Debate on the Address

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 6th December 2000.

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Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Conservative, Blaby 6:52 pm, 6th December 2000

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I are not likely to agree on this point. He said that it was wrong to hunt and to put blood on a child's face. I do not especially like that practice, but is he seriously suggesting that we should legislate because, due to some bizarre tradition, huntsmen wish to blood children's faces? That is a bizarre suggestion.

As regards cruelty, of course we are not discussing an especially pleasant way of dying, but death is not pleasant. As the Burns inquiry found, fox hunting is more palatable than many other methods of pest control. Foxes are pests. If the hon. Gentleman believes that foxes should not be controlled, that is fine, but he should talk to farmers in my constituency who are concerned, for example, about the piglets that they lose to foxes.

It is sad that we are concentrating on what the Government consider to be a vote catcher, rather than on the real issues and the crisis in the countryside. Farmers' wives come to see in me tears because their farms are going bust. Farmers are committing suicide at an appalling rate and are making constant losses. There is no money in agriculture, for a number of deep-seated reasons. The Government, however, are not going to do anything about that.

Some people find it genuinely depressing—I do not know whether they include Labour Members—that, during the recent fuel crisis, when farmers and others were demonstrating, at least two Labour Members said, "I don't particularly mind. What about all the miners who were put out of their jobs? There was no public sympathy for them." These are not tit-for-tat issues. I do not view all miners as Labour supporters or all farmers as Conservative supporters. One should be concerned about the humanity of the matter. More to the point, the management of the countryside affects everyone in the country greatly. I fear that the comments made by some Labour Members were vindictive and petty. I hope that none of them now present wants to intervene on that point.

The Government have the agenda. The hon. Member for Heeley mentioned hunting with dogs at the beginning of his speech. Also, there was the proposal for section 28—which, I am glad to say, is not coming back. Indeed, it is a peripheral issue. I was vociferous in opposing the Government's plans for the abolition of section 28, but it says a great deal about the mindset of the Government and of their activists and supporters that they should pursue at such great length the removal of section 28 from the statute book. The issue does not exercise the great British public, although, if they were asked, most would back the Conservatives.

The need to ensure that the education standard spending assessment is sufficient to fund the education of all children—a significant issue in places such as Leicestershire—has not been touched on, although it was mentioned in the pre-Budget statement. I am delighted that the Government seem to be moving on the matter. There is talk of floors in the SSA, but I hope for delivery rather than merely the few words that have been uttered so far.

The Queen's Speech contained nothing on transport. I find that pretty strange, as congestion is increasing on our roads—which is not new—and there are problems on the railways. People keep blaming those problems on privatisation, but I disagree entirely. The railways have been getting better, not worse, since privatisation. It is only recently that people have lost confidence in them, partly because the system has been criticised so much by the Government, among others.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) spoke about the Nice summit and the treaty that might result from that. I do not want to cover all the ground that he covered.