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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Clause 1 incorporates schedule 1. I hasten to add that, in speaking to the clause, I am not in any sense advocating a vote for it; I am merely recognising, as a Minister of the House, that the debate has to start somewhere. In due course, I shall move the further clauses that deal with the schedules.

It might be helpful if I say a few words about the procedural issues. I shall not advise hon. Members on how they should vote, as the Government are neutral on the question of which option to adopt. My personal views were put on record on Second Reading. I shall make a couple of procedural points so that hon. Members know how we shall proceed. I know that you, Sir Alan, have already said how you intend to deal with our proceedings.

We are currently dealing with clause 1, which introduces schedule 1 and which has been proposed by the Countryside Alliance. Similarly, clause 2 introduces schedule 2, which has been proposed by the Middle Way Group, and clause 3 introduces schedule 3, which has been proposed by Deadline 2000. When we vote, hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that they ought to vote for the schedule that they support. In addition--

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this may seem a little basic, but I say it for clarity's sake--hon. Members should vote against any clause that introduces schedules that they oppose. That matters, because the fact that one of the options receives a majority will not necessarily cause the other two to fall. The procedure assumes that hon. Members will seek to have one schedule in the Bill by the end of the day. That will be the case only if hon. Members decide to allow the other two schedules to fall.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): As regards the Government's neutrality--I am sure that many of us heard the Minister on Radio 4 this morning--the Deputy Prime Minister has said:

The Prime Minister has said that he would vote to abolish foxhunting. Does not that slightly compromise the Government's neutrality?

Mr. O'Brien: It does not, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why. The same applied when the House considered the Sunday Trading Act 1994, which was introduced by the previous Government. Distinguished Conservative Front Benchers, including the shadow Home Secretary, held their own views. Unfortunately, I suspect that she may not be allowed to speak in this debate--she is on record as saying that her view is not shared by many others in her party.

Each individual Member of the House is allowed a free vote. All parties have agreed that whips will not apply. It is for each constituency MP to determine how to represent his or her constituents. Thus my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have expressed their views, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has expressed his view. Likewise, the Leader of the Opposition has a view that is not shared, as we know, by the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). Therefore, each Member will express a view, which is how it should be on a matter of conscience.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): The Minister has described the procedure. Did I understand him to suggest that, even if a majority is in favour after one of the first two votes, that will not necessarily be the final result? If that is what he meant, how will we reach a final outcome, as two Divisions could result in majorities in favour?

Mr. O'Brien: Indeed. It is feasible, though very unlikely, that the Committee could decide to include all three schedules. Perchance, should every Member vote for all three schedules, the Bill would contain three contradictory provisions, but that is so unlikely that it will not happen. That brings me neatly to my next point, which deals with the amendments standing in the name of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. O'Brien: On a matter of procedure, yes.

Mr. Luff: Will the Minister confirm what he said in the debate on Second Reading? Will Members who vote

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for schedule 1 only to be defeated be free to vote for schedule 2? Will Members be able to vote for two different propositions?

Mr. O'Brien: Yes. Any permutation is possible. Hon. Members who vote for schedule 1 would be free to vote for schedule 2 should schedule 1 fall. Were they so disposed, they would be free to vote for schedule 3 or, indeed, against it. The hon. Gentleman is right--hon. Members must make a decision on each vote.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary explained the purpose behind his amendments when he opened the debate on Second Reading. The rules of the House prevent Bills with internally contradictory provisions from being introduced. That is why the Bill includes a fairly complicated commencement provision providing for the commencement of one schedule and the repeal of the other two. It is our intention that whichever option is chosen by the House should take effect a year after Royal Assent.

New clauses 1, 2 and 3, which relate to schedules 1, 2 and 3 respectively, have precisely that purpose. New clause 2, which will interest the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and which relates to schedule 2, is slightly more complicated than the other two. It contains transitional provisions to ensure that the hunting authority would be up and running before it became unlawful to hunt without a licence. There would be a special provision in that regard. Therefore, let me make it clear that, when the relevant time comes, I shall invite the Committee to agree that the present clause 4 should be omitted. At that point, I shall move only the new clause relating to whichever schedule has received a majority vote.

Let me deal with the amendments standing in the names of the four Plaid Cymru Members. Their consequence would be that the legislation would come into force in Wales only by an order made by the National Assembly for Wales, whichever option were chosen. Under the terms of the devolution settlement endorsed by the people of Wales in a referendum, responsibility for primary legislation rests with the Westminster Parliament. Thus the power to decide whether to ban hunting in Wales is not transferred to the National Assembly for Wales.

The result of the amendments would be that the decision on the issue of hunting with dogs would, in effect, rest with the Assembly. For example, the Assembly could decide never to make the appropriate commencement order. Such a move would negate the will of this Parliament. Having said that--

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) rose--

Mr. O'Brien: I suspect that a Plaid Cymru Member may want to intervene on this matter, so if the right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me, I shall take his intervention later.

I appreciate that the future of hunting with dogs may have particular implications for Welsh hill farmers. Such concerns should and can be taken into account during the passage of the Bill in this place and can be a subject for debate.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): On the whole, the Minister has given an accurate portrayal of the purpose of

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the amendments. Does he agree, however, that whichever provision is accepted, our amendments would not undermine the present devolution settlement? I draw his attention to the example of performance-related teachers' pay in Wales--enacted by primary legislation in this place, but brought in under a commencement order with a date to be decided by the National Assembly for Wales. That date may have been at no time in the future--exactly like these provisions. Nothing in the amendments undermines the settlement. The amendments would enable the National Assembly to do what it thinks fit for hunting and for agriculture in Wales.

Mr. O'Brien: The Bill creates criminal offences. Education is, of course, a devolved matter, so there would obviously be a relationship between the Westminster Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in which there was a certain amount of give and take. However, the Bill deals with criminal offences; it is my view that the 40 Members who represent Welsh constituencies are as capable as the Assembly of representing Wales on hunting with dogs.

In the light of my comments, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the amendments in due course.

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is talking about devolved business. He will be aware that this matter is devolved business for the Scottish Parliament--the Bill does not apply to Scotland. What, then, is the justification for hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies voting on a matter that has and can have no application for their constituents in Scotland?

Mr. O'Brien: This Parliament determines whether MPs can vote on a particular matter in this place. This Parliament has determined that MPs representing Scottish constituencies have a constitutional right to vote in the debate on this issue. I do not accept that it is right for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to undermine the legitimacy of the constitutional right of Members to vote in this House. Our view is that Scottish constituency Members will no doubt make their own judgment as to whether they want to vote--that is a decision for them. However, they have a constitutional right to vote and it is certainly wrong for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to try to undermine that. He may well want further to sow seeds of disunity, but the Government believe that Scottish constituency MPs who sit in this place perform functions which, under our constitution, it is right and proper for them to undertake.

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