Hunting Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

– in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 30th June 2003.

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:22 pm, 30th June 2003

I beg to move,

That the programme order of 16th December 2002 in relation to the Hunting Bill be varied as follows—

1. Paragraph 4 of the order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion five and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order.

3. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken in the following order—

(a) New Clause 13 and any new clauses and amendments which stand to be grouped for debate with it;

(b) New Clause 12 and any new clauses and amendments which stand to be grouped for debate with it;

(c) Remaining proceedings.

4. At the conclusion of proceedings on consideration, the question on any motion made by a Minister of the Crown to re-commit the Bill to a Standing Committee shall be put forthwith.

The motion provides for a variation of the programme order agreed by the House on 16 December when the Bill received its Second Reading. Paragraph 2 of the motion provides that tonight's Report stage shall end five and a half hours after the beginning of this programme motion debate. I will keep my remarks very short since the longer we spend on the motion, the less time we will have for the main debate.

Paragraph 3 of the motion provides for the order of consideration of amendments during tonight's debate. We will begin with a group covering the big issue, which is about what is to be banned. The lead amendment is new clause 13 in my name, which was tabled with the names of a number of hon. Friends. Taken with the other provisions of the Bill, it will ban all cruelty associated with hunting with dogs.

The first group includes new clause 11, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Banks and others, which has been described as seeking a complete ban on fox hunting.

Photo of Patrick McLoughlin Patrick McLoughlin Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons)

With the timetable that the Minister is proposing, does he expect the House to have a chance to discuss all the groups of amendments before the House?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Yes, it is for the House to decide how it wishes to use the time, and I am conscious that most of the big issues are in the first group of amendments. Other issues in groups of amendments that deal with largely lesser matters, or matters that are consequent on undertakings given in Committee are comparatively straightforward.

As I have indicated, paragraph 3 of the motion provides for the order of consideration of amendments during tonight's debate. I have referred to the two lead amendments in the first group. Mr. Speaker, you would quickly call me to order if I began now to explain my reasons for recommending new clause 13 rather than new clause 11. We will have plenty of time to debate that issue. I must draw the House's attention to the fact that I have been advised this morning by the House authorities that if new clause 13 is passed, Mr. Speaker will not be able to call a vote on new clause 11. That is because the provisions of the two clauses are legally incompatible. It does not change the fact that both new clauses are available for debate and, if my hon. Friends so choose, available to be voted on. What is clear, as it always has been, is that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends face a choice between the two: the choice is still, effectively, between a Bill that is simple to explain and one that is simple to enforce.

Paragraph 4 of the programme motion provides for the possibility of a motion to recommit the Bill to a Standing Committee at the end of the Report stage. There has been much discussion, and not a little misunderstanding, about that possibility since it was mentioned at business questions last week. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House then made clear, it is not a question of some underhand dealings by the Government to prevent the Bill from going forward, but simply a necessary precaution to ensure that the Bill goes forward and does so in a workable form.

The House must understand that if new clause 11 were added to the Bill, the Bill would not be workable without further amendment. We must not send a defective Bill to the other place, and we would face extreme difficulty if we sought to apply the Parliament Acts to a defective piece of legislation. Recommittal is an inevitable consequence of opting for new clause 11.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

If the Minister is concerned that the Bill is imperfect, and we can see from the number of Government amendments that it is, why does he not send it straight back to the Committee rather than using a day of Government time on which we could be discussing other matters?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Bill as it stands is far from imperfect. It is a very strong Bill. It deals with the issue of cruelty involved with hunting, and it does so comprehensively. The reason for the possibility of recommittal is that we are in free vote territory. Members may take decisions that leave the Bill in a state in which further amendment is necessary. That is what I have made absolutely clear.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Last Thursday, the Leader of the House said to me:

"I have been advised by parliamentary counsel that the Bill may need to be recommitted for the purpose of making technical and consequential amendments, without which the Bill, as amended, may not be effective law. That amended Bill would obviously have to be debated on Report and Third Reading and, as a result, it is doubtful whether it is possible to get it into the Lords before the recess."—[Hansard, 26 June 2003; Vol. 407, c. 1208.]

