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Mr. Leigh: When Opposition Members make a reasonable point such as that, Ministers say merely that this Parliament is supreme and that the Scottish Parliament is only a devolved Parliament. In his opening comments, the Minister implied that the Scottish Parliament is only a semi-Parliament, or half a Parliament. However, that does not resolve the problem that we have no control over the knacker industry or hunting in Scotland. Those obvious and powerful points have been made many times, and I need not repeat them.

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I make one final plea to the Minister. I do not ask for a general compensation scheme for people who are losing their sport, but I do ask that the Minister be understanding of the plight faced by the 8,000 people on low incomes who will lose their jobs as a result of the Bill.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): The hon. Gentleman is being careful to draw a fairly tight line with regard to who he thinks should be compensated. However, does not he agree with the hon Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) that that is not what the amendments do? Amendment No. 36(1)(b) deals with compensation for

The hon. Gentleman is making a reasonable point, but is not he speaking against the amendment, which was tabled by Conservative Members and some Liberal Democrat Members?

Mr. Leigh: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is terribly important that we do not indulge in debating points when we are dealing with real jobs and real people. Free votes on matters of conscience require hon. Members to develop their own arguments in their own way. We must relate those arguments to real conditions on the ground.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) is a reasonable gentleman. If the Minister were to tell him that the compensation scheme was too widely drawn and that it would cost a lot of money, but that he understood the argument and was prepared to respond positively, I am sure that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire would be happy with that reply.

Mr. Öpik: The Middle Way Group proposal is about the principle of compensation. If the Minister were to say that the Government accepted that there was a case for compensation, we could reply that we were not hung up about the words in our amendment. However, we are committed to the principle of compensation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) raised some genuine matters that we need to debate.

Mr. Leigh: That is a very fair intervention. I hope that the Minister will think on it. He may not be able to give us even half of what we are asking for tonight, but he is a fair-minded person and will know that many people on low incomes are very worried about losing their jobs. I hope that the Minister, when he replies to the debate, will be able to give them some hope that some compensation may be available to them.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the outset, may I say that farmers in my very rural Cotswold constituency will not understand why a debate lasting a full parliamentary day is being given to this Bill, when they are surrounded by cases of foot and mouth disease? Cases of the disease have been announced in Wiltshire and Herefordshire. My farmers' livelihood hangs on a thread, and they will not understand why Parliament is discussing this Bill rather than what is, for them, a matter of life and death. However, it has been decreed that we should discuss this matter, so that is what I shall now do.

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7 pm

The new clause proposes an alternative method of disposal of fallen stock. Lord Burns, in his comprehensive and seminal work on hunting says, at paragraph 10.60:

New clause 1 and amendment No. 40 deal with those two matters.

I do not believe that the Government have properly considered the matter of fallen stock. In preparation for the debate on the Burns report, I asked the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the right hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin), two questions. Having given the breakdown of the number of animals that were estimated to be disposed of by hunts, the right hon. Lady said:

I have no doubt that the Minister will wish to update us as to what the thinking has been since that reply. Considering that the question was posed against the background of the Burns report, which the Government had had adequate time to consider, I thought that that was an extraordinary answer.

Mr. Gummer: Will my hon. Friend return to his earlier point about compensation being crucial? Is it not true to say that if this were a Bill to ban bingo in cities, the party that would be the first to demand that those concerned with bingo--the people who open the doors, take the money and run the operation--were compensated would be the Labour party? But apparently, because it takes place in the countryside, hunting does not count.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My right hon. Friend makes some extremely telling remarks. [Interruption.] Labour Members laugh. They laugh at the fact that they have produced a Bill that will deprive a substantial number of people of their livelihood without compensation. If that is not a disgrace, I do not know what is.

The actions of the members of the governing party will be scrutinised carefully by those in the countryside when they consider, very shortly, how to cast their vote, and I think that the governing party will get a big shock. Voters will be deeply influenced by what the Minister of Agriculture said yesterday in relation to the foot and mouth outbreak, and they will certainly be influenced by the conduct of the Government in this debate.

The second question that I asked in preparation for the debate on the Burns report was to the then Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--now the Minister of State, Department of Social Security. I asked what alternative arrangements had been made for considering the disposal of fallen stock and the destruction of animal casualties if hunting were banned. The Minister replied:

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Let us deal with those three possibilities. Unless the Minister can tell us otherwise, we will assume that the 200 hunts that currently deal with fallen stock handle 415,000 carcases in the course of a year. That is a considerable number of carcases, and it will require a considerable quantity of alternative disposal methods, knackers' yards and knacker men to deal with them. I am a farmer--it is in the register of members' interests--and I know that knacker men deal with animals which have, for example, a broken leg from an accident in the field. If those animals have to be loaded up into some form of transport to be hauled miles to the nearest slaughterhouse or facility that is licensed to take them, there will be a serious animal welfare problem.

In the past few days, since the foot and mouth problem began, we have seen how easy it is for virulent diseases to be spread as animals are transported from one end of the land to the other to be slaughtered. The increased journeys that the animals have to endure constitute an animal welfare problem, but the spread of disease is a real problem as well.

Mr. Paterson: I am loth to interrupt my hon. Friend in mid-flow, but there is an important distinction to be made here. In relation to this Bill we are talking largely about animals that are completely healthy. Dairy cows that have slipped in the yard because the ground is icy or that have died giving birth are impossible to move. The whole point about the hunt service is that the hunt staff come round immediately, within half an hour, and put the animal down, on the spot, without causing distress.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend, who understands these matters better than most hon. Members, is entirely right. The hunts offer an animal welfare-friendly service that is second to none. It would be a retrograde step if that service were in any way disrupted.

The idea, voiced by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), that hunts are somehow peddling diseased animals that should not be fed to hounds, is a despicable slur on the hunting industry, which is very reputable. If the hon. Gentleman has evidence, he should report it to the local trading standards officer, who will investigate it immediately. The fact that he has been unable to produce any evidence today shows the poverty of his case.

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