Clause 50 - Commencement

Hunting Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 27th February 2003.

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Photo of Mr Colin Pickthall Mr Colin Pickthall Labour, West Lancashire 10:30 am, 27th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 356, in

clause 50, page 19, line 23, leave out 'section 6' and insert 'sections 6 and 7'.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Labour, Stoke-on-Trent South

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 358, in

clause 50, page 19, line 24, leave out 'and' and insert 'to'.

Amendment No. 357, in

clause 50, page 19, line 24, after 'under', insert 'section 7 or'.

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

These are probing amendments, although I confess I did not intend them in that way when I tabled them. They have flaws and they have to an extent been overtaken by events in Committee, but the substance of what I want to say should be considered. I am sure that the Minister will consider it.

Amendment No. 356 is intended to examine why section 6, but not section 7, should come into force one month after the Act is passed. Both cover activities that part 1 of the Bill would ban and there seems to be no more need to delay section 7 than section 6. Logically, clause 50(1)(b) should include both. Since I tabled the amendment, new clause 10 on hare coursing and new clause 11 on the use of dogs below ground have been added to part 1, so if my remarks about

section 7 are valid, the Minister might want to think about tidying up those provisions too.

Almost in parenthesis, I would add that there is more reason to include section 7, with the provisions affected by the one-month limit, if we take into account the report published by Queen's university, Belfast, about hare coursing in Northern Ireland. Hare coursers have traditionally used one argument, which has been used in this Committee, which is that their activities encourage larger hare populations. The university report contradicts that. Studying the hare population in Northern Ireland on behalf of the environment and heritage service of the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, the university found that the number of hares is extremely low.

The independent report, which has only just been published, recommends that the hare should be completely removed from the quarry list in Northern Ireland and should no longer be hunted. That study is relevant because if it is shown that the hare population is damaged by coursing, the commencement date of the coursing ban should be as soon as possible after the enactment of the Bill.

Amendment No. 358 is a probing amendment. The one-month time limit applies only to clauses 39 and 44. Is there a reason why only those two clauses from part 3, which is about enforcement, should apply and not all the clauses between?

Amendment No. 357 would change subsection (1)(c), which refers to clauses 39 and 44 insofar as they relate to an offence under part 2, so that it would repeat the provisions of paragraph (a) for part 3. I suggest that clause 7 should also be included within the ambit of that subsection. I do not know why I did not include clause 6, and new clauses 10 and 11 are also relevant.

I freely accept that amendment No. 357 is defective, but I would still press on my right hon. Friend the principle behind the three amendments. I hope that he can assure me either that I have misinterpreted the Bill, which is possible, or that there is a means of tidying it up and making the one-month limit consistent across all relevant clauses and new clauses in part 1.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough 10:45 am, 27th February 2003

The hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) said that his amendments are probing amendments, so I need not spend too long trying to persuade the Committee that they are not worthy of support. I hope that, in due course, he will do as he implied and seek leave to withdraw them.

Amendment No. 357 is consequential upon amendments Nos. 356 and 358, so I shall not spend time on that. However, I shall highlight one or two of the problems that the hon. Gentleman faces by deploying an argument in support of a probing amendment. Until clause 1 takes effect, clause 6 and new clause 10 will have no legal effect. They depend upon clause 1 coming into force. Amendments Nos. 356 and 358 are not helpful to our deliberations; nor do they assist in a better drafting of the Bill.

I can understand that the hon. Gentleman wants to bring clauses 6 and 7 into effect one month after the

Act is passed, which would ban competitive coursing. However, it is unclear where the ban on hare hunting described in new clause 10 will be incorporated into the Bill, and whether it will come under an amended clause 7. He has got ahead of himself. We need to see the Bill in its final Committee stage draft before we worry about the commencement provisions, which should properly be dealt with either on Report or when the Bill has been to the other place and come back to the Commons.

The most sensible time to consider commencement timings is when the Bill is sent to receive Royal Assent. There is an illogicality in bringing matters to an earlier commencement when they depend upon something that does not take effect for three months. That is one of the main problems that the hon. Member for West Lancashire faces in relation to amendments Nos. 356 and 358.

