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

Mr. Soames: No, I will not. It seems extraordinary that the Government should wish to inflict this on Exmoor: that they should wish wilfully to destroy, in such an astonishingly prejudiced and ignorant manner, the extraordinarily intricate tapestry that binds a remote and remarkable part of the United Kingdom together.

As was said earlier, it is a fact that conservation and hunting go very much hand in hand, and with that in mind I shall conclude by saying something about the use of terriers. We had an extremely important debate in Committee about the use of terriers by keepers. I understand and accept what the Minister said: that he intends to introduce an amendment in another place—because he dare not do it in this House. But the fact of the matter is that if keepers are denied the use of terriers, in many areas of the uplands the environmental consequences will be very serious indeed.

9.30 pm

Few Government Members—one or two, but very few—care at all about what exists in the uplands, but ground-nesting game and birds are extremely vulnerable to the attacks of foxes. If keepers are not allowed to use their terriers in the rightful pursuit of their employment to maintain a healthy and proper balance between the numbers of predators and ground-nesting game, there will be an ecological disaster in the uplands with extremely serious employment consequences. Nobody bothers to consider that, but it is every bit as important to those people as it is to the people on Exmoor who are

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going to see not only an important and much loved part of their cultural heritage and their life swept away by a piece of astonishingly foolish legislation, but an ecological disaster.

All Conservative Members who set their hearts on producing a reasonable and fair result and on finding a sensible way forward feel betrayed by the wicked actions of an unprincipled Government.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) because, whatever one says, it is bound to sound reasonable by comparison.

I shall be brief because there is little point in rehearsing the arguments for and against hunting in its various forms. The arguments that go on here seldom change anyone's mind. To pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—that we were remiss in not going to talk to the ladies demonstrating over the road—she should know that I, along with my hon. Friends the Members for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) and for Falmouth and Camborne (Ms Atherton) and many others represent large rural areas. Part of our professional life is therefore devoted to talking to the local people of those areas.

I signed new clause 13 and came with the intention of speaking in favour of it and probably of abstaining on new clause 11. I believed that my right hon. Friend the Minister was absolutely correct to say that the difference between the Bill that went before the Committee and the amended Bill was very narrow; that we were on course to achieve 90 to 95 per cent. of what most Government Members wanted; and that new clause 13 and other relevant provisions would further strengthen the Bill.

I served on the Standing Committee, which I believe did a brilliant job of strengthening the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) rather parodies the process in saying that we were conned, but I do not think that we were. I was not the only member of the Committee who believed that it was important for the whole House to pass the ban on hunting, in whatever form, with a majority of 200 plus, in preference to gaining a majority of 10 or so in Committee and passing the measure on to the House for simple ratification. The intervention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, though tough and outspoken, was not wholly necessary.

What changed my mind was the straightforward clarification offered earlier in today's debate by my right hon. Friend and Mr. Speaker—I fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) said about that—that the Bill, as amended, had time to go to the House of Lords during this Session, therefore achieving everything that we wanted.

Previously, I admit, I was frightened that we were taking a terrible risk, that if the whole Bill were kicked into the long grass, the plug were pulled, or exercise of the Parliament Acts was deemed not to be suitable, we could lose a very good Bill, and that we would have enormous difficulties explaining that to our constituents, to whom we had promised action on the matter. I had no problem in explaining to people to whom I had promised that I would support a total ban, why the Alun Michael Bill, if I may refer to it like that,

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was a perfectly reasonable alternative, which avoided the risk of our losing the Bill. However, what we were told this afternoon made it clear that there was the possibility, the likelihood, the probability and, I hope, the certainty of us getting a total ban, and a relatively simple Bill in comparison to what we were discussing, through this House, through its recommittal, through into the House of Lords before the end of the Session. I have campaigned against hunting all my adult life, so I and all my colleagues on the Labour Benches could not but seize that opportunity.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham described himself as an optimistic chap. If he is an optimistic chap, I am an Olympic athlete, but, like him, I am optimistic as from today about what can be achieved. I have supported my right hon. Friend the Minister and still support him through thick and thin on the Bill. He has done a magnificent job in very difficult circumstances. He should take note of the concerns that have been expressed mainly on the Labour Benches that new clause 13 and new clause 11 are in the wrong order. It has been improper for us to be faced with that particular alternative, however it came about. I plead with him to think about the possibility that new clause 13 should not be put to the vote, so that we can first have a serious, crucially important vote on new clause 11, because virtually every Labour Member, as well as a huge majority in the Labour party generally and people out there in the country are in favour of it.

Mr. Cameron: I rise to speak against new clause 13. I put my cards on the table. I ride; I have been hunting; and I shoot. On occasions I have been asked to shoot foxes and I know what a hit and miss affair it can be—not in my case, but I know that it can be.

I was not a member of the Committee, but I believe that I do know something about which I am going to speak. Mr. Speaker, you asked us to be calm, but I find it very hard to be calm on this issue. I do not just disapprove of the Bill. I heartily dislike it. What I believe about this debate—and we have heard a lot of it today—is that it is born out of prejudice and misunderstanding.

Many hon. Members have talked about what has happened over the past five years. In many ways, it has been Back Benchers on both sides of the House who have put huge pressure on the Government to introduce a Bill against hunting because those Members so dislike the ritual, the chase, the redcoats. Then, those on the Front Bench are left with the difficult problem of how to ban the hunting of mammals by dogs. In some circumstances, and we have it in the Bill, if one is chasing rabbits, it is okay, but if one is chasing hares it is not. We go through all these twists and turns to prove it.

We have had a fascinating debate today about terrier work. The Minister is telling us that it is all right for a gamekeeper to use terriers underground but it is not all right for a farmer to use terriers underground. How can that be justified? We have had months of tergiversation: the Minister moves one way, then another and no one can make sense of it. Here is our countryside Minister, who should be thinking about post office closures, the crisis in agriculture, broadband and a hundred other things, having to spend all his time thinking about how to try to ban hunting with dogs.

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The other reason why I find it hard to be calm is that I think about my constituents who are employed by the hunts. I think of Anthony Adams, the huntsman with the Heythrop who wrote to me to say that he had had 27 seasons of animal welfare. That is how he saw his job. He simply does not know what he will do when the hounds and the horses are gone. I give way to my neighbour.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Does my neighbour accept that the countryside Minister to whom he has referred has presided over 65,000 job losses in agriculture over the past four years? If the Bill goes through tonight and introduces a ban, 8,500 direct jobs will be lost and at least treble that number of indirect jobs.

Mr. Cameron: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Minister should come to the Heythrop hunt kennels in Chipping Norton to explain to those people why they will lose their jobs and homes. It is all for prejudice and misunderstanding.

New clause 13 will make a bad Bill much worse. I say that because the Minister used to talk about his golden thread of cruelty and utility. That golden thread has completely gone, as the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said. Where is the test for cruelty and utility with autumn hunting? It does not exist. Where is the test for cruelty and utility with hare hunting or deer hunting? The Government have thrown the golden thread out the window.

I take a straightforward view: the fox population has to be controlled and hunting plays a role in that.

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