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Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): Will the Home Secretary confirm that if those financial penalties were not paid, the penalty would be imprisonment? The House has previous experience of issues touching people's conscience and the consequences when fines are not paid.
Mr. Straw: As the hon. Gentleman knows, if a fine is unpaid and other penalties imposed in lieu are not observed either, the ultimate sanction which the courts exercise--although less often than they used to--is imprisonment.
Mr. Straw: I have a comment from the Association of Chief Police Officers, although not to hand. I am happy for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to deal with that in his winding-up speech. From memory, I believe that ACPO thinks that the likely impact on police resources of the ban on hunting proposed in schedule 3 will probably not be any greater than the current impact that results from the disorder caused by those who seek to interfere with hunting. The general approach is therefore likely to be neutral.
The House knows that I condemn utterly the disorder that is created in an attempt to disrupt hunting, which is a lawful activity. If the House and the other place decide to accept schedule 3 and clause 3 and they become law, the House, across parties, will take a similar view of any other illegality.
The rules of the House provide that it is not possible to introduce a Bill with internally contradictory provisions. That is why we have had to include a fairly complicated commencement provision, providing for the commencement of one of the schedules and the repeal of the other two. Let me make it clear to the House that if it picks one of the options, we will introduce an amendment to provide that that option should take effect one year after Royal Assent. That will, we feel, give those involved in hunting an adequate opportunity to make whatever arrangements they feel are necessary, whichever option is chosen. If the middle way option is chosen, and schedule 2 emerges as the chosen option, we will need transitional provisions to ensure that the Hunting Authority is up and running and issuing licences before it becomes unlawful to hunt without a licence.
None of us, I am sure, underestimates how passionately people on both sides of the debate feel. That feeling is illustrated by attendance in the Chamber today. Nevertheless, by introducing a multi-option Bill the Government hope that all sides will feel that they have had a fair chance to put their point of view and debate this most contentious of issues in a sensible and rational fashion.
This is not an issue that follows traditional party lines. There are supporters and opponents of hunting--and supporters and opponents of clause 2--in all the main parties. No one demonstrates that point better than the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), whose views, I think it is fair to say, are not fully endorsed by everyone who takes the Conservative Whip.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his courtesy in receiving delegations on the matter. Does he agree that, in the event of a ban, that wicked proposal would separate liberty from justice? Does he agree that that is thoroughly undesirable and bad?
Mr. Straw: I fully understand that the hon. Gentleman takes that view. I understand the strength of his feeling and I respect him for it. Opinions differ very much, and it is for the House and the other place to reach a balanced judgment.
Although, as was illustrated by that last exchange, hunting is an issue on which some hold passionate views, as it happens I am not one of those people. During my 21 years in the House I have never voted on any Bill on hunting, but as I am the Minister sponsoring the Bill, I have had to consider the issue in greater detail than would have otherwise been the case. I have been pressed on a number of occasions outside the House and in interviews to say what my approach is. On each occasion I said that I wished to inform Parliament first and this I now do. My own thinking has been much informed by Lord Burns's report. Today I shall vote for the Bill to receive a Second Reading so that the House can come to a substantive decision on the options in the new year.
When and if the Bill receives a Second Reading and is considered in a Committee of the whole House, I shall vote for clause 2, which offers a scheme of regulation, and against both clause 1, which provides for self- regulation, and clause 3, which involves an outright ban. Let me emphasise, however, that the decision rests with each individual Member, that every Minister and Parliamentary Private Secretary is as entitled to their own opinion as any other hon. Member, and that the view that I have expressed is entirely a personal opinion.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): As the Home Secretary has made clear, this is a Bill on which opinions across the Chamber differ strongly. As he noted, I am delighted to be joined--if not supported--by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). She and I have agreed that on this occasion we stand as one in our agreement to differ strongly, but amicably, about the content of the Bill.
The Home Secretary has made his position clear. Every Conservative Member will have a free vote when we divide the House on the Bill later tonight. For my own part, I believe that the Bill is misguided and unnecessary. I intend to vote against it on Second Reading. If it receives a Second Reading and goes into Committee, I expect that we shall debate the various options in detail. My intention would be to prefer clause 1 to clause 2 and, if it came to a choice, clause 2 to clause 3.
Dr. Palmer: I shall not detain the hon. Gentleman for long. Just to clarify, is he saying that he would prefer the Bill to be rejected outright, including the pathetic self-regulation proposal from the Countryside Alliance?
Mr. Lidington: Yes. I do not believe that legislation of this nature is required. If the Government were to propose comprehensive measures on animal welfare, such as an overhaul of the Protection of Animals Act 1911, I would
Other issues are also relevant. The evidence may help us to make our judgment by tipping the scales in one direction or another. There is the impact that a ban would have on jobs and on the rural economy at a time of acute agricultural recession. There is the contribution that hunting makes to conservation and to the preservation of a diverse environment for many plant and animal species. There is the central importance of hunts to social and cultural life in many of our rural areas, especially the most remote areas of England and Wales.
All those issues are intrinsically important, but in this debate they are secondary to the fundamental question of how we resolve the tension between human freedom and animal welfare. We must ask ourselves whether the Bill would place oppressive restrictions on human freedom. Frankly, if Parliament were to decide deliberately to take away the livelihood or the lawful recreation of even one man or woman in this country, that should cause real heart-searching in the House. Hunting involves large numbers of people.
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): The hon. Gentleman talks about jobs and job losses. I remember that not so long ago, when the Tories were in power, they closed 30 pits, which cost 60,000 miners' jobs. Conservative Members went through the Lobby with not a murmur about job losses.