'.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument amend any of the provisions of sections 1 and 8 to 13 so as to reduce the activities prohibited by section I or the powers and penalties in respect of any offence.
(2) An order under subsection (1) shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by, each House of Parliament.'—[Mr. Luff.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.1336
Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 20—Power to amend section 1—'(1) The Secretary of State may, by Order made by Statutory Instrument, amend any of the provisions of section 1 so as to change the activities prohibited by section 1.(2) An Order made under subsection (1) shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by, each House of Parliament.'.Amendment No. 53, in clause 7, page 2, line 31, leave out 'remove,'.
Amendment No. 54, in page 2, line 31, leave out ', amend'.
§ Mr. Luff
I think that the House will agree that we had an exceptionally reasoned and well-informed debate on the previous group of new clauses, with the sole exception of the lamentable, ill-tempered and inadequate speech by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). The hon. Gentleman made one of the worst speeches that I have heard in the House—if not the worst. That is important in relation to the new clause, because as the hon. Gentleman worked himself up into an extraordinary lather of hatred against anyone who dared put a reasoned point to him, he revealed the passions that underlie this debate on hunting—at least on the Labour Benches, largely.
If the Bill proceeds—I hope sincerely that it does not in its current form, as I am sure the hon. Member for Worcester realises—there must be some mechanism within it to adjust its provisions in the light of the passions to which I have referred, in the light of the developing knowledge of hunting, in the light of the effect of a ban on the countryside and in the light of developments in our scientific understanding of what is involved.
§ Mr. Hawkins
My hon. Friend has mentioned the extraordinarily bad speech by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). Does he agree that it is extremely surprising that the hon. Gentleman, on Second Reading, allowed hardly any interventions? I sought to intervene twice, as Hansard records, but he would take no interventions from Conservative Members. Does that not show extraordinary intolerance, and an assumption that only he and his supporters can be right, and that 284,000 people last Sunday—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is helping the House. He has raised a matter that clearly goes outside the scope of the amendments.
§ Mr. Luff
I understand what you say, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will not respond to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins).
The inability of the hon. Member for Worcester to respond to the many important points made during the previous debate underlines the importance of new clause 2. Ultimately, we did not have a debate on the previous group of new clauses. Instead, we had a series of speeches in favour of them, with no reasoned argument against them. I believe that reasoned argument will emerge in favour of many of the points made by my right hon. and hon. Friends and by others outside the House. That is why the new clause is so important to the future progress of the Bill.
1337 The Bill has aroused huge passions in my constituency—passions which, I regret to say, the hon. Member for Worcester has unleashed. One of my constituents was terrified at the weekend when a group of protesters hurled abuse at her at the kennels of the Worcestershire hunt. She said:Later about 20 demonstrators decided to come down here. They were shouting 'scum' and 'you should fall off your horse tomorrow and break your neck or die from cancer' at me. I was terrified.That was because the organisers of the protest had chosen to go to the kennels when all the men would be away in London for the countryside march. Julian Barnfield, the Worcestershire huntsman, is quoted in yesterday's edition of Worcester Evening News as saying:My little girls are four and eight—we very nearly didn't take them with us on the march, but thank God we did … They would have been terrified.That is the nature of the behaviour of many supporters of the Bill. These are passions that we must seek to control.
The hon. Member for Worcester never listens to this sort of argument, and that is why the new clause is so important. If he had listened to the arguments that those of us who have severe reservations about the Bill advanced, he might have been able to cope with many of the difficulties that could arise if the Bill were ever enacted. The trouble is that the hon. Gentleman does not even answer letters. I am one of his constituents, and I write to him regularly. Generally, I receive letters with rubber stamps rather than a signature at the bottom. I noticed that he sat giggling throughout most of the debate on the previous group of new clauses. He was not listening. He is smiling and smirking even now. These are serious issues with serious consequences for many of my constituents.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extraordinarily difficult for us to fashion proper legislation, which is our prime responsibility, when the promoter of the Bill will not allow any interventions to permit dialogue, and will not allow sufficient time for the Minister to guide the House in its deliberations? Does my hon. Friend accept that it is frustrating for us as legislators, particularly when considering private Members' Bills, to be denied proper dialogue and the proper mechanisms by which to try to improve and fashion legislation?
§ Mr. Tom King
My hon. Friend will have heard my interventions on stag hunting. An unfair question was asked: whether stag hunting would be permitted or excluded under the Bill. It does not matter what the hon. Member for Worcester thinks; he is the temporary trustee of the Bill. What matters is what ends up in legislation.
I do not want to embarrass the Minister, but I am not clear who is taking responsibility for the Bill. We have not had a speech from him to answer some of the legal queries. I do not blame the hon. Member for Worcester, as he is a new Member and it is a tough assignment to take up, but I do not know what back-up he has. Where is the legal advice to say whether the queries raised will be answered?
1338 This is almost becoming a point of order. We must have proper legal guidance when considering a Bill. We know, as do you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your experience, that the House has an unfortunate reputation for passing rather bad legislation that has to be sorted out afterwards.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman, whose experience is also considerable, might know that he is encouraging his hon. Friend to go wide of this group of new clauses and amendments.
§ Mr. Luff
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) made an exceptionally serious point. In no way do I wish to challenge the Chair, but it was regrettable that we did not hear at length from the Minister during the debate on the previous group of new clauses. The fact that we did not hear from him underlines the need for new clause 2. When the Minister reads the report of the earlier debate, he will see that my hon. Friends—and my honorary hon. Friends the Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Opik) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—made important points that were not addressed. That may make the Bill unworkable, and certainly deeply regrettable.
The Home Secretary will not have the luxury that the hon. Member for Worcester enjoys. He will have to listen to the voice of reason or he will be in trouble politically—possibly even legally. I suspect that he would be grateful if he were given powers to deal with the Bill's inadequacies.
New clause 2 is a modest attempt to conciliate. Those of us who support the so-called middle way approach have made a rather more ambitious attempt to conciliate, which we hope will be discussed next week if we debate the Bill again next Friday. The new clause attempts to conciliate at the margins by smoothing some of the Bill's rough edges—or at least giving the Secretary of State the chance to do so.
We are not seeking to undermine the Bill in any way through the new clause, which genuinely builds on a provision already in the Bill to give the Secretary of State power to amend the Act in respect of exemptions. There is already a precedent in the Bill for the new clause.
