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Sir Gerald Kaufman: Of course I respect my hon. Friend. He is an hon. Friend. I would respect my right hon. Friend if he would now answer directly the question that I put to him rather than saying that my hon. Friend sought advice. Who drafted the amendment that my hon. Friend moved?

Alun Michael: It is not my place to reply. I did not see the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend until I saw them printed in the amendment paper this morning.

Huw Irranca-Davies: It may be of assistance to the House to know that as a Back Bencher of two-and-a-half year's experience, it is beyond my ken to draft something like this on my own. I sought assistance. However, the principle behind it and the spirit of it, and the fact that I voted for the provisions originally, should not cause a disdainful light to be cast upon my reason for bringing the amendment forward. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) is not doing that.

Alun Michael: I am sure that my right hon. Friend would not be suggesting anything of the sort.

My motivation in bringing the Bill before the House in the first place was the same as that of my hon. Friend in bringing forward the amendment. It was to find a way for the House and for Parliament as a whole through this most divisive issue on which the division of opinion has been so sharp and in many ways destructive. I think that we have started well in this debate, despite the strength of views that we can hear in the contributions that are being made.

I want to make one point strongly. As I did in introducing the Bill and since, the Government and I personally have sought to reduce the temperature and to find a way through this issue. I had hoped that the House of Lords, as a revising chamber, would have helped, but we must look at the record of decisions there from the pro-hunting side. As I have said, it voted down the middle-way option when it was before us. It sent
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nothing back to us last year although it had plenty of time to consider the Bill fully and return it to this place. In Committee in the House of Lords recently the other place voted through a series of quite extreme amendments that emasculated the Bill and did not turn it back into anything like the Bill that I introduced. It rejected the possibility of compromise last week. The language last night was not only unkind to Lord Whitty, the Under-Secretary of State, but it ignored one simple fact: it is not this place that will insist on using the Parliament Act should that become necessary to resolve this issue, it will be the House of Lords that has provoked the application of that measure.

Even at this late stage I ask Members of this place and those in another place to consider whether there is an opportunity for a less divisive way forward. Our motion to delay implementation until July 2006 was agreed by the House. I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends who supported that proposition wholeheartedly when it was before the House. It is now on the table for the House of Lords to agree to if the House votes for the Bill as it was sent to the Lords.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore has tabled amendments that recreate the Bill that I introduced in this place. I still believe that after the offer was made there was the basis for a constructive way forward. It would have ended cruelty but provided a constructive window of opportunity for those who could show that their method of hunting was not cruel. My Bill was at that time the strongest ever put forward, but the amendment put forward my by hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) provided that it was still a workable piece of legislation.

I make that point because there has been some criticism of the Bill as it went to the House of Lords, as if it was unworkable. Our decision after the House voted for my hon. Friend's amendment was to recommit the Bill to Committee to ensure that it was properly drafted, an effective piece of legislation and one that would work and would be simple in its application. The choice before the House tonight does not relate to a piece of legislation that is badly drafted. We put it into proper order.

Lembit Öpik: Will the Minister give way?

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Kate Hoey: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Alun Michael: This is getting exciting.. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and then I will give way to the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik).

Rob Marris: The Minister has tried very hard to seek compromise. May I suggest to him that it is almost impossible because people like me and many of my hon. Friends—I include the Minister in this, even though I shall vote against the amendment—consider that the primary issue is that of cruelty. For many Opposition Members, however—and this became clear in
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Committee—the primary issue is one of liberty. Their position is illogical, as they would allow cock fighting and bear baiting on the grounds of liberty. The primary issue is one of cruelty.

8.30 pm

Alun Michael: My hon. Friend is right, and that was acknowledged by the Countryside Alliance in discussions in which we tried to find a way forward. Obviously, there is a considerable difference of view about what constitutes cruelty, and what does not, but it is the starting point, as my hon. Friend rightly reiterates.

Lembit Öpik: I understand the point that the Minister made about the amended Bill proposed by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), even if I disagree with his conclusions, but I would be grateful for clarification. Given that he has chosen to exclude stag hunting from the tests but to include fox hunting, is it fair to conclude that there are likely to be cases in which hunting with dogs or foxes is not necessarily cruel?

