Hunting Bill

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Mr. Garnier: I have come across that neither in my legal experience nor in my hunting or other sporting experience. Clearly there will be some ground that is above ground but below other ground. From time to time, when the hon. Lady is paddling in that brook that she so wonderfully told us about on Tuesday, she will be both above and below ground. New Labour, of which I am sure the hon. Lady is not a member, frequently suffers from that problem—it does not know whether it is above or below, beside or in front, but it is certainly confused. We, too, are confused, as a consequence of the drafting of the Bill. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention, not least because it gave me time for a sip of water.

I wish to make two practical points that the Committee should bear in mind. In its submission to the Burns inquiry, the National Working Terrier Federation stated:

    ``The role of the terrier is to locate the quarry below ground''—

Burns, too, uses the phrase ``below ground''—

    ``and to bark at it continuously, either causing it to leave the earth, or alternatively to indicate where in the earth the quarry is located, in order that it can be dug to and dispatched. Terriers are also used to locate and flush quarry above ground and in dense cover.''

Terriers can be put to an accepted and perfectly reasonable use; it does not necessarily involve unnecessary suffering either to the terrier or to the quarry.

The National Gamekeepers Organisation explains:

    ``Gamekeepers use terriers to locate and/or bolt foxes, and sometimes mink''—

another subject on which the hon. Lady has been so helpful—

    ``from underground. Terriers are normally used in conjunction with nets, guns and/or other dogs. Terriers are the only legal means of dealing with foxes that have taken refuge underground. The Bill (Schedule 3.) would ban this. The ability to kill foxes at their underground earths is very important because, as in all wildlife culling, locating the animal is the initial difficulty. Moorland gamekeepers in particular rely on terrier work at earths because locating, let alone shooting or trapping, a fox on the open moor is extremely difficult.''

I do not need to tell the Committee that using a rifle to shoot a speeding fox is extremely difficult and that it can lead to foxes being injured rather than killed.

I shall finish on this point: many people own terriers as pets—I cannot remember whether the pet dog of the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole is a terrier, but that does not matter—be they Jack Russell, Norwich, Norfolk, border or hunt terriers.

Jane Kennedy: Fox terriers.

Mr. Garnier: Even fox terriers—but I was not thinking of that breed for the moment. That is slightly bigger than the type of terrier I had in mind.

When an owner goes for a walk along the south downs or the Hampshire downs, or in any part of the country where there are large rabbit warrens, a pet terrier owned by what I would call a ``non-hunting person'' will, as a matter of natural behaviour, run off and go underground. It might dig its way into a badger sett, a fox earth or a rabbit hole, which is extremely distressing to the owner because it might get stuck or meet up with some animal which is not too welcoming. None the less, such innocent pet owners will be caught out by the Bill and the schedule unless the use of the word ``deliberate'' is imported into it, which I do not think the Government intend. If they do intend that, they perhaps ought to think about the matter rather more carefully.

A make the plea on behalf of not just gamekeepers or legitimate, organised, registered hunts but the ordinary citizens of this country who happen to own as pets the sort of dogs that like, as a matter of nature, to search underground for animals to whose scent they are attracted. In that spirit, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell the Committee that the Government will take the Bill away, put it through the mangle and come out with something better.

Mr. Beith: My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire made a very thoughtful speech about terrier work, which is an emotive issue. Terrier work makes some want to ban foxhunting, perhaps because they do not understand why it is used or because some of their knowledge of it is based on what happened before hunts regulated it more carefully. That in itself is cause for thought for those of us who do not believe in a ban on hunting but could be persuaded, particularly if it satisfied some fears, of a case for more external regulation of terrier work. It is a very important area and one that we ought to think about carefully.

Because of the extraordinary and absurd provision that the dog cannot be used below ground, amendments Nos. 118 and 125 are designed to deal with the difficulty of a gamekeeper, or even of an ordinary citizen, who uses a dog to deal with a pest control problem. The provision destroys all other exemptions—a list ranging from pest control to lions which have escaped from zoos—as every one of them is qualified by the ``not below ground'' limitation. The trouble is that it is places below ground to which animals go in precisely such circumstances. That is why it is important that we sort out the definition.

