HC Deb 10 May 1991 vol 190 cc945-56
Sir Charles Morrison

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 3, line 12, leave out 'likely occupation or use' and insert 'present occupation'.

We indulged in considerable debate in Committee about the right words to cover what would or would not constitute a breach of the law. The Committee debated two definitions of a badger sett, and, ultimately, the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) was accepted on the basis that we would return to the matter on Report to try to improve the drafting.

As drafted, the Bill will protect badger setts that show signs of likely occupation or use by a badger. This should ensure that abandoned setts are no longer protected. However, doubt remains about the position of setts that are neither occupied by a badger nor completely abandoned. In reality, badgers make infrequent use of subsidiary or outlying setts, so many setts are unoccupied throughout the year. The point was covered by the Nature Conservancy Council report, "The Badger in Britain", which divided badger setts into four types. It made the point that the main setts were those of most importance and that the subsidiary setts were steadily decreasing in importance.

I believe that it is not necessary to protect unoccupied setts. The extensive protection that the Bill affords to setts, coupled with severe penalties should any interference occur, is appropriate only for occupied setts. After all, the purpose of the Bill is to protect the badger, not to protect large numbers of empty holes in the ground.

The problem would be dealt with if the hon. Member for Newport, East accepted amendment No. 17. I do not want to take up any more of the House's time, because the point is clear. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to make a concession, as he has done so generously on previous amendments.

12.45 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) will not accept the amendment. As the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) said, this matter was discussed at length in Committee. The amendment would create a further loophole. If the words "likely occupation" were removed and replaced by the words "present occupation", some clever person would say that there was no badger in the sett at the time: the badger might have been out foraging. That is a technical point, but, as we know, a case could turn on a technicality.

Badgers often leave a sett and return to it a considerable time later—perhaps after months or even years. In certain areas, badger setts go back hundreds of years. In other countries, setts are protected as we would protect our stately homes. The badger sett may be the stately home of the badger, and hon. Members should bear that in mind. Such edifices need to be protected, and the amendment would introduce further loopholes which would imperil the badger sett. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to reject the amendment.

Mr. Soames

I do not want to quarrel with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks); I merely wish to disagree with him. As he will remember, when we considered his Bill this matter was a major point of contention. I should like to quote from a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) from Dr. Stephen Harris, who is an important expert on such matters, as the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) knows. It relates to the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West: One problem with the Banks Bill was that it tried to protect every possible badger sett, whether it was a single hole either not currently in use, or a massive main sett. This is not practical, since recognising smaller badger setts for what they are can be very difficult. It is also not necessary from a conservation stand point: most small setts are not in regular use, of little biological importance, and as the NCC's survey showed, most digging … occurs at main setts. That is the opinion of a considerable expert. I hope that the hon. Member for Newport, East will bear that in mind when he considers whether to accept the amendment. He has given generous consideration to earlier amendments.

Mr. Roy Hughes

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I intend to stick to my original wording and to oppose amendment No. 17. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) advanced a convincing argument. Badgers often vacate a sett and then return to it later. Without further ado, I invite hon. Members to oppose amendment No. 17.

Sir Charles Morrison

With the permission of the House, may I say a few words in reply to the debate.

I note what the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) has said. In the light of his remarks, I do not intend to press the amendment to a Division. However, the matter will undoubtedly be referred to in the debate in another place, where a solution may be found that is acceptable to both sides. If so, well and good. It is, though, a matter which, as I say, the other House will wish to consider. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. Roy Hughes.]

12.49 pm
Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I congratulate the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) on having done an extremely good job in bringing the Bill before the House. His attitude throughout has been conciliatory. I am very pleased that we have managed substantially to improve the Bill. Much of the credit for that must go to the hon. Gentleman. Credit must also go to my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison), who worked extremely hard in Committee to improve the Bill which, as it now leaves the House, is in very much better shape.

