Hunting Bill

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Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I want to clarify what he just said. Is current expenditure half a million pounds or half a billion pounds?

Mr. Baker: Half a million pounds—£542,000. I quoted that figure in last week's debate on the Floor of the House, although I am afraid that I do not have the Hansard reference to hand. I apologise for any confusion.

I do not accept that a ban on hunting would place an increased burden on police resources. However, it is true that if hunting were treated like a parking offence, rather than criminalised, people would be encouraged to continue and further police resources would be required. To that extent, the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Aylesbury would in fact increase requirements on the police.

In arguing that the impact on the police should be a determining factor in measuring our actions as legislators, the hon. Member for Aylesbury is deploying a rather odd logic. If the Conservatives are prepared to go down that particularly dangerous road, perhaps they will withdraw their call for many more prisons in which to place asylum seekers, along with other of their measures that would involve imprisoning many more people. Perhaps they will now say that cannabis should be legalised, given that police resources are tied up in dealing with its sale and use. Does the hon. Member for Aylesbury—if not his colleagues—intend to use a free vote to argue that the law of the land should be determined by the number of police required to enforce it? If so, that is a dangerous and somewhat ridiculous position to adopt.

The logic—in using that word, I am being generous—of the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Aylesbury in no way holds water. There is a legitimate debate to be had about the level of criminal penalty that should be applied to those, if any, who continue to hunt and thereby break the law. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman has not advanced that debate this morning.

Mr. Cawsey: I am delighted to make a contribution to the Committee this morning.

While listening to hon. Members trying to defend the schedule or speak to the amendments, I was struck by the fact that it is difficult to find consistency in the arguments of those who want hunting to remain unchanged. Like many hon. Members, I have seen newspaper articles and media reports and received correspondence telling me that if the Bill reaches the statute book and there is a complete ban on hunting with dogs, the knock-on effect will be that all the dogs will be shot. I said in Committee on the Floor of the House that there is no need for that. Indeed, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has offered to ensure that that is not the case. Nevertheless, if it is so, why are we discussing the fact that hunts will continue illegally when a ban is in place?

Those who seek to support hunting cannot have it both ways. Either the dogs will go, in which case there will be no hunting and no impact on the police, or the reverse will be true. Those who support the Countryside Alliance seem to want to have their cake and eat it—something that my mother always told me I could never do—and should not be able to do so. The pro-hunt side will have to decide what it wants, so that we can then have an informed debate.

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge): Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the hunt-owned animals that do not perform in the manner required of them are put down quite early in their careers or killed off as puppies? They are certainly put down at the end of their careers.

Mr. Cawsey: My hon. Friend is right. During the cubbing season, dogs that show no inclination to hunt are destroyed, and those that can no longer keep up with the hunt are destroyed. However, that is a slightly different debate. I shall not go down that road, suffice it to say that the best future for hunting dogs will be through a ban and the offer from the RSPCA and other dog organisations. As somebody who is interested in animal welfare, that is one more reason why I support a full ban.

I wanted to speak about the implications, one way or the other, for the police. For four years, before I was fortunate enough to be elected to the House, I chaired Humberside police authority. For those who do not know Humberside, it has one large city—Hull—some large towns, such as Grimsby and Scunthorpe, and a large rural area on each side of the Humber. Policing various events was one issue with which the police authority, including the chief constable and officers, had to deal.

In Hull, there is Hull football club, Hull rugby league club and Hull Kingston Rovers. These days, rugby league teams tend to have much smarter, more American names; I think that Hull Sharks is one, but as I do not follow the sport, I am not sure. Grimsby has a football team, which I am proud to support, and Scunthorpe has a football team--Scunthorpe United. Of course the police provide services. The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex said in an intervention that he did not like football, but he accepted that there was a role for the police in keeping football hooligans apart, and I agree with him.

On top of that, we had hunts. On the north bank, we had the Holderness hunt, and the Brocklesby hunt—which is based in the constituency of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) but goes into the Humberside area from time to time. That had a policing implication too, with which Humberside had to deal. However, there was always one telling difference: the police re-charged the football and rugby clubs in full for their policing, so the impact on police resources was a big round zero; policing for hunts was provided free of charge. I do not know whether that free service is linked to the fact that, as the hon. Member for Aylesbury said, magistrates, JPs and so on were involved in hunting—but the fact remains. That always struck me as something of an anomaly.

Mr. Garnier: The predominant reason for police presence at hunts is to control those who wish to disturb the hunt. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that at many meets no hunt saboteurs are present, and therefore no policemen are required?

Mr. Cawsey: I agree that that is sometimes so; similarly, police presence is unnecessary at some football matches. However, my point is that when police presence is required at hunts, it is provided free, yet when it is required at football and rugby matches, it is charged for. That is an anomaly.

Mr. Leigh: That is a false analogy. If my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex, who announced earlier that he hates football, were to form an anti-football saboteurs association which invaded football matches, it would be unfair to charge the football ground for his predatory activities.

Much of the trouble at football matches is caused by people who claim to love football and are attending the match. Hunting is different. The problem is not that rival supporters of hunts beat each other up, but that people who have nothing to do with the hunt come from outside to ruin its sport. Why should the hunt pay for that?

Mr. Cawsey: I am not sure that the wild mammal would agree that nobody gets beaten up.

The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex may hate football, but if he went to a football ground there would be no violence because there would be no room for anyone else. He said that the police have to be present to keep two rival factions of hooligans apart. Hunts also attract two factions—whether we like it or not—which is why they require a police presence.

Hunting imposes another kind of burden on the police. When I spoke in the Committee of the whole House, I asked about the civil liberties of people in rural areas who neither welcome nor want a hunt in their area, but have to put up with it. I cited the example of such a hunt in Woodham Walter in Essex and quoted press comments about the libertarian aspect. The hunt also involved a policing aspect, which I did not mention because it was not relevant to my point. However, I shall do so now.

When the hunt went through Woodham Walter, Essex police were in Howe Green, which was the wrong location. The police confirmed that they had been informed that the hunt was due in Howe Green and that officers had been sent to monitor any possible disturbances. Inspector Andy Loveridge said:

    The officers were waiting and when no-one turned up they made enquiries and were told no they are not meeting here, they are meeting in Woodham Walter.

Whatever one's views on policing priorities, it is clearly a waste of the police's time and resources to be present where there is no hunt because it has moved without informing them. If hunts shift around on an ad hoc basis, such waste will continue.

Mr. Pickthall: As a matter of interest, a helpful document provided by the hon. Member for Lewes states that Essex spends £117,625 a year on policing—clearly not very effectively.

Mr. Cawsey: Targeting is everything. However, if those who hunt do not give the police the information, the police cannot be blamed for getting it wrong.

Mr. Garnier: I find the hon. Gentleman's remarks confusing. Does he accept that hunts do not need to be policed unless they are threatened with disruption? Hunts do not disrupt themselves. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said, hunt supporters do not invade other hunts to disturb their activities. It is hunt saboteurs—those who violently disapprove of hunting—who require the police to be present to protect the hunt's lawful activities under current law. The police are there to separate the aggressive saboteurs from those who wish to take part in those lawful activities. Is not that so?

Mr. Cawsey: I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. There would be no need to police football matches if football supporters did not fall out with each other. There would be no need to police anywhere if people did not break the law. The only certainty is that if hunting were not legal, most people would obey the law and the police could then move on to what I think everyone in the Committee would agree were greater priorities.

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Prepared 23 January 2001