Hunting Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is right to point out that, on the basis of common sense and personal observation of the countryside, one can testify that the activities to which he is alluding take place. One does not require reference to any representative organisation to prove the point. Does my hon. Friend accept that it is revealing that the BASC and BDS insist that they need maximum flexibility and discretion for the purposes of control? That point has not been successfully countered by Labour Members.

Mr. Leigh: As I say, I live in hope. I know that hon. Members on the other side of the argument think that our arguments are not very strong, but on this occasion I hope that they will accept that we have a point. I can only assume that the matter was an oversight in the Bill.

Deer cause a lot of damage to trees. Presumably, those who want a balanced countryside realise that, sadly, deer must be humanely culled, so the exception makes no sense. If the Bill is not amended, will it be illegal to use dogs to trap an injured deer? That would be absurd. It would be inhumane to produce a Bill that prevents a wounded deer from being tracked and then dispatched humanely.

I am not a great expert on deer or mink, but I represent Lincolnshire, which is one of the foremost arable areas of the country. You will allow me, Mr. O'Hara, to make a brief reference to the fact that hares shelter in large fields. Many people in areas such as Lincolnshire and East Anglia are concerned that while their colleagues in more wooded countryside in the west of the country will be able to stalk a fox, hare or rabbit because they can be flushed out of cover, they will be unable to do so in Lincolnshire because there is far less cover and rabbits and hares do not shelter in cover. Apart from the stipulation that only certain mammals are covered by the exception, why is the question of cover also included?

My final point concerns paragraph 9 and amendment No. 88. Paragraph 9 states:

    ``It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that the conduct to which the charge relates consisted of retrieving a rabbit or hare which had been shot.''

Presumably, therefore, it will be acceptable for one's dog to retrieve the rabbit or hare and, in retrieving it, to kill it. Unlike paragraph 10, paragraph 9 does not require that the animal be recaptured or shot dead. Therefore, the paragraph implicitly allows for the rabbit or hare to be killed. The Government clearly recognise the role that dogs play in retrieving shot rabbits and hares.

Two points arise from that. First, given that the welfare parameters make it acceptable for a dog to kill a rabbit or hare in certain circumstances, why cannot that method of killing apply in other circumstances? Secondly, if it is acceptable for a rabbit or hare that has been wounded by a gun to be killed by a dog, why cannot other mammals be retrieved or killed in that way? What is the Government's justification for telling a farmer or gamekeeper that he cannot allow his dog to retrieve a shot fox, weasel or mink, and that he will instead have to walk or climb over difficult terrain to collect and dispatch the animal himself?

The schedule is shot through with inconsistency and makes no sense. There is no consistency in respect of different species of wild mammals. There is no consistency in terms of the treatment of mink and deer, and foxes and rabbits. Nor, as far as I can tell, is there consistency in respect of the retrieval and dispatching of animals. For those reasons, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that, on this occasion, we have a serious point.

Mr. Maples: Does my hon. Friend agree that paragraph 9 demonstrates an admission on the part of the Bill's drafters that shooting a wild animal could be a far crueller method of pest control than letting a dog kill it? The paragraph seems to acknowledge that the animal might have been shot and wounded, and that it is all right for a dog to chase it so that it can halt it or bring it back to, say, the gamekeeper, who can then kill it. In doing so, it is conceded that it would have been far more humane to allow the dog to kill it in the first place. It seems an extraordinary and arbitrary distinction to argue that the dog may chase the rabbit or hare so that someone can shoot it, and that the dog may chase it after it has been shot, but that the dog may not kill it in the meantime, given that the latter method might prove much more humane.

Mr. Leigh: I agree with my hon. Friend. I genuinely hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can help me, because I am finding it very difficult to understand the thinking behind paragraph 9. As drafted, it makes no sense. It seems to state that a dog may retrieve a rabbit or hare and then kill it. If that is humane, why is it not humane for the dog to kill the rabbit or hare in the first place?

The Chairman: Order. I feel that I must rule on this matter. We have had this debate before in the context of whether it is more humane for a mammal to be hunted, or taken in the air by a hawk and dropped to the ground. This issue gives rise to a similar debate, but one that is not the subject of the amendment. We are not supposed to be discussing whether it is more or less humane for an animal to be dispatched in a particular way. After all, the Bill is concerned with hunting, and the amendment deals with the question of whether specified mammals or all mammals should be covered by the provision.