Some of us have said today that the Bill is by no means perfect. We still have reservations about certain clauses, most notably about those that we sought to amend on Report. However, as it is much better than it was when it originally came before House, we do not intend to oppose it. I have sufficient of my hon. Friends here today for us to have fought the Bill through to 2.30 pm, had we so wished, but in the same spirit of conciliation as that shown by the hon. Member for Newport, East we decided not to do so. It gives me great pleasure, therefore, to congratulate him once again and to wish the Bill a speedy and successful passage through the other place, with a few more amendments, before it reaches the statute book.

12.51 pm
Mr. Tony Banks

The hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) was wise not to pursue the course that he has just described. If he had, there would have been considerable difficulties both for him and others as well as ourselves.

I join the hon. Gentleman—this is one of the few times on which we can agree—in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) on steering the Bill through the House. It is almost a good day for badgers. The hon. Member for Upminster knows that I was not so compromising about the proposals that he and other followers of blood sports put forward. I, too, look for improvements to the Bill. They may not be made in another place, but they will come at another time.

I still do not believe that the Bill gives to the badger sett and, therefore, to the badger the absolute protection that is needed. However, my hon. Friend is to be congratulated on having succeeded where I failed. I am delighted not only for him but, more importantly, for badgers. The Bill is a partial success. We shall no doubt return again to the matter and make it a whole success. That is not only what the majority of hon. Members but, far more importantly, what the majority of the people of this country want.

I hope that those Conservative Members who opposed the various badger protection Bills as they went through the House in order to protect their own vile pastime will at least have been impressed by the weight of public opinion. Public opinion has yet again prevailed in this place. Therefore, I am glad to give the Bill my total support.

12.53 pm
Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

I thoroughly welcome the Bill. It is important, however, to put on record the fact that those of us who have watched the proceedings on badger Bills during the last two years have noted with considerable interest and satisfaction the way in which both sides have moved towards one another. For some it is a highly controversial subject. Last year some tempers began to get frayed. I am a little worried about the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). He seemed to be about to insert yet another unnecessary element of tension into the argument.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) on the way that he has handled his side of the argument. I congratulate, too, both my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) on his contribution and the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), who has piloted the Bill through the House with considerable skill. I wish it well in its final stages.

12.54 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) on the Bill and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) on introducing the Protection of Badger Setts Bill last year, which unfortunately was unsuccessful. They both succeeded in achieving a major reform for the protection of badgers. In that sense, it is a good day for Brock at last.

It is sad that a Bill to protect a creature as beautiful as the badger must be the subject of negotiation with those who pursue disgusting blood sports. I hope—I am sure that it will not be too long—that a Bill will be introduced to end the awful practice of blood sports.

In welcoming the Bill, the House should pay credit where it is due—to the League Against Cruel Sports and others who have campaigned for so long to protect the badger and other creatures and the thousands of people who have taken the trouble to write to Members of Parliament asking them to support the Bill and encouraging so many to attend the debate. A Bill such as this represents considerable progress and is a step towards a more humane attitude to animals.

I last observed badgers in the constituency of the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison). I hope that he will take the opportunity to observe them from the downs above Devizes because he will realise what beautiful creatures they are and why the rest of us want to give them the ultimate protection that other hon. Members seek to deny them because they practise blood sports.

It is a good day for the badger; let us look forward to making it a good day for the fox and hare.

12.56 pm
Sir Charles Morrison

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) was not present for earlier debates, because he would have heard hon. Members emphasising their concern for badgers and their determination to take action that would help to reduce badger baiting.

I warmly thank the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) for his co-operation and for the helpful concessions that he made. I congratulate him on getting his name in the history books. I sympathise with his having being burdened with the Bill this year. If there had been a greater feeling of compromise last year, the Protection of Badger Setts Bill would have become an Act. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is still quite a young and likely lad, and as time passes he will realise that, in the House, it is better to be prepared to compromise to achieve the results achieved by the hon. Member for Newport, East.

12.58 pm
Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I wish briefly to place on record the thanks of people in Staffordshire to members of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and constituents who have lobbied me to ensure that I support the Bill today.

