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Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes a good point but in rather an unfair way. The Minister has spent a considerable part of the last year working on this nonsense. He must regret it deeply; he ought to be doing something more useful and he has not made a particularly good job of it. However, to be fair to him, he probably has read most of the documents that have come his way, although it is odd that he seems to have chosen to ignore them.

Bob Spink: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gray: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not. I have only just started and I would like to get to the meat of my speech.

Many of us on this side of the argument were encouraged by the Minister's approach to the issue at the time of the Portcullis House hearings. We accepted that some regulation of hunting was inevitable and worth while and that a fair, liberal licensing regime, such as that proposed in new clause 1 and new schedule 1, would be reasonable.

We were pleased by the Minister's assurance that he had listened carefully to the scientific arguments and that the Bill would be constructed on the firm foundation of principle rather than prejudice. We broadly accepted the principles of utility and least suffering on which he planned to base his registration regime, provided that they embraced all wild mammals and all methods of controlling them. Probably the only thing that the scientists and others at Portcullis House agreed on was that all mammals should be considered in precisely the same way.

Imagine our surprise then when the Bill was eventually published and it became clear that it was not based on the principle of scientific evidence but was a desperate effort to cobble together a deal to buy off the Minister's Back-Bench colleagues and his friends in the League Against Cruel Sports and the RSPCA. He had changed his tests of least suffering and utility in such a way as to make them extremely difficult to pass, but even more bizarrely and unjustifiably he wanted to impose an outright ban on deer hunting and organised hare coursing. There is no logic or principle in that. It may be reasonable and sensible to apply the tests of least suffering and utility to the hunting of all mammals, but why on earth should those two practices be singled out for an outright ban? Why should they not be subject to the same tests, and pass or fail, alongside fox and mink hunting?

Mrs. Browning: I know that my hon. Friend has taken the trouble to visit Exmoor. Is he as concerned as I am that when I questioned the Minister on Second Reading about what analysis he had made of the impact on

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Exmoor of the ban on stag hunting, it was clear that he had made no analysis of the eventual demise of the deer herds there?

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend is very kind. I think that the Minister took the trouble to visit Exmoor for two or three hours, but he certainly knows nothing of the social, cultural and economic effects of the ban on life on Exmoor. It is interesting to note that Lord Burns said that the Government should take into account such effects of a ban on places such as Exmoor, and the Government have chosen to ignore that advice. They have taken Burns very selectively.

The House will remember that on Second Reading on 3 December the Minister explained why he had chosen to ban stag hunting and hare coursing. He said:

He said later:

In Committee, the Minister cited as that incontrovertible evidence the work of Professor, now Sir Patrick Bateson. We all congratulate him on his knighthood. The Minister said that Bateson gives incontrovertible evidence as to why stag hunting should be singled out. Let me quote, however, what Professor Bateson had to say about that.

Alun Michael: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray: I am sure that the Minister does not want to hear what I am about to say. I shall happily give way and allow him to answer once I have given the full story.

In an e-mail dated 21 January, Professor Bateson said:

In a subsequent letter to the Minister, which I just happen to have here, Professor Bateson said,

The Minister wants to try to correct Professor Bateson.

Alun Michael: This is boring for those of us who were in Committee because I have put the hon. Gentleman right on several occasions. I did not refer to evidence as incontrovertible—one can always argue about evidence. I said that the conclusion was incontrovertible. If one looks at all the evidence available to us, which includes that given by Professor Bateson, it is incontrovertible that, because of the way in which deer hunting is undertaken, there are always alternatives available that involve less suffering. The hon. Gentleman should refer to the correspondence, which makes it clear that his misrepresentations were refuted at the time.

Mr. Gray: The Minister is quite right—he came up with precisely that bizarre argument in Committee to try to defend himself against the accusation from Professor Bateson. He was shot down in flames. He cleverly said:

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Here we have it—we have controvertible evidence, which may or may not be correct, but the argument based on that evidence is incontrovertible. The Minister's confusion speaks for itself.

Kate Hoey: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what is incontrovertible is the fact that if deer hunting is banned, within a very short time there will not be a deer left on Exmoor?

Mr. Gray: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Hunting has been stopped for brief periods on Exmoor, for example during the war, and the herd was significantly depleted. [Interruption.]

Kate Hoey: As some of my hon. Friends do not seem to understand that point, I shall explain it. The number of deer will fall because farmers will shoot them indiscriminately. At the moment, the culture on Exmoor means that farmers leave the deer to be dispersed by the hounds.

Mr. Gray: The hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. There would be no reason for farmers on Exmoor to allow large numbers of deer to roam freely on their land were it not for the existence of hunting. They allow the deer to roam and depredate their crops because they like to go hunting and they believe in the cultural and economic upsides of hunting. If it were not for hunting, they would certainly want to go out and shoot deer and perhaps to seek an income from the trophies. That is perfectly legitimate and we see a certain amount of that on Exmoor at the moment. [Interruption.]

It is interesting that the Minister, who does not know very much about these matters, asks, from a sedentary position, "What about Scotland?" He is entirely ignorant because the landscape and the land ownership on Exmoor are totally different from that in Scotland. There, the farmers have the opposite problem. There are far too many red deer in Scotland, and we have to find a more effective means of culling them because we simply cannot get rid of them, but on those large estates, where deer graze on heather and trees on high ground, there is no depredation for farmers to deal with. In Exmoor, the farms are about 200 or 300 acres, and farmers would not put up with depredation on their land if it were not for the existence of hunting.

Mr. Swire: This is a critical point, and it shoots a hole through the Minister's claim that the Bill has anything to do with animal welfare. In response to DEFRA's hunting consultation in 2002, the Exmoor national park authority said:

To alter the situation without putting a new model in place would be a criminal act.

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend is of course right, but we are straying somewhat from the central point on which

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I am challenging the Minister. He has, in his wisdom, chosen to single out deer hunting, organised hare coursing and one or two other activities to which I shall return later. He said that his reason for doing so was that he had incontrovertible evidence that deer hunting was demonstrably a great deal more cruel than, for example, fox hunting, which, at least at that time, was to be allowed to continue subject to the registration procedures. He said that he had incontrovertible evidence, but he never produced it. He says that Bateson is not incontrovertible, so he must have something else; he must tell us what it is.

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