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Mr. Gray: My instinct is to say that anyone who votes for an amendment that fundamentally changes the Bill thereby votes against the measure. If the proposal of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) had been accepted on Tuesday, a licensing regime would have been introduced. It seems straightforward to me that the Prime Minister effectively said that he did not want a ban. Even if that were not the effect of his vote on Tuesday, it reflects his comments in press conferences and what his official spokesman has been authorised to say on countless occasions. It is plain that the Home
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Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and others oppose a ban and would like a middle way. Unfortunately, they have not achieved their aim because of the actions of Back Benchers. None the less, that was their view.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Is not the simple truth that the Prime Minister, with the support of many Cabinet colleagues and others, was trying to restore the measure to its original form, which the Minister introduced? He is nodding assent.

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes a good point, which speaks for itself.

Mr. Hogg: Does my hon. Friend agree that we should be careful not to describe the amendment that the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) tabled as a middle way or a compromise? It proposed a ban through a tight licensing regime.

Mr. Gray: My right hon. and learned Friend is right.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) (Con): My hon. Friend mentioned a potential challenge. The Joint Committee suggested that a three-month ban was unreasonable and potentially open to challenge under the Human Rights Act 1998. Has he noticed that coursing is not included in both extensions that the Minister proposes? If something is unreasonable for hunting, why is it not unreasonable for coursing?

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes a good point about the Joint Committee, which has tentatively concluded that a measure that included a three-month ban would not comply with the Human Rights Act 1998. That will be tested in the courts. He also makes a good point about hare coursing, which is, bizarrely, singled out for an immediate ban. Hare coursing kills fewer hares than shooting or hare hunting, which would be allowed. It would be delayed for three years if the Minister's amendment were passed. However, hare coursing, which aims not to kill hares, would be banned in three months.

Lembit Öpik: On legal challenge—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. There are still too many conversations. [Interruption.] Order. Clare Short, too many conversations are happening. Perhaps they can be conducted elsewhere and not in the Chamber.

Lembit Öpik: In terms of legal challenge, does the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) accept that the biggest problem is the way in which the Bill is constructed? For example, if a member of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found a dead mouse in someone's back yard and reported them to the police, it would have to be proved that the cat had killed the mouse, because if the dog was found guilty that person could go to prison.
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2.30 pm

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman makes a good but abstruse point. Perhaps we should move on.

I want to focus particularly on the question of when and why the Bill should be implemented—either immediately, or effectively immediately, within three months; within 18 months, as the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley), has suggested; or within two and three quarter years, which the Minister himself seems to be suggesting.

I believe that when the Government originally proposed 18 months it was not for animal welfare reasons; it had about it the stench of political expediency. They wanted to allow the ban to come into force after the general election and for hunting not to become an issue in that general election. In that context, Mr. Speaker, I have to tell you that a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and indeed people in the countryside, are, for that very reason, perfectly content with an immediate ban.

A significant number of people who believe in hunting want an immediate ban so as to focus attention on opposition to the Government in the run-up to the general election. I have not gone along with that view, as it seems to me that there are some extraordinarily important animal welfare reasons for seeking to delay the Bill's implementation. This is all to do with animal welfare; it should not be to do with the election, political expediency or arguments. It should be to do with the best way of implementing what is to Conservative Members an obnoxious move.

That is why we are quite content to accept what the Lords propose—namely, a three-year delay. If we were given the opportunity to vote on it, we would doubtless at least consider what the Minister proposes, which is a delay of two and three quarter years. That is reasonably sensible.

It might be worth touching on why I believe that to be the case, why I believe that 18 months is no good at all and why three months is even less good. First, the Minister has said that the reason for the delay is to assist with re-homing hounds, as he calls it. The notion of re-homing hounds is absurd. Anyone who has ever been to a hunt kennels knows that the notion of removing any one of 100 dogs, some of which are as large as this Table and which have been living together for years—indeed, they may have been bred for generations for the purpose of hunting—and re-homing it in the front room of someone's bungalow is a great deal less—

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way. I am just getting into my stride and we do not have much time.

The notion of re-homing hounds is extraordinarily absurd. We need to find a way to reuse the hounds. The animal welfare committee in this House proposed that, for example, they might be exported to take part in hunting overseas. That is an absurd suggestion.

Several hon. Members rose—
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Mr. Gray: The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Mr. Cawsey) was on the animal welfare committee and I happily give way to him.

Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): May I offer clarification to the House? The report that the hon. Gentleman is referring to, which looked into the welfare implications for hunting dogs, was not from a committee of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. The group commissioned the report, but the people on the committee were from the Kennel Club, the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA, as well as a veterinary surgeon from the university of Bristol, who specialises in dog behaviour. We did not agree with the idea of dogs being re-homed abroad—we had grave reservations about it. We simply said that when a ban was put in place in Scotland that is what some hunts did.

Mr. Gray: I am happy to accept the hon. Gentleman's correction on that point. That was a very select little committee and the report it produced has been rubbished, to use that common new Labour word, by a variety of learned people, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

The truth of the matter is that if hunting were banned within three months there would be a significant problem over what to do with hounds. I think everybody agrees with that.

Mark Tami: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray: No, I will not. The problem will not only be with hounds. I have here an interesting letter that the British Horse Society addressed to the Minister this week on the subject of the consequences for horses as well as hounds. Incidentally, the person who wrote the letter, Mr. Graham Cory, was until recently the Minister's horse tsar in the Department before becoming chief executive of the society.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): This is a question not only of animal welfare, but of those who will lose their job, livelihood and income for feeding their family, so will my hon. Friend press the Minister for some form of compensation package for such people in my constituency and elsewhere?

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which I shall discuss in a moment.

On the subject of horses, the British Horse Society makes it plain that an immediate or early ban on hunting will have significant consequences for horses. Mr. Cory says:

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The British Horse Society goes to great lengths to make it absolutely plain that there would be significant animal welfare consequences for horses, as well as for hounds, were there to be an immediate ban.

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