Hunting Bill

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Mrs. Golding: I return to the subject of mink and I do not intend to leave it, because it is a serious problem. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, who has just left the Room, said that the Bill will not benefit mink, but it will. No one will be allowed to eradicate them, and that will cause serious problems.

I received an article about the problems associated with mink in the Hebrides, and it illustrates the ravages that mink can cause if they are left to flourish. About 30 years ago, four mink were released into the wild, and now thousands swim between the islands and devastate the wildlife. They ravage colonies of black wing, dunlin, snipe, redshank and many ground-nesting birds. They massacre the chickens and ducks that belong to the crofters, and as a result many crofters no longer keep fowl.

The Chairman: Order. As the Bill does not apply to Scotland, I trust that the analogy will be put in the context of England and Wales.

Mrs. Golding: Of course, Mr. O'Hara.

A group has proposed a mink eradication scheme for the Hebrides. The plan is to saturate the islands with cages in such a way that the mink would be shifted north. The estimated cost of the scheme, which would eradicate mink from a fairly wide but none the less contained area, is £10 million. To eradicate mink in England and Wales through the same method would be even more costly, if not impossible. The group's founder said:

    ``We hope the Government will recognise that it will be well beyond the capabilities of an organisation like us to fund a project of this size.''

Indeed it would, but the founder has little hope of obtaining any help from the Government. A letter from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), states:

    ``In the 1960s Agriculture Departments carried out an eradication scheme by means of an extensive trapping campaign. The campaign ceased in 1970 when it was accepted that feral mink had become too well established and widespread for eradication to be possible. A further campaign would be very costly'',

so such action was neither revived nor considered.

The problem is that the only people who are prepared to do anything about the problem at a reasonable cost are mink huntsmen. If they are prevented from hunting mink, there will be an enormous expansion of the mink population to the detriment of our wildlife. There is a huge campaign to bring back the water vole, but welfare organisations recognise that the animal that does the most damage to the water vole is the mink.

If amendment No. 119 were accepted, it would do much to help the wildlife of this country. It is a serious matter to leave mink to run free to multiply and damage the wildlife of England and Wales, as well as Scotland. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary ought to take the matter seriously and accept the amendment.

Mr. Garnier: One of the most common aspects of laws that pass through the Houses of Parliament is the unforeseen consequence. This part of the schedule is another example of legislation speeding its way through the process. I shall leave aside most of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, but shall speak, in particular, to amendment No. 58, dealing with gamedealers.

I am guessing that the possible reason behind the Bill, as currently drafted, is to prevent gamedealers from urging the public to hunt to order. One knows of crime syndicates that have high-value cars stolen to order. Earth-moving and road-making equipment is also stolen to order and is either dismantled and exported to Africa, eastern Europe and other less developed parts of the world or simply sold in the United Kingdom. Such activities are clearly designed to encourage people to steal.

The offence of handling stolen goods carries with it a far more severe penalty than mere theft, presumably because public policy requires that those who encourage others to steal should be dealt with in such a way as to inhibit such action. I imagine that the reason why Deadline 2000 drafted the Bill in this way, with the assistance of the Home Office, was to inhibit those who want to deal in the carcases of hare or rabbit from inviting others to fill their shop windows for them.

The unforeseen consequence of this provision is that hundreds and hundreds of entirely legitimate gamedealers who have been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Sussex and for Aylesbury, will be criminalised. Had Deadline 2000 given the matter more than a moment's thought, it would have considered the proposal in amendment No. 58, so that the words

    ``without first being sold or otherwise dealt with in the way of trade''

would not have been included in the Bill. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Government have allowed the Bill to reach Committee in this state. Paragraph 7(3)(b) suggests a lack of the forethought that all Governments should have when piloting what is essentially a private Member's Bill through the House in Government time with the assistance of Government officials.

The position is made marginally worse when one considers paragraph 7 in the context of paragraph 11, which deals with rescuing animals. Paragraph 7(a) deals with

    ``stalking a fox, hare or rabbit''.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury pointed out, no one whom we know of eats a fox, but many people, including me, eat hare and rabbit. I suspect that paragraph 7(a) refers only to fox, hare and rabbit—rather than, say, to roe deer or any other form of deer—because it is unthinkable to those who organised Deadline 2000 that anyone should want to eat deer meat.

