Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977 was taken through the House, I asked why Opposition Members had voted in support of a Government move of which many Opposition Members and I strongly disapproved? Sir Keith Joseph told me that it conformed with the proprieties and rules of the House. In what way does it conform with the proprieties and rules of the House that a Bill that forms no part of the Government's manifesto is taken through under the Parliament Act?

Mr. Kaufman: The hon. Gentleman knows little if anything about the history of the House of Commons if he promotes that point of view. The Parliament Acts were introduced first by the pre-war Liberal Government and then amended by the Attlee Government so that the House of Commons could get its way in a conflict with the House of Lords. That is what the Parliament Acts are

18 Mar 2002 : Column 63

about, and I am simply asking my right hon. Friends to endorse and reinforce my terms of reference as a member of a royal commission.

If my right hon. Friends adopt a new doctrine that when there is a difference between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, there has to be a compromise that gives way in some degree to the House of Lords, I will assume that that will apply not merely to legislation on hunting with dogs, but to everything else. I give notice to my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip that if this House of Commons votes for a total ban and then gives way to the view of the House of Lords, she need not expect to see me in the Division Lobbies in the future when this House is asked to vote down Lords amendments to Government legislation. I very much hope that we shall not come to that. The whole point about being as sickeningly loyal as I am is that when one does rebel, one does it with a vengeance, and if necessary that is what I shall do.

I deliver that message to the Chief Whip and say to Ministers that there is only one way to resolve the problem—to enact what the House of Commons votes for tonight. Let no one believe that if that does not happen, we will stop. We will go on until we get the complete ban. It will have to be done some time, so do it now.

5.58 pm

Norman Baker (Lewes): It falls to me to kick off the debate on behalf of my party because I am responsible for animal issues. I should make it clear that it has long been a tradition of the Liberal Democrats to have a free vote on the subject and I confidently expect my colleagues to split three ways in the Division Lobbies at 10 o'clock. [Interruption.] Members of other parties make a noise about that, but I think that there is a free vote on both sides of the House. It is worth pointing out that we have heard only from Labour Members in favour of a ban and from Conservatives in favour of the status quo. I look forward to hearing from the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) who will help to balance the debate.

Mr. Swire: Given that the Liberal Democrats will operate a free vote, is it still official Liberal Democrat party policy to ban hunting with dogs?

Norman Baker: We have explained many times that it has long been a tradition for our party conference to vote for a ban on hunting. It has equally been the case, however, that the parliamentary party has consistently decided that this is a matter of conscience and people can vote accordingly. There is nothing wrong with that, and it would be healthier if we saw greater diversity in the other parties.

I have a sense of déjà vu because this is far from the first debate on hunting in which I have participated, and the same is true of many Members. My constituents say to me, "Another debate on hunting? Why are you not discussing the NHS, Government sleaze or Iraq?", and I have some sympathy with that view.

Mr. Savidge: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Baker: No, not at the moment.

18 Mar 2002 : Column 64

I have sympathy with that view not because this issue is not important—it is—but because we are going round and round in circles. We have discussed foxhunting many more times than any other issue. We have had at least three votes on this substantive issue since 1997, and today we will have the fourth. On each occasion there has been a clear majority in favour of an outright ban. Two Committees have undertaken long proceedings—25 sittings in all. Since 1997, Parliament has spent 125 hours and 47 minutes discussing hunting, and the clock has been started again today.

As I said, in each vote there has been a substantial majority in favour of a ban. On 20 November 1997, on Second Reading of the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, 411 voted for the principle of the Bill, which was to ban hunting, and 151 voted against. On 20 December 2000, when we were offered a multiple choice option similar to the one that we are faced with today, 387 voted for an outright ban and 174 voted against. On 27 February 2001, on Third Reading of the Hunting Bill, 319 voted for a ban and 140 against. Nobody can be in any doubt about the view of the House of Commons. Some Members may feel that that view is misguided, but it is absolutely clear. The view of the House of Commons is that there should be a ban.

