Hunting Bill

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Mr. Garnier: As those winding up traditionally say, it has been an interesting debate. I am the first to recognise that the Minister is a very attractive advocate—I mean to describe his advocacy rather than the Minister himself. It is when a Minister is at his most conciliatory that those of us who feel the noose tightening around our necks need to be most careful.

One thing that the Minister said a moment ago made me pause for thought. It was when he mentioned acceptable amendments. It is interesting that here we are, two or three months into the life of this Bill, and the Government—in the person of this most attractive Minister—start talking about acceptable amendments. We had heard nothing along those lines either a fortnight ago in Committee of the whole House or on Second Reading—[Interruption.] I do not think that it is an excuse as the Minister could not have made that remark earlier. It is only when we are discussing amendments that the Minister can talk about acceptable amendments. The issues that we have described today have been staring at us since the Bill was first published in the autumn. It is regrettable that, until now, nobody has thought to mention acceptable amendments.

As the Minister has mentioned acceptable amendments and has ticked us off for spending today discussing amendment No. 44, I would ask him to bear in mind the following points. Thanks to the Government's massive majority, the Bill will be reported to the House today week—on 8 February at 6 o'clock. Those of us who were in the Chamber this afternoon know that the Leader of the House announced the business for the next two weeks—the first week's business is set in stone, the second week's is provisional—and made no mention of the Bill being considered on Report and Third Reading. It follows, therefore, that the Bill will not be considered on the Floor of the House before 26 February, because we have to allow for the half-term holiday that this Government have graciously provided. That gives the Minister plenty of time—and I hope that he will be able to do it between now and Tuesday—to produce a list of acceptable amendments, either in detail or as general topics. If he were to do so, he might save himself and all of us a considerable amount of heartache.

We are, I candidly confess, deeply frustrated that the Government have decided to shut down the Bill in Committee on 8 February. The fact that we have spent an entire day, in order, discussing amendment No. 44 suggests that many other amendments that need to be discussed will not be debated. That is an affront to our constituents.

Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. and learned Friend not push the matter exclusively, as it is possible that the Minister will allow us an alternative? If he finds it difficult to say what he considers to be acceptable amendments because that would pre-empt his response to them, he might consider tabling an amendment to the programme resolution. Now that we do not have to finish as quickly as had been hoped, we might possibly sit later and longer, which would enable us to get through all the debates. I am sure that Opposition Members would be happy to do that.

Mr. Garnier: I have listened to the Minister.

Mr. Maples: My hon. and learned Friend has dealt with half the point that I wanted to make. If the Minister were to make it known—either publicly or in private conversations—in respect of which provisions he would be prepared to propose or concede amendments, and if for one reason or another the Committee sittings could not be extended for a further week, we might be prepared to accelerate the consideration of some groups of amendments in order to reach the ones on which he was prepared to concede. In order to do that, however, we would have to know which provisions he has in mind, as so far there has been no sign of concession.

Mr. Garnier: As the matter is pre-vote, neither I, as the Member for Harborough, nor any Opposition Member who represents constituents and individual interests, can possibly reach a sensible decision about the progress of the Committee until we know what amendments the Minister has in mind.

5.45 pm

Mr. O'Brien: No amendment to the programme resolution was tabled, and it can be taken by all that it was agreed by Conservative as well as Labour Members.

issues. By acceptable amendments, the Government mean amendments that will make the schedule more workable. Other issues may be more acceptable to the Committee as a whole, as opposed to just the Government, that relate to the background issues of policy set out by Deadline 2000.

We have made little progress over the past few sittings because of the very long speeches that have been made. I can see why Conservative Members may have found that desirable in the past, but it does no service to those who are concerned about hunting.

Mr. Garnier: I do not want to have a spat with the hon. Gentleman because I am rather fond of him.

Mr. Soames: Do not lie.

Mr. Garnier: I never lie. It would be a pity if the hon. Gentleman and I fell out over this. It seems to me that if it had not been for our discussions on amendment No. 44, the Minister would not have been able to make the point that he has just made, because he would not have heard the arguments put forward by the proponents of the amendment. That also applies to the hon. Member for West Ham, who has been affected by the arguments about rabbits. He candidly admitted that he wanted the Bill to be amended with regard to rabbits. He is a passionate advocate of the banning of hunting. We all know that. However, it is extremely interesting to hear that he now takes a different view about the utility of the Bill as it is currently drafted in this particular. He would like amendments to be tabled on Report or Third Reading either by the Government or by an hon. Member.

