hon. Friend and Member for West Ham is very important, but I readily confess that it may be different for each person. An Act of Parliament is a very difficult mechanism to use to draw millions of different lines that suit every person.

We have no problem with rats. We have to dispose of rats, although if there were some version of mixamatosis that wiped out 99 per cent. of all the rats in this country, we might have a different attitude even towards rats. An hon. Friend carries rats around in a cage, so she has a different attitude towards them.

Mr. Öpik rose—

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire

I shall not give way, because we are close to time and the Minister has to wind up the debate.

I have said what I think about rabbits. It is difficult to draw the line and to decide whether to allow rabbits to be chased and killed by dogs. I would probably allow that, given my experiences as a country boy. Despite what the Opposition say, as far as I know I have never been to Islington in my life.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

The hon. Gentleman is not in the Government though.

Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire

And I probably never will be.

I have a life-long experience of rabbits and the depredations and methods of catching them, some of which may involve cruelty. It is difficult to know where to draw the line, but my view is that it is legitimate to kill rabbits with dogs because they are such a wide spread pest. I will not pass a view on mink because I do not know enough about them. I have seen the figures, but they do not tell me whether the mink is a pest on the same scale as rabbits.

It is quite clear where we are going with this amendment. Rats are accepted as pests, so we get rid of them by whatever means. We may do the same with rabbits, and perhaps with mink. The next one on the list is the fox. It has been argued for years--although not in the Committee--that the fox is a pest. To be consistent, therefore, we should perhaps say that the fox is a pest, just like the rabbit--although the two interact with each another--and go for that.

These amendments drive a coach and horses through the intention of the Bill because they open up the argument of moral consistency and logic. The argument is that any mammal is a pest in particular circumstances, so they should come under the same strictures as rabbits and mink, which are dealt with in the amendments. Deer are a terrible pest in parts of the country. So we are left with hares, which are easily confused with rabbits by some people.

These amendments, although interesting, are problematic because they require consistency and rationality, so they would invert the intention of the Bill. To that extent they are negative amendments.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I shall be brief, because the shadow of the guillotine looms above us, and the tumbrils are approaching us.

You, Mr. O'Hara, will know, as a noted classicist, that Julius Caesar wrote:

``Gallis in tres partes divisa est'', which a—

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

Order.

``Gallis est omnis divisa in partes tres.'' [Laughter.]

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I am put to shame, Mr. O' Hara.

A wag once loosely translated that as, ``Gaul is divided into three halves.'' My speech will be divided into three parts. The hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall), for whom we all have a lot of affection, was doing well until the last part of his speech. He was making a brilliant speech in support of the amendments until he realised which alley he was travelling up. He then had quickly to turn round.

I do not know what the solution is on mink, but we all know that there are only 20 mink hunts. The number of mink that they kill in relation to the total number is tiny. Therefore, apparently, they are not an effective pest control. I will not go through all the arguments that they are a terrible pest and have to be eradicated, and that there are all sorts of difficulties in getting rid of them with traps and shooting. I think that it comes down to the fact that mink hunting is being abolished because of concern not about pest control, but about people following mink hunts and enjoying it as a sport. That is why it must be abolished and mink are included in the Bill.

Many arguments have been advanced by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. The purport of those arguments is that, when we have such an effective means to deal with such a difficult pest, which everyone agrees has to be eradicated, why are we getting rid of it—one of the most environmentally friendly, effective means of dealing with the problem—destroying that bit of activity for no reason.

There has been much discussion about lurchers hunting rabbits. More rabbits are killed by dogs than by any other means. Committee members all agree on the question of rabbits. If the Bill ever sees the light of day after the election is called, I suspect that rabbits will not figure. If ``Watership Down'' by Richard Adams had never been written, rabbits would never have been dealt with in the way that they have been in the Bill.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Attorney General

The point about Beatrix Potter is that, while she was the creator of Peter Rabbit and his siblings, she was also the creator of Mr. MacGregor.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Fair enough. I think that we all, in our weaker moments, anthropomorphise. We have a different view, whatever the rationality of the situation with rats and rabbits.

