Many hon. Members have spoken about cruelty. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer,) who said that there is cruelty in any form of field sport. Of course there is. There is cruelty in shooting. There is cruelty in fishing. There is particular cruelty in coarse fishing. There is cruelty in any form of killing animals. There is cruelty in slaughterhouses. We eat meat for our pleasure. We wear leather shoes for our pleasure. Any form of killing animals is cruel, but the question is how cruel it is.
I believe strongly, as a number of hon. Members have argued this evening, that if we ban hunting, foxes will suffer more and more. More foxes will be shot, snared or gassed. As we heard a number of times this evening, a fox that is shot is rarely killed cleanly. Frequently, the fox will be wounded and it will die a lingering death from gangrene.
I shall deal with the social fabric of hunting in the community. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks said, hunting is crucial in many areas. At a time when foot and mouth has caused devastation in the countryside, hunting may provide only a small number of jobsperhaps 6,000, 10,000 or 14,000but every one of those jobs is precious and deserves our concern and our interest.
If it were not for hunting, we would not have point-to-point racing. Point-to-point racing depends on hunting. If it were not for hunting, we would not have the knackerman. In my constituency, when farmers have fallen stock, or a pony that is too old and needs putting down, it is the hunt that comes along and removes that cow or sheep, or puts down that pony. If hunting goes, the knackerman goes.
Mrs. Ann Winterton: I want to sum up after a very interesting debate in which there have been good contributions from Members on both sides of the House. There have been some starsthe hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) was, as ever, courageous, full of common sense and had the best motives in supporting the middle way. The biggest star of all was my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who was scintillatinga real tour de force. He reflected the view of the countryside and of Yorkshire.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) showed equal courage in changing his view and deciding not to vote for a total ban. He gave his speech amid much heckling from his own side. My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) gave a thoughtful and philosophical speech that even preached tolerance. In contrast, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was as feisty as ever but her arguments would, at a stroke, have brought to an end all angling competitions, which would not be very popular.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) repeated a point that was made many times: there is no compelling public interest in introducing a ban on hunting and, in his view, it should not be part of the criminal law. My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) made his usual passionate speech. As the voice of Wales in this debate, the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) referred to the cruelty in the Animal Health Bill and in the Government's proposals. There was a trenchant contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik), who is going to buy me a drink later, was as articulate as ever in promoting the middle way option.
We have heard powerfully held views on both sides of the argumentsome polarised and others more reflective. Many speakers have commented on the timing of the debate, which they believe is insensitive and a distraction from more important national and animal welfare issues.
In a matter of individual judgment and conscience, there are practical difficulties, some of which were not addressed, especially by Labour Members. What will replace hunting? How will the fox population in particular be controlled, especially when they are predatory? Will gassing, poisoning or shooting be the answer? What of the wounding of animals after they have been shot and the lack of retrieval of the wounded? Is that not an issue? Is hunting not the more humane method of controlling the fox population?
I do not envy the Minister. He is in a difficult situation, but it is of the Government's making. At the end of the day, this is a class warfare issuewe saw that rear its ugly head during the debate. It is nothing to do with animal welfare. This is them against the countryside. This is class warfare on the Labour Benches, while on this side of the House the argument is freedom, freedom, freedom.
Alun Michael: I said that I hoped that the House would rise to the occasion, as it sometimes does in a difficult and contentious debate that ends in a free vote. That is difficult when an issue has been debated on many occasions, so it is to the credit of the House that the quality of debate tonight has been high.
Let us remember that the Government have stayed neutral on this issue; right hon. and hon. Members have made this a parliamentary issue that has to be resolved. The normal mechanisms of the private Member's Bill or Back-Bench amendments have not enabled Parliament to reach a conclusion. Neither the Burns report nor enabling the three campaigning groups to give legislative form to their preferred option revealed a simple way forward. There is no magic wand. This debate is the first stage of a process that rightly starts with listening to Members of this House. I assure right hon. and hon. Members that they will not have wasted their time in this debate or in the Lobby.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) said that the Government are entitled to have a debate on hunting. Actually, it is the House that is entitled to have a debate on hunting. He made an entertaining speech, but he is clearly unaware of the Government's efforts to aid rural recovery, to support parish councils and to help the enormous success of "your countryside, you're welcome" by supporting some 50 organisations in promoting visits to the countryside and bridging the perceived divide between town and country. He is unaware of our work to implement the rural White Paper, even in a year when foot and mouth disease swept the country.
There were some puzzling contributions, such as that of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who did not explain whether his opposition to whale hunting is based on a belief that it is a sin or a crime. We are legislators.
I reject the view of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), who is a nationalist and not a supporter of devolution, that the House should abrogate its responsibility on a non-devolved issue. I was disappointed to hear the class warrior, the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), allege arrogance on the part of Government in allowing time for debate. We have made it clear that education, health, transport and care for the elderly are our priorities. All MPs who want this matter to be dealt with have said time and again that it is not their most important issue, but that it needs to be brought
There were some excellent contributions, with a good deal of memorable wit and humour. If I had to choose one sentence of advice to the House, it would be from the speech of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who said that neither side should assume that the views of the other have been reached on the basis of prejudice. She was not suggesting that we should listen to the views of others and always accept them. Conservative Members will have noticed that she made a robust contribution and argued passionately for a ban on hunting. Hers was a challenge to listen and think.
In pursuing our beliefs, we should be practical about the application of any principle. Often, when pursuing a principle, the devil is in the detail, and those whose views we dislike may say things that are worth hearing. That is why I have listened tonight to opinions on all sides of the argument. I will listen to all sides in the other place tomorrow. Of course I will have regard to the votes cast on the three motions tonight. Respect for democracy requires attention to basic arithmetic. That is the point of having a vote.
I must refute the suggestion that a deal is being done behind closed doors, or that there is to be a sell-out. I ask hon. Members to cast that notion aside, and to accept that the Government are trying to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on this issue. That was the commitment that we made in our manifesto at the time of the election. This is an issue for Parliament, and our commitment is to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion. Having been given that responsibility, I shall do my best to ensure that the process has integrity, and that Parliament can reach a conclusion. After the two days of debate, I shall come to the House to make a statement on the way forward, and I hope that I shall carry the House with me. It is now time for Members to express their choice.