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Mr. Gray: To be fair to the hon. Member for West Ham, he made it plain several times that he believes in the principle of compensating people who are damaged by legislation. That is why I am keen to get away from the old arguments about whether we are in favour of hunting or against it. We lost that argument. We now want to put in place compensation for those people whose livelihoods will be so tragically lost.
Mr. Gray: If hon. Members will forgive me, I have taken enough interventions. If I can make a little progress on the meat of my speech, I shall take interventions from a spread of hon. Members. We are in danger of getting too far from the thrust of the new clause.
Several different groups of people would receive compensation. The first group is relatively obvious. One thing on which we agree is the number of people who are directly employed by hunts. The figure that Lord Burns came up with has not been challenged. He said that about 1,000 are directly employed.
Mr. Gray: No. The hon. Gentleman is a Scot; he represents a Scottish seat. That he should dare to come down here and pontificate on English hunting is a scandal and a disgrace. I will not give way to him at all.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about how the Bill deals with people at the lowest end of the pay scale who are employed by the hunt. Is there any reason why the House legislated to give lavish compensation to those who farmed mink, yet will not pay kennel maids who will lose their jobs because of an Act of Parliament?
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point and I shall return to it. There is a precedent in the legislation on mink hunting for paying compensation. As he says, people employed by hunts are at the bottom end of the pay scale in our rural communities. We are not talking about rich people. Those 700 to 1,000 people will lose not only their salaries and income, but their houses and livelihoods. If there is any decency in the House, it is only right that we consider what we can do to help them.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I note that the Bill does not have the imprimatur of any Secretary of State to say that it is compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. The intention may be to add that, but at the moment it is not compatible because it does not provide for compensation.
Mr. Gray: There has been an extremely interesting exchange of correspondence between the Committee that considers these matters and the Minister. I hope that the Minister will expand on that later. My hon. Friend is right: there is a large question about whether the Bill is compatible with the Human Rights Act. There is no imprimatur on the Bill at the moment; we hope that it will be added before the Bill leaves this place, but we do not know. Certainly it cannot become law unless and until it is compatible with the Act.
The Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality (Alun Michael): The hon. Gentleman may recall that we covered this issue in Committee last week, and I pointed out that the appropriate human rights certification was given when the Bill came to the House. The next stage at which certification will be provided is the Bill's introduction to another place, and that will be done in compliance with the requirements of the House authorities.
Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): Does my hon. Friend think it extraordinary that this is an Administration who have not been at all slow to provide, at the taxpayer's expense, lavish compensation for Ministers who lose their jobs, yet they do not propose to pay one penny to people who will lose their jobs as a direct result of legislation from this House?
Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, and I think that it would be interesting to know the view of the Lord Chancellor, or the last Lord Chancellor, on that matter. He is living in the lap of luxury, having been given the sack by the Prime Minister. All we want is a little decent compensation for these decent, ordinary people who work for the hunts.
Mr. Gray: We are trying to have a debate here, and I will happily give way in a moment, but not while everybody is jumping to their feet all the time, seeking to intervene on daft points. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Mr. Challen) says that his point is very important. We look forward to hearing it.
Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): The important point is that the case for compensation would be far stronger if those people who are about to become unemployed had no suitable alternative that is similar to their existing employment. Clearly, in most cases they have such an alternative: drag hunting. I would argue that more jobs will be created in drag hunting than ever existed in fox hunting.
Mr. Gray: One of the very few points of unanimity in the excellent report by Lord Burns was that under no circumstances, by any stretch of the imagination, could drag hunting possibly replace fox hunting, stag hunting and the rest. The notion that the 1,000 people who are currently employed by the 350 existing hunts could, overnight, be employed in drag hunting, which is a completely different sport that bears no relation to hunting, shows that the hon. Gentleman knows nothing about it and that he has not read the Burns report, which makes that fact perfectly plain.
A kennel huntsman or a whipper-in, who may well be 40, 50 or 60, will have worked in nothing but hunting for his entire life. There is nothing that he can do apart from hunting with hounds. That is all he knows, and the notion that he could walk out tomorrow and get a job as a clerk in a railway station is absurd. Such people are committed to hunting, and they will be unemployed for
Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about people losing their livelihoods, but they will also lose their homes. Families with children will be homeless through no fault of their own. [Interruption.]
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely good point. He may not have heard, but from a sedentary position the Parliamentary Private Secretary asked why people should lose their homes. All he need do to find the answer is visit a hunt, and he will discover that many hunt servants live in houses on someone's estate in the countryside. There is no reason why they should continue to live there. Why should they? They are there as servants. Presumably the kennels would have to be sold off, and all kinds of changes would occur. The notion that hunt servants could continue to live near the kennels for all time, without paying, is an absurdity. That shows that the hon. Gentleman, too, has no idea of how things work.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): Is it not a display of the usual ignorance to fail to understand that many agricultural tenancies are provided specifically because animals have to be looked after? That is due not to the way in which the hunt is run but to the way in which we have made special arrangements for those who have to look after animals. Labour Members show their ignorance and lack of concern for the countryside in making those comments.
Mr. Gray: My right hon. Friend is exactly right. Agricultural ties would prevent a great many of these houses from being used for anyone other than hunt servants or other farming people. There is a reasonable likelihood that a large number of the 750 to 1,000 people whom we are talking about would lose their home and their entire way of life.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): As part of the fact finding for an earlier, similar Bill, I visited the Quorn hunt kennels at Kirby Bellars in the constituency of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). In saying that hunt servants know, and could do, no other job, the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) is being rather condescending and patronising about their skills. Of course they could do other jobs, and they would probably be in more enjoyable occupations, and with better pay, than they have at the moment.