Hunting Bill

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Mr. Bercow: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that when the terms of programme resolution No. 3 were first devised not long ago—but prior to this disputatious exchange—the Government could not have known what a hornets' nest would be opened up? Does he therefore agree that we might need as much as another half day or full day fully to debate and resolve matters?

Mr. Beith: I said as much on a point of order. It is not simply a matter of the time required for debate, but the time between the days of debate in which amendments may be tabled and interested groups consulted on them. That is very serious. In all my time in the House I have never had much interest in delaying tactics. I have occasionally used them for specific purposes—which I will not recount on this occasion—but I certainly have not done so during the course of our proceedings on this Bill. Every speech that I have made has been directed towards something that I felt was a problem—and this matter falls into that category. I reiterate my appreciation of the Parliamentary Secretary's clarity on what she feels is right in these circumstances. If I am right and her optimism proves unjustified, I hope that we can find a way of doing that properly.

On the goats issue, I am not satisfied with what the Parliamentary Secretary said, although I appreciate that it was said in good faith. As a matter of legal definition, the concept of husbandry of wild animals is difficult to sustain—and that was the phrase that she used. In all its uses, from the King James Bible onwards, the concept of husbandry relates to domesticated or farmed, not wild animals. She introduced her own concept of tending, which is also a little hard to square with the reality of life with animals that we usually see only at a distance and whose wild state and limited contact with man we are trying to maintain.

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In trying to protect some groups of unusual wild animals, the objective is to ensure that there is little contact with humankind. In some areas of the country, goats have become so used to visiting the Forestry Commission car park and eating the contents of waste bins that they are almost domesticated, like some of the bears in Canada—although that does not stop the Canadian bears being dangerous.

In my constituency, we have the only herd of Chillingham cattle—wild cattle—in the United Kingdom. Although people go to see them, the object is not to make them in any way domesticated or the subject of normal husbandry. The management procedures used are designed to ensure that the cattle can survive in the wild. Therefore, we have a definitional problem that may require further attention.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: I have been following the right hon. Gentleman's remarks on wild goats. He said that the object was to count them and check on their general condition. Who does so?

Mr. Beith: I referred the Committee to the matter earlier. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not hear it. I am surprised that he did not read the interesting piece that appeared in The Times on 2 February, which described how hundreds of people have applied for the job of counting wild goats. I recommend the job to him. As I told the Committee, the salary is £10,000 a year and the applicant must provide his own dog and live in a remote part of Northumberland. I think that he would find it a challenging and rewarding role. Clearly he would have to give up his duties as a Member of the House and accept the Chiltern Hundreds, but one day he could come back to us and draw on his experience in future debates on these matters. However, I digress. There are people who have such management responsibilities.

To take another example, Forestry Commission rangers organise the stalking of wild deer as part of the process of keeping the numbers to a certain level. Stalking is a major money earner in the areas where it is practised. Quite a few of those who take part in it have traditionally come from other countries, particularly Germany. They pay a lot of money to the hotels in the areas concerned and substantial money even to take part in the activity, but the stalking is controlled by the deer legislation to which the Parliamentary Secretary has referred. The stalkers continue the management process, but, in doing so, they contribute to the local economy.

I am not satisfied with the Parliamentary Secretary's assurance. I believe that Home Office officials could try harder to ensure that a malicious prosecution is never brought in this or a similar area.

Mr. Maples: In an intervention, I asked about what appears to be an anomaly in paragraphs 10 and 11, where the wording used to describe the offence and the exception is inconsistent. When we have raised such questions, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister have consistently told us that the schedule comes from Deadline 2000 and that they do not know the answer. The Parliamentary Secretary says that there were three schedules to the Bill. That is true. I should have expected her and her colleague to be able to explain that for which the House voted, because the Bill has attached to it the names of the Home Secretary, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, indeed, the Minister serving on the Committee. It is a Government Bill.

