Since this is a business statement rather than on the matter for tomorrow, I will answer the questions in more detail tomorrow. Suffice it to say that rather than publishing a draft order at the end of business last night, it was published at the start of business today.
I emphasise that this is a supplementary business statement. Forgive me if new Members are not familiar with the concept, but the notion of a supplementary business statement is that the Leader of the House will come to announce what is usually quite a modest variation in business, at least in terms of the number of items subject to change. Questioning is therefore on the relatively narrow changes plural, or change singular. It is not a general business statement; it is on the matter of the change announced, and possibly on what might be called any consequentials.
May I observe for my right hon. Friend that the Scottish National party has only one objective in this House, which is to foment the break-up of the United Kingdom? Unless all Unionist parties in this House work together to frustrate that aim, instead of continuing the usual games we play in this House, we will help them to achieve that objective.
I am surprised that the Scottish nationalists have chosen to move away from what they have done for many years, which is to abstain on matters that do not affect Scotland. They have clearly taken a decision to change policy. It is up to other Unionist parties to decide whether they will help them in that approach.
What an utter and absolute shambles! That is the only way that this could possibly be described. It seems to me that a number of things need to happen. First, this looks very much like the Tories knew they would not win the vote tomorrow, so they want to change the rules. The Leader of the House has to come back not with a “mini” business statement, but a full business statement. The plans need to be withdrawn from the House absolutely and totally, as they are a complete and utter mess. He needs to bring back a proper approach to dealing with this—[Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) is chuntering away, because he knows the Tories would be defeated if they were left on their own. We need a proper Bill, a proper piece of legislation, and proper scrutiny and examination. Will the Leader of the House now withdraw the plans for English votes for English laws, come back with a total rethink, and allow the House proper scrutiny, so that we can look at this properly and in order?
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, this matter is nothing to do with English votes for English laws, which will be debated extensively tomorrow. In fact, the debate on that matter will now be longer than it would otherwise have been. The issue of hunting and the debate that might have taken place tomorrow has nothing to do with English votes for English laws. If the hon. Gentleman had read the small print of our proposals, he would know there is no connection between the two.
May I invite my right hon. Friend to say how incredulous he is that the SNP, which thought we should have had a longer discussion on English votes for English laws—the people of Crawley certainly want that—is now complaining that we have more time to discuss this very important issue?
I fear that what we are seeing on the Opposition Benches is the shape of the Government we thankfully did not get in May; a collaboration between a party that claims to be Unionist but behaves in the opposite way and a party that wants to break up the United Kingdom. All I can say is thank goodness the electorate saw through them.
Is not the real reason the Government have withdrawn the hunting amendment that they would have lost the vote with or without the votes of the SNP, given the very large number of Conservative MPs, including the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and two of my near neighbours the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who do not want to reintroduce cruelty? Given the huge public interest in this issue, when will the Leader of the House bring the matter back before the House?
There are different opinions on both sides of the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think it appropriate for this matter to be decided in a mature way by English and Welsh MPs who would be affected by the change, and not by Members of Parliament whose constituents would be unaffected by the change and are saying that they will vote against the law as it currently applies in Scotland?
The Leader of the House suggests that only English and Welsh MPs should vote on this matter. Does that not completely contradict the answer he gave earlier? After 32 years in this place, I have never seen such a shambolic decision. There are thousands of our constituents out there who want this thing sorted out once and for all.
The point is that there are different opinions on this issue on both sides of the House. It was a manifesto commitment to offer a choice to the people of England and Wales on what they want to happen. It is not right for a party that has no connection to these matters to say that it wishes to interfere—that is a change to the policy it has pursued for many years.
Even by the standards of those on the Government Benches, we are all shocked at the cynical and shabby way with which the Government are attempting to use the business of the House to destroy the Hunting Act 2004. The Leader of the House has just said that he wants a material debate on the future of the Hunting Act. Why does he not bring back a Bill for the repeal of the Act? We could then have a proper debate with a free vote.
Nobody is trying to repeal the Hunting Act. The measure that was proposed had nothing to do with repealing the Hunting Act.
