Mr. O'Brien: The point about the Protection of Badgers Act was that it stated basic offences and, elsewhere, defences. That is why it is being relied on. Although I broadly accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's points, I hope that I am not being unfair to him by saying that he has basically missed the point about why I mentioned that Act. I hope that I can prevent him from having to go any further on that point. I broadly accept the points that he has made[Interruption.]
Mr. Garnier: I am most grateful to the Minister. The groans may have prevented hon. Members behind him from hearing that concession, for which I am grateful because it allows us to make further progress.
Confusion has been evident in today's debate and I regret to say that, despite the attractiveness of his advocacy, the Minister has been unable to clear it up. Confusion remains about the genesis of the Billand therefore about paragraph 3, which we want deleted from it.
It is not unknown for Governments of both colours to hand out Bills to private Members for Fridays. This must be the first occasion, however, on which an outside organisation has handed a Bill to the Government, who are a recipient of the handout. That explains why we have had to have today's debateto expose and to examine the confusing nature of the Bill and of paragraph 3 in particular.
The confusion is not cleared up by Mr. Swann's letter, which was attached to the letterdated 1 Februaryto my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough. Mr. Swann was a representative of Deadline 2000, which drafted the schedule
The Chairman: Order. I am being extremely patient with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but so far he has alluded little to the amendment that we are debating and even less to paragraph 3, which the amendment proposes to remove.
Mr. Garnier: During the course of his arguments in support of paragraph 3, the Minister referred to Mr. Swann's letter, as did other hon. Members. I will not go through that letter in detail and never intended to do so. However, if one does read itand I dare say that you, Mr. O'Hara, will have read it because you, as Chairman of the Committee, will have been sent a copyone realises that it is riddled with intellectual, moral and philosophical confusion. If Mr. Swann's writing has anything to do with the writing of the schedule, it surprises me not a bit that paragraph 3, which we want deleted, is the subject and cause of such confusion.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed began proceedings this morning by asking the Committee to bring precision to its deliberations so that the intention of Parliament is not betrayed. He supplied the example of the gamekeeper and the ``domesticated hound'' going for a walk. Nobody on the Government Benchescertainly not the Minister, or the hon. Member for West Lancashire, who was the only Member consciously to support the Bill todayhas been able to deal with the issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman, which is regrettable.
Mr. Soames: Did my hon. and learned Friend use the phrase ``domesticated hounds''? He will know that there is no such thing as a domesticated hound. Anyone who has walked a hound puppy knows that.
Mr. Garnier: I did use that expression. My hon. Friend was unable to listen to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed when he said that one of the Bill's consequences will be that the public, encouraged by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, will take hounds into domestic life because they cannot face the fact that they will otherwise be shot or destroyed. A hound cannot be domesticated
Mr. Soames: Or a beagle.
Mr. Garnier: Or a beagle. If a hound in private ownership is taken for a walk, it will behave as it naturally behaves and chase any wild mammals that it sees. That brings me directly to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastalthat the paragraph will legislate against the laws of nature, which cannot, as he correctly stated, be altered in a sensible way by the Committee and this paragraph.
Mr. Gummer: I hoped that my hon. and learned Friend would continuein order. The dogs do not behave in this way just because it is natural to them, but the breeds for whom it is particularly natural will be difficult to continue. Those breeds may have to be an aim of conservation in future, otherwise they will cease to exist.
Mr. Mike Hall rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
Question put, That the Question be now put:
The Committee divided: Ayes 15, Noes 9.
Division No. 4]
Question put accordingly, That the amendment be made:
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 16.
Division No. 5]
Mr. Garnier: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 20, line 5, leave out `level 5' and insert `level 1'.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 13, in page 20, line 5, leave out `level 5' and insert `level 2'.
No. 14, in page 20, line 5, leave out `level 5' and insert `level 3'.
No. 15, in page 20, line 5, leave out `level 5' and insert `level 4'.
Mr. Garnier: The amendments deal with the appropriate level of the fine that the Government want to import into the Bill.
Mr. Gummer: Would my hon. and learned Friend care to remind the Committee that this is a timetabled Committee with an end date in which the Government Whip has called for a closure? Is not that a unique and dangerous precedent?
Mr. Garnier: My right hon. Friend is right. I had thought that the conduct of the Government Whip stood as a condemnation in itself and I was not going to rub his nose in it, but it is entirely regrettable that the democratic process is being crushed and impaled upon the altar of new Labour to deny our constituents the right of free expression through their Members of Parliament[Interruption.].
The Chairman: Order. I point out that the closure motion has to be accepted by the Chairman, who is entirely neutral, as I hope that I have demonstrated in my chairing of the debates thus far. I have made it abundantly clear on several occasions that dilation in debates is becoming excessive and repetitious.
Mr. Garnier: Neither my remarks nor those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal had anything whatever to do with criticising you, Mr. O'Hara. Our criticism was clearly aimed elsewhere, and those against whom it was made know that it was well made.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?