Mr. Leigh: You are quite right, Mr. O'Hara, but this is an important debate. Amendment No. 88 is a good amendment, and I cannot foresee the arguments that the Parliamentary Secretary will use against it; I may be doing her a disservice by assuming that she will. The amendment would simply allow dogs to retrieve any wild mammal that has been shot, not just hares and rabbits. We do not even need to raise the subsidiary issue to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) referred. The Home Office Minister has already been very fair about the question of rabbits. I now hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be fair about this issue, and send the message that the Bill will not put at risk farmers in England and Wales whose dogs stalk wild mammals other than foxes, hares or rabbits in the course of normal countryside management.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): I want to touch briefly on three points that were raised by several members of the Committee, and press the Minister on each.

The first concerns deer. The debate about hunting deer with hounds has centred on what happens on Exmoor and in the Quantocks, where organised packs of stag hounds pursue red deer as the quarry species. Burns focused on deer hunting in that context in his report and it has been considered in scientific studies by Bateson and others.

However, there are other species of deer in this country, which live in different habitats and are not pursued by organised packs of hounds. If my reading of the Bill is correct, any use of dogs to flush out those deer species in order to shoot them will be unlawful, with one exception. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, it would indeed be possible for somebody to use a dog to help to track down a wounded deer in order to put it out of its misery. However, the use of a dog to track down or to flush out a roe deer or muntjac from woodland in order subsequently to shoot it would be illegal because, unless the amendments are accepted, such activities will not fall within the various exceptions permitted under part II.

This is not merely a theoretical matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham referred to the views of two organisations that are involved in the management and conservation of deer stocks. I add to their professional expertise an anecdote from my part of the world. A few years ago, I visited a small nature reserve that was then in my constituency, and is now in the constituency of my hon. Friend—

Mr. Bercow: Is my hon. Friend referring to that in or adjacent to St. James' Way, Bierton?

Mr. Lidington: I was not referring to St. James' Way, Bierton, but to a little nature reserve just outside Aston Clinton.

The reserve had been created to conserve several species of animals and plants, and was noted as the refuge of a particularly rare species of butterfly. One of the problems faced by the managers of the reserve was the presence of muntjac, which exist in large numbers in the Chiltern hills. They came into the woodland and devoured the shoots of young trees and plants that grew up to provide a habitat for the rare butterfly and for other insect species that were supposed to be conserved there. The managers said that muntjac were a real pest. I ventured to ask them what muntjac tasted like, and was hastily told that one was not supposed to ask that in public, but the flavour was extremely pleasant.How are the populations of woodland-dwelling deer species to be managed and controlled, where they are pests, if the use of dogs is forbidden?

Mr. Leigh: With regard to my hon. Friend's reference to me, I apologise to the Committee for having misunderstood the Bill. I am trying my best to understand it, but I acknowledge that I make mistakes. My hon. Friend was right. Paragraph 11 states:

    ``It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under paragraph 1 to prove that—

    (a) the conduct to which the charge relates consisted of searching for an animal which the accused believed was or might be seriously injured''.

However, I still do not understand why paragraph 11 draws the distinction so widely in referring to ``an animal'', given that paragraph 7 is so narrowly drawn. Can my hon. Friend explain that?

Mr. Lidington: My hon. Friend is right. His question raises two issues of detail. The first is the exclusion from paragraph 7 of species of wild mammals other than foxes, hares and rabbits, and some of the amendments address that issue. The second relates to the use of the term ``animal'' in paragraphs 10 and 11 of the schedule rather than the term ``wild mammal''. That is the point to which my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham alluded, and I want to press the Parliamentary Secretary a little further. The draftsman may simply have nodded and what is meant is wild mammal, in which case no doubt the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to accept the amendments, so that we can be certain what the Bill means. But if the term ``animal'' is intended, the provision goes far wider than wild mammals, and presumably the draftsmen's intention was that people could use dogs to recapture or rescue not merely wild mammals but domestic mammals and animals other than mammals.

3.15 pm

I can just about imagine circumstances in which such a power would be necessary. Near Chequers in my constituency there is an ostrich farm. I suppose that the term ``animals'' might have been put into the Bill to allow people to use dogs to recapture or rescue escaped or injured ostriches. But unless one seeks a far-fetched example of that nature, I cannot see why there is a difference between the terminology in paragraphs 10 and 11 and the term ``wild mammals'', which is used throughout the schedule, as well as in the short title and the key paragraph of the schedule, paragraph 1, which defines the offence.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 8 February 2001