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11.24 pm

Mr. Michael: May I respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), who made some good points and, with respect, some weak ones? The fact that there is a good deal of respect in the House for the way in which the Middle Way Group has put its argument, been constructive and tried to produce a workable proposal was reflected in the comments of my hon. Friend the Minister, but we must make it clear that the respect for those individuals and the effort that they have put in--in particular, I offer my respect to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire for the way in which he

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has conducted himself--should not be taken for acceptance of the strength of their argument, which I do not think has stood up to scrutiny.

It is entirely wrong to think that a licensing system, giving rise to all sorts of bureaucracy and complications, would resolve the problems relating to animal welfare and caused by animal cruelty. That does not reduce my respect for the attempt by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to explore the possibilities, but I do not think we should go too far in demonstrating respect for individuals. We should not let it be thought that arguments have stood the test of debate when they have not.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for having the grace to give way. Will he comment on the Middle Way Group's position on the regulation of hare coursing? In what sense will the public perceive that as a genuine compromise on animal cruelty--a compromise of the kind that the words "middle way" seem to suggest?

Mr. Michael: My hon. Friend makes a good point. The objections to hare coursing are strong. Doing away with it, rather than regulation, is the answer: that is where the Middle Way Group's proposals have fallen down.

I want to say a little about the authority with which the Bill will move from here to another place. Doubt has been cast by Opposition Members who have sought to confuse the situation rather than clarifying it. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) suggested that there had not been enough time for proper debate of the issues, but there was a massive amount of time in Committee. We heard the same arguments repeatedly, some of them not about issues related to the Bill but intended to delay the proceedings. That is a perfectly legitimate way in which to seek to oppose a Bill, but let us not pretend that this was quality debate: sometimes it was like watching paint dry, and on some occasions it was like watching paint dry three times, and the same coat at that.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury said that he was worried about the fact that the Bill created new crimes, but we do that frequently in the House. Gone are the simple days of the short Bill which--as many of us point out to our constituents when we take them around this place--in a couple of lines dealt with the control of crossbows. Some of us might like the use of similar items to be controlled on our estates, but many pages would now be needed to produce such legislation. The legislation that we handle nowadays is often complex, and it is clear that legislation on hunting will involve complex issues.

Sir Patrick Cormack: The right hon. Gentleman speaks of complexity. Does he know the difference between a rabbit and a hare, and can he tell me which feels pain the most?

Mr. Michael: It would have been an extremely good thing had the hon. Gentleman spent some time in the Committee, where he would have heard such points raised ad nauseam--philosophical points, which are part of the diversion that the Bill's opponents seek to introduce.

The weight of the argument has not favoured those who have tried to introduce philosophical complexities into a simple Bill. Its opponents have not been willing to engage in the detail that must be followed through until the point of principle has been dealt with once and for all. That is

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why we need the Bill to be passed, and to put beyond doubt the principles it establishes. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Aylesbury will withdraw some of his remarks about battling on for ever. I hope he will recognise that we have had adequate debate, and that clear decisions have been made by a parliamentary majority.

That majority has great authority. The decision was taken by a large majority of hon. Members on a free vote. It is that weight of individual decisions, that choice made by hon. Members in accordance with their own consciences, that gives the decision such authority. There were those who suggested that the Bill would have greater authority had it been treated entirely as a Government Bill. It has greater authority for having been decided on on the basis of the individual choices of hon. Members. The free vote gives it that authority.

The House has a responsibility to take decisions in such matters. I know that there are hon. Members who do not like this decision: we heard from them at great length in Committee. There have been occasions on which I have been one of the minority in the House and have seen something go through that I have not liked--when we were in opposition, we saw that frequently--but this is not a matter on which the parties should have been polarised. Indeed, hon. Members such as the shadow Home Secretary have demonstrated that it is possible to do other than simply go with the flow.

The authority of a decision taken on a free vote by such a large majority in this House should be respected in another place. There is a constitutional issue here, since the decision has been taken by those elected to this place to take such decisions.

