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Mr. Soames: The information is not in the brief of Deadbeat 2000, as it would show hunting for what it is--an integral part of the countryside, not just for sport but for the proper use and support of the farming industry.

Mr. Hogg: Does not my hon. Friend's point make it plain that the House is entitled to the advice of Agriculture Ministers, because the new clauses impact on agriculture? Is it not a scandal that no Agriculture Minister is present in the Chamber to advise us? If Agriculture Ministers could not be present, the proper course would be to adjourn the debate until they could be present.

5.45 pm

Mr. Soames: I wholly agree. My right hon. and learned Friend will recognise that had I worked for him, as I did for my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal

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so happily for almost 18 months, he would have insisted that a junior Agriculture Minister was present in the House with the Home Office team, in view of that Department's obvious ignorance of what MAFF does.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): I find it somewhat ironic that the Conservative party yesterday demanded that MAFF officials and Ministers be present in the Chamber, and is now asking again for Ministers to be here, when those people have to deal with a foot and mouth outbreak.

Mr. Soames: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has been in the House for only a short time and that he will not be with us for much longer. We seek the presence not of officials but of Ministers. It is not they who are lighting the bonfires and dealing with the foot and mouth outbreak, but the state veterinary service--and a very good job it is doing. It is right and proper that an Agriculture Minister should be present, not least to dig the poor, wretched Under-Secretary out of the hole into which he is getting himself.

The Government cannot ignore the consequences of a ban, or merely wish or magic them away. One cannot ban hunting overnight without proposing compensation or some other arrangement for the farmers or the good order and stewardship of the countryside. Neither can one abolish overnight, at a time of enormous difficulty for agriculture, the method by which fallen stock has previously been disposed of. The Government cannot ask us to take such legislation seriously and not to believe and understand the deep and burning resentment in the countryside. That feeling exists not just because people who live in the countryside have given up on the Government for failing to understand the thrust of their complaints, but because of the Government's total ignorance and inability to understand the consequences of what they are doing.

I do not wish to bang on about figures, but I should like briefly to mention some significant ones. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough mentioned the Cobham report, which states that 179 hunts handled 352,000 carcases in 1995. The national survey of hunts recorded that 200 of the packs surveyed currently provide a fallen stock service. Those hunts handled a total of 366,000 carcases in the previous 12 months, at an average cost to each of £18,000 per annum.

Mr. Öpik: The hon. Gentleman will know that MAFF has tended to advise individuals with a fallen stock problem to take that problem to the hunt. That advice has been given by the Ministry itself.

Mr. Soames: Indeed it has. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham expressed concern about the absence of a MAFF Minister. It is not the poor, wretched Home Office that will have to deal with farmers ringing up and saying, "I've got 10 bull calves to be put away this morning. There is no market for them, so I'll have to get them destroyed. How am I to dispose of them?" What is to happen to such farmers? Will they have to ring the Reading office, which is Sussex's nearest regional office? What will the MAFF regional office tell them? It cannot tell them to find a knackerman, as there are no knackermen left. Those are the serious consequences.

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The Under-Secretary is right to say that, by and large, we had a cordial and reasonably civilised debate in Committee. However, we are now dealing with the consequences that would flow from a ban on hunting. Those consequences are serious and cannot be magicked away. They require the most serious and detailed answer, to show that the Government understand and have catered for the consequences of hunts closing down and the lack of a collection service in, for example, West Sussex, which has a substantial dairy industry and a pretty substantial beef industry. The county places many requirements on hunts, which provide a wonderful social service for the farmers and the countryside by clearing away fallen stock. I urge my hon. Friends and Labour Members whose minds are not closed to these matters to think very carefully about the importance of the new clause.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): I wish to speak to amendment No. 36, to which the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) also spoke. Before I do so, may I declare an interest? Many Members will know that I am retiring at the election--and I am going fishing. It is time somebody spoke up in this debate for the fishing industry. No one knows better than fishermen the damage that mink do to the countryside and especially to fish. Mink do not eat many fish, but they destroy many of them. They bite them, tear lumps out of them and leave them looking deformed. Damage to fish by mink has cost one of my local fishermen who stocks a pool in Newcastle-under-Lyme £1,000.