I regret that many important issues in the previous group of new clauses were not addressed. I had hoped to speak about the use of terriers by gamekeepers. That is an important issue and relates to new clause 25, but there was no opportunity to debate it because the debate was truncated. Some issues could not be voiced because of the early closure.
We did not have an adequate response from the Minister, although he did make a helpful attempt, for which I am grateful, to deal with a point that had been raised. It was helpful, and I was glad to see him engage in debate. However, if he sits on the Front Bench and rises only when he finds it absolutely essential to do so, he will enhance the necessity for this new clause and greatly enhance the need to amend the legislation by statutory instrument.
I am wearing a lifeboat badge, which I bought this morning—I believe that Lifeboat day is tomorrow. In a sense, I am offering the hon. Member for Worcester a 1339 lifeboat. The new clauses tabled by the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire and for Vauxhall are effectively lifeboat clauses as they could enable him to get the Bill on to the statute book. If he does not accept them, he will probably fail to do so.
I must make it perfectly clear that I have never even been on a horse in my life—except for about 30 seconds on my sister-in-law's horse, which was not a comfortable experience—let alone on a hunt, but I know huntsmen much better than the hon. Gentleman does. Unless he removes his blinkered prejudice towards those who hunt and those who speak up for hunting, he will find that he needs that lifeboat desperately, and I urge him to clamber on board. More seaworthy lifeboats will come along later, but this one will at least give him a chance of survival.
The hon. Gentleman's choice is whether to go down in glory with a Bill that fails, and therefore betrays the animal welfare lobby on whose behalf he claims to speak, or perhaps to get something on to the statute book. The House and the other place would take a different view of the Bill if it contained a clause of this nature. As it stands, the Bill is excessive. It contradicts everything that the House stands for in respect of personal liberty and freedom.
§ Mr. Swayne
While I accept that the Bill is wholly repugnant, is it so repugnant that we should countenance the awful principle that secondary legislation can amend primary legislation, which is effectively what my hon. Friend seeks?
§ Mr. Luff
To be entirely honest, I find the procedure unsatisfactory, but I would not have tabled the new clause had I not felt it essential to deal with abuse of the Bill. I do not want the Bill as drafted to reach the statute book, but there is scope for compromise. The Bill could reach the statute book and help the cause of animal welfare without inhibiting personal freedom. Sadly, the hon. Member for Worcester shows no sign of listening to that argument. I hope that, over the next few days, he will reflect on what has been said today and come round to our way of thinking.
§ Mr. Luff
I have been patronised by those on the other side of this argument for years and I am fed up with it. This is a clear statement of objective fact. I quote in my aid the Home Secretary during the Firearms (Amendment) Bill on 18 June 1997. He began by quoting what he had said on Second Reading of the Bill. He said that the House had'to be very careful before we use our power to prohibit actions that were previously lawful and involved no criminal intent. Simple disapproval can never be a ground alone for prohibition.' … I have repeated that statement because it is applicable to today's debate and will be applicable to future debates. It is a principle to which I and the Government of which I am a member seek to work whenever we address the difficult questions of balancing the personal liberty of law-abiding people against wider issues".—[Official Report, 18 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 399.]The Home Secretary was right. I do not deny for a minute that the House has a duty to protect animal welfare. I oppose the Bill because it will reduce 1340 animal welfare. However, we have a duty to stand up for civil liberties, and the Bill's draconian nature simply does not do that; it demands some new checks and balances.
I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) says and I share his constitutional reservations about the procedure proposed in the new clause, but it is the only procedure open to the House to deal with the problem. If the hon. Member for Worcester has the wisdom to accept the new clause, he may save his Bill by allowing some variants if, specifically and most importantly, it is shown that the Bill is in conflict with the European convention on human rights. I find it extraordinary that the House is currently considering two Bills—this and the Human Rights Bill—that could stand in sharp contradiction. There is increasingly well-informed speculation that the Government believe that the Bill will contravene the European convention on human rights which they are seeking to incorporate into British law. The Minister may give the hon. Member for Worcester a nod and a wink, and say, "Mike, take this on the chin, because that will give us the opportunity to avoid that potential conflict."
§ Mr. Gray
My hon. Friend will have seen today's reports in The Times and The Daily Telegraph that the Home Secretary has announced that this or any other Bill to ban fox hunting will not be given Government time, which all Conservative Members welcome. Has that announcement been made because of the conflict with the Human Rights Bill?
§ Mr. Luff
I welcome the newspaper reports, but would not want to ascribe motives to the Government. The hon. Member for Worcester should reflect seriously on the arguments for the new clause. The Home Secretary's remarks to The Times are on the record, so the hon. Gentleman must do some serious thinking or he will have wasted hours of his time that would have been better spent serving his constituents.
§ Mr. Garnier
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Bill, which is shortly to go to a Committee of the whole House. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) has yet to get his head round how the Bill might infringe article 1, which deals with protection of property, article 8, which deals with the right to respect for private life, and article 11, which deals with freedom of assembly and association. Can my hon. Friend assist him?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) will not proceed in such a way. We are discussing the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill.
§ Mr. Hogg
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. New clause 2 would enable the House to take account of the important matter of whether the Bill infringes the European convention on human rights. Is not it highly 1341 desirable that you should not accept a closure motion until the Minister tells us whether the Bill defies the convention?
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but the Chair will decide on the matter at the appropriate time.
§ Mr. Luff
I bow to my hon. and learned Friend's superior legal knowledge and deep understanding, and hope that he gets many clients for a long time to come. I shall conclude my remarks on any link between the convention and the Bill.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) is right.
§ Mr. George Howarth
Hon. Members have asked whether the hunting ban proposed in the Bill would breach the European convention on human rights. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) mentioned articles 1 and 8. I understand that no one would be deprived of his or her property if the Bill were enacted—therefore, the Bill does not contravene article 1—and that although article 8 is broad in scope, a ban on hunting with dogs would not contravene it. The concerns raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman do not apply. I should also say that the Government remain neutral on the issue.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not a matter for the Chair. Those hon. Members who want to participate will seek to catch my eye.
§ Mr. Luff
I have reluctantly decided to expand my remarks, because the matter is clearly important to hon. Members.
I am grateful to the Minister for his helpful remarks. He may be right to say that the articles would not be contravened, but I am advised that he may be wrong. Article 1, which deals with protection of property, and article 8, which deals with the right to private life, are relevant.
