Hunting Bill

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Mr. Garnier: I shall not do that because I do not happen to have ``Archbold'' with me. The hon. Gentleman is a perceptive Member, and I dare say that he has photocopies of the relevant sections, which he should examine under ``c'' for ``connivance''. My hunch is that there may not be an entry under ``c'' for ``connivance'' in the index of ``Archbold''. Perhaps during the short adjournment we shall be able to investigate that point; indeed, he has prompted me to do so.

Mr. Soames: I would be grateful if my hon. Friend consulted ``Archbold''. I wonder whether it contains a reference to the famous case in 1957 when Sir Thomas Meyrick, who was master of hounds, and all 70 members of the Pembrokeshire hunt, which was a body corporate, were summonsed to appear before Welsh magistrates in Eglwyswrw. Unfortunately, Sir Thomas Meyrick was unable to attend on that day because he was at a hunter show in Shrewsbury. Of course, the case was thrown out and damages were awarded against the police. Would my hon. and learned Friend consult ``Archbold'' during his lunch hour, rather than going to Granita in Islington, to see whether it has caught up with the 1957 case of Sir Thomas Meyrick?

Mr. Garnier: It seems that my hon. Friend will once again be eating alone at Granita. Sir Thomas Meyrick and his case clearly deserve further consideration, so perhaps he can do a little private study as he lunches alone. For the moment, I shall not travel further across Offa's dyke to consider that case, which is no doubt of interest to students of law, but not, I suspect, to the hon. Member for Pendle. Nevertheless, I shall examine ``Archbold'' over lunch to attempt to find some information about ``connivance''.

As drafted, paragraph 6(2) imposes an obligation, under threat of criminal liability, on every officer of a company who suspects that an offence may be committed to prevent that offence. That is an inappropriate responsibility to place on members of the public who may well be innocent of any criminal act. The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury are clear, sensible and do not undermine the thrust of the Bill. Deadline 2000, which seems to be the policymaker behind the schedule, cannot complain if the expression ``express consent'' is imported into the schedule and the word ``connivance'' is removed from it.

The Minister has pointed out that we are considering offences under paragraphs 1 to 4 that could be committed by a body corporate or an officer. At this point, I should not want to lead myself into error because his knowledge of criminal law is probably better than mine. I think that I am right in saying that one cannot be vicariously responsible for the criminal acts of one's employees. It may be that he can remind me, given his experience lecturing law, whether that is true.

Presumably—I may need to be corrected—we are attempting to get at the directing mind of the body corporate. A body corporate is not capable of existing or acting other than through human thought. If those human beings are to be caught through paragraph 6 under the offences in paragraphs 1 to 4, the least we can do for them is to make how they can avoid criminality abundantly clear. I trust that the Minister's inquiries will assist the Committee and that my initial comments will have caused the Committee to think again about the way in which the Bill is drafted.

Finally, I repeat my apologies to the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aylesbury for tabling the amendments, which provide the opportunity to consider paragraph 6 of the schedule. As well as on the principle of hunting with dogs, the schedule provides further offences covering the case of a person who knowingly allows dogs or land which he owns to be used for illegal hunting. However, it is possible for land and dogs to be owned by corporate bodies and it would be wrong if that facility were used to get around the provision. Accordingly, paragraph 6 provides that the offences can be committed by a body corporate. In such cases, the officer of the body corporate who gave permission for the offence to be committed, as well as the body corporate itself, which may have considerable resources, could be found guilty of an offence.

Amendments No. 45 and 46 attempt to alter the description of the actions required by an officer of a body corporate to prove that an offence had been committed. Amendment No. 45 would qualify the action of consent by providing that consent must be expressly given, but consent can be given in various ways. It can be given expressly or with a nod and a wink. Someone may allow another person to do something on his land and even indicate that consent, although not expressly given, has been implicitly given. An officer of a body corporate may be aware that land owned by the company is regularly used for illegal hunting. If he takes no action to prevent the hunting--for example, by alerting the police--he is, effectively, giving implied consent to it. There is no reason why such a person should be protected from the possibility of prosecution, which would be the effect of the amendment.

