Hunting Bill

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Mr. Lidington: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 19, line 28, leave out `dog' and insert

    `fox hound, stag hound or beagle'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 4, in page 19, line 28, at end insert

    `of a breed which has been bred for the purpose of pursuing foxes, hares or deer.'.

Mr. Lidington: The amendments would define more tightly the word ``dog'' in paragraph 1 of schedule 3. Amendment No. 4 would limit the offence of hunting with dogs to animals bred especially for such hunting. Amendment No. 5 offers a different approach; it names three breeds to be covered by the offence—foxhounds, stag hounds and beagles.

I start from the premise that the purpose of the campaign against hunting with hounds and the motivation of the majority of the members of the Committee of the whole House who voted in favour of option 3 last Wednesday was to seek an end to organised hunting with hounds of foxes, deer and mink. I do not believe that the majority of people who took part in that debate and in the following Division wanted to outlaw people's ability to pursue other animals with their dogs. Nor do I believe that that majority wants to put at risk of criminal action those who own a breed of dog that, although not specially bred for hunting, nevertheless chases an animal—be it a deer, fox or mink—the hunting of which will be a criminal offence under the Bill.

I am trying to tease from the Government why the schedule makes a general reference to dogs, rather than a specific reference to those breeds of hound that are the apparent target of people who have campaigned for a ban for many years. I am also trying to offer an alternative way to accomplish the objectives for which the House has voted, without risking criminalising those whom, in my view, the House did not intend to affect.

The Bill's purpose is to end hunting with dogs. All hunting that is covered by the Bill is conducted using recognised breeds that are bred specifically for their hunting skills. Those breeds are distinct and identifiable, but all dogs will hunt of their own accord. However, it is stag hounds, foxhounds, beagles and certain other breeds that are almost exclusively to be found in hunt kennels. They are pack animals and are bred to behave in that way. Specifying the breeds of dog that the ban will cover would help to prevent absurdities—to which reference has already been made in previous debates—that might otherwise occur when trying to enforce the Bill, should it become law.

If one considers how implausible it is that those who participate in hunting should seek to use breeds other than hounds, it is clear that the fear that the amendment would blast a great hole in the Bill is misplaced. I doubt that even the most enthusiastic follower of foxhunts would set about breeding a pack of corgis to pursue a quarry through the countryside. We are unlikely to see packs of borzois or salukis in pursuit of foxes and hares.Campaigners' objectives could be attained by a more precisely defined offence of the sort that I propose.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: I am struggling to understand the hon. Gentleman's point, if only a certain type of hound is used to pursue foxes and other quarry species.

Mr. Lidington: The point is that the schedule as drafted is ambiguous and uncertain in respect of those whom it will cover. We know that it will affect organised hunting, but I contend that there is a risk that, if not amended, the schedule could affect perfectly innocent people. There is a danger that the Bill will put at risk the farmer or landowner who exercises his dog and uses it to pursue vermin on his land. To some extent, we explored that issue in our previous debate, and I shall try not to go over ground covered then. However, in tabling these amendments my motivation was in part the same as that which prompted me to table the previous group. As it stands, the offence in paragraph 1 will apply to a single dog of any breed. I have not been persuaded by the Under-Secretary's argument that there is a clear requirement in the Bill to prove intent. He has argued that there is, but that has not been demonstrated to my satisfaction in the original draft of the schedule.

The Bill lacks a requirement to show a specific intent to hunt. Somebody who takes his dog out, perhaps to catch rats on a farm, and finds that his dog chases a hare and kills it, could, presumably, be guilty of a criminal offence. That could happen, even if the farmer concerned was unaware that there were hares in that field. The dog owner would be liable to prosecution if he knew there was a risk that a hare was in that field but the court considered that he was indifferent or reckless as to the animals that his dog might hunt and kill.

Again, there is uncertainty in my mind as to the point at which liability rests with the individual dog owner. What precautions must that dog owner take to provide an adequate defence? Must he show that he was ignorant that there were animals, the pursuit of which would be an offence, on the land in question? Is it enough for him to say, ``I knew that there might be, but I do not go out with the intention of hunting, so I am in the clear, because no criminal offence has been committed''?

5.45 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien: Of course, the dog owner is not required to show anything. The prosecution is required to show intent, as is always the case in criminal law.

