Hunting Bill

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Mr. Maples: Judging by recent events, it would rule out a few other Members of Parliament as well.

Mr. Bercow: I eagerly await what my hon. Friend has to say about the Hinduja brothers—as, I am sure, do all members of the Committee. Before my hon. Friend turns to that subject, he may recall that the hon. Member for West Ham was challenged on Second Reading on the difference in cruelty between hunting and fishing. What followed was a shrug, a froth at the mouth and the coruscating and intellectually formidable reply, ``Well, you've got to draw the line somewhere.'' That remark was incredibly persuasive.

Mr. Banks: That is what politics is all about.

Mr. Maples: I think that the pigeons are being treated cruelly. I do not know whether you, Mrs. Roe, saw yesterday's edition of the Evening Standard, but the hon. Gentleman was presumably seeking to demonstrate his love of animals by letting a couple of pigeons sit on his head. He certainly did not look very happy; perhaps he was anticipating what they might do next.

I intend no disrespect to the Jaines; I was trying to say that people have carried a principle to a logical but extreme position. I can understand that, just as I can understand hon. Members objecting to the killing of animals. However, unless we are prepared to be consistent, why are some animals singled out and not others? The Bill must be about morality or it is about nothing. Why is it moral to kill the rat in one's own garden but not the rat in one's neighbour's garden? Why is it moral to allow a rabbit to be flushed out so that a raptor can pick it up and drop it onto a rock from 200 ft, but not allow a dog to kill it?

The Jaines in India led me to the Hindujas and what I might call the Hinduja syndrome, which might explain the anomalies in the Bill—or even the need for it. If, instead of wanting to endow the faith zone in the dome, the Hindujas had been great fans of tiger hunting on elephants or whatever else they do in India—they might have introduced my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex to that sport—they may have endowed a hunting zone in the dome. The telephone call would probably have gone to the same Minister, presumably with the same price tag.

One cannot help speculating that it is all to do with the £1 million. One can get this Government to ban things for £1 million. Bernie Ecclestone cleverly got his £1 million back, but one can get them to ban tobacco advertising for £1 million. The International Fund for Animal Welfare gave the Labour party £1 million. We have got to the heart of the matter; someone has a commitment about foxhunting. I wonder whether Mr. Hinduja, in endowing the faith zone, encouraged the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson)—in his social climbing—to take up foxhunting, among other upper-class habits. I wonder whether similar telephone calls were made.

Mr. Rendel: I assure the hon. Gentleman that no one has so far offered me £1 million to support the ban on hunting. I do support such a ban, but if he cares to offer me £1 million to change my mind, one never knows.

The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon about the amendments before the Committee.

Mr. Maples: The amendments address anomalies in the Bill. I am trying to seek an explanation for them. The explanation can be found in the Hinduja syndrome; it is all to do with £1 million and a telephone call. That is what I believe has encouraged the Government. As a result of that donation, they are committed to banning foxhunting. They have attempted to dress the Bill up as an animal welfare measure by drawing in all these other things and trying to widen the net beyond foxes. Had the donation not been made, I wonder whether we would have found ourselves in this position.

Mr. Gummer: Surely my hon. Friend ought not to be as limited as he has been. It is not just a question of £1 million for proposing the Bill before the election. There is also the hope that, if the Bill is thrown out by the House of Lords, another £1 million might ensure that it comes back after the election.

Mr. Maples: My right hon. Friend makes an extremely interesting point. There may have to be several instalments of this contribution. Hon. Members must address this serious point. The Labour party took £1 million from an organisation to introduce this Bill and it has done so. It must demonstrate that there is no connection between those two things because, on the face of it, it looks exactly like the Bill to ban tobacco advertising; immoral, if not corrupt.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich): Would that be the same as the donation that was given to the Conservative party the other day to encourage gambling?

3.45 pm

Mr. Maples: I think that the person who gave that donation specifically said that he did not want anything.

