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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Hunting Bill

Hunting Bill

Standing Committee B

Thursday 8 February 2001


[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Hunting Bill

Schedule 3

Hunting with dogs: prohibition

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 52, in page 20, line 22, leave out `fox, hare or rabbit' and insert `wild mammal'.—[Mr. Bercow.]

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 122, in page 20, line 22, leave out `or rabbit' and insert

`rabbit, goat or other wild mammal'.

No. 53, in page 20, line 27, leave out `fox, hare or rabbit' and insert `wild mammal'.

No. 63, in page 20, line 42, leave out `fox, hare or rabbit' and insert `wild mammal'.

No. 88, in page 21, line 23, leave out `rabbit or hare' and insert `wild mammal'.

No. 91, in page 21, line 28, leave out `an animal' and insert `a wild mammal'.

No. 92, in page 21, line 36, leave out `animal' and insert `wild mammal'.

No. 93, in page 21, line 40, leave out `animal' and insert `wild mammal'.

No. 95, in page 21, line 46, leave out `an animal' and insert `a wild mammal'.

No. 101, in page 22, line 5, leave out `animal's' and insert `wild mammal's'.

No. 102, in page 22, line 8, leave out `animal' and insert `wild mammal'.

2.3 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I welcome your return to the Chair, Mr. O'Hara. As I was explaining to the Committee in the 30 seconds or so before the end of the previous sitting, the amendments would change the exceptions to the general offence for which the Bill provides to cover any wild mammal, with the exception of the defence of hunting rodents. The Bill applies those exceptions only to the stalking or flushing out of foxes, hares and rabbits, the retrieval of a rabbit or a hare that has been shot, searching for an animal that has escaped or has been released, or rescuing an animal that was or might be injured.

Paragraph 7 provides exceptions for stalking and flushing out. Amendments Nos. 52 and 53, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), would change the exception for flushing out and stalking from a fox, hare or rabbit to any wild mammal. It seems to me, to my hon. Friend, to other hon. Friends, and perhaps to some Liberal Democrat Members, that there is no sense in animal welfare terms in restricting the species that can be flushed out or stalked. What reason could there be for distinguishing between those three creatures on the one hand and any other mammal on the other—for example, a mink or a deer? Why, therefore, does the Bill distinguish between them in terms of animal welfare or necessary pest control? Surely the arguments that apply to the categories for which allowance is already made could and should apply equally to other animals that we wish to bring within the terms of a broader and more all-encompassing exception.

It would be interesting to know whether Deadline 2000, which seems to be acquiring a certain regularity of mention in Committee, has any documentary evidence to show that a mink, for example, will suffer unnecessarily from flushing out or stalking actions, whereas the fox will not. It is difficult to know on what basis Deadline 2000 has reached what seems on the face of it—although I am happy to await further and better particulars—an arbitrary distinction.

As the Bill is drafted, the provisions on stalking and flushing would seriously hinder pest control. Land managers need to have at their disposal, and be able to exercise, the maximum possible means of control. That has been a recurrent theme in the Committee's discussions, as in previous Second Reading debates. Despite their best endeavours, Government Members have not been able to invoke support for their point of view on this aspect from any of the main representative organisations. That is because those organisations favour maximum flexibility for their members and recognise the Conservative Opposition as their robust ally in that quest.

Land managers need the maximum means of control. The Bill already recognises that stalking and flushing out are acceptable and necessary practices in species management, so it is not as though Government Members have an overriding intellectual or moral objection. We do not know for certain, but some of them may have such an objection, particularly Back Benchers, who hold a variety of extreme, bizarre, largely indefensible and frequently incoherent opinions on the subject. In fairness, we have not heard such comment from Ministers on the Government Front Bench—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mrs. Organ) is laughing. I shall be interested to hear whether she has any views on the subject and wishes to defend them. It is good of her to find time to be with us in Committee, in view of the fact—

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Get on with it.

Mr. Bercow: The hon. Gentleman says ``Get on with it''. I shall get on with it when I am ready and not before—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. He can now return to the matter before us.

