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Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Gray: The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) has already contributed, so I give way to the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), who has not.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): There is no reason for any hound to be put down. The hunts can continue as drag hunts.

Mr. Gray: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. We could all quote Lord Burns back and forth at each other, but the interesting thing is that he came to only one absolutely clear, absolutely plain and totally agreed conclusion, which is that by no stretch of anybody's imagination could drag hunting replicate hunting at the moment. That is a unanimous opinion in respect of the notion that those horses and hounds could be used for drag hunting.

There is a more interesting point here, none the less. Let us imagine that those hounds were used for drag hunting and that in the course of their drag hunting day they killed a fox accidentally—without that being the intention. Would they be guilty of an offence or not? The Bill does not make that plain. That is one aspect where the legislation is badly drafted. However—

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Gray: If hon. Members will forgive me, we are not re-entering a substantive discussion on the Bill. We are discussing when the Bill should be implemented.

Mr. Banks rose—

Mr. Gray: That is what I want to focus on, which is why I do not intend to take an excessive number of interventions from those whose opinions I am well aware of, having been involved in such discussions a number of times.

Mr. Banks rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is not giving way. He has made that very clear indeed.

Mr. Gray: Indeed, Mr. Speaker, I have given way reasonably generously. With only 10 minutes left, I cannot accept too many other interventions, although I may do so from time to time.

If today, despite everything, the House decides to use the Parliament Act to force through this bad and illegitimate law, it will do so against the wish of the Prime Minister and the wish of the Home Secretary, who will have to police it. They both voted against it only 48 hours ago. The House will also do so against the wish of the Lord Chancellor, who voted for the Lords amendments that we are considering today.

Kate Hoey: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gray: In a moment, of course I will.
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There can be no possible parliamentary precedent for the use of that ultimate nuclear procedural device, the Parliament Act, to force through a Bill that the leaders of the Government and holders of the great offices of state, who will be required to implement it, specifically and repeatedly voted against. The Parliament Act 1949 will itself be subject to judicial review in the months ahead, as will this most bizarre and unprecedented use of it.

Kate Hoey: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that given the unprecedented nature of the use of the Parliament Act—the majority of Parliament as a whole has voted not to ban hunting in this way—there should be a vote of this House to make Members formally agree to Mr. Speaker using that Act?

Mr. Gray: I agree, which is why I put my name to the motion that the hon. Lady tabled to that effect. We in this House should be asked to vote on whether to use the Parliament Act, although I fear our procedures do not permit that. No doubt when the use of the Parliament Act is considered in the courts, the very point that she makes will be part of that consideration.

The Parliament Act challenge and the Human Rights Act challenge face us in the courts, which is where the battle will move to, assuming that the Parliament Act is used to push the Bill through this afternoon. The battle will be joined in the streets and in the countryside too. Mass protests, civil disobedience within the law and political campaigning of every kind will be unleashed. I appeal to the supporters of hunting and of freedom to remain within the law at all times, to abhor violence or intimidation of any kind, and to seek to avoid inconveniencing the general public, most of whom support our cry for freedom. They should focus their efforts on those people who are responsible for this illiberal law—namely, Labour Ministers and MPs, especially in the run-up to the general election. A Conservative Government will introduce an early Bill to repeal this ban, which makes our task at the general election clearer than ever, both nationally and in Labour and Liberal marginal seats, whose Members should watch out.

If the House decides to use the Parliament Act to force through this disgraceful and illiberal Bill, especially if we decide that it should commence in three months' time, we will send a clear message to lovers of hunting, lovers of shooting and fishing—which, without doubt, will be next—lovers of the countryside, and perhaps above all, lovers of our ancient freedoms that we care more about prejudiced and ignorant political correctness than about animal welfare. There will also be a hidden message to the countryside, which reads: "Cry havoc, and let loose the dogs of war."

Peter Bradley (The Wrekin) (Lab): I beg to move the amendment in my name. I must be brief. I no more wish to prolong the debate than I wish unduly to prolong hunting—

Mr. Beith: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible for the House to have two amendments before it, both moved at the same time?
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Mr. Speaker: This is an amendment to a motion, and it is perfectly in order. The right hon. Gentleman can take my word for it.

Peter Bradley: With respect to you, Mr. Speaker, I should point out that it is a Wrekin amendment and not a wrecking amendment. It is characteristic of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Rural Affairs and Local Environmental Quality that he should want to go the extra mile, or, in this case, an extra year. He knows that I, as his Parliamentary Private Secretary, am always right behind him, even if I will not go the extra mile myself this afternoon.

My right hon. Friend has sought to identify common ground with the hunting fraternity and the House of Lords. It is doubtful, however, whether there is a piece of common ground big enough on which to pitch a tent that accommodates all of us. That is why he says that while one amendment before the House is reasonable, the other is more reasonable. It is up to the House, I suggest, to decide which is the more reasonable.

Mr. Beith: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The amendment to which the hon. Gentleman has referred can only be voted on if it is moved by a Minister of the Crown. He has now moved it, so it cannot be moved by a Minister of the Crown.

Mr. Speaker: Order. For the sake of clarity, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley) is actually speaking to his amendment. [Interruption.] Order. Many are the times that I have heard hon. Members say that they are moving an amendment when they are not doing so. What a Member says and what he gets are two different things. I am trying to tell the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that although the hon. Member for The Wrekin may have said that he was moving his amendment, he is speaking to it. The right hon. Gentleman's latter point is correct; at the end, when the shutter comes down, only a Minister can move such an amendment.

Mr. Beith: I distinctly heard the hon. Gentleman move the amendment, and I am sure that the record will show that—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have distinctly heard other hon. Gentlemen say that they are moving an amendment when they are not really doing so; they are merely debating it. I will clarify the matter if it keeps the right hon. Gentleman happy; the hon. Gentleman is not moving his amendment, but speaking to it.

Peter Bradley: As the House can tell, I am not moving, but I am speaking. [Laughter.] I am doing so because I want the House to have the opportunity to choose which of the motions on the Order Paper is the most reasonable. I believe that delay until 2006 is reasonable and sensible because it gives hunts the opportunity to adopt drag hunting to save the jobs, the dogs—and the fox for that matter—the fallen stock collection service to farmers and the way of life in which they believe, and will provide opportunities for riders who currently would like to ride across the country but who will not chase a fox.
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2.45 pm

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