Where does a rat bolt to if a dog is chasing it? It finds somewhere sheltered and secure. It may find a cellar—and I have already given the example of the cellar of the demolished house as a place to which a rat has access. It may find a minedrift or a mineshaft. My constituency is riddled with old mineshafts and minedrifts, some dating back over hundreds of years. The rats know where they are, and they will shelter in them.

Amendment No. 125 deals with caves and potholes. Where is the goat that we discussed earlier likely to shelter? In a cave—we have caves in the Cheviots. A cave is below ground; there is ground above one's head when one stands in a cave. The goat may find its way into a pothole. Those are definitional problems; they are not the fundamental issues of the Bill. However, if we do not get them right, then yet again people could be liable for prosecution when going about legitimate and normal activities. I will happily give way to my hon. Friend, who I know is anxious to be helpful with this sort of thing.

Mr. Rendel: Does my right hon. Friend agree that amendment No. 118 is too broad in its language, in that it might allow people to construct setts or holes for foxes underground, into which they would then seek to drive the foxes, and then use terriers to get them out again? There is a danger that man-made constructions might not be of the size that he imagines.

Mr. Beith: I had thought of that possibility, but there are other provisions in the conditions that are required that would save us from that danger. For example, a supposedly escaped animal cannot have been allowed to escape so that it may be chased. I have forgotten the number of the paragraph that deals with that, but that is one of the conditions that must be satisfied. My hon. Friend makes a point that should be attended to by those whom I am asking to examine the drafting of the Bill. It is not my intention to achieve with the amendment what my hon. Friend suggests may be its effect. I want to ensure that the places where animals might take refuge in circumstances under which one is, for good reason, allowed to hunt them, are included in the provisions that are designed to allow people to carry on their normal work. Such small matters of definition, which appear minor, could create significant problems, and there is no reason why officials cannot help to get them right.

Jane Kennedy: First, I shall deal with amendments Nos. 60, 78, 80 and 83 and those that are consequential on them—Nos. 76, 77, 79, 81, 82, 84 and 85.

The effect of the amendments is simple to describe. The overriding purpose of the schedule is to ban hunting with dogs. However, it contains a number of exceptions covering circumstances where it would still be appropriate to permit hunting with dogs. Each of those exceptions comes with a number of conditions that have to be met in order for the hunting to be lawful. Those conditions are necessarily tightly drawn, as otherwise the exceptions would turn into large loopholes.

In the stalking and flushing out exception in paragraph 7, the rodent control exception in paragraph 8, the recapturing animals exception in paragraph 10 and the rescuing animals exception in paragraph 11, one key condition is that dogs are not used below ground. The amendments would remove that condition in each case.

The purpose of the condition is to outlaw terrier work that involves sending a terrier into a fox earth or underground tunnel in order to locate or flush out a fox. I invite the Committee to consider that some of the greatest cruelty takes place when terriers are sent below ground in that way. It is a practice that members of the Committee may feel should be banned.

As my hon. Friend the Minister explained at a previous sitting, hon. Members may be concerned about what happens both to the quarry being pursued underground and to the dog. Members of the Committee will want to take into account what the Burns committee said on the issue. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who has left the Room again temporarily, has already quoted from the Burns report, as have other hon. Members. For emphasis, I shall quote more of it.

In paragraph 6.84, the report states that the committee received

    ``evidence of injuries to terriers during terrierwork.''

There is no disputing that, and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has described it. The effect on those hunted by terriers is dealt with in paragraphs 9.17 to 9.20 of the report, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said. It is clear that the committee had serious concerns about terrier work.

I turn to amendments Nos. 61, 86, 96 and 100. They would provide that the condition was met and hunting would be lawful if there was no deliberate use of dogs below ground. The amendments are unnecessary. In some ways, our earlier discussions about whether hunting can be unintentional are echoed. I remind the Committee that hunting cannot. In the same way, the person in charge of the dog must intend the dog to go below ground in order to fall foul of the condition. If a dog took it on itself to go below ground without intent on the part of its handler, that would not constitute use of a dog below ground. I remind the Committee that that condition applied only to those who are hunting and wish to rely on the exception. Individuals who are not hunting are not committing an offence and therefore have no need to rely on the exception. A person who is taking his dog for a walk in the park need not worry if the dog decides to go down a rabbit hole. That person may worry about how to get the dog out again, but not about whether they were committing an offence under the Bill.

6.15 pm

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