I seek from the Minister precise clarification so that the House may proceed in good order in today's debate. Will he give a clear commitment that if he needs to move the recommittal motion later today, the Bill will go into Standing Committee in time for the House to complete all stages next week so that the Bill can go to the House of Lords before the recess?

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Obviously, there are business matters here, but my understanding is that the Bill would be dealt with before the recess, on its return from the Standing Committee. The answer to my right hon. Friend's question is therefore yes. What we would lose is the date that has been set for Second Reading in the Lords of 17 July, before the other place goes into recess, but the answer is yes.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify two things. When he says the Bill "would be dealt with", does he mean that it would complete all its stages in this House, including Third Reading? Secondly, while he says that that would make it not possible for the Bill to reach the House of Lords by the scheduled Second Reading date of 17 July, can he guarantee that, in those circumstances, it would get to the Lords for a Second Reading in time, if necessary, for the Parliament Act provisions of one month to be invoked?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My understanding is that it would be the intention for the Bill to be able to complete its proceedings in this House before the recess and then to go to the Lords. As to the precise possibilities in terms of the application of the Parliament Act, my right hon. Friend is asking me to go further than my knowledge can take me, particularly because there are uncertainties about the application of the Parliament Act, which are, of course, a matter for this House. It is not the Government's intention to frustrate the speediest reaching of a conclusion on the issue. As I have made clear, if we can deal with everything tonight, and if the Bill, in the robust form that I recommend to the House, is passed by the House during its proceedings today, the debate in the House of Lords is scheduled before the recess.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the substantive issue about the need for additional Committee proceedings? I am a co-signatory to an amendment on mink hunting and I understand that the Government feel that if foxes are exempt, it might be necessary to delete part 2 of the Bill and thus the matter would have to go back to Committee. Is that the reason? If mink hunting were not banned explicitly, but was left as an issue for registration, would that obviate the need to return to Committee?

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I believe not, for a number of reasons. As I understand it, there are consequentials arising from the amendments that are difficult to predict in advance. The amendments are complicated—they are a sequence of events—and we need to ensure that the Bill is in good order. As I indicated in my responses to my right hon. Friend Mr. Kaufman, we shall deal with those issues as expeditiously as possible, consequent on a recommital.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that you will accept that if the House is to proceed to debate the Bill in good order, the latter part of the question that I put to the Minister requires a very early answer in the course of the debate. If the Minister himself is not in a position to answer the question about the Parliament Act, may I ask that the Leader of the House or the Deputy Leader of the House come to the House early today so that the House knows exactly where it stands?

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

I was referring to this, Mr. Speaker: the Minister said that if the Bill has to be recommitted and we complete the stages next week, as is scheduled, his belief is that the Bill will not be able to go to the House of Lords for the scheduled Second Reading date of 17 July. Were we to be in that circumstance, it is essential for the House, in making its decisions today, to know whether the Bill would get to the House of Lords for Second Reading in time, if need be, for the one-month requirement relating to the Parliament Act to be fulfilled. Since you, Mr. Speaker, are the custodian of the Parliament Act, it is essential that we have that information as early as possible today.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

My understanding is that it does not have to be a sitting month—it could be a non-sitting month. I hope that that will be of help to the right hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton for his forensic examination of these matters. Although he raised them on a point of order, may I explain that I am trying to make it clear to the House that it is our intention to get through business expeditiously and not to frustrate the House in its business in any way? However, I cannot speak for the House authorities where their decisions are at issue, nor can I speak about programming in another place, although I can do so in respect of 17 July as I understand that that decision is already in the public domain.