It was very important that Conservative Members did not resort to wrecking tactics. There has been a long battle to improve legislation on protecting the badger. I should have liked the Bill to be tighter, but none the less I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) on it. People in Staffordshire, constituents at the ICL factory in Kidsgrove, have worked closely with pupils in Staffordshire schools to give wider protection to badgers by developing new computers and software to assist in their protection.

1 pm

Mr. Bowis

This is a good day for badgers and for Parliament because, for once, we have shown that a measure that does not have universal support and which has been proposed by a Back Bencher can reach its final stage in the House of Commons. That is a great tribute to the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), and I warmly congratulate him on his stewardship of the Bill.

Some of us have been supporting measures to protect badgers for some time, and to see one achieve success is great news. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison), for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) and for Crawley (Mr. Soames), whose concern for the balance of the countryside has led them to reach a compromise on the Bill. I hope that that spirit will be reflected in another place so that, when the Bill is discussed there, it will be speeded to the statute book.

Badgers are beautiful creatures and we wish them well. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to their stately homes. From my memory of childhood literature, I thought that the stately home was owned by Mr. Toad of Toad Hall, but Mr. Badger is also welcome to one. If every Englishman's home is his castle, from today every English badger's home will be a protected castle in the earth.

Mr. Hardy

The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) said that he had been supporting the protection of badgers for a long time. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes), who deserves the congratulations of the House and everyone connected with and interested in conservation. It is a pity that it has taken the House 18 years, since the Badgers Act 1973, to introduce such a measure. That Act was revised during the 1974–75 Session and then had to be improved further in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and again when my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) was fortunate in the ballot and devoted his measure to improving the 1981 Act.

However, against the great weight of public opinion, badger baiting continues in the most obscene and sadistic way. If the Bill fails this time, I shall present another to seek to deny those who perpetrate such brutal acts the benefits of anaesthesia, should they require treatment or surgery under the national health service. They deserve a harsh penalty. An obvious further step would be to interpret existing legislation to allow the courts to order the confiscation of the motor vehicles that take them to the setts where they perpetrate their brutal crimes.

The whole House has been involved in the Bill. Although some Conservative Members have expressed reservations about the risk of menace to their activities, I appreciate the fact that they recognise that badgers must be protected further, and the conservation organisations and I are grateful that they have enabled the measure to pass through the House.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East will be long remembered for his contribution to the survival of one of Britain's most attractive species. Hon. Members can go away today feeling that they have done a very good job.

1.4 pm

Mr. Colvin

Anyone witnessing this debate could be forgiven for suddenly wondering whether we had lost our senses. Peace and good will seem to be breaking out all over. It is almost like the time when, during the first world war, the combatants came out of their trenches on Christmas day and, instead of firing bullets at one another, started playing football. Throughout the passage of the Bill we have been playing football. In the best possible spirit, we have joined the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) in trying to find a solution to the legitimate concerns of people engaged in activities in the countryside, including farmers, foresters and field sportsmen. We have gone a long way to finding compromises, but that is largely to the credit of the hon. Member for Newport, East.

Many hon. Members have congratulated the hon. Gentleman on successfully steering his Bill through Parliament. He has succeeded in bringing the Bill to its fifth stage, Third Reading, which I trust the House will give it. But it is only at its fifth stage; it has still to encounter the other place and then return to this place. If we are to believe what we read in the newspapers about the possibility of a summer election, perhaps all the good work that has been done so far will have been in vain. However, I do not believe that, even were that to happen, the work will have been in vain because our debates and the work that goes into them produce a greater understanding of the issues involved. Anyone who reads reports of this morning's debates will understand more about the problems of the countryside and the difficulties faced by those who seek to give the badger the greater protection that it needs. Those problems must be overcome without impairing other perfectly legitimate activities.

