I beg to move, That this House
disagrees with the Lords in their said amendment.
With this it will be convenient to take motions to disagree to Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 54, amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of certain amendments, and amendments (c) and (d) in lieu of amendment No. 46.
I inform the House that privilege is involved in Lords amendments Nos. 10, 12, 45 and 52. If the House agrees to the amendments, I shall arrange for the necessary entries to be made in the Journal.
I rise not to withdraw the amendments, as I have been encouraged to do by my right hon. and hon. Friends, but to urge support for them. Before turning to the amendments, I shall refer to some technical issues. I hope that the House will bear with me if I explain that the amendments were prepared speedily and that there are some technical clarifications that do not alter their meaning. In amendment (b), the reference in subsection 2(4) to paragraph 11 should be to paragraph 9 and the reference to paragraph 10 should be to paragraph 8. The reference in subsection 9(6)(b) should be to paragraph 23(5), and subsection 14(3)(b) should contain a reference to paragraph 12(4).
The amendment is in order. I would not have called the hon. Gentleman if it had been otherwise.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am glad that we have clarification on that point.
As many right hon. and hon. Members will know, 150 years ago in the Crimea, a war began. Two weeks ago saw the anniversary of one of the battles in that war, which included a suicidal charge across open terrain by the light cavalry of the British forces. It was immortalised by Lord Tennyson, who wrote the now famous lines:
"Cannon to the right of them,
Cannon to the left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thunder'd".
As we already see, the parallels with today's debate are pretty clear. In case they are not clear, Tennyson continued:
"Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred."
At moments like these, those lines from "The Charge of the Light Brigade" seem particularly relevant as I risk fire from all sides. Suicidal or not, the option enabled by these amendments needs to be put to the House on one last occasion. Alas, there may be fewer than 600 Members in the Chamber, but they are no less bold or perhaps foolhardy.
Like the troops of the cavalry at Balaclava, the hon. Gentleman is showing great courage. Does he agree that Tennyson goes on to say the "noble six hundred"? Does he think that the likely outcome of today's debate will show that there are 600 noble Members of Parliament?
I would say, in diplomatic fashion, that I consider everyone in the Chamber on both sides of the debate to be both honourable and noble. I hope that what we will see at the outcome of the debate is 600 Members in the Lobby.
My hon. Friend will remember that when history repeats itself, it does so in farce. Are the amendments all his own work? If so, I am rather surprised. If not, all I can say is
"put not your trust in princes".
I suspect that my hon. Friend's intervention was not intended to be helpful, but was meant to cast aspersions on my motives. I remind him that I took this position before I entered Parliament, and I still maintain it. I expect him to treat my opinions with the same honour that I treat his principled position.
The easiest speeches to make in Parliament, as I have found out, are those in which one knows that the House is with one in passionate unanimity. Failing that, it is at least some comfort to know that one's party is behind one. In the direst times, it is good to know that one's minority vice is shared by at least a few other stalwart friends. Today, I am in a rather lonely position, although I suspect that I am not entirely alone. Even if mine were the only voice in favour of the amendments, it is a mark of our democracy that it should be heard with tolerance by those who oppose my views. In front of me and behind me are Members who in principle support a total ban on hunting. To my left and right are people who oppose any restrictions whatever. I have never belonged to either of those firmly opposed parties, but I respect the passion and principle that underpin their positions. People who oppose the suffering of animals recognise that they are sentient beings. Having campaigned on this and other animal welfare issues, they deserve the admiration of the House. I only ask them to extend the same courtesy and understanding to people who hold a different view. I urge them to recognise that I, like others, believe that a total ban would be less favourable towards animal welfare than they do, and I shall return to that point later.
Turning to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend, does he accept that the logic of his argument is that lamping might well be prohibited under his proposals? Most people, however, accept that it is the fairest and safest way of killing foxes.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point, and I shall deal with it when I address the technical aspects of my amendments. I know that he intended no discourtesy, and I reiterate that I have adopted a consistent view throughout.
I acknowledge that my position is somewhat unpopular—that may turn out to be the parliamentary understatement of the year—and I realise that my friends in the parliamentary Labour party will marvel at my audacity or my folly, depending on their assessment of my individual worth. I repeat: I held these views before I came to Westminster. I held them when I campaigned as an unsuccessful, then a successful, candidate. I have maintained them at Westminster. I have been consistent throughout and, as passionately as other hon. Members have held to their principles, I have held to mine.
As someone who campaigned against the hon. Gentleman in Ogmore, I acknowledge that he held those views before he came to the House. However, his views are not very unpopular in Wales, because they reflect the views of upland farmers in Wales, where there is a need to maintain a proper relationship between farming and the fox population, which is healthy and viable. Is he going to address the fact that his amendments, in my opinion and the opinion of many people throughout Wales, are environmentally beneficial and will improve the upkeep of the Welsh highlands?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I adopted my position because I recognised the impact of upland hunting on wildlife and its habitat. People interpret the Burns report in different ways, but it clearly said that there was a distinct argument in favour of hunting with hounds in upland areas. I support that argument. It might have been helpful if, at an earlier stage, Lord Burns had clarified his position and spoken out more strongly, but he has done so now.
May I tell my hon. Friend that if, at any point, any member of the parliamentary Labour party is not free to express their views, irrespective of their content, without others shouting them down, we shall be in considerable trouble?
When I tabled the amendments, I realised that I would not be successful in any popularity contest among Back-Bench Labour Members.
If the right hon. Lady will allow me, I shall try to make progress. I think that I have been quite generous in accepting interventions.
On the last occasion that I voted for a licensing regime, my local daily newspaper, The Western Mail, ran a second-page headline: "Newest MP Backs Blood Sports". That is hardly an accurate reflection of my views, but when did a good headline or story stand in the way of accuracy or truth? Perhaps the paper, along with some hon. Members, would like to reflect on my intervention on a debate in March 2002 when I decried the bloody excesses of hunts which were clearly shown by video evidence to be guilty of barbaric practices such as hurling live foxes to hounds to be torn apart. I make no apology for repeating what I have said before: such hunts should, under the licensing regime, be sanctioned and, if necessary, licensed out of existence.
To say all hunts are like that is to oversimplify and denigrate the hunts that would want to dissociate themselves from such practices.
I agree that the pro-hunt lobby has been too slow to recognise the need for change. The Lords hesitated too long when given the opportunity to opt to reform of hunting with a licensing regime. However, the Commons has been equally guilty of wilfully misunderstanding the motives of people involved in hunts. We have ignored the benefits of lifelong animal welfare and countryside stewardship. In simplifying the debate as one between good and evil, friend and foe, we damage logical argument and diminish the debate. It is enhanced, however, if we respect each other's views, even if we are in total disagreement. We should leave this skirmish without animosity to fight other battles on pensioners and poverty, overseas aid and trade justice, crime and community. In my constituency, we have one hunt— the Llangeinor hunt. To categorise it as red-coated toffs riding to hounds would be to ignore the upland hill-farmer, whom I know well and who, in his eighties, still trots behind the hunt, enjoying the ride along the upland areas of the Garw and Ogmore valleys, as he did when he was a teenager and the valleys were full of collieries. To portray that hunt in terms of class war is to disregard—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
To portray that hunt in class-war terms is to disregard wholly the former miners who hunt with it, or the Labour party members whose families rely on the hunt for work as farriers. To represent the hunt as a vicious predation on foxes is to ignore the effect that that hunt and others have on maintaining the landscape and the healthy fox population, because the very existence of the hunt places a value on the fox and the habitat in which it exists. If we take away the value of the fox and the lifelong welfare and habitat implications, the effects are clear.
I do not hunt, but I recognise that others do. Those people are not demons and monsters, but they have been made demons and monsters as we have sought to simplify the terms of the debate. I would ask hon. Members in the debate to please recognise that my constituents who hunt hold very different views, have different backgrounds and arrive at very different conclusions about hunting, but they are exactly the same people who teach our children, police our streets and treat us when we are sick. They are not all saints—and not all hon. Members, despite their honourable status, are absolutely saintly—but neither are those people criminals. They soon will be, however, if a total ban is put in place.
The amendments in my name are straightforward in their aims and effect. The Lords amendments will be erased and in their place, if carried, will appear the clauses put forward in the Government Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs in December 2002.
The combined effect of the amendments would include the following: first, hunting would be banned, unless exempted under schedule 1 or registered for the protection of property or biodiversity—that is, for pest control. Secondly, deer hunting would be banned, and hare hunting would be subject to registration. Thirdly, the use of dogs below ground would be subject to registration. Hare coursing events would be banned. The registration of hunts would take place where no other reasonable available method would cause less suffering. Some animal welfare offences would preclude registration at the first point. Finally, if an application for registration were rejected, a further application would be barred for six months.
My right hon. Friend will understand if I say that my reinstatement of the original Bill does not imply that it is perfect, but I propose it again as a highly workable compromise that reflects the political reality of the moment. It has always been the basis of the least worst way forward.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I recognise the difficult position in which he finds himself. He is willing to allow hare coursing to be banned, but hare hunting potentially to continue. Both activities use dogs to kill hares. How can he justify a principled position if he allows hare coursing, but not hare hunting, to be banned?
It would be easy to be drawn into the same debates and the same questions as have been heard in the Chamber time and again. I will not be tempted down that road because the arguments are so well rehearsed. I have a different opinion from the hon. Gentleman, and I hope he will allow me to continue.
Why reject out of hand the Lords amendments that have come down to us? Because they are clearly unacceptable to the majority in the House. Not least, the Lords have been provocative by voting last night for regulated hunting of foxes, stags and hares, subject to approval by local tribunals. That approach was always going to be rejected by the House. I echo the disappointment of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs, who had urged those in another place to accept a compromise option banning stag hunting and hare coursing but permitting some licensed fox hunting with hounds, provided the hunts passed the test of utility and cruelty.
The original Government Bill, as tabled again tonight in my name, may still prove to be unacceptable, but it has the benefit that it was originally, and still is, well intentioned. It aims to find a balance between the competing principles on the basis of rational criteria and, more importantly, it reflects the relatively recent position of the Government.
There is a well-rehearsed joke, older even than the debates on hunting, and it seems particularly apt tonight. A drunk comes out of a pub, turns to his equally drunk mate and says, "How do I get home?" The mate replies, "I wouldn't start from here." That is what it seems like tonight: I would not start from here. We are not drunk, but we are certainly punch-drunk on hunting. All sides have been up against the ropes for far too long and have adopted defensive positions. They see their enemy through bloodied eyes and cannot hear the shouts of compromise—too much fighting, too many blows, too many bruising and bloody bouts between old enemies. That is what my right hon. Friend ran up against when he introduced the Government Bill in December 2002. He stepped into the ring to pull the sides apart, but it was never going to be a fight by the Queensberry rules. I am sure he started seeing stars pretty soon himself.
I do not wish to damn my right hon. Friend with faint praise, but let me say clearly for the record that under his stewardship the Government made a brave attempt to seek a conciliatory position based on evidence and set against the criteria of cruelty and utility. They tried to bring a structure of logical analysis to the debate and to bring light where previously there was only heat. It may have been doomed to heroic failure—as, despite my hopes, the amendments may also be doomed—but sometimes it is better to know that one has tried. I can sleep better at night if I have tried and failed. I can sleep even better if I have tried and won. I urge colleagues to vote for the amendments.
