Hunting Bill

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Jane Kennedy: I was not quoting from a document; I was quoting from an article from The Times of 18 January--last week. I am sure that Mr. Burden's views can be communicated to the Committee. My hon. Friend the Minister will communicate those views in writing, if that would help.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): As the Parliamentary Secretary said, this has been a long and wide-ranging debate, which has allowed the Committee to explore in outline a number of the issues that we shall no doubt discuss in greater detail as we proceed through the amendments.

Mr. Öpik: We are bound to return to the police under the enforcement sections of the Bill, but I am now confused about the status of the document. Up to this moment, I had the impression that it had the official authority of ACPO behind it.

Mr. Lidington: As far as I am aware, this document was being distributed officially by ACPO's press office on behalf of the association last week to present the views put by it to the Government during the consultation to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred.

A number of arguments have been put forward against the amendments and I hope that members of the Committee will forgive me if I try to deal briefly with the main criticisms that were made. I shall not allow myself to be drawn into dealing with every matter that has been raised in this long debate.

One line of criticism, which was voiced by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, was that—

Mr. Garnier: On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. I beg to move that this Committee do now adjourn.

The Chairman: Order. I am afraid that I cannot accept that.

7 pm

Mr. Lidington: One argument was that the schedule's definition of offences is precise and that the concerns that I and other Opposition Members expressed about its imprecision were therefore misplaced. We will be able to argue about that in due course, but the definition in paragraph 21, in particular, is far from comprehensive. In any case, to judge by my experience at the Home Office under previous Administrations, however skilful the parliamentary draftsman, and however well intentioned the officials and Ministers responsible for a given Bill, it is not unknown for Home Secretaries of differing political stripes to lose legal challenges, or to discover that the statutes for which they are responsible have unexpected consequences.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough pointed out, the amendments would in practice lead to the end of organised hunting, which is what supporters of the Bill want, because people would conform to the law and would not wish to incur the civil penalty. However, the amendments would also avoid the imposition of additional risks to people such as gamekeepers, to whom my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex referred.

The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker), who cannot be with us this evening, said that we should not allow the police to dictate whether legislation is introduced. That is a truism with which I agree, but it is clear that the views of the police on the advisability and impact of a particular policy are a material consideration. Every Home Office criminal justice Bill requires that Ministers consider its impact on the police, the courts and the Prison Service. It is also right that Parliament should be able to take account of the views of the police on the impact of the Bill.

We should regard it as our duty, moreover, to assess likely public reaction to the Bill and its impact on relations between the police and the wider public. No Labour Member who has spoken today has challenged the fears expressed by Mr. Hollis and in the ACPO document to which I have referred. A ban on hunting would have a serious and damaging effect on relations between the police and those members of rural communities on whom the police rely for effective partnership in fighting crime.

Another argument—advanced by the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole in particular, and with which the hon. Member for Nottingham, South agreed—is that a ban would save money. However, that was not the view of ACPO members as expressed in the document that was published and distributed last week—

Jane Kennedy: They said that they would enforce it.

Mr. Lidington: Certainly, they would enforce the law. I would expect any professional police officer to say that of any Bill presented by any lawfully elected Parliament. ACPO also stated that hard decisions would have to be taken on policing priorities and the deployment of thinly stretched resources.

Those who argued that a ban would save money were also ignoring the arguments of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough that some of those who are most passionate for a ban would, if a ban on hunting were achieved, move on to attack other sports. I am content to accept the assurances given by the hon. Member for West Ham.

When I have appeared on platforms with RSPCA representatives, it has been made clear that their policy is to seek an end to hunting, but not shooting or fishing. That is not the view of an organisation such as the Hunt Saboteurs Association—nor is it the view of the senior members of the League Against Cruel Sports. Mr. Sirl, who was mentioned, is not merely an employee in the west country but a former chief officer of the LACS. His views should be taken seriously when trying to assess the opinions of people who support that organisation.

Mr. Banks: The individual views of people, however eminent or active they may be, should not necessarily be given excessive weight in terms of future policies. I have said before that there is not great support in this country, or in the House, for a ban on fishing or shooting. The hon. Gentleman must at least concede that there is substantial, if not majority support, in the House and the country to ban the activities that are described in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman cannot keep trying to scare other people into thinking there is another agenda, to which we are party. There is not.

Mr. Lidington: I said that I accept, without qualification, the assurances that the hon. Gentleman gave. However, we are debating the impact on police resources and manpower of a new criminal offence introduced by the Bill. Even a relatively small number of people—a few hundred activists—could tie up a considerable amount of police time, police officers and resources to stop them disrupting legitimate lawful fishing or game shooting.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lidington: No. While I accept that there will be differences in the Committee about the principle as well as the detail of the Bill, my amendments offer the Government a way to end organised hunting, which they want and which, to my regret, the House has endorsed. My amendments would reduce ambiguity and protect both police resources and relations with the members of rural communities on whose partnership they greatly rely. I want to test the Committee's opinion of my amendments.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 16.

Division No. 1]

Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gummer, Mr. John
Lidington, Mr. David
Maples, Mr. John
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Soames, Mr. Nicholas

Banks, Mr. Tony
Foster, Mr. Michael
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lawrence, Mrs. Jackie
Lepper, Mr. David
Michael, Mr. Alun
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Pickthall, Mr. Colin
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Rendel, Mr. David
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Smith, Angela

Question accordingly negatived.

Further consideration adjourned—[Mr. Mike Hall.]

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes past Seven o'clock till Thursday 25 January at fifteen minutes past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Roe, Mrs. Marion (Chairman)
Banks, Mr.
Beith, Mr.
Cawsey, Mr.
Foster, Mr. Michael
Garnier, Mr.
Gibson, Dr.
Gummer, Mr.
Hall, Mr. Mike
Henderson, Mr. Ivan
Kennedy, Jane
Lawrence, Mrs.
Leigh, Mr.
Lepper, Mr.
Lidington, Mr.
Maples, Mr.
Michael, Mr.
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Öpik, Mr.
Pickthall, Mr.
Prentice, Ms Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Rendel, Mr.
Shipley, Ms
Simpson, Mr. Alan
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Angela
Soames, Mr.

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