Hunting Bill

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Mr. Öpik: I accept that the League Against Cruel Sports and Deadline 2000 are entitled to maintain a position whereby they are opposed to such activities. However, given that we have often been told that the reason for the Bill is that it is wrong to derive pleasure from killing animals for fun, surely it is contradictory for it to allow falconry, but not killing a fox with dogs. I say that not because I think that it is stupid to permit falconry, but because I am worried about that inconsistency.

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman may hold that view. The matter was considered in the Committee of the whole House, and this Committee must also take a view in the light of the arguments that have been advanced.

Mr. Maples: Of course the Committee must take a view, but the Parliamentary Secretary is one of the Ministers in charge of the Bill, which is signed by many other Ministers, including some of her very senior colleagues. The paragraph draws a distinction between flushing out a hare or a rabbit, in that it is all right if it is grabbed by a raptor, taken to a great height and dropped, but not all right if a dog gets there first, bites its neck and kills it. I fail to see a moral distinction between those two actions, and it is incumbent on the Parliamentary Secretary to explain it.

Jane Kennedy: I do not accept that responsibility. It is for the House and the Committee to make such moral judgments.

Mr. Garnier: The Parliamentary Secretary suggested that a pointer is not engaged in hunting within the terms of the Bill, yet paragraph 21 of the schedule states:

    ``A reference to a person hunting a wild mammal with a dog includes, in particular,''—

whatever that may mean—

    ``any case where—

    (a) a person engages or participates in the pursuit of a wild mammal.''

Surely the handler of the pointer is engaged in the pursuit of a wild mammal, so the hopeful definition of hunting that she gave a moment ago does not fit with the schedule.

6.30 pm

Jane Kennedy: We are discussing the exceptions to hunting and the question of stalking as defined in paragraph 7. We are also discussing the intent of individuals who undertake the activity. If their intention is to hunt the prey with dogs and to catch and kill the prey with the dogs, they will be committing an offence under the Bill. However, if they are using the dogs to flush out or stalk prey for the purpose of shooting the prey, no offence will have been committed. Clearly, the hon. and learned Gentleman is not satisfied with that.

Mr. Garnier: I am not and I am not sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, for all her best intentions, has got her head round the matter.

Paragraph 1 makes it an offence to hunt a wild mammal with a dog. We are discussing falconry and, as I understand it from our discussions, the pursuit of a wild mammal by a falcon or with the use of a falcon requires a wild mammal--the quarry species--to be pointed to by a dog. The dog handler then directs the falcon to the game that has been flushed out and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, the falcon grabs it and takes it to a great height where it kills it by dropping it or ripping its throat.

The Parliamentary Secretary may be doing her best, but it is not good enough to say that what is being done when the handler sets the pointer to work to flush out the mammal, so that it can be caught by the raptor, is anything other than a person engaging in the pursuit of a wild mammal within the definition in paragraph 21—and an offence will have been committed under paragraph 1.

Jane Kennedy: Perhaps I can move on to discuss some of the other issues that are part of the same argument that the hon. and learned Gentleman is making. I may sound confused, but I do not believe that I am.

Under the Bill, it is the intention of the individual, not the dog, that is important, and it is an offence intentionally to hunt a wild mammal with a dog. We are arguing about the definition of ``hunt''. The general prohibition is subject to exceptions, such as the one that we are discussing. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex referred to gamekeepers and he and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to beaters who are out when shooting is taking place. In both circumstances, so long as the activities of the gamekeepers or beaters fall within such conditions, no offence will have been committed.

On the question of how pointers are used, it is my understanding--I have a vague recollection of how they are trained--that if a dog were to interfere in the sport in the way suggested, its training would not have been adequate. Retriever dogs that catch and kill prey cannot be properly used as retrievers, because their purpose is to flush game or retrieve it, not to kill it. Any prosecution would have to be able to demonstrate that the intent was to hunt with the dogs.

I hope that I have been able to make my position on that point clearer.