Supporters of a ban will get their way, presumably. Organised hunting will be abolished. However the Bill finishes its life, if it ever becomes law in some shape or form, in this incarnation or in the next—we do not know what will happen—let us achieve just one thing. If the House of Commons wants to abolish organised hunts, it will go ahead and do so, if it has the time. However, the real countryside will carry on. Please, let people get on with their job of controlling the rats, the rabbits and the rest in a way that they and we understand. Do not draft a Bill that tries to limit them in ways that will make nonsense of their job and of the service that they perform so well in the countryside, which they love so much. That is my only appeal as we approach the last quarter of an hour of our proceedings.

I do not think that the last day has been a waste of time. None of our proceedings has been. We have had a good debate. We have perhaps changed a few minds and achieved just a little in our few weeks of deliberation.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The policy to which the schedule seeks to give effect is that hunting with dogs should be banned, except in limited circumstances. Those Committee members who attended the Committee of the whole House will be in little doubt that it was the wish of the majority of hon. Members to give effect to that policy.

As the Bill is currently drafted, ratting—the hunting of rats—is virtually unrestricted. The only conditions attached to ratting are that it is done with the owner's permission and does not involve the use of dogs below ground. We have discussed both those issues, and I have made a commitment to table an amendment on Report to ensure that there can be no doubt that hunting rats in cellars is lawful.

If amendment No. 73 were accepted, mink hunting would be similarly unrestricted. This is a policy question. It is for Committee members to decide whether they can support such an amendment; some will, and some will not. None of us can be in any doubt about the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, because she told us in no uncertain terms what she thinks of mink. Other Committee members will need to form their own views on the basis of the arguments that they have heard.

As the Committee must be aware, amendment No. 74 deals with a subject that has occupied a lot of time during our deliberations—the hunting of rabbits. It would place rabbits in the same category as rodents, in that hunting them would be subject to very few restrictions. I shall set the record straight and explain precisely what the Bill does and does not allow in relation to rabbits.

In summary, using dogs to flush rabbits out of cover and shooting them will remain legal. Hunting rabbits with long dogs—lurchers—will be prohibited. The accidental chasing of a rabbit is not an offence. Let me elaborate. Paragraph 1 of the schedule makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with a dog. As rabbits are mammals, they are covered by that general prohibition. However, the general prohibition on hunting with dogs is subject to a number of exceptions, that is, circumstances in which it would remain lawful to hunt a wild mammal with dogs. The Committee will see that there is reference to rabbits in two of the exceptions—stalking and flushing out, and retrieval of game—in paragraphs 7 and 9 respectively. In each case, the activity is subject to certain conditions.

I shall deal first with paragraph 7. Stalking and flushing out a rabbit is allowed to protect crops, for the purpose of obtaining food or in connection with falconry. The activity must take place on land and where the person doing the stalking or flushing out has permission to undertake that activity. A dog cannot be used below ground. Perhaps most important, reasonable steps must be taken to ensure that a rabbit is shot dead as soon as possible after being found. I emphasise that the purpose of flushing out is to shoot the rabbit in question and that the dog used must be kept under close control to ensure that there is no impediment to that result. That reflects the view that shooting rabbits is the most humane way in which to control them. No one is suggesting that there is a great moral advantage in ensuring that we protect rabbits. The objective is not to protect rabbits from being killed, but to deal with a particular aspect of the killing of the rabbit.

The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex has apologised to me for being unable to be present; he has a very good reason. He asked whether Harry Soames should be able to flush out and shoot rabbits with his .22. Of course he should, in particular circumstances. Provided that he complies with the conditions and is not trespassing on someone else's land, he should be able to get his .22, take his dog, flush out rabbits and shoot them. Paragraph 9 provides for the retrieval of a rabbit that has been shot. So much for what the Bill allows. Let me spell out what the schedule will prohibit.

Rabbit hunting will no longer be permissible. By this I mean that using dogs, such as lurchers, to chase rabbits and kill them will become illegal. I am also aware that dogs that are to be used for hare coursing are initially trained using rabbits. That too will be prohibited, as indeed will hare coursing. The Bill will ensure that the hunting of rabbits by dogs does not continue. The exceptions in the Bill provide for rabbits to be dealt with without being chased and killed by dogs.

For the sake of completeness, let me place one more thing on the record, although I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and I have emphasised it on numerous occasions. There have been various mischievous suggestions that if a person is walking his or her dog in the park and the dog takes it upon itself to chase a rabbit, the human will be guilty of an offence, because rabbit hunting will be illegal. That is simply not the case. To hunt an animal is to follow it with the intention of capturing or harming it. Any member of the Committee who is minded to disagree should check the ``Oxford English Dictionary'' definition of hunt. This is not something that can be done inadvertently, accidentally or recklessly. If the human involved did not have the intention to hunt, he or she is not guilty of any offence, whatever the dog may intend or have done.