Why do I bother to introduce again the Government Bill of 2002 in my name? Because if the will of the House is to move to a total ban, I want the House to consciously and emphatically turn its back again on any compromise, and be clear in so doing that every opportunity has been given for an alternative way forward. Even at this eleventh hour, I want hon. Members to reflect for at least a moment before rejecting licensing out of hand: because Burns has declared his position and does not see a ban as helpful for animal welfare; because of the difficulties of policing a total ban; because of the inordinate focus on the chase and the kill, and the lack of focus on the lifelong welfare of the animal; because of the threat to the welfare of the animal when farmers resort to other, more cost-effective measures than lamping, including shotguns and poisons; and above all because I and several other hon. Members want the opportunity to put on record our continuing support for a licensing regime as a viable alternative to a total ban.
If the final outcome of this long-running debate is a ban on hunting, all democrats will recognise the undeniable will of the House. It has been demonstrated on previous occasions. But do not deny me the opportunity to register my principled opposition to a total ban, or my principled opposition to the status quo. Too often in the debate the sides have portrayed each other as bitter enemies, but no one in the House should be the enemy of democratic debate and democratic decision-making.
In conclusion, I thank the House for its tolerance in hearing me out, with words that I know will have been uncomfortable for many. I began my contribution by describing what may be called the loneliness of the long-distance licenser. My right hon. Friend the Minister will be familiar with the syndrome. At the end of my speech, as the demeanour of the House by and large suggests this evening, I do not feel quite as lonely, as we are, by and large, all receptive to well-tempered debate. I await the views of other hon. Members with great interest.
I pay tribute to Huw Irranca-Davies, whose speech was, by any standards, honest, passionate and, above all, brave. I do not welcome the solution he proposes, which I shall discuss in a moment, but he has done his reputation in the House no harm at all, and I congratulate him on his speech.
The hon. Gentleman made it plain that the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality is disappointed that the other place has not returned with a better compromise. Those of us who watched the debates in the other place found one thing astonishing: Lord Whitty, the Minister responsible for the Bill in the Lords, took great steps not to speak in favour of an outright ban, which the Bill would have introduced before it went to the Lords. It was extraordinary to see a Minister at the Dispatch Box failing to speak even once for his own Bill.
Lord Whitty went to great lengths to tell noble Lords that they should come up with a compromise. Unsurprisingly, noble Lords cross-examined him time and again about the compromise that the Government would like, but answer came there none. No hint was given throughout the entire process in the other place about what kind of compromise the Government would like.
There have been plenty of noises off. The Prime Minister has made it plain in briefings and elsewhere that he favours a compromise, and the Secretary of State for Health—when he is not talking about smoking—has made it plain that he, too, would welcome a compromise. All the noises off have said that the Government want some kind of compromise, but try as we might, formally and informally, we have not been able to find out what kind of compromise.
That is why the other place came up with this compromise. It sought to recreate the Bill initially introduced by the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality—admittedly, it has made a number of changes, which I shall discuss in a minute. It has received no guidance from the Government and it has sought to do what it believes the Government want, namely to recreate the Bill about which the Minister spoke so passionately at the Dispatch Box a year or two ago. We cannot hold it against the other place that it went no further than that and that it sought to improve the Bill in a number of ways.
I welcome the fact that the Government—in the form of No. 10, if not in the form of DEFRA—are now beginning to engage in discussions about a compromise, albeit by using the unconventional, if highly competent, mouthpiece of the hon. Member for Ogmore. Incidentally, the Government used the same tactic in the other place, where a brand new noble Lord tried to propose a compromise. Like the Minister tonight, the Minister in the other place sat on the Front Bench, not speaking at all. The Minister has left it to a Back Bencher to come up with a compromise. I am glad that No. 10 has taken a grip of the situation and sought to put together a compromise.
Before discussing the details of a compromise, perhaps it is worth touching for a second on the principle of licensing versus banning—we must not forget that if the House does not accept licensing this evening, the net result will be an outright ban. Believe it or not, we have just passed the fifth anniversary of the publication of the Burns report. Most outside observers might well be forgiven for thinking that never in the field of legislation has so much time been spent by so many on a matter of importance to very few.
Most sensible people view hunting as a matter for the individual's conscience. Lord Burns seems to take that view—he failed to find any evidence whatsoever that hunting with hounds is cruel. The Minister took us through the six-month consultation period, which culminated in the Portcullis House hearings, but that also failed to produce any such evidence. Lord Burns concluded that
"the bulk of the concerns . . . raised about hunting might be addressed through licensing, a regulatory approach or by changing the rules of the hunt".
Lord Burns reiterated that view in an important speech in the other place:
"If there is a desire on the part of the Government and of this House to reform hunting in a way that is gradual and avoids the divisiveness that would be created by a simple ban, there may still be a way forward, through a combination of licensed hunting and further reform of animal welfare legislation."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 12 October 2004; Vol. 665, c. 146.]
The Government's great guru, Lord Burns, wants to see licensing, and I hope that many hon. Members agree with him.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and she is of course right. I hope that this evening we can avoid doing what we have done in so many of these debates in the past in exchanging quotes from Lord Burns and seeking to make use of him on either side of the argument. His report produced a great deal of evidence, but I am not sure that it is as conclusive as his speech during the Bill's passage in the other place.
The amendments give Parliament the opportunity to find the way forward. After all, licensed hunting is precisely the principle that the Minister advanced in the first place. He will remember that he said in his press notice when he announced the first Bill:
"Taking account of the evidence given at these hearings, and of the response to my two consultation papers, I plan to set out proposals for Parliament which can form good and robust law and can take us forward into the twenty-first century able to reflect evolving views on animal welfare and wildlife management."
When, at the Dispatch Box, he laid out the principles behind the Bill, he said that because the two Houses could not previously reach an agreement on the issue of hunting with dogs
"the Prime Minister gave me the job . . . of designing legislation to command the support of Parliament and to make good law".
He said that he hoped that the Bill would enable Parliament to act on the
"basis of principle and evidence" that
"provides a golden thread that runs through the whole process and provides authority for the proposals themselves. I believe that my proposals will stand the test of time and are right."—[Hansard, 3 December 2002; Vol. 395, c. 755–57.]
Those proposals are precisely those that the hon. Member for Ogmore set out. That is the golden thread that ran through everything that the Minister proposed two years ago, and those are the very principles that the Government now seem to want us to adhere to.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government were not seeking compromise they would long ago have stopped hunting on Ministry of Defence and Forestry Commission land, as they easily could have done without any legislation?
My hon. Friend is not quite right, because the Government have taken a very honourable position with regard to hunting on MOD and Forestry Commission land. I must declare an interest, in that I hunt on Salisbury plain. The Government have always said that hunting on MOD and Forestry Commission land will continue under licence until such time as hunting elsewhere is banned. That is a perfectly sensible and correct position for them to have taken, and I am glad that they have done so. Year after year Ministers have signed the licences for those two areas.
By comparison with the golden thread—the principle that ran through the Minister's Bill—the banning Bill that left this House flew in the face of the evidence and principle on which the Minister constantly relies. As he himself said in a letter to the Deputy Prime Minister dated
"A complete ban amendment would destroy the architecture of my 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."
During the doomed Bill's Report stage in this place, the Minister said:
"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."—[Hansard, 30 June 2003; Vol. 408, c. 39.]
"The Bill as it stands"— namely, the licensing Bill so ably supported by the hon. Member for Ogmore—
"is acknowledged by animal welfare organisations to be the strongest ever put forward . . . No bill on a simple ban has ever been thought to be workable. If cruelty is the main concern, I plead with colleagues neither to wreck the bill, nor delay its timing."
I am happy to confirm to the House that if a banning Bill is passed using the Parliament Acts—a Bill that is described by the Minister and his Secretary of State as wrecking and unworkable—an incoming Conservative Government will introduce a Government Bill in Government time to repeal it.
I readily accept that the licensing solution proposed in the other place and by the hon. Member for Ogmore will not be easy to accept for those Labour Back Benchers who have made it a lifetime project to achieve an outright ban.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am right in the middle of a rather delicate point, but I will come back to him in a few moments.
Those who favour an outright ban will find it difficult to accept the licensing proposal of the hon. Member for Ogmore. If it is any compensation to them, I, too, would find it quite extraordinarily difficult to accept that same proposal.
If an incoming Conservative Government were to do what the hon. Gentleman has just said, would it not amount to a challenge to those who want to break the law? If the House agrees that these provisions should become law by end of this week, people who oppose what I hope will be a total ban on hunting will have an opportunity shortly in a general election. If they disagree with what Parliament has so decided, they can vote Conservative, so democracy will be decided in the usual way. What is wrong with that?
The hon. Gentleman takes quite a long time to make an obviously correct point. I have never for one second suggested that people should break the law. He is quite right. If people believe in hunting, they will vote Conservative. I suspect that quite a lot of people will vote Conservative whether they believe in hunting or not. Things could well be the other way round by
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essentially a matter for and of liberty? Those who vote Conservative will be voting for liberty on this matter.
My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. It is not about hunting, but about liberty, freedom and tolerance. That is why people will vote for a Conservative Government in this area of policy, as in so many others.
I entirely accept that the licensing proposal before us this evening will be difficult—it will stick in the craw—for the outright abolitionists on the Government side. It sticks in my craw as well. I have spent the best part of the last three years arguing, on occasions quite passionately, against such proposals. Indeed, I have spent a large part—too large a part—of my parliamentary career attempting to leave hunting alone and allow it to remain unregulated. These proposals are certainly not something that I genuinely welcome. I also have to say that, from my standpoint, there is a risk—many people think it is a very substantial risk—that if the licensing regime were to be passed, it would be the end of normal, ordinary, traditional hunting as I know it. That is very likely to be the case, which makes me not at all keen to endorse the proposals.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the approach proposed by my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies—I share his views in many respects on this matter—would be improved further if we could get wildlife management brought into the whole equation? Then, we really would be considering the issue as the Government originally intended, which was subsequently changed. The Minister himself promised people that he would look into the wider issues, including wildlife management.
The hon. Lady is indeed right. In a few moments, I shall speak to the Lords amendments, some of which include wildlife management in the test for utility. The Minister said on many occasions that he would like to see wildlife management made part of those utility tests, so the hon. Lady is entirely right. I am merely explaining that, if the regime proposed by the hon. Member for Ogmore were accepted, it would still be accompanied by a great deal of concern on my part, but we might be prepared to consider it none the less.
The hon. Gentleman repeated something that was said in the other place—that I had suggested that wildlife management should be viewed as an element of utility, but that is not the case. When I sought evidence and invited people from all quarters to submit it, I did so on the broadest possible range of issues that might help to define utility, but that is quite different from the conclusions that I reached, having heard the different submissions provided by different groups of people.
The Minister is, of course, entitled to change his mind. A couple of quotations show that he has done so. One is from a press release announcing the Bill, dated
"The future of hunting with dogs should not be decided on personal taste, but on evidence on the principles of whether or not it is serving an effective purpose in managing wildlife . . . Taking account of the evidence given at these hearings . . . I plan to set out proposals . . . to reflect evolving views on animal welfare and wildlife management."
"addresses the need for particular activities, particularly in the work of land and wildlife managers. It might be described as the need or usefulness of an activity for vermin control, wildlife management, habitat protection or land management and conservation."
Like any lady, the Minister is of course entitled to change his mind. However, when he discussed these matters with the Countryside Alliance and others—in the run-up to the Portcullis House meeting and while the Bill was being prepared—the Minister made it clear that he believed that wildlife management was an important part of the utility of hunting. It was only when the Bill was finally published that, for mysterious reasons that may be not unconnected with political expediency, the wildlife management heading disappeared from the utility definitions.
I must correct the hon. Gentleman again. That happened as a result of consideration of the evidence. The opportunity was given for evidence to be given, and I based the Bill on the evidence that I saw. The record of all the evidence that was considered is still available.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that all of us who opposed a ban at that time were fully convinced that the Minister had accepted the case for wildlife management? He now pretends that he changed his view on the basis of the evidence, but the fact is that he gave us documentary confirmation, after he had heard the evidence, that he believed that wildlife management was a key consideration.
