Hunting Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Gummer: That would be an unfair test, because we must first decide whether the terrier was infallible, or whether it was allowed the occasional mistake. The problem with the schedule is that it does not allow for an occasional mistake.

Mr. Foster: On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. According to your reading of the Bill, does it refer to the intention of people, or of cats or dogs?

The Chairman: I am listening carefully to the contribution of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, and it is in order. Indeed, it is highly relevant, given that paragraph 3 refers to an owner who permits his dog to hunt wild mammals. Natural tendencies that might be beyond an owner's control are a legitimate subject for debate, whether or not one agrees with the right hon. Gentleman's view.

Mr. Gummer: I thank you, Mr. O'Hara. As the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire suggested in her intervention, it is a fact that dogs chase rabbits. She also said that it is our responsibility to ensure that our dogs do not chase rabbits. If that is the Bill's intention, it greatly exceeds anything that was suggested in the Committee of the whole House. That is not a hidden agenda; it is an enclosed and utterly unknown agenda. Yet even if that is not the Bill's purpose, there is nevertheless the implication that, if I take my dog, however well trained, for a walk, and it chases a prohibited species and wins—which is, after all, why it bothered to do it—I have to prove that I did not mean it to happen and did not take it on the walk for that purpose.

I am still worried about the nexus of issues around knowing and intent.

The Chairman: Which, I remind the right hon. Gentleman, have already been debated.

Mr. Gummer: Indeed, but they have a knock-on effect on the matter under discussion. It is perfectly possible for someone to take a dog for a walk with the dual purpose of intending it to chase both rats and rabbits. However, even if he proves that he had intended to go to chase rats, he has to show that that was his sole purpose. Two different concepts are involved. He could pretend that he intended the dog to chase rats, while really intending it to chase rabbits, or that he did not mind which animal it chased, while being prepared for it to chase both. It is pretty ludicrous to make that distinction. If a person could have a dual purpose, it would be extremely difficult to prove that he had a single purpose, as the schedule requires.

Mr. Garnier: My right hon. Friend has reminded me of the civil law in relation to the concept of malice which applies in defamation law, of which I know a little. For malice to be proved against a defendant in a defamation case, the burden is on the plaintiff—who corresponds to the prosecutor in a criminal case—to prove that the malicious motive with which the defendant published the defamatory material was his sole or predominant motive. Paragraph 1 represents a complete reversal of that position, whereby the prosecutor does not have to prove that that is the sole or dominant motive, but merely has to set out the facts. As my right hon. Friend correctly pointed out, it is the exceptions that require the defendant to get himself off the hook.

Mr. Gummer: If my hon. and learned Friend will excuse me, I see that as the central point, but would he not agree that one must go further than that? In this case, malice has to be proved to be predominant, but it could be a subservient intention. One could be mainly going to get the rats, but be willing to allow, and not stop, the chasing of rabbits.

We have established that the provision puts the Government in a difficult position. It reverses the burden of proof for people doing something that they do so widely and so generally that it does not in any way parallel the legislation on badgers, with an animal that normally, as part of its everyday life, does something that the Bill is supposed to stop.

Moreover, it introduces an utterly peculiar concept. It suggests that there is something wrong in the animal's activity that has to be changed, tamed and altered. If a human being teaches a bear to dance, that is offensive because bears do not naturally dance. It makes a mockery of one of God's creatures, which is intolerable. If a human being allows a dog to chase a rabbit, it is not a mockery of God's creatures, but an acceptance of the creature that God made.

We are considering passing a law that says that ownership of an animal requires the owner to make it do something that it does not do naturally; that is, to refrain from chasing rabbits. In doing that, we impose our morality on an animal.

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge): What a load of rubbish. Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that God made foxes so that dogs could chase them and dogs so that they could chase foxes?

Mr. Gummer rose—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)
Beith, Mr.
Bercow, Mr.
Cawsey, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Michael J.
Garnier, Mr.
Gordon, Mrs.
Gummer, Mr.
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Lawrence, Mrs.
Leigh, Mr.
Lepper, Mr.
Maples, Mr.
Michael, Mr.
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Öpik, Mr.
Organ, Mrs.
Pickthall, Mr.
Prentice, Ms Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Rendel, Mr.
Shipley, Ms
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Angela
Soames, Mr.

Previous Contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 1 February 2001