I know that the Labour party has an anglers' charter and that that says that Labour will protect the environment for all to enjoy, especially anglers, but I must tell the Minister that if the Bill is unamended and mink hunting is banned, we shall not be meeting our manifesto promise. Many think that angling is just for a few people, but it is a big tourist industry. It has been encouraged in rural areas in order to attract work--but I see that the Minister wants to intervene.

Mr. Mike O'Brien indicated dissent.

Mrs. Golding: No; I beg his pardon.

Gamekeepers and water bailiffs who man many rivers call in mink hunts to sweep the rivers in order to get rid of mink. I have a letter from the Northern Counties hunt in Yorkshire, which states that more than half its call-outs are from gamekeepers on the Esk, Dove, Seph, Leven, Rye and Derwent, and from water bailiffs on the Ure, Cock Beck and Wharfe. Unless we consider the damage that mink do to our rivers, our wildlife and our fishing industry, we will not be taking the Bill seriously.

Many people will lose their jobs as a result of damage by mink. I say to the Minister in all seriousness that unless he can find £40 million to eradicate mink, he should not be supporting the banning of mink hunting and certainly should be considering compensating many anglers and river keepers--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I am having a little difficulty linking her remarks to the particular terms of the amendment, which seeks compensation for people affected by this Act.

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Mrs. Golding: Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the amendment also refers to

by mink, in other words.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It states "by this Act", which is concerned largely with hunting with dogs, not fishing.

Mrs. Golding: No, but mink are hunted with dogs. Mink are controlled by mink packs and mink hunting will be banned if the Bill is enacted. We really should be considering the fact that the Bill will ban mink hunting. I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for pointing that out, but I thought that that would be understood.

Mr. Öpik: Is the hon. Lady saying that damage to people involved in, say, fishing and so forth will be very much the same as that suffered by, say, a sheep farmer who loses lambs? She is trying to draw an analogy between foxes that predate on lambs and mink that predate on fish. She is saying that there is a case for compensation for the people about whom she is concerned, just as I am concerned about compensation for people who suffer as a result of fox predation.

Mrs. Golding: I agree. The poor fishing stock owner in my constituency never had the advantage of mink hounds, but he knew that the Government were not prepared to invest anything in controlling mink. It is estimated that it will cost £40 million to control mink if hunting them is banned. I seriously think that the control of these vicious pests should be considered when looking for compensation for people who will lose their livelihoods as the result of the ban.

Mr. Hogg: I rise to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) on new clause 1 and amendment No. 40. I do so on the basis that I am strongly opposed to the Bill, which I regard as an outrageous infringement of civil rights.

If we are to have this Bill at all, clearly we must try to address some of its consequences. The question of fallen stock is a very important consequence. The House would therefore be absolutely right to support the new clause, which would at least provide a scheme for dealing with fallen stock. I hope, too, that the House will recognise that if there is a ban, a very heavy cost will fall on the agriculture industry in the dealing with fallen stock.

It is bizarre that at the very time when the agriculture industry and livestock producers in particular are facing the crisis of foot and mouth disease, this House should be contemplating imposing on them yet a further charge. That makes it even more scandalous that there is not an Agriculture Minister on the Government Front Bench.

I am perfectly prepared to accept that the Minister of Agriculture is engaged elsewhere--although in his case it is probably in a broadcasting studio--[Interruption.] Labour Members may whine but the Minister of Agriculture made it absolutely plain to the House yesterday that he thought it inappropriate and a waste of his time to explain to the House the problems of foot and mouth disease and to account for his policies. We regard it as his duty to be in the House.

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Let me remind you, if I may, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that when I was Minister of Agriculture dealing with BSE, I came to the House on many occasions. On about 30--or perhaps 20--occasions, I or my ministerial colleagues came to the House, usually, or at least often, at the request of the then Opposition to account for our policies. We never suggested that that was a waste of our time or otherwise inappropriate: we regarded it as our duty. I very much regret the absence of Agriculture Ministers.

I return to the subject of new clause 1. We must not impose on livestock producers an even heavier burden at this time. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) is wholly right to speak of the very important services that hunts provide in the disposal of fallen stock. If we must have a Bill such as this, not to make proper provision for such disposal is a dereliction of duty.

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