House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2000-01
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates
Hunting Bill

Hunting Bill

Standing Committee B

Thursday 18 January 2001

[Mr. Edward O'Hara in the Chair]

Hunting Bill

2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I beg to move,


    (1) the Standing Committee shall meet on Thursday 18th January at Two o'clock;

    (2) after that date the Standing Committee shall meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at quarter-past Ten o'clock and at Two o'clock;

    (3) proceedings shall be taken in the order shown in the Table below;

    (4) proceedings shall be concluded at the time shown in the second column of the Table (unless concluded earlier).

ProceedingsLatest time for conclusion
Proceedings on Clauses 5 and 6Fifteen minutes after the commencement of proceedings on Clause 5
Proceedings on Schedules 1 and 2 Fifteen minutes after the commencement of proceedings on Schedule 1
Proceedings on Schedule 3
New Schedules
5.50 p.m. on Thursday 8th February
6 p.m. on Thursday 8th February

It is a pleasure, Mr. O'Hara, to meet under your wise chairmanship. I have served under your chairmanship before and under that of Mrs. Roe. I know that both of you will keep us in order with your customary mix of authority and good humour and I hope that I, at least, will not try your patience too much in the weeks ahead. I cannot speak for other Committee members, but I trust that they will also stay in order throughout.

The resolution emerged from the Programming Sub-Committee, which met earlier today. It is straightforward and simple, so I hope that I can be brief. It requires us to meet twice a day on Tuesdays, following normal Committee hours. For the convenience of several members, including me, it proposes that we do not convene early on Thursday mornings, but at 10.15 am and for just over an hour. However, that will be followed by a long sitting on Thursday afternoons to ensure that we meet for at least five hours every Thursday, which is the length of two normal sittings.

The Committee will therefore have more than the 12 sittings that I promised in moving the programme motion before the 8 February deadline. Indeed, we should be able to have 13 sittings. The programme motion, which the House passed immediately after Second Reading, set the deadline.

The Committee has been mandated to consider a single schedule. The House as a whole decided which of the three options in the Bill should be retained. I appreciate that there are currently three schedules in the Bill; I will address that matter shortly.

Of course, not all members of the Committee agree with the choice that the House made yesterday, but our job is to give detailed consideration to schedule 3, and no more or less that. That is reflected in the resolution that the Programming Sub-Committee has produced, which allows us 15 minutes to consider clauses 5 and 6; although some members might consider that a generous allocation. A further 15 minutes are allowed to consider schedules 1 and 2; these are the schedules that the House as a whole has rejected, and we should not waste time by re-debating an issue on which the House has already given its view. The rest of our time is to be devoted to a full and proper consideration of schedule 3, apart from a few minutes at the end to consider new schedules—although it is hard to see what new schedules could sensibly be proposed.

The resolution does not seek to impose deadlines for reaching certain points in our deliberations. That will give the Committee substantial flexibility in making progress, but progress we hope to see. I hope that the Committee will use its time wisely, and I therefore invite the Committee to agree the resolution.

I also want to set out the stance that will be adopted during the Committee's proceedings by me and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), who I am delighted to say will be assisting me on the Bill. The Government are neutral on hunting with dogs and, as far as possible, we intend to preserve our neutrality by not taking sides on issues about which we do not take a view. However, we have a responsibility to ensure that any Act of Parliament is both workable and properly drafted and we shall, if necessary, oppose amendments that would be contrary to those requirements. We shall consider purely technical amendments in that light, consulting parliamentary counsel as appropriate.

We believe that we have a duty to safeguard the integrity of the option that the whole House has selected, and shall resist any attempt to undermine it or alter it fundamentally. I am grateful for your indulgence to make that point, Mr. O'Hara. I shall write to each of the three interest groups, setting out how the Government intend to proceed during the Committee so that they are properly and directly briefed by me about how we shall deal with each amendment.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): I join the Minister in welcoming you to the chairmanship of this Committee, Mr. O'Hara. I remember that you were in the Chair when the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) was filibustering his Bill in Committee a couple of years ago. We had great fun then and I dare say that we shall do so during this Committee. There will be serious discussion and, no doubt, moments of high emotion, when tempers will have to be controlled. I am sure that both you and your colleague, Mrs. Roe, will ensure that our deliberations are conducted within the rules of the House.

