Photo of Mr Alun Michael

Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I beg to move,

That the following provisions shall have effect in relation to the Hunting Bill

1. Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion, unless already concluded, five hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

2. At the conclusion of proceedings on Second Reading

(1) the Bill shall be treated as having been committed to a Committee of the whole House and as having been reported from the Committee without amendment, and

(2) the House shall proceed to consider any Motion standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown under section 2(4) of the Parliament Act 1911 for a suggested amendment to the Bill.

3. Proceedings on that Motion shall be brought to a conclusion, unless already concluded, three hours after their commencement (for which purpose the Speaker shall put only the Question on any amendment of the Motion selected by him and the Question on the Motion).

4. Proceedings on Third Reading

(1) may be taken immediately after the conclusion of proceedings on the Motion mentioned in paragraphs 2(2) and 3, and

(2) shall be brought to a conclusion half an hour after their commencement.

5. No motion may be made to recommit the Bill.

6. In relation to the proceedings mentioned in paragraphs 1 to 4 above—

(1) Standing Order No. 15(1) shall apply,

(2) the proceedings shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House,

(3) the Orders of the House of 28th June 2001 and 6th November 2003 relating to deferred Divisions shall not apply,

(4) the proceedings shall not be interrupted by a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (and any such Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of such of the proceedings mentioned in paragraphs 1 to 4 as are to be taken at the sitting concerned),

(5) no dilatory motion may be made except by a Minister of the Crown,

(6) the Question on any dilatory motion made by a Minister of the Crown shall be put forthwith, and

(7) if the House is adjourned or the sitting is suspended during the course of the proceedings, no notice shall be required of a Motion made by a Minister of the Crown at the next sitting of the House varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

7. The Question on any Motion varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (whether by making provision about Lords messages or otherwise) shall be put forthwith.

I shall be extremely brief because I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will want to use the time available to discuss the substantive issues. The procedure motion gives reasonable time for debate on an issue that has been before the House many, many times. Indeed, one is tempted to say that everything that could be said has been said on many occasions. It is, in addition, the same Bill that came before the House last year, when it was debated extensively. Later in the process, there will be a debate on the sensible proposition on commencement.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

The Minister will know that under section 2 of the Parliament Act 1911 it is possible to suggest amendments to improve the Bill. No time is allowed for any such suggestion motions, except for the Minister's suggested amendments. Is not it wrong in those circumstances to say that there is adequate time for debate?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

Not at all. There was plenty of opportunity for positive acts of amendment in two places—first, in this House, when it was last before us and, secondly, in another place, when it had the opportunity, which it did not fully take, to amend, debate and improve the Bill and return it to this House. I am absolutely clear that there has been plenty of opportunity to consider all the issues and plenty of opportunity for hon. Members on both sides of the House to produce amendments and suggest improvements. I reject entirely the hon. Gentleman's implication.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the House of Lords did not complete its consideration of the Bill because it was effectively withdrawn by the Government before all the amendments could be discussed?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I am sorry but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely and completely wrong. The House of Lords failed to complete its consideration of the Bill. It failed to use the time that the Government made available and to take advantage of a series of options for additional time. Debate on the Bill ceased as a result of an Opposition Chief Whip—I believe it was the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip—moving that the debate should end. The Government were prepared to give more time for debate, but the forces that wish to prevent the Bill's progress unfortunately did not take the time available to them in the House of Lords. This House, in contrast, has been quick to make full use of every minute of time made available to it on many occasions, and this motion deals with the timing of debates in this House.

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Mr Roger Williams (Shadow Minister (Rural Affairs), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

At the end of an interesting week in Parliament, it seems that the British people will be able to beat their children but not chase a fox. Does the Minister think that the Government have got the balance right?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

The hon. Gentleman's flippant approach to both issues is rather sad. He will know as well as I do that issues such as education, getting young people into jobs and strengthening the economy, and large issues of health and the environment, which the Prime Minister addressed in an excellent speech yesterday, are the Government's priorities. This issue has been taking up parliamentary time year after year, and it must be brought to a conclusion. At the time of the last general election, we undertook to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on it. We have also made it clear that we would prefer those on the Opposition Benches and in another place to address the legislation before them, to seek to improve it and to argue the issues rather than to frustrate the will of this House, which has been reinforced on occasion after occasion.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I see that there is a queue.

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David Burnside (South Antrim, UUP)

Does the Minister agree that the only reason the Bill is before us is that we are in the run-up to an election and the Government want to placate the left wing of the Labour party? It has nothing to do with the issue and the Bill will not bring the matter to a conclusion. Why do the Government not bring it to a conclusion by making it an election issue rather than delaying it for two years?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

The hon. Gentleman gives me the opportunity to point out that this was an election issue: we said in our manifesto that we would enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on it. We have been an extremely patient Government because we have tried to bring people together and get them to listen to each other, and to find ways forward that are less divisive than those of the two, very shrill, extremes in the debate. I personally have invested an enormous amount of time in that, and it has been worth while; I do not regret it. However, it has become clear that the views are so polarised that it is impossible to deal with the issue in that way, and the House of Lords failed to take the opportunity to improve the Bill and return it to us, so I tell the hon. Gentleman that he is entirely wrong.

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Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald, Conservative)

Does the Minister agree—he probably does not—that the Prime Minister has quite cynically manipulated this issue throughout two Parliaments? The right hon. Gentleman will know that I am on his side on the main issue: I shall vote for a hunting ban. However, it was not just before the last election that that pledge was made. Before the 1997 election, the Prime Minister undertook to provide a free vote followed by legislation if Parliament voted for a ban. What has he been doing in the last seven years to fulfil that promise, except to delay and then revive the issue every time it suited him electorally?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I welcome the right hon. Lady's support for the substantive motion today, but I do not think that playing to her colleagues with that bit of populism will win her back support in the Conservative party. As for her question, I disagree with her passionately, as she knows. In the 1997 general election we promised a free vote in the House followed by legislation. We had the free vote; we had the Burns report; and we had the legislation, which did not succeed in its passage through Parliament. At the last general election we undertook to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion. We have tried to do that by consensus, by discussion, by agreement and by common sense. That did not succeed. When we debated the Bill that I introduced, I did not noticeably have support from those who are shrill today. At the end of the day, this House voted, by a large majority, for a ban on hunting. I seek to facilitate further debate on that proposition today, so that we can send the Bill to the House of Lords and ensure that we reach a conclusion on the issue. That is what we promised in our manifesto and, as usual, we intend to deliver.

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Mr Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

I accept that the Minister has spent a great deal of time consulting various groups. On procedure, however, does he accept that those of us who actively participated in that consultation with him and others are frustrated that measures such as compensation, which everyone agreed was important, cannot be put into the Bill if we do not have a mechanism to discuss such amendments? How does the Minister intend to fill the many holes in the Bill that, I suspect, mean that it will be unable to achieve its intended purpose?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman as one who has been willing to invest an immense amount of time talking to those who take a different view from him. He does credit to the House in the way he has engaged in that. He and I do not always agree but there can be no doubting his commitment to try to argue issues through and reach a conclusion.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

In a moment. I want first to respond to Lembit Öpik.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a need for additional time to discuss compensation. We dealt with the matter in earlier debates, and we do not believe that there are any grounds for compensation. Human rights issues were examined in great detail by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. It raised only one narrow point, which we have examined carefully as a result of its findings. I am absolutely convinced that both on human rights and on compensation there is no need for further change to the Bill—it stands as it is drafted.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I give way to my hon. Friend Mr. Sheerman first.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

Let me just nail this point: we said in the 1997 manifesto that we would provide an opportunity for a vote in Parliament. I do not think that there was anything about using the Parliament Act if we could not get the House of Lords to agree. This is hardly the issue on which to use the Parliament Act, which is hardly ever used, not only to overrule the House of Lords but to steamroller the Bill through this House against a very large minority who do not want it.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I interpret that in a slightly different way, and I say to my hon. Friend that this is not an appropriate issue on which the House of Lords should provoke the use of the Parliament Act. The House of Lords should engage with the Bill, amend it, seek to improve it and send it back to this House for the normal procedure of reconciliation between the two Houses. If that is what he meant, I agree with him. I do not think, though, that it would be right for this House to say, "The House of Lords doesn't want it—that's all right, we'll just roll over and leave it, then." That could not be right.

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Mr John Greenway (Ryedale, Conservative)

The Bill that the Minister introduced to Parliament last year did at least provide the opportunity for hunting with dogs to continue in upland areas such as the North York Moors national park. Why has he changed his mind, given that he thought that that was so important? It cannot simply be that a majority of his Back Benchers think that it is wrong, because he pleaded with them to go ahead with that scheme.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The Bill did not give the opportunity for hunting in upland areas. It gave the opportunity for those who believed that they could undertake an activity of dealing with vermin through hunting in a way that was less cruel than all the alternatives to go before a tribunal to put that evidence forward. Although I do not believe that there would have been many cases in which they succeeded, providing that opportunity would have made sense. However—perhaps the hon. Gentleman failed to notice—the House voted not to create that tribunal system. The exceptions to the ban on hunting are included in the Bill—ratting, for instance, where the alternatives, such as poisoning, are particularly unacceptable. The difference is marginal: what matters is what is in the Bill.

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Mr Adrian Flook (Taunton, Conservative)

As the Minister knows, I have raised the issue of West Somerset, particularly Exmoor, many times. In that part of the country, hunting is not only a way of life but an integral part of the way in which the economy works. The economic impact of a direct ban would be at least £5 million and the employment impact would be 420 jobs. The indirect impact would be a further 600 jobs. That comes from an authoritative study by West Somerset district council. What will happen to that area, and why cannot we discuss that in relation to the Bill?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I remind the hon. Gentleman that substantive issues will be debated on Second Reading. Briefly, so that I do not trespass beyond the bounds of the debate, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have looked very carefully at issues involved in hunting in the west country and the claims that it is important to the local culture or to the future of the deer population. I do understand the depth of feeling in certain parts of that area. There is no justification, however, for suggesting that hunting is necessary or that it is not a method of dealing with the deer population that is anything other than cruel. I therefore see no reason for extended debate on that particular issue.

As for the economic impact, the Burns report demonstrated that the economic impact of a ban on hunting would be extremely limited, and the evidence given in Portcullis House suggested that it would be even less than that. In view of the buoyancy of the rural economy, that issue does not require extensive further debate.

