Hunting Bill

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Mr. Lidington: I am grateful to the Minister for the amenable tone he took, in particular towards the end of his comments on this group of amendments. My purpose in tabling them was deliberately to avoid confronting the will of the House to outlaw organised hunting, and for the purposes of this group of amendments to concede that argument and to examine the consequences of an overall ban for pest control, particularly the control of the two species that we have been debating this evening.

The arguments that have been made against the amendments do not hold water. I fail to see the moral case for making a distinction between rodents, which may be hunted freely, and rabbits, the hunting of which may be circumscribed very carefully by the provisions of the Bill, so I am not prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 17.

Division No. 12]

Beith, Mr. A. J.
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Golding, Mrs. Llin
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Lidington, Mr. David
Maples, Mr. John
Öpik, Mr. Lembit
Simpson, Mr. Keith

Banks, Mr. Tony
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Gordon, Mrs. Eileen
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lawrence, Mrs. Jackie
Michael, Mr. Alun
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Organ, Mrs. Diana
Pickthall, Mr. Colin
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Rendel, Mr. David
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Smith, Angela

Question accordingly negatived.

10 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

10.15 pm

On resuming—

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Mr. O'Brien: What a pleasure it has been to debate under your chairmanship, Mr. O'Hara, and that of Mrs. Roe. You both kept us in good order and ensured that good humour prevailed throughout our deliberations. I ask you to pass our thanks to Mrs. Roe. You have been ably supported by Mr. Priestley, the Committee Clerk, to whom I also express thanks. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary also wants to be associated with my remarks—and I thank her for her assistance throughout the Bill. It is a Home Office Bill, but I do not know what we would have done without the Lord Chancellor's Department.

Hunting is a subject that arouses strong emotions on both sides, and it is probably fair to say that we have not had a meeting of minds on the Committee. Nevertheless, we have had an informative and productive debate, and I am grateful to all members of the Committee for their generally constructive approach. Our deliberations have not been without lighter moments, many of them provided by the well-known double act of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex—our very own Little and Large. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex is wondering which is which. Those of us who were present will long remember the sight of him struggling to get his mind and tongue around the concept of wearing a cagoul.

We also thank the hon. Member for Gainsborough for his presentation of ``Mr. Archbold'' at frequent intervals throughout the proceedings—he effectively became another member of the Committee. The highlight was probably when my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle, having sent the hon. Member for Gainsborough scurrying to ``Archbold'' to look up ``connivance'' in the index, revealed that he knew all along that the whole thing was a wild goose chase.

I confess to one disappointment. At our first sitting, on the sittings motion—at column 5, for those who want to check—the hon. and learned Member for Harborough hinted that he had a ``juicy story'' to tell about my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. We are still waiting for him to share that with us. He should not make promises that he does not keep. It is a matter of regret that circumstances have not warranted that intriguing revelation and that we will always remain in the dark—although I am certain that my hon. Friend is pleased about that.

I thank all members of the Committee. By and large, it has been a good natured debate. I thank in particular the Home Office officials, for whose good advice I am grateful, and parliamentary counsel for their drafting of the Bill. I thank all the Bill team who are not here, as well as my private secretary who has been with me throughout. I thank all my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who was not always with me on every point. I also thank Opposition Members, particularly the hon. Member for Aylesbury, who put his arguments in a fair and reasoned way, and all other members of the Committee.

Mr. Lidington: On behalf of the Opposition, I second the thanks that have been given to you, Mr. O'Hara, and to Mrs. Roe, for the fair and good humoured way in which you have chaired our proceedings and made sure that we have nearly always kept strictly within order. Where you have had occasion to tick us off, you have done so with a rare combination of good humour and good learning, displayed to great effect earlier this evening. My reading at weekends, which is frequently the introductory pages of the Asterix books, will never be the same again after hearing the division of Gaul described as it ought to be.

I should also like to thank our Clerk, Mr. Priestley. The offices of the Clerks are always of great value to Opposition Members and to Back Benchers of all parties. It is a great strength of the House that the Clerks give their advice impartially to all hon. Members, regardless of their political party or the views that they hold on a particular piece of legislation.

I thank both Ministers warmly for their courteous response to the amendments and the way in which they engaged with the points we sought to make, despite their strong personal views on the subject. I regret that, for reasons that have been the subject of some contention in Committee, we have not been able to debate every amendment that was tabled. I have copious speaking notes that I shall have to put aside for a future occasion.

Finally, I thank Hansard, the police and security staff, and the Badge Messengers, who have also helped to ensure that the Committee's proceedings have been conducted expeditiously and efficiently. Like the Minister, I can honestly say that I have enjoyed participating in the Committee. The issues involved aroused strong passions and disagreements within every political party represented on this Committee, but they have been debated in a spirit of mutual respect and good humour.

Mr. Öpik: I should like to add the Liberal Democrats' voice to the thanks already given to you, Mr. O'Hara, and to Mrs. Roe. Thank you for taking a middle way in the extremes that we have heard expressed in this Room. The Bill team unquestionably deserves enormous praise for the support that has been given to all three key organisations represented.

