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Mr. Lidington: It is clear from the Burns report that more jobs would be at stake from the Government's proposed Bill than were stake in the recent crisis at Longbridge. Are the Government planning to consider a form of direct compensation, or some other arrangements, to help people whose livelihoods may be taken away from them by an Act of Parliament?
The Home Secretary will know that Lord Burns draws attention to the role that hunts play in respect of dealing with fallen stock, and to the importance of that for the farming community. Are the Government starting to think about alternative arrangements for disposal if the hunts were no longer available to deal with carcases?
When the Bill comes before the House in the next Session, will the Home Secretary confirm that it will apply to England and Wales only, and that any decisions in respect of Scotland will be devolved to the Edinburgh Parliament? If so, will he therefore urge all hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies at Westminster to refrain from taking part in debates and votes on the Bill? Will not this be the first important test of the principle that laws that affect England and Wales should be made by the representatives of England and Wales?
The hon. Gentleman says that bringing forward a Bill on hunting is a "distraction". There is at stake quite an important constitutional issue, which arose in exactly the same way in respect of shops legislation a dozen years or more ago. It was perfectly plain that the House wished to come to a conclusion on the issue. As it turned out, I was on the losing side, because I was against an extension of Sunday trading. Be that as it may, as a private Member, I strongly believed that the House needed to come to a conclusion. Given that a large number of private Members' Bills and motions had failed to reach a conclusion, the Government of the day took the view that the public expected that there should be a legislative conclusion. They sensibly arranged for a Bill containing a series of options to be introduced, on the merits of which right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the argument would be able to come to a conclusion and exercise their own vote. I think that that is a sensible way to proceed.
The framing of any Bill will, of course, take careful account of the importance of drafting the criminal offences so that they are comprehensible to the law enforcement authorities, the courts, the police and any potential offenders. I understand that the Association of Chief Police Officers offered evidence to the Burns inquiry. As I made clear in my statement, we shall, of course, be consulting ACPO and the other police associations in the consultations that are about to take place.
The hon. Gentleman then made a series of comments about whether this was a distraction. His view is obviously not shared by the person who normally takes his role, namely the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). After all, she said under the heading "Widdecombe backs Blair over hunting":
Finally, the hon. Gentleman raised the absurd point as to whether Members of Parliament who represent Scottish constituencies--[Hon. Members: "Rubbish!" ] It is absurd for members of the Conservative party; I thought that, above all, they supported the Union. The change that we introduced was to give a degree of devolution to Scotland in order to bind the Union. It is most interesting that Conservative Members now say that they want to break the Union.
Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester): I congratulate the Home Secretary on his statement, which brings with it the real prospect of an end to the cruel and unnecessary practice of hunting with dogs. I look forward to reading the Burns report, as I urge all Members to do. Will my right hon. Friend confirm what was said way back in November 1999--that, on this matter, after the free vote has been taken, the guillotine may be used and the Parliament Act may be invoked to ensure that the will of the House prevails?
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): As the other shadow Home Secretary has not been sent to earth today, I shall tell the Home Secretary that we welcome the report and the use of such a process. Furthermore, we welcome the Government's clarification that they will adopt the Bill in Government time, after a reasonable period has been allowed for people to read and understand the report. The idea of a Bill with options, which has a precedent, seems to us an entirely appropriate way to proceed.
On a practical matter, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that a report selling at £32.50 is made fully available to people throughout the country on a website and in other ways, so that everyone who wants to do so can read it?
In relation to the hunting of foxes, deer, mink and hares, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the big issue is whether the country wants to decide that hunting with hounds is the only acceptable or civilised way of dealing with the problems caused by those animals and that, if it is not, the country is entitled to decide that, in a civilised society, we might want to move on and to deal with those animals in other ways? Does he agree that dealing with animal welfare issues is just as much a priority as how we manage the public services? Does he agree that the loss of some jobs and the reordering of the rural economy is of course important, but that it should not be an absolute issue? If jobs that support a particular activity are inappropriate, they may have to change.
On the very proper question of whether the measure might be in breach of the European convention--so that there can be no argument in future--may we have not only the Government's assurance as to the compatibility of such a Bill, but, if necessary, a declaration from the courts in advance that the draft Bill would be compatible with European law? Could a decision about Wales be taken separately from one about England?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome for the report and for the procedure that I have outlined. When I saw the price of the report, I, too, thought that it was rather steep. However, the report is available on a website, which is important. I will not respond to the arguments that the hon. Gentleman used to support his opinions; my job today is to deal with issues of process.
On the point about the European convention, the same procedures will have to apply to the proposed Bill to determine whether it is compatible with the convention as apply to any other legislation. That point is laid down in section 19. I am afraid that there is no procedure by which it is possible to gain a pre-emptive declaration by the courts in advance of legislation in respect of a convention point any more than it is in respect of any other point that might be taken before our courts or before the court in Strasbourg. I emphasise that, even were the convention