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Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover, Labour)

In the course of the past few minutes, my right hon. Friend has been subject to a barrage from Members whingeing and whining and wanting to rerun the principle. The truth is that for 18 years, when I was in opposition, I lost, because that was democracy. We were in the minority, and we had to take it on the chin. There are people now in this House not capable of understanding that the numbers are against them. I hope that my right hon. Friend is able to complete what he has to say, get on with the job, and tell the House of Lords to go to hell and that we will carry this Bill.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

Instead of being impolite to those in another place, I invite them to debate the Bill that we send to them. Apart from that, my hon. Friend makes many good points. Those who suggest that there is any justification for violence or protest as a result of the Bill's going through should certainly listen to his comments. As democrats we have to respect the majority.

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Mr Simon Thomas (Chief Whip; Ceredigion, Plaid Cymru)

The Minister may recall that I supported his last Bill because I thought that it at least took science and ecology as its founding principles and had a method of dealing with those areas, particularly upland areas, where I am convinced that a decent argument has been made that hunting with hounds has ecological and environmental, as well as animal welfare considerations. This is the first time that the House has debated the Bill as a Government Bill from start to finish, and to do so in this truncated way pays great disservice, whatever the decision at the end of the day, to the House and to Members who have spent their time and effort in consultation with their constituents.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

First, the Bill that I drafted and introduced would have given the opportunity for hunting with dogs not on ecological grounds, but on the grounds that there was a necessity for a particular activity for the control of vermin and so on, and that the proposed method would be less cruel than any of the alternatives. The case for the ecological argument has not been made in the evidence that I have heard: it does not apply as it does in relation to shooting sports, for instance.

Secondly, this is the same Bill that I introduced and that the House passed on the last occasion. I still think that it included some rather good ideas. It was debated fully and the House took its decision and voted. The hon. Gentleman should, like me, respect democracy and the conclusion of the debate in this House.

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Mr Andrew Robathan (Shadow Minister (Defence), International Affairs; Blaby, Conservative)

The Minister describes himself as a democrat, as do I. Further to the comments of Mr. Thomas, is he not therefore a little embarrassed, even a little ashamed, at this abuse of the parliamentary process and misuse of the Parliament Acts merely to satisfy the prejudice and bigotry of Mr. Skinner?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

The hon. Gentleman should be embarrassed that so many of his hon. Friends are here. They say that this is a trivial issue, then they all pile into the Chamber to debate it. If we had a debate immediately afterwards on education or health, they would disappear, as they usually do. There is no abuse of the processes of the House and I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I am pleased to be able to bring this Bill before us so that the House can fulfil our promise to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

The right hon. Gentleman characterises democracy as respecting majorities, and of course that is partly right. Does he accept, however, that another element of democracy is to respect the rights of minorities, and that that is being disregarded in this case?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right: that is why the Government have spent so much time listening to those minorities—[Interruption.]

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Unfortunately, this is an issue on which very few Members appear able to be calm.

Respect for minorities involves listening to them and deciding whether they have an argument, then, in this case, considering the central issue of whether the activities that they are undertaking are cruel, unnecessary or involve a minimum of suffering. Those are the issues on which I hope hon. Members will take their decisions in voting on the propositions in the Bill.

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Mr Hugo Swire (Assistant Chief Whip, Whips; East Devon, Conservative)

In order that there can be no perceived, or real, abuse of the House during this afternoon's deliberations, does the Minister agree that it is incumbent on those who have benefited from support, financial or otherwise, from campaigning organisations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and those who have indirectly benefited from its £1 million bung to the Labour party, should say so at the outset of proceedings?

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

We could have an interesting discussion about the sources of Conservative party financial support. Any financial support given to the Labour party because Labour Members believe in, support and work for animal welfare would be provided only in a proper, declared manner. There should be no perception of abuse of the processes of the House. The hon. Gentleman does neither himself nor the House any credit by making such a suggestion.

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Mr Tony Banks (West Ham, Labour)

Mr. Swire is about to leave the Chamber, which is unfortunate. Although the International Fund for Animal Welfare gave £1 million to the Labour party, it also gave considerable amounts to the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrat party.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point.

The procedure motion will facilitate proper debate and a conclusion on the divisive issue. I commend it to the House.

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Mr Hugo Swire (Assistant Chief Whip, Whips; East Devon, Conservative)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to set the record straight. Mr. Banks suggested that I was leaving the Chamber but I was not. I was merely moving to take my place as the Whip on duty, from which I shall be allowed to witness two and a half hours of hypocrisy, cant and prejudice.

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Mr Hugo Swire (Assistant Chief Whip, Whips; East Devon, Conservative)

I withdraw that particular word unreservedly.

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Mr Michael Martin (Speaker)

It has been noted that the hon. Gentleman is remaining in the Chamber.

Before I call Mr. Heald, I remind hon. Members that the selection of amendments has been placed in the No Lobby in the usual way.

1:02 pm
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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment (a), in line 4, leave out from "after" to end of paragraph and insert "their commencement".

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Mr Michael Martin (Speaker)

With this, we may take the following amendments: (n), in line 10, leave out from "any" to "under" in line 11 and insert "Motions".

(o), in line 11, leave out "a suggested amendment" and insert "suggested amendments".

(p), in line 13, leave out "that Motion" and insert "those Motions".

(q), in line 19, leave out "Motion" and insert "Motions".

(d), in line 20, leave out "half an" and insert "one".

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

It is worth mentioning for hon. Members' convenience that we are most anxious to divide not only on amendment (a) but on amendment (n), which raises a different issue.

The procedure motion involves a massive use of Executive power to crush an aspect of freedom in rural communities. The Leader of House, in whose name the motion stands, would allow the passing of the Bill today, but only through guillotining debate and disposing of the Committee and Report stages. He would also ensure that only the Government amendment on when the ban comes into force could go to the other place. No other amendments, many of which appear on the Order Paper, would even be debated, despite the support of many hon. Members in all parties.

The thinking behind the procedure motion is doubtless to ensure that the Bill leaves us, as the Minister said, in exactly the same state as the previous measure, accompanied by an amendment providing for a delay, to comply with the Parliament Act.

We oppose the procedure motion because even if the strict statutory conditions for the Parliament Act are fulfilled, the circumstances do not warrant the use of our most draconian procedures. If we are to maintain our right to debate in this place, the guillotine should be used sparingly and the Parliament Act reserved for rare circumstances in which there is no other way forward. The Parliament Act has been used when legislation is of high or constitutional importance, when there is genuine urgency and when the other place is clearly unreasonably blocking the will of the elected House.

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Mr Tony Banks (West Ham, Labour)

Is not that exactly what the House of peers is doing at the moment? How can the will of this House be fulfilled if the House of Lords continually blocks it? Surely the hon. Gentleman, as a House of Commons man, should defend our procedures.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

Yes, we should defence our procedures, but the Bill is not a case for a strict guillotine or the Parliament Act.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

My hon. Friend sets out the arguments for not invoking the Parliament Act, but a further consideration exists. Parliamentary majorities should not be used to suppress the rights of minorities. The House of Lords has an important role in safeguarding those rights. It was doing its duty and we should not override it.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

Yes, and it is also right that the Government should not use their Executive power to effect that sort of oppression of a minority.

The Government have not known their own mind about the Bill. For the past seven long years, they have started and checked, jinked and dived and been up hill and down dale. At the end of seven years and after wasting seven months of the Session, they say that the Bill is so important that it must be tackled now. According to newspaper reports, the Government would even be prepared to sacrifice three significant Bills—the Pensions Bill, the Children Bill and the Civil Contingencies Bill—to secure the measure. What a shocking sense of priorities that displays.

The Pensions Bill is designed to help protect the pensions of millions; the Civil Contingencies Bill is our long-delayed response to the events of 9/11; and the Children Bill deals with the needs of some of our most vulnerable children. I do not agree with some aspects of those measures, but I have no doubt that their subject matter is far more important than hunting.

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Mr Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman's assertions about the use of the Parliament Act in the past are untrue. The age of consent was not an urgent constitutional issue that required the use of the Parliament Act. That also applies to the War Crimes Bill, for which the Conservative Government used the Parliament Act. People advance the belief that we should not use the Parliament Act when there is a free vote. I believe that we should be able to use it in the case of a free vote because that reflects the unfettered will of the House, unconstrained by any Whip.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman is simply wrong. I want to consider urgency, because the current circumstances do not warrant the use of the Parliament Act. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the War Crimes Bill. Ministers at the time said that that was urgent because the victims and witnesses were old and might die before they could give evidence. In the case of the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, it was said that no time could be lost because the new election system had to be introduced by a specific date. When the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill was considered, the Government claimed that the need to respond to a decision by the European Court of Human Rights meant that there could be no delay.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

Does my hon. Friend accept that several of us were deeply unhappy about the use of the Parliament Act in all those cases? Several Conservative Members voted against the War Crimes Bill and believed that that was an improper use of the Parliament Act. If that constituted improper use, surely that is magnified 100 times in the current circumstances.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He cherishes the important principles on which the House operates its conventions. He is right that we should be sparing indeed in our use of the Parliament Act.

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Mrs Anne McIntosh (Shadow Minister, Environment and Transport; Vale of York, Conservative)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality had spent more time on his so-called concern about cruelty by allowing pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill in the same way as the Government are allowing such scrutiny of the Animal Welfare Bill, or even enabling that measure to consider aspects of hunting, shooting and fishing, we would have been spared any resort to the Parliament Act?

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Of course, the Minister does not support the Bill in its current form. The Bill that he supported was considered last year but he was ambushed on Report. That is why we are here now.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm for the benefit of Miss McIntosh that the previous Bill was considered in Committee at great length? Almost every argument that could be made was discussed. The House has spent an enormous amount of time on the Bill. Rather than rushing to resort to the provocation of the Parliament Act, the Government have been slow to do so because we did not want to do it. Will he therefore join me in urging the other place to engage properly with the Bill when we send it on instead of rejecting the will of the House of Commons?

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

Let us get to the nub of the question of urgency. How can we say that this Bill is as urgent as the other Bills on which the Parliament Acts were used, when the Government themselves say, "Oh, we don't need to implement it for two years"? The sense of urgency that has existed on other occasions does not exist here.

