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Mr. Maclean: Well, it is not merely because the Government want to bash the measure through to the Lords. We know that they are terrified of a certain date in March; they are so scared of Sunday 18 March that they are determined to make sure that there will be no consideration of the Bill on Report in this place. On Sunday 18 March, this country will see the biggest civil rights march in its history--[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] It will far surpass the 320,000 people who marched last time. The Government are running scared of that; it is why they want to ensure that Report stage is concluded well before that march.
If my other amendment, to have the Bill taken out of Committee by 15 March, had been accepted--I shall not go down that route, because it is not under discussion--and if the Bill came out of Committee on 15 March or slightly before, Report would not be until after Sunday 18 March. If that were to happen, we would see quite a few frit faces on the Labour Benches. Those Labour MPs who like to pretend that they understand the countryside, and that their majority depends on country people, would
Mr. Redwood: My right hon. Friend heard the Minister's refusal to tell us how much time would be given in the other place, to enable us to judge the whole timetable for the legislation. Does my right hon. Friend believe that the intention is to try to ram it through the other place as well? What can Ministers do when the other place comes up with a different answer from that given by this place which is quite possible? Does that mean that we could have some interesting parliamentary procedures at the exact time when the great march arrives in London?
Mr. Maclean: Despite the fact that the other place has been stuffed full of what are called Tony's cronies, and despite the fact that the Government have packed it full of those who have paid a miserable £5,000 for their peerage, it is still a fact that on an issue such as this, which involves fundamental human freedom, the Government know that they cannot guarantee that Tony's cronies will deliver the Bill for them. As there are sufficient Back Benchers, sufficient Labour and Liberal Members and sufficient Conservative Members in the other place who believe in that fundamental human freedom, the Government know that the Bill could not get through the other place with a total ban option--so they must have another electoral ploy in mind.
Many of my hon. Friends wish to participate in the debate in the 11 minutes that remain, so I shall conclude. It is nonsense for the Minister to suggest that the programme that he is putting before the House tonight is similar to that on the Sunday Trading Bill. There is no such comparison. In that case, hon. Members on both sides of the House agreed that something had to be done. All parties and the usual channels said, "We need to reform Sunday trading law, and we only disagree about some technicalities." This Bill, by contrast, does not have the unanimous consent of the House that something needs to be done and that we only need to argue about the technicalities so a day on the Floor and couple of days upstairs in Committee would suffice. The Bill is strongly opposed by 160 Opposition Members. In those circumstances, the Government can make no comparison to the Sunday Trading Bill.
I raise another issue in conclusion. I believe that, in the vote tonight, at least six Scottish Members from the Labour party voted to ban hunting in England and Wales. I would merely tell them that they do not know what they are doing. That will stoke up such massive unrest in rural areas of England and Wales that it will send another 100,000 people to add to the strength of the march on 18 March.
I urge my hon. and right hon. Friends to accept amendment (a), which would increase from one day to two the time given on the Floor of the House, and to vote for it should it be voted on. However, the whole programme motion is wrong and rotten in principle, and we should vote that down in the Division afterwards.
Mr. Soames: I shall be very brief, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) will be able to make his views known to the House.
This afternoon, some 5,500 people from every corner of the land came to London, many at great personal expense, to make known outside this place, in a good-humoured manner, their extreme concern at the steps being taken by the Government in the Bill.
The great philosopher Burke rightly remarked that when a separation is made between liberty and justice, great harm is done to both. What the Government propose in this wicked Bill is thoroughly divisive and extremely dangerous for the harmony of the countryside and the town. It is quite clear that it deserves more than one day in Committee on the Floor of the House.
This complex Bill deserves a far more detailed examination on the Floor of the House than will be allowed. Otherwise, I fear that those on the march, which was eloquently mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), will feel that justice has not been done in the House. Those 400,000 or even 500,000 people will come to London to defend their lives and liberties and their justice. If the high court of Parliament does not do its duty properly, and if people do not feel that their concerns have been rightly dealt with here, we can expect trouble outside. One day cannot be enough to deal with the complexity of the animal welfare issues.
Mr. Mike O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman should note that the amendment was tabled by a Back Bencher and that no amendment was tabled by those on the Opposition Front Bench. Indeed, we were fairly relaxed about the number of days, but they did not ask for two days on the Floor of the House. If they had, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) might have been in a stronger position. By the way, the Opposition have talked out the time for the manuscript amendment.
Mr. Soames: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but we are all Back Benchers in that there will be a free vote. This has been a formidable day's debate, and it has raised the most profound issues. On the detailed examination of those issues, which radically affect the natural justice and the lives and liberties of tens of thousands of people in this country, it would be wrong if we did not demand that the Government should allow two days debate on the Floor of the House. What can it possibly cost the Government to give us two days on the Floor of the House on such a vital matter? Indeed, they would be given credit for taking the views of Parliament seriously for once and allowing such an important matter to be examined in more detail.
I beg the Minister to realise that, despite the very glib responses of people who have no connection with, no understanding of and no feeling for the countryside and what goes on there, the Government must understand the real anger that the proposals have aroused in the countryside. By allowing proper time for debate in the nation's political forum on the Floor of the House, they would at least give a chance for all the views to be properly aired and examined. It would be a terrible miscalculation and an injustice to the interests of ordinary people if the Government were not to grant us that.
Mr. Miller: I shall touch on what the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) said in a moment, but I want to put my position in perspective. I have been a countryside
Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): Very nice it is, too.
The simple fact is that, just last Wednesday, the hunt disrupted my family life.
Mr. Tom King: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier, I asked Mr. Speaker about the possibility of his accepting a manuscript amendment. What the Minister has promised the House is not encapsulated in the motion on which we are being asked to vote. Can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, advise the House on how we deal with that situation?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The manuscript amendment that was submitted to Mr. Speaker has been considered by him but not accepted. We are therefore confined by the terms of the amendment before us and the motion. They are the matters before the House and they are what I have to implement.
Mr. Miller: As I said, the hunt seriously disrupted my household last Wednesday.
The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) made an interesting point about a free vote, and it is one that the House will need to consider in future. I was aware--
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Time is running out and we are unlikely to hear a winding-up speech from the Minister, so would it be in order for him to say that, in the light of this debate, he is at least willing to accept amendment (a), which would reduce the damage that the programme motion will do?