Hunting Bill

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Mr. Öpik rose—

Mr. Cawsey: I give way to my hon. Friend. [Laughter.]

12.15 pm

Mr. Öpik: The hon. Gentleman's only friend here.

We tried to tackle the problem of inconvenience to the police in schedule 2 by requiring every hunt to declare where it was going and by making it an offence not to do so. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be easier to police an environment where hunts are regulated and when it is known where they are going? Any offence committed would be seen immediately. Inspectors could help the rural police to cover the entire area for which they are responsible.

Mr. Cawsey: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not persuaded by the middle way that he advances. Licensing a hunt in order that it may be held at a particular place, time or whatever would be better than the current system. A hunt may be advertised, but then shifted at the last minute, leading to hunt havoc somewhere else, with no police support. I agree that such licensing would be an improvement on the present position. However, for reasons that I shall come to, I believe that banning hunting entirely would move the matter on a step further.

For the first time, I have been slightly persuaded by the middle way. Before the hon. Gentleman gets too excited, I must tell him that I will not be going the whole hog. Thanks to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, I have realised that the proposal is a back-door method of introducing dog licensing. As a supporter of the RSPCA on this issue, that is perhaps the one key point to consider. The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire has been campaigning for many months, but he missed that good campaigning trick before the vote in the Chamber last week. I do not agree that his proposal is as persuasive as a full ban.

We have heard much about the document from ACPO and the hope of the hon. Member for Lidington that all chief police officers had an input, as opposed to the relatively few involved in the sub-committee. From my experience as chairman of a police authority, that may be a hope rather than a reality. I would not say this if the chief constable during my time on the police authority had not retired, but he very much supported banning hunting with dogs.

I have just been informed by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester that I have been referring to the constituency of the hon. Member for Aylesbury by the hon. Gentleman's name. I apologise, but I am sure that Hansard will put it right.

My chief constable believed that hunting with dogs should be banned and that such a ban would lead to a decrease in the use of police and resources. I should be interested to know whether the list of the hon. Member for Lewes includes the cost of policing hunts in Humberside. I do not have the figures, but I understand that not all police authorities have replied to requests.

Mr. Pickthall: The Humberside police authority has replied, and the figure quoted was £16,000. More than half the authorities said that they did not police hunts or keep separate records.

Mr. Cawsey: That is an interesting point.

Mr. Michael J. Foster: In the compilation by the hon. Member for Lewes, it says under West Mercia police authority ``no hunts in this area'', but that is not correct—there are many hunts in West Mercia. Therefore, the Liberal Democrats figures are probably an underestimate of the resources used.

Mr. Cawsey: I am grateful for those two helpful interventions. First, the hundreds of thousands of pounds that we know is being spent on policing hunts is well below the true figure and, secondly, as I know from experience, £16,000 is nowhere near the true cost in Humberside. I guess that much of the figure is the opportunity cost. In other words, police officers are at hunts when they could have been doing something else. It is my guess—I am trying to defend my chief constable—that the £16,000 may simply be the additional cost. Let us hope that, if and when the Bill becomes law, police officers will be able to carry out other duties.

Whether ACPO supports a middle way may not be unrelated to the fact that the Home Secretary believes that that approach is right; we all like to keep in with the boss. Of course I am supporting the ban because that is what my boss wants. I am sure that the issue will have been discussed in ACPO and that some of its members have a different view. The question is whether, if there is a ban, the £500,000 that the police are currently spending would still need to be spent on civil disobedience related to hunting. Again we return to my original point that it depends whether people continue to hunt, keep dogs and so on. It is difficult to know precisely whether they will; we are trying to apply foresight to the implications when we all know that the only exact science is hindsight. However, there are some comparisons that can help us form a view of how the matter might be handled in future.

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman has referred to the money already being spent on defending legal and legitimate hunting from saboteurs as if that money will not need to be spent in future and could be used if necessary to deal with any illegal hunting. He leaves out of that account the fact that some of those who have hitherto attacked hunts will undoubtedly turn their attention to the next country sport that they wish to see abolished. Whether that is fishing, shooting or anything else, sabotage tactics will be applied by some of those who are committed to the activity and police resources will have to be switched accordingly.

Mr. Cawsey: I do not seek an argument with the right hon. Gentleman, who is a fellow tenor in the parliamentary choir. I have realised that, with the hon. Member for Aylesbury, the Committee has three tenors—perhaps we should make a CD.

The right hon. Gentleman is applying foresight in the event of a ban, as are we all. That is difficult; I would not share his certainty. He is saying that whatever law we pass—whether about hunting with dogs, animal welfare or anything else—will have an impact on the work of the police and create other challenges. Everyone must agree with him, because that happens all the time, but I was not saying that police expenditure on hunts would not have to be spent elsewhere.

I shall now try to explain what I think might happen, and why the Committee should reject the amendments. What certainty is there on which all members of Committee agree? It is that the present legal activity of hunting with dogs places a burden on the police. Nobody will argue with that. For whatever reason, it costs hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Dr. Gibson: Does my hon. Friend agree that there has also been the need to police Countryside Alliance marches? Has he any estimates of how much such so-called peaceful protest cost? Does he agree that, with closed circuit television at football matches, far fewer policemen are needed because they can see what is happening in the surrounding areas? I know that at Norwich City—

Mr. Leigh: CCTV cameras in every field!

Dr. Gibson: I am talking about football matches. There used to be 300 policemen at Carrow road, but now, with CCTV, there are 10; there are other methods of surveying potential crime scenes.

Mr. Cawsey: I agree with my hon. Friend up to a point. He makes the serious point that policing costs for professional sports such as football and rugby, which, admittedly, are stadium sports, have been reduced through the use of new technologies. There is a cost to a Countryside Alliance march, as there is to any demonstration, but that is a cost of democracy. We have all been on marches which, if of sufficient size, had a police presence. People who arrange marches take some responsibility for organising an event that will divert the police from other duties. In a democracy, with free speech, people should have the right to march and make their point as vociferously as they feel appropriate.

To return to the point that I was making before I took that intervention, what do we know about policing costs and hunting? We know that the currently legal activity of hunting with dogs has a cost. It has a cost in cash terms to police authorities, which is many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and it affects police resources, because policemen are at hunts when they could be elsewhere. There is also my earlier example of policing hunts that move around on an ad hoc basis. All those costs are inarguable.

Mr. Beith: What do we know? We know that in those areas where there is little or no disruption, there are almost no policing costs associated with hunting.

Mr. Cawsey: If the right hon. Gentleman is making the case that where there are few hunts there is minimal police activity and no disruption, he is walking down the road towards a full ban, which is the only certain way to reduce costs.

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman must have misheard me. In those areas where hunting takes place with little or no sabotage or disruption—happily that is true in most of my constituency—the policing costs arising from hunting are minimal.

Mr. Cawsey: We know that hunting events—we are discussing not only foxhunting, but hare coursing and hare, deer and mink hunting—attract disruption. That is an uncontroversial point that no member of the Committee would dispute. There may be a part of the country where hunting is limited and does not impact on the police, but that does not detract from the argument that across Britain many hundreds of thousands of pounds—we also know that that figure is an underestimate—are subtracted from police resources as a result of hunting with dogs. That will continue unless hunting is banned.

Mr. Garnier: That is a totally specious argument. It is as useful as saying that because police must devote time to catching burglars, the citizen should be prohibited from owning a house. Hunting is currently lawful: those people who disrupt hunts cause the requirement for the police. The expense is to prevent illegal activity by hunt saboteurs. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has already made that point; either the hon. Gentleman is deaf or he cannot understand a simple point.

 
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Prepared 23 January 2001