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The constitutional position of all Members of Parliament is as follows: we were elected on the basis that we would legislate in this Parliament for matters across the United Kingdom. Anybody who had asked that question knew that that was so. For decades we have legislated for Northern Ireland, since it became a Province, with a minority of Northern Irish Members. So, I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's view that hunting should be only for Members representing English constituencies in this Parliament to decide upon.
There is, however, an issue for the next election. Now that there is devolution to the Scottish Parliament, which my colleagues and I supported and welcomed, and partial devolution to the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly, which we also welcomed--although, in the case of Wales, we thought that the process should go further--people should be asked and parties should make clear whether those elected to the next Parliament to represent English constituencies expect to vote on matters to do with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Much more important is the right hon. Gentleman's question whether in the next Parliament Members representing Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland constituencies, where there are devolved responsibilities, should vote on matters that affect England. That would apply to Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies voting on hunting in England and Wales.
The third constitutional issue is about the Parliament Act, which I put to the Home Secretary in an intervention. It seems wrong that that Act should be used for this matter. It would certainly be wrong in this Parliament, and I believe would even be wrong in the next one.
We have two Houses of Parliament. The second is entirely the Government's composition--[Interruption.] The present composition of the House of Lords is entirely the result of legislation introduced by this Government; the present House of Lords is entirely the creature of this Government. Therefore, the Labour Government cannot complain if those whom they decided should be admitted to the House of Lords do not take the same view as the Commons. So, certainly in this Parliament, use of the Parliament Act would not be appropriate. Both Houses should come to a view on the matter.
The final constitutional issue before us concerns the European Court of Human Rights and human rights in general. There is a question whether the proposed legislation would fall foul of the Human Rights Act 1998. My judgment is that it would not; other people have come to the same view. However, it strikes me as a weakness
I shall be brief on the public opinion issue. Public opinion is divided and none of us can justifiably pray in aid the fact that there appears to be, or may be, a majority in one direction. The postbags of many of us suggest a majority in favour of a ban, but at the end of the day the matter is for us to decide. It is as bad to argue that public opinion should decide this issue as it is to argue that it should have decided yesterday's debate on embryology or any debate on capital punishment. So I hope that people realise that, although we of course listen to the public, we were elected to make such decisions; otherwise, we might as well not have a Parliament at all.
We are left with the matter of principle. I shall be honest: the decision is clearly difficult for us all. It is obviously difficult for those with a liberal perspective and philosophy, who come from a political family. Those of us who come from such a background must ask ourselves not just whether we are persuaded in favour of a ban but whether it is overwhelmingly justified to make unlawful such an activity, and therefore make criminal those who carry out that unlawful act. We can vote in favour of restricting such liberty only if we can answer that doing so is justified.
Mr. Hughes: No, I have given way to the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), and promised to do so to my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett). Will the hon. Gentleman bear with me?
Our starting point is to define which liberties we are dealing with. We are not dealing with acts between human beings, on which issue, we take the view that an act that causes no harm to others ought to be permitted. The issue is not the same as boxing, for which adults give consent for harm to be done. I support the continuation of boxing because it is a matter on which adults can reasonably decide. The question is also not one of human rights versus animal rights, because animals do not have rights in the same way as humans. Humans have a duty to safeguard the welfare of other creatures, but animal rights in my view do not exist.
Most of us accept that there are some justifications for killing animals. One is when they are dangerous and it is in the best interests of society in order to protect human beings. Another might be because animals are predatory and the greater interest requires their killing. A third might be because we want to eat them. One justification for fishing and hunting is that, by and large, we do so in order to eat.
Mr. Hughes: The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right, but one traditional justification for most fishing and most hunting is that it is carried out in order to eat. That is not of course the same as hunting with dogs.
There is the question whether we should kill animals for pleasure alone. I would argue that we should not. The hunting argument is justified not because it gives pleasure alone but because it is also for a purpose, even though, none the less, hunting may give pleasure as a consequence.
Where have we got to? After more than 100 years of debate, we have moved logically to the presumption that it is right to legislate to prevent unnecessary suffering of animals. We did so in 1911 in relation to most domestic animals against the background that bear baiting, cock fighting and other activities were not acceptable, but excepted hunting, and we did so in relation to wild animals in 1996. So, the argument is not that we have not moved in such a direction. The time has come to take the next logical step.
Mr. David Taylor: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to allow successive interventions from Opposition Members but to decline interventions from Government Members?