Kate Hoey's speech during the Hunting debate - 15 September 2004

Only three Labour MPs voted against a ban on hunting, Kate Hoey was one of them.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall - Lab): Many hon. members have said that we must return to this Bill and force it through in this extraordinary and draconian way because it is an issue of trust between the Government and the country. The introduction of this Bill is indeed about trust, but it is about a higher trust - the trust that people should be able to have in every Government, and especially a Labour Government, that they will protect minorities from bigotry and intolerance and will uphold liberty and freedom.

Since 1997, the Government have claimed to act as the honest broker. My right hon. friend the Minister has himself pretended to be the honest broker on the issue of hunting. However, the reintroduction of this banning Bill, and the way in which it has been done, makes it clear that that is not the case. The Government promised the country that legislation dealing with this emotive issue would be advanced on the basis of principle and evidence. The Government promised that prejudice and ignorance would not triumph, but the reintroduction of the Bill is precisely that - the triumph of prejudice.

I could quote many examples of my right hon. friend the Minister saying that the future of hunting with dogs should not be decided on personal preference. He believed that the Bill originally brought before the House was a good Bill and he saw no reason why people should not support it. He then said that people had chosen to ban hunting because it was simpler to enforce. I am personally ashamed that a Labour Government should connive in this triumph of prejudice. I have always believed that the Labour party and the Labour Government stood for a tolerant and inclusive society...

We cannot hide behind the pretence that the Bill is a private Member's Bill. It is the Bill of a Labour Government who propose to fly in the face of principle and the evidence. Two inquiries have been held, at vast public expense, and neither produced any evidence to justify a ban on hunting. A regulatory Bill was introduced, which my right hon. friend the Minister said was based on principle and evidence. No fair or open-minded person could conclude that the evidence exists to justify this Bill or that it is in the public interest. My right hon. friend the Prime Minister said on 1 September 2004 that he had identified seven key challenges for the future of this country. He said that he had a key test for legislation and that was whether it would in practical terms advance and improve the lives of Britain's hard-working families in the future. He must know that this Bill will not do that.

In contrast to the opponents of hunting, the rural community has shown its reasonableness and openness to scrutiny. It has participated fully in the Government's inquiries and hearings and the hunting community has placed itself under an independent regulatory body.

The reintroduction of this Bill is a betrayal of public trust and will be interpreted from this day on as an illiberal and intolerant act. I remind hon. members that it also breaks the Labour manifesto commitment, which was to enable Parliament to reach a conclusion on the issue. Parliament is both Houses and not the Commons acting alone. We have heard a lot of spin from some hon. members about the other place. They claim that it is Tory hereditary peers who have blocked hunting bills. That is nonsense.

Since 1997, not only has no hunting Bill been returned to the House from the other place, but even if none of the hereditaries had voted, 80 per cent. of the House of Lords, including Labour peers, supported the Government's commitment to legislate on the basis of principle and evidence. Even if no Conservative peer had voted, 73 per cent. of Members of the other place supported regulated hunting and we could have had that system if the Government had not withdrawn the measure from Committee.

The reintroduction of the Bill and the use of the Parliament Act show disdain for the parliamentary process. It shows contempt for the majority of Labour peers - Labour peers! - who sought a sensible outcome based on principle and evidence. I am dismayed by the spin used to hoodwink the country into believing that a fair, just and evidence-based approach would be taken on the issue, when that is not the case.

The Prime Minister has said that he wants to govern in the interests of the whole country. He said that he wants a country at ease with itself. The Bill shows that there are still people who believe that prejudice and bigotry should triumph as grounds for legislation. We have seen similar things in all the world's worst regimes. If people do not like something, they want to ban it. We shall see the consequences.
The Leader of the House will have identified with the protest we saw in the Chamber today, because it is precisely the kind of protest that he carried out some years ago. The Leader of the House may not have managed to get into the Chamber wearing a tee-shirt, but he certainly got on to a cricket pitch...

...What we saw today was wrong and we must all condemn it. However, we must remember that if laws are to be respected they have to be just. I talked to many of the people in Parliament square today; they are decent, law-abiding people who will lose their livelihood and their way of life, because of a small number—although, yes, there will be a large vote tonight—of Labour Back Benchers who have a bigoted attitude to hunting and are determined to push the measure through...

...If the Bill goes through the House of Lords and the Parliament Act is used, the Government may think that because we have postponed the measure, the issue will go away. However, I sincerely believe that it will be a poll-tax-type issue. The Bill is unsustainable; whatever is said, the law cannot be policed. We have made a huge mistake.

I never thought that I would live to see a Labour Government cower before bigotry. That is unacceptable; it is a disgrace, and I am desperately disappointed that the Prime Minister has allowed it to happen.

The MP to follow Ms Hoey in the debate - Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East, Con) - said it was "a real privilege to follow what one can truly describe as an extremely brave speech".