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Miss Widdecombe: May I ask the hon. Lady, as I have asked several others who favour the extraordinary 18-month period, what the evidence is that that time will be used to run down hunts in an orderly and humane fashion rather than as a period of grace in which to do what the hon. Lady rightly describes as the unthinkable?
Claire Ward: I completely agree with the right hon. Lady's sentiments. If it were up to me and I were Prime Minister, I might have a different view tonight. However, I accept that we need to give the hunting community a reasonable period in which to find alternative employment, and in some cases alternative accommodation.
We recognise those needs, but the right hon. Lady has rightly identified issues that we need to continue to pursue during the 18 months. When we pass the Bill today, that should not be the end of the matter. We should encourage the Government to make sure that they encourage the hunting community not just to start to wind down but to make sure that the next season is the last for hunting. The hunting community has had the opportunity to consider this for the past seven years, and I am sorry that it has not done so. It has clearly been given poor advice and led very badly by the Countryside Alliance and other representatives within the hunting lobby. I hope that it will now recognise that once a ban is in place, we expect people to obey the law. It is not for them to determine otherwise or lead people to disobey the law.
I hope that people will have the opportunity to consider drag hunting and other forms of employment. After this afternoon's monstrous behaviour outside and inside the Chamber, I wonder whether they have the courage to address the real issues that face the hunting community. I hope that they do, but whatever we do tonight in voting for a delay of 18 months, or more or less, it is ultimately for the other place to decide whether to agree with us or to ensure that the Parliament Act must be used. That is what is at stake when the Bill goes to the other place.
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I secretly hopeI am making it public nowthat the other place votes against whatever I decide tonight in terms of the delay, because then the Bill will be introduced three months after its date of implementation. We are almost left to rely on those in the other place to do some business for us. If they should decide to support the position of the Government and of this House, they will allow a reasonable delay, and I would hope that people accept that the time for hunting has come to an end.
It is not time for us to continue to debate whether to ban hunting. It is time to ban hunting, and it is time for this House to move on to the many other important issues that our constituents want us to address. I look forward to seeing the ban on hunting.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The hon. Member for Watford (Claire Ward) said that the Countryside Alliance has had seven years to get used to the idea of a ban. As most hon. Members will know, I hold no brief for the Countryside Alliance. I am sure that many of its members are very nice people, but I do not happen to share their views. However, this Government have had seven years to honour their pledge, but now find it necessaryat the dog-end of a Sessionto use the Parliament Acts, wholly improperly, to ram through legislation that could and should have been debated properly by this House. Having been in the House for 21 years, I regard that as a great abuse of the procedures of this House.
I shall, given the opportunity, vote against the proposal tabled by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks)I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment. The future Lord Banks of Riverside tells us that he can live with his conscience. He could probably sleep with it, because it would not take up much room in the bed. I have voted, on every occasion I have had the opportunity to do so during my time in this House, to end the hunting of wild animals with dogs. I do not normally consider myself a class warrior, and that is not why I have voted in that way. I have done so because it is a wrong, cruel and outrageous practice whose time has expired. It needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history along with cock fighting, dog fighting and bear baiting. The issue is as simple as that.
When I went through the Lobby earlier this evening to vote for the Bill as it stands, imperfect as it is, I hoped that their lordships would have the opportunity to fine-tune it and deal with some of the very real issues relating to employment, the welfare of the dogs and other matters arising from the implementation of what will become an Act. I had hoped that the other place would be given that opportunity. When I went through the Lobby, the Government Whip on duty said, "There'll be another vote at about 9 o'clock, comrades." Well, comrades and brothers, let us see what Labour Members are made of. I voted in that Lobby for a ban, not a delay and certainly not for an 18-month delay thatas my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) clearly demonstratedis nothing to do with animal welfare or reasonable implementation. A delay is not supported by any reputable animal welfare organisation. It is simply a cynical ploy, at the Prime Minister's behest, to kick this issue into touch until after the next general election.
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When the Minister introduced the motion, he said that he supported the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for West Ham. The Minister said that the 18-month delay would see the measure introduced before the 2006 cubbing season. What about the 2005 cubbing season? I suppose, comrades, that that does not matter. Well, it does. The delay is a cynical ploy. Members of Parliament cannot say, "Lord, make me virtuous, but not yet." Either we do this or we do not. I shall vote against the delay and in doing so I shall vote for the Bill as it stood. I shall wait to see what everybody else in the House is made of.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): I did not intend to speak at this point in the debate, but I wish to address some of the issues that have been raised. It is a great honour to follow the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) who, in all matters of animal welfare, I think of as my hon. Friendif not a comrade. I also agree with the comments by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) about whether a delay is right. It is a narrow point. The House has now made its decision on what should happen to hunting in general, and I shall focus on the issue of a delay.