There is also an argument that article 11, on the freedom of association and assembly, might apply. I am told that those articles must be read with article 14, which prohibits discrimination on any grounds in respect of the substantive rights offered under the convention. The most important part of that article is the provision that prevents the selective invocation of public interest to justify 1342 legislation that prohibits the activities of one particular minority, but leaves alone other comparable activities. That is an important point in the consideration of the Bill.
§ Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)
My hon. Friend touched on the precise point that goes to the heart of the human rights convention. Unless the bans proposed in the Bill can be justified on rational grounds, and not on illogical grounds that appear to discriminate, the Bill will fall foul of the convention.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire)
I am trusting to my memory here; I do not claim that it is infallible, but I think that on this occasion, it is right. I think that there is a clause in the Human Rights Bill, which will come before a Committee of the whole House before long, that provides that if the Bill becomes law, it will be incumbent on the Government, before the introduction of any piece of legislation, to give the House authoritative legal advice on the standing of that legislation vis-a-vis the convention. My right hon. and learned Friends the Members for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) and for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) are nodding to show that my memory of the Human Rights Bill is correct.
In the light of that, and given that the Government hope that the Bill will be law before too long, perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) should encourage the Minister—subject to the wishes of the Chair—to wait until next Friday to make his speech. He could then give us the authoritative legal advice on this issue, which in principle the Government are willing to do because it is part of the provisions in the Human Rights Bill. Should the Minister decide to make his speech today, or should the Chair decide to accept a closure motion before the end of the day, my hon. Friend should ask the Minister to rise on a point of order next Friday and satisfy us on this legal point.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
My hon. Friend is touching on an important aspect. He will be aware, as will the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), that this is a criminal Bill. Clause 1(2) provides not only for the person who is hunting to be criminally liable, but for the owner of the land vicariously to be criminally liable. Clause 2(c) provides that something doneat the request of the ownerhas an effect on criminality. The whole question of ownership of property ties in with the human rights aspects in an important way. We need to hear from the Minister on that at some point.
§ Mr. Luff
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a valuable contribution to the debate on an important point.
1343 I want to highlight the Bill's potential impact on farmers, who will be denied the right to choose how to control pests on their land. That may be a breach of the first protocol of article 1 of the convention, but also of article 8 on respect for private life. I understand that the convention draws that aspect very widely, and it has been said that that should reflect many facets of moral and social issues in our pluralistic society. Hunting plays a crucial part in social recreation, as well as in the economic and farming life of rural Britain. For those reasons, I think that article 8 will probably also apply.
The Bill could be challenged because of the lack of a sufficiently clearly defined public interest ground. There is no public interest ground for the Bill—it flies in the face of true public interest. There is also the absence of a specific ground for intervention, which applies under article 8. There is no necessity for the Bill; in fact, there is a necessity not to have the Bill as it will reduce animal welfare. There is a lack of proportionality, which is important, and there is discrimination under article 14 of the convention.
I understand that because it is not a Government Bill, the legislation would have a lower status in Strasbourg, and would be lower in the pecking order and more liable to challenge. I did not intend to make those points, but the Minister prompted me to make them, and it is important to place them on the record. The Minister must address them in the House before we vote on the new clause.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
I ask my hon. Friend to reinforce that point. We have been told several times that the Home Office has redrafted some of the clauses. I do not know whether that is correct, but if it is, it means that the Government are taking an unusual degree of responsibility for the Bill, and it is important to know the amount of responsibility that they are taking. No doubt the Minister will tell us about that.
§ Mr. Luff
My right hon. and learned Friend's intervention, with which I agree, speaks for itself.
New clause 2 could save the House and the Government a great deal of difficulty. There were great hopes that the Prime Minister might reconsider his position on a royal commission or some other sort of independent inquiry on the future of hunting. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman completely ruled that out at Prime Minister's Question Time a few weeks ago. I sincerely hope that he did not.
I think that it was my hon. Friend for the purpose of this debate, the Member for Vauxhall, who said that it was remarkable to be considering such draconian legislation without the results of a serious inquiry by the Government or any other body. Such an inquiry could produce new evidence or might authenticate the evidence that we claim exists in opposition to the Bill. That could require the Secretary of State to make changes so that he can sleep comfortably if he believes what he said about civil liberties during the passage of the Bill that led to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.
The Bill criminalises an act that is proper and acceptable in certain circumstances that are not materially different from circumstances that it condemns. That poses 1344 huge problems of interpretation for the courts. I am sure that the Home Secretary will want a power to amend some parts of the Bill. It contradicts the principles of natural justice, proposes disproportionate penalties and has no provision for compensation for those whom it will affect. Because it is a private Member's Bill, the measure cannot deal with money issues. To put before the House a Bill that does not allow for compensation is fundamentally wrong. A major part of our deliberations on the firearms legislation was on that topic.
§ Mr. Hogg
My hon. Friend is speaking about compensation. Is he aware that the European convention on human rights has established that those who are dispossessed of property are entitled to compensation? That may be yet another way in which the Bill would transgress that convention. If fox hunting were ever abolished, it would probably have to be done by Government legislation because of that requirement for compensation.
§ Mr. Luff
My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point of which I was not aware. It leads me to wonder whether the Bill is acceptable under the private Member's Bill procedure when, technically, such a measure should have a compensation provision, which would, of course, make it ineligible for that procedure. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that before next week.
The Bill's definitions of offences are inadequate. Who are the criminals? It may not be a serious point, but there is no distinction between dogs and bitches. The Secretary of State may want power to amend those definitions.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It would assist everyone if the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) would show that he is giving way.
§ Mr. Paterson
It might help my hon. Friend to know that in Committee, we continually pressed the Bill's supporters to understand that on a wet, windy afternoon in Market Drayton a magistrate will have to interpret the legislation and someone may go to gaol. In the Bill's first and second incarnations, the words "hunt" and "hunts" appear in the first line, and at no stage could the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) give a definition of that fundamental word. It was left to the "common sense" of magistrates.
§ Mr. Luff
My hon. Friend shows why it is so important for the Secretary of State to have power to vary the Bill's effect and impact if it were to become law.
In the past, the debate in the country about the purpose of hunting has been sterile. It is about pest control and dispersal, but as a country sport, it brings pleasure to people. There is no contradiction there. It also brings important benefits to the environment and supports employment in remote rural areas. In addition, it has social benefits. At some stage, the Home Secretary may well want to reflect on those benefits and on powers to reduce the impact of this legislation.