As I have made clear, I do not deny that recommital would lead to some delay and that, in particular, the procedures that would have to be undertaken in this place could not be completed in time to allow the other place to give the Bill a Second Reading before the summer recess. That is a matter of fact. In contrast, if new clause 13 and the other Government amendments to strengthen the Bill are agreed, I can give the House a firm assurance that there will be no need for a recommital motion, so we can proceed to give the Bill a Third Reading tonight. In that case, I can also inform the House that I understand that the House of Lords will debate the Bill's Second Reading on Thursday 17 July.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I understood my right hon. Friend to say—I may have misunderstood—that the Bill would need to be recommitted to the Standing Committee if new clause 13 were voted down and new clause 11 were accepted because it would otherwise be unworkable. I should be grateful to him if he could explain to the House how it would be unworkable given that part 2, which deals with registration, could still have effect in relation to hunting other wild mammals not specifically mentioned in the Bill, such as wild boar.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I indicated that I was certain that Mr. Speaker would call me to order if I started to discuss the content of the amendments, but I wanted to make clear the procedure to colleagues. I am sure that we will discuss the issues that my hon. Friend raises during the substantive debate, but I promised to be as brief as I could. I tried to respond to colleagues' interventions.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way to me a second time. He has told us what paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 of the motion say, but, unless I am much mistaken, he has not told us why paragraphs 2 and 3, in particular, ought to be passed.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I explained why it would hardly be wise for me to start the substantive debate now, and I do not intend to do so. I have explained the processes to the hon. and learned Gentleman, and I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be very grateful to you for your guidance on recommittal to Standing Committee. Am I right in thinking—I may be wrong—that the Standing Committee has been discharged and a new Standing Committee would have to be formed, because that would have implications for the time scale?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

At the moment, the Chair does not know the form that the recommittal motion would take, so it is impossible to answer that hypothetical question. I am sorry that I cannot be clearer than that to the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 4:36 pm, 30th June 2003

The one bright aspect of this patently miserable affair is that it demonstrates beyond all doubt the value of debating programme motions. Apart from anything else, the debate has allowed right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House to seek to clarify exactly what the devil is going on. I shall leave them to conclude whether or not they have succeeded, but it certainly demonstrates that these debates are of value to the House, and I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind when they consider successive Government proposals to restrict such occasions more and more.

It is also obvious that the Bill is very important. Of course, all Bills are important to the House, but this Bill has particular importance because not only is it highly controversial, but it could affect very many people's livelihoods and lifestyles. As we have already heard in the exchanges on the programme motion, it contains many complex issues, but there has been no consultation. This is another case of Government fiat. It is yet another case of the Government coming to the House and saying, "We the Government are telling the House how much time it requires for this important matter. There will be no discussion, no consultation. That is it."

Following the question asked by my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier, the Minister failed to explain why the Government believe that we can satisfactorily deal with this matter in the time allocated—five and a half hours in which to consider all the amendments and new clauses. By my reckoning, as we see from the selection list, there are five separate groups of amendments and new clauses—each important in their own right—more than 50 Government amendments and more than 20 other amendments, all of which, according to the Government, can be satisfactorily dealt with by the House in as little as five and a half hours. That cannot be right. Quite apart from the intrinsic importance of new clause 13, new clause 12 and new clause 10, which lead the first three groups of amendments, it could be argued that each of them could scarcely be dealt with satisfactorily in five and a half hours, never mind the whole in total.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

May I tell my right hon. Friend that, in Standing Committee, we probably spent in excess of 100 hours on the Bill, yet I suggest that we did not complete a half of it? We are now being required to spend five and a half hours dealing with it on Report.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

Indeed. My hon. and learned Friend refers to those who were privileged to serve on the Standing Committee. The point about this part of the proceedings is to give the Members of the House who were not on the Committee an opportunity to contribute. The House, as a whole, will consider the Bill, so my hon. and learned Friend's point is even more relevant for that reason.

There will be free votes on both sides of the House. At least, we will have a free vote; it remains to be seen what the poor, old payroll does when it comes to a vote. However, given that there will be a free vote, we are in the rather unusual position in which a number of different groups and opinions will want, quite properly, to express their views when we debate the new clauses and amendments. There are those who want a total ban, those who want a selective ban, those who think that we can live with a licensing regime and those who prefer the status quo. No doubt, there are many other views as well. How will all the groups be able to express their views in the time allocated? That is the obvious question.

