At the end of the Commons Committee consideration of the Hunting Bill, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael today commented,
“When I published the Hunting Bill I said I would welcome
constructive debate and improvement, to help develop legislation that will stand the test of time. I am pleased that the animal welfare provisions of this Bill have indeed been strengthened and its content clarified as a result of debate in committee.
“The Bill will eradicate all cruelty associated with hunting with dogs. That is the expressed aim of those specifically concerned with animal welfare, but the Countryside Alliance has also acknowledged that ‘if it’s cruel we shouldn’t be doing it’.
“It is based on principles that all sides, including the pro-hunting organisations, accepted as right during the consultation process that led to its drafting and publication. These principles of ‘utility’ and ‘cruelty’ provide the basis of the two tests that any hunting must satisfy. Applicants for registration will first have to show
that the proposed hunting is necessary for pest control purposes. They then have to show that hunting is the means of pest control which involves the least suffering. Hunting will be banned except where these two tests are satisfied.
“While the Bill approaches issues in a way that differs from
campaigners’ previous suggestions, what it delivers is clearly based on the right principles.
“At its introduction the Bill was described as “tough but fair”. That remains true although it is even more robust as a result of amendments in committee.
“In addition to banning hunting of deer and hare coursing, the Bill now bans hare hunting. Hare coursing is an unnecessary and cruel activity, involving chasing and sometimes killing wild mammals for sport. It fails the utility test set by the Bill, as is clear from the rules for these events. Hare hunting plays only a marginal role
in controlling any damage done by hares and shooting is a generally available alternative method of control. Pro- hunting Committee members argued that there could be a confusion between hare coursing and hare hunting, a point also raised with me following the Portcullis House hearings in September. This consideration finally tipped the balance in favour of a clearly understood ban on all hare hunting.
“It also bans the use of terriers below ground. There is genuine public concern about this element of terrier work. Indeed many people involved in hunting recognise that there are aspects which are cruel and unacceptable, a point made from both sides of the committee during debate. There are complexities that this blanket ban does not provide for and which need to be settled by further amendments to the
Bill. I have promised to discuss this and other further amendments with interested groups, including gamekeepers and animal welfare bodies. The undertakings on this point have been welcomed by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.
“The Bill now safeguards pest control practices that are not only necessary to protect livestock, crops and gamebirds, but any wild bird, so protecting all birds at risk from foxes, mink and other predators. It also allows people aged 16 upwards to be registered to hunt, rather than the original 18 age limit, removing an unintended barrier to young people employed in land and wildlife management.
“The other key changes to the Bill are to clause eight , making clear that the utility test is a test of the pest control purposes of hunting, and that the cruelty test requires an individual to demonstrate that any proposed activity with dogs clearly causes less pain, suffering and distress than alternative pest control methods.
“This is a Bill based on principle and which will outlaw cruelty in hunting, as the one thing on which pro and anti-hunt campaigners agree is that ‘if it is cruel it shouldn’t happen’. We have just completed an important stage in making that a reality”.