I am the chairman of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare and, about a year ago, the Kennel Club wrote to me to say that it had no view one way or the other on the rights or wrongs of hunting and that it was a matter for Parliament to decide. However, it was worried about the dogs used in hunting. I met the Kennel Club and several other dog organisations, rehoming organisations and animal welfare groups, and we decided that I would recommend to APGAW that it commission a working group to look into that point. The working group met for the tail-end of last year and most of this year and finally published a report in the week before the summer recess.
People often refer to the APGAW report as though it were all the work of Members of Parliament, butas the hon. Member for North Thanet will knowit is not unusual for the group to commission reports, and the contributors consist of people working in the relevant areas. The group that considered the welfare implications for the dogs of a ban on hunting was made up of Caroline Kisko, the secretary of the Kennel Club; Clarissa Baldwin, the chief executive of the Dogs Trust; Chris Laurence, head of veterinary services at the Dogs Trust; Dominic Rudd, the head of operational services at the RSPCA; and Dr. Rachel Casey, a vet and expert in dog behaviour and welfare from the University of Bristol.
We took much evidence from many groups and individuals over a long period. Dr. Casey and her colleagues at the University of Bristol spent much time visiting hunts. We received information from more than 30 hunts from various parts of the country that took part in different types of hunting and had different sizes of pack. It was a truly representative sample.
It did, and it gave written and oral evidence. The Scottish Countryside Alliance also gave
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evidence, as did the Council of Hunting Associations and numerous groups representing the various breeds of dogs used in hunting.
We concluded that the wholesale destruction of dogs in the event of a ban could be avoided and our report contained six recommendations on what could be done, although it is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Some dogs could be kept for breeding and show purposes. The Kennel Club made the point strongly that the Masters of Foxhounds Association holds the pedigree information for those dogs, and that if it were to release it that could move a number of dogs into that side of the dog world. The Kennel Club has helpfully offered to meet the association and to offer discounts to allow progress to be made on that option.
Several hon. Members have mentioned drag hunting. We met representatives of drag hunting, who agreed that it had possibilities. It was also pointed out that when there was a voluntary ban on hunting during the foot and mouth crisis, hunts found alternative activities for their packs and continued to exercise them. Hunts also managed to keep hunt followers together. Of course, there have been media reports that people involved in hunting are already meeting to discuss what they can doas they have in Scotland, where hunting with dogs is already banned. Other people may choose to retain the packs for other uses. One of my hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench spoke about fallen stock services, which would be a commercial decision.
Rehoming is controversial. The hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) spoke about some of the difficulties involved in that. We met people who have undertaken it, however. More to the point, every organisationincluding the Countryside Allianceaccepts that it can be done. The only argument between the organisations was about the scale of the practice. Clearly, there are opportunities.
The Scottish Countryside Alliance pointed out that when hunting was banned in Scotland, several hunts drafted dogs to other countries, including Ireland, France and some eastern European countries. We were rather lukewarm about that idea, and it was one of the more controversial points in our report. We were hesitant, because our main interest was the welfare of the dogs. How can we know what the welfare conditions will be in another country? However, provided there are adequate safeguards, it is something that could be considered. There is also euthanasia, which has already been mentioned, but we think that we can avoid wholesale destruction.
The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald asked who would do anything with the extra time. That is an important point. Caroline Kisko addressed the Council of Hunting Associations on what could be done for dogs in the future and several people from hunts told her that they wanted information and help because they did not want to destroy their dogs. They said that if a ban were introduced quickly they would not be able to find out about the alternatives. The amendment gives them the opportunity to do that.
My view is that we can split hunt dog owners into three categories, although I would not claim that they are all of equal size. First, there are those who want to make as big a point as possiblethey will even destroy their dogs just to make their point and get publicity, and
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they will do that no matter what we do or say in this place. Secondly, there are those who will continue to look after their dogs and who want no help or advice from anybody elsethey will find alternatives and just get on with it, thank you very much. Finally, there are those who would like to do that, but who want some help and guidance.
We spoke to every reputable rehoming organisation and our report recommends a process involving hunts and rehoming organisations, with a clearing system with which DEFRA could assist. That would ensure that the dogs have a safe and happy future. The problem with that proposal is that every rehoming organisation told us, "We could do it over a period of time, but we could not do it quickly. If you restrict us to three months, you will make it impossible". By accepting the 18-month amendment, we could look after dogs much better. The Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust and all the dog rehoming organisations to which we spoke would be on our side.
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