The Government are asking us to accept that groups of amendments made up of many new clauses and amendments can be dealt with properly, comprehensively, in detail and in a way that will satisfy all those outside with a legitimate and direct interest in five and a half hours.

Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg Labour, City of Durham

Is the shadow Leader of the House aware that we have spent 120 hours debating the issue over the past few years and that the vast majority of us have discussed it until we are blue in the face? All we want to do now is vote.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I do not know why the hon. Gentleman thinks that 120 hours is, in itself, sufficient. It may not be. The very fact that his right hon. and hon. Friends legitimately take a different view suggests that the issue cannot just be voted on. There are matters properly to be discussed.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

I am confused. Mr. Garnier says that he begrudges one day being given to discuss the Bill. How many days of Government time would the shadow Leader of the House like to us to spend on the matter?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

I would have thought that it might not even be a matter of days. We are asking why the Government are placing an artificial restriction on the time available today to discuss the Bill. In the good old days, we would have spent enough time—into the night if necessary—to do justice to the important issues in a Bill of this kind. Why is it that the world and the House have changed so much that, given an issue of this complexity and importance, the Government have come along in their hobnailed boots and said, "You will spend only five and a half hours on the issue regardless of its complexity and importance."

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the longer we have debated the issue over the years that we have spent on it, the more people in the country change their minds and now say that they do not think that a ban is necessary?

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

The hon. Lady is correct. That is yet another reason why those people would expect their Parliament, their House of Commons and their representatives to have a say, voice their opinions and ensure that the matter is dealt with in a balanced way and as a matter of judgment.

We face all the complications of the possible recommittal to Standing Committee. Even yet, that point has not been thoroughly explored in the time available to the programme motion. We face the time pressure on both Houses—this House and the House of Lords—and the Parliament Act is hovering behind all that. We need to tease out the implications of that.

We have, sadly, over the past few years become used to Government diktat, but this motion must be one of the most extreme examples of the Government coming to the House and, without any consultation or negotiation, saying, "This is the time available to you—no more, no less. You will now resolve these varied and important matters in only five and a half hours." I suppose that it is too much to ask but, even at this stage, I ask the Minister to take account of the views of his Back Benchers even if he does not listen to the Opposition and to consider withdrawing the programme motion or rescinding it in some other way so that we have a proper amount of time to discuss the Bill and to do justice to the issues before us. It is a last-minute request, but I hope that I am not too late and that the Government will consider it. If not, I hope that we shall all vote against this dreadful motion. 4.44 pm

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I have some sympathy for the views expressed by the shadow Leader of the House. However, I also recall that when my right hon. Friend the Minister stood up to make a statement on the Bill, he was upbraided by the Opposition who asked why the Government had put that statement on before one on education. There was a murmur of agreement on the other side. When my right hon. Friend sat down, the House emptied, so whatever anyone else says, there is considerable interest in the matter. I tell the shadow Leader of the House that if my right hon. Friend had proposed two days or more of discussion, I am sure that many Opposition Members would have said, "Haven't we more important things to debate?". This is an argument that the Government and the Opposition cannot win. We should, perhaps, be grateful for the small mercies that the Government have extended.

I am not at all happy with the motion. According to my mathematics, the number 11 normally comes before 13—apparently not if the Government deem it otherwise. Many people outside the House, and a number inside, think that the programme motion is a procedural device to prevent a vote on a total ban. We did not have the chance to table a manuscript amendment to reverse the order of consideration, so if new clause 13 is agreed, it will trump new clause 11, which would mean that we may not vote on a total ban.

There was a lot of speculation in the press over the weekend. In The Sunday Times, Mr. Eben Black—a man who is not noted for his accuracy of reporting—said that new clause 11, which was ascribed to me, was a late intervention. That is not so, because the total ban amendment was drafted and ready by the end of the Committee stage on 27 February. The Government's programme motion was a late intervention, because we received notice of it only towards the latter end of last week.

We could have tabled an amendment to introduce a total ban on fox hunting in Committee, but the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs herself explicitly and forcefully asked us not to do so—she can be very forceful. The language that she used quite shocked some of the more timorous members of the Committee. She said, "We do not want the amendment to be put before the Committee because we need wider consultation in the House to get a wider spread of opinion, so please"—I do not actually think that the word "please" came into it—"do not table it." We agreed, which is why the amendment was not tabled in Committee.

