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Mr. Hoon: I am certainly conscious of the importance of the subject. That is why I took the first possible opportunity to make a statement in the House. If the hon. Gentleman is determined to engage in a debate, I am ready and available tomorrow.

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Points of Order

5.8 pm

Ms Claire Ward (Watford): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What instruction or advice was issued from the Speaker's office today to ensure that Members of Parliament could gain access to the House? They are entitled to that access, and to protection. I ask because for approximately 45 minutes today demonstrations outside the House blocked the road, and Members experienced real difficulty in gaining access in order to do the work that we are here to do.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I understand that both pro and anti-hunting demonstrators assembled in the area of Parliament square, totalling some 500 people, from midday today. The first priority for the police was to keep the two elements apart, and initially that was achieved successfully. Shortly after 2 pm, demonstrators blocked the traffic at the junction of Bridge street and Parliament street. Subsequently, police forcibly moved the demonstrators from the roads, and by 3 pm access to Carriage Gates and Parliament street was restored. Mr. Speaker has asked the Serjeant-at-Arms to investigate the full circumstances of the disruption.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that in dealing with these matters all the authorities concerned will bear in mind the sessional orders that require free access of right hon. and hon. Members to this building.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is precisely why Mr. Speaker has asked for an investigation. There is nothing I can add to what I have already said.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you had any request from Foreign Office Ministers to make a statement on the demonstration in Gibraltar by the majority of people who live there, 20,000 plus, to stand up for their right to self-determination?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have no information that any such statement is about to be made.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Further to your statement about the demonstration, I was watching the demonstration, and there did not seem to be any force used by the police in dispersing demonstrators. An agreement seemed to be reached whereby they parted and let the traffic through.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I do not think that there is anything I can usefully add to what I have already said.

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Orders of the Day

Business of the House

5.13 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before I call the Minister to move motion No. 1, the business motion, it might help if I say how Mr. Speaker proposes to proceed, assuming that the motion is agreed.

Mr. Speaker proposes that motions Nos. 2, 3 and 4 on hunting with dogs be debated together. He has not selected any of the amendments to the motions, so at the end of the debate—presumably at 10 o'clock—he will put the questions on motions Nos. 2, 3 and 4 one after the other.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your guidance? I tabled an amendment that attracted cross-party support. More than 80 Members, including many luminaries—former Cabinet Ministers and current Ministers—support it, yet to my surprise it has not been selected for debate. Can you give me any advice so that, should this arise again, I shall have a better chance of getting my amendment selected for debate—perhaps by seeking more signatures, more prominent Members of Parliament or whatever?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House. All I can say is that all proposed amendments were given the most careful consideration. The reasons for selecting or not selecting amendments are never given, for very good reasons.

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): I beg to move,

The motion provides that, following the debate, there will be a series of votes on three options for dealing with hunting. The alternatives are, first, "supervision", which is nearest to the status quo; secondly, "hunting under licence" or regulation, known as the middle way; and, thirdly, what has been described as a ban or prohibition of hunting.

In each case reference is made to "Bill 2", which is the Hunting Bill from the previous Session in the form in which it was introduced in December 2000. I understand that copies are available in the Vote Office.

All three campaigning organisations have told me that they accept this as a fair way of allowing the range of opinions across the House to be clearly expressed. Not later than 10 o'clock, the Chair will successively put each of the motions for voting, enabling hon. Members to vote for or against each of the options. The normal procedure would have the potential to constrain the House by preventing further votes once one motion had been carried.

I hope that the House will agree that this arrangement will allow us to cover the range of opinions, while still clearly expressing hon. Members' views through the votes at the end of the debate.

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5.14 pm

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): When I was first taken hunting as a child by my mother, I never expected that one day I would be standing at the Dispatch Box to defend the right of the individual to take part in one of the greatest of our traditions. Hunting and ponies definitely played a part in my eventually standing for Parliament, because it was while I was a member of South Staffordshire pony club that I met my hon. Friend—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Lady gets too far into her remarks, may I say to her that we are discussing a very narrow motion on how we shall proceed this evening? This is not the time for a broader debate.

Mrs. Winterton: I am so sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I misunderstood. I am happy with what the Minister said when he moved the business motion.

Norman Baker (Lewes): My colleagues and I are happy with the business motion, which is very narrow. That is probably the only point of agreement that there will be in the Chamber this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.

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Hunting With Dogs

5.15 pm

The Minister for Rural Affairs (Alun Michael): I beg to move,

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss motion No. 3—hunting with dogs: supervision—and motion No. 4—hunting with dogs: hunting under licence. [Interruption.]

Alun Michael: I heard some advice to quit while I am ahead, but I am a greater optimist than that.

Today's debate fulfils our manifesto commitment that the House would be given an early opportunity to vote on the future of hunting with dogs. It also fulfils the announcement made in the Queen's Speech after the election. It is an important step towards fulfilling the second part of our manifesto promise, which was to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue.

The issue of hunting is firmly on the House's agenda. It is extremely contentious and it needs to be resolved. There is no right time to try to resolve it, but it is an important issue for many who want to see an end to cruelty and for those who want things to remain as they are.

There have been numerous legislative attempts to deal with hunting through private Members' Bills, but last year the Government introduced a Hunting Bill. It was an honest attempt to enable each of three groups to set out their preferred option, with the Government remaining neutral. It was the subject of a free vote on both sides of the House.

It was hoped that that process would lead to opinion across the piece coming together behind one option, but that did not happen. Rather than coming together, views had polarised between the Houses by the time the Bill was considered in the Lords.

I remind the House of the Burns report on hunting, which the Government commissioned in 2000. The report set out the facts about hunting and the consequences of a ban. Hon. Members who have been involved in the hunting debate, whatever their views on hunting, have been united in their admiration of the fairness of the report produced by Lord Burns, and I am sure that it will again inform debate today.

As promised, we now return to the hunting debate. A vote on the alternative motions provides a straightforward method of taking the views of both Houses in a clear and unambiguous manner, without taking too much time out of the busy programme faced by both Houses. Again, it is as simple as that.

The options contained in the Hunting Bill of 2000 form the basis of the options in the motions that we are considering today. They are, first, supervision, which is nearest to the status quo; secondly, hunting under licence, or regulation, known as the middle way; and a third option, which has been described as a ban or prohibition of hunting.

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I have held discussions with all the interest groups, all of which have considered refinements to the detail of their option as originally drafted, in the period since the Bill was introduced in the House. Things have moved on—in particular, the Deadline 2000 option was amended during its consideration by the Standing Committee and on Report. Referring to the three options as set out when the last Bill was introduced is the simplest way of defining the choices on which right hon. and hon. Members are being asked to vote. All interest groups are represented in the House, and anyone speaking in the debate can explain the nuances of the latest thinking on their preferred option.

I remind the House that the Government have remained neutral on the question. No Whip has been imposed on Labour Members for the votes that will be called at the end of today's debate. I understand that that is also the position taken by the official Opposition and other parties. It has essentially been a parliamentary issue rather than a governmental issue, and we respect that fact.

The way in which I have voted on hunting is on the record. I have always voted for a ban on hunting, but that does not interfere with my responsibility for managing the process and encouraging debate from all sides. I promise that all points made in the debate in both Houses will be listened to and considered. Once the votes have been held in this House, and in the other place tomorrow, I intend to make a statement on the way forward before the Easter recess.

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