5.45 pm

However, what will happen when someone in Devon or Somerset—Scotland is out of bounds as far as this Bill is concerned, so we cannot concern ourselves with killing deer north of the border—discovers a deer that might be seriously injured? Let us say that, according to the definition in paragraph 7, he stalks it with a collection of dogs or hounds, flushes it out and kills it.

Mr. Soames: He could not stalk it if he could not see it, which is one problem with the definition. One can spy a stag on the landscape and one can stalk it. According to the circumstances that were outlined so well by my hon. and learned Friend, the deer would have been flushed out but it would not have been stalked, because to be stalked it must first be seen.

Mr. Garnier: I take my hon. Friend's point. Both he and I enjoy deer stalking in Scotland, which involves spying a red deer, stalking it and then going after it with a rifle. However, having spied the deer one sometimes loses sight of it, which is the essence of my point.

Having brought to its end a beast that might be seriously injured, one would presumably be prohibited from doing anything other than burning the carcase or eating it oneself. A deer carcase that has been gralloched and stripped of its head can weigh about 14 to 20 stone, depending on where it has been feeding. Highland deer, for example, will probably weigh less than English park deer. I know from personal experience that red deer in Thetford chase, in south-west Norfolk, can weigh well in excess of 20 stone. Some have a dead weight of as much 25 or 26 stone, even after stripping out. That is an awful lot of meat; good, healthy meat that ought to be available to the public. The only way to get hold of it is through gamedealers, butchers and retail outlets.

If amendment No. 58 is not accepted and the provision in its present form is married up to paragraph 11 and enacted, the unforeseen consequence that I have outlined will form part of criminal law. Quite apart from constituting economic madness, that strikes me as extremely silly, illogical and unnecessary. This Government, if they have a will, have the opportunity and the motive to bring the Bill back into some form of order.

Mr. Soames: Will my hon. and learned Friend point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that there was a big debate in the 1980s about the vast increase in deer poaching? Having got that sorted out—for example, it is not worthwhile for a publican to sell venison that has come from a disreputable source—we would put a spanner in the works by encouraging illegal dealing in deer carcases.

Mr. Garnier: The more one studies the Bill, the more one sees that it is riddled with deficiencies. My hon. Friend has just pointed out a further problem that Deadbeat 2000 failed to consider. The Committee, even if it does nothing else, should draw the Government's attention to the problems that will arise if the Bill is enacted. It would be wonderful if we could rubber-stamp the Bill and say, ``Passed. This is good meat. It can move on to the next stage of the legislative process.'' However, we are discussing amendment No. 58 only; there are the other amendments in the group tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury. We are finding many unforeseen consequences that should have been dealt with before the Bill was printed.

Finally, I want to rescue my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex. In an earlier contribution, which he delivered with characteristic bravura, he referred to me as a certain type of lawyer. Of course, Mr. O'Hara, I shall not repeat the words that he used because I do not wish to give the libel further currency. However, I congratulate him on drawing to our attention the publication from Tristan da Cunha. It denotes a small island community, which is perhaps similar to many of the small rural communities in distant parts of this country, going about what they believe to be a perfectly normal and legitimate activity. If—I do not know whether this is the case—Tristan da Cunha, which I believe to be a subsidiary of St. Helena, has its own Parliament, and the Hunting Bill, which its residents would probably refer to as the hunting ordinance, came before it, they would roar with laughter at the ignorance of people who thought it sensible to enact the Bill in that jurisdiction.

You, Mr. O'Hara, have correctly pointed out that, under clause 6, the Hunting Bill extends to England and Wales only. However, Baroness Scotland is Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for overseas territory. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Under-Secretary, being within England and Wales, are susceptible to the provisions of the Bill if it is enacted. Therefore, she may well be under political pressure to ensure that Her Majesty's overseas territories, which are administered politically under her jurisdiction, are subject to the same laws as England and Wales. I shall leave it there because that point will suffice.

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