The contention that the Parliament Act can be used because the other place is clearly engaged in blocking the Bill also needs to be examined. The Hunting Bill that was introduced in the 2000–01 Session proposed three options: a ban, self-regulation and a statutory hunt licensing authority. This House voted for a ban; the other place voted for regulation. Far from the Government taking the view—and pursuing the matter vigorously—that this House was right and that the House of Lords was frustrating matters, the Minister introduced a Bill that provided for a regulatory approach. He therefore agreed with the broad thrust of what the other place was saying. It was hardly surprising that, when new clause 11—which would effectively ban hunting—was added to the Bill at the very last moment on Report last year, Members in the other place took the view that they did. They had been encouraged to take that view by what the Minister had said in this place. We should also not forget that the Bill had only two days in Committee in the other place before it ran out of time.

All previous Bills passed under the Parliament Act have reached the ping-pong stage between the two Houses at least once. The basic parliamentary principle should be that the other place has either spent an inordinate time dealing with a Bill, or that it has returned it to the Commons in amended form, signifying an impasse. On this Bill, the Government initially agreed with the approach of the other place and introduced a Bill of a regulatory nature, which was ambushed on Report. They then gave up after only two days in Committee in the Lords. Far from the shilly-shallying being at the other end of this building, the blame lies fairly and squarely with the Government.

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Mr Gregory Barker (Assistant Chief Whip, Whips; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative)

Is it not worth remembering that, when Labour Members talk about the will of Parliament, they are actually talking about the will of a minority of Members of this House? I was a teller when the last vote was taken on this issue, and fewer than half the Members of the House of Commons voted for a ban; the other Members voted against one, absented themselves or abstained. To try to pretend that there is a great well of support in this Chamber for a ban is downright nonsense. It would be impossible to form a Government with the number of Members who voted for a ban, and that is an excellent reason for their bigoted views to be frustrated in the revising Chamber.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

I do not know whether you, Mr. Speaker, heard the "Today" programme this morning. A journalist from The Guardian was explaining that this issue had nothing to do with animal welfare, and that it represented the last knockings of the class war. Having heard the views of Mr. Skinner, who could disagree with that?

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Mr Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

Is the hon. Gentleman as concerned as I am that the Bill that we have here does not seem to be the Bill that the Minister and the Prime Minister seemed minded to support? Does he agree that a serious concern about this procedure is that a Bill that evidently does not have the unanimous support of the Government is now going to be pushed through—with all the holes that it has—without our having had the opportunity to discuss it in Committee in the lower House?

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman has played a huge part in these proceedings—[Interruption.] No, it is true that he has. He has played a very constructive part. He is right: how can the Government table a motion involving the massive Executive powers of the guillotine and the Parliament Acts, when they themselves have said that the Bill is unworkable and unenforceable? It is quite wrong for a Government to behave in this way with this sort of Bill.

The Parliament Acts provide that a Bill sent from this House must take the same form, but this will be the first time that a Bill has been so different from the one that was originally presented that the necessary detailed provisions have not been properly debated.

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Mr Tony Banks (West Ham, Labour)

May I take the hon. Gentleman back to what he just said? He was repeating the usual nonsense about this being all about the class war. If this is a class issue, it is a middle class issue—a middle England issue. The profile of the passionate anti-hunter—which I know because I get thousands of letters from them—is a middle class white woman living in the home counties, or a county town or village who reads the Daily Mail. That shows how much of a class issue this is.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is the exception, but I do not think so, because he used to describe this as a totemic class issue.

The final change that was made on Report last year resulted in a recommittal to a Standing Committee, but the debate was very limited in scope and the main problem areas were simply never debated. It is right to quote the remarks of the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality, who said on 30 June last year:

"We must not send a defective Bill to the other place."

He went on to warn that

"we would face extreme difficulty if we sought to apply the Parliament Acts to a defective piece of legislation."—[Hansard, 30 June 2003; Vol. 408, c. 39.]

The Government know the verdict of their own parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which was that with a blanket ban compensation would be needed to meet the requirements of the European convention on human rights. Other important issues to be dealt with are the breadth of the offence created and the nature of the intent required to commit the offence of hunting. Whatever side of the argument we are on, not many of us would want to pass a Bill that would result in tourists being charged with hunting just because they came upon a hunt one day.

We should have a Committee stage, and it is vital that there should be an opportunity to introduce motions suggesting amendments.

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Mr Desmond Swayne (Shadow Minister, Local and Devolved Government Affairs; New Forest West, Conservative)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in a democracy such as ours, minorities put their rights and liberties at the disposal of the majority, and abide by the decisions of the majority, on the basis of an understanding that their voice will be properly heard and that the procedure will be fair? The absence of a Committee stage effectively abrogates any such concordat, and people will accordingly be inclined to look beyond Parliament for the protection of their liberties as a consequence of that omission.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

Our freedoms are important and should not be treated in a cavalier fashion. One of our great concerns is the way in which the curtailing of debate has become commonplace through the programming system. It would be extremely dangerous, from a constitutional point of view, if the use of the Parliament Acts were also to become commonplace. The Labour Peers group has suggested that the Parliament Acts should be far more regularly used, and many of us view that with great concern. Those on the other side of the House, or in the other place, who disagree with me on this issue might want to consider that, at some point, they will be on the other side of the Chamber. I hope that that will happen in six months' time, but I might be wrong. We shall have to see. That time will come, and to have curtailment of debate and the routine use of the Parliament Acts would be a disgrace.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

May I follow up the point made by my hon. Friend Sir Patrick Cormack? As we do not have entrenched rights, save those incorporated in the Human Rights Act 1998—which are only now being developed—does it not behove hon. Members in this House to be very sparing with their power as a majority to impose on other people moral and ethical values that they simply do not share?

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

That is a vital point.

Section 2(4) of the Parliament Act 1911 provides for suggestion motions, which provide the opportunity to make a proposal for an amendment to the other place. It was no less a figure than Winston Churchill in 1913, when he was a Cabinet Minister in the Liberal Government, who said:

"The Suggestion stage is . . . to enable either small points which are oversights to be set right by general agreement or to enable suggestions of compromise to be put forward and debated. The root principle of the Parliament Act is that every amendment which makes for agreement, and for a change in a Bill which tends to lessen disagreement, can be incorporated in the Bill without depriving it of the advantages of the . . . Parliament Act".—[Official Report, 23 June 1913; Vol. LIV, c. 843.]

On the Order Paper today, motions are proposed to deal with issues such as compensation, intent and the breadth of the offence. Only this week, we heard that the business for tomorrow could not go ahead, and that time was available. I asked that some of that time should be set aside so that motions of suggestion on practical measures could be debated. What was the Government's reaction? It was a flat no.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

Is it not an extraordinary paradox that this Government, who have extended the provision for carry-over, do not apply that rather than the Parliament Act? It would be a much less offensive procedure to carry over this Bill, with a proper Committee stage, into the next Session, which is still within the lifetime of this Parliament, rather than to use the draconian Parliament Act.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

Yes. I return to the point that I made earlier about whether Ministers believe genuinely that what is going to the other place is unworkable. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will remember saying:

"No Bill on a simple ban has ever been thought to be workable."

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality will remember saying:

"A complete ban . . . would destroy the architecture of the Bill, undermine the strong simple framework of enforcement that is set out in the Bill and be perceived as pursuing prejudice rather than targeting cruelty."

He went on, after the ambush, to say that MPs,

"chose a Bill that is simple to explain rather than a Bill that is simple to enforce."

In those circumstances, how can they justify using the panoply of government—the Executive power—to force the Bill through on a guillotine, and to use the Parliament Act, when they know that the Bill needs to be amended?

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Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne, Labour)

Does the hon. Gentleman honestly think that if the Bill were to go to a Committee stage, the House's final decision would be different?

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

The Government, not the Opposition, decide how much time is allocated for debate. Were amendment (n) allowed, which provides for other Members' motions under section 2(4) to be considered, and were the Government to allow half a day or even a day tomorrow to debate those motions, what would be lost? Nothing. The timetable for the Parliament Act would not be lost. It would just mean that this place would be allowed to do its job—to debate the concerns of the people.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I want to make one thing clear, because several Members have spoken as though there has been no Committee stage. I remind the House that on the last occasion the Bill was re-committed for a Standing Committee to consider the implications of the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend Mr. Banks. Therefore, it has had a Committee stage. In addition, for the Parliament Act to apply, the Bill must go to the House of Lords in exactly the same form as last time. If the hon. Gentleman is urging restraint, it should be on the House of Lords to address the Bill as it comes to it, and not to provoke the use of the Parliament Act.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

The Minister may have forgotten what happened last time. The re-committal motion was only in respect of clause 11, so the debate was circumscribed—a decision that you made, Mr. Speaker, and probably rightly so, on procedural grounds.

The schedules and other issues set out on the Order Paper today were not capable of being discussed. As for section 2 motions, however, the operation of the Parliament Act would not be affected. As I suggested when I quoted Winston Churchill a moment ago, we can make suggestions, such as that for the delay, which will be debated. We could propose a suggestion on compensation, intent or the breadth of the offence, and if the other place agreed we might end up with a Bill that was a bit more enforceable or workable. It is therefore right that the House's debate should not be curtailed. Routinely, we seem to lose the opportunity to debate great rafts of amendments and new clauses as a result of the unilateral programming of legislation. The routine use of the Parliament Act for issues that are not of the highest importance is a dangerous step.

As I said, I made a modest request of the Government for extra time. Amendment (n) would allow other motions to be discussed, and I ask all Members who value our procedures and right of debate to join me in the Lobby.

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Mr Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman referred to Winston Churchill's views on the Parliament Act. He may know that Winston Churchill also used to argue that one of the terrible difficulties about the original Parliament Act—he argued this when he was a Liberal, but not when he was a Conservative—was that in the second half of a Parliament, especially a Parliament that was shortened from seven years to five years, the other place was given significant additional powers every year that the Parliament went on, because it could delay the whole Government programme. Is that not one of the major reasons why we should use the Parliament Act? Otherwise, the other place will never learn its lesson.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

The hon. Gentleman makes his point in his customary way, but the fact is that in this instance we are using the nuclear option, a draconian measure, to oppress a minority in rural areas. That is simply not acceptable, and I invite the support of Members from both sides of the House, who share a concern for our procedures and right of debate, to vote against the procedural motion and for the Opposition amendments.

