published today by rural affairs minister Alun Michael.
In a statement to the House of Commons, the minister set out his
'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
'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
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
Where the evidence is incontrovertible that an activity can meet the
tests it will be exempted. Ratting and rabbitting fall into this
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
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)
A full copy of the minister's statement is attached. It sets out his
conclusions and the main elements of the Bill published today.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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.
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
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
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
I believe these proposals will stand the test of time and are right.
Mr Speaker, I commend these proposals to the House.