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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): In the course of the past few minutes, my right hon. Friend has been subject to a barrage from Members whingeing and whining and wanting to rerun the principle. The truth is that for 18 years, when I was in opposition, I lost, because that was democracy. We were in the minority, and we had to take it on the chin. There are people now in this House not capable of understanding that the numbers are against them. I hope that my right hon. Friend is able to complete what he has to say, get on with the job, and tell the House of Lords to go to hell and that we will carry this Bill.
Alun Michael: Instead of being impolite to those in another place, I invite them to debate the Bill that we send to them. Apart from that, my hon. Friend makes many good points. Those who suggest that there is any justification for violence or protest as a result of the Bill's going through should certainly listen to his comments. As democrats we have to respect the majority.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion) (PC): The Minister may recall that I supported his last Bill because I thought that it at least took science and ecology as its founding principles and had a method of dealing with those areas, particularly upland areas, where I am convinced that a decent argument has been made that hunting with hounds has ecological and environmental, as well as animal welfare considerations. This is the first time that the House has debated the Bill as a Government Bill from start to finish, and to do so in this truncated way pays great disservice, whatever the decision at the end of the day, to the House and to Members who have spent their time and effort in consultation with their constituents.
Alun Michael: First, the Bill that I drafted and introduced would have given the opportunity for hunting with dogs not on ecological grounds, but on the grounds that there was a necessity for a particular activity for the control of vermin and so on, and that the proposed method would be less cruel than any of the alternatives. The case for the ecological argument has not been made in the evidence that I have heard: it does not apply as it does in relation to shooting sports, for instance.
Secondly, this is the same Bill that I introduced and that the House passed on the last occasion. I still think that it included some rather good ideas. It was debated fully and the House took its decision and voted. The hon. Gentleman should, like me, respect democracy and the conclusion of the debate in this House.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): The Minister describes himself as a democrat, as do I. Further to the comments of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), is he not therefore a little embarrassed, even a little ashamed, at this abuse of the parliamentary process and misuse of the Parliament Acts merely to satisfy the prejudice and bigotry of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)?
The hon. Gentleman should be embarrassed that so many of his hon. Friends are here.
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They say that this is a trivial issue, then they all pile into the Chamber to debate it. If we had a debate immediately afterwards on education or health, they would disappear, as they usually do. There is no abuse of the processes of the House and I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I am pleased to be able to bring this Bill before us so that the House can fulfil our promise to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman characterises democracy as respecting majorities, and of course that is partly right. Does he accept, however, that another element of democracy is to respect the rights of minorities, and that that is being disregarded in this case?
Respect for minorities involves listening to them and deciding whether they have an argument, then, in this case, considering the central issue of whether the activities that they are undertaking are cruel, unnecessary or involve a minimum of suffering. Those are the issues on which I hope hon. Members will take their decisions in voting on the propositions in the Bill.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): In order that there can be no perceived, or real, abuse of the House during this afternoon's deliberations, does the Minister agree that it is incumbent on those who have benefited from support, financial or otherwise, from campaigning organisations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and those who have indirectly benefited from its £1 million bung to the Labour party, should say so at the outset of proceedings?
Alun Michael: We could have an interesting discussion about the sources of Conservative party financial support. Any financial support given to the Labour party because Labour Members believe in, support and work for animal welfare would be provided only in a proper, declared manner. There should be no perception of abuse of the processes of the House. The hon. Gentleman does neither himself nor the House any credit by making such a suggestion.
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham) (Lab): The hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) is about to leave the Chamber, which is unfortunate. Although the International Fund for Animal Welfare gave £1 million to the Labour party, it also gave considerable amounts to the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrat party.
Mr. Swire: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to set the record straight. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) suggested that I was leaving the Chamber but I was not. I was merely moving to take my place as the Whip on duty, from which I shall be allowed to witness two and a half hours of hypocrisy, cant and prejudice.
The procedure motion involves a massive use of Executive power to crush an aspect of freedom in rural communities. The Leader of House, in whose name the motion stands, would allow the passing of the Bill today, but only through guillotining debate and disposing of the Committee and Report stages. He would also ensure that only the Government amendment on when the ban comes into force could go to the other place. No other amendments, many of which appear on the Order Paper, would even be debated, despite the support of many hon. Members in all parties.
The thinking behind the procedure motion is doubtless to ensure that the Bill leaves us, as the Minister said, in exactly the same state as the previous measure, accompanied by an amendment providing for a delay, to comply with the Parliament Act.
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We oppose the procedure motion because even if the strict statutory conditions for the Parliament Act are fulfilled, the circumstances do not warrant the use of our most draconian procedures. If we are to maintain our right to debate in this place, the guillotine should be used sparingly and the Parliament Act reserved for rare circumstances in which there is no other way forward. The Parliament Act has been used when legislation is of high or constitutional importance, when there is genuine urgency and when the other place is clearly unreasonably blocking the will of the elected House.
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