1:25 pm
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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

This is a very sad day for democracy. Those of us who value minority rights, our political institutions, toleration and moderation should be deeply ashamed, angry and distressed at today's proceedings. Through this motion and the Bill, we are riding roughshod over the liberties and freedoms of hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. We are diminishing freedom itself. We are diminishing our freedom, and freedom under the law. That is a terrible thing to do.

I want to turn specifically to the programme motion, which is currently before the House. First, it paves the way to the use of the Parliament Act, which is profoundly offensive. My hon. Friend Mr. Heald set out the reasons for objecting to the use of the Parliament Act. He has urged on the House that the Parliament Act should be used only in urgent and compelling cases. Surely he is right.

We all know that there is no urgency. The Government conceded that there is no urgency by their implementation date. Leaving that aside, they could have introduced this Bill at any time in the past seven years had they chosen to do so. They did not, which is an implied recognition that there is no urgency.

As to the compelling nature of the Bill, I am perfectly willing to accept that a large majority in the parliamentary Labour party want this Bill to be introduced. There is not a compelling desire in the country as a whole, however, but a diversity of opinion on the subject. We know as a fact that this Bill is not the Government's preferred choice, because, had it been so, they would have introduced it. Therefore, neither urgency nor compulsion is a justification for the Bill.

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Mr David Taylor (North West Leicestershire, Labour/Co-operative)

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman can explain why the definition of non-urgency will not lead to eternal procrastination in this place, as that has been the recipe in the past?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

I will come to exactly that point. Much of the debate has centred on the opposition in the other place to the passage of the Bill. That is true—the other place will not support it. In all modesty, we ought to ask ourselves why it will not support it. I know the answer: in a free society, we should not oppress minorities, and we should be very chary about imposing our moral and ethical values on sizeable proportions of the population who do not share those values.

In many sophisticated societies—we are one such—those propositions are defended by a Bill of Rights, which is an entrenched statutory provision policed by a supreme court. We do not have that. We must rely first on the other place and secondly on our sense of moderation. I believe in limited government. I think that majorities should be chary about imposing their views on other people. The fact that the other place has many times said no ought to suggest to us, in all modesty, that we are wrong to do that which we are doing.

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Mr Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

I have listened continually to the argument about repressing minorities. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall being a member of a Government who took away the right of tenure of university lecturers, got rid of the dock labour scheme, crushed the miners and, above all, reduced the rights of trade unionists? All those acts involved oppressed minorities and all used the Tory party's huge majority.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

I have two points to make in response to that. First, each issue must be determined on its merits. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman implies that this is an act of vengeance and that I find a profoundly unattractive statement.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

Would not the analogy have been rather better if Mr. McNamara had mentioned his own championing of the minority in Northern Ireland, which was successful? Should we not equate that minority with the minority in rural England with whom we are concerned today?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

That is a sound point, with which I agree.

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Mr Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that suggesting that the Bill should be forced through by means of this procedure because an earlier Government forced through other legislation that Mr. McNamara did not like by means of similar procedures is a pathetic justification? Surely we are all obliged to consider the benefits and the costs, rather than simply seeking vengeance. The problem with the procedure motion is that it does not allow space for us to examine the Bill's flaws in detail. It is in the interests of those who want to ban hunting with dogs to have a good Bill that works rather than one that does not work for want of proper scrutiny.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

I entirely agree—and that brings me to the terms of the motion itself.

First, let me say something about the time allowed for Second Reading. The motion allows but five hours for discussion of both the motion itself and Second Reading, and we should bear it in mind that Divisions will come out of that time. I expect debate on the motion to continue for some time—and quite right too, for this is an important matter. The closure may be moved—although that is a matter for the Chair and indeed for hon. Members—and there may be a Division on that; in any event, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire has said that there will be two Divisions on amendments. There will therefore be at least three Divisions, and perhaps four.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

That is my point. Out of the five hours that we have been allowed, we shall have at the very most four hours in which to debate both the programme motion and Second Reading. That means about two hours for Second Reading. On any view, the Bill raises constitutional matters of the highest importance and two hours is outrageous.

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Mr Peter Pike (Burnley, Labour)

Does not the timetable motion take account of all the time that we have spent debating the issue during the life of the current Parliament? Does it not recognise that, at the last election, the Labour party was elected on the basis of a clear indication that it would allow the decision to be made on a free vote? On more than one occasion, the House has plainly taken a view on a free vote. Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman really arguing that the other, unelected House should have a permanent veto?

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

There are two answers to that. First, it is the business of Governments to safeguard constitutional principles and the rights of minorities. This Government are betraying both, and that is a very serious charge against them. As for the position of the other House, I have already dealt with that. I happen to believe that, on this matter, the other House is right, because it is standing up for freedom, liberty and minority rights. We should listen to what it is saying and not try to override it.

Let me now say something about the question of amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire made an important point about that. The programme motion does not allow for a Committee stage, a Report stage or any amendment whatever. That is objectionable for at least two reasons. First, I have never encountered a Bill that, even in its own terms, could not be improved. My hon. Friend pointed out that even those of us who are root and branch against the Bill, as I am, would like, if there must be legislation, at least to see competent and effective legislation. Compensation, for instance, is a vital issue, but we cannot table a compensation amendment because there is no amendment that can be tabled.

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Mr Gordon Prentice (Pendle, Labour)

Is it not rich for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to talk about compensation? As Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, he specifically ruled out compensation for farmers affected by BSE.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

I introduced one of the most generous schemes to support the beef market that could have been contemplated by anyone. I should have thought that there were better criticisms to make of me than that.

My second point about amendments is desperately important. Amendments provide a way of testing the logic of any particular proposition. It is not just a case of improving a Bill; it is a case of testing its inherent logic. Amendments of that kind are often called probing amendments.

The Bill contains an express provision permitting falconry. I happen to support falconry—I think it is a glorious sport—but I am entitled to ask, by means of an amendment, why the Bill expressly permits falconry while prohibiting hunting with hounds. Where lies the logic in that? Similarly, there are provisions relating to terrier work and shooting. I am an enthusiastic, if very incompetent, shot, but why does the Bill expressly permit terrier work on foxes in order to facilitate the shooting of pheasants, but prohibit hunting with hounds? Where lies the logic in that? That is the kind of question that can be addressed by probing amendments. Such a procedure affects public understanding of a Bill and I think that it would increase hostility towards this provision.

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Mr Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed, Liberal Democrat)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman may recall that, in the last Parliament, I argued in Standing Committee that the Bill would prohibit ratting. The Government denied that at several sittings, but having looked at the Bill more closely they returned several weeks later with amendments to deal with the matter.

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Mr Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham, Conservative)

Schedule 1 includes ratting as a permitted form of hunting. That makes the right hon. Gentleman's point: no Bill that has ever come before us could not have been improved. By using the Parliament Act, however, we are preventing this Bill from being improved, and that is outrageous.

I have two final points to make. The first relates to Third Reading. The motion allows but half an hour, which is a desperately short time for Members who will not have been able to speak earlier and who may well want to ask the essential question, "Where lies the difference in principle between shooting, hunting with hounds and angling?" They would want to say on Third Reading that there is no essential difference and that to try to distinguish between those things is profoundly and shamefully wrong.

I do not suppose that my words will prevail, but I desperately hope that hon. Members will rally round the principle that other people's freedoms are our freedoms. We cannot destroy the freedoms of law-abiding minorities without diminishing freedom itself. If right hon. and hon. Members agree with that simple and time-honoured proposition, they will oppose the programme motion and they will oppose the Bill.

1:40 pm
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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

I shall speak very briefly, Mr. Deputy Speaker. All politicians like to remain popular with their own side, but I should point out that, on this issue, I am in a minority among Labour Members, although not a persecuted one. I hope that this debate will continue in the good-tempered way in which it started and allow a different opinion to be expressed on the Labour Benches.

In debating a motion such as this—I oppose it and will vote against it—we sometimes lose track of the issues. My interpretation of what we said in our manifesto differs from the Minister's. We said that we would have a vote and let Parliament decide, but the fact is that the two Houses profoundly disagree.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

I should remind my hon. Friend that the manifesto commitment was to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

Yes, but the fact is that the long-running disagreement between the two Houses has led to a conclusion: stalemate. We now have to decide whether this issue is important enough to warrant invoking the Parliament Act.

When I first heard that we were going to deal with this issue in the manifesto, I regretted the fact, because in my view it should be dealt with through a private Member's Bill. I am sorry that the Government have got so deeply involved, but I applaud the fact that we continue to have free votes.

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Mr Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull North, Labour)

My hon. Friend says that he regrets the Government's intervening, but he will recall the time when the whole Tory Cabinet turned up on a Friday and voted against my private Member's Bill.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Some of the arguments from the Conservatives on this issue are not very good and listening to them almost guarantees that I will change the way I vote. However, I do not like persecuting minorities and I do not want communities that have values and a way of life that differ from mine to lose them.

I have a serious worry. I was in the House during the Thatcher years, when disgraceful and dreadful things were done to communities such as mining communities, but I draw a different lesson from that. I do not want to do to rural communities what the Thatcher Government did to the mining communities; two wrongs do not make a right. They may be the minority, but there are many people in this country who take a different view from the majority on country sports. As I explained in the original debate on this issue in 1997, I used to be anti-hunting, but then I thought through why I took that view. I have never hunted and I never want to. I do not shoot. I do not ride. However, I have lived in the country, reared chickens and ducks, and had foxes take them away. As I said in 1997, if someone can prove to me that there is a more humane way of killing a fox than hunting with dogs, I will change my view, but the Burns inquiry and every piece of evidence that I have seen since then has not persuaded me that there is a more humane way.

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Mr Tony Banks (West Ham, Labour)

Perhaps I might steer my hon. Friend back the procedural matter and the manifesto pledge that Parliament would decide on this issue. It has not been resolved, and a stalemate is not a decision. Does my hon. Friend, who is a good House of Commons man, not see the qualitative difference between huge majorities arrived at through a free vote on the Floor of the House and their being overturned and frustrated by an unelected Chamber?

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

As my hon. Friend knows, I have been in this House a long time, and I realise that invoking the Parliament Act is a question of judgment; that judgment is based on the importance that we attach to the issue in question. In my view, this issue is nowhere near important enough to justify invoking that Act.

