Hunting Bill

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Alun Michael: No, it is very important.

Mr. Gray: If my interpretation is right, the Minister says that the meaning of ''hunt'' includes the intention to pursue an animal. The word includes intention, so it is not necessary to include the word ''intention'' on the face of the Bill. Therefore, if I am doing something and do not intend to pursue an animal, I am not guilty of hunting. I am carrying out some other activity that

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does not come under the definition of the word ''hunting'', such as taking my dog for a walk, or going drag hunting.

The Minister's contention is exploded by drag hunting. That does not involve the chasing or killing of any animals. They want us to go drag hunting, where there is no intention to kill anything. I suspect the Minister's precise definition is exploded by that term. Nevertheless, if I am doing something and do not intend to kill an animal, I am not hunting.

Alun Michael: We are talking about the hunting of wild mammals. Drag hunting is not the hunting of a wild mammal, so there is no definitional problem.

Mr. Gray: It is not a definitional problem at all. I was seeking to work out whether intent to hunt was or was not important. The Minister argued that using the word ''intent'' in the Bill was not important because under ordinary definitions in the Oxford English dictionary the word ''hunt'' includes the word intention. Hunting according to his definition includes the intention to catch and kill an animal, but drag hunting does not do that, nor does hunt the thimble for that matter. The important point is that the Minister has made it plain that the offence is to intend to catch an animal—he used that phrase a moment ago. Therefore, if there is no intention to do so, one is not committing an offence.

The other question that we have had a useful gallop round during the debate is that of pursuit. I sympathise with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. It is perfectly plain that the offence is to pursue the animal, not to kill it. A clause could easily have been inserted that said, ''Anybody caught using dogs to kill a wild mammal will be guilty of an offence'', but it was not. Nowhere does the Bill say that killing a wild mammal using dogs is an offence. Merely pursuing it is an offence. If, as often happens particularly during the cub-hunting season—the autumn hunting season—one finds an animal and kills it immediately without any pursuit, my understanding from what the Minister has told us this afternoon is that that will not be an offence. If it can be proved that no pursuit is involved, it is not an offence. I therefore sympathise with the intention of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West.

We have had a useful gallop round the course. The intention point is useful, as is the pursuit point. It was worth re-emphasising both of those. None the less, I accept that the definitions in the Bill are sufficient. I was trying to help the Minister. I welcome the fact that he clarified the definitions so helpfully from the point of view of those of us who like hunting. I am content to leave it at that.

Rob Marris: I thought that I would have one last trot around my amendment. [Hon. Members: ''A canter.''] Perhaps even a canter.

Gregory Barker: A gallop.

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Rob Marris: Not a gallop, I am afraid.

In his near-closing remarks, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire again fastened on the point that my amendment is designed, perhaps inexpertly, to address. In fox hunting and in the shorthand that I have chosen to employ the word for the instant kill is something like ''chop''. That would not be an offence under the Bill, because the person could say, ''The ingredients are not there, because I am not hunting. Look at clause 45(2). There is nothing there about the instant kill. We just came upon this cub and the dogs did for it immediately.'' That is the chop.

I am reassured by my right hon. Friend the Minister saying that he will look again at this point and I urge him to do so, because I still believe that it is a gap in the Bill. I say in a friendly way to him that I am not quite convinced about dictionary definitions. At one point ''pursuit'' is inherent in hunting, but at another it is not, so it is included for the sake of clarity in clause 45(2)(a) and (b). I urge my right hon. Friend to consider again the inherent nature, or lack of it, of pursuit and hunting, and at the instant kill.

Alun Michael: When the chop takes place, as my hon. Friend has described it, the issue is not whether there has been a chase, but the activity that the individual or group of individuals is undertaking. If they are engaged in hunting, they are engaged in hunting. The instant nature of the kill is a detail that does not change that.

In relation to the definition in the clause, the references to ''pursuit'' are used to provide clarity that those elements are included in the definition of hunting and are not exclusive. That is why I have spoken, on the one hand, about the common usage of the word ''hunting'' and, on the other, about the clarification that we sought in the definition. However, I shall come back to my hon. Friend to gain a common understanding of the issues, perhaps outside the Committee.

Rob Marris: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. In terms of the practicalities, if a police officer came across a number of hounds or dogs eating a hare, he might deduce that there had been a pursuit. However, if the individual said ''No, this is a chop. There is no pursuit here. We have committed no offence, because we weren't hunting'', the police officer probably would not be able to launch a prosecution. However, I am reassured.

Mr. Gray: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes past Five o'clock till Thursday 27 February at five minutes to Nine o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Atherton, Ms
Banks, Mr.
Barker, Gregory
Bradley, Peter
Brown, Mr. Russell
Cawsey, Mr.
Flook, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Michael
George, Andrew
Gray, Mr.
Gummer, Mr.
Hall, Mr. Mike

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Holmes, Paul
Luff, Mr.
Mallaber, Judy
Marris, Rob
Martlew, Mr.
Michael, Alun
Öpik, Lembit
Owen, Albert
Pickthall, Mr.
Reed, Mr.
Soames, Mr.
Tipping, Paddy
Whitehead, Dr.

 
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