We agreed not to table the amendment because we said that we thought that it was reasonable to have a wider debate and vote on a total ban, but under the programme motion, if new clause 13 is accepted, we will not have a vote on new clause 11, which would introduce a total ban. We were told that there would be difficulties with new clause 11, although we shall discuss those in a minute. Quite frankly, I do not believe that the difficulties are there unless the Government want them to be.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

I am grateful to my hon. and strictly temporary Friend. Does he agree that the Prime Minister gave us not one but several undertakings that Parliament would indeed have the opportunity to vote on a total ban? If we do not have the opportunity to vote on new clause 11, does he agree that those undertakings will have been breached and, to put it in the vernacular, that the Prime Minister would have ratted?

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

I would not necessary use those precise words. The situation would certainly lead to a reasonably justifiable case being made for bad faith on the Government's part because, frankly, if there were real or imagined difficulties with new clause 11, they could have been resolved in Committee. I have already explained why we did not debate a total ban in Committee.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do not always recognise the way in which things are described. For example, I do not recall many members of the Committee being especially timorous, and I recall my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State using the word "please" with some emphasis. There is an opportunity to vote on my hon. Friend's new clause. As it happens, the way in which the process works means that that would involve voting down new clause 13—we have, effectively, a choice between the two. I accept that entirely. I hope to persuade the House to support new clause 13, because I believe passionately that it is right. However, new clause 11 is before the House for debate and can be voted on, if that is agreed by hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's emphasis on "please" coincided with our heads being drummed against the table. Under the circumstances, I think I have made it clear that her plea to us was forcible, and that we saw the strength of her argument and, indeed, the strength of her arm.

The point I am making to my right hon. Friend the Minister, whom I absolve from any accusation of bad faith, is this: if the programme motion referred to new clause 11 and then new clause 13, I would understand it. What the Government are forcing us to do, however, is to vote against Government new clause 13 and to vote for new clause 11, which is what I recommend everyone who wants a total ban to do. I regret that we will have to do that, but that is the result of this bad programme motion which, by the end of the evening, could mean that the Government snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What would have been a very good news day will turn into a defeat for the good faith of the Government and for the fate of foxes as well.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:51 pm, 30th June 2003

When we debate a programme motion, it is right to recognise that it takes time from the five and half hours of the main debate, if the motion is agreed to. That is why I intend to be brief.

Given the intervention of Mr. Kaufman and others in the debate so far, it is important that we get clear advice on the implications of voting on amendments in the first group. Such advice has not yet been made available. I am uncomfortable about voting on new clause 13 before new clause 11. The unclear advice contains the implicit blackmail that if we go along with new clause 13—I am not judging which way we should vote—the Bill will get a safe, efficient and quick passage to another place, but if the House votes down new clause 13 and favours new clause 11, that will result in an unwelcome detainment of the Bill and recommittal to the Standing Committee. Having served more than 100 hours on the Standing Committee, I do not particularly want to go back to it. The experience of verbal wallpaper for days on end is not something that I want to go through again, especially on this issue.

There is clear concern on both sides of the House that we should receive further advice. Perhaps the Leader of the House could give us that clear advice after the vote on the programme motion and before we debate the first group of amendments so that we fully understand the implications of going down one route or another. Many hon. Members have not made up their minds and feel under pressure as to whether they should vote for new clause 13 or new clause 11. They want the matter done and dealt with as quickly as possible. The House has spent far too much time on it already, but we want to ensure that we complete the job and complete it well.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee 4:53 pm, 30th June 2003

I shall not follow my hon. Friend Mr. Banks into discussing whether the Government have acted in bad faith. That is a matter I reserve for discussion at the next meeting of the parliamentary Labour party. I want to clarify absolutely the position that will result from the programme motion and if the House decides to defeat new clause 13 and accept new clause 11.