It is clear that there is a strong divide between the two Houses. I am not a great supporter of the House of Lords; indeed, as my hon. Friend Mr. Banks may know, I voted for its abolition. But the fact is that we have it, and its current role is that of a second Chamber—a Chamber that is perhaps a little more thoughtful and which takes time to contemplate issues. [Interruption.] That has always been its role. Given our current constitution and the fact that we have not abolished the Lords, we should listen to it very seriously when such disagreements arise.

My great worry is this: after today, when will we next use the Parliament Act? Will we use it when another such issue arises? I have been in the House long enough to remember the long hours that were spent debating abortion. Many people took different views on that issue, which, I am pleased to say, was always dealt with through private Members' Bills. I would be horrified if it were dealt with in the manner adopted in the United States. I sincerely believe that it is in the best interests of this country and of the House if issues such as abortion are dealt with, as they have always been, through private Members' Bills and on a free vote.

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Mr David Winnick (Walsall North, Labour)

But the only reason that the law on abortion was changed was that the then Government provided time to do so during what was my first Parliament, in 1966; otherwise, the Opposition would have ensured that no such law passed. As my hon. Friend knows, if there is sufficient opposition, no private Member's Bill ever gets through. Is he really saying that, despite free votes in the previous and current Parliaments producing substantial majorities, the will of the House of Commons should be permanently opposed through a permanent veto by the House of Lords? If so, what is the purpose of our debates and decisions?

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

I am sorry to disagree with my hon. Friend—we have been friends for a very long time—but we hold different views on the importance we attach to hunting with dogs. In my view, there is a range of issues, such as abortion, that this House should debate in a very different way. They should be debated through private Members' Bills, because that is a much healthier method.

I have never regarded this issue as a party political one; indeed, the voting patterns of peers—be they Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat—have been all over the place. I accept that there is less diversity among Labour Members, and I regret that the reality is that most of the Members who support hunting are Conservatives. There would be a freer exchange of views if opinions were more diverse.

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Mr Gregory Barker (Assistant Chief Whip, Whips; Bexhill and Battle, Conservative)

I am listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman's extremely courageous speech. The most thoughtful of the speeches in the other place that I have heard—those expounding the defence of liberty and showing the greatest concern for minorities—were made not by Conservative peers but Labour ones, some of whom were appointed only recently. One of the best speeches was made by Lord Waheed Alli.

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Mr Tony Banks (West Ham, Labour)

That is only because the hon. Gentleman agrees with what he said.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

Noises off, as my hon. Friend would say.

We are in a very difficult position. I am a political realist, and I know that the steamroller of the Parliament Act will be invoked, but I warn my colleagues that doing so will not do the Labour party or the Labour Government a great deal of good in the long term. At the end of the day, the British public rumbled Thatcherism—I am being very political here—because of the divisive nature of that Government. I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. McNamara that it was a ghastly, divisive period in our history, but I am surprised that a Labour Government should be taking us back into the same territory. We may be dealing with a different minority, but they still have rights. I do not want to be seen, and I do not want my party to be seen, as willing to ignore other people's minority rights. We do not want that coming back to haunt us—and it will. This will not be resolved by the invocation of the Parliament Act.

We have a long history as a party that stands up for minorities and goes to the front line to protect their rights, but here we have a different sort of minority that we happen not to agree with, so we are going to trample all over their rights.

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Ms Claire Ward (PPS (Rt Hon John Hutton, Minister of State), Department of Health; Watford, Labour)

It is a real shame that I have to disagree with my hon. Friend, but I can tell him that there is outright support for this policy in the Watford party and among my constituents. People want us to settle the issue, because we promised that we would. It is also a matter of trust: in the past two general election campaigns, we said that we would bring the matter to a close. It is absolutely clear that the majority in this House favour a ban on hunting. We can take into account all sorts of minority issues, but at the end of the day, if hunting is wrong, we must take a stand against it. I believe that it is fundamentally wrong and unacceptable in the 21st century in modern Britain and I shall be very pleased to vote to ban it tonight.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

I understand my hon. Friend's view, and recognise the passion with which she holds it. I, too, hold passionate views, but I worry about her conclusion that we should now rush this through with the Parliament Act when we know that a substantial number of people in our country profoundly disagree with it.

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Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall, Labour)

It will not surprise the House to hear that I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said. May I remind him and the House that in the two votes in the Commons and the Lords last year, 406 parliamentarians supported a licensing system, compared with 366 backing a ban? On Third Reading, let us not forget, only 317 of the 659 Members of Parliament voted for a ban. That is not an absolute majority.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

My hon. Friend and I mostly agree on this, and I thank her for that intervention.

We have a stand-off between the House of Lords and the House of Commons. I have been in politics for a long time, and it seems to me that the best solution in such a situation is to seek compromise, to meet somewhere halfway, and I have to say that, time and again, there is—[Interruption.]

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Mr Michael Lord (Deputy Speaker)

Order. We must not have sedentary interventions. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that we are talking about the procedure motion.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

Yes we are, and I am saying that I regret my party's support for the use of the Parliament Act, because as a Government, as a party and as professional politicians, surely it would be better, rather than taking the Thatcher way in a stand-off, for us to say to one another that we must find a compromise. There is a group of people in this House who, sometimes making themselves quite unpopular, have tried to come up with compromises to break the deadlock between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I would have thought that, as grown-up men and women, we could do that. My right hon. Friend the Minister took an important and courageous role in going for the compromise of a regulated system, which I would have supported, because I believe that politics is about compromise, and on such an important issue, on which a vital minority have a great interest, compromise would have been the right way forward.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

Would my hon. Friend therefore urge Members in another place to engage with the Bill as it reaches them and make proposals, should they wish to do so, so that engagement between the two Houses can take place in the ordinary way? If that were to happen, the use of the Parliament Act would not be necessary.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

I certainly urge colleagues in another place to be reasonable and to compromise, as long as that does not mean that whatever compromise they offer is simply bounced back or cast aside in this Chamber, and we get the same straight abolition all over again.

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Mr Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside, Labour)

But has not the other House cast aside the views of this House by the way in which it has acted on this issue over many years?

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

This is not the easiest speech to make from this side. I have tried to make the case and to draw some parallels, but clearly we are not going to agree, and I do not want to try colleagues' patience any longer.

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Mr Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, for compromise to work, both sides must be willing to shift? When the Lords showed that they were willing to shift to an extent, there was no reciprocity on the part of those who favour a ban in this House. That is why stalemate ensued, but the upper House cannot be held responsible for that.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour/Co-operative)

I take that point.

Finally, I appeal to hon. Members to step back for a moment. Those who have been here as long as I have care very much about the reputation of the House, of Parliament and of professional politicians. This does that reputation no good. Whatever their views on hunting, most people outside the House want to see fair play, and I do not think that people watching our debate and seeing the Parliament Act being invoked will think that the British sense of fair play is getting a fair crack of the whip. I am sorry to finish on this note. As long as there are not too many inflammatory speeches from the other side, I shall continue to vote against the Bill.

1:57 pm
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Mr Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs & Food, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Sheerman. He made a courageous speech and demonstrated that he was genuinely wrestling with the arguments and the evidence to try to come to a judgment on the issues. I have come to a different view, from a different perspective, interestingly, because I come from the country and I used to follow and support the hunt, but, having considered all the issues, I now support a ban. He said that he had searched for evidence that there is a more humane way than hunting to deal with pest control, and so have I. I will not bore the House by repeating what I have said in Committee and in this Chamber about more humane ways of controlling pests in the countryside.

I also agree that there are many more important things for the House to spend its time on. We have debated this issue in and around the House for many hundreds of hours, and I think it would be improper for us to spend hundreds more going through a marathon course of Committee and consideration when the issues have already, in my view, been resolved.

I believe that the debate is not about hunting but about who runs the country and how it is run: is it run on the basis of primogeniture, birthright and what one might describe as the old boy network, or is it run on the basis of democracy? Which is the pre-eminent Chamber? In my view—and, I believe, the view of most hon. Members—the Commons is the pre-eminent Chamber. We have considered the issue and come to a conclusion on it. Many Bills are enacted on the basis of the votes of fewer than 50 per cent. of elected Members. Whatever the result of the electoral arithmetic when votes are taken, as long as the issues are concluded in a proper manner, I am happy for that to happen.

There is a great debate about the relevance of democracy here. Having been involved in Committee and the other stages when the last Bill was considered, I believe that it is important, now that the Bill has been brought back before us, that we read and reflect on the debate in the other place to see whether their Lordships produced any blinding flash, pearl of wisdom or indisputable fact that somehow passed us by in all the hundreds of hours that we spent considering the issues.

The forthcoming Second Reading debate will provide me with the opportunity to assess in greater detail some of the points raised in the other place and to establish whether they were new, interesting or relevant to our current debate. After all, the second Chamber—the lower Chamber, in my view—is a Chamber for revision, advice and sober second thought, not for obstruction or frustrating the will of the democratically elected House of Commons.

I will not identify individuals, but instead refer to column references in the House of Lords debate. On Second Reading on 16 September, one noble Lord said that our decision was

"an affront to the whole process of democracy"—[Hansard, House of Lords, 16 September 2003; Vol. 652, c. 840.]

That was a comment from an hereditary peer, so if we are an affront to democracy, what does that make him? Another noble Lord said:

"Democracy is the will of the people, not just members of another place."—[Hansard, 16 September 2003; Vol. 652, c. 782–83.]

The fact is that we have to weigh up the issues, consider all the evidence and reach a judgment on the basis of that evidence. We have had enough evidence to do so, and we should now spend as little time as is reasonably possible to come to our conclusion. Mr. Hogg, who is no longer in his place, argued that there was no urgency to push the issue through. However, several Members intervened to point out that although there is no greater urgency now than there was seven years ago—in the sense that nothing more significant is going to happen in the countryside now than was going to happen seven years ago—it is important for us to make progress on the issue. Given the process of perpetual obstruction from the other place, we have to reach the sad conclusion that the Minister is right and that, if necessary, we will have to invoke the Parliament Act.

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Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall, Labour)

To be clear, for the benefit of Liberal Democrat supporters all over the country, is it the official Liberal Democrat view that the Parliament Act should be used to force through a ban on hunting?

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Mr Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs & Food, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I am speaking for the Front Bench, but it is a free vote for the party. The party is in favour of a ban on hunting, but I have made it clear that I am offering my personal judgment. It is a free vote for all Liberal Democrats and the whole parliamentary party. My judgment is that we have spent quite enough time on this issue and that we cannot allow perpetual obstruction to continue. The matter must be resolved and, regrettably, it may have to be resolved in this way.