That is right. The quotations that I gave the House show that, long after the Portcullis House discussions, the Minister said time and again that he believed that wildlife management was a legitimate part of the utility test. He has changed his mind about that—I suspect because he needed to buy off some of the opposition on his Back Benches. None the less, he must admit that at one time he believed in the legitimacy of wildlife management in the utility test, and that now he does not.
While it could turn out that wildlife management will lie at the heart of any rationalisation of hunting on the basis of utility, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the test of cruelty is likely to fail, for the reasons elucidated by Lord Burns—that is, because there is too little information about the comparative welfare implications of the different ways to kill foxes? Is not that the problem over which any scheme of registration will stumble at the first hurdle?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. On several occasions, scientists have said that we need a great deal more scientific evidence about the welfare implications for different species. The Lords suggested that implementation be delayed for three years, so that research by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons could be commissioned to determine the relative cruelties inflicted by the different ways available for dealing with the different species. That emphasises why we should not proceed with a ban this evening. We should go ahead with a licensing system that would allow the registrar to consider the very difficult and complex scientific matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I hope very much that he will join us in the Lobby.
The hunting world is ready to consider some form of compromise involving a registration system, albeit with gritted teeth. We have come to accept that, ill informed though it is, there is public concern to make sure that hunting is the most humane and sensible way to dispatch foxes, mink, hare and deer. If licensing will assuage that public concern, then so be it: hunting has nothing to hide. We are not afraid of regulation, so long as it is fair minded and evidence based.
That leads me on to a discussion of the type of regulation being proposed this evening. After all, we on this side of the argument are convinced that hunting mammals with dogs produces the most animal-friendly, and the least cruel, solution to the killing of foxes, deer, hare and mink. We argue that shooting, snaring, gassing and poisoning are far more cruel and—importantly—far less selective. We argue that there is a real utility in many aspects of hunting with hounds, that the rules and conditions that govern it are clear, straightforward and above board, and that they would pass the scrutiny of any dispassionate registrar or arbiter.
Of course, I am well aware of the contrary arguments advanced by Labour Members. They say that they can prove that hunting mammals with dogs has little or no utility, and that it is more cruel than any other method of dispatch. That is their argument, and they express it passionately enough. If they are convinced of their case, however, and if they are convinced that they can prove it, I challenge them to allow the registrar to weigh up my views, my passion and my beliefs against theirs. They are not prepared to do that; they want this House, which does not have the scientific evidence called for by David Taylor, to make up its mind whether stag hunting, for example, is more or less cruel than allowing people to shoot the stag, which would certainly happen if it were to be banned.
The supporters of a ban on hunting should be all the more keen to allow the licensing system to come into force because the Government's Bill, as it used to be, provided for the expenditure of public money to allow so-called animal welfare groups to argue their case. It did not, of course, allow for public money to be used by those who were asking for the licence to hunt.
My hon. and learned Friend makes an extremely good point, although I have to tell him that once we have the registrar up and running one of my greater ambitions in life will be to have the Countryside Alliance registered as one of the animal welfare groups that does indeed benefit from public money. I very much hope that we shall succeed in achieving that.
There is an old truism in business that the hallmark of a good deal is when both parties leave the negotiating table rather dissatisfied. The proposal before us seems to bear the hallmark of that truism. Labour Members will not be happy with it, as we can see from their behaviour. We would most certainly not be even slightly happy with it, and I have spent three years of my life arguing against it. It just may be, however, that I am none the less ready to accept that the registrar would balance up the arguments that my hon. Friends are putting and that I could rest and rely on the conclusions to which he comes.
I would accept the Bill with a heavy heart, and I must enter certain caveats implicit in the small changes that the other place made to the Bill originally presented on Second Reading by the Minister for Rural Affairs. The other place made seven groups of amendments to that licensing Bill. Some are reasonably unimportant and may well be acceptable to many people who are looking at the big picture. For example, they exempt the hunting of stoats and weasels, which was inexplicably omitted from the original Bill.
They also allow the use of terriers underground for the dispatch of orphan cubs and the protection of wild birds and livestock. After all, there is really no reason why that Bill, which left this House and was voted for overwhelmingly by the House, should allow terriers to be used underground for one purpose, and one purpose only—the protection of birds. Why should the 340,000 lambs killed every year by foxes not have the benefit—
The hon. Gentleman expresses amazement, but that figure comes from the National Farmers Union. Some 340,000 lambs a year are killed by foxes, yet farmers may not use terriers underground to protect them while game people may use terriers underground to protect game birds. Why should that be the case? Why cannot farmers use terriers as much as gamekeepers can? There is no reason why those relatively uncontroversial proposals from the other place should not be sensibly considered here.
Three sets of Lords amendments to the original Bill are worthy of further explanation, however, raising three areas of contention against the proposals of the hon. Member for Ogmore. First, the other place corrected what seems a logical anomaly in the structure of the Minister's Bill. He, of course, allowed the registration of the use of dogs—as he likes to call them—to hunt foxes, mink and hare. On the basis, however, of what he described as incontrovertible evidence of their absolute cruelty, the Minister banned deer hunting and organised hare coursing events outright. In Committee we challenged him repeatedly to tell us what that incontrovertible evidence of cruelty might be. He failed time and again to do so, so we inquired of Professor Patrick Bateson, the scientist on whose work the Minister seemed to base his claim, whether there was any such thing as incontrovertible evidence of the cruelty of deer hunting. In a reply dated
"Only someone who was scientifically illiterate could argue that evidence from a new area of research was 'incontrovertible'. I shall write to Alun Michael to distance myself from that view."
He went on to argue that much more research was needed on the physiological effects on deer of being hunted before it would be possible to conclude whether the practice should be banned. That research is specifically called for in the Lords proposals on implementation that we are discussing this evening. In the absence of any such incontrovertible evidence to support an outright ban on hunting, surely it would be only reasonable to allow the registrar and the tribunal system established by the Bill to consider the scientific arguments of its proponents and opponents. Why should we put ourselves in the position of the registrar? Why should we say that we know that deer hunting is more cruel than fox hunting and must be banned outright? What is the evidence to prove to us that that is the case? Why cannot we ask the registrar and the tribunal to consider the scientific evidence, from Professor Bates and others, and whether deer hunting should be banned? Surely all categories of hunting should be treated in the same way. There is no reason to single out two particular kinds of hunting for an immediate ban.
My hon. Friend knows what he is talking about and I have seen him on Exmoor. There is no reason why farmers would allow herds of deer to roam across their farms were it not for their support for the hunt. The Minister has consistently refused to come up with any alternative red deer management programme to replace hunting.
The second series of amendments from the other place, about which we have spoken briefly already, addresses the issue of managing wildlife. It is important that the management of wildlife should be one of the utility tests in the Bill.
The third change that the other place made to the original Bill concerns commencement. The House will remember that the original Bill proposed commencement three months after its passage, but that on Second Reading a suggestion was made to the other place that—ostensibly for reasons of the welfare of the hounds and horses, although many of us suspect that it was more for political reasons and to try to avoid the general election—implementation should be delayed to
I approach today's proceedings, and what the other place has proposed, with no enthusiasm. It is my view that hunting is the most humane and selective way of culling foxes, deer, hare and mink; that the self-regulation under which we have operated for some years works very well; and that governmental interference is entirely unnecessary. But I am ready to accept that, after years of discussion, the nation needs to be reassured that hunting is conducted properly and that its utility greatly exceeds any compromises to the hunted animals' welfare. So we on this side of the argument have concluded that we have nothing to hide, and that we are content to submit our activities to the scrutiny of an independent and dispassionate registrar. We therefore welcome the amendments proposed by the other place and we will vote in their support. If they are not passed, I should make it plain that we have grave reservations about the detail of the proposals from the hon. Member for Ogmore in three important respects—deer hunting and hare coursing, the date of implementation and, above all, the inclusion of wildlife management. But we welcome the fact that the Government appear, albeit by a roundabout route, at last to be engaging in some degree of negotiation about a fair and reasonable licensing regime. We are keen to allow the other place to consider further the Minister's proposals, so it is with a heavy heart and through gritted teeth that I shall ask my hon. Friends who care about the countryside to support the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Ogmore, making it clear as we do so that we have grave reservations about it.
The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable argument for consensus and agreement. If there is no consensus and no agreement on a middle-way approach and if, after
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support, which is especially important, as he has recently suffered from an ignorant and prejudiced ban on hare hunting in Northern Ireland, for all the wrong reasons and with no scientific evidence whatever. We entirely support him on that.
I share my hon. Friend's analysis. I speak on behalf of the five hunts that use land in my constituency, and it is clear to me that, although the Minister and his party will vote for many measures to give definition to a permissive society, the compromise that my hon. Friend advocates—albeit through gritted teeth—is a test of whether they truly believe in a permissive, civilised, free society.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reaction to the amendments proposed by the other place and by the hon. Member for Ogmore. Indeed, I am rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman has not been on his feet before now to promote his original Bill.
If the House does not accept the amendments that the other place has sent us, or the alternative proposals made by the hon. Member for Ogmore, the net result will be an outright ban on hunting. The truth of the matter is that the countryside will be a poorer place if that happens and the people of the countryside will neither forget it nor forgive it.
We have started well. I congratulate in particular my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies on demonstrating something that is always respected in the House—a consistent personal view on a controversial issue.
Mr. Gray expressed his views in a forthright manner. I disagree with a great deal of what he said, but we can certainly agree on the dangers of selective quotation from the Burns report. That report, like the hearings in Portcullis House, is illuminating if one approaches it looking for enlightenment rather than simply searching for quotations that support one's original point of view.
I respect especially the important point that the hon. Gentleman made when he said that he would not breach the law in the event of the House legislating for a ban. He made clear his point of view that, should a ban be introduced, he would try to change the law, but that he would respect the law. I respect that point of view. In discussing these issues, some people on both sides of the argument, and sometimes Members of the House, have allowed their passion to take them beyond the bounds of reason. We have heard some of the language used in Parliament square. I respect the strength of view that people expressed in that demonstration, but I do not support the disrespect to the parliamentary process that was expressed there and in a variety of other places.
I know of the hon. Gentleman's personal strength of view, so I congratulate him on not going down that road when he speaks in this place and elsewhere. It is an approach similar to that taken by many of us in our opposition to a really unjust law—the poll tax. Although we opposed the law and sought change—we were eventually successful—we argued that people should neither break the law in their demonstrations at the time nor fail to pay the poll tax.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way, but we should also know what we are doing, should we not, and is it not the case that if we do go for a total ban there will be three certain effects? One is that there will be lots of work for lawyers. The second is that there will be lots of work for policewomen. The third is that the forces of political extremism will be nourished. We should at least know that in doing what we do?
The response to my hon. Friend is no, no and no. The way in which language has been used in some quarters in this debate to appear to justify or condone acting outside the bounds of legitimate protest is unacceptable. That has been wrong. But the options that are before the House, as I will spell out in a moment, are reasonable and clear, and the House of Commons will have to take a view on them.
In a moment.
I referred to what the hon. Member for North Wiltshire said in his introduction, and I would say to him that it is a pity that the willingness he has expressed tonight to seek compromise has not been seen over the last three years. Whereas he suggested that the Government were coming belatedly to look for a way through this issue, I have to say that anybody who has watched the work that I have undertaken and the debates that we had exhaustively in Committee, has to say that it is on the Government Benches that there has been an attempt to find a way through the issues.
