New Clause 10 - Regulation of the keeping of hunting dogs

Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:30 pm ar 18 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“(1) The Secretary of State must, within 12 months of the date of Royal Assent to this Act, make regulations providing for licensing of the keeping of one or more dogs used for the purposes of hunting.

(2) It shall be an offence to keep a dog which is used for hunting without a licence.

(3) For the purposes of this section, “hunting” includes, but is not limited to—

(a) hunting any animal; and

(b) trail hunting or other hunt simulation.”.—

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to make regulations for licensing of the keeping of one or more dogs used for the purposes of hunting.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Llafur, Gorllewin Abertawe

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 11—Hunting dog welfare: review and consultation—

“(1) The Secretary of State must carry out a review of the welfare conditions of dogs used for hunting.

(2) In conducting the review the Secretary of State must—

(a) consider the welfare conditions of dogs used for hunting;

(b) consult the public and such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate on the welfare of dogs used for hunting.

(3) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the findings of the review, which must set out recommendations for action.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to conduct a review into the welfare conditions of dogs used for hunting.

New clause 12—Ban on the use of a dog below ground in the course of stalking or flushing out—

“The use of a dog below ground in the course of stalking or flushing out is prohibited.”.

New clause 13—Removal of exemption of hounds under the Road Traffic Act—

“(1) The Road Traffic Act 1988 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 27 (Control of dogs on roads), in subsection (4) omit paragraph (b

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

You might not like this one so much, Mr Davies—or some might not. New clauses 10, 11 and 12 are about the welfare of hunting dogs. I am grateful to the League Against Cruel Sports for its advice on the new clauses.

New clause 10 would require the Secretary of State to make regulations within 12 months of the passing of the Bill that would require individuals who keep one or more hunting dogs to obtain a licence, and it would make it an offence to be in possession of hunting dogs without a licence. New clause 11 would require the Secretary of State to carry out a review of the welfare of dogs used for hunting. At the core of these issues is a concern about the welfare of hunting dogs and that the absence of a robust licencing system has resulted in some hounds experiencing poor welfare conditions.

Unlike dog boarding kennels, which are commercial and therefore licensed, hunt kennels are not licensed and are regulated by the code of practice for the welfare of hounds in hunt kennels. The code sets out that euthanasia is not an offence so long as it is done in an “appropriate and humane manner”. It says that, for adult hounds over the age of 10 weeks, a humane killer should be used, and that hounds of all ages may be put down by a veterinary surgeon with an overdose of Euthatal. The issue is that hunt kennels are not independently inspected, and so there is no independent monitoring of hound welfare and the euthanasia of hounds. As a result, hound welfare concerns are unlikely to come to light, and when they do, reports of how the dogs are treated sometimes fall well below expected standards.

Last month, ITV published an exposé of the killing of hounds by the Beaufort hunt, which included videos of hounds being dragged outside and shot, including one hound that was shot twice, minutes apart, before it died. It is believed that the shooter was not a trained veterinary professional. This clearly does not constitute appropriate and humane euthanasia. I watched the footage, and I suggest others do so, although it is upsetting. A number of those commenting in the ITV piece, including a Conservative MP, urged regulation. That is what we propose.

In 2015, the Daily Mirror published a report on the treatment of hunting dogs, including the testimony of a former hunter who said that the whipping of dogs was commonplace and that hounds are disposed of when they are perceived to have failed in any way. In the past, when the debate over the future of hunting was raging, I visited the West Norfolk Foxhounds to speak to people directly. My strongest memory of that visit was of the hounds themselves—big, strong dogs, totally unsuitable for rehoming. When I asked what became of them, the answer was honest and clear: “We shoot them.” Some will say that that is just the way of it; that is a reality of rural life. I do not think that is good enough in 2021, and my sense is that most people living in rural areas do not think so either.

It is our view that such weak regulations and the lack of monitoring of hunting kennels leave hounds open to poor welfare conditions. Given that we license dog boarding kennels, I do not see why the same approach is not taken to hunt kennels. Are we saying that somehow the welfare of hunting dogs is not important?

I would like to make it clear that I am not saying that all hunts necessarily treat hounds in that way, but the lack of monitoring makes it difficult to know how they are treated. Given that the Bill is an animal welfare measure, I believe that we should be seriously concerned about the limited understanding of how hounds are treated and the lack of a licensing system to protect their welfare. New clauses 10 and 11 would rectify that.