Will my right hon. Friend undertake to discuss with colleagues on the Treasury Bench the introduction of a general animal welfare Bill in the next Session covering foxhunting, wild animals in circuses, the clipping of chickens’ beaks and other such issues? All those things could be covered in one large umbrella Bill that the House could discuss and then vote on in the proper way.
I think that was a representation on legislation for next year’s Queen’s Speech to which I am sure my hon. Friends will have listened carefully.
They may have listened carefully and been struck by the ingenuity of the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), but I hope that questions will not follow in quite the same vein, because we are principally concerned with the business of the House for this week and possibly slightly beyond; we are not taking a panoramic view.
Last Thursday, the Leader of the House told the House that he would publish the amended Standing Orders on Monday. I collected them at a quarter to 1 today, which was when the Vote Office received them. Will he do the House the courtesy of his office and apologise for not filing the amended Standing Orders yesterday, as he told the House from the Dispatch Box he would? Does he really treat us with such contempt?
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that publishing something at the start of Tuesday, rather than the end of Monday, is treating the House with great contempt, he and I have different interpretations of the word “contempt”.
The nasty party is well and truly back. I have never had so many emails from constituents in such a short period as I have on this issue and the Government’s contemptuous attempt to bring this measure in through the back door. Is the Leader of the House not showing his contempt for Parliament, the Union and the public in his handling of this matter?
Will the Leader of the House allow Welsh MPs to vote on behalf of Welsh foxes in order that English foxes, like English badgers, can escape over the border, away from the ritualistic, sadistic slaughter he is advocating in the name of sport?
It is appropriate that the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of his constituents, can take decisions on matters affecting them. He and his party have just diametrically opposed that.
The Leader of the House tabled the hunting vote to take place tomorrow before the final decision on English votes for English laws. Will he give a commitment that in future the hunting vote will come before a resolution on EVEL?
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman reads our proposals more carefully, which he clearly has not done. If he does, he will realise that there is no connection between the two.
The Prime Minister said that this was going to be a free vote for the Conservative party and within the House—or certainly for the Conservative party. The Government timetabled this motion to take place before the debate on EVEL. Given that it was a free vote and the Government have an ambivalent position, why has it been pulled? Is it because they want this to go through, that it is effectively a whipped vote and the Tories are backing the repeal of the foxhunting ban?
When we say a matter is subject to a free vote, it is subject to a free vote, but of course Labour takes a rather different position.
The Leader of the House appears to take much joy in categorising all Opposition Members in exactly the same manner. As a new Member and a Northern Ireland representative, I assure him that whenever I hold a principled political position, I will stand up for it, I will speak out for it and I will vote on it. It is a shame he and the Government cannot do the same.
I have not categorised the hon. Gentleman’s party as anything, and I would not categorise its Members in the same way as some of those who sit alongside them, as they represent a very different political tradition.
Given that the Leader of the House seems, fortuitously, to have an extra 90 minutes on his hands tomorrow, rather than giving it to the EVEL debate, perhaps he could table a general debate on foxhunting.
The hon. Gentleman has clearly not been in the House for the past couple of weeks, when I have been told that we need more time for EVEL. This is an opportunity to have that time.
I am sure the Leader of the House possesses some strengths, but I think he is a suburban sort of chap, so may I suggest that over the summer he schedules some time to visit the countryside and ponder what might happen if a few foxes get ripped apart by some hounds in a chase? It normally means that the foxes get killed, which suggests, in my view, that all he is doing is repealing the Hunting Act—and no it is not the same for game and grouse. He just does not understand the issue.
I say gently to the hon. Lady, first, that I live in the district of Mole Valley, one of the most attractive country areas in the country, and secondly, that the measures that were due for discussion this week had nothing to do with repealing the Hunting Act.
The hundreds of constituents who have been in touch in recent days opposing this change to the Hunting Act will welcome what the Government have done, but will consider the way they have gone about it to be utterly chaotic. If this was designated a free vote by the Whips Office, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) said, why have the Government pulled the vote?
The hon. Gentleman has had lots of representations from his constituents, but the Government will take the decisions we think are in the best interests of the country and what we are trying to achieve, and that is what we are doing.