I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that the spontaneous action of the Lords Back Bencher last week to put forward the Bill as it came out of Committee in the House, was unceremoniously dismissed by some 189 votes to 39 in the House of Lords last week. If his view is shared on the Conservative Benches in the House of Lords, it is a pity that it was not reflected in that vote.
On the matter of compromise, while I agree that the Minister has worked hard to try to find some alternative involving regulation, does he not accept that the middle way group and others have sought to do so as well? While perhaps not always having the resources to shout as loudly as the others, we have for a long time been trying to lead the thinking in the Chamber towards some sort of regulation. Does he agree with me, therefore, that when one starts looking at the evidence, as the Minister has done, one comes to the incontrovertible conclusion that only regulation has a chance of increasing animal welfare?
I have to agree with the hon. Gentleman on one point and disagree with him on the other. First, yes, I pay tribute to him and others who have sought to find another way through, and it has been a cross-party effort; however, no, I do not agree with the conclusion that he reaches. I made it clear that I did not agree with the middle way Bill option as he drafted it, but that does not stop me respecting the efforts that he put in to try to find a way through this divisive issue.
Coming to my Bill, I still believe that that Bill was well drafted and would have provided the basis for good legislation, and I shall make that clear in a moment. However, I want to draw to the attention of the House the fact that there are three choices before the House. First, there are the amendments proposed by the House of Lords, which I would describe as a limp system of regulation; secondly, there is the Bill as introduced in the House and sent to the Lords earlier in this Session; and thirdly, there are the amendments moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, which essentially would turn the Bill back into the Bill as I introduced it to the House in the previous Session.
May I deal with the questions of finance, as I promised that I would? As I said, the money resolution dealt with the propositions that have been sent to us by the House of Lords, and I have not exhaustively studied the matter to see what the cost of those would be. The current estimate of the costs of the registration system within the Bill as I originally introduced it was £10 million for the first year. Three quarters of that cost would be in respect of tribunals.
The money resolution, of course, would not be necessary if the Bill as sent to the House of Lords were approved, since policing costs have been authorised already. Indeed, the Association of Chief Police Officers expressed the view that the cost of policing a ban would be much the same as that of policing hunt protesters at present.On finances, perhaps I should also refer to the amendments proposed by Andrew George. Of course, I shall listen to the contribution that I am sure he will make shortly, but such an amendment would provide an open-ended compensation clause—a blank cheque—and even a so-called banning Bill would not deprive anyone of their property. It would only place a restriction on the use to which the property is put, and there is no human rights requirement to pay compensation in such cases. Of course, when the House last debated the issue, we heard the views of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which made a narrow point about contracts, which a ban must frustrate, but it did not call into question the human rights issues in general.
I fully accept that the amendment that I tabled could have been drafted a little tighter in places, but the Minister has not dealt with the principle. If a ban could be introduced within three months, which is a prospect under the present proposals, surely the Minister must accept that there is a strong case for compensation. What about the principle?
No, I do not accept that, which should not come as a surprise to anyone, given the long period during which the issue has been debated in the House. As I made clear when we discussed the issue at length on a previous occasion, my advice is that there are no human rights implications nor any implication for a requirement to compensate either in the Bill that I originally introduced, or in the Bill as amended when it left the House. In any event, I proposed a motion, which was supported in the House, to delay implementing the legislation because it is quite clear that some people will not accept that the current situation is likely to change until there is something to that effect on the statute book. That delay would allow those who have put their heads in the sand time to adjust, but that is a bonus, rather than a necessity in respect of human rights legislation.
We have the precedent of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000, under which compensation was paid. However, when and if the draft animal welfare Bill is introduced, will my right hon. Friend consider whether it could include a mechanism by which some form of compensation could take place?
I have to correct my hon. Friend: there is no precedent relevant to the Bill. In the case that he mentions, there was deprivation of property, and a timing was proposed that aimed to mitigate the affect of that deprivation of property.
Let me make a couple of points about the Lords amendments. Some Lords have said that the amendments that they approved would establish a registration and tribunal system that would be an improved version of the system proposed in the Bill that I introduced in December 2002. That is a gross misrepresentation. My Bill was not a compromise—there can be no compromise on cruelty—and it would have put an immediate end to all the cruelty associated with hunting with dogs. Cruelty is well defined in law as the cause of unnecessary suffering.
My Bill would have only allowed hunting in cases where it was proved beyond doubt that the use of dogs was essential for necessary pest control and would cause less suffering than other methods of pest control. That is a principled approach that addresses the reasons why so many people find hunting with dogs for sport so abhorrent.
Let me make another couple of points about the differences. My Bill sought to ban deer hunting because it is absolutely clear on the evidence that that form of hunting would never pass both the utility and the least-suffering tests, since it will always cause more suffering than the alternative of stalking and shooting. That stands to reason. It will always cause the deer more suffering to chase it for hours until it is exhausted and can run no more before shooting it than approaching it quietly and shooting it unawares.
Very simply, because that would be a waste of the tribunal's and registrar's time. I made that point very clearly when I introduced the Bill. There is a difference between deer hunting and the evidence that Lord Burns acknowledged in respect of some aspects of fox hunting—he referred only to some aspects—which is what the tribunal system is meant to deal with on the basis of an objective consideration of the evidence.
The hon. Gentleman was wrong to suggest that we have done nothing to promote deer management. Indeed, we have done a great deal. Part of the problem in relation to Exmoor is that some fear—I speak of those who support hunting—that the proper management of deer would be the thin end of the wedge for the regulation or banning of deer hunting. It is a pity that there has not been more engagement in deer management by those involved in hunting if they have such concern for the deer. We will continue our efforts to seek to engage all parties in effective management of the deer population.
In respect of the amendments suggested by the other place, I have to point out that my Bill was drafted to ban hare coursing. Hare coursing events have no pest control justification; their primary aim is to allow people to gamble on the relative performance of dogs when they are set after hares in a confined space. I took the view that setting a dog on a wild mammal just for fun is not just totally unacceptable, but certainly has no utility. It certainly does nothing to assist in pest control.
The Bill and the amendments that the Lords have sent us do not offer us the Bill as I originally introduced it to the House or as it emerged from Committee. It is a far more extreme measure and, as I indicated earlier, limp in terms of pretending to provide a form of regulation. It would be pretty weak and ineffective.
The Lords also widened the utility test to allow hunting for the purpose of wildlife management. Except in the narrow sense of pest control, the evidence did not justify such an approach. It did not suggest widespread benefit for wildlife management. However necessary it is in the modern world to manage wildlife, we do not do it by chasing wild mammals with dogs.
For all those reasons, I believe that the House should disagree with all the Lords amendments on registration. They would also prevent the new system from coming into force for at least three years from now and would give an effective veto to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. In contrast, my registration system would have been up and running within three months and the alternative of the Bill that went from this House with a motion for a later commencement date would have given July 2006 for the date of commencement.
I take the Minister back a few sentences to what he said about wildlife management. Is he aware that the Countryside Council for Wales actively promotes hunting on Cors Fochno near Borth—it is one of the lowland bogs in Wales and a site of special scientific interest—precisely because hunting with hounds and flushing out foxes with hounds to be shot afterwards is the best way to protect the ground nesting birds on that essential site? He should surely consider the wider wildlife protection issue. If the Countryside Council for Wales can support it, surely he can.
The circumstances that the hon. Gentleman describes may be correct in relation to flushing, but he generalises too far about the activities to which he refers.
I remind the House of how we reached this position. Strong and passionate views have been expressed on both sides of the hunting debate on many occasions. The House has voted nine times in 10 years and, on each occasion, it has voted to introduce a ban on hunting. On two occasions, those votes came about because a Back Bencher had introduced a Bill and, on seven occasions, there was a vote because the Government, who were seeking a less contentious way forward, had brought forward other options or proposals. I have to point out that the House has voted for a ban by a large majority on every occasion, so its views have been made clear.
No, I do not think so. I have been through the records and found nine occasions on which there were votes, and on each occasion there was a large majority in favour of a ban on hunting.
In view of what my right hon. Friend said a moment ago, is it not a fact that the House of Lords has not shown the slightest desire to accommodate the House of Commons? It is responsible for the confrontation that is occurring between the two Houses, and the fault for it lies entirely with the majority of the Lords who have not the slightest wish for any kind of ban whatsoever?
The decisions of Parliament are not taken by some sort of opinion poll in which the votes on either side in the House of Lords and the House of Commons are averaged out. I am trying to address this House—the elected House—on the issue.
I am often asked whether the House of Commons regards hunting as the most important issue before it—certainly not, as far as the Government are concerned. Hon. Members on both sides of the argument say that it is not the most important issue facing them, but we must look at their behaviour. Time after time when we debate hunting, both sides of the Chamber are full, but when we consider issues that are far more important to people in rural areas, such as jobs, the economy, housing, health or education, the Chamber empties. Hunting might not be at the top of anyone's agenda, just as it is not at the top of the Government's agenda, but it must be dealt with because of the consistent strength of view that has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the argument year after year.
Have the Government tried to find a less divisive way forward? They certainly have. The Government commissioned the Burns inquiry and introduced a Bill that offered three choices for consideration by the House and the other place. The Government, through me as the Minister, invited all sides to give evidence to try to find a way forward. I undertook proximity talks with the three main groups—they were necessary before we could get them into the same room—to discuss the possibility of them examining the evidence together.
We held hearings in Portcullis House during which the focus was on cruelty. All three groups, including the Countryside Alliance, agreed the issues that we debated and on which we heard expert evidence. It was at that point that the chairman of the Countryside Alliance, John Jackson, said:
"If something is cruel, we shouldn't be doing it".
This has nothing to do with liberty, freedom or respect for people's way of life, but, as the Countryside Alliance acknowledged at the time, it is about the question of cruelty. Of course I respect those who argue that hunting is not cruel. That is why we gave them the opportunity to agree on both the people who gave evidence to the inquiry and the questions that should be put to them. That is why we spent a day considering evidence on the principle of utility—cruelty is the causing of unnecessary suffering, so necessity must be considered. We also spent a day considering the principle of least suffering and a further day debating how best to apply those principles on the basis of a list of topics that was agreed by all three main groups. We listened to expert witnesses, the list of which was agreed by all three groups.
I was proud of securing that debate and of the quality of the discussion. I paid tribute at the time to the way in which all three groups engaged in the process. However, it was rather sad that after people left the meetings, they claimed that everything that they had heard justified the view with which they went into the room in the first place. That illustrates not just a perversity on the part of the people who expressed those views, but the extent to which views on all sides of the debate are deeply entrenched, passionately held and very difficult to move in any way.
A large number of my constituents participate in hunting. All of them, especially those who will lose their jobs if a banning Bill is passed, ask for fairness and for the Minister to be a man of principle. The Minister went through those Portcullis House hearings, commissioned the Burns inquiry and concluded that a licensing Bill would be the best way forward. In his press release of
"The future of hunting with dogs should not be decided on personal taste, but on evidence on the principles of whether or not it is serving an effective purpose in managing wildlife and whether it is more or less cruel".
Bearing all that in mind, will he demonstrate that he is a man of principle and vote for the amendments tabled by Huw Irranca-Davies and for the original Bill?
Yes, I will vote for the amendments because they introduce legislation that I thought would be extremely effective and right for the long term.
That is good news. My right hon. Friend knows that a group of us on both sides of the House has consistently thought, with the bone-headed relationship between this House and the House of Lords, that there was a middle way. The opportunity to find a middle way has consistently been brought before the House. I deeply resent his suggestion that the fault lies only in the upper House. From the middle way position, it seems to me that both sides are equally to blame for the position that we are in.