As I sat downstairs signing my letters half an hour ago, I saw on the annunciator that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was on his feet. I thought, "Trouble has arrived." For a moment I thought that we were back to the acrimonious debates that we had during the passage of his Bill. It is sad that, at the end of a thoroughly good-natured and constructive debate, the hon. Members for Newham, North-West and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who took no part in today's debates on Report, should come into the Chamber and spoil it. They have added a little bit of sourness to what is otherwise a happy conclusion.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Newport, East on his achievement and I hope that we shall see his Bill back here in a satisfactory state to discuss any amendments passed in the other place and to give it our final good wishes on its way to Royal Assent.

1.7 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) on having the patience and persistence to steer the Bill through the House, and the shrewd sense to accept one or two amendments in order to achieve a compromise to allow the Bill to succeed. He has performed a balancing act and obtained the best form of Bill rather than seeing it talked out this morning.

Fridays are valuable for private Members. They provide opportunities for presenting and passing useful legislation. I understand that some yuppie tendencies in various parties in this place have been talking about working until 5.30 pm on weekdays, finishing on Thursday night, and getting home on Friday, which is a nonsensical suggestion. Our debates on the Bill have demonstrated how we can make good use of Friday mornings.

Even in 1973, when the first Badgers Bill was passed, and shortly before I entered the House in 1974 as Member for Keighley, people made representations to me to the effect that there were loopholes in the 1973 Act. Attempts to remedy them failed. When I re-entered the House, with great pleasure, as Member for Bradford, South in 1987 a new group of people repeated the same anxieties to me. Some, if not all, of them supported the League Against Cruel Sports, which has consistently provided information about and campaigned on this issue. Its pressure outside must be recognised as a factor in the successful passage of this Bill.

This legislation has been so important in West Yorkshire that some animal care and preservation societies have suggested that if it had not got through today badgers might well have become extinct in West Yorkshire. The contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East has been first rate—

Mr. Colvin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cryer

I would rather not. Several other hon. Members want to speak.

This has been a satisfactory morning, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East on the Bill. Most of all, I congratulate the badgers of West Yorkshire on preserving their lives.

1.11 pm
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling)

I hope that, as one of the sponsors of the Bill, I may make a few brief comments.

I am delighted that today has been such a good day for badgers. I must slightly chastise the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) for the tone that he injected into the debate, but he did the House one service by showing how genuinely difficult it is, with a wide variety of different beliefs about and angles on the subject, to achieve the consensus arrived at today. That, above all, is the measure of the success of the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes).

Secondly, not only is today a good day for badgers but, if the House sees fit, next week will be yet another good week for badgers, as the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and I intend to introduce a Bill known as the Badgers (Further Protection) Bill which I hope will receive its First Reading next Wednesday and go through all its other stages, if the House sees fit, on Friday.

Our Bill should command all-party consent. Its other sponsors include such diverse personalities as my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) and for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) and the hon. Members for Newport, East and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). With a cast of supporters like that, the Bill, I feel sure, will win the consent and favour of both Houses of Parliament—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to give us a preview of his later Bill, but he must now return to Third Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Mitchell

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for reminding me of that.

I hope that the Bill will appear next week. In the meantime, I warmly commend the promoter of today's Bill and congratulate him on his success.

1.13 pm
Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

I represent an inner-city area and I have had many letters from constituents in support of this Bill. I grew up in the east end, as did my son. Although we made many trips to the Northaw woods to look at badger setts in the hope of seeing a badger, we never had the luck to see one in the wild. I have no doubt that many of the people who have written to me in support of the Bill have never seen a badger either. In some ways it is even more important to them that these beautiful animals should exist in this country, that they should be protected and that men with dogs—fortunately, it is not women who do this—should not be allowed to hunt them in a bloodthirsty fashion that was likely to exterminate them.

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) on the work that has been done over the years leading to this Bill. I congratulate all who have worked together for the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friends on bringing the Bill through to its fifth stage, and I hope that it will proceed through its remaining stages and be enacted to protect an important part of the wildlife of our country.