1345 I am convinced that, if we deal with the concerns of most people in this country, we can isolate the extremists, and develop legislation that will give hunting an acceptability that I accept it probably currently lacks in some people's mind. That would be a huge step forward, and the House would be able to debate issues more important than fox hunting. New clause 2 would give the Secretary of State powers to amend legislation in the light of knowledge and developing concern, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Heseltine
The essence of our debate is the differences between clause 7 and new clauses 2 and 20—all three of which are effectively Henry VIII clauses. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) has already made the important point that, if we take the Bill at face value, we will be passing primary legislation and giving to this Parliament, or to a subsequent one, the ability by order to change the Bill's entire purpose. Everyone will admit that clause 1(1) states the Bill's essence—to ban hunting. Therefore, in a future deliberation, Parliament could by order alter the Bill's fundamental purpose.
Allowing a new Act to be designed by secondary legislation is an undesirable technique. If we replace section 1(1), we shall change the Bill's entire substance without any of the deliberative processes of a Committee stage and Report stage, which allow the House to scrutinise legislation. Change would be made by a simple resolution of the House after minimal debate. The House has been reluctant to use Henry VIII clauses and the other place has been almost insistent that they should not be used.
Clause 7(1) admits the possibility that it may be necessary not to amend the details—as that is precluded by clause 7(1)—but to destroy the Bill or to amend it substantially. Is it just possible that the more relevant powers that the House should consider are new clauses 2 and 20, which deal with the House's ability to deal with the Bill's detail?
I was not a member the Standing Committee that considered the Bill. After listening with some care to most of what has been said in this debate, that does not cause me great concern, except in one material sense: one does not get the impression that the Committee's conduct was of the highest standards of constitutional practice.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes: on his side, the conduct was of the highest standards of constitutional practice. How does he square that with precluding debate on virtually anything other than the Bill's first provisions, tearing up the part of the Bill that had been thoroughly debated, and then relying on the Government to replace the substance of the original Bill with a totally new set of provisions? Has he the effrontery to suggest that that is best constitutional practice? He has not been an hon. Member for long but, if that is the basis on which his constitutional judgment rests, he has not fully understood the great traditions that make this the mother of Parliaments. However, he may come round to it. If he would listen to the arguments that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire has so eloquently made, and to which I hope to add, he will understand the substance of what we are saying.
1346 Basically, we do not like Henry VIII powers. The Bill's supporters understand that, on the Bill's substantive issue, it is necessary to have the ability totally to destroy it. That shows me that there is some unease in the minds of the Bill's supporters. It has apparently occurred to them that they might have got it wrong. Indeed, it has been proved beyond peradventure that they did get it monumentally wrong, which is why the Home Office had to get involved to get it right.
The problem with that, to which my Front-Bench colleagues have drawn attention, is that the Home Office is silent. It has done the work, the thinking and the planning and it has written the notes on clauses, but the only people who cannot share in all that are Members of Parliament. We cannot hear what the Minister has to say. He gives no sign and makes no intervention. Were I a Minister in this Government—heaven forfend—I would want to be eloquent on behalf of the officials who have contributed so much to the Bill.
§ Mr. Grieve
Is not that silence all the more remarkable given that, on Second Reading, the Minister told the House, first, that the Government were neutral and, secondly, that neither they nor he could see any reason why, with a bit of co-operation, a proper Bill could not be put on the statute book?
§ Mr. Heseltine
New Labour, new legislation. The fact is that Home Office officials have been deeply involved in the Bill.
§ Mr. Garnier
My right hon. Friend should not be surprised by the internal contradiction in clause 7. There is another contradiction in the fact that the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) says that he is in favour of animal welfare, yet the Bill permits exemptions which would promote the sorts of activities of which he so heartily disapproves.
§ Mr. Heseltine
My hon. and learned Friend is better versed in the detail of the Bill and I shall listen with great interest when he expands his arguments later.
I find it very difficult to understand how there is to be a Henry VIII clause that allows the Bill to be substantially wrecked but which does not allow the House to deal with subsections (2) to (5) of clause 1. We can do what we like with clause 1(1), but we can do nothing about subsection (2), which refers to an owner or occupier of land committing an offenceif he permits another person to enter or use that land to hunt in contravention of subsection (1).I do not know how such matters are defined. If someone happens to cross the threshold of a farmer's land and the farmer does not actually tell him not to, perhaps because his permission was not sought, is he committing an offence? If the farmer has not put up fences, is he deemed to have permitted the person to use his land? Who is to determine such things? The House cannot other than by new substantive legislation.
Clause 1(3) refers to the owner or keeper of a dog. Apparently, someone who has a dog commits an offence if he permits another person to use that dog. I do not know what kind of dogs other hon. Members have, but mine are 1347 not under such control. If someone whistled at my dog and encouraged it to do something, I could not guarantee that I could force it to resist.
§ Mr. Hogg
My right hon. Friend was talking about clause 7, wholly correctly, but does he agree that the real vice of that clause is that it enables the Secretary of State by order to remove the exemptions to clause 1? In other words, by order, the Secretary of State can extend the range of criminal offences and the number and class of people to whom those offences will apply.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I understand what my right hon. and learned Friend says. That shows the complexities of the matter before us. The second—[Interruption.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. or hon. Gentleman who has brought a phone into the Chamber should take it out immediately. [Interruption.] I suspect that the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) must be grateful for my intervention; otherwise, we might never have known.
§ Mr. Heseltine
I have no doubt that I am grateful, but the person making the call probably is not.
Clause 7(1) is extremely restrictive. If there are to be Henry VIII powers, I see no reason why they should not cover other parts of the Bill that deal with penalties, confiscation and so on.
I should like to make a further point that is borne out by my own experience of dealing with such issues. In 1981, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King)—who is not here—and I were responsible for steering the Wildlife and Countryside Bill through the House. As the House knows, I have never hunted in my life and it is extremely unlikely that I shall do so now.
My particular interest in the Wildlife and Countryside Bill was the conservation of bird life, as I am interested in bird watching. I contacted the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, explained that we were introducing a comprehensive Wildlife and Countryside Bill to protect bird life and asked for advice on what needed to be done. By and large, we reached agreement with the RSPB on what was necessary for the conservation of birds.