Mr. Bercow: I am making the important point—you will understand its importance, Mr. O'Hara—that the Government do not object in principle to stalking or flushing out. I am glad that they do not do so. It is essential that we do not have a navel-gazing or inward-looking discussion but recognise the opinions of those outside, many of whom share the view of the representative organisations and Her Majesty's official Opposition. I refer, for example, to Mr. Mark Harper, an especially assiduous and admirable prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for the Forest of Dean constituency, which I mention entirely coincidentally in developing the argument—

The Chairman: Order. I am being extremely generous with the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure will now return to the amendments.

Mr. Bercow: I am very grateful, Mr. O'Hara. Your natural kindliness, tinged with a desire occasionally to exercise your authority, is respected by Members on both sides of the Committee, not least by me.

The amendment would provide greater flexibility in flushing or stalking mink and deer towards guns. The Bill does not allow the flushing of deer from cover, only that of fox, hare and rabbits. That will restrict methods of culling deer in England and Wales.

Again on the subject of representative organisations, about which Labour hon. Members are understandably sensitive, seeing that those organisations agree with us and not with them, it is important to understand what they say. I shall be sparing in invoking them, because we want to make steady progress, but I cannot miss out the opinion of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation—and the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) would not expect me to do so. That highly representative organisation is deeply versed in the countryside and has great experience of such matters. It should therefore be listened to, if not always with agreement by all members of the Committee, at any rate with the respect that it deserves. What does it say? It says:

    ``where the deer population—particularly muntjac and fallow—has increased excessively in areas of woodland which are impenetrable to humans, dogs are used steadily to move the deer towards waiting, static guns in order to be shot.''

That makes the BASC's position clear. Typically, as we know, terriers or spaniels are used for the purpose.

What, too, of the opinions of the British Deer Society? In its submission to the Burns inquiry, it noted:

    ``the use of dogs to flush deer from dense woodland is becoming increasingly common in all areas of the UK...there is certainly'',

it emphasises,

    ``evidence to suggest that proper and effective control of deer in newly established and replanted forests can never been achieved humanely without using dogs to flush deer and find wounded deer. The consequence'',

it goes on to say—and members of the Committee should heed this salutary advice—

    ``of ineffective control of deer in our expanding woodlands will be greatly increased damage to the tree crop.''

That ought to be of concern to those on the Government Benches who are—or who pose as—conservationists or environmentalists. I see that the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) is nodding at that point—[Interruption.] If he wishes to intervene, I shall be more than happy to give way to him. No—he is reading constituency correspondence. Let him carry on if that is what he prefers.

The Chairman: Order. There is no evidence that the hon. Member for Pendle is reading constituency correspondence.

Mr. Bercow: I stand corrected. I confess that I cannot be certain what he is reading, so I accept your admonition in the spirit in which it was administered, Mr. O'Hara. Suffice it to say that the hon. Gentleman was attempting to read something.

The consequence of ineffective deer control in our woodlands would be greatly increased damage to the tree crop. That should not be a matter of hilarity or of indifference to any member of the Committee. The BDS goes on to say:

    ``Deer will also maraud''

—it uses that word advisedly—

    ``onto nearby farmland.''

Conversely, the Bill allows the use of dogs to track injured animals, thereby allowing dogs to be used to locate deer that were not shot dead. Where is the distinction—I put this to the Committee seek its response—in welfare terms, between flushing out a deer towards a gun and tracking one that has been shot? Why is the one considered ethical and the other unethical? That is not clear to me.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): The situation is worse than that. I have just received a letter from the Minister, which says:

    ``I think the Bill makes it clear that hunting does not necessarily involve killing.''

It goes on to say:

    ``in many cases the outcome of hunting undertaken for these purposes will not be the death of the quarry.''

If that is so, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are beginning to see some confusion over what flushing out with a dog entails? To an onlooker, there would be no difference in appearance between a dog flushing out a fox towards guns and a dog chasing a fox with the intention of killing it.


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