1.14 pm
Mr. Soames

I join in the general spirit of harmony and pleasure in the House and warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) on his Bill. The House should also congratulate the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) who for many years has been a leading expert on this matter not only in the House but in the country. His opinions have been widely sought on both sides of the debate, and he has made a notable and important contribution. His approval of the Bill will give further pleasure to the hon. Member for Newport, East.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) that the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) injected a sour and rather pointless note into our proceedings. The great achievement of the hon. Member for Newport, East and his supporters in all parts of the House was the ability to recognise the desire for such legislation. There was a vigorous and important public lobbying effort about the importance of seeing the badger further and properly protected. Some hon. Members sought to confuse that issue with the issue of field sports, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) spoke.

I commend to the House an admirable article by Dr. Roger Scruton in The Sunday Telegraph. I shall quote from the article and direct it especially to the hon. Member for Islington, North. The article states: The real motive behind the proposals is not a love for the animal kingdom but a hatred for a particular part, the part that goes by the name of England. This is the ruling passion of today's Labour Party. Field sports involve a blatant assertion of English values, manners, ceremony, heirarchy, easy courtesy, boldness and display, and above all the natural harmony between people from all backgrounds which is so fundamentally obnoxious to those brought up in the belief that the classes are truly at war. No polytechnic-bred lout can witness the pink coats and prancing horses without feeling the urge to pull down the symbols of authority and spit on a piece of England. Opposition Members may laugh. However, the hon. Member for Newport, East managed to dissociate himself from that perilous, ghastly riff-raff whose interest is not the protection of the badger or anything else. He allied himself firmly and honourably on the side of an animal which deserves and has achieved further protection and enhancement of its habitat. I wish the Bill every success.

1.17 pm
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) on persevering with the Bill and on finding ways to get it to the stage at which it goes to another place. I thank him for being kind enough to allow me to be among the Bill's all-party sponsors.

It is a tragedy that the badger is one of those rare animals whose only known enemy is man. I say "man" because to my knowledge its enemies do not include women. When I was with friends in Sussex I was fortunate enough to be within 3 ft to 4 ft of a badger and one of her young and I watched them having supper. It was muesli with apples and they seemed to thrive on it.

I hope that the hon. Members for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin), for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) and for Crawley (Mr. Soames) and others who have been so keen to reach a consensus on this Bill will, next Wednesday, bring that spirit to the Committee considering the Hare Coursing Bill, which is being promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). I also hope that, after the next general election, when the Labour Government introduce a Bill to abolish all forms of hunting with hounds, on a free vote, those hon. Members will again strive for consensus.

As has already been said, the Bill is, regrettably, neither the end of the matter of adequate protection of badgers nor of animal welfare and wildlife matters. I hope that the one thing on which we can all agree, and on which we can all send a message to the other place as it considers the Bill, is that we need to build on this until we can truly say that we properly treat the animals with which we share this planet.

1.20 pm
Mr. Gale

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) is right to say that many other animal welfare matters will require our consideration. I have the honour to be the vice-chairman of the all-party animal welfare group, which concerns itself deeply with, for example, the export of live horses and with whaling. On both those matters, Her Majesty's Government have taken a strong and correct stand.

It gives me pleasure to see the passage of the Bill, because the all-party group has given the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) support throughout the stages of the Bill. I know that the chairman of the group, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes) and all its members wish him well as the Bill completes its stages. It is also appropriate for me, on behalf of the group, to thank the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and its officers for the advice and help that they have given us in reaching a consensus. The officers of the National Farmers Union have been similarly helpful.

It saddens me that a note of acrimony was introduced into the debate. It is easy to criticise, but those of us who listened to the articulate debate can only have been impressed by the knowledge of the countryside shown by those of my hon. Friends who have not supported the cause that we have supported. We should not forget that many of those engaged in farming or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) pointed out, in forestry and other country pursuits do a great deal for the conservation of the countryside. It is easy to be hypocritical about such matters. Often, when those who shout the loudest about animal welfare from the town move into constituencies such as mine, they do infinitely more harm to animal welfare, through either negligence or vandalism, than do those whom they have been criticising. I have never hunted or wanted to hunt and there is no likelihood that I ever will, but I recognise, and the House should recognise, and not deride, the strongly held beliefs expressed this morning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside made it clear that this is but the fifth stage of the Bill. I hope that today will be seen as a good day for badgers, but the Bill has to complete its stages in another place and come back here. I trust that, when all those stages have been completed, we shall be able to say that we have afforded badgers more protection.

