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Speaker's Statement

4.21 pm

Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business and I would like to make a statement regarding the Hunting Bill programme motion manuscript amendment. A manuscript amendment was tabled to the programme motion to enable new clause 11 to be taken before Government new clause 13. I have not selected the amendment.

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Hunting Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

4.22 pm

The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): I beg to move,

The motion provides for a variation of the programme order agreed by the House on 16 December when the Bill received its Second Reading. Paragraph 2 of the motion provides that tonight's Report stage shall end five and a half hours after the beginning of this programme motion debate. I will keep my remarks very short since the longer we spend on the motion, the less time we will have for the main debate.

Paragraph 3 of the motion provides for the order of consideration of amendments during tonight's debate. We will begin with a group covering the big issue, which is about what is to be banned. The lead amendment is new clause 13 in my name, which was tabled with the names of a number of hon. Friends. Taken with the other provisions of the Bill, it will ban all cruelty associated with hunting with dogs.

The first group includes new clause 11, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and others, which has been described as seeking a complete ban on fox hunting.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): With the timetable that the Minister is proposing, does he expect the House to have a chance to discuss all the groups of amendments before the House?

Alun Michael: Yes, it is for the House to decide how it wishes to use the time, and I am conscious that most of the big issues are in the first group of amendments. Other issues in groups of amendments that deal with largely lesser matters, or matters that are consequent on undertakings given in Committee are comparatively straightforward.

As I have indicated, paragraph 3 of the motion provides for the order of consideration of amendments during tonight's debate. I have referred to the two lead amendments in the first group. Mr. Speaker, you would quickly call me to order if I began now to explain my reasons for recommending new clause 13 rather than new clause 11. We will have plenty of time to debate that issue. I must draw the House's attention to the fact that

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I have been advised this morning by the House authorities that if new clause 13 is passed, Mr. Speaker will not be able to call a vote on new clause 11. That is because the provisions of the two clauses are legally incompatible. It does not change the fact that both new clauses are available for debate and, if my hon. Friends so choose, available to be voted on. What is clear, as it always has been, is that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends face a choice between the two: the choice is still, effectively, between a Bill that is simple to explain and one that is simple to enforce.

Paragraph 4 of the programme motion provides for the possibility of a motion to recommit the Bill to a Standing Committee at the end of the Report stage. There has been much discussion, and not a little misunderstanding, about that possibility since it was mentioned at business questions last week. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House then made clear, it is not a question of some underhand dealings by the Government to prevent the Bill from going forward, but simply a necessary precaution to ensure that the Bill goes forward and does so in a workable form.

The House must understand that if new clause 11 were added to the Bill, the Bill would not be workable without further amendment. We must not send a defective Bill to the other place, and we would face extreme difficulty if we sought to apply the Parliament Acts to a defective piece of legislation. Recommittal is an inevitable consequence of opting for new clause 11.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough): If the Minister is concerned that the Bill is imperfect, and we can see from the number of Government amendments that it is, why does he not send it straight back to the Committee rather than using a day of Government time on which we could be discussing other matters?

Alun Michael: The Bill as it stands is far from imperfect. It is a very strong Bill. It deals with the issue of cruelty involved with hunting, and it does so comprehensively. The reason for the possibility of recommittal is that we are in free vote territory. Members may take decisions that leave the Bill in a state in which further amendment is necessary. That is what I have made absolutely clear.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Last Thursday, the Leader of the House said to me:

I seek from the Minister precise clarification so that the House may proceed in good order in today's debate. Will he give a clear commitment that if he needs to move the recommittal motion later today, the Bill will go into Standing Committee in time for the House to complete all stages next week so that the Bill can go to the House of Lords before the recess?

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Alun Michael: Obviously, there are business matters here, but my understanding is that the Bill would be dealt with before the recess, on its return from the Standing Committee. The answer to my right hon. Friend's question is therefore yes. What we would lose is the date that has been set for Second Reading in the Lords of 17 July, before the other place goes into recess, but the answer is yes.

Mr. Kaufman: It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify two things. When he says the Bill "would be dealt with", does he mean that it would complete all its stages in this House, including Third Reading? Secondly, while he says that that would make it not possible for the Bill to reach the House of Lords by the scheduled Second Reading date of 17 July, can he guarantee that, in those circumstances, it would get to the Lords for a Second Reading in time, if necessary, for the Parliament Act provisions of one month to be invoked?

Alun Michael: My understanding is that it would be the intention for the Bill to be able to complete its proceedings in this House before the recess and then to go to the Lords. As to the precise possibilities in terms of the application of the Parliament Act, my right hon. Friend is asking me to go further than my knowledge can take me, particularly because there are uncertainties about the application of the Parliament Act, which are, of course, a matter for this House. It is not the Government's intention to frustrate the speediest reaching of a conclusion on the issue. As I have made clear, if we can deal with everything tonight, and if the Bill, in the robust form that I recommend to the House, is passed by the House during its proceedings today, the debate in the House of Lords is scheduled before the recess.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): Will my right hon. Friend clarify the substantive issue about the need for additional Committee proceedings? I am a co-signatory to an amendment on mink hunting and I understand that the Government feel that if foxes are exempt, it might be necessary to delete part 2 of the Bill and thus the matter would have to go back to Committee. Is that the reason? If mink hunting were not banned explicitly, but was left as an issue for registration, would that obviate the need to return to Committee?

Alun Michael: I believe not, for a number of reasons. As I understand it, there are consequentials arising from the amendments that are difficult to predict in advance. The amendments are complicated—they are a sequence of events—and we need to ensure that the Bill is in good order. As I indicated in my responses to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), we shall deal with those issues as expeditiously as possible, consequent on a recommital.

Mr. Kaufman: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that you will accept that if the House is to proceed to debate the Bill in good order, the latter part of the question that I put to the Minister requires a very early

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answer in the course of the debate. If the Minister himself is not in a position to answer the question about the Parliament Act, may I ask that the Leader of the House or the Deputy Leader of the House come to the House early today so that the House knows exactly where it stands?

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