Alun Michael: That was not completely answered in the evidence that I have seen. It was certainly not completely answered in the Burns report, as Lord Burns himself made clear. I therefore proposed a method that would allow cases to be dealt with according to the principles that we set out in the Bill and through the hearing of evidence. Clearly, some cases are expected to succeed. On the evidence that I have seen there will only be a small number that do so, but that possibility is one of the strengths of the Bill that I drafted.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman described the Bill as amended by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) as workable. Does he accept, however, that they both have consequences for the warp and weft of the countryside, particularly in an isolated constituency such as mine? Until a fortnight ago, the National Fallen Stock Company could not find anyone to collect dead stock from my constituency. The Isle of Wight Foxhounds, however, made a successful bid to do so. In its absence, there would be no one to collect dead stock, as required under the Government's legislation. What is the right hon. Gentleman's response to farmers in my constituency who fear that situation arising?

Alun Michael: I never quite understood why the farming industry generally did not embrace with enthusiasm the fallen stock scheme when it was originally proposed. The Isle of Wight Foxhounds is contracted to Government to provide a service. It does not offer that service out of the goodness of its heart, but there is no reason why that contractual relationship should cease in the event of legislation being passed.

My contribution is longer than I would have wished as a result of the many interventions that I have accepted. However, at the end of the day, the will of the House must prevail, and everyone should respect its decision. Individual Members of Parliament, who are accountable to their constituents, should decide on a free vote what should be the law of the land. I am answerable to my conscience, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and every other Member in
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making our decision tonight. I hope that my arguments about seeking a less divisive way forward will be heard by Members on both sides of the House. However, it is certainly time for the House of Commons to fulfil a Labour manifesto commitment to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue of hunting with dogs. The issue will not stop being divisive, but everyone, whatever their point of view, should respect the decision that is made at the end of our debate tonight.

Andrew George: I am aware that we have little more than an hour remaining for our debate, so I shall keep my remarks as brief as possible. First, it appears that all Front Benchers will go into the Aye Lobby to support the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), whom I congratulate on his courage and the way in which he made his case. Although there has been an obsession about whose hand held the pen or pressed the computer buttons when the amendment was written, the fact is that it is on the amendment paper. It has certainly helped us to reflect on the initiative.

The hon. Member for Ogmore said that another place had been provocative in the way in which it had considered the Bill and in the amendments that it had tabled. I agree. Perhaps the House of Lords has taken the Mickey out of the Michael Bill, to coin a phrase. It signalled that it had misjudged the opportunity for a compromise or that it was not prepared to compromise. I hope the hon. Member for Ogmore is successful. He said that he hoped that all democrats would accept the democratic will of the House. I assume that that was a message to the other place, not just to this place, and I endorse that remark.

My preferred option is much the same as the Minister's—the Bill as it left Committee in February 2003. A great deal of helpful work was done on the Bill at that stage. I have tabled an amendment, which I do not claim to be the most wonderfully drafted amendment that ever appeared on the Order Paper, especially in relation to the Hunting Bill. The amendment links compensation and the commencement of the Bill, and I was a little disappointed that the Minister concentrated on the drafting of the amendment, rather than on the underlying principle.

The Minister said that the cost to the taxpayer of establishing a registrar is likely to be about £10 million. If Parliament ultimately agreed to a Bill that involved a total ban, I do not believe that the level of compensation would exceed that figure in the first year, so I doubt whether the cost to the taxpayer would be greater than the Minister already envisages.

We are discussing not an act of God, but an Act of Parliament. We can control the impact that it will have on those directly affected. We know from the Burns report, even though the figures in it are widely debated, that between 500 and 1,000 people would be directly affected by a total ban. I drafted the amendment in such a way as to give the Secretary of State powers that he or she may or may not choose to use to implement a compensation scheme and to allow for a delay in commencement until the closed season of 2006. It would give the Secretary of State the power to do either, both or neither. That is why I am disappointed that the
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Minister indicated that he would not use his gift to allow us to vote on it. I hope that he will listen to the debate on that point, that he will consider the fact that a large number of Members in this place and in another place are concerned about the potential impact, and that he will respond.

The primary question is what effect a total ban, if implemented within a three-month period, would have on jobs, livelihoods, incomes and homes. We know that the likely impact on a large number of people will in some cases be catastrophic, and in some cases be significant.

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