Mr. Secretary Milburn, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Ms Hilary Armstrong and Mr. John Denham, presented a Bill to amend the law about the National Health Service; to provide for the exercise of functions by care trusts under partnership arrangements under the Health Act 1999 and to make further provision in relation to such arrangements; to make further provision in relation to social care services; to make provision in relation to the supply or other processing of patient information; to extend the categories of appropriate practitioners in relation to prescription-only medicinal products; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 9].
Mr. Speaker: Before the Home Secretary rises, it might be helpful to inform the House that it will not be appreciated if hon. Ladies and Gentlemen approach the Chair to ask where they are in the order of speaking.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You might already have made an announcement, and I apologise if I missed it, but there are two reasoned amendments on the Order Paper and I wondered whether you had selected either of them and, if not, whether you could make that clear, because there are interests behind both.
Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I have not selected either of the amendments. While I am on my feet, I remind the House that there is a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
Mr. Straw: As the House is all too well aware, when a Minister moves that a Bill be read a Second time it is customary for that Minister to extol the virtues of every page of the Bill and explain why the policy to which the Bill gives effect is so desirable. That is not appropriate in the current case because, although the Bill is a Government Bill, its content has not been determined principally by the Government; rather, it contains three separate and mutually exclusive options suggested by three different interest groups.
As the House is aware, hunting is an issue that arouses great concern and strong passions among many, although by no means all, people. The volumes of newsprint and the fact that the Home Office has received more than 100,000 letters on the subject since the general election attest to that. Hunting also attracts a great deal of attention in this House and another place--indeed, there have been 22 private Members' Bills relating to hunting in the past 20 years.
It is crucial to note that almost all those Bills failed because they lacked parliamentary time, not because the majority of parliamentarians were opposed to them. The truth is that Parliament has never had a proper opportunity to give legislative effect to its wishes on the question of hunting.
As I explained to the House on 12 June, the Government decided to bring forward a Bill so that the will of Parliament could prevail, with the aim that the issue could properly be resolved. Before doing so, we asked Lord Burns to head an inquiry into hunting with dogs in England and Wales. The committee reported in June, and I am extremely grateful to Lord Burns and to his team for producing such a clear and objective statement of the facts surrounding hunting, which I hope will inform the House's deliberations on the Bill.
Mr. Straw: The right hon. Gentleman asks whether it is appropriate for the House or the National Assembly for Wales to deal with primary legislation. The position is clear: it is for the House to deal with primary legislation relating to Wales as well as to England on aspects of the criminal law. That was accepted by the House and the other place, which is of clear importance, and by the people of Wales when they voted for the devolution settlement.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Burns report referred to differences in Wales and differences in the pattern of hunting between upland and lowland areas, which apply not only to Wales. At present, one of the three schemes set out in the Bill would not distinguish between the different circumstances that obtain in Wales--mainly in upland areas--and other upland areas, and lowland areas. Were that option to go into Committee and on to Report, it would be open to Members who represent parts of Wales or any other parts of the United Kingdom to table amendments to take account of the differences identified by Lord Burns.
Mr. Straw: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. However, there is great pressure on the time available between now and 10 o'clock. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will excuse me if I do not go into my usual arrangement, which is to respond to virtually every intervention that is offered.
Mr. Leigh: The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned Wales. Hunting is a matter of deep controversy in our constituencies. We are expected to exercise our conscience because the issue affects our constituencies. Is it right or fair that when dealing with a matter of deep controversy, Scottish Members will be voting while we have no right to vote on the future of hunting in Scotland? Will the right hon. Gentleman do the decent thing and advise Scottish Members similarly to do the decent thing and abstain on any future votes on hunting?
Mr. Straw: No, I will certainly not do so. The hon. Gentleman does not recognise the powers of this place and the other place in respect of Scotland. First, the powers of the Scottish Parliament derive entirely from the Parliament of Westminster. The Parliament of Westminster can at any stage, if it wishes--I do not advise this course--change the Scotland Act 1998. The Scottish Parliament is palpably and legally subordinate to the Westminster Parliament.
Secondly, I have never accepted the political arithmetic of the West Lothian question, despite my huge regard for my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), as his constituency is now called. The best explanation, which I endorse, of why that seductive political arithmetic does not add up is provided by the distinguished constitutionalist, Vernon Bogdanor, in an essay which he wrote two or three years ago. I understand the attraction
I happen to believe in the sovereignty of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and believe that every Member elected to that Parliament has a right to legislate, subject to previous legislation, in respect of any part of the United Kingdom. I also make the partisan point that I do not remember such arguments being advanced when 16 Conservative and Unionist Members represented Northern Ireland here despite the existence of the Stormont Parliament, which had more powers than has the Scottish Parliament.
I said that I am very grateful to Lord Burns, which provoked a couple of interesting interventions. We decided to adopt the multi-options procedure because it allows all sides the opportunity to put their point of view and have it sensibly debated. In doing so, we have drawn on the parallel and the good example of the previous Administration in respect of Sunday trading.
In the Parliaments between 1979 and 1997, I recall only one Government Bill being defeated on Second Reading--the 1986 Shops Bill. A lot of discussion about how the matter could be resolved followed, and the previous Administration--sensibly, in my judgment--introduced a multi-option Government Bill and gave Ministers as well as other Members a free vote. The matter was finally resolved. I say that notwithstanding the fact that I was in a minority in voting against the preferred option. I happen to think that that was a sensible way through and we have adopted the parallel.