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Mr Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs & Food, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

No, I will not give way because I want to move on—

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Mr Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs & Food, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

Very well, I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

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Mr John Greenway (Ryedale, Conservative)

I am grateful, as I seek further clarification. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the current Bill is preferable to the Bill that the Government originally introduced?

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Mr Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs & Food, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

The hon. Lady says that this is the Liberal Democrat view, but I have already said that the party has a clear position on the issue of hunting and that all Members in the parliamentary party have a free vote. I have also made it clear, during many hours of debate on Third Reading and on Report—Mr. Greenway may not have been around; otherwise he would know—that I favour a Bill closer to the Minister's original Bill, which included a form of regulation, than the current Bill. However, none of us is in any position to design our own Bill. There is a free vote. There could well be 659 different versions of the Bill. At the end of the day, a compromise and a judgment have to be reached. My judgment is that a number of faults could be ironed out and may be ironed out in due course, but that I will support the Bill in its current form today.

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Mr Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour)

I hate to help out a Liberal Democrat when he is creating a fudge, as the hon. Gentleman seems to be doing now. However, does he agree that the real problem about the relationship between our Chamber and the second Chamber, with respect to the Parliament Act, is that many people in the country who do not follow every jot and tittle of what we do in Parliament see us vote successively with significant majorities in favour of a ban on hunting, yet still it never comes to pass, which undermines parliamentary democracy?

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Mr Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs & Food, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has a greater knowledge of the implications of the Parliament Act than the Liberal Democrats and I do. He is certainly right to recognise that the general population would be astounded to think that an unelected House of Lords could overrule the House of Commons.

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Mr Crispin Blunt (Reigate, Conservative)

Is not the key issue one of parliamentary democracy in a bicameral system? This is a moral question, which is why there is a free vote with no fixed party positions. The issue is similar to abortion and assisted dying, where it is for individuals to reach their own point of view. The Government are required to provide parliamentary time for such issues to pass. However, the other Chamber should also endorse the legislative changes when they are as controversial as this issue, abortion or assisted dying. There should be a triple lock—both Chambers and the Government making time for legislation—before we start removing the liberties that have been held by substantial minorities for so long.

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Mr Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs & Food, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I agree that we should be cautious about how we proceed, but my reading of the House of Lords debate on Second Reading and in Committee is that nothing new was brought to the overall debate that had not already been argued in the House of Commons. If I thought that there were significant matters that we had not considered prior to the debate in the other place, my attitude would be different. It is a question of judgment. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the House of Lords debate, but I can assure him I found nothing new in it. I believe that the Lords are engaged in simple obstruction of the settled will of this democratic Chamber.

Mr. Blunt also referred to the issue of liberty, which has been repeated by many hon. Members in their contributions to the debate. It is quite interesting that that issue has been presented—

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Mr Michael Lord (Deputy Speaker)

Order. The hon. Gentleman just mentioned the time that we might have for the Second Reading debate. We will have more time for that if hon. Members deal quickly with the procedure motion. I ask him and future speakers to make sure that their remarks relate to that motion.

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Mr Andrew George (Shadow Secretary of State for Rural Affairs & Food, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs; St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

I am grateful for that advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point that I was making about the procedural motion has to do with the extent to which we in this Chamber have the right to question the approach taken by the House of Lords to defending the apparent liberties of alleged minorities. I want to address that issue, but I shall take your advice and save my comments on liberty and minority rights until the Second Reading debate.

2:10 pm
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Mr Phil Sawford (Kettering, Labour)

We are discussing procedure and urgency in this debate, but I was concerned to learn this morning that people wearing masks were in a vehicle outside my home last night. The vehicle apparently contained some sacks of manure and there appears to have been an intention to carry out an illegal or criminal act around my home. It seems that the people in the vehicle left when they saw police cars arrive, but that is not surprising as I live two doors along from a police station.

I was surprised to learn that the local media had colluded in this disgraceful attempt to harass and intimidate my family. I was even more concerned to learn from a local reporter that the people involved initially got the wrong address, which would have meant that their target would have been my parents' home rather than mine. My father is 79 years old, and my mother, who has a heart condition, is 78. Those masked intruders were planning to intimidate and harass the wrong people.

I come now to the question of procedure. I suspect that the people to whom I have referred are not representative of the vast majority of hunt supporters and that they belong to some kind of lunatic fringe. However, I think that there is a degree of urgency about this matter if that is the way such people are going to act in an attempt to intimidate—nay, terrorise—the families of Members who speak in this Chamber. The sooner we bring this matter to a conclusion, the better.

It is important for us to deal with the procedural question and enshrine the decision of this Chamber in the law of the land. We must implement that decision at the earliest opportunity, in the hope that we can prevent further examples of the sort of activity that took place yesterday evening outside my constituency home. The Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend Mr. Hope, is a constituent of mine, and I understand that his family were subjected to similar treatment. The people involved left when they saw some police vehicles.

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Mr Phil Sawford (Kettering, Labour)

I regret that such intimidation of Members' families seems to amuse certain Opposition Members. This is an urgent matter and I beg the House to resolve it today.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course no one on these Benches would dream of countenancing or supporting any sort of criminal activity or misbehaviour, but my hon. Friend Mr. Gray just remarked to me that not much was being said about procedural matters. Many hon. Members wish to speak on Second Reading, when there will be an eight-minute limit. Is it really in order for Phil Sawford to plough on talking about other things?

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Mr Michael Lord (Deputy Speaker)

I think that the hon. Gentleman can safely leave such matters to the Chair.

2:14 pm
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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

Of course no hon. Member would ever condone the sort of actions to which Phil Sawford referred, regardless of his or her position on the procedure motion or the substantive issue facing us today.

I want to refer to the admirable and courageous speech made by Mr. Sheerman, who has now left the Chamber. It is not easy to speak against one's own side or the majority of one's colleagues, as I know from experience. Mr. Banks knows that I spoke out in favour of retaining the Greater London council when it was being abolished, and Mr. Skinner, who is not here, knows that I voted against the closure of the coal mines. I therefore know what it is like to be in a minority. I want to urge Labour Members, and those on my side who are in favour of this Bill, to pause for a moment to consider the consequences of this procedural motion.

We are discussing this motion for one reason only—the embarrassment of the Prime Minister. On the one hand, he is constantly being reminded of the off-the-cuff commitment that he gave in a television interview; on the other, he feels somewhat beleaguered among Labour Members as a result of policies that many of his colleagues do not like. It so happens that I am one of his great supporters on the most important of those policies, but that is neither here nor there. The Prime Minister's Iraq policy is very unpopular among Labour Members, and he feels that he has got to give them some red meat. He has therefore authorised his business managers to bring in this extraordinary procedural motion, and in so doing he has deprived the House of a proper opportunity to discuss the Bill.

That course of action appears all the more disgraceful when we remember that the original Bill introduced by the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality was markedly different from the one that we are discussing today. I give credit to the Minister because he tried very hard to fight his corner.

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Mr David Cameron (Head of Policy Co-Ordination, Conservative Party; Witney, Conservative)

Not that hard.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

My hon. Friend says that the Minister did not try that hard, but that is a matter for debate and discussion. It would not be appropriate to go into the matter in this debate on the procedure motion. If we did so, I am sure that Mr. Deputy Speaker would pull me up short, and quite right too.

Whether or not the Minister tried very hard to get the original Bill through the House, he eventually gave up the attempt and became a convert to the theory of the total ban. As a result, the Bill under consideration today is very different from the one that he commended to the House last year. He is introducing it with the protection of the most draconian procedural motion that we have had to debate in this Parliament. The Minister is depriving this House of an opportunity to hold a proper Second Reading debate, and of having any debate at all in Standing Committee.

There is absolutely no reason for the Minister to adopt that course of action. My hon. Friend Mr. Heald, the shadow Leader of the House, made an admirable speech, and I intervened on him to make the point that, over the past few years, the House—wisely or unwisely—has introduced a raft of so-called modernisation measures. It is no secret among colleagues on either side of the House that I am deeply unsympathetic to many of those changes, but the fact is that they have been brought in. One of those changes means that we can now carry over Bills into a new Session to a much greater extent than before.

It would have been entirely consistent with the Government's so-called modernisation theory if, instead of commending this motion to the House, the Minister had commended a carry-over motion. That would have been much more respectful of Parliament and of the rural minority. The members of that minority feel beleaguered and aggrieved, as the economy is a long way from being as buoyant as was alleged earlier today.

After all, this Parliament has almost two years left to run. In many quarters, it is suggested that the Prime Minister is likely to decide that he does not want to go on for another two years and that he will go to the country on the day of next year's county council elections, which will be held on 5 May. Even if that is his preferred option—we would not expect him to tell us the date at this stage—we have a state opening of Parliament fixed for 23 November. Another Queen's Speech will be presented, and there is no reason at all why this Bill could not be proceeded with in this Session in a more seemly and proper manner in both Houses and carried over to the next Session.

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Mr David Winnick (Walsall North, Labour)

May I clear up one point, which is the one about the Prime Minister bringing the Bill back because of Iraq? Many of us who supported the Government's policy on that issue, and who continue to do so, were among those who at every opportunity, be it Prime Minister's questions, business questions or whatever, pressed for the Parliament Act to be used. Not one of my colleagues—not one—who takes an opposite view about the war would change his or her mind because of what is now being done. It is absolute fiction to say that the only reason the Bill is before us is that the Prime Minister wants to curry support within the parliamentary party.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

I suggested not that it was the only reason, but that it was a contributory reason, and I am firmly convinced that it is. The urban masses on the Labour Benches do not understand—do not want to understand—the ways of the countryside. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, sit for a largely rural constituency, but we must remember that the majority of our people live in towns, or near them. The majority of people in the world, I heard on the "Today" programme this morning or yesterday—it must be true, therefore—will be urban well before the middle of the century. Does not that make it more incumbent than ever on those of us who represent all our people to have a particular regard for that rural minority on whom we depend so much for sustenance?

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Mr Henry Bellingham (Shadow Minister, Economic Affairs; North West Norfolk, Conservative)

The people whom my hon. Friend has mentioned will have their democratic rights taken away because the Bill is not going to be debated. Surely the Government usually put a Bill through all its stages in one day only when there is an emergency or where something has suddenly cropped up or there is all-party agreement when the House is proroguing, yet they have known about this Bill for months and months and months.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

Those points have already been made very powerfully by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg in a most magnificent speech. Of course, that is true, but it is much more serious than that. What we seek to do today is to use a parliamentary steamroller—that is what the procedural motion is—to criminalise a very large number of extremely law-abiding people, upon whom, to a large degree, the fabric of rural society depends.

