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My right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks was right that some people's view on animals includes the belief that we should not intervene in the natural world at all. Dare I tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) that that view is heretical because it suggests, untruthfully, that nature would be much better if humans were not here at all? One must distinguish between those who take a sentimental Mable Lucy Atwell view of animals and those who understand the nature of the countryside and the role which mankind is supposed to play in it.
On the grounds of reality, we have to choose how we are going to keep foxes under control; I maintain that hunting is much the best way. Some people, however, believe that the debate is not about morality, diversity or reality. They take a puritanical view; they do not mind what people do as long as they do not enjoy it. I find it extremely difficult to accept the position of people who wish to stop others doing what they want because they think their opinion so important that it must be imposed on the rest of society.
That fascist element has characterised much of the argument that has taken place. Fascism is about doing to the minority what one would never get away with on a majority, and has been a distinctive feature of our debate. People who wish to get rid of hunting are afraid to say that they would like to get rid of fishing. There is no need to control the fish population, and people are allowed to treat them as they wish. There is a need to keep the fox population under control, but we are not allowed to do so. Members who want to deal with hunting are afraid to deal with fishing because they are afraid of offending the many voters who fish.
At stake is the diversity of our society; a sensible morality which is not overcome by sentimentality; an understanding of the reality of circumstances; and, above all, standing up for freedom and toleration. The idea that we would use the Parliament Act to cut back
Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) has every right to change his mind, but he should have spent more time reading the Burns report, paragraph 60 of which states:
The other person who has changed her mind is my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey). I have a copy of a letter to one of her constituents, dated 22 March 1994admittedly, quite a long time agoin which she says:
The indicative votes are worse than useless and will tell us nothing that we do not already know. I believe that hunting with dogs is cruel, inflicts unnecessary suffering and should be banned. Such sentiments are not being uttered by some Marxist from a different planet[Interruption.]not on this occasion, at least. Blue-chip organisations such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have argued such views for years, but matters are not straightforward. The Prime Minister said recently that the third way is entering its third phase, but on this issue we seem to be stuck for ever. We are back where we started, endlessly dancing around andas the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) saidgetting nowhere.
When I bump into the Prime Minister in the Lobby, I shall tell him that the answer is not to bring in a new Billthat would involve further consultation, could take another two years to get on the statute book and may trigger the Parliament Actbut to bring back the Bill that was carried by the Commons in the previous Session and sent to the Lords. I have in my hand a copy of that Bill, which generated some 60 hours of debate. I know what will happen. This evening, we will vote for a ban; tomorrow, the Lords will vote for regulation; and on Thursday the Minister will tell the House that we need to
If we endlessly prevaricate, hesitate and vacillate, we will lose a lot of support and people will start to ridicule us. Perhaps they will ridicule the Prime Minister and, by extension, the rest of us. On this issue, ridicule and mockery would be very difficult to cope with, especially when an option exists. That could be avoided by using the Parliament Act. The matter could be done and dusted by Octoberat the end of the current Session. The alternative is to allow it to drag on until 2003-04.
As I said, the Minister will probably tell us that the original Bill is unworkable, yet it was piloted through Standing Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) and it covered all the ground.
Mr. Prentice: No. My hon. Friendwho was a Home Office Minister and took advice from parliamentary draftsmensaid that the Bill was workable. Even if it is flawed in some respects, the answer is not to throw it in the bin but to pass it and introduce a short, technical Bill in November to plug the gaps
There is no middle way. A middle way is an illusionit is chasing moonbeams. The issue is not just the welfare of foxeswe heard earlier about the South Staffordshire pony clubbut of deer, mink and hares. According to the pamphlet published in November 2000, the Middle Way Group had no policy on hare coursing and hare hunting, although I am not entirely sure whether it has a such a policy at the moment.
Mr. Garnier: I shall forget about that particular incident. The Minister for Rural Affairs would agree that the original Bill is unworkable because, as a Back Bencher, he participated in Standing Committee and saw how unworkable it was. I suspect that that experience is
I should tell my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield that the Burns inquiry concluded that hare coursing is carried out for largely recreational purposes. In essencethis always excites a reaction from Opposition Memberswe are talking about blood sports and killing for fun. In 21st century Britain, killing for fun should not be allowed.