I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is on the Committee. We did battle on the Human Rights Act 1998, we have travelled abroad on the armed forces parliamentary scheme and we have learned never to turn our backs on each other. I have never wanted to turn my back on the other Minister involved, the Parliamentary Secretary of State, Lord Chancellor's Department. The whole Committee is delighted that her legal expertise, and all the inestimably valuable authority of the Lord Chancellor's Department, will be fully deployed at all stages of the proceedings. The Committee may not know, but she and I certainly do, that she owes me one. When she was a Whip—

The Parliamentary Secretary of State, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy): Oh, the hon. and learned Gentleman is not going to tell that story.

Mr. Garnier: The hon. Lady is right. I am not going to tell that story; I just wanted to remind her that I may do.

To move from a jocular note to a serious one, my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) should be facing the Minister. However, his child was taken seriously ill this morning and had to be taken to hospital so, understandably, he cannot be here this afternoon. He sends his apologies both to you, Mr. O'Hara, and to the Committee as a whole. We hope that his child recovers speedily, so that he can be present when we meet on Tuesday.

The Minister candidly, as always, admitted that the Government's position on this Bill is one of neutrality. I am a history graduate and I understand the concept of armed neutrality. When the time comes, the Minister will no doubt display the same neutrality that I shall in representing the official Opposition. Like the Government, as a matter of parliamentary procedure, we take a position of strict neutrality. As he admitted yesterday in his winding-up speech, I make no bones about the fact that I find the Bill thoroughly objectionable for a host of reasons as, I dare say, do a vast number of people. We shall discuss our differences as we progress.

I shall refer to one or two of the paragraphs of the programme resolution, the new procedure that the Government have dreamed up to curtail debate. It was called a sittings motion in the days when Parliament was free to discuss legislation. It seems a pity—although it is understandable—that proceedings on schedules 1 and 2 are to be limited to 15 minutes. I appreciate that the House spent several hours discussing those schedules yesterday, but a great deal more could have been said about them, and we are all the poorer for having such restrictions in this Committee.

Equally, although I can see the force of the Minister's arguments that the wording of clauses 5 and 6 is of short compass, the implications of the clauses go much further. I suggest that hon. Members read those clauses if they have not yet done so. They deal with the title and the geographical jurisdiction of the Bill. The issues concerning them that were raised yesterday by, for example, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) were not adequately discussed in the Chamber. Limiting to 15 minutes our discussion on the geographical jurisdiction of the Bill is deeply regrettable.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Garnier: I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, who has retired from the Front Bench to muck around with us in Committee.

Mr. Michael: The hon. and learned Gentleman may intend to muck around in the Committee, but I intend to take it seriously, just as I take seriously the process of devolution. That process has settled the matter of the geographical jurisdiction in the UK; it extends to England and Wales. The arguments that were raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion, a representative of the Welsh nationalist party, which the hon. and learned Gentleman thinks were not properly debated, were entirely a diversion.

Mr. Garnier: I can see that I have already touched a sore nerve. I know that the Labour party and the people of Wales have told us what they think of the right hon. Gentleman, but no doubt we will have time to discuss that matter.

I return to the remainder of the programme resolution. We need to move on to the meat of the Bill in as short as possible a compass, but I regret that we are prohibited from discussing it beyond Thursday 8 February. I expect that many hon. Members will want to contribute between then and now, and that it will become apparent that both those who do and those who do not support the contents of the Bill will feel restricted by the programme resolution. That is not only regrettable, but a denial of democracy—in fact I think that the whole Bill is a denial of democracy.


House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 18 January 2001