I tried today to get in at Prime Minister's questions. I make no complaint about the fact that I was not called, but what I was going to ask the Prime Minister was whether he would vote to criminalise large sections of the rural community. At a time when law and order rightly dominates the postbags and surgery time of most Members of Parliament, is it sensible to introduce a whole range of criminal acts when those acts are at the moment entirely legal, and to do it, moreover, in this procedural way?

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Mr Tony Banks (West Ham, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman is a great expert on constitutional and parliamentary matters, and we defer to him in that respect and listen carefully to what he says. Surely, though, Parliament does not criminalise people. We pass legislation, and if individuals then decide to defy the law, as democratically carried through, they criminalise themselves. We make certain things unlawful, but if people persist in doing them, they criminalise themselves.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

Let me make one thing plain. I have made the point to friends in my constituency and in the Countryside Alliance that I have not, do not and never will condone the breaking of the law, however stupid that law may be. What I have just said is still entirely valid and relevant, however. At the moment, country sports are legal, and I am proud today to wear the tie of the Countryside Alliance. Country sports are legal, and what we are saying to the responsible, animal-loving, animal-caring people who practise our country sports—no section of our community loves or cares for animals and wildlife more than these people do—is that we are going to make what they do criminal. In a moral sense, I believe that it is criminal to do that, and all of us ought to pause before we do it.

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Mr Oliver Heald (Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Home Affairs; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is also an essential issue of trust between the people and the Government? If the Government believe that the Bill is unworkable, as the Minister has said, and unenforceable, as the Secretary of State has said, how can the Government use this steamroller mechanism to criminalise people with a defective Bill?

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

My hon. Friend reinforces the very point that I have made. What we are doing in this extraordinarily tight procedural motion is proceeding on a Bill that will make the lives of the police force of this country, particularly in the rural areas, almost impossible.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

In a moment, if the hon. Gentleman will just contain himself.

I have talked to police officers—senior police officers, at that—who of course will have no option but to enforce the law, if this becomes the law, but who say that it will take their eye off many things, such as rural burglary, vandalism and all those other crimes that bedevil society in our constituencies. I have the honour to represent a number of rural villages, but not a single one is not defaced by vandalism and nuisance crime, and not a single one has adequate policing from the point of view of numbers, whatever the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary may protest from that Dispatch Box. Yet here we are, making the life of the police more and more difficult.

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Mr Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman has a deserved reputation in the House for standing up for the rights of Back Benchers and for the Chamber vis-à-vis the Government, yet he seems to be arguing, as several other hon. Members have, that if this Bill were the Government's Bill, unamended—the Minister's original Bill—there would be a greater reason for using the Parliament Act. Surely it makes more sense when this Chamber has spoken through the will of ordinary Back Benchers that the Parliament Act should apply.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

I do not agree. I said earlier, intervening on my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire, that I have been profoundly unhappy about the use of the Parliament Act in recent years. I was one of those who spoke out very forcefully, having voted against the War Crimes Bill, on the use of the Parliament Act—in that case, by a Conservative Government. If that was bad, and I believe that it was, this is a thousand times worse. To use the Parliament Act in a manipulative way, having sacrificed a Government measure and superimposed a private Member's measure on top of it, is frankly indefensible. It is all the more indefensible when there is readily available the procedural device of the carry-over. The Minister seeks to intervene, and I shall of course allow him to do so, but let him respond to that point.

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Mr Alun Michael (Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Cardiff South and Penarth, Labour/Co-operative)

There is no need for carry-over, because there is no need for additional time. The Bill had a Committee stage when it was last before the House. No other Bill to which the Parliament Act has applied has ever had a Committee stage the second time around, even the Bills of major constitutional importance in 1913. The point I make is that the Parliament Act is intended to resolve conflict between the two Houses; it is not about the importance of the relative issues. I would also invite him to encourage his friends in the Countryside Alliance, of which he said he was a member, to encourage its members to start to recognise the importance of the rule of law and to reconcile themselves to the possibility of legislation. I hope that by his words he will do nothing to suggest that people ought to break the law.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

I have already made that point, and I have made it many times inside and outside this House. The Minister is suffering from self-induced amnesia. He introduced a Bill that was totally transformed in Committee. Now he is introducing another Bill. For him to do that when the weapon of carry-over is at his disposal, and to force through this procedural motion in one brief afternoon—one brief part of one brief afternoon, indeed—is, in fact, an insult to Parliament.

Chris Bryant, who is now engaging in personal conversation rather than listening to the debate, was kind enough to say that I was something of a champion of Parliament and its rights. I am honoured to be thought of in such terms. I believe passionately in this place and in the totality of Parliament, including the other place. This House has a duty to itself to use its most powerful weapons exceptionally sparingly. Today, we are doing precisely the opposite.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

I will give way for the third time to my old but misguided friend.

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Mr Tony Banks (West Ham, Labour)

It is because the hon. Gentleman is making so many interesting points that people want to intervene. Those who favour using the Parliament Act in this case do so because they agree with the Bill, and those who disagree do not want to use the Act. I would be in favour of using the Parliament Act if this Chamber passed a measure—by the majority that it did on hunting—that I totally opposed, on the ground that I believe in principle that this Chamber's will must always prevail over that of the unelected Chamber. If this House had been unanimous on the issue, would the hon. Gentleman support the use of the Parliament Act? Is the issue numbers or principle?

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

It is a matter of principle. The principle is that the Parliament Act, which is the last weapon in the armoury of this House, should be used only very sparingly and for the most important issues. Strong views are honourably held on both sides of this debate. We know that the Liberal Democrats are divided, I have colleagues who want a ban and there are brave proponents of hunting on the Labour Benches. However, the subject is not of paramount importance in the national consciousness. I had a snack earlier in the Tea Room—[Interruption.] On this occasion, it was a little snack. A Member from another party—I shall not embarrass him by identifying him—sat with me and I asked him his view of the issue. He said, "Well, if I had to list the 250 most important topics for my constituents, hunting would come 639th." Most of our constituents do not believe that the issue is of such paramount importance that it justifies Parliament using its ultimate weapon.

I end with an appeal to those who desperately want to ban hunting. Their first and foremost duty as parliamentarians is to the parliamentary integrity of this place. They are not serving that ideal today. In the words of Cromwell, I say to them

"I beseech you . . . think it possible you may be mistaken."

2:33 pm
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Mr John Greenway (Ryedale, Conservative)

I have listened to this debate for almost two hours and I think that we should confine our remarks to the issue of the procedure motion. It is because I take fundamental objection to elements of the motion that I have sought to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Those in favour of a ban on hunting seem to think that this House has discharged all its obligations by voting in favour of a total ban. The fact that some of us profoundly disagree with that is irrelevant to my point, because it is equally clear that the Minister and many other right hon. and hon. Members have reached the view that the Bill, as it stands, is deficient.

If we believe in the integrity of this Chamber, we should accept that it should be this Chamber that seeks to address the deficiencies in the Bill, not the other place. We are not allowed to so because if we amend the Bill the Parliament Acts cannot be used. For that reason, the procedure motion is a constitutional outrage: we are being denied the opportunity of a Committee stage on this Bill. I am willing to accept that if we had a Committee of the whole House for two or three days, during which we debated some of the issues about which we feel passionately—some of them are contained in hurried amendments tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends and other hon. Members—we might not win any of the votes, given the views of most of the governing party. But at least we would have fulfilled our constitutional responsibility to argue the matter in this House on behalf of our constituents. We are being denied that opportunity.

Labour Members should think long and hard before they support the motion. They should divorce the motion from the issue and think about other issues on which Back Benchers have strong opinions—such as abortion or assisted death and euthanasia. What would happen if we had a free vote on one of those issues, the other place came to a different view and the Government of the day denied this Chamber a Committee stage and rammed through a measure that divided the country, let alone both Houses and Members on both sides?

We should not approve the motion because that would undermine our reason for being here.

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Mr David Cameron (Head of Policy Co-Ordination, Conservative Party; Witney, Conservative)

My hon. Friend makes a powerful case, but the situation is even worse than he suggests. Through this motion, we are being asked to treat the Bill as if it has been through Committee stage. We are being asked to sign up to the sort of lie that would not be out of place in a banana republic Parliament or even in a dictatorship. That is the outrage.

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Mr John Greenway (Ryedale, Conservative)

I am grateful for that intervention, because that was the point that I intended to make. However, it is obvious that there is disagreement about whether and to what extent there has been Committee stage consideration of the changes that were introduced on Report last time. I agree with my hon. Friend that the consideration was unsatisfactory and inadequate, and we should have a Committee stage now to do the job properly. Everyone knows that the view of the police is that some of the provisions and the schedule are flawed. Indeed, it is apparent from what the Minister has said—he encouraged the other place to make suggestions to make the Bill more workable and to address the deficiencies—that he accepts that the Bill is deficient. Why then should we rely on an unelected Chamber to change the Bill? We should endeavour to change it ourselves.

I have tried to keep off the subject of hunting and talk purely about the motion and the precedent that will be set if we approve it. I happen to have in my constituency many people whose livelihoods and way of life will be wrecked if the Bill goes through. It is my constitutional right and responsibility to speak for them. The best way in which to discharge that right is to vote against this motion. Many Labour Back Benchers who will no doubt troop through the Lobby to support the motion will live to rue the day, because it will set a precedent which future Governments will use against other interests.

I believe that we are not fulfilling our constitutional duty to examine legislation thoroughly. We are not being allowed to do so by a Government who seem to think that they can gain political advantage from the manoeuvres of the past few days and from what is happening today. If there is to be a delay of 18 months or two years in implementing the measure, it is inevitable that the next general election will be fought on the issue in constituencies up and down the land. That is not right in itself, and if Labour Members think it will advantage them, they have another think coming.

Millions of people know that if the ban goes through, shooting and angling will be next. [Hon. Members: "No, no."] They will. There is not a shadow of doubt about that. There will be a formidable body of opinion against the Prime Minister. Furthermore, many people—whether or not they like hunting, shooting or fishing—believe that the measure undermines personal liberty and people's livelihoods, and they take grave exception to that. The measure does not give the Government such a straightforward political advantage as they think.