The Bill in its current form does not allow for unrestricted rabbit hunting, but does allow for the flushing out of rabbits for the purposes of shooting them and for the retrieval of the rabbits. Those who do not intend to hunt have nothing to fear from these provisions. The effect of the amendment would be that rabbit hunting in general would be legal as long as the dogs did not go below ground and the owner had consented. It would then be possible to use long dogs, such as lurchers, to chase and to kill rabbits. It would also be possible to course rabbits.

There is another important consequence. Under this schedule, participation in organised hare coursing will become illegal. Similarly, an individual who engages in hare coursing outside a structured competition will be caught by the general prohibition on hare hunting. There must be a danger that if virtually no restrictions are placed on rabbit hunters, anyone who is accused of hare hunting will simply claim that they were in fact after rabbits and, given the similarities between the two species, would be likely in certain circumstances to be able to mount a successful defence, because of course they would argue that although they may know the difference between a rabbit and a hare, the dog does not.

It is for the members of the Committee to decide whether they wish to preserve the policy to which the Bill currently gives effect, or whether they want to allow for much greater rabbit hunting. In doing so, I am sure that members of the Committee will want to bear in mind the concerns that have been expressed about the position of gamekeepers. I stress that it is entirely proper for the Committee to discuss the question and, if it chooses, to make the amendment. I have sought to explain why the Bill was drafted in a particular way, but that does not prevent the Committee from amending it if it believes that those amendments would improve it.

Members of the Committee are by now familiar with the arguments surrounding the hunting of rabbits, so I do not need to say much more on that question. It is for Members to decide how they wish to vote on these amendments. However, we would need to look at the Bill to ensure that the consequences of these amendments were given proper effect, and there may well be consequential amendments.

These arguments do need to be considered with great care. We have not fully explored all the implications. There is an issue in relation to hares and rabbits that means that I, for one, will not support the amendments. The arguments that have been put in favour of removing rabbits at this point do not convince me that such a step will deal with the problem that people who hunt with lurcher dogs will simply continue to train the dogs for hunting by training them on rabbits, and may then continue the sport of hunting rabbits with lurcher dogs. Perhaps I need to explore some background issues before deciding whether I find that acceptable. As I still have some concerns about the matter, I cannot support the amendment.

Opposition Members have raised a number of good points, which have certainly led me to think about the issues. My hon. Friends and I would like to take on board some of the points that have been made and consider whether it would be appropriate to introduce amendments on Report. However, that will be a matter for members of the Committee. The Government are neutral on the issues of policy. Our aim is to make good law, although individual members of the Committee are entitled to deal with policy issues as they think fit.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon raised the distinction between rats, rabbits and mink. We have already considered rats, and the broad circumstances in which they may be hunted. The hon. Gentleman rightly drew attention to the fact that the Bill draws a distinction between rabbits and mink. There is a simple, practical reason for that distinction. Rabbits can be flushed out, but not hunted by dogs. They can be flushed out and then shot. There are perfectly good reasons for that, which we have already discussed, so I will not repeat them.

Mink, on the other hand, are treated somewhat differently. Although they may be shot or trapped and then killed, flushing out is not encouraged. One of the concerns in relation to mink has been the damage to the river environment caused by the process of hunting. Hon. Members will have to make up their own mind about trapping and how much damage it might do. However, there is concern that the process of hunting may cause some damage. Indeed, in some circumstances, the process of hunting may not be much different to the process of flushing out, so there is likely to be some damage to the riverbank environment and the habitat of the water vole. So there are practical considerations.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon asked me for some moral distinctions and I am not sure whether I can find those so easily, but are practical reasons for saying that mink should be treated differently from rabbits and rats.

We have had a good debate and some important points have been raised which have made me think. I would like to work through certain issues during the next week or so before we consider the Bill on Report. Opposition Members have sought to put arguments and in the past hour we have had one of the better debates of the whole Committee as hon. Members have put their arguments in a more cohesive, concise and coherent way. That may have been the case in respect of other issues had we made greater progress during our consideration of the Bill.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:45 pm, 15th February 2001

I am grateful to the Minister for the amenable tone he took, in particular towards the end of his comments on this group of amendments. My purpose in tabling them was deliberately to avoid confronting the will of the House to outlaw organised hunting, and for the purposes of this group of amendments to concede that argument and to examine the consequences of an overall ban for pest control, particularly the control of the two species that we have been debating this evening.