New clause 12 would ban what is known in the hunting world as terrier work. That terminology describes a hunting activity whereby terriers are introduced into a hole in the ground to flush out or force a wild mammal to escape. If the wild mammal does not escape from the hole immediately, those in charge of the dog will dig down to access it—a process that can take hours, I am told. If the wild mammal—usually a fox, but sometimes a badger—does not subsequently bolt from the hole, there can be an underground battle. That is not only cruel to the wild animal being flushed out, but to the dogs, who risk being forced into a dangerous confrontation, which can result in severe injuries or death.

I am afraid that there is also, in our view, the real risk that the practice is used as a cover for illegal hunting with dogs. Although hunting with dogs is illegal, we are told that those who work with terriers still sometimes accompany hunts under the guise of trail hunting. There is of course little reason for that since no live wild mammals should be being hunted and there should be no need for support to flush out a wild mammal. Recently, in a notorious, high-profile case, Mark Hankinson of the Masters of Foxhounds Association was found guilty of encouraging and assisting people to evade the ban on foxhunting. The prosecution was the result of leaked footage of webinars hosted by the Hunting Office in August 2020, during which, among other incriminating comments, Mr Hankinson said that terrier work is “our soft underbelly”.

The League Against Cruel Sports reports that, in addition to its role in foxhunting, terrier work continues to occur as a stand-alone recreational pastime for individuals and gangs of people across the country who enjoy using their terriers to attack foxes and badgers. It stated that evidence it has gathered suggests that putting dogs underground to chase and fight foxes can lead to some of the worst cruelty cases associated with hunting. Given the harm that terrier work can cause to dogs, the new clause banning the practice is long overdue.

New clause 13 would remove the exemption for hunting dogs from section 27 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, under which local authorities may specify “designated” roads where dogs must be kept on leads. Sadly, every season there are incidents of hounds causing chaos by running across roads when trail hunting. During the March 2019-20 hunting seasons, the League Against Cruel Sports received 128 reports of hunts causing havoc on roads. Eight involved foxes being chased across roads by hounds that were supposedly trail hunting. The league also received reports of 10 hounds involved in road traffic collisions. Five of them were killed.

Removing the exemption would mean that a hunt had to abide by the same rules as any other dog owners on designated roads. Again, that should not pose a challenge to legal hunts. If trail hunts are operated properly, they can be organised in a manner whereby there is no possibility of hounds ending up on the road. The route of any trails laid should be properly planned, well away from such hazards. In cases of exempt hunting, hunts should have sufficient control over hounds to prevent them from unexpectedly marauding across and along roads. It should be added that not all roads are designated, so hunts will still be allowed to cross certain roads if the council allows it.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government are committed to improving the welfare of all dogs. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 puts obligations on all animal keepers to meet the full range of welfare needs. It is backed up by the statutory code of practice, to which we referred extensively on Tuesday, for the welfare of dogs.

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 raised the maximum penalty for cruelty to five years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Local authorities have powers under the 2006 Act to act where a dog is suspected to be suffering. The local authority can enter the land and take control of the animals. As we know, local authorities often work very closely with the RSPCA.

The Committee will remember that dog licensing was abolished in 1988. I remember buying a licence for our springer spaniel at the post office as a child—it cost 37p —but apparently only half of all owners bought one. We did not find that dog licensing ensured the welfare of dogs or restricted who was able to keep them. We would need sufficient evidence of welfare concerns to treat one type of dog differently from another.

Ministers and officials regularly meet local authorities and key animal welfare groups, including the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust, the Canine and Feline Sector Group, and Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. They have not suggested to us that this type of dog is a priority area for review—I must confess that most of our recent conversations have been about puppy smuggling—nor have we received evidence of welfare concerns applying to dogs who go below ground, although the RSPCA did tell us that terrier-type dogs do have inherited behaviours to instinctively go below ground. I am always happy to receive evidence, however.

Finally, the proposed exemption to the Road Traffic Act 1988 requirement for dogs to be on a lead when on a designated road is available where it can be proved that a dog was, at the material time, under proper control —we are back to that debate. We have not received evidence of animal welfare concerns—although I did hear what the hon. Member for Cambridge said earlier—relating to this particular exemption or to the mirroring exemption for sheepdogs working on a designated road. For those reasons, I ask that the new clauses be withdrawn.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 12:45, 18 Tachwedd 2021

I thank the Minister for her response. I suspect that we will not find agreement on this. I do not think that there is any need to rehearse the arguments at length, but the Minister’s licensing argument is weak, frankly. On that basis, we will not pursue all the new clauses, but I will press new clause 10, on the basic welfare of hunting dogs, to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Rhif adran 11 Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill — New Clause 10 - Regulation of the keeping of hunting dogs

Ie: 6 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.