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Mr. Lidington: Did my right hon. and learned Friend see the interview that the assistant chief constable of South Yorkshire police gave to Sky News earlier today? With the diplomacy which senior officers always deploy in their public statements, he said:

Mr. Howard: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that to my attention. I did not see that interview, but I hope that it will have an effect on the Government's responses.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: I am sure that, as a former Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be interested to know the view of the Association of Chief Police Officers communicated to Home Office officials. It is that, by and large, the expenditure of resources on dealing with hunts and protests against hunts now is probably very similar to any costs that the police are likely to face if a ban is imposed. I am not saying that to advocate one position or another or even to disagree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. It is merely a point of information which, as it is ACPO's view, will no doubt interest him.

Mr. Howard: I note that the Minister's summary of ACPO's response was prefaced by the words "by and large". I hope that he will make that response public: I hope that he will put it before the House so that we can all make up our own minds about what ACPO actually said. I should much prefer that to the Minister's garbled summary of its response. I should like to see what the report itself says.

Mr. Paice rose--

Mr. Howard: I shall give way once more, but then I must make progress.

Mr. Paice: All the interventions that my right hon. and learned Friend has just taken on the issue of police resources ignore the fact that the police cannot cope with what they are supposed to do at present. Reference was made to people continuing to hunt illegally. However,

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is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that that already happens? Throughout East Anglia, there is a curse of illegal hare coursing against which the police, at present, cannot enforce the law. Therefore, enforcing further bans would only make a difficult situation worse.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend makes an utterly cogent point.

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: No; I have been generous in giving way and I want to make progress.

The Home Secretary, apparently, is going to vote for clause 2. I shall say a few words about that provision. Anyone tempted by it should really have been put off by the fact that it has been produced by a group called the Middle Way Group. If that were not enough, Members should have been put on their guard by the fact that the leading promoter of the middle way option is the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) who, for all his many and varied qualities, is a Liberal Democrat. I thought that, in many quarters of the House, there was general recognition that few problems are not made worse by the intervention of the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, that used to be one of the few points on which the present Home Secretary and I were in almost total agreement.

Mr. Luff: My right hon. and learned Friend might want to know that I wrote the brief that the parliamentary counsel used to draft clause 2 and schedule 2, for which I take the credit.

Mr. Howard: With all due respect I say to my hon. Friend that even Homer nods.

I ask hon. Members to consider from the police's point of view the effect of the middle way proposal set out in clause 2. It is bad enough for the police to have to enforce a total ban, but the middle way would impose a far more complicated task on them. They would have to take a view in every case on whether the terms of the licence under which the particular hunting event in question occurred were being observed. Hon. Members should consider the nature of the burden that such a provision would impose on the police.

It beggars belief that any serious Government who face an explosion of violent crime would even contemplate distracting the police from the urgent task of tackling that problem by imposing upon them large, uncertain and impractical burdens such as those proposed in the Bill. However, this Administration are not a serious Government. If any further proof is needed that they are a trivial, frivolous and irresponsible Government, the Bill provides it. The only question that remains to be decided is whether there is a trivial, frivolous and irresponsible majority in the House. If not, clause 1 will be supported tonight.

Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester): I should like to address my first point to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, although he is absent. It is not too late to be converted to the need to ban hunting with dogs. For evidence, I turn to my local evening paper, the Evening News, which carried a story yesterday about an

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11-year-old girl called Sarah Jeavons, who opposed my 1997 private Member's Bill on hunting. She was eight at the time and took the day off school to plead with me to abandon plans to ban hunting with dogs. Her family were due to join the march later this year to oppose what they consider to be the Government's plans on hunting with dogs.

Mrs. Jeavons, Sarah's mum, says in the story:

She then goes on to relate what happened to her last Saturday:

Mrs. Jeavons says that Sarah, who is now 11, was reduced to tears, that the whipper-in had to take control of her horse and that the hounds chased after her cat and tried to kill it. She now claims that she and her family are confirmed antis and will not continue to support the pro-hunt movement.

Mr. Luff: As the events that the hon. Gentleman describes occurred in my constituency, I have done some research on them. It is no surprise that, not for the first time, he is building his house on a foundation of sand, not stone. The background is that hunt politics is brutal and that the Jeavons family had not paid their cap fees to go hunting with the Croome. They were, therefore, not allowed to do so and the story is their way of getting their own back on the hunt.

The events did not occur in the described manner. Something significantly less serious occurred. Even if they were as described--the Worcester Evening News now knows that they were not--I invite the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that, contrary to the comments of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the middle way offers a solution to such difficulties, as it would ban a hunt that breaks the terms of its licence, goes where it is not wanted or compromises public safety. I invite him also to recognise that the events were not as they are described.

Mr. Foster: I appreciate that the Evening News has got a good story. The joint master of the local hunt is a Mr. Rob Adams. Mr. Adams is a friend of the hon. Gentleman and was, when I last spoke to him, a member of the executive committee of his Conservative association. Mr. Adams said:

I must say that the events described in my local paper make that the most understated fact of the year.

4.45 pm

Option 1 represents the pro-hunt view and proposes self-regulation. I reject that view, but at least I understand where people who support option 1 are coming from. They take the view, on a "civil libertarian" basis, that the animal welfare issue is not sufficiently serious to warrant an infringement of so-called civil liberties, and that

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self-regulation should therefore be allowed to continue. They describe that as a principled view. It has been expressed today, mainly by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), but I reject it totally.

I do, however, agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's assessment of option 2, the middle way, which I consider to be misleading, to say the least. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) spoke of the imposition of some sort of regulatory framework. No doubt we shall discover in due course whether or not the incidents that I have described took place on Saturday, but let us say that they did. The proposals of the Middle Way Group suggest an assumption that the hunt involved would be punished in some way, and prevented from hunting again. To that I would say, "Get real"; that is not what will happen in the real world of hunting with dogs.

The Middle Way Group does not propose a compromise. When a wild mammal is chased to the point of exhaustion before being torn apart, is that really something on which we can compromise? It is not; there is no way we can reach a compromise.

As for the so-called independence of the hunting authority, the authority will be paid for by licence fees paid by people who hunt. Those who want to hunt will pay their fees and go off with their licences. The saying "He who pays the piper calls the tune" has often been quoted to me, and that is exactly what will happen in the case of the so-called independent authority. Those who hunt will be paying to keep the authority going, and I cannot think for a minute that it will suddenly turn around and say, "We do not like a certain aspect of the practice, and we will not take licence money from those who engage in it."

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