The arguments that have been made against the amendments do not hold water. I fail to see the moral case for making a distinction between rodents, which may be hunted freely, and rabbits, the hunting of which may be circumscribed very carefully by the provisions of the Bill, so I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 17.

Division number 12 Adults Abused in Childhood — [Continuation from column 548]

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 17 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 10:15 pm, 15th February 2001

What a pleasure it has been to debate under your chairmanship, Mr. O'Hara, and that of Mrs. Roe. You both kept us in good order and ensured that good humour prevailed throughout our deliberations. I ask you to pass our thanks to Mrs. Roe. You have been ably supported by Mr. Priestley, the Committee Clerk, to whom I also express thanks. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary also wants to be associated with my remarks—and I thank her for her assistance throughout the Bill. It is a Home Office Bill, but I do not know what we would have done without the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Hunting is a subject that arouses strong emotions on both sides, and it is probably fair to say that we have not had a meeting of minds on the Committee. Nevertheless, we have had an informative and productive debate, and I am grateful to all members of the Committee for their generally constructive approach. Our deliberations have not been without lighter moments, many of them provided by the well-known double act of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex—our very own Little and Large. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex is wondering which is which. Those of us who were present will long remember the sight of him struggling to get his mind and tongue around the concept of wearing a cagoul.

We also thank the hon. Member for Gainsborough for his presentation of ``Mr. Archbold'' at frequent intervals throughout the proceedings—he effectively became another member of the Committee. The highlight was probably when my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, having sent the hon. Member for Gainsborough scurrying to ``Archbold'' to look up ``connivance'' in the index, revealed that he knew all along that the whole thing was a wild goose chase.

I confess to one disappointment. At our first sitting, on the sittings motion—at column 5, for those who want to check—the hon. and learned Member for Harborough hinted that he had a ``juicy story'' to tell about my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. We are still waiting for him to share that with us. He should not make promises that he does not keep. It is a matter of regret that circumstances have not warranted that intriguing revelation and that we will always remain in the dark—although I am certain that my hon. Friend is pleased about that.

I thank all members of the Committee. By and large, it has been a good natured debate. I thank in particular the Home Office officials, for whose good advice I am grateful, and parliamentary counsel for their drafting of the Bill. I thank all the Bill team who are not here, as well as my private secretary who has been with me throughout. I thank all my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who was not always with me on every point. I also thank Opposition Members, particularly the hon. Member for Aylesbury, who put his arguments in a fair and reasoned way, and all other members of the Committee.

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

On behalf of the Opposition, I second the thanks that have been given to you, Mr. O'Hara, and to Mrs. Roe, for the fair and good humoured way in which you have chaired our proceedings and made sure that we have nearly always kept strictly within order. Where you have had occasion to tick us off, you have done so with a rare combination of good humour and good learning, displayed to great effect earlier this evening. My reading at weekends, which is frequently the introductory pages of the Asterix books, will never be the same again after hearing the division of Gaul described as it ought to be.

I should also like to thank our Clerk, Mr. Priestley. The offices of the Clerks are always of great value to Opposition Members and to Back Benchers of all parties. It is a great strength of the House that the Clerks give their advice impartially to all hon. Members, regardless of their political party or the views that they hold on a particular piece of legislation.

I thank both Ministers warmly for their courteous response to the amendments and the way in which they engaged with the points we sought to make, despite their strong personal views on the subject. I regret that, for reasons that have been the subject of some contention in Committee, we have not been able to debate every amendment that was tabled. I have copious speaking notes that I shall have to put aside for a future occasion.

Finally, I thank Hansard, the police and security staff, and the Badge Messengers, who have also helped to ensure that the Committee's proceedings have been conducted expeditiously and efficiently. Like the Minister, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed participating in the Committee. The issues involved aroused strong passions and disagreements within every political party represented on this Committee, but they have been debated in a spirit of mutual respect and good humour.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

I should like to add the Liberal Democrats' voice to the thanks already given to you, Mr. O'Hara, and to Mrs. Roe. Thank you for taking a middle way in the extremes that we have heard expressed in this Room. The Bill team unquestionably deserves enormous praise for the support that has been given to all three key organisations represented.

