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With the middle east and Iraq in turmoil, with Beslan and Darfur so much in our minds, people will not understand Labour's warped priorities and the Government's fixation with the sole issue of banning
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hunting with hounds. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Watford (Claire Ward) is enthusiastic, so I shall happily give way to her.
Claire Ward: I am grateful. The hon. Gentleman rightly identified lots of pressing issues, on not just the domestic but the international scene. I am surprised, then, that he can sit those remarks alongside his remark a moment before that the very first priority of an incoming Conservative Government would be to use Government parliamentary time to reverse a ban. Surely a Conservative Government would not, as their first priority, spend time on reversing a hunting ban when they would have lots more to do.
Mr. Gray: The hon. Lady misquotes me. I did not say that our first priority would be to reverse a hunting ban; one of our first priorities were the precise words I used. It seems to us that, since the Labour party is using such an extreme parliamentary procedure to have its will and impose its Islingtonian outlook on life on the people of Britain, we owe it to the countryside and the people of Britain to use similar tactics to reverse the ban. That is why we will do it. The Labour party is so fixated on banning hunting with hounds that it seems to us only reasonable and fair to give the House of Commons the opportunity to reverse the ban. It will, of course, be a free vote for both Front and Back Benchers, and it will therefore be dependent on us having a significant majority. I have every confidence that we will do so.
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Hull, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has just suggested that we should not spend time on this Bill, but the shadow Leader of the House said earlier that we should spend tomorrow on it as welltwice as much time. Where is the consistency in that?
Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman and one or two others have sought to make what are, frankly, rather silly points. We are talking about the many hundreds of days that have been spent on the issue of fox hunting since the Labour party came to power seven years ago. We are talking about the hundreds of hours of police time that will be spent seeking to enforce the ban, if it comes in. The Home Secretary was reported in the newspapers on Sunday as saying that he would stick 30,000 CCTV cameras on trees to deal with the matter. That would be an astonishing waste of police time. All the time that the Labour party has forced us to spend on hunting with hounds has been a disgraceful waste of parliamentary time.
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the representative on this issue of the Association of Chief Police Officers has said clearly that his expectation is that the time taken in enforcing a ban on hunting would be roughly equivalent to the police time that currently has to be devoted to protests against hunting? The police will, of course, police fairly, as they do now when hunting is legal, if and when hunting becomes illegal.
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Mr. Gray: If I may correct the Minister, I think I am right in saying that ACPO, in the form of Chief Superintendent Alastair McWhirter, has made it clear on several occasions that the police do not want a ban. [Interruption.] The Minister has made his point and we should get on[Interruption.]
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have witnessed the most disgraceful act of hooliganism in years directed against Members of this Chamber. It was a breach of privilege first and foremost. What steps will be taken to hold an investigation, which there must be, into that breach? For those thugs actually to come through the Chamber, despite all the security safeguards, is unknown, I am sure, since you have been here and, I imagine, since any other hon. Member has been hereindeed, such a breach was probably unknown throughout the 20th century. What investigation will take place? Will a report be made to the House, hopefully on Thursday morning?
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House condemn the activities that have just occurred. It is appalling that such an incident could occur and there will need to be the very fullest possible inquiry into it. A wide-ranging security review has been taking place in the House and there is great concern about security, yet despite that, six individuals were able to enter the Chamber. Will you ask Mr. Speaker to start a full inquiry immediately?
Sir Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that not since Charles I came to this House has there been such an invasion? Is it not appropriate that our security is not only enhanced but enhanced in such a way that such an event can never happen again?
Madam Deputy Speaker: I understand hon. Members' concern in view of the serious incident that has taken place, but equally I am aware that we are still discussing a very important issue. I should like to respond to the points of order and hope for the tolerance and understanding of other hon. Members who might have wanted to contribute to them.
Hon. Members will be aware that a very serious incident has taken place. Mr. Speaker will be receiving reports of it from the Serjeant at Arms and security staff at the Palace. I can assure you that that investigation is under way.
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Mr. McNamara: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If, in fact, injury time were to be added, it would show that those vagabondsthugshad defeated Parliament and forced us to amend a procedural motion that we have passed.
Madam Deputy Speaker: I am bound by the motion that the House passed, so there will be no additional time for the Second Reading debate. I ask hon. Members who wish to contribute in the time remaining to do so as briefly and concisely as possible. I call Mr. Gray.
Mr. Gray: May I, first, entirely endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House and others about the disgraceful incident in the House earlier? It was an absolute scandal, and whoever they were and whatever argument they were trying to make, they lost it by making that protest. I lose no time in entirely condemning it. I have to say that in my time I have had some pretty sharp reactions to my speeches, but never one quite like that. I have to wonder whether it was something that I said. [Interruption.]
"In some of the big conversations in which I have taken part in rural areas, fox hunting has not come up as a major issue. People are concerned about big issues to do with employment, education, jobs and the economy."[Official Report, 22 April 2004; Vol. 420, c. 431.]?
The Minister must be aware that, in a poll conducted by NOP in April, 99 per cent. of Labour voters told the Government that they should concentrate on issues other than hunting. Even the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), who feels so passionately about these matters, last year admitted:
"It is not a matter of great significance in the great cosmos of events or indeed of great significance in animal welfare, but it has become totemic."
"Does it, in practical terms, advance and improve the lives of Britain's hard-working families?"
Will the Minister now tell us how a ban on hunting will help Britain's hard-working families? Is this not an astonishing Bill in the sense that, irrespective of which side of the argument one may be on, one has to admit that it will not significantly improve the life of a single human being? Not a citizen of the United Kingdom will benefit from the ban on fox hunting, and although, of course, some people would argue that foxes might benefit, I would not necessarily agree. This is a peripheral issue by anybody's standards. Most people would say that they do not care one way or the other. On the extremities of the argument, there are some passionately in favour and some passionately against, but most of our constituents are saying to us, "What on earth are you doing wasting time on an absurd and illiberal issue such as this?"
"Labour's enormous Commons majority to torment a section of societyordinary country folkwhich they despise . . . There is something horrible, vindictive and cowardly about the Government's intolerant and ignorant attack on a small minority".
We ask ourselves why the Prime Minister, who is normally so good at dodging round issues, has chosen to stick his neck out on this one. Is he concerned about animal welfare? Is he concerned about foxes? No. He is concerned about one thing, and one thing onlyparty management. He is concerned about the fact that he has had a terminal split with his next-door neighbour, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that he is facing what can only be described as an extremely difficult party conference season. To buy off his rabid Back Benchers, he has chosen to do something in which he has no particular interest.
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