Mr. Lidington: Yes, but the problem is—we shall explore this further in a later group of amendments—that the Bill provides for the offence of hunting, not particular activities that are defined as cruel. That issue is explored in detail in a later group of amendments, which I shall want to discuss, but that is one problem with the point that the Under-Secretary raised.

Mr. Gummer: Does my hon. Friend agree that one advantage of the amendments would be that people who live in the countryside would be less concerned by the issue? This is not only a matter of trying to tidy things up in a way that, to the Under-Secretary, may be otiose. The amendments respond to my constituents' fears that this may involve them. If they are out with a dog that is not of this description, they cannot be involved, which would be a happier result for them.

Mr. Lidington: My right hon. Friend puts the point well. He and I seek to accept, with regret, the decision reached by the Committee of the whole House. We say that it is possible for the promoters of the Bill, who include the Government and pressure groups, to secure their avowed objective of outlawing organised hunting with hounds, without the inherent ambiguity and uncertainty in the original draft of the schedule.

Mr. Alan Simpson: I am trying carefully to follow the hon. Gentleman's arguments, but I am uneasy about whether the amendments add, rather than remove, confusion. That the act of hunting with a dog is an offence is a clear and straightforward feature of the clause. However, the two amendments would introduce further ambiguities to the Bill. Hunting animals with a dog that was not one of the named breeds, which almost equates to the notion of friendly fire, would be better than hunting with a named breed. Wild animals that met their maker could console themselves with the notion that it was not a named breed that killed them. Would it not also invite those who want to get around the law to create new breeds specifically for hunting, knowing that they could get away with it because they would not be named breeds? Would amendment No. 4 not also enable someone to say, ``I know that this breed of dog has traditionally been used for hunting, but my dog is reformed. I have bred him to fetch papers and slippers, and he has promised me that he will chase only slippers.''? The amendments run the risk of adding enormous confusion to a Bill that offers genuine clarity.

Mr. Lidington: The hon. Gentleman, who knows that I do not share his views on the alleged clarity of the Bill, is mistaken on two counts. First, he is wrong to assume that, if amendments such as these were accepted, a widespread plot would be hatched to circumvent the Bill's basic intention. My view is similar to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. If a ban on hunting passes into law, within a relatively short time organised hunts will disband. Once the packs of hounds have been disbanded, those who are rich enough to do so will hunt in the Irish Republic or France, so the problem that the hon. Gentleman fears will not arise.

Secondly, amendment No. 4 would deal with the hon. Gentleman's worry. I do not claim that amendment No. 5, which names three existing breeds, is technically perfect. He may be right to imply that, were one to go down that path, it would be necessary to update the list from time to time, probably through statutory instrument. However, amendment No. 5 is different, in that it would limit the offence not to three existing breeds but to a breed especially bred for hunting. It would therefore provide a catch-all description that would stop organised hunting with packs of hounds. It would prevent slight alteration of the genetic makeup of a pack in order to get around the ban on a particular breed. Moreover, a breed of hound bred specifically for hunting quarry would still be covered by the ban for the reasons that I have given.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, such an amendment would provide reassurance for many people in rural areas who, regardless of their views on hunting—they will disagree strongly with the principle of the Bill, but let us leave that to one side—fear not only that the Bill as drafted will criminalise hunting, but that it will put at risk a great many other activities involving dogs, particularly pest control, in the day-to-day life of the countryside.

Mr. O'Brien: Although I accept that chihuahuas, pekinese and poodles are unlikely to chase foxes, and that that is a mischief we need not ban, such a ban will inconvenience no one and pose no threat to civil liberty.

It is clear that most breeds have the potential to hunt wild mammals. Restricting the offence to the use of specified breeds would fail to recognise that fact, and go against the spirit of the House's vote. The amendments give rise to a series of ambiguities in terms of how to deal with various breeds of dog that may be mongrelised versions of the types that the amendments specify or used for purposes for which they were not primarily bred. Restricting the offence to those types of dogs would create a significant loophole and would simply be bad law.

Several members of the Committee are worried about the implications of a hunting ban for someone whose dog chases rabbits or squirrels when taken for a walk in a park. Again, I make it clear that it is the actions of the person that matter, not those of the dog. If the person did not intend the dog to hunt, no offence will have been committed.

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