Standing Committee B
Thursday 8 February 2001
[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. Before we proceed to consideration of the amendments, may I seek your guidance? You and Mr. O'Hara will be aware that the Government indicated that they might be minded to accept amendment No. 58, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). It would be helpful to know whether they have come to a definite decision and, if so, whether they could advise us accordingly at the start of proceedings.
The Chairman: I note the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
The Parliamentary Secretary of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy): As I said when we were discussing amendment No. 58, the arguments advanced in favour of it held a great deal of merit. However, it is for the Committee to determine a view on it. If the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) puts the amendment to the Committee, it will be up to individual Members to make up their own minds on it.
The Chairman: I note what hon. Members have said and I shall call amendment No. 58 when we reach the appropriate point.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. In view of the important announcement that the Scottish Parliament will apparently allow foxhunting on licence in Scotland, have you received any notification from the Parliamentary Secretary that she wishes to make a statement on that major development?
The Chairman: That is not a point of order for me. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary heard what the hon. Gentleman said.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I seek clarification, Mrs. Roe. You said that, at the appropriate time, you would allow the Committee to reconsider amendment No. 58. When is that time likely to be?
The Chairman: When we reach that amendment according to the agreed order.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. Other members of the Committee may, like me, not have understood a word that the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said. What was the question to which you responded?
The Chairman: The hon. and learned Gentleman wanted to know when I would call amendment No. 58, because I have accepted that the Committee wishes it to be called. I said that I would call it when we reach that point according to the agreed order.
Hunting with Dogs: Supervision
Mr. Garnier: I beg to move amendment No. 50, in page 20, line 21, leave out `prove' and insert `show'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 106 in page 20, line 21, leave out `prove' and insert `claim'.
No. 107, in page 20, line 24, at end insert
`( ) The prosecution must then prove that the person charged with the offence was not stalking a fox, hare or rabbit and the conditions in this paragraph were not met.'.
No. 108, in page 21, line 11, leave out `prove' and insert `claim'.
No. 109, in page 21, line 13, at end insert
`( ) The prosecution must then prove that the person charged with the offence was not hunting rodents and the conditions in this paragraph were not met.'.
No. 110, in page 21, line 23, leave out `prove' and insert `claim'.
No. 111, in page 21, line 24, at end inset
`( ) The prosecution must then prove that the person charged with the offence was not retrieving a rabbit or hare which had been shot.'.
No. 112, in page 21, line 27, leave out `prove' and insert `claim'.
No. 113, in page 21, line 31, at end insert
`( ) The prosecution must then prove that the person charged with the offence was not searching for an animal which had been released from captivity or confinement, and the conditions in this paragraph were not met.'.
No. 114, in page 21, line 45, leave out `prove' and insert `claim'.
No. 115, in
`( ) The prosecution must then prove that the person charged with the offence was not searching for an animal which the accused believed was or might be seriously injured, and the conditions in this paragraph were not met.'.
Mr. Garnier: Amendment No. 50 stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, and I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) wishes to draw the Committee's attention to his amendments Nos. 106 to 115. However, all the amendments permit discussion of the burden of proof.
You will remember, Mrs. Roe, that on a previous occasion I drew to the attention of the Committee, if not that of the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), who does not appear to be listening, the broad outline of my case. Having done so, I do not want to take up a great deal of time expanding on it, as I know that the right hon. Gentleman will have read my earlier remarks, even if he is not listening now.
Mr. Leigh: On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth complained that he could not hear, and now he is chatting. Will he please listen to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough?
The Chairman: The right hon. Gentleman has heard the complaint.
Mr. Michael: On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. It is fair to point out that if we drew attention to the chatting at various times by the hon. Member for Gainsborough, Hansard would be full of references to him, which is perhaps what he wants.
The Chairman: It would be helpful for all members of the Committee if the chatting ceased.
Mr. Garnier: Let the speaking begin.
The amendments would place on the prosecution the onus to prove that an offence had been committed. The Bill provides for exceptions to the general offence of hunting a wild animal with a dog, but those are restricted and would reverse the burden of proof because it is for the defendant to prove that his conduct fell within one of the permitted exceptions. The amendments would provide for the same exceptions to the general offence, but in a way that would impose the burden of proof on the prosecution, not the defendant.
The Bill provides for a range of exceptions to the general offence of hunting a wild mammal with a dog set out in paragraph 1. However, those exceptions are naturally restrictive because they reverse the burden of proof. The onus is on the defendant to show that his actions were consistent with the defences provided in paragraphs 7 to 11 rather than on the prosecution to show that they were not.
It is a general principle of English law that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. It is for the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The reversal of the burden of proof means that a person could be convicted of an offence, even if there were reasonable doubt as to whether he fell within one of the exceptions. The burden of proof is not generally reversed under criminal law unless there is good reason to do so. In this example, there is no reason to amend the burden of proof and that is especially unfair because the definition of the primary offence is so vague.
On a previous occasion, Mrs. Roe, I drew your attention to remarks made by the European Court of Justice in relation to the reversal of the burden of proof. I shall not repeat them, but I invite the Committee to read columns 117 to 123 of Hansard for 25 January, when I set out the arguments that I would have made this morning. I hope that that is convenient for members of the Committee, whom I hope have studied my comments. Rather than burden the Committee with repetition, which offends the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) and is not something in which I would wish to indulge, I conclude on the understanding that the Committee has taken my arguments on board.
As a matter of courtesy, I should explain that I have a long-standing constituency engagement that requires me to catch the 11.25 from St. Pancras. I hope to be back this afternoon to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's winding-up speech, but I apologise to any other members of the Committee who wish to speak either for or against these amendments. My absence is not intended as a discourtesy to them.
Mr. Leigh: I shall speak to amendments Nos. 106, 108, 110, 111 and 113 to 115. They relate to the problem of reversing the burden of proof, which is an interesting issue that we must discuss because it is central to the Bill.
The Bill provides for the accused personpresumably halfway through the trialto prove that they were not committing an illegal act. At page 20, lines 20 to 24, the Bill states:
``It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that''
I emphasise ``prove''
That places the burden of proof on the shoulders of the accused, so that it will be up to them to prove that they were not hunting a wild mammal with a dog, but merely stalking or flushing out a fox, hare or rabbit.
In other words, that person is guilty until they can prove themselves innocentyet it has rightly been traditional in this country to assume that people are innocent until proven guilty. The amendments would not change the essence of the Bill by making it easier to hunt with dogs, but would simply re-establish the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
It is important in Committee to develop some sort of thread to one's remarks. The point that I have tried to make time and again is that the Bill is strong enough to ensure that organised hunts will stop, because it will be impossible to maintain them. That would remain the case even if the amendments that I have tabled with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough were accepted.
I believe that all members of the Committee want to stop unpleasant activities such as hare coursing that is carried out without permission, and the Bill will make that quite easy to deal with. If it is not too derogatory, I refer to people who take part in such activities as white van offenders. They leave the big cities and go to the countryside without permission to carry out unpleasant acts of coursing and the like.
The aim of my speeches over the past two or three weeks has been to protect the honest countryman who is simply trying to go about his business. Gamekeepers and most country people out alone or in small groups do a proper job. Even if they fall foul of the Bill and commit an offence, it will hardly be the great crime of the century if a gamekeeper's dog hunts and kills a rabbit, hare or fox.
Although I may not like it, I have to accept that the House made a decision to ban organised hunting. I am therefore trying to ensure that the Bill has a relatively light touch and that, in stopping organised hunting as Labour Members wish, it does not place too much of a burden on people who find themselves in the dock.