Hunting Bill

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Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): That is an interesting point, but the whole point of devolution is that different policies can operate in different parts of the United Kingdom. There are already policy differences with regard to hunting. For example, in Scotland it is not possible to hunt deer with dogs.

Mr. Leigh: Of course we accept that once a devolved Parliament has been established there are likely to be different laws in different jurisdictions. However, we are talking about another matter entirely. I am not sure how much deer hunting there is in the border region. [Hon. Members: ``None.''] Exactly. The borders are a long way from east London, so it is difficult to get an accurate perspective of what is going on in such northern regions. Undoubtedly, foxhunting ranges over that region, so could create a problem. Before the Minister becomes too sanguine, he should take up the time allotted to him under the programme resolution to explain the Government's position.

Mr. O'Brien: I shall write to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the issue—

It being fifteen minutes after the commencement of proceedings on the clause, The Chairman put the Question necessary under the terms of the programme resolution to complete the business.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

10.45 am

Mr. Leigh: On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. I must place it on record that the programme resolution is absurd. We had only 15 minutes to discuss clauses 5 and 6. [Interruption.] I spoke for only about a minute and a half, which is ludicrous. Why not allow at least half an hour? Is that too long to talk about important matters of jurisdiction and the law? We are labouring under a farcical timetable.

The Chairman: The Committee agreed the programme resolution.

We now come to schedules 1 and 2, which were incorporated in clauses 1 and 2. The clauses were negatived in the Committee of the whole House, which took a clear decision after full debate. It is for this Committee to respect that decision and to proceed to the close scrutiny of schedule 3. I shall therefore put the questions forthwith on schedules 1 and 2.

Schedules 1 and 2 disagreed to.

Mr. Lidington: On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. The statement that you made before putting the question concerned a matter that I suggest could be considered by the Chairmen's Panel and raised with Mr. Speaker. I understand the reasoning behind your statement and your decision that the questions should be put forthwith. However, that stands somewhat strangely when set alongside the fact that, at its first sitting last week, the Committee decided to allocate 15 minutes specifically to discuss those two schedules on the basis of a recommendation from the Programming Sub-Committee. What is the relationship between the decisions taken by that Sub-Committee, which are then ratified by the full Committee, and the discretion of Chairmen of Standing Committees as to the order of business? There seems to be a point of principle—or perhaps a precedent has been set, which needs to be explored.

Mr. Beith: Further to that point of order, Mrs. Roe. We are in a rather unusual position. I understand that the Government have suggested that when the Bill proceeds to another place, they will, in effect, restore certain provisions covered by schedules 1 and 2 in order that a parallel choice can be made from the three options. The Government are to follow that unfamiliar, but entirely understandable, practice to assist the progress of the Bill. However, it means that we shall send the Bill from this place without having had the detailed discussion of amendments to the schedules that would normally precede consideration in another place. If the process were in reverse, we would expect such discussion to have taken place elsewhere. We would have been looking with interest at the Official Report of the detailed debates. It could be suggested to the Chairmen's Panel that the decision to adopt such a procedure invites a different way of dealing with these matters in Committee than the one that we are obliged to accept today.

The Chairman: I have noted the points raised by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. No doubt other hon. Members will raise the matter with my colleagues on the Chairmen's Panel. I assure the Committee that Mr. O'Hara and I have considered the matter with great care. It is our responsibility, as Chairmen, to have regard for decisions already taken in the House and to ensure that the Committee makes progress on the Bill.

Schedule 3

Hunting with Dogs: Prohibition

Mr. Lidington: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 19, line 28, leave out `commits an offence' and insert

    `is liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.

The Chairman: With this we may take the following amendments: No. 7, in page 19, line 29, leave out `commits an offence' and insert

    `is liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.

No. 8, in page 19, line 32, leave out `commits an offence' and insert

    `is liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.

No. 9, in page 19, line 35, leave out `commits an offence' and insert

    `is liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.

No. 10, in page 19, line 39, leave out `commit an offence' and insert

    `are liable to a penalty imposed in accordance with paragraph 5'.

No. 11, in page 20, line 4, leave out paragraph 5 and insert—

    `5.—(1) A person liable to a penalty by virtue of paragraph 1, 2, 3 or 4 is liable to a penalty of an amount to be determined by the Secretary of State which shall not exceed the prescribed amount.

