Orders of the Day — Hunting Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:44 pm on 18th November 2004.

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Photo of Alun Michael Alun Michael Minister of State (Rural Affairs), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:44 pm, 18th November 2004

I know that no hon. Member would seek to mislead the House, but it sounds as if the hon. Gentleman wants to mislead the countryside. In our original discussions with organisations that have been involved in this debate for many years, including the Countryside Alliance, those organisations—including the Countryside Alliance—accepted that the issue was cruelty. That is the subject that has dictated the debate about legislation on hunting. Let me also tell the hon. Gentleman, yet again, that people in the countryside are divided on hunting, just as people in urban areas are. This is not about a divide between urban and rural people.

This House voted on Tuesday to insist on the Bill in the form in which we sent it to the Lords in September—that is, what is generally called the banning Bill. The Lords have now insisted on their feeble version of the registration scheme, so it is the Lords who have chosen confrontation, and I regret that. At this stage, I sense no appetite among supporters of a ban in this House for any change in the House's well-established position. It is the will of this House of Commons to have this Bill. I should make clear that it is not this House that is insisting; it will be the House of Lords, if it does not accept what we are saying today, that will have provoked the application of the Parliament Act.

There remains the question of when the Bill is to come into force. As it stands, it will come into force in three months, on 18 February 2005. That three-month period applied to the original Bill, involving a tribunal system which I sought to persuade colleagues to support and which would have come into force three months after the Bill. This House has reasonably proposed a delay of about 18 months, until 31 July 2006, for the start of the ban on hunting—but not on hare coursing events, which would be banned three months after implementation in any case.

In their amendments the Lords suggested a three-year delay for all hunting, including hare coursing events, until 1 December 2007 or even later; but that would be for their registration Bill. At the same time, they voted against our suggested amendment proposing commencement on 31 July 2006. In doing so, they have in effect voted for a ban that will come into force in February next year. All the Lords' decisions on the Bill have been, in my view, irrational. With this one, they have behaved like turkeys voting for Christmas. I cannot believe that they meant it, although my noble Friend Lord Whitty made the position absolutely clear to them.

My proposed amendment in lieu would give the Lords another chance. It takes the same form as our earlier suggested amendment. It would bring the Bill into force on 31 July 2007 for hunting purposes, but again not for the purposes of hare coursing events. By sending it back to the Lords, we will give them a straightforward choice between the date that we suggest and three months from Royal Assent today. If they seek to insert a different date or to change the clause in any other way, this House will insist on the three-month period, because that will keep the Bill within the Parliament Act.