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Mr. Gray: I think that it would be procedurally correct to answer my hon. and learned Friend first. One would have thought that a Labour Government of all things would be able to ban fox hunting without getting into the appalling muddle, mix and Horlicks in which they find themselves. It is amusing for us to see Labour Members arguing with each other. It is a mess. My hon. and learned Friend is right. It is a terrible way to amend the criminal law.
Mr. Swire: The Minister has spoken of discussing with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation how gamekeepers could continue to use terriers in certain circumstances. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that amendments tabled in the other place may be contrary to the spirit and wording of the Labour party manifesto, which said:
Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend is right. Perhaps I could gently suggest why the Minister has not chosen to table the amendments in this House and why he is waiting to introduce them in the other place. It would be an amusing scene to see him stand at the Dispatch Box and explain to his hon. Friends on the Back Benches that he intends to make the use of terriers underground a legal matter in certain circumstances. He knows perfectly well that there is no chance at all, under any circumstances, of even persuading the Minister for the Environment, who sits next to him, of the wisdom of that. That is why he has deferred the matter to the other place, in the hope that he will to get it through there.
Alun Michael: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing a break in the rhetoric for the question to be answered. We are waiting for the amendment to be tabled in another place so that the code of conduct is available. The first time that I took part in a debate in the House, I asked the then Conservative Government to produce information on a code of conduct that was part of legislation so that we were clear what we were voting on. I am practically doing the same thing with this measure so that it is effectively thought through and considered. I am responding to my undertaking in Committee. Although a Bill that is subject to the Parliament Act has to be the same as it is when it leaves this place, a separate motion can deal with the issue satisfactorily.
Mr. Gray: The Minister demonstrates that he is in a complete and utter muddle on terriers. If a dog goes down a hole to get a fox out, what does it matter whether the man at the top has a green coat, a red coat, keeper's tweeds or scruffy clothing? Terrier work is terrier work. The Minister is attempting to stick to the Labour party's manifesto commitment not to interfere with shooting by coming up with an absurd distinction between those people who work for hunts, those who work for the gentry and, indeed, those people who come out from towns one evening to stick their dogs down a hole. There is no such distinction.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): While my hon. Friend is on that subject, as the Minister failed so miserably to define a gamekeeper, will he suggest where we might find such a definition? If not, will he encourage the Minister to get to his feet yet again to tell us where we can find it?
Lembit Öpik: Does the Minister's response not raise two core concerns? First, how on earth will he guarantee that the amendment that he wants will be passed in another place? It is entitled to take a different view and might have a much more wide-ranging approach to terrier work. Secondly, how can he possibly assure us that even if such an amendment is passed in another place, it will get through this House, given the evident discomfort about terrier work on the Government Back Benches?
Mr. Gray: You are, of course, right, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall move on to other amendments in the group, not just new clause 6. However, I hope that we will have an opportunity to vote on new clause 6. It will be most interesting to see what the Minister does and how he advises his hon. Friends to vote. If he is in favour of terrier work, as he says he is under some circumstances, it might be a good idea to allow the registrar to decide whether it should happen, and voting for new clause 6 would be a way to achieve that.
Rob Marris: Does the hon. Gentleman share my surprise at what the Minister said about a code of conduct when a National Working Terrier Federation code of conduct already exists? I have a copy of it with me.
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The National Working Terrier Federation is an excellent organisation and it controls the use of terriers satisfactorily. There is a code of conduct and I hope that the Government will consider it as an exemplar for the one that they propose.
The third option is offered in amendments Nos. 43 and 44, tabled in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. They would remove the outright bans on different categories altogether and allow them to be considered on an equal basis by the registrar. So there are three clear options: the Minister's muddled semi-licensing; the outright ban proposed by the hon. Member for West Ham; and my preferred option, for all forms of hunting to be capable of licensing by the registrar.
I have to admit that I would slightly prefer the Minister's licensing option to an outright ban. At least if we send a licensing option to the upper House, my noble Friends will be able to amend it into a workmanlike and liberal licensing structure. If we allow a licensing structure, an incoming Conservative Government, which will come along sooner or later, might be able to build on it to save hunting. I very much hope that the outright ban will not go to the other place. I hope that some kind of licensing regime will go instead. I also hope that my noble Friends in the other place will amend the Minister's illiberal and difficult licensing regime into a liberal and workmanlike regime.
David Burnside (South Antrim): Does my hon. Friend agree that the immediate impact of the Government's licensing arrangements or a total ban would be the destruction of tens of thousands of foxes, which would be shot by farmers?
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, which I shall consider in a moment. There is no evidence that the abolition of huntingwhether by means of licensing or an outright banwould result in fewer animals being killed. Indeed, most observers recognise that it would result in more animals being killed and be unselective. The great thing about using dogs to kill animals is that dogs are selective as to which animals are killed. If one is lamping at night, there is no telling whether one is killing a young, middle-aged or ageing fox. In most places where hunting has been stopped or abandoned for any reason, it is obvious that many more animals are killed and nearly always using less humane methods.