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Mr. Garnier: What we have learned from the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and the right hon.
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Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) is that the argument tonight is not about the rural economy, the environment or the need to maintain social cohesion in the country—it is not even about animal welfare. It is about the exercise of naked political power and the dispute about how that power should be exercised. That is the argument taking place in the ranks of the Labour party.

The fact that the Minister has not advanced the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) himself as a Government amendment speaks volumes about the relationship between his Department and No. 10. It is interesting that it requires a Back Bencher of recent election, the hon. Member for Ogmore, to advance a so-called compromise—some people do not think that it is a compromise—and a case on behalf of the Prime Minister when one would have thought that a fellow Minister would be willing to do so.

It is interesting that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton found time to amuse us with one of his classic little vitriolic speeches. They are wonderful to listen to; they do not tell us very much, other than that he likes to put on a display from time to time. Fair enough. May he enjoy his searchlight fame in the circus and the big tent that he so proudly claims to inhabit. However, it is important that the House realises, before we ban hunting tonight, if that is what the House decides to do, that it has nothing whatever to do with the merits of the issue that we ought to be discussing.

The discussion that we are having tonight has nothing whatever to do with any of the arguments that I have engaged in since 1992, when I was first elected. It has nothing whatever to do with the arguments that were deployed for and against a ban in all the debates in Committee on all the hunting Bills that we have had to deal with.

I have argued with the Minister both in his position on the Front Bench during the debates on the most recent Bill and when he was a Back Bencher in the uncomfortable hiatus that he had between being the Secretary of State for Wales and working his passage back into government, but it is down to the hon. Member for Ogmore to save the Prime Minister and allow him a way out, thus allowing him to demonstrate who is in charge.

I accept that not all my constituents—the people whom I represent—support hunting, but most of them do not want a ban on hunting. It is regrettable, however, that we are left in this rather dirty, filthy little arrangement that is being sorted out for the benefit of the parliamentary Labour party. It is a pity that this is where we have come to: an arrangement that allows the Labour party to feel comfortable with itself, allowing it to sit with itself and to enjoy its own company for a few short moments, whereas real people outside are trying to earn an honest living and live a lawful life without being interfered with or bossed about by those who do not want to know and who do not want to understand because they think that they know. It seems utterly regrettable that the House of Commons should allow itself to be addressed in that way by that sort of argument.

I am afraid that we are only talking about the exercise of power. We are only talking about the arrogance of power, and in the light of that there is very little more
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that we can say on behalf of those who wish to continue to hunt and to carry out the activities and the sport that they have enjoyed for many years.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray): we are being presented with the least-worst option, and I hope that we can get it through the House. I shall do so with a heavy heart, but I will support the hon. Member for Ogmore. I am only sorry that the Minister did not feel able to introduce that amendment himself. This will be a black day for a great many people, and I do not think that any Member should feel proud of how we have reached this position.

Mr. McNamara: For the majority of people in this country, and for those of us who have campaigned over the years to see the end of hunting with dogs, this will be a great day. This issue goes across party, across class and across areas of the country—urban and rural. All the time that I have campaigned on the issue, I have been surprised by the overwhelming support that I have had from rural areas, including from farmers' wives who have said, "My husband daren't open his mouth, but he doesn't like the hunt going across the land. He knows that he can't do anything about it, because he is a tenant farmer." This is a great day.

The right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) said that we had not discussed the merits of a licensing system, of unlicensed hunting and of abandoning hunting altogether. That is what this debate and the votes will be all about. They are important matters. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said—I am glad that he saw Her Majesty before tonight, because I am not sure whether he will see her after tonight—the issue goes to the root of what we are all about.

We are told that a majority of Members in Parliament voted against the Bill, but a majority of the elected Members have overwhelmingly and repeatedly voted for it. I have often tabled amendments and not had them carried, so I know that I have to accept the will of the elected majority. That is what it is all about. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) and my right hon. Friend the Minister know that that is the case.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore felt it necessary to table the amendments, because we have gone through them twice. I understand that he might have had some help in drafting them. In nearly 40 years in the House, I have never had any help from the Government in drafting amendments. None the less, we are all entitled to get help where we can.

My hon. Friend echoed a point that had been made before. He spoke about the teachers, the doctors and the constables in his constituency who mount horses and follow the hunt in their serried ranks. Quite apart from what that might mean about empty surgeries, burglars on the streets and classrooms without teachers, he says that we are making criminals of those involved. [Interruption.]

Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. McNamara: No, I have been in the Chamber a long time, unlike the hon. Gentleman and some of the other Conservative Members who have been interjecting.
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Apart from the spuriousness of the points that my hon. Friend made in giving the impression that all teachers, policemen and doctors are in favour of blood sports, there is a more important issue. Nobody will be made a criminal by the Bill if it becomes an Act. In exactly the same way as the ownership of property, whereby nobody makes themselves a criminal unless they steal or break the law, nobody becomes a criminal unless they break the law passed by this House. It is for people to decide whether they want to obey the law. That point is of utmost importance. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton said, this issue is about two things: the supremacy of the elected House and the upholding of the rule of law.

We have been told that the issue is all about the Labour party, but I am sure that if it is about the passage of the Parliament Act, it is all about the Liberal party. Many people might think that it is about fair legislation, taxation and home rule for Ireland. That is a different matter, but the Tories have always advocated strange arguments.

If the Bill brings peace and harmony to the majority of my colleagues and comrades in the Labour party, that is a great collateral benefit. All Labour Members would support that. What is more important than the peace and harmony of the Labour party, important though I think that is, is the will of the elected representatives of this country and the rule of law. That is what we are voting for tonight.

9.30 pm

Mr. Cameron: I want to take issue with something that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said. He said that what we can call the Ogmore amendment is not a compromise, but it is a compromise between those who want to ban hunting completely and those who, like me, want to defend it. The compromise option is far more similar to banning hunting than defending it.

A lot has been said about the House of Lords—House of Lords bashing is an easy blood sport. If this House sends a Bill providing for regulated hunting to the House of Lords at this stage of a Session, the Lords can either engage with the Bill and work with the House of Commons on it, or reject the Bill, in which case a total ban will go through. Endlessly bashing the Lords makes for a sterile debate.

We heard a great speech from the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), who spoke bravely. The question for the House of Commons tonight is whether we can compromise. Let me make it absolutely clear that I support the freedom to hunt and I oppose the regulation scheme. The scheme would lead to massive unnecessary state interference and would ban almost all hunting. It would allow hunting in some places rather than others, often in an unfair and haphazard manner. However, I recognise the power of the convictions held by those—they are mainly Labour Members—who want to ban hunting, although I disagree with them. They have promised their constituents that they will ban hunting just as I have made promises to my constituents that I will defend it.. If we are to compromise, we must both change our positions in tonight's vote. I am willing to do that because I recognise the force of their convictions and think that we must try to compromise, but do they?
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Let me explain why those hon. Members should compromise tonight. My right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) put it extremely well when he said that there was a huge difference between disapproving of something and wanting to make it a crime. The argument about cruelty has not been proved. Lord Burns, the person whom the Prime Minister and the Government asked to examine that matter, has made it clear that there is no cruelty case for an absolute ban on hunting.

The real reason why I plead with Labour Members to think about compromising is that the morality of our actions depends on their consequences—acts have consequences. The one thing that has come out of all our debates on fox hunting is that a total ban will not save the life of a single fox, because they will be shot or gassed in larger numbers than at present. The consequences of an effective total ban would be wounded foxes, dead hounds, unemployed hunt staff, empty livery stables and rural businesses hit by a decline in trade. Although I would never advise anyone to break the law, if the ban is not effective and people continue to hunt, we will face the consequences of law breaking, problems with policing and the other difficulties that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) cited in his effective intervention on the Minister.

Irrespective of whether a ban would work, there is a strong case for compromise. Labour Members should consider such a compromise because they should think about what will happen to people if the ban goes through. The hon. Member for Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said that the Bill does not make a criminal of anyone, but it would criminalise thousands of people throughout the country who have carried out an activity that was not against the law for generations.

Even at this late hour, I ask Labour Members to think about the fact that a total ban would lead to a divided and angry countryside. We must ask why the Prime Minister has changed his mind, because he was always in favour of a ban. Although I cannot read his mind, I think that he is worried about having to lead a divided and angry country, which is what would happen under a total ban.

The hon. Member for Ogmore has given us the opportunity to compromise. The compromise is wholly unsatisfactory, but it would be better than the division and anger that a ban would cause. I hope that hon. Members will think about that even at this late stage and make one last try for compromise before embarking on a ban that would lead to an angry and bitter countryside.

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