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HUNTING WITH DOGS - THE PROPOSALS

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A Bill to prevent all cruelty associated with hunting with dogs was...
A Bill to prevent all cruelty associated with hunting with dogs was

published today by rural affairs minister Alun Michael.

In a statement to the House of Commons, the minister set out his

conclusions on this contentious issue, and the purpose of the Bill.

He said:

'I hope that members on all sides will see the merits of these

proposals. They are fair, they are reasonable, they balance principle

and evidence. And they can be enforced.

'Most people want to prevent cruelty. They also want farmers,

gamekeepers and others who have to manage the land to be able to do

so.

'There is no magic wand. There is no quick win. The basis of

principle and evidence provides a golden thread that runs through the

whole process and provides authority for the proposals themselves.

'I believe these proposals will stand the test of time and are

right'.

The Bill aims to prevent all cruelty associated with hunting with

dogs. The legislation will recognise utility and prevent cruelty by

setting two evidential tests that hunters would have to meet to

continue their activity.

Where the evidence is incontrovertible that an activity cannot meet

the tests it will be banned. Hare coursing and deer hunting fall into

this category.

Where the evidence is incontrovertible that an activity can meet the

tests it will be exempted. Ratting and rabbitting fall into this

category.

Where the evidence is less clear cut for other types of hunting,

including fox hunting and mink hunting, the Bill provides an

independent process with a registration procedure under which

individual applications are considered on a case-by-case basis as to

whether they meet the tests.

The procedure will involve applications to an independent registrar

who will also give a prescribed animal welfare body the opportunity

of providing evidence in relation to the application. If the

Registrar judges that both the tests are met the activity will be

permitted.

Both the applicant and the animal welfare body will be able to appeal

against the registrar's decision to a tribunal.

Unregistered hunting will be an offence with a penalty of up to

#5,000 and disqualification from registration. Breaches of

conditions, including conditions requiring the hunt quarry to be

killed quickly and humanely, may also lead to deregistration.

Deliberately causing unnecessary suffering during hunting or coursing

may be an imprisonable offence under the Wild Mammals (Protection)

Act 1996.

A full copy of the minister's statement is attached. It sets out his

conclusions and the main elements of the Bill published today.

NOTES

1. The government's manifesto commitment was:

'We will give the new House of Commons an early opportunity to

express its view. We will then enable parliament to reach a

conclusion on this issue.' In March this year the House of Commons

were given the opportunity to take part in an indicative vote, on the

three options set out in the Bill which fell when the election was

called. The minister then, on 21 March, made a statement to the House

of Commons outlining the way ahead, and wrote to a

wide range of organisations inviting comment.

2. Mr Michael invited further comment and hard evidence in a second

consultation paper published on 31 May and worked

with the help of the three umbrella groups to set up hearings of

expert evidence. These were heard between 9 and 11 September at

Portcullis, in London.

3. The hearings were broadcast by BBC Parliament in September and

repeated in November. They were also webcast live on UK Online and

made available there for two months. Transcripts of each session are

available on the Defra website (www.defra.gov.uk/erdp/hunting.htm).

Videos of the hearings were placed in the parliamentary libraries and

provided to the three umbrella groups.

4. The Bill covers England and Wales. It and its explanatory notes

are available from The Stationery Office (ISBN and price details:

www.tso.co.uk the text of the Bill and the explanatory notes will be

available on www.Parliament.uk as soon as possible after first

reading today.

Statement on hunting - December 3rd 2002

Mr Speaker, it is an honour and a privilege to outline to this House

my proposals for legislation to enable Parliament to reach a

conclusion on the issue of hunting with dogs.

The context

Few people would regard this as the most important issue for

Parliament and Government to resolve - but it is a serious issue on

which many members of this House and members of the public have very

strong and polarised views. That is why we must return to this matter

again.

The last time Parliament considered a Bill on hunting with dogs, no

agreement was reached between the House of Commons and the House of

Lords. That is why our manifesto promised to 'enable Parliament to

reach a conclusion on the issue of hunting with dogs'.

And that is why the Prime Minister gave me the job of fulfilling our

manifesto promise by designing legislation to command support in

Parliament and to make good law - legislation that will stand the

test of time.

The Process

At the request of the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted

Animal and the Countryside Alliance I took the conclusions of the

Burns Inquiry as my starting point. His terms of reference required

Lord Burns to look at all aspects of hunting with dogs and the

authority of his report is acknowledged on all sides.

The key issues emerging from the Burns Report were cruelty and

utility. Those two principles have run like a golden thread through

the consultation process.

Everything has been tested against those principles:

- Are we preventing cruelty?

- Are we recognising what farmers and others need to do to eradicate

vermin or to protect their livestock, crops or the bio-diversity of

an area?

My bill is based on the answers to those two questions.

After my statement in March, I started a wide-ranging consultation

process involving all interested parties, members of Parliament and

the public. Initially the response generated more heat than light -

some 7,000 people wrote asking me to leave everything unchanged. This

matched some 7,000 who asked me to 'just ban everything'.

But others wrote detailed contributions, based on evidence and their

personal experience.

In May I asked for detailed evidence to be submitted against a set of

questions and criteria - based on looking at the issues of cruelty

and utility and other questions raised by the evidence I had received

by that time. And the amount of serious engagement increased greatly.

In September I chaired a series of public hearings in Portcullis

House. The three main campaigning groups participated in full.

Together, we heard expert witnesses from all sides of the argument

who debated the merit of applying the principles of cruelty and

utility to the activity of hunting mammals with dogs.

I want to pay tribute to the leaders of those groups - The

Countryside Alliance, the Campaign for the Protection of the Hunted

Animal and the Middle Way Group - who fully engaged in a mature and

intelligent manner about an issue on which each of them felt

passionately and deeply.

