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Sir Gerald Kaufman: No, it does not differ, in any of the adverbs that my hon. Friend has just uttered. On the other hand, as my hon. Friend—I am sorry I have forgotten his constituency—[Hon. Members: "Wolverhampton, South-West."] Wherever he represents it is brilliant. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) pointed out, if that amendment were accepted, it would tarnish the Bill and we could not get it through under the Parliament Acts. Therefore, the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), must find other choices even though it may well be the case that a number of us sympathise with him.

Lembit Öpik: The right hon. Gentleman and I obviously differ about the Bill, but does he agree that what the Prime Minister probably believes is that in some circumstances it is acceptable to kill a fox with dogs? That is the only way to interpret what the Prime Minister has said.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would not choose the hon. Gentleman as his first interpreter and analyst. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to join the Labour party and try to get a job, it may be that my right hon. Friend will look favourably on him. The hon. Gentleman would be a good swap for the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden).

What is the rationale for compromise? On 18 March last year, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked the House of Commons to vote for war against Iraq. He was ready courageously—whether controversially is a different matter—to stand up with armed force against an evil dictator. If he did not ask us to compromise with Saddam Hussein, is he really asking us to compromise with the Countryside Alliance? Is that the Prime Minister's wish? We know that he believes in a big tent, but that one would have to be enormous. P. T. Barnum himself could not construct one big enough.

The animal welfare organisations took an opinion poll that showed that more than 90 per cent. of those who took part in the Countryside Alliance march vote Conservative. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) said earlier that, if people believe in hunting, they will vote Conservative. It is one thing for the Prime
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Minister and the Government to want a great national consensus on all kinds of issues, but a great national consensus in which they appease law-breaking Tories while rejecting the view of the parliamentary Labour party does not seem to me to be what we fought the last general election on.

I have always been in my right hon. Friend's big tent. Indeed, I have been at the centre of it, warming myself on the glow from the furnace in the middle of it. I hope that he is ready to listen both to his right hon. and hon. Friends who have voted overwhelmingly for a ban, and to some brave Opposition Members, rather than to the louts and hooligans who are the spearhead of the Countryside Alliance.

Tony Wright rose—

Sir Gerald Kaufman: I shall give way to my hon. Friend, but then I shall conclude as I want to give others the chance to speak.

Tony Wright: I certainly do not want to interpret the Prime Minister, but perhaps he is trying, in his own inimitable way, to rescue us from the irreconcilables on both sides and to find some genuinely common ground. In doing that, I suspect that he reflects the views of the majority of people.

Sir Gerald Kaufman: If so, it is not the famous Oscar Wilde quotation about the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable, but the ineffable in pursuit of the unachievable.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in his speech on the Queen's Speech last November, promised us that he wanted to resolve the issue in this Parliament. I say to the House and to my right hon. Friend that the only way to resolve it is to enact the Bill passed by the House of Commons in September. I have some hopes of being re-elected at the next general election, so I can tell the House that, if the issue is not resolved in that way, and only in that way, we shall carry on fighting and it will not be resolved. Tonight is the night; this is our chance. Let us chuck out everything on the Order Paper and vote for the Bill as we decided we wanted it two months ago, and by the end of the week we will have a Hunting Act that enacts a total ban.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): It is usually a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), but he has spoken for 21 minutes without at any stage addressing the merits of the case, which is disappointing. I normally have great respect for him.

I remain opposed to a ban on hunting. I have not spoken on the issue in the House before but was moved to do so after listening to the speech made by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who spoke movingly and persuasively. He said one thing that saddened me, however. At the end of his speech, he felt it necessary to thank the House for its tolerance of his dissent from the view of his colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party. He was closer to them than me, but I could feel waves of visceral hostility emanating from them. That seemed to be a microcosm of the degeneration of the debate on this issue over the
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years. The debate does not revolve around the rational assessment of evidence, but flows from blind and destructive dogma.

