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Before I call the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) to move his manuscript amendment, I make it clear that the debate will also cover motion b, in the name of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley).
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Before I speak to the amendment and to the amendments proposed by the other place, I should explain why my name appears on the amendment with what might reasonably be described as a fairly unholy alliance of individuals. Our reason for tabling it is simple and principlednamely, because the way in which the Minister tabled his motion would have required us either to vote against the amendments tabled by the other place in order to secure his timing proposals, or to vote against his timing proposals. That is wrong. It is reasonable that we in this place should speak and vote in support of amendments proposed to us by our noble Friends, and that we subsequently have the opportunity to support what the Minister has proposed with regard to timing. It is unreasonable, however, to place us in the position of being unable to speak in favour of the amendments from the other place in order to try to secure the delay that the Minister proposes. We are therefore ready to consider the entire question of the Minister's motion and to seek to strike down the part of it that is to do with the timing of an outright ban.
Today's debate is not only about implementation dates, which the Minister largely focused onit is about all the proposals from the House of Lords. I shall try to address several of those as well as the very important issue of when the Bill and the ban should be implemented.
Before I do so, I should say that this debate has all the feelings of the final act of a sombre and melancholy tragic drama. For me, it is the end of a kind of parliamentary nightmarea ghastly rural soap opera in which ignorant urban interests triumph over the countryside. For a few moments last night, I was glad that this would be the last time that I rose at this Dispatch Box to discuss hunting[Interruption.]
It then occurred to me that although this is the last time that I will rise at this Dispatch Box to discuss hunting, I can look forward to the opportunity this time next year of rising at the Government Dispatch Box as the Minister responsible for proposing the repeal of this disgraceful, prejudiced and ignorant little Bill.
Last night, when she moved the amendments in the other place, Baroness Mallalieu, who is, among other things, president of the Countryside AllianceI pay tribute to her and to the Countryside Alliance for the wonderful work they have done over many years in seeking to save the liberties of the countrysidesaid that this is a "rank bad" Bill. That sums up the Bill: it is indeed "rank bad". She continued:
"allows terrier work . . . in order to protect a pheasant or a partridge but not to protect a lamb or a curlew, which allows the hunting of rats but not mice, rabbits but not hares; which destroys jobs . . . homes . . . and does so without compensation".[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 November 2004; Vol. 666, c. 1556.]
The House made clear its views on licensing versus banning less than 48 hours ago. I was delighted to go through the Lobby with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Minister for Rural Affairs and Environmental Quality and his boss, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to vote for the Lords proposals on licensing, although we ultimately lost the vote. It is odd that we are considering using the Parliament Act to drive through a Bill against which the Prime Minister voted only two days ago. That is a constitutional peculiarity to which I shall shortly revert.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The hon. Gentleman believes that he may not discuss hunting again for some time but, depending on the outcome of votes today, the Minister has already contemplated a one-line Bill. Given the flaws that the hon. Gentleman has already identified, if the Government use the Parliament Act to force through the Bill without accepting the registration scheme, is not there every chance that they will have to revert quickly to the matter to make the measure workable?
Mr. Gray: I fear that the hon. Gentleman is right. The Bill is badly drafted and even if, like so many Labour Members, one were committed to abolishing hunting, the measure is not the way to do it. It will not work; it will prove impossible to police; its definitions are difficult to understandit is extraordinarily badly drafted. I therefore believe that we shall have to revert to it.
Mr. Gray: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) and subsequently to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman), who was so complimentary to me yesterday when we met in the Lobby.
Dr. Turner: Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten me? Perhaps I am being even thicker than usual, but the effect of the manuscript amendment would simply be to disagree with the Lords. We would not change one jot or comma of the Bill. If the amendment were accepted, we would go straight to the point at which the Parliament Act would be invoked. Am I right?
I claim no great expertise in some of the more abstruse parts of parliamentary procedure, but my understanding is that the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The
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purpose of the manuscript amendment is to seek an opportunity to vote in favour of the other place's amendments and subsequently to vote for or againstwe will have to decidethe Minister's proposal. The precise consequences will become clear later.
Mr. Gray: I am grateful for that interesting intervention. The answer is a straightforward no. I have seen no legal advice and have no idea whether challenges are more likely if the delay is three months, 18 months or any other time. I suspect that, if the Bill is bad for human rights reasons or if the Government make bad use of the Parliament Actseveral legal challenges are pending on thatthe courts will find that to be the case, so it is not for us to prejudge the outcome. I fear that I cannot help my hon. Friend.
Mr. Gray: Before I give way to the right hon. Gentleman, I must tell hon. Members that, only yesterday, we met in the Lobby and he was extraordinarily complimentary, not necessarily about what I was saying but at least about the way I was saying it. I am most grateful for that.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: I stand by that. I respect and admire the hon. Gentleman's parliamentary performances, even if I disagree with him. Through some recondite parliamentary procedure, which I do not understand despite all my years in the House, my name has appeared on the amendment. I make it absolutely clear that I shall not vote for the amendment and I shall advise my hon. Friends not to do so.
Mr. Gray: I am most grateful for that clarification. I am relieved that my name and the right hon. Gentleman's do not appear on the same proposal. I am sure that the House will note the great relief all round.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): As the Official Report will show, the hon. Gentleman told the House a few moments ago that the Prime Minister voted against the Bill. That is not true. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will put the record straight. Like everybody who voted for amendments to the Bill, the Prime Minister did so in the sincere belief that they would improve it. I happen to disagree, but I stress that nobody voted against the Bill the other day when we discussed only amendments.
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