1.23 pm
Mr. Roy Hughes

This is a happy day for me. It has been a privilege to promote a Bill which will protect these wonderful creatures. My thanks are due to all those right hon. and hon. Members who have supported me. My thanks are also due to those who, in opposing some of the provisions of the Bill, made their arguments lucidly. This is, after all, a democratic institution.

My gratitude and thanks are due especially to animal welfare organisations, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Nature Conservancy Council, the World Wildlife Foundation, the National Federation of Badger Groups and the League Against Cruel Sports. They have been enthusiastic throughout and unstinting in their efforts.

Arguments have been advanced throughout our discussions and they have been answered. Certain. concessions have been made and now the Bill is to go to another place. I hope that efforts will be made speedily to ensure that the Bill can soon be put on the statute book.

1.25 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

As the House will know, on occasions such as this the Government always maintain a strictly neutral stance. That has been the position that I have held during the Bill's passage and its consideration on the Floor of the House and in Committee. It would not be right, however, at this stage of its progress to allow the Bill to go forward without offering to the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) my congratulations on the way in which he has skilfully drawn the arguments together and taken the Bill—privately, I am happy to see it reach its present stage—through the House.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have co-operated with and participated in an important measure. I am happy to have had the opportunity to express my personal position. I look forward to the advance of the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) has announced that he and the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) will be bringing forward further to help and support badgers.

1.27 pm
Sir Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) on the passage of the Bill. It is an example of the compromise that can be reached on the Floor of the House. It is the result of a great deal of work behind the scenes in which, I am sure, the representatives of both sides of the argument have participated. They have succeeded in reaching agreement.

The hon. Member for Newport, East said that the badger has no enemies in this place. I am sure that many of us have received more letters about badgers than about the Gulf war. It is clear that the country is behind the Bill—I am certainly behind it—and I am glad that we have reached this stage in its consideration. Let us hope that its progress will not be stopped by a general election and that it will be brought to a successful conclusion. Certain small amendments may have to be made to it in another place during its constitutional passage, but I am sure that we shall support any improvement that can be made to the Bill.

1.28 pm
Mr. David Amess (Basildon)

I join all hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) on the passage of the Bill, I extend some credit to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who I know was disappointed by the failure of his Bill last year. I am sure that he will be extremely pleased by the progress so far of the Bill before us.

Throughout the eight years that I have been an hon. Member we have seemed to spend many hours discussing the welfare of badgers. We have now arrived at a splendid Bill which I hope will shortly receive its Third Reading. I know that some of my colleagues have reservations about the precise details of the measure, and I have no doubt that those in another place will, in their wisdom, ensure that all the concerns which have been expressed during our consideration of the Bill are met.

Many of my constituents love badgers. Tonight, I shall be joining the badgers at the bottom of my garden in celebrating the passage of the Bill. The toast will be, "The hon. Member for Newport, East."

1.29 pm
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)

I am delighted to add thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) for the hard work that he has undertaken in seeing the Bill through to its final stage here before it goes to another place. I add my thanks to those that have been expressed by the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) to those who have worked extremely hard on another Bill that is shortly to come before the House. The measure is intended further to help and support badgers. I thank the Minister of State for the sign that she has given that it will receive Government support when it comes before the House next week. I hope that it will complete all its stages.

I congratulate all those who have been involved in the Bill, from both sides of the House. Like all those who remained in London today to try to help the Bill through its last stages, I think that we have gained a tremendous boost for those in British society who care about the animal kingdom. Such Bills as this can only be good for the whole of society.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

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