I find my hon. Friend's logic peculiar. First, I said that there were serious flaws with the middle way group's propositions, much as I respected what the people who proposed that option were attempting to do. Secondly, if he wants to judge who is and who is not being bone-headed, I should explain that the middle way option was put to the House of Lords before the last general election and was overwhelmingly voted down. Had that decision not been taken, perhaps debate would have gone on and we would not be in this position. I suggest that that was day one of being bone-headed.
I am grateful to the Minister for once again repeating something that was implied in the Lords, which was that it would have been much better had the Lords opted for the middle way before the last election. Does he accept, however, that the middle way group has never looked for a compromise? I am worried that the word "compromise" has featured extensively in the debate. We are looking for a radical and different way genuinely to improve animal welfare and protect human freedom. We may have failed in his judgment, but for the first time those of us who sought the middle way are having to find a compromise between an outright ban, which would be extremely bad for animal welfare, and the amendments tabled by Huw Irranca-Davies, which are not as good for animal welfare as a full middle way solution would have been. For the first time we are compromising, and I think we will vote with the hon. Gentleman.
I accept the description of the proposals that that the hon. Gentleman supported and his reasons for doing so. As he knows, I respect the great amount of effort and time that he put in to promote the middle way option. As I said—I have made this clear to him before—his proposals were flawed, but I respect entirely the efforts that were made to find a different solution.
I pay tribute to the way in which the Minister has tried to take the Bill through all its different stages, and I am glad that he is supporting the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, although I shall not support them. My problem is that the most common way of killing foxes in the Rhondda is by shooting them at night—
Not by running them over.
The most common way of killing foxes in my constituency is by lamping them, but I remember sitting through the three days of hearings in Portcullis House and being told by a large number of people who supported hunting that it would be far crueller to kill foxes by shooting or lamping. If that is the case, surely the registration system, as advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, would fall foul of the cruelty case.
No, I do not believe that lamping is a crueller option—indeed, that is one of the points on which there is widespread agreement. Everyone asked me to accept the Burns report, and one of that report's clear findings was that lamping is generally preferable and less damaging in terms of animal welfare. Lamping would not be ruled out by the Bill as I introduced it, or as amended as my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore proposes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Chris Bryant for giving me the opportunity to make that clear.
One of the problems is that the conclusions that we reached during our discussions at Portcullis House, which must surely have led anyone to say that not all hunting was entirely clear-cut, were set aside by those who have campaigned for hunting. They have retreated not into compromise, but into an attitude of "no surrender", exemplified by the phrase "an attack on one is an attack on all", rather than sought to achieve a just solution based on principle and evidence. In contrast to the comments made by Mr. Gray, comments such as
"the countryside will erupt in fury" are not only inaccurate—there are divisions of view within the countryside—but appear to justify, if not condone, an unreasonable approach to protest. I warned the chairman of the Countryside Alliance on a number of occasions that I feared that some of his members might be encouraged to think it okay to become involved in illegal activities if such language continued to be used. That is not the right way to approach public debate or decision making.
I do not want to dwell on the countryside erupting and things like that. The Minister admitted to my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown that he would support the amendment tabled by Huw Irranca-Davies, which reflects the Bill that the right hon. Gentleman introduced in November 2002. Will he explain to me why it is the hon. Member for Ogmore who introduced the proposal, not the Government?
Because my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore, whose efforts I respect, sought to table the amendment. Having seen the way in which last week the House of Lords, by such a large majority, rejected the Bill as it came out of Committee, I had given up hope that, at this late stage, a majority might be found in favour of the Bill that I originally introduced, or the Bill as it came out of Committee. It would have been rather more constructive if there had been some support for my efforts to bring constructive options before the House, or if there had been more support for our proposals in the Commons in the last Session, or if the House of Lords in the last Session had sent back an amended Bill so that there could have been debate between the two Houses, or if last week the House of Lords had responded positively to the amendments before it.
My preferred option would have been the Bill as it came out of Committee and as it was put to the House of Lords last week and defeated there. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore has tabled a set of amendments and my treatment of those amendments is based on the reasons for my introducing the Bill in the first place. It is perfectly simple—perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman did not understand my answer.
My right hon. Friend says, accurately, that our hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore tabled the amendment. My right hon. Friend is accurate in saying that our hon. Friend proposed it and spoke to it. Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether our hon. Friend drafted the amendment?
Of course I respect my hon. Friend. He is an hon. Friend. I would respect my right hon. Friend if he would now answer directly the question that I put to him rather than saying that my hon. Friend sought advice. Who drafted the amendment that my hon. Friend moved?
It is not my place to reply. I did not see the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend until I saw them printed in the amendment paper this morning.
It may be of assistance to the House to know that as a Back Bencher of two-and-a-half year's experience, it is beyond my ken to draft something like this on my own. I sought assistance. However, the principle behind it and the spirit of it, and the fact that I voted for the provisions originally, should not cause a disdainful light to be cast upon my reason for bringing the amendment forward. I hope that my right hon. Friend
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not be suggesting anything of the sort.
My motivation in bringing the Bill before the House in the first place was the same as that of my hon. Friend in bringing forward the amendment. It was to find a way for the House and for Parliament as a whole through this most divisive issue on which the division of opinion has been so sharp and in many ways destructive. I think that we have started well in this debate, despite the strength of views that we can hear in the contributions that are being made.
I want to make one point strongly. As I did in introducing the Bill and since, the Government and I personally have sought to reduce the temperature and to find a way through this issue. I had hoped that the House of Lords, as a revising chamber, would have helped, but we must look at the record of decisions there from the pro-hunting side. As I have said, it voted down the middle-way option when it was before us. It sent nothing back to us last year although it had plenty of time to consider the Bill fully and return it to this place. In Committee in the House of Lords recently the other place voted through a series of quite extreme amendments that emasculated the Bill and did not turn it back into anything like the Bill that I introduced. It rejected the possibility of compromise last week. The language last night was not only unkind to Lord Whitty, the Under-Secretary of State, but it ignored one simple fact: it is not this place that will insist on using the Parliament Act should that become necessary to resolve this issue, it will be the House of Lords that has provoked the application of that measure.
Even at this late stage I ask Members of this place and those in another place to consider whether there is an opportunity for a less divisive way forward. Our motion to delay implementation until July 2006 was agreed by the House. I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends who supported that proposition wholeheartedly when it was before the House. It is now on the table for the House of Lords to agree to if the House votes for the Bill as it was sent to the Lords.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore has tabled amendments that recreate the Bill that I introduced in this place. I still believe that after the offer was made there was the basis for a constructive way forward. It would have ended cruelty but provided a constructive window of opportunity for those who could show that their method of hunting was not cruel. My Bill was at that time the strongest ever put forward, but the amendment put forward my by hon. Friend Mr. Banks provided that it was still a workable piece of legislation.
I make that point because there has been some criticism of the Bill as it went to the House of Lords, as if it was unworkable. Our decision after the House voted for my hon. Friend's amendment was to recommit the Bill to Committee to ensure that it was properly drafted, an effective piece of legislation and one that would work and would be simple in its application. The choice before the House tonight does not relate to a piece of legislation that is badly drafted. We put it into proper order.
The Minister has tried very hard to seek compromise. May I suggest to him that it is almost impossible because people like me and many of my hon. Friends—I include the Minister in this, even though I shall vote against the amendment—consider that the primary issue is that of cruelty. For many Opposition Members, however—and this became clear in Committee—the primary issue is one of liberty. Their position is illogical, as they would allow cock fighting and bear baiting on the grounds of liberty. The primary issue is one of cruelty.
My hon. Friend is right, and that was acknowledged by the Countryside Alliance in discussions in which we tried to find a way forward. Obviously, there is a considerable difference of view about what constitutes cruelty, and what does not, but it is the starting point, as my hon. Friend rightly reiterates.
I understand the point that the Minister made about the amended Bill proposed by Mr. Banks, even if I disagree with his conclusions, but I would be grateful for clarification. Given that he has chosen to exclude stag hunting from the tests but to include fox hunting, is it fair to conclude that there are likely to be cases in which hunting with dogs or foxes is not necessarily cruel?
That was not completely answered in the evidence that I have seen. It was certainly not completely answered in the Burns report, as Lord Burns himself made clear. I therefore proposed a method that would allow cases to be dealt with according to the principles that we set out in the Bill and through the hearing of evidence. Clearly, some cases are expected to succeed. On the evidence that I have seen there will only be a small number that do so, but that possibility is one of the strengths of the Bill that I drafted.
The right hon. Gentleman described the Bill as amended by Mr. Banks and the amendments tabled by Huw Irranca-Davies as workable. Does he accept, however, that they both have consequences for the warp and weft of the countryside, particularly in an isolated constituency such as mine? Until a fortnight ago, the National Fallen Stock Company could not find anyone to collect dead stock from my constituency. The Isle of Wight Foxhounds, however, made a successful bid to do so. In its absence, there would be no one to collect dead stock, as required under the Government's legislation. What is the right hon. Gentleman's response to farmers in my constituency who fear that situation arising?
I never quite understood why the farming industry generally did not embrace with enthusiasm the fallen stock scheme when it was originally proposed. The Isle of Wight Foxhounds is contracted to Government to provide a service. It does not offer that service out of the goodness of its heart, but there is no reason why that contractual relationship should cease in the event of legislation being passed.
My contribution is longer than I would have wished as a result of the many interventions that I have accepted. However, at the end of the day, the will of the House must prevail, and everyone should respect its decision. Individual Members of Parliament, who are accountable to their constituents, should decide on a free vote what should be the law of the land. I am answerable to my conscience, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and every other Member in making our decision tonight. I hope that my arguments about seeking a less divisive way forward will be heard by Members on both sides of the House. However, it is certainly time for the House of Commons to fulfil a Labour manifesto commitment to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue of hunting with dogs. The issue will not stop being divisive, but everyone, whatever their point of view, should respect the decision that is made at the end of our debate tonight.
I am aware that we have little more than an hour remaining for our debate, so I shall keep my remarks as brief as possible. First, it appears that all Front Benchers will go into the Aye Lobby to support the motion tabled by Huw Irranca-Davies, whom I congratulate on his courage and the way in which he made his case. Although there has been an obsession about whose hand held the pen or pressed the computer buttons when the amendment was written, the fact is that it is on the amendment paper. It has certainly helped us to reflect on the initiative.
The hon. Member for Ogmore said that another place had been provocative in the way in which it had considered the Bill and in the amendments that it had tabled. I agree. Perhaps the House of Lords has taken the Mickey out of the Michael Bill, to coin a phrase. It signalled that it had misjudged the opportunity for a compromise or that it was not prepared to compromise. I hope the hon. Member for Ogmore is successful. He said that he hoped that all democrats would accept the democratic will of the House. I assume that that was a message to the other place, not just to this place, and I endorse that remark.
My preferred option is much the same as the Minister's—the Bill as it left Committee in February 2003. A great deal of helpful work was done on the Bill at that stage. I have tabled an amendment, which I do not claim to be the most wonderfully drafted amendment that ever appeared on the Order Paper, especially in relation to the Hunting Bill. The amendment links compensation and the commencement of the Bill, and I was a little disappointed that the Minister concentrated on the drafting of the amendment, rather than on the underlying principle.
The Minister said that the cost to the taxpayer of establishing a registrar is likely to be about £10 million. If Parliament ultimately agreed to a Bill that involved a total ban, I do not believe that the level of compensation would exceed that figure in the first year, so I doubt whether the cost to the taxpayer would be greater than the Minister already envisages.