It has been an amazing experience to hear about dogs on skateboards, Winkie and Rufus, Fudge, and the amazing possible re-employment of the hon. Member for Pendle as a lonely goatherd in Northumbria. There has been a meeting of hearts rather than of minds, and it is always reassuring to discover that even Ministers can be nice people. Above all else, we need to recognise that, fundamentally, we are a nation that cares about something more than itself; we do care about other beings. That reaffirms my belief. The issue of animal welfare has been taken seriously.

We stand in different places, but perhaps the public can be grateful that we have a serious intention and a serious commitment to these important issues. I hope that, between us, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, and my hon. Friends the Members for Newbury and for Lewes (Mr. Baker) and I, have managed to show there are at least four positions in one party on this. Thank you Mr. O'Hara, for your work. When the public read the record of our debates, I hope that they take heart from the fact that the debate is taken seriously by Britain's parliamentarians.

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

I have in 18 years taken part in proceedings on a number of Bills in this House, but never one of this particular type. I endorse what the Minister said. I agree with him entirely that the Bill was taken in a good spirit. As we all know that it is unlikely to reach the statute book in this Parliament; perhaps the undoubted burning resentments in the countryside have not appeared and surfaced in this Room.

I pay tribute to the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with amendments that were tabled not to provoke but in a genuine attempt to improve the legislation. The Parliamentary Secretary, who is a parliamentary icon for so many of us, has piloted this Bill through the very difficult and treacherous reefs, with tremendous skill and distinction—

Photo of Nicholas Soames Nicholas Soames Conservative, Mid Sussex

Sorry.

I would also like to thank the Clerk, the officials and those who have drafted the Bill—all those who have made it go so smoothly. I suppose that, from ferreting and flushing out of mink to foxes, from lurchers to hounds, via Mrs. Prentice's pussy and Fudge the rabbit, we have covered a fair amount of ground in the past few weeks.

Finally, I pay tribute to you, Mr. O'Hara. I am sorry to have missed your display of scholarship, whereby I understand that you were able to correct my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, who as you know was a particularly slack scholar at school and will be a better person for having been pulled up by you. I thank you and Mrs. Roe very much for your very generous and broad-minded chairmanship and for allowing those of us who felt the need to stray just a little bit off the track such latitude as made it a very great deal of fun as well as extremely interesting.

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

To pick up the hon. Gentleman's point, I always found him extremely entertaining, so I was always reluctant to call him back to order, but sometimes I had to, and I shall for ever now refer to him as the hon. Member for Tristan da Cunha.

First, I give especial thanks to Steve Priestley. The Minister is absolutely right: he has been a tower of strength and support at my elbow throughout. I thank him for the able and discrete way in which he has assisted me. I also thank the Hansard staff, to whom we are indebted, and the Messengers who have ministered to our communication needs. We have had a particularly good set of civil servants who have indeed adhered to the time-honoured principle of being seen and not heard, discretely keeping Ministers extremely well informed—that is appreciated by the Chair. My thanks also, of course, to those at the back of the Room who have kept order for us.

Finally, I thank the Committee for the terms in which they have thanked and appreciated each other. It has been a good humoured Committee, and I and my co-Chairman, Mrs. Roe, have tried to keep it that way. I speak for her and will pass on hon. Members' good wishes to her. I was musing, when the hon. Member for Gainsborough referred to Julius Caesar and Gaul, that this Bill, like Gaul, was

``omnis divisa in partes tres'' on Second Reading, but came before this Committee in one part, because we were considering only one schedule—although but the Liberal Democrats, of course, came into this Committee divisi in partes tres, one representing each of the three points of view.

Certainly in my presence, we have got through the Bill without one reference to the time-honoured quotation of Oscar Wilde about

``the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable'' but I am reminded that there are other Wilde quotations that fit the Committee. He said:

``I can sympathise with everything except suffering''.

There has certainly been an element of that in parts of the Committee. Certain hon. Members—or at least their lurchers—can resist everything except temptation. Although it has been hard to prevent a continuous Second Reading debate, and to keep contributors to the amendments, it has been done in a good spirit, despite the strong feelings on both sides. I sincerely thank hon. Members for helping me to bring proceedings through to an orderly close.

Bill, as amended, to be reported, pursuant to the Order of the Committee [18 January].

Committee rose at half-past Ten o'clock.