There are arguments from different sides about cruelty and liberty, but the argument is about both. The cruelty issue is central and we cannot do much better than turn to what Lord Burns said. After all, he and his colleagues on the committee spent a great deal of time looking at the issues and assessing the evidence. He said recently in another place that the evidence was inconclusive and that to use the Parliament Act to force through a ban in the face of evidence that was, at least, inconclusive was unacceptable. The case on cruelty has not been made.

I have only a short point to make on the issue of liberty. In a free country, there should be a huge gap between disapproval of an activity and wanting to ban it. A ban is the mark of an authoritarian society, not one based on freedom, tolerance and respect. If the House opts for a complete ban on hunting, and forces it through against the wishes of a majority of Members of Parliament—because that would be the case—we will have inflicted damage on the standing of Parliament and, let us face it, Parliament does not stand high in the respect of the nation. We should not do it.

9.15 pm

Mr. Banks: May I say to the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) that, given that there is clearly not going to be reconciliation and compromise, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said, if it comes down to it, surely the views of the elected Chamber must prevail. We are the people who will have to go out into our constituencies and defend our voting record. Many Labour Members represent rural constituencies where there are hunts, and they will have to justify what they have done, defend their position and look for votes, and I suspect that they will get them.

A pro-hunting Labour peer told me, "Under no circumstances must you allow us to win on this, because if you do we will ride roughshod over your legislation at any time." [Interruption.] I am just saying what he said. In the end, it is a matter of the will of the elected House against the will of the unelected House, and I should have thought that anyone in this House would agree on that. I would have said precisely the same had I been on the other side of the argument, because in the end I am a House of Commons man, and as an elected Member I believe that the will of this House should prevail. We have to defend our actions in the constituencies; the Lords do not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) might remember when I spoke in his area and supported him, and I have no reason to doubt my judgment in supporting him in the House. Tonight, he put forward a view that has received minority support, but we defend his right to do so. What we found objectionable was the way that he then characterised our position. That was the point where he began to lose us. By all means stand up and defend the position, but do not cast aspersions on the position of those who do not agree.
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I am finding myself in a minority of one in the Gambling Committee—

David Winnick: Good job—you are in a minority of one.

Mr. Banks: Maybe so. We already have another disagreement going on here, but I do not seek to discredit or misrepresent the views of those who do not agree with me.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore more or less suggested that this was a class issue. We have heard this time and again. I wrote down "red-coated hunters". I do not really care what they are dressed in—I have not the foggiest idea what they wear. I have made this point time and again; I do not even like the word "toffs". The fact is that if all of those who hunted were members of the Transport and General Workers Union, voted Labour and supported Chelsea, I would still vote against them because in the end, for me, it is a matter of morality. Killing animals for pleasure is wrong. It is immoral and must be stopped.

I know many people who hunt and whom I consider to be friends of mine. Some are Opposition Members, including a number of prominent Conservatives, but I still feel that they need help. I regard myself as a sort of friendly psychiatrist in this, and I think the first way that we help those who are doing something wrong is to stop them doing it and then we can put them into some sort of counselling. [Hon. Members: "Rehab."] Rehab is a much better word. I do believe that we have to reassert our position tonight.

The last point I would like to make is that we cannot vote for a licensing system. We did not do so for the simple reason that a licensing system would still allow hunting to go on. Then, in the event of a Conservative Government being elected—one day, deplorable though that might sound to Labour Members, a Conservative Government will be elected—all they will need to do is touch the old fine tuning and we will get back hunting in its totality as it is today. Therefore we cannot vote for a licensing system, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore and to my right hon. Friend the Minister, and to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who I understand will make a rare appearance here tonight to vote—I would not do it if I were him, but of course I am not likely to be him and I certainly hope that he will not do it. I hope that he will remember that this is a free vote, and that he will not look curiously at those who do not support him in the Lobby tonight. I suspect that he will be in a minority on the Labour side, and he will be with colleagues from the Opposition. That is his choice, however, because it is a free vote.

We cannot support a licensing system, because it will eventually end with hunting being fully restored. Those who want to restore hunting have a simple choice now. If we go to July 2006, a general election will intervene. If you want to have hunting back, Mr. Deputy Speaker, vote Conservative at the next election. I suspect that that will be another reason why the Conservatives will not be elected.

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