The Act is now almost 20 years old; at the time, it was considered a pace-setting measure for conservation. However, nobody had foreseen the plagues of Canada geese and magpies or the inland penetration of cormorants. Those developments have transformed the conservation issue. I have no factual evidence. I have seen surveys, but I do not call them in aid. Nobody will ever persuade me that the plague of magpies that now affects virtually every part of the country is not an incomparably more damaging threat to the migrants whose eggs we were trying to protect in 1981 than anything little boys pinching eggs could do.
I live in the heart of England, where there are now cormorants. As everyone knows, they attack fish indiscriminately, but at the time of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill, they were never seen in that part of 1348 England. Black-headed gulls are everywhere. That was not the case 20 years ago. The issue that the hon. Member for Worcester, with his contemptuous dismissal of any argument that he does not like, has to face is that it is very difficult to deal with the balance of nature. In the end, only one force—the human one—can preserve that balance for some of the animals that we are considering today. The more one denies that, the more forces will be allowed to threaten other parts of the natural chain. I advocate the ability to make legislative changes to reflect that because I went through the same process 20 years ago for similar reasons to those that I suspect motivate the hon. Member for Worcester. I am very aware that, having produced that legislation, we now hardly have the capacity to control the increasing plagues of predators that have developed as a consequence.
I was interested in what the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) said. Although I knew nothing about pack hunting when I came to the House today, it struck me as a classic example of the changes that the House could want to make.
All the advocates of the Bill must know that the wildlife listed in the Bill will be culled. That is not in serious dispute. The issue is how it is done. Some of the means are illegal and I suspect that there will be an increase in illegal culling because people's livelihoods will be at risk. They may be fined or imprisoned, but they will do it because their livelihoods will be at risk.
Let us assume that people will resort to the legal method—shooting. That means either that there will be exactly the same amount of shooting as there is now, in which case there will be less culling, or there will be more shooting. Let us assume that there will be more shooting. Will it have anything to do with what might be called risk? If there are more guns and more people shooting, will there not be a greater danger that somebody will get hurt or killed? The Bill gives us no powers to deal with that, because we may deal with section 1(1) only. One could easily conceive of a situation in which a Government would say, "We know that culling is necessary and we acknowledge that the only real alternative is shooting, so we want a regulatory system to contain shooting." However, I do not think that one could introduce a regulatory provision under this provision; doing so would be an abuse of the legislation as currently drafted.
My hon. Friends have made an extremely reasonable proposal, and I was among those who tabled new clause 20. We are trying to give a subsequent Parliament—or the present Parliament in later years—the ability to put right what is generally agreed to have gone wrong.
We do not want to wreck the Bill; no one will be obliged to use those purely voluntary powers. The proponents of the Bill need not worry as long as they have a majority in the House, because they will not allow the amending legislation to pass; they have agreed that there should be amending legislation, but only to a narrow part of the Bill.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire was right to say that, if the proponents of the Bill want to make progress, they should accept new clause 2. What is the fuss? No one can use the powers against their will. They must admit that such powers could be necessary in certain circumstances, 1349 because they have incorporated them in the Bill. We simply say to them, "Why not give yourselves more flexibility?"
§ Mr. Hogg
I shall speak to amendments Nos. 53 and 54, which stand in my name. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I repeat what I said to you on 1 May—that I oppose the Bill root and branch because it infringes civil liberties. I have tabled these amendments only because if there must be a Bill—I hope that there will not—it had better be a better Bill than that which stands before the House.
Clause 7, to which my two amendments apply, gives the power to amend the exceptions under clause 1(1). It gives the Secretary of State the power by orderto remove, amend or add exceptions to section 1(1).I outlined to my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) the consequences of that power. It would be possible for the Secretary of State to use the power under clause 7 to remove, or to transform fundamentally, all the exceptions that the Bill provides. Moreover, that process would be done by statutory instrument.
§ Sir Nicholas Lyell
My right hon. and learned Friend is focusing on a very important legislative principle. Does his argument lead him to point out that that would enable the Secretary of State to create new criminal offences by secondary legislation?
§ Mr. Hogg
My right hon. and learned Friend is wholly right; that is the point that I am trying to make. I want to be fair to the Minister, who may have been responsible for the clause, and at least welcome the fact that the amending power is by way of affirmative resolution procedure—that is to say, there must be a debate in the House and the order must be approved by both Houses. That is welcome as far as it goes, but the Minister will forgive me if I say to him that that procedure allows only 90 minutes of debate in the House and that the terms of the order are not amendable.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), the former Attorney-General, is wholly right when he says that the clause enables new offences to be created by secondary legislation. I fundamentally oppose that, on principle. I know that, on occasion, the Government of which 1 was a member created new offences by secondary legislation. We have all done it far too often. As a general principle, we should not create offences or obligations by secondary legislation unless it is absolutely necessary, because the debate is limited and there is no ability to amend.
The narrow purpose of amendments Nos. 53 and 54 is to remove some of the evil that I believe lies in clause 7. If the amendments are agreed to, the Secretary of State could only add to the exceptions, not remove them. That is an unsatisfactory process, but I would rather that he used the powers in the clause to increase the exceptions than for any other purpose. That was the spirit in which I tabled the two amendments.
Mr. Michael J. Foster
I shall first respond to the comments of Opposition Members. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) is indeed one of my constituents. Perhaps I should remind the House why: last year, he valiantly joined the chicken run. That may be why he is so keen to persecute foxes—he fears that he is 1350 under threat—but I assure him that the best way to deal with a fox that is chasing him is a quick shot; he may have had his day by the time the timetabled hunt arrives.
In the few remarks that I have made so far, I have raised the tone of the debate higher than the level to which the hon. Gentleman brought it.
No. I want to make some progress.
Hon. Members say that we failed to engage in proper dialogue. That is a bit rich, given that we are also accused of taking too long in Committee, when we rightly had proper dialogue. I cannot get a grip of Conservative Members' contradictory arguments.
I want to make some progress first, if possible.
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire said that the new clause represents an offer of a lifeboat, but the Titanic would be a more appropriate offer of help. Clause 7 already provides the Secretary of State with powers to change by statutory instrument—however unsatisfactory that may be—the exemptions from the express offence of hunting.
