Hunting Bill

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Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): Nothing happens in Suffolk.

Mr. Leigh: My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal will disagree with that.

Is the Minister deliberately shutting his eyes to the truth? I am not sufficiently qualified to answer that, and I shall have to leave it to him. I hope that he will reassure landowners that the provision is watertight. The Minister is shrugging his shoulders like a French politician.

6.45 pm

Mr. Michael: While the hon. Gentleman is doing his impersonations, I ask him to confirm that he is familiar with the use of ``knowingly'' in existing provisions. Are not the courts used to dealing with it on an everyday basis?

Mr. Leigh: Of course they are. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal said, it usually relates to cases of obviously criminal activity such as handling and theft. The situations that will arise in relation to the Bill are far more complex. We have had numerous debates about examples such as illegal hare coursers and the dog owner who takes his dog for a walk and it chases after a rabbit. Myriad activities are occurring on the fringes of the Bill. I agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth—

Mr. Gummer: Where nothing goes on at all.

Mr. Michael: Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to point out that my constituency contains Europe's most exciting waterfront, as well as the capital of Wales—

The Chairman: Order. There is no room for commercials in our proceedings.

Mr. Leigh: The courts have had no difficulty in dealing with handling or firearms cases.

Mr. Öpik: I accept that Montgomeryshire may not be the liveliest place compared to Cardiff. However, cases will be brought to establish precedents relating to matters that we have not made clear in Committee. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must avoid at all costs the passing of a law that ultimately has to be defined by the courts?

Mr. Leigh: You will be relieved to know, Mr. O'Hara, that I am drawing my remarks to a close.

``Archbold'' states:

    ``For example, on a charge of `knowingly having in his possession an explosive substance', the Crown must prove that the accused knew both that he had it in his possession and that it was an explosive substance''.

That reveals the extent of the problem. Quite an onus is placed on the prosecution in such an obviously criminal case.

Mr. Gummer: My hon. Friend is right. If the law takes the trouble to require that one must know that one possesses a substance and that it is explosive, it has clearly recognised that ``knowingly'' is not a simple concept, even in respect of something as obvious as an explosive substance. Under the Bill, we are not talking about anything so obvious, but about knowledge of an activity that has hitherto been perfectly legal and widely considered to be perfectly reasonable in the areas where it is carried on. Most people intend to be utterly passive in this respect, and I want to know whether they will nevertheless be free of the risk of prosecution.

Mr. Leigh: If my right hon. Friend were utterly passive—which he never is—but knew exactly what was going on, he would be guilty. In future it will not be good enough for him to be utterly passive in his enjoyment of his own property.

Mr. Gummer: I am now particularly concerned. One of the pleasures of living in the countryside is that, from time to time, one is able to be utterly passive. Does the provision mean that I must do something, even if the activity is nothing to do with me? What is it that I have to do? Do I have to go outside, wave my arms about and say, ``Don't come here''? What if I am not there? Do I have to go home to do it? [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. There is much subterranean noise in the Committee, I am finding it difficult to hear the right hon. Gentleman. I appeal to members of the Committee who wish to debate among themselves to do so outside the Room. I appeal to those who are attempting to intervene to do so when the Chairman is in a sedentary position.

Mr. Leigh: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who has a sharp intelligence. I started my speech by wanting to support the Minister and feeling that landowners could be reassured that they had to have exact knowledge of what is going on. However, having listened to my right hon. Friend, I think that he has a serious point. The fact that he is a person who passively enjoys his own land, even though he knows what is going on, would render him liable to prosecution in the criminal courts.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): Is not the problem faced by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal rooted in a reluctance to acknowledge a change in the law? It is not acceptable in law to go into a state of denial that what is now a criminal offence requires one to acknowledge it as such. Knowingly to be passive in the face of that makes one a collusive part of it. The problem faced by the right hon. Gentleman is to be found in accepting that it is manifestly the will of the House to make hunting with dogs an illegal and criminal offence.

There are two consequences. The first is that the right hon. Gentleman and many others need to understand the change in the law. Also, as a wise former Minister, he may be well advised to take heed from the actions of a current Minister and, if in doubt, make a careful note of the events and pass it across, if not to a civil servant to the nearest constable, in order to ensure that the hunt knows that it has no right of passport across his land.

Mr. Leigh: I am becoming more and more worried. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman, who is completely honest in his beliefs and well respected in the House for that, has made that point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal now has to be a policeman against his own conscience.

Mr. Gordon Prentice rose—

Mr. Leigh: I will give way in a moment. Having had this discussion, I do not think that the Minister can deny that it is no longer good enough for my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal simply to shut his door. He is a completely honest person; he will never break the law. He does not even hunt, but now, because he knows that there may be people out there chasing after hares, rabbits and so on, he has to ring up the local constable and act as the local enforcer for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Gummer: I do not think that my hon. Friend has done the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) due honour for what he has revealed. The question is not whether I am in favour of hunting, but whether the law says that, given where I live, I have a duty to do something. If so, the law ought to tell me what I have to do. Do I have a duty to stop the hunt, or a duty to tell somebody else that the hunt is taking place? If so, within what time limit and in what circumstances must I do that? [Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. There are at least half a dozen separate conversations going on in the Committee, which is not permissible.

Mr. Gummer: I am asking the question because I am concerned not for myself, but for the many people who need to know the position. They need to know what the provision means, without the benefit of case law. What about circumstances in which someone, without the landowner's permission or his being party to it, takes part in hunting? If the landowner is not present, is he in the same position as if he were? Does the provision apply to everybody, or only to those over the age of, say, 18?

Mr. Leigh: The simple answer to my right hon. Friend is yes.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): He is bang to rights.

Mr. Leigh: As my hon. Friend says, in a crushing intervention, he is bang to rights. All that the Crown has to prove is that the landowner had knowledge of what was happening. It would help if the person took active steps to report it, but if he knows what is going on, he is guilty.

Mr. Prentice: Let us not beat about the bush. One cannot turn a blind eye to law breaking. The hon. Member for Gainsborough is a distinguished barrister. He referred us to ``Archbold'' and gave us a definition of ``knowingly''. He, or his hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, want to substitute the word ``deliberately'' for ``knowingly''. Can he help a non-lawyer by referring to ``Archbold'' and giving me a definition of ``deliberately''?

Mr. Leigh: I have not got time to turn it up, but there will be an opportunity another time. One could take the common sense point of view that the word ``deliberately'' is much clearer. I have made my point and I look forward to the Minister's explanation.

Mr. O'Brien: The whole debate is hung on the word ``knowingly'', and the concern that a landlord ``knowingly permits''. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth was right when he said that the courts are used to dealing with such phrases. They will be familiar with the words and will be required to interpret their usual meaning. They will be able to do that with simplicity and straightforwardness, bearing in mind all the detail that the hon. Member for Gainsborough can give us from ``Archbold'' and Stones ``Justices' Manual''.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury said that this was a probing amendment. I shall treat it as such, without criticising the attempt to insert the phrase ``deliberately permits'', on the basis that he does not seek to do that. I should have some objection if he did. The phrase ``knowingly permits'' means that the prosecution must prove that the person knew and gave some sort of explicit or implicit consent or permission. That has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. I repeat what I said to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal: the provision provides a safeguard for a potential defendant rather than a serious risk.

Mr. Gummer: The Minister is helping me considerably. Is he making a key distinction between the phrase ``knowingly permits'' and the suggestion from his own Back Benchers that if one knows that a crime is going to take place, one should—quite rightly—inform the authorities? Does knowledge of the intention to commit a crime have anything to do with the extent to which one knowingly permits it?

7 pm

 
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