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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Hunting Bill

Hunting Bill

Standing Committee B

Thursday 25 January 2001


[MRS. MARION ROE in the Chair]

Hunting Bill

Schedule 3

Hunting with Dogs: Prohibition

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 1, in page 19, line 28, after `mammal', insert `other than a rodent'.—[Mr. Lidington.]

2 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 2, in page 19, line 28, after `mammal', insert `other than a rabbit'.

No. 3, in page 19, line 28, after `mammal', insert `other than a mink'.

No. 41, in page 19, line 28, after `mammal', insert

    `other than one of a species designated in paragraph 2'.

No. 42, in page 19, line 28, at end insert—

    `2.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order designate species of wild animal to which paragraph 1 does not apply.

    (2) An order under this paragraph

    (a) shall be made by statutory instrument, and

    (b) shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by each House of Parliament.'.

As it is quite warm in the Room, gentlemen may remove their jackets if they so wish. For the comfort of the Committee, I am proposing to suspend the sitting for approximately 15 minutes at 4 o'clock or thereabouts because it appears that we have a long afternoon and early evening ahead of us.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): I believe that I was being intervened on.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I would like to continue with the point that I had begun to put to him before we adjourned. As I understand it, he was saying that there were alternative methods for culling vermin and foxes. I was drawing his attention to some remarks made last Wednesday by my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) last Wednesday. My hon. Friend said:

    Last weekend, I visited the members of one of the gun packs in the area above Oswestry. They kill 250 foxes a season and they are skilled people. They use shotguns with BB shot, but only 20 per cent. of the foxes that they kill are killed outright with the first shot; the rest have to pursued by hounds. Therefore, the evidence that I have given shows that lamping and shooting are certainly not less cruel than hunting.

I accept as bona fide the desire of the hon. Member for West Lancashire (Mr. Pickthall) to dispose of foxes in the least cruel way. However, from the evidence of my hon. Friend, shooting is not necessarily less cruel than hunting with hounds.

Mr. Pickthall: I took the opportunity to read the speech of the hon. Member for North Shropshire. It completely ruined my lunch. On the Burns report recommendation that lamping could be the most effective method for disposing of foxes, he said:

    Obviously, a marksman—I have yet to meet a marksman in the country, although I have lived there all my life—in broad daylight, with a rifle, in good weather conditions, would probably kill a fox outright.—[Official Report, 17 January 2001; Vol. 631, c. 429.]

He qualifies his statement, saying that weather conditions have to be good for shooting to be an effective method.

I do not just dismiss what the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) is saying about the alternative methods. Clearly, shooting, poisoning and trapping are all fallible methods in particular circumstances. They are bound to be, and I will come to that directly.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I assume that my hon. Friend is arguing that there is a difference between lamping going wrong accidentally and inflicting pain, and the intentional and cruel infliction of pain for the purposes of entertainment.

Mr. Pickthall: I am coming to that. It is important, and I am glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary thinks in that way. Of course, the intention of any of the relevant activities is important and that is enshrined in the Bill.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): A Labour party member told me at lunch time that he goes lamping and uses a .243 rifle, which is the sort that killed Kennedy. He questioned whether we really wanted people with such high-powered rifles going about the countryside so that foxes can be killed cleanly.

Mr. Pickthall: Apparently, my hon. Friend's acquaintance is already doing that, which somewhat dilutes her argument.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) led us into a discussion of alternative methods that I understood him to argue were unsatisfactory in various ways. It is true that alternatives to hunting with dogs are explicitly and implicitly allowed for by the Bill. The arguments against those methods centre on their efficiency. There are many different views on the topic. In my part of the world, a large rural area, there is no hunt, but there are foxes. They do not pose a serious problem and are kept under control by farmers. By and large, they are shot. I hear occasional complaints; not long ago, my secretary's cat was eaten, she maintains, by a fox. However, by and large, there is not a problem and shooting is obviously reasonably effective in the area.

Whatever the argument about the merits and demerits of different methods, alternatives exist. They do not involve the killing of animals for sport or pleasure. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has pointed out that they are methods of pest control. My previous argument was that the exceptions that would be inserted into the first line of a fundamental provision of the Bill, if the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) were accepted, would create a loophole. They would give many people who wanted to continue hunting with dogs for sport a plausible way of converting a pest control episode into a sporting event that could well end in the killing of a mammal that was not exempted by the amendments.

I respect the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and his defence and detailed knowledge of the gamekeepers and pest controllers in his constituency. However, the ban on hunting with dogs has been clearly on the cards since the Labour manifesto of 1997. I do not underestimate the ingenuity of farmers, gamekeepers and others in adapting their methods to take account of a ban. Because of the unsatisfactory way in which the Government have pursued their manifesto commitment, those people have had considerably more time to think about how to adapt than some of us might have wished.

The timing of what we are doing now, and may still have to do, may provide them with more time. Who knows what ingenious methods they will come up with—acceptable and, no doubt, unacceptable—for pursuing their chosen activities? Perhaps it is too fanciful to imagine that, in 50 years, we will be passing a Bill to prevent hunting with packs of cats, but they will find other methods, and I hope that those will be acceptable.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I acknowledge that we are here to discuss a banning option; that was accepted earlier. However, why is it acceptable under the Bill to kill a rodent, but not a mink or rabbit, with dogs?

Mr. Pickthall: I do not think that killing a fox, hare, rabbit or mink with dogs is an efficient or effective method of keeping down those populations. I pray in aid the intervention by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) on the hon. Member for North Shropshire, who agreed with him. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:

    Is not my hon. Friend's reference to healthy mature foxes terribly important? Is it not the truth that foxhunters, on the whole, kill elderly and infirm foxes? If those animals were shot, there would be indiscriminate culling, including that of healthy and young beasts. —[Official Report, 17 January 2001; Vol. 361, c. 429.]

I understand what he is saying; in a sense, it supports Opposition Members' comments on the weaknesses of some alternative methods of keeping. He is saying that foxhunting, which is the most important matter for some, although not for me, is not effective in controlling robust populations of foxes, and that in fact, it is not even intended to do so. All that it does is pick up a few elderly and infirm animals, allowing the rest of the population—if it is a nuisance—to grow. We cannot have it both ways; hunting is either effective in keeping down a pest—I do not believe a fox to be a pest all the time, although it is in some circumstances—or it is totally ineffective, because it catches only the ones with three legs.

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Gentleman may be under the misapprehension that the sole purpose of foxhunting is to kill foxes. Foxhunting is carried out not just to kill foxes where necessary, but to disperse the fox population. A dispersed fox population is less damaging to farming than a concentrated one. Of course part of the purpose of foxhunting is to kill foxes, but it is not the sole purpose.

Mr. Pickthall: That is not how I understand the fox population to operate. The fox is a territorial animal and expands its activities to suit the territory available. If the territory becomes empty of foxes, others move in from elsewhere. Indeed, part of the argument made by pro-hunters has been that foxes are almost a self-balancing population and that foxhunting is marginal to that. With urban foxes, of course, it is a different matter.

I very much respect my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) for her consistency, particularly on the issue of mink. Time and again in Parliament, she has pointed out the dangers of over-large mink populations, yet she desires, by supporting the amendments, to make mink hunting an exception to the overall ban. I remember her saying in a previous debate that mink could run like a fox, swim like a fish and climb like a squirrel—

Mrs. Golding: A monkey.


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