Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. MacShane: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for stressing the multi-option point because when the House previously discussed outlawing such practices--bear baiting in 1835, and cock fighting in 1849--there was a straight up and down vote. On a historical point, is he aware that the greatest foxhunter in British history was the Duke of Wellington? Every Friday during the Peninsular wars, the fighting stopped so that he could go foxhunting, save that there were no foxes in Iberia. He organised his hunt, but there was no necessity to kill and disembowel a poor, innocent animal. Why cannot the foxhunting community follow the Iron Duke's example?

Mr. Straw: Well, I have to say that that particular example is--

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Most illuminating.

Mr. Straw: It is most illuminating, but not within my knowledge. My hon. Friend will want to make his point should he catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is, of course, of interest to the House.

20 Dec 2000 : Column 382

Before I discuss the provisions--

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: Not at the moment, but, if I make progress, I may do so.

Before I discuss the provisions, may I explain in more detail the procedure that we propose to adopt, subject to the agreement of the House? We are debating whether the Bill should receive a Second Reading, and obviously nothing more than that. If, as I hope and expect, the Bill receives a Second Reading, it will be debated in Committee. We propose that the first part of that debate, when the key choice between the options will be made, will take place on the Floor of the House so that all Members can participate and, of course, vote.

As Members will know, the core of the Bill is in three schedules, each of which is triggered by a clause. Should the House agree, the debate in Committee of the whole House will be on which of those clauses should stand part of the Bill. We envisage a single common debate followed by three votes. It will be important for Members to vote for the option that they favour, but also against those they do not. I am advised that that is how the procedure will work. It is certainly simpler than that for the election of the Speaker, but, for the House to come to a clear view, it will be important for all Members to vote for one choice and against two, if that is their wish.

Once the whole House has made a decision on which of the options it favours, we envisage that the Bill will move into Standing Committee upstairs in the usual way, and details of the chosen option can be considered by the Committee.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Home Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: As the hon. Gentleman is a Whip, I will give way in a moment.

Subject to the agreement of the House, Report and Third Reading will take place in the usual way, and thereafter the Bill will proceed to the other place.

At this point, I shall make an important commitment. Again, it follows the practice adopted in the case of the Sunday Trading Bill. The Government will table as amendments in the other place any of the options that this House has removed from the Bill, to ensure that the other place is given exactly the same choice between the options that this House enjoyed. That is critical for each House to be able to reach a balanced view of the options.

I now give way to the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip.

Mr. McLoughlin: I am grateful to the Home Secretary. On the Order Paper today, there is also a timetable motion. How can we decide on that motion, until we know which option the House has chosen? The chosen option will be important in determining the way the Committee decides to proceed.

Mr. Straw: The House agreed that the timetable motion and the procedure motion should be taken after Second Reading. That is sensible; it is a matter for the House. I took that view in opposition, which explains why there were so

20 Dec 2000 : Column 383

few guillotine motions when I was shadow Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition. Timetable motions are for the convenience of all hon. Members. That is not a matter for this occasion. That debate has taken place and procedure motions are now a matter of fact.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): The Home Secretary--inadvertently, I think--suggested something that is not the case. Hon. Members will vote first on supervision, then on regulation and subsequently on prohibition, so it will be open to them to vote for both supervision and regulation, and not to choose just one of the three options.

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is right to pick me up on that. I was suggesting that, for the sake of clarity, it would be a good idea for hon. Members to vote for one of the three clauses and against the other two. However, that does not stop the House coming to a different view. It is open to the House to vote for all three clauses, and a considerable dog's breakfast would result. I would not advise that course.

Mr. Simon Hughes: Can the Home Secretary tell the House whether there is any truth in the report in one of today's national newspapers that if the Bill does not complete its passage through Parliament in this Session and a general election intervenes, the Government are committed to using the Parliament Acts in the next Parliament to make sure that the Bill, in whatever form, becomes law?

Mr. Straw: My answer to that is the same as my answer to any such question during the Second Reading of a Bill: we make our decision on the use of the Parliament Act in the light of events. We have not even had Second Reading of the Bill, still less a rejection by the other place.

Report and Third Reading will take place in the usual way and thereafter the Bill will proceed to the other place. I have given a commitment in that regard.

I shall deal now with the content of the three schedules. As I indicated, the three schedules were proposed by the three main interest groups--the Countryside Alliance, the Middle Way Group and Deadline 2000. Each of those groups had full access to Home Office Ministers and officials, and each of the options has been professionally drafted by parliamentary counsel.