The new clause would allow the penalties, the level of forfeiture and interpretation of the Bill to be changed by statutory instrument. That is not acceptable, although I accept that a future Secretary of State could change the level of forfeiture and what is meant by the offence if we allow him such flexibility.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. Gentleman is relying on clause 7, but if he examined the new clause more closely he would see that the amending power relates exclusively to exceptions, not to the generality of the issue, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell) have spoken.
The clause was written in that way deliberately—I do not think that there is anything wrong with that.
May I first make a little progress?
The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire mentioned dispossession of property, but the Bill would not dispossess owners of their dogs—it would not prevent kennels from having dogs. It would, however, stop people 1351 using those dogs to chase wild mammals. People could still use dogs to follow an artificial scent; they could still take pleasure in the chase and enjoy the social scene and the liberties that that involves. All that we want is to stop the cruel and barbaric act of hunting wild mammals with dogs—that is what the Bill is all about.
The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)— he is no longer in the Chamber; his was another cameo appearance—spoke about the balance of nature. I can think of nothing more likely to interfere with the balance of nature than humans taking pleasure from torturing wild mammals.
§ Mr. Paterson
The hon. Gentleman asked for an example of hounds helping conservation. Does he realise that the Banwy valley fox hounds and the Berwyn fox hounds are called out at the direct invitation of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds around Lake Vyrnwy and on the moors to protect rare species?
That may well be the case but it does not necessarily mean that it is the most humane and effective way. That is what the Bill is about. No one denies that fox numbers may have to be controlled. That is why there is an exemption for flushing, which was so welcomed by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik). It is all about the manner in which the interference is conducted. Humane shooting is the most effective way of dealing with a pest. It is selective, safe, humane and efficient. All those things are important.
On the contribution of the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), if we are to make provision for statutory instruments in a Bill such as this, it is important that the Secretary of State is given the utmost flexibility. His amendments deny flexibility to the Secretary of State and that is why I oppose them, as well as new clause 2.
§ 2 pm
§ Mr. Beith
When I saw new clause 2, notwithstanding its respectable parentage, I was worried. However, I welcome the amendment that the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) expounded a moment ago. My concern was underlined when the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) said that we must allow the Secretary of State maximum flexibility. I do not believe in giving Ministers flexibility to decide what the law is or is not, or should or should not be. That should be done by primary legislation.
I well understand the motives that led to the tabling of new clause 2; it was well intentioned. I shall say why shortly. If we are not careful, we shall degrade the law-making process by turning to secondary legislation—statutory instruments—to deal with primary matters of law and allow brief House procedures to determine what is a criminal offence or what will condemn our constituents to possible prison sentences. We frequently arrive at that situation, as we did two nights ago, when, in a debate on clause 99 of the Scotland Bill, the Government suggested a procedure, as a result of my request, to ensure that fisheries legislation affecting England could not be determined solely by the Scottish Parliament, and would have to be determined by the 1352 Westminster Parliament as well. No one objected to the use of that procedure. I raised my anxieties about it, but had to concede that it was better than our having no powers at all.
We are usually attracted to using such forms of words when we feel that some greater good must be served. We should never do it without pausing to reflect and, wherever possible, we should restrict the capacity to do it. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham proposed a restriction that goes to the heart of the matter. New clause 2, and clause 7 if his amendment were accepted, would allow the Secretary of State only to reduce the risk of penalty of imprisonment for our constituents. It is worse if a Minister can decide, and implement by a brief procedure, that something should become a criminal offence; it is perhaps less worrying if a Minister pulls back the boundaries of the law as it affects the public.
§ Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that clause 7 would allow the sport of shooting to be abolished by statutory instrument with only 90 minutes of debate in the House?
§ Mr. Beith
I am very worried both that that becomes technically possible and that there is a logic in the case for the Bill that could readily be extended to other sports, such as shooting and fishing. We must be careful about such provisions and recognise that some people—I am not one—desire that various such sports should be banned. I do not, as it happens, take part in any of them myself, but I am pretty cautious about what I am prepared to send my fellow citizens to prison for. Whatever our individual views, likes and dislikes may be, and however strong they are, we must think carefully before we turn activities into criminal offences.
§ Mr. Beith
I should like to make progress, because I want to develop my argument.
That aspect is significant partly because the procedures by which statutory instruments are dealt with in Parliament are very different from those for primary legislation. A statutory instrument, even one subject to affirmative resolution, is normally debated for only an hour and a half—almost invariably by a Committee rather than by the whole House.
In Committee, it is not possible to amend the statutory instrument in any way. Even if it is thought to go too far, to be too wide or to be inaccurate, it cannot be subject to any of the amendment processes to which we are subjecting the Bill, and implications cannot be drawn out so readily. Often, all that happens is a vote late at night in the House, and hon. Members come in and ask, "What is this all about? What happened in Committee?" There is no process of amendment. The House has sought to recognise on many occasions—certainly if this House does not, the other place, in its revising role, does—that that is not an adequate process by which to create new criminal offences.
§ Mr. Hawkins
The right hon. Gentleman is drawing attention to the concern that many of us share about the 1353 fact that, in promoting the Bill, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), who has said that one of his favourite sports is angling, runs the risk that one day someone whose hatred of anything to do with the countryside is even more virulent than his—perhaps someone in his own party—will use his legislation to ban the sport on which he says he is so keen.
§ Mr. Beith
The potential widening of the Bill to cover other sports is another reason why some of the Members who have supported it so enthusiastically should stop in their tracks and ask themselves, "Just a minute; what monster are we creating here?" Many of them have sought to distinguish between country sports on the ground that some are acceptable and some are not. I do not understand the logic of some of the distinctions that they draw.
§ Mr. Beith
I do not want to give way again for the moment, because I want to make a little progress.
Would it be reasonable to accept the use of that procedure to allow the Secretary of State not to add to but to reduce the number of offences in the Bill? I could reluctantly be dragged to that point, because the general effect of the Bill is to take away the civil liberties of hundreds of my constituents—people who engage in hunting or follow hunting on foot, or work in pursuits that depend on hunting, as farriers, as grooms or in carrying out other activities related to the care and upkeep of horses. The civil liberties and livelihoods of very large numbers of people would be affected in all sorts of ways.
Amendments have been tabled to later parts of the Bill in the hope of drawing the attention of the House to the economic consequences, which have not been properly assessed.
