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Mr. Banks rose

Mr. Luff: I shall give way once briefly to the hon. Member for Newham.

Mr. Banks: Incidentally, my constituency is West Ham. A MORI poll in late January showed that an overwhelming 72 per cent. of British people think that foxhunting should be illegal, 80 per cent. that deer hunting should be illegal and 81 per cent. that hare coursing should be illegal. What am I going to do with this?

Mr. Luff: I took advice on the hon. Gentleman's constituency and I am sorry that the advice was wrong. I will give him a list of opinion polls showing quite the opposite.

Mr. Swire: I was listening to what the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said. The latest poll, which is more recent than the MORI poll to which he alluded, came out over the weekend. It showed that only 48 per cent. of people support hunting being made a criminal offence, while 49 per cent. said that hunting should be allowed to continue—22 per cent. were in favour of it continuing in its present form and 27 per cent. supported a licensing regime. Those are the latest statistics.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions, as I have already said, are meant to be brief.

Mr. Luff: I am grateful to my hon. Friend who makes my point for me.

Most opinion polls show a significant majority against the ban in one form or another. In any event, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) said, this House cannot be dictated to by opinion polls, whatever they say. [Laughter.] I am sorry that Labour Members find that so funny. We would be reintroducing the death penalty today rather than seeking to ban foxhunting if we had been guided by opinion polls. We must take judgments on what is best and, in doing so, be guided by all the voices that talk to us, such as vets, police officers, animal welfare academics, lawyers and all the other experts who oppose a ban, as do most serious newspapers.

That leads me to the fifth allegation that the Middle Way Group is a front for the hunting world. It is not; that is a silly attack. I have magazines attacking the Middle Way for being a front for banning hunting. The truth is that we are unpopular with both sides of the argument because we threaten their prejudices. We are not a front for anybody; we have never taken money from any organisation that wants to keep hunting going. That is simply not true. We believe that we should keep hunting going because it is in the animal welfare and human liberty interests of the nation.

Mr. Savidge rose

Mr. Luff: I am not giving way again, I am running out of time.

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The sixth allegation is that we lack credibility because we have no view on hare coursing. Frankly, I am in this debate for foxhunting—that is the sport in my constituency that drives me to the middle way position. There is a bit of hare hunting but, as far as I know, no hare coursing. I do not like hare coursing. It is not hunting as I understand it, and although most hares escape the dogs, the deaths are watched by the spectators. That puts it in a different moral category from foxhunting, where most participants never see the death of a fox. The motives are completely different.

The Middle Way Group believes that our proposals could be applied to hare coursing if the House so chose. Equally, hare coursing could be banned and our proposals applied to other, real forms of hunting. We regard that as a matter for the House, not for us, but I speak for myself when I say that I would vote for a Bill that sought to ban hare coursing and introduce the middle way for other forms of hunting with dogs.

Our proposals would crack down on illegal hare coursing, which is disliked by everyone in the House. The fines are derisory at present. Illegal hare coursing would automatically be classed as hunting without a licence; it would attract a fine of £5,000, giving the police a real incentive to enforce the law and providing a real deterrent to the illegal hare coursers. We have that unique benefit.

The seventh accusation is that the Middle Way Group is an attempt to ban hunting by the back door—the mirror image of my earlier point. We are not. It is true that we have taken on suggestions from hunting interests following the hearings that took place after the last election. Sadly, none of the campaigners for a ban would participate, which was a matter of great personal regret. However, that fear, held by many Countryside Alliance members, is misplaced.

If the Government bring forward their own middle way proposal—I have no knowledge of any deal or discussions in that respect—they must ensure that it could not be used or corrupted by a future Minister or a hunting authority improperly composed to introduce a ban through the back door.

The eighth accusation is that our proposals are expensive, clumsy and bureaucratic. I have some sympathy for those criticisms, which were made the last time these proposals came before the House. We have radically streamlined our proposals to make them less bureaucratic and costly and easier to implement. I hope that that point will commend itself to the House and that if the Minister is framing proposals along these lines he will guided by the need to be as unbureaucratic as possible.

For the Middle Way Group, our only resource has been our idea. We have had invaluable help from a couple of individuals who have stuffed envelopes for us. Not for us, however, the expensive advertising campaigns of the League Against Cruel Sports, the RSPCA, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and others. Not for us the immense resources of the Countryside Alliance. We were not even given a shoestring budget—we could not afford the shoestring. However, our idea is a compelling one, which is why it is winning.

We have a recipe that will improve animal welfare—uniquely, of these three options—and protect human liberty. We have been David taking on two Goliaths, and with informed opinion, the public and the media on our

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side, we have won. Anyone who votes for a ban tonight is voting to make animal welfare worse. To vote to ban anything for no better reason than disapproval is the route to tyranny.

8.5 pm

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): I gently remind the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) that after negotiating Scylla and Charybdis, Odysseus and his men were confronted by the sirens. The sirens, he may recall, were beautiful and sang beautifully but were surrounded by piles of bones from previous travellers—the siren voices of compromise, I suggest.

I support a total ban. The middle way is essentially the same as the status quo. In fact, as has been said, it is the status quo with added bureaucracy. It would continue the acceptance in our law of human cruelty exercised to no necessary end and the acceptance of unnecessary cruelty by sentient creatures. It is ridiculous to say that the activity is cruel but if there is a chit or licence, we can put up with it. As the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said in her excellent speech, hunting is either right or it is wrong, and that is what we are talking about tonight.

The House has voted overwhelmingly, twice, to bring an end to unnecessary cruelty to wild mammals. There can seldom in parliamentary history have been an issue on which a large majority of the people, almost the entire Labour party and the parliamentary Labour party have held views that are so much in tune. It is remarkable that that coincidence should not have quickly manifested itself in legislation.

Lembit Öpik: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickthall: No, I do not have the time.

I fully support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice). We already have a Bill that stood a lot of testing in Committee and there is no reason why on Thursday, or whenever, that Bill should not be re-presented to us, with the Parliament Act following thereafter.

I want briefly to address some of the arguments, such as they are, that pro-hunters adduce to defend the continuance of their diversion. I could at least respect the argument that simply went, "I like hunting animals and, even more, I like seeing them killed." There is an honesty about that, as there is in the confession "I like driving fast cars at 100 mph through city centres." Instead, we get a rag bag of quasi-moral assertions that do not bear a great deal of scrutiny.

The first argument, put by the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), is about individual rights. The hunters say that Parliament has no place in interfering with their individual human rights in this matter. Of course it has. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald was absolutely correct: if Parliament judges that inflicting cruelty and death on an animal for human pleasure is wrong, Parliament will, if given a chance, stop it. All legislation circumscribes individual freedoms to some degree, whether it is, at one extreme, the freedom to rape or, at another, the freedom to drive at whatever speed we wish. That is why we need Parliament, why we need governance at all—to determine these matters.

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We already have laws to prevent cock fighting, bear baiting, bull baiting, badger digging and otter hunting. They all circumscribe human rights. These laws have huge public approval. The public are saying, as we are, that we need to go further and get rid of hunting wild mammals with dogs.

The second argument is that Parliament has more important things to do. Baroness Mallalieu traipsed out that argument on "Today" this morning and we have heard it a few times tonight. It does not bear a moment's examination but it is spun heavily by pro-hunting apologists and by the Conservative party. The argument presupposes that Parliament can do only one thing at a time.

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