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Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): My right hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way. However, was he not aware that new clause 11 would be tabled, so was it not remiss of him not to have tabled the necessary amendments so that we would not have to recommit the Bill? He knew that new clause 11 would be tabled.
Mr. Kaufman: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You were not in the Chair during the debate on the programme motion when Mr. Speaker clarified a point that was accepted by the Minister without qualification. I put it to Mr. Speaker that, if new clause 11 were passed and there were consequential amendments, the Bill could complete its stages next week and would get to the House of Lords in time, if necessary, for the Parliament Act to be invoked this Session. That is what Mr. Speaker accepted from the Chair. That being so, is it acceptable for the Minister to read out now what he may have thought valid before Mr. Speaker gave his ruling but is no longer valid now? The Minister is threatening the House when Mr. Speaker has disposed of that threat.
Alun Michael: I make it clear that I have taken back nothing of what I agreed to earlier nor contradicted anything that Mr. Speaker said. I would do no such thing. It is simply a matter of fact that a vote for new clauses 11 and 14 is a vote for recommittal and some delay. My right hon. Friend has spelt out again the answers that he received from Mr. Speaker about the way things would apply, and I confirmed that there is nothing with which I would demur in those remarks. However, an element of delay would be involved and, in all the processes that involve the Parliament Act, there seem to be degrees of uncertainty because of the very small number of cases to which it has been applied.
Alun Michael: I make the point to my hon. Friend that, when the Government make sure that legislation goes through, they have to ensure that it is effective and that public money is not wasted. I indicated the defects that would be there by way of illustration only. Recommittal would be necessary for the reasons that I have given, because we could otherwise end up with defective legislation to which it could not be guaranteed that the Parliament Act would apply. Right hon. and hon. Friends have made clear their wish to see that Act apply should another place frustrate the Bill.
Mr. Soames: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) to be brutalised by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? The expression of pain and anguish on his face is enough to turn the soul of any political opponent. He needs your protection.
Alun Michael: We are talking about co-operation and sympathy across the Chamber. I just want to make it clear that, if at all possible, I am looking for the other place to receive a Bill that is in good order and that will be effective and to co-operate in getting a good Act on to the statute book as quickly as possible.
The Bill before us at this stage is not just the Bill as drafted and based on the evidence that we heard in the Burns inquiry and in the Portcullis House inquiry, but the Bill as tested and improved in Committee. In particular, I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who helped in Committee, and I make it clear that we have the opportunity today to get good legislation through the House and to send it in good order to another place and on to the statute book.
Miss Widdecombe: May I press the Minister on the necessity for recommittal? He knew that an attempt would be made today to get a complete ban. Furthermore, he knew the terms of the new clause because it was ready to be laid at the end of the Committee stage when Labour Members were most unadvisedly persuaded that the Government really wanted the whole House to have an opportunity to vote
Alun Michael: Perhaps the right hon. Lady will explain to me why she uses the phrase "a complete ban" when what is on offer today is a complete ban on the cruelty associated with hunting with dogs and a complete ban on hunting as a sport. What does she want to do? Does she want to ban cruelty or does she simply want to ban activity? I seek to ban cruelty. I have always thought that Members of the House who have supported Bills in the past and who have supported a ban with exceptions wanted to make sure that they banned all cruelty. That is why I ask the House to support me and to pass the Bill today without new clauses 11 and 14, so that it can complete its passage through the House in time for Second Reading in another place on 17 July and to ensure that we end the cruelty that the House has always sought to end. [Interruption.]
Mr. Gray: Calm, sensible and rational people across Britain and, more so, people in the rest of the world, will observe our proceedings with a mixture of horror and puzzlement. It is a bizarre waste of parliamentary time to discuss hunting when just 2 per cent. of the British public think that it is a priority issue. When most people are asked about hunting, they say, "Who cares? If they want to hunt, it is up to them." It is a matter for individual conscience. At a time when we have soldiers dying in Iraq and the health service, education and transport are in crisis, why are we wasting a valuable day of parliamentary time discussing fox hunting?
It seems bizarre to discuss hunting because people in the countryside, especially, will not understand why the Government have not found time for a full debate on the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy, which is vital for the countryside. They will not understand why months have elapsed since we had any kind of debate on farming and why we are ignoring such crucial subjects as rural transport and housing, reviving our rural villages and businesses and saving the environment for future generations. Why are the Government ignoring those vital rural issues in favour of a little totemism on fox hunting?
Alun Michael: Does the hon. Gentleman pay tribute to the success of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State during negotiations on the common agricultural policy? He appears to be unaware of the many debates
Mr. Gray: I fear that if I were to participate in a debate on the mid-term review of the common agricultural policy, Madam Deputy Speaker, you would quickly rule me out of order. All the Minister need do is ask any farmer, anyone in the countryside or anyone who is protesting in Parliament square at the moment what they think about the mid-term review and they will tell him straightforwardly.
Hon. Members of all parties will have seen the article in The Times on Friday in which the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said that unless he got his way on the Hunting Bill, he would vote against his Government's health reforms, which he would otherwise support. By a cruel irony, today's debate displaces a debate on the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill, which means that it is unlikely to receive its Second Reading in the other place until after the summer. Hunting with dogs has displaced the Government's keynote health service reforms, which demonstrates the triumph of their prejudice over the future of the nation's health.