The Chairman: Order. May I ask Members to calm down a little? I cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying and I cannot hear the interventions either. I know that we have good humour in the Committee and I am all for that, but let us get back to the subject matter so that we may all hear what is being said on both sides of the argument.

Mr. Banks: On the money that was given to the Labour party, I believe that the hon. Member for Stratford-upon-Avon is referring to the political animal lobby. Is he aware that that same organisation gave substantial donations to the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats as well?

Mr. Maples: I am not aware of that and I am extremely surprised, since it is quite clear that the £1 million price tag is being picked up today; it has never been picked up before.

Mr. Gummer: I wonder whether the hon. Member for West Ham noticed that that organisation did not continue to give money to either party once it turned out that neither was prepared to introduce this very Bill.

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): What has this to do with the amendment?

Mr. Maples: The hon. Gentleman says that this is irrelevant, but it may provide an explanation.

Mr. Gummer: It is embarrassing, not irrelevant. I would have thought that part of the Hinduja-Hartlepool syndrome was that if one proposes controversial policies, it must be absolutely clear that their background is objective. In this case, that is not clear. There is an interest at stake here with a very significant price tag attached.

Mr. Gordon Prentice: Is this business about the Hindujas more relevant to what we are discussing than the fact that the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal was censured by the Select Committee on Members Interests in 1993 for accepting a benefit in kind—a pond on his own land—and not declaring it?

The Chairman: Order. For the second time, I must ask that Members address the amendments that are before us. I have given plenty of scope to air some things in a humorous way, but I must now ask the Committee to debate the amendments.

Mr. Maples: I will do exactly that, but I must say that, in the face of an apparent huge conflict of interest, if the best that the Government can do is to come up with something that happened seven years ago—

Mr. Gummer: It is not even true.

Mr. Maples: There is a nasty smell about the background to this Bill, as there was a nasty smell about the events of yesterday and those involving Formula 1 and the tobacco advertising ban. It is up to the Minister to address this issue and to show that the Bill arises from objective considerations and is about animal welfare. The exceptions in it seem to show that it is not really about animal welfare at all.

The speech of the hon. Member for West Lancashire gave that away. He dwelt for some time on how people might use the exceptions in the Bill to enjoy themselves. What concerned him was not the dog killing the rat, but that somebody might enjoy being with the dog while it killed the rat. Many of us believe that that is what the Bill is about. If Labour Members were honest, the Bill would ban foxhunting, beagling and hare coursing, and nothing else. That is what it is designed to do. That would be much simpler, and would not give rise to any of the anomalies or problems of legal interpretation that I am talking about. It would be honest, because then it would be clear that that is what Labour Members want to do.

Labour Members want to stop hunting and hare coursing. That would be an honest motive for the Bill. At least we would then know what we were arguing about. The Bill has been dressed up with a lot of extraneous considerations, exemptions and offences that are nothing to do with the true motive to try to make it look like a piece of animal welfare legislation. However, the assertion that it is anything to do with animal welfare at all has been undermined by the totally arbitrary distinctions that it makes between what is a crime and what is not, what is moral and what is not.

I return to my central point. I do not hunt, I do not shoot and I do not fish. I have done all three, but I do not expect that I shall ever do any of them again. In fact, I did not enjoy shooting and fishing; I did not enjoy killing animals. It rather disgusted me and I did not want to do it again. However, many of my constituents like to do those things, and I do not see why they should not. [Interruption.]

Here we go again. It is people's motivation that worries Labour Members. The Bill has nothing to do with the welfare of the fox. Labour Members want to stop those people doing what they want. Many of us have habits that are unpopular and that place us in the minority, but the rights of minorities must be protected. If those rights are to be overridden by legislation, there must be an overwhelmingly moral case for doing so. The moral case must be that animal welfare is improved, and the legislation must have improving animal welfare as its objective. I submit to the Committee that the legislation is palpably not about animal welfare. The anomalies in the Bill give the lie to any claim that the principle of animal welfare underlies it.

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Prepared 25 January 2001