Mr. Garnier: No. I want to discuss the amendments.
Mr. Michael: On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. Is it right for one member of the Committee to criticise another member of the Committee who cannot answer for himself, especially given that the record will show the extent to which there has been a filibuster during the course of the debate?
The Chairman: Order. I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says.
Mr. Bercow: On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. In the light of the right hon. Gentleman's comments, I wonder if he could give the Committee guidance on an important pointthat is, the entitlement of a representative of the Government Whips Office to speak in the course of the debate. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the hon. Member for Weaver Vale cannot defend himself. Would you confirm, Mr. O'Hara, that although the hon. Gentleman is not entitled continually to participate from a sedentary positionas he has persisted in doingif he wanted to get up and make a speech it would be perfectly legitimate, albeit unusual?
The Chairman: Order. I must say that any sedentary interventions by the hon. Member for Weaver Vale have not impinged upon my consciousness.
Mr. Garnier: I do not want to upset the hon. Member for Weaver ValeI am sure that he has plenty of problems already. Thanks to the hon. Member for West Lancashire, we already know about the problems of his dog.
When the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) intervened, I was about to try to persuade the Committee of the good sense of the amendments.
Mr. Leigh: On a point of order, Mr. O'Hara. I believe that an attack was made on you by the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, who said that filibustering had taken place. Would you confirm that if any member of the Committee were to attempt that, they would be ruled out of order?
The Chairman: I noted what the right hon. Gentleman said.
Mr. Garnier: Let me try again to begin as I had hoped, by discussing amendments Nos. 12 to 15, which deal with the appropriate level of fine that the offence of hunting a wild mammal with a dog will attract. Paragraph 5 states:
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) asked the Home Secretary two written questions, the answers to whichnos. 162 and 163were provided on 18 January by the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke). My hon. Friend asked the Home Secretary
The Minister of State replied:
The concept of proportionality is therefore immediately brought into the discussion. The hon. Gentleman continued:
it is a fine document
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury also asked the Home Secretary
The Minister of State replied:
Offences are grouped together by using the main Home Office classification definition, as produced within the more detailed `Criminal statistics, England and Wales, Supplementary tables', a copy of which I have placed in the Library. To try to identify by individual offence would be disproportionate to cost.''[Official Report, 18 January 2001; Vol. 361, c. 360-62W.]
For ease of reference and greater accuracy, I have obtained a copy of that schedule, which is a four-page document. There are matters in it to which it is sensible to draw the Committee's attention, and which fall within the ambit of the right and proportionate criminal penalty for hunting a wild mammal with a dog. I pause simply to ask the Minister why the matter is dealt with through summary court proceedings and a fine, rather than imprisonment, given that the proposers of the Bill consider hunting such a heinous offence. If an offence is committed under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, the defendant can be sent to prison for up to six months. Other animal welfare legislation provides for a custodial sentence in addition to, or in substitution for, a financial penalty.
There are a number of other practical implications that are worth discussing briefly. According to the table that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Norwich, South, provided, which can be found in the Library, 992,420 offencesalmost a million casesattracted a fine in summary courts. I cannot say whether they involved a million people, because I do not know whether individuals are separated out or whether an individual is multiplied by a group of offences, but I can provide the Committee with the following analysis.
Of those nearly 1 million instances of fining, 824,228 were at £200 or under; 135,485 were at level 2that is to say, between £200 and £500; 28,445 were at level 3that is to say, between £500 and £1,000; 2,182 were between £1,000 and £2,500, which is level 4; and only 637 were between £2,500 and £5,000, which is level 5. Only 443 cases involved a fine in excess of £5,000.
There is a lesson to be drawn from that. What is the point of setting level 5 in paragraph 5 at that level if historicallywe are looking at the latest figures, which are for 1999the use of level 5 fines is so rare? There were only 637 cases at level 5 out of a total of nearly 1 million. That suggests to me that the use of level 5 fines for summary offences in British law is so rare that a level 5 penalty is not appropriate for this offence.
It is worth bearing in mind that a number of serious offences have been dealt with by fines and at levels well below level 5, the level that the offence of hunting attracts. I go to the third category of offence to be found in the list of offences provided by the Minister of State at the Home Office. It is offence No. 3``Threat or conspiracy to murder''. One might think that anyone found guilty of a threat or conspiracy to murder was likely to face a long term of imprisonment, but in 1999, 14 people were fined for that offence. Eight of those people received a fine of up to and including £200, five received a fine of over £200 but under £500 and one was fined over £500 but not in excess of £1,000. We do not know from the schedule what the mitigating circumstances were or what the facts were behind the offence or relating to the individual defendants, but not one of those 14 cases of threat or conspiracy to murder attracted a fine at level 4, let alone level 5.
Let me take the Committee to some other examples. It appears that in 1999 six cases involving death by dangerous driving were drawn to the attention of the summary courts. Only two of those six were in the level 5 categorybetween £2,500 and £5,000.
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