|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
The police powers envisaged in the schedule are draconian. The schedule would give the police the power to arrest without warrant anyone who they thought had committed, was committing, or was about to commit, an offence as defined by the schedule.
The maximum penalty that the Bill proposes for hunting with hounds, if the practice were to be outlawed, is a fine. However, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, those offences in respect of which the police have a power of arrest without warrant are normally those so serious that they carry a prison sentence of five years or longer. To add hunting with hounds to that list of arrestable offences seems to be employing disproportionate and draconian enforcement measures to the problem, even judged by the likes of those who are seeking a ban.
Mr. Banks: I apologise for taking the hon. Gentleman back slightly. Through the miracles of modern technology, he referred to something on the website of the League Against Cruel Sports. That item was not authorised by the league or put on the website by it, and it has been removed. The league believes that it was a bit of black propaganda. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to have that information.
Mr. Lidington: I am glad that the league has removed it. If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard tomorrow, I think he will find that I made it clear that the message had been posted by its author on the league's website.
Assaulting or obstructing a police constable in the performance of his duty is not an arrestable offence. However, if the schedule is enacted, letting one's dog hunt a rabbit will potentially become an arrestable offence. That seems hardly the best use of scarce police time and resources.
Yesterday, the Home Office announced a huge increase in violent crime. Today, the Government are saying that the top priority for government action and for new law is a Bill to ban foxhunting. The Government are showing a sense of priorities that verges on the surreal. A ban on hunting would be both illiberal and intolerant. It would harm individual freedom without benefits to animal
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I shall intervene only briefly because I have to attend a statutory instruments Committee. Perhaps the House will understand if I leave the Chamber after I have spoken.
My right hon. and hon. Friends will last weekend have received two videos in the post. One of them was called "The Killing Game", and I do not dissent from its contents. It was produced by an organisation called Protect our Wild Animals. Another video was sent by my friend and colleague, Lord Bragg--Melvyn Bragg. It sets out the story of a man who lives in the Lake district in a neighbouring constituency to mine and who farms on Langdale. He has a particular problem which he has set out in the video. I appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends not to put that video in the bin, which is what we usually do with videos. I appeal to my right hon. and hon. Friends who may not be in the Chamber--they may be in their offices, or wherever--to consider the video's contents.
I am against hunting, and I have opposed it all my life. I will vote for a complete ban this evening. However, there is a problem in parts of the country which is not being addressed in the debate. That problem is what will happen in the Lake district, parts of Scotland and, I am told, parts of Wales in the event that there is a total ban.
The problem is simple and is set out in "Eric's Story". Eric Taylforth is a fell farmer, and he was filmed last December in the snow looking after his lambs. He argues that, in the event of hunting being ended, he will lose lambs, and he refuses to allow guns on to his fells.
I shall not be here in the next Parliament, but there will be complaints from somewhere in the country the moment that the shooters appear on the fells under the pretext that they are setting out to kill foxes. It will not work. An invasion of rifles and weaponry into a national park such as mine, where people roam over the fells throughout the year, cannot be allowed. My sons were on top of Latrigg, a fell in the Lake district, only a few weeks ago at Christmas in the snow. People roam the fells the year round. If the Bill is enacted in its present form, the shooters will be allowed into the Lake district and they will do much damage and frighten many people.
Some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have told me that their minds are made up, that they do not want to consider the video and will throw it in the bin. That is not the way to proceed in a matter such as this. We must consider the other case. We must consider the special problems of people who refuse completely to accept the right of the gun user in the Lake district to shoot the fox.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): My remarks this afternoon will be brief. I gave my reasons for opposing a ban on hunting in the Adjournment debate on the Burns report on 7 July 2000. As I said then, it is clear, on any reading of the report, that there is no animal welfare case for the banning of hunting. The report makes it clear that the only consequence of a ban would be an increased use of other methods of keeping the fox population under control which would, in the phrase made famous by the report, compromise the welfare of the fox to at least as great an extent as hunting. The arguments that I set out then were not answered in that debate and have not been answered since. I do not believe that they can be answered.
Today, I want to make a different point. We meet to debate this issue the day after the Home Secretary announced the crime figures for the year to last September. They showed a sharp increase in violent crime and a 21 per cent. increase in robbery. The reasons for that extremely distressing development have been extensively canvassed by Opposition Members. There are 2,500 fewer police officers than there were at the time of the previous election. There is widespread demoralisation among the police. The Home Secretary has caused more than 26,000 prisoners to be released early so that they may be free to re-offend. [Interruption.] It is against that background--Labour Members do not seem to be aware of this--that the House must consider the Bill today. The Government are, in effect, telling the police, "We don't think you have enough to do. We think you have time on your hands, so we will give you an additional task, an extra burden. We will ask you to enforce a ban on an activity which has been lawful in Britain since time immemorial."
Mr. Soames: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that it is said that the Association of Chief Police Officers has made representations to the Home Secretary to the effect that, with the present resources, it could not possibly be hoped effectively to police a ban such as is proposed.
Mr. Howard: I have not seen that report and do not know whether it has been made public. It would be helpful to the House if the Minister responded to my hon. Friend's comments when he comes to reply to the debate.
Mr. Hancock: I remember that argument being put forward a while ago when we banned firearms. The suggestion then was that previous owners of firearms, like me, would go and shoot illegally and the police would have a big job policing that. However, that never manifested itself. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman really telling the House that if a ban is agreed by Parliament, hunters and their dogs will continue to hunt across the countryside, and that those people will commit a crime?
Mr. Howard: I am saying that the provision will impose an additional burden on the police, and that is an entirely frivolous response from the Government to the crime figures that they announced yesterday.