    (2) The prescribed amount shall not exceed the sum which for the time being is equivalent to a fine of level 5 on the standard scale.

    (3) A person liable to a penalty must pay the amount determined by the Secretary of State under sub-paragraph (1) to the Secretary of State before the end of the prescribed period.

    (4) In this paragraph ``prescribed'' means prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

    (5) Regulations made by the Secretary of State under this paragraph—

    (a) shall be made by statutory instrument, and

    (b) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.

No. 16, page 20, line 20, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.

No. 17, in page 20, line 25, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.

No. 18, in page 21, line 10, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.

No. 19, in page 21, line 22, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.

No. 20, in page 21, line 26, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.

No. 21, in page 21, line 44, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.

No. 22, in page 22, line 14, leave out `charged with an offence' and insert `liable to a penalty'.

No. 23, in page 22, line 19, leave out `an offence' and insert `a penalty'.

No. 26, in page 23, line 10, leave out from `The' to `the' in line 11 and insert

    `Secretary of State may apply to a magistrates court for an order providing for'.

No. 27, in page 23, line 12, leave out from `of' to end of line 13 and insert

    `an act in respect of which a penalty has been imposed under paragraph 5.'.

No. 28, in page 23, line 33, leave out `convicted' and insert

    `on whom the penalty has been imposed under paragraph 5'.

No. 29, in page 23, line 37, leave out from `The' to `from' in line 38 and insert

    `Secretary of State may apply to a magistrates' court for an order prohibiting a person on whom a penalty has been imposed under paragraph 5 by virtue of paragraph 1, 3 or 4(2)'.

Mr. Lidington: The purpose of this group of amendments is to replace the criminal penalties embodied in the schedule with a civil penalty. If members of the Committee will bear with me, I shall take them through the group to explain to which parts of the schedule each amendment relates.

Amendment No. 6, the lead amendment, deals with the primary offence of hunting with hounds, as defined at the beginning of the schedule. Amendment No. 7 decriminalises the offence of allowing land to be entered or used for the purpose of hunting with dogs. Amendment No. 8 relates to the offence of a dog owner allowing one of his dogs to be used for hunting. Amendment No. 9 deals with the offence of acting as an official at a hare coursing event or allowing land to be used for the purpose of a hare coursing event. Amendment No. 10 deals with offences by people who enter a dog for hare coursing, who allow a dog to be entered or who control or handle a dog during or for the purposes of hare coursing.

Amendment No. 11 suggests the way in which the civil penalty that I propose should operate. The level of the penalty should be set by regulations laid down in statutory instruments, and subject to the negative procedure. There is a case for affirmative procedure, but I believe that it is the normal practice of both Houses to deal with the level of penalties—whether civil penalties or fines—by means of the negative procedure. That is why I have tabled the amendment.

Amendments Nos. 16 to 23 are consequential on the first group of amendments that I have described. In summary, they remove references in part II to criminal offences and substitute references to civil penalties.

Amendments Nos. 26 to 29 amend part III. They require the Secretary of State to apply to a magistrates court for forfeiture of a dog—termed in paragraph 18 a ``hunting article''—and to obtain a ban on somebody who had been subject to a civil penalty on owning a dog. That relates to paragraph 19. I want to make three points in support of the amendments.

There is a matter of principle, on which I shall speak briefly. To make the act of hunting and associated acts criminal offences is a disproportionate response to the ill of which the advocates of a ban complain. I feel that particularly strongly because it is noticeable that schedule 3 says nothing about cruelty or animal welfare. Nor does it define, as under previous animal welfare legislation, activities that Parliament regards as cruel and that have become criminal offences under our law. We have instead a schedule that outlaws the activity of hunting with dogs, although hunting is nowhere defined in the Bill. The Government have simply said that the courts will interpret the statute in accordance with the normal meaning of ``hunting'', which is a circular argument that leaves people at risk of arrest, prosecution and conviction of offences that have nowhere been sufficiently tightly defined by Parliament.

Although we all know the adage that ignorance is no excuse for disobeying the law, there is a duty on those who make the law to ensure that Bills reaching the statute book are readily comprehensible to those whose lives are affected by them. People must know when they carry out an activity that they are trespassing against the criminal law, and therefore be able to weigh the consequences if they persist.

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Prepared 23 January 2001