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Kate Hoey (Vauxhall): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the longer we have debated the issue over the years that we have spent on it, the more people in the country change their minds and now say that they do not think that a ban is necessary?
Mr. Forth: The hon. Lady is correct. That is yet another reason why those people would expect their Parliament, their House of Commons and their representatives to have a say, voice their opinions and ensure that the matter is dealt with in a balanced way and as a matter of judgment.
We face all the complications of the possible recommittal to Standing Committee. Even yet, that point has not been thoroughly explored in the time available to the programme motion. We face the time pressure on both Housesthis House and the House of Lordsand the Parliament Act is hovering behind all that. We need to tease out the implications of that.
We have, sadly, over the past few years become used to Government diktat, but this motion must be one of the most extreme examples of the Government coming to the House and, without any consultation or negotiation, saying, "This is the time available to youno more, no less. You will now resolve these varied and important matters in only five and a half hours." I suppose that it is too much to ask but, even at this stage, I ask the Minister to take account of the views of his Back Benchers even if he does not listen to the Opposition and to consider withdrawing the programme motion or rescinding it in some other way so that we have a proper amount of time to discuss the Bill and to do justice to the issues before us. It is a last-minute request, but I hope that I am not too late and that the Government will consider it. If not, I hope that we shall all vote against this dreadful motion.
Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): I have some sympathy for the views expressed by the shadow Leader of the House. However, I also recall that when my right hon. Friend the Minister stood up to make a statement on the Bill, he was upbraided by the Opposition who asked why the Government had put that statement on before one on education. There was a murmur of agreement on the other side. When my right hon. Friend sat down, the House emptied, so whatever anyone else says, there is considerable interest in the matter. I tell the shadow Leader of the House that if my right hon. Friend had proposed two days or more of discussion, I am sure that many Opposition Members would have said, "Haven't we more important things to debate?". This is an argument that the Government and the Opposition cannot win. We should, perhaps, be grateful for the small mercies that the Government have extended.
I am not at all happy with the motion. According to my mathematics, the number 11 normally comes before 13apparently not if the Government deem it otherwise. Many people outside the House, and a number inside, think that the programme motion is a procedural device to prevent a vote on a total ban. We did not have the chance to table a manuscript amendment to reverse the order of consideration, so if new clause 13 is agreed, it will trump new clause 11, which would mean that we may not vote on a total ban.
There was a lot of speculation in the press over the weekend. In The Sunday Times, Mr. Eben Blacka man who is not noted for his accuracy of reportingsaid that new clause 11, which was ascribed to me, was a late intervention. That is not so, because the total ban amendment was drafted and ready by the end of the Committee stage on 27 February. The Government's programme motion was a late intervention, because we received notice of it only towards the latter end of last week.
We could have tabled an amendment to introduce a total ban on fox hunting in Committee, but the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs herself explicitly and forcefully asked us not to do soshe can be very forceful. The language that she used quite shocked some of the more timorous members of the Committee. She said, "We do not want the amendment to be put before the Committee because we need wider consultation in the House to get a wider spread of opinion, so please"I do not actually think that the word "please" came into it"do not table it." We agreed, which is why the amendment was not tabled in Committee.
We agreed not to table the amendment because we said that we thought that it was reasonable to have a wider debate and vote on a total ban, but under the programme motion, if new clause 13 is accepted, we will not have a vote on new clause 11, which would introduce a total ban. We were told that there would be difficulties with new clause 11, although we shall discuss those in a minute. Quite frankly, I do not believe that the difficulties are there unless the Government want them to be.
Miss Widdecombe: I am grateful to my hon. and strictly temporary Friend. Does he agree that the Prime Minister gave us not one but several undertakings that Parliament would indeed have the opportunity to vote on a total ban? If we do not have the opportunity to vote on new clause 11, does he agree that those undertakings will have been breached and, to put it in the vernacular, that the Prime Minister would have ratted?
Mr. Banks: I would not necessary use those precise words. The situation would certainly lead to a reasonably justifiable case being made for bad faith on the Government's part because, frankly, if there were real or imagined difficulties with new clause 11, they could have been resolved in Committee. I have already explained why we did not debate a total ban in Committee.
Alun Michael: I do not always recognise the way in which things are described. For example, I do not recall many members of the Committee being especially timorous, and I recall my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State using the word "please" with some emphasis. There is an opportunity to vote on my hon. Friend's new clause. As it happens, the way in which the process works means that that would involve voting down new clause 13we have, effectively, a choice between the two. I accept that entirely. I hope to persuade the House to support new clause 13, because I believe passionately that it is right. However, new clause 11 is before the House for debate and can be voted on, if that is agreed by hon. Members.
Mr. Banks: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's emphasis on "please" coincided with our heads being drummed against the table. Under the circumstances, I think I have made it clear that her plea to us was forcible, and that we saw the strength of her argument and, indeed, the strength of her arm.
The point I am making to my right hon. Friend the Minister, whom I absolve from any accusation of bad faith, is this: if the programme motion referred to new clause 11 and then new clause 13, I would understand it. What the Government are forcing us to do, however, is to vote against Government new clause 13 and to vote for new clause 11, which is what I recommend everyone who wants a total ban to do. I regret that we will have to do that, but that is the result of this bad programme motion which, by the end of the evening, could mean that the Government snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. What would have been a very good news day will turn into a defeat for the good faith of the Government and for the fate of foxes as well.
Andrew George (St. Ives): When we debate a programme motion, it is right to recognise that it takes time from the five and half hours of the main debate, if the motion is agreed to. That is why I intend to be brief.
Given the intervention of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and others in the debate so far, it is important that we get clear advice on the implications of voting on amendments in the first group. Such advice has not yet been made available. I am uncomfortable about voting on new clause 13 before new clause 11. The unclear advice contains the implicit blackmail that if we go along with new clause 13I am not judging which way we should votethe Bill will get a safe, efficient and quick passage to another place, but if the House votes down new clause 13 and favours new clause 11, that will result in an unwelcome detainment of the Bill and recommittal to the Standing Committee. Having served more than 100 hours on the Standing Committee, I do not particularly want to go back to it. The experience of verbal wallpaper for days on end is not something that I want to go through again, especially on this issue.
There is clear concern on both sides of the House that we should receive further advice. Perhaps the Leader of the House could give us that clear advice after the vote on the programme motion and before we debate the first group of amendments so that we fully understand the implications of going down one route or another. Many hon. Members have not made up their minds and feel under pressure as to whether they should vote for new clause 13 or new clause 11. They want the matter done and dealt with as quickly as possible. The House has spent far too much time on it already, but we want to ensure that we complete the job and complete it well.