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Mr. O'Brien: I may not have satisfied the hon. Gentleman, but I have set out the argument. The Government do not believe that it would be right to set the precedent that would be created by accepting the amendments, quite apart from the drafting problems inherent in them. I do not invite the House to accept either amendment, and I hope that hon. Members will see fit to withdraw them.
The Minister's answer, which was no doubt sincerely meant, demonstrated more than anything the need for a Minister from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to be present this evening. The hon. Gentleman seemed to get a little lost when he dealt with some of the points that needed to be covered, not least the Government's proposals for the removal of fallen stock under any scheme that they may be preparing. It may well be that the Ministry is having discussions with relevant parties. In the context of new clause 1, it would have been more helpful if we had been told what stage those discussions had reached, and their detail. However, we shall have to do the best we can with the answers that the Minister gave.
In the three and a half hours or so that we have spent discussing two important subjects--the collection of fallen stock and compensation--there were a number of extremely useful contributions, not least that from my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who spoke of the leather workers of his west midlands urban constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) spoke of the clearing up of fallen ponies rather than farm animals from the New Forest.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), and the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) also contributed. Towards the end of the debate, there were particularly trenchant contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), and from my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), who speaks with all the authority not only of someone who is a farmer, but who, I believe, has an interest in the slaughterhouse industry.
Mr. Garnier: Had the right hon. Gentleman been present for any part of the debate, I might have taken the time to hear what he had to say, but as he has been absent--no doubt for very good reasons--I shall refer to his hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), with whom I always enjoy debating the issue, because he engages in the issues. Whether I agree with him or not does not matter. What is important is that the hon. Gentleman exposed us to his views and allowed us to deal with them in a way that he may not have found helpful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), as always, contributed his special knowledge as a former Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and as someone who has represented farming constituencies for many years. I was also grateful to hear the views of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), who, sadly, has announced that she will not put herself forward for re-election. Even though she may soon no longer be a Member of the House, I hope that she will continue to campaign on behalf of those in her constituency and all who support the views that she and I hold about the need for the preservation of mink hounds and mink hunting.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), as always, applied his acute legal mind to a number of issues, including the European convention, and the fact that unless the Bill is amended in the way that we suggest, it will fall outside the convention.
The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) made what I would loosely describe as a confusing contribution. He began by giving some sort of support to new clause 1 and the need for something to be done about fallen stock; then he got into rather an intellectual muddle about compensation. No doubt, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) pointed out, that will give him much sport when he comes to draft his press release.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), as usual, gave a superb performance and demonstrated in a short space of time that this was a grotesque day for the farming world, and that the Bill was a grotesque Bill which did nothing to protect farmers or to advance the interests of the rural economy.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) spoke, and was followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who spoke from knowledge of his constituency about the need for compensation for the economic hinterland that exists behind hunting, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who gave a particularly powerful speech, based on his knowledge as a farmer and as one who represents a rural and hunting constituency.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson). Because I was being obtuse, I did not fully understand his point, which was that the Government seem to extol the fallen stock service, through MAFF, but are prepared to introduce through the Home Office a Bill that damages the farming economy. He gave us direct evidence of the valuable work done by the hunt in his constituency and by neighbouring hunts.
Following my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire, we had the contribution from the Minister, for whose contributions we are always grateful. His understanding of new clause 1 seemed to boil down to this: "Something needs to be done. I think MAFF is doing something, but I'm not terribly sure what it is." When the Government find out, no doubt they will be the first to tell us. We know that the Minister for Agriculture does not like coming to the House. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman's boss, the Home Secretary, will be able to elucidate further--or even the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), when she winds up some other debate.
When the Minister dealt with compensation, he seemed to be completely at sea. He said that we must make judgments. Indeed we must. We will make a judgment both at the general election, and in the Division Lobbies shortly. He seemed to say that if we banned hunting, we would cause economic loss, but he was not prepared to do anything about it.
The economic loss that will be caused by the Bill and by the banning of hunting is both foreseeable and devastating. We already know that the rural economy is on a knife edge. If the Bill is not amended as we propose, it will drive a nail into the coffin of farming. A Government who fear precedent--the Minister said that he feared creating a precedent--are a Government who fear their own shadow. The shadow of that Government sits on the Conservative Benches, and we are itching to replace the Government. I can assure the House that the Under-Secretary's performance, which was no doubt given with the best will in the world, has done his party