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Mr Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

In that context, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the great problem with the procedure that we are being offered is that it will squeeze out opportunities to present convincing arguments to people who support hunting? We have neither the space nor the time to do that. As we know that the country has been persuaded to oppose the ban, there is some hope that, through the use of proper procedure, at least those logical Members of Parliament who are not blinded by prejudice could be persuaded, too.

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Mr John Greenway (Ryedale, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, as it gives me the opportunity to observe that, unlike many of his colleagues, he has earned great respect for his work on the measure during his years in this place.

I conclude by again urging the House to think carefully about accepting the motion. Members must divorce it in their mind from the issue of hunting and consider only that if they support the motion they will be using a sledgehammer to crush minority interests and that, next time, they may be on its receiving end.

2:42 pm
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Mr Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

Every day when we start our business in the Chamber we say a prayer. It includes the words that Members should

"never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals, but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind".

I am sure that many people simply go through the words, but when we think about them they mean that we must be objective about our decisions. Crucially, we must be willing to make decisions that are in line with our values, even if they are against our feelings. Sometimes that is easy, and often there is not even a vote in this place. However, sometimes it is hard and we end up with stalemate.

When there is stalemate between this place and the upper House, it is incumbent on us to ask why. It is not hard to see why on this occasion, because the entire debate has been characterised by strong emotions and sincerely held views. In addition, procedural issues have arisen from the content of the Bill. Indeed, when dramatic changes to the previous Bill occurred on Report, the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality said that we should resist them, as they would wreck the Bill's architecture.

It is hardly surprising that so many Members are unhappy about the procedure motion. I hope that Members will listen to my contribution, which is a sincere request that we be given the space to make a rational decision. I hope that we shall win and I shall explain my request.

One of the greatest difficulties is that emotions never run higher than in the Chamber. The eyes of the nation are occasionally upon us and proceedings in the Chamber lend themselves to strong feelings and a confrontational mode. Sometimes we hear great insights, but at other times, long monologues of self-belief. By comparison, our Committees have been much more constructive; they have not been quite so provocative and there has been a degree of consensus on some issues—for example, compensation.

The one day—3 July 2004—allowed for us to debate the recommitted Bill showed that there was potential for development if we were given time. My hon. Friend Andrew George highlighted the fact that there are a number of faults to be ironed out. My first point, therefore, is that even those who support the ban feel that there are faults that could be ironed out, but how and when are we to do that? It will obviously be of great significance to the thousands of people massed outside this place to understand the processes the Government propose to iron out those faults. To date, I have heard nothing better than the possibility of a Committee.

Secondly, we have already discussed the role of the Lords in the matter; it has been said that the Lords frustrated the will of the House. That is true. A majority of Members of this place voted for a ban and the upper House came to a different view. However, we must ask why—[Interruption.]

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Mr Michael Lord (Deputy Speaker)

Order. General conversations are breaking out in the Chamber. I should be grateful if hon. Members would do the hon. Gentleman the courtesy of listening to his remarks.

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Mr Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It will not take me long to make my points.

Why did the Lords hold out on the issue to such an extent? I hope that those who are in favour of a ban, as well as those who are opposed, will accept that in many cases it is because their lordships sincerely hold a different view and have a different interpretation of their personal principles. That leads them to oppose a ban and to propose regulation or some other method. From a procedural point of view, it is thus not appropriate for the Minister to suggest that the threat of using the Parliament Act should prevent the upper House from interfering with the content of the Bill.

We have all accepted that there are flaws in the Bill. Why not give the upper House the space to amend it? Of course, we know why not: because the Government want to use the Parliament Act and I shall not go into their motives for that. However, it is a great regret that we do not have the opportunity to amend the Bill and that much of our debate has ended up being criticism of the Lords.

Labour Members are not in a position to criticise the legitimacy, or illegitimacy, of decisions by the upper House. They should bear it in mind that they have presided over modifications to the other place, as defined by the Prime Minister's preference. We have a House of Lords designed by the Government, so it is not appropriate for them to criticise its condition.

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Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire, Conservative)

Is not it also true that about 300 of those Members of the House of Lords were put there by the Prime Minister?

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Mr Lembit Ípik (Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Affairs; Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)

Indeed. That is a fair point.

We are where we are as a result of decisions made by the Prime Minister and others, so we need to be cautious about criticising the upper House as being wholly unacceptable. If it is, it is the result of decisions made by the Government.

When a Lords Member said that these circumstances were an affront to democracy, I suspect that, because they felt so strongly about the issue, they felt frustrated that the Commons were not listening and were unwilling to compromise—[Interruption.] Other Members may disagree, but I shall not pursue the matter.

My third and last point is that we have a choice: whether to have the courage to find the right answer or simply to force through the answer before us today. I am sure that my views do not have the support of everybody in the House, but we must all agree that the measure involves a restriction of civil liberties. No one can deny that.

There are also questions about animal suffering. I believe that if the Bill is passed, there will be an increase in animal suffering rather than a reduction. There are problems such as how a dog will differentiate hares and rabbits when it is chasing them and a host of other things that we need to discuss on Second Reading. The difficulty is that I can see no stage in the process when, in fairness to Members on both sides, we can look at the arguments in the same detail as we do in Committee. If we do not look at them, we shall end up with a defective Bill that does not even achieve what those in favour of a ban on hunting with dogs want. Let us bear it in mind that the Bill does not ban hunting with dogs; it bans the hunting of foxes and stags with dogs, but not the hunting of rabbits or rats.

I really hope that, with the benefit of reflection on this discussion and hindsight on what has gone before this debate, it does take changing one's point of view on the substantive question of banning hunting with dogs to recognise that the procedure motion is defective and that it will not achieve the outcome that any hon. Member wants, simply because we do not have the space to do so.

I shall not go through the middle way group's proposal—I hope that we can do that, at least briefly, on Second Reading—but I conclude with this comment: this is not a debate about animal welfare unless we give ourselves the space to consider the implications on animal welfare of a ban.

A Labour Member said to me just as I was coming into the Chamber, "This is about the miners." Well, it is a great shame if people are getting mixed up. This is not about the miners; it is about the civil liberties of many people who particularly choose this pastime and, in many cases, use it as a fox-control technique, as they do in my area, and it is about animal welfare.

If fox hunting is to be banned in this way, let us bear it in mind that, because of the precedent set by the House, future Governments of this or another persuasion can use it as a precedent. That precedent could come back and bite those very people who may be on the winning side this time.

The stalemate between the upper and lower Houses indicates that there is something seriously wrong with the Bill. To force it through without consensus is a victory of prejudice, in my judgment, and a failure of intellectual integrity. Those in the pro-ban lobby can win the vote today, but they cannot pretend that, by stifling the debate and ignoring the existence of alternative views, they have won the argument. British citizens are fair-minded and they do not like injustice, but the procedure motion leads us towards a Bill that is not fair and can be unjust.

In my judgment, therefore, the procedure motion and the Bill are illiberal. They do not take account of the change in the country's mood, given that most people do not support a ban on hunting with dogs, and certainly do not support its criminalisation. I can no more support the procedures proposed today than I can support the Bill in its current form.

2:52 pm
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Dr Bob Spink (Castle Point, Conservative)

Whatever side of the argument one is on, some points are irrefutable, and as it seems to fall to me to summarise this debate, I shall briefly go through those points, if I may, for the House.

The implications of the Bill are momentous. It will criminalise the practices of thousands of good people; it will destroy tens of thousands of jobs; and, on balance, it will not improve animal welfare for the horse, the hound or, indeed, the fox. The issues concerned are devilishly complex. The time given to consider the Bill is ridiculously inadequate. The Committee and Report stages on the Bill—a different Bill has been considered previously—are to be excluded. Hon. Members' amendments will not be allowed. The Parliament Acts will be used. All those matters ride roughshod over our parliamentary procedures and our democracy.

The motion is indeed an affront to our democracy. It is pandering to the worst and self-interested political manoeuvring of the Prime Minister. If the motion is approved, this will be a very bad day—not just for democracy, but for the House—and it will result in flawed legislation. We should reject the motion and vote to uphold the reputation of the House.

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Mr Bob Ainsworth (Deputy Chief Whip (technically Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household); Coventry North East, Labour)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 310, Noes 158.

Division number 246

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 174, Noes 303.

Division number 247

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: amendment (n), in paragraph 2(2), leave out from 'any' to 'under' and insert 'Motions'.—[Mr. Heald.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 170, Noes 297.

Division number 248

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put:—

The House divided: Ayes 309, Noes 157.

Division number 249

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That the following provisions shall have effect in relation to the Hunting Bill—

1. Proceedings on Second Reading shall be brought to a conclusion, unless already concluded, five hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

2. At the conclusion of proceedings on Second Reading—

(1) the Bill shall be treated as having been committed to a Committee of the whole House and as having been reported from the Committee without amendment, and

(2) the House shall proceed to consider any Motion standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown under section 2(4) of the Parliament Act 1911 for a suggested amendment to the Bill.

3. Proceedings on that Motion shall be brought to a conclusion, unless already concluded, three hours after their commencement (for which purpose the Speaker shall put only the Question on any amendment of the Motion selected by him and the Question on the Motion).

4. Proceedings on Third Reading—

(1) may be taken immediately after the conclusion of proceedings on the Motion mentioned in paragraphs 2(2) and 3, and

(2) shall be brought to a conclusion half an hour after their commencement.

5. No motion may be made to recommit the Bill.

6. In relation to the proceedings mentioned in paragraphs 1 to 4 above—

(1) Standing Order No. 15(1) shall apply,

(2) the proceedings shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House,

(3) the Orders of the House of 28th June 2001 and 6th November 2003 relating to deferred Divisions shall not apply,

(4) the proceedings shall not be interrupted by a Motion for the adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (and any such Motion shall stand over until the conclusion of such of the proceedings mentioned in paragraphs 1 to 4 as are to be taken at the sitting concerned),

(5) no dilatory motion may be made except by a Minister of the Crown,

(6) the Question on any dilatory motion made by a Minister of the Crown shall be put forthwith, and

(7) if the House is adjourned or the sitting is suspended during the course of the proceedings, no notice shall be required of a Motion made by a Minister of the Crown at the next sitting of the House varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

7. The Question on any Motion varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order (whether by making provision about Lords messages or otherwise) shall be put forthwith.