I place on record my appreciation, which is shared by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), for the positive and constructive way in which the interest groups have approached their task in producing options that were workable for them. I know that each of the interest groups has supporters in the House and, should they be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, those hon. Members will take the opportunity to explain the particular benefits of their option. I shall give a brief and, I hope, factual description of what each of the three schedules would do.

Clause 1 and schedule 1 were proposed by the Countryside Alliance and are based on the principle of the self-regulation of hunting. The Independent Supervisory Authority on Hunting, known as ISAH, was set up at the

20 Dec 2000 : Column 384

end of last year. Its members are the chairmen of the various hunting associations, such as the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the National Coursing Club and the Masters of Deerhounds Association. ISAH oversees its member organisations' rules and codes of conduct, and has the power to impose disciplinary sanctions on hunts and clubs. It also has the power to visit and inspect hunts. The cost of ISAH is borne by the member organisations.

Membership of ISAH, or of an organisation affiliated to it, is voluntary, and anyone who wants to hunt other than under its auspices is free to do so. That would continue under the option in schedule 1. The schedule, however, contains provisions to encourage as much hunting as possible to be undertaken under the ISAH regulatory umbrella.

Both the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 contain a number of offences relating to cruelty to animals. At present, both Acts contain specific exemptions in relation to hunting, so a person cannot be prosecuted under those provisions if his actions took place during lawful hunting or coursing. The schedule provides that in future the exemption will apply only to supervised hunting--that is, hunting undertaken under the ISAH regulatory umbrella. The Countryside Alliance believes that that provides an incentive for everyone who goes hunting to come under the auspices of ISAH, to be bound by its code of practice and to be subject to its disciplinary procedures.

I should make one thing clear immediately. The Countryside Alliance does not accept that those who undertake properly organised hunting are committing an act of cruelty that would be liable to prosecution under the two Acts to which I have referred--although I appreciate that not all Members would agree. What the Countryside Alliance fears is the bringing of malicious legal actions. It therefore believes that people will want to enjoy the continued benefit of the statutory exemption, and to come under the ISAH umbrella.

The second point I should make, in fairness to the Countryside Alliance, is that while the alliance has been helpful in presenting that option, it is quick to emphasise that it does not reflect the entirety of its position. The alliance does not believe it is right to deal with hunting in isolation. It would prefer a complete overhaul of our animal welfare legislation, making it unlawful to inflict, by any means, unnecessary suffering on any mammal.

Clause 2 and schedule 2 were proposed by the Middle Way Group, which is led by three Members of Parliament, one from each of the main parties: the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding). The clause and schedule are based on the premise that hunting with dogs should be allowed to continue, but that it should be a statutorily licensed activity. Anyone who wished to hunt would therefore need to apply for a licence. Licences would be issued by a newly created non-departmental public body known as the Hunting Authority.

The Hunting Authority would consist of between seven and 11 members. Some would represent the main interested parties--such as landowners, farmers and animal welfare groups--but the majority would be selected precisely because they had no vested interest in the question. As well as issuing licences, the authority

20 Dec 2000 : Column 385

would be required to draw up codes of practice to govern the main hunting activities, and would be able to attach appropriate terms and conditions to licences.

The cost of the Hunting Authority would come from the income generated by licence fees. The intention is that it should be self-financing--in any year, its income from licence fees should match its expenditure.

The authority would be able to appoint inspectors to visit hunts. It would also be given the power to provide training courses and to set examinations for those wishing to apply for licences, although I understand that the proponents of this option do not envisage its doing that, at least initially. No doubt they will expand on that if they catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Clause 3 and schedule 3 were proposed by Deadline 2000. Deadline 2000 is a consortium consisting of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the League Against Cruel Sports and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. It effectively provides for a complete ban on hunting with dogs by creating criminal offences. Anyone guilty of illegal hunting would be liable to a fine of up to £5,000. In the Government's view, such a level of penalties is proportionate and sufficient.

There are a few limited exceptions, which are set out in the schedule. I think that Deadline 2000 would want me to stress their limited nature. Each exception comes with conditions. Only if all the relevant conditions in schedule 3 are met would hunting be lawful. Deadline 2000 have made it clear that those exceptions are not to be seen as loopholes and would apply only in limited circumstances.


Next Section

IndexHome Page