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Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman is pandering to the prejudices of those in front of him. He should look at the Burns report, the evidence in that report and the three days of hearings at Portcullis House. He will see the evidence that was available and on which judgments were made before the Bill was introduced in the House and studied in Committee over a period of weeks.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West): I noted with interest the arguments that my right hon. Friend used in terms of the enforceability of the ban on hare coursing and how the Bill would make it easier for the police. Could not the same arguments be used as to the easier enforceability of a complete ban on fox hunting as envisaged in new clause 11?

Alun Michael: I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting question. I think that he knows that my answer to that is no. The difference between our measure and new clause 11, as I have indicated, is comparatively small but our measure—because of the variety of circumstances that exist in relation to hunting with dogs, as was indicated by the Burns report—allows those who have a genuine case that meets the cruelty test to make that case. That does not apply in relation to hare coursing. The coursing can never satisfy the utility test because it is for the purpose of comparing the speed of two animals, not for the purpose of pest control in any sense. It fails and that is why that decision is absolute.

Andrew George (St. Ives): I would have thought that the Minister would agree that the pinch point between new clause 11 and new clause 13 is the area in which the Minister has identified circumstances in which hunting would become registered. He has given an example from Protect Our Wild Animals, saying that perhaps only 100 foxes would be killed by a hunt, but having considered the issue thoroughly himself he must know that there are circumstances in which hunts will be able to jump both hurdles of utility and least suffering. If he is not able to

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do that, surely he needs to accept the fact that it would be far easier and less legally complex to go for an outright ban.

Alun Michael: I am not sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have seen the implications of an outright ban, for example, in Scotland. Again, the Scottish legislation is theoretically clear, but in practice the collection of evidence and the time that has to be taken in order to bring a prosecution means that there is a big gap between legislation being passed, in that case by the Scottish Parliament, and it actually taking effect in stopping the activity. I am interested in stopping that activity, which is cruel. I am about preventing that activity, rather than just voting in such a way as to appear to have that effect.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Alun Michael: Let me make this point and then I will certainly give way to my hon. Friend.

The Bill is no different in one sense from previous attempts at legislation, including the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) and the Deadline 2000 Bill. Each was a ban with exceptions to allow for essential pest control. This Bill, as the animal welfare organisations acknowledge, is tougher and more enforceable than anything that has come before Parliament, as well as being clear and fair.

Kate Hoey: My right hon. Friend mentioned that he would be looking at amendments to secure the work of gamekeepers and terrier work. Can he explain and tell me whether he will include anyone other than gamekeepers? What is the difference between a gamekeeper using terriers to go underground and farmers using terriers to go underground?

Alun Michael: The very clear commitment that I gave in Committee was that I would look at the position of gamekeepers in relation to the sport of shooting, and that is what I shall do—

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): That does not answer the question.

5.45 pm

Alun Michael: Oh, but it does. The hon. Gentleman bounces around in his sedentary position. I have answered the question. It is specifically in relation to gamekeepers—

Mr. Bercow: Will the Minister give way?

Alun Michael: I will, happily.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to the Minister, whose capacity for abuse is considerably greater than his capacity for reasoned argument. Will he seek to answer the specific question put to him? It was not about what he did or did not say by way of an undertaking in Committee, but what is the difference, intellectually or philosophically, between two things. That was the

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question; let us have an answer instead of the down-market, substandard musical hall abuse in which the right hon. Gentleman specialises.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

Alun Michael: Well, was not that a really intelligent intervention? The hon. Gentleman is not interested in undertakings given to the Committee, but the House is usually interested in such undertakings being kept. He is not interested in a manifesto commitment; I am. I have made absolutely clear the answer to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey): yes, there is a difference in relation to the position of gamekeepers, to our manifesto commitment on shooting, and to the situation of activities in relation to the sport of hunting.

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for saying that he will revisit the problem concerning gamekeepers, particularly given that the Labour manifesto specifically said that the Government had no intention of placing restrictions on the sports of angling and shooting. That said, those matters were raised during the three days of hearings at Portcullis House, in the Burns report and frequently during almost 200 hours of Standing Committee deliberations. If the Minister intends to address the problem, why is he not doing it now? Why should we have to take it in good faith that he will return to it later or that the matter will be addressed in another place? That simply is not good enough. He should address these questions now.

Alun Michael: I have made it clear, as the hon. Gentleman would know if he looked back at the undertakings given, that the point depended on those involved with shooting providing a clear code of conduct that would bear down acceptably on unacceptable practice. We have had discussions with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, and I understand that it will come forward with a code—

Mr. Swire indicated dissent.

Alun Michael: The hon. Gentleman does not understand and does not want an answer. The commitment will be kept and, as promised in Committee, an amendment will come forward in another place. What we are dealing with now is the Government's new clause, which will, if it and others are accepted, ban all fox hunting from 1 August to 1 November every year to stop the practice of fox cubbing, prevent prolonged and unnecessary chasing, require dogs to be kept under close control, create new offences, and close possible loopholes to avoid the possibility of abuse. Those changes meet the final concerns expressed by leading animal welfare groups about the Bill, as amended in Committee.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Will the Minister give way?

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Alun Michael: I must make a little progress, but then I will.

I remind the House of the extent to which the Bill was strengthened in Committee by amendments. Jackie Ballard, director general of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has said that with such improvements, it would be able to say that the Bill ends the cruel sport of fox hunting. Unlike the Scottish Act, the Hunting Bill will bite, and bite quickly. Although the Scottish Act sought to ban hunting with dogs outright, it will take years of accumulated case law before the legislation can effectively prevent it. I reinforce that point to my hon. Friends.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside): I am pleased to hear my right hon. Friend bring up what Jackie Ballard has said. She also said:


Alun Michael: I think that my hon. Friend will find that animal welfare organisations, particularly the RSPCA, have recognised the strength of the Bill with the amendments before us today. My hon. Friend is, I think, referring to the February letter.

Gregory Barker: Will the Minister give way?

Alun Michael: All right. The hon. Gentleman has tried hard.

Gregory Barker: I thank the Minister for giving way, finally. It is clear from what he has said, and from his singular failure to marshal any scientific, clinical or veterinary evidence in support of any of his clauses, that the Portcullis House hearings were nothing more than a cunning dupe funded at the expense of the taxpayer. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) was a little unfair in saying that the Minister was simply pandering to his Back Benches; in fact, he is also pandering to the animal rights extremists who bunged the Labour party £1 million. Will he now declare that interest?


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