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Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): The Burns report clearly said that the abolition of hunting would have an impact in some parts of the country, and my constituency, with its six hunts, would be just such an area. In July 2000, The Mid Devon Gazette showed from a four-week survey in my constituency that 69.32 per cent. of the population wanted to retain hunting. That shows how important hunting is not just to huntsmen, but to the wider community.
Mrs. Winterton: My hon. Friend is right. Hunting and other field and country sports are very important to the rural economy, and a ban would have truly devastating knock-on effects on rural businesses, such as feed merchants, blacksmiths, veterinary practices, the horse industry, and village pubs and hotels, among others. Even a former Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foodthe right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin)has acknowledged that hunt kennels provide a valued service to the farming industry by removing casualty and fallen stock, the considerable cost of which would have to be borne by farmers themselves if hunting were banned, thereby adding to their current financial difficulties.
Hunts are not only at the heart of economic activity in the countryside, but play a vital role in organising a whole range of social activities that provide a lifeline in the more remote areas, which are so badly served compared to their urban and suburban counterparts; and everyone is welcome to participate, irrespective of age, income or social background. [Interruption.] Sadly, when I say such things, Labour Members merely scoff. No doubt they live very comfortable lives; they do not know how hard it is in the upland areas of the United Kingdom to farm and get a living from the land, or how remote and cut off people often are.
Before Members vote on the three options before them today, perhaps they should also consider the efforts to legislate on this difficult and sensitive issue north of the border. The Scottish Parliament set a damaging constitutional precedent by ignoring the findings of its own Rural Development Committee, which spent 15 months taking evidence before concluding that it would be
The Bill was promoted in Scotland as a modernising measure to take us into the 21st century, without offering 21st century solutions for species management. As a result, the Bill is the equivalent of a dog's breakfast, and police in the borders have said that it is
We have the precedent before us of an in-depth independent inquiry set up by the present Government, and we should, if we use common sense, avoid the trap that Holyrood fell into, which generated headlines such as "Daft as a Brush" in the Sunday Mail, "NHS not foxes is top priority" in The Sun, "A vote for flawed and ambiguous legislation" in The Scotsman, "This law is an ass" in the Daily Mail, "Executive must intervene with compensation" in The Herald, and The Independent said:
In the light of the Scottish Bill, which will most certainly be subject to at least two legal challenges when it has gained Royal Assent, it would surely be foolhardy to follow in those flawed footsteps. However, I recognise with a certain amount of sadness that tonight's votes will reflect not the arguments for hunting put before the House in the debate, but perhaps the prejudices of the past and the imagined prejudices of the present.
The opportunity to destroy yet another institution of our great nation will be irresistible to some people, including the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who was heard to boast on Jimmy Young's show the other day that they have the numbers in this Parliament to do just that. He and his ilk loathe anything to do with tradition and seek to destroy it at every opportunity, but perhaps he and others should recall that this Parliament cannot constitutionally bind its successor and a future Parliament can undo anything it wishes to. I urge the House to reject the ban and to vote unequivocally for the status quo: self-regulation.
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): The House has a shameful record on social reform which stretches over centuries. It always lags behind public opinion and has done so on divorce, capital punishment, ending the criminalisation of homosexual acts, and animal welfare. The same arguments have been expressed throughoutthe very same arguments that we heard from the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton).
Ever since I was elected to the House of Commons 32 years ago, I have been voting and instituting measures to ban hunting with dogs. I am perfectly ready to spend the second half of my parliamentary career doing so, but I would prefer to spend my time on other matters.
The House will vote tonight, and the Minister confirmed that he will make a statement in the next few days. If the House votes for a complete ban, as I very much trust it will, I cannot understand what it is that the Minister will have to tell us. If he believes that our House voting for a ban will persuade the other House to vote for a ban, then he is indeed an optimist, but to quote "South Pacific", he is a cockeyed optimist, because that will not happen. I cannot understand what my right hon. Friend will say other than that a Bill implementing a full ban will be introduced by the Government in this Session preferably, or in the next Session at the latest, and that if the Bill is passed by this House, the Government will put it through under the Parliament Act if it is blocked in the House of Lords.
If my right hon. Friend turns out to have something else to say other than that the Government will introduce a Bill instituting a full ban, one must assume that it is what the press is going to call a compromise, and that is utterly unacceptable. In addition, that would introduce a new constitutional doctrine. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister invited me to be a member of the royal commission on the reform of the House of Lords, he gave me terms of reference that began:
The doctrine does not say that the Government get their way; it says that the House of Commons gets its way. What is more, for the House of Commons to get its way, whether with Government legislation, which this measure would be, or with private Member's legislation, it does not need as big a majority as it is possible that we will get tonight. When I was Minister of State at the Department of Industry, we used the Parliament Act to get through the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill when we had a majority of one in this Chamber. If we can do it on a majority of one, we can do it on the kind of majority that we will have tonight.