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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I call Mr. Michael Heseltine.

20 Dec 2000 : Column 412

6.37 pm

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley): The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who speaks with great passion, revealed what most of us in the Opposition believe: there is a line to be drawn, as he so eloquently said. What does that mean? There are enough votes in the urban areas--in the working men's club of the Labour party--so Labour Members will support any form of hunting or fishing, so long as no votes will be lost. That is the harsh reality.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was right to be charitable, but I have no faith in the outcome of the vote tonight. The Bill will be carried by a vast majority, formed by the majority of Labour Members, who are determined to get rid of hunting and will use any constitutional means to achieve that. I have the greatest sympathy for the Home Secretary, who has produced a fig leaf of options, although he well knows that there is no prospect of any of those options being chosen by the House of Commons.

The hon. Member for West Ham revealed the intellectual rigour that he brings to the debate. Resistance to taking the women out of the mines and the children out of the chimneys is seen as the fault of the Opposition at the time, whom he thinks of as members of the Tory party. It was the Shaftesbury Bill of 1833, under a Tory Government, that took the women out of the mines and the children out of the chimneys.

The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) revealed the fact that he fishes. None the less, he is prepared to deny people the right to hunt. What hypocrisy is that? I do not hunt; I have never hunted, but I do fish. When the hon. Gentleman casts that innocent fly upon the waters, hooks the fish, and tears the guts out of it as he puts it back, does he pat it affectionately on the head and say, "Poor little thing. I respect all animals on this planet. Now get back into the river and do your best to survive, now that I have taken your guts away"? Is that what he thinks? That is hypocrisy carried to the ultimate degree.

The most cynical aspect of the Bill is that has been introduced either because the Government do not believe that it will get through before the election, or--I believe that this is more realistic--because a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister's problems with the Labour Back Benches became particularly acute, and he needed to buy off Labour Members, quieten them down and toss them a bit of good red meat to gain their loyalty in the coming election and bring the troops out in Labour constituencies. What could he give them? Apparently the single biggest priority for Britain, the one thing that the nation needs above all else, is a bitterly divisive urban-rural crisis.

Let me tell Members who do not understand these things that men and women out there are angry. They are angry about the fact that their traditional historic practices are to be swept aside in the narrowest interest--the class interest--of the Labour party. It may be said that the Liberals take a different view, but I have never heard such a hypocritical speech as the one I heard today from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). He says, "My party is against hunting--as long as all our candidates in all the constituencies where it matters can say that they disagree with us." I should not be surprised by that, of course; it has been Liberal policy on every subject since time immemorial.

20 Dec 2000 : Column 413

As I have said, I have no personal interest in hunting--other than that connected with my family--but I have seen something of human cruelty to animals. [Hon. Members: "You sacked all the miners."] Oh yes, and we paid them £30,000 a time in compensation. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that that was a great deal more than was paid to the 700,000 miners who lost their jobs from 1945 onwards. In 1945, when Labour was in government, three quarters of a million people were employed in the British mining industry. Today about 30,000 are employed, and the Labour party--[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) must not go on shouting from a sedentary position. We can have orderly debate here.

Mr. Heseltine: Well, the hon. Gentleman's backside is pretty eloquent, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The fact is that there are deep class resentments in the anti-hunting lobby. Let me make a simple point. Those who will suffer from the ban that the Labour party wish to impose are not the rich, not the toffs. Those people's horses will go to Ireland, or to France. There will be chartered aeroplanes to take them wherever the sport can be found, and given the growing affluence of which the Labour party is so proud to speak, they will find ways of continuing. Those who will really suffer are ordinary people in rural communities--the people who stand and watch, and whose social life revolves around the hunt. It is they who will find that a great part of their lives has been removed from under them.

Does the Labour party really believe that the urban life, the urban community and the so-called inclusiveness that is now the language of the day are so superior in the urban world that the communities of rural England should be destroyed? Let me tell them that enough destruction is happening in our urban communities. There is enough of the yobbo culture. Enough young people are wandering around saying, "Who can we rough up? Who can we laugh at? Whose window can we stove in?" Enough of that is happening in urban areas for me to consider it an intolerable act of hypocrisy--when there is real community and social inclusiveness in rural communities, based on the hunt--for the narrow, bitter class bias that drives so much of the Labour party to be allowed this platform of opportunity by a craven Government who are giving in to their worst prejudices.

6.43 pm

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North): I listened with interest to the right hon. Members for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the former Prime Minister, and for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), the former Deputy Prime Minister. I wondered where they were when farm workers were disappearing off the land, when gangers were coming in, when contract men were coming in and when rural communities and villages were being taken over by second homes. Were they in Hyde park protesting? Were they defending rural communities then? They were not. That was progress: that was modernisation; that was a combine harvester and 18 jobs gone; and that was people coming in to do the milking, and the end of regular herdsmen.

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The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) spoke of the prospects of those living in tied cottages. His party, and members of the Countryside Alliance, voted and worked and spoke against our efforts in the House to get rid of tied cottages. If he is so concerned about his huntsmen who live in tied cottages, he can tell the landlords to say "If these nasty anti-hunters succeed, you will be safe in your house; we will not let you suffer"--but, of course, he will not.

The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon, made a virtue of the fact that he had never seen a hunt, or at best had seen one only in the distance. He had never taken part in a hunt, he said, but he understood hunting. The right hon. Gentleman ought to visit East of England Coursing Club, which is near his constituency if not actually in it. He should go there, as I did, and see hares being pulled to pieces. He should listen to their screams. He should witness the pain and suffering, and the pleasure gained from it. If that is what he regards as the basic foundation of the rural community, his village and his life, this is a sad day for his village, his life and this country.

The right hon. Member for Henley described ours as a class interest--it clearly is, as a toff cannot stay to hear a peasant speak. The right hon. Gentleman has not done the House the usual courtesy. He said there was a degree of class hatred in this. I do not think that that is true: according to poll after poll, people living in the areas involved say that hare coursing, deer hunting and foxhunting--in that order--should be abolished. We are listening to the voice of the rural community.

Mr. David Taylor: A large-scale survey that I undertook in November 1997, in a part of my constituency in which the Quorn hunts, established precisely that. A significant majority of rural residents opposed hunting, and supported the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster).

Mr. McNamara: I am sure that that is reflected in rural areas throughout England and Wales.

The right hon. Member for Huntingdon described us as some sort of revolutionary tribunal. He spoke like a latter-day Robespierre sending us to the guillotine. I read with interest the amendment tabled by him and his colleagues, which states

I understand that splendid sentiment; but let us look at the names of the signatories. They are Mr. John Major, the former Prime Minister; Mr. Michael Heseltine, the former Deputy Prime Minister; Mr. Michael Howard--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that we refer to Members in a particular way. We do not use their names.

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