In all the Standing Committees on which I have served, both in opposition and in government, I have never heard Ministers say before the Committee that they do not understand and cannot explain fairly the Bill's fundamental points. This Bill has been in Committee for three weeks; there has been plenty of time for Ministers to consult Deadline 2000. We cannot consult it or ask it questions. It is simply not good enough on raising legitimate points about anomalies to be met with Ministers washing their hands of the matter, saying, ``I don't know: it's not my Bill, and I don't understand it, so you'll have to ask someone else.'' This is a Government Bill, and Ministers should do their homework so that they are able to explain it.

Mr. Bercow: A significant development has just occurred, about which my hon. Friend will be as concerned as I am. Not only have we had stonewalling, hand-wringing and a display of impotence by the Government in reaction to our criticisms, but the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall)—he who should be silent—has complained bitterly about the state of affairs and stormed out of the Room in protest.

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) rose—

Mr. Maples: I had virtually concluded my remarks, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Lepper: I was puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's saying that he and his colleagues were unable to consult Deadline 2000. I draw his attention to the fact that before the debates on the Floor of the House, Labour Members met representatives of the Countryside Alliance to discuss the Bill and other rural issues. Why does he feel barred from contacting Deadline 2000?

Mr. Maples: I do not feel barred; I could contact Deadline 2000 if I wanted to, but I should not have to. This is a Government Bill, which is the responsibility of two Ministers who should be able to explain it. I do not know whether they understand it—apparently they do not, because otherwise they would answer our questions. On several occasions, they have said that they are not sure of the answer but will give it some thought and respond in due course to the Committee or to the Member concerned. That is a reasonable, because Ministers cannot be expected to understand every detail. However, it is not reasonable—or acceptable—to say, ``This is not my Bill: it came from somewhere else and I am not even going to bother to try to explain it to the Committee.'' That is what we are facing. If the Committee is to sit for an extra day on Tuesday—

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): Pure repetition.

Mr. Maples: I have not made this point before. I hope that by the time the Committee returns on Tuesday, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister will have done their homework on what is, after all, a very short Bill, so that they can answer Committee members' questions.

Mr. Öpik: I found it fairly straightforward to talk both to the Countryside Alliance and to the constituent organisations that make up Deadline 2000. With regard to the amendments, the point is not about consulting Deadline 2000, but about the way in which we conduct our debates. The Committee is required to make responsible decisions to improve the Bill and Ministers have the key responsibility of introducing measures to clarify the parts that are ineffective. It is a question not of having to go outside the Committee for dialogue, but of Ministers bringing the relevant information to our debates so that we can make the Bill work.

Mr. Maples: The hon. Gentleman reinforces my point lucidly and efficiently. I have concluded my remarks.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury): As my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed knows, during the lunchtime break I told him that in some ways I was sympathetic to his suggestion that we should include goats in the paragraph rather than goats and/or other mammals. However, in the light of the debate I have reversed that opinion.

The letter from the Parliamentary Secretary makes it clear that hunting does not necessarily include killing. I accept that. Sometimes a hunt may be unable to track down the animal that it is hunting. However, the actions of the goatherd must necessarily include not killing. It would be odd for a goatherd to go out with a dog to find the goats with the intention of killing them. There is therefore a clear distinction between hunting with a dog, in which there is at least the possibility of a kill, and the work of a goatherd.

Mr. Leigh: I am sorry to have to make this point, but I am sure that Labour Members who have been in opposition know that a good Opposition Member sometimes has to be like a Labrador that gets its teeth into something and does not let go. That is how one gets good legislation, and that is what we are trying to achieve as effectively as we can. It is perfectly in order for me to ask such questions of the Parliamentary Secretary. I apologise for being like the cat that brings indoors an unpleasant mess, but I want her to respond to two simple points, because that is her job.

The British Deer Society, which is a responsible body, said that the use of dogs to flush deer from dense woodland is becoming increasingly common in all areas of the UK, and that there is evidence that proper and effective control of deer in newly established, replanted forests can never be achieved humanely without using dogs to flush them out. Will the Parliamentary Secretary please respond to that point, because she has not dealt with it so far? Will she please also respond to the question that we have continually asked, but which she has completely failed to answer: why are paragraphs 10 and 11 framed in terms of animals, given that paragraph 1 mentions only wild mammals? That is tautology. The Bill, which is not well written, is the Parliamentary Secretary's responsibility. Will she please explain those paragraphs?

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