Last week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, in what I believe was absolute good faith, said in response to a question from me that if certain amendments were carried—he undoubtedly had in mind new clause 11—consequential amendments would be required and the Bill would be unable to complete its passage before the recess, and that would certainly have implications for the invocation of the Parliament Act, if it were needed.

The Minister can contradict me in what I am about to posit if I am wrong, but if he does not contradict me, I will take it that I am right. If we accept new clause 11 this evening and, as a result, consequential amendments are required and the Government accept the Minister's motion to recommit the Bill to the Standing Committee, the timetable that has been described this afternoon means that the Bill will have a swift passage through the reconvened Standing Committee and complete its passage through the House next Wednesday.

That means that, as Mr. Speaker has clarified, although the Bill cannot have its Second Reading in the House of Lords by the scheduled date of 17 July, it will be referred back to the House of Lords for a Second Reading, presumably in September. If new clause 11 is accepted and the House of Lords obstructs the Bill, the Parliament Act can nevertheless be invoked in this Session, which means that the Bill can become law at the beginning of the next Session.

If the Minister agrees with that, I will welcome his saying so. I see that the Clerk is giving you advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the Minister disagrees with me, that will create a situation that is unacceptable to many Members of the House.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As ever, my right hon. Friend sought to set out very clearly his understanding of the whole process. The problem is that it is an extremely complicated set of propositions to say yes or no to, particularly because some of them depend on what happens in another place and some depend on the processes and decisions of this House, and I am not qualified to rule on those. I heard nothing in what my right hon. Friend said that I want to disagree with or challenge, but I am not sure that I can say yes to his entire series of propositions with the clarity that he seeks.

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

Two matters pertain here. First, the Minister ought to have briefed himself on this question because he knew that I would raise it. I have had discussions with senior members of the Government over the weekend, and the Minister ought to have been well aware that this matter required clarification from the Front Bench.

Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, whom I do not accuse of acting with a scintilla of bad faith, reiterated when I asked him last Thursday that he stood by the two commitments given to me by the Minister that if the Bill emerged from this place with new clause 11 and the House of Lords obstructed it, the Government would use the Parliament Act. I do not regard that as convoluted; it is pretty straightforward. If the Minister cannot clarify that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps you will help us, since the Clerk has been advising you.

Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

That is certainly a simpler set of propositions than my right hon. Friend previously put forward. I stand by what I said in my statement on 21 March, and there should be no doubt about that. Secondly, I have given my right hon. Friend the assurance he sought that the intention, if the Bill is recommitted tonight, is that it will return to Standing Committee and complete all its stages in this House before the recess. That will allow other consequences, which are outside my hands, to follow. I do not disagree with my right hon. Friend's analysis.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

Will my right hon. Friend give way on that point?

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

It is obvious that the Government are in something of a mess at the present time—[Hon. Members: "No!"] Does my right hon. Friend agree that the way forward would be for the Government not to move new clause 13?

Hon. Members:

Hear, hear!

Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee

That would be a way forward of a brilliance that I expect from my hon. Friend. Whether I can expect such brilliance from Ministers, we shall see.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:00 pm, 30th June 2003

It seems to me that our debate so far has been more about the Government's intentions, the Parliament Act and some of the internal problems of the parliamentary Labour party than about the programme motion itself. I wish to make one simple point about that motion.

We completed Committee stage—I think that my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier was wrong: we did complete consideration of the Bill during the time available—on, if memory serves, 27 February.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

Of course we completed consideration of the Bill, but that was a fiction. We reported back to the House, or at least we attempted to. However, I cannot say that we considered every clause of the Bill or every amendment that was tabled.

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I think we probably did, but never mind. The fact is that we completed our consideration on 27 February and the Government have had the Bill for the whole of March, April, May and June, yet after all the time spent in the Standing Committee—estimates differ: some say 70 hours, some 100, but it was certainly an awful lot of hours—we are now being given about four and a half hours in practice to consider the Bill on the Floor of the House.

That is unacceptably short, on two grounds in particular. First, there is new evidence in relation to the utility test: the study by the university of Kent. The House should have the opportunity to consider that new evidence on biodiversity. Secondly, there is new evidence from the middle way group on the effects of shooting foxes, which the House should also have a decent amount of time to consider. Four or so hours is simply not good enough.