§ Mr. Hancock
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is not seriously suggesting that, once the Bill is carried, as I hope that it will be, all the people actively involved in looking after horses in one way or another will be put out of work and deprived of their livelihood because people would get rid of their horses. If that is his serious contention, what evidence is there to support it?
Secondly, will my right hon. Friend explain to the House that the overwhelming majority of Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament support the Bill—
§ Mr. Hancock
The overwhelming majority of members of our party in the country are also actively campaigning to ensure that the Bill is passed.
§ Mr. Beith
Not now. I shall answer my hon. Friend, but I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment.
1354 My answer is yes, I do believe that the livelihood of people who look after horses and provide services related to them will be affected by the Bill. People in constituencies such as mine—obviously this is not so in Portsmouth, but it is in Northumberland—keep horses to hunt. They may hunt two or three days a week, and they will not incur that expense if they cannot hunt. In particular, they will not keep hunters for that purpose. When we think about the economic consequences, the impact of that on point-to-point racing and even national hunt racing will have to be considered. There is no doubt that, whereas some of those people will want to continue their love of horse riding, the economics will not stack up if they are no longer able to hunt and horses will not be kept in the same numbers.
§ Sir Brian Mawhinney
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman. Those of us who have known him for a long time would expect him to address the issue of the civil rights of his constituents. He has just said something as profound as anything I have heard in the Chamber in 19 years—that he is cautious, as all of us should be, about deciding what it is we send our constituents to prison over. In a sense, we are the guardians of the freedom of our constituents. He was right to emphasise that people will go to gaol as a consequence of the Bill. Does he think that there is anything about the Bill that is of sufficient seriousness to warrant sending our constituents to gaol—and, if so, what?
§ Mr. Beith
I touched on that point on Second Reading, and it is relevant to the new clause. If we do not amend clause 7, a Minister could—by a stroke of the pen and a relatively short procedure in this House—add to the range of offences, and thereby lead to the sending of someone to gaol for something which was not originally included in the Bill. We must stop and think carefully about that, just as we must stop and think carefully about the principle of the legislation.
In order to be convinced that that was a reasonable course of action, we should have to accept that what was being prohibited was manifestly, clearly and unmistakably a much more cruel way of controlling the fox population—or whatever other animal or fish might be included—than other means of doing so, or that it was totally unnecessary to control the population. No one in the House thinks that it is unnecessary to control the fox population, and it has not been demonstrated that hunting with hounds is significantly, manifestly or demonstrably more cruel than shooting or snaring.
When I press my hon. Friends who feel strongly on this—I respect their strong feelings—I find that, in the end, they resort to the argument that people should not take pleasure in that activity. I find that to be a totally inadequate basis for legislating to send people to prison. We can send someone to prison for carrying out acts of wanton and unnecessary cruelty. We cannot send people to prison because we do not approve of a method of controlling animals that is no less cruel or causes no less pain than others, or because we think that people should not enjoy doing it. Someone might well enjoy engaging in snaring animals, but that is a far more cruel way of controlling the fox population.
I refer now to the amendments tabled by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham. With great reluctance, I accept that it might be reasonable, 1355 if we are to have the Bill—frankly, I think that that is extremely unlikely—that there should be some capacity to reduce the extent to which it takes away people's civil liberties in the future, especially if it were clearly demonstrated that other methods were being tried but were not working.
§ Mr. Luff
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about the amendment tabled by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg). Does he agree that new clause 2 also meets his test—it not only reduces the power of the Secretary of State, but is slightly more comprehensive in its scope?
§ Mr. Beith
I linked the two together, because they both involve reducing only the extent to which the Bill can create offences and send people to prison. The power can be used only to take away offences, rather than add to them. That seems to me to be the partial defence of using a procedure that, otherwise, I do not like. To have such a measure in the Bill would ensure that, in future, a Secretary of State presented with incontrovertible evidence that more cruel methods were being used than fox hunting could take fox hunting out of the Bill. That is the purpose of the amendment, and there may be scope for argument as to whether that is sufficient.
The supporters of the new clauses—I note the names of the three hon. Members concerned—are associated with attempts to find some kind of middle way to meet some of the concerns of those who believe, as I do not, that fox hunting is inherently more cruel, while not removing either civil liberties or the practical usefulness of fox hunting.
I commend the efforts that those hon. Members have made and the efforts of those, some of them formerly associated with the League Against Cruel Sports, who have examined the issue closely and realised that we should try to find some middle way. If there are elements of unnecessary cruelty that can be removed from country sports, let us consider what they are and whether they can be removed. The process outlined in the new clauses would at least allow that consideration to continue. If evidence were subsequently produced that, for example, fox hunting with a particular control added to it would be improved, that might be something that the Secretary of State could consider.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) was right when he said earlier that probably we would need some form of licensing or regulating authority to operate effectively a process of examination. Like others, I do not like too much licensing and regulating. However, we must ensure that we protect animals from unnecessary cruelty. I can justify having a licensing mechanism if it can help to achieve that object. I cannot defend, unamended, a Bill that will not lead to a reduction in cruelty to animals. Instead, the Bill will invite the use of other methods to 1356 control foxes that are not demonstrably less painful or cruel than the methods of traditional fox hunting. I am bound to be concerned about and oppose—
§ Mr. Beith
I am coming to the close of my remarks.
I am bound to oppose legislation that, without adequate justification, would take away the civil liberties of many people. It does not matter whether I agree or disagree with those people. The essence of my position as a Liberal is that sometimes I have to tolerate things that I do not like or with which I do not agree.
§ Mr. Steinberg
The right hon. Gentleman has made great play of civil liberties. How did he vote on the banning of handguns?
§ Mr. Beith
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was against the banning of handguns. It was a free-vote issue. I believe that the Cullen report set out, at the Government's request, a better method of controlling handguns, and that banning would not have prevented the ghastly incident which generated pressure for legislation. As I have said, it was a free-vote issue. My response underlines the fact that I examine legislation rather carefully from the point of view of civil liberties.
The Bill, if enacted, would make huge inroads into the civil liberties of hundreds of law-abiding people in my constituency, and thousands throughout the country. It threatens to send to prison many people who are engaged in activities that are currently legal. I do not believe that the case has been made out. Therefore, I am prepared, reluctantly, to support a new clause, and pleased to support an amendment to the Bill, which would give the Secretary of State the opportunity in future to reduce the likelihood of the Bill sending people to prison.
