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(Updated 25/02/01)

Hunt Bill 'going to the dogs'

THE GOVERNMENT’S attempt to ban hunting with hounds was thrown into confusion last week after Ministers were forced to allow concessions over the use of dogs to flush out deer.

The amendment allows a person with a gun to send dogs to chase and corner a deer so that it could be shot at close range - provided that the person pulling the trigger was only doing so as part of his job and not for sport.
The wording of this concession has drawn snorts of derision from pro-hunting critics of the Bill who claim that the Hunting Bill is more about regulating human behaviour than about protecting animals.

They accused Ministers of making legislation without any idea of its unintended effects on country life.
The latest concession would allow a gamekeeper to flush out and kill an injured or diseased deer, even if he used identical methods to those who hunt deer for sport in Devon and Somerset.


Simon Hart, director of the Campaign for Hunting said. “This proves that the Government doesn’t know what it is doing. It had emerged that nothing is black and white in this Bill. It is all about stopping people enjoying themselves, it is nothing to do with the plight of animals. That is why they are in such a muddle.”

His views were echoed by Mal Treherne, spokesman for the Countryside Alliance who said: “The flushing out of deer will cause as much distress as the hunting. There is a massive contradiction in this amendment.”

Mike O’Brien, the junior Home Office Minister in charge of the Bill, was obviously rattled by the criticisms of the various concessions, defending them by saying that that the Government was damned whatever it did.

“If it refuses to make changes it is accused of not listening, and if it makes concessions it is accused of being in a muddle,” declared Mr O’Brien.

Mr O’Brien had an ally in Mike Hobday, of the League Against Cruel Sports, who denied that the amendment would “water down” the Bill, saying. “It is merely a clarification that somebody controlling numbers (of deer) may use a dog to stalk deer. It does not in any way allow the hunting of deer.

“We have no objection to the controlling of numbers. We object to the hunting of these animals for fun.”
Meanwhile, other concessions appear to be causing more anomalies than they are meant to resolve.

Jane Kennedy, a junior Minister in the Lord Chancellor’s department, said that Welsh gun packs would be exempt from controls, despite their similarity to conventional fox hunts.

An example of the contradictory nature of the concession means that the Irfon and Towy Hunt, based in mid-Wales, would be banned on Wednesdays when it hunts in the traditional way, but not on Saturdays when it operates as a gun pack.

Gun packs operate in parts of Wales covered by coniferous forests. Hounds chase the foxes through the trees, while men with guns wait at the forest edge to shoot the foxes as they break cover.

Miss Kennedy also conceded that rat catchers should be allowed to use dogs to chase and kill rats and other rodents “in cellars, sewers and other underground human constructions.”


Meanwhile, there has also been a suggestion that the Bill could be amended so that it does not apply to the killing of rabbits. This is to avoid criminalizing dog owners who take their terriers for a walk with fatal consequences for a passing rabbit. As the Bill stands now, any dog which gives chase to a rabbit will be deemed to be being “used for hunting”.

Hare coursing will be outlawed and the onus will be placed on the dog’s owner to ensure that it is chasing a rabbit, not a hare.

Apparently oblivious to the logic and practicality of her suggestion, Labour MP Jackie Lawrence, a member of the Select Committee, said that there should be no problem training terriers to tell the difference between a rabbit and a hare.

Many observers feel the concessions and discussion of the Bill is a pointless exercise in any event, as the Bill is expected to run out of Parliamentary time when, as widely expected, a General Election is called in early May.