The Chairman: Order. The Chair has been very patient with this debate. I remind the Committee that we are, to use the hon. Gentleman's own words, winding up the debate on this particular amendment. There has been sufficient debate on the possible acceptability of other amendments in the future. We are constrained by time, because the House has decided that the Bill should be reported on 8 February. If any hon. Members are concerned about the possibility of producing acceptable amendments, the best procedure would be to dispose of this amendment as quickly as possible and proceed to dispose of other amendments in order to leave time for any acceptable amendments that may be tabled.

Mr. Garnier: Given your strictures, Mr. O'Hara, I do not want to delay matters by taking any further interventions.

Mr. Michael J. Foster: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier: If the hon. Member for Worcester can assure the Chairman that his intervention is germane and tied to amendment No. 44, we are in business and I shall give way, but if he cannot, he may be ticked off.

Mr. Foster: The point Labour Members are making is that the debate on this amendment has been prolonged. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree with me and with an hon. and learned Member of the House that

``If one cannot make one's point in a few moments, there is probably no point in making it''?—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 28 January 1998; c. 132.]

Mr. Garnier: I do not know, Mr. O'Hara, whether that intervention was in order.

The Chairman: I rule that it was germane in that there has been diffuse discussion on this amendment.

Mr. Garnier: Then I will not diffuse the discussion further by condescending to deal with that intervention.

During of an earlier intervention, the Minister placed great reliance on the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. One of the complaints of those on our side of the argument is that the schedule places an unfair burden on the potential defendant. The Minister said that we should not complain about that because that just mirrors the provisions of the 1992 Act, as though that were a satisfactory answer.

The Minister kindly gave me a copy of that Act and having read it, I can say that the Minister's point was entirely false. Its drafting, quite apart from its title, could not be more different from that of the Bill. The Hunting Bill, according to its proponents, advances the welfare of animals. The title of the Protection of Badgers Act gives the game away: the legislation is specifically and transparently about the protection of badgers. If the Bill is, as the Minister claims, a mirror image of that Act, it should be called not the Hunting Bill, but the ``Protection of Wild Mammals Bill'', the ``Protection of Foxes Bill'' or the ``Protection of Red Deer Bill''.

To take the Minister further into the legislation, schedule 1 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with a dog. Section 1 of the 1992 Act goes straight to the point and states that

    ``A person is guilty of an offence if, except as permitted by or under this Act, he wilfully kills, injures or takes, or attempts to kill, injure or take, a badger.''

The use of the expression ``wilfully kills'' is an immediate and obvious difference. Section 1(2) of that Act states that

    ``If, in any proceedings for an offence under subsection (1) above consisting of attempting to kill, injure or take a badger, there is evidence from which it could reasonably be concluded that at the material time the accused was attempting to kill, injure or take a badger, he shall be presumed to have been attempting to kill, injure or take a badger unless the contrary is shown.''

It is interesting that whereas section 1(2) of the 1992 Act sets out a prima facie set of facts to be established by the prosecution and makes it available to the defendant to show an innocent purpose, the wording of the Bill, which the Minister says mirrors the Act in its exceptions clauses, places upon the defendant the need not to show something but to prove it. Those are two separate concepts.

Section 2 of the 1992 Act again brings the issue of cruelty to the fore. It states that

    ``A person is guilty of an offence if—

    he cruelly ill-treats a badger;

    he uses any badger tongs in the course of killing or taking, or attempting to kill or take, a badger''.

Section 3 deals with interference with badger setts:

    ``A person is guilty of an offence if, except as permitted by or under this Act, he interferes with a badger sett by doing any of the following things—``.

Specific activities are then set out so that courts, defendants and police know what they are. Furthermore, the legislation encompassess:

    ``intending to do any of those things or being reckless as to whether his actions would have any of those consequences''.

The Act then sets out the general exceptions—which I concede are comparable to those in the Bill, but which are the nearest that the Minister can get to drawing a parallel between the schedule and the Act. The Minister, on behalf of the supporters of the Bill, should not rely on the Act in that way.

 
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