We are discussing not an act of God, but an Act of Parliament. We can control the impact that it will have on those directly affected. We know from the Burns report, even though the figures in it are widely debated, that between 500 and 1,000 people would be directly affected by a total ban. I drafted the amendment in such a way as to give the Secretary of State powers that he or she may or may not choose to use to implement a compensation scheme and to allow for a delay in commencement until the closed season of 2006. It would give the Secretary of State the power to do either, both or neither. That is why I am disappointed that the Minister indicated that he would not use his gift to allow us to vote on it. I hope that he will listen to the debate on that point, that he will consider the fact that a large number of Members in this place and in another place are concerned about the potential impact, and that he will respond.
The primary question is what effect a total ban, if implemented within a three-month period, would have on jobs, livelihoods, incomes and homes. We know that the likely impact on a large number of people will in some cases be catastrophic, and in some cases be significant.
In the long and tortuous debate that we have had, that is a particularly important issue. As someone who is in favour of a ban, I believe that we must be responsible and consider the implications of a ban. On the hon. Gentleman's last point about housing, I asked a series of parliamentary questions to see whether it would be possible to get people who are employed by the hunt and in tied housing included in agricultural tenancies. At present that is not possible, and it ought to be looked at seriously. Would the hon. Gentleman care to comment on that?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that important intervention. It is important that the Government and those who support a ban understand that a ban will have a direct effect, not on toffs, but on ordinary working people, who depend on hunting for their income, their livelihood and their home.
My hon. Friend's point is incredibly important, whether one is for or against a ban. Some of my constituents are distressed at the thought of losing their livelihoods. I am not talking about people who sit on horses and engage in hunting as a sport; I am talking about people on low incomes in tied accommodation who will lose their jobs and their homes if the ban is implemented. The loss of property is not a narrow issue of human rights legislation; it is a matter of justice for those people, for whom this House should act in a proper way.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Mr. Drew intervened on the Minister on a point of principle and drew out the comparison between this Bill and the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000. Interestingly, the Minister repeated the point, which he made in a debate last year, that those two pieces of legislation are different, because the 2000 Act affected people's property. However, the people affected by the 2000 Act had property, whereas the people about whom we are concerned largely do not have property. The issue concerns those people's livelihoods. It is strange that the Government are prepared to compensate people with property, who are well healed in comparison with people on low rural incomes who have few prospects.
I have fought against tied cottages throughout my time in this House, and I share and appreciate the concern expressed by my hon. Friend Mr. Drew. Is Andrew George saying that the followers of hunting will throw their employees out of tied cottages if the Bill is enacted? Will the hon. Gentlemen who follow the hounds do that to their loyal employees, about whom they have spoken so much, so tearfully and so directly, and whom they pay so lousily?
May I correct the hon. Gentleman in one respect? I have followed the hunt on many occasions in the past, and I voted for the Minister's compromise licensing approach. I cannot speak for hunts—I am sure that the many hunts that are disappointed with my position would not want me to speak on their behalf—and it is not for me to double guess or anticipate the likely outcome of the circumstances in which many people will find themselves.
The hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members assume that people will be thrown from their properties. If that is the case, what will the property owners do with their properties? Surely, it would be as well for them to sit on the properties and let people pay rent.
The case would have to be made, and appeals can be made if such cases are turned down. If the matter were in dispute, it would ultimately be considered at the tribunal.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the lack of comprehension on the part of Labour Members concerning the loss of income and the natural requirement for people who own tied cottages to ensure that they maintain an income means that there is a case for compensation? Does he agree that if Members who set their faces so sternly against compensation were considering another industry, such as coalmining, they would hold a different view?
My hon. Friend is right. There are many imponderables and many cases could be made for compensation.
The accusation by Mr. McNamara shows that, as usual, Labour Members are ignorant of the facts of hunting. Often the dwellings that house hunt employees are not owned by wealthy landowners but by the hunt itself, which if it is not hunting will have no income and will have no option but to sell its assets.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, because I discussed it with him in Standing Committee, many Labour Members have some sympathy with the position that he is putting forward and like to think that we have some understanding of what may befall people should a ban pass through the Houses of Parliament this week. Does he accept, however, that were his amendment to be passed, the Parliament Acts could not be used and those of us who wish for a ban would thereby be disappointed? Does he therefore agree that a better solution would be to try to get his amendment put forward in another arena, such as in the other place or in a Finance Bill or an animal welfare Bill, not in the House of Commons tonight?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not have it in my gift to divide the House on this issue—that is in the power of the Minister.
I do not accuse those who take a different position on hunting from that which is expressed largely by Conservative Members of being unsympathetic to those people who are likely to be directly affected. Although the Minister will not use his power to allow us to divide on the amendment, it can be considered as a probing amendment. I hope that the other place is listening and will consider the possibility of reintroducing it at a later stage.
May I echo the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend Rob Marris? I supported the principle of compensation when we discussed the Bill previously, but the moment has passed. My hon. Friend put his finger precisely on the point: we cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's amendment. If the House of Lords discussed compensation, it escaped me. The hon. Gentleman will undoubtedly have other opportunities to raise the issue again, perhaps as a result of the Bill that the Government may introduce in the new Session to move the date to July 2006.
I do not agree that the moment has passed. In fact, the moment has arrived if we are in a situation whereby there is to be a precipitate ban within three months and no compensation scheme is in place. I would hope that the other place will consider the issue and, having taken up a position that is implacably opposed to that of the Commons, introduce, as part of a compromise, a clause to allow for appropriate compensation. Or perhaps the hon. Gentleman is right and the Minister will be honourable and introduce new legislation to deal with that in the next Session. I am well aware that many other hon. Members want to comment on this and many other issues relating to the Bill and the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Ogmore. I hope that the Minister is listening and that he will speak to those involved in the debate in the other place, so that the issue will not be left as it is tonight.
I respect the sincerity of Andrew George, but the basis of his argument gives rise to two questions. First, during the entire discussion of the ban on hunting, opponents of the ban have sought to jerk our tears by talking about the jobs that will be lost. The Countryside Alliance and similar groups all say that these jobs are at stake and will be lost if there is a ban. Are we saying that the people who are now exploiting the possibility of job losses are such ghastly employers that they would throw their employees out of work and home? That is the basis of the argument about tied cottages, as my hon. Friend Mr. McNamara said.
I want to proceed for a moment. If I may say so, with total respect to the Chair, two thirds of the time has gone by and these few words that I am about to utter are the first from someone who supports the Bill as sent from the House of Commons to the House of Lords.
Secondly, not only is it the implication of what the hon. Member for St. Ives said that hunt employers are horrible people with no sense of loyalty to the people they employ, but he is asking to make them a special case. The estimate of Burns, much quoted by Mr. Gray, is that up to 800 direct jobs will be lost—700 direct jobs employing 800 people. Well, 1,100 workers at Jaguar in Coventry will, if the employers have their way, certainly lose their jobs and not over a short period, but at a stroke. Why should hunt employees receive compensation other than redundancy payments if the Jaguar workers will receive only the redundancy payments due to them under the law?
The right hon. Gentleman's first point presupposes that those who are campaigning to continue hunting have control over the livelihoods of the people who are likely to be affected. On the second point, he fails to accept the point that I made—I thought very clearly—that we are talking this evening about an Act of Parliament, not the vagaries of commerce.
So that is all right, then. The Jaguar workers can say that their jobs do not matter, because it is not an Act of Parliament throwing them out of work, just selfish, nasty capitalist employers. All right then, good for the Jaguar workers.
As I was saying, we are dealing with an issue that has been active ever since my hon. Friend Mr. Foster moved his Bill early in the last Parliament. It is now, of course, as it was then, an issue about the ethos of hunting and the cruelty of tearing wild creatures to pieces for pleasure. That is the essence of what we have been campaigning about. Although that is the heart of the Bill, there are now other issues, as the debate has moved on.
First, there is the supremacy of the rule of law. We now have people saying that they will disobey the law if the Bill sent to the House of Lords becomes an Act. Not only that, we have seen people behaving in the most loutish and illegal way right now. I am not talking only about the deplorable invasion of this Chamber. I am talking about the injuries inflicted on police officers in Parliament square when we debated the Bill two months ago. Louts and hooligans inflicted serious physical injury on a very considerable number of officers, according to information published by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. If that is what they can do when a Bill is merely going through Parliament, what on earth will they do if the Bill becomes law in the form in which we sent it to the House of Lords? Whether or not it supports the legislation, the House of Commons therefore faces a very serious question about respect for the rule of law.
Towards the end of his speech, my right hon. Friend the Minister referred to another matter—the supremacy of the will of the House of Commons. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked me to serve on the royal commission on the reform of the House of Lords, he gave me terms of reference to the effect that any such reform should be based on the principle that the House of Commons is supreme in a bicameral legislative arrangement. However, the other place has rejected the will of the House of Commons as it has been expressed on this matter over the years, and twice in connection with this Bill.
We must be clear that the Parliament Acts are not about the supremacy of Government policy. When the Liberal Government introduced the original Act more than 90 years ago, they laid down that the important point was the supremacy of the House of Commons. When I served on the royal commission on the House of Lords, we discussed whether Bills originating in that House should be subject to the Parliament Acts. Our answer was that they should not, as the Parliament Acts were not about ensuring that the Government's will prevailed. They were about ensuring that the will of the House of Commons prevailed.
I shall set out the consequences that flow from that. If this House of Commons rejects both the Lords amendments and the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, the position will be that the Bill that was sent to the House of Lords two months ago will again be the one that that House must reconsider. We are dealing with more than hunting or the rule of law. We are dealing with one of the basic principles of our evolving form of government in this country. For that reason, if for no other—although, as I said, there are other reasons—it is essential that the will of the House of Commons prevail.
Another factor has emerged as the Bill has gone through the House, starting from the moment my right hon. Friend the Minister introduced the Second Reading debate. That is the issue of trust. In my view, that is something that we must resolve, and insist on.
Like many of my hon. Friends who have been active on this issue, I receive a very heavy postbag of letters on this matter. A very large number of people in the countryside support a ban on hunting, as well as people from urban areas. What people say—and they have done so even in the letters that I received this morning—is that the Prime Minister promised a ban seven and a half years ago. My correspondents say that they now look to me to bring that ban about.
I am a great fan of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, as everyone in this Chamber knows. When I reply to my correspondents—and I reply to them all—I say that the Prime Minister never promised a ban, although he has gone on record as saying that he favours a total ban. I tell people that what he promised was to give Parliament the chance to legislate for a ban. That is what we are about now.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister authorised statements from 10 Downing street earlier this week saying that he was in favour of a compromise. It is very difficult to understand what compromise he is actually supporting. The Bill, if amended in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore suggests, would be far from a compromise. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs has pointed out with very great clarity, it is in essence the Bill that he introduced in the last Session, which we threw out and have thrown out twice.
The Bill is not, therefore, a compromise: a compromise involves the Government moving from their original position. Yet my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is asking the House of Commons to maintain the Government's position. I am totally at a loss to understand how my right hon. Friend can vote for the amendment offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore on the basis that he wants a compromise. To anyone who has read my hon. Friend's amendment, it is clear that it is not a compromise, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs, speaking a little while ago, talking about the Bill that he originally introduced, to which we would revert if my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore had his amendment accepted, said—I took down his words—"My Bill was not a compromise Bill."
Of course, it was not a compromise Bill. It was an effort by the Government, which many of us deplored, to evade a total ban. I am not questioning the faith of my right hon. Friend the Minister: we know of the care he took and the hearings he held. When it came right down to it, however, the Government introduced that Bill not as a compromise but as a settled policy that they asked the House of Commons to endorse. There was a bit of finagling to try to manoeuvre the House of Commons into accepting it, but when it came to it, we threw it out. The Prime Minister may regard it as a compromise, but it is not one. It is the Government's original Bill, which we have thrown out twice.