I do not need to elaborate the general principle of my concern that the amendment—I do not mean to be impolite—is useless. As the clause is drafted, there is no need for clauses 40, 41, 42 and 43 to come into force before three months. Only clauses 39 and 44 relate to part 2 provisions and are not exclusively related to the enforcement of the overarching offence of hunting. The hon. Gentleman was candid enough to say that he had changed his mind and that had he argued the case two or three weeks ago, he might have been more enthusiastic about his arguments. It was wonderful to listen to him, but perhaps that is all that we need to hear from him.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire for the way in which he moved his amendment, and for his suggestion that he was open to persuasion about timing. The practical effect of amendment No. 356, as he indicated, is to make the ban on hare coursing events in clause 7 effective one month after the Bill comes into force. I am sympathetic to the underlying objective of the amendment, which is to see an end to hare coursing events at the earliest opportunity. When one supports a piece of legislation and believes it to be right, one wants to see it bite as quickly and effectively as possible. I will not respond, if he will forgive me, to the substantive points that he made and to question of the Northern Ireland evidence. Although they are important matters that need to be considered, this debate concerns only the date on which the provisions come into force. The point is to put the provisions in place with a degree of consistency and in good order.

The different sections of the Bill come into force at different times for good reasons. Part 2, which concerns registration, and the other sections of the Bill that relate to it, such as clause 6 in part 1, come into force one month after Royal Assent. That is in order to allow for applications for registration to be made so as to benefit from the transitional arrangements set out in clause 51. They can be made within the three-month time limit. The other substantive provisions in the Bill, including those creating criminal offences, come into effect three months after the granting of Royal Assent. That gives those affected by the legislation a fair time to take whatever steps are necessary to comply with the

new law. It would be invidious to single out one offence to be effective from a different date, although I understand the temptation from the point of view of my hon. Friend. I urge him not to press the amendment.

Amendment No. 358 would bring into force one month after the enactment of the Bill clauses 40, 41, 42 and 43. Those clauses relate to police powers of arrest, search and seizure and the powers of the court in regard to forfeiture and disqualification for registration. The powers are only needed by the police when the relevant substantial provisions concerning the criminal offences created by the Bill in part 1 come into effect. That will be three months after enactment. The change proposed by the amendment would provide no practical benefit because the powers could not be used until three months after the event. Amendment No. 357 follows the same line of argument and is consequential on amendment No. 356. I entirely understand my hon. Friend's wish to see the Bill's provisions biting as quickly as possible. Nevertheless, for the orderly introduction of registration and other provisions, I urge him to accept the suggested time scales.

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

I am happy with that explanation of amendment No. 358, which makes sense. I still have one important question relating primarily to amendment No. 356. I still do not understand why section 6 is specifically included, whereas section 7 is not. I understood my right hon. Friend the Minister to say that it would be odd to single out one measure—I presume that he was referring to hare coursing—but clause 50 does exactly that because it singles out deer. I am happy for the Bill to do that, but I do not understand the difference between the two.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The point is that part 2 deals with the commencement of registration and related provisions, such as those in clause 6, which prohibit the registration of deer hunting, and those in new clause 10, which prohibit the registration of hare hunting. Those clauses will come into force at the same time as part 2. That is logical because one cannot apply for registration for those activities when registration opens one month after Royal Assent. All the offences in the Bill will come into force at the same time—three months after the Bill is passed—so coursing will be banned at the same time as deer hunting and hare hunting, when the prohibition of other hunting that is neither registered nor exempt will also come into force.

I understand why my hon. Friend thought that there was an inconsistency. We must distinguish between one month after Royal Assent, when everything relating to registering or not being able to register will be dealt with, and three months after, when all the offences will come into force. I assure my hon. Friend that those provisions are consistent and I apologise if I did not make that clear in my first response.

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

It is probably my fault because it has taken some time for that to trickle through to my brain. I understand my right hon. Friend's explanation

and bearing that in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.