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Mr. David Taylor: That has nothing to do with it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), but I must tell the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) that he has made too many sedentary comments. We must accept that, in debates of this sort, there are strongly held views on both sides. They should be heard in a rational atmosphere.

Mr. Major: Let Labour Back Benchers banish the image of huntsmen as red-faced toffs and understand the intricate complexities of the issue. I am cynical about the Government's intentions, but the Home Secretary has left an escape clause--the options that fall short of a ban. I congratulate him on that, if they are genuine. Let Labour Members show their open-mindedness and prove the cynics, such as myself, wrong. Let them go to earth and allow the escape clauses to protect the future of a traditional way of life. It is Christmas: go on, surprise us!

6.25 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): For me, as a humble member of Surrey cricket club, it is awesome to follow the president of the club--not to mention a fellow Chelsea supporter who is also, I may say in passing, a former Prime Minister. I must tell the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) that we do not have closed minds

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on the issue. Why should our opinion come across as prejudiced while his comes across as open-minded, reasonable and liberal?

It is wrong to say that the measure sets town against country. The majority of people in rural areas oppose foxhunting, and the right hon. Gentleman should recognise that. It does not pit the Labour party against the Conservative party, either. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and the Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who is not present on the Conservative Front Bench, has put her principles before her political career, and he should show due deference for that. She is a very open-minded woman, as I am sure he would agree. In other circumstances, we would argue that she was not very open-minded, but, having listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, I currently support the right hon. Lady for Home Secretary; she has certainly taken a strong line. [Interruption.] My previous comment was not meant seriously.

Let me tell the right hon. Member for Huntingdon that the debate is not about red-faced toffs. That is not the sort of language that we use--although I do not know what toffs do in their private lives to make them red-faced. This is not a question of toffs versus the working class. There were hunts based on mining communities, but let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have been and remain just as opposed to the cruel practice of hunting there as I am to any other hunt, irrespective of the social or economic background of those who follow the practice. He should not come to the House and say that this is a class issue, or one of town versus country. It most certainly is not a class issue.

I am delighted that, at long last, we have secured a debate in Government time on the future of hunting. About time too; I greatly regret the fact that the Government took so long to introduce the Bill in Government time. During the election campaign, we were led to believe that that was precisely what they would do--we were not told that although a Bill that we could vote on would be introduced, nothing would happen subsequently. We believed that the Bill would be taken to its full term, so that the House could decide and it could go on to the other place. However, it did not do so, largely because of the obstructionist tactics of a small number of people on the opposing side--the so-called open-minded people--who tried to destroy the Bill in Committee.

I have listened to a number of arguments in the House and elsewhere to the effect that while we are legislating on this matter, we are ignoring bigger issues. Every day we hear statements about, and consider legislation relating to, jobs, education, health and transport. It is interesting to note that those among the pro-hunting group who accuse us, incorrectly, of ignoring those vital issues, spend a great deal of their own time campaigning on hunting and hunting alone.

Where was the Countryside Alliance when rural post offices were being closed, bus routes in rural areas slashed and rural railway lines closed down? Over the years when Conservative Members were in control of this country, that did far more damage to the rural economy than the abolition of fox hunting could ever do. What perverse priorities do they have?

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I believe that the House should spend some time addressing the subject of animal welfare. I disagree with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes): I do believe that animals have rights. That is a matter of principle, a matter for debate, a matter on which we can divide. The only place where animals' rights and welfare can be addressed is the House, and the House has dealt with the subject over the years.

As I commented in an intervention, the speech of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) was just like the speeches that were made at the time of Canning, when the ban on bull baiting was discussed. Exactly the same arguments were used then--and, I may add, there were similar arguments about the abolition of slavery. Opposition Members are the political descendants of those who opposed legislation to stop people sending little boys up chimneys.