Amendment No. 46 would remove from the offence those officers of a body corporate who had connived in allowing their land or dogs to be used for illegal hunting. Again, I must ask why such people should not face the possibility of prosecution when, effectively, they conspired to commit a criminal offence. One representative of a body corporate could give consent for illegal hunting and another person in the company might facilitate that by leaving a gate unlocked or allowing something to happen that otherwise would not happen. Under amendment No. 46, the second person would be in the clear. I do not see why someone who had connived—although he may not have given express consent—should be in the clear. Both would have taken similar action to facilitate the breaking of the criminal law.

Some Committee members are concerned that representatives of a body corporate may find themselves inadvertently committing offences, but the offence in paragraph 6 refers to paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 and hon. Members will see that all the relevant parts of those offences can only be committed knowingly. Unless the officer of the body corporate knowingly allows dogs or land to be used for illegal hunting or connives in such activities, neither he nor the body corporate can be guilty of an offence.

Mr. Beith: There has been much press coverage of the fact that the Northumberland wildlife trust is appointing a warden to look after the wild goats that roam the Cheviots. The trust has made it known in several press articles that the warden will be expected to have his own dog. If the warden used the dog to seek out an injured goat, perhaps with the intention of killing the goat because it was seriously injured, would the trust's officers then be liable, because they made it known that the warden was expected to keep a dog for his work? Would they be responsible and have criminal liability?

Mr. O'Brien: I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that hunting is taking place because, presumably, there is no proposal that the dog should be used to kill the goat. Perhaps he will elucidate the point.

Mr. Beith: If the warden takes the dog with him to seek an isolated goat that has been injured with the intention of dispatching the goat because it is in pain, that would presumably be defined as a form of hunting under the Bill.

Mr. O'Brien: No, it would be a form of tracking, which is permissible. If the objective is not that the dog should kill the animal that it finds, there should be no problem. I do not understand how the schedule would prevent the sort of activity to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. He may know something that I do not, but I do not believe that there would be a problem with the schedule.

Paragraph 6 is correctly drafted. It will give proper effect to the policy of Deadline 2000 and that endorsed by the House. The changes suggested in the amendment would create unnecessary loopholes in the way in which the Bill was designed to operate. I ask the hon. and learned Member for Harborough to withdraw the amendment, and perhaps the hon. Member for Gainsborough will tell the Committee whether the unnecessary loopholes that I described should be in the Bill.

Mr. Leigh: I want to ask about the conniving point. Does the Minister believe that not checking or monitoring an activity, or failing to implement safeguards to stop an illegal activity, could be construed as conniving?

Mr. O'Brien: A person must know that an activity is taking place, so he must be aware of it. That does not oblige the owner of land to keep people patrolling his boundaries to ensure that such an activity does not take place. However, he probably needs to act in a way in which an ordinary, prudent landlord would act. If he deliberately did not check his land and was aware that someone was going to hunt on it, the issue would be whether the prosecution could prove that the act of omission was knowingly committed in the knowledge that a hunt was likely to take place. There is a requirement on the prosecution to prove all the elements of the offence.

Permission can be expressed or implied. The issue is whether implicit consent has been given and whether someone was conniving or acting in a way that the court construes as sufficient to show that an act was carried out and an intention existed to connive expressly or implicitly to give consent to the act. The Bill includes safeguards for a landlord who operates normally, and if, unknown to him, a hunt crosses his land, he should have no problem and should not be subject to prosecution or to being brought before a court. Only a landlord who knows that a hunt is likely and takes no action to show that he dissents from it could put himself in a position in which he implicitly gave consent to it. The hon. Member for Gainsborough knows that evidence is required and that, with that evidence, the prosecution must always prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

The amendments are unnecessary and would add little to the Bill. Indeed, all they would add is confusion.

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Prepared 6 February 2001