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16 Dec 2002 : Column 591—continued

Several hon. Members rose—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have a point of order from Mr. Flynn.

Paul Flynn: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I raise a point of order on the Sessional Orders? I walked across from Waterloo at quarter past 5 with extreme difficulty. May I say a word of thanks to the police? I quoted the Sessional Orders to them and they led me through a crowd of loutish people whose behaviour was very threatening. I witnessed at least one act of violence, which I am sure will be on the television tomorrow. What on earth are those people doing in believing that by holding up the London traffic and causing unnecessary disruption they can persuade anyone—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments, but that is not a point of order for the Chair. I call Mr. Banks.

6.35 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Bellingham: Nice tie, Tony.

Mr. Banks: Thank you. Perhaps I ought to explain that this rather garish necktie, which has been pointed

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out by the hon. Gentleman, was presented to me at a dinner in Scarborough on Friday night. I said that I would wear it for the debate on Second Reading, but it is not an attempt, as it were, to emulate the shadow leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), whose sartorial taste defies adequate description. I shall not bother to press the button on the tie, as the House will get a rather tinny version of XJingle Bells". If the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) wants to borrow it while he makes his speech, I shall give it to him afterwards. The hon. Gentleman has diverted me totally from what I was going to say, but what the hell.

The Scarborough and Whitby constituency has about six hunts, and what bothers people there is the fact that if the Bill is unamended they will still have six. They were certainly not happy about that. I do not altogether agree with them, however, as the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) inadvertently made a rather good speech from an anti-hunt point of view. He said why the Bill should be given a Second Reading and why it should be unamended. I do not happen to agree with him, but he made a good case suggesting that the Bill could—just could—end hunting altogether. [Interruption.] We do not have to bother to amend it if it will, but I have to disappoint hon. Members, because that is exactly what we intend to do.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury concluded by saying that surely we have more important things to do. I can assure him that many people on both sides of the House who are bored with the issue would like to resolve it, which is why the Government have made it clear that the two Houses of Parliament will be given the opportunity to do so. Let us do that. We will never agree on the issue, but at least we can agree that we need to resolve it.

Interestingly, the hon. Gentleman used exactly the same argument when my right hon. Friend the Minister made his statement on the Bill on 3 December. The hon. Gentleman said, XWhat are the Government's priorities when we end up with this statement before the one on A-levels?" What happened when we reached the end of my right hon. Friend's statement and moved on to the statement on A-levels? Everyone got up and went out—on both sides of the House, I might add.

Lembit Öpik rose—

Mr. Banks: I will not give way. The issue might not be the most important facing the country—it most certainly is not—but it is not unimportant and we have to resolve it.

I do not intend to speak at length on the arguments over the Bill—certainly not after the diversion caused by my tie—but I must make a few points on the issue. Parliament has been debating the matter of hunting wild mammals with dogs since 1893. There have been dozens of attempts to take Bills through the House. Most failed as they were voted down, talked out or abandoned, but the arguments simply do not go away, and they will not until we have resolved the issue. It is a moral issue about cruelty to animals. I take a straightforward view: it is wrong to take pleasure from the killing of animals. Indeed, it is as wrong to take pleasure from the killing of animals as it is to take pleasure from the killing of human beings.

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All the points that have been made about halal meat and so on are not the issue. There is a lot of cruelty in intensive farming, for example, and I deplore it, but no one can say that anyone takes pleasure from it, or from the halal process, although I would be in favour of stopping both.

Dr. Palmer: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very welcome that the Minister with responsibility for animal welfare, in negotiations with the Muslim community, has greatly reduced the suffering involved in the preparation of halal meat?

Mr. Banks: Yes, indeed, I think that 90 or 95 per cent. of the animals killed using the halal process are now pre-stunned, and there is nothing in the Koran to prevent that. I hope that we will make it 100 per cent.

This is not a class issue. If all those who went out hunting were registered members of new Labour, I would still oppose hunting. It is not a town versus country issue. Dozens and dozens of Members of Parliament with rural constituencies will be voting with me tonight—more, I suspect, than will be voting the other way. It is a moral issue and one on which we cannot compromise.

Conservative Members have talked about hunting and tradition, but exactly the same argument was used about bull baiting, otter hunting—only recently—dog fighting, cock fighting, pig sticking, and so on and on. Some say that this is a matter of human rights, but we do not have rights as humans to torture and kill animals for pleasure. There cannot be any human rights involved in that.

By definition, the animals cannot speak for themselves, so we will speak for them here in Parliament. I must say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that, in my humble opinion, we cannot accept a licensing regime. We must support the Bill, because we need a Bill to amend. Some people on our side of the argument say that they will oppose it, but that is crass. Frankly, if it is defeated, hunting will continue. That is precisely why Conservative Members want to vote it down. There will not be another opportunity in this Parliament to end the hunting of wild mammals with dogs, so we must vote for the Bill on Second Reading and seek to amend it in Committee and on Report.

Miss McIntosh: I am happy to give West Ham a penalty point—I fear they may need it at the moment.

Did I carry the hon. Gentleman with me on my remark about the contribution that horses that participate in hunting make to the future of the national hunt? Does he agree that if the number of exempt hunts was reduced to such a low level that the national hunt was jeopardised, this would indeed be a very bad Bill?

Mr. Banks: It would be, if that was the conclusion, but the fact is that drag hunting provides precisely the same opportunities as foxhunting, so the hon. Lady's argument is not especially strong.

The Bill is good in that it takes us a step further. I say that as one who has been consistent in opposing all forms of hunting wild mammals with dogs. The Bill

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bans hare coursing and deer hunting, which is good. The hon. Member for Aylesbury may have a point: it could end up with all hunting being finished through the licensing system or the failure to get a licence under the Bill. However, there is no guarantee. I commend the Minister for his valiant effort, as it takes quite a lot to unite—almost—the Conservative party and bring out its true face. So much for caring, compassionate conservatism, and welcome back to evil, nasty, vicious conservatism, which gives us back our compass so that we know what is really going on.

The Bill is a good try, and if we did not have it we would have nothing to amend, but because it does not give a guarantee I cannot entirely support it as published, although I will certainly vote for it tonight. I look forward to seeing an end to hunting at long last. I hope that, by the end of next year, hunting will be finished. Then, of course, John Peel will have to find something else to do with his horn in the morning.

6.45 pm

Andrew George (St. Ives): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), whose knowledge, commitment and passion on this issue are widely recognised.

As I represent a rural constituency with two hunts in it, I know that the issue generates high emotions and indignation on all sides—certainly to the extent that it creates serious disturbance outside the House, which none of us would endorse. The hon. Member for West Ham is right to say that the belief that it is a question of townies versus the countryside is misplaced. As a countryman, I do not feel that I am represented by some of the lobby groups who claim that country people should be pro-hunting. Many of my family are engaged in farming, and they have a variety of views on hunting, but I do not think that any of them will allow the hunt over their land, often for good, practical reasons. For example, livestock farmers at Mullion will not allow the hunt on their land because the participants are so inept that they worry the livestock, destroy the hedgerows and disturb the farmland.

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