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Mr. Caplin: I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker). I did not understand some of it--particularly his logic, to which the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) drew attention.
I spoke in the debate on 7 July on the Burns report. It was a good and constructive debate. For me, the Burns report has clarified two important issues. The first is whether foxhunting is a pest-control issue and the second is about economics, to which the Countryside Alliance has drawn attention on so many occasions. I felt that it was concluded by some that on pest control the Burns report was pretty straight but did not take us forward. The report arrives at the conclusion that foxhunting does not contribute to the control of foxes, and I agree.
Much more important, on the economics of the issue the Burns report torpedoes the arguments that the Countryside Alliance has had us thinking about. In the Committee on which I was pleased to serve and which considered the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) in 1997-98, we heard time and again from hon. Members, some of whom are in the Chamber, about job losses. They were always saying that there would be 16,000 jobs lost, whereas the Burns report refers to 700 or 800 directly related jobs being lost. That is fundamental to the debate.
Mr. Gray: I, too, served on the Committee that considered the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), and we talked a great deal about jobs. Lord Burns concludes that about 7,500 full-time equivalent jobs will be lost, in addition to many part-time and associated jobs. By any standards, the arithmetic produces a total of about 12,000 to 13,000 jobs. That is slightly short of 15,000, the figure which I used repeatedly
Mr. Caplin: I have enjoyed these debates for the past four years. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a quotation. The Burns report states that in the short term as few as 700 jobs and a proportion of about 1,500 direct equivalent jobs are supported by hunt-related activities. There will not be 16,000 job losses. The figure is quite clear, and one that it is difficult for the House to ignore.
The purpose of the Committee is to scrutinise each of the three proposals. I shall start in the middle. For some time I have been thinking, "What is the middle way, about which we have heard so much?" Three Members, one from each of the major parties, have put it together. I thought that perhaps they had a case. Perhaps I should give them the opportunity to state it; perhaps they want to state their case. However, they failed because they all voted against giving the Bill a Second Reading. At that moment they ceased to have the right to put their case. They did not want the debate to take place today. The position of the hon. Member for Lewes--I find myself in agreement with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) on this--is that there are only two legitimate positions. The first is to continue hunting, which many Members who served on the Standing Committee during 1997-98 wanted, and the second is an outright ban. Those are the only two legitimate positions that are credible.
Mr. Öpik: I am trying to understand the hon. Gentleman's logic in being concerned about me and two others voting against Second Reading, and why that makes him sceptical about the content of clause 2. I shall be interested to hear why specifically the hon. Gentleman thinks that clause 2 is an ineffective proposition.
Mr. Caplin: I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to intervene as often as he likes to tell me why he, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) and the hon. Member for Mid- Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) voted as they did on Second Reading, which was to facilitate the current debate. They voted to stop us having this debate. If the hon. Gentleman wants to tell us, we shall all be interested.
Mr. Öpik: There is no secret. We stated at the beginning of the day that, subject to there being a genuine debate on Second Reading, when hon. Members on both sides of the House were present to listen and apparently to be guided by the quality of discussion, we would vote in favour. I promise the hon. Gentleman that we meant that sincerely. At one point during that debate there were 24 Members in the Chamber, and at no point were more than a quarter of all hon. Members present. We thus expressed the objection that we stated clearly on the morning of that debate. If the hon. Gentleman has a different view, I respect that, but I hope that at least he recognises that we were expressing an objection on the basis of principle.
Mr. Bercow: I understand the vantage point from which the hon. Gentleman is approaching the issue. I richly enjoyed the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). I do not want to cavil--I respect the good intentions of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik)--but I put it to the hon. Gentleman that there is an important difference between legitimacy and credibility. Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that while there are, in my view, only two credible positions--the status quo or a ban--it is wrong to suggest that an honourably held view in support of the middle way is somehow illegitimate? It is incredible, but it is not illegitimate.
I do not understand how we can have two options to maintain hunting and one option to ban it, but that is what we are talking about. The middle way would not ban hunting. When I conclude my remarks, I hope to have explained to the House why there should be a total ban on hunting. That is where I am coming from.
Despite what has been said by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik), I still cannot understand why he, my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle- under-Lyme and the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire voted against Second Reading. Once the Bill had received a Second Reading, we were allowed to have today's debate and to take matters forward. I understand the position of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). I also understand that of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who served on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester and who supported us. I understand the position of both the hon. Member and the right hon. Member. However, I do not understand why the Middle Way Group voted against Second Reading, which facilitated the debate. I think that that makes the group's position incredible.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): I am trying to understand the logic of the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). I still cannot understand why he voted against the Bill on Second Reading. In the past, the hon. Gentleman has been helpful in his comments about the Government's position on Northern Ireland. I have been in the Chamber when there have been two or three Labour Members and only one Opposition Member, but we have passed legislation. The idea that the hon. Gentleman needs a certain quorum in the House is not acceptable. I think that he needs another reason. Will he comment?