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Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton): Some moments ago, my right hon. Friend referred to the fact that Parliament would speak on the issue and make its voice heard, but, bearing in mind her great history of having a different view on the issue from me, does she not believe that Parliament also includes the other place? What does she think it might say if the Bill bans hunting outright?

Miss Widdecombe: We must have the courage of our convictions in this House and worry about dealing with the other place at such time as it makes its views known.

My third reason for preferring new clause 11 to new clause 13 is that this is the best chance that we have ever had to get an absolute ban. It will be a mark of shame for all of us who have fought for it if we give in now, when we are at the door of achieving it, to some shoddy compromise that a blackmailing Government have tried to impose on their own Back Benchers. It is utterly crucial that Labour Members have huge courage tonight and do not let themselves be packed like weeds beneath the compost of the Prime Minister's timidity. We must go for it in the way that we have never had an opportunity to do in the past. Let our voice be heard tonight. Let us send up to the other end of the corridor what we actually believe in, not what we believe it smiles on.

David Winnick: Look at the faces of Conservative Members.

Miss Widdecombe: Oh, they will not be happy. I know that. Do not worry about it.

What we have to do tonight is to bring to fruition all past efforts, efforts even before the hon. Member for Worcester introduced his Bill. We can all remember free vote after free vote, which said ban this barbarism. Tonight we have that chance. Let us really go for it. Let us do what we want to do. Let us not be blackmailed either by fear of their lordships or fear of the Government. It is not worth being blackmailed. This is our best chance for years. If we give it up, ours is the shame, not hunting's.

Mr. Kaufman: I pay tribute to the four hon. Members who have spoken from the Back Benches so far. All four have dedicated themselves to this issue for many years, and there is no doubt that they have become intensely knowledgeable on the subject. Each one of them deserves the thanks of the House of Commons.

I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), not simply because he has announced a change of mind here this evening,

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but because he started this off after Labour came to office in 1997 and because the Labour Government attempted to discourage him from using his chance in a private Member's Bill. However, he went through with it. He blazed the trail and we would not be where we are this evening if he had not started that, although that is not in any way to discount the incredible work of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), or the courage of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe).

8.15 pm

My right hon. Friend the Minister both on Second Reading—heaven knows, as long ago as 16 December last year—and again today put his view that he is presenting a perfect Bill. By his criteria, it is perfect. He has invented the criteria and then said, "By my criteria, which I have invented, I have brought you the best Bill it is possible to bring." He has two criteria: one is cruelty, one is utility. What he has not mentioned—he is a South Walian, so I am surprised that he did not—is morality. There is an issue of morality relating to what we want to do about the issue.

My right hon. Friend has created criteria for a Bill that suits him but is not in conformity with the Labour party manifesto. I was not only elected on that manifesto but campaigned very prominently on the issue in my constituency because it is one that I and many of my constituents care about. I believe that many of the people who voted for me at the last election did so because of the pledge in the Labour party manifesto.

What did the manifesto say? It said:


That was on the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester. The manifesto went on:


The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald is absolutely right. Today is the day. If we do not seize this moment, it will not come back.

Those of us who have studied the history of other legislation to deal with cruelty to animals will know that it took the House of Commons 35 years to ban bull baiting. Its record on issues of decency has not been very good over the years, whether issues relating to cruelty against animals or to sexual behaviour. It is always belated, but today we have the opportunity.

I came into the House just over 33 years ago. One of the first things that I did was to work with my hon. Friend the Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) to get a ban on hare coursing. It has taken 33 years to get to that point. I am not going to give up the opportunity of doing what I have tried to do in the House of Commons for a third of a century through being talked out of it by amendments that do not deliver what we are asking for.

I wish that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Lynne Jones) were here so that I could put the point to her, but my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester was right to say that new clause 13 may—but nobody can be sure—alleviate part of the evil with which we are trying to deal. I repeat that it is impossible to be sure. What is for sure is that if we pass

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new clause 11—enforcement may be a problem; I do not argue with that—we will not be calculating on exceptions or trying to add up sums: we will have done it. No law is ever perfect—there is a law against murder, but people still commit the crime—but new clause 11 will provide as good a law as we are liable to get in all our political lifetimes if we want to ban hunting, and I am sure that many hon. Members do.

When the Labour manifesto talked about a wish to ban fox hunting, it did not say—it was carefully drawn up and could have said this if it had been wished—that we wanted to hand over fox hunting, in whole or in part, to a registrar, unanswerable to the House of Commons, and to a tribunal, unanswerable to the House of Commons. It said that we wanted to deal with it as a Parliament. Nor am I alone in saying that; the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality said it on Second Reading:


Parliament will have its opportunity in an hour and a half to make that decision.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said in this House:


He did not say, "I want to alleviate fox hunting." He did not say, "I want to make fox hunting registrable". He said, "I am opposed". On Radio 4, on 30 September 1999, he said:


He did not say, "I want to alleviate it and make it less horrible." He said, "I want to be rid of it."

Mr. Soames: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those of us who support hunting entered into detailed consultation, held by the Minister of State at Portcullis House, on the basis that a fair and sensible system would be produced that would do precisely what he argues against? It was on that basis that a great deal of work was done in Portcullis House, which, allegedly, played a part in framing the Bill that many of us spent many hours dealing with in Committee. What the right hon. Gentleman proposes—I hope that he understands the deep and abiding resentment that will exist if it goes ahead—is diametrically contrary to the assurances that the countryside was given by the Minister of State on how this matter would be handled.

Mr. Kaufman: That is between the Minister and the countryside. This is the House of Commons, and it is the House of Commons that must make the decision. The manifesto on which I went before the electorate in Gorton, as did my right hon. and hon. Friends all over the country, did not say that we would enter into consultation in Portcullis House. It said that we would give the House of Commons an opportunity to ban fox hunting. That is what we have tonight. With all respect to my constituents, whom I love and who, by definition, are the most intelligent people in the country, I do not believe that all of them are totally acquainted with what Portcullis House is and what goes on there. I accept that the hon. Gentleman takes an entirely different view from

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mine, and I respect him for it. However, I am asking the House of Commons to fulfil the Labour party manifesto. It is for others who do not subscribe to that manifesto to make their own points.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs put out a statement over the weekend. She is a good personal friend of mine, and she invites me to speak on her behalf in her constituency at every general election, although whether she will do so next time, I do not know. She said:


The Prime Minister thought it was workable; that is what he said. The Labour party manifesto, on which I supported my right hon. Friend in Derby when I went to speak for her, said it was workable. She also—a clever piece of phraseology—said:


In fact, what is in the Bill is not simple to enforce. It requires the convincing of a registrar and a hunting tribunal. What is in new clause 13 requires the most rigid policing one can imagine, to maintain a ban on the categories set out in that provision. Okay, new clause 11 will never be 100 per cent. enforceable, just as no law in this land has ever been 100 per cent. enforceable, but, by heavens, it is the best that we are ever going to have.

What does the Bill do? When my right hon. Friend the Minister introduced the Bill on 16 December, he and others quoted from Burns. They said that the Bill would ban 2 per cent. of hunting with dogs—[Interruption.]


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