During the consultation both sides have welcomed and praised a

process that has been fair, open and transparent.

The two principles of cruelty and utility, Mr Speaker, provide the

golden thread which runs from the start to the finish of the process

and through the drafting of the Bill. This golden thread is

strengthened by the integrity of the process, the basis of principle

and the strong focus on evidence that has led me to conclusions that

I hope will command the support of this House.

The conclusions

I will publish a Bill this afternoon but in advance of that let me

take this opportunity to outline the reasoning behind my conclusions.

Mr Speaker, there has been support from all the organisations

involved for the idea of drafting legislation on the basis of

evidence and the two principles of cruelty and utility.

That in itself is very significant.

On a number of occasions, John Jackson, Chairman of the Countryside

Alliance, said that

'If something is cruel, we shouldn't be doing it'. And animal welfare

organisations have acknowledged 'utility' - things that need to be

done for such purposes as eradicating vermin or to protect livestock.

Indeed they included a list of exemptions in the Deadline 2000 option

that we debated in the last Parliament.

The Middle Way Group has also acknowledged the validity of these two

principles.

The proposals

So the legislation is designed to recognise utility and prevent

cruelty. Let me briefly spell out what that means

- The utility test involves asking what is necessary to prevent

serious damage to livestock, crops and other property or biological

diversity.

- The cruelty test involves asking which effective methods of

achieving that purpose cause the least suffering.

- All activities will be judged on the evidence available as to

whether they meet both these tests.

- Where an activity has no utility and involves cruelty, it will not

be allowed to continue. Incontrovertible evidence shows that the

activities of hare coursing and deer hunting cannot meet the two

tests so these activities will be banned.

- Where an activity with dogs has general utility and there is no

generally less cruel method, it will be allowed. Again

incontrovertible evidence has shown that the activities of ratting

and rabbiting should be allowed to continue and that will be dealt

with in the Bill.

- For some activities the evidence is less clear cut. For these

activities I propose to set up an independent process to consider

on a case-by-case basis whether particular activities involving

dogs meet the two tests. That is consistent with the Burns

findings.

- The procedure will require an application to an independent

Registrar showing why there is a need to undertake the proposed

activity and to show that the cruelty test is satisfied. The

procedure will then allow a prescribed animal welfare organisation

to provide evidence as well.

- If the Registrar is satisfied that both tests are met, he will

grant registration. If not, he will refuse.

- In considering applications the Registrar will also have to

consider whether the applicant will be able to comply with standard

conditions, such as requiring hunted animals to be killed quickly

and humanely when caught. Applicants may also specify conditions to

which their hunting will be subject.

- If either side wishes to appeal against the decision they can do so

to an independent Tribunal.

- The tribunal will be a national body with a President at its head

appointed by the Lord Chancellor. A panel will have a legally

qualified chair, normally sitting with two other members - one with

land management experience and the other with animal welfare

experience.

- This is similar to the fair and effective way in which housing law

and employment law have been dealt with at a high standard over

many years. Let me stress that we will NOT be establishing local

tribunals.

- At every stage there will be balance, fairness, clear principles,

transparency and an emphasis on evidence within a process that is

based on clear tests and which enables hunters and those concerned

with animal welfare to present their evidence.

The onus is now on the people who want to undertake any activity to

show that they can meet the tests of utility and cruelty. They might

find ways of changing their activity to meet the two tests. That will

be a matter for them, and I am not going to prejudge the Independent

Registrar. What is clear is that if they cannot meet the tests then

the activity cannot continue.

Mr Speaker, It is simple - if the activity can't meet the tests then

the activity won't happen. If it can - it will.

A number of commentators have tried to suggest that there is an

intention of going beyond the issue of hunting with dogs to other

country sports. I want to make it clear that there is no such

intention. It is spelt out in our manifesto commitment: 'we have no

intention whatsoever of placing restrictions on the sports of angling

and shooting'.

I am also convinced by the evidence that there is no need to control

falconry within the provisions of my Bill. In falconry, dogs are used

to flush out quarry so for the avoidance of doubt the Bill will

specify such activities as exempted activities.

It may be argued, Mr Speaker, that the two principles of utility and

cruelty on which I am basing my proposals do not go wide enough. The

social and economic contribution of hunting will be mentioned, or the

argument that ancient freedoms should not be interfered with. These

are serious points. I don't take them lightly. But the key point is

that nobody has a right - nor should have a right - to inflict

unnecessary suffering on animals. Of course we want to keep to a

minimum the constraints on people's behaviour and activity, but to

ask for the liberty to be cruel would be absurd. Parliament has the

right to set limits and has done so in the past. That is what this

Bill does.

The Bill seeks to prevent cruelty associated with hunting with dogs.

Even if you are registered, that does not allow you to undertake

activities in such a way as to cause avoidable or unnecessary

suffering. You are registered to hunt certain species with dogs in a

specific area. You do not have licence to be cruel.

Conclusion

Mr Speaker, let us not forget that we have to address this issue and

bring it to a sensible resolution in a way that will stand the test

of time rather than being a quick fix or a temporary solution that

cannot be implemented.

My conclusions are based on evidence and principle, not prejudice on

either side of the argument.

I hope that Members on all sides will see the merit of these

proposals.

They are fair, they are reasonable, they balance principle and

evidence. And they can be enforced.

Most people want to see cruelty prevented. They also want farmers,

gamekeepers and others who have to manage the land to be able to do

so.

There is no magic wand. There is no quick win.

The basis of principle and evidence provides a golden thread that

runs through the whole process and provides authority for the

proposals themselves.

I believe these proposals will stand the test of time and are right.

Mr Speaker, I commend these proposals to the House.

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