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Andrew George : It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who put his finger on the pinch point in the debate. The House must decide whether it is prudent to go for what the Minister calls a workable solution of registration, or new clauses 11 and 14, which would be a total ban on hunting the species mentioned. Hon. Members will have to weigh up the legal arguments one way or the other. I shall return to that, but I do not intend to take up too much time as I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak.

The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) argued that the debate was a waste of parliamentary time. I have said that before. The subject is not at the top of my priorities, but I am content that the Government have decided to give it time. A large number of people in the country have decided that it must be resolved by Parliament, and it must undergo due parliamentary process to resolve it one way or the other. I do not want us to return to the issue time and again. I want it dealt with as quickly as possible. According to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, I spent 75 or more hours in Committee on the issue. It felt like 100 hours; in fact, it felt like 1,000 hours. I do not want to go over the issue again, as we would be repeating arguments that we have had before. There is sufficient demand to get the issue resolved quickly.

The procedural pressure this evening is weighing heavily on us—the hon. Member for West Ham illuminated the House as to what is going on in various committees of the parliamentary Labour party—and is acting like a large shadow hanging over the Chamber. In effect, we are not being presented with an equal choice. We could go for something that we know the Government will support and which will go to the Lords on 17 July, content that even if it is held up there, the Parliament Act will be applied and we will end up with a workable Act—not perhaps the one that the hon. Member for West Ham and his supporters want, but something that we know can work—or we have a query as to whether the new clauses can be presented in time to ensure that we have a workable Act. Like the hon. Gentleman I have serious concerns about this choice and the way in which it has been presented. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) said, the procedural pressure is bearing heavily on which of the two amendments we choose.

Mr. Kaufman: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that it is not an equal choice. As he has been present today, he will have seen that we have established beyond doubt or equivocation that if new clause 11 is carried, we can get the Bill through to the House of Lords in time for the Parliament Act to be invoked. The hon. Gentleman

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referred to what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) has said. If I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope to discuss that point with my hon. Friend.

Andrew George: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, whose interventions and point of order earlier helped to inform the House about this crucial issue. Many are on the horns of a dilemma on this matter.

7.30 pm

The new clause may have an impact on farming. The Minister knows that wherever there has been a potential impact on farming, I have raised it with him. He will know that the delayed implementation tomorrow of the animal by-products regulations will result in what we hope will be a form of either national, local or alternative collection schemes for those farmers unable to bury or burn fallen stock on their farms. Some kennels provide that service; they certainly do in my constituency. It would be helpful if the Minister gave a clear indication as to how the proposals will impact on this matter.

I do not know whether the Minister thinks that by bringing in a registration scheme he can morally and effectively get out of providing compensation for those hunts that are de facto banned. However, if a total ban comes in, there may be an argument that compensation might be due for job losses and other costs. The Minister has ruled that out in relation to his proposed registration scheme. Perhaps if he has an opportunity later, he will address the issue again.

Since the Committee, I have looked at further evidence and I do not think that any sufficient evidence has been provided that has any material impact on our debate today, whether that is the middle way group's recently published work on the welfare aspects of shooting foxes or any other research.

Lembit Öpik : Will my hon. Friend explain why he rejects the finding that wounding rates in connection with shooting are inevitably and consistently higher than wounding rates involved in hunting foxes with dogs?

Andrew George: I did not wish to go into that, but I found the middle way group's research rather an insult to our intelligence, and those marksmen who have looked at it found the whole study rather laughable. Indiscriminate and amateur shooting using inadequate guns that shoot low-calibre shot at a moving target too far away will result inevitably in the maiming of a species. That is what I call "blow me over with a feather duster" research. I had no idea that that would be the outcome. The fundamental methodology of the research is flawed.

Mark Tami : Will the hon. Gentleman join me in saying that the report insults the sport of shooting?

Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. We can draw one conclusion from the middle way group's research, which I do not think was intended—it presents a good argument for the registration of shooting. In effect, the research says that

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there is a tremendous amount of indiscriminate, inadequate and unacceptable shooting that perhaps needs to be regulated. If the level of maiming and missing is as suggested by the middle way group, this is a matter of deep concern. The group has raised a difficult issue, which should perhaps be revisited by this House at a future date. Perhaps we will need a registration of shooting Bill.

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is the official spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. Is he now telling us that it is official Liberal Democrat policy to seek the registration of shooting?

Andrew George: I am responding to research that has been presented to me. The middle way group tells us that one cannot shoot and expect not to maim. The hon. Gentleman entertained the Committee on its second day by telling us categorically—in column 59 on 9 January, I think—that his friend went out on his 2,000 acre estate on two consecutive nights and shot and killed, not maimed, 126 foxes. That is remarkable. Presumably, the hon. Gentleman would not wish to besmirch the reputation of his friend by arguing that he shot and maimed those foxes. We were told categorically that they had been shot and killed. Perhaps the middle way group should base its studies on the hon. Gentleman's friend.

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is quite right to use the figure of 126 killed, but of course many more were maimed.

Andrew George: I should like to see the evidence for that. The fact is, the hon. Gentleman failed to bring it to our attention. Of course, if one sets up parameters in such a way that one is bound to maim foxes, that is the result that will be shown. It was a politically inspired and sponsored study.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): No.

Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman may not like it, but that is the only conclusion to which one can come.

Lembit Öpik: I am hesitant to question my hon. Friend when I am sitting so close to him—at least rebels on the Government side have the decency to sit a few Benches away—but is he seriously saying that having a range of targets from 25 yd to 150 yd does not replicate the reality of the situation? In what sense is he questioning the sample of shooters who participated in the research? If he is saying that we chose the wrong people, he needs to explain why he thinks that.

Andrew George: I think that I have explained that adequately already. Many of the trials used inadequate calibre and inadequate shot, with a moving target far too far away.

Mr. Luff: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew George: If the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend are arguing that the methodology was adequate to assess the effectiveness of shooting, they are suggesting that people would go out into the

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countryside and take a positive decision to shoot in circumstances in which the only possible outcome would be to maim an animal—and that is certainly something that should be subject to registration.

Rob Marris: It seems that, according to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), the farmer who killed 126 foxes did not do any wounding. He said:


No wounding.

Andrew George: That is very interesting.

Mr. Luff: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the only calibre of shot not included in the study was No. 3 and 4 shot, which the British Association for Shooting and Conservation says is its preferred regime for shooting foxes? We have said that we would happily facilitate trials of that shot, but the Government's preferred regime, recommended in parliamentary answers, was tested exhaustively in the study. That is shown in the report, and the hon. Gentleman has a copy. It is not right to say that many shot permutations were not included in the study. That is simply wrong, and I am sure that he will want to correct that unintentionally misleading point.


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