As always, I admire my right hon. Friend's clarity of expression, and I certainly do not want to cross philosophical swords with him. What I meant was that, in introducing the Bill as I originally did, there was no compromise in terms of cruelty. It sought to base the legislation on principle and on evidence. Of course, many people, myself included, have suggested that it would be a good thing if we were able to move away from the extremes of view that the Bill has provoked. There are, in other words, two senses of the word compromise, as I am sure my right hon. Friend would accept.
I do not challenge a word that my right hon. Friend said. But we are not dealing with what he said; we are dealing with the authorised statements from 10 Downing street earlier this week, and they said that the Prime Minister wants a compromise. As I understand it, and it will be interesting to see what happens when the Division bell rings, the Prime Minister is going to vote for the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore. This is, is it not, a syllogism? My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wants a compromise; my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is going to vote for the amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore; therefore, in the eyes of the Prime Minister, the amendment is a compromise; but my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs says that it definitely is not a compromise. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will account to himself for the way in which he has traduced the logic that the Prime Minister has put forward—something that I would never dare to do myself.
My right hon. Friend's contributions are always well considered and carry great weight in the House and the country. Will he at some stage consider the amendment tabled by Andrew George? Many of us are quite attracted by his idea. Can my right hon. Friend say whether intellectually, morally, legally and politically it differs very much from the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000, which provided for compensation of the sort suggested in the amendment?
No, it does not differ, in any of the adverbs that my hon. Friend has just uttered. On the other hand, as my hon. Friend—I am sorry I have forgotten his constituency—[Hon. Members: "Wolverhampton, South-West."] Wherever he represents it is brilliant. As my hon. Friend Rob Marris pointed out, if that amendment were accepted, it would tarnish the Bill and we could not get it through under the Parliament Acts. Therefore, Andrew George, as suggested by my hon. Friend Mr. Banks, must find other choices even though it may well be the case that a number of us sympathise with him.
I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would not choose the hon. Gentleman as his first interpreter and analyst. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to join the Labour party and try to get a job, it may be that my right hon. Friend will look favourably on him. The hon. Gentleman would be a good swap for Mr. Marsden.
What is the rationale for compromise? On
The animal welfare organisations took an opinion poll that showed that more than 90 per cent. of those who took part in the Countryside Alliance march vote Conservative. Mr. Gray said earlier that, if people believe in hunting, they will vote Conservative. It is one thing for the Prime Minister and the Government to want a great national consensus on all kinds of issues, but a great national consensus in which they appease law-breaking Tories while rejecting the view of the parliamentary Labour party does not seem to me to be what we fought the last general election on.
I have always been in my right hon. Friend's big tent. Indeed, I have been at the centre of it, warming myself on the glow from the furnace in the middle of it. I hope that he is ready to listen both to his right hon. and hon. Friends who have voted overwhelmingly for a ban, and to some brave Opposition Members, rather than to the louts and hooligans who are the spearhead of the Countryside Alliance.
If so, it is not the famous Oscar Wilde quotation about the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable, but the ineffable in pursuit of the unachievable.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his speech on the Queen's Speech last November, promised us that he wanted to resolve the issue in this Parliament. I say to the House and to my right hon. Friend that the only way to resolve it is to enact the Bill passed by the House of Commons in September. I have some hopes of being re-elected at the next general election, so I can tell the House that, if the issue is not resolved in that way, and only in that way, we shall carry on fighting and it will not be resolved. Tonight is the night; this is our chance. Let us chuck out everything on the Order Paper and vote for the Bill as we decided we wanted it two months ago, and by the end of the week we will have a Hunting Act that enacts a total ban.
It is usually a great pleasure to follow Sir Gerald Kaufman, but he has spoken for 21 minutes without at any stage addressing the merits of the case, which is disappointing. I normally have great respect for him.
I remain opposed to a ban on hunting. I have not spoken on the issue in the House before but was moved to do so after listening to the speech made by Huw Irranca-Davies, who spoke movingly and persuasively. He said one thing that saddened me, however. At the end of his speech, he felt it necessary to thank the House for its tolerance of his dissent from the view of his colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party. He was closer to them than me, but I could feel waves of visceral hostility emanating from them. That seemed to be a microcosm of the degeneration of the debate on this issue over the years. The debate does not revolve around the rational assessment of evidence, but flows from blind and destructive dogma.
There are arguments from different sides about cruelty and liberty, but the argument is about both. The cruelty issue is central and we cannot do much better than turn to what Lord Burns said. After all, he and his colleagues on the committee spent a great deal of time looking at the issues and assessing the evidence. He said recently in another place that the evidence was inconclusive and that to use the Parliament Act to force through a ban in the face of evidence that was, at least, inconclusive was unacceptable. The case on cruelty has not been made.
I have only a short point to make on the issue of liberty. In a free country, there should be a huge gap between disapproval of an activity and wanting to ban it. A ban is the mark of an authoritarian society, not one based on freedom, tolerance and respect. If the House opts for a complete ban on hunting, and forces it through against the wishes of a majority of Members of Parliament—because that would be the case—we will have inflicted damage on the standing of Parliament and, let us face it, Parliament does not stand high in the respect of the nation. We should not do it.
May I say to Mr. Maude that, given that there is clearly not going to be reconciliation and compromise, as my right hon. Friend Sir Gerald Kaufman said, if it comes down to it, surely the views of the elected Chamber must prevail. We are the people who will have to go out into our constituencies and defend our voting record. Many Labour Members represent rural constituencies where there are hunts, and they will have to justify what they have done, defend their position and look for votes, and I suspect that they will get them.
A pro-hunting Labour peer told me, "Under no circumstances must you allow us to win on this, because if you do we will ride roughshod over your legislation at any time." [Interruption.] I am just saying what he said. In the end, it is a matter of the will of the elected House against the will of the unelected House, and I should have thought that anyone in this House would agree on that. I would have said precisely the same had I been on the other side of the argument, because in the end I am a House of Commons man, and as an elected Member I believe that the will of this House should prevail. We have to defend our actions in the constituencies; the Lords do not.
My hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies might remember when I spoke in his area and supported him, and I have no reason to doubt my judgment in supporting him in the House. Tonight, he put forward a view that has received minority support, but we defend his right to do so. What we found objectionable was the way that he then characterised our position. That was the point where he began to lose us. By all means stand up and defend the position, but do not cast aspersions on the position of those who do not agree.
I am finding myself in a minority of one in the Gambling Committee—
Maybe so. We already have another disagreement going on here, but I do not seek to discredit or misrepresent the views of those who do not agree with me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore more or less suggested that this was a class issue. We have heard this time and again. I wrote down "red-coated hunters". I do not really care what they are dressed in—I have not the foggiest idea what they wear. I have made this point time and again; I do not even like the word "toffs". The fact is that if all of those who hunted were members of the Transport and General Workers Union, voted Labour and supported Chelsea, I would still vote against them because in the end, for me, it is a matter of morality. Killing animals for pleasure is wrong. It is immoral and must be stopped.
I know many people who hunt and whom I consider to be friends of mine. Some are Opposition Members, including a number of prominent Conservatives, but I still feel that they need help. I regard myself as a sort of friendly psychiatrist in this, and I think the first way that we help those who are doing something wrong is to stop them doing it and then we can put them into some sort of counselling. [Hon. Members: "Rehab."] Rehab is a much better word. I do believe that we have to reassert our position tonight.
The last point I would like to make is that we cannot vote for a licensing system. We did not do so for the simple reason that a licensing system would still allow hunting to go on. Then, in the event of a Conservative Government being elected—one day, deplorable though that might sound to Labour Members, a Conservative Government will be elected—all they will need to do is touch the old fine tuning and we will get back hunting in its totality as it is today. Therefore we cannot vote for a licensing system, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and to my right hon. Friend the Minister, and to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who I understand will make a rare appearance here tonight to vote—I would not do it if I were him, but of course I am not likely to be him and I certainly hope that he will not do it. I hope that he will remember that this is a free vote, and that he will not look curiously at those who do not support him in the Lobby tonight. I suspect that he will be in a minority on the Labour side, and he will be with colleagues from the Opposition. That is his choice, however, because it is a free vote.
We cannot support a licensing system, because it will eventually end with hunting being fully restored. Those who want to restore hunting have a simple choice now. If we go to July 2006, a general election will intervene. If you want to have hunting back, Mr. Deputy Speaker, vote Conservative at the next election. I suspect that that will be another reason why the Conservatives will not be elected.
What we have learned from Mr. Banks and Sir Gerald Kaufman is that the argument tonight is not about the rural economy, the environment or the need to maintain social cohesion in the country—it is not even about animal welfare. It is about the exercise of naked political power and the dispute about how that power should be exercised. That is the argument taking place in the ranks of the Labour party.
The fact that the Minister has not advanced the amendment proposed by Huw Irranca-Davies himself as a Government amendment speaks volumes about the relationship between his Department and No. 10. It is interesting that it requires a Back Bencher of recent election, the hon. Member for Ogmore, to advance a so-called compromise—some people do not think that it is a compromise—and a case on behalf of the Prime Minister when one would have thought that a fellow Minister would be willing to do so.
It is interesting that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton found time to amuse us with one of his classic little vitriolic speeches. They are wonderful to listen to; they do not tell us very much, other than that he likes to put on a display from time to time. Fair enough. May he enjoy his searchlight fame in the circus and the big tent that he so proudly claims to inhabit. However, it is important that the House realises, before we ban hunting tonight, if that is what the House decides to do, that it has nothing whatever to do with the merits of the issue that we ought to be discussing.
The discussion that we are having tonight has nothing whatever to do with any of the arguments that I have engaged in since 1992, when I was first elected. It has nothing whatever to do with the arguments that were deployed for and against a ban in all the debates in Committee on all the hunting Bills that we have had to deal with.
I have argued with the Minister both in his position on the Front Bench during the debates on the most recent Bill and when he was a Back Bencher in the uncomfortable hiatus that he had between being the Secretary of State for Wales and working his passage back into government, but it is down to the hon. Member for Ogmore to save the Prime Minister and allow him a way out, thus allowing him to demonstrate who is in charge.
I accept that not all my constituents—the people whom I represent—support hunting, but most of them do not want a ban on hunting. It is regrettable, however, that we are left in this rather dirty, filthy little arrangement that is being sorted out for the benefit of the parliamentary Labour party. It is a pity that this is where we have come to: an arrangement that allows the Labour party to feel comfortable with itself, allowing it to sit with itself and to enjoy its own company for a few short moments, whereas real people outside are trying to earn an honest living and live a lawful life without being interfered with or bossed about by those who do not want to know and who do not want to understand because they think that they know. It seems utterly regrettable that the House of Commons should allow itself to be addressed in that way by that sort of argument.
I am afraid that we are only talking about the exercise of power. We are only talking about the arrogance of power, and in the light of that there is very little more that we can say on behalf of those who wish to continue to hunt and to carry out the activities and the sport that they have enjoyed for many years.
I agree with my hon. Friend Mr. Gray: we are being presented with the least-worst option, and I hope that we can get it through the House. I shall do so with a heavy heart, but I will support the hon. Member for Ogmore. I am only sorry that the Minister did not feel able to introduce that amendment himself. This will be a black day for a great many people, and I do not think that any Member should feel proud of how we have reached this position.
For the majority of people in this country, and for those of us who have campaigned over the years to see the end of hunting with dogs, this will be a great day. This issue goes across party, across class and across areas of the country—urban and rural. All the time that I have campaigned on the issue, I have been surprised by the overwhelming support that I have had from rural areas, including from farmers' wives who have said, "My husband daren't open his mouth, but he doesn't like the hunt going across the land. He knows that he can't do anything about it, because he is a tenant farmer." This is a great day.