Mr. Paice: The hon. Gentleman has reiterated the points made elsewhere in comparisons with bear baiting, dog fighting, bull baiting, badger baiting and the rest. Does he accept that there is a gulf of difference between pitting animals against each other in an enclosed area from which there is no escape, often with one of the animals tethered or chained, and hunting an animal in its natural environment, when it has the opportunity to escape?

Mr. Banks: And doing such things as stopping up earths so that the fox cannot bolt down them, or breeding foxes just so that they can be hunted?

Hunting is about human pleasure. It is all about the chase, the bloodlust and the kill. It might be slightly different from putting a bull in an enclosed area and setting dogs on it, but it is still about entertaining human beings, and I do not believe that human beings should be entertained by cruelty to animals. That is my central point.

There is another aspect; we hear a lot about jobs. I do not believe that the employment problem is crucial. I do not make light of anyone losing their job, but spare me the hypocrisy that we hear from Opposition Members who paint a lurid picture of the rural wasteland that they say will result from the abolition of foxhunting. They are the same right hon. and hon. Members who, when they were in government, destroyed mining and steel communities and put hundreds of thousands of people out of work.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Let us take a parallel issue concerning freedom. Through every stage of our proceedings on the equalisation of the age of consent, I voted in the Lobby for the age of 16. Many of my colleagues reluctantly did the same. Surely if tolerance is to be practised rather than just preached, there may be moments when the hon. Gentleman also has to support in the Lobby the idea of allowing of something with which he does not agree. Is this not such a case?

Mr. Banks: There will be occasions when I find myself in that position, but this is not one of them. I cannot condone the barbarity and the cruelty. I cannot understand how anyone can watch a hare being ripped to pieces by two greyhounds. I cannot comprehend the pleasure that people get from that. Does no one feel sorry for the hare, which is not a pest? Does anyone take pleasure from seeing a terrified stag or deer being chased, and think that that is good fun? I will never, ever be able to understand that. That is the difference.

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My mind is not closed, I say to the right hon. Member for Huntingdon; it is simply made up. I have come to that over the years. I cannot abide cruelty to animals.

Mr. Grieve: May I infer from that that the hon. Gentleman would take the same view of religious slaughter? I should be interested to hear his view.

Mr. Banks: I represent an area where there is a very large Muslim population. In fact, in the London borough of Newham, the ethnic minority is now white. I have said before that I do not support ritual slaughter. I never have done and I never will, because I do not consider it fair or humane. I have told my constituents that, and I tell the hon. Gentleman the same. If people want to exact electoral retribution, let them. That is their right and they are free to do so, but I am free and within my rights in the House to say what I believe in, without fear or favour.

Mr. John Townend (East Yorkshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks: For the last time.

Mr. Townend: I thank the hon. Gentleman. He says that he cannot bear to see people getting pleasure from killing animals. Is he then in favour of banning shooting and fishing?

Mr. Banks: No, because there are different levels of cruelty. I used to fish a great deal; I used to love fishing. I share that pleasure with my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), but in politics there are lines to be drawn. I would not choose to fish or to shoot, but equally, I would not choose to ban others from doing so. That is where I have drawn my line. Other right hon. and hon. Members must draw their own lines. I shall finish the point--[Interruption.] It has nothing to do with votes, as I heard someone say. It has to do with where, in our personal lives and in our political lives, we believe a line must be drawn. There will always be someone complaining on the other side.

The Burns report refers to 700 jobs being directly affected by the abolition of hunting, and a possible 6,000 to 8,000 indirectly affected, if alternatives are not found. Compare that with the 300,000 jobs that have been lost in manufacturing since the Labour Government were elected. Interestingly, there are now 1.1 million more people in employment than there were before, so there is clearly enough flexibility in our economy to deal with job losses, should they occur, even if alternatives are not sought. I do not disparage anyone's job, whether it is in the rural economy or in an urban area.

In conclusion, I believe passionately in my position, as the House is aware. Nothing that is said tonight will convince me, any more than anything said from the Labour Benches or from anywhere else will convince Conservative Members, so let us move to deal with the issue. Let us make sure--

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