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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. Less discussion should be going on in the House. If hon. Members wish to discuss something else, they should leave the Chamber.
When my right hon. Friend the Minister introduced the Bill and asked us to support it, what did it declare illegal? The killing of 160 red deerobviously, I am in favour of making that illegaland the killing of about 250 hares a year through hare coursing. That was it. As a result of an amendment in Standing Committee and after pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, who referred to the matter on Second Reading, the Government added 1,650 hares. Of course, anyone who knows anything about such matters knows that hare coursing is exceptionally cruel, but the Burns figures show that registered packs are estimated to kill between 21,000 and 25,000 foxes a year. We do not know how many of those foxes new clause 13 would save.
Whom are the Government trying to please by introducing this Bill rather than one comparable to the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester? We know whom they are trying to appease, because we saw the countryside march last September. The League Against Cruel Sports commissioned a MORI poll of the people taking part in the march. What
David Winnick: Is not it interesting that a poll commissioned by the Countryside Alliance in March 2002 found that about 25 per cent. of people said that the Government should drop the hunting proposals, but 48 per cent. felt that the Government should insist on a ban? Even among those in the countryside, there is undoubtedly a majority in favour of what we want to be accomplished.
The point may be slightly peripheral to the main debate, but if the right hon. Gentleman accepts the figures given by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (David Winnick), is he really saying that a minority48 per cent. of the publicis sufficient to justify a ban on these activities? More to the point, what does he say to the two in three vets who oppose a ban on hunting with dogs?
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), in his usual way, dismissed the accusations about why people in the countryside are so angry about the Bill, but then, illogically, started to quote public opinion surveys on hunting. May I tell him that people in the countryside are so angry about the Bill because I cannot remember any Bill that has been attended by so much dishonesty and duplicity by the Government in the history of my time in Parliament?
May I further tell the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton that people in the countryside have spent thousands of pounds and thousands of hours preparing cases and coming to give evidence at Portcullis House on the ground that what they were saying would be treated honestly and with respect? The Minister indicated, when he first started on this voyage, that he would make judgments based on science, logical conclusions and an understanding of what goes on in the countryside, but, at the end of day, judgments have now been made on the basis of the mood in the parliamentary labour party. Today, new clause 13 appears on the Order Paper, and what is it? It is the result of a shabby political compromise with the RSPCA.
Mr. Soames: May I point out to my hon. Friend that there has come into my hands a copy of the parliamentary brief issued by the Minister to his colleagues in the Labour party? I have obtained a copy for greater accuracy. In the penultimate paragraph, in possibly the culminating phrase of a long catalogue of deceit on his part, he says:
Mr. Atkinson: There we have it. That is exactly it, and when the Minister spoke at a meeting of about 200 to 300 hunting and shooting supporters in my constituency, he clearly indicated to them that he would keep an open mind, and they went away partially reassured that he would do so. When we see what he has finally come up with, we can understand why they feel so betrayed.
Mr. Swire: Now that the Minister's base motives have been exposed for what they always werehe is at least consistent in thatwhat will my hon. Friend say to the fishermen and shooting people whom the Minister addressed? What hope can he give them that the Minister will not behave towards them as he is behaving towards the hunting fraternity?
Mr. Atkinson: That is a good point that needs answering. The people who hunt, shoot and fish will have seen what has happened in the months leading up to this stage in the Bill's consideration and will know full well what is in store for them. If they believe that hunting, shooting and fishing are safe, they should learn a lesson from this case.
Mr. Morley: It is not fair to cast aspersions on my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality, who is not in the Chamber at present. The brief that was just read out is entirely consistent with the argument for applying the principle of cruelty in relation to the ban. It is also entirely consistent on an issue for which a free vote has been promised for the views of the House of Commons to be taken into account as well. There is nothing inconsistent in that, and my right hon. Friend has been entirely committed, straightforward and honest in all his dealings on this issue.
Mr. Atkinson: With the greatest respect to the Ministerwe have crossed swords for a long time and often, I hope, with good humourwe are not going to believe that. Anybody who met the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality outside this place and heard what he said would have thought that he was approaching the issue with a reasonably open mind. However, events show that his mind was closed to start with, but that it has changed as the mood of the parliamentary Labour party has changed.
Lembit Öpik: Perhaps this point will help the hon. Gentleman return to the main thread in his remarks. He referred to the massive preparations that many in the pro-hunting community made to give evidence in good faith to the representatives on the pseudo-Select Committee in Portcullis House and elsewhere, so does he not agree that it is a matter of concern and perhaps very telling that the hon. Members for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and for Worcester (Mr. Foster) indicated that they did not need data to come to a decision? The hon. Member for West Ham went as far as to describe the decision as one related to passion and to prejudice. That is hardly a good basis for legislation.
Mr. Atkinson: The hon. Gentleman is right. Evidence was piled high, witnesses were called and scientific research was carried out all in the name of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that, at the end of the day, it was simply a matter of passion and prejudice.