It has been an amazing experience to hear about dogs on skateboards, Winkie and Rufus, Fudge, and the amazing possible re-employment of the hon. Member for Pendle as a lonely goatherd in Northumbria. There has been a meeting of hearts rather than of minds, and it is always reassuring to discover that even Ministers can be nice people. Above all else, we need to recognise that, fundamentally, we are a nation that cares about something more than itself; we do care about other beings. That reaffirms my belief. The issue of animal welfare has been taken seriously.

We stand in different places, but perhaps the public can be grateful that we have a serious intention and a serious commitment to these important issues. I hope that, between us, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, and my hon. Friends the Members for Newbury and for Lewes (Mr. Baker) and I, have managed to show there are at least four positions in one party on this. Thank you Mr. O'Hara, for your work. When the public read the record of our debates, I hope that they take heart from the fact that the debate is taken seriously by Britain's parliamentarians.

Mr. Soames: I have in 18 years taken part in proceedings on a number of Bills in this House, but never one of this particular type. I endorse what the Minister said. I agree with him entirely that the Bill was taken in a good spirit. As we all know that it is unlikely to reach the statute book in this Parliament; perhaps the undoubted burning resentments in the countryside have not appeared and surfaced in this Room.

I pay tribute to the Minister for the way in which he has dealt with amendments that were tabled not to provoke but in a genuine attempt to improve the legislation. The Parliamentary Secretary, who is a parliamentary icon for so many of us, has piloted this Bill through the very difficult and treacherous reefs, with tremendous skill and distinction—

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): That is enough.

Mr. Soames: Sorry.

I would also like to thank the Clerk, the officials and those who have drafted the Bill—all those who have made it go so smoothly. I suppose that, from ferreting and flushing out of mink to foxes, from lurchers to hounds, via Mrs. Prentice's pussy and Fudge the rabbit, we have covered a fair amount of ground in the past few weeks.

Finally, I pay tribute to you, Mr. O'Hara. I am sorry to have missed your display of scholarship, whereby I understand that you were able to correct my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, who as you know was a particularly slack scholar at school and will be a better person for having been pulled up by you. I thank you and Mrs. Roe very much for your very generous and broad-minded chairmanship and for allowing those of us who felt the need to stray just a little bit off the track such latitude as made it a very great deal of fun as well as extremely interesting.

The Chairman: To pick up the hon. Gentleman's point, I always found him extremely entertaining, so I was always reluctant to call him back to order, but sometimes I had to, and I shall for ever now refer to him as the hon. Member for Tristan da Cunha.

First, I give especial thanks to Steve Priestley. The Minister is absolutely right: he has been a tower of strength and support at my elbow throughout. I thank him for the able and discrete way in which he has assisted me. I also thank the Hansard staff, to whom we are indebted, and the Messengers who have ministered to our communication needs. We have had a particularly good set of civil servants who have indeed adhered to the time-honoured principle of being seen and not heard, discretely keeping Ministers extremely well informed—that is appreciated by the Chair. My thanks also, of course, to those at the back of the Room who have kept order for us.

Finally, I thank the Committee for the terms in which they have thanked and appreciated each other. It has been a good humoured Committee, and I and my co-Chairman, Mrs. Roe, have tried to keep it that way. I speak for her and will pass on hon. Members' good wishes to her. I was musing, when the hon. Member for Gainsborough referred to Julius Caesar and Gaul, that this Bill, like Gaul, was

    ``omnis divisa in partes tres''

on Second Reading, but came before this Committee in one part, because we were considering only one schedule—although but the Liberal Democrats, of course, came into this Committee divisi in partes tres, one representing each of the three points of view.

Certainly in my presence, we have got through the Bill without one reference to the time-honoured quotation of Oscar Wilde about

    ``the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable''

but I am reminded that there are other Wilde quotations that fit the Committee. He said:

    ``I can sympathise with everything except suffering''.

There has certainly been an element of that in parts of the Committee. Certain hon. Members—or at least their lurchers—can resist everything except temptation. Although it has been hard to prevent a continuous Second Reading debate, and to keep contributors to the amendments, it has been done in a good spirit, despite the strong feelings on both sides. I sincerely thank hon. Members for helping me to bring proceedings through to an orderly close.

Bill, as amended, to be reported, pursuant to the Order of the Committee [18 January].

        Committee rose at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
O'Hara, Mr. Edward (Chairman)
Banks, Mr.
Beith, Mr.
Cawsey, Mr.
Garnier, Mr.
Gibson, Dr.
Golding, Mrs.
Gordon, Mrs.
Gummer, Mr.
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lawrence, Mrs.
Leigh, Mr.
Lidington, Mr.
Maples, Mr.
Michael, Mr.
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Öpik, Mr.
Organ, Mrs.
Pickthall, Mr.
Prentice, Ms Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Rendel, Mr.
Shipley, Ms
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Angela
Soames, Mr.

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Prepared 13 February 2001