I wonder how we have managed to proceed through an entire Parliament and into the next one without seemingly making very much progress. Frankly, an abdication of responsibility and leadership by the Government has led us to the situation today. There has been a failure to respond to the general public and the views of the House. The Labour party promised a vote on hunting in its 1997 manifesto. It stuck to the letter of that promise, but although everybody thought that the vote on hunting would be followed by legislation, there was nothing of the sort; it was an indicative vote. What was the point of it? It got us nowhere.

There followed a period in which the Countryside Alliance was making its views very plain and Ministers took fright. The previous Home Secretary set up the Burns inquiry and hoped that the issue would go away or somehow be resolved, even though there are irreconcilable views in the House. Most cynically of all, as I pointed out in my last speech on the matter, in January 2001, when the election was approaching and it was obvious that traditional supporters of the Labour party in particular were unhappy with the Government's inaction on the issue, a Bill was introduced which stood no chance whatever of becoming law.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Does my hon. Friend agree that the nature of the Welsh countryside and Welsh agriculture means that legislation on hunting would be best undertaken by the Welsh Assembly, although given the circumstances we would like to work towards agreement in this House?

Norman Baker: I agree. I remember the Minister picking me up on that point in the previous debate on the subject and disagreeing with that in principle. However, although I personally strongly hold the view that hunting should be banned, I think that it is for the Welsh Assembly to sort out the situation in Wales. It is wrong

18 Mar 2002 : Column 65

for us to legislate on this issue in Wales. The position would be stronger if this were a devolved matter, and the Welsh Assembly could reach its own conclusions.

Alun Michael: Just to make it clear, this is not a devolved matter; that is the point.

Norman Baker: Absolutely. We are saying that it should be a devolved matter, and that is an area of unity between Liberal Democrats and, I suspect, Plaid Cymru and members of other parties in the House.

We have come full circle. Today we will have an indicative vote—exactly the same sort of vote as we had in December 2000. We are no further forward. I listened to the Minister carefully, and he made no guarantee that the Government will do anything after the vote. They will make a statement, but we do not know what it will say, and nobody has been able to tease that out of the Minister.

I make one plea to the Government: for goodness sake, put this issue to bed. It has been going on long enough. I suggest that, constitutionally, the Government ought to adopt the views of the Commons. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) expressed the view that that is the proper position. We will have had four votes in two Parliaments delivering a large majority in favour of a ban. The Government cannot go on having these votes year in, year out, only to leave them hanging in the air. They may want to sit on the fence and they may hope that something will turn up to save them, but it will not. In the end, they will have to get a grip and do something.

I ask the Minister to make it clear what the Government will do if the House again votes for an outright ban and the House of Lords votes for retention. Will the Government invoke the Parliament Acts and bring the Bill back? We have not had a clear answer to that question. What if the Lords votes for the so-called middle way? Does that make a difference? I do not think that it does. Will the Minister agree that the issue needs to be settled once and for all, and that this should be the last substantive debate on hunting in this House?

I turn briefly to one or two personal remarks to set out my position. I have listened carefully, as I am sure have hon. Members throughout the House, to my constituents on this issue, and there was a diversity of views, as one might expect. The majority is clearly in favour of a ban. The letters in my postbag are about 10:1 in favour of a ban, and they come from people in urban and rural areas. I do not believe that this should be portrayed as an urban versus rural issue; that is a red herring. There are people in towns who want hunting to continue, and there are people in rural areas—a majority, I believe—who want hunting to be banned.

A ban is appropriate. As I said, these are my personal views; I am not speaking on behalf of my party. I do not accept that the method of foxhunting, which involves cruelty and stress to the animal, can be justified by the pleasure that it gives to those who hunt or by the ancillary benefits which I accept flow from hunting.

Next Section

IndexHome Page