Mr. Beith: The Parliamentary Secretary's comments are timely. She said earlier that hunting involves killing. I would need to be directed to the clause that states that. The schedule excepts a number of activities that involve killing, such as flushing and shooting instantly, along with others that do not, such as seeking out a wounded animal. The Bill clearly regards both types of activity as hunting, in that an exception has to be made for them. The conclusion that I therefore draw is that, for the purposes of the Bill, tracking an animal is considered hunting unless it fits one of the defined exceptions. Can the Parliamentary Secretary point out where in the Bill it is stated that hunting is not hunting unless it involves killing?

Jane Kennedy: Perhaps I have not entirely understood the right hon. Gentleman, but my earlier comments seem entirely consistent with the terms of the Bill.

The crucial point is that the Bill will not introduce a restriction on the use of dogs for flushing gamebirds to guns, for example. The principal offence in paragraph 1 refers to hunting a wild mammal with a dog, and it is from that offence that all others in the schedule flow. On the shooting of gamebirds, I should point out that birds are not mammals, so they are not covered by the provision.

Mr. Soames: I will try to make the point that I believe that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed was going to make. The Parliamentary Secretary is doing a magnificent job in trying to square a very difficult circle. With regard to the beating line that I described, I am not worried about dogs running in. Dogs run in all the time, particularly ill-trained ones. Indeed, I have owned one or two ill-trained dogs myself, and they will jump on the bird instead of pushing up. They should not do it, but such things happen. However, I am talking about something quite different.

The sight of a fox can prove too much even for a well-trained dog. Sometimes the dog will be off like a lamplighter, and will kill the fox if it can get near it. The fox is a wonderful animal that is fleet of foot and almost always gets away, but it can be killed. In such circumstances, there is certainly no intention to kill the fox, but there nevertheless remains a real uncertainty for keepers and others. They could be prosecuted for an event that is entirely outwith their experience, and for which there is no real definition or watertight defence. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to appreciate that such people are under great pressure from all sides. The Food Standards Agency, for example, is worrying about whether pheasants get muddied when they land on the ground. Such concerns are absurd, but—

The Chairman: Order. This intervention is straying beyond the terms of the amendment.

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman makes his point; I understand that he is sincere, but I believe that he is wrong. If a dog that is used to flush birds inadvertently flushes a mammal—a fox, for example—no offence will have been committed, whether or not the mammal is shot. As we have said, the test is the intention of the person, not what the dog may or may not do.

Mr. Beith: Interesting though the point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex was, it was not the one that I was going to make. I appreciate that I am putting the Parliamentary Secretary under some pressure, and I accept that she might need to write to me on this matter, although we may have finished considering the matter by the time she is able to do so.

Unless the hon. Lady's definition of hunting is imported into the Bill, any deliberate tracking of a mammal with a dog, unless provided for in the listed exceptions, is hunting and is banned. Therefore, all sorts of tracking of animals by dogs for the purposes of wildlife management, conservation or counting a herd are precluded, even though there is no intention to kill at the end. The Parliamentary Secretary has, in good faith, imported into the definition of hunting the idea that the intention must be to kill. However, the list of exceptions, which includes one where there is clearly no intention to kill—seeking a wounded animal—suggests otherwise. I hope that a much more careful examination can be made of this point.

Jane Kennedy: I undertake to examine carefully what the right hon. Gentleman has said and to think long and hard about it. I have listened carefully to the points made in the debate, but I genuinely believe that he has got it wrong. However, I shall consider what he has said and I undertake to write to him if I can clarify the matter further by doing so.

Mr. Maples: This comes down to the definition of hunting in paragraph 21, which says:

    ``hunting a wild mammal with a dog includes, in particular, any case where—

    (a) a person engages or participates in the pursuit''—

it seems to me that in all cases we are talking about that—


    (b) one or more dogs are employed in that pursuit (whether or not by him and whether or not under his control or direction).

The Parliamentary Secretary perhaps needs the cavalry to come to the rescue, and I am happy to take a response later, but that seems to me to be a wide definition that lets in the accidental circumstances that have been referred to. Perhaps we need a tighter definition that includes the words ``an intention to kill''.

On Second Reading, we were talking about activities where the result of the chase was the death of the quarry, but the definition goes much wider than that. If it were confined to what the Parliamentary Secretary seems to be implying it is intended to say—that a hunt is something that results in the death of the quarry—many of our objections would fall by the wayside. Perhaps a Government amendment along those lines would solve the problems.

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