§ Kate Hoey
First, I make an unreserved apology to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). You will not be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that earlier today I said that my hon. Friend had told me that on one occasion he had filibustered because he had spoken for three hours. I have since had a long chat with my hon. Friend, and I made it clear that I would tell the House that he did not filibuster for three hours. Indeed, the Deputy Speaker in the Chair at that time made it clear to him that he had not breached any legal aspect of the proceedings of the House. My hon. Friend made an extremely good speech for three hours, which was clearly within the rules of the House. I want to make that plain because my hon. Friend knows the procedures of this place better than anyone.
I say in the most friendly spirit to my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) that perhaps it would have been sensible if he had spent a little time, before he 1357 introduced the Bill, talking to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover about private Members' Bills and the difficulty of getting such a Bill through the House when it raises a controversial issue, when there is to be a free vote and when hon. Members on both sides of the House have strong feelings.
I shall be brief because I know that a number of my colleagues are trying to speak before 2.30 pm. I know that Opposition Members want to do so. I just—[Interruption.] Perhaps some of my hon. Friends would like to speak before 2.30 pm as well. I very much agree with the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who said that the new clause degrades, as he put it, the law-making process. We are all aware of that. This is not the way to handle legislation.
We came up with the new clause precisely because, if the Bill is passed as it stands, it would be a serious breach of civil liberties. I do not want to repeat—were I to do so, I might be ruled out of order—the reasons why I did not support the Bill on Second Reading. I have spoken about animal welfare. When people look at the Bill carefully, they will see that the Bill would not do anything for animal welfare.
I am concerned, as I mentioned on Second Reading, about the attitude on civil liberties. I am pleased that the Minister mentioned the European Court and the European convention on human rights.
§ Mr. Clifton-Brown
Is the hon. Lady aware of James Barrington, who works with Wildlife Network, an organisation with which she has been working to find a middle way? He is a former member of the League Against Cruel Sports. Writing in the magazine Smallholder in February, he said:As hard as it is to accept, especially for people who have spent many years campaigning against fox hunting, the simple answer is that the fox is likely to be worse offas a result of the Bill.
§ Kate Hoey
That is the conclusion that any hon. Member who really looked at the issues would reach. That is why it is important that, when faced with a Bill such as this—many of us may well have been in favour of bans in the past as we had never seriously looked at this—we understand what we are doing, and understand the point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick—upon—Tweed about what our constituents could face if the Bill is passed without amendment.
I hope that the Minister will come back with a little more detail about the European convention on human rights. It is clear that, if the Bill is passed, there will be many grounds on which it could be challenged. We do not want to sign up to the Human Rights Bill, bring it in and then find that many people from various interests will try to challenge it. I mention the grounds on which this Bill may be challenged so that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester has them in mind when he looks at them over the next week. The first important one will be a lack of a clearly identified public interest. That must be looked at with article 1.
1358 To be lawful, the Bill will have to pass the test of proportionality and fair balance. That concept will be a big legal consideration. Part of that would require the legislator to identify both the general interest that is being served by the interference and the motive for the legislation. There will be a number of legal difficulties with the Bill if it is passed without amendment.
Although it is not perfect, our new clause is a measure of the great confidence in the Home Secretary felt by all parties, in the sense that it has been tabled by an hon. Member from each party, because we feel that he will look at this fairly. If the Bill is passed, we know that it will affect the balance of nature and wildlife management. However, as a result of our new clause, the Home Secretary will have the power to step in and change the Bill, for example, by not prohibiting hunting by dogs if it is considered that some of the other methods that are being used are more cruel than that. I am pleased that we have had this opportunity. As other hon. Members want to speak, I shall simply say that I hope that the House will support the new clause when it comes to voting next week.
§ Mr. Garnier
I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss new clause 20, which is co-sponsored by my right hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr. MacGregor), for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who has already spoken briefly, for Epsom and Ewell (Sir A. Hamilton), for Bridgwater (Mr. King), who hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in due course, and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).
This has been the most interesting part of today's proceedings, because we have been dealing not only with whether fox hunting, deer hunting or hare coursing are good or bad, but with the bigger constitutional question of Henry VIII clauses, which were first drawn to the attention of the House this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) in an intervention and were touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid—Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) in his extremely cogent speech.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire for the efforts that he has made, with the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who is my London Member of Parliament—I am grateful that she is—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I hope that I do not ruin her career by admitting to that.
§ Mr. Garnier
May I speak on behalf of them all, by drawing to the attention of the wider listening public the signal contribution that the hon. Lady has made to the issue of civil liberties, in terms not just of hunting but of how a Member of Parliament can speak up and address the House on issues that may be deeply unpopular with his or her party colleagues but that the House has a right to hear. I am particularly proud to be a Member of a House that allows the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) to express ideas that are unpopular, particularly among Labour Members, and present their case fearlessly.
1359 I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire for their attempt, in founding the Middle Way Group, along with Mr. Barrington and Mr. Davies, to find a solution. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire used a telling phrase the other day when he was introducing the group. He said that he intended to find a solution, not to claim victory. I hope that I paraphrase him correctly. It was an intelligent remark, and I hope that he will take my praise in the spirit in which it is intended. I do not wish to belittle the group's efforts. Although I am not sure whether I agree with everything that those three hon. Members seek to do, I applaud their effort to build bridges between the two polarised and extreme positions.
One of the problems from which the debate suffers was exemplified by some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). On television later that afternoon, he refused to see any merit in the position adopted by the three hon. Members who have formed the Middle Way Group.
§ Mr. Bennett
rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Garnier
Such a motion comes ill from the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who was called the "amender-general" in Committee. He tabled more than 200 amendments designed to wreck, inhibit and obscure debate. He sought to ensure, through a parliamentary device that he attempted to construct, that hon. Members could not debate matters of considerable public interest on the Floor of the House on Report. Happily, that device failed, and my hon. Friends and I are grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for deciding not to accept a closure motion at this stage. A number of other hon. Members want to speak on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley described as one of the biggest issues with which we have to come to terms.
My new clause, which is supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater, who is sitting beside me, would allow the Secretary of State, by orderto change the activities prohibited by section 1.It contrasts with new clause 2, which has been tabled by the Middle Way Group of MPs and permits the Secretary of State to amend by orderany of the provisions of sections 1 and 8 to 13".Having considered new clause 2—
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed on Friday 13 March.