I regret that the hon. Member for Aylesbury has again sought to confuse some of the issues. Any Bill has to draw lines. Sometimes those lines involve things that are untidy on one side or the other. That is what we explored in Committee. We heard about the problems of taking decisions if someone is taking a walk in the countryside. I think that many of us were satisfied that the legislation was clear and dealt with those issues satisfactorily, but the House has had the opportunity tonight, and has taken that opportunity, to clarify the lines and to ensure that there is no confusion: rabbits are out of the Bill, while it is clear that the stalking of deer is not forbidden by the Bill.

On the difficulties of demarcation with regard to rodents and vermin, the hon. Member for Aylesbury cannot argue that we need clarification and then complain about the situation when an amendment is tabled and hon. Members unanimously choose to make that clarification. The issues that were shown to be unclear in Committee have been made clear by the House's choices tonight. The Bill before us is a clear Bill. It bans the hunting of foxes with hounds. It bans the hunting of deer with hounds, but does not ban stalking. It bans hare coursing. It bans the hunting of mink on the grounds that the parallel with foxhunting with hounds for pleasure is clear. On the question of nuisance from mink, the maximum damage is caused by hunting mink with hounds.

We therefore have a clear Bill which carries the authority of a large majority in the House, not least since individual decisions were made on the basis of hon. Members' individual consciences. That should be respected by the other place, which should pass the Bill with speed into law.

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11.33 pm

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): I have always argued that one should have a debate in the House, but when I heard the speech by the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael)--[Hon. Members: "Right hon."] I apologise. Having heard the speech of the very right hon. Gentleman, I am not surprised that he lost his position of leadership of the Assembly in Wales.

I was not able to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair on Second Reading. I was not on the Committee and this is the first time I have spoken on this particular Bill. I have three packs in my constituency. If Labour Members really think that they represent the view of the countryside in bringing the Bill forward, they are so out of touch as to be living in wonderland.

Ever since I began representing Honiton, and then East Devon, I made it absolutely clear that I would take no action whatever to limit activities that have been countryside pursuits for centuries, or join in any attempt by this place to alter the wishes of those who form a minority in the United Kingdom but a majority in my constituency. It is quite wrong that a vast city and town element should be able to force on people in the countryside something that is unacceptable to them.

I believed that this place should be willing to support and look after the minority interests of this country. There is no way in which this Bill does that. There is no way in which this Bill takes into account what is necessary to support activities that have been countryside pursuits for centuries, and that is entirely unacceptable. I am a parliamentarian who believes that all aspects of the nation's pursuits should be considered and dealt with fairly. The Bill does not do that at all.

An analysis of the Bill reveals that aspects of those pursuits have simply not been considered. In my constituency, a farmer had to have a cow put down because of a broken hip. However, because of the problems with foot and mouth disease, he was unable to move the dead animal without a special licence. A special licence was issued. Believe it or not, that licence allowed the animal to be moved either to a certain knacker's yard or to hunt kennels.

It is tragic that such kennels will no longer exist if the Bill's provisions are implemented. You know and I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Bill's opponents are trying to defend those kennels, with which the Government wish to do away. It is a terrifying prospect that the Bill will seek to turn quite ordinary, everyday people living in my constituency into criminals--[Interruption.]

I suggest that those who laugh at that come down and tell my farmers and constituents that they think it is funny. If they came down and did that, they would be laughing on the other side of their faces. But they do not come down to consider the issue with local hunters and farmers and with other local people. It is laughable to say that the three packs in my constituency are other than supported by farmers and the ordinary, everyday people who follow the hunt. Many of those people are Labour supporters, and they find it very strange that their particular activity is being set upon by a Labour Government.

If people believe that it is wise or intelligent to turn those people into criminals, they are so out of touch that they cannot understand. The right hon. Member for

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Cardiff, South and Penarth shakes his head. Why does he not come down and talk to the people whose jobs will be thrown away by the Bill?

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