I have a practical suggestion—sadly, the Government Whip whose business this is is not in his place to hear it. My suggestion is that the Government abandon the programme motion and lift the 10 o'clock rule and instead go for closure on each group of amendments. It would not take for ever—[Laughter.] Labour Members laugh, but I imagine that the Chair would take a very dim view of any attempt to filibuster during debate on the individual groups. Let us do this properly and give the House time for consideration. The first group of amendments is the biggest and the busiest and it is my guess that that group will take most of the time available to the House for Report stage. As we go down the selection list, the groups become less and less time consuming, and I am sure that in the spirit of good will the House would give each the serious consideration it deserves. Lift the 10 o'clock rule.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Liberal Democrat, Montgomeryshire

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if Mr. Banks and Mr. Kaufman were sincere in what they said, they should consider voting against the programme motion, as it would be incongruous if they supported a programme motion that they oppose? Secondly, does he agree that there are some important amendments relating to welfare, such as amendment No. 22, and that if the hon. Member for West Ham and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton were to go along with the programme motion, it would indicate that they do not really care what happens to a few orphaned cubs?

Photo of Peter Luff Peter Luff Opposition Whip (Commons)

I entirely agree that the effect of voting for the programme motion would be to deny debate on such subjects. I am sure that the House would respond reasonably to being given a reasonable amount of time for debate. We should resist the programme motion.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough 5:03 pm, 30th June 2003

I shall be brief, because I have to be.

I am disappointed by the Minister's interventions this afternoon. I am disappointed that the Leader of the House, who played such an interesting part in the debate last Thursday, is not here to explain the Government's case for the programme motion.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

I dare say he is.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality did not explain why we should pass paragraphs 2 and 3 of the motion, still less did he condescend to explain why paragraph 4 should be voted through. No such recommittal to a Standing Committee has been proposed in the 10 years in which I have been an MP—

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald

Never, certainly not in the past 16 years.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Conservative, Harborough

I thank my right hon. Friend. I think that we should be given a little more than the remaining time that the programme motion allows to discuss such an unprecedented, or almost unprecedented, procedural measure.

Andrew George said that any discussion of the programme motion takes time out of the debate on the substantive issues, but it is a pretty facile argument when we are faced with such a great array of amendments and new clauses to complain that it is contrary to democracy to take a mere 45 minutes to discuss whether we should be allowed to discuss anything. The Government should be ashamed of themselves. Last autumn, the Minister said that he wanted to see the legislation stand the test of time, but he will not allow us the time to check the Bill.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe Conservative, Maidstone and The Weald 5:05 pm, 30th June 2003

To call the programme motion a Horlicks is to be profoundly unfair to the nightcap of that name. The motion and the recommittal proposition are merely another means of delay and another means of not delivering on something that was promised before 1997. It is the latest procedural shenanigan.

We were told that Parliament would have an opportunity on a free vote to decide whether it wanted a ban. We were told also that if it decided that it wanted a ban, appropriate legislation would be brought forward. Parliament decided that it wanted a ban early in the previous Parliament. We then had to have a long-winded commission. We did not have a Bill until it was obvious that we were right up against the end of the Parliament, and that no Bill would be able to complete its passage through both Houses, given that there was bound to be a difference of opinion between the Houses.

We were promised exactly the same again—I can hardly believe that the electorate was so gullible—before 2001. We were told that if we had a vote, time would be made to make it possible to introduce a complete ban. Through a long series of delays we have arrived at the stage where we are facing the possibility of a complete ban. All the Government can do is get themselves into such a muddle that we have to have the further delay of recommittal if a vote for that ban goes through. It is not necessary to get into such a mess.

I have seen successive Governments cope with highly complex Bills where free votes were involved, without having to resort to recommittal. It is—

It being forty-five minutes after the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 29 October 2002].

The House divided: Ayes 292, Noes 161.

Division number 258 Hunting Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Aye: 292 MPs

No: 161 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Question accordingly agreed to.