Hunting Bill

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Mr. Beith: Amendment No. 117 is in the same territory as and has a similar purpose to that of other amendments in the group. I envisage circumstances in which a dog flushes out, grabs, takes in its mouth and effectively retrieves a hare, but the hare is not dead but injured. If the dog puts the hare down, the hare will run away pretty rapidly, but in an injured state; perhaps so injured that it dies a lingering and painful death.

In such circumstances, if the keeper or pest control person takes the gun and shoots, he is liable to shoot his own dog. To use the phrase in Burns, at that point the dog's welfare would be seriously compromised. That is clearly not the intention. What would any sensible keeper do in such circumstances? He would grab the hare and kill it with a sharp blow to the neck, and it would be killed instantly. It would be ridiculous to aim the gun in such circumstances.

We must acknowledge that other methods of killing the animal instantly might be appropriate. Another possibility, which many keepers would prefer, would be to be able to net flushed-out animals—again, so that they can be killed quickly and instantly—rather than shooting in relatively close circumstances.

We should bear in mind that the need to keep close control of the dog suggests working much more closely in circumstances in which people and dogs are together than might otherwise be the case. People must not let their dogs go very far from them, as they are under an obligation to keep their dogs under close control. Again, that means that using the gun in such circumstances might pose a danger to other people who are around or to the dogs. In various circumstances, using other instant and effective ways of dispatching the animal involved should be permitted and would be safer and better than shooting, and safer and better for animal welfare than for the dog to be allowed to let the animal go in a wounded condition to perhaps suffer miserably and painfully.

I welcome some of the other attempts to improve the drafting of the Bill. Better drafting will enable people to carry out their duties and responsibilities with proper regard for animal welfare, and to do so better than they would under the Bill as it is presently drafted.

Mr. Leigh: It is only when we debate such issues that we see the true absurdity of so much of the Bill. Those who support it have realised that they must have exceptions under part II. I do not know who is behind that, but surely they must have had some idea of the practical effect of such a provision in the countryside. Obviously, those who drafted the Bill accepted that they had to make provision for an exception under which a fox or a hare could be flushed out. As the Bill makes clear, we must protect livestock and crops, and obtain meat to be used for human or animal consumption. Everyone accepts that.

I am talking not about organised hunts, but about ordinary gamekeepers and farmers, who are allowed to stalk the fox, the hare or the rabbit. We have a ludicrous situation in which Parliament, in all its wisdom, is laying down in graphic detail exactly how an animal that approaches an individual should be despatched. Let us accept for a moment that we are dealing with the countryside, wild animals and our own animals. They are not human beings; we cannot just order them to do something. It is ludicrous that the Government should allow in the Bill the third condition under paragraph 7(5) of the schedule, which my hon. Friends in their wisdom want to delete.

The third condition is

    ``that reasonable steps were taken for the purpose of ensuring that as soon as possible after being found or flushed out the fox, hare or rabbit would be shot dead, particular, that any dog used in the stalking or flushing out was kept under sufficiently close control''.

What is going on? Why is such a condition in the Bill? How can we possibly ask farmers, gamekeepers and those employed in pest control, who kill tens of thousands of pests and wild animals each year in difficult circumstances, not to do their job as they know best? They are not doing it for pleasure. They do not want to kill the animals. They realise that those wild animals are an essential part of the countryside, but that they have to be controlled and that there must be a balance. We will have to say to gamekeepers that it is not good enough just to clout the hare over the head to despatch it. They will have to carry their guns around and aim at the hare as it is running away or in circumstances in which the dog has the hare half out of its mouth and keeps dropping it on the ground. Such a situation is completely ludicrous.

Do we not have enough humility in this place not to interfere with people who are undertaking a difficult, skilled job that is not well paid? They are not in the business of causing cruelty to animals. Does the Committee believe that gamekeepers or farmers want to make animals suffer? Of course, they do not. They just want to do their job as quickly as possible. To force them to be constrained by the condition under paragraph 7(5) is absurd. When those Committee members concerned have achieved their objective of banning organised hunting, I hope that they will realise that our gamekeepers should not be put in such a ridiculous position.

Further consideration adjourned—[Mr. Mike Hall.]

        Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Seven o'clock till Tuesday 13 February at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)
Banks, Mr.
Beith, Mr.
Bercow, Mr.
Cawsey, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Michael J.
Garnier, Mr.
Gibson, Dr.
Golding, Mrs.
Gordon, Mrs.
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lawrence, Mrs.
Lepper, Mr.
Leigh, Mr.
Lidington, Mr.
Maples, Mr.
Michael, Mr.
Öpik, Mr.
Organ, Mrs.
Pickthall, Mr.
Prentice, Ms Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Rendel, Mr.
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Angela

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