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Mr. Foster: I am grateful for that intervention. I should clarify one point: it was Lord Burns who said that shooting with a rifle was the most humane method, and I happen to agree with that. However, I should urge caution on the hon. Gentleman, who is leading the debate in the direction of the possible registration of shooting—to which the hon. Member for St. Ives alluded. I am sure that that is not what the hon. Gentleman wants, but if evidence is continually provided of people going into the countryside and

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blasting away willy-nilly at anything that moves with inappropriate weaponry, such behaviour is clearly wrong.

Kate Hoey: My hon. Friend talks of the danger of people demanding that shooting be stopped, but is not the policy of the International Fund for Animal Welfare and of members of the League Against Cruel Sports that once they get their hunting ban, the next thing will be a ban on shooting, and then fishing?

Mr. Foster: I have no remit to speak on behalf of the two organisations mentioned. I speak for myself in this House, and I have absolutely no intention of pursuing any possible ban on shooting or angling.

Andrew George rose—

Gregory Barker rose—

Mr. Foster: I want to make some progress on the choice between new clause 13 and new clause 11. I went on the record yesterday evening, on that most excellent programme "The Westminster Hour", as saying that I wanted to vote in favour of new clause 13, and I made it clear why. I wrote to colleagues earlier today to say that in my view, it is necessary to vote for new clause 13 because of the risk of not getting the legislation in time.

David Winnick: I have the greatest respect for what my hon. Friend has done on this issue; we all know of the abuse that he has suffered. But is it not true that if new clause 13 were accepted, there would be endless arguments over the years about registration, exemption and so on? As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) said, a future Government of a different colour could use that provision to extend exemptions, whereas a ban would be bound to end a debate that has gone on for years. That is why, in my view, new clause 11 should be supported.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's words. Yes, I have a nice file in my filing cabinet titled abuse and death threats. In all honesty, however, I do not believe that the debate will end in the near future. We have already heard from Conservative Members that, if a Conservative Government were re-elected at the next general election, they would look to facilitate a Bill to bring back hunting with dogs. The debate is not going to end, but I want to make a little more progress on where in my judgment we have reached.

8 pm

We have heard some highly significant information today. When I signed up to new clause 13, I did not know—and no one could have known at the time—the order in which the debate would be run or the order in which the votes would be taken. What I feared—a fear shared with colleagues—was losing the 99.9 per cent. of what we had achieved so far. I feared losing it to a recommittal—and the impression given at the end of last week was that that would mean not sorting the legislation out in the summer. If we went into the autumn, who could know what events might take place, and I was conscious of the month-long period in which

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the Bill would have to be in the House of Lords if, as sometimes happens, we had to use the Parliament Act. On account of that uncertainty, I made the judgment that new clause 13 is the bird in the hand.

Having now heard the Minister's reassurances about the recommittal and how speedily it can be done and having heard earlier this afternoon from Mr. Speaker about the significance of the calendar month as opposed to the sitting month of the House, my judgment has changed. Because of the assurances and comments that I have mentioned, I no longer feel that it is necessary to support new clause 13. I can tell the House, as I have said before, that if new clause 13 were to fall, I always intended to vote for new clause 11. Because of the assurances given by my right hon. Friend and by Mr. Speaker, there is no longer a need to vote for new clause 13 and every need to finish the issue off and vote for new clause 11.

Miss Widdecombe: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his courageous change of mind. It is always extremely difficult, when one has signed up to something and publicly promoted it, to change course. I congratulate him on showing the same courage tonight as he showed when he introduced his own Bill to a huge amount of disapprobation.

I have made the argument against hunting too often in this House to want to repeat it in any detail tonight. I would rather concentrate on the relative merits of new clauses 11 and 13. I very much appreciate what the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) said, but he was sitting in the Chamber listening to the exchange of assurances earlier, whereas many of his hon. Friends will not have had that benefit and might well be thinking that new clause 13 is a bird in the hand and that new clause 11 still represents birds in the bush. It is crucial that between now and the vote, the hon. Gentleman ensures that everyone has the benefit of understanding the effects of the reassurances that we have received from the Minister and from Mr. Speaker. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be busily occupied in that, so if he wishes to leave during my speech, I shall have no objection whatever.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham): Now that we can see how circumstances have turned out, does the right hon. Lady agree that the Minister should now withdraw his new clause?

Miss Widdecombe: I have no hesitation in supporting the call for the Minister to withdraw his new clause, but I equally have no hesitation in predicting that he will not do so, so I need not spend time attempting to persuade him.

Whichever of the new clauses is passed tonight, if the Bill comes to fruition, we shall be living in a more civilised and kinder society than the one in which we live now. I would be the first to accept that it is necessary to kill foxes, and the first to accept that an argument of necessity can be made for killing other species. However, at the beginning of the 21st century, the fact that people should want to make a sport and gain pleasure out of it absolutely beggars belief.

Mr. Gray: Am I right to interpret what my right hon. Friend has said as meaning that she is less concerned

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about animal welfare than with human behaviour? She objects to people gaining pleasure out of fox hunting as a sport. It is nothing to do with killing foxes, but all about human behaviour. Is that correct?

Miss Widdecombe: I have never said that. If my hon. and usual Friend had waited for me to get to the next sentence, he would have heard the answer to the question that he has just raised. I have always said that the chase, as opposed to the kill, is particularly objectionable.

Gregory Barker rose—

Miss Widdecombe: I find it doubly objectionable that people should make sport out of it, but even if they did not, I would still object to hunting on the ground of the chase. What I said was that it beggars belief that at the beginning of the 21st century people can make sport out of killing an animal. I did not say that that determined my vote or my attitude towards hunting; merely that it added an extra dimension of horror.

Gregory Barker rose—

Miss Widdecombe: There seems to be a jack-in-a-box behind me, so I will give way.

Gregory Barker: Is my right hon. Friend against all blood sports, including shooting and fishing?

Miss Widdecombe: We are debating hunting today—[Interruption.] If my hon. Friend had ears to hear, I have said in the past that I am not against shooting, which aims for a quick, clean kill; nor am I against fishing when, as I have always said, one can eat the end result. But today we are discussing hunting and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be the first to call me to order if I started a discourse on other sports.

I wish specifically to address the difference between new clause 11 and new clause 13. I have a great deal of respect for my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), but I do not believe that it is wise for our party to pledge that, if hunting is banned, we will devote parliamentary time to restoring it. The shadow Leader of the House made an extremely persuasive case about what a waste of time it all was. If people do not have the appetite to spend time banning the sport, when Parliament has finally reached a conclusion and banned it, they will have even less appetite for spending time to restore it. We should be mighty careful before we go to the electorate with that proposition.

I want to concentrate now on the relative merits of new clause 11 and new clause 13. The first point is directly relevant to what I have just said and echoes what was said by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks). If we have a licensing system, it will be easy to use it to overturn what the House decides tonight; whereas if we have a ban and the sport becomes illegal, we will have to legislate de novo, which is a much more difficult proposition. One of the reasons why I veer towards new clause 11 rather than new clause 13 is that new clause 13 does not close the door on something that the House has for many years regularly voted to close the door on.

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The second reason is that I do not trust registration and I do not trust licensing bodies. Although Labour Members will not have had much sympathy with the long fight that I have put up in the House against abortion, I think that they will admit that the law as envisaged in 1967 and the law that it became in practice by 1990 were completely different. Once one passes licensing over to the judgment of people who will be appointed by Government, one can end up having very loose interpretations, even of an issue that Parliament believes in good faith that it has drawn very tightly. That is another reason why I do not believe that new clause 13 does the job.

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