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Mr. Gordon Prentice: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gummer: No, we only have 10 minutes each; the hon. Gentleman has spoken ad nauseam on the subject, and no doubt we shall hear from him again.

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—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman's time is up.

6.49 pm

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:

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

Mr. Prentice: I do have 10 minutes; if the hon. Gentleman will let me make some progress, I will give way.

The report goes on to make observations about special circumstances in upland areas—the point on which the hon. Gentleman is presumably trying to intervene.

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 1994—admittedly, quite a long time ago—in which she says:

Kate Hoey: I have never made a secret of the fact that that letter was written, but the difference between me and some of my colleagues is that, since then, I have begun to listen, look and understand.

Mr. Prentice: I was going to say that I might not need 10 minutes to explain my views, but perhaps I will.

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

Mr. Prentice: No. I want to speak bluntly, because on this issue—as on so many others—I am the Government's best friend.

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 and—as the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) said—getting nowhere.

I shall give the House three guesses as to who said, in 1999,

[Hon. Members: "The Prime Minister."] They guessed it—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. That is his view, unless he repudiates it and publicly says that he has changed his mind. Journalists tell me that he will join us in the Lobby this evening. That is great, but how do we get from where we are to where we want to be?

When I bump into the Prime Minister in the Lobby, I shall tell him that the answer is not to bring in a new Bill—that would involve further consultation, could take another two years to get on the statute book and may trigger the Parliament Act—but 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

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reconcile those two divergent positions. I suspect that he will also say that the Bill that was carried overwhelmingly by the Commons in the previous Session is flawed, and that bringing it back is not an option.

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 October—at 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. Edward Garnier (Harborough): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prentice: No. My hon. Friend—who was a Home Office Minister and took advice from parliamentary draftsmen—said 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 illusion—it is chasing moonbeams. The issue is not just the welfare of foxes—we heard earlier about the South Staffordshire pony club—but 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.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) sought to intervene just a few moments ago, and I shall give way after I quote his comments in Standing Committee. He said that

Why are greyhounds not muzzled, therefore? I invite him to intervene and say whether he believes that greyhounds should be muzzled, but I suspect that he will not.

Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene, because every time I do so I remind him of the fun that we had—

Mr. Prentice: Get to the point.

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

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seared on his ministerial memory. On muzzling, I do not accept that it would answer the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Prentice: If a hare could speak, it would answer that point.

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 essence—this always excites a reaction from Opposition Members—we are talking about blood sports and killing for fun. In 21st century Britain, killing for fun should not be allowed.

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

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