Mr. Maude said that we had not discussed the merits of a licensing system, of unlicensed hunting and of abandoning hunting altogether. That is what this debate and the votes will be all about. They are important matters. As my right hon. Friend Sir Gerald Kaufman said—I am glad that he saw Her Majesty before tonight, because I am not sure whether he will see her after tonight—the issue goes to the root of what we are all about.
We are told that a majority of Members in Parliament voted against the Bill, but a majority of the elected Members have overwhelmingly and repeatedly voted for it. I have often tabled amendments and not had them carried, so I know that I have to accept the will of the elected majority. That is what it is all about. My hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies and my right hon. Friend the Minister know that that is the case.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore felt it necessary to table the amendments, because we have gone through them twice. I understand that he might have had some help in drafting them. In nearly 40 years in the House, I have never had any help from the Government in drafting amendments. None the less, we are all entitled to get help where we can.
My hon. Friend echoed a point that had been made before. He spoke about the teachers, the doctors and the constables in his constituency who mount horses and follow the hunt in their serried ranks. Quite apart from what that might mean about empty surgeries, burglars on the streets and classrooms without teachers, he says that we are making criminals of those involved. [Interruption.]
No, I have been in the Chamber a long time, unlike the hon. Gentleman and some of the other Conservative Members who have been interjecting.
Apart from the spuriousness of the points that my hon. Friend made in giving the impression that all teachers, policemen and doctors are in favour of blood sports, there is a more important issue. Nobody will be made a criminal by the Bill if it becomes an Act. In exactly the same way as the ownership of property, whereby nobody makes themselves a criminal unless they steal or break the law, nobody becomes a criminal unless they break the law passed by this House. It is for people to decide whether they want to obey the law. That point is of utmost importance. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton said, this issue is about two things: the supremacy of the elected House and the upholding of the rule of law.
We have been told that the issue is all about the Labour party, but I am sure that if it is about the passage of the Parliament Act, it is all about the Liberal party. Many people might think that it is about fair legislation, taxation and home rule for Ireland. That is a different matter, but the Tories have always advocated strange arguments.
If the Bill brings peace and harmony to the majority of my colleagues and comrades in the Labour party, that is a great collateral benefit. All Labour Members would support that. What is more important than the peace and harmony of the Labour party, important though I think that is, is the will of the elected representatives of this country and the rule of law. That is what we are voting for tonight.
I want to take issue with something that Sir Gerald Kaufman said. He said that what we can call the Ogmore amendment is not a compromise, but it is a compromise between those who want to ban hunting completely and those who, like me, want to defend it. The compromise option is far more similar to banning hunting than defending it.
A lot has been said about the House of Lords—House of Lords bashing is an easy blood sport. If this House sends a Bill providing for regulated hunting to the House of Lords at this stage of a Session, the Lords can either engage with the Bill and work with the House of Commons on it, or reject the Bill, in which case a total ban will go through. Endlessly bashing the Lords makes for a sterile debate.
We heard a great speech from Huw Irranca-Davies, who spoke bravely. The question for the House of Commons tonight is whether we can compromise. Let me make it absolutely clear that I support the freedom to hunt and I oppose the regulation scheme. The scheme would lead to massive unnecessary state interference and would ban almost all hunting. It would allow hunting in some places rather than others, often in an unfair and haphazard manner. However, I recognise the power of the convictions held by those—they are mainly Labour Members—who want to ban hunting, although I disagree with them. They have promised their constituents that they will ban hunting just as I have made promises to my constituents that I will defend it.. If we are to compromise, we must both change our positions in tonight's vote. I am willing to do that because I recognise the force of their convictions and think that we must try to compromise, but do they?
Let me explain why those hon. Members should compromise tonight. My right hon. Friend Mr. Maude put it extremely well when he said that there was a huge difference between disapproving of something and wanting to make it a crime. The argument about cruelty has not been proved. Lord Burns, the person whom the Prime Minister and the Government asked to examine that matter, has made it clear that there is no cruelty case for an absolute ban on hunting.
The real reason why I plead with Labour Members to think about compromising is that the morality of our actions depends on their consequences—acts have consequences. The one thing that has come out of all our debates on fox hunting is that a total ban will not save the life of a single fox, because they will be shot or gassed in larger numbers than at present. The consequences of an effective total ban would be wounded foxes, dead hounds, unemployed hunt staff, empty livery stables and rural businesses hit by a decline in trade. Although I would never advise anyone to break the law, if the ban is not effective and people continue to hunt, we will face the consequences of law breaking, problems with policing and the other difficulties that Tony Wright cited in his effective intervention on the Minister.
Irrespective of whether a ban would work, there is a strong case for compromise. Labour Members should consider such a compromise because they should think about what will happen to people if the ban goes through. Mr. McNamara said that the Bill does not make a criminal of anyone, but it would criminalise thousands of people throughout the country who have carried out an activity that was not against the law for generations.
Even at this late hour, I ask Labour Members to think about the fact that a total ban would lead to a divided and angry countryside. We must ask why the Prime Minister has changed his mind, because he was always in favour of a ban. Although I cannot read his mind, I think that he is worried about having to lead a divided and angry country, which is what would happen under a total ban.
The hon. Member for Ogmore has given us the opportunity to compromise. The compromise is wholly unsatisfactory, but it would be better than the division and anger that a ban would cause. I hope that hon. Members will think about that even at this late stage and make one last try for compromise before embarking on a ban that would lead to an angry and bitter countryside.
I speak as someone who dislikes blood sports intensely. I cannot understand why people engage in them and think that it demeans the human condition, so instinctively I am in favour of stopping them. It would also be politically convenient for me to sign up to the proposition that we should stop them.
When the argument started some years ago I set myself one test: to answer the question of whether there is something uniquely cruel about hunting with dogs that would justify banning it. If there was, I would have no hesitation in doing that and I would not be detained by the arguments that it would cause a loss of livelihood or encroach on liberties. I would have known the answer to those questions. However, as someone who instinctively wanted to be on that side, and who has sought to follow the arguments and to read the evidence, I have to say that that test has not been passed.
It is the deliberate lack of attention to the evidence that troubles me most. In addition, there is the suggestion that there is a superior moral sensibility on the part of those who want a complete ban. That cannot be right because people who have taken different views over the years have different moral sensibilities. Just down the road from Ogmore, Aneurin Bevan—a man who was neither deficient in class warriorship nor in moral sensibility—thought that a ban could not be justified.
The question is: if the test has not been passed—in a sense, the Minister acknowledged that—why should we persist in insisting on a ban rather than regulation? I can only think that it is either because we have got ourselves imprisoned in a position in which we think we have to do that or because we are implicitly saying that we have a greater sensibility on the cruelty issue than people who take a different view, and I simply reject that.
There is no question but that this House of Commons would be justified in applying the Parliament Act, in asserting its supremacy by doing what it wants to do and in eschewing any common ground by rejecting compromise. All that is possible. The question is whether it would be sensible. It would feel terribly exciting this week and people would march through the Lobby with a lighter step. However, one of the first laws of this place is that we should not do things that we know are undoable; we should not do things that we know are unenforceable; we should not do things that will not carry a substantial number of our population with us. If we do something knowing all that, with the evidential test not having been passed, I am afraid that in the long term there will be consequences that we shall all come to regret.
We can do that. I am sure that we shall do that. I have turned up here often to vote for the Bill. I am going to try to vote for it again tonight because it is sensible, but it will not be embraced. We will continue on the course that the House set some time ago. It can do it. It will do it. The question is whether it is sensible to do it.
The Bill is not about animal welfare. Mr. Banks said on
"It is not a matter of great significance in . . . animal welfare, but it has become totemic."
A ban on hunting with dogs is not about public opinion. The majority of people are opposed to criminalising those who go hunting with dogs. Frankly, if we are going to ban things and the majority of people do not support us in that, the Labour party, which 58 per cent. of the electorate voted against at the last election, should be banned as well, but I support to the death its right to exist.
The debate is not about the evidence in favour of a ban. Five hundred and sixty members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons have made clear their belief that a ban on hunting with dogs is contrary to the interests of animal welfare. The debate is not primarily based on evidence from those who support a ban.
I am not sure whether hon. Members recognise that the Bill advocated by Mr. Banks will not prevent all hunting with dogs, as people think. It will not be illegal to use a terrier underground, as long as the purpose is to protect game birds, but it will be a criminal offence if the purpose is to protect farm livestock or rare birds. Under the Bill, it will be illegal for one's dog to catch a hare, but not for it to catch a rabbit; it will be illegal for one's dog to kill a mouse, but not for it to kill a rat. How on earth can any supporter of the Bill think that that is reasonable legislation?
Many of us have supported the middle way group and fought with small resources a great battle to introduce evidence into the discussion, but, to our great frustration, people are not willing to listen to that evidence even now. Is the hon. Member for West Ham even aware of the Kreeger report, which was done in the 1990s and which showed that a fox is under greater stress when it is hunting than when it is hunted? [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] The hon. Members who jeer probably did not know until this minute that the Kreeger report even existed.
Are the hon. Members who want to ban hunting with dogs aware of the research that we sponsored that indicates surprisingly high wounding rates when foxes are shot compared with when they are hunted with dogs? Whether we like it or not, with dogs, it is all or nothing; with guns—[Interruption.]
Order. The House must be fair and give the hon. Gentleman a hearing.
With dogs, it is all or nothing—there is no wounding rate. With guns, foxes often die an agonisingly painful death. That fact has not even been considered by many of the right hon. and hon. Members who have just now come into the Chamber to vote, without having seen the evidence.
The middle way group has worked hard, not to achieve a victory, but to achieve a solution that is in the wider interests of the country and in the specific interest of animal welfare. Nothing has been more irritating than the almost visceral unwillingness of those who favour a ban to entertain even the slight possibility that there is evidence-based research to show that a ban on hunting with dogs will increase suffering in the countryside, not reduce it.
I have worked hard to convince the public and hon. Members that ours is the right way to go, as have my colleagues in other parties, whose efforts I salute. I stand here feeling extremely disappointed: once again, we stand on the brink of a vote based on prejudice and not on fact, on victory and not animal welfare—a vote that more than anything is based on the desire to win and pay back the Conservatives for their decisions on the miners and other things that their Government did in the 1980s. Tonight's vote is a test of whether we—
No, I will not give way, especially not to the right hon. Lady.
Tonight's vote will be a test of whether we are guided primarily by our emotions or by facts—whether we care more about winning battles from the past than about improving animal welfare in the countryside in future. I, for one, will with a heavy heart support the proposal made by Huw Irranca-Davies, because it is the best that we are likely to get, but I assure the House that millions watching tonight will judge the House on its ability to make the right decisions rather than prejudiced decisions.
At the end of the day, we will see whether those who support the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the League Against Cruel Sports will be happy with the increase in animal suffering that results from the simple fact that Members of Parliament were not willing to listen to the arguments advanced by the middle way group and others. It is a matter of great regret that, after 700 hours of debate in two Houses, most of those who support a ban still do not have even the slightest idea of what the research has told us.
I call the Minister to move a motion in relation to the remaining Lords amendments.
Order. For clarity, is it "disagrees"?[Hon. Members: "No—agrees".] Order. I wish that hon. Members would calm down. This is not the first time that I have tried to assist hon. Members on both sides of the House. I must make sure that I heard correctly. Perhaps we should do it again.
Order. We must be calm. Mr. Soames, we must be calm. It was a slip of the tongue. The Question is, That this House disagrees with the Lords in their amendments Nos. 2 to 43, 45, 46 and 52 to 54.